Friday, 29 February 2008

Because I'm stuck in the middle of two books and have nothing to review...

A 'what if?' scenario for you...

Terminator: Are you Sarah Connor?

Sarah Connor: Err... yes...

Terminator: Die! (Shoots Sarah Connor)

Terminator: Oh, now what do I do?

This is something that occurred to me one time when I was watching 'Terminator', what would the Terminator have done next if he had succeeded in killing Sarah Connor? Once he had accomplished his mission there would have been nothing left for him to do (Skynet's future having been safeguarded), or would there? The way I see it, the Terminator had three options...

1) His mission fulfilled, the Terminator realises that he is still wanted for killing a whole load of police officers. Knowing that he will eventually be tracked down, he decides to self destruct so that his future technology won't fall into the wrong hands and influence the future development of Skynet.

2) The mission may be over but there's still a lot of damage that the Terminator can do before 'Judgement Day'. He becomes a 'one robot army' intent on destroying military installations that could prove dangerous to Skynet in the future.

3) All any soldier wants to do is re-join their unit and the Terminator is no different. The problem is that it's 1984 and 'Judgment Day' isn't for another thirteen years. What's a Terminator to do in the meantime? Get a job/apartment, settle down and wait for August 29th 1997. There are many job opportunities out there for a highly advanced hunter/killer robot but a career in the CIA beckons because of the Terminator's espionage capabilities. The Terminator's exploits eventually form the basis for the film ‘True Lies’.

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Something a little different...

It has nothing to do with sci-fi or fantasy but does have the potential to turn into a horror story! Here goes...
On March 23rd my wife will be going on half a plane journey. 'Half a plane journey?' I hear you say. Well yes, because when the plane reaches 10,000 feet she'll be jumping straight out and parachuting back down to the ground. Now, I'm one of those people who think that a plane is something that you use to travel from A to B, not jump out of halfway through. My wife would normally agree but this time it's for charity so she's going for the 'throw herself out of a plane option'!
The charity is called 'COSMIC' (Children of St Mary's Intensive Care)and it raises money for the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, which now treats around 500 desperately sick children every year. A couple of my wife's colleagues have relatives who have used this facility and the three of them have decided to give something back. Everything they raise will be used to provide life saving equipment, support and accommodation to parents and to fund training, education and an internationally significant research programme at Imperial College London looking at the causes, effects and treatment of childhood diseases.
My wife is seeking sponsorship for the parachute jump (she's not so daft as to do this for free!) and that's the whole point of this post really. If you would like to donate any money there's a handy little on-line sponsorship form over Here. The minimum donation is £2 and all donations will be gratefully received! :o)
Thanks guys, I'll see what I can do about posting some pictures on March 24th...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Giveaway! 'Shadowmarch' and 'Shadowplay' (Tad Williams)

The UK paperback edition of Tad Williams' rather brilliant 'Shadowplay' will be in the shops from March 6th. I already reviewed this way back in the depths of Last Year but I thought it would be cool to mark the occasion anyway. With the help of those good people at Orbit Books I'm going to do just that!
Three lucky people are going to get their hands on a paperback copy of 'Shadowplay' as well as a paperback copy of 'Shadowmarch'. The perfect way to get into Tad's latest series or the perfect introduction if you've never read any of his books before.
Here's the thing though, due to copyright reasons this competition is only open to people from the UK, Europe and Commonwealth Countries. Sorry about that... If you're after some 'North American/Canadian competition action' then your best bets are either Pat's site or Fantasy Book Critic.
Are you still with me? Do you want some books? Cool. All you need to do to enter is email me and tell me your address (my email address is at the top right hand side of the screen). I'm going to let this one run until next Thursday night and I'll announce the winners on Friday.

Good luck guys! ;o)

EDIT! Geography and I have never been the best of bedfellows... I was told Commonwealth countries could enter but didn't realise that Canada is a Commonwealth country. Sorry about that...
Rules still stand I'm afraid. If you live in Canada then copyright laws mean that Orbit can't send you the books. Places like Australia and New Zealand are ok though.
Apologies again, I'm going back to Geography class...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

‘No Humans Involved’ – Kelley Armstrong (Orbit Books)

It’s been years since I read anything by Kelley Armstrong, I can’t remember the name of the book but I know there were werewolves involved and I had fun reading it. Enough fun to make me pick up ‘No Humans Involved’ to see if I’d been missing anything while I’d been off reading other stuff. Had I been missing out? Well, yes and no…
Jaime Vegas is a renowned spiritualist taking part in a reality TV show where the highlight will be raising the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. The problem is, Jaime is actually able to talk to the dead (unlike her colleagues) and this can be a real issue when the house she is working in is full of ghosts and they all want her attention. If this wasn’t bad enough; Jaime finds herself drawn to the garden where something terrible took place not so long ago. Jaime has plenty of friends to help her solve this mystery but there are also plenty of people who would rather that the secret remains just that…
‘No Humans Involved’ takes place within the larger universe of Armstrong’s ‘Otherworld’ series and, although the story stands well enough on it’s own, I did feel slightly overwhelmed by the number of characters (from other books) who turned up to help Jaime. Each of these came with their own little slice of history and sometimes Armstrong’s need to introduce characters to new readers (like me!) got in the way of the story itself. Although the relationships between characters were handled pretty well (a clear line between women being independent but acknowledging their own needs) it also felt as if every single character of note was in a relationship or had designs on one with someone. I guess this can happen in a long running series but it felt a little contrived to me. I’m sure that even necromancers and werewolves have more things going on in their lives than just a desire to get together with the nearest available person… Which brings me to my dislike of ‘unnecessary sex scenes in urban fantasy’, you know the score so I’m not going to bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say that I was told there would be a ‘too much information scene’ in the book and there certainly was one. Different people read these books for different reasons, I was having fun with the plot and found certain scenes just derailed it…
The story itself is a good one, certainly good enough for me to want to finish the book off (instead of going back to sleep) when I woke up early this morning. As well as being urban fantasy, ‘No Humans Involved’ is also a neat little detective story that drew me along by carefully doling out as many questions as answers. The climax was almost an anti-climax though; things were tied up too neatly with an over-reliance on certain supernatural characters.
‘No Humans Involved’ is a flawed (as far as I could see) but ultimately entertaining read, good for both the daily commute and a quiet evening at home. I’ve got Kelley Armstrong’s ‘Personal Demon’ waiting to be read and probably won’t leave it too long before picking it up.

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 25 February 2008

‘Bloodstone’ – Nate Kenyon

You may have heard of this book already and this is because it was originally a 2006 limited edition release through Five Star Publishing, the book was also a Stoker Award finalist. If you haven’t already got one of the limited edition copies then I suggest you grab yourself a copy when it is released in May, it scared the … out of me!
White Falls is a sleepy little town, in Maine, that is about to be the stage in a confrontation between good and evil… No, don’t go! It may sound familiar, and it may sound like the work of a very well known horror author, but it’s very different and more than a little bit special. Two travellers have just arrived in White Falls, one of whom didn’t have any choice in the matter. They don’t know why they are there, only that they had to come. Something evil is stirring in White Falls and no one is safe…
You are probably thinking what I was thinking before I started reading ‘Bloodstone’, namely that the blurb doesn’t promise anything different to any other horror novel you will come across. Once I got reading though, ‘Bloodstone’ painted a very different picture. Kenyon does a very good job of building up preconceptions only to knock them down when you least expect it. Certain revelations came as a real shock to the system and it is really interesting (in retrospect) to look back and compare the story Kenyon has written to the one that you thought you were reading… The ‘Maine setting’ has blatantly been done to death elsewhere and, as such, ‘Bloodstone’ shoots itself in the foot (a little) by having the story take place in somewhere so familiar. Kenyon more than makes up for this with evocative descriptions of the town (and surrounding area) that really drew me into the story. He also has a great gift of dragging the tension to breaking point and then hitting the reader straight between the eyes with something horrifying. The climax of Angel’s visit to Annie really made me jump! Some strong characterisation, with ongoing themes of redemption and revenge, serve to give the plot a solid base to sit on as well as making the horror scenes all the more surreal and horrifying.
Perhaps the only other criticisms I would level is that, as the book is fairly short in length, it seems like Kenyon tries to fit too much in and perhaps not every question is answered satisfactorily. Also, one of the characters has something pretty horrible happen to her (right at the end) but it feels as if this was written in purely to deal with a particularly awkward plot development. It just felt that the problem was dealt far too easily…
These are relatively minor quibbles, however, if you’re like me and after a story that serves up supernatural chills and horror in equal measure. If you’re a horror fan then ‘Bloodstone’ is a book you should be checking out sooner rather than later!

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The 'I am so unfit' Sunday Link-Up Spectacular!

I've just got back from Greenwich Park having spent an hour chasing after my wife who is difficult to keep up with when she is on roller blades... Any stupid dreams I harboured of just turning up on the day and completing the London Marathon have been consigned to the rubbish bin as I am still trying to get my breath back!
While I'm recovering, here's some great stuff that I've noticed while slacking off work during the week...

John has been eagerly waiting for Ian Graham to write anything since the 2002 release of 'Monument'. Just as John was about to give up all hope of any new stuff being published he found This...

There's a new blog in town, it's got a very cool name and lots of great content too. Check out Jumpdrives & Cantrips (which I really need to include on my blog-roll...)

Larry shares a quick thought on the Show Vs Tell Maxim, I wonder what book he's reading...

I love reading The Book Swede's Blog and he loved reading Sharp Teeth.

SQT isn't a fan of the new 'Knight Rider' show...

Gav is a big Mark Chadbourn fan and very much enjoyed Jack of Ravens.

"What about you though?" I hear you ask. Well, I can tell you that Nate Kenyon's 'Bloodstone' is an amazing read and I'll probably have a review up tomorrow. What I'm going to be reading after that though is anyone's guess...
Hope you all had a great weekend and don't work too hard this week ;o)

Saturday, 23 February 2008

‘ReBody’ – Clive Warner (Citiria Press)

I can’t see myself ever opting for cryogenic storage, for someone who reads a fair bit of science fiction I wouldn’t actually want to find myself living in the future… Humans being cryogenically frozen is a fairly popular theme in science fiction, Clive Warner takes a look at the process (in ‘ReBody’) and wonders if it’s something that we should be considering at all…
Hugh Toffle wins cryogenic insurance on a night out but finds himself needing that policy sooner than he thought when a vengeful father finds Hugh sleeping with his daughter. Three hundred years later… Hugh is revived but finds that only his head survived the experience. He also finds himself seriously out of pocket with no way to pay for the robot that his head has been grafted to. Cue a new life as a domestic cleaner and a strange trip (involving sentient animals) into a very strange world of the future…
‘ReBody’ is a confusing but ultimately entertaining and thought provoking story. The introduction to Hugh felt like it dragged on a bit considering the book is only just over two hundred and fifty pages long. I was wondering if anything was actually going to happen but, all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of a weird dream sequence, the first of many, that was very evocative but (again) didn’t seem to have an awful lot to do with the story or it’s main premise. This may be something to do with Warner’s love of all things Phillip K. Dick, I don’t know. Things picked up though when I got onto the main plot involving Hugh’s journey through the world of the future. Warner certainly asks a lot of questions that will make people think twice before getting their head frozen! There’s also a lot going on in this brave new world where nothing is as it seems and there were plenty of cliffhangers that kept me reading. I enjoyed reading of the full on warfare between sentient cats and dogs and the little touches of humour made me chuckle. There were things that I felt could perhaps have done with a bit more explanation (Xor for example) but I’m guessing that there is a line that needs to be drawn if you want to effectively draw a character with a very limited perception of his world.
‘ReBody’ was a nice quick read for the daily commute. A little confusing to begin but, once I got into it, very entertaining.

Seven out of Ten

Friday, 22 February 2008

'Inside Straight' Giveaway - The Winner

Thanks again to everyone who entered but it's that same old "I've only got one book to give away so only person can win" speech that I'm making... This time, the lucky winner is Kevin Grey from Chesapeake, Virginia. Your book will on it's way to you soon Kevin, happy reading!

Better luck next time everyone else ;o)

‘Maelstrom’ – Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Bantam Press)

Anne and Todd McCaffrey’s ‘Dragonharper’ was an enjoyable (but undemanding) read so when ‘Maelstrom’ and ‘Deluge’ (the continuation of McCaffrey and Scarborough’s ‘Twins of Petaybee’ series) came through the door I thought I’d give ‘Maelstrom’ a go.
I gave it a go, I really did. I struggled through just over a hundred pages and when I realised that I was skimming pages I thought, “Time to put the book down Graeme…”
The first thing that bugged me is that the blurb on the back of the book pretty much tells you the story. No hook to draw you in, just an outline of the plot. I’m left thinking that now I know the story what’s the point of my continuing to read… But I thought I’d give it a go and what I got was a story about two children who live on a sentient planet and can transform into seals. They’re not just children though; they’re ‘perfect’ children who learn to fly a spaceship just because they’re bored and want something to do. These little dears didn’t put a foot wrong during my attempt to read ‘Maelstrom’ (apart from really annoying me) and, as such, they didn’t come across like children at all. They were more like adults (apart from a slightly cringe worthy moment where the girl starts to realise she is becoming a woman) and this just made things feel like the authors couldn’t decide whether to write a Sci-Fi novel or a Young Adult version…
I did like the way that the children were able to communicate, telepathically, with the animals they met but eventually it just felt like a watered down version of the Dragons in the Pern books. It got to a point, in the book, where a race of telepathic turtles were relating their history and it was at precisely this moment I realised that I did not care at all what happened next. I put the book down and I don’t think I’ll be picking it up again. There’s no score here as I didn’t finish the book.
Like I usually say in these situations, if you’re a fan then you’ll probably get a lot out of ‘Maelstrom’, look out for the release of the next book ‘Deluge’ in early March, but it just wasn’t one for me. Having said that though, the picture of the seal flying through the air (on the front cover) had me laughing out loud…

Thursday, 21 February 2008

‘Jumper: Griffin’s Story’ – Steven Gould (Tor Books)

So, you’re an author who’s written a pretty cool novel about teleportation and it’s been given the Hollywood treatment. The thing is though, the film is nothing like the book you wrote and now you’ve been approached to write a ‘prequel’ novel dealing with one of the characters from the film. It has to tie in with the plot of the film and, because that plot is vastly different from the original book, you are looking at one hell of a continuity issue. Steven Gould does the only thing that he can possibly do in this situation, he adds a note at the beginning of the book which basically says that this novel was written to be consistent with the movie so certain things are going to be different. Things are different (and sometimes not for the better) but as Kendall said in his comment next to my review of ‘Jumper’, “think of the prequel book and the movie as being an alternate universe version of Jumper” and you won’t go too far wrong ;o)
I still haven’t seen the movie but apparently there’s a character called Griffin who’s waging war against the people trying to kill Jumpers. ‘Griffin’s Story’, funnily enough, is the tale of Griffin’s life as a Jumper and why he is the way you see him in the film.
Having just read ‘Jumper’ it was immediately apparent that ‘Griffin’s Story’ is basically a carbon copy of the first book; a boy discovers teleportation powers and has to stay one step ahead of his pursuers while trying to live a normal life. While it’s an entertaining read I couldn’t really escape from the feeling that I’d seen this all before and it had been done better the first time round. While we’re introduced to Griffin’s character we don’t get the same sense of development as we did with David’s character in ‘Jumper’. It’s almost as if it’s assumed that we’ll get all the character development we need in the film and the only purpose of the book is to fill in the gaps. What we get then is a main character who comes across as somewhat one dimensional, maybe this is a result of things that happen to him but it still makes for a frustrating read. The rules of teleportation still apply but Gould still occasionally makes the mistake of using teleportation as a ‘get out of jail free’ card to get Griffin whatever he needs. Some of the situations Griffin gets into a bit far-fetched as well. I can imagine an eleven year old coming up with the idea of living underground to escape pursuit. I can even imagine him stealing explosives to block off any entrances but what I cannot imagine is an eleven year old having the knowledge and skills to set these explosives off properly. Of course, Griffin was ‘home schooled’ so that’s ok…
‘Griffin’s Story’ was a fun read but one that was ultimately flawed for me. I think it could work for you if you’d seen the film, and wanted to know more about the character, but if you haven’t then I’d suggest just sticking with the original book.

Five out of Ten

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

‘Jumper’ – Steven Gould (Tor Books)

The last movie tie-in novel I read was probably ‘Return of the Jedi’, when I was a kid, so I was eager to see how ‘Jumper’ fared. However, closer inspection of the book revealed that there is a sixteen-year gap between ‘Jumper’ first being published (apparently it spent time on the American Library Association’s list of Most Banned Books 1990-1999) and it being made into a film. My ‘movie tie-in’ wait will continue for a little while longer… The movie reviews that I’ve seen for ‘Jumper’ haven’t been favourable so far, I think that if they’d stuck with what was in the book things would have turned out a lot better.
The basic premise is the same in both book and film; David Rice discovers the ability to teleport anywhere in the world so long as he has already been there. That’s not a problem though as he’s stolen a million dollars to fund a new life away from his abusive father, cue lots of plane rides… A seemingly idyllic life is set to take a downturn though when a government agency discovers David’s special talent. Whereas the film trailer shows lots of fights with shadowy adversaries, the book takes a more ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ approach and at the same time panders to those of us who have always wondered what it must be like to have the power of teleportation. Come on, we’ve all thought about it… I particularly liked the way that Gould strikes a good balance between cutting loose with the teleportation concept and backing it up with underpinning rules. This doesn’t always work though as David’s teleportation is sometimes used as a quick and easy way for him to pick up whatever he needs to do a particular job. At one point, David magically has diving gear to hand and it just felt a little bit too contrived… While we’re talking about things that felt contrived, I’m sure that the lecture on the nature of terrorism only needed to be half the length if it was needed at all.
David can do what he likes but only within certain limits, this stops him developing into an uber powerful character and this device really comes into its own when David is forced to deal with emotional problems surrounding his family and other relationships. His power won’t solve everything and this forces a development in his character that really had me feeling for him at times.
We’re not just looking at emotional growth though, this is a book about teleportation and we get to see David use what’s essentially a ‘one trick’ power in a variety of cool ways. I loved the way that David dealt with the NSA agents who were hassling family and friends as well as the ways in which he eventually managed to come to terms with his father.
I haven’t seen the movie yet but having read the book I’m not sure that I need to. As a book, ‘Jumper’ pretty much ticks all the boxes that I’m after.

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

'FreakAngels' - New Warren Ellis comic online

I know next to nothing about comics but I do know that Warren Ellis is one of those comic book people whose name inspires awe in people who know about this sort of thing. I'm still to graduate from 'reading comics and then putting them back on the shelf at the shop' (I know, I know) so when I saw on Elusive Twilight that Warren Ellis' 'FreakAngels' online comic had just gone live I thought I'd head over and have a look. It's in that format where you get a few pages every week but the six pages that are up should keep you going for a while. London's pretty much underwater and a group of people (with strange powers) are about to be visited by a woman with a shotgun... Fancy a look? Head on over Here, it's looking pretty good so far...

Monday, 18 February 2008

‘The Long Price (A Betrayal in Winter)’ – Daniel Abraham (Orbit Books)

After a short break I picked up ‘A Betrayal in Winter’ (the next instalment in Daniel Abraham’s ‘The Long Price’ Quartet), eager to see what had become of Otah and Maati since I saw them last. Quite a lot had happened, by all accounts, as a number of years have passed since the events that took place in Saraykeht. Otah is still travelling from city to city but it’s now part of his job as he is a courier. Maati, who did pretty well for himself in the last book, is doing less than well now. Events will conspire to place Otah and Maati in the northern city of Machi where the elderly Khai (think ‘King’) is dying and someone is taking a less than savoury interest in the race for the throne. Otah has particular cause to be interested as his own claim to the throne means he is a prime suspect in the deaths of his brothers…
‘A Betrayal in Winter’ takes a step away from the world building of ‘A Shadow in Summer’ (although we’re left in no doubt as to how cold it is!) and concentrates more on the machinations of its cast. This did strike me as a little odd (given that the story takes place in a city that has only been alluded too in passing before now) but, on the whole, I was more than happy to see Abraham’s skill at plot and characterisation take centre stage. This move, on the author’s part, really paid off as far as I’m concerned. These elements were underplayed (albeit with good reason) in the last book so it was refreshing to see them in full force here. It was interesting to see how the relationship between Otah and Maati developed after the events of ‘A Shadow in Summer’. Despite everything that had happened to them both, the events of their childhood still bind them together in ways that created conflict both between themselves and the outside world as well. If you pick this book up, or if you’re reading it already, you’ll see that the smallest of exchanges between these two characters can have the most far-reaching consequences. ‘A Betrayal in Winter’ sees another Poet fall in love with someone best left alone. Abraham uses this to good effect as a means to explore the concept of a Poet’s duty, as well as highlighting the conflict between the Poet and his Andat, but this device feels like it is becoming a pattern now and I hope that this isn’t repeated in future books. It was also slightly odd to see the Andat ‘Stone Made Soft’ as a far less ‘fleshed out’ character than ‘Seedless’ was in the first book. Maybe this is because ‘Stone Made Soft’ isn’t really pivotal to the plot but it just felt to me that maybe more could have been done with this character, maybe in future books...
‘A Betrayal in Winter’ is essentially a ‘murder mystery’ (although you find out ‘who did it’ fairly early on) that becomes much more than that through its characters and what they face throughout the story. World building that is only hinted at is eventually proven to be an effective move in a ‘less is more’ kind of way. Another read that completely demanded my attention and is now demanding that I get onto the rest of the series as soon as possible.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Giveaway! 'Inside Straight' (Edited by George RR. Martin)

I've just had a copy of 'Inside Straight' (the new 'Wild Cards' collection) come through the door this morning. The thing is, I already have a copy (reviewed it as well, have a look over Here)so I'd see if any of you guys fancied it... It's one of Tor Books 'Sci-Fi Essentials' and I personally think the title is well deserved in this case!
Fancy a go? Entering is simple; just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen)and tell me that you want it! Your mailing address would be handy as well, just so I can get the book to you as soon as possible ;o) I'll announce the winner next Friday so emails need to be with me by Thursday night (21st February)
Good luck!

Friday, 15 February 2008

‘In A Time of Treason’ – David Keck (Tor Books)

David Keck’s fantasy debut, ‘In the Eye of Heaven’, was a surprise package that came through my door (and several other people’s as well) late last year. Despite some issues with its structure I really enjoyed the book, have a look at my Review, and found myself generally looking forward to the sequel (but hoping for an improvement at the same time). Well, I’ve just spent the last few days taking every chance I could to get as much of ‘In A Time of Treason’ read as possible. I still had issues with some of the same things, that bugged me during ‘In the Eye of Heaven’, but on the whole I thought there was a big improvement to be seen here.
Despite his best efforts to escape his romantic predicament, Sir Durand finds himself still serving Lord Lamoric and wondering how he is going to resolve his feelings for Lady Deorwen. However, events further afield are set to take centre stage and force Durand to fight for the honour of his Lord and Lady. A mad King and a treacherous Duke are set to carve up the land in blood and fire while the ancient wards of the kingdom (the ones that keep all the evil out) are becoming weaker and weaker…
I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. Like it’s predecessor, ‘In A Time of Treason’ is a book that shoots itself in the foot (somewhat) by being unnecessarily difficult to read at times. Characters will suddenly decide to relate anecdotes that have little to do with the plot. There’s no journey through a magic forest this time but, every now and then, there are passages that feel dragged out almost to the point of awkwardness. The journey by boat, at the very beginning of the book is a good case in point. While it’s a good way to get a feel for the landscape there’s only so much you can do with a bunch of people in a boat! Thankfully, Keck ditches a lot of the ‘info-dumping’ that was prevalent in the first book, with ‘In A Time of Treason’ being a sequel maybe he thought that there was no need for this…
It may sound that I hated this book but not so! Despite the flaws I found myself thoroughly enjoying Durand’s story again. The dynamic between him, Lamoric and Deorwen is captivating and had me turning the pages just to see if things could ever be resolved. Durand is not wandering aimlessly anymore, he has a purpose (albeit slightly conflicted) and this reflects in the story. The worldbuilding element is still there but the story itself takes on more importance and (flaws notwithstanding) is a fast paced and fully engaging affair that had me totally gripped (as I’ve said before, I love stories about knights in armour!) For me, Keck’s greatest strength in this book is his ability to write tense ‘set piece’ scenes and chapters. Whether Durand is standing off against necromancers or an entire city is under siege, the prose is always fully evocative and Keck managed to keep surprising me with what he had planned.
‘In A Time of Treason’ is a marked improvement on ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ and this should hopefully mean great things for the final instalment ‘A King in Cobwebs’. Well worth a look in my opinion,

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Fancy reading an interview with David Keck? Head on over to Fantasy Book Critic where I was one of several bloggers contributing questions ;o) While you're there, you can also see what Robert thought of both books in the series so far. If that isn't enough for you, keep an eye open for a chance to win 'In the Eye of Heaven' and 'In A Time of Treason' over on Fantasy Debut...

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A Thursday afternoon question for you...

I recently posted, just over a week ago I think, about the perils of being 'transported to fantasyland' if you're not going to end up as King/Prince/marry the Princess etc. By the way, in the event of this happening to me, I still intend to offer my services to the local evil overlord! I've been thinking about this a bit more (yep, another boring Thursday afternoon in the office) and I thought that I'd give us all a fighting chance this time round. Here it is...

By whatever means, you've found yourself transported to the magical fantasy world of (Insert Name Here). You're not the long lost twin of the King and you're not fated to save the world etc, you're just here and you have to make the best of it. Here's the thing though, before you made this journey you had time to grab one thing from the real world. Through clever use of this 'thing', you are going to make your fortune and marry into Royalty. What did you grab before you left the 'real world'?

There's a couple of rules though (otherwise this would be too easy!)
1) No guns, bombs etc. It's far too obvious, let's get creative people!
2) You're not allowed to take anything that runs off a power source only available in this world. Batteries etc will eventually run out and you're left with a heap of junk on your hands.

My initial thought was to go with a Rubik's Cube and make my money by inviting people to solve the puzzle, I'm not so sure how far that would get me in the long term though...
What would you take?

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

'The Wanderer's Tale' (David Bilsborough), didn't make the grade I'm afraid...

I think I mentioned somewhere else that one of my aims, this year, is to work my way through some of the 'thicker looking' books that I never got round to in 2007. One of these books is David Bilsborough's 2007 debut 'The Wanderer's Tale', I'm about sixty(ish) pages in and I've reached that familiar point where I find myself wondering what kind of a dent the book would make if I threw it out of the window and it hit a parked car... I've reached that point where I got the feeling that life is too short to persevere with reading something where I just know that my opinion will not change!

When the very first page describes clouds as 'pyro-clastic' then I know there's trouble ahead. When the priest tells the crowd that he 'must vaticinate' I just know that this is a book where the author is showing off his vocabulary when he should be telling the story instead. I'm not saying that books should be dumbed down but there is a line where (if it's crossed)readers can be jarred out of the book and struggle to get back into the story. This is exactly what happened to me. It's a real shame as I was growing to like what Bilsborough was doing with regards to wordbuilding, a little less verbosity (excessive descriptions as well as vocabulary) could have helped things to flow a lot more.

Now, I'm not saying that I've read loads of fantasy fiction but I think I've read enough to have a fair idea about what works in a book. Using the phrase 'fifteen years later' is never going to work (unless you're at primary school), at least not as far I'm concerned... Put dates at the beginning of the chapters and that works fine, 'fast fowarding' the prose just looks like there's a great big gap that the author doesn't know how to handle so he's brushed it under the carpet. It just felt really 'slapdash' and completely at odds with the 'epic quest' feel of the book.

It feels like a real shame to put this one down so early as I'd heard great things about 'The Wanderer's Tale' when it was first published. Reading it though was like trudging through mud in pursuit of a glittering prize that was forever out of reach. I may pick this one up again in the future but, right now, I doubt very much that will happen...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Interview! John Joseph Adams

One of the first books I reviewed this year was Wastelands, a collection of short stories edited by John Joseph Adams. John was kind enough to answer some questions about the editing process, the stories in the book and post-apocalyptic fiction in general. Here's what he had to say...

Hi John, thanks for agreeing to take part!

What made you suddenly think, “You know what? I’m going to edit a collection of post-apocalyptic stories…”?

I've long been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. I first became fascinated with it in my teens after playing a computer role-playing game called Wasteland (which, as you might guess, is the inspiration for the title). Then, years later, another game came along called Fallout--which was and still is one of the best games I've ever played; it was the brilliant narrative of that one that inspired me to seek out post-apocalyptic fiction. So I tracked down and read a bunch of the classics, like A Canticle for Leibowitz and Earth Abides, then went out in search of some of the more obscure works, and came across great stuff like The Long Tomorrow, No Blade of Grass, and The Long Loud Silence.

I’ve interviewed a few authors but this is the first interview I’ve done with an editor of a short story collection. Could you tell me a little bit about the process you had to go through to put ‘Wastelands’ together? Did you have an idea about specific stories that you wanted to be included or did you ask writers to submit work that they thought was suitable?

Well, after reading the abovementioned titles, it became harder to find books on the subject, and so I decided to write an article on the sub-genre, which required tons of research. (I figured if I was going to do the research anyway, I might as well write an article based on it and get paid for it!) In the end, it served me quite well when the time came to put the anthology proposal together; when the time came to do that, I put down most of the table of contents right off the top of my head.
Other than that, I just talked to my friends and colleagues and solicited recommendations from them. Also, once word got out that I'd sold the anthology, I had a few authors approach me to point out that they had stories on the subject I should consider.
There's a bit more to the process than that, of course. Once you settle on a table of contents, you have to contact all of the authors (or their agents) to negotiate permission to reprint the stories. Then, once you secure permission for all the stories, you have to set the order of the stories, which can be a lot like putting together a puzzle. And in the case of Wastelands, I had to write the introduction, write the header notes to all of the stories, and finally assemble the "For Further Reading" appendix.

If you had to live through the aftermath of one of the apocalypses covered in this book which one would it be?

It would have to be the apocalypse depicted in Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed." In that story, it seems like the world was left in pretty decent shape after the apocalypse--no irradiated wastelands or crazed mutants to deal with, no plague to worry about. Also, no angry biker gangs plotting to steal your fuel. On the other hand, it might be a bit lonely, and it might suck if you didn't get along with any of the few people that you were stuck on the planet with. Or maybe the one in "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth." I mean, if the end of the world comes, and the internet is still working, it couldn't be all bad, could it?

What do you think would be the worst, of these apocalypses, to have to go through?

Hmm, I don't know. They'd all be pretty awful. Maybe John Langan's apocalypse in "Episode Seven." There's all kinds of crazy stuff going on there. I mean, those giant mutant dogs? I wouldn't want to have to deal with those things. I'm also tempted to say Elizabeth Bear's apocalypse in "And the Deep Blue Sea," but I don't want to explain why because doing so would kind of spoil the story.

Does putting together a collection like this make you consider investing in a well-stocked bomb shelter for your garden?

Not really. I guess I'm not that convinced that those bomb shelters would actually be much good. In post-apocalyptic fiction, almost no one who survives does so because they hid out in a bomb shelter. Plus, I don't know that I could stand being cooped up in one of those things for however long you'd need to stay in there. I'd love to have access to one of those big underground Vaults like they have in Fallout, though.

Now you’ve got the finished article in your hand, do any of the stories stand out for you? This could be in terms any that you particularly enjoyed reading or in terms of what you had to do before they could be included in the book?

As editor, it's not really fair for me to single out favourites; these stories are like my children, so I love them all equally. However, though this is a reprint anthology, a few of the stories were actually written at my request. Before I sold Wastelands, I had been trying to sell an anthology of all-original post-apocalyptic fiction. In the course of doing that, I had gotten in touch with several authors to get commitments from them before sending the proposal around to publishers. Carol Emshwiller was one of those authors, and she wrote "Killers" for me, which was great. She didn't need to do that--at that time, I was only getting authors to agree to contribute something at some point--but she got the urge to write the story, so she did. And she let me hold onto it for quite a while as I shopped the anthology around. Eventually, after many rejections, I decided the original anthology was a lost cause, and released the story back to Carol, at which point she sold it to F&SF.
John Langan also wrote "Episode Seven" because of that proposed anthology, though by the time he finished writing it, I had already given up on the project, so it went right to F&SF. Dale Bailey was one of the other authors I had talked to, and some time after, he submitted "The End of the World as We Know It" to F&SF. That story might not have specifically been written for me, but it seems likely that me talking to him planted the seed in his head.
And of course, Jerry Oltion's story is the one original story in the book, and has been singled out by many reviewers as one of the best, so I'm proud to have included it.

In your introduction, you mention that the aftermath of alien/zombie invasion is apocalyptic but is a subject for another anthology. Is this something that you can see yourself working on in the future? I’m hoping you’ll say ‘yes’, as I love zombie stories!

Well, okay: Yes. My next reprint anthology--which I'm putting the finishing touches on now--is in fact a zombie anthology. I haven't made all my final selections for that one yet, but I do have several authors already lined up, such as Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Clive Barker, Laurell K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, and several others. It's tentatively titled The Living Dead and is scheduled for publication by Night Shade Books in September or October 2008. It's going to be a big book--in the neighbourhood of 230,000 words--and it's been a lot of fun assembling it.

You also question whether the resurgence in post-apocalyptic fiction is due, in any way, to similarities between people’s reactions to the Cold War era and today’s political climate. You don’t answer this particular question though… Would you say that this resurgence is, in any part, due to this?

I don't know, but that's my theory, anyway. I don't think it's a coincidence that there's this big upsurge in the popularity of post-apocalyptic fiction while at the same time tensions around the world make it feel like we're sitting on a powder keg ready to explode.

You provide a selected bibliography, of post-apocalyptic fiction, at the back of the book. If you met someone who hadn’t read anything in this genre, where would you recommend that they start on this list?

That's a good question. The bibliography is rather lengthy, almost so long you might not know where to start. I'll echo some of what I said earlier. I'd suggest reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, Earth Abides, No Blade of Grass, The Long Loud Silence, The Long Tomorrow, and in that order--that's my personal post-apocalyptic top five. Then you'd have to check out some John Wyndham--either Re-Birth (a/k/a The Chrysalids) or Day of the Triffids. Definitely some Octavia Butler--maybe Parable of the Sower, and The Stand by Stephen King.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for people who are considering how they would survive in a post-apocalyptic environment?

Only this: Don't turn to me for advice; if the apocalypse comes, I'm sure to perish.

Thanks for your time John, I really appreciate it.

Monday, 11 February 2008

‘The Long Price (A Shadow in Summer)’ – Daniel Abraham (Orbit Books)

One of my New Year’s resolutions (regarding what I read) is to tackle some of the larger books I was sent last year but never got round to. One of these is the Orbit edition collecting the first two books of Daniel Abraham’s ‘The Long Price Quartet’, ‘A Shadow in Summer’ and ‘A Betrayal in Winter’. I’ve failed my New Year’s resolution straight away as I’ve finished the first book but will take a little break before starting the second, hopefully the review will help you understand why…
The Summer City of Saraykeht is pre-eminent among the city-states of the Khaiem and this is in no small part due to the Poets and the power they wield through the andat, sorcerous thought given human thought and function. Not everyone can master the andat and, despite the rewards, there are also some that will choose not to. Otah-Kvo is one such man and ‘A Shadow in Summer’ tells the tale of his struggle to find his own life; only to find himself amidst the schemes of foreign powers, vengeful citizens and Saraykeht’s own andat ‘Seedless’. The fate of the city hangs in the balance, maybe the fate of the Khaiem themselves.
The very first thing that struck me about ‘A Shadow in Summer’ was the sheer level of detail and thought that had gone into creating this world. This isn’t a place that simply serves as the backdrop to the story, ‘The World’ (that’s what it’s called, check out the map) is an entity that lives and breathes in its own right. It’s a place that’s so intricately presented that you could almost forget the story and spend a few pages in the tea-shops, at the Poet’s house or walking along the seafront. It also made a welcome change to see evidence of oriental culture, as the underpinning concept of this world, rather the usual ‘Medieval Europe’ tropes. This emphasis on detail can sometimes become ‘over-emphasis’ and it sometimes feels as if the story itself slows down to a crawl (the main reason why I’m taking a break between books), this is also the case when the plot centres around the relationships between principal characters. I’ll freely admit that I found myself really getting bogged down in detail early on and was seriously considering putting the book down for something else. I stuck with it though and am really glad I did. While this may be a book that spends it’s entire time setting things up for future instalments it’s something that also deserves attention in terms of the sheer ‘epic feel’ of the story and the history that underpins it. Characterisation is superb as well and is indicative of Abraham’s ability to move effortlessly between the politics of nations and the relationships of their citizens, putting equal emphasis on each. Whilst Otah-Kvo is the main character the dynamics that really struck me were those between the Poet Heshai and the Andat, two creatures who hate each other but cannot survive alone. When you find out the reason for this I defy you not to feel a little sad for them both.
The book ends on a slightly low-key note but it is clear that the seeds have been sown for momentous things to happen in future books, I’ll be there to see what happens.
‘A Shadow in Summer’ is a difficult book to get into and, at the same time, it demands your absolute attention. If you’re reading it, stick with it and I think you’ll get a lot out of this tale.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 10 February 2008

More free stuff to read on the 'net...

Part Two in a (very, very) sporadic attempt to give you guys free stuff to read :o)
If you're a fan of the Warhammer line of 'table top war-games', or if you like reading 'tie-in sci-fi/fantasy', then you're probably aware of the Black Library who publish books centred on the worlds of 'Warhammer', 'Warhammer 40,000' and 'Blood Bowl' (amongst others). Whilst I've heard of of the Black Library I didn't realise that they've included excerpts from all of their published works on their site for people to have a look at. No more of this 'picking up one of their books on the offchance that it might be good', have a browse Here and 'try before you buy' ;o)
Thanks go to my good friend James for pointing this one out to me!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Cool looking books being published this year (from Orbit Books)!

Yesterday saw Orbit Books buying me lunch and giving me advance review copies of some pretty interesting books they have coming out later on this year. Normally I'd wait until I'd read them and then post a review but I thought you guys might like some advance notice ;o) One book you will have already heard of, the other two maybe not...

Brian Ruckley's 'Winterbirth'was one of Orbit's big successes of 2006. It's one of those books that you either loved or hated, I loved it. 'Bloodheir' is the sequel and looks like it's going to push things up a gear! The Amazon synopsis reads...

As ever greater battles are fought between the Black Road and the True Bloods, so each side in the conflict becomes ever more riven by internal dissent and disunity. Amidst the mounting chaos, Aeglyss the na'kyrim gradually masters the remarkable powers that have been unleashed upon him by his crucifixion. Twisting everything and everyone around him to serve his own mad desires, he begins to exert a dangerous, insidious influence over the course of events both near and far. Orisian, lord of the ruined Lannis Blood, faces not only the consequences of that malign influence, but also the machinations of his supposed allies and the stirring of the long-dormant Anain, the most potent race the world has ever known.

I interviewed Brian a while ago and his ten word synopsis was, "Bigger battles, reversals, faltering alliances, assassination, Anain, Highfast. More snow".
Look out for this one in June 2008 and congratulations to Aidan ('A Dribble of Ink'), Robert ('Fantasy Book Critic') and Remy ('The Fantasy Review') whose comments made it into the 'Praise for Winterbirth' bit at the front!

Before 'Bloodheir' hits the shelves, it might be worth giving Pamela Freeman's 'Blood Ties' a go when it's published in April. At first glance it looks a little like your typical 'quest story' but I've been promised that it gets a lot darker. Here's the Amazon synopsis,

Bramble is impetuous, with a talent for attracting trouble, and she finds it when an accident brands her a criminal. But she can expect no mercy. Her dark colouring marks her as a Traveller, one of the despised original people of the domains. And the local gods are warning her to flee ...In Turvite, where ghosts drift along dark, cobbled streets, Ash must leave the Road to begin an apprenticeship with the only person who will accept a Traveller. His new mistress is devious yet irresistible, but the gods have other plans for Ash ...Death casts Bramble and Ash on separate journeys across valleys and mountains, deep into themselves and the dark history of their ancestors. The gods have not forgotten, and old blood is calling for vengeance.

Finally, I've never been a huge fan of historical fantasy (the way I see it, fiction is either 'historical' or it's 'fantasy' not both) but I'm always willing to give new stuff a go and Jo Graham's 'Black Ships' looks like it could be worth a read. It's set after the fall of Troy (so maybe it is fantasy...) and the synopsis is,

Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, it is her destiny to counsel kings. When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she has been destined for and the most perilous adventure -- to join the remnant of her mother's people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny. (Thanks Amazon!)

Naomi Novik says great things about 'Black Ships', I say great things about Naomi Novik so I'm hoping for great things from 'Black Ships'! Look out for this one in July...

That's all for now folks, have a great weekend!

Friday, 8 February 2008

‘Dr Who – Genesis of the Daleks’ (1975)

The sticker on the DVD case proudly proclaims this to be the ‘Number One Dr. Who Story Ever’. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Dr. Who a lot but when a sticker starts giving out a whole load of attitude, and making grandiose claims, my initial reaction is to say, “we’ll see about that!” And I did, purchasing said DVD and taking it home for an evening of classic Dalek action. It’s a good job I’ve got the house to myself as I was guilty of saying, “how cool was that?” a lot and pretending to be a Dalek. Yep, I loved it.
The Time Lords have foreseen a time when the Dalek’s rule of the universe is absolute. Instead of taking care of it themselves they persuade the Doctor to help them out, transporting him to the Dalek home world (Skaro) to either destroy the Daleks before they are created or to sabotage their development and give the rest of the universe a head start.
If you’re a fan of Dr, Who (or even if you’ve only heard of the TV show) then you’ll know what a big deal the Daleks to the series and how often they appear. You’d be forgiven then for wondering what the point of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ actually is. After all, it’s so obvious what’s going to happen just based on how often the Daleks appear in future episodes, right? Well, this is true but this sense of inevitability also works in a positive way as it serves to accentuate the already dark nature of the story. The war on Skaro has been going on for hundreds of years, at least, and the Doctor (plus companions) arrives at a time of attrition, stalemate and a feeling of hopelessness. Things get darker still with the introduction of Davros, evil scientist and creator of the Daleks. Here’s a man with no morals at all, just ambition and the desire to live on through his creations. It’s great fun watching Davros manipulate everyone around him so that he can achieve his goals, you know how it’s going to turn out but the fun lies in getting there not the destination itself.
The Doctor (played by Tom Baker) is the other big personality on the screen and having watched him in ‘Genesis’ I’d have to say that he does the Doctor better than David Tennant (the current Doctor). Here’s an actor who gets so into the character that it made me wonder if he was ever able to get out, Tom Baker is currently the longest serving Doctor (was in the show for seven years) so he had to be doing something right! Watching the Dr and Davros argue over morality is actually really gripping stuff, not so much because of what they’re saying but because of the sheer strength of personality behind each of them.
‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is one of those stories that makes it really easy for you to forget that the props are really shoddy and the ‘outside bits’ are all shot in the same quarry but from different angles. The story itself was fast paced and completely held my interest all the way through (even though I knew how it had to turn out). Best Dr. Who story ever? Certainly the best one I’ve seen.

Ten out of Ten

'Dark Wraith of Shannara' - The Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, unfortunately I've only got one book to give away so there could only be one winner, unless the winner decides that they're happy to share... ;o)

The winner is...

Carrie Beduhn, Grand Rapids, USA

Happy reading Carrie and better luck next time everyone else!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

‘The Prodigal Troll’ – Charles Coleman Finlay (Pyr Books)

Just the very title of this book had me interested from the start. Just what is a ‘prodigal troll’ anyway? Well, I had the chance to find out with Charles Coleman Finlay’s debut novel from 2005 (how long ago does that seem now…) Having finished the book, not only do I have a better idea of what a ‘prodigal troll’ actually is but I also enjoyed finding out.
A knight and a nursemaid escape a siege with the infant heir in tow. Things don’t go as planned for them (when has anything ever gone to plan in the realms of fantasy?) but the child survives and is adopted by a female troll who raises him as her own. As the boy, Maggot, grows older he realises that his place is back with humankind. Or is it? Maggot’s journey back into ‘civilisation’ will bring his ‘troll sensibilities’ into conflict with his desire to be accepted by his own kind and the choices that he will have to make will have more consequences than he realises.
Any book that attempts to place a new slant on the ‘generic fantasy monster’ is always going to be up against it in terms of reader expectations. Trollish life seems a little contrived at first with its mixture of caveman like behaviour and voting on every decision. I stuck with it though and, in the end, found it to be rather endearing in it’s own way.
The story itself is a good blend of worldbuilding and plot, balanced just right so you don’t get too much of either one or the other. This kept my interest and I wanted to know more about Maggot and his surroundings. I particularly liked the way that the author set clear boundaries on the size of his world by reintroducing characters from Maggot’s earliest childhood. For me, this showed a real sense of control over the plot and it was interesting to see how certain characters (such as Bran) had fared as adults.
Maggot’s journey, both physical and emotional, forms the backbone of ‘The Prodigal Troll’ and there is a real sense of progression in his developing attitudes towards his new surroundings. This is handled in a sensitive way that doesn’t come across as being too preachy even though the author sometimes comes across a little heavy handed with his message of ‘settlers raping the land and harming the native population’. Situations that puzzled me at first can be attributed to Maggot’s naivety although this doesn’t make things any easier for the reader. For example, seeing the world through Maggot’s eyes had me wondering just how many groups of invaders were encroaching on the valleys and a question (posed of Maggot) right at the very end has an obvious answer but he doesn’t got for it. One thing that really got to me though was just how recognisable Maggot was (as the ‘heir in exile’) when he made it out of the mountains. No-body needed more than a glance to see him for who he was (and he never picked up on this) and I was surprised that the story didn’t end with his arrest, just a small quibble but one that did make me think.
‘The Prodigal Troll’ is an engaging read both in style and content and really got me into the ‘troll mindset’ that the author was aiming for. It ends on a cliffhanger and I for one want to know what happens next.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ – Glen Cook (Roc Fantasy)

I’ve discovered the secrets of Khatovar, with the Black Company, but I’ve never spent any time walking the streets of TunFaire with Glen Cook’s other well known creation ‘Garrett P.I.’. This situation changed with my reading ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’, a book that is both typical Glen Cook and something different at the same time…
TunFaire is a city only just recovering from war and experiencing a large influx of returning soldiers. One of these soldiers is Garrett and ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ is just one of the stories of his new career as a Private Eye. Strange things keep happening to Garrett and they may or may not be connected. Spontaneous human combustion, religious warfare and the disappearance of TunFaire’s leading underworld figure. It’s all going to add up to a lot of work for Garrett who wouldn’t mind so much if he was actually being paid for any of it!
Yet again I’ve made the move of coming into a series right at the very end, without reading any of the preceding novels, and Glen Cook doesn’t make it any easier by throwing names and characters about with no regard for the casual reader. Having read the ‘Black Company’ series I wasn’t expecting any such niceties off Cook, he tells the story just the way that he wants it told and if readers aren’t up to it then they know what to do! On the other hand though, the story itself adheres to pretty much everything ‘noir fiction’ (which is great as far as I’m concerned) and is fairly easy to follow once you’ve waded past the names and background history. There were plenty of questions raised which kept me reading to find the answers and these were punctuated with enough fights and altercations to keep things spiced up. There’s also a dry laconic humour that suffuses the whole book. Sometimes this feels overdone (as every character seems to have the same sense of humour) but on the whole it fits in nicely with the atmosphere that Cook is trying to create. The only thing that got me (in a big way) was that Cook decided, about three quarters of the way through the book, that Garrett wasn’t up to the job and introduced an omnipotent undead creature that read minds and told Garrett how to wrap things up. This came across as a big ‘get out of jail free card’ and also robbed several plot strands of any impact. It also relegated Garrett from hero to a mere bystander. After such a great beginning to the book, I had to wonder why Cook felt the need to conclude it in such a manner. Was this an attempt at being subversive? I don’t know…
I’m a big fan of Glen Cook so will probably pick up other books in the ‘Garrett P.I.’ series if I find any. However, his treatment of this particular tale has left me wary. Great atmosphere and build up that is spoilt by a needlessly weak ending.

Six out of Ten

Monday, 4 February 2008

‘The Bright of the Sky’ – Kay Kenyon (Pyr Books)

It’s a big world out there and the odds are that someone else is probably reading whatever you’re reading right now (which is actually quite cool in a way). Let’s narrow things down a bit though. What do you reckon the odds are of two bloggers reading the same book at the same time for a review? If you had put money on this happening this week then you would have made some money as both myself and Pat read Kay Kenyon’s ‘The Bright of the Sky’. Pat beat me to it, with a review, and his thoughts are over Here . Having just finished the book I’m also looking forward to the sequel in what promises to be an enthralling series.
The Universe Entire is a dimension that exists inter-linked with our own. I’m a little hazy on some of the finer details (the world building is first class but I didn’t find some of the descriptive pieces, regarding the structure of the world, all that clear) but suffice it to say that the ‘Entire’ is covered by a sky of fire and is sustained by a never-ending river. The alien Tarig rule over the ‘Entire’ and it’s populace of alien species and ‘humans’ modelled on the Chinese culture of Earth. The only thing that star pilot Titus Quinn really remembers of the ‘Entire’ is that he had to leave his wife and daughter behind, when he escaped, so when the Minerva Corporation offer him a chance to go back he jumps at the opportunity to be reunited with his family. Nothing is that simple though. Life in the ‘Entire’ will force Titus to reassess his perspective and also face up to new challenges for back in our dimension, the stars are slowly going out…
I’ve already mentioned that some of the descriptive pieces, regarding the structure of the ‘Entire’, were a little bit vague to me although I was able to get a general idea of the setting. Where Kenyon excels though is in the work she has put into all the species that Titus will come across. From the ‘human’ Chalin to the horse-like Inyx, every race feels like it has been carefully nurtured and placed in the best place for it to flourish in the page. Characterisation also features prominently in my list of things that make this novel stand out. Kenyon really goes to work on getting the reader straight into the head of every character that she covers. By the end of the book I even found myself starting to feel for some of the characters that were opposing Titus on his quest. This style of characterisation was not without it’s problems though. In the book, the Chalin’s attitude towards the passing of time is that ‘everything happens in it’s own time’ and Kenyon seems to adopt this attitude as well. The thoughts of minor characters are elaborated on in great detail and Kenyon seems happy to let the story pick up in it’s own good time. While what is said is of great interest the pacing of the story sometimes suffered as a result. The story itself transcends it’s ‘stranger in a strange land’ origins by constantly forcing Titus to question himself and his surroundings. By the end of the book everything is so finely balanced that I have no idea what Titus will do next, I guess that I am going to have to read the sequel and find out ;o)
‘The Bright of the Sky’ does have its issues but is a remarkable beginning to a series that I am looking forward to seeing more of. Great stuff!

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Graeme's Retro Classics! 'Flash Gordon' (1954-55)

If you're anything like me there's a cynical voice in your head that always interrupts every time you're watching a TV show or movie. Sample 'rants' will generally include such gems as 'that doesn't even look real', 'that looks more like a deserted quarry than an alien planet' (one for the old-school Dr. Who fans) and 'they've blown the entire budget on getting the cast and completely forgotten about the special effects'... We've all been there and it's seldom pretty.
This was the case with me until a couple of days ago when I was reminded that although there is room for improvement things could be a lot worse... Let me take you back to a time when everything was in black and white, a time where the main reason that space was coloured black was so that you wouldn't notice the strings holding up the spaceships. We're talking about a time when heroes were so heroic they forgot to check behind them for enemies and a disembodied voice provided commentary just in case the viewers forgot who the bad guys were (Hint: they were the ones with foreign accents). Yes I'm talking about the TV series of 'Flash Gordon' that ran between 1954 and 1955, and a series that achieves 'retro classic' status by being so bad that it's actually very good. The fact that you can pick these DVDs up for 33p on Amazon is a sure sign that this series is the poorer relation of the Buster Crabbe 'Flash Gordon' shows. Steve Holland does a good job of looking like Flash Gordon (on his mission to rid the universe of evil on behalf of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation) but his acting isn't quite so good and that's saying something. In his defense though, nobody else's acting is any good either... Every planet that Flash lands on looks the same as the last and that pretty much goes for the sets as well. The only thing that really saved it for me was that, despite the wooden acting, the actors really look like they're going for it and making the best of a bad job with a naivety that seems typical of an age when television was in it's infancy.
On the face of it, the 'Flash Gordon' TV series doesn't do an awful lot else than remind us that even bad CGI is still a whole lot better than things used to be. I'd say give it a go though. Each story is refreshingly simple and gets to the point with no fuss and at least one guaranteed cliff hanger during the course of the episode. And it's in space! :o) At the end of the day, what more do you want?

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Manga Saturday! 'Spiral (Part Two)' & 'Sundome'

'What is the mystery of the Blade Children?' When I read part one of 'Spiral' I decided pretty early on that I wasn't too bothered what the mystery was and put the book down very early on. For some reason though, I decided to give part two a try and see if I'd missed out at all. It turns out that I have missed out and I now need to see if I have part one still in the house. Narumi is still looking for his missing brother and is being drawn deeper into the mystery of the Blade Children. This is only the second book in what looks to be a fairly lengthy series so it's really all about setting up questions that will (hopefully) be answered later on. Having said that though, there are a couple of tense scenes, involving a bomb and killer bees, that really gripped me and the reasoning that went into the resolution was really clever. There was also some nice ongoing character development in Ayumu Narumi (the main character) and his trying to reconcile himself with his perfect older brother (whilst still looking for him). 'Spiral' is now looking promising and I'll definitely be around for the next couple of books at least.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

I should have realised what was coming when I opened the package to find 'Sundome' in it's own special wrapping... The 'Mature' label gave the game away but having read 'Sundome' I wonder if it should have had an 'Immature' label on it instead.
Fifteen year old Hideo completely falls for Kurumi Sahana but his 'physical reaction' manifests at very inopportune moments. Cue an entire book of Kurumi taking advantage of Hideo's feelings by getting him to do pretty much anything she wants in some kind of weird power game. On one level an interesting look at the dynamics of a relationship and the loneliness of being a fifteen year old nerd, on another level it's just an excuse to recreate 'American Pie' in graphic novel format. There's obviously a market for this but I'm not the target audience I'm afraid. 'Sundome' isn't one that I'll be reading anymore.

Three out of Ten