Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

After the ride that was Ninefox Gambit, a reader could be asked how to top that. It’s a question of sequels, and one that often has a disappointing answer. In Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee shows that they can work. Taking place shortly after the events of the previous volume – one I suggest people go to – the action moves as a ghost of infamous general, the fleet he hijacks, the empire that rules them all , and the belief that goes with the imperial calendar. Much of this universe seems based around the concept of the calendar, with conflict often based on the view of a calendar. 

That’s not to say this is a boring novel. It moves along at a cracking pace, and even after reading the first, still has surprises in it. With empires, large scale battles, military protocols, it ticks all the neccessary ticks for a classic space opera. The writing style is easy to read, yet the concepts are twisted enough to require very careful reading.

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

One of the tropes of modern science fiction is the large interplantary empire. From Asimov’s Foundation, to Lucas’s Star Wars, the Empire and its machinations is one of the cogs that have helped keep the genre going. It is also one of the reasons why the large Empire falling has become a bit of a cliche as well. With a name like The Collapsing Empire, you might be inclined to be a little disappointed with John Scalzi. After reading this novel, you won’t be.

The biggest problem that the large space empire always faces is distance. Scalzi puts forward the idea of the flow, which appear to be a one way worm hole. Power in the empire is at the nexus of these “Flows”. 

It is from here that Scalzi begins a fast paced story of unexpected leaders, disasterous events, and political intrigues. Each chapter is told from one character’s point of view, with all told with a distinctive voice and attitude.  This is clearly the open salvo in a series that promises many surprises, fast paced action, and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Brothers in Business

Two brothers jointly owned a business and both were wise in worldly ways. While dying, one brother instructed his sibling to put half of their combined wealth into the grave with the casket.

The brother reluctantly agreed.

In time his brother died.

At the graveside ceremony the living brother wrote a cheque for half of their assets and placed it in the casket.

George’s Solicitor

George had responded to a call from his solitors, insisting that they meet at once. He arrived at his lawyer’s firm, and was ushered into his office.

“Do you want the bad news first or the terrible news?” the lawyer asked.

“Well, if those are my choices, I guess I’ll take the bad news first”.

“Your wife found a picture worth a half-million dollars”.

“That’s the bad news?” George was stunned? “If you call that bad, I can’t wait to hear the terrible news”.

“The terrible news is that it’s of you and your secretary”.

We Hate People Episode 18: Holiday in Trumpistan

Can you believe it’s been 5 months since we last had an episode? We can believe it, as we’re lazy buggers, but we’re finally back with an episode dedicated to the new POTUS.

The Show Notes

– We talk Trump – lots of Trump – with some non-confected disagreement even!
– Brief recommendations

Don’t forget we’d love your feedback via the website, Twitter or Facebook.

You can find out how to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music or Stitcher here. We also publish the podcasts on YouTube.

If you like this podcast you may also enjoy our gaming podcast: Flash Point

Gonorrhoea vs Diarrhoea

When her husband passed away, the wife put the usual death notice in the newspaper, but added that he had died of gonorrhoea.

Once the daily newspapers had been delivered, a good friend of the family phoned and complained bitterly

“You know very well that he died of diarrhoea, not gonorrhoea”.

Replied the widow “Yes, I know that he died of diarrhoea, but I thought it would be better for posterity to remember him as a great lover rather than the big sh#t that he really was”

Pay Negotiations

Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources rep asked a young engineer fresh out of university “And what starting salary were you looking for?”

The engineer said “In the neighbourhood of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package”.

The interviewer said “Well, what would you say to a package of 5 week’s vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, a company matching retirement fund for 50% of your salary, and a company car leased every 2 years… say, a BMW?”

The engineer sat up straight and said “Wow! Are you kidding?”

And the interviewer replied “Yeah, but you started it”.

Bank Robbery Buddies

Two friends were standing in a bank when a pair of robbers entered.

Not only did the thieves clean out the cash registers, but they walked around with bags and ordered everyone to throw their valuables in.

Just as the robbers got to the pair, one of the friends turned to the other and, passing him a bill, said “By the way, Joe, here’s that twenty bucks I owe you”.

Book Review: The View from the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that can make any other writer can blanch when comparing their own work with his. From novels and comic books, to even writing screenplay adaptations, he is a highly accomplished author and it would be no surprise if even more of his work was adapted into TV and film in the coming year – I’m already counting the days until American Gods premieres.

I’m breaking into a sweat even thinking about writing a review of of anything Gaiman has written – let alone a book collecting amongst other things his own reviews of other people’s work.

The View from the Cheap Seats is a typical Gaiman creation in that there’s a lot more to it than is evident on a quick peruse. This is one of those collections that you won’t necessarily want to read from from to back in one sitting, and nor do you need to given the varied content broken up into discreet sections. There are reviews of movies, discussions on relationships with other authors and artists, thoughts on science fiction and comics. For mine, the first section is one of the best: thoughts on the importance of libraries, bookshops and Halloween to name three topics. That said, Gaiman’s ability to engage works equally as well in the non-fiction realm and I haven’t been tempted to skip chapters on topics of little interest.

If you’re after a book of essays that are written with skill and passion, then definitely give The View From The Cheap Seats a go. If you’re looking for wild fantasy you won’t find it, but in its place you’ll fine something equally as satisfying.

 

Oxygene 3: An Unexpected Masterpiece

oxygene3Ahh, sequels. A successful sequel tends to be the exception rather than the rule, let alone a second sequel. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene is a seminal work that still has huge relevance today.

When its follow-up Oxygene 7-13 (now renamed to Oxygene 2)appeared 20 years later in 1997, it continued the thematic journey, managing to avoid most of the contemporary fads around more up-beat electronic music. Add a further 20 years and you have this week’s release of Oxygene 3. Even as a rabid Jarre fan*, I was keeping my expectations low. I knew it was impossible to match let alone better the original, but I was hoping for something that was at least a solid, enjoyable listen.

I’m pleased to report that Oxygene 3 is much more than solid or enjoyable. The best compliment I can give it, is that it completes the Oxygene picture in full. It continues beautifully from its predecessor, but even more notable is that it’s a near-flawless transition from the original. If Oxygene 2 had ended up some awful half-attempt mired in late 1990s fads, then this release would have made a perfect follow-up to the original.

There are plenty of healthy nods to Oxygene without being overbearing, but enough new in there to keep things fresh. All the iconic sounds are there without relying too heavily on history. Before completing this review I listened from Oxygene Part 1 to Part 20 and as subjective as it is, it feels like every part is needed and contributes toward the greater work. In that context, ending a trilogy was always going to be a challenge, but in Pt. 20 I’d argue Jarre has found the right balance between grandeur and the personal journey it’s been for him and all of us who’ve been along for the ride.

The optimist in me hopes for a second trilogy – the crackling flames at the very end of the album shows the fire is still burning. The pessimist in me however, can’t see how that would be anything but a road to ruin. So it’s best probably to see this as the end of an era. If you’re new to Jarre, you’re probably best to start with the original instalment, although this release can stand up on its own merits. For those who have been there for most or all of the last forty years, Oxygene 3 may not fully match your expectations but I’d argue it goes as close as it’s possible to in that regard. This album can stand tall in a small room of admirable, substantive sequels.

*My appreciation of Jarre’s work started in 1983, as a high-school student in a drama class. We were doing some sort of relaxation / visualisation session, all of us lying down on the carpeted floor, with lights off. The ‘Drama’ room had had all its windows blacked out and the walls also painted the same colour, the only other customisation a Yamaha stereo system with pretty decent speakers mounted on the wall. On this day, the Drama teacher asked us all to close our eyes and then he played the first couple of tracks from Oxygene. To say it made an impression was an understatement. Since then I’ve bought pretty much everything Jarre has released and even spent a fruitless couple of years trying to chase him down for an interview.

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