Tag Archives: books

This week, I have been mostly … reading.

This week I thought it was time for some book reviews, so here are two that are completely chalk and cheese yet despite this, I find they go together surprisingly well.

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

First up, I’m a sucker for history books and I’m a total sucker for biographies or autobiographies, especially when you get a good writer/ghost writer or someone who knows how to write up a transcript.

However, this is neither of those.

This is the most wonderful, evocative book about one of the key moments in my nation’s history, written first-hand by someone who could clearly turn a phrase every bit as well as he could fly a Spitfire. It’s fabulous.

The story is of a young man, Geoffrey Wellum, who leaves school at 17 in 1939 to become a pilot. In the book, he takes you through his training, and then, later, some of his best/worst/scariest missions. He is utterly honest, documenting his thoughts and feelings with a frankness that only someone who has been through the mill, and come out at peace with their own humanity, can. He describes his emotions, his fear and his distress as his colleagues and friends are lost, one by one. He describes how the threat of loss deepens the relationships between those who are left and how he, and they, deal with the omnipresent threat of death, themselves. When the heat of combat is finally over, after eighteen long months, and he is taken out of combat and sent home on sick leave, he briefly outlines how he reacted. For those few pages, alone, it’s worth a read, if only for the honesty they contain. The whole book is unfailingly frank about the daily business of being human under stress, and also about the personal and emotional cost.

The style of writing is quiet, understated, yet deep thinking and powerful. Geoffrey Wellum describes flying so vividly you feel you are right beside him, and the writing is compelling. This may be an autobiography, but it’s also a page turner. I read late into the night when I really should have been asleep. I found myself looking for a sequel, it was that good. But over and above that, I came out of it with a great deal of affection for Geoffrey Wellum. Because what comes across in this book is the story of an absolutely lovely chap; a complex and thoughtful young lad trying to do the right thing, but enduring horrors to do it. A man looking for answers which ultimately, perhaps, he finds and accepts, but which may not always be the ones he might expect. A man of great wisdom, so much so that I thought about writing to him to say how much I loved his book, but unfortunately he died in April this year (2018), aged 96.

As people who remember the horrors of the second world war, people like Geoffrey Wellum, die off, we seem to be forgetting. The modern world appears to be more and more profit-driven, our politics polarised and compassion, tolerance or kindness towards people who are weaker than/or different from us fading from daily life. This book is definitely worth a read, if only to face up to the reality of what lies at the end of the path some of the world’s major politicians appear to be embarked upon.

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Recommended.

Scout Pilot of the Free Union (Space Scout Book 1)

This is a comedy but run with me on this, there are similarities, I promise. Our hero, Frank Eric Russell is captain/pilot of a Valhalla Class Star Destroyer in the Free Union’s Star Fleet. We meet him as the Free Union and the Imperium are in an uneasy truce after years of war. Unfortunately Frank makes an embarrassing cock up during a diplomatic mission which leaves the Free Union looking … well … a bit rubbish, to be … Frank (badoom tish). He is punished by way of being transferred to the Free Union Star Fleet’s Reconnaissance Unit. There, he is assigned an ancient and outdated ship and sent on missions which are less prestigious, less carefully overseen and far more dangerous than the crappy obsolete vessel he is assigned to fly them in would suggest.

What I like about this is that Frank is very flawed and human. He can be a bit of an idiot, but he is well meaning and for all his averred cowardice he Does The Right Thing. There’s not a lot of descriptive world building, yet the world in question is very much alive and everything you need a handle on to imagine it properly is in place. Frank describes his missions in the first person which means he clearly understates the case most of the time. Things go wrong on most of them and he is forced to change the plan, or take radical action to fulfil his tasks and escape with his life. Indeed, most of his efforts are about survival and he just does as much of whatever it is he is supposed to be doing as he can while lurching from one crisis or ship’s mechanical failure to the next. But as the book continues, you begin to realise that, though he makes light of it, he is clearly an excellent pilot with a capacity for lateral thought that gets him out of situations that would certainly prove fatal to others. There are also the first hints that his exploits are beginning to get out and that he is beginning to be thought of by his peers as a hero.

Because this is all seen through the prism of his view, he is very understated and matter of fact in the way he describes his exploits – except when he is talking about lack of coffee at which point a hint of drama might creep in. It’s that style of delivery that reminded me of some of the sections in First Light. But also, I believe there was a lot of gallows humour in the RAF in WW2 as a way of dealing with the high casualty rate. This gallows approach is similarly abundant in the world of the Free Union’s Reconnaissance Unit. Likewise, the way Frank questions the ethics of the conflict but at the same time, steps up to do his duty, anyway, also echoed some of the moments of thought Wellum outlines in First Light.

Scout isn’t a deep book, by any means, or at least not like First Light; the humour is slapstick in places and very Milliganesque, so you have to like that sort of thing. It’s all very light and as such is chalk to First Light’s cheese. But, while it’s a quick entertaining read, at the same time, it’s way more complex than it appears when you start in. Macmillan Jones is smart enough to know the important truth that few heroes ever see themselves as such and that’s a facet of Wellum’s personality that is noticeable in First Light. I found the parallels between the two books interesting. Indeed, I found it very intriguing that I even noticed parallels. I’ll leave you to decide if I’m bonkers or onto something.

Light fun but fluff with more than one level! Recommended.

So there we are. If you want to read either book, just click on the picture and it will take you to a page with links to buy it in all the major stores. Although Scout is only available from Amazon both books are available in paperback and ebook – there’s also an audiobook of First Light.

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Read any good books lately?

Time is short this week. I’m trying to set up a new iThing and it’s taking ages. I’m also having to sort out some stuff with Mum and Dad’s neighbours – bit of a misunderstanding about a hedge and now, it seems a fence. Anyhoo hopefully I’ll get it sorted but quickly before I rush out for my first of two surprise birthday weekends … well … you’re only 50 once. To give you a feel for just how chaotic it is, I caught sight of a football under one of our patio chairs this morning without my glasses on and said hello to it because I thought it was our cat.

Yeh, you get the picture.

This month I have two lovely things for you; the first is a giveaway of free books, some in return for sign up to the authors mailing lists, some not. The other thing I have is a recommendation for a really good book.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction from Ebookaroo 23rd May – 14th June

Not everyone has the time to read full on novels so this giveaway features a selection of short stories. All are sci-fi and fantasy. There’s a pretty wide selection there, so hopefully you will discover some interesting authors. Some will want you to join their mailing lists as well as downloading the book, some won’t. The dynamic of that approach has kind of changed now, in that you sign up for the mailing list and are given the book rather than downloading the book and being put on the mailing list.

The giveaway is on instafreebie and it runs until 14th June. Click here, or on the picture, to see all the books. Hope you find some good reads.

Grab some free shorts at the giveaway here.

Mission Improbable reduced to 99c 14th – 24th June

This one’s a bargain as it usually retails for £2.99 or thereabouts. I read it a while back when I was taking part in Comedy Ebook Week. I loved it and am now half way through the series, although I’m eeking out reading the rest of them because I don’t want to finish. If you like a bit of light humour and some wildly imaginative ideas, this book is for you. Here’s the blurb to give you an feel for what it’s like:

If you like Doctor Who you’ll love Carrie Hatchett’s Space Adventures.

Carrie Hatchett’s been a dog walker, ice cream seller and birthdaygram girl—the clean kind. All she wants is a proper job. But Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer isn’t what she had in mind. And neither is saving the galaxy.

Carrie’s a low-achieving daydreamer. After providing a good home for her butt-ugly dog and crazy cat, her biggest challenge in life is to avoid being fired, again.

But a strange green mist sucks her beneath her kitchen sink, and an unusual clerical error leads to an offer she foolishly doesn’t refuse.

In settling a conflict between the mechanical placktoids and the mysterious oootoon, Carrie reveals a threat to the entire galactic empire.

Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

Join Carrie on her adventures today!

Mission Improbable is book one in the comedy sci-fi romp, Carrie Hatchett, Space Adventurer.

Mission Improbable comes highly recommended (by me). If you think it sounds fun just click here or on the picture. You will be taken to a page on my site with links to grab a copy from all the usual stores and also direct, from, the author’s own website.

Mission Improbable

However, remember that Mission Improbable will ONLY be 99c between 14th and 24th June. Peak too soon and it will be full price. Patience, Grashopper.

I intend to try and post about a few more books soon, I grabbed the new one by fellow humorous sff author Will Macmillan Jones and so there should be something about that in a month or two!

Leave a comment

Filed under General Wittering

An ad hoc sort of world: Introducing Mr Jim Webster and the Tsarina Sector.

This week, I am mostly featuring a guest post by my good cyber friend and fellow writer, Jim Webster. I have voraciously consumed Jim’s fantasy books and now he is dipping his toe in the water of Science Fiction Whodunnits – is that a genre? I guess it is now – I will be voraciously consuming them an’ all. Jim’s new book, Justice-4-1, Tsarina-Sector will be out soon. You can check it out on his author page at Safkhet – his publishers – here, while his author page on Amazon, which gives you details of all his books, is here.

Right then, take it away….. Jim.

Jim Webster standing in front of a hedge he made earlier.

Jim Webster standing in front of a hedge he made earlier.

When I got the idea for ‘Justice 4.1’ I had a world in mind. I’ve read a lot of SF and Fantasy over the years, and I’ve ‘lived’ vicariously in many, many worlds. I wanted mine to be different.

Firstly I wanted the reader to like the world, to feel sympathy for it, to feel as if they might like to live there. After all if I’m writing a book about someone trying to save their world, if you don’t like the world, you are likely to wonder why they bother.

Secondly I wanted the world to be complex. I wanted a range of technologies, a range of lifestyles, a lot of different communities who all had their own rules, mores, cultural norms, but who somehow managed to rub along without too much bickering on the margins. This is something that probably stems from my love of work of the late, great, Jack Vance. He was a master of creating strange but somehow convincing communities and cultures.

Finally I wanted a world that was somehow ‘just getting by.’ Not actual poverty, just a series of hasty improvisations to keep the show on the road. Here I think I was influenced by a lifetime in agriculture. I can tackle most things, but if I ever had to do something properly, using the proper tools and the proper materials and document it properly, I’d be lost. So I ended up with Tsarina, a world that “wasn’t as much colonised as infected by humanity – explored for the sake of completeness and named after the exploration ship’s purser’s dog.”

And the people? Well I long ago learned that there are no ordinary people. Stop and talk to them, walk a mile in their shoes, and you realise that ‘ordinary people’ do extraordinary things all the time. So I assembled my cast from such people, amongst my heroes are insurance loss adjusters, a pop station DJ and a middle aged traffic cop.

And the villain? Surely we’ve got to have a really good villain, dyed in the wool evil, cunning, with subtle plans that will subjugate star systems and bend worlds to his will. Well, here you’re in luck. We have. Probably.

Thank you Jim. I hope your villain is evil, I like a good baddie gah no an oxymorn… but you see what I mean.

You can buy the Tsarina Sector from Amazon UK here and from Amazon US here. You can also read an exerpt right NOW on this blog. HERE!

Tsarina book coverThe flitter was hardly luxurious. It was a spacious workhorse with just enough concessions to comfort to deter personal injury claims from those who hired it. At the moment, it loitered over the northern highlands of the Border Kingdoms at a safe altitude. To their north, the highlands rose steadily until they became snow-capped and were lost in the clouds. Below them was a jumbled badlands of gorges and ridges, twisted rock, frost-shattered and crumbling. Wheeling below them was a pair of great four-winged aradons, keen-eyed carrion feeders. In the distance, perhaps five miles away, Kilonwin Kardoverin could just make out what might be another pair. As far as he could tell, they were the only signs of life in sight. He looked down; even with vision enhancers, the ridges showed virtually no sign of life. He counted three stunted bushes with occasional blades of grass poking through the loose scree.

Kardoverin strapped himself into the co-pilot seat and fiddled with the camera array, determined to get as much footage as possible. Kardoverin had a reputation in the industry as one of the best documentary makers in the sector. This reputation was based on arrogance, a casual disregard for personal safety, and painstaking camera work. He was reputed to get five times as much material as was needed, even for top quality holo work. He turned to the pilot. “Can we get lower? I’d like to film into those gorges.”

“Why?”

“Well, there’s damn all up here.”

“Why not zoom?” The pilot sounded nervous.

“They’re in heavy shadow.”

“Look, this is the Border Kingdoms, it isn’t safe.”

Kardoverin adjusted the central rig and raked the peripheral arrays so that they covered both flanks.

“Take us down fast; we’ll be through and out.”

“They’re barbarians! They shoot at people.”

“With black powder weapons.” Kardoverin’s tone was dismissive as he checked the satellite relay. It seemed to be working perfectly. “Look, just go in, one quick fly-through. It isn’t as if I’m asking you to land, or even hover.”

The pilot muttered something blasphemous under his breath and brought the flitter round. “I’ll take us up that gorge on the left, it’s narrower. Being so overcast, it’s less likely to be inhabited.”

He opened the throttle and brought the bow of the flitter sharply down. The clumsy craft accelerated rather faster than Kardoverin had expected, and he hastily checked the camera focus. This model of vehicle was effectively a rectangular box which flew and had little consideration of style. But for his purposes, the open top meant it had been comparatively easy to fit the cameras. The pilot brought them down sharply, heading south, gaining speed as he lost altitude. Then suddenly, he spun the controls and the flitter turned and banked so sharply Kardoverin felt himself hanging in the harness. Then the pilot pointed the nose of his craft straight into the mouth of the gorge, still dropping and gaining speed. As they entered between the towering rock walls, they were barely twenty feet above the ground and moving faster than Kardoverin would have believed possible. Kardoverin kept his eyes on the monitors, running his fingers over the controls in front of him, altering the zoom, the angle, the filters. They were deep in the gorge now and the boxy craft was travelling at breakneck speed. Kardoverin constantly re-adjusted the controls. “Isn’t this a bit fast?”

The pilot’s answer came through clenched teeth. “If I could go faster, I would. I want us out of here and—” He paused. “Oh hell, we are in deep—”

There was a staccato rattle of automatic weapons fire from one side. The burst struck the pilot, jerking his body against the seat harness. Kardoverin tore his gaze from the monitors and looked towards where the noise had come from. The second burst hit the front of the flitter, and the engine began to whine. Kardoverin frantically unbuckled his harness and stood up to reach over the pilot’s body for the controls. The third burst struck him in the chest, spun him round and left him draped over the side of the flitter. Thirty seconds later, with no one at the controls, the flitter struck the rock wall of the gorge and exploded.

Wow. So, that was an excerpt from Justice 4.1 The Tsarina Sector. If you would like to find out more or stalk Jim on social media you can do so in the following places:

Find out more about Jim:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/
Smashwords:   https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/fjpwebster
Safkhet publishing:  http://www.safkhetpublishing.com/authors/Jim_Webster.htm

Stalk Jim on Social Media:
Blog: http://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22998.Jim_Webster
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimWebster6

Find out more about the book:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector
Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908208236/
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1908208236/

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Updates, General Wittering

Indie Bites

Just a word up about Indie Bites. I was lucky enough to have a chance to take part in an anthology of stories by indie writers on Amazon. Mmm, check the link in the sidebar.

It took an impressive amount of organising by Steve Roach and my story apart, there’s a cracking collection of stuff in there. It’s a big magazine style format, think… I dunno, glossy art catalogue, straight back and glued rather than stitched or stapled but it looks great and I’m really pleased to be a part of it.

If you want to take a look, it’s here. It isn’t available as an e-book, it’s paperback only but if you like the idea of buying a copy, don’t let that put you off; it retails for a mere £3.77 at the moment for 156 pages, not bad, I reckon.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Wittering

Bargain Boost!

Just a quickie to thank the lovely people at http://www.indie-book-bargains.co.uk/ who have named me Author of the Day today! Oh yes! I am very excited. I know it’s late on but if you get a chance, whizz over there and have a look at the site, not because I’m the author of the day but because there’s all sorts of interesting stuff on there, and some good books too!

I particularly like the bit which says, “Get an e-mail every time M T McGuire releases a new book.” Mwah ha hargh. I’m not going to be cluttering up anybody’s in box. If you want to collect really and I mean really rare spam, from me, just click on that box.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Wittering