Thursday, 22 October 2009

REVIEW : The Road by Cormac McCarthy


McCarthy needs no real introduction , one of the modern greats in American literature . Winner of countless awards ( including the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) .

The Novel itself is set in an undisclosed time though it appears to be set in the very near future . The world has suffered a catastrophe resulting in the breakdown of civilisation , It is in this setting we are introduced to 'the man' and 'the boy' . We follow these 2 characters as they travel south across the US , away from their previous lives and the encroaching winter . And that is essentially it in way of plot , McCarthy doesn't explain anything about the state of the country or world at large after the event, we are told little of what has happened to society other than that it has descended into chaos, yet none of this diminishes the novel.

The story pans out in small dialogues between the father and his son, or little vignettes a few lines long , what makes this so engaging is the absolutely beautiful prose . McCarthy manages to put an exceptional amount of emotion into such spartan text , you feel their concern for each other, their futures and their feelings towards the lives they left behind. We see then struggle onwards towards their destination , searching the picked bare remnants of America for simple things like food and clothing (one of the most touching scenes in the entire novel comes with the man finding something we all take for granted for his son) .

The Road is not a large book, the Picador UK edition comes in at around 300 pages long, but its even smaller than this modest page count due stripped back nature of the text ( pages go by with one liners back and forth between the man and boy) . It can be read in a matter of hours, certainly easily in only a few days, but I promise it will stay with you for far far longer. At it's core it's a book about the depth of feeling between 2 people, the bond between and father and son and how this bond pulls them thorough time and time again when everything and everyone around them is sinking into ruin.

The Road is a thought provoking , emotional and consummately atmospheric novel , It is a bleak novel and I doubt anyone would finish it and say it was a fun read, BUT , it is a novel you must read, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't .

10/10 Simply stunning.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Musical interlude

Mass Effect 2 Dated

BioWare announced yesterday that the company will be shipping Mass Effect 2 in North America on January 26, 2010, and Europe on January 29. Those who pre-order the title will receive in-game bonuses, depending on where the game is ordered.

This is pretty awesome news, Mass Effect is one of my favourite titles of this generation. Roll on the 29th of January \o/

The Painted Man Review

The Painted Man tells the tale of Arlen whom we meet as a 11 year old boy in the aftermath of a demon attack on the village of Tibbet's Brook. Arlen lives in a world where the coming of night brings the rise of the coreling , demons of various flavours ( wood near forests , stone in the highlands / mountain ranges and sand in the desert , you get the picture ) Humanity has chosen to hide behind magical wards that these coreling cannot cross , living sheltered lives only during daylight hours.

Without spoiling the story tragedy strikes and Arlen leaves home, determined to not be cowed by the coreling , angry at humanity's inability or lack of willingness to take back the night .

The story is also told through 2 other POV's , Leesha is a 13 year old girl at the start of the book and lives in the woodcutting town of Cutters Hollow . Her fairytale existence is shattered with public humiliation and she ends up apprenticed to the hamlets healer, a crone almost as fearsome as the demons themselves.

The third and final POV is that of young Rojan , when his parent wards are breached his family is slaughtered and he is taken in by the a wandering jongleur ( master performer be it in music / magic or song ) He is taken to the city of Fort Angiers and becomes apprentice to Dukes own minstrel.

Now so far it all seems so far so farmboy/girl saves the world , and I guess in part it is, but the books strength lies in the characterisation, we see Arlen , Leesha and Rojen grow up in little vignettes , skipping forward a few years each time. We get to see Leesha become a woman and an accomplished healer ( and carrier of knowledge protected by the women of her trade). We see Rojen's struggle to support himself and his alcoholic mentor, and we get to see Arlen grow to become a skilled ward maker who struggles to fight his inner demons (his desire to fight the coreling ) and eventually embarks on a career as a messenger , hunting for ways to fight the demons when he has the chance.

All in all the books has all the usual fantasy tropes , its largely predictable and it does absolutely nothing new...... However the strength lies in the way Brett has painted these characters and the absolute perfect pacing of the book . It rarely lets go from the first page , Arlen and co are very likeable , the character motivations are plausible and the corelings are suitably frightening . The Painted Man is very much a book in the mould of David Gemmell , anyone who loves a book that is simply a good fast paced story with likeable character need to read this .

Overall : 8.2 / 10

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Matter is Banks' return to the world of the Culture after a lay-off of 8 years ( Look to Windward 2000) and focuses on the often mentioned mentoring aspect of the Culture, and more specifically
the shadowy Special Circumstances division within the Culture. The story focuses on the Shellworld Sursamen (Shellworlds are ancient artificial planet consisting of fourteen nested concentric spheres internally lit by tiny thermonuclear "stars", whose layers are inhabited by various different species. )

On the 8th level of Sursamen live the Sarl, a Humanoid race lead by the royal household of Hausk.
The story begins with Ferbin Hausk , prince of Sarl and heir to the throne witnessing the murder of his father the king at the hands of his friend and right hand Tyl Loesp. Ferbin is forced to flee his home with his man servant Choubris Holse and makes his way to the tower superstructures that support the individual levels within the shellworld and provide transport to the surface. His aim is to find his sister whom left Sursamen 15 years previous to join the Culture .

Presuming Ferbin dead, Tyl Loesp is installed as regent until Oramen , youngest of King Hausks children and now heir to the 8th is of age . Oramen is a studious youth , who having expected his role as 3rd son ( King Hausks oldest son was killed during the unification of the 8th) graciously accepts Tyl Loesp as his regent and mentor, having no idea of the truth behind his warlike fathers death nor Loesps true motives.

This basically Sets up the premise of the book

One part revenge and betrayal novel
One part technological tour de force
One part intergalactic travel brochure

All the great traits of a cultural novel are there, we have the amusing ship names, the quirky ship AI's , the one man army Culture suits of doom , the condescending drone and all the other fluff that comes with a Culture novel , but the books suffers massive pacing issues , and spends a large portion of the book on a sort of intergalactic travel brochure , and while it was nice to be introduced to new species within the greater universe it has little to no bearing on the main storyline and in large parts was boring . The parts of the book set on Sursamen and involving Oramen are overall enjoyable, and play out like a tradition fantasy novel ( big bad regent out to steal the boy who would be kings throne, with overtones of something sinister pulling the strings in the background)
The scenes set on the 9th level in and around the Nameless City are where the book really starts to pick up pace and really hit its stride, this final third of Matter when Holse , Ferbin and his Special Circumstances agent sister Anaplian return to the shellworld kitted out in Nano suits with arsenals equivalent to that of a medium sized nation , and accompanied by ship who may or may not be a special forces vessel with some rather neat ricks of its own. The book reaches a typically Banksian ending that will appeal to all Culture fans and to fans of space opera at large.

Overall it was fun to read a book set again in the world of the culture, the book did having pacing issues however and at some points nearly ground to a halt , once into the final third the book flew along and was everything fans love about banks and his world.

7*/10* would have been an 8 if the tedious section in the middle was better paced

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Dragon Age : Origins

The Bioware Twitter reported a new DA:O video on YouTube yesterday , and while it doesn't show a great deal (if any) game play footage it's still worth a watch.

For those of you who are not aware of the DA:O , its the new RPG from Baldurs Gate and KOTOR devs Bioware, and has been hailed as the unofficial successor to Baldurs Gate ( and with Bioware on the case that can only be a good thing) The game is scheduled for a Q3/4 2009 release .

More details will likely emerge in the run up , and during E3 in June.

Welcome along !

So here we go, welcome along to my new blog, if things go to plan over the next few weeks the content should start to flow review wise.

Lets Kick things off with a musical interlude from the amazing Marmaduke Duke