May 2017 Book Wrap-up

Another month of reading done, another 8 books finished. What were they this time and what did I think of them?

Why I read it: Id’ picked this book of short stories up in town and started reading it while waiting outside the dressing room in M&S. Of course, I had to go on and finish the story I was on, thought what the hell and made it my book of the month.
What is it about?: Eighteen stories surrounding colonial marines such as those featured in the film Aliens.
Thoughts: I was impressed by this collection. 18 stories about gun-ho macho warriors pounding umpteen dark corridors and blasting away countless critters while limbs are being torn off, chests being burst open and faces melted in acid could have got very samey by the end. But they didn’t. Most of the characters came across as genuine and each scenario had its own distinctive flavour.
Two things I greatly appreciated were the chronology of the stories, where they start off not knowing what the Xenomorphs are and then ending up with veterans or survivors of Xenomorph encounters. Helped the stories flow.
The other was that not every story featured Xenomorphs. WHAT??? you might say, especially considering the very Xenomorph cover to the book. As already mentioned, these stories are about the colonial marines, not the Xenomorphs. There are a few stories where the critters are not Xenomorphs at all. As much as I enjoy reading and watching those banana-headed killing machines, it was refreshing to be reminded that it’s a big universe out there and that the colonial marines were needed long before the Xenomorphs turned up.
It wouldn’t be fair to review a short story book without looking at the stories themselves so here goes:

Buy the book for this story


Story Name: Chance Encounter
What is it about? While exploring a low-gravity planet a group of marines fight off some leapers (Xenomorphs) and one marine takes a dangerous initiative.
Thoughts: Not a bad opening story of an exploration being interrupted by a Xenomorph attack. I did feel that the marines did get away a bit easily.
Score: Worth reading
Story Name: Reaper
What is it about? Marines are sent to find out why a crop-harversting facility has gone silent.
Thoughts: This reminded of the Doctor Who episode Planet of the Dead. I enjoyed the build up to this one and it’s open ending. No Xenomorphs though.
Story Name: Broken
What is it about? Bishop’s first awakening and thoughts.
Thoughts: Another story with no Xenomorphs, but it’s all about Bishop. Told from his perspective, this gives some great insights to this artifical person.
Story Name: Reclamation
What is it about? Hicks finds out what happened to his wife.
Thoughts: This one annoyed me a little. In this story Hicks (from Aliens) appears to meet the Xenomorphs before the events of the film. However, it’s not 100% clear what the creatures are. It didn’t really add much to Hick’s character and would have perhaps been a more fitting story if it were an unheard of marine.
Score: Worth reading – for Goodread’s sake
Story Name: Blowback
What is it about? The marines from Aliens are sent on a deadly mission.
Thoughts: Another bunch of colonial marines, another bunch of critters that are not Xenomorphs. However, this does have some interesting twists and ended up being quite enjoyable.
Score: Worth reading
Story Name: Exterminators
What is it about? Two marines sneak out for a drink. Turns out that was a bad idea.
Thoughts: This one reminded me of the film Pitch Black. No Xenomorphs in this one, but the critters are almost as good. The fact that the two marines later feature in the film Aliens does remove some of the tension, knowing they’ll live to die in that.
Score: Buy the book for this story
Story Name: No Good Deed
What is it about? Bounty hunters follow their prey to an installation on LV-426.
Thoughts: Set just as the Xenomorphs are taking over Hadley’s Hope, this story also gives a big nod to the human experimentation that the company in known to dabble in. Easily predicted the final sentence of the story.
Score: Worth reading
Story Name: Zero To Hero
What is it about? One marine, posted to the edge of nowhere faces a threat he wasn’t expecting.
Thoughts: Another human experimentation story, this one without the Xenomorphs, which are a known thing by now. Not sure about this one. Felt a little of a wasted opportunity, particularly after reading about the experimentation results in the previous story.
Score: Worth reading – for Goodread’s sake
Story Name: Dark Mother
What is it about? Burke’s thoughts after he shut the door on Ripley and the others and got caught by a xenomorph.
Thoughts: To me, this was the weakest story in the collection. We already knew Burke was a total…erm…Berk but his final thoughts before the installation goes boom didn’t really change anything.
This story also came across as badly edited with him stuck to the wall in the nest not being able to get out, to wandering about with a grenade in the very next paragraph.
Score: Boring – Nonsensical
Story Name: Episode 22
What is it about? M41A Pulse Rifle
Thoughts: This telling of the history of the M41A Pulse Rifle is done in the style of a magazine article interspersed with marine quotes. I just hope it was meant to be as humorous as I found it.
Score: Worth reading
Story Name: Deep Background
What is it about? In order to find some dirt on Weyland-Yutani, a reporter is sent to do coverage on a group of colonial marines.
Thoughts: Following the style of the previous story, this too has snippets of interviews with the marines as conducted by the reporter the story follows. The fact that this story does have Xenomorphs in it is almost irrelevant as the engrossing story and plots twists makes this one of the highlights of this collection.
Score: Storytastic
Story Name: Empty Nest
What is it about? A woman is rescued from a Xenomorph nest.
Thoughts: Having read Aliens: Earth Hive as well as most other books from the Aliens series, I’d anticipated the twist in this one pretty early on. Nothing we haven’t seen before.
Score: Worth reading – for Goodread’s sake
Story Name: Darkness Falls
What is it about? Ex-Marine and Xenomorph survivor is called to help resolve a local issue when contact with a mine is lost.
Thoughts: The fantastic concept of this iteration of the Xenomorphs more than makes up with having to put up with ‘Inexperienced Officer Douchbag’. A compelling story that needs to be put on screen.
Score: Buy the book for this story
Story Name: Hugs To Die For
What is it about? During a visit to a space research facility it is discovered that even keeping neutered facehuggers is a fatal mistake.
Thoughts: At least the idiot scientists thought it might be safer with just neutered facehuggers… Nope, still idiots. I enjoyed the development of the facehugger from being just a chestburster deliver system to a dangerous creature in its own right.
Score: Worth reading.
Story Name: Deep Black
What is it about? Months after the events of Alien3 a trio of marines are sent to Fury to investigate the unusual activity at the site by a rival organisation.
Thoughts: A few far-fetched things that annoyed me here. Xenomorphs are known now. Why send only three marines. Also, with WY so obsessed with the Xenomorphs, there wouldn’t be anything left behind. Posited some interesting thoughts, though.
Score: Worth reading.
Story Name: Distressed
What is it about? A squad of marines battle an alien technological terror in a spaceship.
Thoughts: This was like watching a Michael Bay film. An interesting enough concept, but I felt as dazzled as the marines in the story.
Score: Boring – Nonsensical
Story Name: Dangerous Prey
What is it about? Colonial marines fight off a xenomorph attack, only this time, the story’s told from the point of view of the Xenomorphs.
Thoughts: Not a bad attempt to get behind the Xenomorphs’ ‘eyes’. The acknowledgements at the end of the story shows that this was researched quite well. The story suffered from the unsurprising lack of anything relatable. I enjoyed it for what is was, though.
Score: Worth reading
Story Name: Spite
What is it about? Another research facility, another bunch of aliens for the marines to fight. This time they’re fire spites (mini fire-breathing dragons).
Thoughts: It would have been nice to finish off with a Xenomorph story, but let’s be fair to this story as it is, which is difficult with it being the last of 18 similar storys and this just wasn’t different enough to stand out. To start with I even thought they were the same creatures from Blowback.
Score: Worth reading – for Goodread’s sake
Final Score: Buy it
I’ve also read Aliens: Earth Hive; Nightmare Asylum; The Female War; Genocide; The Labyrinth; Music Of The Spears; Cauldron
Why I read it: Read this to my eldest. First read this when I was about his age.
What is it about?: A precocious little girl is neglected by her family and bullied by her headmistress finds an usual manifestation of her frustrations.
Thoughts: Though this does read as a story, this is more of a series of anecdotes following Matilda’s discovery of books, her retributions to her awful father, the outrageous actions of the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchball, and her relationship with her class teacher, Miss Honey. This book has dated a little bit but it’s still enjoyable. The high points are the punishments Matilda deals to her father and anything that the Trunchball does. Needless child cruelty is apparently very entertaining, if done in the overblown Roald Dahl way, I hasten to add…
Score: Buy it
I’ve also read: The BFG; Boy; Charlie And The Chocolate Factory; Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator; Danny Champion Of The World; Dirty Beasts; The Enormous Crocodile; Esio Trot; Fantastic Mr. Fox; George’s Marvellous Medicine; The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me; James And The Giant Peach; The Magic Finger; More Tales Of The Unexpected; Revolting Rhymes; Skin And Other Stories; Tales Of The Unexpected; The Twits; The Witches; The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar And Six More.
Why I read it: I had previous read the first three books of the series. Finally, after rereading them, I’ve read book four.
What is it about?: Spike Milligan’s memoirs of his involvement in the Second World War.
Thoughts: ‘You don’t have to be mad to fight here, but everyone else is so you’d fit right in’ would be an appropriate summation of these books. Words like: honour, glory, heroism, patriotism are for posters. After reading these books you’d know they should contain such words as: mud, hunger, mud, smoking, mud, boredom, mud, terror, mud, smoking.
Certainly, it seems like the exploits of Milligan and others like him kept people going through the hells they found themselves in. Filled with his unique brand of humour and daftly captioned pictures, these books give great insight into the thoughts, feeling and camaraderie of the average soldier. What makes this book different to the three before it is the life-changing event that befell Milligan when he narrowly missed getting blown up by a mortar. Tonally the book changed from a humorous account of the bloody uselessness of it all to the drastic need of a damaged man to write down memories that haunt him.
Score: Worth reading
I’ve also read: Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall; Rommel? Gunner Who?; Monty: His Part In My Victory; The Bedside Milligan; Spike Milligan’s Transports Of Delight; William McGonnagle Meets George Gershwin, A Scottish Fantasy
Why I read it: Been going through our Goosebumps collection. My eldest happened to have this one out the library, so I pounced on it. It’s one I’ve read before but had very little memory of it.
What is it about?: While staying at their grandparents’ farm, two children realise something is very, very wrong.
Thoughts: I found this one very irritating. From the “there’s definitely something wrong here but we’re just going to ignore it” apathetic attitude of the characters, to the “suddenly it’s a scarecrow jumping out at me!…oh, no it’s just a mundane object in no way resembling a scarecrow” jumps scares that ended most chapters. By the time the plot actually gets moving, the story’s almost finished and the resolution could have been done at any time by anyone…so why didn’t they? As for the …or where they? ending, why haven’t they taken the mysterious all-powerful book of evil which must never be read off of Stanley the slow-witted farmhand who caused all the trouble in the first place? Why hasn’t he been fired, or arrested? Frankly, they all deserve whatever fate befalls them. I can see why I’d forgotten this one.
Score: Toilet Paper
I’ve also read: Goosebumps: The Abominable Snowman Of Pasadena; Attack Of The Mutant; Bad Hare Day; Beast From The East; Be Careful What You Wish For; Calling All Creeps; The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb; Deep Trouble; Egg Monsters From Mars; Go Eat Worms!; The Headless Ghost; How I Got My Shrunken Head; Let’s Get Invisible!; Monster Blood; Monster Blood II; One Day At Horrorland; Piano Lessons Can Be Murder; Return Of The Mummy; Say Cheese And Die!; Stay Out Of The Basement; Tales To Give You Goosebumps; Welcome To Camp Nightmare; Welcome To Dead House; The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp; You Can’t Scare Me!; Goosebumps Series 2000: The Cry Of The Cat
Why I read it: Going through all my graphic novels again. Chronologically working through Star Wars
What is it about?: Having had their memories wiped, Jedi Master Quinlan Vos and his apprentice Aayla’Secura find themselves on opposing sides thanks to an Anzati dark Jedi.
Thoughts: Another masterpiece from what I consider to be the team-up in the industry: John Ostrander & Jan Duursema. A deeply compelling story with first-rate artwork. Quinlan Vos is totally bad-ass as always, he’s by far the most interesting Jedi character in the ‘verse. Despite being a Jedi, he’s not adverse to toeing
the line close to the dark side. Villie keeps the story getting too dark in the way that only Villie can. Aayla’Secura is also a rich and complex character, something that got her to feature in two of the prequels (only to have them totally ignore any of it). It was an interesting thought that not all species are suitable for being a Jedi. I loved the Anzati Jedi, there was a definate Dracula vibe going on there.
There were perhaps too many Jedi in this one, certainly some characters were sidelined a fair bit to the point that I wondered why they even include them in the first place.
Score: Booktastic
I’ve also read: Star Wars Republic: Outlander; Prelude To Rebellion; The Hunt For Aurra Sing; Twilight
Why I read it: It’s what my youngest chose for me to read to him at bedtime…so I did.
What is it about?: An orphan named Sophie is snatched from her bed by a giant. She soon learns how lucky she was to be snatched by this particular giant. Together, they undertake a plan to stop others from far worse fates.
Thoughts: I’ve read this one several times now and it’s still a challenge to read out aloud. Roald Dahl’s penchant for using made-up words is almost overplayed here. I certainly took inspiration from David Jason’s excellent voice-acting in the animated movie (I’ve not yet seen the live-action film).
As for the story, each chapter brings something new and fresh but in bite-sized portions so there’s no ‘info-dump’ to get bogged down in. If anything, there’s very little information about the giants and giant country given and what little there is, only compounds the mystery. However, in this case, answers aren’t necessarily needed as we are swept along as Sophie shows the BFG just what he has been brought into existence to do.
Score: Booktastic
I’ve also read: Boy; Charlie And The Chocolate Factory; Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator; Danny Champion Of The World; Dirty Beasts; The Enormous Crocodile; Esio Trot; Fantastic Mr. Fox; George’s Marvellous Medicine; The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me; The Magic Finger; Matilda; More Tales Of The Unexpected; Revolting Rhymes; Skin And Other Stories; Tales Of The Unexpected; The Twits; The Witches; The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar And Six More
Why I read it: I’ve been reading my Terry Pratchett books that are not Discworld. Been working my way through this fantastic series.
What is it about?: After mankind has settled into a routine in the Long Earth the disaster of Yellowstone Park has removed the original Earth from any control. Lobsang has decided to settle down, but the Earth he’s on is under threat of a different sort, one that could destroy the entire Long Earth.
Thoughts: This is the first book of the series that doesn’t go exploring. Although I did greatly enjoy those explorations, I think it was the right thing to avoid doing this time round. Instead we have a little back-story of Joshua’s heritage from the 1850’s and the first recorded Steppers. Initially, I found the change of pace a little jarring and a goodly amount of time is spent in that era. However, I grew to appreciate the tale and found it concluded at about the right moment.
I found the time scale of New Springfield difficult to follow at times, not knowing if a week, month or year had passed between chapters.
Finally I found that this book suffered a little by not building much upon the previous three books. Whether that’s do to the diminishing returns that are only natural from starting at such a large scale, or that it’s a more personal tale about the characters.
Despite that, I enjoyed this book considerably and am eagerly waiting for The Long Cosmos to get to the top of my TBR pile.
Score: Buy it
I’ve also read (this collaboration): The Long Earth; The Long War; The Long Mars
Why I read it: I’ve got a collection of Tom Sharpe books. So I’m rereading them.
What is it about?: Lord Pertefact despises his family and heirs and decides to bring in an academic to write the family’s sordid history just to annoy them. Circumstance and misunderstandings ensue creating results far different that expected.
Thoughts: This is a very funny book. A number of times had me laughing out loud. Tom Sharpe is not only a writer of really good farce, but quite the word-smith who can bring to life situations both mundane and outrageous with remarkable skill. He also pokes fun at the class system, opinionated people and how people interact with PORGS (Persons Of Restricted Growth).
By far the best scene is the one involving the bathtub and wheelchair, though the dwarf balls scene definitely gets a shout out.
A nod also goes to Paul Sample, who’s excellent cover illustration features various scenes in the story which make sense only when the relevant part is read. My favourite style of book cover.
A word of warning to those who are not familiar with Tom Sharpe: He’s not afraid to deal with most taboo subjects and will happily jump all over them. If you are easily offended you might want to skip this one.
He’s also hilarious, so if you read it on the bus, be prepared for stares when you burst out laughing.
Score: Buy it
I’ve also read: The Great Pursuit; Indecent Exposure; Porterhouse Blue; Riotous Assembly; Vintage Stuff; Wilt; The Wilt Alternative; Wilt On High

And that was May.

What do I have coming up in June?
I intend to –
1. My library book – A Second Chance At Eden by Peter F. Hamilton (Still)
2. Anita Blake: Guilty Pleasures by Laura M. Hamilton (Still)
3. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic: Vindication

Read completely:
4. My book of the month – The True Meaning Of Smekday by Adam Rex
5. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
6-8. Star Wars Graphic Novels starting with Rite Of Passage.

Read a 50ish page bite out of:
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Encyclopaedia (Still)
Quantum Leap: Search And Rescue by Melissa Crandall (still)
X-Files: Antibodies
Mariel Of Redwall

As much as I can of:
My Neighbour Totoro (reading to my youngest)
How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees (reading to my eldest)
Dreams And Dust by George R. R. Martin (My A Song Of Ice A Fire Friday Lunchtime Read)
By The Light Of The Moon by Dean Koontz
Doctor Who: Dead Of Winter
Robin Hood According To Spike Milligan
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World
The Massacre Of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
The Map To Everywhere

If you check out my Currently Reading page, you’ll find out more about my reading style and even monitor my progress.


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