Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

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Walking to Aldebaran – Adrian Tchaikovsky

“Today I found something I could eat and something I could burn to keep back the darkness.”

In our not too-distant future, astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international team sent to explore the mysterious object discovered at the edge of our solar system. Instrument readings show it should be the size of a planet; probes send back images of something far smaller but which always presents the same face to the camera even it’s orbited.

Gary considered himself lucky. Lucky to be living his childhood dream to be an astronaut, lucky to make the selection for the first mission that might prove alien life exists. Lucky indeed to survive the cluster-f that said mission turns in to. Lucky… yeah o.O

There is something quite familiar about a lot of the story: Gary walks the mysterious Crypts, encountering dangers and fellow travellers. I loved that there’s an alien encounter that never manages proper communication, but ends up being co-operative anyway – we don’t see enough of that in fiction, where it’s usually all ray-guns blazing.

I could have read this short novella in one sitting, quite frankly. It’s dark and twisty, and a mix of sci-fi and horror. There’s also a huge ‘gotcha!’ that I didn’t quite see coming… I mean, I thought something towards the three-quarters mark, but then… Heh 🙂

Very, very well written. I really should read more of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work! Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages / 14 chapters
First published: May 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th-31st May 2019

My rating: 9/10

Snowpiercer (2013)

snowpiercer poster

A disastrous attempt to fix global warming sees the planet plunged into an ice age. Humanity’s only survivors are the passengers of a world-circling train, a ‘luxury liner’ affair built by a train-obsessed rich industrialist.

Seventeen years later and the wonder of engineering might still be in full working order, but society on board is anything but. There’s nothing subtle about the class warfare, with the elite living it up towards the nose while the tail section is a malnourished underclass of slave-like workers. Revolts have failed before, but perhaps this time…

Usually I try to leave the personal stories out of my reviewing, mostly, but this movie looms large in my radar. It was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2014, practically on my doorstep, and I very nearly managed my first festival film 🙂 However, I reasoned that I’d save a ton of cash if I waited ’til the general release – only for a big argument with the distributor see this never again shown, legally, on UK soil. Argh!! So, imagine my delight when it turned up on Netflix…

Of course, with such a build up (see The Great Wall, far less anticipated, massively not worth the wait) I was half-expecting this to be a huge disappointment. But hurrah, I rather enjoyed it! It’s a bit bonkers, a lot unbelievable, but well told, looks great, and acted very well.

The whole thing does come across as very allegorical, with zero subtlety on the class system commentary. And yet, it’s still got a bit of punch.

Story-wise, it’s deceptively simple, with the rear-train workers making an attempt to take over the engine at the front, led by Chris Evans and John Hurt, assisted by the likes of Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ewen Bremner. Life is so awful for them, there’s no surprise in this. As in High-Rise (2016), the excesses of the ‘upper’ classes is mercilessly ridiculed and ridiculous, so it’s not hard to forgive the awful violence.

But, without spoiling anything, not everything may be exactly as it seems, and the last act has a few reveals that give a whole other view…

I’m glad I saw this. It’s not perfect by any means, but it was a bit different, a lot interesting, and overall worth a couple of hours for fans of dystopian futures and low-key sci-fi without the splashy space stuff.

Released: 22nd June 2014 (EIFF)
Viewed: 27th May 2019
Running time: 126 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Limited Wish – Mark Lawrence

limited wish cover

“I never expected to die in a punt chase.”

Following on from One Word Kill (so if you haven’t read that go and avoid any people-who-survived type spoilers!!), Nick Hayes, 16-year-old mathematics genius, now knows that he has about 25 years to invent time travel before coming back to meet himself last month. So, he decides it’s time to stop pretending to be ‘normal’ and accept early admission to a posh University filled with upper class nobs, where he can try to dumb down his explanations to his new maths professor. He also has to try to reclaim the girl that he was trying to save in the first book, but who is understandably a little freaked out by all the ‘destiny’ with their relationship.

Much as I enjoyed OWK, it didn’t quite hit all the buttons I would have hoped for. Still, I was looking forward to this sequel to see where the story would go. And I was not disappointed! In fact, LW is the story getting much more into its stride, and as a result I enjoyed it even more.

Time travel has always been one of my favourite plots in speculative fiction, and I very much like how it’s handled here. The characters feel a lot more grown up, too, despite the passing of mere months. And with different expectations after book one, the gentle nods towards the ‘period’ (hey – I lived through it, it’s not exactly the Victorian age!!) made me smile rather than being disappointingly light. There is a great deal of amusement, I thought, from the mention of modern band names and how nonsensical they would be in the 1980s – Lady Gaga? Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Fnarf.

I also loved the way the D&D game reflects the events in real life for the kids, without being overly forced. This takes a while to show up, as in the first book, but is a nice little touch.

Recommended, and bring on the third installment already!

NetGalley eARC: 222 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 28th May 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 2
Read from 11th-19th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

One Word Kill – Mark Lawrence

one word kill cover

“When Dr Parsons finally ran out of alternatives and reached the word ‘cancer’, he moved past it so quickly I almost thought I’d imagined it.”

Having recently fallen in love with Mark Lawrence’s fantasy series, Book of the Ancestor, I jumped at the chance to get this sci-fi offering, billed as Stranger Things meets Ready Player One. It ended up living up to neither for me, but still a decent read.

Nick Hayes may be a mathematical genius at 15, but he’s as unprepared as anyone to be told he has leukaemia. As he starts chemotherapy, he distracts himself with his D&D sessions with his friends, including a newcomer to the group: their first girl, Mia. But he still has to put up with the psychotic school bully, and a strangely familiar man who might be stalking him…

Teenagers with cancer, in the 80s no less, turns out to be a bit of a trigger for me. I was kinda happy that the author got a few bits wrong (contrary to popular imagery, chemo often leaves its victims bloated from steroids, not concentration-camp skinny). As the book goes on and Nick’s story involves more than just hospitals and life expectancy odds it was easier to cope with this bit of the story, but possibly for the first time I feel like offering a warning to other readers.

That aside, I wouldn’t suggest this story hits the heights of either of the ‘meets’ titles. The 1980s nostalgia is fairly light – mentions of using phone boxes and a few tech oldies aside, I’m not sure I would have noticed the ‘period’ setting much, which was ever so slightly disappointing. The characters are fine, but the teenage-ness of it all did little for me. I was put in mind a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Interworld; it all felt a bit for-younger-readers.

Plot-wise it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but the group of teens end up on a quest that doesn’t feel a million miles from their board games.

Overall, I enjoyed this but it’s not grabbing me anywhere near as much as Red Sister. Still, sequel already started, and I’m curious to see where the story could go.

NetGalley eARC: 201 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-8th May 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

age of ultron poster

One question that was frequently asked after the first Avengers movie was “why is this character fighting alone? Where are the other Avengers?” Here, we kick off with just that: the gang back together, kicking Hydra butt.

There’s little love for this middle-est of movies, but I enjoyed it fine at the time and more than that now. Now, it’s clear to see what this movie sets up for the future: Wakanda, vibranium, Ulysses Klaue? Ah, Black PantherThanos and the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet = Infinity War / Endgame. How Hulk ends up in RagnorokAnd the bickering between team members is going to walk us straight to Civil War.

But, we still need a movie now, and while this serves well as a bridging between Avengers and future outings, it still has plenty of character development and action.

I’d argue, as ever, Tony Stark is at the heart of this. He’s still traumatised from going through the wormhole in New York, and when new character Scarlet Witch shows him his worst fear – and ooh, is that scene going to be important come Endgame?! – his reactions are both too much, but understandable. Attempting to create a future that does away with the need for the Avengers, his creation, Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader), goes a bit Skynet, seeing the ultimate goal of peace needing a bit of destruction first. Oops.

We also get to see Steve Rogers accepting that ‘the man who went into the ice’ isn’t necessarily who he is now. There is a brief mention of the ‘quest’ from the end of Winter Soldier, making it feel like we’ve not forgotten everyone’s in the middle of something, although events are now more pressing elsewhere.

Perhaps the lack of love for this stems from how tied in it is to everything else. You kind of need to have seen Winter Soldier to understand why SHIELD is in disarray, and the Avengers are now a thing by themselves. The character stuff only makes as much sense when you’ve followed their stories so far.

Of course, not everything is spot on. Personally, I only ‘got’ the whole Nat/Bruce thing when she explicitly explains her interest. And I still hate hate hate the way she talks about being unable to have children and being a ‘monster’ for it – huge misstep in tone. Other revelations are a bit cliched, and there are several scenes that really needed a lot more time to make sense (e.g. Thor’s vision) but which were trimmed for an already over-long movie.

Still. I do love the series, and this is a core slice of that. We also get great scenes like everyone trying to lift Mjolnir (‘mew mew’ forever!) during a party, and a baddie I really like, actually 😉

Released: 23rd April 2015
Viewed: 22nd April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians of the galaxy poster

You’d think by the 10th movie in the MCU I’d’ve learned to trust them. But this was yet another brave-or-stupid move I was so wary of: welcome to ‘Marvel Cosmic’, where we leave behind the thin veneer of ‘reality’ and plunge headlong into a galaxy of talking racoons, walking trees, and aliens with brightly hued skin tones.

On the day his mother dies, Peter Quill is picked up by alien Ravagers, miscreants who loot across the galaxy. However, the tone of the piece is yet to be revealed. We catch up with Peter – aka Star-Lord – 20-odd years later, as he lands on a desolated planet. Where he proceeds to put on headphones, filling the cinema with a tap-along 70s classic, and we watch in disbelieving amusement as he dances along, kicking alien reptiles out of the way and even uses one as a fake microphone. What?!

Knowing nothing about the comics or the characters going in to this – and I had won early preview tickets, so there was no word of mouth either – this one just utterly surprised and delighted me. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and the laughs come thick and fast. There’s still a bucket load of action, and omg but it all looks so spectacular. It even manages to pull on a few heartstrings.

It’s also both a completely different feel from the MCU to date, but important in that overreaching mythology that’s only growing as the series progresses. It’s here that we get the first real explanation of the Infinity Stones, after Thor 2‘s post-credit scene confirmed that both the Aether and Tesseract are two of those. We see more of Thanos after his few previous cameos, so this, I feel, is where the whole Infinity Arc is really getting going, and where so much is set up for Infinity War and Endgame.

But most of all it’s just fun. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors. The snark of Rocket – so so good when we all thought a talking, CGI racoon was never going to work. And a walking tree creature with a three word vocabulary? Melted the heart, utterly.

I’ve heard someone suggest the Avengers are the Beatles, and the Guardians more the Stones (no pun intended?) – but they’re as much the Monkees, tbh. And with the soundtrack kicking ass, this movie just rocks 🙂

Released: 31st July 2014
Viewed: 24th July 2014 (prize!) / 18th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – pure joy, and so unexpected at the time – and completely rewatchable again and again!