Thursday 4 February 2010

Book Reviews

The Left Hand Of Darkness: 40th Anniversary Edition
Ursula K. Le Guin

Available now, RRP £12.99
Review by Rob Wade

Hailed as a defining piece of science-fiction, The Left Hand Of Darkness follows Genly Ai, an envoy from the Ekumen of Known Worlds, who travels to Gethen. A planet not currently part of the alliance, Gethen is seen through Genly's narrative as we follow his travels through the world and his dealings with the locals.

During the course of the narrative, the focus changes between Genly, Estraven (a native of the world) and also research from the Investigators, the first people to visit the planet code-named "Winter".

One of the things that the book is heralded for is its exploration of gender roles, through portrayal of the Gethen natives as genderless except for the purposes of re-production. Through this, unfortunately, I felt that at times the novel descended into "Men make war!!!!11" in that stereotypical feminist viewpoint. Now, granted, the novel does deal with a genderless society and makes some interesting points in regards to what stuff can be considered to be a result of gender division, but at the same time it really feels sometimes like subtle attempts are being made at forcing political elements on you.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy this novel, because I did. The narrative is really well written, in that the switches between the narrative are really easy to follow. The story is epic in its scale, a sign of a good creative mind. Despite the attempts at preaching, as well, I did ultimately find this novel enjoyable as a read.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Very little, not surprising considering that the civilisation is peaceful.
Sex/Nudity : Sex is not really a subject touched upon (tee-hee) in traditional means in this novel, but there are references.
Swearing : None.
Summary: A really well-written science-fiction novel, but descends into preaching at times. 7/10

Abattoir Jack
Christopher Neilan
Punked Books

Available Now - £6.99
Review by Brad Harmer

At the age of twenty-two, Jack is going nowhere. Stuck in a New Mexico backwater, slicing dead cattle for a living, he is ready to seize any opportunity to make something of his life. So when his workmate Ed tells him about the $25,000 stashed in a bus station locker in San Francisco, and when he meets and falls for the beautiful De S’anna, a sweet Italian supernova of sweat and lips and purple-black hair, the two events propel him into a journey of love, drugs, madness and determination as he tries to make real those two seductive mirages, the accidental fortune and the perfect love.

Abattoir Jack is as heavy and humid as the environment in which it’s set. There’s a pervading sense of hot lethargy – as well as a rather odd sense of humour. If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say it was the older man’s The Catcher in the Rye, ruminating on a quarter-life crisis, whilst living in a one-bedroom apartment inbetween shifts at the slaughterhouse.

It has some moments of brilliant philosophy, and the reader feels fully behind Jack and De S’anna when they finally jump in the car and head off on a quest for the San Franciscan treasure.

The main flaw of Abattoir Jack is its sense of direction, or rather the lack of. Just because the central character is adrift in a sea of something-or-other, it doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be as well. The unwelcome break in the narrative halfway causes a real disruption, that, despite its best efforts, it never really recovers from and the second half isn’t as good as the first.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
None, save some abattoir work on cow carcasses.
Sex/Nudity: Some sex-scenes, although they are heavily romanticised, rather than explicitly.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: A strange, dream-like, claustrophobic The Catcher In The Rye. Short of brilliant, but well worth reading. 8/10

A Study in Scarlet - A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton, I.N.J. Culbard

Available Now - £14.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

A man’s body is found in a blood-stained room – without a scratch on it. A name has been partly written in blood on the wall. A woman’s wedding ring is found...The sensational story that Sherlock Holmes traces, from a dingy London tenement to the plains of the American Wild West, provides a test case in his “science of deduction” – but the greatest enigma to his new friend Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes himself.

A Study in Scarlet is where it all began: the lodgings at 221b Baker Street; the “smell of strong tobacco” and the suspicion of darker addictions; the ridicule of Scotland Yard professions and, perhaps above all, that strange enduring friendship between a bluff Army medic and a “walking calendar of crime”.

One thing that should be mentioned about this graphic-novel adaptation, is that both Edgington and Culbard have, as far as is possible, tried to remain faithful to Doyle’s original novel. There is no stupid pipe or deerstalker, for example, a trap which is hard to avoid. Also, they seem to have made Holmes look a bit like Bruce Campbell. Whatever way you cut it, that’s awesome.

The adaptation is curiously paced, though. Several scenes are rushed through, only to have it take its time over the dialogue sequences – although, to be fair, these are excellent. The artwork itself is okay, although nothing special. The colour palette used is, however, fantastic. Much of the mood of each seen is down to the use of colour.

Ultimately, this is a functional adaptation. It tells the story, without changing anything – but does nothing to enhance it either.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling, and murder.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A light adaptation, suitable for younger readers, as it glosses over some darker elements of the story. It may encourage younger readers towards the Holmes canon, but others should leave alone. 6/10

Hundreds of Chinese refugees wash up on Japan’s Wakasa Bay. Each has a dream of a better life, but most will encounter only prejudice and oppression. One, a law-abiding farm-worker known as Steelhead (Jackie Chan), has come to find the woman (Xu Jinglei) he has loved since childhood, but his quest ends in bitter rejection when he discovers she has married Yakuza underboss, Eguchi (Masaya Kato).

Heartbroken, his life descends into darkness and petty crime quickly escalates to murder. With blood on his hands, he will risk everything to secure a future for his people, as they face an increasingly brutal onslaught from a criminal empire protected by a secret code. However, ancient traditions will not be broken and his defiance will lead to all-out war as both factions fight for control of the infamous Shinjuku district in the heart of Japan’s greatest city.

Ultimately pursued by forces on both sides of the law, Steelhead must fight for redemption and the survival of those he loves in the darkest night he has ever known...

One step away...Seven years ago Beth Denison was attacked by a killer named Chevy Bankes. Since then, she's created a new life for herself and her daughter. But now Bankes is out of prison and the gifts he sends her disfigured dolls that carry the same mutilations as his victims tells Beth he's coming for her.

One breath away...Ex-FBI agent Neil Sheridan is driven to investigate a chain of murders that are eerily similar to a disturbing case from his past. When the killer's trail dead-ends at Beth's doorstep, Neil finds a beautiful woman with a secret she'll do anything to keep.

One scream away...Yet even as Beth surrenders to Neil's protection, she can't tell him why Bankes hungers to hear her scream, and why she'll soon consider doing the unthinkable: face Bankes alone.

Thanks to our friends at Piatkus Books, we've got three copies of One Scream Away to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 11th February (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

1 comment:

  1. I read 'Left Hand of Darkness' when I was a young man and absolutely loved it. I'd be interested to read it again to see if age has changed that perspective. Or maybe you're just a dickass reviewer? :p