Pan’s Labyrinth — Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

This is one super good, dark fantasy/fairy-tale.

Set in 1944 at the end of the Spanish Civil War, with Franco’s troops continuing their brutal repression of anyone and anything that stood in their way.   It gets rather violent, brutal and nasty, and caught in amongst all of this is our protagonist, Ofelia, a young girl who has grown up with the horrors of war all around her.

This is not a book for children, or for the faint of heart looking for a nice fantasy/fairy-tale read, but it’s certainly worth a read if you can handle a fair bit of brutality.

Guillermo’s Page Cornelia’s Page

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My Twenty Years of Racing — Juan Manuel Fangio

I found this while doing my thrice weekly tour of my town’s charity shops.   As a life long Formula 1 fan, i simply couldn’t resist.   Especially since it was in the 50 pence box.

So yes, it’s a real paper and card book, made out of trees and stuff, i actually own one, a first edition hardback and everything!!!   Well, if you’re going to betray your life long vows to your Kindle then at least make it a quality book.

All that aside, what you really want to know is what the actual writing is like, isn’t it?

Oh yeah, it’s amazing.   Obviously, at 57 years old, i wasn’t following Formula 1 when Fangio was driving, up to this book all i really knew about him was that he was a 5 times Formula 1 world champion from the 1950’s, who people like Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart would always proclaim as the GOAT, whenever the topic of Formula 1’s GOAT turned up.

Oh yes, this review wouldn’t be complete without the GOAT thing coming into it.

The current debate always seems to be between Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, simply because of the 7 world championships each, but so many of the younger crowd following Formula 1 simply fail to put any of it into context.

When reading this autobiography one realises that modern Formula 1 drivers can never be compared to those of the early years.   Modern Formula 1 drivers are never seen getting on their hands and knees repairing the car between sessions, or at the side of the road during an open road race like the Mille Miglia (now not a race any more).   Modern Formula 1 drivers drive on sanitised, super safe, almost billiard table smooth, tracks; they have teams around them for their every need: they don’t even carry their own bags any more for fear of tiring their arms out unnecessarily.

When one goes back to Fangio’s early years, that of a farm machinery mechanic in Balcarce, Argentina, who would race in the most treacherous conditions with old cars bought with scraped up savings and donations that he would have to engineer himself into racing machines, one realises the difference between the past and the present.   Those drivers of the early years of motor racing had to face things that modern drivers would simply refuse to even contemplate doing.   Those early years were utterly insane in comparison to modern motor racing.

But more than anything else, this book is so well written, with Fangio telling everything straight from his own experiences of how it truly felt and how those young years of the Formula 1 World Championship truly were: from the highs of those world title wins all the way down to the absolute lowest of the lows in the history of motor racing as he was right behind Pierre Levegh’s car at Le Mans 1955 when Levegh hit Lance Macklin’s car.

The book is also full of the most wonderful photos of those cars and races, along with interludes written by Fangio’s close friend and manager, Marcello Giambertone, telling the reader what it was like looking in at Fangio’s career.

And right at the end of the book the reader will find a full list of all the cars Fangio raced and of all Fangio’s races, and if anyone reading this book is truly honest, then anyone reading this book would have no hesitation as to proclaiming Juan Manuel Fangio the Greatest Of All Time when it comes to driving and especially Formula 1.

So before you join in on any Formula 1 GOAT arguments ever again, do get a copy of this book and read it first.

Juan’s Page

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Walls — Gaie Sebold

Walls, written by Gaie Sebold.Available to read in the anthology, X7.

Wow, that was a weird trip.   This short story starts really strangely, and gets even stranger, as our protagonist, Chrys, who suffers from agoraphobia and can’t go out, gets worse and worse to the point of having what seems to be a total psychotic melt down.

And then everything comes crashing down, and boom!   What an ending.

Ever more wonderful writing and story telling from Gaie, a master of the writing craft.   If you haven’t yet read any of Gaie’s writing then i really suggest you get started, it’s real good fantasy for grown ups who love real good fantasy.

Gaie’s Page

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Ghost in the Shell — James Swallow

Basically, it’s just the film in writing.   Which, if you’re just wanting to read what happens in the film, then great, but personally i feel that this is just totally lazy on the part of the writer: or maybe this is all they were told to do by the rights holder???

The great thing about books, as opposed to film, is that you don’t have to pay for the sets, the extra cameras, the costumes, etc..   In a book the writer is simply limited by their own imagination and language skills, whereas in a film the director/writers are totally and absolutely constrained by finite resources such as finances, but also logistics, cgi limitations, the human elements of everyone involved (remember the pandemic and the disruption that caused to films and tv shows?) and many other things besides.   So to sit down and write a novel based upon a film, one would think a really good writer would have a fucking field day with it, but, with Ghost in the Shell, they didn’t.

Like is say, maybe this was the brief, and when someone throws a bag of money in the direction of writers and tells them what they want writing i would imagine they’ll get plenty of writers clamouring to take on such an easy task as this “novelisation” must have been.

At less than 2300 Kindle Loc points you’re pushing it to label this as a novel anyway.   At this length you’re seriously riding the boundaries between novella and novel.

I suppose they didn’t want to upset the film fans who only have attention spans of two hours.

So yeah, sadly, a total let down.   There could have been so much more background and detail that could have really added to the story.   A seriously wasted opportunity.

James’ Page

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The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne — Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

I came across Yudhanjaya’s writing in the anthology 2054, where i found his very enjoyable Deep Ocean Blues.   So having really enjoyed that novella i thought i’d go and have a hunt around and see what else Yudhanjaya has written.

The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne is, i believe, Yudhanjaya’s first book, albeit just a short story.   It tells the tale of a poor little rich kid who has never had to work for anything and has essentially squandered his life.   He’s now so fed up with his pointless rich existence he just spends his time trying to kill himself.   But he’s so rich his parents had him filled with nanites that heal his every wound and illness, preventing him from ending his own life, no matter how hard he tries.

Then, one day, while driving a tuk tuk, Rohan hears about a space program wanting volunteers to be shot straight into a black hole: even the nanites won’t save him this time.

All in all, this is a really good short story, well written, but it does get lost here and there in the terminology and theories of black holes.   But Rohan is also completely lost with all the science of it, his nanites stopped working after 30 years in cryo-sleep to get to the black hole and he’s lost a lot of his intelligence.   Essentially, being baffled by all the science nonsense puts you right in the mind of Rohan as he plummets into the abyss.   Have fun!

Yudhanjaya’s next book is Numbercaste, which i shall get around to reading at some point in the future.

Yudhanjaya’s Page

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Shattering the Spear — P. Djèlí Clark

Shattering the Spear, written by P Djèlí Clark.Available in the anthology, The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Vol 1.

Having just read Djèlí’s Dead Djinn books and totally enjoyed them, i had no choice in my good book reading avarice but to go hunting for everything i could find by Djèlí and start reading it all in publication order, and you guessed it, Shattering the Spear is, i think, the first story published.

Shattering the Spear seems to me to be based upon an African tribal warrior, in a land that reminds one of those vast pictures of African grasslands.   It’s also full of Animist religious ideas, which, being an Animist myself, is really nice to find in a book these days.   There’s also some good fight/action scenes, with the same great writing that you find in the Dead Djinn books.   In fact, there’s quite a lot packed into this short story.

Next up on the Djèlí list is Skin Magic, but before i get around to that i’ve got a few other writers and their books to catch up with and read first.

P. Djèlí Clark’s Page

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Fugitive Telemetry — Martha Wells

Although Fugitive Telemetry is tagged as book 6 and Network Effect is tagged as book 5, it seems to me that Fugitive Telemetry is in the time line before Network Effect.   If i read this series again, i would read Fugitive Telemetry before Network Effect.

As to the story:

Murderbot finds himself still on Preservation Station with Dr. Mensah, waiting for the inevitable visit from GrayCris agents when he ends up getting involved in a murder investigation.   Dr. Mensah thinks it would do him some good to work with station security and port authority agents, and so Murderbot decides to help.

This is one of those, no-one-trusts-the-AI-murder-machine, stories, with murderbot having to become a more public person now that it is going to be hanging around with Dr. Mensah doing her security.   But how can Murderbot help in the investigation if it’s not allowed access to any non-public systems and no one else on the investigation trusts it?

All in all, it’s really good but, like i mention, the timeline is a bit screwy and the flow between books could be better managed as it was in the earlier books where it was clear that where we started one book where we left off the previous book.

Martha’s Page

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Network Effect — Martha Wells

The next Murderbot installment after Home.

After all the previous books that have all been novellas and two short stories, this book is like The Big Book of Murderbot.   At over 5000 Loc points this is a book to really settle down with and enjoy for a while.

So yeah, lots and lots more of Murderbot shenanigans, with Murderbot finding himself kidnapped, kidnapped again, and then held hostage and lots of other enjoyable escapades besides.   And Murderbot even seems to make a few friends along the way.

Only two books to go after this, i do hope there’s more because Murderbot is one brilliant protagonist.

Next up, Fugitive Telemetry.

Martha’s Page

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Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory — Martha Wells

Following on from Exit Strategy, a very short short-story about Murderbot and Dr. Mensah getting back to Preservation after the kidnapping.

Next up is Network Effect.

Martha’s Page

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Exit Strategy — Martha Wells

And the train that calls itself Murderbot just keeps on a rolling.   Murderbot is relentless: brilliant fun all the way through.   Murderbot is definitely one of the best AI’s i’ve ever encountered — up there with Joseph R. Lallo’s Ma.

And it’s non-stopping straight into-ing Home for more Murderbot shenanigans.

Martha’s Page

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