The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test by Jon RonsonI don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction books. When I do it is usually by an intelligent, insightful and witty journalist. This author hits the mark on all counts. I bought this book after attending a talk by the author. He is a funny and engaging man that manages to come across as humble and approachable. Even the way he sat on the table as he signed books afterwards invited us to chat and not just sign and run. I liked that.

This book is unsurprisingly about psychopaths. How to spot them and more important what it means for our society. Until I read this book the words psychopath and sociopath were words heard only on the screen or banter. A psycho kills means. That’s it. If thought that if you were a psychopath you murdered people. I was wrong. In an unscientific way I went through the PCL-R checklist on people I know. I was surprised to find that some people I know would have in my opinion scored highly. Oh crap!

Not all psychopaths are stone cold killers. It turns out that at the upper levels of corporate management there are a higher percentage of psychopaths than in maximum security mental health wards. I was blown away. My brain is still trying to process what a psychopath is and what the presence of them in my daily life means. That is the genius of Jon Ronson. After reading this book I will never look at people in the same way again. I have found myself looking up some of the references in the back of the book to find out more.

This book is a dark yet funny read that will make you think about yourself and everybody you know.


Reality Bites edited by Alex Davis

Reality Bites edited by Alex Davis

This anthology is a short sharp look at reality TV.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all wondered what would happen if zombies invaded the set of a reality TV show and eaten the vapid hosts or contestants. This book pokes fun (with a sharp stick) at the depths reality TV will sink to in the future. How else will they continue to get higher ratings and the advertising revenue that brings? The public will become inured and leave in their droves. This book asks the reader whether there is anything an executive would not do for ratings.

This book was structured in a way to intimate TV episodes rather than written stories. I liked that. I could almost hear the camera lenses whirring behind me. The six stories somehow managed to feel unrelated but at the same time inter-connected. There was the obvious link of them all being reality shows but there was more to it than that. In every story there was a character that seemed trapped, alone and desperate to escape the faux-reality they were part of. It was this link that intrigued me.

There is no way I’ll be able to watch The Voice in the same way tomorrow night and I love that. Will Rita Ora open her bag and admit to being a trained killer by killing the zombie hordes attacking the set?


The Death Of Sir Terry

I don’t think I have ever struggled over the title of a blog post before. I tried quite a few words but none seemed to be appropriate.  Words like legend, icon and hero are bandied about too easily. To me Terry Pratchett is all of those and much more. There was a time in my late teens when there was very little happiness in my life. I felt like everything was closing in and crushing me. I read books to escape from reality. There were other authors that shaped my reading habits more, but no other author that has so profoundly changed how I felt. There is nothing as precious as being able to smile when you have nothing to smile about. Terry Pratchett did more than that though. I can remember reading The Colour of Magic on the bus and literally crying with laughter. At that point it was probably the only time I’d had a positive emotion in weeks. For that reason alone I will always remember Pratchett and that book in particular. I went to quite a few Pratchett  signings and every time was greeted by a smiling and humble man that was as excited to meet me as I was him. It didn’t matter if I was first in the queue or last he really knew how to treat his fans. After I demolished a stand of books at a signing in Colchester he called me Pestilence and signed my book accordingly. That made my year. I still treasure that book.

I decided to honour the memory of Terry Pratchett passing in the only way I know. I read. I read something I had been meaning to read for years and never got round to. Volume 1 of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to avoid reading it for so long (I’ll be getting the rest soon enough) but this was a perfect choice for me. Aside from the obvious links Sandman is of course an anthropomorphic personification and that has always been a key for me in Pratchett’s work. I’ll be reading some other stuff over the coming week that I’ve been putting off.

I’ll miss Sir Terry and his work.


Emily Nation by Alec McQuay

Emily Nation by Alec McQuayAlec McQuay is an author who’s work I’ve enjoyed. This though is very different from his book Spares. It did recognize the setting instantly from his short story Bunker Buster (that story can be found in the book reviewed here). This made me happy as I’d enjoyed that story.

I like the cover of this book. There is a simple quality that appeal to me. I Can’t help feeling that it should have been photo-realistic and sepia though. This book is set in a post-disaster Cornwall. It somehow manages to avoid being Steampunk story and reminding me more of a western. A western with energy weapons and artificial intelligence engine that ensure mankind never again has the destructive capabilities to destroy the planet.

Emily Nation is an assassin. She’s a sociopath that takes great delight in her profession. She also happens to have a great grounding at home with her wife and daughter. What seemed like a normal job destroyed Emily’s life and everything that mattered to her. This is more than a simple revenge or justice tale though. There is an entirely different story unfolding just beneath the main one. What is the Custodian doing? Why does it have a deal with Emily? What does the Custodian suspect about Mr Silvine? The bigger of these questioned do not get answered in this book. Which I’m hoping means that there will be a sequel to this story.

In  short this book is like Tank Girl, Mad Max and DOOM mashed together and set in the old west. Except in this case the west in question happens to be Cornwall.  What’s not to like?

Carnosaur Weekend by Garnett Elliott

Carnosaur Weekend by Garnett ElliottWhen I first saw this cover I instantly thought it was the inside of a space ship. It was more interesting than that though. It was the inside of a time-share apartment. I loved the not so subtle play on the phrase time-share. What do the ultra rich do with all their money? They go golfing in prehistoric times of course.

This book was different from most of the science fiction books I’ve read. There were no lengthy expositions on how things were different. There was no social history essay. This story was as clear, concise and hard-hitting as the noir stories Garnett Elliott produces. It really worked. Most of the setting was in my head. I’d wager that if you asked ten people to descibe the locations and characters in this book you’d get ten different answers. Everything in these stories servers a purpose, there was no waste, no fuss and above all no faffing. These stories hit me in the face and ran off before I got the chance to see them coming.

This book was a great example of how a noir style of writing can work in the science fiction genre.

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep Sangha

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep SanghaI’ve spent the last week trying to work out how to describe this book. I’ll start with the easy bit. The cover. Daniele Serra. I could look at Serra’s work all day long. I don’t think I need to add to that.

At first I thought this was going to be beat poetry in a science fiction setting. That doesn’t quite describe it though. For me it sits somewhere between beat poetry and the beat literature of writers such as Burroughs. That for me is what makes this book different and almost indefinable. It is only seventy five pages long but reading this book takes a lot more time and effort that a book of that length normally does. I had to read some parts of this book three or four times and I’m still not sure I’m bright enough to understand all the subtleties.

The big difference for me was the layout. The little boxes of text on the page seem to laugh at linear progression and flip the bird at convention. I should have hated this but I didn’t. I found it fun and refreshing and most important thought provoking.

If you want a safe and simple read this is not the book for you, but if you want something different and challenging this book will be well worth your time and effort.


Beyond 2.0 The Future of Music by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

I’ve never done this before in a book review but I’m going to link to a soundcloud user. You’ll understand why a little later but for now enjoy the music.

This book was on my wishlist labelled as high priority. That may sound odd but Steve Collins is a childhood friend of mine and a person I am immensely proud of. To be honest I was expecting this to be a dull and peanut dry book that I’d struggle to read or thing of anything to write about. I was pleasantly surprised.

I can remember the first Audio CDs and the rise of Napster. I found this book a fascinating insight in to how technical and societal factors came together to push music creation and distribution in new directions. I had never thought about the origins of the mp3 format that completely changed the way I personally listened to music.

This book was more than a history lesson though. The simplified (thankfully) look at the murky world that is the world of media rights was enlightening and to a layman like myself. I said enlightening but what I really meant was convoluted and more likely to cause a brain freeze than a large slushy. That didn’t make it less interesting to read, if anything it made me think more about the byzantine clauses lobbyists and large companies have manipulated to their benefit and usually to the detriment of the artist.

Money should always flow towards the content creator. There will always be intermediaries. The morality and scruples of any individual or company will always have an impact on our imperfect society. Are content creators better off today than fifty years ago? In my opinion based not just on reading this book but other thing – probably. This book will make you think and explain explain some basic principle of the copyright quagmire that surrounds the media industry.

I said above I’d get to the soundcloud link a bit later, it is how one of the authors releases their work in to the wild. There is a section about soundcloud in this book and this account was referenced for sensible reasons. You’ll have to read the book to find out more.