Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Book Giveaway - 'Twilight Herald' (Tom Lloyd)

Way back in May, I ReviewedTom Lloyd's debut fantasy novel 'The Stormcaller'and very good it was too. I'm reading 'The Twilight Herald' (the sequel) at the moment and it is fast shaping up to be just as good, if not better than the original. Expect to see a review in the next few days...
Now, I don't normally do a competition without having reviewed the book first but I've seen enough, so far, to know that I can make an exception in this case. Also, I want to get these three signed copies to people before the new mouse (that's just moved in) develops a taste for paper...
Have a read of the synopsis and see what you think,

Lord Bahl is dead and the young white-eye, Isak, stands in his place; less than a year after being plucked from obscurity and poverty the charismatic new Lord of the Farlan finds himself unprepared to deal with the attempt on his life that now spells war, and the possibility of rebellion waiting for him at home. Now the eyes of the Land turn to the minor city of Scree, which could soon be obliterated as the new Lord of the Farlan flexes his powers. Scree is suffering under an unnatural summer drought and surrounded by volatile mercenary armies that may be its only salvation. This is a strange sanctuary for a fugitive abbot to flee to - but he is only the first of many to be drawn there. Kings and princes, lords and monsters; all walk the sun-scorched streets. As elite soldiers clash after dark and actors perform cruel and subversive plays that work their way into the hearts of the audience, the city begins to tear itself apart - yet even chaos can be scripted. There is a malevolent will at work in Scree, one that has a lesson for the entire Land: nations can be manipulated, prophecies perverted and Gods denied. Nothing lies beyond the reach of a shadow, and no matter how great a man’s power, there some things he cannot be protected from.

Sounds good doesn't it? Well, you know what to do if you fancy a copy. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. It's that simple! I'll announce the winners next Wednesday.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

‘Auralia’s Colors’ – Jeffrey Overstreet (WaterBrook Press/ Random House)

Every so often I read a book and know within a few pages that I’m in for the duration. One book, eight books, it doesn’t matter how long the series turns out. I’m there at the start and I’ll be there at the finish. Tad Williams, Greg Keyes and Steven Erikson (amongst others) have all trapped me in a book buying frenzy, now it’s the turn of Jeffrey Overstreet with his novel ‘Auralia’s Colors’.
Thanks to the strange working practices of one of the UK’s largest delivery firms (naming no names), this book found it’s way to my desk rather than through my front door. I had my reading list all mapped out for the next few days but I’d finished my current book and thought I’d flick through ‘Auralia’s Colors’ on the way home. Fast forward a few days and the reading list is once again in need of re-shuffling. ‘Auralia’s Colors’ is a magical read, that’s all I can say. It’s by no means perfect but it’s not far off.
Auralia is found, as a baby, lying abandoned in a monster’s footprint. Raised by criminals, living outside the walls of House Abascar, Auralia discovers an ability to craft colours which enchant all who see them. In a kingdom where unregulated colour is strictly forbidden Auralia’s gift will bring her into conflict with the ruling classes. The outcome will determine the fate of an entire kingdom but perhaps more importantly the fate of certain people who live in it.
The fantasy genre seems to be very harsh in tone at the moment; life is cheap in any book you come across and blunt realism is the order of the day. The ‘average fantasy fan’ would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Auralia’s Colors’, with it’s fairytale plot, might be better off being aimed at a younger audience. While this may be true of the plot, once you’ve jumped in and immersed yourself in the language you’ll find that there’s a lot to be had out of this book. There’s a real poetic feel to the prose that lends the book a dreamlike quality perfectly suited to a fantasy setting. Overstreet’s prose means that you will see every leaf in the forest and hear the water running along the rivers. The downside to this is that, every now and then, Overstreet gets carried away by the world he has created and forgets to attach the same level of importance to the people who live in it. This can make for a strangely disjointed read in places but I personally was enjoying the book, as a whole, too much to care. Talking about the characters, there is an ambiguity in all of them that belies initial impressions of ‘Auralia’s Colors’ as a children’s book. It also made me willing to put that extra effort into the read and discover what it’s all about, this is certainly a book that rewards the effort you put into reading it.
As I’ve said already, ‘Auralia’s Colors’ is by no means a perfect book but there is plenty there to recommend it to anyone. I love what’s going on in the genre right now but this made a refreshing change.

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 29 October 2007

‘With the Light (Part One)’ – Keiko Tobe (Yen Press)

This isn’t something that would normally fall within the remit of my blog but I’ve never read any Manga so I thought I’d give it a go. Having just finished it (literally just put it down) I felt I had to post something about it, it’s absolutely amazing and I defy anyone not to get something out of this read.
I used to think that Manga was all about post apocalyptic motorcycle warfare, demonic monsters and women whose legs were just a little bit too long to be believed. Well, the legs are still uncomfortably long but there was not a mutant or motorcycle to be seen in this book. Sachiko Azuma gives birth to a son, Hikaru, but it soon becomes clear that something isn’t quite right. Hikaru is reluctant to be held or hugged and his development is slow when compared to that of other children. When Hikaru is a year and a half old it is suggested that he may be deaf but a specialist reaches a different diagnosis, Hikaru is autistic. The rest of the book follows Sachiko’s efforts to raise Hikaru, and give him the best start in life, while faced with the prejudice of others (including her husband) and daily occurrences that take on new meaning when trying to care for a child suffering from autism.
I’ll admit that I don’t read many comics; a little bit of ‘X-Men’, some ‘Walking Dead’ and a teeny tiny slice of ‘Hellblazer’. I know where I am with western comics though so reading something that starts at the back, and finishes at the front, seemed like a daunting prospect in itself. Once I got into the story though, the format swiftly became irrelevant as I was gripped by Sachiko’s tale. I don’t know if Tobe has had a similar experience herself but she does an amazing job of capturing just what every little slight, setback and triumph does for Sachiko. ‘With the Light’ is a moving and poignant read throughout; I found myself empathising with Sachiko’s plight, cheering on her successes and getting irate on her behalf every time there was a setback.
Having never been to Japan, I couldn’t tell you how much of the prejudice (and indifference) that Sachiko has to deal with is accurately portrayed or if it’s overdone slightly in order to get the point across. I think the important thing is that it does make it’s point very clearly and makes positive moves to dispel some of the myths surrounding autism.
I couldn’t possibly review a Manga novel without making some mention of the artwork. It’s very simply done (black and white line drawings) but very effectively conveys what is going on and what it means, just like the story itself.
Like I said, this isn’t something I would normally post on here but after having read it felt that I couldn’t not draw people’s attention to it. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks Manga is just demons and curvaceous ladies; ‘With the Light’ is something really special and I’m already waiting to see where the journey leads from here.

Ten out of Ten

Saturday, 27 October 2007

‘Demon Eyes’ – L.H.Maynard & M.P.N.Sims (Leisure Fiction)

Have you ever read a book where you’re really not enjoying but you have a nagging feeling that it will get better? You keep reading, thinking it just has to get better, and before you know it you’re at the end of the book. It turns out that the nagging feeling wasn’t a nagging feeling at all, just a nasty part of your subconscious playing tricks on you again. ‘Demon Eyes’, for me, was one of those books. The blurb screamed potential and kept me reading to the end of a book that just didn’t deliver at all.
Emma Porter has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Keltner Industries and is now starting her new job as personal assistant to Alex Keltner (the Managing Director). Her first duty is to help out at a party he’s throwing on his estate over the weekend. It’s not just any old party though, sex with the house staff is top of the agenda and video cameras in the rooms record everything. And why does Emma’s former boss keep trying to tell her to leave before it’s too late? Before the weekend is out, Emma will discover the awful secret of the guests and their host and the real reason why she was invited…
I looked at the blurb on the back and thought, “sounds like just the sort of book I want to read for Halloween; spooky, chilling with the promise of much gore by the end of the book.” As I worked my way however, everything that the blurb promised seemed to be missing between the covers. The authors seemed to want to tell the reader everything that was happening instead of showing them hints and leaving them to fill in the gaps themselves. How are anyone supposed to be frightened when they know exactly what is going on and can tell exactly what is going to happen next? For a story about ‘sex vampires’; the bits about sex seemed strangely detached from the book itself, almost as if they were just there for effect rather than serving any actual purpose in the story itself. Emma’s lesbian relationship comes across as being mentioned early on just to keep certain types of people reading. Without spoiling it too much, the ending of ‘Demon Eyes’ hints that maybe not enough attention was paid to what that particular relationship would entail… Other relationships, between characters, are mentioned but never developed unless it’s to get other characters out of a tricky situation. Certain characters also exhibit certain abilities just in time to manoeuvre past sticky plot points, the whole thing just seems contrived.
‘Demon Eyes’ has the potential to be so much more than it ended up. Things are set up for it to possibly be the start of a series, maybe future books will see an improvement. Personally, I’m not sure if I would stick around to see if this happens.

Four out of Ten

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Talking Squirrels!

As a kid I loved reading 'Watership Down' (although I think I liked the film more. I don't think I'd ever read a book about talking animals that wasn't aimed solely at children and I was enthralled. When I discovered Tad Williams for the first time I was thrilled to discover that he'd written a book about talking animals as well! I know people will disagree with me but I actually think 'Tailchaser's Song' was better than 'Watership Down', Adams' rabbits were 'quintessentially British' but I think Williams did a far better job of showing the reader what animals (cats in this case) are really like. And then, all of a sudden, schoolwork etc took over and I lost touch with the whole world of talking animals and their adventures. Quite sad really...
With all this in mind, I was really pleased when a guy called Jon Evans got in touch to let me know of his story, about squirrels, that he'd written and made available online (for free, under a Creative Commons licence). I love squirrels (except when they get into my loft!) so a story about the perils a squirrel faces, traveling through New York, sounded like a lot of fun. I've had a quick flick through the first couple of chapters and I'll be back for more. It's got that 'Watership Down' feel to it and that's just what I'm after. Evans is plugging it as a 'children's book for adults' and I reckon that's just about right. And it's a free read as well! :o)
Fancy trying it out? Then have a click right Here

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ – Jennifer Rardin (Orbit Books)

In the beginning there was the sub-genre. It was without form but chock full of vampires, were-wolves and other undead creatures, everyone knew where they stood so everyone was happy. Then came the one known as Buffy and she bought with her many clones who did her work throughout the sub-genre, the undead fled in fear and everyone was happy to see fine looking American women in their books. Then one day the vampires and werewolves realised they were actually really good looking and that what Buffy and her friends were really after was some hot undead action. So began the time of angst-ridden relationships and guilty sex; no-one was happy because vampires are supposed to be killed by the heroine, not all that other stuff!
And now we have another book with a gutsy heroine who’s got a ‘thing’ for her vampire friend, do we really need another one? The answer is ‘yes’ because, despite some faults, this is a great little book that shows potential for a cracking series…
Jaz Parks is a CIA operative who has been assigned to protect Vayl, a top vampire assassin. My first thought was, ‘why would a top vampire assassin need protecting? He must be at the very top of the food chain!’ After 290 pages of high octane action (gunfights, car chases and a rather nasty chaos monster) Rardin answers this question in style while posing a few more which should be covered in the next couple of books. Some unlikely stuff does happen but, for once, the first person perspective helps as you an tell that Jaz has as little an idea about what’s going on as we do. Deus Ex Machina happens but you find yourself prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt until an explanation is given.
A simple assassination suddenly becomes a lot more complicated and suddenly the future of humanity is at stake. Isn’t it always? Maybe so but when you’re being rocketed along by 200mph prose then you actually find yourself beginning to enjoy it.
Jaz Parks isn’t your normal ‘vampire novel heroine’. Okay, she does have a little crush on Vayl (I winced when I realised this) but she has a real mean streak of patriotism that is strangely refreshing when you take into account what you’re reading, it’s ‘country first, love second’ for her. Vayl ticks all the right boxes for a ‘generic vampire’ but when Rardin starts to mention his phobias you have to give her some credit for trying to do something a bit different. Some of the decisions that Rardin makes come across as a little odd when you consider that this is the first book in a series. People do die but one particular character’s death struck me as an odd move considering what could have been done with the character in later books. Having said that though; fair play to Rardin for throwing us a curve ball so early on, an element of uncertainty over the characters always makes things more interesting.
On the face of it, ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ doesn’t do an awful lot that is new but the blistering pace hides the potential for something a cut above certain ‘urban/supernatural fantasies’ (you know the ones I mean!). I think I’ve come in at the start of something really good…

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The Best Competition Ever?

Well, it could be. Depends what you like really , if you're not a fan of Joe Abercrombie then this probably isn't the competition for you!
Are you one of those people, like me, who really enjoyed 'The Blade Itself'/'Before They Are Hanged' and have been chewing their fingernails waiting for 'The Last Argument Of Kings' to make it onto the bookshelves? Are you jealous of those bloggers who will be getting their hands on a copy in the next few weeks? Well, Joe is striking a blow for 'Johnny Public' by giving away three bound proof copies of 'Last Argument'(over the next three monthes) on his blog. And he's going to sign them as well. Want some of the action? Have a click right Here and do as the nice man says...

Monday, 22 October 2007

‘The Toyminator’ – Robert Rankin (Gollancz Books)

The thing about fantasy and science fiction is that it’s all so serious sometimes. Everything seems to have a noble purpose whether it’s learning to live with alien neighbours or killing your way to the throne of [insert name of country here!]. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff but sometimes I want to read something that’s a little bit, well… daft. I want something that’s silly; knows it is but doesn’t care. Something that not only knows it’s silly but deliberately goes out of its way to be even sillier. Something that will make me laugh. When this mood has me in its grip there’s only one thing that I can do. I grab the nearest Robert Rankin book and get reading. This weekend’s reading was ‘The Toyminator’ and I loved it.
A lot of Rankin’s work is set in Britain and has a very British feel that us lot, over here in the UK, love but people elsewhere may have trouble getting into. ‘Toyminator’ (and it’s predecessor ‘The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse’) presents no such problems as it’s set in ‘Toy City’, a place inhabited by living toys and ‘Pre-Adolescent Poetic Personalities’ (nursery rhyme characters to the likes of you and me). Something’s rotten in Toy City, spontaneous toy combustion is rife and many believe that this heralds the end of the world. Only two people can save the day, Toy City private eye Eddie Bear and his loyal sidekick Jack. What they find will turn their world inside out. It will leave you feeling a little odd too as Rankin does not let the normal rules of storytelling get in the way of prose that makes you chuckle, laugh out loud and then think, “hang on, that actually makes a weird kind of sense…”
I’m a big fan of Robert Rankin (so will admit to some bias) but have to say that he has had his fair share of misses as well as hits. I’m happy to say that ‘Toyminator’ is definitely a hit as far as I’m concerned. I got a real sense that Rankin was really enjoying himself when he wrote this, it’s crammed so full of humour that you can almost see the sparks going off in his head while it was being put to paper. There’s a real flow to the story that drags you in and pulls you along with it, I absolutely had to read as much as I could in one sitting and totally begrudged time spent away from the book. For a book that appears to be full of events that don’t really connect with one another, you get to the end and think, “wow, it all makes sense now…”
Rankin does overcrowd the book with a plethora of catchphrases from earlier books (it’s a tradition, or an old charter, or something) but if you’re a fan you won’t care and if you’ve only just started reading his books then you probably won’t notice anyway. Sometimes the ‘joke gun’ does fire a few duds but the funny stuff wins out through sheer weight of numbers so you’ll forgive the odd bad joke here and there.
If you’re already a fan then ‘The Toyminator’ is a worthy addition to the series. If you’re thinking of picking up a Robert Rankin book for the first time don’t start here; pick up ‘Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse’ first and enjoy it in the knowledge that it’s sequel is even better.

Eight out of Ten

Friday, 19 October 2007

An Update

My 'proper' job is being a right pest at the moment and seems to expect me to actually work for the money that I'm being paid. To be honest I was shocked to hear this but then I looked at my contract and it appears that I can't wriggle out of this one... Next time I'll be sure to read what I'm signing or at the very least sign it with someone elses name!
I'm still reading lots though and will be looking to chip away at the 'Reading Pile', over the next few weeks, by reviewing these books amongst others...

'The Toyminator' - Robert Rankin (Reading this one at the moment, very funny book)
'The Name of the Wind' - Patrick Rothfuss (I will read this before the end of the year, I will!)
'The Long Price' - Daniel Abraham (I don't think I've heard a bad thing about this book and am looking forward to picking it up very soon)
'In the Eye of Heaven' - David Keck (La Gringa sent this to me with a glowing recommendation. she knows her stuff so I'll be checking this one out too)
'The Ivory and the Horn' - Charles de Lint (Another author that I've heard loads about but never picked up, the blurb on the back looks promising)

This is only a very small part of a large book pile that has escaped the study and has set up outposts in the living room and kitchen (!) so don't worry if I haven't mentioned a book that you've sent me. They all get read at some point... :o)

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Aarrggh Zombies 2! The Return of the Zombies...

This morning, as I stumbled along with other blank-eyed early morning commuters, I realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about zombies. It’s funny how the mind works isn’t it?
Halloween is almost upon us and there’s no better time for me to warn you about the perils of a zombie apocalypse. If you see just one zombie coming towards you then you’ve probably got time to go and have a couple of pints before it gets close enough to be a threat. However, if zombies take over your city then things are bound to get a little more complicated…
As I’ve said before, I know exactly where I’ll be going in the event of a zombie infestation in London. Seeing as you folks are kind enough to come and read my blog I thought I’d help you out by going through a few zombie films and pointing out some do’s and don’ts…

Night of the Living Dead.
There were zombie films before ‘Night of the Living Dead’ came along but this one is rightly regarded as a classic that breathed new life into the genre. One of the few films that is scarier for being in black and white, it still gives me shivers whenever I watch it! A group of people hide in an old farmhouse while zombies try to get in, will any of them survive? I don’t think it’s spoiling the film to say that none of them do and we can learn a lesson from this. “How so?” I hear you say. Think about it, if you were attacked by zombies in a graveyard would you try and get as far away as possible or hide in the farmhouse next door? I thought so… However, these hapless victims weren’t thinking at all and probably deserved to get eaten for displaying a remarkable lack of foresight about their situation. Learn from their mistake, get well away from the zombies first and then hide somewhere!

Dawn of the Dead.
I’m talking about the original version (from nineteen seventy something or other) and probably the best zombie film ever. It’s that good. It’s not so much the zombies that scare you; it’s more the creeping sense of fear coming out of a small group’s isolation in a world that is slowly collapsing. The way that radio and TV broadcasts gradually die out only serves to reinforce this. Our intrepid band of survivors decides to drop out of humanity’s overall struggle and strike out on their own. This is a good move as small groups of people will escape zombie notice. Then they go and hide out in a shopping mall, very bad move indeed. Why? I’ll tell you why… Despite ‘Dawn of the Dead’ being the first film where survivors hide in a mall, the concept was already so well worn that within a couple of hours (of film time) another band of survivors break into the mall and bring the zombies with them. Our remaining survivors are forced to flee in a helicopter that has hardly any fuel. If only they’d come up with a more original idea then they wouldn’t be this situation. Learn from their mistake, your hideout has to be one that no-one else would think of using.

Land of the Dead
We’d all been waiting years for Mr Romero to give us another quality zombie film, what he eventually did was decide to make us wait a bit longer and give us ‘Land of the Dead’ instead. This didn’t do very well at the box office; poor distribution was blamed but the fact that it looked like a hastily done TV movie surely didn’t help either! What is interesting though is the way the zombies exhibit learning behaviour. They still shamble around and eat people but they can do lots of other cool stuff (for a zombie) as well. Zombie ‘evolution’ is something we’re all going to have to consider if we don’t want to end up being eaten and this is apparent in ‘Land of the Dead’. Once a zombie works out that it doesn’t need to breathe then your handy moat isn’t so special anymore. The same goes for your plate glass windows once a zombie discovers the value of a blunt instrument… To be honest, I’m not sure how to counter this one although it does make a good case for the introduction of floating sky castles… ;o)

That’s all from me, on the subject, for now. Just remember, if a zombie smells of booze it’s very likely that it’s just a common drunk. Check before hitting them on the head….

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

‘Storm Dragon’ – James Wyatt (Wizards of the Coast)

Once upon a time, I used to give ‘tie-in’ and ‘RPG’ novels a wide berth. There are so many of them for starters, where would I begin? When I’m reading, I want to enjoy myself not get bogged down in a mass of continuity and funny names stretching back years… The ‘Horus Heresy’ books (Black Library) and Paul S. Kemp’s ‘Erevis Cale’ series really changed my mind though. Can a book be simple and complex at the same time? These were; simple enough to draw the reader in but with a degree of complexity that kept my interest. I was a convert! This new found enthusiasm meant I was pleased when a copy of James Wyatt’s ‘Storm Dragon’ came through the door. Would it match up to the ‘tie-in’ books I had already read? Yes and no…
Gaven d’Lyrandar was once a member of one of the noble ‘dragon marked’ houses but his work (during the last war) drove him mad and now he is locked away in the impregnable ‘Dreadhold’. ‘Impregnable’, that is, until a prison break (aided by dragon) releases Gaven into the hands of people who want to make use of his knowledge to benefit from the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. Now Gaven must not only fight for his freedom but also use his knowledge of the prophecy to stop mistakes being made and a world falling into darkness…
If you’re a fan of the ‘Forgotten Realms’ books, or just ‘swords & sorcery’ books in general, then I reckon you will enjoy this. There’s plenty going on here and, once again, it’s not just ‘another D&D quest shoehorned into novel form’. There are magic items that have to be found but there are also political machinations and evidence of a world that is slowly beginning to embrace some forms of technology. This makes for a world that comes across as well rounded and engaging (although given how long ‘Forgotten Realms’ has been going on for I’d be surprised if it wasn’t). There’s also a real sense of purpose about the writing that I found refreshing. Wyatt doesn’t hang around or take you off down blind alleys, he starts you off at point A and you just know that things will end where they’re meant to. Having said that though, there’s a little bit too much of a sense of closure at the end of the book. If you look at how much of the prophecy is fulfilled and then take into account that ‘Storm Dragon’ is the first book in a trilogy, well… it does make you wonder what the next book is actually going to be about!
The story itself is a good one and will keep you interested; however it does fall down slightly in one respect. Gaven is tormented by visions of the prophecy but instead of supplying us with titbits here and there Wyatt ‘info dumps’ great swathes of prophecy on the reader. A little bit of prophecy is good; too much just made me skip large chunks of text, especially when Wyatt starts repeating himself…
While there’s enough there to make me look forward to seeing how the trilogy pans out there’s definitely room for improvement. Another one of those frustrating books that likes to tease you with how good it could be…

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 15 October 2007

Here be Dragons...

Without going too much into what my job involves, my mind does wander an awful lot at work and more often than not it’s about what I’m currently reading. More often than not I’m reading fantasy! A few weeks ago I posted something about how I’d like to see more elves and dwarves in fantasy literature, I miss those guys… I mentioned this on a few forums and a lot of people said that if they never saw another elf or dwarf it would be too soon! A lot people also told me that I wasn’t reading the right books, fair point guys ;o) The discussion, along with some other threads, became one about how certain fantasy clichés have been done to death in the genre, I agree with some points but not with others. As a matter of personal taste, I like elves and dwarves but only really if the author at least tries to do something different with them. However, if I see one more prince who has been raised in secret as a farmboy then I will probably gut him with his own ‘magic sword of destiny’ ™…
There’s a lot of fantasy cliché out there a lot of which is trite and shoe-horned into a book in order to sell more copies, a lot of us realise this and try and be a bit more discerning when we buy our books. Unless I’ve missed something though, there’s one fantasy staple that I haven’t seen anyone moan about… yet. I’m talking about dragons.
Dragons have been around just as long as any of the other fantasy stereotypes (if not longer) but we don’t seem to mind if one or more turn up in the book we’re reading. Martin’s got them but only three at the moment. Erikson seems to have hundreds and will quite happily squeeze a few more in at the drop of a hat. R. Scott Bakker has at least one who’s a real nasty piece of work and Naomi Novik, well… I don’t really need to say anymore do I? The list goes on (Williams, Hobb and Barclay for starters) and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the newer, genre re-defining, authors out there sneak a few dragons into their books as well.
So what is it about dragons that we like so much (if we all do, tell me if I’m wrong)? For me it’s that the action (and story) will always kick up about three notches if a dragon gets involved. I mean, it has to as dragons are just so big and powerful, things just happen! Being at the top of the food chain also lends dragons an arrogance that I find compelling, especially in the ones that can talk. Despite some great fantasy out there with no dragons in it, I’ll always have a soft spot for anything that involves one of these big scaly monsters…
What about you though? Do you like to see dragons in fantasy or are they just another over-used cliché? Or have you taken a wrong turn somewhere and are wondering why this blog doesn’t have Dan Brown in it? (Hint: Try Google!)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

'MAD about Star Wars' Giveaway - The Winner!

The winner was none other than Lesha Anderson from Newburgh, Indiana. As soon as the postal service, in the UK, decides to start delivering post again the book will be winging it's way towards you. Hope you enjoy it!
To everyone else who entered, I've got more competitions coming up in the near future so better luck next time!

Friday, 12 October 2007

‘Empire of Ivory’ – Naomi Novik (Del Rey Books)

I’m not really a fan of the ‘alternate history’ genre. I find it really hard to get interested in things like ‘what would have happened if the American Indians had been armed with machine guns’ or ‘what if Hitler had tried to invade Australia’, it just reminds me of a really dull history lesson. So a book that asks how aerial warfare would have influenced the outcome of the Napoleonic War didn’t get my heart racing, until I found out that dragons were involved. That was a year ago and Naomi Novik’s books have now reached ‘must have’ status for me. Novik had already written the first three ‘Temeraire’ books so they were all published within a short space of time, ‘Empire of Ivory’ is the first book that fans have had to wait any length of time for and I for one was eager to get reading as soon as I got my little hands on it! Which reminds me; thanks go to Aidan for popping a copy in the post. I owe you one!
‘Empire of Ivory’ picks up the action just as Captain William Laurence and Temeraire return to England following the events of ‘Black Powder War’. Laurence is informed that the dragon population, in England is being decimated by illness and the race is on to find a cure while at the same time holding back ever bolder sorties from Napoleon’s forces. A possible cure may be found in Africa but will Laurence and Temeraire survive the trip? And if they do, what will be waiting for them when they return?
‘Empire of Ivory’ is a welcome addition to the series but every now and then I got the feeling that Novik was coasting with this one and not really trying to do anything new. Okay, if the formula works then why change it but we’re now four books into a six book series and it would have been nice to see her take some risks in terms of plot structure. What we get is basically the same plot as the other books; ‘Laurence/Temeraire’ journey to a foreign country and we get to see how dragons live there’. To be fair, Novik ends the book on a real cliff-hanger (which I think is the real reason we don’t get a teaser of the next book) but for me this came far too late to redeem the rest of the book. Having said all that though, an argument could be made that by repeating the formula Novik is gradually building an impressive picture of a world full of different customs where dragons are concerned. If this is what she is doing then I for one would say it’s a success.
I don’t know about anyone else but the main reason I read these books is for the evolving relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. I’ve been there ever since Temeraire’s egg hatched and have seen their partnership evolve with a sensitivity and poignancy that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other ‘dragon’ book. There is a great deal of love between them and to see that grow gradually has been a real defining feature of the series so far. Laurence teaches Temeraire a lot about society but the dragon’s constant questioning of what he sees is starting to teach Laurence to do the same thing. I think Novik handles this well; she avoids the trap of projecting her opinions onto her characters but raises important questions at the same time.
Supporting characters don’t get the same kind of focus as Laurence/Temeraire but they’re not just cardboard cut-outs either, I’d say Novik treats them appropriately as the story demands. I’m also in awe of the research Novik has obviously done and the knowledge she displays about the Napoleonic era. If you took the dragons out of the picture you’d be left with a perfectly good historical novel. I’m glad Novik included dragons though!
Despite my own perceived shortcomings of the novel, ‘Empire of Ivory’ is a very good addition to the series as it stands. I’m hoping the cliff-hanger ending will mean a change in approach for the next book as this could really take the series onto another level.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 11 October 2007

‘Dragonhaven’ – Robin McKinley (Penguin Books)

Through some strange coincidence the books on my ‘to read pile’, for this week, all seem to involve dragons in some shape or form. How has a randomly thrown together book pile come up with this anomaly? Who can tell…? It certainly had nothing to do with me trying to come up with a ‘dragon theme’ this week (ahem!)
First up is Robin McKinley’s new novel for young adults. I don’t read a lot of young adult stuff but according to the blurb McKinley has won many awards for her work. Having read ‘Dragonhaven’ I can understand why, in terms of her ideas at least.
Jake Mendoza is a teenager living with his father on a wildlife park that is dedicated to preserving some of the last surviving dragons on Earth. This is a thankless job for all concerned, especially when the government is cutting back on the budget and looking at selling land to developers. Things are about to get much worse though when Jake is out hiking and discovers a dead poacher lying next to a dead dragon. If this wasn’t bad enough, there’s a new-born baby dragon lying there too. A dead poacher is trouble enough but it’s also illegal for a human to care for a baby dragon. With this being a young adult book you can guess what Jake does next…
‘Dragonhaven’ is an entertaining read for the most part. The trials and tribulations of rearing a baby dragon are explored in great detail and the fact that Jake has no idea what he’s doing makes things a little more endearing so you want to read more. It’s not just dragons that are alive; there’s mention of griffins and more than one Loch Ness monster as well. This background information lends substance to Jake’s world but, for reasons I’ll come back to, it ended up making me want to read about other monsters instead of the ones who are supposed to be the focal point of the story. The plot itself is probably a little light on the ground for an older reader but I’d say it pushes the right buttons in terms of its target audience. There’s a cute animal in danger and an angsty teenager with issues; I don’t really need to say much more than that!
Unfortunately, what killed this story for me was the character of Jake himself. This isn’t good as the whole story hinges around him! I never really like reading stories where teenagers exhibit all the typical teenage stereotypes, I just want to give them a clip around the ear and send them to their room! Jake isn’t too bad in this respect but he has one annoying habit that spoilt the book for me. Right at the start Jake tells the reader that he’s not good at telling the story and will go off on a tangent regularly. And he does. This wouldn’t be too bad if he would finish his thread of conversation but sometimes it just tails off into nothing and he’s back to whatever he was talking about in the first place! The end result is a sometimes stilted read where I would sometimes find myself skipping the odd paragraph in a quest to get to the point. This approach may work for the target audience but it didn’t for me.
‘Dragonhaven’ is a great idea that I felt was let down by the inadequacies of it’s main character. Having said that though, any book that can make me want to fly on a dragon can’t be all bad…

Six out of Ten

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

‘The Hobbit Movie’ – A Lone Voice Speaks Out!

There’s been a lot of noise online, recently about whether Peter Jackson will play any part in the making of ‘The Hobbit’ into a film. Jackson doesn’t get on with the studio who owns the film rights, Jackson does get on with the studio, the studio is getting someone completely different to direct/produce the film… The rumours go on and all the while, millions of LOTR fans wait for certain people to get their act together and get this film made. After all, the first three films were great so therefore ‘The Hobbit’ will be as well! Won’t it…?
I was having a flick through the book the other day and what I saw not only sent a chill down my spine but also made me jump off the ‘Hobbit Bandwagon’ and raise my voice in an impassioned plea that this film never be made. Don’t get me wrong, I love the book just as much as the next person but just four words will have you agreeing with me that ‘The Hobbit’ should stay on the bookshelf. Are you ready? Here goes… Too many stupid songs...
There are just too many stupid songs in ‘The Hobbit’ for it to achieve the grandeur and majesty of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, that’s a fact. We’re looking at a film that will make full use of New Zealand’s stunning scenery and then massacre it with cheery songs about giant spiders and wine barrels… You thought Shelob was scary in ‘Return of the King’, just wait until you’ve sat through a comedy dance number about her offspring (because if there are songs then there will be dancing, mark my words). And it’s not just the songs either, it’s who you will find singing them. Remember the dwarves in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’? Stolid and gruff characters that were brave and true… Half an hour into ‘The Hobbit’, these very same dwarves will sing a little ditty about how they’re going to trash Bilbo’s house! What about the elves? Majestic, ethereal beings with a history stretching back to the very first days of Middle Earth. Remember how graceful they were in the films? In a chapter called ‘A Short Rest’, your dreams will be shattered as the elves start singing a song in the style of a badly done school production, it’s not pretty… “But that’s ok though” I hear you say, “we’ve still got plenty of goblins and stuff, it can’t be all bad!” Ah yes, the goblins… Those nasty creatures that came pouring out of the walls in Moria. They carry a fine tune as well I’m afraid. Yes, wherever you go in this book you can’t turn around without a song being sung in your face. Is this the film you want to see?
I’ll play devils advocate with myself and admit that I want to see ‘The Hobbit’ on the big screen, of course I do, I’m a fan. However, you’ve got to wonder if a book that was written for children will work as a film when placed alongside its adult counterparts. What’s the best way round this? Should ‘The Hobbit’ be more adult in nature (even at the risk of it losing its essence)? Should it be made as a film in its own right that plays to its strengths and distances itself from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy? I don’t know but I feel a little trepidation about what I will see when ‘The Hobbit’ appears in the cinema…

Monday, 8 October 2007

‘Micah and Strange Candy’ – Laurell K. Hamilton (Orbit Books)

By now, you will all know my feelings on the ‘Anita Blake’ books so instead of venting my spleen in the normal way I thought I’d have a go at setting my feelings to verse! In a wicked stroke of irony, I actually ended up enjoying this collection of short stories (much more than her last two books)…

What more is there to say
About Ms. Laurell K?
Her characters just have sex all day!
Her new book has turned up for me to read,
(the last one made my poor eyes bleed).
Can this new one even up the score?
Or will it be the same stuff as before…

The first story starts, Anita’s on a plane
And off to raise the dead again.
Micah’s with her, which is handy
Cos’ you can bet that she’ll get randy!
True to form, this happens a lot
But doesn’t take precedence over the plot.

‘Micah’ is quite a gripping tale,
Hamilton never lets things get stale.
If I’d read this first when starting out
I’d have given Ms. H the benefit of the doubt.
With more short stories in the book
I’d see if Laurell had what it took…

The rest of the collection isn’t half bad
With more ‘Anita’ stories to make fans glad.
The other stories range from light hearted to deep,
My favourites were ‘A Lust of Cupids’ and ‘A Clean Sweep’.
‘Here Be Dragons’ was also quite hot.
The fantasy stories, however, were not.

To bring an end to this little rhyme,
I’d conclude ‘Micah’ is no waste of time.
Not all of the stories will be to your taste,
But enough will be good so it won’t be a waste.
Fans of Ms Hamilton won’t give this a miss
(If only she could write more books like this!)

Six and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 7 October 2007

‘Witch Ember’ – John Lawson (Publish America)

When I was very young, I decided that the best thing I could possibly be when I grew up was a writer of fantasy and/or science fiction. Today I work for a government department and have an incomprehensible job title, something definitely went wrong along the way… ‘Back in the day’, it was incredibly difficult to get published. Think about it; a finite number of publishers and millions of people who want to be a writer, not everyone was going to make it. These days though, the playing field seems to be a lot more open and it’s all thanks to the Internet. An aspiring author doesn’t have to go through ‘rejection hell’ when online services like ‘Lulu' will publish your work as an e-book. You can even set up shop as a publisher in your own right and release your own books. Other companies, like ‘Publish America’, will take your book and print copies as and when someone wants to buy one. This is a great thing for authors who haven’t made it via more conventional routes but it does raise the question about the quality of work published in this area of the genre. When John Lawson got in touch and asked if I would like to see a copy of ‘Witch Ember’ (print on demand from ‘Publish America’) I thought I’d have a read and see if any of the arguments were justified…
Esmeree is an orphan struggling to survive on the mean streets of Cliffs Reach. She’s not just any old orphan though; in a world where everyone carries a piece of a long shattered stone of power Esmereee carries perhaps the largest piece of all. In the magically barren land of her birth Esmeree is a valuable commodity and can trust no-body as all hands will ultimately be raised against her…
‘Witch Ember’ is a gritty novel, perhaps the grittiest fantasy novel I’ve ever read. In a harsh world there is no room at all for sensibility and anyone (man, woman or child) is likely to suffer a harsh fate. When the stakes are so high it can make for an intense read and you will want to know what happens next. It’s a shame then that it sometimes feels like there’s an awful lot of filler to get through before you can carry on with the story itself. Nothing is left out, or left to the reader’s imagination, and this means a sometimes stodgy read that, for me, felt like a real struggle to get my head around. I had the same kind if issue with most of the characters in that they were shaped, by a harsh environment, into people that weren’t really engaging to the reader. There’s only so much nastiness that I can read before I start thinking, “c’mon, lets round these people out just a little bit…”
Fair play to Lawson though for really putting the work in on the world building and history. Even though the surge of information can be daunting, it’s a refreshing scenario that avoids a lot of cliché.
‘Witch Ember’ did nothing to resolve the pros/cons of the various forms of internet publishing in my head. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse books that have been published via the standard approach! In terms of the book itself though, there’s definitely potential but it feels like more work needs to be done.

Five out of Ten

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Saturday Morning Link Up!

There are so many good blogs out there that I like to stay in touch with, here's a few of them and what they have going on at the moment...

The Book Swede is revelling in a great list of books that he has coming up for review in the next few weeks. I am officially jealous...

Aidan, over at A Dribble of Ink, has pulled off a pretty major coup and got to hang out with none other Steven Erikson (and pick his brains for info on 'Toll the Hounds'). I think everyone on the entire internet is jealous of Aidan right now... :o)

Sandstorm Reviews has a look at Terry Pratchett's new book 'Making Money', she didn't like it either...

Benjamin, aka The Deckled Edge, has a few words to say about Joe Abercrombie's blog post about maps in fantasy novels. Me? I like em' but only if they have a desert called 'The Wasteland of Death'... ;o)

Tia, over at Fantasy Debut has a great interview with Carole McDonnell (author of 'Wind Follower'). Check it out!

Finally, Remy tells us about some of the books he will be reviewing (at The Fantasy Review) and shows us perhaps the longest list of books I have ever seen! I started this post by being jealous and that's how I'll end it ;o)

What have I got coming up? Well, tomorrow I'll be taking my first ever trip into the world of Print On Demand fantasy literature. On Monday I'll be reviewing a book but in a way that I don't think any blogger has tried before. It will either be great or bomb horribly. Why don't you come along and see for yourself?
Have a great weekend!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘It’ (1990)

Once again it’s the scariest month of the year and I thought I’d share my favourite ‘all time scary movies’ with you. At least that’s what I thought to start off with… In the end what I’ve decided to do is share my favourite ‘they’re not actually that scary but they’re still fun to watch’ movies with you lucky people. And what better place to start than with Stephen King’s ‘It’…
New Stephen King movies aren’t doing too badly these days (‘The Green Mile’ for one) and there was a time long ago when they were just as good (‘The Shining’). It’s a real shame that there was a long ‘middle period’ where movie adaptations of King’s work were ‘straight to TV’ travesties of the novels. For every ‘Green Mile’ there was a ‘Tommyknockers’ or ‘The Stand’. ‘It’ falls into this ‘best forgotten’ period but two redeeming features lift it out of mediocrity and give it ‘classic’ status in my book. More on that in a bit though…
You know the story so I’m not going to go into it at great length. Evil clown killing kids, kids hurt evil clown bad, kids grow up and have to return to hometown to face evil clown again (now that’s paraphrasing!). It’s a film of two parts where the main characters are shown as children and adults. It’s the children’s scenes that make the show worth watching; clown aside, some of the stuff that they have to deal with really makes you feel for them and remember what it was like to be a child yourself (and the sadness of leaving childhood behind). The scenes with the adults only really serve as introductory pieces to the ‘childhood’ scenes and the overall ending seems rushed and tacked on. Before it sounds like I’m doing this film down, it does have bits that will make you jump and moments where the crossover between weird horror and regular suburbia is genuinely unsettling (clown’s head down a drain anyone?)
Despite all this, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to separate this film from any other ‘TV horror’, or is there? I give you five words; Tim Curry, Pennywise the Clown. Redeeming Feature number one. Tim doesn’t care that this is a TV movie and he certainly doesn’t care that TV movies generally signal a downturn in your acting career. Hell no! Tim Curry is Pennywise the Clown and he is going to be the best damn clown you ever saw… Right from the start, he hams it up like nothing I’ve ever seen before and switches between comedy and horror with the greatest of ease. Tim makes the character his very own and I’m pretty sure at least half of what his acting must be improvised. He’s very much like his character Frank N. Furter (‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’) but with a bright red wig and balloons with messages for every occasion… Tim was never going to win any Oscars for this performance but it is the reason why this film gets ‘cult classic’ status in my book.
Redeeming Number Two? Oh yes… This won’t apply to you (I’d be surprised if it did!) but it does to me. I was watching this film in my room, at college, and a friend of a friend came in and watched it with me. Not long after that we got together and (quite a while after that!) we eventually got married. I reckon I must be the only person I know who found his future wife through a ‘shared appreciation’ of Pennywise the Clown! Now if only I could get her to like ‘Labyrinth’ or ‘The Dark Crystal’…

Thursday, 4 October 2007

'MAD About Star Wars (30 Years of Classic Parodies)' - Jonathan Bresman (Ballantine Books), Review and Giveaway!

The other night, my wife asked why I had just burst out laughing; I told her it was because I'd just seen the cast of Star Wars doing the Macarena… What was I reading? It could only be a collection of parodies from the pages of MAD magazine… Laugh out loud funny stuff which is the perfect antidote to the horrible grey weather which is starting to creep into London at the moment.
Living in the UK, the closest I ever got to MAD magazine (until now) was a book that my Dad had been given. Even now, I still have a little chuckle at the picture of Smokey the woodland 'Ranger Bear' being shot by drunken hunters and being taken home on the back of a car! MAD magazine is a pretty big deal in the states though. Decades have been spent poking fun at the establishment and any form of popular culture that looks like it's getting too big for its boots. With thirty years in the spotlight, there is a lot to deride about Star Wars (especially given the 'quality' of the recent prequels) and all the best 'digs' have been included in this book.
Humour is a funny thing, you either get the joke or you don’t. ‘MAD About Star Wars’ is no different from any other humorous book in that it tries to appeal to everyone and ends up being a bit ‘hit and miss’ in it’s approach. There was plenty there to make me laugh though and I reckon the same will apply to you. I’ve already mentioned the ‘Star Wars Macarena’, other favourites included the Star Wars Musical but the best bits of all were the three panel cartoon strips. Less room to play around in means you have to get it right first time, look out for the strip showing a novel solution to the problem of riding a speeder bike through Endor forest…
This isn’t just a comic book though; it’s also a great source of trivia about what goes on behind the scenes at MAD as well the Star Wars films themselves. If you’re a fan of either franchise then I don’t think you can afford to miss this one!

Eight out of Ten

Are you a fan of either MAD magazine or Star Wars? Do you want my review copy of ‘MAD About Star Wars’? You do? You do! It couldn’t be easier to land yourself with a chance of winning. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) and let me have your postal address as well as your screen name on any boards that you frequent. I’m going to let this one run until next Thursday and I’ll announce the winner on Friday.
Good luck!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

‘Crystal Rain’ – Tobias Buckell (Tor Books)

There have been a lot of positive things said about Tobias Buckell in the last few months, Tor sent me a copy of ‘Ragamuffin’ and after I finished it I knew all the hype was very much justified. This was ‘space opera’ just the way I like to read it; none of that fancy ‘hard sci-fi’ rubbish (no offence meant!) just a cracking story with big space ships, evil aliens and gallant heroes. Then I noticed, on Tobias’ site, that the author was making copies of ‘Crystal Rain’ (the prequel) available for reviewers. My greedy little eyes glittered and, fingers twitching, I set about getting myself a copy to read. I’ve just finished reading it. What did I think? Read on…
‘Crystal Rain’ and ‘Ragamuffin’ both read fairly well as ‘stand alone’ books but it’s clear that they form the basis for a series and should be read in order. I read them in completely the wrong order and went straight from high adventure in space to world-building/scene setting on the planet of Nanagada… This sounds worse than it is though. While there is a heavy element of world building (that drags on the tale), the story and characters more than make up for this. Tobias Buckell’s work has been a real ‘find’ for me this year and I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
John deBrun is a man without a memory, the earliest he can remember is being washed up on a Nanagadan beach twenty seven years ago. He had built a life for himself but all is about to change when Azteca warriors storm over the mountains looking for sacrifices to their Gods. John becomes Nanagada's only hope when it is revealed that salvation lies in an artefact known as ‘Ma Wi Jung’, he has the key but he cannot remember what it is…
At just over 300 pages long, ‘Crystal Rain’ is a galloping read that throws the reader into an alien world that they won’t want to leave. While the plot itself is fairly standard it is Buckell’s treatment of his characters, and the introduction of Caribbean themes, that really make this story stand out from the rest. Just by reading about certain people’s thoughts/motivations etc you can tell that Buckell has invested a lot of time in his creation and has left no stone unturned in giving the reader the best story he can. The characters of John deBrun and Pepper (and their interactions) are the best example of this. By the end of the book you will really feel for what deBrun has had to go through and despite Pepper’s violent tendencies I reckon you’ll feel a little sorry for him as well. It’s not just the main characters though, everyone else you meet has been well rounded and will challenge your initial perceptions of their character. Some of the decisions they have to make are heartbreaking.
I don’t know much (at all) about Caribbean culture but it’s clear through the use of dialect, and cultural icons such as the Loa, that Buckell knows his stuff (so he should, having lived there!) and has effectively transplanted Carribean society to an alien world. In many ways this serves to emphasise just how alien the setting really is and makes for an interesting read on more than one level.
‘Crystal Rain’ does drag a bit at times but redeems itself in many other ways. I may have just found my new favourite sci-fi author! I’ll certainly be on the lookout for ‘Sly Mongoose’ (Book Three) when it is published.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Questions and Answers: Michael Moorcock

Remy, over at The Fantasy Review recently interviewed Michael Moorcock for the release of his new book 'The Metatemporal Detective'. Not only did Remy conduct a great interview (check it out!) but he also let me sneak a few of my questions in as well. Without further ado, here they are...

Q: In the forewords of your 'Eternal Champion' series, you've mentioned that some of these tales were written in a matter of days (sometimes hours), is this still the case with your recent works? When was the last time you wrote an entire book over the course of a weekend?

No. It takes much longer now I’m off my drugs of choice (coffee and sugar). But I still work pretty quickly. The latest Elric novella only took three or four days. My books used to take me three days, working nine to six with an hour off for lunch. By the 1970s I was taking five or six days. By the late 80s it had become a matter of weeks. Gloriana, for instance, took six weeks.
Then by 1979, doing something really ambitious like Byzantium Endures, I took 6 months. The most recent Elric books took around a month a piece. Originally, I did one draft and never reread. I’d pay a friend to read the manuscript for any mistakes then send it straight to the publisher. As a result I’ve never read most of my own books. These days, I tend to do a second draft.

Q: Some fantasy authors (naming no names) have run into difficulties dealing with the sheer size of their cast of characters. This can result in a series that runs far longer than planned and mostly deals with needless minutiae in order to tie up plot strands. Your body of work has continuity that stretches back around forty years with a large number of recurring characters. Do you feel that you have managed to avoid these pitfalls?
I hope so, because I tend to think in terms of characters and have most of them as ‘personalities’ in my head. That’s how I can usually keep the stories in my head.

Q: The last couple of years, in particular, have seen a number of debut fantasy authors whose work has met with acclaim. Did any of these authors catch your eye? Which (if any) would you recommend to someone picking up a fantasy book for the first time?
I like China Mieville, Storm Constantine, Steve Aylett, Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, K.L.Bishop, Steve Redwood, Holly Black, all of whom I think are superb. I’d also recommend Michael Chabon’s recent work as well as Walter Mosley’s imaginative fiction.

Q: One of my favourite books, of yours, was the 'Nomad of the Time Streams', I found the satire insightful and the use of certain political figures (in different situations) an eye-opener. What kind of lessons would Oswald Bastable learn if he were to find himself in today's world? What 'world figures' might he meet and what would you have them do?

Well, I think I’ve shown that in The Metatemporal Detective. Those stories, in tone and intention, are pretty close to what I was doing, I think, in Nomad. I’m very glad you saw those books for what they were intended to do, since some people just saw them as ‘cool airship stories’ as it were. Most of the imitators of those stories haven’t used the technique for what it was originally intended to do. Begg and Bastable are close cousins!

Q: It's the night before 'The Metatemporal Detective' is released. Will you still feel nervous about how it's received or did that feeling vanish a long time ago?

I have that feeling occasionally, especially when an ambitious literary novel, like Vengeance of Rome, is coming out, because they tend to get many more reviews in the regular press. But I’ll be in Paris when TMD comes out and I probably won’t remember the actual date. I’m still pleased, though, if I get good reviews and unhappy if I get bad ones! I do still care about how a book’s received, though I know it makes very little difference to sales and so on.

Q: Are there any little 'rituals' that you always adhere to on the day a book of yours is published (slap up meal, smoke a huge cigar etc)? What will you be doing on the day that 'The Metatemporal Detective' is released?
Well, now you mention it, I think I’ll have a slap up meal, since I WILL be in Paris and any excuse is a good one. Indeed, I’d like to arrange some sort of launch party in Paris for the book. We’ll see if that’s possible.

Q: Your more 'fantastical' works inevitably tie into the all-encompassing multi-verse and 'The Metatemporal Detective' looks to be no exception. Bearing this in mind, would you recommend 'The Metatemporal Detective' to someone who is reading your work for the first time?
Yes, I think I would. It’s a book I’ll probably give the guys at my local Post Office for Christmas. It’s a great PO and I always try to say thank you in some way. It’s a book I’d offer someone who said they didn’t know my stuff.

Q: Finally, Elric, Corum and Dorian Hawkmoon go out for a few drinks. By the end of the evening, which one…
i) Will have been arrested?
ii) Will have made a move on someone else’s girlfriend?
iii) Will be drunkenly holding forth on a topic they know absolutely nothing about?

Good heavens! These guys are HEROES! They take themselves far too seriously for that. And also they are either very happily married or are mourning some lady they’ve lost or accidentally killed. And they’re too laconic to hold forth on a subject they know nothing about.
Their CREATOR on the other hand might not behave quite so well. So the answer to all three questions is ME...

Monday, 1 October 2007

‘School’s Out’ – Scott Andrews (Abaddon Books)

I’ll bet you were just like me and used to sit in the classroom thinking, “I wonder what would happen if the school burnt down?” As much as I used to think this (and wish for it) I never made the next mental step and thought, “I wonder what would happen if school was cancelled because of an apocalyptic plague and all the associated problems that brings? That’s ok, in the latest instalment of ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’ Scott Andrews gives his reader a pretty good idea of what would happen.
Lee Keegan returns to his old school to wait for his father who has promised to meet him there. In the meantime, plague has ravaged the countryside and what’s left over will prove very dangerous for the surviving boys at the school. There’s the inhabitants of a small town who want to teach the boys a ‘lesson’ and a blood crazed cult with it’s own plans in mind. Lee’s main problem though will be the return of an old prefect with a particularly sadistic streak…
While other books in the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ series have concentrated on the situation in places like America ‘School’s Out’ takes a look closer to home, like Mad Max but set in the Home Counties. It’s an entertaining enough read with all the staple ingredients that you would expect from an Abaddon book; gunfights, madmen and graphic torture. The story itself is a fairly original idea, I haven’t read many (if any) post apocalyptic tales set in an English school and the premise alone was enough to keep me reading to find out how things went. The characters were well worth investing time in as well; Lee and Mac were pretty well fleshed out with lots of insight into what made them tick. Rowles, the psychotic ten-year-old, was a particular favourite of mine!
Like I’ve said, the mixture of ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ was a fairly unique approach that works well but at the same time served to hinder things as well. Whether the boys were taking lessons or drilling with firearms there was a lot of routine in their days and this seemed to be dealt with by starting a lot of sentences with lines like, “Things were to carry on like this for several months.” When you take these sentences out of the equation you’re left with about three big events in the story with a lot of filler to pad things out, ok if you’re after a light read but not so good if you want to really get stuck into something. Also, constantly bringing your main villain back from ‘certain death’ situations works a lot better on film than in a book (although I never saw the ending coming, actually I did but only because I skipped to the end just after I’d started!)
‘School’s Out’ is a good addition to the Abaddon Books ‘roster’ but you need to remember that it’s just a light read if you’ve got an hour to spare on the train. If you’re after something heavier, read something else.

Six and a Half out of Ten