Friday, 31 October 2008

From my bookshelf: ‘They Thirst’ – Robert McCammon.

Because this is the best time of year to ‘talk up’ a book that I find genuinely creepy every time I pick it up...

Years ago, at college, a friend suggested to me that seeing as I liked Stephen King so much I might want to give this book by Robert McCammon a go. Seeing as the alternative was reading up on Russian Formalism I figured that I didn’t have much to lose... ‘They Thirst’ kept me up all night but more about that later. It was years before I could finally find a copy of ‘They Thirst’ to call my own. According to the FAQ Section, on the official website, McCammon ‘retired’ his first four books because...

"I always hear about writers who've written four books that end up in a drawer, and their fifth book is the one that gets published. The first book I ever wrote was published, flaws and all. For better or worse, I was allowed to learn to write in public. I think those books are simply early efforts. You have to take them as they are. I don't think they're very deep or anything; I think they're okay, but they simply represent where I was at that particular time."

Thanks to the wonder of the internet I finally managed to track down a copy of ‘They Thirst’ a couple of years ago. I took it home, read it and got scared all over again...
Here’s some of the blurb,

Evil as old as the centuries has descended upon the City of Angels---it comes as a kiss from the terrifying but seductive immortals. Slowly at first, then by the legions, the ravenous undead choke Los Angeles with bloodthirsty determination---and the hordes of monstrous victims steadily mount each night.
High above glitter city a deadly contest begins. In the decaying castle of a long-dead screen idol, the few remaining human survivors prepare to face the Prince of Evil and his satanic disciples. Whilst the very forces of nature are called into play, isolating the city from the rest of the world and leaving it at the mercy of the blood-hungry vultures of the night....

Vampires take over LA! While McCammon’s early work can be seen as open to charges of plagiarism (‘Swansong’ = ‘The Stand’? ‘They Thirst’=’Salem’s Lot’?) McCammon has taken a well worn concept and ramped it up to a point where it’s all his own. There’s also a vicious and nasty energy driving the plot that marks him out as a horror author riding the crest of a wave in this book.

‘They Thirst’ is the tale of an already tarnished city being marked and tarnished by the forces of darkness. Life in LA is already brutal enough as it is, now things are about to get a lot worse. McCammon builds up tension and expectations through a series of ‘otherworldly incidents’ (the ransacking of a cemetery and mass disappearances amongst others) and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether something will happen or if the anticipation will be agonisingly dragged out just that little bit more.

When the hammer does fall it falls hard. LA gangs are taken out by their vampire counterparts, a doctor finds herself alone on a ward full of the undead and if that wasn’t enough there’s a serial killer on the streets who is aspiring to ‘vampirehood’ himself. All of that is just the precursor to a finale that reeks of evil yet is also a testament to the nicer bits of humanity at the same time.
Talking of which, McCammon also does a good job of showing that LA is a hotbed of evil before the vampires even show up. I’ve already mentioned the serial killer but keep an eye out for the Hell’s Angels as well... At the same time McCammon does well to show how delicate hope can be but also how it can thrive in the darkest hour...

I may just have to get my copy of ‘They Thirst’ off the shelf and have a read tonight as its ideal Halloween reading. It may be difficult to track down these days but it’s worth it.

Would you survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

I did but it took me a few goes of being torn limb from limb, and devoured, first! Have a click right Here and let me know how you get on...

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ – Will Elliott (Underland Press)

Stephen King’s ‘It’ is a book that could have been half the size and a film that was badly let down by a dodgy fake spider. What both formats have in common though is that Pennywise the Clown scared the crap out of me! Ever since then I’ve been more than a little wary of clowns, what’s really behind all that face paint and why do they seem to take such vicious glee in inflicting humiliation on each other?
There’s something about clowns that has struck a spark in my imagination, I don’t know quite what happened but when an advance copy of ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ came through the door, a while ago, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I was getting my clown fix again. I read the book over a day of jumping from train to train on the underground (why is everything so busy at the moment?) and I’m pretty certain that I missed a couple of stops so I could finish it. ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is that good…

“You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?”

Not only is Jamie seeing clowns, where there shouldn’t be any, but these clowns have bundled him through an ‘audition’ and into the Pilo Family Circus; a world that straddles the border between Hell and Earth, a world which has spawned mankind’s greatest tragedies. Life in the Circus is brutal and can be very short depending on whom you cross but Jamie is about to find that his worst enemy there is himself. For when Jamie puts on the white face paint he becomes JJ, the most vicious clown of all, and there is nothing JJ would like better than to see Jamie dead…

Without going too much into what I do (you would probably end up turning the computer off, seriously) my job isn’t that exciting but today that wasn’t a problem. When I wasn’t working I was reading ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ and while I was working I was still in the book; breathing in the carnival air, minding my step around certain alleyways and wondering just what this cast of weird and wonderful characters would do next.

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is an amazingly drawn world based on a concept that sounds intriguing although the way that it is outlined could perhaps have been a little more detailed. Hurried times call for hurried explanations but it seemed a little too hurried if you know what I mean... I was left wondering if perhaps the author needed to explain things at all. Sometimes it’s better to leave things unsaid and let the imagination work that little bit harder...

The ‘circus setting’ is gorgeous though, all the fun of the fair with a dark and vicious edge in the background. For every sight and marvel there are also dwarves who glare suspiciously from dark alleyways and a funhouse where the screams are certainly not those of delight...
This setting certainly captures the mood of the book (dark, very dark) and this is further enhanced by the characters that Elliott employs.

For a main character, Jamie is surprisingly one dimensional. The only thing that we really get to know about him is that he is scared and wants to get back to a normal life. This is ok though as ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ isn’t so much about Jamie as it about what he becomes and the people that he interacts with.
As Winston says, ‘the nicer the person, the nastier the clown.’ Jamie seems to have no negative features at all and this translates into JJ who is possibly the nastiest clown you will ever meet. The ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ scenario is played out at great length and it is interesting to see how Jamie takes on his murderous alter-ego.

I had great fun getting to know the other characters and watching them scheme and fight one another. The clowns hate the acrobats, the fortune teller hates the woodcutters and the regular carnival folk try and stay the hell out of the way! Getting as much ‘book time’ as they do the clowns swiftly became my favourites, even though they are as surly and mean a bunch as you are ever likely to meet. Gonko rules the roost with a rod of iron, and whatever weapons happen to appear in his trouser pockets, but it’s Goshy who appeals the most. Elliott’s masterstroke is not to explain Goshy’s behaviour at all and this enigmatic air of his had me hooked. It’s a shame that his marriage (to a pot plant) had to end the way it did though...

Events play out in the only way they possibly could in this twisted and vaguely dreamlike setting and it’s great watching events bounce off one another and lead up to the inevitable ending. Every action has a reaction and it’s refreshing to see it all happen in such a chaotic manner with no regard for order...

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is a book that you should definitely pick up if you like your fiction deeply unsettling and hilarious all at the same time. Look out for this one, from Underland Press, in March next year...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

‘Jake’s Wake’ – John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow

Back in August, Leisure Fiction sent me an email about this new book by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow called ‘Jake’s Wake’. Not only did the blurb sound right up my street but someone had also produced a short video ‘trailer’ that whetted my appetite still further. A link can be found in the post I made Here.
There have been so many good books to read just recently (and some not so good ones...) that I completely forgot about ‘Jake’s Wake’ until it came through the door a couple of days ago. It won’t be in the shops until January next year but I’ve got this Halloween thing going on so I thought I’d give it a go now. I have to say that I’m very glad I did, ‘Jake’s Wake’ could well be my ‘horror read of the year’...

Pastor Jake uses his status as a small town televangelist to pretty much do whatever (and whoever) he wants right up until the point he takes a knife in the back from an extremely disgruntled boyfriend. The wake is a strange affair with various people there either to mourn or celebrate his passing. If the resulting confrontations weren’t bad enough things are about to get even worse when Jake climbs out of his coffin to pick up where he left off...
It’s going to be a long night for the mourners at Jake’s wake and who knows what will be left of them by the time morning comes round...

Before reading ‘Jake’s Wake’ I’d never read anything by either John Skipp or Cody Goodfellow but had heard plenty of praise for them both. Having read ‘Jake’s Wake’ I can feel pretty safe in saying that the praise is justified. After the explosive opening I knew this was a book that I just had to finish.

Skipp and Goodfellow combine to create a book where I had trouble telling that it had been written by two authors, the writing is seamless in this respect and is a great platform for what is to come.
I knew what was coming (it said what was going to happen on the blurb!) but Skipp and Goodfellow do a great job of reining things back, after what happens in the first chapter, and starting from square one; building the tension up until Jake makes his entrance. This is where the real fun begins as Jake works his way around the guests and has his way...

Jake himself is a cartoonish character, whose relative invincibility and excessive wisecracks prevent any kind of empathy on the part of the reader (apart from one flashback to a scene with his mother) so it’s with the other characters where Skipp and Goodfellow shine and drive the story forwards.
A great effort is made to get inside the heads of the mourners, and other ‘wake crashers’, establishing who they are and their connection to Jake. This approach really paid off for me as I’d got to know the characters so well that it really hurt when Jake...

This is another area where Skipp and Goodfellow excel; they don’t pull any punches at all when Jake indulges in torture, rape and generally being thoroughly evil. Apparently John Skipp helped kick-start the ‘splatter punk’ genre and if ‘Jake’s Wake’ is anything to go by then I can totally believe it! Not only was I freaked out by Jake’s relentless menace but I was left feeling a little nauseous by what he was capable of doing. This is another book that those who are squeamish might want to steer clear of!

If all this wasn’t good enough then the ending has to be seen to be believed. One incident literally turns everything on its head; shedding new light on everyone’s actions and leaving things deliciously open ended...

‘Jake’s Wake’ is a book that you really need to pick up if you have any interest in horror fiction that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you until you can barely breathe. I can see myself finding more of Skipp and Goodfellow’s work if this is anything to go by...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

‘Black Cathedral’ – L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims

You know what they say, if you fall off your bike then the best thing to do is to get straight back on and try again... Last year, I thought that L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims’ ‘Demon Eyes’ sounded like just the thing for a spooky Halloween read. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it turned out for reasons that are best gone into over Here.
It’s Halloween time once again and an advance copy of Maynard & Sims’ latest book came through the door a couple of days ago. Once I recognised the names on the cover I had some misgivings about picking the book up but I figured I’d give them another chance. After all, ‘Demon Eyes’ wasn’t so bad that it put me off giving their other books a go.
I finished ‘Black Cathedral’ last night and am pleased to say that it doesn’t suffer from any of the problems that plagued ‘Demon Eyes’, in fact it’s rather good up to a point. Unfortunately that ‘point’ is the very end of the book where I felt that things took a rather large dive...

Six managerial types, on a week long course, disappear days after taking up residence in a manor house on a remote Scottish island. If this wasn’t bad enough, the helicopter (and pilot) assigned to pick them up disappears as well. In fact, the island has a history of people disappearing in mysterious circumstances...
The British Government assigns this case to Department 18, a special unit assigned to investigate supernatural and paranormal occurrences. However, the manor on Kulsay Island is no mere haunted house but the home of an evil that is centuries old. The time has come for this evil to strike in the worst way possible and the members of Department 18 must race to uncover Kulsay’s secrets before this happens...

‘Black Cathedral’ opens with a haunted house in suburbia and an unexpected tragedy, cleverly linking these to events to what’s building up on Kulsay Island. Characters are introduced and relationships are both hinted at and explored. This is done in such depth to suggest that ‘Department 18’ may end up as a series of books; the concept and the characters that flesh it out certainly make this an appealing prospect.

Maynard and Sims have gone all out to make ‘Black Cathedral’ a very scary read and for the most part they succeeded as far as I was concerned. The tension is racked up throughout the book and is accompanied by generic ‘ghostly images’ (statues suddenly moving etc) that the authors make their own. The communion scene and Robert’s encounter at the fountain were key moments for me and the ‘Ley Line’ plot underpins these moments very well.
I was less convinced by the introduction of the ‘evil behind the evil’ though, not so much with what it was but more by the amount of explanation it was given (especially when certain characters had to get people to repeat themselves as they didn’t understand...) The dark atmosphere and ghostly happenings more than balanced this out though.

And then we get to the end of the book. An ending where events have been built up into a soaring crescendo of fear and terror. An ending where our heroes must face near insurmountable odds in a confrontation where it has been predicted that they will more than likely not survive...

An ending where one character discovers she is a powerful psychic ‘just in the nick of time’ and our heroes are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second...

Now, this could simply be a case of Maynard & Sims pulling the wool over the reader’s eyes and springing a surprise on us. If this is the case then they did the job almost too well, hiding certain players motives so well that the ending came across (to me) as an acknowledgement that the stakes were too high for the heroes to deal with and that something had to be done to get them out of a fix...
After such an impressive build up this manoeuvre just spoilt the whole book for me....

‘Black Cathedral’ is a marked improvement on ‘Demon Eyes’ but suffers from a complete let down of an ending. There’s enough potential though, in the concept of Department 18, to persuade me to look out for future books and see if there’s any improvement...

Six out of Ten

Monday, 27 October 2008

‘The Walking Dead – The Calm Before’ (Robert Kirkman)

I’m slowly catching up with my collection of the ‘Walking Dead’ trade paperbacks and half the reason I’ve been so slow about it is because I’ve read the last few issues and I know what’s on the horizon (and it’s not pretty...)
My obsessive compulsive ‘got to get the whole set’ side won out again though and I’m back in the driving seat for ‘The Calm Before’...

While the threat of the ‘storm’ builds up throughout the story, culminating in some powerful scenes right at the end, there’s plenty of eventful moments throughout the rest of the book. ‘The Calm’ doesn’t just refer to what’s going to happen in the in the next collection, it also encompasses all those little moments of relative peace that the survivors get in the prison and contrasts these with the tribulations that must be faced.
The smallest things can prove disastrous in this post apocalyptic world; another confrontation with Woodbury is looming and something as simple as a shopping trip can turn into a gunfight. There are signs of hope though in the birth of Judith, Lori’s child that might not be Rick’s (this issue was sidestepped rather neatly, a little too neatly if you ask me...) Even here though, a generator black out almost proves fatal.

The characters in the prison also go through their own ‘calm/storm’ moments as tensions rise and relationships play out to their natural conclusions. Carol’s plot arc comes to an end in a particularly bloody way, I knew she was cracking up but I never saw that coming at all! Other relationships get into trouble but people manage to muddle through. Another relationship appears to go from strength to strength and I’m left wondering if things are a little too good to be true there and how hard things are going to hit when Kirkman inevitably pulls the rug from under them...

While it’s clear that the story needs to move out of the prison to stay fresh, Kirkman still does a great job in showing the reader that life does go on and will always throw up some nasty surprises when least expected. The last panel in the book makes it clear that the next collection is an essential purchase...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 26 October 2008

'Prador Moon'/'The Gabble' and 'Agent to the Stars' - Winners!

Sorry about the slight delay here, I couldn't access my email until about two minutes ago when I got through the door (I've been away this weekend)!

Anyways, without further ado the lucky winners are...

'Prador Moon' and 'The Gabble' (Neal Asher)

James Yarker, London, UK
Ken Reid, Nairn, Scotland
Jonathan Laidlow, Birmingham, UK

'Agent to the Stars' (John Scalzi)

William Leung, Arlington, Texas
Joseph Fries, Tacoma, US
David Wyatt, Fulton, US

Well done everyone, hope you enjoy your books!
If you didn't win this time around... er... look at the post below this one and see if anything takes your fancy ;o)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Saturday Book Giveaway Spectacular!

Thanks to the 'miracle' of scheduled posting I'm coming at you live from Thursday afternoon! :o) While you're reading this I'm in Plymouth being polite to my in-laws (who are lovely just in case they happen to read this...) and I thought I'd leave you with some giveaways until I get back tomorrow. Here they are (they're all good)...

'Castaways' - Brian Keene

I reviewed this yesterday (scroll down for a look) and thanks to Leisure Fiction four lucky people can now bag themselves an advance copy of a terrifying tale of reality TV and cannibal apemen... This giveaway is only open to residents of the US and Canada (sorry about that)

'The Mistborn Trilogy' - Brandon Sanderson

To mark the release of 'The Hero of Ages', Tor have kindly agreed to give away one full set of the 'Mistborn' trilogy ('Mistborn' and 'The Well of Ascension' in paperback, 'The Hero of Ages' in hardback). Have a look at my review of 'Mistborn' over Here, I've got issues with the series but I'm looking forward to reading more...
This giveaway is only open to US and UK residents I'm afraid...

'The Night Angel Trilogy' - Brent Weeks

This trilogy has come up in discussion in plenty of forums just recently, not least because the books are being released very quickly! No hanging around to see how this one ends :o) I'm reading 'The Way of Shadows' and it's looking good so far. Thanks to Orbit I have two sets of the trilogy to give away. This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

If you want to get your hands on any of these books then all 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. I'll do the rest ;o)

To make it easier for me to track this, please send an individual email for each competition that you are entering (you can enter all the giveaways you are allowed to but only once for each one). As there are three competitions going on you need to make it really clear, in your email, which competition you are entering.
I'll let all three competitions run until next Saturday night (November 1st) and then annouce the winners on the following Sunday.

Good Luck!

Friday, 24 October 2008

‘Castaways’ – Brian Keene

‘Castaways’ won’t actually be available until February next year but I figured it’s Halloween and February isn’t all that far away so now is just as good a time to get reading :o) Also, I love Brian Keene’s work so why should I wait until next February when I have the book right in front of me? (Note: Like I said, I’m a fan so objectivity might just go straight out of the window during the course of this review. I will try and keep things on the straight and narrow though...)

Before I got rid of my TV I was one of those reality TV viewers who would only tune in when there was the promise of a big fight or argument. Who wants to spend hours watching people sit around talking or doing silly little ‘tasks’? Not me... I’m the kind of guy who wants the contestants to have to find their way across a minefield while being shot at with live ammunition! Seriously... the contestants might not like it but it would add that element of danger to a TV format that is starting to grow stale.
Brian Keene hasn’t gone to those lengths. Instead, he has gone in a different direction where the element of danger is all too apparent and it comes along with chills that grip your spine...

The reality show ‘Castaways’ sees competitors marooned on a deserted island and carrying out tasks to see who will end up winning a million dollars. There’s all the bitching and backstabbing that you would expect from one of these shows but one of the contestants has their own agenda that will cast the show in an entirely new light... If this wasn’t enough it turns out that the island isn’t deserted after all. A tribe of monstrous half human creatures live in the jungle and not only are they hungry but they also need breeding stock to ensure that the tribe doesn’t die out. None of the competitors are safe on what’s going to be the longest night of their lives...

‘Castaways’ is two hundred and eighty five pages of streamlined and action packed horror that had me gasping at how raw and visceral it is. If you’re squeamish in any way then several parts of this book will not be for you! Keene draws the reader into the jungle, strings them along a little bit and then... strings them along a little more... Just when the tension can’t get any worse, Keene throws you straight into a struggle for survival at its most primal (from both sides, monstrous mutant tribesmen have to eat as well!) where the only thing that is certain is the promise of a horrible death on the horizon.

For the most part, Keene doesn’t hold anything back and the introduction of a certain characters ‘hidden agenda’ gives the reader an interesting contrast in the many forms that evil and terror can take. When you see what mankind is capable of, it makes you look at the tribe in a slightly different way...
Don’t get too sympathetic though, Keene leaves the reader in no doubt as to the more supernatural elements by linking the tribe to his ongoing ‘Labyrinth’ mythos although it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the other books and can’t see the links, ‘Castaways’ can be read perfectly well on it’s own.
Keene also sets out to shock by showing the ultimate fate of the female contestants in scenes that are particularly graphic. Having gone to these lengths though, I was surprised that Keene didn’t take this plot strand to its logical conclusion, instead preferring to kill certain characters off. ‘Dark Hollow’ deals with a similar issue so maybe Keene didn’t want to go over old ground. I don’t know...

I was sad to finish ‘Castaways’ but I’d also got to know the characters so well that it was good to see where it all finished for them. The ‘last person on the island’ bit, right at the end was particularly funny yet hard hitting at the same time... I’d love to see this book as a film with moments like that!
Fans of Brian Keene’s work are going to love ‘Castaways’ and it’s also as good a place as any of his other books for the casual reader to pick him up and give him a go. It’s pulp horror at it’s best.

Nine and a quarter out of ten.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

‘Agent to the Stars’ – John Scalzi (Tor Books)

I’ve been trying to get into ‘Zoe’s Tale’ just recently but keep putting it down. This is mostly due to the fact that (despite a different viewpoint) it basically retells the events of ‘The Last Colony’ and I finished that book not so long ago...
I’ve really enjoyed the ‘Old Man’s War’ books and will certainly be back for another look at ‘Zoe’s Tale’ in the near future. In the meantime I realised that I had another Scalzi book, ‘Agent to the Stars’, and I thought I’d give that a go instead.
I’m glad I did because I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a book and I was a little bit sad when the time came to put it down...
In the foreword, Scalzi describes ‘Agent to the Stars’ as “the book which just won’t quit”. It began life as Scalzi’s ‘practice novel’ and then became part of an experiment in internet marketing. If that wasn’t enough for it ‘Agent to the Stars’ then found itself being published as a Subterranean Press limited edition and now finds itself due to be published by Tor at the beginning of next month. What next? Well, I’m hoping that its next incarnation will be on the big screen. I reckon it would be worth seeing...

The space faring Yherajk have come to planet Earth to meet humanity and offer their hand in friendship. There’s a pretty big problem with that though, for ‘hand’ read ‘gelatinous tentacle’ and if that wasn’t bad enough the Yherajk have a horrendous odour problem... Getting humanity’s trust is going to be a tall order, the Yherajk need someone to smooth the process and close the deal. Enter Thomas Stein, one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents... Thomas has just closed a twelve million dollar deal for his top client, now he has to negotiate a deal for an entire alien race...

Any ‘first contact’ novel that quotes Yoda (‘away put your weapon, I mean you no harm’) immediately scores bonus points as far as I’m concerned! It also raises a pretty good point for those of us who are wondering why the aliens haven’t landed just yet, why should they? As the Yherajk point out, our SETI project spreads the word that we want to make friends with alien races but the TV signals that we bounce into space show a human race that’s scared of aliens and liable to nuke any visitors! I for one can understand why the skies are relatively clear at the moment...

‘Agent to the Stars’ starts out with a shot of life in the Hollywood entertainment industry and with no clue (other than the blurb on the back of the book) as to what is coming next. We’re introduced to the main players and their relationships with each other which makes for some pretty funny reading all by itself. Arrogant ‘stars’ such as Tea Reader provide the spark, that lights things up, and the circuitous routes that Tom has to take (to placate certain people while scamming money out of others) never fails to be entertaining. Reading this had me in mind of a P.G. Wodehouse plot where everything gets tangled up in a huge comedy of errors.

And then you add an alien race to the mix...

In some ways this shakes up the plot less than you would think, merely adding another potential crisis to the pile of potential crisis’ that are constantly bubbling under. As the story goes on though, this changes as things start to happen that could only take place as a result of alien influences...
Having monitored Earth’s media output, the alien Yherajk are able to communicate with Tom very easily, to the point where I sometimes forgot that they were actually alien. This didn’t happen very often as Scalzi not only has them saying a lot of stuff that marks them out as very definitely alien but also places Tom in awkward (but quite funny) situations where he is the only thing stopping the Yherajk from being discovered prematurely. For example, how do you get a predominantly liquid based alien life form from your boss’ office to your car? What do you do when your alien housemate takes the dog out for a walk and then doesn’t answer his mobile phone? Throw in some special effects that could have come straight from ‘The Thing’, and an investigative reporter that just won’t quit, and you have a story that made me laugh and just wouldn’t let go for a second.

It’s not all laughs though as a client’s desire to act in a film about the Holocaust leads the Yherajk to learn some unpleasant truths about Earth history. Why is it that whenever aliens come to Earth (to make friends) they always end up going through a phase where they find out about humanity’s nastier tendencies and wonder if they still want to be friends with us? I can understand their reasoning but it’s starting to feel like this ‘twist’ is just being rehashed over and over...
Luckily, in this case, Scalzi wings it by proving once again that he can switch gears really smoothly with the scene where the Yherajk Joshua meets Tom’s Jewish Grandmother. This was really sombre stuff...

The story ends just how you would expect which would be anti-climatic except for the fact that I was enjoying it so much that I would have been disappointed if it had ended any other way. If you’re a fan of John Scalzi, and you haven’t already read ‘Agent to the Stars’, then you could a lot worse than seek this book out. If you haven’t read anything by John Scalzi then ‘Old Man’s War’ is still the place to start but you should really give this book a go as well.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Graeme gets interviewed!

Thanks to Gav saying nice things about the blog (cheers Gav!) Mark Thwaite, from The Book Depository asked me if I wouldn't mind answering a few questions for his blog.
I love attention in all shapes and forms so (of course) I said yes! If you fancy a look at what I had to say for myself, along with a photo that doesn't give away too much of what I look like, then have a click right Here...

Brandon Sanderson - 'Hero of Ages' online video and US tour dates...

Now here's a reminder that I need to catch up with this series pretty smartish! Actually, I'm away this weekend so will more than likely take 'Well of Ascension' away with me...

Tor have done an online video with Brandon where he talks about the Mistborn Trilogy and also about his work on Robert Jordan's 'A Memory of Light'. If you fancy a look then there are links of all shapes and sizes that you can follow. Check Brandon out on
Youtube, MSN, Yahoo and Google.

If you like what you see (or if you've already got the books and want to get them signed) then you might want to click Here for details of Brandon's tour to support 'Hero of Ages'...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

‘Lord Tophet’ – Gregory Frost (Del Rey)

After having enjoyed Gregory Frost’s ‘Shadowbridge’, ‘Lord Tophet’ (the sequel) has spent a little more time in the ‘to read’ pile than perhaps it should have done. There’s absolutely no sense of order in the pile right now, it’s very much a case of me seeing something interesting and then grabbing it! I got round to ‘Lord Tophet’ in the end though and am very glad that I did. Not only is it a great read (although not quite up to the standard of ‘Shadowbridge’) but it kept me sane through one of the worst train journey’s home that I have ever had...

Following the cliff-hanger ending of ‘Shadowbridge’, Leodora has bought healing to the wounded span of Colemaigne along with her soaring reputation as the master shadow-puppeteer Jax. Jax’s success may be Leodora’s undoing however. Tales of Jax’s prowess give rise to rumours that legendary puppeteer Bardsham (Leodora’s father) himself has returned to the spans. This news reaches the ears of Lord Tophet, the vengeful God who wrought ruin upon Colemaigne after Bardsham’s final performance. A quintet of deadly killers is dispatched to track Jax down, and learn the truth behind the mask, in a series of events that will lead Leodora into the most important performance of her fledgling career...

At only two hundred and twenty two pages long ‘Lord Tophet’ is a fair bit shorter than ‘Shadowbridge’ and (for the most part) forgoes the world building elements of the earlier book; preferring instead to concentrate on moving the story along to it’s conclusion. Frost does take the time to concentrate a little on Colemaigne as well as Leodora’s trips into Edgeworld and the result is as pleasing as his work in ‘Shadowbridge’ with brooding and evocative images of an alien world...

The story itself comes across as fairly tight with a definite ending on the horizon. Frost has already invested time in building up characters, Leodora and Diverus in particular, and I was very keen to see how the story ended for them. While the introduction of Lord Tophet comes at a good time for the story as a whole, I was left wondering if his introduction was a little bit rushed in the book itself. In many ways ‘Lord Tophet’ felt like it needed another hundred pages to make certain things clearer and maybe this would have helped in terms of introducing the ‘evil plot element’. It felt very much like a case of ‘one minute Tophet wasn’t there and the next minute he was’... Having said that though, Tophet is a real nasty piece of work and his ‘Agents’ do make for some chilling scenes as they work their way across the spans in search of Leodora/Jax. I guess this balances things out!

The finale is appropriately dark and revelatory but again feels like things could have been explained a little clearer before everything just ends and leaves the reader with more questions...
The importance of stories is again elaborated upon and one of the things I came away with is that stories don’t have to explain everything, this approach adds to the mystique of the setting if nothing else. It’s a fine line to walk though and while Frost uses this approach to enhance his setting to great effect (making the story part of a tantalisingly unfinished ‘whole’ instead of something limited by being self contained) I was left with other questions that I felt needed answering. What was the significance of Edgeworld other than a place for Leodora to conveniently gather what she needs to confront Tophet. What was the ‘Coral Man’ all about? Everything fits together perfectly but I just kept wondering why...
Luckily, Frost’s storytelling left me wanting to find these answers out rather than putting the book down in frustration. ‘Lord Tophet’ is definitely a book that I will be returning to at some point...

‘Lord Tophet’ is sometimes frustrating but is ultimately a testament to Gregory Frost’s skill at telling an enthralling tale that sucked me in and didn’t let me go until I’d finished. These books aren’t done with me quite yet, both demand a re-read to fully appreciate what’s going on the spans and islands of Shadowbridge...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 20 October 2008

‘The Watchers out of Time’ – H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (Del Rey)

Right back at the start of October I had this idea that I would fill the blog full of tales of terror and other supernatural stuff (what with it being Halloween and all); looking back over what’s been posted it’s clear that I’ve failed miserably here with loads of fantasy and sci-fi but not a lot in the way of horror and ghost stories... Here’s some H.P. Lovecraft in an attempt to redress the balance!

H.P. Lovecraft is one of those authors whose reputation in their field pretty much demands that I try them out but then I never seem to get round to it... ‘The Watchers out of Time’ is a fairly slim book (two hundred and eighty nine pages) that seemed like a good place to start as well as being a book that I could read in handy chunks over what turned out to be a very busy weekend (Sue’s birthday, lots of drinking happened). Note the two names on the cover though, H.P. Lovecraft had all the ideas but it was his friend August Derleth who went through Lovecraft’s unfinished notes (after his death) and expanded upon them to come up with the stories you will find in this book. Bearing this in mind, ‘The Watchers out of Time’ is maybe not such a great place to start if you want to read Lovecraft’s own stories but it’s still as good a place as any other to get an idea of the mythos behind Lovecraft’s Innsmouth and Dunwich settings.

‘The Watchers out of Time’ is a collection of fifteen stories detailing some of the more unsettling, and outright terrifying, things that can happen to the unwary traveller caught in the Innsmouth or Dunwich areas when the sun goes down. This part of Massachusetts is full of mad scientists, witches, warlocks and... things... that live beneath the bay... All of them have a story to tell.

I say ‘all have them have a story to tell’ but after having read ‘The Watchers out of Time’ I had to conclude that at least 95% of the time it was the same story being told over and over again. I was left with the impression that the America of the nineteen twenties and thirties was full of impressionable young men who suddenly found themselves in the possession of rambling gothic houses that had been left to them by sinister old grandparents. They would happily take up residence but wouldn’t hang around any longer than a couple of weeks, something would either scare them off or they would mysteriously disappear...
To be fair not every single story went along these lines, just enough of them that by the time I got to stories like ‘The Horror from the Middle Span’ and ‘The Shadow in the Attic’ I felt I knew how the story would go and ended up skimming to the end...

There are stories worth hanging around for however. ‘Wentworth’s Day’ is a tense affair that marches as remorselessly as the ticking clock that the story hangs upon. My heart jumped a little when I realised that the clock was slow! ‘Witches Hollow’ is another tale of creeping dread where a school teacher must fight for the soul of one of his students. Again, this story wrong footed me slightly when I realised where the true evil (in the piece) lay... I think my favourite though was ‘The Survivor’, a tale of immortality and its cost. Although I could see where this one was going, the main character remains uncertain enough that things remain on edge, for the reader, right up until the very end.
It’s a shame then that stories like these are the exception, rather than the rule, in their originality. I wish the others could have shown this too...

Where ‘The Watchers out of Time’ redeems itself is the atmosphere it gives the locales of Innsmouth and Dunwich through each tale. Lovecraft laid the foundations and Derleth continues this by giving each story a damp and fetid backdrop of palpable evil and a sense of a terrible history, stretching back through the ages, which interlinks all the stories and gives the first time reader (me!) a good idea of what the Cthulu mythos is all about. Little pieces of information had me wanting to know more.
It was a shame then that it felt, to me, like this was done a little too much in each of the stories and (as a result) the book as a whole. I ended up feeling like it was being laid on a little too thick for me; I’d got the message and didn’t need to be told over and over again. Maybe these stories would have worked better on their own instead of being all bundled in together... I was also sick and tired of words like ‘batrachian’ being used constantly. Once or twice is enough, really!

‘The Watchers out of Time’ is an enjoyable yet frustrating read in that it relies on repetition of certain themes when the subject matter clearly looks like it could benefit from expansion. However, I’d still say that it’s a good place for people to step in if they’ve never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft and fancy giving him a try. I’m half and half over seeking out more of his books though. Are they all like this?

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

'Joe Pitt' Competition - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered but there could only be one winner and that was...

Nancy Valdez, Houston, Texas

Well done Nancy, your books will be on the way soon :o)
Better luck next time everyone else...

Have a great weekend!

Interview! Victoria Blake (Underland Press)

Over the last year and a bit I've been lucky enough to get to run questions past authors, and editors, whose books I have enjoyed. (Which leads to a slight digression, would anyone like to see me interview an author whose book I have hated? Just a thought...)
Anyway, one thing I haven't done yet is to interview a person who gave up their job in order to start up their own publishing company. That was the case until fairly recently when I got chatting with Victoria Blake who (funnily enough) gave up her job at Dark Horse Comics to found Underland Press. I've already Reviewed one of their books and it's damn fine...
Here's what Victoria had to say,

Hi Victoria, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions!

Absolutely. Thanks for asking me.

What leads a person to give up an editorial position at Dark Horse Comics and start up their own publishing company?

Brian Evenson sent me his Earthling chapbook of “The Brotherhood of Mutilation.” I read it during a lunch break at Dark Horse. When Brian told me he had written a follow up, I knew that I wanted that to be Underland’s first title.
But you asked why leave Dark Horse? Dark Horse is a great company, and it’s full of great, interesting, smart, creative people. But we were all employees, ultimately. I looked around one day and I realized that the only way I was going to be able to do in my life what I wanted to do was to start my own company.

As an office worker I regularly daydream about just turning the computer off and going home to get started on something more interesting. How liberating is it to be able to drop everything and go for something like setting up a publishing company?

I love making decisions. Are women supposed to say things like that? Screw it, it’s true. I love being in charge, and being accountable for the success or failure of what I’ve put my energy into. This is the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s the most stress I’ve had, too. I didn’t used to wake up in the middle of the night, worried about galleys. The two go together, though. I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Not too long ago, I realized that my great grandparents ran their own flower nursery, that my grandparents ran their own construction company, and that my parents ran their own legal practice. So I think starting a business was in my blood.

Underland Press is going to be giving its readers fiction that is “weird, strange, odd and unsettling”. I find that most fiction unsettles me if I look at it in a certain way... Are there any specific genres that Underland will be focusing on publishing or is it a case of ‘anything goes just so long as it has that unsettling quality to it...’?

Good question. Emily Dickinson advised poets and writers to look at and write about the world slantwise, which I think is the central quality of all great work, regardless of subject or genre. Brian Evenson’s “Last Days” does this. So does Jeff VanderMeer’s “Finch” and Will Elliott’s “The Pilo Family Circus.” All of these are in some way weird, strange, odd, or unsettling.
This kind of writing has been called New Weird, Slipstream, New Wave Fabulism, Speculative Fiction, Alt-Lit, and even American Magical Realism. Sometimes it’s called literary fiction. Think Cormac McCarthy, think Amiee Bender. It’s also marketed as fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror. I don’t think this is an “anything goes” stance, but rather a “call it what you want” approach.
In general, though, I’m interested in stories that have a little more going on than divorce, affairs, and suburban angst. But I’m also interested in stories that are driven as much by character as by plot. There is traditionally a divide between those two camps—on one side, literary fiction, and on the other, genre fiction. What I’m interested is in the crossover, stylistically as well as thematically.

The first books published by Underland Press will be Brian Evenson’s ‘Last Days’ and ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ by Will Elliot. For anyone who hasn’t visited your website yet, what can you tell them about why they should be rushing out to buy these books when they hit the shelves?

Oh gosh… For the reasons I mentioned above, and because these books are really, truly incredible. I don’t say that just because I’m publishing them. I consider it an honor to be able to publish them.
Brian Evenson’s book is unlike anything in your bookshelf. The prose is tight and spare, but it is still incredibly evocative and descriptive. The book is violent, even gruesome, but the writing never goes over the edge. Brian is a stylist, in that he is interested in how language works. He is also a formalist, in that he pays very close attention to the way his pieces are structured. He is a master, truly.
Will Elliott’s book starts in the real world, and descends into a crazy, carnival-esque under world. Think Katherine Dunn crossed with Stephen King. His clowns are scary because they are so real, because they behave like demonic versions of ourselves. I don’t know how he did it, and I’m amazed that this is his debut book. I’m super, super jealous.

While we’re on the subject, what’s a ‘wovel’ and why should we all be reading it?

A wovel is a web novel. The central idea of the wovel is to allow readers a stake in the plot. Every Monday, the author posts an instalment with a binary plot branch point and a vote button at the end. The length of each instalment hits the sweet spot of online reading—just about the right amount to read during those ten minutes you have to spare at work. Voting is open until Thursday, the author writes over the weekend, and a new instalment is posted again on Monday.
Why should you read it? Because you get to tell the author what to do, and because some really interesting things happen with that power.
I should say, though, that the wovel isn’t trying to be a web serial, and it’s not trying to be a traditional book. Fiction online is a new breed of writing, and we’re still figuring out the rules. How does the form affect the content? What is the optimum length for text online? How about the font? The margins? Imbedded or downloadable? Each of these questions has implications for story structure and approach. Just like the physical form of the newspaper and the way news was broadcast—through the wire—led newspaper writing to look like it does today.

Finally, Underland Press may only just be starting out but what do you see in its future?

Underland is putting out four books and one wovel in its first year. I hope to grow that by two books a year, until I’m at about twenty. When I’m at twenty books a year, I think the cash flow will work out so that I can start to look at possible expansion points. Can I take the Underland model and apply it to other types of books? When I started Underland, I started it as an LLC division of a larger LLC called Fourth Chapter Books. I started it with plans to grow.
But today, right now, I’m focused on the tasks currently on my desk: finding a binder to do a cover for a limited edition of “Last Days,” getting the screen printer ready, reading submissions, working on the web site. Little steps for little feet.

Thanks for your time, I really appreciate it.

Good questions, Graeme. Thank you for the chance to answer them.

If you want to find out more about Underland Press then click Here.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Giveaway! 'Agent to the Stars' - John Scalzi

Because I thought it would be only fair to let the Americans have a competition as well... ;o)
I'll be reading 'Agent to the Stars' next week and thought it would be a good time to give away three advance copies of the book to anyone who wants one. Here's the synopsis...

Thomas Stein, a hot young Hollywood agent, has just negotiated a multimillion-dollar deal for his friend, starlet Michelle Beck, when his boss, Carl Lupo, foists a space alien called Joshua on him. Joshua and his people, the Yherajk, are intelligent, gelatinous, shape-shifting blobs that communicate telepathically and by sharing odors. They've been monitoring Earth's TV broadcasts and realize that before they can make first contact, they'll have to deal with their image problem. Tom takes on the job of making the friendly, odiferous creatures palatable to humanity, while keeping Michelle and the rest of his other acting clients happy.

Does this sound like your kind of thing? If it does then all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll let this one run until next Saturday (25th October) and announce the winners on the following Sunday. This competition is open for US residents only, sorry about that...

Good Luck!

Giveaway! 'Prador Moon' and 'The Gabble' (Neal Asher)

Having really enjoyed 'Prador Moon' I thought it would be a cool idea to give you guys a chance at winning a slice of Giant Carnivorous Space Crab action :o)
Not only did the people at Tor UK think that was a good idea but they also agreed to give away copies of Neal Asher's new short story collection 'The Gabble' as well. As a result I have three 'Neal Asher packs' (containing one of each book) to give away...

Do you want in? Are you a UK resident? (UK residents only for this one, sorry about that!) All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest.

I'll be letting this one run until the 25th of October and I'll announce the winners on the 26th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 17 October 2008

‘Earth Ascendant’ – Sean Williams (Orbit Books)

I read ‘Saturn Returns’ way back in June last year, it was tough to get into but there was enough there for me to enjoy what I was reading and look forward to the next instalment. Fast forward to yesterday morning and I have a copy of ‘Earth Ascendant’ (the sequel) to read on the way to work, it’s just under three hundred pages long so I thought it would be a nice short read to take me up to the weekend.
As it turns out, this read took me up until yesterday evening where I put it down and decided to give something else a go instead...

As a rule, I’m pretty good at remembering past events in a series when reading the latest book even if it’s been a while since I last read any of the books. While ‘Earth Ascendant’ drops you right into things, and expects you to land on your feet, I also found that it was mentioning things that I was sure I couldn’t remember having happened in the first book. This made it really difficult for me to get into things as I felt like I was constantly playing ‘catch up’, something you really don’t want to have to do in a high concept book like this!

Either Williams had taken a few liberties with the timeline or... I happened to flick through the book to the acknowledgements section where Williams thanks MonkeyBrain Books for the opportunity to write ‘Cenotaxis’, a book that acts as a bridge between ‘Saturn Returns’ and ‘Earth Ascendant’...
It turns out that I’d read Book 1 and then started on Book 2 without realising there was a Book 1A! I felt like I’d fought with ‘Earth Ascendant’ enough to be able to justifiably use this as an excuse to bail out here. If I see a copy of ‘Cenotaxis’ then I may pick it up but this isn’t one that I’ll be searching really hard for...

'Every Last Drop' - UK Cover Art

Here's the cover for the Orbit edition of Charlie Huston's 'Every Last Drop', due for a UK release early next year. Up until now I've preferred the Orbit covers to the Del Rey covers but this one has got me wondering if that's still the case. I think it's the fact that you can see the guy's face now whereas you couldn't in previous covers...
Here's the Del Rey cover again,

Which one do you prefer?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

‘Patient Zero’ – Jonathan Maberry (Gollancz)

For the last three years I’ve entered SFX magazine’s ‘Pulp Idol’ short story competition and, for the last three years, each of my stories has failed to get any mention at all. Oh well, there’s always next year...
This year’s ‘stroke of genius’ was a tale of terrorists seeking to cause mayhem by becoming zombies during the London rush hour. Not only did it fail to get anywhere but it turns out that Jonathan Maberry has only gone and beaten me to the punch with a full length novel of zombie terrorism that will be published by Gollancz in April next year. I’d be as sick as a dog about this if it wasn’t for the fact that ‘Patient Zero’ is a bloody good read...

What’s the one thing that’s worse than having to kill a man? Having to kill the same man all over again before he can tear your throat out with his teeth... This is the situation that Baltimore detective Joe Ledger has just had to face and he’s about to find that things can get even worse than that... The Department of Military Sciences are desperately trying to counter a terrorist plot to flood America with reanimated corpses that are ravenous for human flesh and Joe finds himself on the team. There’s a terrorist cell to destroy, ‘zombie science’ to decipher and a race to find out who’s ultimately responsible before all hell breaks loose. However, plans within plans and a ‘mole’ within the Department mean that this is a race that will go right down to the wire...

As a rule, I cannot stand ‘thrillers’ involving evil terrorists being stamped on by ‘Black Ops’ teams. The blurb always sounds cool but the books themselves always end up reading like the author has a list of impressive sounding vehicles and weaponry and wants to show off a bit. ‘Wow, Agent X is really hardcore; he must be because he’s packing a machine gun with a lot of letters (and a big number) to its name. And it’s got laser sighting as well? Brilliant!’ Give me a break, it may be necessary but I’d rather just read the story if it’s all the same to you...
Add zombies to the mix though (and keep them at the forefront of the plot where they need to be) and all of a sudden things are different. Things are so different, in fact, that all of a sudden I’m faced with a book that I just absolutely had to finish. I had no choice in the matter.

I’ll be honest right now and say that anything involving zombies will always get my full and undivided attention even if it’s rubbish (yes, I sat all the way through ‘Hard Rock Zombies on DVD...). ‘Patient Zero’ is no ‘Hard Rock Zombies’ and had me gripped right from the awesome opening lines,

‘When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.
And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.’

Right from the start, Maberry doesn’t give you time to even take a breath. You’re taken off on a ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ plot that pits a fledgling US Intelligence Department against an enemy that can raise the dead and is one step away from becoming immortal themselves. Zombies may be linear in their thinking (walk, eat humans, repeat) but that is not a criticism that can be levelled at the plot. In the world of espionage and terrorism everyone has a hidden agenda and no-one can be trusted. Add an almost paralysing sense of urgency to affairs (constant reminders of the time along with short snappy chapters filled with prose that’s full of hooks) and you have a story that has still got me going over it even now. ‘Patient Zero’ is certainly a book that will stand a re-read or two. (Especially the bits where Ledger has to infiltrate enemy installations literally crawling with zombies, I had to keep remembering to take a breath!)

Maberry places great emphasis on the plot but doesn’t sacrifice characterisation for it. While you may have seen the character types before (tough cop, mysterious boss, hard as nails SAS lady with a soft centre) Maberry makes them people in their own right and also people that you really feel like you want to get to know over the course of the book.
There’s a fine balancing act involved here as treachery plays a part on both sides, and you don’t find out what’s been going on right until the very end, but Maberry plays it right by not going for cartoonish ‘James Bond villainy’. Following the course of evil can really be for reasons as mundane as money and no-one’s character suffers as a result.

Is this a perfect read? Not quite. ‘Tech-speak’ still managed to slither past the bone crushing zombie action and get in the way of my reading experience, it’s just not for me but don’t let that put you off though. It’s not just the tech-speak either, a lecture on the root causes of the zombie virus is designed to mostly go over Ledger’s head but ended up bypassing mine as well... I guess that’s another fine line to walk (in terms of showing the reader how a character can be confused without confusing the reader as well)) and this time Maberry stumbled off it a little... When faced with a read that entertains as much as it chills, I was more than happy to let these small niggles go.

‘Patient Zero’ is definitely a zombie story for the twenty first century, it has big ideas and it’s right there in your face (trying to bite it off). If you like zombie fiction then I reckon you’ll enjoy this. Look out for ‘Patient Zero’ in April next year.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

‘The Goon, Nothin’ But Misery’ - Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)

The Zombie Priest is adding to his army on Lonely Street, Fishy Pete’s gang is preparing to take back the docks and Santa’s elves are eating all the children. And who is the mysterious man going around eating zombies?
There’s only one man who can answer these questions, deal with a ‘Lovecraft-esque’ underworld and still find time to lay a beating on a spider that owes him five bucks. That’s right, the Goon is back and he’s got his psychotic pal Franky with him!

The ‘Nothin’ But Misery’ collection starts out with the Goon and Franky looking for Brickhead Johnny, a former friend who has switched sides and is now working for the Zombie Priest. This search will lead them into dockyard brawls and a haunted house amongst other places. It will also introduce them to a new ally in the fight against the Zombie Priest.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, and it’s not a bad one either, but what I’m reading ‘The Goon’ for is the fights and the humour that goes around them. I haven’t laughed so much at a book in a long time :o)
‘Nothin’ But Misery’ is a dark yet funny book where the best thing about Christmas is that the cold weather makes the zombies freeze solid (making it easier for the Goon to run them down) and if you drive your car down Crestwood Avenue then you’re more than likely to come out the other end with a giant squid stuck to the windshield. Old women, playing in the mud, know everything and a werewolf is a good friend to have unless a certain phobia gets the better of him...

It wasn’t just the situations that had me chuckling but the dialogue as well (“Loony old people who play in the mud, is there nothing they don’t know?” and my all time favourite, “Knife to the eye!”) and some of the old style comic adverts that appear throughout the story. I’d love to read more about the Atomic Rage (greatest hero of the Golden Age!) and I’m a big fan of the Psychic Seal, even though only the Goon and Franky seem to be able to understand what he is saying...

The Goon is an interesting character to try and get your head around. Although he’s a mobster working for Labrazio (although no-one’s seen him recently, funny that...) he’s also a kind of Robin Hood figure who looks after the people living on his turf. Although there’s nothing good about the Goon, he’s a good man at heart.
The same cannot be said for Franky though; this psychotic midget has a hair trigger temper and is far too capable with a broken bottle or half a brick... His propensity for over the top cartoon violence (well, this is a comic book) made me laugh though. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Franky force a fish to swallow a brick or take on a sandwich in a haunted house!

I’m starting to get into comic books a little more now and ‘The Goon’ is providing ‘The Walking Dead’ with serious competition for my favourite read. Anything can happen in this strange collection of streets and alleyways and it usually does. It always makes for fun reading though and has totally whetted my appetite for more of the same.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

‘Prador Moon’ – Neal Asher (Tor UK)

I hate autumn, the leaves may be a prettier colour than normal but that doesn’t balance out the fact that this is the time of year when everything you would normally expect to find on a tree can now be found rotting into piles of mulch on the pavement. If this wasn’t bad enough the weather invariably takes a turn for the worse and the evenings start to get darker as well. Now more than ever I find myself needing a read that will take me away from the gloom with a hefty dose of escapism, explosions and villains that are awesomely cool. Yesterday I found this book and, for a brief while, everything was right with the world. It was a very short read though (two hundred and twenty two pages) so I finished it very quickly and I’m back in autumnal gloom. That’s ok though as the following words are still bringing a smile to my face,

Giant carnivorous space crabs...

I’d read a couple of Neal Asher’s ‘Polity’ books, years ago, and although I enjoyed them never got round to picking more up. That’s just the way it goes sometimes isn’t it? There are just far too many other books out there to read :o)
‘Prador Moon’ looked like a short read and an easy way to get back into the swing of the ‘Polity Universe’ without having to play catch up. Not only was this the case but the story absolutely rocked as well!

Fans of Asher’s ‘Polity’ series will have come across the crablike Prador in previous books. ‘Prador Moon’ takes us back to mankind’s very first encounter with the Prador and the resulting war that followed. The galaxy explodes into warfare and as the Polity struggles to transition itself into a military society, attention is focussed on two humans who will shape the outcome of the war...

‘Prador Moon’ is one of those books that is brimming with action to the extent where you have to keep checking to make sure that none of it has spilled out of the book and onto the floor. For such a short book it cannot afford to let the pace slip and it generally keeps to this apart from a couple of moments where time needs to be dedicated to explaining a piece of technology or the ‘harder sci-fi’ elements of combat in space. Although these moments did interrupt the flow of the story I found that they were necessary to the plot and did help me get a better picture of what was going on. This was definitely the case when the finale came about, a masterful moment of spectacle (it really doesn’t get much bigger than this) and realisation about where certain elements of the plot had been leading. Having seen how it all ends up I’ll probably re-read ‘Prador Moon’, at some point, just to fully appreciate how Asher brings everything together.

‘Prador Moon’ is an essential read for ‘space opera fans’ like myself with the emphasis on warfare with an alien species, be it on the surface of alien planets or in the cosmos. I particularly enjoyed reading about the Prador, giant carnivorous crabs with shells and claws that bristle with weaponry. You don’t need me to tell you how cool a giant crab with a gatling gun is! :o)

While the Prador civilisation is fleshed out to an impressive degree (given the length of the book) this comes at the expense of similar treatment being given to their human counterparts. There is so much other stuff going on that the main characters never really get a chance to be anything other raw emotion painted on a blank canvas. Jebel Krong has the potential to develop in quite complex ways but only has time to be a stereotypical hero out for revenge. Moira Salem, on the other hand, spends so much time trying to figure out what is going that by the time she works things out the story has come to an end...

This is really only a minor quibble when the story itself is so much fun to read. ‘Prador Moon’ is a good place to jump into the universe of the ‘Polity’ and it’s just as much fun as a stand alone ‘space opera romp’. I’ve got Neal Asher’s short story collection, ‘The Gabble’, waiting to be read and if it’s half as much fun as ‘Prador Moon’ then I’m in for a treat.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 13 October 2008

‘Mistborn’ – Brandon Sanderson (Tor)

The last couple of times that I’ve wondered what to read next people have invariably mentioned ‘Mistborn’ as a book that I need to try. I wasn’t too keen on Brandon Sanderson’s debut ‘Elantris’, not only did the story have a tendency to meander (as far as I was concerned) but the ink also had a tendency to come straight off the page and onto my fingers! I’ve heard lots of good things about ‘Mistborn’ though so decided to give it a go anyway. I’m glad I did but more on that in a little bit. I still managed to get ink on my fingers though...

The world of the Final Empire came about when a young hero failed in his challenge to stop darkness from choking the land. Ever since that day, the immortal Lord Ruler has governed a land smothered in mist and ash. Not only is the Lord Ruler apparently invulnerable but so are the fearsome Steel Inquisition, a thousand year rule has cowed the population and rebellion is unthinkable. Or is it?
A plan is brewing on the streets of the capital, a plan so audacious that people are starting to feel hope again that the Lord Ruler’s reign may finally end. A criminal mastermind is putting the plan into action but everything will ride on an unlikely heroine who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn...

‘Mistborn’ is a novel that starts where most other fantasy novels would end (the showdown between good and evil) and then shows us what happens next. While it has a refreshing spin, in that the hero failed and tyranny rules, I was left wondering how effective this was given that the only way the Lord Ruler could be defeated was by... another hero... Not only another hero though but a heroine with a mysterious past, kind of like the original hero who screwed up in the first place... I guess that there isn’t much of an alternative if you want to get rid of a Dark Lord!
This approach left me stumbling a bit as it felt a little lazy to me. Evil threatens the land? Get a hero on the case. Has your hero failed and the land is now cowering under the Lord Ruler? Get a hero on the case. Luckily though, ‘Mistborn’ makes up for this in a number of other ways and became a book that I had to finish.

‘Mistborn’ is a book with plenty going on as rival thieving crews, elements of the rebellion and the nobility all seek prominence, in the city of Luthadel, while the Lord Ruler manipulates them all for his own ends. Warfare (both covert and overt) is rife and the urgency of this is skilfully complemented by a post-apocalyptic landscape where the constant emphasis on ash and mist gives the reader a chilling picture of what it must be like to live in these times. Sanderson is not afraid to lend heavy emphasis to the plight of the slave workers (the Skaa) either and the end result is a downbeat tale that is cleverly bought to life through the introduction of the plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler.

This is where things get a little stodgy again. Sanderson introduces us to the main players and that’s fine; he spares no expense in getting us inside their heads and clearly laying out what makes them tick. This is especially true of Vin, the heroine of the piece who has a long journey ahead of her before she can learn to trust people again. Sanderson takes things really slowly here which means we get a real in depth look at how Vin’s character changes over time and why she does certain things. While I appreciated this, regarding what I was able to learn about Vin, I was less keen when I realised that Sanderson was taking the same approach with the rest of the book and it was dragging as a result...

Sanderson leaves no stone unturned during the course of the book and goes into everything at great detail. Unfortunately he’s indiscriminate about what he elaborates on, meaning that we get pages and pages where much is said but nothing seems to actually happen. This is balanced out, to a point, by major events (such as the finale) and some very cool fight scenes but the pace of the story felt constantly interrupted and I found myself getting the urge to skim the odd page or three...

Where ‘Mistborn’ really redeemed itself was the idea of ‘Allomancy’, a form of magic that involves ingesting certain metals and then ‘burning’ them to release their powers either in combat or covert missions. Not only was this a concept that I hadn’t come across before but it made for fight scenes that looked as if they had come straight out of ‘The Matrix’! These were the highlight of the book for me, fights where anything was possible and the smallest piece of metal suddenly became a deadly weapon! I’m looking forward to seeing more of this in future episodes.

‘Mistborn’ was an infuriating read where I always knew that something amazing was just round the corner but I had to slog through mindless detail to get to it. Luckily the intrigue, cool concepts and strong characterisation made up for it enough for me to want to give the next book a go. I just hope the next one is a bit more streamlined...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Author Interview! Brian Evenson.

You spend ages waiting for an author interview and then two come along at once... ;o)
I really enjoyed 'Last Days' and had a few questions that I wanted to run past Brian. Luckily for me, Brian very kindly agreed to answer my questions. Here they are,

Hi Brian, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions.

An off the cuff comment in my review of ‘Last Days’ prompted people to leave comments suggesting how I deal with sunshine coming through my curtains and waking me up. Do you have any advice on how I could deal with this?

As someone who tends to go to bed really late and who has a hard time sleeping once it gets light outside, this is a question that I repeatedly ask myself. It can never be dark enough. I’d suggest watching the Norwegian thriller Insomnia and see how Stellan Skarsgard tries (and fails) to deal with this issue. Probably the only definitive answer is to sleep in the closet (unless your closet also has windows). If you do end up sleeping in the closet, it’s a better experience if you move the shoes and boots out first. (Also, you should be careful about revealing the fact that you’re sleeping in your closet in that it only tends to be seen as an appealing eccentricity to women you’re better off not dating.)

‘Last Days’ originally began life as a limited edition novella ‘The Brotherhood of Mutilation’, what led to your decision to expand on the novella and come up with ‘Last Days’?

When I finished writing ‘Last Days’, I felt like I really loved the world of the novella and wanted to spend more time exploring it. But I also wasn’t sure where I’d go with it, how I could continue the story and still keep the ideas fresh. When two friends separately told me about Paul Wittgenstein, the one-armed pianist, something clicked.

What can people expect to find in ‘Last Days’ that they won’t find in ‘The Brotherhood of Mutilation’?

The first 40% of ‘Last Days’ consists of ‘The Brotherhood’; since it was published in a very small edition by Earthling Press and is very hard to find, only a select few have actually read it. It’s about a man named Kline who loses his hand and falls into contact with an odd religious cult that takes literally the New Testament idea that you should cut of your hand if it offends you. The last 60% of ‘Last Days’ is entirely new and explores a splinter group of the original amputation cult, with Kline struggling to stay human as he brings on a kind of apocalypse. The novel taken as a whole can be described as exceptionally strange and darkly funny. I think it’s safe to say it’s probably different from anything you’ve ever read.

Have you ever been tempted to write something based around how Kline lost his hand in the first place? Apologies if you already have and I missed it!

I’ve thought about doing this, and may still do so one day. In any case, ‘Last Days’ might not be the end of the Kline saga—I’ve started work on another Kline story that takes place after ‘Last Days.’

The ending of ‘Last Days’ leaves a lot hanging and up to the reader to resolve. When you finished writing the book, did you have any solid notion of what Kline did next or are you in the same position as your readers?

No, I’m definitely in the same position as the readers. If I’d known what happened, I would have written it. But the story ends at a moment where several different things might happen, and where the story will move us on to a new place, a new phase. I hope the ending leaves the reader’s mind reeling, allows the story to continue in your head but also keeps it from settling down into anything predictable or safe.

Victoria Blake (Head of Underland Press) says of the works she will be publishing, “Fiction like this can be revelatory; it can tell us something about ourselves, what we're afraid of, and why." What do you think ‘Last Days’ can tell us in this regard?

I do think there are pretty serious questions being raised in ‘Last Days’ about identity and about the relationship of the individual to the group (particularly of an individual to a community of believers). I also think that the last third of the book explores the question of what it means to be human, whether there’s a line we can cross a line that takes our humanity away.

As much as I was hooked by the story I found it hard to read ‘The Last Days’ due to the constant racking up of the tension and uncertainty; every now and then I had to put the book down just to try and get my head around it. As the author, did you find yourself having to stop writing just to get your head around what was going on?

Yes. I tend to like to read fiction that has a strong impact on me, work that unsettles me, work that I end up thinking about for a long time afterward, and I hope that my fiction has that same effect on readers. It’s at least as harrowing to write as it is to read, and I end up living with those characters and that world longer than any reader would. There were a lot of moments when I found my head spinning, a lot of moments when I had to stop and gather myself and think whether I dared do something in a particular scene. The scene in the bar, for instance, with the striptease. Or the whole sequence with Borchert’s head. But also smaller things as well, little details that really surprised me and caught me off guard when I was writing them.

How does it feel to have created a cult, on paper, where people mutilate themselves in order to get closer to God?

Well, I think it probably felt better than creating it in life… It’s a strange world, and one I created drawing on my sense of what a totalizing religion (like the one I grew up in) was actually like. It was a lot of fun, and a real challenge to create a religious system with its own particular, peculiar logic. And to do that while at the same time playing around with ideas from detective fiction.

Do you have any plans to write more books for Underland in the future?

I think probably Victoria Blake is probably the better person to answer that one. Certainly I’d love to have Underland consider publishing me in the future, and I feel like they’ve been an exceptionally good fit for ‘Last Days.’ I hope we’ll work together again.

Finally, there’s a guy in a bookshop who’s wavering over whether to purchase a copy of ‘Last Days’. Tell him why he should stop wavering and take the book straight to the counter.

Maybe by letting them know if he doesn’t take the book straight to the counter he’s likely to get an ominous phone call from Gous and Ramse? Oh wait, if they haven’t read the book they won’t know what that means…

Seriously, I hope it’s the kind of book that you’ll get hooked by quickly if you start reading it. It’s strange and funny and absurd. It creates its own unique world. It’s also playing around with noir and hard-boiled detective traditions. Read the first chapter standing there in the bookstore and I think the wavering will stop. It’s not the kind of book you’d recommend to your grandmother or that you’d give someone for Christmas (unless you were seriously anti-Christmas), but it’s certainly a book you’ll never forget. (Probably your grandmother would never forget it either, but she’d stop sending you those cards full of nickels for your birthday as payback.)

Thanks for your time with this, I really appreciate it.

You’re very welcome.

Read my review of 'Last Days' over Here.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Giveaway! Charlie Huston's 'Joe Pitt Casebooks'

There's been a bit of a Charlie Huston theme running through the blog just recently, never a bad thing as his 'Joe Pitt' series is pretty much essential reading as far as I'm concerned!

To mark the US publication of Huston's 'Every Last Drop' (and also because these are titles that I think people should be reading) Del Rey have very kindly agreed to give away one set of all the 'Joe Pitt' books published so far. That's 'Already Dead', 'No Dominion', 'Half the Blood of Brooklyn' and 'Every Last Drop'. I've read these already but I'm actually really jealous that one lucky winner is going to get the chance to experience all this goodness for the first time!

Do you want to be that lucky winner? It's as easy as ever to be in with a chance. You see where my email address is (it's in the top right hand corner of the screen...)? Simply drop me a line saying who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do all the hard work and pick a winner ;o)

This competition is open to US residents only, sorry about that! Email me anyway but it won't do you much good other than getting a nice reply from me ;o)
I'll leave this competition open until the 18th of October and announce the winner on the 19th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 10 October 2008

‘Vault of Deeds’ – James Barclay (PS Publishing)

As a rule, me and PDF files don’t get along so well in terms of reading books. As I spend most of the day looking at a computer screen for work it’s generally the last thing I want to when I get home. I’m also one of those old fashioned types who prefer to actually hold a proper book in their hands while they’re reading... ;o) When it’s James Barclay who’s written the book though then I find myself having to change my thinking! (It’s been a quite couple of days at work as well and it’s not as if anyone ever looks at what’s on the screen...)

James Barclay’s ‘Raven’ books are brilliant ‘fantasy meets the Magnificent Seven’ adventures and I’m waiting eagerly to see how he brings the gang back together in ‘Ravensoul’. In the meantime, I got to read ‘Vault of Deeds’ and very good it is too...

In a land that prides itself on the quality of its heroes the sudden resurgence of form in the champions of Evil is proving a real cause for concern. With dead heroes littering the land, and an invasion looking more and more likely, people are starting to wonder if the forces of Evil have a little insider knowledge... The answers lie in the very school that sends heroes out to battle Evil, Grincheux the Scribe finds himself (and his gangly trainee hero) not only holding all the answers but also being the only person who can do anything about it... This isn’t how he planned to spend his day but it looks like he’s going to get his head ripped off either way so he may as well do the right thing...

‘Vault of Deeds’ is only ninety two pages long (and because of the price maybe only one for fans and collectors) but is a good reminder of it being quality that counts, not quantity. This is a tightly written story with a definite ending and no loose ends, what you get until that ending is a mixture of humour and pathos that’s wrapped up in a plot that’s a little predictable (I saw it coming but then I think you’re meant to see it coming) but good fun all the same.

It’s the humour that really made this one for me. Barclay looks like he’s having so much fun, not just with the dialogue but also with the situations and background that he gives the reader. If you’ve ever wondered what ‘HERO’ actually stood for then look no further than this book, it’s also worth a read just to see the demonic equivalent of hero school! There are shades of Terry Pratchett’s humour on display but when you get first hand experience of the ‘formal Elven language’ (which made me laugh) I found myself not minding too much. I’m also a big fan of the twist right at the end which completely caught me out!

You may know how it’s going to end, and you may have seen the humour before, but ‘Vault of Deeds’ is still a fun read that both fans of James Barclay, and everyone else, will enjoy. I certainly did and now I’m all the more eager for ‘Ravensoul’...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Haven't read it but like the cover!

Fiona McIntosh's 'Royal Exile' is hovering around the top end of the 'to read pile' and I should get round to it in the next week or so. In the meantime, I thought I'd say how much I like the cover art :o)
Here's the blurb just in case you haven't read it already,

Led by Loethar, an ambitious and ruthless tyrant, a terrifying army of mercenaries and renegades from the great southern steppes threaten to overwhelm the Kingdom of Penraven, having already overthrown its two neighbouring realms, leaving a trail of devastation and broken lives in their wake. Penraven is Loethar's most desired prize, not only because of its wealth, safe harbour, extensive coastline, and abundant natural resources. This time the tyrant wants more than a crown. Driven by dreams of empire, fuelled by his increasing obsession with magic, Loethar's plan to overthrow King Brennus of Penraven, 9th of the Valisars, was cemented the hour upon when he learned that Brennus possessed the power of coercion. All of the Valisar heirs have been blessed down the ages with the sinister ability to bend people entirely to their will and Loethar is convinced that if he consumes these empowered people he will then be imbued with their skills and magics and be unstoppable.

My reading is leaning towards fantasy right now and 'Royal Exile' sounds like just what I'm after. Anyway, back to the cover...

It's nice and simple with no overload of pictures to distract me. It also makes it pretty clear that this is going to be a book about warfare and the way that the cloak kind of fades into mist tells me that there's magic in the air as well... Me and art generally don't get on so well but this time it feels like it's telling me all I need to know.

How about you? Are you thinking, "ooh, nice artwork", "urgh, that looks awful" or, "meh', I've seen better but I've seen worse as well..."

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Author Interview! Charlie Huston

Over the past year and a bit Charlie Huston's 'Joe Pitt' series have become books where I'll drop everything else so I can get reading them straight away, they're that good. I'm a real fan so when I got the opportunity to run a few questions past Charlie I totally jumped at it! RedEyedGhost, over at Westeros had a few questions of his own and very kindly agreed to let me use them. So, without further ado...

Hi Charlie, thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview

If you woke up one morning and found that you’d become a Vampyre, which clan would you be looking to join up with in New York? Or would you go freelance like Joe?

I doubt that I would last a day. Joe always says that you’re either the kind of person that can deal with drinking other people’s blood to survive, or you’re not. I think I’m not. But by nature, I’m probably more of a Society guy than anything else. That or a Freak.

The Joe Pitt novels have a noir tone but Joe Pitt is not your typical ‘noir private eye’, what gave you the inspiration for his character and is Joe the same character that you originally concieved?

I was thinking tough guy as much as I was thinking PI. Joe’s ended up being a little more sympathetic than I thought he’d be. Which seems absurd in retrospect.

One of the things that I really like about your Joe Pitt books is that a great deal happens in a relatively short space of time. Have you ever been tempted to write a Joe Pitt book that is twice or even three times the length of previous books?

Not really. If the books moved any slower the holes in the plots would become too obvious. But the fifth and final book is likely to be the longest. There are a lot of loose ends to tie.

‘Every Last Drop’ is now in bookstores, what can fans expect from this latest instalment?

Toe biting. Lots of toe biting. More than one toe is bitten off. Toe biting.

Have any of Joe’s actions thrown you a curveball, in terms of where the plot goes next, or do you still have a good idea of how the last book will end?

I’m pretty certain of how the series will end, but there have been plenty of surprises along the way. It’s had to nail them down, they happen so regularly, but Joe is always killing someone I expected to have around for another hundred pages at least.

Are you planning on sticking with just Vampyres or are there plans to introduce other creatures into the mix? For example, will Joe going up against a werewolf anytime soon?

I’d originally planned for more other-worldliness. In fact, the first draft of Already Dead included Joe making a reference to a fight he had with a werewolf. I ended up jettisoning the concept for the sake of streamlining Joe’s world.

You write crime fiction as well, could you see any of the characters from these books crossing over into the world of Joe Pitt?


I've never read any ‘Moon Knight’ stories but figured I’d give ‘The Bottom’ a go. I’ve got a copy but haven’t started on it yet, what can I expect to find inside? Do you have any plans to write more books for Marvel?

Marc Spector is a former mercenary who may or may not have been resurrected by the Egyptian god of vengeance and the moon. Either way, he’s crazy as a shit house rat and only does one thing well: hurts people. So he dresses up in a while costume and goes out and hurts people in the name of Khonshu.
I am working on something else for Marvel right now, but they haven’t announced it as yet and I’m supposed to keep my yap shut until they do.

Are there any other vampire books that you would recommend to someone who’s never really read in that genre? You’re not allowed to say ‘Dracula’…

Other than the aforementioned, I’ve only read a few vampire books, all of which I would recommend: “I Am Legend” (the Richard Matheson original, not a novelization of the movie), “Salem’s Lot”, and “The Hunger”.

Finally, there’s a guy in a bookstore who’s thinking about giving ‘Already Dead’ a go for the first time. He’s not sure whether to put his money on the table though, what would you say to him?

Noir vampire PI goes looking for missing poor little rich girl and gets a face full of zombies and knuckles, set against a Manhattan vampire demimonde, soaked in blood, whiskey, more blood, and shrouded in Lucky Strike smoke.
That should weed out the haters.

Thanks again for your time, I really appreciate it

'Every Last Drop' is available right now, in the US, through Del Rey. Orbit will be releasing the UK edition in March next year.

If you're after finding out more about Charlie Huston then click Here for his website. You can also read my reviews of
No Dominion, Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop and The Shotgun Rule