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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Playing with Scrivener 3

So the word’s out: Scrivener 3 hit the interweb on the 20th of November. Oceans will boil, grown men will weep, children will speak in tongues…
No seriously, that’s what’s going to happen.
It’s been a long time coming for most of the user base, but a lucky few of us have been given the opportunity(!) to beta test the latest version of what is arguably the greatest writing tool known to man.

I’ve been Scrivener fan since version 1.0 (a little before that actually) and so I like to think I shaped its evolution in some very small way – even if it was just to have some of my feature requests flatly refused. Keith Blount, the app’s main developer, has always maintained that Scrivener is primarily a composition tool: you write your stuff pretty much stripped of formatting, compile it into a finished document and then drop it into word for the final polish. It’s main selling point was organisation: you could write your piece as a hierarchy of folders and documents, move them about, chop and change them as much as you want, and then when the world was ready for your masterpiece, churn out a first draft.
Scrivener 2 built on this, reorganising the user interface and simplifying the compilation process so it was less daunting for beginners … but once again it fell short of the end-to-end solution. Still, as far as I was concerned, it was still the best way to get your first draft done.

And now, many seasons and four novels later, we arrive at Scrivener3, and this is definitely not your mama’s upgrade. To begin with, a lot of the internals have been rewritten to support the latest Apple technologies, and the UI has been completely revamped. It looks a lot better, a lot less distracting to the eye. The biggest change though, really represents a change in philosophy. Keith seems to have relaxed his “we’re a composition tool only” stance and has reimagined Scrivener as your complete long form development kit.

Now before we go any further, let’s be clear on two things:

  1. Scrivener will always be missing 30% of MS Word’s functionality
  2. No one actually uses that 30%

Okay, so what’s changed? Well let’s start with the biggie:

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Sequels are hard; sequels to surprise hits are even harder. You weren’t expecting to knock it out the park, so now you have to look carefully at your first outing and try to find what made it so successful. The Kingsman crew looked hard, found the formula and delivered pretty much the same movie with a different cast. Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed it, but it did follow the same old comic-spy plot that you found in the original Casino Royale (not the Daniel Craig one; the other one … with Peter Sellers and David Niven). The car chases are outlandish, the villains are as mad as box of frogs, and the fight scenes are breathlessly over the top. I don’t think I’ll be giving too much a way if I do a bit of scene setting:
So, a year after our hero, Eggsy (ably played by Aaron Egerton), joined the Kingsman Agency, the whole outfit is wiped out by a psychopathic drug lord (well, she would be, wouldn’t she). Eggsy and the only other survivor, Merlin, seek the help of the their American counterparts, the Statesman organisation (same idea, different hats) to bring down the drug lord and save the world from … well, you’ll work it out when you see it.
As a “raining all bloody Saturday” kind of a movie, it works. It’s entertaining, it’s funny, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think it’s what you’d call a bit of a romp. The plot was predictable, the acting was up to scratch, though no one’s going to get an oscar out of it. I think that Julianne Moore gave a creditable performance as the villain, so it’s a shame she didn’t get more screen time; likewise, Halle Berry was woefully underused. They should have at least got her out of the office once in a while. And I am glad they found a way to resurrect Colin Firth.

Kingsman_The_Golden_Circle.jpg
The whole Statesmen thing didn’t really seem to go anywhere though, and I did wonder why they were there.
Still, what made the film (and this was probably the plan) was the action sequences. The choreography was flawless and they were fantastically unbelievable. Well, worth seeing if you like that sort of thing (which I do).
But aside from that, I don’t think there was too much here to write home about.
I’m going to give it six and half out of ten. The action sequences saved it.