Blast from the past — Revenge of the Marine Creatures…

A book by German author Frank Schätzing has just been adapted for German TV. I recently saw the trailer and then promptly forgot about it again. I was just reminded, so I guess I have an idea what I might be doing tomorrow: watch the first three episodes available online. The book was published in 2004 and I think my mum might have given it to me for Christmas that year. I read it in 2005. With a hardback edition of 1000 pages quite a hefty creature feature.

Der Schwarm
by Frank Schätzing

I read this book in German, but there is a link to the English version behind the book cover above.

Whales begin sinking ships. Toxic, eyeless crabs poison Long Island’s water supply. The North Sea shelf collapses, killing thousands in Europe. Around the world, countries are beginning to feel the effects of the ocean’s revenge as the seas and their inhabitants begin a violent revolution against mankind

My review from 2005:

A fisherman disappears near the coast of Peru. Without a trace. Norwegian oil drilling experts discover strange organisms, covering hundreds of square kilometers of sea floor. Whales along the coasts of British Columbia change their behaviour. None of this seems to be connected. But biologist Sigur Johanson does not believe in coincidences. And wale expert Leon Anawak draws disturbing conclusions. A catastrophy seems unavoidable. The search for the cause of all this becomes their worst nightmare.

Very long, very good – I liked the first part with the build-up of all the action better than the latter part, but won’t tell you why. I don’t want to give any of the storyline away. Would make a great blockbuster, a bit like “The Day After Tomorrow”, but this time animals strike instead of the weather… Creepy. Suspenseful.

A polar bear and an orca come to a floating city…

Blackfish City
by Sam J. Miller

“A mysterious woman arrives in the floating Arctic city of Qaanaaq, in a future where rising seas have caused dramatic geopolitical changes. She’s accompanied by an orca and a polar bear, on a mission that might be bloody and might be beautiful and might be both.“

Published in 2018, Locus and Nebula Award finalist. The first half is not fast and there is a lot of set-up, but it‘s quite atmospheric. Neuromancer meets The Golden Compass.

There are a several central characters. Fill, who is diagnosed with a deadly illness that is sweeping society from marginalized fringes into mainstream society, reminiscent of HIV. Ankit, who swapped her life as a scaler/parkour athlete for the safety of working as a drone for the local administration. Kaev, a professional fighter with unspecified brain damage, who is nearing the end of his career. Soq, a messenger, young, poor, beyond gender, running errands for the local crime syndicate.
Their chapters are interspersed with essays/reports from the „City without a Map“, a sort of underground voice explaining the workings of the floating city they all live on.

I saw people in other reviews complaining about the four POVs, preferring it to be only one or that the author didn‘t pull it off. I am not a massive fan of tales with many POVs, but I liked this. It gave a great overview of the various societies and sub-cultures existing on the city. It made the beginning a slow journey, but when the different POVs come together, it is fun to realize who they all are to each other. And that really was the beauty of the story.

The idea of nanobonding to an animal is a fascinating one. It opens up so many story telling possibilities.

The world they all live in is pretty gruesome. But I guess if or when the apocalypse hits us, this could very well be how we will behave. Genocide, fanatics, power hungry warlords, petty politics and the super rich getting away and setting up their own enclave, eventually getting invaded by refugees clinging to the less prosperous arms of the city; a multi-layered mess of the have and have-not‘s.

The final climax is pretty entertaining, tense and bloody. Anything more would give too much away. I smiled a happy smile. 4 polar bears.

The first story set in this world: Calved, originally published in Asimov’s, September 2015, 5400 words.

Author‘s website:

Podcast interview with the author about this book:… — haven‘t listened to it yet, so I can’t say how spoilerish it is. Beware.

Reed Warblers, polar bears and an orca.

Call of the Reed Warbler
by Charles Massy

This is my current audio. I thought it‘s about time that I read another non-fiction. This one here popped up when I was researching some details about regenerative farming for my job. It sounds like a good grounding on the topic. I‘m about three hours into the audio and already learned a surprising amount of things about Australia. Well, considering how little I really know about Australia, maybe not so surprising after all.

Call of the Reed Warbler shows the way forward for the future of our food supply, our Australian landscape and our planet. This ground-breaking book will change the way we think of, farm and grow food. Author and radical farmer Charles Massy explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. It is a story of how a grassroots revolution – a true underground insurgency – can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food. 

And my current eye reading is a SF novel that was nominated for a bunch of awards.

Blackfish City
by Sam J. Miller

After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering it is now rife with corruption and the population simmers with unrest. 

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor – a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will change Blackfish City forever.

This one is slow going, the first third is pretty much set up for the different POVs. I am now past the first 100 pages and the separate POVs start to make connections and the plot starts to come together. It’s quite atmospheric. Neuromancer meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? meets The Golden Compass.

Coming home to a revolution…

Destroyer (Foreigner, #7)
by C.J. Cherryh (Author), Daniel May (Narrator)

🚀 🚀 🚀

The first book of the third sub-trilogy. Bren and his posse return home after two years in space. Things are not as they were. To their shock they find out that the Western Association has been overthrown and Tabini is missing and may be dead. I was quite apprehensive, when I took a peek at the book blurb. 

I liked the plot, but there was way too much internal monologue and humming and hawing for my taste. Bren just went on and on and on… I zoned out of the audiobook narration quite a few times. By the time we got around to the frenetic grand finale, I barely cared anymore. This felt like a „middle book“.

Nonetheless, I will definitely continue. Because I really, really want to know where Cherryh takes it all in the end. Only 15 more books to go at current count.

Matthew Reilly round-up

I read some Matthew Reilly novels in the 2000s. They were fast and fun action novels for low brain power. In retrospect I figured that they might not have been terribly well written, but I enjoyed them at the time, until I did not. I came across this short story and decided to give the author a quick check, to see if I might still like him.

Jack West Jr and the Hero’s Helmet (Jack West Jr, #3.5)
by Matthew Reilly

“Late on Christmas Eve, decorated SAS officer and Egyptologist Jack West Jr is about to make a discovery that could rewrite history.“

The short story is 17 pages, could have done with some editing and is not terribly exciting. It reads more like a plot bunny. In my edition it‘s followed by another 10 pages of the fourth Jack West novel, The Four Legendary Kingdoms.

If you are tempted, there is an overview of the novels and a bunch short stories free for download (including this one) to be found here:

My first (I think) and probably favourite of his novels was this one:

Ice Station (Shane Schofield, #1)
by Matthew Reilly

My review from 2004:

James Bond on speed! If you want to travel to Antarctica, to be shot at with pistols, rocket launchers and crossbows and wrestle with killer whales and (navy) seals, this is the book. Hilariously over the top. A total page turner. Action, action, action from the very first page and it never stops until the end. I kept thinking, this can not be topped and then something else crazy happened… I kept giving sound bites to my fellow travellers in the minibus in the morning and they just thought I was bonkers…. If you love action and suspense, don’t miss this! Suspend belief and enjoy a mega rollercoaster ride!

The sequel apparently was just as much fun:

Area 7 (Shane Schofield, #2)

I read this in 2004 as well, here is my old review:

Shane Schoefield, aka the Scarecrow, is destroying government property again in a big way…. This time he is on the President’s security detail, on the way to do a tour at the secret Area 7. But, alas, the bad guys were faster again and are already waiting. The president is taken prisoner and a fiendish game of cat and mouse ensues. Good thing for the president that the Scarecrow and his loyal band of warriors are there as well. What follows is an extremely high body count, blood and gore galore and some of the most ridiculous and exciting action ever packed on paper.

I also read Scarecrow (Shane Schofield, #3), but didn‘t review it, so I guess my excitement was wearing off. Then there was a standalone, also read in 2004:

Contest by Matthew Reilly, read and reviewed 2004

So there you are in your kitchen, minding you’re own business, when all of a sudden you are engulfed by this blinding white light. No, Scotty is not beaming you up, some aliens are teleporting you to a place where you do not want to be. Suddenly everybody is out to get you, unless you get them first…. Fun, fast-paced, silly, scary, page-turning suspense. As always with books by Reilly, don’t get hung up on the ridiculous story line, just enjoy the ride!

My excitement and enchantment with these high octane thrillers started to go downhill with the two books I read afterwards, sometime in 2006… I am foggy on the dates:

Hover Car Racer, read and reviewed 2006

I loved all his other books. Fluff. Very entertaining, fast-paced fluff with great heroes. But what was he thinking, when he wrote this? Minimalistic plot, no substance. Just an endless narration of one race after the other. This might work well as a biweekly release on the Internet, targeted at teenagers with no attention span. But it certainly doesn’t work as a book. It is just repetitive. Each chapter feels like the previous one. Fast-paced race, hero against the odds, sabotage of his car, him turning that into a win, the crowd going ballistic. And again. And again. And again. What a disappointment.

Seven Ancient Wonders (Jack West Jr, #1), read and reviewed 2006

This was just silly. Lots of action as usual, which I like. But otherwise it felt like reading a comic or playing a first person shooter. The heroes were endlessly going through the same chapter over and over again. Problem of getting through a maze without getting killed by the traps, neat little sketch that gets repeated several times and everything neatly pointed out with exclamation marks and highlighted in Italics, so you really do not miss when you are supposed to be excited and dying from the suspense – in case you are too thick to get it by yourself. Was he still writing for 12 year olds? I almost did not finish it, it was so shallow and the plot so simplistic, I couldn’t decide if I should feel insulted or just throw it in the bin. Sorry Mr Reilly, you lost me.

So, bottomline, I keep remembering Ice Station fondly — caves, ice, marine life, it‘s my thing. I liked Area 7 and then things went downhill. Too formulaic and over the top in the long run. Great beach reads, if you want to switch off your brain and like action.

Matthew Reilly books in order:

Non Series

  • Contest (1996)
  • Temple (1999)
  • The Great Zoo of China (2014)
  • Troll Mountain (2014)
  • The Secret Runners (2019)
  • Cobalt Blue (2022)


  1. Roger Ascham and the King’s Lost Girl: A Tournament Novella (2013)
  2. The Tournament (2013)
  3. Roger Ascham and the Dead Queen’s Command: A Tournament Novella (2020)

Hover Car Racer

  1. Hover Car Racer (2004)
  2. Crash Course (2005)
  3. Full Throttle (2006)
  4. Photo Finish (2007)

Jack West Jr. Novels

  1. The Seven Deadly Wonders (2005)
  2. The Six Sacred Stones (2007)
  3. The Five Greatest Warriors (2009)
  4. The Four Legendary Kingdoms (2016)
  5. The Three Secret Cities (2018)
  6. The Two Lost Mountains (2020)
  7. The One Impossible Labyrinth (2021)

Shane Schofield Novels

  1. Ice Station (1998)
  2. Area 7 (2001)
  3. Scarecrow (2003)
  4. Hell Island (2005)
  5. Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Scarecrow Returns) (2011)

Trouble maker, lots of foxes and cheese puffs…

What Abigail Did That Summer
by Ben Aaronovitch

It is the summer of 2013 and Abigail Kamara has been left to her own devices. This might, by those who know her, be considered a mistake. While her cousin, police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, is off in the sticks, chasing unicorns, Abigail is chasing her own mystery.

Aided only by her new friend Simon, her knowledge that magic is real, and a posse of talking foxes that think they’re spies, Abigail must venture into the wilds of Hampstead…

Book blurb

Novella told in Abigail‘s voice, which is pretty entertaining. I have the ebook, but normally this series is an instabuy as audiobook, because the usual narrator rocks. This audio is told by a woman (makes sense) who sounds just as much fun in the audio sample.

If you don‘t know the series, go away and start with the first book! 

It was good. No Peter, some Nightingale, lots of foxes. Those were great. I liked the build-up to the main plot thingie more than the main event. Fairly simple plot, straight forward story. Good for fans of the series, not essential reading.

Rivers of London #5.3, set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree. Or maybe at the same time as Foxglove Summer

P.S. I‘ve seen this rated Young Adult. Maybe, I‘m not sure. Abigail is 13, the setting isn‘t too scary, the story is fairly light…

The end of the world was Houston, Texas.

Another blast from the past, read in 2017. Here is my review from back then…

The Passage
by Justin Cronin

Goodness me, I finally finished, with a heavy dose of skimming. I liked the story, but the execution of it was not my thing. Too long, too much introspection, too much mysticism, vampires not scary enough. As a horror novel this fell flat. As a post-apocalyptic story it wasn’t bad, but I would have liked more of the in-between, not only before and after. I think that might actually happen in the next book(s), but I definitely don’t want to skim through another 800 pages and be bored for wide stretches of reading.

The first part of the book had decent world buidling, well-developed characters, I liked the changing POVs and the writing style appealed to me. The plot could have unfolded a bit faster, the build-up was glacially slow.

Almost 200 pages in the fun finally started…

The floor was slick with blood, so much blood that he felt his feet sliding on it, the grease of human remains.

Roughly 30% into the book the plot jumped about 100 years ahead into the post-apocalyptic future with its newly developed society, completely removed from the present day world. It was like reading a different book. I wouldn’t have minded staying in the present some more, to read about the collapse of society and to find out more about the characters of that timeline.

It took me a few pages to come to like this new setting, but it got interesting eventually.

Tonight’s forecast? Darkness, with widespread screaming.

Unfortunately, despite there being some very good bits in this later plot, I was pretty bored at the halfway point. Too slow, not enough tension for me. Even during attacks of the virals and supposedly very tense situations, I was just like “Oh, ok then… next…”

Nonetheless, I skimmed my way through another 100 pages or so and some quite good plot developments. And lots of looooong and boring bits in between. I considered DNFing the book, but then stuck with it, wanting to know what came next.

I think I would have been fine with a couple of hundred pages less in the center of the book. The first 30% of the book and the last 40% of it were good. I didn’t care much for the rest in between. And, as mentioned, I didn’t much like the mysticism and religious undertones. 

Sorry, only 2 not very creepy stars…

Reading progress:

March 6, 2017 –  2.0% “Ugh, I can’t believe I picked another book this long… Curse you, TBR pile!”

March 7, 2017 – page 36 – 4.38% “‘Like Smokey Bear says, take only pictures, leave only footprints.’

March 10, 2017 – page 93 – 11.33% “Sister Claire often went to the 6:00 a.m. before her daily jog, which she referred to as a visit to ‘Our Lady of Endorphins.’ 

March 12, 2017 – page 154 – 18.76% ““They were in danger, terrible danger. Something was coming. She didn’t know what. Some dark force had come loose in the world, and it was sweeping toward them, coming for them all.”
I wish it would hurry up a little!”

March 12, 2017 – page 196 – 23.87% “The floor was slick with blood, so much blood that he felt his feet sliding on it, the grease of human remains.
Here we are! Glacially slow build-up is done.”

March 15, 2017 – page 276 – 33.62% “I am in chapter 20. Did a massive time jump ahead to the post-apocalyptic future. Odd, it’s like reading a different book.”

March 18, 2017 – page 307 – 37.39% “Tonight’s forecast? Darkness, with widespread screaming.

March 18, 2017 – page 326 – 39.71% “Grief was a place, Sara understood, where a person went alone. It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody’s business but yours.

March 23, 2017 – page 401 – 48.84% “I am bored! The second, later plotline is not bad, parts of it are good. But it’s slow, it doesn’t have enough tension for me. I could happily put this down and not pick it up again.”

March 26, 2017 – page 519 – 63.22% “All those years, waiting for the Army, and it turns out the Army is us.
And all those pages, waiting for somethings to happen. I did some hefty skimming over the last 100+ pages and , amazingly enough, have not DNFd this yet. But I am still not sure, if I can be bothered to finish. The current bit feels a bit like The Walking Dead.”

March 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

Feeling inspired, gone exploring…

My post from Saturday was a meme, #6degrees. Go have a look, it can be fun and, as in my case, lead to looking at books I usually wouldn‘t consider. Because I got comments, commented back and in turn looked at my commenters‘ #6degrees posts. It‘s the polite and fun thing to do, even if the mentioned books might not be in a favoured genre. Long story short, I came across Joanne Harris again. I read her Five Quarters of the Orange in 2003 (wow, 20 years ago!) and liked it very much. But I never got another of her books.

I lived in Cairo at the time and ordering books online was a hassle back then. Half of the time the parcels would get lost or half of the contents would be missing or the trip to the post office where I had to pick it up was really far out of my way. There was a pretty good bookstore in town, where I usually got my books that I didn‘t swap with friends and colleagues, but for some reason the thought of ordering books from the store never crossed my mind. Ok, I went off on a tangent again, back to Ms. Harris and 2003!

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris — read in 2003, here is my old review:

Framboise is running a creperie in a small village in rural France. She spent her childhood years during WWII in this village, but nobody knows that. She now lives under another name, to protect a dark secret in her past. One day her nephew and his wife appear at her doorstep, to ask for the use of her name and recipes. When she refuses – to protect her true identity – she quickly realises that they will stop at nothing to get those recipes. But she is not easily defeated. And while she struggles against her nephew, she tells us her story…..
Very good book, recommended! Great storytelling. This, by the way, is the author of “Chocolat“.

I keep looking at that review and thinking about getting something else by her. However, I have that pesky goal of not wanting to buy new books, unless I read them straight away or they are part of an ongoing series, etc. Plenty of books on my shelves. Well, I looked. There is Chocolat (Chocolat, #1), obviously. It‘s been ages since I saw the movie. Probably 20 years as well. Anyway, the description didn‘t tempt me, although I don‘t really remember much from the movie.

In the small French village of Lansquenet, nothing much has changed in a hundred years. Then an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, blows in on the changing wind with her young daughter, and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church. Soon the villagers cannot keep away, for Vianne can divine their most hidden desires.

But it’s the beginning of Lent, the season of abstinence, and Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock. Perhaps even a witch.

If Vianne’s chocolaterie is to survive, it will take kindness, courage and a little bit of magic…

Chocolat book blurb

Another of her books looks strangely familiar, but I think I might be mixing it up with something more current with a similar name: A Pocketful of Crows. Or someone mentioned it to me recently? Fantasy, fairy telling, mythology, folklore — those tags are more my thing.

Following the seasons, A Pocketful of Crows balances youth and age, wisdom and passion and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless wild girl.

Only love could draw her into the world of named, tamed things. And it seems only revenge will be powerful enough to let her escape.

Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.

Pocketful of Crows book blurb

Sounds like something that should be read and appreciated on paper. Not sure at what age range this is aimed at.

And then I came across the truly bizarre: Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller. She wrote a Dr. Who story. Strange, right? Well, maybe she is a fan and had fun with this. It‘s only 50 pages… And although it‘s my favourite genre, I am not a fan. I know, blasphemy. But I never got into the TV show, never mind which Doctor it was. It always felt vaguely too silly. Sorry, don‘t kill me… 😀

PS: No, I didn‘t get any of the mentioned books, I managed not to add to my TBR pile…

Space pirates, marriage of convenience — lacking both pirate action or romance…

The Red Scholar’s Wake
by Aliette de Bodard

Space pirates, galactic empires, a marriage of convenience, sentient ships, avatars and Vietnamese-inspired culture.

I liked the two main characters, but never really connected with them emotionally or warmed up to the writing style. The story was less exciting than I had hoped and really lacked some pirate action, all things considered. Kinda mellow, with a developing relationship that lacks explanation. I could have done with backstory and intro into the Xuya Universe. The concept of the mindship is an interesting one, but I was lacking context or a touch more hard SF. As a romance this didn‘t convince me either.

I could have easily given up on this book in the first half. The second half had more action and I enjoyed it more. Not enough world building and depth. For example, who are the Ashling? It is never explained. How do the bots look and work? Why are there mind ships, how are they created? Other ship types are mentioned and I have read enough hard SF to figure out what those ships are, but it‘s never even hinted at. How and why are there so many avatars and how do they interact on a physical level? How do people project them? Where does all the tea and food come from? Why are there passengers onboard of Rice Fish? I have so many unanswered questions.

And if this is romance, it lacks chemistry between the main characters. And I don‘t get the timeline. The characters behave as if longer time passes, but the story telling doesn‘t give any indication of that. There are scenes that hint at connections made over time between characters, but you never actually experience those developments. So how can I care?

This was a buddy read and a Netgalley, which compelled me to continue reading, but I did not feel an urge to do so. Which is a shame, because I like the plot idea. But the execution felt so… lacking? Not a satisfying read. Pretty frustrating, actually.

Would I read further short stories or novellas by the author? Yes, probably. Full-length novels? Not so much. Talking of that, there is a follow-up to this book, A Fire Born of Exile. The ebook contains what looks like the first chapter. I skimmed, but will not get it. Different characters to Red Scholar.

About the author | free short stories on her website | the Hugo-award nominated Universe of Xuya

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.