Friday, 26 January 2018

Lena's Nest - by Rosalie Warren

It's not easy to write an original science fiction story about artificial beings given the rich history of this subgenre. Robots have been our constant literary companions since Karel ńĆapek's 1926 play, (R.U.R), Isaac Asimov's noble machines and beyond. Rosalie Warren, however, pulls it off with aplomb in her close-up and personal psychological scifi thriller, Lena's Nest.

And it feels on the leading edge of today's fast-changing AI research. Lots of robot sci-fi novels - even the classics - give but a wave of the hand to the scientific and technological derivations of their sentient mechanical creations, be they benign or monstrous. Lena's Nest, however, explores the fundamentals of artificial life - including the ethical and psychological considerations - without compromising the novel's compelling narrative. This no doubt results from the author herself being computer science professional with expertise in linguistics, psychology and artificial intelligence.

Ms.Warren, uses her expertise to draw characters and tell a good story, while never burdening it with gratuitous didactic details. We're on Dr. Lena Curtis' side from when she awakens from a prolonged coma - or at least believes so - on page one following a serious auto accident.

Lena, like the author, is a computer scientist specializing in robotics. Up until her car crash, she had been developing ethical protocols for artificial intelligence and robotics programs, never realizing that her work may have dramatic impact on future society. We relate to Lena as a woman and mother, not simply a scientist -- from the start. Coming out of her "coma," Lena reunites with her children and family and tries to sort herself out, only to notice strange, dreamlike anomalies.

The narrative is intimate and juicy - an eerily somatic trip through the protagonist's inner space that doesn't slow down. You feel Lena's fears in nightmarish fashion: for example at the opening of Chapter 19: "The terror was like nothing she had ever known. Lena had previously thought that the worst hell she could suffer was that of seeing her children hurt ... but this was unbelievably worse. It threw her into pure, self-focused, primal horror. She had believed she no long had a body, but her heart was pounding now, thumping harder with every beat. Her abdomen was full of ice-cold fear and her brain teamed with... What?"

I'll sidestep spoilers and keep mum on further plot details. Suffice to note that  Lena's Nest becomes a suspenseful journey through our myriad states of consciousness - natural and artificial. Lena faces existential choices at every turn - between romantic and familial love, being in- or out-of-body, life or death. How would you like to suddenly be confronted first-hand by future generations really think - or forget - about you? Would you rather live as a synthetic being in a brave new world divorced from past life, or dwell among those you love in an idyllic-but-illusory bygone reality? Could you get used to existing in a totally alien, artificial body? Are you the total of your memories, or more? Would non-existence be terrifying or serenely appealing, given these choices?

Like all compelling science fiction, Lena's Next takes us on a wild adventure beyond the boundaries of everyday existence while raising consciousness about the underlying psychological, social and philosophical issues of our own, present and uncertain realities.

- Umberto Tosi, author of Our Own Kind, Ophelia Rising. High Treason, and Milagro on 34th Street.
 He has been a member of Authors Electric since May 2015.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Horse of Mist by Katherine Roberts

Horse of Mist by Katherine Roberts

Genre: Fantasy and Magic
Age range: 9 - 12

ebook FREE to download (at time of writing review).

This short story is a prequel to the Pendragon Legacy quartet series. It's lead character is Rhianna Pendragon (King Arthur's daughter).

Rhinanna is living in the secret world of Avalon and is surrounded by mythical and magic beings. The story follows the ceremonial day when mist horses choose their riders. Rhianna is desperate to join in but has been forbidden because humans can't rider mist horses. 

Although I'm not the demographic for this short story I still found it an enjoyable read. It's well written and the story has a good pace to it.

I can see the audience that it's aimed at connecting with the characters and deciding to want to read the entire series. 

Well worth downloading either for yourself or a younger member of your family who loves horses and a little magic.  

Reviewer - Lynne Garner

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Three Billy Goats Gruff by Susan Price

Three Billy Goats Gruff - Picture Book
Three Billy Goats Gruff - Colouring Book

Age range: 5 - 6 years

As a writer of picture books I spend a lot of time reading picture books and analysing why they work and how I can use this in my own work. So when I discovered this retelling of my favourite story, I knew I had to read it.

The illustrations are big and bold with sharp, angular lines
that support this 'edgy' story.  I like the way some of the text are in speech bubbles and some of the actions words have become part of the page design.

Repetition and rhyme is used to good effect, something a lot of picture books include as it allows the child to anticipate the story and join in with certain words and phrases. This allows aids with the reading, making it an easy to read-aloud book.

The plus with this picture book is that there is a colouring book that compliments it. Some of the words are also missing, so the child can fill in for themselves. Something as a teacher I'm all for as it adds another dimension to the reading experience and supports a child's small motor and word recognition skills.

Reviewer - Lynne Garner

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

From the Heart of a Copy Editor by Sheila Glasbey

From the Heart of a Copy Editor - (the 10 most common mistakes and how to fix them) by Sheila Glasbey

Genre: educating and reference, Writing, editing

Available as an ebook only - UK edition only, at time of writing this review.  

As a writer, I’m always looking for something to help me improve my writing. As a teacher, who has to ensure I can support my students with their SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) I’m always on the lookout for a book I can recommend to my students.

This book’s written in a light-hearted and chatty manner making it a far more enjoyable way of learning than ploughing through some of the more conventional grammar books.

It’s written by professional copy editor and is based on her experiences working for other writers. It covers ten common mistakes made by all levels of writers. It includes simple to follow explanations and includes easy to follow samples that provided me with that ‘lightbulb moment’ - when something clicks and you suddenly understand.

It’s a book I’ll be keeping near to hand as I write, just so I can double check my SPAG and one I can recommend to my students.

Reviewer: Lynne Garner 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The C word by Sandra Horn

I once inherited a marmot-fur coat. By one of those weird coincidences, my friend Di inherited a mink one at more or less the same time. Both coats were short and boxy; very 1920s-30s, so the poor little beasts had gone to meet their makers (ho ho) long before either of us was born. What to do with them, though? They were potentially saleable (especially Di’s mink) but that didn’t seem right. In the end, we discovered that Oxfam would take them to send to folk in very cold climates, so we decided to donate them, but we would first wear them once and once only. I can’t remember why we thought this was a good idea, but it was probably a nod to the elderly relatives who had bequeathed them to us. The one-and-only occasion we chose was Midnight Mass in Romsey Abbey, which would be perishing cold. So we went in our outdated finery, a touch of Mammon in the holy place, and shortly after the service began, a couple of noisy drunks staggered in. There was much tutting, some moves to evict them, but the priest said they were welcome, as everyone was in God’s house.
Cue to Kipling’s poem Eddi’s Sevice:
Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid
In the chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to the service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.

‘Wicked weather for walking,’
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
‘’But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.’

The altar-lamps were lighted, -
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.

‘How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is my Father’s business,’
Said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.

‘But – three are gathered together –
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren,’
Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a manger,
And a stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider
That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word.

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhhod End,
‘I dare not shut his chapel
On such who care to attend.’

So, there you have some of the inevitable  aspects of Christmas: holiness, sentimentality, and a reckless midwinter lash-up. And now it is upon us once again, with its extraordinary confusion of the Christian message and the Pagan middle-of-the-dark-and-maybe-the-sun-will-never-shine-again Whoop-de-do. I’m as confused as anyone else. I love singing carols, I put up a crib in the hall, have frequented Midnight Mass (and longed for all the bells to ring out at 12 but they don’t here). I re-wrote the story of Babushka because I didn’t think the ending was about the redemptive power of love - and it should be. Not bad for an at-best Agnostic. 

We once went to Tromso, up in the Arctic Circle, in early January. The little town was covered in snow and every window had an arch of candles in it. It was dark almost all of the time, except for about four hours of enchanting twilight between about ten a.m. and four p.m. The moon was full and every night, the Aurora Borealis appeared in the sky. I hadn’t taken on board that they dance, change shape, move silently across the sky and are like transparent veils of green, gold and lilac. Numinous? Oh yes. There is, of course, a scientific explanation but it doesn’t detract from the wondrousness. Perhaps that’s where stories arise: somewhere between the everyday realities and the unearthly mysteries.
I haven’t even been at the sherry yet.
Merry Christmas! 

Monday, 18 December 2017

Murder in the Manager by Debbie Young

Murder in the Manager by Debbie Young

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Humour, Romance

This is the first in this series of books that I've read (I know you're supposed to read them in order), but it was a gift. However, I didn’t feel this was an issue as I was able to follow the story and grow to know the characters. 

Thankfully it was the type of mystery book I like to read. As in true Midsummer Murder tradition, there’s someone shouting murder in the first chapter.

The book follows the life of Sophie Sayer as she navigates writing a script for the village play, dealing with the arrival of an ex-boyfriend, nurturing a new romance and working out who shouts from the back pew of the church, “My baby! You’ve murder my baby!”

The story includes all the festive feel you'd expect from the title. The author includes humour and shows a keen understanding of human nature, all at a relaxed pace, making it an ideal festive read.