Monday 7 February 2011

Great Books Most People Have Never Read

Ever had one of those moments where you find yourself saying "Oh dude, you should totally read it; it's awesome!", only to later get slightly miffed that the person isn't aware of some of the awesome literary gems in your collection? Well, if you find that happening to you often, my recommendation is to direct them to E14, the home of all things awesome! Of course, it relies heavily on the notion that they mentioned the three following novels, but I can only do so much, ok? Goddamn it.

Only You Can Save Mankind - Terry Pratchett

Only You Can Save Mankind tells the story of a gamer named Johnny who gets a computer game from his mate, using the age-old concept of 'pikey-pikey'. Regardless of your feelings on software piracy, you should persevere with the book as I did. Anyway, as he boots up the game for the first time, something weird happens: the enemy in the game, the ScreeWee Empire, surrenders. Just like that. What follows is a story of fantastical action and craziness that everyone has come to expect from one of Britain's favourite fiction authors (not to be confused with 'fictional authors', those ones that don't exist, like Dr. Watson or that bloke David Duchovny played in Red Shoe Diaries).

One of the reasons I liked this one so much was the subject matter. It's sort of a given that I'm into my video games pretty heavily. Incidentally, one of my New Year's resolutions was to complete more games. Not just play the ones I've got, but finish several. Anyway, what was refreshing about this book even as a kid was that this was an adult who saw the potential behind the concept of video games. Not just some fad that kids would play and then get bored of (like I hope social networking will become), but Pratchett saw games and extrapolated a frankly ingenious concept from it.

Even more interesting was his social commentary. In the kid's eyes, the Gulf War TV coverage in the novel was equally distant to him as the game world. It's interesting to see that point of view expressed in those days, especially as some of the older generation (annoyingly, with most of them being politicians) seemingly under the impression that video games create some sort of distance from reality. It's like my Italian plumber mate says...

Ha Ha! I Kid!

Legend - David Gemmell

It probably won't come as a tremendous shock to long-time readers of the site that I'm a fan of this book. What might come as a surprise is that I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy novels ever written. It's a perfect mix of high fantasy and very realistic characters that keeps me coming back to it again and again.

What I love about this book is simply how well done it is. That may sound like a cop-out, but I'm about to say more things that qualify my statement, so don't be so bloody hasty in leaping to conclusions next time. Only joking, I forgive you. The central story, with the seemingly impossible defence of Dros Delnoch against an onslaught is compelling, despite being put in the simplest of all terms.

"See that bloke there? He wants the kingdom. The whole lot. And there's this one bit he's warned he's going to take, but those blokes don't want him to take it, so they're putting up a largely pointless fight. Enjoy."

Ultimately, the reason I like the central story for this is similar to why I enjoyed Halo Reach enough to give it a 10 when I reviewed it (which I stand by even more the more I play it, by the by). Although you know that it could very well end in absolute tears and tatters, you feel compelled to press on simply because you become attached to the characters involved, and you want them to succeed or come off as double-hard bastards while they fall.

And on the subject of double-hard bastards, special mention has to go to Druss, the titular 'Legend' of the story. Part Conan the Barbarian, part Conan O'Brien (the self-deprecating bit, although there's a case for the sheer size of him as well), with a good measure of your average scrap-happy lunatic, and you have one of the most real-feeling characters I've had the privilege of following through his final adventure.

Ultimately, in some ways the story is as good as Tolkien's, and yet Gemmell is not held in nearly the same esteem as good ol' J.R.R. It's a crying shame really, and if we're good enough to treat the fine readers of E14 to an audio podcast, you can bet that one of them will be E14 Fantasy Casting of this very novel.

Vector Prime - R.A. Salvatore

When you think of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, for a number of people that's as little as The Clone Wars animated series. However, there are a number of great books that deal with some really exciting plot points and characters. However, there are also some complete turkeys, which serve only to disappoint the fanboys like myself who endeavour to read everything.

Vector Prime, however, is a different proposition altogether. This one is designed to set a whole new series in motion, what's known as the New Jedi Order. The novel deals with the arrival of the Yuuzhan Vong, an alien race from an unknown location (though of course it becomes known later) who embrace pain and complete assimilation. Think the Borg, but with a complete contempt for all technology. I suppose it'd make no sense for the Borg to abhor technology, unless they were going to start all having LiveJournals and whining about how 'nobody understands them'.

More interestingly, not only do the Yuuzhan Vong condition themselves not to feel pain, they also conduct no presence in the Force, meaning that the Jedi who have previously been seen as the 'save-all' by the galaxy (and, I'm sure, a few cynical EU fans) are forced into completely different tactics in order to flush them out and kill them. In many ways, the Yuuzhan Vong are the antithesis of most of the enemies in the EU until that point, forcing all the characters to adapt in some way in order to fight them effectively.

If you've never indulged in a Star Wars EU book, I'd say New Jedi Order is a series to get into, but it doesn't have Thrawn like...the Thrawn Trilogy...or the Thrawn Duology. That's also pretty important due to Mara Jade's role in the subsequent books without going into too many spoilers.

So, there you have it. Three of the classics of my collection, brought to you, the fine E14ies. You're welcome.


Joe and Ash are best friends. Ash is the leader, Joe the one who follows. Then one night after a party, Joe and Ash come across a holdall, seemingly abandoned by the side of the road. They open it up...and find £20,000 in cash. Of course they're going to hand it straight to the police. Aren't they?

Or is all that money just too tempting? Whoever has lost it won't notice if a bit goes missing, will they? And that is precisely when the trouble starts...

Jim Carrington has already established himself as a fine writer for teens with his debut novel, Inside My Head. With In the Bag, he shows how horribly easy it is for two teenage boys to make a car crash of their lives, through an unlucky combination of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and making a handful of wrong decisions.

Thanks to our friends at Bloomsbury Publishing, we've got three copies of Jim Carrington's In the Bag to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Monday 14th February, making sure to put "In the Bag" as the subject. The first three entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy each!

Don't forget to put "In the Bag" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

In the Bag is available now, priced £6.99.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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