5 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to start off the year

We’re already some way into 2017, but I wanted to take the chance to recommend some books I think you’d enjoy this year. These aren’t new publications but are simply books I have enjoyed reading in the last year. If you enjoy Science Fiction (or Speculative Fiction as it’s sometimes called) and Fantasy I’m pretty sure you will find something to enjoy here.

Many of these books to deal with adult themes, contain swearing, or are otherwise aimed at an adult audience. Just giving you a heads-up before you buy them for your children! Anyway… here we go!

1. Rivers of London

by Ben Aaronovitch

A murder witness approaches a Metropolitan Police Constable to give evidence. There’s just one problem… the witness is also dead. PC Peter Grant is then thrown into a world where he learns that ghosts, magic, and all other manner of fantastic situations aren’t actually fantasy; they’re very real.

Not only that, the Met has known this for quite some time and has a department to deal with them! PC Grant winds up working with the “magic department”, and learning a few tricks of his own along the way.

Rivers of London mixes elements of fantasy with comedy, has a cracking story, and plugs right into that sneaking suspicion that there’s more to the world than what we see.

If you enjoy this, there’s a series of follow-up books too.

Find Rivers of London on Amazon.co.uk

2. Old Man’s War

by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is John Scalzi’s debut novel. I mention this because it’s probably my favourite book of recent times and I’m amazed that it’s his first! It falls firmly into the category of Science (or Speculative) Fiction. It’s the story of an elderly man who joins the Colonial Defence Force. Yes, this OAP just decided to join the army.

Why would he do that? As we learn in the opening pages, the CDF only takes elderly recruits, but it does so on the promise that it can make them “young” again. The process by which that happens and the events that affect our OAP once he enters military service had me completely enthralled from beginning to end.

Again, if you enjoy this novel there is a series of follow-up books.

Find Old Man’s War on Amazon.co.uk

3. The Martian

by Andy Weir

Mark Watney is part of a manned mission to Mars. He didn’t expect to be left behind, though, and become the first human to be completely alone on a planet.

There’s loads of gallows humour and science fiction actually based on science. If you’ve seen the movie and are thinking you would like there to have been more, this is definitely for you!

Someone once told me this book (and the movie) are for people who watched Apollo 13 and wish the entire thing was like the part where they were trying to work out how to make a new Carbon Dioxide scrubber using only what was available in the Lunar Module. That’s probably a fair comparison, actually, but it’s surprisingly fascinating to see how the various problems Watney faces cold be solved.

What surprised me is that Andy Weir didn’t have a contact at NASA he could ask about the tech of a hypothetical Mars mission. Instead, he crowdsourced the material by posting book excerpts online and allowing people to comment and correct him (and you know how the Internet is for correcting people!).

All in all a brilliant read, and highly recommended. Just be aware it drops the f-bomb in the first few lines but, then, if you were stranded on another planet I reckon you might be a bit sweary too!

Find The Martian on Amazon.co.uk

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

This is an absolute classic, and one I come back to again and again. Douglas Adams’ absurd tale of Arthur Dent, dressing-gown wearing survivor of Earth’s demolition (to make way for a hyperspace bypass), requires a certain willingness to abandon logic and just go with it but, I promise you, it’s worth it.

The story leaps from one bizarre situation to another in a series of highly improbable events that never fail to make me laugh even now, after goodness knows how many readings.

If you enjoy the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a series of follow-up books too.

Find The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Amazon.co.uk

5. Neverwhere

by Neil Gaiman

Is what you see real? What if there’s more than just the mundane world we see around us every day? Richard Mayhew inadvertently manages to leave the mundane world and enter the magical world of London Below… a world where the normal rules don’t apply, and things take on a new and fantastic meaning. The caution to Mind the Gap on the Tube? It’s more than just about being careful not to fall between the train and the platform. The Angel, Islington? Well, in London Below it actually lives up to its name.

Richard’s adventures as he tries to get his life back and save a young girl called Door from assassination kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Now that I think of it, the hidden world here probably puts it in the same category as Rivers of London. If you enjoy one, I’m sure you’ll enjoy both.

Find Neverwhere on Amazon.co.uk

So there we go – five ideas of books to keep you entertained and enthralled. I loved all of these, and I have some others I want to tell you about in a future post. If you do read them, please do let us know what you think by leaving a comment or, if you want to say something after comments have closed here (we do that after a while to cut down on comment spam) you can pop over to our SubReddit and leave your thoughts there instead.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on Games With Gold [Xbox]

Quick post today (yes, I know I don’t post often enough) because I’d hate for you to miss this. One of my favourite games is out on Xbox Live’s “Games With Gold”. You can pick it up for free until the 15th of November. You get to keep it after that, but the chance to get it will be gone.

monkey-island-title

Oh yeah, what’s the game? The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition! It’s an Xbox 360 title, but backward compatible on the Xbox One as well.

You can see details, and details of what’s coming next on Games With Gold by clicking here, or check the Xbox store on your console.

Seriously, don’t miss this. I’m still convinced it’s one of the all-time greatest video games 26 years after its 1990 release!

Building a Terry Pratchett Custom Minifig

Terry Pratchett

© Rob Wilkins

You probably know I love LEGO (despite being in my 30s!). I’ve reviewed several kits and recorded time lapse videos of several builds. While the models are absolutely amazing, I’m sometimes more fascinated by the Minifigs than the rest of the kit. I spotted a post on a friend’s Facebook feed a while back about custom Minifigs and thought I’d have a shot at putting one together myself.

Now, one thing to highlight at the start here is that by “custom” I don’t mean designing the pieces from scratch. What I did for this was get the parts from multiple different Minifigs and combine them to make the one I wanted.

So what did I want? Well, I thought it would be cool to make a Terry Pratchett Minifig.

Minifig PartsThe first step was to decide what I wanted him to look like. I decided to go for a black leather jacket, black fedora, and a big bushy beard (as worn in Terry’s later years). Once that was decided on, it was a case of either looking through all the Minifigs I have sitting in the garage or buying the parts fresh. I really didn’t want to face combing through the ones in the garage, so I headed over to FireStar Toys where I was able to select the parts I wanted from their online catalogue.

For good measure (and, if I’m honest, because I’d seen my friend do this too), I decided to buy a protective case and a hanger that can turn the case and Minifig into a Christmas tree decoration.

Place the order, wait a few days, and a package arrived in the post with my Minifig parts in it.

There is, of course, nothing difficult about building a Minifig, so I won’t linger over that. But I did want to show you the result.

Terry Pratchett LEGO Minifigure

There we go! Just a quick and fun little project. What do you think?

Codemaster: Learning programming via board game

I think it’s important to teach children to program computers; as the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology the ability to make that technology do what you want is going to be a useful skill. There are so many ways to teach programming it’s unreal, and this one seems interesting: a board game designed to teach you to think like a programmer.

Codemaster Board Game The game consists of a series of puzzles where the aim is to move an avatar to a portal, picking crystals up along the way. The board itself is a matrix of coloured paths, and you complete the puzzle by selecting a sequence of coloured tokens matching the colours of the paths. If you get to the end of your sequence (or “program”) and you are either not at the portal or crystals still remain on the board, you need to rethink the program and start again.
[Read more…]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SE [Review]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SEYou don’t need me to remind you how much I love my gadgets; if you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for any length of time you’ll know that already! You may also know that I like my gadgets “naked”, without a cover or case. I think the design of technology these days has progressed to the point where gadgets look good on their own, not as if they’re there purely to fulfil a function.

When you drop a “naked” device, though, things can go really wrong really quickly. No cover means no protection and, since I’m not made of money, I can’t really afford to keep breaking things just because I don’t want to spoil the way they look.

Because I still want my gadgets to look good, I spend quite a bit of time choosing covers and cases, so when I was contacted by the people at Terrapin Accessories to see if I would like to review one of their cases, I spent quite a while looking through the range before deciding on the one I’d like to try. I finally settled on a leather wallet case for my iPhone 5S (which, I have to say, I’m very pleased is the same size as the more recent iPhone SE!)
[Read more…]

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016

Well, I’m sorry this post is later than I’d hoped. My flight back up home from Star Wars Celebration Europe was cancelled and wiped out the brief window of time I’d hoped to use to write the day up before going on holiday. Still, here we go now.

The weekend of 15-17th July saw the return of Star Wars Celebration to Europe; London’s Excel Centre to be precise. I was there on Friday (the first day) and for my first ever Star Wars Celebration. It. Was. Amazing.

You're a wizard, harryAfter flying into London, I immediately met up with other people going to the Celebration walking from the airport to the conference centre, a German father and son. Quite apart from the fact that meant I was less likely to get lost, it was also just nice to start the day off chatting about where we were going and sharing a joint interest.

Once we got there, my sense of humour was immediately tickled by a chap in a Starfleet uniform and slightly muddled sign! Hey, who says you have to pick between Star Wars and Star Trek?
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Testing the Syma X5SC Quadcopter

Syma X5SC QuadcopterIt’s flying season! Or, rather, it’s meant to be flying season but the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Despite the fact it’s the summer holidays here in Scotland, we’ve had some impressive downpours lately (no jokes about that being the Scottish summer, please).

Despite weather woes, I’ve been enjoying testing out the Syma X5SC Quadcopter, kindly sent to me by Mobile Fun. You may have seen my previous review of the Syma X4 Quadcopter, and the X5SC is its bigger brother. So let’s have a look at what Big Brother is like. [Read more…]

LEGO Star Wars Time Lapse: Building the Imperial Shuttle Tydirium

I have to admit I love making LEGO time lapses… I was surprised at how well my first one turned out (the LEGO Ideas Doctor Who TARDIS set) and thought I’d make more.

This time, it’s the Lambda Class Shuttle Tydirium from Star Wars, and it’s a beauty.

The music is the Blue Danube and was selected because it brings back happy memories of space travel in the Commodore 64 game Elite.

Enjoy!

Getting started with SAM Labs’ Make

I love tinkering with gadgets and electronics. I remember as a child I would take different devices, like clocks, alarms, and cameras apart to try and figure out how they worked. If I’m honest, I always struggled because I had no idea what each individual part of the system did.

SAMLabs: MakeNow I’m a parent I’m keen to engender a similar desire for discovering how things work in my children so I was really interested when I came across SAM Labs.

SAM Labs is a system of interconnected blocks, each of which is either a sensor or an actor. The sensors may be things like a button or a tilt sensor while the actors are things like lights, motors or servos. What’s clever is that the modules are all Bluetooth-enabled, so there’s no need to wire them together to make a circuit; instead they all communicate wirelessly. [Read more…]

Building LEGO Star Wars First Order Battle Pack (Timelapse)

It’s Star Wars Day! So it’s quite apt that we have another LEGO Star Wars timelapse video for you. This time, it’s building the First Order Battle Pack (set 75132)… it’s a fairly small set, so the video is short, but I hope you enjoy it.


Watch on YouTube

Don’t forget we still have the Force Awakens on DVD to give away on our Facebook page. Entries close tonight at 7pm (UK time).