The Ambassador by Graham McNeill

Product info (from Goodreads):

Grizzled ex-general Kaspar von Velten finds himself unprepared for his duties as the new ambassador to the court of Tsarina. Not ready for the power struggles and politics, Kaspar is soon using his battlefield experience to cajole, influence, and get his way. But when a member of Tsarina’s family is murdered in Kaspar’s homeland, relationships become strained to the point of war.

My impressions:

This time let me re-write the product info because I feel the one I copied and pasted from Goodreads hardly does this book justice.

So…  where to start? Ok, let’s try the beginning. A grizzled ex-general who behaves like a teenager finds himself unprepared for his duties because, as soon as he arrives, he falls in insta-love with a local hussy of noble birth. Insert a major roll-eye. Kaspar, the said general, is the new ambassador to the court of Tsarina but he comes to a foreign country without a cook, servants or money. What’s even worse, he comes without any agenda, hidden or otherwise. By the way the Tsarina, who seems to be a love child of the Snow Queen and Ivan the Terrible, has just one notable trait, her blue hair, and a super-duper sword inherited from an ancestor – not especially impressive. Ok, let me return to the actual plot.

Not ready for the power struggles and politics, Kaspar makes one cliche mistake after another. Remind me again, why such a klutz was sent abroad in a capacity of an ambassador? No idea? Oh well… His battlefield experience also seems to be very limited – it should have taught him to travel with a cook and plenty of food supplies for instance. By the way, an ambassador or not, never quarrel with a man you know nothing about as soon as you arrive to your new post.

Final verdict:

This book disappointed me and I DNFed it with real pleasure after hitting one third of all pages. I hate stupid ambassadors and, generally, stupid characters.

Posted in a total failure, adventure, book review, fantasy, grimdark, rating | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie review: Deadpool (2016) directed by Tim Miller

Product info:

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary. His world comes crashing down when he finds out he has a cancer. His only hope is an evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) but that man takes a dislike to Wade. He tortures, disfigures and transforms him into Deadpool. The rogue experiment leaves Deadpool with accelerated healing

powers and a grudge. With help from mutant allies Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life and kidnapped his fiancee. 

My impressions:

To be honest there’s nothing much to say. The movie is a pastiche of Avengers/Superhero movies and it does it well although sometimes the jokes are flying low, too juvenile to be really funny. Still I enjoyed it, especially those moments when Wilson was laughing off Hollywood’s incessant pursuit of physical perfection and eternal youth. Plus, of course, their fixation on sex. Visual effects were also quite decent but the plot was same old Marvel stuff. If not for constant wisecracking I would get bored after fifteen minutes.

Final verdict:

Fast, funny and a bit profane – if you like X-Men parodies that tend to subvert the whole formula, this one is for you. Still watch it at home and don’t invite younger teens along. Deadpool 2 ? Maybe.

Posted in cartoon based comedy adventure, fantasy, fantasy action movie, movie review, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Product info (from Goodreads):

Flights is a series of imaginative and mesmerising meditations on travel in all its forms, not only the philosophy and meaning of travel, but also fascinating anecdotes that take us out of ourselves, and back to ourselves.

Olga Tokarczuk brilliantly connects travel with spellbinding anecdotes about anatomy, about life and death, about the very nature of humankind. Thrilling characters and stories abound: the Russian sect who escape the devil by remaining constantly in motion; the anatomist Verheyen who writes letters to his amputated leg; the story of Chopin’s heart as it makes its journey from Paris to Warsaw, stored in a tightly sealed jar beneath his sister’s skirt; the quest of a Polish woman who emigrated to New Zealand as a teen but must now return in order to poison her terminally ill high-school sweetheart…

My impressions:

It is not an easy book, with nice, linear narration like a scheduled trip from point A to point B. If I had to compare it to a journey, it would be a travel of somebody who has too much time and money on their hands; they are meandering without any goal, following just their own whims and they are horribly whimsical. In some places they stay far longer than they intended to; in others they leave after just several hours. The majority of the novel is written in first person singular narrative voice so at first it seems you’re dealing with just a travelling journey of the author, served in bite-sized fragments, some mere paragraphs; then Tokarczuk adds some fictional biographies and letters. Still the story doesn’t get more coherent because of them.

Flights takes you also back in time – to the 17th century Netherlands or Austria for example – to tell you about the history of anatomy, autopsies and tissue preservation. And then you return to modernity in order to hear various tales about travellers and their adventures. One is about Eryk, a ferry worker who goes off piste one day with a full load of passengers; another is about a woman whose elderly husband is teaching on a cruise of the Greek islands and has an accident. A young couple with a child are traversing a small, Croatian island when the wife and the son get lost. Or disappear. Everything can happen when you are moving, right? Don’t expect easy answers to all your questions or nice, tied-up endings to all the stories. After all the author warned you early on – she loves cabinets of medical curiosities and all things broken.

Final verdict:

A rambling journey, with some parts more and some less interesting but overall worth reading. I had to finish it even if it left me a bit uneasy.

Posted in book review, contemporary, historically-flavoured, literary fiction | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Movie review: Anon (2018) directed by Andrew Niccol

Product info:

An unspecified English-speaking country in an unspecified future. A police detective called Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) has to find a serial murderer who is also an exceptionally good hacker and, most probably, a woman. She (Amanda Seyfried) can modify memories and literally make you see things that don’t exist, creating a kind of digital ghosts or hallucinations right in your brain. When something goes bad, she shoots you straight in the head from a very close range.  In a world where everyone leaves digital footprints and people walk around with hologramed data, instantly available, hovering above their heads, she is an error, an anonymous person, a glitch. Is it possible to catch her at all? How come she exists?

My impressions:

What can be more dangerous than a woman who defies a system? Only trying to catch her… The premise really captivated my imagination. Currently ordinary people have just started to understand the real value of personal data; the director transferred us to a reality where 24/7 surveillance is not only acceptable but quite normal and digitalization of, basically, everything, has so many uses. You know everybody you pass on the street. Your mirror might be also your computer screen, tv screen, and a videophone  panel. You don’t have to carry keys around – your car lock and door lock will recognize you instantly and as long as you think the right code it is punched in and accepted. There are drawbacks but who would think about them twice?

Still I feel several humorous scenes would make this movie far more enjoyable. The scenery consisted of just a few cityscapes, usually at night, and a lot of cement gray walls, gray stone pavements, and steel lifts. Even the interiors of private homes looked as if they were designed by a minimalist zen monk who loved just three colours: white, black and sepia. A sense of humour would be like a fern positioned in the crucial spot.  I also wish the director/scriptwriter  at least tried to explain some tricks used to forward the plot, like whether people were born with a digitalized brain and  an Internet connection or just acquired it later (and if yes then how). Also some of the dialogues between the characters who were supposed to be top-notch experts but were just stating the obvious time and again, made me smile ( good but rather unintentional). Oh, and there was a sex scene in which our intrepid heroine wore her bra all the time – self-conscious or a fan of a futuristic kink?

Final verdict:

A cheap, bleak, hi-tech cyber-thriller which pretends to be as disturbing as dystopias penned by Philip Dick but is just a poor wannabe cousin, twice-removed.

Posted in dystopia, movie review, noir thriller, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Reviewing a classic: The Little Sister (Philip Marlowe 05) by Raymond Chandler

Product info:  (from Goodreads):

Chandler’s 5th novel has Philip Marlowe going to Hollywood as he explores the underworld of glitter capital, trying to find a sweet young thing’s missing brother.

A movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend and a pair of siblings with a shared secret lure Marlowe into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame.

My impressions:

Chandler can spin you an impressive tale and he does it in a style which would make any writer drool – easy to read, atmospheric, funny and somehow real. Still only after rereading this one I noticed that detective Philip Marlowe is, in fact, a Mary Sue. Or rather Gary Stu.

A man without a background or family, a man without friends or casual acquaintances, a man who can play with an accidental bluebottle but doesn’t have anybody to turn to when he really needs support and kindness. A man who seems to live in his office, has no hobbies and no pastimes. Women old and young throw themselves at him all the time. He doesn’t shave, doesn’t wash his garments, doesn’t change his shirt, not even after a sleepless night spent at a police station, and he drinks evil spirits because in time of trouble there is no friend like a liquid friend. So what he can be ironic, occasionally even funny most of the time? So what he doesn’t take any jibes, not even from murderous psychopaths or hard-as-nails cops? He is still a Gary Stu, just written really, truly well.

My other carping concern women surrounding Marlowe in this one. As with many other Chandler novels, all females presented here are a bunch of duplicitous backstabbers. Mousy, coy backstabbers, dark Latina sexpot backstabbers, or glamorous, icy Cinderella backstabbers, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s only me but it seems Mister Chandler was wronged by women more than once and decided there is no revenge like literary revenge. He was right even if you cannot call it gentleman-like.

Now the good things. The first chapter is perhaps the best first chapter of the Marlowe novels I’ve read. It is snabby, funny, riveting, and fantastic, thanks to Marlowe’s quick sardonic wit and turn of phrase. Say what one must about his characterization, but Chandler knew how to string words together. If only he didn’t have a propensity for convoluted plots.

Final verdict:

Still a classic I will return to when my mood takes me again – it was hardly flawless but it was good.

Posted in book review, classic, crime, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rudi is a cook in a Kraków restaurant, but when his boss asks Rudi to help a cousin escape from the country country he’s trapped in, a new career – part spy, part people-smuggler – begins. Following multiple economic crises and a devastating flu pandemic, Europe has fractured into countless tiny nations, duchies, polities and republics. Recruited by the shadowy organisation Les Coureurs des Bois, Rudi is schooled in espionage, but when a training mission to The Line, a sovereign nation consisting of a trans-Europe railway line, goes wrong, he is arrested, beaten and Coureur Central must attempt a rescue.

With so many nations to work in, and identities to assume, Rudi is kept busy travelling across Europe. But when he is sent to smuggle someone out of Berlin and finds a severed head inside a locker instead, a conspiracy begins to wind itself around him.

With kidnapping, double-crosses and a map that constantly re-draws, Rudi begins to realise that underneath his daily round of plot and counter plot, behind the conflicting territories, another entirely different reality might be pulling the strings…

My impressions:

After a solid beginning the book got boring. Really boring. Even though I truly enjoyed some acute remarks about Poles, Balts, Russians, Germans and other nations scattered here and there, overall the plot failed to engage me and the future of Europe sounded off. What’s even more important, the novel seemed to be just a collection of short stories – very shallow short stories to boot, stories which had nothing to say and entertained me for just some minutes. Stories which had nothing to do with the ‘sci-fi’ label. I feel cheated. The narrative was vaguely tied up by Rudi, a chef from Estonia, and a coureur without any agenda or goals. Rudi was a guy as lukewarm as ‘chambre’ wine, and no, it is not a compliment. He moved from one country to another, losing his steam all the time. If you don’t care about the main hero, soon you stop caring about the whole book, sad but true. I finished the story just skimming pages. Boring.

Final verdict:

Meh. Read only if you are strongly motivated.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in alternate history, book review, dystopia, thriller | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy 01) by Dan Abnett

Product info (from Goodreads):

After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the imperium of man is at its height. His dream for humanity nearly accomplished, the emperor hands over the reins of power to his warmaster, Horus, and heads back to Terra. But is Horus strong enough to control his fellow commanders and continue the emperor’s grand design?

My impressions:

This was my first real exposure to the WH40k universe which I’ve heard of long time ago. I enjoyed it, even though the book was dark, violent and gun happy. In fact some chapters seemed to me like a description of toy shop shelves for big and small boys who’ve always dreamed of buying a sword, a tank, a crossbow, and RPG’s because let’s face it, there’s nothing better than a good armoury.

Fortunately there was a good story in here as well, a story about the conquest of unknown worlds and galaxies. It was complimented by a personal journey of more than one character (and Loken was my favourite). Horus Rising didn’t answer all questions it posed straight away – in other words there were plenty of plot holes around. I understood. I felt it was more of an introduction, a novel beginning a series and sowing the seeds for what is to come, a novel aimed at an established group of WH40k fans. I just wish that the author took more time to explain the different terminologies in the book. Not all people play actively in WH40k after all.

Final verdict:

Quick, fun sci-fi read. A book that sets up a universe, sets up a story, and is able to present several well-rounded characters – no mean feat. If you are curious, do give it a try. By the way if you want to know a bit about the game, the whole series and much, much more, go here.

Posted in adventure, book review, dystopia, fantasy, grimdark, sci-fi | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Devil Red (Hap and Leonard 08) by Joe R. Lansdale

Synopsis (almost from Goodreads):

Leonard Pine and Hap Collins are two hit men turned private detectives. When their friend Marvin asks them to look into a cold-case double homicide, they’re more than happy: they like trouble, and they especially like getting paid to find it. It turns out that both of the victims were set to inherit serious money, and one of them ran with a vampire cult. The more closely Hap and Leonard look over the crime-scene photos, the more they see, including the image of a red devil’s head painted on a tree. A little research turns up a slew of murders with that same fiendish signature. And if that’s not enough, Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker cap . . . Will this be the case that finally sends Hap over the edge?

My impressions:

I jumped once again right in the middle of a long series (as far as I know there are 12 parts available) and felt immediately at home. Hap and Leonard had a goofy sense of humour – I guess that’s why it was so easy. It seems Lansdale’s formula of writing a whodunit goes as follows: you need one middle-aged redneck, one mouthy gay black best friend of the said redneck, both with an unerring instinct for irritating the living hell out of dangerous people, you add plenty of shooting and blood plus some vampire wannabes. Easy peasy.

I was progressing nicely and after the first half of the book I was thinking mainly positive thoughts. Unfortunately it didn’t last.  The plot thickened. And thickened some more. I turned one more page and all of a sudden there were too many coincidences, too many murders and too much mayhem. Near the end the book left me exasperated and I wasn’t buying the premise any longer. I don’t want to spoil you so I can’t be very specific; let me just say that one secondary character called Vanilla Ride decided to butt in and solve all the problems. I wasn’t impressed. I like it when main characters solve their problems on their own, deerstalker hat or no deerstalker hat.

Final verdict:

For fans of experiencing vicariously wholesale carnage and bloody shooting. I am not sure whether I want to check other parts of this series. Devil Red, even if funny, was quite enough.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Reviewing a classic: Lady in the Lake (Philip Marlowe 04) by Raymond Chandler

Product info (from Goodreads):

A couple of missing wives—one a rich man’s and one a poor man’s—become the objects of Marlowe’s investigation. One of them may have gotten a Mexican divorce and married a gigolo and the other may be dead. Marlowe’s not sure he cares about either one, but he’s not paid to care. He’s paid to find out what happened.

My impressions:

First published in 1943, it is the fourth book in a series penned by Raymond Chandler. The man is a legend. He started his career as a writer in 1932, at age forty-four, after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression. Three of Chandler’s novels are often considered to be masterpieces of detective fiction:  Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). This one isn’t among them and I completely understand why.

The narrative starts off very well – Marlowe is asked to find a missing wife, Chrystal Kingsley. Her husband is worried and not without a reason – Chrystal was wild, spoiled, and financially independent. Soon the detective has another case on his hands, that of Muriel Chess whose body he finds in the lake while investigating the disappearance of Chrystal. Did the women know each other? Were they somehow connected? If yes, how? It was very nice, coherent and easy to follow – up to a point. The close-to-perfect plot was marred at the end, becoming predictable, almost silly, even though the author tried some of his tricks. Perhaps he didn’t think it through as thoroughly as in the case of previous books. Perhaps he lost inspiration. It happens. Also I missed the trademark witty dialogues and internal monologues of Marlowe. Still the book wasn’t a complete fail. In order to prove it I would like to quote four brilliant sentences:

“Police business,” he said almost gently, “is a hell of a problem. It’s a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men . So we have to work with what we get— and we get things like this.”

Final verdict:

A second rate Chandler novel which ending seemed to me ridiculous even though the prose was flowing nicely for most of the story. Still, mind you, a second rate Chandler remains way better than first rate of many other whodunit authors.

Posted in book review, classic, crime, mystery, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Embedded by Dan Abnett

Product info (from Goodreads):

HE’D DO ANYTHING TO GET A STORY. When journalist Lex Falk gets himself chipped into the brain of a combat soldier, he thinks he has the ultimate scoop – a report from the forbidden front line of a distant planetary war, live to the living rooms of Earth. When the soldier is killed, however, Lex has to take over the body and somehow get himself back to safety once more… broadcasting all the way.

My impressions:

The premise was brilliant as it dealt with psychology along with sci-fi and other issues. Lex Falk is a renowned journalist who would do anything for a great story. He takes part in a very risky experiment –  he agrees to be embedded into another man’s brain. Everything goes to the devil when that man, a career soldier called Nestor Bloom, gets shot and almost dies. Almost –  because Lex’s persona in his brain was able to take over his brain and keep his body alive. All of that happened in Eighty Six, an area of unrest, even possible guerilla conflict, without any medical help at hand.

The beginning was great, the rest – not especially so. The middle was too long, too descriptive. When I was curious how Nestor and Lex managed to coexist in one brain, a brain damaged by a bullet to boot, I was given plenty of detail concerning army uniforms, weapons, means of transport, their engines, ways of propulsion etc. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fine example of sci-fi world building. Still I felt the actual embedding should have been put in a more prominent place. As it was, the author missed out on so many opportunities to explore the psychological issues of dwelling within another’s mind, which would qualify as a kind of artificial schizophrenia.

The ending was also pretty rushed, as if the author decided that enough is enough and he’s spent too long describing all those juicy toys weapons and other futuristic equipment, allowing U.S. army to fight on another planet. By the way, the fact that they still had to fight some Block special ops militants who speak Russian and wear red stars on their outfits I found rather… anachronistic. Couldn’t they fight the Chinese or even aliens?

Final verdict:

Kudos for the mere idea but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Meh.

 

Posted in book review, dystopia, fantasy, grimdark, military, sci-fi | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments