Book Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

The Caves of Steel (Robot, #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first Isaac Asimov novel and it was okay. I didn’t think it was earth shattering, it was simply entertaining enough to hold my interest to the end.

Asimov wrote this book back in 1953 and it is a detective story set in a future world of megacities, space colonisation and human/robot coexistence.

I guess Asimov had to make some tough decisions when he was writing The Caves of Steel? For example, just how far into the future do you set a novel like this? Books such as 1984 and 2001 were set too close to the present, in my opinion. It wasn’t long before the future arrived and the extrapolations made by the authors based on the technology and culture of the era they were writing caught up. Asimov gets it just about right here and he uses a sci-fi detective story to highlight issues which concerned him.

Asimov does have a tendency to digress into long-winded examinations of his pet subjects. These include robots, colonisation of other worlds, the nature of humanity and overpopulation. I got the impression that on the one hand Asimov was advocating a simplification of society while on the other blasting humans off to other worlds with robot helpers.

He tries to sandwich these digressions between action sequences or, in this particular book, detectives doing some, well … detecting! This structure interrupts the pacing of the story. The flow becomes disjointed but it did have the benefit of keeping curiosity levels high enough to make me want to keep on going.

In a way the book was like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in so much that it questioned when does a machine become human? The suspicion and resentment felt towards robots by humans mirrored the way many citizens feel about minorities and immigrants too. Both of these ideas were woven into the plot.

Asimov didn’t seem to the particularly comfortable writing for the female characters (not that there were many). They were window decoration who were only good for hiding behind their husbands or gossiping. And finally, The Caves of Steel also suffered from the classic, “explain everything in the last couple of pages” syndrome.

So, in summary despite my criticisms above The Caves of Steel wasn’t a bad novel it just wasn’t a great novel. It was good enough to make me want to read some more of his works and I’d be happy to recommend it as a quick and straightforward enough read.

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Book Review: Roger Moore’s James Bond Diary by Roger Moore

Roger Moore's James Bond DiaryRoger Moore’s James Bond Diary by Roger Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roger Moore’s James Bond Diary by Roger Moore

Roger Moore’s James Bond Diary is an account of his filming the movie Live and Let Die and was published in 1973. The book opens with an acknowledgment to Sean Connery, with whom Moore has been friends for many years: “I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.”

This pun really sums Sir Rodge up and sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Being a big Bond fan, and also a big Sir Rodge fan (check out his recent books and autobiography, they’re very good) I picked up this curiosity of a book from eBay for a couple of pounds. Its written in his usual dry and witty style and was thoroughly entertaining. There’s not a great deal of depth to it, for example there were no profound insights into his acting method, characterisation, effect of working on location on relationships and family, etc rather its a straightforward account of filming a Bond movie; the day-to-day grind, pressures and frustrations. What I picked-up from the book is:

– Rodge knows everyone; to him networking and socialising is critical and he probably rather enjoys it
– He’s a professional: he turns up for work, delivers his lines and is clearly doing a job which he loves
– He seems to be prone to illness both real and imagined
– He understands the value of money and how much he is worth
– He uses humour to try to put others, and possibly himself, at ease and he definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously

You get the impression that Rodge was rather shocked at being cast as Bond, especially as he was in his mid-forties at the time (Bond is portrayed in his early to mid-thirties in the books) and in real life Sir Rodge is definitely not an action hero. So, in summary a light-hearted and easy read which records each day’s shooting, and includes insights into the other activities which occur when the cameras stop turning.

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Book Review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3; Witches #1)Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the surface of it I should love Discworld novels, but for some reason I’ve never been able to get into them. But I think I’ve worked out why …. Many years ago I was stuck in an airport waiting for hours and hours for a flight and out of desperation I bought a book almost at random. That book was The Colour of Magic. To be truthful, I didn’t think all that much of it probably because I was rather annoyed and upset at having to waste the best part of a day.

So, unfortunately that was as far as I got with Discworld books. But following on from the sad news of Pratchett’s death I thought I’d give them another go. This time starting off on a different thread of stories beginning with Equal Rites (1987). Equal Rites was Pratchett’s third novel but his first Witches story

I’m not going to run through the plot, suffice to say that the clue is in the title: a wordplay on the phrase “Equal Rights”. The premise is rather original and fresh; why shouldn’t a girl become a wizard despite the misogynistic cultural expectations that she shouldn’t?

The main protagonist, Esk is only eight years old. I’m not quite sure why Pratchett chose someone so young? Did he want the book to appeal to an adolescent audience? I’m not sure, but Esk acts more like a young adult. I suppose the charm of the tale lies in the fact Esk is rather innocent which leads to all manner of sticky situations. The main problem here is that Esk manages to overcome most of these by using the magic staff. Sometimes not having an obvious means of escape from certain situations is more enjoyable for the reader as the author has to become inventive instead of lazily using supernatural means.

The other main protagonist, Granny Weatherwax, while being a witch tends not to use magic all that often rather she uses a version of psychology called headology which I thought was a neat twist and a clever idea.

I felt that the characters were more developed than what I’d expect and Equal Rites seemed to have a structure to it: a start, middle and end. I felt that the one book I’d read before was just a series of amusing events which kind of blended into some sort of narrative. By the end of the book I’d worked out that Pratchett’s characterizations are perhaps more important that the story? I’m not sure if other readers would agree with me or not?

But saying that the book, as you would expect, is full of humour and insights into human weaknesses and faults. I guess at the time of writing this Pratchett was still finding his feet as an author, but you wouldn’t know as it’s a polished effort which is entertaining throughout.

Pratchett plays around with feminine and masculine expectations and highlights gender gaps in simple but effective ways. While he makes hazy generalisations which may be a little too broad for some he’s especially critical of the stuffy kind of academic elitism which exists within certain male dominated institutions.

So in summary, I’m pleased that I decided to pick up a Pratchett book again. Equal Rites was a quick and easy read which was a lot of fun. The characters were especially interesting and well developed and I’d be happy to recommend Equal Rites as a jumping off point for anyone who wants to try to get into Pratchett’s work for the first time.

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