The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

I’m going to dig out a reviewer’s cliché and hang the “stunning debut novel” tag on this one; aside from the cover (and that’s just a matter of taste), the book hits just about every mark, straight out the gate.

The story is set in the far future, where mankind has abandoned Earth and spread like a incurable virus across the galaxy. Humanity has cracked the whole interstellar travel thing – almost. Ships can cover great distances in relavatively short timespans; I say “relative” because a few months travelling in space for the crew translates into years for the planets at either end of the ship’s destination.

This is beautifully illustrated in the first few chapters when we get to eavesdrop on the relationship between a farmer and a freighter captain. For the captain, it’s a few months between stopovers. For the farmer, it’s fifteen years.

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The Chosen and the Beautiful

They (whoever ‘they’ are) often say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, as it turns out, you can. The cover for The Chosen and the Beautiful promises a story of magic, glamour and decadence set between between the two great wars … and the book pretty much delivers.

Meet the sometimes-heroine of our story, Jordan Baker: taken from Vietnam as a child and raised by the old-money Baker clan as something of a socialite (that seems to be her actual job).

Jordan enjoys wealth, a wide circle of friends of both sexes whom she dances, drinks and sleeps with as the mood takes her. She plays golf (no wait, maybe that’s her actual job …) and occasionally dabbles in magic: Jordan has the ability to bring paper cuttings to like. She’s not very good at it – she crosses paths with other Vietnamese who’re a lot better at it. Still, she uses her ability to dig herself and her sometimes friend/sometimes lover Daisy out of situations that are not necessarily dangerous, but could have made their social standing somewhat precarious.

The turning point in Jordan’s story happens when she is sucked into the orbit of Jay Gatsby (yes, that Jay Gatsby) as he attempts to lure Daisy away from her dick of a husband, Tom …

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Marvel Studios MultiPhasic Blockbuster Franchise Factory drops another massive earner onto an eager pandemic-weary public, and as you’d expect, it’s good. It’s really good.

Bizarre, but in a good way.

The successfully understated Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as Doctor Strange, Earth’s one-time Sorcerer Supreme (long story) who finds himself locking spells with a former hero turned multiversal megalomaniac. The story, a expertly-blended tale of power, loss, and regret, takes us across several continents, and several universes where we meet some familiar faces from a franchise far far away. Great stuff – just what the good doctor ordered.

What I really liked about this movie (aside from the humour, the action, the special effects) was the sense of growth. The script, combined with Cumberbatch’s performance showed a powerful man trying to prevent himself from being consumed by it – and his own, almost superhuman arrogance makes the ordeal so much harder. And the other characters grow along the way – even the villain.

The best Marvel outing this year?

Probably.