The Quorum: Book Review

A review of Kim Newman’s “The Quorum”.

INTRODUCTION

For this post I am reviewing a book I read recently. When I review books I do so because I consider it worth doing – I gain no pecuniary benefit at all. 

HOW I DISCOVERED KIM NEWMAN

I first came across Kim Newman a couple of years back when I saw a copy of Moriarty: Hound of the D’Urbervilles in Norwich Millennium Library. I enjoyed that book, and the kept the author’s name in mind for future reference. 

HOW I DISCOVERED THE QUORUM

I was in King’s Lynn library on Monday, as I often am when not at work when I saw the book. I checked out the back cover to see if I could glean more about the story, and decided it was worth borrowing. On Wednesday, with the beginnings of this post already in mind I returned it having read and enjoyed it…

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King’s Lynn library, donated to the town by Andrew Carnegie

 THE STORY

The prime mover of the story goes by the name of Derek Leech, and the story starts with him emerging from the muck and slime of the Thames (even today, half a century after Leech’s supposed emergence and after considerable efforts to clean it up the Thames remains fairly slimy and mucky). The other principal characters are four schoolfellows who end up in a situation whereby three of them become very rich and successful courtesy of Leech, but they have to stuff up the life of the other as part of a Faustian deal.

Along the way we are told much about the various ways in which the three who have been granted success. One is a TV presenter and best selling author. In his capacity as an author he names characters after London Underground stations, so we encounter Colin Dale (look near the northern end of the Edgware branch of the Northern line), Ken Sington (South Kensington District, Circle & Piccadilly, High Street Kensington – District & Circle, Kensington Olympia – – District), Mai Da Vale (Maida Vale, Bakerloo line) and Barbi Can (Barbican – Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan) are all mentioned in the book as names used by Michael Dixon for his characters. Of these names only the first really passes muster. The s in Kensington is pronounced as a z not an s – Ken Ington, losing an N from the name of that Northern line hub station would have been better. Mai Da Vale is a mishmash of a name – a clearly oriental first name and surname with an Italian prefix, in addition to which were Vale a recognised Italian name (I do not believe it is) it would certainly pronounced as Var-lay in that language. Barbi is not usually spelled without the e, and I have yet to come across anyone surnamed Can. However, I credit Newman with selecting these names as a way of indicating just how undeserved Michael Dixon’s best seller status is.

The kicker moment comes late in the plot, after Neil, the ‘loser’ in the bargain finally concedes defeat. It turns out that he as the person whose pain has been feeding Leech’s “device” is far more important than the other three, who having driven him to utter the dread phrase “I give up”, have now ceased to be useful to Leech. 

I enjoyed reading this book and recommend that you read it too. 

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END NOTE: THE LINKS
FROM THE CHARACTER NAMES

All the links in my information about Michel Dixon’s dodgy character names are to posts on my London transport themed website, www.londontu.be. South Kensington has two links because there are two posts about that station, written at different times. 

 

Conclave – Book Review

A review of Conclave by Robert Harris.

INTRODUCTION

I received a copy of Robert Harris’ latest work, Conclave, as a Christmas present from my sister. I included mention of Robert Harris in the post I created to mark my fifth anniversary as a blogger, the title of which was borrowed from the second volume of his trilogy about Marcus Tullius Cicero.  I also mentioned the possibility of reviewing Imperatorm the third volume in the Cicero trilogy,  in a couple of other posts but did not actually do so (it is a splendid finale to the trilogy btw). 

A BOOK ABOUT CHOOSING A NEW POPE?

The whole of Conclave is devoted to telling the story of the election of a new pope. The scene is set with the announcement of the death of the old pope. To be elected a two-thirds majority, and it often takes several votes for a front runner to emerge. This being a novel, there are of course some extra twists. Four people in total are front runners at various stages of the process but do not win. Two of these people have their chances spoilt when details of past transgressions are revealed to the assembled cardinals, a third makes a speech which effectively rules him out and the fourth is hoping someone else gets elected. At the end a newly appointed cardinal who had gained one vote in the first ballot is elected at the eighth ballot (while I do not know of anyone in real life winning after getting only one vote in the first ballot, Cardinal Wojtila got very few votes in the first ballot of the second Conclave of 1978). 

The winner then has to accept the office and choose a papal name. In this case he goes for Innocent, a papal name that has been used 13 times before but not in the last three centuries. There is of course a vast range of possible papal names – very few of those previously used would be unacceptable, while a choice of a previously unused name could also work. There are two papal names I do not see being claimed any time soon however: Pius XIII because of the character of Pius XII, and Peter II because of the sheer hubris involved in choosing that name (although Steve Berry in The Third Secret has someone choose the name Peter II, and yes that person does then come to a sticky end).

Although all the action takes place within the confines of the world’s smallest independent country, the book never flags or lacks interest. An excellent novel and one I heartily recommend.

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The front cover.
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A map of the are within which the action takes place.

 

 

 

The Four Legendary Kingdoms – Book Review

A review of Matthew Reilly’s latest masterpiece.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to my review of Matthew Reilly’s latest thriller. The book is a continuation of the Jack West series, which started with The Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors.

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A NEW TWIST

Previously in this series we have seen the re-erection of the capstone of the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the rebuilding of a great machine which saved the world from the Dark sun. In the first adventure West and his team faced two sets of foes, a catholic church led group and a US led group. Having been beaten in the first quest, the catholic church played no role in the second, but a new set of foes in the Japanese, determined to end the world, appeared.

Now, eight years on the world faces another threat – a potential collision between the Hydra Galaxy and the Milky Way. The four kingdoms of the title are four shadow kingdoms who rule the world between them, Land, Sea, Sky and The Underworld.

The first stage of the process to save the world from the Hydra Galaxy is the staging of the Great Games of the Hydra, for the fourth time in history (the three previous champions being Osiris, Gilgamesh and Hercules). West is kidnapped so that he has to compete in these games on behalf of the Kingdom of Land.

This means that he faces a series of challenges (along with 15 other competitors) that passed into legend as the Labours of Hercules. It transpires that among the other challengers is Captain Shane Schofield of the US Marines, aka the Scarecrow, whose participation is also not voluntary.

Eventually West and the Scarecrow face each other in a fight to the death (West wins, but Schofield has taken the same drug that Caesar Russell used to cheat death in Area 7…). West then has to take on the younger son of the king of The Underworld plus Mephisto, Fear and Chaos all fighting on behalf of their king’s son. He emerges victorious from this fight, and then faces the final challenge of delivering Cerberus to the king of The Underworld, which he accomplishes by dint of asking permission to so.

He then prevents his own king from receiving hidden wisdom that will make him all-powerful. To save the world and prevent it from being in the grip of a tyranny West mus now find the three hidden cities (there is the title of the next book in this series ready made) and extract their wisdom. I did not see any pointers to the the title starting with two, but I would be fairly confident in reckoning that the last book in the series will be titled The Omega Event.

Given that Scarecrow has put in an appearance in this book what of other Reilly leads? Well I could see roles for William Race and possibly C J Cameron somewhere along the line. Another possibility would be a now grown-up Kirstie Hensleigh (from Ice Station) playing a role somewhere along the line.

This is a fabulous book, which I heartily recommend to everyone.

Before showing some internal illustrations a final speculation: I reckon the Japanese still have a final intervention in them before this series is done. For more on Matthew Reilly’s books check out this post.

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The Great Zoo of China – Book Review

A review of Matthew Reilly’s latest, “The Great Zoo of China”

INTRODUCTION

Matthew Reilly is one of my favourite contemporary novelists. He writes action adventure stories in which the pace of said action is never in any circumstances below greased lightening. His latest novel, The Great Zoo of China, has all the usual features and a few more besides.

THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA

Dragon myths are a global phenomenon, and pretty well every where dragons are described the descriptions are very similar. All have four legs and a pair of wings. Although the book describes this as being hexapods it is not necessarily so, since the Malaysian Flying Lizard has four legs and a pair of wings, the latter being supported by an extended ribcage. Other reptiles which have evolved an extended rib cage for structural support purposes are turtles whose carapaces are supported by their ribcages.

The back story is that the reason for dragon myths being global is that dragons really exist, and each myth documents an appearance of a dragon who hatched out from the egg and came to the surface to see if the planet was warm enough for them to survive. Behind even this is the survival of the dragons, winged archosaurs who survived the great extinction at the end of the cretaceous because their nests were protected by being beneath nickel deposits. The Chinese located a nest beneath their second largest nickel deposit, and captured each dragon as they hatched. This gave them 88 dragons. A breeding program using female saltwater crocodiles as incubators for dragon eggs boosted this tally to 232.

The Chinese believed they were ready to unveil their great creation and arranged for a two select groups of important visitors to be shown the zoo. One of these groups was made up of Americans, including the hero the story, Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, an expert on large reptiles. The other consisted of high-ranking politburo officials, who were being shown the hunting area of the zoo.

The dragons were being kept confined by means of electromagnetic shields, so it looked as though they were moving freely, while the humans were supposedly protected by ultrasonic shields that the dragons could not approach closely because of their sensitive hearing.

It turns out that some of the red-bellied black dragons (there are four groups of true dragons and one group of hybrid dragons produced from the crocodile experiment’s early days) have torn out their own ears so that the ultrasonic shields don’t bother them, and that the dragons have worked out how to bring down the inner of two electromagnetic domes, and have decided that this day, when there are two groups of guests is the day to attempt a break out.

Additionally for the human visitors, the Chinese are determined that no word of the disaster can be allowed to spread and that therefore no independent witnesses can be allowed to live.

PICTURES

To conclude this post here are some pictures to give you a better idea of the book:

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The book is divided into seven sections called "evolutions" - something Reilly frequently does - in Ice Station they are "incursions", while in The Seven Ancient Wonders they are "Missions" etc.
The book is divided into seven sections called “evolutions” – something Reilly frequently does – in Ice Station they are “incursions”, while in The Seven Ancient Wonders they are “Missions” etc.

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This is an excellent story, and although the notion of a species surviving in deep hibernation for 65 million years seems a trifle far fetched there is very little in the back story about the dragons that is actually flat out impossible – a further plus mark as far as I am concerned. If you get an opportunity to read this or indeed anything else with Mr Reilly’s name on the cover make sure you take it!

“Dinosaurs and the Expanding Earth”

A brief review of Stephen Hurrell’s “Dinosaurs and the Expanding Earth” accompanied by a few pictures.

INTRODUCTION

This is a book review, of a book that I have just read which has the title I have used as the title of the post. This is a standalone post with no links or unrelated pictures.

A SMALL BOOK THAT PACKS A GIANT PUNCH

The book that gave it’s title to this post is by Stephen Hurrell and it seeks to provide an explanation for the giant size of the dinosaurs.

The Front Cover
The Front Cover

Hurrell’s theory, argued very persuasively is that the Earth was smaller and hence gravity was less in the distant past. Many different sets of data fit with his argument – including the fact that in every era since the extinction of the dinosaurs the biggest land animals have been progressively smaller. The super-giant land mammals of 35-40 million years ago for example grew much larger than their counterparts today. A graphic illustration of the size difference between the largets dinosaurs and today’s largest land animals is this…

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The illustration of the difference between his theory of earth formation and the standard version (constant size earth) is shown in this graphic…

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I found the book thoroughly fascinating and absorbing and would heartily recommend it to anyone, and conclude this very brief post by passing on another recommendation of a book that I share Mr Hurrell,s opinion of, Robert Bakker’s “The Dinosaur Heresies”…

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