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The Last Day

The Last Day

Andrew Hunter Murray

22nd March 2020

I’ve been listening to Andrew Hunter Murray on the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast for many years, and so when I heard that he’d published a novel I bought it immediately without pause for thought. It’s probably not what I’d usually buy, but I’m totally happy with my decision in this case.

It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future Britain following an entirely fictional massive environmental disaster, which unlike our own isn’t caused by ourselves. The world is dystopian, and we’re slowly introduced to the horrors by our main character - a scientist who’s been away from Britain studying the seas for a few years.

The story is good, the narrative is good (better than some extremely high profile thrillers I’ve read, and in this case a first-time novelist), and the world building is incredible. I mean it paints a picture of a terrifyingly believable future world - one that I can easily see ours descending into following some sort of natural disaster… which when I read it felt like we were heading towards (although as I write this we’ve been surprised by a totally different one!).

I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with the resolution - it felt a bit like there was more conclusion that I wanted, but it is reminiscent of other classic dystopian tales. There might be room for a sequel, but I don’t think one is necessary - the story that I think the book wants to tell isn’t the plot, but is in the allegory for real life.

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False Value

False Value

Ben Aaronovitch

22nd March 2020

The eight full-length novel in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London series is happily back in the territory of the stand-alone adventure, after the previous novel’s slightly confusing attempt to wrap up some ongoing plot threads. We meet Peter, recently having left the police, as he begins a new job as a security guard for a high tech business in London.

I mean, it’s great. The plot takes some real world elements and adds some magical twists, the character’s lives keep moving along outside this at a realistic pace. The cast of characters is as rich, detailed, and amusing as always, and the interactions between the characters are great fun.

This novel contains a great collection of references and jokes - particularly to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series - as well as some humour at its own expense, particularly around how the character has come to speak in policese. I’m not sure how well this would work for readers who aren’t familiar with the source material of these references - but then I don’t know whether the Venn diagram of readers will have a large segment of Aaronovitch but not Adams readers.

The one thing that always throws me about this series though continues - a feeling that I’ve missed something. Between each novel it seems that things have been happening to the characters - almost like they have real lives and we are only seeing brief windows in the novels. But this always leaves me feeling slightly confused about some elements and unsure whether they are things I’ve forgotten, or things I’m just meant to infer from the text.

Overall though, another really fantastic novel.

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The Last Best Hope

The Last Best Hope

Una McCormack

20th March 2020

The Last Best Hope is the first tie-in novel for the new Star Trek: Picard TV series, in which we return to the era of the Next Generation to find out what’s been happening some 25 years later. The novel serves as a prequel to the series, and fills in the detail of some of the events 14 years earlier, charting how the effects of events depicted in the 2009 movie affected this, the prime timeline, and led directly to where me meet Picard now.

Although the novel was published after episode 3, I think it’s best read after episode 4 - as it covers a lot of the detail of things that are alluded to in the first four episodes, and could be considered a spoiler if you’ve not seen these already. Arguably, you might want to watch episode 5 first too, but I think it works well after episode 4.

I maintain that Una McCormack is one of the best Star Trek authors out there, and I was incredibly pleased to hear she was writing this. It’s an amazingly well told tale of incredibly difficult times, and she successfully weaves in Star Trek’s classic parallels to today without it seeming in any way forced. The characters leap out of the page in a way that’s almost greater than they do on TV - the background really helps in engaging and empathising with them in the TV series too.

I have to be a little disappointed that the new TV series effectively erases a good chunk of the storyline that I’ve enjoyed reading in the novels over the past decades, and this book sits solidly in the new canon, though there are a few small nods where possible. I’m glad however that the reason the novel continuity has ended is positive - that we have a new TV series which is quite possibly the best written Trek yet.

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The Road to Mars

The Road to Mars

Eric Idle

19th March 2020

I picked this novel up in a charity shop based primarily on knowing who the author is, and was really pleased when I eventually got around to reading it. It’s the tale of two comedians, who having failed in auditioning for a job on a cruise ship, attempt to head to Mars seeking work, only for everything to go wrong.

It’s funny, but it’s also a good story, with real characters who have real lives, and an almost over complex number of layers of things going on at the same time (although not). There are many references back to comedians of the 20th Century - nods and winks as it were - including to the work of Douglas Adams, and indeed a particularly amusing few pages of fourth-wall breaking as one of the characters discusses the work and life of the novel’s actual author.

A good book that accompanied me on some unusual journeys - and more than I might have hoped for.

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Buy book: UK
Death is Forever

Death is Forever

John Gardner

19th March 2020

The twelfth James Bond novel published by long-standing continuation author John Gardner sees the British secret agent embracing the mores of the early 1990s as he investigates the disappearance of some former agents around Europe.

In some senses, it’s a classic Bond novel - exotic travel on the latest high class trains, female characters with absurdly suggestive names, and over-the-top villains. Yet it’s almost spoilt by Gardner’s attempts to make it work as a contemporary story - these things seem cheesy and forced into the novel, rather than the airy, natural feeling of being in place in the original Fleming stories (not that every line of Fleming’s has survived the test of time!).

I remember reading this novel as a teenager, yet only one line has stuck in my mind and the plot was totally alien. That the line in question was entirely inconsequential and entirely about trying to seem in place in the 1990s only emphasises the feeling I expressed above.

As a novel, it’s okay - but it’s not Gardner’s best entry in the series.

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Buy book: UK
The Phantom Freighter

The Phantom Freighter

Franklin W Dixon, Amy McFarlane & Priscilla Baker-Carr

16th March 2020

Another classic from the heyday of the original Hardy Boys (albeit the re-written version from the 60s in my case) sees the two detectives and their friends trying to help a random man they meet plan a holiday.

It’s an unusual setup, and there’s a surprising amount of different things going on - but it adds up into a good story that I enjoyed reading. I’m fairly confident this is one that I’ve not read before (although the line is starting to get blurry now as I fill in all the gaps in my collection).

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs

9th February 2020

I picked up a really nice, surprisingly heavy, hardback edition of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children from a charity shop, and was surprised to find I was reading a story with great similarity to the film based upon it.

It’s the story of a boy who doesn’t believe his grandfather’s stories of monsters and peculiar friends, but when he sees one, he sets of on an adventure to find out more about his ancestor’s youth.

It’s a good fun story, mysterious and fantastical, and punctuated by peculiar photographs (which the author reveals at the end are all authentic vintage pictures which inspired the story).

What I found most startling though was how closely the filmmakers followed the story. This was a bit distracting actually, as it meant the images in my head were of the actors. Until suddenly the stories divided, and the book went somewhere else entirely.

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The Edge of Reason

Reading soon

  1. White Sand volume two
  2. A Keeper
  3. The Secret of Skull Mountain
  4. The Yiddish Policeman's Union