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Recent Posts

Rail travel in July 2016

Cover of Survivors

Book of the Year 2014

Saying goodbye to Clive Cussler

Cover of The Children of Hamlin

Cover of The Peacekeepers

Book of the Year Award

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Rail travel in July 2016 | 6th August 2016, 16:07  
Southern Trains has made the news recently for the criticism it has received for the level of service it is providing, particularly during the current industrial dispute over the number of staff on trains.

For example this BBC story on the latest strike on Southern, which includes this gem in the second paragraph:
"Operator Govia Thameslink (GTR) said it would 'bring misery to hundreds of thousands of passengers'." (Quote deliberately taken out of context by me for humorous purposes.)

Given that this escapade has been going on for some time, in June I decided to keep a close log of all my rail journeys - primarily so I can make use of the 'Delay Repay' scheme to recoup a few of the many pounds I spend each month on my season ticket.

To recap: Delay Repay allows me to claim back the cost of my journey for any delay over an hour, or half the cost for a delay over 30 mins.

I now present data for the month of July 2016.

In July I made 34 journeys by rail (each journey being travel by one train on one route - i.e. If I change trains because no direct routes exist for my trip, then that counts as two journeys).

Of these, 32 were on routes operated by GTR (Gatwick Express or Southern), and the remaining two on Virgin (which we shall henceforth ignore, except to note that both trains arrived earlier than timetables).

If these, only two journeys were delayed over 30 mins, and none over an hour. That will net me a total repayment of 11.80.

In fact though, 28 of those 32 trains arrived later than timetabled. That's 26 late trains which weren't 'late enough' for me to be compensated.

In total, I bought my season ticket expecting to be able to use it for the planned journeys (plus unlimited tube travel in zones 1-6).

My total journeys using my season ticket (32 journeys) represented an expectation to spend 24 hours and 53 minutes on the train.

The lateness of the 28 journeys (which includes those where my planned train was cancelled or delayed and I caught an alternative) totalled to 5 hours and 47 minutes.

That's an additional 23.2% over the the time I had planned to spend on the train.

Trying to quantity an appropriate level of compensation for this period is tricky. I could use my salary an calculate how much my employer pays me for my time, and claim that's my worth, though that seems rough and crass and frankly unfair, as it would mean every passenger was compensated relative to their salary despite suffering equal inconvenience, and having paid equally for the journey.

Perhaps a better approach would be to estimate how much I pay for 23.2% of my season ticket and refund that? But again that's tricky - what proportion of my ticket goes on underground? (Actually that's easy to work out - 13.9% on top of the non-tube season ticket... or is it fairer to use the tube season ticket fare - 48.8%?)

I'm not sure what I'm concluding here. Maybe just that 11.80 doesn't seem reasonable for 5 hours and 47 minutes of my time, and that I'm unable to think of a fairer system of compensation.

TFL tube fares
National Rail season ticket calculator
Realtime trains
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Cover of Survivors | 5th April 2015, 16:24  
It's been eight months since I read book number 3 in my Star Trek: The Next Generation re-read, and I've finally got to reading book 4, Jean Lorrah's Survivors. My thoughts on the content can be found elsewhere, but here's the cover image from the US Pocket Books edition:

Blog Image

The UK edition is almost identical, which was a surprise given the differences in the earlier books. This time, it's just the publisher logo swapping to the top right, the more prominent numeral (4) on an oval background in the top left, and a change of typeface and layout for the text. The cover image appears to be identical across the two versions.

The image is actually very striking, including portraits of Tasha Yar and Data - who are indeed the main characters of this novel - imposed over a skyline that represents the planet they visit in the story. There's also a slightly weird layer in between which seems to show two characters in bare feet walking through Tasha's hair.

The two portraits are good representations of their subjects, both taken from publicity stills for the first season, and it's nice to see Tasha get this prominence for a character that might have risked not selling a story particularly well (though maybe the fandom at the time was clamouring for more Tasha?).

Blog Image Blog Image

The skyline isn't how I envisioned the planet, but on reflection could easily be the one described in the pages of the novel, but the two people walking through Tasha's hair confuse me.

I'm not sure who they are meant to be - Data and Tasha? Tasha and one of the book's guest characters? The man looks like he's wearing a battered Starfleet uniform, though I don't recall one falling apart like that in the story - there are times where Tasha is out of uniform though, so it could be her. That layer just feels out of place though, and I'm not sure why the artist felt the need to add it.

Overall though a very good cover and one that certainly attracted me to want to read the book, which I also very much enjoyed.
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Book of the Year 2014 | 30th December 2014, 01:08  
At the start of the year I published a post listing my books of the year from 2009 - 2013 and promised that I'd announce a 2014 winner.

I've read just over 100 books in 2014, and of those awarded five stars to eleven of them. I've spent some time this evening working out which to shortlist for the award.

I assembled the 11 books on the longlist, lined them in alphabetical order, and paired them off. I then re-read my reviews of each and eliminated one from each pair. The last book alphabetically got a bye giving me 6 books remaining.

I repeated the process to get down to a final three:

Dead Tomorrow by Peter James

A story in the Roy Grace series, in which a woman with a desperately ill daughter is dragged into a plot to buy organs. Really good characterisation and a completely believable plot.

On The Last Day of Christmas by Chris Brookmyre

A novella, really short, that re-introduces the journalist Jack Parlebane, down on his luck and working for a daily in London, as he's offered the story of a lifetime. Takes real world events in the world of journalism and uses them to good effect in what's nominally a comedy but is actually quite serious.

Police by Jo Nesbo

Possibly the final Harry Hole story. Really emotional - it's rare a book can get me that involved with the characters the I honestly fear for their lives.

So who will win? Or will I read something better in the remaining 48 hours of 2014?
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Saying goodbye to Clive Cussler | 30th December 2014, 00:27  
I was introduced to Clive Cussler in my teenage years by my friend Dan. He'd been reading them for a while, and attempted on several occasions to convince me to check them out from the school library. I resisted, so he gave me the first book, Pacific Vortex, for my birthday - let's say my 15th for the sake of narrative (it was around then, as Atlantis Found was already out).

I was soon buying up the then 18 books in the series - the rest of the main Dirk Pitt series and the first two 'Numa Files' stories. Having completed the set within two years, I've bought in hardback every book in those series, plus the newer Oregon Files, Isaac Bell, and Fargo series - usually on the release day - I have 56 novels in all.

Until now. Havana Storm, the 23rd Dirk Pitt novel and the 7th since authorship of that series moved to Cussler's son Dirk was published in the UK in late 2014, and I haven't bought a copy.

I believe that the best books were the earliest ones. This is a claim even I doubt, having not re-read any of them, and so in fact having not read any of what I consider the 'originals' for ten years. I felt at the time that the story had 'jumped the shark' with the introduction of the teleport suitcase and the main character's surprise adult children in Valhalla Rising, and generally feel that the main series has become more and more generic since.

There have been a few standout books since then - the first few in the Oregon Files series, and the first Isaac Bell book (The Chase - also the only 'recent' book with only Cussler's name on it). There have also been some that were terrible (Corsair really annoyed me). I've kept going though, because it's something I do, and with the expectation that there will at some point be an end... but that seems less and less likely. Other authors, such as Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, who also use named 'co-writers', have both continued publishing after their deaths, and I certainly expect now the Cussler brand to be continued, as clearly it's still making money at four books a year.

For me though, I think it's time to check out. I'll probably go back to the early books and have another read at some point, but I'm in no rush (and they are in storage for now anyway).

Goodbye Clive Cussler. It was fun.
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Cover of The Children of Hamlin | 9th June 2014, 19:34  
Continuing my cover analysis series as I re-read the early Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, I've reached The Children of Hamlin. My thoughts on the novel are available elsewhere, but here's the cover of the US Pocket edition.

Blog Image

My copy is the UK Titan edition of the book, the cover differences are minimal: a lighter purple for the background colour, the number 3 more prominent in the top left, the publisher's logo at the top right instead of the bottom, no shadow on the main logo, title in yellow, and cover text in bold. And one major difference in the image (which I'll get to).

The cover image's background shows a series of bubbles - spoiler alert - these are the alien spacecraft featured in the novel, and the image quite accurately matches the description in the novel. There's also a planet (yes, a planet features in the novel too!), and a picture of the Enterprise. Interestingly, on my UK edition, the Enterprise has been rotated 45 degrees anti-clockwise, so it sits at a jaunty angle, as if someone was concerned that otherwise it would crash into the head of the character on the left.

Let's talk about the characters on the cover.

On the right, we have an excellent portrait of Captain Picard in season one uniform, which matches the time the novel is set (it features Tasha Yar). Similarly, the portrait of Doctor Crusher matches the actress really well. But who is the character on the left?

There are two real options having read the novel, and I'm afraid it doesn't seem to match either:

a) Ruthe - Woman, tight grey cloak, loose locks of straight black hair, pale skin.

b) Patrisha - Woman, strong features, greying hair braided in single plait to her waist, rough hands, thick frame, from a culture that shuns technology.

If anything, it seems to be a cross between the two.

Overall though, far from a bad cover.
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Cover of The Peacekeepers | 9th February 2014, 12:51  
I've just read The Peacekeepers, the second regular book in the tie-in series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I've written my thoughts on the contents elsewhere, but here's what I think of the cover.

Blog Image

This is the Pocket Books cover that the novel bore in the US. My UK copy was published by Titan, but the differences are really limited to the top half - the layout is slightly different and the TNG logo doesn't have that awful drop shadow.

The cover art is attractive and well produced. The images of Worf, Picard and Troi seem very true to their actual likenesses in the early episodes of the TV show, although I'm not entirely sure what Troi is meant to be wearing - it looks like a dark waistcoat over long grey sleeves, which I don't recall ever seeing her wear on TV.

There's a lovely blue spaceship and a planet below.

All of these things appear in the story... however...

And now this is a spoiler alert for the book.

... the story's main character is not Worf, Picard or Troi (though they at least appear, unlike Wesley Crusher), but Geordi La Forge. And if I had to identify a second main character, it would be Data. Only then might the others come in. It does make me wonder what the publishers' reasons might be for choosing the wrong characters to depict.

Or, maybe the publishers didn't read the story before giving the artist their brief?

The main alien spaceship that appears in the story is described as a dark rectangle. Clearly not cover image material! The blue ship formed from three domes does make an appearance - for about thirty seconds near the end, before being (spoiler) revealed to be a hologram.

And then there's the planet, which is very specifically described as having no natural satellites, yet there's one, right there on the cover.

Top marks for artwork, but poor marks for choice of content. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Geordi and Data on the cover, along with the massive space station that appears in the story.
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Book of the Year Award | 18th January 2014, 23:09  
Since January 2009 - five years ago - I've been writing reviews of every book I read. It's got quite arduous at times, and there have been days where I'd rather work on the website to host the reviews than to actually write them.

In 2010 I had the idea of awarding a 'Jim's Book Award' for my favourite book of the year, after reading something I thought was really fantastic. I also thought there might be some other categories too.

I thought I might order a little cup online and get a little engraved plaque, and send it off to the author with a little certificate, photographing everything and documenting it here on my blog that nobody reads.

This is course never happened. Little cups were more expensive than I thought. Engraved plaques had a maximum character-count that was too small. And it was quite a cheesy idea that nothing would ever come of.

But now, after five years, I thought I might as well log for future reference what those winners would have been, so here we go:

2009: The Writer's Tale

A sort-of behind-the-scenes / biography from Russell T Davies (the man behind the successful relaunch of Doctor Who) and journalist Benjamin Cook, taking the form of emails the pair exchanged as Davies wrote the fourth series.

I really loved the candid nature of the presentation - nothing had been cut regardless of how disconnected it was from the central premise, which was meant to be the writing process.

I bought the sequel/paperback in 2010, and have now read this book three times - more than any other in the last five years.

2010: Shades of Grey

Somewhat different from the similarly-titled book from a few years later, Jasper Fforde's slightly-comic look at a dystopian future where nobody remembers the 'thing that happened' and there is a shortage of spoons.

In 2013 I described this book to someone as my favourite book ever, and they shamed me by making me realise I'd only read it once. I immediately read it again and agreed completely with the 2010 version of me.

The book that inspired this list, and one that faced some pretty tough competition in 2010, when I first encountered Brandon Sanderson through his Wheel of Time entry (The Gathering Storm), I re-read Casino Royale, and finished Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy (with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest).

2011: Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks

2011 was a tough year, in which I gave 5 stars to 12 books, but I think this was the one that was my favourite.

It wasn't newly published in that year, but I adapted the rules for my awards so that they could award any book I read for the first time, rather than just new ones - this widens the field dramatically.

I was introduced to Christopher Brookmyre's comedic writings by a friend, and was instantly hooked on the adventures of Scottish journalist Jack Parlabane, who in this novel takes on a more serious topic than usual as the author moves his focus into debunking nonsense over swearing for laughs.

2012: The Tawny Man Trilogy

No one book stood out for me in 2012, so I've adapted the rules again - three books that I gave a collective 14 stars seems to be well deserving of a prize. Robin Hobb's third trilogy in the Realm of the Elderlings returned to Fitz, the main character from the first trilogy, and told of his adventures as an adult.

I've really enjoyed all Robin Hobb's works and am glad that my bookshelf contains a good number I've not yet read and can look forward to enjoying in 2014.


I gave 5 star reviews to 17 books in 2013, which I find quite surprisingly looking back as I try to be quite sparing with them, and it's a difficult field to choose from.

Robin Hobb did well again, and there are six Star Trek novels in the mix which is astounding. I think though that it has to be a tie between two fantastic fantasy novels which purport to be for the young adult market but both have really stuck with me.

Terra by Mitch Benn, and The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson.

Benn's book is comic genius and a really emotional read as an alien adopts a human child. Sanderson's (I can hardly believe how much he manages to write) amazing skills at world-building and magic come together again in a strong and relatable character who doesn't fit into his world.

Both books bring the promise of sequels for which I cannot wait.

2014: ???

I'm three books into the year and there's already one candidate. I'm looking forward to another year hunting out fantastic stories, and many of the above-mentioned authors already appear on either my reading- or wish-list (or both), so I'm sure I'm in for many treats.
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