MENTATS OF DUNE by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

4 02 2017

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The Dune series of SF novels, the original six by Frank Herbert and the many added to the on-going oeuvre by his son Frank and KJA, are spread over many millennia and multiple galaxies (thanks to intergalactic travel, made possible by the mutated space-folding “Navigators”), but always in the background, if not the foreground, is the desert planet of Arrakis. Dune.

When this particular story opens (the second in the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, set thousands of years before Frank Herbert’s original Dune) (see my review of the first in the trilogy, Sisterhood of Dune, here) it is more than a century since the Butlerian Jihad came to an end with the final unexpected victory of people over the “thinking machines” which had enslaved them for generations. Now though, predictably, people have a horror of technology and the Butlerians wage a kind of Luddite jihad throughout the Corrino Empire destroying machines and slaughtering anyone and everyone suspected of being a “machine sympathiser”, people who fear the onset of a Dark Age from which mankind may never recover.

I say “this particular story”, but in fact there are several different stories here, all carried over from Sisterhood of Dune, and all being told at once – something I admit I find irritating and would make the book impossible to read for anyone not already at home in the Dune universe, and especially for anyone who has not read Sisterhood of Dune.

Perhaps the most interesting of these stories is that of the origin of the Mentats, which is central to this segment of the on-going saga though their origin does not occur on Dune despite the title of the book. Gilbertus Albans was reared and educated and given life-extension treatment by the robot Erasmus, and now applies the training he was given by this most advanced and individual of thinking machines to his student mentats at the Mentat School on Lampadas. The Butlerians are very suspicious of him, but tolerate him because they see mentats as the human answer to computers. If they knew his age and background, they would kill him immediately. And if they even suspected that he had at his school the memory core of Erasmus – Erasmus himself, still fully functional …!

As I said before, an absolute must-read for all Dune fans. Enjoy.

I am now about to enjoy the third book in this trilogy, Navigators of Dune.





RIP Richard Adams

29 12 2016

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We all know, and most of us treasure, Watership Down. I want here to draw attention to three of Richard’s other books that I have particularly enjoyed

‘First then, The Plague Dogs:

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Two dogs escape from an experimental research lab in the Lake District, where they have been horribly tortured and mistreated in the name if science. As they run for their lives on the hard fells they attempt to survive wild and free. But the hunt in on…

Next Shardik

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A gripping tale of war, adventure, morality and slavery, horror and romance, Shardik is a remarkable exploration of mankind’s universal desire for divine incarnation, and the corrosive influence of power. Recently ranked in the top 100 bestsellers over the past 40 years by the Sunday times, Shardik is a book for our age.

And finally, Maia, which is set in the same world as Shardik:

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Sold into slavery to the dealer Lalloc by her mother when her stepfather seduces her, the beautiful 15-year-old Maia is almost raped by Genshed, one of Lalloc’s employees but is saved by Occula, a black slave girl. With no-one but Occula at her side, Maia must summon all her courage, strength and intelligence as she navigates the seedy side of the Beklan empire.

I am about to re-read Shardik and Maia. The other one, The Plague Dogs, is just too heart-rending: I can’t go through that again!





THE DUNE UNIVERSE

24 12 2016

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The Dune Universe is one I can slip back into any time and feel immediately at home. I have read the original six books by Frank Herbert three times, and most of the sequels (by his son Brian and Brian’s co-author Kevn J. Anderson) twice. Between them, the stories cover thousands of years, but that makes no difference. I fit in anywhere.

 

And now, at last, having re-read Sisterhood of Dune, which introduces this particular trilogy, I have started on Mentats of Dune, and have on my desk, waiting (I love having a really special book sitting there waiting!) its sequel, Navigators of Dune.

 

A proper review of these two novels will follow all in good time.





MIND’S EYE by Douglas E. Richards

5 02 2016

Minds Eye cover

He wakes up buried in slimy, foul-smelling garbage. He is in a dumpster, and unable to remember how he came to be there. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he finds he can’t remember anything at all, not even his own name. (Hence the “He”.) He clambers out, and while searching for some way of getting clean and acquiring presentable clothing, he finds that on the other hand he is able to access and manipulate the internet without any hardware whatsoever, simply by the power of his mind. And he can read people’s thoughts.

Impossible? No. This book makes it seem perfectly plausible. And delves deep into the ethical questions raised by such powers in the hands of one man and probably in the hands of others.

In this case, the one man, whose name turns out to be Nick, happens to be a good man. A quite exceptionally good man. But he is surrounded by the less than good, and the downright evil, who home in on him like flies on a dumpster. Which brings me back to where I started.

No spoilers here.

Just another very good (and very well written) free read from Kindle.





MARKING TIME by April White

3 02 2016

Marking Time coverSaira Elian is a 17-year-old Californian girl whose English mother disappears while Saira, a solitary parkour free-runner and tagger (hope I got that right!), is out doing her thing in “the tunnels” somewhere under LA. Faced with the Child Protection Services unless she can name a relative who will take responsibility for her, Saira reluctantly tells them about someone in England.

That someone was waiting for me when I stepped off the British Airways fkight in London: Millicent Elian. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since I was three years old […] My mother couldn’t stand her. Not a big surprise given the way she was sizing me up, probably wondering if I was worth the effort. […]

“I see you got his height.” Millicent’s tone was not flattering.

“Hello, Millicent.” I knew I should be more polite and call her “Grandmother”, considering she just kept me out of foster care, but she hadn’t really earned the title.

“And his manners, too, obviously.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

[…]

“I have a car waiting.” Of course she did. Millicent’s fancy gray Rolls Royce waited at the curb outside the airport, and her fancy gray driver held the door open for us.

“Home, Jeeves,” she said with total authority.

“Jeeves? You’re joking.”

“I don’t joke.” Millicent’s expression didn’t change.

Jeeves caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and very slowly, he winked. It wasn’t much, that wink, but it was something.

It turns out that the Elians are a family of time-travellers, and Saira’s mother, who is normally gone for only a couple of days (or so it seems!) is now being held against her will in Victorian London. And that, of course, is where half the story, and most of the adventure, takes place.

One aspect of the story that fascinated me was the love between Saira and a young man in Victorian times who had already known Saira in the future in her own time and fallen for her there – or should that be “then”? He, of course, doesn’t know about this yet, and she can’t tell him because the secret of how he came to be still a young man all those years later is just – well …

I’ll leave it to you to sort all this out when you read the book, and add only, by way of encouragement, that while the ingredients may not be entirely original (there’s Hogwarts here, and Ann Rice, and Jack the Ripper, and Time Travel) the resulting dish is something different from the usual run-of-the-mill YA, and I enjoyed every minute of it.





THE IN-BETWEENER by Ann Christy

6 09 2015

In-BetweenerThis is Zombie Apocalyptic done really well, how the phenomenon came about and how it works set out more clearly and more credibly than in any other zombie story I’ve read. And the main characters, a man of 23, once a teacher, now trying to look after a mixed bag of children who survived, though far from unscathed, and a girl of 17 (I think) who has been on her own for a year following the death of her mother, are both very real and completely unforgettable.

Definitely not one to be missed if you like this sort of thing – and even if you don’t. You may even change your mind about the whole genre!

And an “in-betweener”? Someone who has died then come back to life; not a zombie – yet.





E by Kate Wrath

7 05 2015

E-cover

Yet another version of the dystopia that seems to be how we the masses envisage the brave new world that lies ahead. (Coming utopias do not make for gripping fiction, though, do they?) Still, no zombies in this one. Nothing supernatural at all. The setting, Outpost 3, is a walled town – not as in an ancient walled city, but a shanty town with a makeshift wall around it – where life consists of struggling to survive from day to day in a dog-eats-dog environment. That was metaphorical: there are, of course, no dogs left. It is a human-eats-rat environment.

What ‘law and order’ there is consists of immensely strong and fast robots known as ‘sentries’, left-overs, clearly, from a previous technocratic dictatorship, which respond to stimuli such as the smell of spilt blood. Nobody there understands them, they are just a fact of nature, but everyone fears them, including Matthew, the local gang-leader and most powerful man in the enclave.

As the story opens, the protagonist wakes up knowing only that she has been erased. No name, no memories. It seems that she has been dropped there by some outside organisation, because erasing is not something that happens – that could happen – in Outpost 3. She hears men coming, hides among the rubbish, and listens. She learns that the two goons were expecting her and that she was intended for slavery.

The rest of the book is the tale of her survival in what can only be described as a man-made hell. In the face of the unfaceable, she remains brave and kind, and there are lines – thoughts of hers – I shall always remember. For instance this:

There are things that set us apart. Things that are human. Decent. And humor, alone, is not a qualifying factor. (Reminds me of Shakespeare’s “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”)

and :

Ironically, coming to terms with my impending doom offers me a sweet taste of freedom. I’m going to die makes I might die far less potent.

I enjoyed every word of it and shall certainly be reading the sequels, Evolution, and the forthcoming Eden.