Blog reviews

These are reviews of books and films that I’ve published on this blog (or its earlier incarnations). They’ve not been edited much and were often written quickly and as much for my own amusement as for others.

 

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to … Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: IRON SKY – FALLING FOR FASCISM

The best joke in the Finnish Nazis-on-the-moon movie Iron Sky is, ironically, also the one that best demonstrates the film’s weaknesses. Idealistic Nazi teacher, Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), shows her young class a sharply edited (ten minutes long) version of … Continue reading

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REVIEW: STINA LEICHT’S THE FEY AND THE FALLEN (OR “POOR OULD IRELAND, AGAIN”)

I want to start this post by saying plainly that I believe that it is possible for writers to create important and insightful work about cultures to which they do not belong. There is a somewhat crude (but, it seems … Continue reading

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REVIEW: DARK EDEN BY CHRIS BECKETT

Chris Beckett’s third novel, Dark Eden, is a complex thing. It draws, as the title suggests, on the ur-biblical theme of the fall from innocence but it is also the story of an isolated human community culturally (and physically) devolving. … Continue reading

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REVIEW: DARK LIES THE ISLAND BY KEVIN BARRY

dark lies the island

Dark Lies the Island (Jonathan Cape, 2012) is Kevin Barry’s second collection of short stories, following There are Little Kingdoms (2007) and his spectacular first novel, City of Bohane (2011). Given the long and rich history of Irish writers exploiting … Continue reading

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REVIEW: CITY OF BOHANE BY KEVIN BARRY

This piece was written as part of the BSFA’s Vector Reviewers’ Poll for 2011. Vector reviewers get to nominate their five favourite books of the previous year. In 2011 my five were: Silver Wind, Nina Allan (Eibonvale Press) City of … Continue reading

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BOOK REVIEW: IN THE MOUTH OF THE WHALE

in-the-mouth-of-the-whale

I always have more than one book on the go at any given time.  There is always one novel and one work of non-fiction work (usually something on politics, history or economics) on the go. Actually, I’m usually part way … Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: GHOST RIDER – SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

Generally, when someone says a Hollywood blockbuster is “the worst film ever” my reaction is to ball my fingers into a fist and beat him soundly. It’s not that I want to defend big studio releases or even that I … Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: JOHN CARTER OF MARS

John Carter of Mars is going to go down in the history books as one of the biggest flops in cinema history . It might have been cheaper for Disney to actually build a pile of money and climb to … Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: PERFECT SENSE

No one should go into director David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense expecting a light-hearted romp. This apocalyptic romance is a slow-burn – despite packing four separate-but-linked disasters into a brief 88 minute. Its characters exist on the edge of the world … Continue reading

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HUGO AND OTHER NOSTALGIC MOVIES

hugo_scorsese_cameo

Hugo is a beautifully made film with a big heart. Every frame is overflowing with the director, Martin Scorcese’s, obvious love and enthusiasm for the medium in which he has immersed himself during his career. Every part of the film … Continue reading

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CHRONICLE

chronicle

Chronicle is the story of three high school kids: Andrew, a “troubled” loner from a poor family with an abusive father and a sick mother; Matt, his smarter, more popular cousin; and Matt’s friend Steve, the token ethnic character. “Troubled” … Continue reading

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KILL LIST

Kill_List

Superficially, the opening passages of Kill List  could be taken as the introduction to another Brit-made gangster movie. The central characters, Jay and Gal are guns for hire – mercenaries who do very dirty work. They’ve got a history together, … Continue reading

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TAFT 2012

taft 2012

Science fiction doesn’t often do politics. There’s no shortage of sf writers willing to explore ideology or, more frequently, shove their personal ideology down a reader’s throat in the crudest way imaginable, but engagement with the real way that societies … Continue reading

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REAL STEEL

real_steel_jackman

There is, when you think about it, a surprisingly long list of very good films about boxing. Consider just the biopics: Raging Bull (the story of Jake LaMotta); Somebody Up There Likes Me (Rocky Marciano); The Hurricane (Rubin Carter); Gentleman … Continue reading

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LOVE

love

Somewhere in the heart of Love is a very good short film being brutally battered to death by a writer/director intent on driving home his “VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE” without subtlety. That’s not to say that there aren’t good things in … Continue reading

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BY LIGHT ALONE

by-light-alone

I’m going to spend some of this review taking issue with elements of Adam Roberts’ new novel, By Light Alone, so I think I should start off by staying up front that I thought this was both a thought-provoking and … Continue reading

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DEAD WATER

dead-water

I appear to have misplaced my copy of Dead Water by Simon Ings, which is annoying and makes reviewing the book tricky because my notes are scribbled all over it. If anyone finds a copy in a second hand bookshop … Continue reading

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KOSMOS AT THE BFI: SOVIET HISTORY THROUGH AN SF LENS

BFI-Kosmos

It is a cliché to argue that science fiction is never about the future but always about the time in which it is made. Yet, as with many a cliché, there is often a nugget of truth beneath the grimy … Continue reading

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GENESIS

There is no point mincing my words. As a work of fiction, Bernard Beckett’s Genesis is a bit of a disaster. While there are interesting philosophical points raised, Beckett has made the fundamental mistake of forgetting that the first task … Continue reading

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JOURNEY INTO SPACE

Before starting this review I want to congratulate artist Chris Moore and the (uncredited) designer at Penguin responsible for the cover of this book. It was a brave design choice to park the title and author’s name on the little … Continue reading

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OTHER EARTHS: IN PRAISE OF A DOG EARED PAPERBACK

Does anyone need another reworking of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? It’s not like there’s ever going to be a re-imagining of the story that’s more balls-to-the-wall than Apocalypse Now, so what more needs to be said. And stories about drugs … Continue reading

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BLINDSIGHT…

Or “In a Chinese Room, not far from the loo” I have been a little unwell. Nothing serious, a stomach bug that my four-year-old daughter shrugged off without so much as a backward glance to check whether there was any … Continue reading

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THE EXECUTION CHANNEL

When I first picked up Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction in 1995 I hadn’t been reading much science fiction for a while but I had just picked up Red Mars, which had gone a long way to reigniting my interest … Continue reading

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300 AND THE MYTH OF SPARTA (PART ONE)

Watching 300 last week it struck me how, like most things, pretty much everything everyone thinks they know about Sparta is wrong. Like, for example, everyone knows the Spartans were uniquely cruel in exposing children to the elements if they … Continue reading

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300 AND THE MYTH OF SPARTA (PART TWO)

(Part one is here) One of the very strangest things about the representation of Sparta in 300 is the treatment of the Ephors. If you’ve seen the film then you’ll know that they are portrayed as twisted and mis-shapen mystics, … Continue reading

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ASCENT

I’ve just finished reading Ascent, the newish novel by Jed Mercurio. It’s the story of Yefgenii Yeremin an orphan of Stalingrad and “the great patriotic war against fascism”. Yefgenii is blessed with a talent for mathematics and engineering and supremely … Continue reading

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SIXTY DAYS AND COUNTING

I’ve said before that, for a genre that so often finds its writers dealing with big political ideas, relatively few science fiction authors demonstrate any sense that they have a clue about how politics really works. This leads to things … Continue reading

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THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION

Sometimes reading throws up odd sychronicities – and my experience of reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (a ‘mainstream’ writer’s take on both sf (alt-history) and the crime thriller in one book) came shortly after I’d finished reading Cormac … Continue reading

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BRASYL

This is a book that, for me, ended up being more than the sum of its parts. There was quite a lot here that I found disappointing, at first, but as McDonald interleaves the three different plot threads across three … Continue reading

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GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD

I finished reading Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road yesterday. It’s a wonderful book – a straightforward action-adventure story in the very old style but lifted way into the stratosphere by Chabon’s mastery of language. Simply it’s the story of … Continue reading

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