Saturday, 31 October 2009

The 'Big Fat Horror Giveaway!'

Happy Halloween everyone! :o) To mark the day (and while I'm hiding behind the sofa waiting for the goblin to go away...) I've got something pretty cool for you all...

You've read the reviews, now you get a chance to read the books for yourselves! Thanks to the generosity of the people at Constable Robinson, I have five packs containing 'Nightlight' and 'The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20' to give away to five lucky readers of the blog. And the great thing is... anyone can enter this competition, it doesn't matter where you live!

Entering this competition is as easy as ever. All you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do everything else... (insert evil laugh here as it's Halloween!)

I'll let this one run until the 9th of November and will announce the winners on the 10th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 30 October 2009

‘The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20’ – Edited by Stephen Jones (Constable Robinson)

Seeing as Halloween is tomorrow there was really no option other than to review something chock full of horror and other supernatural goings on. What’s the one thing that’s better than a horror book? The answer is simple; one horror book that’s absolutely crammed full of horror stories! The ‘Mammoth Book of Best New Horror’ series has been going on for a fair while now (hint, the clue is in the title!) and each book gives it’s readers a round up of what’s been going on in the world of speculative fiction over the past year. It was the stories that I was interested in though and there were plenty on offer this time round. Not all of them worked for me (for reasons that I will go into in a bit) but the end package was a more than pleasing result that any horror fan will get a lot out of.

To be honest with you, I’m never entirely sure how to go about reviewing anthologies like these; especially when (as in this case) there are a large number of short stories to work through. Do I go through each one individually? I wasn’t going to do this originally but ended up doing just that. Whether a story worked for me or not, there was no denying that they all leaped off the page and grabbed me...

I love horror. Whether it’s watching someone fall prey to evil on the big screen or reading about it in a book; the resulting tingle of fear is delicious, a flavour to be savoured and sought out whenever possible. With such a wide variety of authors contributing to the ‘Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20’ there really is something here for everyone but that means that not all of it will be for you; or me in this case...

I love horror that gets right up in your face and showers blood all over you while it chews on its victim. At the same time, I love a horror story that takes it’s time and creeps up you to give you an ending that either packs a punch or leaves you squirming with just how unpleasant, or just plain wrong, it turned out to be. The good news, if you’re anything like me, is that the ‘Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20’ has plenty of that on offer.

Before any of that though, I found out that there’s a lot more to horror with Peter Crowther’s ‘Front-Page McGuffin and The Greatest Story Never Told’. While I loved the concept behind the tale, the true horror of the tale was to be found somewhere completely different. The horror of real life is easily passed over sometimes but losing a loved one to illness and then waking up on your own the next day? That is true horror as far as I’m concerned. Crowther hits the nail right on the head with his depiction of just how lonely that life can be, enhancing this feeling with contrasting snippets of humour.

After ‘Front Page McGuffin’ we’re into the kind of horror stories that I came looking for. Simon Strantzas’ ‘It Runs Beneath the Surface’, Lynda E. Rucker’s ‘These Things We Have Always Known’ and Gary McMahon’s ‘Through the Cracks’ deal with insidious evil that slowly builds up until there is no way to stop it. Strantzas’ tale is scary in its depiction of an unknown evil but is pipped by both Rucker and McMahon; the endings in these tales get right under your skin... and make it crawl.

I’m becoming a fan of Tim Lebbon’s work and ‘Falling off the World’ was no exception here. A completely surreal event is given added weight by the matter of fact way in which it is related to the reader. And the way it ends... Talk about a cliffhanger ending!

Paul Finch’s ‘The Old Traditions Are Best’ sees the beginning of a slump in the book, at least as far I was concerned. Again, I liked the concept but not only was the ending clearly signposted but it felt like it took an absolute age to get there... Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Long Way’ didn’t have the signposting but still dragged and the evil monkey toy (a ‘never fail’ plot device in horror fiction) was smothered under the comings and goings of the apartment complex in Michael Bishop’s ‘The Pile’.

Tanith Lee’s ‘Under Fog’ gave things a little shot in the arm with a tale of people’s capacity for evil pitted against the evil of the otherworld. I really got into this one and it was a shame that Christopher Fowler’s ‘ArkAngel’ didn’t keep the momentum going. Here was a tale that had the potential to be pretty nasty but ended up coming across as a pale imitation of the real life events that it was based on.

As someone who didn’t perhaps get everything he could have done out of childhood family holidays I found a lot to identify with in Ian R. MacLeod’s ‘The Camping Wainwrights’ but (perhaps because of my own experiences) I found myself more annoyed at the tale instead of frightened. To be fair though, MacLeod’s piece is excellent in terms of building up to the final catastrophic event... and the event itself.

While I like a long drawn out build up to the payoff, the timing has to be right otherwise the impact is lost. Leave it a little too long and you may as well start again. This was an issue I had with ‘A Donkey at the Mysteries’ (Reggie Oliver), ‘The Oram County Whoosit’ (Steve Duffy) and Sarah Pinsborough’s ‘Our Man in the Sudan’. All three stories had a great underlying concept that was spoiled by a tendency to meander through the background scenery, stifling the impact of the final critical moments. Although to be fair, Duffy’s tale does come off better than the other two in this respect. Offering respite though is Stephen King’s ‘The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates’, a touching and poignant tale of a couple’s last conversation and the ramifications that it has over the years.

Edmund Bertrand’s (or Mark Samuels’, depending on how you look at it) ‘Destination Nihil’ is a short sharp burst of something truly weird with an undertone of a terror that keeps on growing. Unfortunately for the book as a whole, it is followed by Albert E. Cowdrey’s ‘The Overseer’; another tale that promises much but wanders through the background history far too much to be truly effective.

Just when I thought things really were on the downward slide, Pinckney Benedict’s ‘The Beginnings of Sorrow’ picked things up a treat. This is one of the darkest tales in the collection, promising nothing but the eventual apocalypse and a story that will stick in your mind for a long time to come if I was anything to go by. I’ve read a few werewolf tales but never one that works in reverse like this...

Brian Lumley’s ‘The Place of Waiting’ is a ghost story that could teach a few lessons to the tales here that suffer from issues with pacing. Everything is balanced here and works together to hit the reader with a concept that is hinted at but never revealed until exactly the right moment. ‘The Place of Waiting’ is a timely reminder that I need to give the ‘Necroscope’ series a go very soon.

Steve Rasnic Tem’s ‘2:00pm: The Real Estate Agent Arrives’ is a fitting finale to the collection, doing everything that ‘The Place of Waiting’ does but in only fifty five words. I challenge you to read the final sentence and not think, ‘What the f...?’

‘The Mammoth Book of Horror 20’ wasn’t all for me but there was no denying that every single tale had me gripped and slightly shaken after I’d finished reading it. I’ll be making very sure that I’m around for ‘The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21’...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

'Saw' Contest - Winner!

My first go at giving cinema tickets, on the blog, ended up going very well. Thanks to everyone who took part! There could only be one winner though and that was one Alpesh Lathia. Good work Alpesh, hope you enjoy the films!

Cover Art and Line-Up for 'Halo: Evolution'

I've never really played 'Halo' (a couple of goes in the shop but I never quite made the leap to buying an X-Box...) but I'm always up for a slice of military sci-fi so news of Tor's forthcoming 'Halo: Evolution' was more than welcome.

First up, here's the cover art which is looking pretty sweet...

What I'm more interested in though are the people who are going to be contributing stories to the book itself. The line-up goes...

TOBIAS S. BUCKELL, the New York Times bestselling author of HALO: The Cole Protocol and Sly Mongoose. (Anyone who writes about space zombies is cool in my book!)

B.K. EVENSON, the Edgar and Horror Guild International nominated author of Last Days and The Open Curtain. (I really enjoyed Evenson's 'Last Days' so am looking forward to seeing his tie-in work here)

JONATHAN GOFF, writer and artist with 343 Industries.

KEVIN GRACE, writer and Managing Editor of 343 Industries.

ROBT McLEES, Bungie game developer and writer on Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 and Halo 3, as well as the upcoming Halo: Reach.

ERIC NYLUND, the New York Times bestselling author of Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, and most recently a new non-Halo series that begins with Mortal Coils.

FRANK O’CONNOR, the Franchise Director for Halo at 343 Industries.

ERIC RAAB, writer, and Tor editor of the Halo novels since 2004.

KAREN TRAVISS, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of her own Wess’har series as well as Star Wars and Gears of War novels. (I love her Star Wars stuff and her Gears of War books aren't bad either..)

JEFF VANDERMEER & TESSA KUM: Vandermeer is the World Fantasy award-winning writer of City of Saints and Madman as well as Shriek: An Afterword and Finch. Kum is the author of 7wishes and editor for Weird Tales and the Best American Fantasy series. (I haven't tried out Jeff Vandermeer's tie-in work so this will be a first for me)

FRED VAN LENTE, the New York Times bestselling author of Incredible Hercules (with Greg Pak) and Marvel Zombies 3, as well as Cowboys and Aliens and the upcoming Marvel comic series Halo: Blood Line.

It's looking good, I'll be grabbing myself a copy (when it's available) and will let you know what I think right here...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

‘501st’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey)

It’s always a little bit sad when a series that you love comes to an end. It’s not like there aren’t more great books out there to discover but even so... You’ve invested in a plotline along with characters that can end up being as important to you as people you know in real life... and then it all ends. There are no more books...
What’s worse though is when a series that you’re really getting into ends before its time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Karen Traviss’ ‘Clone Commandos’ series. Now whether you think Traviss should have just got on with it or if you’re cursing Lucasfilm for playing silly games with the canon the bottom line is that perhaps the best ongoing Star Wars serial is coming to a premature end and that’s a real shame. I’ve heard that there’s one more book to come although I’m not sure if that’s true or not; the way in which ‘501st’ ends suggests that there will be. I hope so, if the series has to end then hopefully not too much will be left hanging in the air. In the meantime, fans of Traviss’ work are in for yet another treat.... (I’m a fan, in case you hadn’t noticed!)

The Republic has gone and the Empire stands in its place. Emperor Palpatine is consolidating his power and will not hesitate to crush anyone that gets in his way. For the clones of the former Grand Army of the Republic, the only thing that has changed is their uniform. The Jedi are to be purged from the galaxy by any means necessary but this creates conflict for clones fighting on either side of the divide. Kal Skirata and his family of clone deserters have no love for the Jedi but need all the help they can get to solve their own problems. In the meantime, certain clones left behind Imperial lines (after the events arising from ‘Order 66’) have their own issues to deal with in relation to the Jedi, issues which might just end up bringing them into direct conflict with their clone brothers on the other side.

A galaxy reeling from war and upheaval is always going to take a long time to settle down; especially with a newly formed Empire making its mark. ‘501st’ is the tale of those formative days with the trauma of a wounded galaxy personified in a group of men and women going through their own struggles.

‘501st’ is a novel that takes place in the shadows and fringes, secrecy is paramount for survival and everyone has some kind of scheme or plan that they need to see to fruition. A result of this is that ‘501st’ can be a very edgy read, everyone is on their toes and the tension crackles on the page. If you’re looking for all out warfare and explosions though then you are likely to be disappointed here as ‘501st’ is all about what happens behind the scenes. This is never anything less than engrossing, as plans are often changing at a second’s notice, but the pace of the book does suffer as plans are meticulous and have to be adhered to laboriously. Traviss does keep her readers on their toes but it can sometimes feel like a bit of a slog to get to that point where everything changes and the plot is sent hurtling down a new path...

‘501st’ is not a book that you can pick up if you haven’t read the rest of the series (or at least the preceding two books) first. There is a lot going on here that has been built up over a long time and established fans of the series are going to enjoy where Traviss takes her motley crew of renegades.
In a sense, it’s not so much about what happens to the clones but how they rise to each challenge. These men will not give up under any circumstances but they are not supermen and are surprisingly vulnerable to their emotions. It’s fascinating to watch how they face up to these challenges; from the clone battling his way back from a brain injury to the clone who’s trapped half a galaxy away from a son he has only just found out that he has. Traviss doesn’t take the easy way out with her characters either. They may be clones but they are not all the same, all of them have their own quirks and they combine to form an engaging family unit whose expressive character keeps the pages turning.

Events are building up to some pretty big conclusions and, regardless of whether we see these conclusions or not, it’s all credit to Traviss and her ability to keep all the wheels turning at the same time. The series has flowed very well in this regard and the same can also be said of ‘501st’, a book that manoeuvres things into place so smoothly you don’t even realise that it’s happening. You’re just left to enjoy the story in the meantime.

‘501st’ is a worthy addition to the ‘Clone Commandos’ series which I still think is the best Star Wars series out there right now. Does anyone know if there’s another book to come? I hope so...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

‘The Sad Tale of the Brother’s Grossbart’ – Jesse Bullington (Orbit)

A great philosopher once wrote ‘shit happens’. Or was it something that I saw on a t-shirt somewhere? Not that there’s anything wrong with t-shirt philosophy...
The bottom line is that shit happens everywhere and every day, not least of all in books. I don’t know about you but this is one of the main reasons why I read, to see bad stuff happen and then see how it’s dealt with. There’s nothing like a rotten turn of events to really drive a plot forward in terms of urgency. You also get to see how your favourite characters rise to the challenge and/or cheer when it all rebounds on the villain of the piece (if you’re that kind of person). When I saw the title for this book I just knew that things weren’t going to end well and that’s what piqued my interest. Glowing words from Larry and none other than Jeff Vandermeer himself also made ‘The Sad Tale’ a book that I had to check out. I’m glad I did, I’d have no reservations in making this one of my ‘reads of the year’...

Welcome to Medieval Europe, a time of plague and poverty for all but the elite few. If this wasn’t bad enough dark creatures lurk everywhere, making the simplest trek an exercise in terror. Death is everywhere and that’s just how Hegel and Manfried Grossbart like it. After all, the dead don’t need those earthly treasures they’re buried with. A couple of enterprising grave robbers can make themselves very rich indeed...
Life in their village is about to get too hot to handle and the ancient tombs of Egypt promise riches beyond measure, the Grossbarts are on the road and in pursuit of the score of a lifetime. They’re not the only ones in pursuit though; evil begets evil and the brother’s villainy means that there is plenty of evil on the road behind them...

In all my years of reading, I don’t think I’ve ever met any character that is as black hearted, murderous, cold blooded and downright vicious as a single Grossbart. The fact that there are two Grossbarts means that the ‘evil quotient’ is doubled and, as a result, the reader is in for a bit of a treat if they’re after a ‘road trip of destruction’ that spans Medieval Europe and heads into Africa.
There is nothing that the brothers won’t stoop to in their quest for ill gotten gold and, more often than not, simply to stay alive. The opening scenes bring this home to the reader in no short order! You know what these guys are capable of but what I found was that it pushed the point home so hard (and so early) that I wasn’t surprised when they came up with more of the same as the book progressed. The constant dialogue, between the two brothers, kept things entertaining but the book ended up always running the risk of giving the reader ‘more of the same’ in terms of how the Grossbarts reacted when certain situations arose. Sometimes I couldn’t help thinking that I’d seen things dealt with in a similar way several chapters ago... I also had a little issue with the pacing of the plot, long journeys followed by short sharp bursts of action. While I can see why the novel is paced thus, it did come across as rather ‘stop/start’ and this made it a little difficult for me to get into the story and stay there...

It’s a good job then that ‘The Sad Tale...’ isn’t just about how evil the Brother’s Grossbart are. The situations that befall the brothers are as much about their reputation preceding them, or just them simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as it is about the control they have over their destiny and the choices they make. I found myself chuckling along at some of the scrapes they found themselves in, either in a ‘serves you right’ way or simply because it was really funny.
‘The Sad Tale’ is all about random occurrences combining to form something that fits together perfectly even though you wouldn’t expect it; not just with the brothers themselves but also with what follows them. Sometimes everything just slots together and this is just what happened here; Bullington clearly displays a firm control over his plot.

It was also really interesting to get into the running dialogue between the two brothers over the course of their journey. While they may not be the intellectual match of most people that they meet, their animal cunning is invaluable in getting them out of trouble and their ruminative discussions show that there is a lot more going on here than their just being a pair of grave robbing thugs. Their discussions about Catholicism may be misguided but make a strange kind of sense and paint their activities in a new light; it’s up to the reader to decide which vision of the Grossbarts they want to go with... (I’m going for grave robbing thugs with far too much time on their hands)
On the subject of dialogue... Swear words can be found in abundance here and anyone who isn’t keen on one particular word (you know what it is...) should know that the Grossbart’s aren’t afraid to use it. Personally, I found it to be in keeping with their character.

If all this wasn’t enough, Bullington paints a world appropriately dark and sinister with a confidence that makes you wonder if he knew someone who lived there. Just the right setting for such a tale and with elements of the fantastic that creep up on you when you least expect them (enhancing the plot even more).

The title pretty much tells you how it’s all going to end but the fun is definitely in getting there. A couple of minor flaws stopped this being the perfect read but it really wasn’t all that far off.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

‘Nightlight, A Parody’ – The Harvard Lampoon (Constable)

This isn’t something that you’ll catch me admitting around here too often so pay attention! One of the first books I reviewed on here (maybe even the first) was Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’. Don’t hold it against me, everyone has to start somewhere :o) It wasn’t much of a review but, to be fair to me, ‘Twilight’ wasn’t much of a book (although it did keep me reading it)... I know that the phrase ‘wish fulfilment’ cropped up at least once, mostly on Meyer’s part I think...
Although it might not necessarily be what you want to happen, an author can gauge the success of their book by the people queuing up to poke fun at it. Tolkien’s had and so has Rowling; it’s now Meyer’s turn as the Harvard Lampoon present us with their take on ‘Twilight’...

If you’ve read ‘Twilight’ already then you’ll know the story. Come to think of it; if you’ve hung out anywhere on the internet (over the last couple of years) then you’ll know the story. A lonely misfit girl moves to Oregon to live with her Dad, while she’s there she attracts the attention of the hot loner boy in the class and discovers that he’s a vampire. The Harvard Lampoon version sticks to the story but adds a few twists of its own; the result did nothing less than have me laughing out loud and anyone who’s after a send up of Meyer’s work should give this a look though.

‘Nightlight’ did leave me wondering if I had been unnecessarily harsh on ‘Zombies for Zombies’ though as I found that, once again, a joke was stretched to breaking point and almost robbed the book of it’s impact. I say ‘almost’ as ‘Nightlight’ came across as being a lot more inventive in the way that it poked fun at its subject matter. The issue was still there though and I’m left wondering if this is more about what I’m looking for, humour wise, than the book itself. I guess I’m after several different jokes in a book rather than just one continuous one...

Like I said though, the difference here is that while there’s only the one joke the Harvard Lampoon writers attack it in a number of different ways. Even when they don’t, what they did come up still tickled the funny bone.

If you’ve ever thought that the character of Bella was a little too good to be true then you’re in good company. Not only do most people on the internet feel the same way but so do the writers at the Harvard Lampoon. What Meyer did inadvertently is taken up by the Lampooners; there’s nothing inadvertent here as Belle is made out to be totally obnoxious and believing she is better than everyone else. Take the frog dissection in biology...

“Wait!”Edwart declared. “You have to read the procedure first!”
“It’s so easy,” I said, slicing the frog down its middle. I’d done this lab before. At a pond, when I was a little girl.

Not only do the writers poke fun at how ridiculous Belle’s character is but, through the way the plot develops, they also highlight how absurd certain parts of the original book were as well. It’s almost like you get two jokes for the price of one here, seeing the original book in a new light and laughing at the jokes in ‘Nightlight’ at the same time. Belle even learns a few lessons by the end...

When I reviewed ‘Twilight’ I mentioned that the target audience was very obviously teenage girls. ‘Nightlight’ riffs off the same joke a little too much but an older audience, tired of the saccharine sweetness, will get a lot out of it. I certainly did.

Eight out of Ten.

Trailer for Alex Bledsoe's 'Burn Me Deadly'...

I got a little bit mixed up with the release dates and ended up reviewing 'Burn Me Deadly' far too early. By way of making up for this (and also because I really enjoyed the book and wanted to post about it again) here's a Link to the 'Burn Me Deadly' trailer over at Alex' blog.

If you haven't picked up either of the Eddie LaCrosse books yet, do yourself a favour and grab a copy of 'The Sword Edged Blonde'. I wasn't disappointed and I don't think you will be either.

'Saw' All-Nighter at the BFI (Who fancies some free tickets)

I've always meant to check out the 'Saw' films but life has managed to conspire to stop me every time I've come close... This weekend, for example, the BFI are showing all the 'Saw' films back to back (at the IMAX) but we've got visitors who I really don't think would be up for a journey into the twisted mind of a psychotic killer. Oh well, there's always next time.

For those of you who are up for this, here's the info from the site...

Sat 31 Oct, 23.15

Come to the BFI IMAX this Halloween for a marathon fright fest as we screen all six Saw films back to back, including the newly released Saw VI. Descend into the horrifying world of the Jigsaw Killer and follow his path of terror as he tests his victims to frightening extremes.

There will be free tea and coffee available during the breaks and the bar will be open until the last film starts.

*Please note that 35mm presentations only fill part of the giant screen

Now, you can book tickets by simply clicking Here but the nice folk at the BFI offered me a pair of free tickets to give away so don't click on that link just yet. How do you fancy some free tickets? Here's what you need to do...

1) You need to be either living in London or able to get down on the Saturday night.
2) Drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and whether you want both tickets or just the one. I'm cool with either. You don't need to give me a mailing address this time, the ticket(s) will be waiting for you at the door.

I'm after a quick turn around on this one (the films are showing on Saturday) so I'm only letting this one run until this Thursday night. I'll announce the winner(s) on Friday morning and get everything sorted.

Good Luck!

Monday, 26 October 2009

‘Zombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead’ – David P. Murphy (Sourcebooks Inc)

Now here’s a book that I’ve been planning to write about for the last couple of weeks but somehow never got round to. Life has a habit of getting in the way of my plans, even with zombie books (strange but true). Like my rotting heroes though, I got there in the end. If there’s one thing you can learn from zombies it’s the value of just putting one foot in front of the other; you’ll get there in the end...

What would you do if you were bitten by a zombie? Quickly chop the offending limb off? Put a bullet through your head while you still have any say in the matter? I’d probably take the easy way out; become a zombie and let someone else shoot me in the head. It’s not as if I’d know what was going on...
All this is about to change though as David P. Murphy shows us that there is life after undeath. Your body may well be falling apart but there’s still every chance that you can keep your mind in one piece (albeit rotting from the inside out) and live a normal life. Well, I say ‘normal’...

I’m one of those people who read the ‘Idiot’s Guide’ books in the shops when I think no-one else is watching me (I just don’t want to admit that I cannot change a light bulb, it’s tricky!) There was no danger of that happening with this book though; everyone needs to be prepared for the inevitable zombie apocalypse and I’ll do my part to make people aware of this imminent threat! :o)
It was a bit of a shame then that the book left me ever so slightly cold...

Murphy plays things for laughs here and this isn’t surprising when you consider the subject matter. A self help book for people who are about to become zombies can’t be anything else other than comedic! When Murphy hits the spot you’re holding a very funny book indeed, certainly one that had me laughing out loud. The ’14 Habits of Highly Effective Zombies’ was a good source of chuckles as was ‘Who Moved My Brains’; lots of positive reinforcement about why being bitten isn’t the end of the world. I couldn’t help but laugh because... well, it totally is the end of the world for everyone (the bitten and those who are still trying to survive). The blatant spin, in the face of the apocalypse, bounces nicely off the underlying subject matter and what you get is a quirky and fun piece that will make you smile at the very least.

I couldn’t help thinking though that the joke could only go so far and in a book this size (two hundred and thirty nine pages) the joke would be pushed to the point where it stopped being funny. It might work for other people but I was left thinking that ‘Zombies for Zombies’ might have worked better as a pamphlet (or a web page online) rather than a whole book.
Sections like ‘Recipes!’ are one joke that’s needlessly repeated until the effect is lost. We know what zombies like to eat; we don’t like to be told over and over again. Television schedules for zombies might well be a Romero style comment on TV watchers but, again, it’s another joke that’s stretched out until it’s not funny. Dance lessons for zombies would work as a visual joke but you don’t really get to see on the written page. As far as zombie sex goes... Suffice it to say that this section didn’t even make me crack a smile. It felt like Murphy spent too much time trying to justify the idea that zombies could have sex; if you have to justify something to that extent then the end result isn’t going to be funny at all.

What I did get a lot out of though was the darker currents that ran beneath the main concept. Things aren’t as nice out there as they would have you believe and the zombie lifestyle isn’t so idyllic either... This is what kept me reading, an idea that I think could have worked better than what Murphy chose to focus on...

Humour is a funny thing (Pun? No...) and different people find different stuff funny. You might laugh your way through the whole book but I... didn’t. There are some interesting ideas behind ‘Zombies for Zombies’ but it didn’t quite do it for this reader...

Six and a Quarter out of Ten.

The 'First Day Back After A Week off Work' Competition Winner's Post!

We all know what it's like to be back at work after a week away so I'm not going to bore you with what's going through my head right now; not when there are competition winners to be announced! Without further ado, here they are...

'Breaking Point' - John Macken

Richard Sutherland, Edinburgh, UK
David Sweet, Bridport, UK
Michael Below, Egelsbach, Germany

'The Other Lands' - David Anthony Durham

Pedro Fontela, Portugal
Lyn Bosomworth, Tyne and Wear, UK
Michelle Williams, Preston, UK

Well done guys! Your books should hopefully be with you soonish, the postal strikes are holding things up a little...

Better luck next time everyone else!

‘The Talisman: Road of Trials #0’ – Furth, Shasteen & Ruffino (Del Rey Comics)

Stephen King and Peter Straub’s ‘The Talisman’ is one book that I have never got round to reading. Anyone here read it? If so, what did you think? Is it worth searching out and picking up?
Del Rey are kicking off their new comics line with a monthly serial of ‘The Talisman’ and, for people like me who have never read the book, are taking us right back to just before ‘The Talisman’ began with a six issue mini-series ‘The Road of Trials’. This seemed like the best place to jump on board as far as I was concerned. It’s a very short read but one that I found very attractive visually as well as intriguing in it’s plot. I can see myself being around for the duration of this mini-series which can only mean that I’ll be around for the whole thing. Maybe I won’t need to pick up the book after all…

This first issue of ‘The Road of Trials’ begins to lay the groundwork for what we will eventually find in ‘The Talisman’ itself. Jack Sawyer is able to travel to other worlds but his father was there first, working to keep things stable in both worlds. Others are working to undermine this stability however, the Kingdom of Orris is about to undergo a change in leadership and something similar might just be about to happen in this world too…

By the time we see Jack Sawyer set off on his journey we are beginning to get a better idea of the background that his journey is set against. What follows him out of the cornfield however… Well, that tells us that there is so much more that we’re yet to find out. A really good balance is struck here by Robin Furth’s script, you’re not left with a massive cliff hanger (that demands you come back) but what you do get is a work that eases you into the plot very smoothly. The combination of certain events and the art in the last frame resulted in my never even considering not carrying on and getting the next issue. As someone who is brand new to the world of the ‘Talisman’ however, I was left wondering if things could have been fleshed out a little more. I’m sure that things will balance out as more of the story is told but I think that people who have already read the book will get more out of it than newcomers…

The artwork also had its part to play but somehow came across as a bit ‘hit and miss’ at the same time. Shasteen does a great job of showing the contrast between the two worlds but his characters sometimes come across as posed rather than moving. This made things feel a little contrived at times but the shots of a younger Jack sleepwalking in the other world more than made up for it. I’ll certainly be going back to see how things progress, both visually and plot wise.

This first issue of ‘The Road of Trials’ is geared towards established fans of ‘The Talisman’, leaving newcomers to catch up as best they can, but ultimately comes across as a very strong opening shot for the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Giveaway! 'In His Majesty's Service' (Naomi Novik)

While the rest of us wait for the next installment of Temeraire and Captain Will Laurence's adventures those of us who still haven't picked the series up (if you haven't then you really should) can read the first three books all handily packaged up in one big book. Add a brand new short story to the mix and it's looking pretty good!

Well, thanks to Del Rey I have one copy of 'In His Majesty's Service' to give away to one lucky reader... (only if you're living in the US or Canada though, sorry everyone else!)

If you're still with us then you know what to do next. If not, here goes... Just 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. You also need to make it clear that this is the competition you're entering. Emails with blank headers aren't accepted round these parts...

I'll let this one run until November 1st and announce the winner on the 2nd.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Giveaway! 'Traitor's Gate' (Kate Elliott)

Here's one for anyone who has been following Kate Elliott's 'Crossroads' series... Tor have very kindly agreed to give away one copy of the concluding book, 'Traitor's Gate', to one lucky reader of this blog. This competition is only open to people in the US and Canada though, sorry about that...

Entering this competition is really simple. 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. You also need to make it really clear that this is the competition you are entering.

I'll let this one run until November 1st and announce the winner on the 2nd.

Good Luck!

P.S. Anyone in the US who's after information on Kate Elliott's current signing tour would do very well to click right Here.

Friday, 23 October 2009

‘In Autumn, A White Dragon Looks Over The Wide River’ – Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

I don’t know if you can find this short story anywhere else but one place where I know you can definitely pick it up is ‘In His Majesty’s Service’; Del Rey’s collection of the first three ‘Temeraire’ books that is due to be released on the 27th of this month (if it isn’t in shops already, everything seems to be released earlier these days…)
I’m bang up to date with my ‘Temeraire’ reading, I reviewed ‘Victory of Eagles’ on the blog and am planning on reading and reviewing future books in the series before filling in the gaps with a re-read. However, I thought it would be worth mentioning ‘In Autumn…’ so fans can get a little taster. If you’re a fan then it’s worth it.

‘In Autumn…’ follows the path that Celestial Dragon Lien takes as she allies herself with the forces of Napoleon in her quest to be revenged upon Temeraire for the death of her master. It fills the gap between ‘Throne of Jade’ and ‘Black Powder War’. As part of the three-book collection this story does sit nicely but it is only ten pages long so (unless it’s up anywhere else) you’re going to have to be a real completist to fork out for the book and get the first three books all over again…

After the events of ‘Throne of Jade’ I always felt that we never really saw enough of Lien and what she was going through. ‘In Autumn…’ concentrates solely on the Imperial Dragon and the reader gets an opportunity to observe this character in a way that the Temeraire centred books cannot offer. Lien’s culture shock offers an interesting way into the story, the Imperial Courts of China are nothing like France at all! The French Court does have it’s own advantages though… Once this is negotiated however, Lien doesn’t have an awful lot to offer us over than an obsession with revenge. To be fair, that is the point of Lien’s character and a ten-page short story doesn’t offer a lot of room for a more in depth exploration of her character. It would have been nice to see her rounded out a little more though, especially as it’s clear that Lien is a major player in the series…

What is good though is that we have the opportunity to get up close with Napoleon and see how he runs things. My knowledge of history is appalling (I’m more familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte’s appearance in ‘Bill and Ted’…) but what is clear is that Novik’s Napoleon is a man bent on achieving his goals and is not afraid to do what needs to be done. I’m not sure if we’ll see any more of him in the series but I found myself hoping that it happens…

‘In Autumn…’ is a fun read that fills in a gap for long term readers of the series as well as newcomers. For the sake of established fans though, I’m hoping that this short story appears in a future book (in the series) as well as this collection…

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Which cover would you go for? 'The Other Lands' (David Anthony Durham)

I didn't receive a duplicate copy this time round, 'The Other Lands' is a book that I'm just starting and I thought it would be fun to look at the two covers and see what we came up with...

Here's the UK cover,

And here's the US cover,

Now I was pretty evenly drawn between the two covers but there was something about the UK cover that was bugging me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but then it struck me.

Have a look at the UK cover again...

Now have a look at the UK cover for Esslemont's 'Return of the Crimson Guard' (same publisher)...

And then take a look at the UK cover for Esslemont's 'Night of Knives' (same publisher again)...

Someone at Transworld has got a thing about boats. Not just any old boat either, pretty much the same boat. The UK cover for 'The Other Lands' isn't quite the same (it's on the boat rather than looking at the boat) but it was close enough. The US cover stands out for me and is something I would associate with that book. The UK cover reminds me of other books before I've even got started on it. I don't know if Transworld are trying to attract fans of Esslemont and Erikson but I'm sure they could go for an approach that's better than rehashing covers from other books. The US cover has my vote this time. It is based on the German cover for 'Acacia' but somehow feels more unique than the UK cover.

What do you guys think though? Comments please! :o)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

One More Week to 'The Gathering Storm'...

And I'm kinda 'half and half' about the whole thing really. I want to see what happens next, and how it all ends, but I'm not as excited as I thought I would be. 'Crossroads of Twilight' really threw me off my stride and 'Knife of Dreams' didn't quite get me back into the swing of things. I guess we'll see what happens next... I just want to hear someone say this...

In the meantime, Youtube (and Tor) has thrown up a whole load of videos that should hopefully keep WOT fans ticking over until the big day arrives...

Rare footage of Team Jordan talking about 'The Gathering Storm'GS

Brandon Sanderson's thoughts on the level of detail behind 'The Wheel of Time'

Members of the WoT community sharing how they first discovered the series

More than a book: writer and WoT re-reader Leigh Butler talks about her experiences with the WoT community.

If you're in the US and you're after information on the signing tour, for 'The Gathering Storm', then you need to click right Here...

Teaser Artwork for 'The Light'...

I had a great time reading Nathan Edmondson's 'Olympus' (a series that pretty much made up my mind to look out for more of his stuff as it comes out) so news of his forthcoming project 'The Light' was very much welcome over here!

There's only some teaser artwork (from Brett Weldele), so far, but it looks intriguing and I'll be keeping an eye open for more.

Have a look and see what you think...

Alien invasion, demonic possession or has Billy swallowed a light bulb again...? I'll let you know as I find out more...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Giveaway! 'Breaking Point' (John Macken)

Transworld have very kindly come up with the goods once more! This time, I have three copies of John Macken's 'Breaking Point' to give away to three lucky winners. Here's the blurb...

There is a killer loose on the London Underground. He kills without leaving any forensic trace, and seemingly without motive. Genecrime, the UK's elite forensic unit, are stretched to the limits trying to find one usable clue. And there is another problem facing Genecrime. Before he was sacked as head of the unit, Reuben Maitland developed a system to predict latent homicidal behaviour from people's DNA. Now rogue elements in the police, believing that prevention is better than cure, are using Reuben's research to hunt down and incite latent psychopaths beyond their breaking point. Reuben must track down whoever is misusing his technology and stop them before more lives are destroyed. But what he cannot know is that his investigation will lead him directly into the path of the Underground killer.

It's not something I'd normally read but I fancy a bit of a change so I'm going to give this one a go.

How about you? Do you fancy your chances? This competition is only open to people in the UK and Europe I'm afraid... To be in with a chance, simply 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. You also need to make it clear which competition you are entering... I'll do the rest.

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

Good Luck!

Monday, 19 October 2009

‘The Goon: Those That Is Damned’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)

It’s been a while now since we took a walk up Lonely Street, had a drink in Norton’s Pub and had a nose around the back alleys and night clubs nearby. It’s time to go back…
I mentioned a while ago that one of the great things about following ‘The Goon’ was being able to pick up all the trades and not have to wait for a new issue to come out. That didn’t last very long did it? If that wasn’t bad enough I then ended up buying volume nine while I was still waiting for volume eight (this one) to be delivered. I never do things the easy way…
No matter though, I got there in the end. If you’re not reading these comics already then come along with me for another look at why you really ought to pick this one up…

The Goon thought he had taken care of Labrazio a long time ago but apparently not; he’s back and tearing up the burg in a hail of bullets and other, stranger, things. The Goon is always up for a challenge but might this one be too much for him? Not only does Labrazio have Mr Wicker on his side but the Goon is also shown the future he could have if he drops everything and leaves town. What will he choose…?

When I first picked up an issue of ‘The Goon’ to check out, sometime last year, it was this part of the story that I found myself thrown into. I’ve caught up with all since then but ‘Those That Is Damned’ still had the power to make me stop and think, “You poor bastard, you’ve got no choice at all have you…?” It’s not really giving anything away to say that, not only will the Goon never back down from a fight but there’s still one more volume to come after this one…
The Goon’s ultimate choice shows him to be far more complex than the bar room brawler and small time hood that we’ve journeyed with so far. He may have broken more laws than you ever knew existed but the Goon is still a surprisingly moral guy who knows where the line is; the line that, if you cross it, separates men from animals. There are some things you just can’t run out on and one of those things is yourself (even if you take your friends down with you…)

‘Somebody shoulda’ told you people when a big mean spirited fella with a cleaver in hand finds out he ain’t never gonna find peace in his life it ain’t a good idea to go messing with his bartender!’

The war begins in earnest now, everyone is fair game for a bullet and all rules are off. The title of this piece isn’t just about the Goon. Others must make their own decisions and learn to live with the consequences (even if that isn’t for very long…) The humorous nature of earlier books is replaced by something far more bleak as warfare hits the street and loss is felt by all. For those who are along for the laughs though, the Little Unholy Bastards are on hand to generally get in the way and elicit a chuckle with some of the stuff that they get up to (I don’t know quite what it is that they found in the ditch but it is funny when they throw firecrackers at it).

Eric Powell’s artwork is as gorgeous as ever (although I’m a fan so I would say that) and special mention also has to go to Dave Stewart for his colouring which really captures the mood of the whole thing (bleak but almost dreamlike).

There isn’t a lot of the main story arc this time round so you get some extra short stories for your money as well. Highlights for me included ‘Revenge of the Skunk Ape’ (anything by Kyle Hotz always does it for me) and ‘For the benefit of underprivileged inmates’ by Rebecca Sugar (because it’s been far too long since we saw anything of Dr. Alloy…) but really, they’re all good.

I’m a confirmed fan of the concept, storyline and artwork so take my mark with a pinch of salt if you like, I’m cool with that. Just go and read the books afterwards.

Ten out of Ten

A Monday Morning 'Competition Winners' Post...

Happy Monday everyone! :o) Aren't you so glad that even though the weekend is over you have an extra day off..? Hang on, that's me! Oh well, hopefully Monday isn't treating the rest of you too badly. It's being particularly nice to the following people who won last weekend's competitions...

'Unseen Academicals'

Susan Petrey, Lafayette, USA
Stephanie Gardner, London, UK
Gaspar Garção, Portugal

'Suicide Kings' (Advance Copies)

Betty Rood, Alabama, USA
Tim Mulcock, Rochester, New York

'The Sad Tale of the Brother's Grossbart'

Marjorie Taylor, Trowbridge, UK
Sam Findlay, Nottingham, UK
Michael Amouyal, Paris, France

Well done everyone! Your books are on their way even as we speak...
Better luck next time everyone else... (come back either tomorrow or Saturday for another chance to win a book!)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Which cover would you go for? ‘Frostbitten’ (Kelley Armstrong)

Sometimes I get the same book from two different publishers and I thought that a cool way to give both books exposure (I’m only going to read one of them) would be to post pictures of both covers and see what people had to say about them. I used to be one of those people who thought that UK covers were automatically better than their US counterparts but since doing this feature I’ve found that it can just as easily go the opposite way…

Until now…

Here’s the UK cover for Kelley Armstrong’s latest novel,

And here’s the US cover,

One of them is an evocative piece full of blizzards and snow. Look, there’s a wolf looking quite mysterious. It’s a cover that at the very least would make you think about picking it up and looking at the blurb on the back.

The other one is the American cover. An attractive lady and a wolf against a yellow background that doesn’t suggest frostbite at all! There’s no sense of what the story might entail other than an attractive blonde lady; nothing that makes me want to pick the book up and give it a go (which is a shame, if Armstrong’s earlier work is anything to go by then this book really deserves a better cover…)

Lazy cover art never wins around these parts! This round goes to the UK cover…
What do you think though? Which cover would you go for if ‘Frostbitten’ was going to go on your bookcase…?

Comments please!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Giveaway! 'The Other Lands' (David Anthony Durham)

Thanks to those good people at Doubleday I have three copies of David Anthony Durham's 'The Other Lands' (sequel to 'Acacia', a book that you really should pick up if you haven't already...) to give away to three lucky readers of this very blog! Here's the thing though, this competition is only open to people living in the UK and Europe (sorry everyone else)...

You still with me? Great! To be in with a chance of winning, what 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. You also need to make it clear, in your subject header, that this is the competition you are entering. If you don't then your entry is invalid I'm afraid...

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

Good Luck!

P.S. If you haven't already read 'Acacia', have a click right Here for my review...

Friday, 16 October 2009

‘FlashForward’ – Robert J. Sawyer (Gollancz)

What would you do if you saw a vision of your own future? It depends really doesn’t it...? If I saw something good then I would probably take a couple of days out to chill out and make a serious dent in the reading pile, secure in the knowledge that everything works out in the end.
What if I saw something nasty happening to myself? I guess I’d do whatever I could to stop it happening but would it be as simple as that? Is the future set in stone or can it be changed? Robert J. Sawyer attempts to answer these questions in ‘FlashForward’...

I don’t have a television myself but I do know that ‘FlashFoward’ has just started showing on Channel Five. I haven’t actually seen the show myself and don’t want to inadvertently give away any spoilers; this means that today you only get the barest synopsis I’m afraid...
A worldwide event occurs where, without warning, everyone loses consciousness for two minutes. The death toll is catastrophic but the survivors are faced with a bigger problem. During the blackout, most people glimpsed a vision of their future (twenty years down the line) but others saw nothing at all.
How do you continue your life either knowing for certain what your future holds or knowing that you have less than twenty years to live? People are about to find out...

‘FlashForward’ is a relatively short and quick read (weighing in at a respectable three hundred and twelve pages long) that manages to pack a lot into a small amount of room. As I found out, this had a negative outcome, for the book, as well as a positive one...

Sawyer focuses on the efforts of a small group of people to cope with their new found knowledge, showing what’s going on for the rest of the world via news headlines. This gives the reader the opportunity to really get inside people’s heads and experience the phenomenon at first hand.
For the most part this is a good approach that allows ‘FlashForward’ to function as a character study as well as a mystery. As well as figuring out what caused the ‘FlashForward’, certain characters must also figure out the cause of their eventual fate and try to avoid it. In this way, ‘FlashForward’ also becomes a thoughtful and exploratory piece that examines the nature of destiny and free will. This is a lot to cram into a small book and it is perhaps inevitable that something has to give...

Sawyer has a habit of dumping great chunks of information on his reader that pertains to all the science surrounding the discussion over the ‘FlashForward’. These explanatory pieces are long and quite involved (at least for me) and end up interrupting the human interest side of the tale. Not only does this interrupt the flow of the book but it also comes out in the most inappropriate places. Two scientists debating whether or not to get married (because of a vision) suddenly start throwing various theories at each other to back up their arguments. This wouldn’t be so bad but they have to explain these theories in great details. It’s obvious at that point that this ‘infodump’ is purely for the reader and doesn’t fit in with the characters or story at all.
Similarly, Sawyer takes a lot of time to explain the workings of various bits of machinery and organisations; this is time that could be better spent telling the story. You know, the thing we came to read? If you’re picking up a sci-fi book like this then you either know what the author is referring to or you know just enough to have a fairly good idea. If you’re watching the show then you may know it all already! Having it all spelt out doesn’t do anything for the story at all.

It’s a real shame that the book is like this as Sawyer does a great job with the characters and their various journeys. It’s left up to the reader to make up their own mind regarding the fixed nature of destiny as events in the book leave the whole thing up in the air. I think that’s the way it should be and leaving things open ended certainly got me thinking about what was going on. It’s just a shame about the info-dumps...

What the characters go through is poignant at the very least and can be heart breaking when the book is at it’s most intense. Sawyer does well to show his reader how things can either turn out as expected or change and sometimes the person doing their best to prevent something is merely hastening it along... Some of the situations arising from this are worth sticking around to read as are the descriptions of how the characters work their way through it all.

‘FlashForward’ has a great concept underpinning the story and flashes of brilliance show what this story could have been were it allowed to breathe a little more. It’s a shame then that the clunkiness of the ‘infodumps’ really hamper the pace and suffocate the plot. Is it worth giving the TV show a shot instead?

Seven out of Ten

Thursday, 15 October 2009

‘Decay Inevitable’ – Conrad A. Williams (Solaris)

You know how it is; sometimes you see some cover art and you just know that you’re going to have to find a copy of that book, sit down and read the hell out of it! Dave McKean has really come up with the goods here with cover art that is simple yet very effective. What’s happening here? The only way to find out is to get reading...
Williams’ ‘One’ wasn’t the easiest read in the world, for more than one reason, but there was enough goodness there (more than enough in fact) for me to want to check out ‘Decay Inevitable’. The cover was the clincher! :o)
As it turned out, ‘Decay Inevitable’ suffered from some of the same issues that befell ‘One’. It was a gripping read though and I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Williams’ work in the future...

Sean Redman is a failed policeman whose attempts to escape the job merely propel him into a far greater mystery that he was a part of all the time. Will Lacey is a man who witnesses the death of his wife and the birth of a monster all at the same time. Cheke is that monster and her mission (albeit reluctant) is the erase all remnants of an experiment that went badly wrong. All three of these characters will come together as a realm beyond death is opened up, and explored, while a black market in something unspeakable is discovered. And what began in another world will end here...

It’s pretty hard to nail down just what genre ‘Decay Inevitable’ falls into. Whilst the plot, and its execution, is pretty horrific (in the best possible way!) there’s also a strong case for it being a particularly gritty kind of Urban Fantasy. I’m tagging this one as horror as it’s a vicious tale that, in more than one instant, had my eyes trying to get away from the page but carrying on reading at the same time! I’m open to having my mind changed though so leave a comment if you feel that way inclined.
The bottom line though is that ‘Decay Inevitable’ is a thoroughly engrossing read where there was never any danger of my not finishing the book.

It does take a while to get going though...

As with ‘One’, Williams like to take his time in illustrating the journey that each character must undergo while trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s one hell of a mystery, and how it’s all wrapped up at the end is well worth sticking around for, but there is a lot to get through before it really starts going. In the same way as ‘One’, our heroes must take a long journey and, although more happens this time round, it can feel like a bit of a drag. It’s almost like Williams gets to the point where the journey has been going on for the right amount of time... and then adds on some extra. The story carries this extra weight well but I was left with the feeling that it shouldn’t have had too...

Williams also repeats his approach (as seen in ‘One’) of jumping ahead in time, with no warning, and leaving the readers to catch up as best they can. The gap isn’t so big this time, weeks instead of years, but it does throw the story off kilter at a time when it has hit its stride... I wasn’t surprised when this happened (I’d seen this before) but it still took me a little while to get back into the swing of things and I was again left wondering if the jump was necessary...

Work your way through these bits though and fans of horror and dark urban fantasy are in for a real treat. ‘Decay Inevitable’ hints at something monstrous right at the start and then shoves it right in your face in all it’s gory detail. This is where the ‘journey’ becomes a ‘pursuit’ and the pace speeds up accordingly. The mystery may be resolved but Williams does great work in showing us that this was only a small part of the overall scheme. It’s not just decay that is inevitable, so is the apocalypse and Williams makes our continued reading a matter of inevitability as well. You can see it coming and you know, deep down, that everyone’s efforts are ultimately futile; you can’t stop reading though because there’s the possibility that things might just get better... None of the characters are particularly likeable but you can’t help admiring, and being drawn along by, their tenacity.

All of this is set against two worlds where the only thing they have in common is how well they are drawn. There’s our world and another world that couldn’t possibly be more different. It’s the kind of place you find yourself thinking about in the dead of night and then frantically trying to think of anything else. It’s not a nice place at all but you will find yourself wanting to spend more time there. Williams does well here not to give too much away; that hint of the unknown in the background adds to the air of menace that you can’t help but breathe in...

‘Decay Inevitable’ suffers from the same problems as ‘One’ but rises above them to become a compelling read that will have me looking out for more of Williams’ work in the future.
Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Zombie Virus Fund!

Ever since I found out about this last night (thanks Ben!), the Zombie Virus Fund is a cause that's very close to my heart and one that I think everyone should support if they want a new world for their children. Payday is a way off but I'll definitely be making a donation. Click Here and find out how you can help make this dream a reality...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

‘Last Rites’ – Shaun Hutson (Orbit)

Unlike this time last year, I’m really trying to fit more spookiness and horror into my reading this month. If you’re not reading, or watching, any horror in the month of Halloween then there’s something wrong! (Unless you don’t like scary stuff and you’re anxiously waiting for November to come round, I understand...)
I’ve found Shaun Hutson’s work to be a bit of a mixed bag since I’ve been running the blog. Whether it’s a book that would come across better as a film or a book that maybe focuses on things best left implied (in my opinion anyway, although maybe that’s another discussion...), Hutson’s work hasn’t quite hit the spot for me. What can’t be denied though is the relentless energy and darkness that drives each plot along. This being the case, I’ll always find myself picking his new books up and giving them a go.
I finished ‘Last Rites’ and found myself wondering why I’d bothered. It’s not a bad read as such but it felt like I’d read it before. It didn’t just feel like I’d read it before, it felt like Shaun Hutson had already written it before...

Peter Mason’s life is going from bad to worse. His daughter has died, his marriage is in ruins and he’s just been almost beaten to death by a group of the children that he teaches. All Mason wants to do now is get out of London and start again somewhere else; a teaching position at a prestigious Buckinghamshire boarding school offers him the chance to do just that. Langley Hill boarding school has secrets of its own though, are they connected to the mysterious disappearances and suicides in the nearby village? Mason has to find out but will soon wish that he hadn’t, a centuries old evil is stirring and Mason will become its focus...

So there I was, working my way through ‘Last Rites’ and I couldn’t help but think that it all sounded very familiar to me. A dead daughter and a couple trying to work their way through the aftermath. A new beginning and a violent end... Then it struck me, the plot for ‘Last Rites’ is basically the same as Hutson’s ‘Nemesis’, up to and including the ending. There is a slight twist on the original plot but it is essentially the same thing.
It felt to me like a rehash of ‘Nemesis’, different setting but still the same stuff going on, and that pretty much killed it for me. I knew what was going to happen and I was proved right by the end. The result of this was that I couldn’t get into the book; I knew what was going to happen so there was no uncertainty to reel me in...

‘Last Rites’ also sees Hutson focus on the suicides/carnage etc with no real end product. A big deal is made at the beginning about this nameless evil but you never really find out much more other than that a bargain was made and how it’s a good job that people can’t see it. I don’t know if Hutson ran out of room or if this was a deliberate approach but being so upfront with the evil of humanity and then hiding the supernatural influence, that started it all, didn’t seem quite right to me. Building something up like that and then leaving it to hang leaves the book, as a whole, hanging. As a result, the book felt muddled to me, like it wasn’t sure what kind of a novel it wanted to be. This really hindered me in terms of being able to get into the story and get going with it.

The energy and darkness is still there but there’s nothing driving it and it just feels really aimless although it does add to the grim atmosphere of the piece. This wasn’t enough for me though...

‘Last Rites’ had some promise but ultimately failed to deliver for me. There’s something about Shaun Hutson though that means I’ll read his next book. I just hope it’s a better read than this one.

Four out of Ten

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

‘Death Troopers’ – Joe Schreiber (Del Rey)

I first saw the cover for this over at Dave Brendon’s Blog and, once I’d managed to convince myself that this wasn’t a prank and was really going to happen, I just knew that ‘Death Troopers’ was going straight on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2009’ list. I’ve only come to love zombies fairly recently but horror fiction and Star Wars have been favourites of mine since... oh, probably a little longer than I can remember :o) The way I saw it, ‘Death Troopers’ couldn’t possibly fail as a read because even if it let me down in one area there would still be another couple of wellsprings of cool to drink from. I was onto a winner whichever way I looked at it!
As it turned out I couldn’t have been more right. The fanboy in me will undoubtedly add a little edge of bias to this review (so bear that in mind everyone) but I can quite confidently say that if you like zombies, horror or Star Wars then you’re in for a bit of a treat here...

Having picked up it’s quota of prisoners, the Imperial prison barge ‘Purge’ is making its way towards its assigned prison moon; at least that’s the plan until a fault in the engines leaves it adrift in space. A derelict Star Destroyer promises spare parts but half the boarding party don’t return and the other half manages to bring back a virulent disease that wipes out the crew and inmates in a matter of hours. It soon becomes very clear to the survivors that ‘Purge’ is no longer a safe place to be and the only place to go is into the Star Destroyer itself. This proves to be the lesser of two evils though, the original crew may be dead but that doesn’t make their hunger for flesh any easier to bear...

I enjoyed ‘Death Troopers’ so much that I almost feel that I should point out a couple of the shortfalls I found, straight off, in an attempt not to go off on a gushing tangent...

Anyone who’s read up on ‘Death Troopers’ will know that a couple of very well known figures from the Star Wars universe make an appearance here; I won’t say who they are if you don’t know already. I’m not sure that this was such a good thing...
When you’ve got well known figures, such as these, making an appearance then a whole load of the tension goes out of the book immediately; especially when there’s a timeline at the front of the book telling you where the book fits in and what else is to come. When you realise that these two characters are still to appear in three films and countless books then you just know that nothing will happen to them, they’re going to make it. Schreiber does a great job with the horror in ‘Death Troopers’ but the story lost the sense that no-one was safe because you know right from the start that two people very much were. I was actually a lot more interested in the other characters, fighting for survival, and wondered if the ‘star appearance’ was actually necessary. The Star Wars universe is an entity in its own right and a Star Wars story doesn’t need guest appearances to validate it.

I also wasn’t so sure about Schreiber’s naming certain supporting cast after well known horror characters (Quatermass and Phibes, I’m looking at you...) On the one hand it’s a nice nod to horror fans but, on the other hand, the names are a little too obvious and stand out in a universe that isn’t meant to hold them. It might not be an issue for you but it jarred the flow of the book for me...

When you get past this though (and it’s only a couple of instances) and into the story itself then you’ll find yourself forgiving the shortfalls and really getting into ‘Death Troopers’. It’s slickly done, scary as hell and one that I wasn’t able to put down until I’d finished it.

What you’ve got here is a ‘haunted house story in space with added zombies’ and it’s a mix that works very well indeed. The one thing scarier than a fully functional Star Destroyer is a Star Destroyer that initially looks deserted. We’re talking about an empty ship with long echoing corridors and an interesting experiment in the medical bay. It’s quiet, almost too quiet... And that’s when Schreiber hits you full on with the horror! Here’s a writer who’s great at lulling his reader into a false sense of security and then smacking them bang in the face with something visceral.

The zombies aren’t those you’ll be used to but they do fit in well with the Star Wars universe and I think that’s the main thing here. They’re unrelenting in their search for flesh and this drives the plot at a heady pace with intermittent images that you won’t want to read before going to sleep. All good zombie books focus on the survivors and ‘Death Troopers’ does this very well, our cast is forced back on their resources and they have to deal with pretty much everything you would expect from a zombie book or film. Schreiber doesn’t flinch from putting them through some really nasty stuff and ‘Death Troopers’ is all the better for it. Implied horror is good but sometimes nothing beats seeing it up close...

‘Death Troopers’ is a trip into the Star Wars universe like you’ve never taken before and it’s good to see a risk like this taken, on an established setting, and really pay off. I’m looking forward to seeing more in this vein (pun intended, maybe...)

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 12 October 2009

The 'Slightly Late' Monday Morning Competition Winners Post...

Afternoon all!

Hopefully Monday is treating you all with a bit of respect and easing you gradually into the week... The following people will hopefully be starting the week off a little happier than normal as they won last weekend's competitions! The lucky winners were...

'My Dead Body' - Charlie Huston

Patrick Guaschino, New Jersey, USA
Angela Winesburg, Maryland, USA

'The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld' & 'The Folklore of Discworld'

Melissa Peakman, Harrogate, UK
Jo Hurst, Kent, UK
Carol Peace, Leeds, UK

Well done guys, your books should hopefully be with you very soon. Better luck next time everyone else, why don't you scroll down a little bit and see if any of this weekend's giveaways take your fancy...? :o)

Normal service will resume tomorrow...

Giveaway! 'Suicide Kings'

I'm due to be a very busy person today, what with one thing and another, so no reviews today I'm afraid (the winners for the Terry Pratchett & Charlie Huston competitions have been picked and will be announced later on). I'm sure you guys won't mind me leaving you with this in the meantime though... ;o)

Thanks to Tor, I have two advance copies of the latest 'Wild Cards' collection, 'Suicide Kings', to give away to readers from the US and Canada (who are the only people allowed to enter, sorry about that everyone else...) I've very much enjoyed the last two books and am looking forward to getting into this one real soon!

Entering is as easy as ever. Simply 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 do the rest.

I'll be leaving this one open until the 18th of October and will announce the winners on the 19th.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Giveaway! 'Unseen Academicals' (Terry Pratchett)

I enjoyed this book so much that I thought I'd spread the love a little and give you guys a chance to win a copy :o) Transworld have very kindly offered up three copies and the good news is that anyone can enter this competition, it doesn't matter where you live!

All you need to do to enter 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. There's another Terry Pratchett competition going on right now so put 'Unseen Academicals as your subject header, if you don't then I'm not going to know which competition you're entering... All you have to do after that is to wait and see if you won, I'll do everything else... ;o)

I'll leave this one open until the 18th of October and will announce the winners on the 19th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Giveaway! 'The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart' (Jesse Bullington)

This is a scheduled post so I'll admit that I've got no idea what book I'm reading while you're reading this. It could be anything but I'm hoping that I've finally got round to reading 'The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart' by Jesse Bullington, a book that has generated some positive online buzz and has whetted my appetite for a good read. You'll have to wait until next week to see if a review appears!

In the meantime, how would you like to win a copy of 'The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart'? Here's the blurb,

In the plague-wracked and devil-haunted darkness of Medieval Europe, an elite few enjoy opulent lives while the majority eke out a miserable existence in abject poverty. Hungry creatures stalk the deep woods and desolate mountains, and both sea and sky teem with unspeakable horrors. For those ill-fated masses not born into wealth, life is but a vicious trial to be endured before the end of days. Hegel and Manfried Grossbart could give a toss. Being of low birth means little, after all, when the riches of the mighty wait just inside the next crypt. The grave-robbing twins know enough about crusading to realise that if one is to make a living from the dead, what better destination than the fabled tomb-cities of Egypt? But the Brothers Grossbart are about to discover that all legends have their truths, and worse fates than death await those who would take the red road of villainy ...

Does this sound like your kind of thing? Are you living in the UK or Europe? (This one is only open to residents of the UK and Europe, come back tomorrow for one that everyone can enter...) If you're still here then keep reading...

Thanks to Orbit I have three copies of 'The Sad Tale...' to give away to three lucky winners. To enter, simply drop 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...

I'll let this one run until the 18th of October and announce the winners on the 19th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 9 October 2009

‘Fire’ – Kristin Cashore (Gollancz/Dial)

I picked up Kristin Cashore’s ‘Graceling’ way back in September last year and found myself faced with a book that kept me turning the pages even though it was chock full of everything I hate in fantasy. I could go into the reasons all over again but my review is still here and that will do the job just as well. Have a click Here to read it, this review won’t be going anywhere in the meantime!
You’re back? Great :o) Despite my issues with ‘Graceling’, I still found myself wanting to know what would happen next with ‘Fire’. As it turned out, I ended up finding out what happened ‘before’ as ‘Fire’ has been written as a prequel to ‘Graceling’. ‘Fire’ ended up being a superior read to ‘Graceling’ and I’m glad that I gave it a go. It still managed to fall foul of a few things that I really can’t stand though...

Marked out by her vivid red hair, Fire is a beautiful young woman whose beauty has an unexpected (and unwanted) side affect. With this beauty comes great influence and power; men and women will do anything for her attention and affection, nothing is too much and Fire is rightly afraid of the consequences. A quiet existence, to protect herself as well as others, seems to be the only life that Fire can enjoy but the world moves on regardless and her power will soon be in great demand.
Fire now has a chance to undo the wrongs of the past as well as fight for the sanctuary that she has come to call home. Will she take this chance though and what will be left after she is done...?

‘Fire’ is one of those books that I find myself reading almost despite myself. You know the ones I mean, you know you shouldn’t like it but you can’t help turning the pages to see what happens next...

The premise behind ‘Fire’ is a good one and fits in well with what has already been laid out in ‘Graceling’, promising an interesting confrontation to come in future books. This is a land where danger comes at you from more than one direction, even in the safest of places, gradually creeping into your mind as well as coming at you. The people of the Dells have learnt to halt the mental attacks but are totally unprepared for both Fire and another character that you will have already met if you’ve read ‘Graceling’. It’s interesting to see how the reaction that these two cause, in the society of the Dells, in more ways than one as Fire carries a degree of baggage that will impede her own progress. It’s also interesting to see how Fire circumnavigates these obstacles despite my reservations about her character (more on that in a bit).

At the same time, the reader has a land full of political intrigue, mystery and full on warfare to contend with and this is where I had the most fun. Cashore’s writing is a little darker this time round with the horrors of war being explored in a number of settings. I liked the way that although the reader never really sees a battle take place, descriptions of Fire’s work in military hospitals leaves us in no doubt that war is a brutal and bloody affair.
The intricacies of the plot are conveyed through a group of thoroughly engaging supporting characters who I had a great time following. Cashore is a little more willing, this time, to explore the shades of grey (between good and evil) and this comes across in characters such as Archer, Brigan and Brocker. What we get as a result is a book that is more than capable of springing surprises and turning the plot on its head a little bit. Some of these moments are a little easier to see coming, than others, but the overall affect is still a good one.

With such a great supporting cast, it’s a shame then that the character of Fire herself was a bit of a let down as far as I was concerned. While Fire does everything that the others do, she is a little too good to be true (despite a twist near the end that I never saw coming) and this was of detriment to the plot. Her mixture of perfection and vulnerability loads the plot with pathos, and makes her life seem that little more tragic. Anyone who feels alone and different will find a lot in common with Fire and maybe that was the point of her being written the way she is.
What I found though was that it all felt laid on a little too thick. I didn’t need to be told more than once that Fire has a rotten life and every time it happened I found myself skimming pages a little more readily. I also found that this approach signposted the direction that Fire would take a little too obviously, her interactions with certain characters blatantly hinted at resolutions which then came to pass (I’m trying not to give away too much here!). While this didn’t affect the rest of the plot, in terms of what happened to the kingdom itself, it did rob Fire’s personal journey of a lot of the tension needed to maintain interest. If you already know what’s going to happen then what’s the point of continuing the read?

Despite my issues with the main character, ‘Fire’ has a lot going for it in other areas and that’s why I had to finish the book (even when it felt like a slog to read). ‘Fire’ is a definite improvement on ‘Graceling’; the series itself hasn’t become an essential read for me but I’m now that little bit more interested in seeing what comes next.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 8 October 2009

‘Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero’ – Dan Abnett (Angry Robot)

Whether it’s in a book or on TV, there’s nothing I like more than a good old fashioned swashbuckle. Dazzling sword fights, witty repartee, a chandelier to swing from and lots of confrontations with either pirates or the City Guard. It doesn’t get much better than that! Recently, I’ve been getting my ‘swashbuckling fix’ from Jonathan Green and his dashing character Ulysses Quicksilver; a set of books that you really should check out if you like the aforementioned dazzling sword fights etc. I’m always on the look out for more of these kind of books though so when Dan Abnett asked me if I’d like to try out ‘Triumff’ I jumped at the chance. I’ve read a couple of Dan’s books before and they’ve never failed to hit the spot.
As it turned out, ‘Triumff’ was completely the swashbuckler that I thought it would be and I couldn’t help but enjoy this one immensely. Any sequels will be more than welcome in my house!

It’s the year 2010 and her Divine Majesty Queen Elizabeth XXX rules over the Anglo-Hispanic Unity; an empire that is technologically stagnant but rules over the globe through it’s utilisation of the ‘arte’ (‘magic’ to the likes of you and I). While the general populace is content with this state of affairs, elements of the ruling class are anything but content and plot to relieve the Queen of her throne. Sir Rupert Triumff (renowned explorer and dashing swordsman) is more than happy for the Queen to stay right where she is but is in the middle of a plot of his own. Both Triumff’s plans and those of a shadowy cabal are about to collide in a series of events that are set to have the streets of London ringing with the sounds of combat and magic...

Once I got into it, ‘Triumff’ was an absolute pleasure to read. There is that ‘once I got into it...’ to bear in mind though... The interview, at the back of the book, tells the reader that the character of Sir Rupert Triumff is a favourite of Dan Abnett’s going back almost twenty years and this affection on the author’s part is clear in both positive and negative ways. Abnett comes across as being extremely happy to finally get the adventures of Triumff down on paper as is shown in his waxing at length about the background setting (and its history) that this drama plays against. This background information paints a bright and vivid picture, as well providing the reader with a constant flow of humorous asides (that were more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ as far as I was concerned); the only problem I found was that there was a little too much of it...
At times I felt that I was reading more about the background setting than I was the story itself and that wasn’t what I came to the book to do. The same kind of thing happened with the jokes although this didn’t feel as bad somehow; the jokes come thick and fast but at least they are keeping things moving forwards at a fast rate of knots. I wasn’t expecting ‘Triumff’ to be as funny as it was and it was a more than pleasant surprise to find myself laughing as much as I was.

When the story does get going it does so in great style and once again you get the feeling that Dan Abnett had a great time writing this book. The descriptive padding serves to hide a plot that is tightly drawn and has plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing the outcome and turning the pages to get there as soon as possible. Running gags, such as the ‘Swiss Army sword’, maintain the humorous tone whilst also adding a delicious hint of uncertainty to the proceedings. How can Triumff possibly hope to win through if he doesn’t know whether he’ll be fighting with a cutlass or a tin opener...? The real fun lies in the moments where everything kicks off with lashings of hot pursuit and swordplay. This is where Abnett really lets loose and has a great time; throwing friend and foe together with great gusto and shaking the mixture up to see what happens. As far as I was concerned Abnett carried it off almost perfectly. My eyes were pretty much glued to these pages the whole way through and Abnett still manages to find the time and space to throw more jokes in as well.

I got the feeling that Dan Abnett indulged himself a little too much in the scene setting but this was more than balanced out by the rest of ‘Triumff’; a book that never did anything less than be gripping and a thoroughly entertaining read. As I said earlier, any sequels will be very welcome!

Nine out of Ten