Matthew Reilly’s Jack West Septet

A look at a remarkable series of novels by Matthew Reilly.

It has been a while since I last blogged. I hope to return with a bang. Five and a half years ago I wrote a post covering the whole of Matthew Reilly’s oeuvre as it then stood. Two days ago my copy of The One Impossible Labyrinth (pre-ordered so I got as soon after publication as possible) arrived, and by the end of yesterday I had finished reading it for the first time. This book completes the Jack West series to which this post is dedicated.

SEVEN ANCIENT WONDERS

This is where it all started, with Jack West’s small crack team, made up of individuals from minor nations up against much larger and better armed opposition forces from the USA and Europe. An event called the Tartarus Rotation was due, and to prevent it the golden capstone of the Great Pyramid of Khufu had to be re-erected and a special ceremony conducted. West’s team had two aims: either to ensure that the ritual of peace rather than the ritual of power was performed or to prevent the ceremony altogether.

In the event it did not work as planned, and the ritual of power was performed by a notorious Saudi terrorist, Mullah Mustapha Zaeed. However, West had substituted soil from his native land for that of Zaeed’s, so Australia had the power, and West planned to keep that as secret as possible. The story could have been left there with no cause for complaint…

THE SIX SACRED STONES &
THE FIVE GREATEST WARRIORS

A group of Japanese fanatics who want the world to end undo the Tartarus ceremony, and now the world is in a high stakes race against time to save itself from the Dark Sun, to do which six pillars need to be placed at six different temple shrines around the world at specific times. All the pillars need to be cleansed before they can be set in place, and some are in unknown locations.

By the end of The Six Sacred Stones two of the pillars have been placed, and West is plunging down an effectively bottomless pit locked in battle with a traitor whose Japanese heritage had counted for more than his American heritage.

The Five Greatest Warriors features a multi-faceted struggle between Old Europe (The Deus Rex), The Caldwell Group (USA, but no longer on the same wavelength as their government), Japan, and West’s team. Old Europe and the Caldwell Group are both hunting for absolute power, Japan want the world to end and West’s team are trying to keep the world turning and prevent anyone from gaining absolute power. In addition to these major players, China is also involved, as are Saudi Arabia. Jack West’s adopted daughter Lily, a Siwan Oracle, places the final pillar at its site underneath Easter Island, and at the very end Jack West then kicks the charged pillar into the abyss to ensure that his wicked father, Jack West senior cannot use it to rule the world as a dictator. West the elder dies in the final scene. This, like the end of the first book could have been the end of the story, and for some years it seemed like it would, but after a lapse of eight years the series changed course in a big way, starting with…

THE FOUR
LEGENDARY KINGDOMS

This book, and with it the second half of the series, starts with West being abducted and forced to take part in the Great Games of the Hydra, which will decide the fate of the universe. This book reveals the existence of four ‘shadow Kingdoms’ which in reality rule the entire world. West is fighting on behalf of the Kingdom of Land, with the other three being the Kingdom of the Sea, the Kingdom of the Sky and the Underworld. At the semi-final of the games West finds himself in a duel to the death with Shane Schofield, also known as The Scarecrow. Scarecrow, knowing that West is more important than him, and also remembering the circumstances of Caesar Russell in one of his own previous adventures puts on a show but has every intention of being seen to be killed by West, and is. West duly wins, then wins the final as well, and finally correctly works out how to handle Cerberus to win the Great Games. West then manages to save Scarecrow as well. Also West sets the scene for the events of the last three novels by refusing to countenance one person ruling the world as dictator.

THE THREE SECRET CITIES &
THE TWO LOST MOUNTAINS

These two books build up for the finale. Aloysius Knight rescues West from incarceration in the world’s most secure jail, Erebus. Also escaping at the same time is Rastor, a Serbian general who wants the world to end, while various groupings associated with the shadow kingdoms and with the catholic church are also still very much involved. By the end of The Two Lost Mountains we are entering the final labyrinth, and four major players with differing goals are all still very much in the game.

THE ONE
IMPOSSIBLE LABYRINTH

The final installment begins with West’s team in three parts, one in quest of the bell which will reawaken those sent to sleep by the siren bells (very large numbers, part of Hardin Lancaster’s scheme to remake the world with himself in sole power), one keeping tabs on those shadow royals not directly involved in the quest, and one in the labyrinth. At times it seems like most of West’s team have been killed, but they survive somehow. The book and the series ends with a lengthy epilogue which takes things to a point from which everyone can be expected to live happily after. This is a fantastic series, and I have enjoyed seeing it change and develop, one from one book, to three, to a final seven.

Not Weird, Just Limited Edition: Inside the Autistic Mind – Book Review

My review of Not Weird, Just Limited Edition: Inside the Autistic Mind. I urge you to all to buy copies of this fabulous little book.

INTRODUCTION

You may remember that a couple of posts ago on here I mentioned a new book about Autism titled “Not Weird, Just Limited Edition: Inside the Autistic Mind”. Well the copy of that book that I ordered arrived yesterday, and now it is time for a quick review.

A LITTLE GEM OF A BOOK

The book, written by Faye Flint, who was diagnosed as autistic only at the age of 27 (regular readers of this blog will recall that I was 31 when I got my own diagnosis, so this is a situation that is more than a little familiar to me). It is 108 pages long, with the text very generously spaced. Each page is a separate event, recording a particular thought or train of thought, and each is beautifully clear, and for obvious reasons many are instantly recognizable to me. If you are autistic yourself, or know/ are related to someone autistic, or even just have an interest in autism this book, written as it is by someone who is actually autistic is an absolute must read. I am going to share some of my personal favourites (I have selected six out of 108 pages to quote – and the quotes will be indented and italicised to set them apart from my own writing:

First, page 31:

I was a child with Asperger’s.
I will remain an adult with Asperger’s.

Page 45:

No, I won’t ‘grow out’ of my Asperger’s.
Asperger’s is who I am.
But I have lived with myself for 30 years.
I have learned how to manage myself.
To be able to fit into society more appropriately.

Page 49 (I am bolding as well as italicising this one for reasons that should become obvious):

“But you don;t seem like my friend’s son who is autistic?”
Ahh, well maybe that’s because…
I am a grown autistic woman,
Not a 7 year old autistic child.
Yes, there really is a difference.

Page 64:

No, my Asperger’s cannot be cured.
Nor would I want it to be.
This took me a long time after such a late diagnosis.
However,
It has made me, me.
And I kind of like me.
In fact,
Many people say my ‘differences’ are what they love most!

Page 69 (another one that I chosen to bold as well as italicise)

Just ask.
If you want to know about the spectrum,
Ask someone who is on it!
We aren’t offended.
If anything,
It makes us happy that you care enough to want to learn.
There is nobody better to ask,
Than someone who goes through it,
Every.
Single.
Day.

Finally, page 81:

I promise I am listening to you.
But my brain has 2,644 other tabs open right now.
It is very distracting.

The book is available in paperback or on kindle (click here to order).

FF1 (2)
The front cover

FF2 (2)
The back cover.

FF2 (3)FF2 (4)

Universal: A Journey Through The Cosmos – Book Review

A brief review of Universal: A Journey Thtpugh The Cosmos

INTRODUCTION

I found a copy of this book, by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw when the mobile library called near my bungalow. 

P1210745

A WHISTLESTOP TOUR OF THE COSMOS

I found this book a thoroughly excellent read. It manages to be stimulating and intellectually challenging without ever making one feel out of ones depth. The material is beautifully laid out, and for me the ambition of covering 13.7 billion years of history in one smallish volume is achieved. 

The book is also superbly illustrated, with the colour plates at the back particularly worth seeing. I have photographed a number of the illustrations and the colour plates but not all – after all I think that you should read the book and look at the pictures yourself.

PHOTOGRAPHS

P1210746P1210747P1210748P1210749P1210750P1210751P1210752P1210753P1210754P1210755P1210756P1210757P1210758P1210759P1210760P1210761P1210762P1210763P1210764P1210765P1210766

Beyond The Ice Limit (Book Review)

A review of Douglas preston and Lincoln Child’s “Beyond The Ice Limit” – an example of the best kind of science fiction.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to my review of this recent book by the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. As so often with books reviewed here I found it courtesy of a library (in this case Fakenham library, which is a couple of minutes walk from where I work).

PUTTING THE BOOK IN CONTEXT

Beyond The Ice Limit is a sequel to the The Ice Limit, and also an addition to the Gideon Crew series, but has also been carefully crafted by its authors to work as a stand alone novel. 

The phrase ‘ice limit’ refers to those latitudes in which there is sea ice all year round (at least until climate change renders it meaningless).

As this story starts, an alien life form has been slowly developing on the floor of the Southern Ocean for a period of five years, and Eli Glinn, who was inadvertently resonsible for the alien life form taking root, is now leading a mission to kill it before it can destroy the world. One of those who he ropes in is Gideon Crew, who has only a few months left to live. 

Glinn and his team head south on a huge research vessel with a two-part plan – first find out whatever they can about the alien life form, and then use that knowledge to destroy it. The reason for this approach is because the ‘seed’ from which this alien emerged was actually a huge meteorite, weighing 25,000 tons, and there is only one such ‘seeds’ could be dispersed into space – by the destruction of the host planet (yes, this alien is the ultimate parasite). 

Among their equipment are the components for a nuclear weapon (the explanation for how they have acquired such is that in certain former satellite states anything is for sale if you have sufficient money). 

Since the creature is living two miles below the surface of the sea they also have four DSVs (Deep Sea Vehicles – more sophisticated versions of the bathyscaphe) for carrying out research. These for DSVs are painted yellow on the outside, and hence have been named George, Paul, John and Ringo.

Eventually they discover that the alien, dubbed The Baobab, has no brain of its own, but instead commandeers the brains of others (the first clue comes when they decode messages put out in the form of blue whale calls, which translate as “kill me” – a message that the current brain being used by the Baobab manages to put out). They also discover that deep below the sea floor are six egg-like structures which at their centers appear to have human brains. Five of these they can account for, because three headless bodies were discovered in the wreck of the Rolvaag, the ship that was carrying the meteorite when it broke open, and two of their own people have been taken by the Baobab, and an autopsy of one revealed that her brain had been extracted. 

Gideon Crew gets launched on what he fully expects to be a suicide mission, to trigger the nuclear device directly above the Rolvaag in order to cause enough of an explosion to destroy the Baobab in its entirety, just before infected crew members (the Baobab sends out parasitic worms which take up residence in the brains of those they infect, causing them work for the Baobab) seize control of the ship. 

Unfortunately another infected crew member is in the only intact DSV other than the one Gideon is piloting, and so Gideon prevented from carrying out his intended plan, but the nuclear device ends up on the Rolvaag, and the explosion is (apparently) sufficient to kill the Baobab.

With the Baobab dead, the parasitic worms also die, and the brain of the alien that it had commandeered is finally released, and sends a thank you message to the people of who have released it before it too dies.

SPECULATIONS

While the manner of its arrival and emergence makes it clear that the Baobab is a product of a process that has destroyed at least one planet already (by breaking it up so the ‘seeds’ can be dispersed) there is a question of whether this parasitic system has accounted for even more planets (either because the planet from one of whose inhabitants the Baobab commandeered a brain was not the first to have been subjected to this process, or because some of other ‘seeds’ from that occasion did hatch and destroy their new host planets). The second part of the question is clearly unanswerable, but I would incline to the Baobab being a ‘second generation’ of its type because there are a couple of things that would have made it even better at what it seeks to do than it is:

  1. Although it is somehow able to commandeer brains to make up for its own lack of such it is not able to completely subdue said brains to its requirements – remember the message that the alien brain manages to get to the team.
  2. Although the worms work perfectly in terms of getting everyone they infect to act on behalf of the Baobab they have no capacity for identifying the significance of those they infect – had their first victims been Eli Glinn and Gideon Crew then the mission would almost certainly have been doomed to failure.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book represents the very best of science fiction: there is nothing that definitely flouts any laws of science, and none of the events are impossible to believe. The story is never less than compelling (I have actually read it twice in the space of a week, and the second reading was at least as satisfying as the first, and with a memory like mine there could have been nothing new in that second reading), and the actual scientific theories that come for discussion are well and interestingly presented. I believe that given its component parts this book could not have been improved on, and hence were I permitted to review in the place where reviews carry a star rating (I am not because the copy I read was not purchased through them) I would unquestionably give it the full five stars.

Beyond The Ice Limit

 

The English Civil War Novels of Stephen Deas

A joint review of The Royalist and The Protector, both by S J Deas. Please note that I never review or make direct comments about books that I have not actually read.

INTRODUCTION

This is a specialist post about a new literary find for me, courtesy as so often of Norfolk Libraries. There are two novels so far, and I certainly hope there will be more:

SJD

FINDING THE BOOKS

I actually came across these books in reverse order, finding and reading The Protector first and then having made a mental note of this author as one to follow up on borrowing The Royalist a few days later. There is a developing trend among authors of historical fiction set in the 16th and 17th centuries using their initials on the front cover rather than a full name (I believe C J Sansom was the first, while S J Parris and S G Maclean are other examples).

THE BACK STORY

These stories are set right at the heart of the English Civil War period, in the 1640s. It is already fairly clear even by the time of the first novel which way the war is going, the question being when the Parlimentarians will win (though the war in question still has over two years to run by the end of the second book, the final outcome is obvious, it is merely Charles I’s stubbornness and arrogance that will prolong the agony).

William Falkland, the character at the heart of both books, is a former Royalist solider who owes his life to Cromwell and therefore cannot refuse when that worthy seeks his assistance. He is also, when not performing dangerous errands at Cromwell’s demand, searching for his wife and family who have disappeared.

THE PROTECTOR

The poet John Milton, a man of great importance to the Parliamentarians, is angry because his sister has been abducted and he wants her returned and her abductors caught and punished. Falkland is tasked with bringing this about. The general view of the others involved in the case is that the abductors must be royalists (Milton, portrayed as bad-tempered and arrogant, is particularly determined on this point), but Falkland does not allow himself to be so blinkered, and his investigations ultimately bring home the crime, as part of a much greater crime that is being planned, to a group of extreme anti-royalists. 

Protector

THE ROYALIST

In this, the first book in the series, Falkland has the task of unravelling a series of deaths by (non-judicial) hanging in Thomas Fairfax’s New Model Army. There are powerful people who do not want him getting to the truth, and at times his life is in considerable danger, but eventually he is able to provide an explanation as to what has been going on, and at the end of the book he is free to resume his search for his wife and children.

Royalist

FINAL THOUGHTS

I very much enjoyed both of these books, and look forward to reading more about William Falkland’s adventures. If you see a book with the name of S J Deas on the cover pick it up – it will be worth reading.

Detective Fiction Meets Ornithology

A review of a new find – Steve Burrows’ Birder Murders, with some Norfolk bird pictures of my own for company.

INTRODUCTION

This post concerns two books by a writer I discovered in the last few days:

BMBs FCBMBs - BC

MAKING THE DISCOVERY

When I saw these in the library there was never any doubt about borrowing them – detective stories set in Norfolk and heavily concerned with birds looks a darned good mix. 

THE BOOKS

There is much of interest about birds and about North Norfolk in these books, and the strikingly different characters of each of the police officers makes for some good interplay between them. 

In the first of these two books, “A Siege of Bitterns”, the first victim is actually a birdwatcher. The second victim is a suspect in the first case until he is found dead. It eventjually turns out that the first case was not murder but suicide, and that the murderer in the second case was the MP.

In “A Cast of Falcons”, the hero’s boss, DCS Shepherd, is shown up in a very poor light when she initially refuses even to entertain the notion that the exceedingly rich Sheik who has bought an old dairy farm for his pet project (research on method of carbon capture) could be guilty. She shows herself to be more concerned with not annoying someone who is rich and powerful than with justice, which given her job is entirely unacceptable.

There is a third book in this series that I know of, called “A Pitying of Doves”, and it is sufficient comment on just how good these two books are that I have reserved a copy (costs 60p) and am awaiting it’s arrival at King’s Lynn library.

Siege of BitternsCast of Falcons

If you get the opportunity to pick up a book with the name Steve Burrows on the cover please take it!

SOME NORFOLK BIRDS

To finish this post here are some new pictures of Norfolk birds…

Bird MootBirdsCormorand and gullCormorant and gullsCormorant close-upCormorantGGGullsMagpieMoorhenPoserWingspan