Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve

I don’t usually crack straight on with a sequel straight after reading Book 1, but the whole Mortal Engines thing intrigued me. The whole setup was so well-done, so painstakingly executed that I wanted to see, from a purely technical viewpoint, if the author could maintain that level of commitment through to the sequel. In many cases, a second book comes across as a little bit tired – not so here. If anything, Predator’s Gold was even better than Mortal Engines.

61DiWWb-hRL.jpgThe writing was a lot more confident, and the characterisation, I felt, was  much deeper. Tom (our main protagonist) hadn’t really changed that much in the two years since we’d seen him, while Hester, his partner, has hardened (and I didn’t think that was possible) further into the kind of selfish and embittered survivor he needs to keep him alive. That’s the thing about Tom: he’s an almost passive observer to things going on around him, so  he sometimes seems to fade into the background, especially if he’s in a room with far more interesting people. Th rest of the characters are gloriously over the top: they’re either shockingly evil, in a Christmas pantomine sort of a way (YA fiction, remember?) or laugh-out-loud comical.

Like Mortal Engines, there are two really stand-out points with this novel. First off, the settings. The whole idea is magnificient. This notion that towns have evolved into almost living things that prey across the landscape of a ruined planet, lying in wait to devour smaller, unsuspecting towns is simply brilliant.

And secondly, we have the quality of the prose: tight, easy-flowing, not a single word goes to waste. Reeve has actually done something that is enormously tricky to pull off; he’s written the book in an omniscient viewpoint, dipping out of the characters heads, sometimes within the same paragraph. He’s made it work, and I can’t say I’ve read many authors that have managed to get that right.

Ten out of ten.

Discovery: not your mother’s Star Trek

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery is back on Netflix after a mid-season/Thanksgiving/Christmas Break (no idea) and continues to deliver something completely different from the Star Treks that boldly came before – and when I say “something different” then I really mean “everything is different”.

To begin with, there’s the characters. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love the franchise, but up until now, everyone serving in Star Fleet has been the perfect hero or the perfect villain. Sure they all had their quirks (Spock’s way of using his eyebrows to tell you how inferior you are…), but in the end, you  knew that when push came to shove, everyone would knuckle down, dig deep, and save the day.

After one episode of Discovery, I wondered how any of these people had slipped past pysch eval and made it onto a starship. The crew is borderline dsysfunctional and the captain would happily jettison the lot of them into space if that’s what it took to complete the mission. We have a disgraced crew member who was responsible for the deaths of eight thousand fleet personnel. There’s an ensign who won’t let  Aspergers stop her from making captain (good for her), and the chief science officer is in a gay relationship with the ship’s doctor. (This really makes no sense because the chief scientist is a real dick, and so the doctor is punching way below his weight in my opinion).

So you don’t need me to tell you that this is the best Star Trek outing since Generations. Rather than the adventure-per-episode format that’s served them since the mid-sixties, Discovery has gone for a single mission – well … more of an interstellar war actually, and it’s not going well. The new format works because the writers can focus on filling out the characters, rather than spending twenty minutes getting the crew into a situation, then spending the next forty trying to get them out of it. It’s a new take, and for me it’s working.

And don’t get me started on the Klingons. They look different (what’s with the four nostrils?) and they’re as brutal as they come. They torture for sport and they eat their kill … Star Fleet officers included.

This is the Star Trek universe viewed through the darkness. The writers have gone back to the days before the star-spanning utopia enjoyed by Picard and co. (you remember that their Enterprise was basically a lounge and bar fitted with a warp drive), to a time when Star Fleet was an engine of war. No sacrifce too great, no deed too immoral to contemplate.

If you don’t have Netflix then Star Trek:Discovery is the best reason to get it. It’s bloody brilliant.

 

 

 

Book review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This is quite an old one; published in 2001 I believe, and it completely passed me by. I probably would’ve carried on walking past it in the book shop if not for the fact that Peter Jackson has made it into a movie (set for a December 2018 release). Saw the trailer, bought the book … and read it in about a day.

Thousands of years after a war that lasted just sixty minutes, the survivors of humanity wander the plains of Europe and Asia in Traction Cities: remnants of the post-war metropolises mounted on massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) engines. The Traction Cities ‘hunt’ smaller towns, stripping them down for fuel and parts and enslaving their population. I’ve posted the film trailer, which’ll give you an idea of how it works.

Not only do I love the concept, I love the way the story is told. It’s aimed at young adults, but it’s told in a simple literary style that manages to focus heavily on the characters without losing the connection to the surrounding action. The scene setting is brilliant; in fact I was hooked when I read the first paragraph, and the quality of the piece runs through right to the last page.

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