Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Pub: Arrow Books
374 pages

Wade Watts has but one escape from his hellish life in a towering trailer park (see the rather wonderful cover), the virtual reality world of OASIS. There’s something grander than merely ducking into an imperative online world though, and that’s a quest.

James Halliday, the creator of OASIS was obsessed with 80s pop culture, an obsession that dominoes out into the world upon his death. Halliday had no heirs, and so in his will left the control of OASIS, his personal fortune and possessions to anyone who can solve the puzzles he has left scattered throughout the virtual world he has created, and find his Easter Egg. Wade, like many others is dedicated to solving these puzzles, yet as we start the story, five years after Halliday’s death the first riddle has yet to be solved.

The 80s theme that so pervades the quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg serves as an interesting device, allowing the book to merge past and future with geekish abandon. There’s inferences on the current state of the world as well, in the vision of what we become. It’s hard to move away from the 80s when considering the plot, and I can’t decide if that’s a fair comment, or just the nearest one to hand given the way the book wears the era. There are huge and evil corporations, high school to survive, and the awkwardness of young romance, a sub-plot that works nicely against the larger story without feeling in any way forced in.

With technology reminiscent of William Gibson’s cyberpunks, nods and knowing winks to games, films, music, and fashion from the era the book is unrepentantly nostalgic. I suspect there is a perfect demographic that this book fits, that experienced the era it harks back to first hand, rather than seeing it diluted through the lens of current pop culture. That said being a little out of that loop hasn’t harmed my enjoyment of the book, although there is a feeling I might have missed references.

Wade feels well realised as a character, and there’s an interesting duality between his progress in OASIS and in the real world. The book handles the virtual landscape well, although I’d be interested to know how it reads to someone unfamiliar with computers, or indeed looking back in the years to come over the technological developments.

Pony up your $1, take your 3 lives, and prepare yourself.

Ash: A Secret History – Mary Gentle

Ash: A Secret History
By Mary Gentle
Pub: Gollancz
1113 pagesI began reading Ash, some time around 10 years ago, and I have at last finished it, after numerous on-again off-again attempts and slogging restarts. It’s not an easy book to keep momentum on, mainly due to the sheer size of the damned thing. Those 1113 pages are packed with tiny, tiny font. I’m not just making excuses here either; the American release saw the story split across four books, making it far more manageable.

So was it worth the time and effort?
I think so. 
Ash follows the story of the book’s titular lead, a female mercenary captain, plying her bloody trade across Europe in the last quarter of the 15th Century. She holds her mercenary company together through experience, ability, force of personality, and something a little special.
Ash hears voices in her head, that may be the Green Man, the Lord and his saints, or something more sinister. These voices advise her in battle, and lend her some of the mystique of Joan Of Arc.
Ash’s Europe is a time and a place both familiar from history yet altered from how we know it. The Visgoth Empire rules over Africa, a land trapped under a literal eternal darkness, where mechanical golems serve the lord-amir’s bidding. The King-Caliph in Carthage in bent on the conquest of Europe.
The book is split down into sixteen fairly hefty parts, each separated by documentation alleged to relate to the original manuscripts from which the main narrative was translated, and which also chronicles the wild goose chase of archaeological dig searching for evidence of the events descried. This framing device both adds its own twist to the story, and flags up the differences between Ash’s present and our past.
With its alternate history setting and a framing device of found documents and archaeological digs in the present the book balances itself flags up some of its historical quirks.
The story is written thick with detail, and it serves to really ground the reader in Ash’s surroundings, from rust speckled weapons, fleas, and the bloody, thumping violence of combat, to the tangled skein of political allegiances across the battlefields and bedrooms of Europe, the physical impracticality of armour, and the tenuous command of a mercenary force.
I found the detail one of the engaging factors, although some may find in cloying to be presented with so much information beyond the bounds of the story.
The characters feel absolutely real, from Ash herself, down to the camp followers; hell, even Ash’s horse, Godluc, seems well realised. While there is an overarching fantasy/alt history/sf bent to the storyline, it doesn’t overwhelm the more historically accurate elements, and in facts sits very comfortably amongst them.
Ash is up there as one of my favourite characters (or I’d have given up reading this years ago), and (if you’ve got the time) her story is well worth a read.

Rae Carson- Crown of Embers

Being sick is a wonderful thing.

I mean, well it isn’t, but when you’re lying in bed cuddling up to a bucket you do find that you have the opportunity to get some proper reading done. Those of you who remember me will know I am now in full time employment after graduating (yay!) and living in London (double yay!) so I’ll admit that I’ve been holding off on reading this book for two reasons.

1- When I read Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns I stayed up all night and read it in one sitting. I slept the next day. (see previous review)

2- The only way I could get away with doing the above a second time for the second book in the series would be if I had a free weekend (which I don’t) or was on my deathbed with nothing else to do. (a-ha)

So yesterday I finally got around to reading  the second book in Rae Carson’s trilogy (released this year, published by Gollancz) and I started with stupidly high hopes, hopes so high that nothing could possibly meet up to my expectations.

But Rae Carson is an amazing writer, and her second novel in theFire and Thorns trilogy matches up incredibly with her first. Having become a young Widow and Queen, Elisa is growing increasingly frustrated with the politics of her new home; the people hail her as a hero- so long as taxes stay low, and the other members of her government dismiss her as a child and don’t trust her. The only people around her who she can trust are her two ladies-in-waiting, Mara and Ximena, her stepson Prince Rosario and the Commander of her Royal Guard, Hector.

Oh, Hector. I’ve loved you since the very first book.

Not only is Elisa’s Quorum/Government doing their best to ignore her, but they’re also trying to marry her off (again). The country is unsettled and Elisa has yet to prove herself as more than a war hero, so a husband will give her the ‘stability’ she needs. Enter the dashing Conde Tristan from the Southern Territories. He’s intelligent, brave, and seems a perfect match as long as you don’t take into account that Elisa doesn’t love him… but no one is as they appear to be, and his own secret is one that has to come out sooner or later.

Not only that, but it appears Elisa didn’t quite manage to totally defeat the Invierne people in the last book, and after a rather public demonstration that involves a lot of fire, her position is weakened further by their bid to kidnap her.

And as if that wasn’t enough for the seventeen year old Queen/Widow/Mother/War Hero to be dealing with, there have also been several attempts on her life, which means she has more enemies than even Hector suspected. It might be time to start choosing some unlikely allies and keeping old friends at a more wary distance.

Everything about this story is a step up from the first; The politics are more secretive, Elisa’s enemies are more mysterious and more numerous, and the romance is more mature, more slow burning. I had a moment of horror before I began reading, wondering if, as sequels can do, this book would disappoint me, but it’s everything I hoped for and more; the plot is a continuation of the same story, but there’s new elements being introduced too. Elisa still makes mistakes, she still trusts the wrong people and still does the wrong things, but by the time this book ends she’s found her footing a little more, and she’s still that brilliant blend of surly teenager and brave young hero that made us love her in Girl of Fire and Thorns.

And now I’ve realised that the Final installment, The Bitter Kingdom, won’t be released until next year. That can’t be true. My heart won’t take it…

Fire and Thorns – by Rae Carson

I have finished with university, almost definitely for good, and I’m very very conscious of the fact that I’ve written… almost no reviews for Un:Bound since starting uni almost three years ago. I’ve certainly not written any since the big move to the new site.

For reasons best left to the privacy of my twitter account (@katheubeck) I am under house arrest at the moment and since I’m at my parent’s house, that means I’m stuck in a village with just three streets and no Co-op.

My first real foray to proper book-reading has started with Rae Carson’s debut novel, “Fire and Thorns”, published by Gollancz. It follows the story of young princess Elisa, who has grown up babied, fat and lazy. Even though she bears the Godstone, a sign that God has chosen her for a life of heroism, she has never pursued adventure and was encouraged to stay out of harms way.

On her sixteenth birthday, she’s married off to the handsome king of a huge nearby country, but finds that although she has been married off as part of a treaty, the king keeps their marriage secret, and instead openly courts the beautiful Condesa Arina. Spurred by her own thirst for knowledge, and suspicions that there is more to the legend of the Godstone than she knows, Elisa finds herself drawn further and further into an age-long war she didn’t even know was happening, a war that she is a part of whether she likes it or not.

The book is split into three parts, each following a different ‘role’ of Elisa’s as her journey goes on. In part 1, she is the intelligent but lazy scholar, trying to make the best of a bad situation. She tries to prove that she’s capable of being a Queen to her new husband whilst learning as much about the Godstone as possible… until she’s kidnapped.

Part 2 follows her survival in the desert, and the realization of her own significance as the war rages on. She becomes a tactician, and a survivor.

In the third and final part of the book, Elisa really comes into her own. She stops relying on others to carry her through, and becomes a leader, a figurehead of war.

The copy I have is an uncorrected Manuscript proof which I was given as an Un:Bound reviewer at some point last year. I need to say a big SORRY to my boss/benefactor/dictator/religious leader at Un:Bound that it took me so long to get this review done but… you know… the final year of university is supposed to be time-consuming. At least other people tell me this.

Now before I say anything else about whether I enjoyed the book or not, I want to be absolutely clear. I started reading at about midnight for a bit of a wind-down before bed. I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book at 4.30 the next morning.

I absolutely loved it, but I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t realize how MUCH I loved it until I reached the end and realized there were birds singing outside. The characters that I got to know, and their exploits that I was so much a part of took such hold of me that I wasn’t even able to THINK about the real world (by which I mean the internet) until about ten minutes after I finished the book and had let it all sink in.

In many ways this is aquite traditional coming-of-age story; a teenager is pushed from the nest and learns to fly alone, learning more about their true identity along the way. Yes, we know that story, it’s every teenage fantasy book that is already on our shelves. Except for one or two…

But the wonderful thing about this book is that it takes everything that makes those books wonderful and introduces that little bit more. Elisa doesn’t just strike out on her own; she builds on the advice others give her, she befriends those who have wronged her, she is completely aware of her own limitations and knows when she needs others around her. Elisa starts the story as a clever but lonely girl whose only friends are the two handmaidens her father pays to keep her safe. She ends the book respected, wise and loved.

As a fantasy novel with a female protagonist, told in the first person and some feminist elements, I’ll admit “Fire and Thorns” might struggle with some within the male demographic, but the sheer depth of the characters we meet will enthrall anyone who reads it, of any age or gender. Carson’s realistic but readable approach to war and politics, both at the front lines and within the government, takes the perspective of a sixteen year old and brings you into the adventure with remarkable skill.

I’m told that this is the first installment of a trilogy and I really really hope I can get my hands on the next book as soon as possible, preferably before I’m forced to storm Gollancz and take Rae Carson hostage as my own personal book-writer.

Do the right thing, Rae. Give it to me now for the good of mankind.

Comics – 25th April 2012

A strong set of comics see things shaken up for a few titles, and the conclusion the Rise Of The Vampire cross over between I, Vampire and Justice League Dark.

DC – New 52 #8 Part 4
Aquaman
Blackhawks
The Flash
Green Lantern New Guardians
I, Vampire
Justice League Dark
Teen Titans

Not Reviewed
All Star Western
Batman The Dark Knight
The Fury Of Firestorm The Nuclear Man
The Savage Hawkman
Superman
Voodoo

Other
The Activity
The New Deadwardians

Skipped To The End…

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Comics – 18th April 2012

The Night Of Owls begins in the New 52. Spilling out of the pages of this month’s Batman, Bruce Wayne’s fight against the Court Of Owls engulfs all of the Bat family bar Batwoman in frantic battle. They even appear in the Justice League this month. It’s going to provide  useful spike of continuity across many of the issues. It’s also good to see an event that doesn’t overtake the whole of DC’s output as these things are sometimes want to do.

DC – New 52 #8 Part 3
Batman
Birds Of Prey
Blue Beetle
Green Lantern Corps
Justice League
Nightwing
Red Hood & The Outlaws
Supergirl
Wonder Woman

Not Reviewed
Captain Atom
Catwoman
DC Universe Presents
The Legion Of Superheroes

Marvel
Incredible Hulk #7

Other
Dominique Laveau: VoodooChild

Skipped To The End…
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Comics – 4th April 2012

Sadly 2000AD’s website seems to be suffering tech difficulties, or to quote one of there tweets “Our website has a Thrillsucker infestation, Earthlets. DO NOT PANIC! Droids are now sweeping the server sub-basement with electro-whips.”

Marvel starts Avengers vs X-Men proper this week, but I’m still not getting drawn in. Hopefully I can avoid it all being spoiled too much.

I’ve cut back hugely on the New 52 comics, possibly too harshly, but that’s how it is going to be. I’m not looking forward to making decisions about next week’s releases though, but I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

DC – New 52 #8 Part 1

Animal Man
Justice League International
Stormwatch
Swamp Thing

Not Reviewed

Action Comics
Batwing
Detective Comics
Green Arrow
Hawk & Dove
Men Of War
OMAC
Red Lantern
Static Shock

Other

Supurbia

Skipped To The End…


DC – New 52 #8 Part 1

Animal Man #8
Written by Jeff Lemire
Pencilled by Steve Pugh & Travel Foreman
Inked by Jeff Huet & Steve Pugh
Cover Color by Loverne Kindzierski
Lettered by Jared K FletcherIt’s not often I swear on here so understand the level of weirded out I am when I say fuck me sideways with a fish knife but the body horror returns in the most horrific of manners this month. Also bear in mind I don’t shock easy. I for one am glad the art is no more detailed than it is. You’ve been warned folks.

Surrounded by creatures of the Rot it’s time for Barry to make some hard decisions. The strong feeling of family comes to the fore once again as Buddy does what he can to protect his family, weight Ellen’s fear against Maxine’s increasing powers.

Animal Man is really looking like the best horror title out there at the moment. It is also far more than that. The heart of the book really emphasise the strain of the crazy world of superheroes has on a person and their family, especially the current nastiness. It something not seen often enough and serves to ground a book, and give depth that would perhaps otherwise be lacking.

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Comics- 28th March 2012

So this week sees the very beginning of the great war of our time. Avengers vs X-Men. (Well issue #0 at least) Thankfully I’m maintaining my stance on only really picking Marvel comics up in trade paperback, so it’ll be a year or so before I start going on about this.

I’ve cut back this week’s reviewing so let’s get to it.

DC – New 52 #7 Part 4

Aquaman
Blackhawks
The Flash
Green Lantern: New Guardians
Justice League Dark
I, Vampire
Teen Titans

Not Reviewed

All Star Western
Batman: The Dark Knight
The Fury Of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man
The Savage Hawkman
Superman
Voodoo

DC
Legion: Secret Origin

2000AD
Prog 1775

Other
The New Deadwardians

Skipped To The End…

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Comics- 14th March 2012

I’ll try and rattle through things as quickly as I can this week as there seems to be one hell of a lot to get through. If you look at nothing else Saga and Saucer Country can’t be recommended enough.

DC – New 52 #7 Part 2
Batgirl
Batwoman
Deathstroke
Demon Knights
Green Lantern
Legion Lost
Resurrection Man
Suicide Squad
Superboy

Not Reviewed
Batman & Robin
Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.
Grifter
Mister Terrific

DC
The Shade
The Ray

Marvel
Incredible Hulk

2000AD
Prog 1773

Other
The Activity
Saga
Thief Of Thieves

Skipped To The End…

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