Colony – Rob Grant

“Eddie O’Hare considers himself to be the unluckiest man in the entire cosmos. And, bluntly, he’s got a damned fine point.”

After a computer error gets Eddie onto the radar of some unpleasant hit men, he’s more than keen to take the opportunity to swap places with a bloke who quite looks like him but is about to spend the rest of his life jetting off into space. Mankind is off to colonise the stars, you see, but it will take generations of onboard pioneers to make it.

Which is fine: Eddie’s lifespan is about to be measured in floors, vertically, if you get my drift, so just about anything is preferable.

Of course, he’s got absolutely no idea who he’s trying to pretend to be, and as it turns out the package is not exactly as sold. Finding out he’s a bit of a nasty, unliked sod is only the first of Eddie’s misidentification problems…

There’s a lot of fun and things to like here, at least in the beginning. Eddie’s bad luck is indeed atrocious, and he manages to get into worse and worse scrapes through misheard conversations, not understanding who he’s pretending to be, or knowing a thing about the mission he’s signed up for. The first hundred or so pages are a fun little farce.

However, part three opens some nine generations on – in a 5-generation journey, so quite the feat – when Eddie is awoken from a kind of stasis (did I mention this was penned by one of the¬†Red Dwarf writers?) to discover all sorts of things didn’t go to plan. Luckily – well…! – the population of the ship has forgotten how to read, giving Eddie a priest-like power to decipher the strange hieroglyphs, like “Exit”, “Airlock”, and the like. He’s also able to see the effects of the first-generation policies, such as family-inherited careers – leading to a religious fanatic of a science officer, the least holy priest ever, and a teenage captain who gets to name the planet they might just be about to fly into, “Thrrrrp”. And that’s the polite one ūüėČ

Things do start getting more than a little ridiculous from this point, but what’s been a fun read is hugely let down by a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I’m not sure if the author didn’t know where the story was going, or if he’d just hit either his wordcount or his deadline, and scurried to wrap things up. Either way, disappointing.

Hardback: 290 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2000
Series: none
Read from 8th-10th June 2017

My rating: 5.5/10 – disappointing ending, but before that it’s very easy to read if very daft

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden.”

I think it’s fair to say I’m always on the hunt for a ‘new¬†Dresden Files‘, which is a terrible expectation to put on any book/series. I think, though, I might just have stumbled across something pretty close, with the added benefit of a droll British sense of humour ūüôā

PC Peter Grant isn’t too happy that he’s about to graduate¬†from ‘thief-taker’ training to a dull police clerical role, when an encounter with a strangely see-through witness at a murder scene propels him into a rather more secretive department. Yup, the London police force has a supernatural branch! It’s a bit less X-Files – well, okay, it’s a lot like the X-Files, come to think of it, given that it’s one rather strange bloke not taken all too seriously by his¬†peers.

We follow Peter’s initiation into the ranks of magic¬†while two cases require juggling: the inciting murder and a wave of violence that seems to spread out from it in a rather familiar kind of a pattern, and a bit of a disagreement between old Father Thames and sexy newcomer Mamma Thames. Yup, those ‘rivers of London’ have actual personifications, and they’re certainly not damp squibs!

I thought the two threads balanced each other wonderfully, and really allow for Peter’s role to start to form. The magic system is excellently introduced: not too powerful, definitely not easy, and with a down-to-earth approach to the big questions like, “Do magic and science interact?” (yes, not always well), and “Why are magic spells always in Latin?” (because the people who wrote them down were trying to sound clever, more or less ;)).

If there’s a single thing I’m not sure about it’s the sweeping statements about a culture not the author’s own (or mine, so my opinion isn’t hugely valid). As a wannabe writer I’m well aware of the need for diversity in books, but¬†I do wonder a little at what point it veers dangerously close to stereotyping. This added just a mild discomfort for me at certain points, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I thought this was a brilliantly fun romp. Usually books so London-centric as to make the city a character are a bit of a turn off to me (as a non-Londoner Brit, it can be wearing!) but the author’s love of the city comes over well without all that centre-of-the-known-universe smugness. Just a lot of giggles, a bit more gore than I was expecting, and a well developed story. More, please – and oh, look: book 6 is just out. Excuse me while I go catch up ūüôā

Kindle: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant book 1
Read from 7th-15th November 2016

My rating: 8/10

Doughnut – Tom Holt

“One mistake,” Theo said sadly, “one silly little mistake, and now look at me.”

I¬†sometimes wonder why I keep reading Tom Holt books, when I invariably find them disappointing. Possibly even more so since the revelation that the wonderful, dark and twisted, KJ Parker books are flowing from the same pen. All I can suggest is that they’re my equivalent of chick-lit: easyish on the brain, mildly amusing. I hear Holt likened to Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but really, his work is a poor substitute.

That said, his more recent novels are a vast improvement on the early ones, and this one –¬†Doughnut –¬†did keep me entertained while I wasn’t feeling great. The first in the YouSpace series, it covers the invention of this marvellous thing, this create-your-own-reality-type adventure in a bottle. Literally, in a bottle.

While this is a completely brilliant idea, the execution is a little… hmm. This is my usual problem with Holt: fantastic premise, meh execution. The main issue I had was the wetness of the lead character, who has no idea what’s going on, but is manipulated throughout the book by characters who end up being less important than they’re set up¬†to be.

The kicker is the ending: a long and unfortunately necessary chunk of exposition, where the lead explains exactly what the whole plot has been about – ‘cos it’s terribly complex and clever and everything. Which it sort of is, but that ending is a damp fizzle out. Sigh. I do keep reading them, though, don’t I?

Paperback: 370 pages / 5 sub-divided parts
First published: 2013
Series: YouSpace book 1
Read from 7th-11th October 2015

My rating: 5/10

The Annihilation Score – Charles Stross

“Please allow me to introduce myself…”

I love the Laundry Files – the mix of spies and occult and all with a massive dose of humour. So, I’m predisposed to give this one a high rating – and it didn’t disappoint!

Switching narrator for the first time in the series, we follow the lovely Dr Mo O’Brien and her continuing struggles with marriage, work, and the demonically possessed violin she’s dubbed ‘Lector’.

I did enjoy the change,¬†but also missed Bob – Mo’s just a little more serious¬†and grown-up. And there are a lot of elements here that will mean nothing to you if you haven’t been following the series – from Angleton to Mhari, the denizens of the deep, and the intertangling plots from them all and more.

The plot here revolves around superheroes – well, of course: we’ve had the Laundry version of vampires, James Bond, mermaids, unicorns… and of course, the¬†Laundry take on the super-powered is just as… unique… as the others!

To give much else away about the story would be a crime, but let’s just say that my viewing of this year’s BBC at the Proms concerts had a whole new slant – violins will never sound quite¬†the same again! ūüėČ

Hardback: 401 pages
First published: 2015
Series: The Laundry Files, book 6
Read from 24th July – 1st August 2015

My rating: 7/10 – a welcome return visit, but not one to jump in at