Tag Archives: books

My review of Martin William’s ‘Parliament Ltd’…

I have a strong interest in politics and I enjoy reading well researched and informative books so Martin Williams ‘Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics’ sits very well alongside books that I have previously enjoyed including George Monbiots ‘Captive State’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) and Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) as well as James Rickard’s ‘The Death of Money’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/y9zfj6tf) and I would recommend that you hunt out and read both. In ‘Parliament Ltd’, Williams sets out to investigate the financial affairs of MPs, who they work for (besides us) and how much they are paid to do so. It examines the arguments both for and against MPs having second jobs and also looks into the influence that these might have on the way that MPs vote. It is an indictment of our political system that Martin had to invest time and money to research this information which should be freely available for public consumption and this only adds to the feeling that politicians have something to hide.

PL

‘Parliament Ltd’ makes it clear that, even if Parliament cannot be expressly accused of corruption (despite the best efforts of the author to find some!), the way in which MPs are allowed to work second jobs fosters the perception that they might be less than honest especially when allowed to speak on matters that directly affect those who employ them. It also states that a great many MPs, whom the author spoke to, have an entitled attitude that prevents change from occurring in a system so desperately in need of this change. MPs even seem to be resentful of what limited has improved since the expenses scandal (you’d think they’d want to stop that happening again!) and are resistant to anything that might prevent them from being seen in this light. They can claim for meals they might need following a vote in an evening, even if their residence is around the corner, clearly annoyed the writer and costing the public money that really needn’t be spent and this is only one of the ways in which we subsidise their living (Parliamentary canteens and bars are insane for this!).

 

Parliament Ltd is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a book that covers a dense subject in an accessible and enjoyable way with a light (though sometimes also angry) tone that facilitates a rapid read. It is well researched and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and how our political system got to the point that it currently stands at with trust in the system and MPs continuing at a low ebb. It also makes the case that change is still desperately needed but without pressure from within the system to push thing this is unlikely to happen. I suspect that another crisis such as the expenses scandal or the collapse of our two major political parties would need to occur for anything to actually come of this and I guess we shall see.

 

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

Advertisements

My review of James Rickards ‘The Death of Money’…

As a writer of science-fiction stories, along with atheist comedies, I have a keen interest in the shape of the future and in the changes that appear to be coming to our world very soon. Things like the creation of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), the loss of jobs due to automation and driverless cars that are being rapidly developed and thus the need for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to offset the loss of these jobs, as well as the impact of humans on our world interests me. I read books like Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) to inform me of what is to come and how I can incorporate it into my writings but also because I have a genuine interest in this subject and ‘The Death of Money: the coming collapse of the international monetary system’ by James Rickards fits squarely into that category.

This book details some of the events that the author thinks are likely to occur and that will shape our world and society during the coming decades, most notably a collapse of the US dollar, but Rickards also covers many other topics including the rise of China, along with the expected fall of that country’s economy, the use of gold by Central banks, and the manipulation of the markets by terrorists among other things. One of the implications that intrigued me most was the way in which countries like the US manipulate their own interest rates to pass inflation onto other nations, something that strikes me as deceptive but, given the number of ways that the US maintains its dominance of the world, this is actually pretty tame. And given that we have been living in a period of exceptionally low interest rates, combined with quantitative easing on a massive scale, also not the biggest issue we face.

 

This book was published in 2014 and the signs that Rickards thesis is correct continue to mount. Recently, several Chinese companies were downgraded by Moody’s leading to fears of a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/24/china-credit-rating-downgraded-moodys-debt). The UK housing bubble and economy looks set to collapse should we actually go through with the whole Brexit debacle. And the effect of having Donald Trump as US president, and all of the insanity that appears on a daily basis, are yet to really be seen and felt. I was convinced before reading this book that we were heading for a financial meltdown and now I am even more certain that this will happen in the near future.

 

Rickards wonders how much longer the dollar will be the reserve currency, not long by the sounds of it, and then the impact on the US will surely be felt. I’m also very curious to see what the resultant fallout will be with the author airing a cautious note in the last few pages about the possibility of America turning into a fascist state with its militarised police, surveillance mechanisms and easily controllable road network. The UK is comparable to the US is a great many ways but personally I am grateful that we have not followed them in adding SWAT teams, drones and APCs to our police forces. And with Donald Trump now in the White House that possibility seems ever more realistic.

 

My feeling is that we are indeed heading for a financial meltdown and that the world that needs to follow it, one where neo-liberalism is no longer the driving force of our economy, AI runs much of our world, UBI is implemented along with shorter weeks, and we put the emphasis on sustainability in a finite world is one possible outcome. Unfortunately, there are other, far more scary outcomes too and there seems to be no way of knowing exactly where we are heading. We shall just have to see. Cheers!

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

My atheist comedy has been offered a review by a Catholic blogger…is this good?

So, every now and then in the life of a self-published, independent author like myself something interesting happens. It could be getting your first great review, as recently happened to a friend of mine and fellow indie author Rachel Shaw (she’s the writer of a fantasy novel called ‘The Raveller’s Guild’, http://tinyurl.com/kqxnrhu), or it could be going on a podcast and talking to people about your book or maybe starting up your own blog up and finding things to talk about that you hope your audience will enjoy. For me recently it was being offered a review, something that seems to be increasingly difficult to get due to the ever increasing number of indy authors out there, and the not-that-large pool of available reviewers but the interesting part was who the offer came from: a former atheist, now Catholic blogger.

matthewjames-series-f

I should explain. ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ and the sequel ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again!’ are satire novels where religious icons travel to Earth to convince us to stop destroying our world. In the first book the only person who is able to help God is an atheist and in the sequel, Jesus treads God’s well worth path making somewhat of a fool of himself along the way. Now, these clearly make fun of the various religions and of the iconography of Christianity, and I have a lot of fun lampooning what God is, who my version of Jesus is, the role of the Heavenly Bureaucracy and The Committee, a group of angels who are now in control and so on and so forth and you can find an example of the sort of humour that this book contains below.

God was in a meeting...

But these books are definitely not aimed at a religious audience. Despite that I have always wondered what someone of that persuasion would make of them and so, naturally, lots of questions start swirling around my brain. Do they really want to review my book, a satirical poke in the eye for religion, and if they do how come? I mean, it’s light-hearted fun and I certainly haven’t set out to offend anyone but I’m still left with the question of why would they want to do this? Well, they say that all publicity is good publicity but I was still confronted with the choice of whether I should I do this, do I send a review copy to someone who may, in all likelihood, give me a very bad review indeed. They could always just buy the book but in the end I did send them a free copy.

 

Either way, it draws attention, right, even if the opinion given is not a good one. And if the review is very poor indeed I shall still tweet excerpts from it in the same way that I do with the good reviews that I have received (like the one below). I will simply ensure that the tweet contains the words ‘Catholic blogger’ and then my atheist followers will know that the review may be somewhat biased. If he says that the book is a piece of atheist trash, that’d work for them, right? At least I hope it will. Still, I can’t help wondering whether I have made a mistake in engaging with this person.

 

Now all I can do is wait and see what they make of it and what it is that they say in their review. And wonder, as we indie authors endlessly do, if this is one of the things that helps to pull in the publicity that launches the book to a bigger audience. Here’s hoping, even if takes the outrage of the religious to help move things along. Cheers!

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

My review of the superb comic book series ‘Scalped’ by Jason Aaron & RM Guera…

So, in case it wasn’t clear from my previous blog posts (here: https://tinyurl.com/jycgyy5, here:  https://tinyurl.com/zehax5n and here: https://tinyurl.com/guehn9a), I am a massive fan of comics. I have been reading, buying and collecting them in one form or other for more than a decade and so I have gotten through a large number of series during that time. These days I mostly favour the creator owned series put out by the companies that support their writers and artists and the series that they produce and Image, IDW, and Dark Horse comics are particularly good at this. I’m also increasing going digital with my new purchases but my one remaining weakness is for series that I love that are released in beautiful hardcover volumes. Things like Saga, The Unwritten and, now, Scalped. Back when I had access to an excellent library that had a considerable graphic novels collection this was a series that I read a trade or two of and enjoyed but the release of the deluxe editions was enough to convince me to give it another go. Now it has become one of my favourites and one that I would heartily recommend that you try.

2b9314c5f3f1649d1eab1be289315805

Scalped is written by Jason Aaron (whose current run on Thor is one of my favourite Marvel comics) with art principally from RM Guéra and tells the tale of Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse, a native American who is pulled back to the Reservation, or ‘Rez’, that he came from by the will of a federal agent who wants his help to bring down the tribal leader, Lincoln Red Crow. From here we follow as Dash is brought into Red Crow’s organisation and becomes a serious badass, as well as increasingly messed up. This series runs for 60 issues (why are so many great comics runs about this length? Ex Machina, Y:The Last Man, The Unwritten, Chew and many others) as we follow Dash’s attempts to bring down his boss, solve the murder of his mother in current day, and discover who killed two federal agents some years ago.

scalped-guera-art

Reading the entire run through, one issue in particular stuck out for me and that was number 35. This done-in-one issue tells the tale of an elderly couple living on the Rez who are struggling to survive through the winter. The story doesn’t directly relate to the ongoing series and can be read as a stand-alone but it really hits home hard and is quite wonderful. To me, it seemed to encapsulate the point of Scalped in showing you how hard the lives of these people are and how close to desperation they remain. Of course, the entire run is excellent, but this issue was truly wonderful.

d1ee7492783c95ee51a44eba46641b1b

Scalped is superb, brutal, adult comics that has, by the end of the run, built up a considerable body count. A comparison could be made between this series and Breaking Bad, which is high praise indeed, but it is also a comparison that I think is fair and I would thoroughly recommend Scalped to anyone who enjoys comics, noir fiction or just damned good storytelling. Oh, and the art is superb too with a brutal realism that suits the series perfectly. Scalped must rank up there among the best comics of the past decade, yes it really is that good, and with it now collected in beautiful, deluxe hardcover editions there really is no excuse not to give it a go. So go out and find it! Cheers.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

Reaching ‘peak stuff’ and how it has changed my view and what I want…

So, the feeling has been building for a while but I think my wife and I have finally reached ‘peak stuff’, that is the notion that we now have enough material possessions in our lives and that we no longer wish to keep gathering more. This makes us very bad citizens in the current age when you are encouraged to buy more and to consume more and to not think about the environmental cost of all this and instead to think about the benefits to the economy. It also causes issues at Christmas with all the gift giving and receiving.

i-have-too-much-stuff

But the reality is that we really do have enough stuff. We live in a small apartment and, unless something dramatic changes (which it actually might be, if some newspaper reports are right), we won’t be buying a house anytime soon. Therefore we can only buy and keep the stuff that we can fit into said apartment. We have moved several times in the past decade (another increasing trend among my generation and the next), including to and from Canada and this required us to shed the vast majority of our stuff (and to buy new, which was quite fun), the rest was stored to await our return. But even those things, those possessions that we decided were worth keeping, are now looking like unnecessary junk in our lives and we are considering losing more and more of what remains.

 

In addition to this, I have sold off the majority of collectibles that I owned from many years spent building a substantial Transformers and Star Wars Black figures collection. Losing that feeling of needing to own stuff means that these figures would inevitably be heading out the door, and selling them actually paid for our car. I have also stopped buying graphic novels, which has been a passion of mine for a long time (though I still buy beautiful hardcovers of series I love, my last remaining weakness). I had gradually been moving to digital for my book and graphic novel needs anyway so replacing them with electronic versions when they have been available for a good price is a good move. Most of my physical books are borrowed from the library, breaking the link between owning and reading, and subscriptions to online streaming services have ended the need to buy physical copies of movies. All that we have left are mostly mementos of our lives and our travels and I am realising more and more that we need little else.

 

So then the question changes from what do I need to buy and own to what else do I want? I want an electric car (something else that seems right on the cusp of becoming mainstream) for I do not want to keep contributing to our humongous carbon dioxide output. I want less plastic to pass through my hands simply because I have a need to eat (why does a cucumber now come wrapped in this?). I want to eat well (our Riverford Farms weekly veg box helps with that http://tinyurl.com/j58aep6). I want the world to stop consuming fossil fuels when alternatives are finally reaching the mainstream (higher plastic use is clearly a by-product of oil consumption when we have significant quantities of oil derivatives to use) and I want renewable energy to become the norm, as I was told as a kid that it would be. My wife and I recently switched our energy supplier to Green Star (website: https://www.mygreenstarenergy.com/) who source their energy from renewables and that felt like a step in the right direction and a very good thing indeed. I also want everything that I discard to be recycled, though the rates of doing so are still dismal.

 

Finally, I want a political system in my country that works, one that meets the needs of the people and not of the elites and the Corporations who fund them. I want a truly representative Parliament, one that listens to us when they express ourselves and our concerns and then acts to help. I want enough houses to be built in the UK so that those who choose to buy are able to do so. I want a properly regulated financial system that doesn’t always seem like it’s about to bring about financial apocalypse (http://tinyurl.com/zgjg8ll). I want a powerful and well funded environmental agency that will police the actions of those who seek to destroy it, which we currently do not have (http://tinyurl.com/hszoort). And I want a forward looking political system that actually addresses the changes that are coming in the near future, like driver-less cars and ever more insecure working conditions.

 

It sounds like I want a lot, huh, but I really don’t think that I do, and I also think that many of you out there would agree with this point of view. Let me know if you do, eh. Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

My review of Alastair Reynolds excellent sci-fi novel ‘Revenger’…

I have been a fan of Alastair Reynolds for a really long time and I would say that he is a strong influence on my science-fiction writing. I first picked up a copy of ‘Revelation Space’, which I absolutely loved, in a charity shop when I was a student at university, tore my way through it, and since then I have eagerly awaited each of his new books. I have my favourites (I’ve always really liked The Prefect) and I felt that one or two haven’t quite maintained the high standard of his best work but I still eagerly await each new release and dread the period immediately after I devour the latest for I know the wait for the next will be long indeed. And I am glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed  his latest, ‘Revenger’.

30324581

Revenger is, in the simplest possible terms, pirates in space. Think Firefly meets Ocean’s Eleven and you’re in the right ball park. These characters live on ships that travel through space using massive sails that allow the vessels to be pushed along by sunlight and visit the worlds where they seek their treasure. In my mind the ships resembled the lightship that Ben and Jake Sisko build in the ‘Explorers’ episode of Deep Space Nine. The crew then attempt to break into these worlds that contain vast, unseen treasures from an age gone by and each member has a different skill set and speciality including someone who can read the ‘augries’ (I hope I spelled that right) which is knowing when a ‘bauble’ will pop open, a crew member who can assess the worth of the treasure and a few others. But the most important is the ‘Bone Reader’ and that’s our protagonist, Fura Ness, someone who literally ‘reads’ a giant skull that she plugs into. All of this works to build the work that Reynolds is creating as does the language of the novel where a man is a ‘cove’ and money is ‘quoins’ all contributes to the world building that Reynolds is undertaking.

Now, I don’t want to say any more about the actual plot, for I would rather you go away and read the book for yourself, but it is safe to say that the title is a good one for this is a story about revenge, legacy and how the choices that the characters take shape the course of their lives. One of the aspects that I like most about this particular tale is how quickly it moves along, not lingering to settle the character’s into their lives, but quickly upending them and forcing them to deal with the events that occur. Oh and, at times, it’s brutal with a particularly gruelling segment about a third of the way through that I did not see coming at all! But this brutality seems fitting, given the life that they lead, and it forces our protagonist to take control of her life and her story and chose the path that she will take. For that is what a good protagonist should do in the opinion of this reviewer.

I thoroughly enjoyed Revenger and would recommend it to any and all fans of quality science-fiction writing. The book also ends well, closing out this origin story, and providing ample room for a sequel should Reynolds choose to write one. I really hope that he does for I would like to see the next adventure of Fura Ness and her sister. He also leaves a nice, juicy mystery hanging (and his reveals are usually very good!) and I hope we get to find out the secrets of this Universe and visit it again. And thus begins the long wait for the next Reynolds story sometime in the not-too distance future. Until then!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

My review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’…

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a non-fiction book on this blog and so this time my post is a review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’, which seems especially poignant given the dramatic result of the US election earlier this week. This book tells the (brief) life-stories of all of the children and teenagers killed by gun violence on a random Saturday in 2013. It was not a special day, just the one that Younge chose at random, and each Chapter of this book is devoted to each of those lives. Younge tells the story of his adopted country (he is British by birth) through the medium of those killed in this manner, which amounted to ten young lives lost to gun violence. These lives were taken in various ways from gangland murders to accidental killings where a loaded firearm went off either though an accident, through a misunderstanding or an act of stupidity, and in each case a young life was lost. Each of their stories are told with care and attention and the loss of these young lives is palpable, the grief caused to their loved ones apparent. This is definitely not light-hearted fare but it is a worthy read, nevertheless.
younge
It is a sad indictment of America that this is their normal, that the ten children killed on this day, and the countless who will have died before and since, barely warrant news coverage. Some did get attention, but many did not, and even those who did had but the briefest of spotlights. Younge also highlights the disparity in justice served to those who committed these acts, whether by accident or though vicious intent, and demonstrates their varied fates from jail time to the perpetrator never being found. This insane status quo is accepted as the normal and will no doubt continue until something dramatic happens, whatever that might be. And when the death of nearly a dozen children in one day is not considered enough then I do not know what would be. In most other countries these events would justify national coverage, along with a debate to decide on a course of action, but in the US there is only silence.

‘Another Day in the Death of America’ is a remarkable and tragic read. It is thoroughly researched and Younge managed to interview the families of nearly all of the children killed on this day. As he himself says, any other day would’ve produced a different set of stories, but all of them would be linked by the tragedy that continues on everyday in America. Having watched previous presidents try and fail to change the culture that permits this wholesale slaughter, I find it unlikely that the next incumbent will address this problem. I heartily recommend that you read ‘Another Day in the Death of America’ though you may find it a troubling and heartbreaking experience. I know I did but when you are reading how the lives of ten young men were cut short that is unsurprising. What is surprising is that America and its citizens continue to allow this to happen. Eventually, I assume, this will change but with Donald Trump now the incoming President it seems unlikely. For now the killings will continue and many more books like this one could be made. This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f