Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

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The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

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Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

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Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

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Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

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Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

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There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

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