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.

Skyrim [review]

Skyrim screenshot

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of the Griffin SurvivorHTC accessories and the Panasonic Lumix case.

Skyrim is the latest entry in the venerable Elder Scrolls series and the follow-up to 2008’s Oblivion. As with its predecessor, Skyrim presents a sandbox-style fantasy world of laudable size and scope.You have an immense amount of choice in how you conduct yourself in Skyrim, with options for playing as a muscle-bound warrior, surreptitious assassin, sagely magician or anything in between.

Often the problem with these games is that the strength of any individual experience is diluted by the vast amount of ground that needs to be covered by the game designers; quests, locations, NPCs and items all need to be fun in and of themselves as well as meshing with the world as a whole.

Thankfully, the development team at Bethesda performed excellently in this regard; each microcosm is detailed and unique. Dungeons, which felt rather stale in Oblivion, seem rather more varied here. This is helped in part through more unique dungeon designs, but also through the upgraded graphics. Like Oblivion before it, the game features a range of styles corresponding to the race of the dungeon’s builders, with Dwemer dungons having a vastly different look and feel to creepy barrows or rocky caves inhabited by other races.

Outside, there is even more variation, with the Scandinavian-inspired countryside containing beautiful mountain meadows, treacherous snow-covered peaks and roaring rivers. The joy that you gain from these encounters is doubled when you realise that you could climb that mountain you see in the distance, if you wanted to. Where first person shooters revel in the immediacy of their action, Skyrim appeals because of the consistent believability of its world and the smorgasbord of opportunities that lie in a great tableau before you.

Of course, Skyrim suffers the same kind of inevitable flaws that its predecessors in the series do, but these only add to the game’s charm. From Yahtzee’s famous encounter with an old lady who floated twenty feet in the air before sinking sadly through the floor to my own exploration of outer space courtesy of a troll’s club, the game’s glitches are amusing conversation pieces rather than game-breaking nightmares.

Perhaps the only genuine flaw I found with Skyrim was with its dungeon-based enemies. In each dungeon or area you encounter, there are a host of easy-to-kill monsters that can be dispatched with no effort or strategy, and a single boss monster which is vastly harder to kill. These boss battles can be enjoyable, but the vast chasm in difficulty interrupts the game’s flow; instead of a gradual ramp up in difficulty as you progress into a dungeon, you instead race to the very end, then start thinking about the boss.

Often, the winning strategy is to take advantage of a peculiarity in the enemy’s AI, such as attacking with ranged weapons from a point they cannot reach. This cheapens the whole encounter, but can be necessary to advance as otherwise the bosses are needlessly difficult to defeat. A redressing of the game’s balance, by making bosses slightly easier and normal enemies increasingly harder, would do a lot to make dungeon crawling more enjoyable.

Otherwise, there is little to complain about in Skyrim. It’s easy to see why it has been given universally excellent reviews; it is certainly one of the greatest sandbox worlds ever presented. Like the best open world games before it, there is a such a multitude of choice that there’ll be something to suit any palette — if you are a fan of finely made video games, Skyrim is worth your time.

Skyrim is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal [Review]

I’ve just realised that title implies Terry Pratchett is going postal, but this is actually a review of the Sky adaptation of his Going Postal book, which aired on Sunday and Monday here in the UK.

Let me come straight out and say that, in every film or television adaptation I can think of, the book has been better. That’s not to say every film/TV adaptation is rubbish, but I’ve just never seen one when I thought the adaptation came out on top. Having said that, I thought Sky’s other two adaptations, The Colour of Magic and Hogfather, were both good so I looked forward to whatever Going Postal had in store.

I deliberately didn’t read Going Postal before watching, because I didn’t want the “proper” story too fresh in my mind. As it was, then, I really enjoyed the adaptation.

Charles Dance is, while different from how I imagined Vetinari to look, an excellent Patrician. I much preferred his quiet, understated, slightly menacing portrayal to Jeremy Irons’ lisping version (although, take the lisp out and Jeremy Irons was much closer to the Vetinari of my imagination). I can’t remember if we’ve ever seen Drumknott before, but it was a bit of a surprise to see him played by Steve Pemberton from, among other series’, The League of Gentlemen. I kept expecting him to do something ridiculous, but mercifully that never came!

Richard Coyle, arguably the star of the show, plays Moist von Lipwig… the postmaster. He’s got a cheeky chappy charm about him that fits Moist’s conman style to the ground. In fact, the way he fits with the Lipwig I imagined means I don’t have much to say about him other than, “good job!”

There are loads of other characters and actors I could comment on, but I want to move on. Let me quickly say that Claire Foy spent a wee bit too much screen time grimacing and glaring for my likes, and that David Suchet was absolutely brilliant as Reacher Gilt! Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago that I only knew him as the mild-mannered Poirot, but he does villains brilliantly.

OK, on to storyline. As far as I can recall (remember, I didn’t want the book to be fresh in my mind), the storyline is pretty close to that of the book. But the real test is whether it’s fun to watch! It was, and I was quite surprised to find that each of the two episodes is two hours long. They just flew past, with the story cracking along at a good pace to try and fit in as much as possible. There are some great moments of comedy, emotion, and the just plain weirdness we’ve come to expect from the mind of Sir Terry.

The only thing that really niggled me was how Lipwig was caught by the Watch for his fraud at the very start of episode one. Sergeant Angua, a watchwoman and werewolf, has always been careful in the books not to reveal her dual nature, but in the adaptation she’s pretty open with it. If you’re not a Pratchett fan that’s unlikely to bother you, but the obsessive geek in me did cringe at her changing just to scare Moist.

So, on the whole, Going Postal was a great story and, I thought, pretty close to Discworld lore. Sure there are things that grate, but there always will be when a book is adapted for a wider audience. It was still fun, and will be well worth getting when it comes out on DVD.

And, of course, it was nice to see Terry Pratchett himself in the traditional cameo appearance.

Did you watch Going Postal? What did you think of it? Is there another Discworld novel that you think is just crying out for an adaptation? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.