Sunday, 30 September 2007

What Sci-Fi/Fantasy Magazines do you read?

WHSmith's doesn't have a great selection so I want to know more about what's out there! :o) Every month, we all descend upon our local newsagent to find out what's new in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, even though we all watch enough tv/surf the net to know what's new before a magazine can tell us... Some of us will even buy more than one magazine even though they all essentially tell us the same thing! Without pimping my favourites too much I'm a big fan of SFX and Deathray magazines, SFX for it's slightly irreverent style and Deathray for the sheer quantity of information that it manages to jam into it's pages.
But there are more magazines out there, some of which you'd only ever notice if you're one of those types who roots around in every corner of the comic book store. And what about all of those fanzines that you only ever hear about ten years after they've stopped being published?
Here's a question for anyone who doesn't live in the UK; if I was to come and visit your country, what sci-fi magazine would make a decent read while I was there? (Let's assume that I'm multi-lingual, which I'm not...)
Tell me what your favourite read is (and why) and give me some food for thought next time I'm looking for a magazine to read, now I'm going to crack open a beer and read the latest edition of 'Deathray'...

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Naomi Novik and David Anthony Durham News...

If you're a Naomi Novik fan then you'll know that her latest book, 'Empire of Ivory', has just had it's US release. Naomi's Website is a veritable mine of information that will supplement your read in the best possible way. Go and have a look and (while you're there) sign up for the newsletter as well. Apparently Naomi didn't have time to include an excerpt from 'Victory of Eagles' (the next book) because of publishing deadlines but a teaser will be going out to fans who have signed up for the newsletter.
My copy is coming to me courtesy of a good friend, in Canada, who has earned as much beer as he can drink the next time he visits London! :o)

David Anthony Durham's 'Acacia' is a big contender for fantasy debut of the year. If you hadn't read it already then you really should! Maybe you don't have the time though; screaming kids, busy job/commute can all take time away from a good read. So how do you fancy winning a copy of the 'Acacia' audiobook? Couldn't be easier, David mentions the comp on his Blog and there's also a thread on his Forum where you need to leave your name. As much as I want to win this, good luck if you enter!

Have a great weekend you guys!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Flash Gordon’

It was my birthday last week and one of my presents was ‘Flash Gordon’ on DVD. I rang one of my brothers and, during the conversation, told him that I now had this film. His immediate reply was, “Gordon’s alive??” He even managed a passable impersonation of Brian Blessed. Bearing in mind that my brother really cannot stand science fiction, doesn’t it tell you something about this film?
I was about five or six when I first saw ‘Flash Gordon’. It’s one of the first films I can remember seeing at the cinema and I’m pretty sure my Dad used me as an excuse to get into a film that he really wanted to see (“oh go on, Graeme will love it!”). I did love it; I loved it to pieces, put the pieces back together and loved it some more. I watched it again a couple of days ago and, through the eyes of someone a lot older than five, much has changed. The script is wooden and some of the main character’s acting is clunky to say the least. Sam J. Jones, in particular, displays why he was never seen again in any film of real note. I even cringed a little when Dale Arden called out, “Flash! I love you but we only have fourteen hours to save the earth…” And despite everyone’s best efforts, a certain swamp monster just looks like an oversize beach ball…
Despite all of that, there is still something about this film that reaches out to both the adult and the child in me saying, “you still love this film, don’t even try to deny it…”
Dino De Laurentis delivers a film that is brimming with colour and spectacle. A trip through space (or across an alien planet) is just the way you imagined it as a kid and the spaceships are what you always wanted to fly. Ming’s palace could be the very definition of opulent while Arboria captures the spirit of an alien jungle. Everything about this film pays homage to the comic strips and Saturday morning serials that inspired it in the first place.
Despite all the pomp and splendour, ‘Flash Gordon’ doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the better for it. Perhaps you need a couple of drinks before watching Flash play American football in Ming’s palace but any film that puts Brian Blessed in a leather nappy and straps golden wings on his back is going to take some beating in terms of sheer camp value.

Talking of Brian Blessed, he manages to encapsulate the spirit of the entire film in a performance that is loud, verbose and full of manic energy. This is surely the sci-fi film that he will be remembered for, not a Star Wars film that was well below par.
If any film ever deserved the title of ‘retro classic’, ‘Flash Gordon’ would surely take it. It’s truly retro both in age and spirit and it will be interesting to see how the new Flash Gordon TV show shapes up in comparison.
And there I was, so nostalgic that I almost went an entire post without mentioning the musical score by Queen. Best film score ever? Maybe…

Thursday, 27 September 2007

‘The Last Legion’ – Chris Bunch (Orbit Books)

Other than ‘The Children of Hurin’ this is the only review I’ve written where the author in question is no longer with us. Chris Bunch died in 2005 but his work still seems to be finding its way onto the bookshelves. ‘The Last Legion’ is the first in a new series that tells the tale of the collapse of the human galactic confederation and the effect that this has on a set of planets on the frontier. Frontier life isn’t easy at the best of times but the confederations collapse means that a sudden grab for power will be made by more than one faction. Not a good time for two new recruits to start their new posting…
For what is essentially light ‘military sci-fi’, ‘The Last Legion’ was a really hard book for me to get a handle on. There is plenty to recommend it but there are also plenty of reasons to put it down and never pick it up again. The good and bad bits go hand in hand with each other, sometimes to the extent where the varying quality of alternate sentences can leave you really confused.
There’s plenty of action, ‘military speak’ and technology with cool names for people who like that sort of thing. The pace doesn’t let up and you can find yourself being caught in the current and swept along. The problem though is that while you’re being swept along you find yourself hitting all sorts of obstacles and having to start again. For a start, I’ve never read a book with so many typos and spelling mistakes, maybe without an author (to consult with) the editing process can be subject to short cuts? I don’t know. What also makes ‘The Last Legion’ a confusing read is the proliferation of military ranks (using mostly made up words) that aren’t fully explained as well as trying to fit the cast of an eight hundred page novel into a book half the size. A book that is meant to be a fun read becomes really stilted and awkward, not fun at all.
Having said all that, the banter between our two recruits is engaging and shows promise for the future. It’s a shame then that their continued displays of sexual prowess eventually become cartoon-like and finally just tedious. Sometimes, less really is more!
The patchy moments of good writing show the potential that this series could have but it wasn’t enough for me I’m afraid. ‘The Last Legion’ had a real draft-like quality to it that left me cold, hopefully the only way for the rest of the series is up.

Three out of Ten

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

'Making Money' - Terry Pratchett (DoubleDay Books)

I'll be straight, I stopped reading Terry Pratchett when he stopped making me laugh (somewhere around 'The Thief of Time')but my wife still absolutely loves him to pieces. So I thought, 'why don't I let her do the review instead of me?' Here it is!

No one could ever accuse me of being a science fiction or fantasy fan. Dragons, elves, hobbits, wizards and the like leave me cold, whereas reading about how Bill Bryson has yet again got into a scrape in a foreign country provides comfort that I’m not the only one who can get into those types of situations. Get Graeme to tell you about the time our petrol ran out in a Maine forest in the middle of the night or the Tunisian man who forced us into a spooky temple and chanted scary sounding gibberish over us and you’ll see what I mean.
Despite that, the one fantasy author that everyone likes is Terry Pratchett who I discovered at 16 and have had a love affair with ever since. You don’t read him for the story but more for the fun that he has with the English language and his sharp observations on life. The fact that elves, dwarfs and so on appear is incidental (to me). Unfortunately, like any long term relationship there’s a risk of getting too comfortable and no longer making the effort. ‘Making Money’ is one of those sad moments of complacency which if left unchecked can lead to a break up. Pratchett’s books have moved from being fun, dynamic lovers whose focus is making you happy, to slightly balding couch potatoes who are more interested in telling you the story of a meeting at work than sweeping you off your feet.
‘Making Money’ feels like a lazy couch potato and there are many areas that could have benefited from more of the loving attention that Pratchett used to give to characters, background and dialogue. Originally no one cared about a lack of story as such because the fun was in the world and the writing and to read a 5 minutes conversation with an old lady who saw through Moist, after which he somehow saved the bank wouldn’t have mattered if the earlier seduction had been there to hide the threadbare nature of the story. Moments such as the female golem with an identity crisis showed an earlier attention to form but the same attempt with the forgettable man in the cellar and his machine that changes reality missed the mark. Who could look at the original descriptions of hero’s he gave us and compare them favourably to Moist von Lipwig who has a good name but very little else to recommend him a second time round. Finally the impression was given that Moist von Lipwig would once again be forced to save the day in the next book and would somehow manage it despite the threat of certain death and with little effort. Once that’s given away why buy the next book when you can read the earlier ones that still have the power to sparkle and interest?
Who is he trying to attract now that the original commentary on fantasy is increasingly disappearing? Everything is set in a city that increasingly resembles London in the present day and the other races are so well established that they don’t really have any impact. It feels that Pratchett has lost interest and is no longer working for the good of the relationship between himself and his original readers.
That may sound bitter but when a love affair comes to an end it’s hard not to be upset about the former lover who let you down. I’d rather remember the fun times and it’s these memories that will keep me waiting in hope for the magic to return.

Five out of Ten

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

‘Deathstalker Honour’ – Simon R. Green (Gollancz Books)

One of the things that got me into this whole blogging business was the day I finished reading ‘Deathstalker War’. I realised that the only way I was going to be able to read the next instalment was to fork out ridiculous money for an ex-library copy from New York that a small child had probably been sick over. I wasn’t having any of that! I’m not going to bore you with the details but the upshot was that a guy going by the name of ‘Drinksinbars’ (over on the Malazan Forum) gave himself a hefty dose of karma, and my gratitude by grabbing the first copy he saw and sending it my way. I’ve just finished reading it. Did I like it? Read on…
Owen Deathstalker has pretty much torn down an evil galactic empire all by himself but there is still an awful lot to contend with. Sensing weakness in the aftermath of rebellion, the enemies of humanity gather and prepare to strike. Heroes are in great demand and Owen (along with his friends) must take a stand once again.
For my money, the ‘Deathstalker’ series is one of the finest examples of pulp sci-fi on the market right now. I even reckon a certain filmmaker wishes he’d done a little more to make his latest sci-fi trilogy like these books. They are larger than life and completely in your face with gallons of powerful heroes, sinister villains, powerful spacecraft and epic battles with giant laser guns. ‘Deathstalker Honour’ doesn’t stint on any of this, Green takes a tried and tested formula and gives fans what they want. In this respect it’s a great read, the mixture of action and suspense meant that I flew through this book in a matter of hours (being stuck in a caravan in the rain probably helped as well). If you’re a fan and you haven’t got a copy, don’t let a spare one slip through your grasp. You’re going to love it.
‘Deathstalker Honour’ does hit a pretty big obstacle though. A book about dealing with the aftermath of galactic war comes as a bit of an anti-climax if you’ve spent the preceding books in awe of said warfare. At times it feels like Green has had a great idea for his final book but doesn’t know what to do in the meantime so he turns his heroes into bounty hunters and sends them on a few odd jobs. The powers that Owen and his friends have developed also start to hobble proceedings, what was originally a neat twist in the tale is rapidly becoming deus ex machina. But just when I was starting to think ‘how much time did I waste looking for this?’ Green throws an almost forgotten enemy back into the mix and the scene is set for something potentially explosive in the final book. I was back in the game again and I’m looking forward to ‘Deathstalker Destiny’ (so much easier to get hold of!)
If you’re a big fan, or a ‘completist’, then you will have to have this book. You’ll enjoy it but you’ll likely come away feeling that something didn’t quite add up. Hopefully the final book will take care of this.

Six out of Ten

Monday, 24 September 2007

‘Storms of Vengeance’ – John Beachem (Mundania Press)

A couple of weeks ago I was having a good old fashioned moan about the lack of elves in the fantasy books I’m currently reading. Lets draw a veil over the fact that I’ve also been known to go on about how there are also too many elves in fantasy literature, a guy is allowed to think two things at once! ;o) When I picked up ‘Storms of Vengeance’ I was pleased to see a little elfish action going on inside…
‘Storms of Vengeance’ starts off as a simple murder mystery and by the final page has become so much more in terms of its scope. The kingdom of Faranin is enjoying a rare time of peace after centuries of warfare. As an aside and nothing at all about this book in particular, why is it that wars in fantasy literature generally last for decades if not centuries? Is it because all the generals are immortal and don’t have to worry about getting things done quickly? Anyway, back to the review (sorry!) Centuries of warfare are over but not everyone is feeling peaceful. An attack on the capital leaves a prominent councilman dead and too many questions without answers. Life for two young guardsmen is about to get very interesting and life for the kingdom as a whole is about to take a turn for the worse…
I don’t know much (if anything really) about the smaller publishing houses but it is good to see books of this quality coming from a source that isn’t so well known. It’s nice to see the talent being spread around more evenly. Beachem has created a world, and situations, that engage the reader and maintain interest throughout a story with plenty of twists and turns. This is a tale that benefits from not having large doses of background history (just as much as is needed) instead concentrating more on what is actually happening. I said earlier that there were elves lurking in these pages and as we all know, including elves can be tricky if you want to avoid falling into the cliché pitfall. Beachem avoids this by posing a number of questions, his elves, which he then proceeds not to answer. I was left wanting to know more.
Beachem asks a lot of questions and for me this proved to be his downfall in terms of the ‘murder investigation’ element of the story. I felt that things could have been kept a bit more simple (and effective) if the list of suspects wasn’t quite so long! The more questions asked, the more people became suspects and the more difficulty I had following the plot. By the end I was expecting the chief investigator to start quizzing himself about what he was doing on that fateful night… Events elsewhere may also make the reader question why so much emphasis is being placed on this plotline.
‘Storms of Vengeance’ is hard to follow (in that respect) but is an entertaining read nonetheless. If Beachem can get his list of suspects under control then I think the next instalment could be very good indeed.

Six and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Robert Jordan, RIP

So I come back from holiday to find that Robert Jordan finally lost his long battle against illness and has passed away... I read his blog and it sounded to me like he had turned a corner with it. My condolences go to his family and friends.
I only came to the Wheel of Time series four years ago. Until that point my budget meant I had to think carefully about what I picked up and the sight of nine of his books taking up an entire shelf (in Waterstones) seemed like a hell of a lot of catching up to do! Then one day, the wife and I decided to learn to ski... The first thing I did on the slope was to fall over and break a bone in my hand, no more going to work for the next six (or so) months! On my lonely wanderings around town I found one of those bookshops that sell books really cheap. Don't you just love them? I saw a copy of 'Eye of the World' and thought I'd give it a go, by the end of the summer I'd read up to 'Winter's Heart' and was waiting for the paperback edition of 'Crossroads of Twilight' to hit the bookstores. I could tell from the very first page that Robert loved the world he was writing in and in a way that very few other authors do. It was this enthusiasm and love that kept me turning the pages and will see me in line to find out how he planned for it to end.
I'm not going to lie and say that it was all peaks and no troughs, there was one particular book that I didn't enjoy (and I suspect it was the same book for you as well) but it was a testament to what Robert had achieved that me, and you as well, came back for 'Knife of Dreams' and his return to form.
It's a crying shame that the author of something so monumental will not be around to see it's completion. Robert, whatever you're doing right now I hope you're walking in the Light.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


An occasional series where I post and tell you about our tent being blown down and the weather doing nothing but rain... (eeek!)
The Highlands of Scotland are absolutely gorgeous but when you're constantly trying to make them out through a thick blanket of rain... We've given up on the whole camping thing, a particularly easy thing to do when your tent blows down with you in it! We're now slowly making our way back down the country and looking for hotels with hot showers and TV! :o) I have had time to get some reading done though so there will be a whole load of stuff to see in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Friday, 14 September 2007

'Dead Men's Boots' - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered. Unfortunately though, there could only be six winners and those lucky lucky people were...

Stacey Whittle, South Shields, UK
John Hammond, Lancaster, UK
Brian Stabler, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Tom Lloyd, London
Elizabeth Pacey, Watford, UK
Zoe Hodgins, Co. Kildare, Ireland.

Well done guys, your books should be with you very soon!
Don't be sad if you didn't win this time, there will be more competitions in the near future. Come to think of it, there are competitions happening on other blogs even as I speak! Check out Pat's Site, Fantasy Book Critic and The Book Swede amongst others...
I'm off for a weeks holiday tonight (woohoo!)and while I'll still be posting, it won't be as much as normal. Don't let that stop you from hitting the site three or four times a day though (just to see if I've posted anything)... ;o)

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Some news for Malazan fans...

Earlier this year, PS Publishing released a limited edition book comprising all three Bauchelain and Korbal Broach stories (I love those guys, they never fail to make me laugh). It sold out pretty damn quickly, it sold out long before publication in fact. Being the nice people that they are, PS Publishing decided to print the whole thing again. This time though it's in hardback and although it isn't signed it does have the original Steven Erikson artwork on the cover. They're only printing 500 copies so I wouldn't hang around if I were you, have a click Here for more information and (hidden away somewhere) links for ordering.
If anyone sees anything about a release date for Esselmont's 'Return of the Crimson Guard' please let me know! ;o)

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Interview with Mike Carey

I’ve heard tales about people paying large amounts of money (at charity auctions) to have their name, or description; appear in their favourite author’s book. Would you consider doing something similar and how much would I have to pay you to have my name appear in the next Felix Castor book?
It’s something I used to do way back when I was writing the Lucifer monthly series. There were a whole group of people who were posting regularly on the Vertigo message board, and we had this running gag going that it was a High School (Morningstar High) and I was the head master. I would set them ‘homework’ assignments, for example write Lucifer’s reply to Isaiah’s “Oh how art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer son of the morning”. They would post their entries and I would choose a winner and the winner each month would get to nominate a word that would then go in the next month’s issue. I had to keep my fingers crossed that they wouldn’t choose anything too obscene or too ridiculous that would skew the whole storyline around it. But in fact – and probably inevitably – what everyone did was send in their names as their nominated word and we would somehow work it into the dialogue or the artwork. Sometimes I would name a character after them or sometimes their name would appear as graffiti on a wall. So it is something I have done but not for money: it’s a nice little nod that you can give to a friend.
I can say from personal experience, though, that if you name a character after someone you know, you should have due regard to that character’s ultimate fate. People don’t like watching their namesakes come to sticky ends.

We’re now halfway through the Felix Castor series and the first thing I noticed about the book was that the style of the cover had changed! What happened there?
Halfway through a planned six-book sequence – not necessarily through the entire series.What happened was that we looked at the original designs, which we were always very happy with, because we thought they very cleverly wove in a lot of different elements from the books, which they do! But we realised once we’d been through two variations of the theme that they actually work better once you’d read the book. You come to realise why there are musical notes there, why there are Cyrillic characters and so on. They play off the story, but they play off the story in ways that you need to be familiar with the story to understand. What we wanted was a cover design that would clue you in a bit more up front, as it were; that would make a statement about the themes, the material and the approach. We went for this photographic design as it tells you a lot about Castor, the London setting and the mix of supernatural and noir elements. In that sense we figured it would be a more effective statement.
Do you see yourself sticking with that format for the rest of the series?The plan is to stick with that style and when the first two books come up for reprint they’ll be issued with similar covers as well.

You’ve obviously done a lot of research into the darker side of London and your work has a really gritty and spine-chilling feel to it. Have you ever written something so scary that you’ve scared yourself out of going back to that place in real life?
I guess I don’t associate the material strongly enough with a place that the place itself would come to have negative overtones for me. But there are themes and events that when I put them into a book can be emotionally difficult for me to deal with. The first Castor novel had the sexual violence in it which was probably the darkest and most upsetting thing I’ve ever written. Those scenes do stay with you, all the more probably because they’re based on real life experience. Not mine or anyone I’ve known but they’re based on things I’ve read about in relation to people trafficking and they do leave an emotional imprint on you that can take days or weeks to shake off. In that sense you do get a psychic hangover from writing horror.

Is there anything you’ve ever come across, during your research, where you’ve just thought, “There’s no way that would ever go in a book of mine”?No, I’ve never come across anything that I would flatly refuse to put into a book but I became aware after writing ‘Devil You Know’ and ‘Vicious Circle’ that there was a pattern beginning to form of women as victims. You have the faceless ghost in the first book and the ghost of Abbie Torrington in the second book who are both victim figures and their role in the book is largely a passive one. That’s not 100% true of Abbie as her ghost has a part to play in the climax of the second book, but I did feel when I came to write ‘Dead Men’s Boots’ that I wanted to break away from that. I didn’t want it to become a defining feature of the stories as it too often is in horror. Obviously Juliet is a more positive female role model, and a much more active character, but I wanted to work the changes on that. If there’s a victim figure in Dead Men’s Boots it’s John Gittings, the dead exorcist.

There’s a lot of dark and quite evil stuff happening in both the Felix Castor and Hellblazer books. How do you switch off from that when you’ve finished writing for the day? Are you tempted to write something really sweet and wholesome just to balance it out?
Hey, I do write sweet and wholesome stuff. Recently, over the last three or four years, I’ve been writing romantic teen fiction for DC (most recently for their Minx imprint) which is to some extent an antidote to some of this dark stuff. Thinking about it, though - and I don’t know whether it’s being a writer or being a man – but there’s a certain kind of schizophrenia that you can achieve sometimes which can be very useful. You can come from writing Castor, Lucifer or Hellblazer and describing scenes of torture, horror and despair to chatting with the kids about their day at school and stuff. And sometimes, despite what I said earlier about psychic hangovers, sometimes you really can just leave all that stuff behind you on the desk. My wife can’t do that at all. She’s also a writer but finds if she gets herself into a certain mood, because of a scene she’s writing in the book, it sticks with her and she’s trapped in that mood and she can’t dislocate. I find it easy to jump from one psychic plane to another and I think that suggests I’m a much less healthy individual, psychologically speaking, than she is…

One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed, so far, is that the only luck Felix seems to have is when a case starts to go his way, the rest of the time he’s a mess. Is it more fun writing about a character who has to look up to see rock bottom?
Chris Claremont, the man who reinvented the X-Men and turned it into the massive franchise it is today, was once asked for the recipe for a great comic book. He said it was really easy: you basically take a group of nice amiable people and then you put them through Hell. I think extremes are always more interesting and it’s always easier to sympathise with someone who has reached the bottom of the heap than someone who is richer than you, luckier with you and so on. I think this is a problem, for example, with the Alex Ryder books. They’re a hell of a lot fun to read but the trouble is he’s too perfect. Things go his way too much. I like losers, I like loners, I like people who get shat on by life. I think they’re more fun to write about and more fun to read.

I mentioned, on the SFX Forum, that I’d be talking to you and one of the ladies there said that you’re her favourite author and she happens to have a little crush on Felix Castor (and was wondering if this is normal!) Do you think there’s anything loveable about Felix Castor?
Yeah I think so. Maybe. At rock bottom he is a guy who is trying to do the right thing even though life doesn’t always let him, and he often suffers as a result. He’s somebody who’s done awful things to his friends and the people who love him – sometimes consciously – but he carries the weight of that guilt around with him. It’s something that makes it easy to sympathise with him as he can’t walk away from the consequences of his actions, he’s haunted by his past in that way. I also think that his wit, his sharp tongue is attractive. Felix is an ironic and humorous commentator on the things that go on around him and I enjoy that aspect of his voice, the fact that he’s sardonic and he always has a wisecrack and the perfect putdown. Characters who are verbally skilled are interesting and attractive for that reason I think.
A character in a book is only going to be interesting if they have something interesting to say.
Did you ever have an encounter and then as you replay it in your mind give yourself all the best lines, like ‘I wish I’d said that and that’? Well, Castor is a wish fulfilment figure on that level only; he always has the comeback ready.

In ‘Dead Men’s Boots’, Felix finally makes it out of London and across to the US for a brief visit. Other than the case itself, is there any other reason why this happens here?
The real basis for that decision was that I wanted to take Felix and Juliet a long way out of their comfort zone. I wanted them on foreign soil not just in the banal sense but also in the psychological sense. Juliet is very badly affected by that journey: it turns out that she has a cthonic connection to the soil and that flying in an aeroplane is really bad for her so she’s at a disadvantage from the moment that she takes off. It’s a solution to one of the problems you have with Juliet. With her on Castor’s side it’s like he has a nuclear arsenal all of his own. She’s unstoppable normally but in the Alabama scenes she’s only of limited use to him. Castor actually has to rescue her from a fight with a were-creature in which she is outmatched. So it was partly ‘let’s put them in a new situation where a lot of their natural advantages don’t work and let’s see how they cope with that’ and partly ringing the changes on the formula. If you keep on doing the same thing one book after the other then it stops being fun, you have to keep pushing the envelope.

The first exposure Felix has to his exorcist abilities is when, as a child, he sings away the ghost of his sister. By the time of ‘The Devil You Know’ Felix is questioning where the souls go once they’ve been exorcised. Is this something you will let the reader know or will it be left open ended?
There’s never going to be a categorical answer but you find out an awful lot more. We find out more about why the dead are rising and we find out more about the mechanics of all the phenomena in Castor’s world. There’s actually a big revelation which I’m planning for the sixth book which will make sense of an awful lot of things that people already think they understand. It will be a case of ‘ah but, there is also this’, another level to everything that’s happening which will make you see it in a different light. It's kind of like the ending of Apocalypto where the hero makes it to the coast… I’m trying not to spoil the film here, but you know what I’m referring to. It’s a change of perspective on everything that we’ve seen so far.

Is it set in stone that the Felix Castor series will only be six books long?
No, not at all. It’s just that I’m consciously planning up to the climax of the sixth book which, to some extent, is the climax of everything that has happened before. And while there’s an inexorable build to this one moment, this one reveal, it doesn’t have to be the ending. At this point, you realise for the first time exactly what’s happening and exactly what’s at stake but the series could carry on.

You’re an incredibly busy man, not just with Felix Castor but also with various comic book projects. When you have an idea for a project, how do you decide whether it’s better suited to graphic novel or straight novel format?
Wow… In some cases there’s one obvious element that organises everything else around itself. I pitched the Castor books as a novel series for an awful lot of reasons, the one reason why you couldn’t do the Castor books as a comic (I don’t think) is because of the music. Castor exorcises ghosts through music and this is notoriously difficult to do effectively in a graphic media. How would you do it? Notes on a page? You could maybe do it as a visual effect but something would be missing because you couldn’t hear or describe the music. In other cases it’s a question of where you are when you start the story, you may be thinking of it as a comic straight out of the gate. Some stories translate effectively into any media and it doesn’t matter where you start with them. I don’t know, you have to be prepared to follow an idea wherever it takes you and that could be a million miles away from where you started when it first hits you.

Would you like to see the Felix Castor books become a movie or a TV series?
A TV series allows you to do a lot more in terms of developing the world. A movie is like a short story whereas a TV series is a novel. I’ve got a lot of respect for TV dramas, in fact a lot of what I watch is TV drama. It seems to me that the more formulaic and predictable Hollywood movies become, the more varied and wonderful American TV dramas becomes. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see a Castor movie because it would be a massive way of getting more people to read the books if nothing else and it would be an exciting departure for me creatively.

You’ve worked on X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ amongst other comics. If you had the chance to work on any other comic book character who would you choose? The only character I’ve had a real hankering to work on (and haven’t been able to make it stick) is Dr Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme and the magical wanderer in the Marvel Superhero universe. I love Dr Strange, going right back to the original Steve Ditko stories. I love him because the approach to magic, in the Dr Strange stories, is so visceral and so visual; you actually have characters duelling with bolts of magic and it is there in front of you on the page. I tried to do something similar in a book called ‘Spellbinders’ (with Mike Perkins) and the approach to magic was nothing to do with spells or magic words. It was just shapes and colours on the page and people who read the series carefully would eventually come to realise what spells were being cast by the shapes and colours that were being used. It becomes a kind of visual shorthand. I have a pitch in at Marvel, with Pablo Raimondi, which basically has Dr Strange losing all of his power and having to learn magics from the ground up, taking him back to square one. It turns him from the Sorcerer Supreme back into the student and he has to put it back together again. It’s a book I’d love to do and Pablo would be a fantastic guy to do it with.

Thanks for your time Mike, it's been great talking with you.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Win a copy of 'Dead Men's Boots' (unless...)

Unless you live in America, I'm afraid :o( Orbit have given me six copies to give away but copyright issues prevent them from sending the book to the US. By way of apology, if any American reader wants to know what happens I'm making the 'one time only' offer to read selected excerpts over the phone... (on your bill though)
For the rest of you folks, how do you fancy winning a copy of Mike Carey's latest Felix Castor novel? Being in with a chance is as simple as ever. My email address is at the top right hand corner of the screen, drop me a line telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. It's that easy.
I'm off on holiday next week so I want to get this one turned around as quickly as possible (so that you guys aren't left waiting). Therefore, your emails need to be with me by Thursday evening so I can announce the winners on Friday. Because of the timescale, if you don't give me your mailing address then you won't be considered...
Good luck guys!

Monday, 10 September 2007

‘The Electric Church’ – Jeff Somers (Orbit Books)

When the nice folks from Orbit Books bought me lunch, a couple of months ago, one of the books that they were particularly eager to talk about was Jeff Somers’ debut ‘The Electric Church’. I liked what I heard and when Pat also gave it the thumbs up on his site (can’t find the exact link but I think he has an index) my curiosity was piqued even more. As luck would have it ‘The Electric Church’ was waiting for me when I got home on Friday night. I read a couple of pages; then I read some more, the next thing I knew, it was Sunday night and I’d finished it. Great stuff, every single page tells you in no uncertain terms why this book has been chosen as part of Orbit’s opening salvo on the US market.
Avery Cates is a ‘gunner’; a hit man in the dystopian future world of the ‘System’, a unified world order ruled over by the Joint Council. Avery Cates will do whatever it takes to survive but he seems to have developed a nasty habit of killing the elite System Police and this will lead him into his biggest and most dangerous job yet. The Electric Church is the world’s fastest growing religion where ‘converts’ have their brains removed and housed in robotic avatars, all the better to contemplate eternity. Avery’s mission? To kill Dennis Squalor (the founder of the Electric Church). Or is it? Avery isn’t sure exactly sure what’s going on but he does know that a lot of people are shooting at him…
‘The Electric Church’ is a frantic and fast paced thriller in the gritty mould of ‘Altered Carbon’ but a lot lighter in tone. You’ve still got gun battles, grizzled cops and ‘heroic villains’ but you also get plenty of witty banter that will make you chuckle and sometimes laugh out loud. Somers’ world building is simple yet very effective, he only uses words when they’re needed and this helps to keep things fresh and interesting. While his characters can be found anywhere in noir fiction they all have their own distinctive voice here, although I wasn’t too sure about Cates’ epiphany that sets up the story for later books (I’d have preferred a little more crime first). The only thing that slightly jarred, for me, was talk of Cates’ age. He starts off as a twenty six year old and is then described as twenty seven for the rest of the book. I know he probably didn’t have much time to celebrate but I think his birthday could have been mentioned…
Don’t let that one small thing put you off though, ‘The Electric Church’ is an entertainingly bullet spattered read that hints at great things from Somers in the future.

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Your Sunday Update

Here I am, post 'Mike Carey interview' with the man himself! Just in case you're wondering, Mike is the one who looks like he poses for photos all the time and doesn't look like he's had too much to drink. If you're still not sure, Mike is the one without the beard...
We had a great chat about the new Felx Castor novel ('Dead Men's Boots') and also about comic book projects new and old. Expect to see the interview posted in the next few days.
Once I've posted this I'll be getting straight back into Jeff Somers' debut novel 'The Electric Church'. This is one of Orbit's debut novels for the US launch and from what I've read so far it's not hard to see why they've chosen it for their opening salvo on the US market. There will be a review posted very soon...
That's all for now, hope you're all having a great weekend! If not, you've only got five days to go until the next one!

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Which Noble House are you a member of?

I'm a huge fan of George R.R. Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire' and have often wondered which of the noble Houses I would have been part of (always secretly thought of myself as a Stark or perhaps a Lannister, who wouldn't?).
Well, thanks to The Book Swede I've found an online quiz that will answer my very question. I've been left wishing I hadn't asked when I came back with the answer of...

Yep, I'm a proud member of House Tully. The first line reads "Dutiful. Affable. Total doormats. The kindest and gentlest of the houses, you are of House Tully." Oh dear...
I'm not going to put the whole blurb up as, quite frankly, it's pretty embarassing. Instead, why don't you have a go by clicking Here...
Good luck!

Friday, 7 September 2007

'Dead Men's Boots' - Mike Carey (Orbit Books)

For me to stop partway into a book and pick up another, the new book has to be something that I know will be pretty special. I will have either enjoyed previous books, in the series, or people (whose opinions I trust) will have talked it up. Through absolutely no fault of it's own, John Beachem's 'Storms of Vengeance' got put to one side the second Mike Carey's new Felix Castor novel was couriered to my office (And how posh did that make me feel? That's another story…)
Mike Carey is perhaps better known for his work on 'Lucifer' and 'Hellblazer' but he is also steadily making a name for himself with his tales of Felix Castor, a down on his luck exorcist working in a London that is experiencing steadily increasing supernatural activity. Felix used to be good at what he did until the day he asked himself, "Where do ghosts go once I've exorcised them?"
Most of us have little difficulty keeping our work life separate from our personal life, not so with Felix Castor. A murder case, the suicide of an old acquaintance and a friend's incarceration in a mental institute suddenly link together in a way that means people are trying to kill Felix in a variety of unpleasant ways. Felix wants answers but, as usual, he must deal with an ever increasing number of questions…
We are three books into a six book series; Carey has laid all the groundwork and is now free to concentrate on giving the reader a hard boiled 'supernatural noir' tale of gangsters, demons and an exorcist who has to be a detective as well. I think Carey succeeds on all counts, the mean streets of ‘Old London Town’ have never seemed meaner and more chilling. Without giving too much away, the scene where Felix finds himself in a room full of cats had my heart in my mouth and me scrambling to read more and find out what happened next! Carey does an amazing job with his characterisation, showing us everyday people who are flawed to the point of terminal weakness but who will still find that last little bit of decency and do the right thing. Even the demons and ghosts seem to have their good points although one particular demon is reassuringly demonic; I hope we see more of him in the future. When you couple this with a bleak London backdrop, you are left with a book that is an evocative read and won’t let go after you’ve done. Carey seems to be aware of the fact that he’s set himself a six book limit and is now starting to drop interesting hints about what we can expect to see in the future. Mention of the demon’s ‘Great Project’ and its link to the dead rising is particularly intriguing and I’m eager to see how this pans out.
My only quibble is that one of Castor’s demonic allies frequently teeters on the edge of being deus ex machine, it’s only the ending that lets him off the hook.
If you’ve already read the first two books then I guarantee you’re going to absolutely love this one. If you haven’t then I suggest you pick up ‘The Devil You Know’ and get reading. You won’t regret it.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Fancy a free read?

Last night, I received an email from a very nice guy called Mayer Brenner. Mayer wrote a four book series, 'The Dance of Gods', between 1987 and 1992 that (for a number of reasons) didn't do well enough for DAW Books to continue printing them. Fast forward fifteen years and Mayer is thinking, "You know what? These books would actually do better in today's fantasy market than they ever did before!" Here's what Mayer had to say about his books...

"The books are built around a sprawling crowd of raffish characters, too smart by half for their own good and more than a little self-reflective, in a series of overlapping and colliding storylines. The plot features no grand battles between good and evil; more of a struggle between self-interest and unintended consequences, against a landscape of contending gods, politicians, adventurers, and folks who have to work for a living. The stories take an approach to magic more suited to engineers or programmers than mystics; more procedure-based than object-oriented, perhaps, but communing with nature is usually the last thing on these practitioners' minds. For that matter, I'm not sure the combination of magic-code hackers, molecular nanotech, and network-mediated consensual reality of the gods is something that could ever be summarized on a back-of-the-book blurb... "

Sounds interesting to me... Mayer's mission is to raise his books from the dead (and get them back in the public eye) and the way he is going about this is by making them available to download for free on his website. Isn't the internet great for picking up a free read? I like to think so. I'll be having a read, and posting my thoughts, in the near future but I thought (in the meantime) you folks would appreciate a link to some free reading material. Mayer has already scanned and edited the first two books, the other two will soon follow. Have a click Here and get reading!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Have you got room for an elf?

Arafail Brightflame is an elf whose best years are now behind him. In his day he appeared in many fantasy novels as an elven tracker, bard or warrior. Perhaps his finest moment came when he appeared in Tolkien's 'Fellowship of the Ring' as the elf Glorfindel. With such a distinguished resume, Arafail assumed that he would have no problem finding work until he retired. Unfortunately, changing fashions in fantasy literature meant that this was not to be. Very few writers include elves in their fantasy worlds anymore and those that do had no room for an old elf like Arafail, he couldn't even get a job as 'second member of the Elven Council'. These days Arafail can be found begging on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, he has a lifetime of memories but these will not stop his hunger or put a roof over his head….

Gunthor Axeblade is a dwarf with an uncertain future. Gunthor made his mark in the D&D boom of the 70s and 80s, if there was an irascible dwarf in a book then you could be certain that Gunthor was playing the crowd in a way that only he could. Times change though and Gunthor couldn't keep up. Today's reader doesn't want a dwarf with an enormous beard and an appetite for mead; today's dwarf must be Machiavellian, have a hidden heart of gold and a line in sarcastic quips. Gunthor was never going to be able to compete but luckily for him anti-discrimination laws meant he was able to get a job as a bouncer at a New York nightclub. Every night though, Gunthor wistfully reminisces about his amazing exploits and wishes those times would come again.

Marius (of the Dark Order) used to make oceans boil and mountains burst into flame with the merest of gestures from his wizard’s staff. Fuelled by thousands of years of arcane knowledge, Marius strode through fantasy literature in many guises. The more powerful the Dark Lord was, the more likely it would be that Marius was the man behind the dark helm/mask/ominous hood. Unfortunately though, even the greatest wizard of his time was no match for the changing perceptions of readers who preferred their fantasy to be heavy on the cut and thrust of politics and light on the magic (if there was any magic at all). Marius had to sell ‘The Castle of Terror’ and can now be found performing magic tricks on Southend Pier; he also takes bookings for children’s parties.

Now everyone deserves a little dignity in their twilight years and stereo-typical fantasy characters are no exception. They served you well in the past (when you first picked up a fantasy book), surely you must be wondering how you can pay them back? Go online and you will discover hundreds of charities that exist to help these forgotten staples of literature. Did you know that for £5 a month, an elf like Arafail could be kept in lembas bread and taught vital new life skills? $15 a month will help support special shelters for ‘Evil Overlords’ who just cannot adjust to living in suburbia, a worthwhile cause indeed!
There is one other thing you can do and you can do it right now. There’s a frustrated writer in all of us; the next time you start writing the next best selling fantasy novel why don’t you make a little room for that elven tracker or irascible dwarf? They don’t care if you want to do something original in fantasy; they just want to work. Heck, most of them will be happy just being extras in a bar scene!
Think about it, just one paragraph will make an old elf very happy…

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

‘Shadowstorm’ – Paul S. Kemp (Wizards of the Coast)

Writing this blog has really opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more sci-fi/fantasy out there than what I would normally pick up at the bookstore. One of the things that I’ve learnt is that (for me personally) so long as I enjoy the story I don’t care whether it’s a ‘shared world’ or something that the author has thought up themselves. For the sake of being a little bit snobby about ‘original work’, you run the risk of cutting yourself off from lots of other stuff that you will enjoy just as much. It was Paul S. Kemp’s rather splendid ‘Shadowbred’ that made me realise this and I was thrilled, as only a sci-fi/fantasy nerd can be, when the sequel turned up on my doorstep.
Things are looking increasingly bad for the nation of Sembia. City-States snap at each other’s heels and descend into civil war while the Shadovar manipulate affairs in order to bring about dark prophecy. With the rest of humanity mired in a bog of treachery and ill fortune, it will take a man who is half shade to set things right but friendship will force Erevis Cale to make decisions that take him further away from his goal…
One question that any fantasy author will face is, “how do you keep a reader’s interest if your main character is well nigh invulnerable?” Kemp answers this question by making Cale’s foes even more powerful than those he faced in the last book. There are some incredibly powerful scenes where Erevis faces off against a Lord of Hell, battles a dragon and goes up against a dark lord of the Shadovar. This is writing that will get your blood pumping and won’t let you go but I got a feeling that Kemp is maybe getting ahead of himself in the run-up to the final book. A ‘middle book’ should lay the ground for a major climax, ‘Shadowrealm’ (the final book) is going to have to pull something pretty amazing out of the hat to top what takes place in ‘Shadowstorm’. The end of the book left me a little sad as I was thinking ‘Kemp actually cannot beat this’, it will be interesting to see how it all ends.
Kemp balances the epic magical battles with some really poignant human drama that ensures the reader doesn’t overdose on the fantastical elements. Abelar’s search for his son and the gradual corruption of Tamlin slowed the pace down at just the right times but had an intensity all of their own. While almost everything plays out as you would expect, there are still plenty of twists in the tale that will have you guessing as to the outcome. Without spoiling too much, one of these twists felt a little contrived and served only to have a certain character in the right place at the right time (I think there were other ways this could have been done). I was also unsure why another character made an appearance, gave something away and played no further part in the rest of the book…
These were minor quibbles that didn’t have too adverse an affect on my enjoyment of the book. If you enjoyed ‘Shadowbred’, ‘Shadowstorm’ will give you more of the same and then a whole load more! Paul S. Kemp is rapidly becoming a real ‘find’ for me this year, I’ll be interested to see how the trilogy ends next year.

Eight and a Half out of Ten.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A competition winner and interesting news for Manga fans...

A warm welcome to September, my favourite time of the year (the only month that has my birthday in it!) After last month I'm not going to tell you what I've got lined up in the way of book reviews, suffice it to say that I'm looking at the pile of books next to me and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in...*

What I can tell you though is that, as promised, our resident mouse (who laughs at mousetraps and acts like he has his own key to my house) has picked a winner for the 'Crystal Rain' giveaway from last week. The lucky winner on this occasion is one Patrick Howson from Essex (Waylander on the SFX and Scifinow forums). Nice one Patrick, the book is in the post even as we speak...

It's not just books that come through the door these days. I got home, on Saturday night, to a package introducing me to Yen Press, the Hachette Book Group's move into manga and other graphic novels. I don't know about you guys but the closest I've got to manga was watching 'Akira' so the teaser booklet (that came in the pack) made for some interesting reading. Once I got my head round starting at the back of the book, and finishing at the front, I really got into the excerpts from each of the first round of books that Yen will be releasing. I will offer up a 'pretty please' right now for review copies of 'Zombie Loan' and 'Alice on Deadlines' especially...
Yen Press have a temporary website Here where you can get more information on upcoming titles and also sign up for a newsletter.
That's all for the moment but if you're sat there all bored at work (or cannot be bothered doing coursework) swing by here for loads of cool sci-fi/fantasy stuff!

(* Oh all right... This week, look out for reviews of Paul S. Kemp's 'Shadowstorm', John Beachem's 'Storms of Vengeance' and 'Dead Men's Boots', the new Felix Castor novel by Mike Carey)