Saturday, 31 May 2008

‘The Essential Batman Encyclopaedia’ - Robert Greenberger (Ballantine/Del Rey)

If you were a criminal looking to make it big in Gotham City then it stands to reason that you would want to know as much as possible about the city and the people who live there. Imagine how stupid you’d look in front of your fellow gangsters if they started talking about Poison Ivy and you thought they were talking horticulture… Or what about if people were reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, when the Electrocutioner first came to town, and you didn’t have the slightest clue who he was… Do you know what a ‘Lazarus Pit’ is or what ‘No Man’s Land’ signified? You wouldn’t last long in Gotham City if you didn’t know these basic things, at the very least you would have nothing to talk to people about…
Luckily for would be criminals everywhere, and fans of Batman, I’ve spent the last few days flicking through a book that answers all of these questions and more besides. Robert Greenberger appears to have spent most of his life (or a few hours on Google) gathering every scrap of information on Batman, his friends/enemies and everything else that’s related to Batman in any way and wrestled it all into one huge book. Now, I wouldn’t say that I know loads about Batman but based purely on the size of the book I can safely say that there isn’t much (if anything) missing. There’s also plenty of illustrations inside so people like me, who don’t know a lot about Batman, can see exactly who we’re reading about – the ‘Hooded Hangman’ for example.
This isn’t a book that you can pick up and read from cover to cover but it is great for just picking a page at random and finding out new stuff. I never knew who the ‘Heavy Weapons Gang’ or ‘Killer Moth’ were until I happened to come across their pages…
If you’re a Batman fan who has managed to get their hands on all the comics’ etc then this probably won’t be much use to you as it’s all stuff that you’ve seen before. If you’ve just started reading Batman however, this book will prove invaluable at filling in all the gaps and getting you up to speed quickly.
Batman isn’t really my thing but it’s easy for even someone like me to see how fans could get a lot out of this book. Worth a look in my opinion…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 30 May 2008

‘Bloodheir’ – Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books)

Despite a slow start, I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Winterbirth’ and the prospect of more goodness to follow meant that ‘Bloodheir’ swiftly became one of my ‘can’t wait to get hold of this’ books for 2008. So why is then that I’ve only just got round to reading it when I’ve had a review copy sat on my shelf for a few months? Well, apart from the fact that I’ve been spoilt for choice as far as good reads go a number of other reviewers got there before I did so I thought I’d wait for a bit. It’s now the week before ‘Bloodheir’ is released and I’ve finally got round to reading it. It’s great. I loved it and if you enjoyed ‘Winterbirth’ then I think you’ll enjoy it too.
I interviewed Brian last year and one of the questions I asked was what we could expect to see in ‘Bloodheir’, his answer was,

If my agent’s response is any guide, the answer to that is ‘dark’. I’ve always thought of the trilogy in fairly straightforward beginning, middle and end terms (scriptwriters would call it the ‘Three Act’ structure, I think). In ‘Winterbirth’, the main characters are presented with a set of problems; in ‘Bloodheir’ the problems get worse, for pretty much everyone, and some possible solutions are (faintly) hinted at…
That’s the long answer. The ten word answer is: Bigger battles, reversals, faltering alliances, assassination, Anain, Highfast. More snow

Not surprisingly (seeing as he wrote the book!) Brian hit the nail right on the head with his answer, ‘Bloodheir’ is a very dark book full of betrayal and setbacks and it was this that made it such an enthralling read as far as I was concerned.
The war between clans of the ‘Black Road’ and those of the True Blood continues and monumental stupidity on the part of the Bloodheir helps to ensure that the outcome is in no doubt. Or is it? Whilst internal divisions trouble both sides the na’kyrim Aeglyss uses his new found power to twist people to his will for his own ends. If this wasn’t bad enough Aeglyss’ power has awoken the Anain which can only spell trouble for everyone…
Before you start reading ‘Bloodheir’ it’s probably a good idea to have a quick flick through ‘Winterbirth’ first. Not only is it a great book but it will also refresh your memory in a way that the ‘What has gone before’ section (in ‘Bloodheir’) fails to do. I didn’t re-read ‘Winterbirth’ and quickly got bogged down catching up with a whole bunch of characters that the introductory piece hadn’t mentioned. This is a very convoluted tale so, as you can imagine, there is a lot to catch up on! Because of the size of the cast, and everything that is (or will be) happening, it also takes a while to manoeuvre everyone into place which means you get a lot of journeys/meetings etc which are important to the plot but aren’t exactly enthralling to read. Ironically, it’s the level of detail that Ruckley goes into which redeems these passages. The attitude seems to be that if you’re going to be stuck on a long journey then you may as well learn something about the surrounding area while you’re there! It’s a really ‘gradual’ approach to world building that doesn’t get in your face, I was surprised to find out just how much I’d picked up (about the world of the True Bloods and the Black Road) without even realising it.
Just before the halfway mark, Ruckley gets everyone just where he wants them and things really start to happen. I’ve heard Greg Keyes be compared to George R. R. Martin but, to my mind, Ruckley edges Keyes in this respect for the sheer grittiness of his work and the fact that he can throw the reader a wicked curve ball that blows your expectations right out of the water. Characters who are seemingly aimed down one path often find themselves doing completely different and Ruckley is also not afraid to kill his characters where necessary so don’t get too attached to anyone! Having said this, it’s quite hard not to get attached to characters that are well drawn and sympathetic, I even felt sorry for Aeglyss on more than one occasion.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘epic fantasy’ isn’t all that epic if there isn’t at least one major battle. Ruckley puts the ‘epic’ into his work with some particularly brutal affairs where no expense is spared in showing the reader exactly what is going on. More please!
‘Bloodheir’ is another slow starter from Ruckley and I hope that this is something that he avoids in the final book. However, once you get past that then I think you’re in for a treat of a read that will appeal to all fans of epic fantasy. I’m looking forward to the final book…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Have a click Here for my review of 'Winterbirth' and there's also an interview with Brian Here if you fancy a look!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

‘Covenant’ – John Everson

Fictional characters who are journalists; if there’s one thing you can count on it’s that these nosy types won’t stop ferreting around until they’ve dug up every single last scrap of information that they can get their hands on. If my boss told me not to do something my attitude would be, “Woohoo! Less work for me…” but if an editor tells a journalist to stay away from a story then all of a sudden it’s about freedom of speech and the public just have to know etc…
Sometimes this kind of attitude can backfire spectacularly as reporter Joe Kieran is about to find out in John Everson’s 2004 Bram Stoker award winning novel…
Joe Kieran was a top reporter in Chicago until a story he ran ended up sending his girlfriend to jail (talk about dumb luck). Now he’s covering stories for a local paper in the sleepy coastal town of Terrel’s Peak and his nose for a story is about to land him in more trouble than he bargained for… The cliffs on the coast have been the site of a number of deaths over the years, these have been brushed off as suicides and tragic accidents but the facts that these deaths occur on the same day each year suggest that something else is going on. Joe is about to find out the horrifying secret behind the deaths and what is waiting for him in the caves below the cliffs…
‘Covenant’ weighs in at only 296 pages long (making it an ideal ‘commuter book’!) but Everson seems to find plenty of room to spice things up with chills and horror. It’s basically a tale of what people will do to fulfil a deal with the devil and how they live with this afterwards. What this means for the reader is a mixture of some really nasty supernatural occurrences (demons work off their boredom in some sick ways!) and the dark side of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to work out which is worse… There are also moments of genuine tension where you don’t know what is going to happen next, just that it could be anything (such as the events following Joe’s pot-holing expedition)…
For such a gripping read it’s somewhat unfortunate that it’s the prospect of a sequel that dampens the feel of ‘Covenant’. I loved the way the book finished, really open ended with a feeling that whatever happened next things were looking bleak for Joe Kiernan. When I realised the book included a taster of the sequel, ‘Sacrifice’, it felt that the whole point of ‘Covenant’s’ ending had been taken away. While I’m interested to see what happens next the deliciously creepy feeling I had, at the end of ‘Covenant’, was taken away and replaced with the standard ‘oh, so everything does work out in the end’ feeling. I wonder if the move into mass market paperback meant that a sequel had to be written. I also felt that, for a town where everyone was trying to dissuade Joe from his investigation, nothing was done to show why everyone else (apart from that one particular group whom the story is about) was trying to hide secrets. Where the police involved more than was let on? Why did the editor initially try to downplay James’ ‘suicide’? None of this is elaborated on which left me feeling like I hadn’t been told the whole story. Having said that though, I guess there’s only so much that you can fit into 296 pages!
While it’s plain to see why ‘Covenant’ took the Bram Stoker award it also felt like the story had been handled in such a way that the greater impact was lost. Still interested to see what happens next though…

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

'Scar Night' - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition but there could only be three winners and they were...

Benjamin Yang, Singapore
Tara Weinberg, Cape Town, South Africa
Riva Gregorio, Santa Clarita, California

Your books are on their way (thanks again to the nice folk at Tor)! Hope you enjoy them...
Everyone else - Better luck next time. There's still a couple of competitions that you can enter (if you haven't already) and there will be more competitions in the near future! ;o)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Childs Play’

I spent a great deal of the Bank Holiday Weekend watching movies (yet still somehow managed to miss ‘Ironman’, I’ll get there yet!) Some were good (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, more on that another time), others were not so good and some were so bad they were actually rather good. ‘Childs Play’ is one of those films and is a film with ‘Retro Classic’ written all over it…
If you had to make a list of all the iconic horror figures of the eighties, and early nineties, then Chucky the ‘Good Guy Doll’ would be right in there alongside stalwarts such as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. He’s a cute little doll who would be a boy’s best friend if it wasn’t for the fact that he has the soul of a disembodied serial killer that wants to get back into a human body again. That human body belongs to Andy Barclay, who Chucky was given to as a Birthday present, whom no-one will believe when he says that his doll killed the babysitter…
‘Childs Play’ is one of those films that looks really dated (it’s twenty years old so that’s not surprising) and not as scary as it would have been back in the day. I think it also suffers from the hype generated from the whole ‘do violent movies encourage violence’ debate that arose from certain court cases in the nineties. I watched it for the first time, over the weekend, and couldn’t see what the fuss was about. It is a good movie (more on that in a bit) but it feels like a film that got caught up in the hysteria rather than a film that caused it. The premise is good and I liked what they did to make Chucky come to life (animatronics?) but there is something faintly silly about a woman having a fight with a toy doll… Having said that though, that’s partly why ‘Child’s Play’ is such great fun to watch. It’s obviously not taking itself too seriously :o)

At the same time though there’s something really sinister about a doll that’s alive, as well as evil, and that’s where the film becomes something that you have to keep watching as well as being something you can laugh at over a beer. For a film that doesn’t take itself that seriously, it’s actually really scary and full of moments that had me on the edge of my seat in suspense. I’m thinking about the scene where Andy’s mother makes the discovery that Chucky has been talking non-stop for the last couple of days but doesn’t have any batteries in him… I shouldn’t mention this (although I’m blatantly going to!) but a certain someone who shall remain nameless, who I’m married to, got so scared at one point that she managed to give herself a nose bleed! My wife’s education in horror is going to have to continue at an even slower pace than it already is…
As is only right and proper, Chucky steals the show with a mixture of snappy one liners and a great line in ‘creative killings off’ that had me looking nervously at the toys my neighbour’s children had left downstairs…
‘Childs Play’ is a film that isn’t actually as bad as everyone made out; a decent mix of horror shocks and laughs. ‘Retro Classic’ status is duly conferred for Chucky’s iconic presence as well as it being a great film to have a few beers to…

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

‘Dawn over Doomsday’ – Jaspre Bark (Abaddon Books)

I didn’t get a lot of reading done over the Bank Holiday weekend (hence all the competitions!) and I wanted to get some more reviews up quickly so Abaddon Books’ latest instalment in ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’ seemed like a safe bet for a quick read that would be entertaining at the same time. At least that’s what I thought…
America has been crippled by the ravages of ‘The Cull’, a plague that has spared only one tenth of the earth’s population (those of a certain blood type), and there are those who wish to rebuild the shattered country with their own aims in mind. Chief Hiamovi is one such man, he sees the aftermath of the plague as an opportunity for his United Tribal Nations to reclaim America for the Indian tribes. Samuel Colt is another such man but his aims are different The Neo-Clergy once ruled America and Colt wants them back in power again, if a few Native Americans have to die for this to happen then it’s no big deal. Matters are about to come to an explosive head at Little Big Horn but fate may yet have a surprise in the shape of Anna Bontraeger. Anna carries another virus that could either save what remains of humanity, or destroy it…
Previous books in the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ have all been about the apocalyptic landscape and what people will do to survive in it. This has generally resulted in a lot of running battles, mutants and arch villains prepared to do anything to gain power and I’ve been more than happy with this as it means I get a fast paced read with lots happening to entertain me. ‘Dawn over Doomsday’ has the running battles and evil villains but takes a slightly different approach in that it talks a lot about themes of spirituality and redemption in the post-apocalyptic world. When I say ‘a lot’ that’s precisely what I mean and while it’s an interesting area to look at I got the feeling that all the other cool stuff (the stuff that makes Abaddon Books what they are) suffered as a result. Pretty much every character has their own spiritual journey to make with a lot of agonising and suchlike, some find a form of redemption while others crash and burn (literally in some cases) along the way. The thing is that I just wasn’t interested in pages and pages about why Hiamovi couldn’t hear the coyote anymore or Samuel Colt’s crisis of conscience. I wanted gun fights, tight spots to escape from and crazed biker gangs all of which were in short supply. There was just enough of that to keep me reading but not enough to keep me happy…
What redeemed the book for me (although not enough for me to give it a higher mark) was the character of Greaves, the scientist who rescues Anna at the beginning of the book. The author does a really good job of building up our preconceptions of Greaves only to knock them all down when we least expect it, showing the character in a brand new light and making me want to find out what happens to him next. The end scene, with Greaves, is particularly powerful in it’s depiction of the fine line between sanity and madness and I’m still not sure which way Greaves fell…
The explosive ending was just a little too late for me though, I’d been expecting the literary equivalent of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film (fun, popcorn reading) and got something that wanted me to get involved in a completely different way but just didn’t hook me in the way it should have. If you’re a fan of this series then I’m sure there’ll be something here for you but ‘Dawn over Doomsday’ hasn’t done nearly enough for ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’ to dislodge either ‘Pax Britannia’ or ‘Tomes of the Dead’ as my favourite series for Abaddon…

Five and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 26 May 2008

Giveaway! ‘Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company'

Not only am I slightly hungover but I haven't finished any books this weekend so I thought I'd bring this rather great competition forward a couple of days ;o)
As you may already know, I'm a big fan of Glen Cook's 'Black Company' series and think that they are books that everyone should try if they get the chance. Well, here's your chance!
I've already given away the first omnibus collection and now, thanks to those great folks at Tor Books, I have three copies of the next collection to give to three lucky winners! Unfortunately though, Tor are only able to send books to North America and the UK. This means that if you're not from either of these places then your chances of winning are poor to non-existent (sorry!) You're more than welcome to try your luck with the 'Bloodheir' and 'Scar Night' competitions though ;o)
'The Books of the South' is comprised of 'Shadow Games', 'Dreams of Steel', and 'The Silver Spike' and there's enough exposition there that you can read this collection on it's own (although the first collection is still cool, go and buy it!)
Sounds great doesn't it? If you fancy a copy then just drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'm going to let this one run until next Monday (2nd June) and announce the winners on the Tuesday.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Who wants a spare copy of 'Bloodheir'?

A few months ago I was given an advance copy of Brian Ruckley's 'Bloodheir' which I've finally got round to reading (it's good, check it out!) So when a hardback copy of 'Bloodheir' came through the door on Friday afternoon I was left with one book more than I actually needed...
Does anyone want my spare hardback copy of 'Bloodheir'? You do? Ok, here's what you have to do. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and your mailing address. I'll pick a winner next Saturday (31st May) and announce it on Sunday. It's that simple so... what are you waiting for? :o)

'The Mirrored Heavens' - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered :o) These two lucky winners will each get a copy of David Williams' debut courtesy of Bantam Spectra...

Steven Klotz, Los Angeles

Ken Reid, Nairn, Scotland

Your books are on the way!

Everyone else - Due to a complete lack of time to read this weekend (a sarcastic 'thank you' goes to the nice person who thought it would be a great idea to smash one of my car windows...) I'll be doing a couple of giveaways that I was originally to leave for a bit. Stick around, I think they're cool... :o)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Author Interview! Gary Braunbeck

If you browse through everything under the 'Horror' label, here, then you'll soon see that I've got nothing but good things to say about Gary Braunbeck, he writes some seriously scary stuff that is still rattling around in my head monthes after I've read it! Being more than a little bit of a fan, I was really excited when Gary kindly agreed to answer some questions about Cedar Hill, his writing and horror in general. Here's what he had to say...

Hi Gary, thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview!

1.‘Mr Hands’ is one of my favourite book titles as well as a great name for a murderous killer doll with huge hands. Where did that name come from? As a child, did you have a toy action figure with abnormally sized hands?

“Mr. Hands” was the name given to the creature by Alan Clark, who created a series of eerily gorgeous paintings and sketches focusing on it. Alan always wanted to know the story behind the monster, so he asked me to tell him its story. The novel would not exist were it not for Alan Clark, which is why the book is dedicated in part to him.

As a child, I had one of those red “Monster Magnets” that was designed to look like a grimacing face growing out of two hands, and the damn thing always gave me the willies. Wish I still had it.

2.For anyone reading who hasn’t read your work, what can you tell us about Cedar Hill and the overall tale that takes place within it?

Cedar Hill is a town that is located in a part of the world where – as one character describes it – “…the walls of reality aren’t quite squared, so sometimes things slip through.” It’s a nexus populated by people who have come to accept the everyday weirdness around them. There is a small group of central characters who always pop up in one way or another in the cycle of books and stories, and central to this group of characters is the man known only as “The Reverend” who runs the Open Shelter (and serves as the omniscient narrator in Coffin County). It’s a place where the sins, violence, and horrors of the past have never truly gone away, and can re-emerge anywhere at any time.

The overall story of Cedar Hill is one of…I guess you’d call it “reconciliation.” Only in the case of Cedar Hill and its denizens it’s an on-going grappling with violence, suffering, and grief, and how the characters try to reconcile these elements with the idea of a Just and Loving God who watches over a universe where, supposedly, even the most banal of a human being’s daily actions carry some greater meaning than what is glanced on the surface.

In short: the central story is concerned with how the individual faces unspeakable horrors and still manages to find a reason to keep going.

3.How much background knowledge, of the Cedar Hill mythos, do you think a reader should have before reading ‘Coffin County’? Is it a book that people can just jump straight into?

Coffin County can be read as a stand-alone novel without any previous knowledge of the myths and legends in Cedar Hill’s history. But if a new reader can, I’d urge he or she to read the 4 books in the order they were written: In Silent Graves, Keepers, Mr. Hands, and Coffin County.

This isn’t an underhanded attempt to sell more books, but if one has read the 3 previous novels, then there’s a bit more to (hopefully) enjoy. But, just to repeat, Coffin County can be read as a stand-alone.

4.Things get pretty bleak in ‘Coffin County’ as we see a mental process that leads people to commit unspeakable acts. How do you maintain a distance from your subject matter so that you don’t end up feeling really depressed and shooting your neighbours?

Who says I maintain a distance? Point them out, give me names and addresses!

At some point during the writing of a Cedar Hill story – be it a short story, novella, or novel – there is no distance, and I fall into a fairly grim mindset – just ask my wife. It’s not something that I can help, and even if I could help it, I’m not sure I’d want to. If you expect to make the reader feel something, you yourself have to be experiencing those emotions and impulses as you write the story, or else it’s all just posturing and affectation. If you only want to go for the throat, for a quick shock or gross-out, that’s fine, but if you’re aiming for something deeper inside the reader, the heart and psyche and spirit, you can’t fake it. Make it as honest and unfiltered as you can without killing yourself, and the reader will feel the truth of those feelings, even those that lean way over into dark territories.

And to be completely honest, I’ve been getting treated for clinical depression for most of my life, so it’s a lot easier for me to access these bleaker feelings and be able to express them with what I hope is honesty on the written page.

5.In ‘Coffin County’, policeman Ben Littlejohn is faced with a horrible decision to make right at the end of the book. As the author, how much leeway do you give a character in terms of letting them make these decisions? Do you allow them to surprise you with their actions? Have you ever had to shoehorn a character back into the direction you wanted the plot to go?

I’ve found that, if a character decides to step in and take things out of my hands, that usually means I was moving things in the wrong direction. For me, plot comes from characterization and the interaction of those characters, not vice-versa. The best example I can offer is that of Rael from In Silent Graves. I’d originally intended for him to appear briefly at the start of the book, maybe a second, shorter appearance somewhere toward the middle, and once more at the end – but he had other plans. No matter how hard I tried to keep him out of things, the son-of-a-bitch kept showing up and moving the story in different directions, and suddenly I had three major characters instead of the two I’d planned on. If I’d succeeded in pushing Rael out of the way, if I’d let my ego and not the story dictate the direction of the narrative, the novel would have been a disaster.

So, no – I’ve never shoehorned a character back into a situation or direction where he or she didn’t belong.

6.You’ve mentioned on your message board that you’ve written over a hundred stories set in Cedar Hill. Even though this is obviously a decision that you’ve made yourself, how does it feel knowing that your Cedar Hill cycle is coming to an end? Is Cedar Hill a location that you are planning to re-visit in the future?

The cycle itself is not coming to an end, merely this branch of it. Admittedly, it’s taken me 26 years to get to this point, so it does feel a little like saying farewell to over half my life, and in a way that saddens me, but it’s also a new set of challenges.

By the time Far Dark Fields (the 5th Cedar Hill novel from Leisure) and The Carnival Within have been released by this time next year, the Cedar Hill timeline will have been at last established; here’s where it all started, here’s where it all ended. But I have deliberately been leaving gaps in the timeline that I can go back and fill in. If one is going to attempt to create an entire universe in which the majority of one’s tales are going to be set, then one sticks with it. Look at what Charles de Lint has done with his Newford tales. Damn near everything he’s written has been set there, and has continued to focus on a central set of characters. Because of his dedication to it, Newford is as rich and wondrous a universe as is Narnia or Middle Earth.

So I’m not leaving Cedar Hill anytime soon.

7.There’s a post on your message board where you’ve said that you will be taking your writing in a couple of new directions, namely mystery and urban fantasy. People can read your post and find out why you are moving away from horror but what was it that prompted you to move towards writing mystery and urban fantasy?

It’s not that I’m “moving away” from horror – I’m proud to be called a horror writer and always will be – but the majority of my stuff doesn’t quite fit in to a single category. That wasn’t a deliberate choice, it’s just the way it turned out. A lot of readers of traditional horror think my work has no business being mentioned in the same genre as King and Straub and Keene and Barker and Langhan and dozens of other writers because it doesn’t adhere to the traditional tropes (and that is not a slam against those wonderful storytellers, far from it). It boils down to my work being a bit too whimsical at times for hardcore horror readers, but way too grim and dark for readers of traditional fantasy.

As for mystery, I’ve written and published dozens of mystery and suspense stories over the years, many of which take place in or around Cedar Hill. If I’m going to more fully develop and explore this universe, then I’ve got to start making some unexpected turns, taking new chances, and moving a little more into mystery and urban fantasy will help strengthen the base on which the whole shebang is built upon.

8.Your short story, ‘We now pause for station identification’ won a Bram Stoker award but I can’t find it anywhere (I’m more than likely looking in the wrong places)! Where can I find this tale and why should all horror fans make sure they read it as well?

I was really stunned when “We Now Pause for Station Identification” received the Stoker Award because it was a zombie story – something I vowed I’d never write unless I could give it (in my eyes) a fresh perspective. When the chapbook was released, a lot of people were surprised to see that I’d dedicated the story to Brian Keene. Bear with me for a few more moments and I’ll give you an actual answer, promise.

I had been reading Brian’s The Rising, and early on in the novel there is this throwaway line about the main character listening to a radio DJ finally flip out and killing himself on the air. That conceit intrigued the hell out of me for some reason, so I asked Brian if he had any plans of doing anything with that particular event in a later book or story. He said no, it was just something he threw in in order to illustrate the psychological disintegration of society, and that if I thought I could do anything with that situation, I had his blessing.

So I decided to write a story about a DJ who’s barricaded in the broadcast booth while the dead crawl out of their graves and make their ways back home. But instead of telling it in 3rd-Person, I decided that the story would be a rambling, sleep-deprived monologue as he describes what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Midway through the monologue, the “zombies” began taking on much different characteristics than those usually associated with them, and I had no control whatsoever over what my narrator was seeing and describing; as a result, there’s this almost numinous sea-change right in the middle of the story that takes it in a direction I’d never even considered going in, and the story becomes more about physical and spiritual re-birth than about the end of days. I re-read the story before we started this interview and I still find it hard to believe that I wrote it. A happy, even joyous zombie story? What idiot would ever try that? (He said, nervously raising his hand.)

Why should all horror fans read it? Ooooh, boy, that’s not a loaded question at all, is it?

Okay, here goes (and hopefully this won’t sound egotistical or arrogant): horror fans should read it because it’s a good example of both what and how I write, but more than that, I think “We Now Pause…” shows that, with a little extra effort and a willingness to look at things from a parallax viewpoint, it’s possible to breathe new life into a traditional trope. Bear in mind, that was not my intention when I sat down to write it. I’m not claiming to have re-invented the wheel or have broken new ground or some-such happy horseshit like that; all I set out to do was tell a story about one man’s acceptance of his individual destiny, and how that destiny was tied in with that of all humankind. I wanted to write a zombie story that subtly incorporated String Theory.

Jesus, could I sound any more pompous? This is why I try to avoid questions about why people should read my work; once I get going on the explanation, I start to sound self-important in my own ears and wind up wondering why anyone would bother reading my stuff in the first place. Thanks, Graeme, for allowing me to parade my dreadful personality problems in front of everyone ;)

As to where you can obtain a copy of the chapbook – good luck with that. Your best bet would probably be to check Ebay or or Alibris. I’m hoping that there will be an opportunity for me to reprint the story somewhere soon.

9.Someone comes up to you, in a bookshop, and asks you to recommend them some good horror fiction. Name a couple of authors who you think are doing really good things right now…

Christopher Golden and Tom Piccirilli are both nearing the height of their considerable powers; Tim Lebbon has all but reinvented himself as a storyteller with his amazing Noreela series; Horror’s Two Sarahs -- Pinborough and Langan
-- are writing some of the most eerily beautiful prose to be found anywhere; Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem just released The Man on the Ceiling, which is to my mind a stunning work of art; and Richard Dansky’s Firefly Rain is a novel that illustrates everything good horror should be but so often isn’t.

10.And finally, Cedar Hill can be full of horror but there is beauty there as well (as your short story ‘I’ll play the blues for you’ shows). Would you live there?

Hell, I already do live there – and some nice property just became available a few doors down. Once they get the bloodstains out of the hardwood floors, it’ll be as good as new. I know the realtor and can get you a good mortgage rate…

Thanks for your time Gary, I really appreciate it.

For more information about Gary Braunbeck, and his work, have a click
Here for his official website. Reviews for Mr Hands and Coffin County are on the blog if you fancy a look.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

'Sly Mongoose' - The Trailer!

I just found this on Youtube and thought I'd share :o)

‘Sly Mongoose’ - Tobias S. Buckell (Tor Books)

Tobias Buckell’s ‘Ragamuffin’ was one of my surprise finds of last year. Science Fiction isn’t really my thing but what I do love is space opera that’s full of heroes, strange alien races and cool looking spacecraft that can do impossible things when piloted by their roguish captains, ‘Crystal Rain’ and ‘Ragamuffin’ did all of this with an Afro-Caribbean twist that really freshened things up for me. Coming off the back of these two great reads I’d earmarked ‘Sly Mongoose’ as one to look out for in 2008, I’ve just finished it and can safely say that I wasn’t disappointed. (It's got 'space zombies' in it and that's just the start)
‘Sly Mongoose’ is set in the same universe as it’s predecessors but a number of years on. Because of this the book stands on its own fairly well but there are elements where you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve read the other two books as well. The action takes place on the planet Chilo; a world of corrosive rain, crushing pressure and deadly heat (kinda like Venus in our solar system). This isn’t so bad if you live in one of the floating cities, at a safe height, but if you’re one of the young men who has to make a living scavenging on the surface of the planet then things can be very dangerous indeed. Timas is one of these men until the day his routine is shattered by the arrival of a stranger in his city. War is coming and none of the floating cities are safe. The only answer to this problem lies within the perpetual storm that Timas’ city orbits…
Before I say anything else, any book that kicks off with a man strapping himself to a heat shield in order to enter a planet’s atmosphere (he really doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter) is seriously cool as far as I’m concerned! This opening scene is also a real statement of intent about how far Buckell is prepared to push things for his readers and he proceeds to do this with aplomb. While ‘Ragamuffin’ was action packed, it has nothing on the buzz I got reading this. The second things start to happen; they just don’t stop until the final page, expect some mighty battles and action scenes involving characters who are constantly moving. I loved the final scenes where a floating city was used to ram and invade another floating city but even that was eclipsed by how Tima made his final journey to the surface… Having said that though, I did have an issue with the resolution of a couple of cliff-hangers where pages would be spent in the build up and then everything was explained in one sentence tucked away in a paragraph somewhere… One of these in particular had me going backwards and forwards between pages trying to find the bit I’d obviously missed because, well… Tima was an inch away from death… wasn’t he?
I also found the characterisation to be spot on, especially with Pepper (back and as tough as ever) who bridges the gap between ‘Ragamuffin’ and ‘Sly Mongoose’. It’s very interesting to see the development Pepper goes through (and the decisions he has to make) as he can no longer just shoot his way through a problem, he has to interact with the people around him and be a little bit sly... Pepper’s still a tough character though with a real no-nonsense approach that constantly causes friction and this makes for some fun reading at times.
You wouldn’t have thought that you could do much with an uninhabitable planet but Buckell still manages to suffuse it with life with his signature airships and strange Strandbeest (self replicating craft) amongst other. There’s also a real sense of Chilo’s atmosphere as an entity in its own right (something extremely dangerous to the settlers) and this contributes to a vivid picture of life as a colonist of a dangerous world.
An old enemy rears its head but it’s the promise of new danger on the frontiers that makes things really exciting and has got me looking forward to whatever Tobias writes next. Things are left open ended but I think we’ll be seeing more of Pepper in the future and I for one am really glad. The first chapter has drawn to a close but there is the promise of more good things to come.

Nine out of Ten

PS Reviews of Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin are on the blog if you fancy a look.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Giveaway! 'Scar Night' (Alan Campbell)

I told you another competition would be along soon... ;o)

If you look down the page you'll see that I really enjoyed Alan Campbell's 'Iron Angel', so much in fact that I thought it would be a cool thing to do to give away some free copies on the blog. But then I thought, 'what about all the people who haven't read Scar Night yet...?' (Ok, there was also the fact that an 'Iron Angel' competition would have ended up being 'UK only' and I wanted everyone to be able to enter if they wanted!) So the idea of a 'Scar Night' giveaway was born! :o)
Here's a very brief synopsis for those who don't already know the story...

Suspended by chains over a seemingly bottomless abyss, the ancient city of Deepgate is home to a young angel, an assassin, and a psychotic murderer hungry for revenge—or redemption. But soon a shocking betrayal will unite all three in a desperate quest....

I told you it was brief! Do you fancy a copy? Well, thanks to the good folk at Tor UK I have three copies to give to anyone who fancies a good read. Are you one of these people? You are? Cool! What you need to do is send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live! I'll let the competition run until next Wednesday (28th May) and announce the winners on the Thursday.

Good Luck!

Indiana Jones Competition - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Indiana Jones' competition. It would have been great if I could have given books to all of you but well, you know...
Anyway, without further ado the lucky winners are...

Pat Neal, Orange New Jersey, US
Steven Van Bael, Belgium
Michael Below, Germany

Well done folks, your books are on their way. Happy Reading!
Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more competitions in the future so keep your eyes open...

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

‘Moon Called’ – Patricia Briggs (Orbit Books)

I haven’t read a great deal of urban fantasy but I’ve read enough to work out that if there was a party held for ‘urban fantasy lead characters’ then Harry Dresden and Felix Castor would probably be the only guys who turned up. While they were propping up the bar, the rest of the place would be full of feisty women (in their twenties or maybe early thirties) all talking about how hard they found it fitting into the local paranormal scene and the romantic tension between them and various ‘alpha’ werewolves, head vampires and other fey creatures. If ‘Moon Called’ is anything to go by then Mercedes Thompson would be one of these ladies, she’d certainly have plenty in common with them. Mercedes is a shape shifter (coyote) in an America where fey creatures are just starting to make themselves known to the general public. She’s a mechanic (working on a van belonging to a vampire) and her neighbour is the leader of the local werewolf pack. It’s hardly an ideal situation but it could be a lot worse. Things get a lot worse… Mercedes takes in a young werewolf stray which starts a series of events ending with a dead body on her doorstep and the alpha werewolf’s daughter being kidnapped. Mercedes generally manages to stay out of trouble but this time she has no choice but to face it head on…
On the face of things, ‘Moon Called’ is very much like most of the other urban fantasies that I’ve seen on the shelves, a strong female lead trying to get along in a male dominated world and having to deal with all the ‘tension’ that arises from her dealings with the local alpha werewolf. As a guy, I’m starting to feel a little under represented here! :o) Are there any urban fantasy series (other than the ‘Dresden Files’ and ‘Felix Castor’ books) where the main character is male? I’m starting to feel like I’ve heard all this before… Where Patricia Briggs wins through for me is that although it feels like she is rehashing a generic urban fantasy setting I loved the way she concentrated on the werewolves and really fleshed out the whole ‘pack thing’ (issues of domination in the pack and becoming a werewolf). Detail such as the vegetarian vet who became a werewolf (and then had to deal with craving for meat as well as having to quit his job) shows how much thought the author had put into her subject matter and felt like a really different take on stuff I’d read before.
The plot itself was interesting enough to make me want to keep reading and all questions were answered by the end of the book. However, the book is very obviously the first in a series in that there is a lot of introducing characters and scene setting. I felt that the balance sometimes went too far in favour of the scene setting etc and this got in the way of the actual story. Having said that though, at least I’ll know who everyone is when I read the next book! And that’s the thing, despite all my niggles I’ll still be reading ‘Blood Bound’ (the sequel) when it’s released, ‘Moon Called’ is an entertaining read and I’m interested to see what happens next to Mercedes. Another fast paced and fun read for the commute to work!

Seven out of Ten

Edited to Add: I forgot about Charlie Huston's 'Joe Pitt' books but even so...

Monday, 19 May 2008

‘Iron Angel’ – Alan Campbell (Tor UK)

A couple of years ago (roughly), I read Alan Campbell’s debut ‘Scar Night’ on the basis of a glowing review from SFX magazine. I loved the dark and foreboding atmosphere and I loved the kind of imagination that could come up with a city suspended, from chains, over an abyss. I even loved the dysfunctional characters that inhabited this city; a battle angel that didn’t know how to fight and an insane poisoner amongst others. It was a real shame then that nothing seemed to actually happen, lots of style but no substance… Having said that though, there was enough goodness in ‘Scar Night’ to make me want to read ‘Iron Angel’ when it came through the door the other day. I’m really glad it I did, so glad in fact that I went out and purchased a copy of ‘Scar Night’ just to see if a re-read makes any difference. It’s an amazing read and one that will feature prominently on my list of great books from this year…
Following the cataclysmic finale to ‘Scar Night’, the Spine Assassin Rachel Hael and the Battle Angel Dill flee the city of Deepgate, the death of the God Ulcis has left a portal to Hell unguarded and the city is no longer a safe place to be. However, it appears that nowhere is safe in a world besieged on all sides; Hell wants to plunge the land into chaos whereas the Gods want to keep the land as it is but enslave humanity instead. The fate of a cast of thousands will be decided on the battlefields of Coreollis and certain characters will end the book in a very different shape to the one they started in…
I had great fun reading this book, while it has all the style and menace of it’s predecessor ‘Iron Angel’ also has a lot going in terms of plot (double-crossing, backstabbing and cheating in abundance). It was the perfect combination as far as I was concerned. It’s almost as if ‘Scar Night’ introduces the reader to the world while ‘Iron Angel’ throws said reader right into the deep end to either sink or swim. Just when I thought that I had a handle on the plot, something would happen to confound my expectations and throw me back into a story that generally moves very quickly. I say ‘generally’ because there are occasions when Campbell goes off in a flurry of descriptive prose that’s usually about the landscape that characters are passing through. I did find this jarring on occasion but as I was being introduced to places such as the poisonous depths of Cinderbark Wood or the crumbling remnants of Deepgate itself I was generally happy to let my grumbles go! Campbell has already displayed an extraordinary vision in his depiction of Deepgate, ‘Iron Angel’ sees him move outside the city and do it all over again in places such as Sandport, Cinderbark Wood and Hell itself (a location that’s awe inspiring in its structure and the multitude of creatures that live within). It’s one thing to read about what a place is like but only an author on top of his game can make a reader feel what it’s like, Campbell is definitely on top of his game in this regard.
‘Iron Angel’ is crammed full of first rate plot and world-building and it unfortunately appears that characterisation pays the price for this. There is so much going on that there doesn’t seem to be room for the characters to develop and react to what is happening to them. While the reader gets some explanation it just doesn’t seem to be enough when placed against what certain characters have to go through (Dill for example). I’m wondering if we will find out a lot more in the final book.
When placed against how much I enjoyed the book though, this seems like a small quibble; ‘Iron Angel’ shows a marked improvement on ‘Scar Night’ and promises good things for the final instalment.

Nine out of Ten.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

'The Mirrored Heavens' - A Giveaway!

As you can tell from my review (a couple of posts down) I really enjoyed this book and if you're a fan of either military sci-fi or cyber-thrillers then I reckon you'll enjoy it too. With this in mind, I got in touch with the good people at Bantam Spectra who have agreed to give away two copies of the book in this here competition that I'm running!
Do you want in? Simply send me an email (address at the top right hand corner) telling me who you are and where you live. I'll let the competition run until next Saturday (24th May) and announce the winners on the Sunday. It's as simple as that!
The 'Indiana Jones' competition is still running so make sure that your email subject header is clear on what competition you want to enter...

Good Luck!

Friday, 16 May 2008

‘Steward of Song’ – Adam Stemple (Tor Books)

Despite what you will sometimes find me saying, I’ve got a real soft spot for urban fantasy at the moment. Epic fantasy is still my favourite read and sci-fi often throws up some nice surprises but urban fantasy done well can really make you wonder what’s on the other side of a mirror or what might be taking a short cut through your garden in the middle of the night… Adam Stemple’s ‘Steward of Song’ is one of those books, not particularly original but definitely one that caught my imagination.
‘Steward of Song’ follows on from the events of ‘Singer of Souls’. I don’t really know what these events were as I haven’t read the first book but luckily the sequel appears to be fairly self-contained with only a few hints, used sparingly, of what has happened before. Douglas, the hero of the first book, is now the Lord of Faerie but it’s his brother and sister who take centre stage for this book. Scott (an ex-marine suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and flashes of second sight) finds a baby left on his doorstep and must fight to protect it from the monsters in the forest. However, he’s about to find that the real threat is a lot closer to home. Ex-policewoman Bridie finds herself in Scotland helping the police investigate the brutal murder of her grandmother and the prime suspect is none other than Douglas…
On the face of things, ‘Steward of Song’ isn’t original at all. Whatever book you look in, the world of Faerie is run by a court where there’s lots of infighting/backstabbing and an icy cold (but beautiful) woman manipulates everyone for her own ends. ‘Steward of Song’ has this in abundance and it also has the almost obligatory ‘humans plunged into the world of Faerie’ theme as well. Having said that, I felt that what the book sets out to do is done very well and any fan of the genre should get a lot out of this read. The simple fact is that Stemple tells a really good story with enough twists and cliffhangers to keep me interested. There’s a ‘police procedural’ element where the uncertainty, over the outcome of the case, constantly wrestles with your assumption that a hero couldn’t possibly have murdered his own grandmother (could he?) I also think that Stemple does a great job introducing fey creatures into our world, an understated approach that somehow achieves a greater impact with its simplicity. Bridie’s confrontation with the Red Caps isn’t really embellished in any way but still feels tense and exciting. It’s not just the fey creatures that are handled well but also the world of Faerie itself. The little details, which characters encounter, are well drawn and Stemple doesn’t let Faerie merge with our world too much, ensuring that it retains its own unique sense of identity. I thought the characterisation was generally handled very well (I found Scott’s tale most engaging) although some characters were less well drawn than others. I’m not sure if this was because the reader is meant to know some characters already (i.e. Douglas) or if we will get to know them better in a future book…
As I’ve already mentioned, while ‘Steward of Song’ won’t any prizes for originality (and was a little vague in places) I found it to be an engaging read that has got me interested in where the story goes next. When I get a moment I’ll have to try and find the first book…

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 15 May 2008

‘The Mirrored Heavens’ – David J. Williams (Bantam Spectra)

I don’t normally pick up thrillers so a sci-fi story about infighting between terrorists and various political ‘black ops’ teams didn’t initially fill me with confidence. I thought I’d give it a go though and have to say that I’m very glad that I did. It’s a bit early to be picking my favourite sci-fi novel of the year but I can say that ‘The Mirrored Heavens’ is definitely on my shortlist.
It’s the 22nd century and a mixture of Cold War, environmental damage and an Arab-Israeli nuclear exchange has prompted the various power blocs to draw up the Treaty of Zurich in an attempt to stop world affairs spiralling completely out of control. The symbol of this new found unity is the construction of the Phoenix space elevator but its destruction by the terrorist group ‘Autumn Rain’ causes chaos to break out again. Counterintelligence agents Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe are best placed to get to the bottom of this but what chance of success do they have when they don’t even know if their feelings for each other are the truth or not?
This world of the future is a dangerous place to live, especially if you’re an agent tasked with either keeping the peace or advancing the goals of your shadowy masters. This makes for a story with a good mix of futuristic warfare and espionage. The espionage is particularly convoluted as people change sides regularly and information is doled out sparingly by characters who want to remain in control. As a result you really have to keep an eye on what’s going on or you will miss something important. I paid close attention and still managed to miss a couple of things that made a difference to the plot. Maybe the plot is a little too convoluted and this gets in the way (too many different groups all with conflicting agendas)? I don’t know but luckily ‘The Mirrored Heavens’ is a book that I am looking forward to re-reading (soon) anyway so I’ll have a better idea then. Another thing that bugged me slightly were cryptic conversations between characters who didn’t want to give too much away. They succeeded in this but it was to the extent where I was often left wondering just exactly what had been said! In a strange kind of way though this actually made reading the book more enjoyable when conclusions were finally drawn and payoffs made. Despite this, the plot kept me hooked right until the end and that’s all that really matters right?
Now what I’ve said so far makes ‘The Mirrored Heavens’ sound anything like ‘favourite sci-fi book’ material but there is a lot more to it which I got a lot out of. Williams writes a pretty mean action scene which gets the blood pumping. Whether it’s two operatives fighting underneath the Moon or an agent going up against a ship full of combat drones, the writing surges with adrenaline and some of the moves/countermeasures that Williams comes up with shows just how much thought he has put into his world building. Plot is important but I love world building, for me it’s the thing that can make or break a book that I want to get lost in. ‘The Mirrored Heavens’ is a winner in this case, Williams has chosen a direction for Earth to head in and paints a vivid picture of the results. His cityscapes are gorgeously drawn (If menacing) with a real cyberpunk feel. Talking of cyberpunk; Williams takes computer/net hacking to a level only dreamed of with the introduction of the ‘Razors’, hackers who can manipulate technology like never before.
‘The Mirrored Heavens’ is a difficult book to get into but I found it almost impossible to put down once I started (and that was only because I had to go to work). The finale is left open ended enough for a sequel (at least) and I’m looking forward to reading more by David Williams.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that David has a pretty cool looking website over Here. Check it out...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’

The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Wastelands
Wizard and Glass
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower

Given that I’ve been such a big fan of Stephen King over the years it’s surprising that I never got into his Dark Tower series until a couple of years ago. I don’t know why it happened like this, if anything I think I preferred reading his ‘stand alone’ horror and the thought of waiting years to read the next Dark Tower instalment (he wrote them as the mood took him and I also think he put off writing them as he didn’t want the series to finish) didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm! This all changed when I read ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’, both great books as far as I’m concerned. I read somewhere that these two books had connections to the Dark Tower and all of a sudden I found myself thinking that the series may be worth checking out after all… I picked up ‘The Gunslinger’ to take on holiday and was hooked pretty much right from the start. Despite the ‘piecemeal’ feel of the book (it was originally written as a series of short stories) there was a surreal air to the world and its inhabitants that kept me reading. Our hero Roland of Gilead lives in a world that has ‘moved on’; order has broken down in the aftermath of war but things aren’t as chaotic as you would expect, instead there seems to be a malaise over the land and people are content to just let things wind down. Machines don’t work but no-body can remember how they worked anyway. In our world Roland would be a cowboy, in his world he is a ‘gun-slinger’ which is a cowboy but also a member of a knightly order. His quest is to find the Man in Black and then save the beams which connect the Dark Tower to the whole of existence itself. The world may have moved on but it seems that Roland can stop it ending completely. He cannot do it by himself though and ‘The Drawing of the Three’ and ‘The Wastelands’ see him gather companions to fight by his side. ‘Wizard and Glass’ sheds light on some of Roland’s tragic past and the final three books take us right up to the doors of the Dark Tower itself. It’s here that the reader will find that the success of Roland’s quest doesn’t depend so much on what he has achieved but how he achieved it…
If you haven’t read the Dark Tower series then I think you need to do something about that sooner rather than later. If nothing else, fans of King’s horror fiction will suddenly become aware of a whole load of things that connect almost everything King has written. The Dark Tower series also gives King the chance to showcase writing skills and techniques that don’t fit into his mainstream work as well. There’s something for everyone in this series; terrifying evil, heroism, camaraderie and tragedy. Roland’s tale is ultimately a tragic one so be prepared to say to people, “I wasn’t crying! It’s, er… really dusty and I got some in my eye!” ‘Wizard and Glass’ is particularly sad which makes it heavy going on a first read but it’s a lot easier (and more worthwhile) if you decide on a re-read. All of this is placed against a ‘Western Epic’ backdrop where the gun is law and a man’s quickness on the draw gives him the right to exercise his own justice. It’s this ‘American feel’ that really sets the series apart as something unique.
It’s the characters, and how they get on, that really make this series work for me. Roland’s band (his ‘ka-tet’) explores themes of love, trust, honour and sacrifice in the face of often overwhelming odds which really made me feel for them. It’s not just the heroes that make the story though, King’s villains are also particularly devilish and evil. Funnily enough though it’s the minor villains such as Blaine or the Big Coffin Hunters that come across as the most evil, the Crimson King (supposedly the ‘uber bad guy’) only really makes an appearance right at the end of Book 7 (‘The Dark Tower’) and doesn’t have a lot of time to make an impact.
I love this series and if you haven’t read it already then I reckon you will too. A couple of things though… Stephen King writes himself into the series during ‘Song of Susannah’ which has polarised fans. I’m cool with this, it was his ‘big labour of love’ so it was inevitable that he would find his way in. Personally I don’t think that it damages the story at all. Finally, the end of the series is a shock if you don’t know what’s coming and another one that got fans worked up. I can see why but I think it had to end the way it did. Sometimes it’s not about the destination but the journey itself…

See your name in print!

I'm not talking about your local newspaper either, how do you fancy seeing your name appear in a book of retro-Victorian steampunk adventure? Sounds good doesn't it? Read on...

I'm a big fan of Abaddon Books' 'Pax Brittania' series; in particular the adventures of one Ulysses Quicksilver, gentleman adventurer and agent of the crown. Check out my reviews of Unnatural History and Leviathan Rising for more information. The next book in the series, 'Human Nature', is due to be released in December and Jonathan Green (the author) is offering one lucky reader the chance to see their name used for one of the characters in the book. You could be the arch-villain or you could end up as a cheeky cockney cabbie, who knows...
I'm in and, despite wanting to win this thing, I thought I'd offer you all the chance to enter as well. More information can be found Here.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Giveaway! 'The Indiana Jones Trilogy' (Books not the films!)

I'd be surprised if you didn't already know that the next couple of weeks will see the release of the long awaited Indiana Jones film 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'. I would say that I'll be going to see it but every time I say that I end up missing the film... (Still need to see 'Ironman'!) Transworld have got a pretty cool omnibus edition of the original movie novelisations which I've been reading so I can catch up before the film opens. It's a bit of a wierd one to review (what can I tell you about it that you don't already know?) but suffice it to say that reading the stories are just as much fun as watching the films.
Sounds pretty good doesn't it? Fancy a copy for yourself? Thanks to the good people at Transworld Books I have three copies to give away, ideal for the train journey to work :o) Unless you're one of those people with a portable DVD player who can just watch the films...
Want in? Entering is incredibly easy. My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen, just drop me a line telling me who you are and where you live. I'll let this one run until next Tuesday (20th May) and then annouce the winners on the Wednesday. This giveaway is open to anyone so it doesn't matter where you're from, drop me a line anyway! :o) Don't be trying to enter more than once though...

Good luck!

Monday, 12 May 2008

‘Tower Hill’ – Sarah Pinborough

I’ve read some horrifying stuff over the last week so it seemed strangely apt that I get back into the normal swing of things by reading some horror fiction and Sarah Pinborough’s ‘Tower Hill’ seemed like a good place to start.
There seems to be a rule of horror fiction stating that the quieter a locale is, the more likely it is that something truly evil and terrifying is going to take place. The small American town of Tower Hill seems to be the quietest and most easy going, town in horror fiction so it’s pretty clear right from the start that something big is going to happen! Two men arrive in Tower Hill, not normally something noteworthy but they killed a priest and blew up a Burger King on the way. Now the town has a new priest as well as a new professor at the college and students from the college are beginning to die… Artefacts of great power lie within Tower Hill and Godhood awaits those who are willing to take the risk. Or does it? The stakes are much higher than anyone seems to realise…
‘Tower Hill’ is a genuinely creepy novel of a town that gradually falls under supernatural control and the consequences of this. The tension builds up on each page as the situation grows worse and the few unaffected people find the odds are stacked more and more against them. Pinborough has a real knack for reeling the reader in with the promise of hope and then throwing a curveball that puts everything into doubt again. Even though the storyline could be quite predictable in this way (I came to expect it after a while) it was the character’s reactions, in the face of fear, that really drove things along. A real mixture of fear and heroism, especially in the case of Deputy Sheriff Eccles. This approach also throws up a real sense of inevitability that can make things predictable (as mentioned) but also really adds to the creeping sense of horror that pervades this book. There’s nothing here that will make you jump but there was plenty to give me that sick feeling you get when you know something bad is going to happen and there is nothing that you can do…
After all this horror goodness (a couple of scenes laid on the gore in a particularly nasty way!) it was a shame to see the book end in the way that it did. Without giving too much away there’s an emphasis placed on ‘random chance that is really fate’ that came across (to me at least) like a get out of jail free card. There’s also the fact that while our heroes were labouring in ignorance for most of the book they managed to find out what they needed to know just in time for the final confrontation… I can see how this could happen but maybe it would have been a more effective tactic to let the tension stretch out just a little bit further…
‘Tower Hill’ is let down by its ending but is still a gripping page turner full of creeping dread. Sarah Pinborough has done enough to make sure that I’ll be looking out for more her books in the future.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Love is...

... something that won't be featuring heavily in my reading for some time to come! :o) Yes, it's time to bid a fond farewell to the 'Week of Love' and get back to the sci-fi/fantasy/horror that got me blogging in the first place (can you hear me breathe a sigh of relief?)
I've learned a few things about 'para-normal romance', and romance in urban fantasy/sci-fi, this week. I gave it a go but it's just not for me. Am I just a prude or do I think that certain authors could write a better story without resorting to graphic detail of you know what? A little bit of A and a little bit B I have to admit. I also learnt that...

A were-leopard never changes its spots.

The motel industry in America is built on the antics of amorous were-creatures that just cannot wait to get home.

Being under a witch's spell is a perfectly good reason for not calling your girlfriend.

Leprachauns smoke pot.

The term 'para-normal romance' is very misleading as far as I'm concerned!

And there you have it. Tomorrow should see a review of a tasty slice of horror fiction that I'm reading and I'll hopefully be setting up a couple of competitions as well. Before I go, I just want to say thanks to everyone who linked to the 'Blood Noir' review. It was really interesting to see some of the comments that came up (it's not just me who thinks this stuff). Cheers!
Hope the rest of your weekend is great!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

‘The Host’ – Stephenie Meyer (Sphere Books)

I always wondered what life on Earth would have been like after the Bodysnatchers had taken over completely (you’ve seen the films haven’t you?) I’m not sure if this was her intention but Stephenie Meyer gives her readers a pretty good idea… and tells a love story at the same time.
Earth has been taken over by an alien race that takes over the minds of humanity whilst leaving the bodies intact. Wanderer is a ‘soul’, an alien freshly implanted into a human host and looking forward to experiencing life on Earth. The only problem is that Melanie (the original owner of Wanderer’s body) refuses to let Wanderer take over completely. Melanie has unfinished business in the real world and Wanderer cannot help but go along with it. Wanderer/Melanie find Jared (Melanie’s boyfriend) with a group of other survivors, not only must Wanderer fight to gain the trust of the refugees but she must also work out whether Melanie’s feelings are coming through or if she is in love with Jared herself…
Stephenie Meyer has already made a name for herself, as the author of the best selling ‘Twilight’ series for young adults and ‘The Host’ is her first foray into adult fiction. At least that’s what the press release says, I personally couldn’t tell much of a difference. I’m not saying this is a bad thing just that maybe young adult readers will get just as much out of this book as they have done with previous books.
‘The Host’ is a long and meandering read, weighing in at a hefty six hundred and seventeen pages. Meyer seems to be of the school of thought where using one word clearly won’t do if you can use a hundred instead! The result is a sometimes stifling read where the temptation to skim read could sometimes mean that something important is missed. At the same time though there is something compelling about the writing that made me want to keep at it instead of putting it to one side. Meyer does a great (if long winded) job of portraying the pressure humanity would probably face in an alien invasion. The simplest task takes on a different dimension and I kept reading to see what would happen next. The tension is palpable and every word of dialogue is heavy with meaning. This makes the romance element interesting, especially when the ‘love triangle’ grows another side… Any romance is handled really delicately and this reflects the impossible situation that the main players have found themselves in. My pet hate, right now, in ‘romantic literature’ is the endless soul searching that each character must do and there is no exception here for ‘The Host’. While it may be a great way to give the reader insight into the characters, it sometimes doesn’t sit well when placed in context against the urgency of the situation.
Meyer also has a habit of pulling tricks out of thin air to resolve her plots. While I can understand that Wanderer has a lot of other stuff on her mind, to suddenly ‘remember what to do to solve hers and Melanie’s problem’ out of thin air looked like a big fat get out of jail free card from where I was sitting. Likewise the ending, although a happy one, came across that the author didn’t want to take a risk and gave the reader what she thought would make them happy. I think a sad ending would have made the romance all the more poignant.
Despite all this though I enjoyed reading ‘The Host’, while I don’t think I would read anymore of her stuff I’d recommend it to anyone who’s already a fan.

Seven out of Ten

Friday, 9 May 2008

‘The Brass Bed’ – Jennifer Stevenson (Ballantine Books)

I’m pretty much burnt out from a week of ‘paranormal romance’ (currently slogging my way through ‘The Host’) so I’ll say right now that this isn’t a review at all. However, I thought it was still worth a mention as not only am I all about the romance this week (so thought I’d point this out to fans of the sub-genre) but my wife had a quick read and it made her laugh out loud. More on that in a bit…
Here’s the synopsis,

THE CURSE: Satisfy one hundred women or be trapped in a brass bed forever. Lord Randall was a lousy lover in 1811, so his magician-mistress turned him into a sex demon. Lucky for him, the bed fell into Clay's hands.
THE CON: Sex therapy for women on an antique brass "treatment bed" Clay has the perfect scam going, until that pesky, foxy fraud investigator Jewel comes sniffing around. Lucky for him, she has a soft spot for hunky con men.
THE CHOICE: Sex demon or sex fraudster? Jewel is Randy's hundredth woman. Now he says he's her personal sex slave, and her case against the con artist is dissolving in a hail of hormones. Lucy for her, she's a tough cop with a lusty libido.

So I’m sat at the computer playing Tetris and my wife decides to take a closer look at the sort of book I’ve been reading this week. I don’t hear much from her for a little while and then she bursts out laughing. This line was what gave her the giggles…

‘Her tingly bits were doing a conga dance. How long would it take him to give her a hundred orgasms?’

The sex demon with a case of Stockholm syndrome also sounded funny but… her ‘tingly bits’? This sounds like a book that won’t be taking itself too seriously so if you’re a fan of that kind of thing then it might be worth a look. I don't think much of the cover though...

'Night of Knives Competition' - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition. If I could, I'd give a book to everyone who emailed but that wouldn't make it much of a competition would it? :o)
Anyway, the lucky winners are...

Leticia Daquer, Italy
Thomas Stott, Stirlingshire, Scotland
Will Masters, Hertford, UK

Nice one guys, your books are on their way right now! Thanks again to Transworld Books for supplying the books.
Better luck next time everyone else, keep your eyes open as there will be more giveaways...

Thursday, 8 May 2008

‘Blood Noir’ – Laurell K. Hamilton (Orbit Books)

I’ll own up to being more than a little naïve when I picked this book up. This is supposed to be a week about romance in Fantasy/Sci-fi and I thought to myself, “Anita Blake has loads of boyfriends; she has to love at least one of them…” Maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t; we will never find an answer in ‘Blood Noir’, a book that makes me want to go to the police and report a case of ‘Wilful abuse and neglect of plot’…
Let’s have a quick look at the plot first as I thought there was a lot of potential here for some cool stuff to happen. Anita and Jason (a were-wolf) take a trip out of town so Jason can say a final goodbye to his terminally ill father. Unfortunately for Jason he’s the spitting image of his cousin, the wayward son of a Governor running for President and target for vampire assassins. A clever plot about mistaken identity looks like it could be on the cards but Hamilton ignores this for nearly the whole book, preferring instead to concentrate on how much sex Anita can have in three hundred and forty pages. This is quite a lot of sex considering how often it is used as an answer to life’s little problems. For example, is your best friend having a crisis in his personal life? Simply agree to his plea for sex (because that’s going to sort everything out isn’t it?) and then let him watch you and your boyfriend play bondage games. Talking of which, unless you’re writing a pornographic novel then I really don’t see the need for the level of detail that Hamilton is prepared to go to. I’m in no way conceited enough to think that this review will come to her attention but if it does, “Ms. Hamilton, we get it! They’re having sex, sometimes they even enjoy it. You really don’t need to tell us how they do it and what they do it with…” I don’t even want to talk about the ‘almost rape’ scene, suffice it to say that there is such a scene and a little part of me died when I read it…
The rest of the book boils down to Anita either having sex with people or getting into situations where her ‘sex power’ attracts the wrong kind of people. It’s like a ‘Carry On’ film but without the humour, especially when security guards (from various agencies) decide that they all want in as well… In fact the only time that Anita doesn’t have sex is because a two day ‘sex bender’ has rendered her physically incapable of the act, she obviously needs to learn to pace herself…
The plot is given the barest acknowledgement throughout the book which makes things difficult if your aim to skim read the sex stuff and get to the story. Anita comes under attack from a very powerful vampire but this seems to have nothing to do with the story and is only there to set up something for a later book. What made me laugh though (a hollow laugh of despair) is that, around forty pages off the end of the book; Hamilton suddenly remembers the ‘mistaken identity’ thing and has to quickly come up with something to address this. It’s rushed and only serves to show the reader what Hamilton could have done with the story if her mind wasn’t on other stuff instead.
I’ve been asked why I put myself through this and all I can really say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s like watching the aftermath of a natural disaster on TV, painful on the eyes but you just can’t look away…
No more for me though, I’ve done my time and there is a lot more Urban Fantasy out there which is worth looking at. What really bugs me is that this series could be quite an entertaining read if it hadn’t gone in the direction it has.

Two out of Ten

Ten out of Ten if you’re into books where the heroine is so busy having sex that she forgets to take her contraceptive pill…

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

‘Slaine: Warrior’s Dawn’ – Pat Mills (Rebellion)

Only halfway into my ‘Week of Love’ and I’m taking a short break, just to get myself ready for that final push! ;o) I wanted to get back to my ‘fantasy loving roots’ but I didn’t want something that was going to take ages to finish. Luckily for me, I had bought a ‘Slaine’ graphic novel in the last few days…
For those of you that don’t know, Slaine is one of the more iconic figures of the 2000AD comic, striding the Land of the Young killing his enemies (as well as Gods and monsters) and generally making himself very rich indeed. Unfortunately for him, the dwarf Ukko can always be relied upon to lose any money that Slaine makes! Does this sound like a Conan rip off to you? I guess it is in the sense that any barbarian in the fantasy genre is inevitably going to have a little bit of Conan in him. Slaine is a typical barbarian; all too fond of wine, women and wealth but any similarities with Conan end right here. Slaine’s world is steeped in Celtic mythology adding a depth that isn’t apparent in Conan’s tales, I was left thinking, ‘maybe things were like this back in the day…’ Well, apart from the ‘Time Monster’ obviously!
‘Warrior’s Dawn’ collects Slaine’s first few appearances in 2000AD as a young man returning, from exile, to his tribe now that the King is dead. It would be a pretty boring journey though if things didn’t happen along the way so Slaine has plenty to contend with. As well as the ‘Time Monster’ and a failed attempt at running a prison, Slaine must fight a running battle with the Drune priests who are ruining the land with their magic. Boats that fly are also involved and there’s a great battle with sky pirates! These are the main plot strands but it’s just scratching the tip of the iceberg really, there’s a hell of a lot going on with a ‘mini adventure’ on each page. A really exciting read with plenty of cliff hangers! Three artists each had a turn with Slaine’s early stories and there is a marked difference in the styles that they employ, it’s all good though and my personal favourite is Mike McMahon’s scribbly but really detailed take. There’s a really good site Here that gives you a feel of what McMahon’s artwork is all about as well as a peek at the story itself.
I had a great time reading this collection and it has whetted my appetite for more of the same. If you’re a fan of barbarians and Celtic mythology then this is a series that I think you’ll get a lot out of.

Mike Carey Competition - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered, it does my ego the world of good to see loads of emails in my inbox! :o) Unfortunately though there could only be one winner and that lucky winner was...

Jonathan Laidlow, Birmingham, UK

Well done Jonathan! Your books will be on their way as soon as I can fight my way past the massive queue in the post office...
Better luck next time everyone else (and there will be more competitions in the future). It's not quite the same as winning but if you buy yourself a copy of 'The Devil You Know' and 'Vicious Circle' then it will be money very well spent indeed!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

‘Timeless Moon’ – C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp (Tor Books)

A large part of Bank Holiday Monday was spent digging up our rather scruffy looking lawn in preparation for planting grass seed and having a nice new lawn for the summer. At least that’s the plan; there were a lot of birds sat on the garden fence waiting for all the seed to be sown… In between all this hard labour, I found time to read the next book for my themed ‘week of love’ on the blog even though ‘Hellbent and Heartfirst’ had done plenty to put me off this venture! ‘Timeless Moon’ was next up and an improvement could be seen…
On the front cover of ‘Timeless Moon’ Laurell K. Hamilton writes, ‘A world this enjoyable deserves more than one visit’. The fact that this is the sixth book in a series gives this statement a degree of validity but it’s the similarities between this world and that of Anita Blake which made me chuckle when I went back and read the blurb on the cover again. There are no vampire hunters (because there are no vampires!) but there are a huge number of were-creatures, called Sazi, all living in their own loose knit tribes which all seem to be at danger from the ‘snake Sazi’. The snakes have got an evil masterplan brewing and the only Sazi who can stop them is a Seer who is more than half mad as her visions mean she is constantly living in the past, present and future. The only Sazi who can get her to help is the man who walked out on her over a hundred years ago (these Sazi are very long lived). That’s where the love comes in…
As I’ve mentioned, ‘Timeless Moon’ is the sixth book in its series so it’s probably not the best book to start at, there’s a lot going on that it’s assumed you will already know about. I was left floundering for a bit but luckily the story picks up and drives things along quite nicely with a half decent blend of mystery and action. I say ‘half decent’ as the ‘love sub-plot’ and certain facets of Josette’s (the Seer) character sink their claws into the story and drag it down. If you’re a fan of ‘paranormal romance’ then you’ll probably love the ‘romance’ stuff but I found the endless soul searching (‘Does he love me?’ ‘Do I love him?’ etc etc) tedious and detracting from the story. Maybe I’m missing the point here… I’ve also come to the conclusion that if I ever go to America, I won’t be able to get a motel room as they will all be booked out by fey creatures who are after a little, you know… Yep, our two heroes decided to take time out from saving their people and get it on; this comes just after they’ve got rid of the third part of their love triangle so you can’t really blame them I suppose… This probably makes great reading for the target audience but that’s just not me. I guess I am really missing the point…
The other thing that made this read a jarring experience was Josette flitting between past, present and future whilst in her ‘Seer state’. If she didn’t know what year she was in, how was I meant to know? I lost a lot of time trying to figure out where I was with this…
‘Timeless Moon’ redeems itself slightly by attempting to stick to some kind of plot but there was too much other stuff that refused to let the story come through. I’m trying to be fair with a genre that is quickly turning out not to be my thing at all, hence the two scores below…

My score: Five out of Ten

A score for fans of ‘paranormal romance’: Seven and a Half repentant ex-lovers and a love triangle out of ten

Monday, 5 May 2008

‘Hellbent & Heartfirst’ – Kassandra Sims (Tor Books)

My journey into the previously unexplored sub-genre of ‘paranormal fantasy’ begins with the tale of an aid-worker that falls for a mysterious Texan with a line in breaking curses and killing demons. Soul searching, side ways glances and magic ensues and I was left wondering just what the difference between ‘paranormal romance’ and ‘urban fantasy’ actually is, they both look the same from where I’m sitting…
It’s made very clear right from the start that our heroine, Jacyn Boaz, really needs a man. Not only is she divorced but her work as an aid worker (in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) has depressed her to the extent that she is ‘mentally and physically exhausted’. I sometimes miss obvious stuff in books but even I found myself telling Jacyn that she really needs to settle down with someone nice! That someone turns out to be Jimmy Wayne, a Texan made up of every stereotype and cliché you can think of. Go on; think of a cliché… Yep, that’s Jimmy Wayne. What follows is a kind of dance where they get to know each other for a couple of hours and then tear each other’s clothes off on a regular basis. I felt like I was reading Laurell K. Hamilton all over again…
I yelled at the book, telling the two characters to get a room. They promptly booked into a hotel…
Call me old-fashioned but is this actually romantic? I’m working on the assumption that the term ‘romantic’ is being used to describe the target audience rather than the book itself. Lines like the one below back up what I’m saying,

‘Jacyn thought that he was probably the source of original sin, or at least had sent several women straight to hell just by existing.’

I have to thank Kassandra Sims for that line, not only did it make me laugh out loud but it also confirmed some of my worst suspicions about this book…
Oh yes, there’s a demon hunting sub-plot going on at the same time. Well, that’s what I was told but I had trouble finding it among all the soul searching and introspection that was going on. While this may be good solid stuff for a ‘paranormal romance’ fan I found myself tuning out after a while the result of this being that something big would happen and I’d have no idea how things arrived at that point!
I’m one book into this week and I have to say that I am dreading my next read if it is anywhere near as turgid as the book I have just put down. A ‘romance’ that isn’t romantic or an ‘urban fantasy’ with no plot to speak of? I can’t make my mind up and, to be honest, I’ve got better things to do…

Two out of Ten.

(If you're a fan of this sub-genre and look for all this stuff, that made me want to curl up in a ball, then this book is a respectable 'Seven handsome Texans out of Ten'. I didn't like it but I reckon you will.)

Saturday, 3 May 2008

A Saturday Afternoon Link up!

The Saturday morning hangover is now just a (still slightly painful) memory and I'm now in a position where I can look at a computer screen without it going all blurry and me feeling like someone is sticking knives in my eyes!
Without further ado, here's some of the bits and pieces that caught my eye this week. If you haven't seen them already then I think you should check them out...

Pat points us at this article from Orson Scott Card. I'm not sure whether he has a point or it's a severe case of sour grapes...

Chris has done something that I still can't work out how to do, post Youtube clips onto his blog. For your viewing pleasure, Chris has three clips of Neil Gaiman reading Shoggoth's Old Peculiar...

If you're a Terry Brooks fan then you ought to head over to A Dribble of Ink where Aidan has the cover art for Terry's forthcoming novel 'The Gypsy Morph'.

Fantasy Book Critic reckons Chris Evans' 'A Darkness Forged In Fire'(Book One of The Iron Elves) is going to be one to watch out for in 2008. If he's right then be there right at the start by reading this Interview

Sci-Fi Chick reviews Iron Man: Beneath The Armour. I am really looking forward to seeing this film!

There is so much good stuff going on at Urban Fantasy Land that I wouldn't even know where to point you at first. Just click on the link and find your own way from there ;o)

I'm looking forward to seeing 'Iron Man', Amras got there first and This is what he thought...

What am I up to? Well, here's the thing. Books with 'paranormal romance' are starting to appear amongst the books I receive. This isn't something I normally read but one of the points behind starting this blog was to try stuff I'd never read before... Therefore things are going to get a little 'romantic' next week as far as my reading goes, at the very least I hope to discover what the difference is between 'paranormal romance' and 'urban fantasy'! Stick around and see where my journey takes me. Seriously, please stick around as I really don't want to do this one on my own!

Have a great weekend!