Monday, 30 November 2009

RIP Robert Holdstock

I’m usually busy at the weekends so end up scheduling stuff for the blog and not really going online. It was a really nasty surprise then to come in this morning and find out that Robert Holdstock passed away, on Sunday, after complications arising from an Ecoli infection.

I’d met Robert a couple of times and found him to be a great guy to hang out and have a drink with. Here was a man who had no problems telling it exactly how it was when talking about his writing and it was fascinating to hear such brutal honesty about the whole process.
I only really got into his books this year and will be reading more of his work. I can’t believe that I didn’t read ‘Mythago Wood’ a lot sooner than I did, an amazing book. ‘Avillion’ was superb as well. People are saying a lot of good things about ‘Lavondyss’ so I reckon that will be the one I try next.

RIP Robert. If you’re heading into Ryhope Wood now, remember to follow the stream...

The Monday Morning 'Stupid Rain...' Competition Winners Post

Going into work on a Monday morning is bad enough; having to do it in the pouring rain just adds insult to injury really... :o( Anyway, it may be raining but the following people won't mind as much as they won last weekend's competitions! The lucky folk were...

'By the Mountain Bound' (Elizabeth Bear)

Amber Perreca, Vancouver, Canada

'The Cole Protocol' (Tobias Buckell)

Carrie Hobbs, Martham, UK
Cathy Gordon, Southampton, UK
Rick Smith, Dorking, UK
Maria Elliott, Newport, UK
Mark Shaw, London, UK

Well done guys! Your books should be on their way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Giveaway! 'Small Miracles' (Edward Lerner)

Here's one that is sat near the top of the pile and I hope to get to it very soon. Take a look at the blurb...

Garner Nanotechnology is developing nanotech-enhanced protective suits and autonomous first-aid nanobots. It’s cutting-edge stuff, and when it saves Brent Cleary from a pipeline explosion that killed hundreds, the Army takes notice.

Near-death experience changes a person, so no one is entirely surprised when easy-going Brent turns somber and studious, focused and cold. Not at first. But Kim O’Donnell, Brent’s best friend, cannot get past some of the changes. This just isn’t her friend, and she wonders what’s gotten into him.

With an Army field trial imminent and the company’s future at stake, possible nanotech side effects aren’t something anyone wants to discuss. The bad news is, Kim’s right. Something has gotten into Brent – and he isn’t the only one changing.

If Kim can’t stop them … maybe we’ll all change...

Looks interesting... fancy winning a copy? Thanks to Tor, I have one copy of 'Small Miracles' to give away to one lucky reader (US and Canadian entries only though). To enter, just drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest :o)

I'll let this one run until the 6th of December and will announce the winner on the 7th...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Giveaway! 'My Dead Body' (Charlie Huston)

I love the 'Joe Pitt' books and so do Orbit. This mutual love in could only result in a giveaway on the blog (but only for UK readers though, sorry...) and that's just what's happening today!

Thanks to Orbit, I have three copies of 'My Dead Body' to give away to three lucky readers. Entering is horribly complicated this time round... Actually, no it's not, it's really simple ;o) 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. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until Sunday 6th of December and will announce the winners on the 7th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 November 2009

One Signing, Five Authors...

When Gollancz set their authors loose in Forbidden Planet there’s only one way it can go down for this blogger. The reason this is being posted in the afternoon is because I’ve just recovered from a monstrous hangover (chicken and chips followed by a Snickers Ice Cream is a great hangover cure by the way) and am now able to look at my computer screen without wincing! It was worth it though, even though I know what the next Gollancz signing means for my poor head I will do it all over again...

Last night saw Justine Robson signing copies of her latest book, ‘Chasing the Dragon’, at Forbidden Planet. If Royal Mail had got its act together then I would have got my copy signed. As it was, I only picked it up this morning... Next time!
Gollancz don’t tend to do things by halves though and gave the public extra added David Devereux, Adam Roberts, Chris Wooding and Paul McAuley for their money (although it didn’t actually cost anything but you know what I mean... I’m still hungover!)

I’d really enjoyed ‘I am Scrooge’ so made sure that I got my copy signed by Adam Roberts, here’s the photographic evidence...

I didn’t get anything else signed, instead choosing to have a wander and take pictures when people weren’t looking :o) Apologies for the poor camera phone pics...

David Devereux decided to interview someone interviewing him interviewing someone interviewing him interviewing... (You get the idea). I got caught by the camera and have been threatened with an appearance on YouTube (it won’t be the first time!)

Chris Wooding talks an unsuspecting bystander into buying some of his books. (There were loads of them to choose from, how can someone so young looking have written so many books? Makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life...)

Justine Robson looks like she might be taking tips on how Paul McAuley holds court with nothing but a pile of books and a winning smile.

Not only were there authors all over the place but I also got to hang out with Saxon Bullock (who’s great), Liz from My Favourite Books and Gav from NextRead (goes without saying that he’s great too).
With the signing done, it was onto the Phoenix Bar for plenty of drinks and talking about books (I am not ashamed of the Brian Lumley book that was in my bag!) There was a lot of ‘falling off the wagon’ going on, you had to be there...

Another great night out and I’m hoping for another one very soon...

Two for 2010?

Gollancz seem to think so and, having read the first few pages of each (I'll be reviewing them a little nearer the time), I think they just might be onto something :o)
Here's the blurb for Sam Sykes' 'Tome of the Undergates' and Justin Cronin's 'The Passage'...

Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the shict despises most humans and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out. Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century.

Look out for this one in February next year.

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she's the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn't think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He's wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is. THE PASSAGE...

Look out for this one in June next year.

For some reason it makes me laugh that the thickest book has the shortest blurb to accompany it. It's got me intrigued though so I'll be checking it out at some point. While we're here, what books are you looking forward to in 2010?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

‘Retromancer’ – Robert Rankin (Gollancz)

I’ve been a fan of Robert Rankin ever since college when I realised that the ‘Brentford’ books were a lot more fun to read than what was on the official reading list for the course (so were a lot of books actually but that’s an entirely different story...) Ever since then I’ve made it my mission to read as many books of his as possible, I’m not quite there yet but I’ll keep on going! I still haven’t read last year’s book, ‘Necrophenia’, and that was originally going to be the subject of this post... until I saw the gorgeously pink cover for ‘Retromancer’ (although the cover image on Amazon is purple...) and knew that there was no option but to pick the book up and get reading. I have to say that I wasn’t too sure about ‘Retromancer’ to begin with but, yet again, Rankin totally does the business as far as I’m concerned!

Something is badly wrong in the Brentford of 1967. Could it be the SS officers patrolling the streets and torturing the unemployed? Could it be that the ‘Wife’s Legs’ cafe is serving Bratwurst rather than bangers? Could it be that this is a world where Nazi Germany won the Second World War and the whole of North America is a nuclear wasteland...?
If something is this badly wrong, and needs setting to rights straight away, then there’s only (perfect) man and his acolyte who could possibly take the job on. Hugo Rune offers the world his genius, all he asks in return is that the world covers his expenses and that he is allowed to visit dire retribution on cab drivers everywhere. With his acolyte Rizla, Hugo Rune must travel back to war-torn London and solve twelve cosmic conundra so that the future can be set straight. At the same time, there is a veritable horde of spies, robots, death rays, creatures of myth (and the one and only Count Otto Von Black) to get the better off...

Opening up a new Robert Rankin book is like getting back in touch with old friends after years apart. All your favourite characters are there, doing what they do best, all wrapped lovingly within the same old puns and in-jokes that somehow never stop being funny. It must be a tradition, or an old charter, or something :o) This, of course, may prove a problem if you’re picking up Rankin’s work for the first time. Half the fun of reading these books are the running gags that appear time after time (up to a point though, I’ll go into that more later on). If you’re reading Rankin for the first time then you’ll either get it or you won’t, it’s that simple. As far as I’m concerned, I ‘get it’ and Rankin shows that he still has it in ‘Retromancer’ with choice cuts like...

‘It seemed that we had just caught her as she was on her way out, and her face was flushed and pink.
Mr. Rune made faces at me and introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” I told him.
“I am introducing myself to this lady,” he said.’

Like I said, you’ll either get it or you won’t. Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing the whole way through.

Rankin’s writing is the work of a man who has got so many ideas in his head that he has to keep writing in order to get them all onto paper before his head explodes under the pressure. Inevitably, this can lead to moments that are more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ in quality but there is so much coming out all at once that things balance themselves out by the end and you’ve got a book that hits the spot. It’s also a pleasure to see the man’s thoughts take him from A to B, sometimes by way of Q and Z. You may not quite know how you got there but the beauty of Rankin is that you always get there somehow. Just sit down and let the book take you where it has to go...

That’s not to say it’s all good though. ‘Retromancer’ is the sequel to ‘The Brightonomicon’ but sometimes comes across as feeling a little too similar in terms of plot structure to really stand out in its own right. Personally, as I’ve already said, that’s not what I read Rankin’s books for and I certainly got what I was after this time round. There were marked similarities though and I found myself wondering if there was some deliberate plot recycling going on... Ultimately it didn’t matter but it was a niggling thought that never quite went away.

Long standing fans of Robert Rankin should love his latest work. Despite small misgivings I couldn’t help but love it too. When an author is enjoying himself this much you can’t help but go along for the ride and what a ride it is! (Look out for 'Retromancer' in December) Now for a spot of ‘Necrophenia’...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

'Chickenhare Vol.3' - Free Online!

I'd never heard of this title until now but it looks like it could be worth checking out, especially as it's free online! :o) Here's the press release...

The third volume of Chris Grine's Eisner Award-nominated graphic novel series Chickenhare debuts November 27 in an all-new format -- free, online, and in full color!

In Chickenhare Vol. 3: Fish & Grymps, Grine's delightfully odd cast of characters -- Chickenhare, Abe, Meg, Banjo, and Scabby -- find themselves trapped on a mysterious island where danger lurks around every bend, and where a crazed scientist conducts unnatural, sinister experiments as a way of "making" new friends. The new webcomic will be published twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday, at

After publishing the first two volumes of Chickenhare as original black and white graphic novels with Dark Horse comics, Grine is refocusing his publishing efforts online in hopes of broadening the audience of his critically acclaimed series. "As a physical book," he said, "I always wanted Chickenhare to find its way into the hands of more readers. By publishing the new series free and online, I can not only reach a much wider audience -- I get to enjoy the ride with Chickenhare fans as each new installment is posted."

Grine also welcomes the efficiency of publishing online: "When Volume 3 is complete, I can roll right into the next Chickenhare story, and readers won't have to wait to find out what the next adventure will be."

Beautifully illustrated, filled with thrilling adventure, and written with great imagination and humor, Chickenhare is a kids' book series that discerning readers of all ages can enjoy. Stan Sakai, creator of Usagi Yojimbo said, "Chris Grine has a delightfully deranged imagination, and he knows how to tell one heck of a good story."

Jeff Smith, the creator of the epic masterpiece Bone, said "Fun, witty characters and sharp drawings bring Chickenhare to life, but something dark lurks just beneath the surface . . . a mysterious and quirky adventure."

Don't miss your chance to experience the wonderfully weird world of Chickenhare when Chickenhare Vol. 3: Fish & Grymps debuts online November 27! Visit for more details.

I'll give this one a go and let you know what I think...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

‘The Resurrectionist’ – Wrath James White

Some people are born with a name that just cries out to go on the front of a work of horror fiction and Wrath James White is one of those people... I’d never read his work before but comments left on this very blog suggested that I wouldn’t be wasting my time if I did. Everything stops by ‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ sooner or later and, sure enough, Wrath James White’s ‘The Resurrectionist’ came through the door last week. It’s been a while since we’ve had some horror on the blog so I was eager to give this book and go and see if it matched up to all the good things I’d heard about the author. It did, and then some...

No-one knows what little gifts life is going to throw their way; the whole thing is totally random and that can sometimes mean immense power ending up in the wrong hands... Dale McCarthy is a healer, able to bring the dead back to life so that they have no memory of their death. When girls aren’t attracted to you however, and you saw your father rape and murder your mother (before you bought her back to life), then there’s only really one way that you can use your gift to get what you want...
Ever since her new neighbour moved in across the street, Sarah Lincoln has been having the most terrifying nightmares. Every night she dreams of her own rape and murder, sometimes her husband dies too. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that she wakes up to find bloodstains on her mattress and bloody sheets in the laundry. No-one else is prepared to take her seriously but Sarah knows that something is horribly wrong here. Sarah also knows that she is the only one who can save herself from being murdered again, again and again...

Life is full of things that you will hopefully never have to see outside of horror fiction. They could be happening in that dark alley at the end of your street; they might even be happening in your neighbour’s house while you’re asleep... Things like this happen everywhere and horror fiction is the best way to experience them; you get that surge of full on terror but you can always close the book whenever you want and get on with something that sits a little easier. This wasn’t the case with ‘The Resurrectionist’ but only because I found myself wanting to keep reading... Wrath James White rubs your face in the basest elements of humanity right from the start (seriously, if you’re in the slightest bit queasy then be warned that this may not be for you!) and goes on to show how this shapes Dale in later years. You won’t necessarily like Dale but you will understand why he’s the person that he is. Adding this element of humanity (to a very sinister character) rounds Dale out and makes him a person where you want to read more about him and find out what makes him tick; I did anyway.

Then we proceed onto Sarah and Josh Lincoln and see how their life gradually falls apart after Dale moves in across the street. You may have seen this scenario before (couple terrorised by sinister neighbour) but White really ramps things up to give his reader a tale that buzzes with tension and fear.
While other horror books establish a set of preliminaries events, leading up to a climactic ending, White skips all of that to repeatedly go straight for the jugular. The only thing worse than dying is dying all over again; White gets this and by the end of the book so will you... Again, White doesn’t spare any of the details for his readers so be warned that Dale McCarthy is one depraved individual who will stoop to pretty much anything in order to get his kicks.

The gradual crumbling of Sarah Lincoln (contrasting with her urge to fight back), in the face of Dale’s onslaught, also makes for some compelling reading. We see this woman fight to understand what is happening to her even though it can’t be... can it? There is no escape (and little help from a sceptical police force) either and this helps Sarah to focus on what she has to do if she is ever going to get through this. What we get is a narrative where the main characters spend the day dreading nightfall and what will bring. The tension grows to unbearable heights, explodes... and then starts growing all over again. I loved it.

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about the ending though. On the one hand it works well at wrong footing you just when you think there’s no way back and there’s a definite surprise in store for characters who thought that things had been taken care of. They have been taken care of, just not in the way you might think. On the other hand though, Dale’s final actions didn’t quite fit for me; especially given his fear when caught at the wrong end of a gun earlier in the book...

This is only a small issue though (although it was a shame that it surfaced right at the end of the book...). ‘The Resurrectionist’ is a piece of horror that may well have you wondering whether the nightmare you had last night was just a dream after all...

Nine out of Ten

P.S. (Several days later...) After chatting with Wrath, online, the ending makes more sense to me now. It's definitely more about wrongfooting people than raising awkward questions about Dale and what he can do! I'm not bumping the score up (as the score is always based on that initial read) but if/when I read it again it would get a higher mark.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

‘The Infernal City (An Elder Scrolls Novel)’ – Greg Keyes (Del Rey)

There was once a time when Greg Keyes was one of those authors where I would pick up anything with his name on it. This was pretty much all down to his ‘Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone’ series, a set of books that I found absolutely enthralling... up until the final book. ‘The Born Queen’ had a lot of good things going for it but it felt that Keyes had grown tired of his own series and just wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. He did this by throwing entirely new concepts into the mix (none of which were really hinted at prior to the final book) and the end result felt a little too confusing to me to be really effective. When I’ve got the time, maybe a re-read will clear things up...?
In the meantime, Greg Keyes has gone from ‘I want to get hold of everything that he has written’ to ‘I’ll still read his work but the boundless optimism about it isn’t really there anymore’. When a review copy for Keyes’ latest work, ‘The Infernal City’, came through the door I figured that it was a good time to see if any of that boundless optimism could return. It didn’t but I’m not entirely sure that’s Keyes’ fault...

Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the land of Tamriel is in mortal danger once again. The floating city of Umbriel passes over the continent and where its shadow falls the dead rise again...
While Umbriel crushes all resistance some people are still determined to take a stand against it, all for reasons of their own which may have nothing to do with the ultimate fate of Tamriel. Will their efforts be enough though...?

As far as that last question goes, the answer is ‘maybe...’ ‘The Infernal City’ is the first of two books and leaves plenty to be resolved in the next book. Everything is left hanging rather nicely in fact and I really want to know how this one ends for our heroes. It was a bit of a shame then that the first half of the book felt like a real struggle to get through, especially as it’s only a mere two hundred and eighty eight pages (which isn’t a lot of room to have things go slow!) Is this Keyes’ fault though...?

I’ve never played the ‘Elder Scrolls’ games and Greg Keyes has written a book that’s very much aimed at fans of the game. It looks like, due to the size of the book, Keyes decided to keep the background information to an absolute minimum and leave people like me to play catch up as best they can. The plot does carry things forward but only to a point. What is a Khajiiit? You don’t really find out until a lot later on. What is ‘The Organism’? You never really find out much other than it (them?) is some kind of governing body. And what is the deal with the city trees? If you’ve played an ‘Elder Scrolls’ game then you’ll know already. This book isn’t so accessible without that prior knowledge... The flow of the tale was very much interrupted by my having to get my head round these new concepts. If I’d played the game then maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue...

A lot of ‘The Infernal City’ is also about introducing the characters and getting them into position for the next act (it’s very much half a book in this respect). Again, this works very well but only up to a point. It’s interesting to see characters such as Prince Attrebus and Annaig develop over the course of the book. You may have seen this kind of development before in other books (spoiled prince becomes... anyone?) but Keyes gets inside his characters in such a way that you find yourself along for the ride anyway. There is a lot of this kind of introduction though and there were times when I found myself just wanting the story to get a move on and go places! It does eventually but then it’s cliff hanger time and a wait for the next book...

It is a lush and rich world that the story takes place in and Keyes does show this off to great effect. Again, you may feel that you’ve had a drink in the ‘Foaming Flask’ one too many times (all fantasy worlds seem to have a booming alcohol industry) but Umbriel, its lethal kitchens and the alien Sump are worth spending time in though. The thing is, this can come at the expense of the story progressing...

As I said earlier, ‘The Infernal City’ reads very much like half a book with characters being introduced only to be set up for events in Book Two. I’d also say that it’s most accessible for fans of the ‘Elder Scrolls’ scenario; casual readers might find it a little difficult to get into. Decent characterisation and a couple of nice cliff hangers mean that I will be back for the second instalment though; hopefully things will pick up then...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 23 November 2009

‘Judge Dredd Crime Chronicles: Stranger than Truth’ – David Bishop (Big Finish)

I like to try and mix things up a little, on the blog, and try something new every now again; very much in a ‘how do you know that you won’t like something if you don’t try it first?’ kind of way... It worked for me when I gave anime a go last year (and the year before) and I figured that now was the time to give audio books another try after having listened to James Swallow’s ‘Heart of Rage’ back in June. While I’ve got Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Gathering Storm’ on the go I’m finding that it’s a little too long (something like thirty six hours!) for me to really find the time to get into. I realised that I was after something a lot shorter and that’s where Big Finish came in. Their audio books are a lot shorter and snappier and that’s what I’m after. Add Judge Dredd to the mix and you can’t go wrong... can you? No, you can’t go wrong at all...

Mega City One’s top assassin is on the loose and killing to his own inexplicable agenda. The only thing is though... does he really exist? Truman Kaput’s ‘Slick Dickens’ detective series saw him inside an Iso-Cube for ridiculing the Mega City Judges, Dredd in particular. While Kaput languishes inside however, his most famous creation roams free and has murder on his mind. Or does he? All Dredd knows is that no matter what’s at the bottom of this mystery, he must solve the case before his name comes up on Slick Dicken’s list...

Judge Dredd’s adventures in 2000AD can be a little dark sometimes but I wasn’t expecting something this dark! David Bishop’s tale of the blurring boundary between truth and fiction doesn’t pull any punches and isn’t afraid to follow a dark path right down to its disturbing conclusion. Was there one twist too many right at the very end though? I was left wondering if this was the case but, at the same time, it did work very well; leaving the listener wrong footed just as they thought they had their balance back. I didn’t see that ending coming at all...
Bishop’s tale is certainly worth the price of admission with a narrative that has the reader constantly on their toes and asking where things are going to go next. There’s a real sense of menace underpinning it all as well; both from the unstoppable march of Slick Dickens and the heavy handed approach of the Justice Department itself. You know something big is coming and you want to be there when it finally kicks off...

From what I’ve listened to (so far) I’ve found that I much prefer audio books where there’s a few sound affects to give the narrative a little more punch. ‘Stranger than Truth’ certainly delivers on this score; the theme tune didn’t do a lot for me but the background sound really worked in terms of delivering that edgy menacing atmosphere. Helen Kay’s academic ‘Fan Girl’ ‘Eliza Blunt’ really drew me into the story in terms of her conflict between being a fan of Truman Kaput and her becoming embroiled in the ongoing case. Toby Longworth as Judge Dredd though... It wasn’t so much that he did anything wrong as it is the case that Judge Dredd is such an iconic character on the page that any attempt to give him a real voice is never going to hit the mark dead on. Like I said though, that probably says more about me than it does Longworth. To be fair, he certainly gives Dredd the right amount of ‘I am the Law’ attitude; you have no doubt about whom he’s playing!

‘Stranger than Truth’ might just miss the mark in a couple of areas but there’s question of you not getting anything less than one hell of a ride if you give it a go. If you’re a fan of Dredd and you haven’t checked this stuff out, you really need to...

Nine out of Ten

For more information on Big Finish and their productions, just click Here

The Monday Morning 'I've got my umbrella back!' Competition Winners Post

There is nothing quite like the feeling of finding an old and trusty umbrella that you thought had been lost on the tube, especially when it is tipping it down outside. No getting wet for me this morning! :o)
In other news, Blogger has decided that scheduling posts is far too much hassle and the support guys aren't taking a lot of notice either. I'm now wondering if Wordpress might be a viable alternative, does anyone else use this? Is it easy to use and can you schedule posts on it?

Anyway, back to the whole point of this post (competition winners and all that). The winners for last week's round of competitions were...

'The Cardinal's Blades' - Pierre Pevel
Amy Hobbs, Norwich, UK
John Robson, Gateshead, UK
Simon Moore, York, UK

'The Templar Magician' - Paul Doherty
June Jowers, Carmathenshire, UK
Martin Schjerning, Arnhem, Netherlands
Hayley Williams, Cardiff, UK

Well done guys! Your books are on their way... Better luck next time everyone else. Which reminds me... When entering a competition, all I need from you is your name and mailing address. If you want to include your phone number and date of birth... well, that's up to you but I don't use that information at all.

Have a great week!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Giveaway! 'By the Mountain Bound' (Elizabeth Bear)

I ended up enjoying this one a lot more than I thought and wanted to spread the love a little. The nice people at Tor thought this was a great idea and, as a result, I have one copy of 'By the Mountain Bound' to give to one lucky reader (but only if they're living in the US or Canada I'm afraid, sorry everyone else...)

Entering is really simple. 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 that you want to enter. That's all you need to do...

I'll let this one run until the 29th of November and will announce the winner on the 30th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Giveaway! 'The Cole Protocol' (Tobias Buckell)

Thanks to Tor UK, I have five copies of Tobias Buckell's 'The Cole Protocol' to give away on the blog. I really enjoyed this book (have a scroll down and see what I thought) and I reckon that you might too. Here's the thing though, this competition is only open to people living in the UK (sorry everyone else...)

Still with me? Brilliant! To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. You also need to make it clear, in the subject header, that this is the competition that you're entering. I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 29th of November and announce the winners on the 30th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 20 November 2009

‘Feeding Ground’ – Sarah Pinborough

Things are always a lot worse when they happen on your doorstep... I love reading horror fiction and part of the appeal there is that the horror is always happening somewhere else. Stephen King’s ‘It’ takes place in a New England town, Brian Keene’s ‘Castaways’ takes place on a seemingly deserted island and there are other examples. I can get into books like these as they’re not based anywhere familiar which means that I can concentrate on the story instead of the implications of what might happen if this was taking place in my town...
That’s not to say that I don’t like the horror a little closer to home as well. Not only does it get even more personal, when you’re reading about it, but then you have to go outside and walk on those streets afterwards... Conrad Williams’ ‘One’ was one of those books (at least when the book got us to London) and the film ’28 Days Later’ had me nervously looking over my shoulder for a couple of days later. Now Sarah Pinborough has come to join those ranks with a tale of terror that takes place only a few miles from my front door...

Blane Gentle-King breaks out of prison to find a London far different to the one he last saw. This is a London clogged with dead bodies and the thick webs of the giant spiders that now stalk the streets. It’s still a London of opportunity though and Blane Gentle-King is a man who knows how to take his chances.
While Blane builds his empire, others are more interested in getting out of London and away from the chaos on its streets. There’s only one way out though and it’s the toughest route of all. An underground station promises a quick escape from the city but it will also take the survivors straight into the feeding ground...

‘Feeding Ground’ takes place on streets that I either drive down or pass by, on my way to work, on the train. There’s nothing like being in close proximity to these places to really bring home the concept of London being invaded by giant spiders! I’ll be watching certain buildings a little more carefully from now on...
All this would be for nothing though if Sarah Pinborough hadn’t come with a decent story to make me feel this way about streets that are generally pretty harmless. It goes without saying that Pinborough certainly came up with the goods...

‘Feeding Ground’ is a novel that takes several different kinds of terror and mixes them all together to come up with a story that has a spine chilling moment for everyone. The spiders take top billing and definitely live up to their status. Nowhere is safe when these guys are on the prowl and the most innocuous of settings can swiftly become a death trap with little or no notice. The moral of the story here is to check everywhere before going anywhere! The constant uncertainty keeps the tension at an almost unbearable level and it’s all credit to Pinborough that she is able to stretch it out for as long as she does, the payoff at the end is always worth it...
What also adds to the terror is that no-one knows the motivations behind the spider’s sudden presence in the city, only that they’re after food. The spiders are truly alien in this respect and not being able to connect with them in any way just makes them scarier...

It’s not just the spiders adding to the terror though; there are plenty of other things too. Pinborough paints a vivid picture of a post-apocalyptic London that has collapsed under pressure and just... stopped. Society is crumbling and little snapshots of this happening not only add to the tension but show us just what humans are capable of once the chips are down (and somehow this is the most terrifying bit of all). While there are moments of individual bravery these only really serve to emphasise just how much is going wrong.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Blane Gentle-King and his attempts to carve something for himself out of the city. Not only do we get to see his gradual slide into insanity but we also see what this means for the people that he comes into contact with; it’s never good and the sheer brutality of this man never ceased to shock me.

If there was one thing that I had an issue with it was the fact that the event the book seemed to be building towards, the encounter in the tunnel was over a lot quicker than I thought it would be. Given that this was set up to be the climax of the book (or so it appeared) I thought there would be a lot more of it...

This is only a small niggle though and one that was easily forgiven seeing how much I enjoyed the rest of the book. There is a prequel, ‘Breeding Ground’, but I haven’t read that and still enjoyed ‘Feeding Ground’ regardless. Here’s a book that worked for me on all levels (and by ‘worked’ I of course mean ‘scared the life out of’!) If you’re after giant spiders eating their way through London then Sarah Pinborough is the writer to take you on that trip.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Which Cover Would You Go For? 'My Dead Body' (Charlie Huston)

Every now and then different publishers will send me the same book. I’m not going to read the same book twice (although I am reading ‘The Gathering Storm’ and listening to the audiobook right now…) but I do like to try and give both books a nod so… the US versus UK cover art posts were born!

This time round it’s the turn of Charlie Huston’s ‘My Dead Body’, Del Rey published this back in September (you can read my review over here) and the Orbit edition will be on the shelves around the beginning of December. Lets take a look at those covers…

Here’s the US cover,

And here’s the UK cover,

Now, the ‘Joe Pitt’ US covers have been growing on me but the UK covers have been consistently superior (as far as I’m concerned) and it doesn’t stop now. Silhouettes are cool, red silhouettes are even better! Are the red ones the vampires or the regular humans? Who knows…? There’s not a fang in site either and yet you just know that there are vampires involved.

Don’t get me wrong, both covers are cool but the UK cover edges it for this reader. What about you guys though? What do you think? US or UK cover? What has been interesting, so far, is that the ‘cover art balance’ hasn’t been all about the UK covers winning every time. Where has the US cover art picked up it's bad reputation from?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

‘By the Mountain Bound’ – Elizabeth Bear (Tor)

This week seems to be the week for going back to books that I read a year ago by way of reading their follow ups... Last year, I came across Elizabeth Bear’s ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ after an abortive attempt at checking out L.E. Modesitt Jr for the first time (Note. I’m going for the ‘read Elizabeth Bear first, then L.E. Modesitt Jr’ approach this year and I think I’m going to get better results this time round). I won’t go into too much detail over ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ other than to say that my review can be found Here. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to...

So here I am, one year on, about to tell you all what I thought of the prequel ‘By the Mountain Bound’; what happened? Well, despite not really getting into what I read last year the concept was appealing enough for me to decide to give Elizabeth Bear’s work another go. There was also the fact that I had enjoyed her short story ‘Boojum’ (co-written with Sarah Monette) that appeared in the ‘Fast Ships, Black Ships’ anthology. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve made a very early New Year’s Resolution to give more authors a second chance. You can’t judge someone on the strength of one book, can you? (Maybe you can but that’s the subject of another post I think...)
Anyway... I figured I’d give ‘By the Mountain Bound’ a go and I’m glad that I did. While it suffers from some of the same issues that plagued ‘All the Windwracked Stars’, the story has a little more room to breathe this time round and is all the better for it.

‘By the Mountain Bound’ takes a two thousand year leap back into the past of the mythical world of Valdyrgard; a time when the Valkyrie Muire is not the last of her kind. The Children of the Light live an idyllic existence of feasting, fighting and protecting the nearby human settlements from danger with only the slightest hint of the secrets within their ranks that could prove divisive. All this is about to change however. A woman is found by the shore who claims to be the embodiment of a prophecy made flesh. Are her claims the truth though? Or is the warrior Strifbjorn merely loath to give up his power as warleader? The only result can be war that will tear a world apart...

I’ll confess to being a little bit bemused about the practice of writing a book and then going on to write it’s prequel. If people know what the ultimate outcome will be then what’s the point of reading the prequel? This made me slightly wary when approaching ‘By the Mountain Bound’; seeing as I already knew how it had to end I was on the lookout for plenty to make up for this... And I got it.
While the outcome is never in doubt, Bear uses this to place greater emphasis on the sense of tragedy that lies heavily over the plot. People fight to avoid what the reader knows will be their ultimate destiny and the resulting futility of their actions makes for a depressing yet compelling read.

That’s not to say that I found the book easy to get into however. As with ‘All the Windwracked Stars’, Bear likes to take her time before things really get going. The problem here is that the book is only three hundred and eighteen pages long so there isn’t all that much room to take things easy like this. Things really need to get going a lot earlier than they eventually do...

When things do kick off though, Bear proves adept at drawing the reader along with a mixture of action (that is understated yet surprisingly powerful) and a no holds barred look into the minds of the three main characters. Again, this can sometimes slip into ‘overkill’ (which slows things down when it really shouldn’t) but for the most part what we get is an incredibly raw and personal account of what Strifbjorn, Mingan and Muire are feeling at any one time. The relationship between Strifbjorn and Mingan is particularly intense in this regard and the way that events played out really had me feeling for both of them. I’d say that you could read ‘By the Mountain Bound’ without having read ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ first but if you have read the other book then you will certainly see Muire and Mingan in a new light by the end.

When the end comes, it’s powerful enough but over a little too quickly perhaps. Maybe that’s to be expected given that the reader will probably know how it ends already and I’d also say that the ending is more concerned with getting Muire where she needs to be for the next book (or the last book, depending on how you look at it) to begin. Scenes of destruction set against white snow always stand out though and this is one hell of a way for the book to end. We know what’s coming so we find ourselves with time to concentrate on what’s in front of us...

‘By the Mountain Bound’ suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessor but I found it to be a far superior book in its execution. As a result I’m going to be around for the next book in the series and I’m really looking forward to it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

‘Halo: The Cole Protocol’ – Tobias S. Buckell (Tor UK)

Long term readers of the blog will know that it doesn’t take a lot for me to get bored of a computer game and start trying to get it to do stupid things instead. I was playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ the other day and didn’t even get as far as finding out what the missions were. Not after I’d found the petrol bombs... :o)
It was the same kind of deal after I gave ‘Halo’ a go for the first time. It was all good to start off but it didn’t take long before I was shooting my comrades and seeing how far ‘Master Chief’ could fall and still survive (if you haven’t tried it yet, he cannot survive the fall to Earth from a space station...) Things are about to change though. There’s no way that I can afford an Xbox right now so I might have to find someone who has one and play ‘Halo’ to death. Why? I’ve been reading Tobias Buckell’s ‘Halo’ tie-in, ‘The Cole Protocol’ and it’s really rather good...

As the alien Covenant continue their inexorable march across human space, the UNSC enacts the Cole Protocol to safeguard Earth and its inner colonies. All navigational data that could compromise Earth’s location is to be destroyed; Lieutenant Jacob Keyes is part of the effort and is about to find that enacting the protocol is a lot more than stopping freighters at random...
The planet Hesiod lies beyond the outer colonies and its asteroid belt (‘The Rubble’) is home to both human insurrectionists/refugees looking to make a new life away from UNSC rule. It’s also home to one of the Covenant member races and both of these groups co-exist in an uneasy harmony. This strange alliance is about to bring all of the warring parties down on Hesiod. Keyes’ ship is drafted into a secret mission around Hesiod and the elite Spartan Gray Team are also about to make their presence felt. The Covenant have their eye on Hesiod as well, especially an Elite whose quest for nobility and rank will lead him to do anything in order to fulfil his mission. The Hesiod system is about to explode...

If you’re a regular around these parts you’ll know that I have a lot of time for Tobias Buckell and his books. If you’re a fan of Space Opera then you really need to check out ‘Crystal Rain’, ‘Ragamuffin’ and ‘Sly Mongoose’ if you haven’t already; that’s all there is to it! Yes, I’m a fan so you might want to bear that in mind when you read the rest of this but any tie-in book that makes you want to go out and play the game it’s based on has to be doing something right!

‘The Cole Protocol’ is a good mixture of full on Space Opera and the more thoughtful air that Buckell has brought to his other work. When the sky lights up with plasma fire then that’s your notice that things are about to head into overdrive, and they do! Whether it’s ship based combat, flights through asteroid fields or combatants facing off in person it’s all very much in your face and written with an intensity that made me wince at times. Buckell knows that war is an ugly business and that no-one is safe when the bullets are flying; he’s not afraid to kill his characters off so try not to get too attached to anyone. This is a war fought over vast areas of space and a human life can appear fleeting in comparison... These descriptive pieces are also backed up with well thought out (and drawn) military structures on both sides, making sure that there is some sense of purpose behind the combat rather than characters just lined up shooting at each other.

It’s not all about the spectacular scenes of space combat though, ‘The Cole Protocol’ also goes behind the scenes and looks at the covert manoeuvres (on both sides) that can result in the big face offs. This is an altogether darker side to the book where lives are written off, by those in charge, so that military gains can be made. No-one can be entirely trusted and this lends an air of suspense to the book that drives things forward at a pace that definitely hooks the reader. I really wanted to know what happened next!
It’s at moments like these that Buckell gets a little bit thoughtful about what the Earth/Covenant war can mean for those who aren’t actually fighting in it. I’m talking about the outer colonies looking for independence but suppressed by a regime looking to clamp things down in order to safeguard humanity as a whole. Where do you draw the line with behaviour like this? Have the UNSC crossed that line? Is there a line to be drawn at all? It certainly made me think.

If Buckell goes wrong anywhere in ‘The Cole Protocol’ it’s perhaps in his attempts to make the book accessible for both seasoned ‘Halo’ gamers and people coming to the book for the first time. It’s a little top heavy on the background information and this not only slows the story down on occasion but also runs the risk of smothering it entirely. Personally, I’d be happier with less background detail if it meant that the pace could remain more constant...

This is only a small complaint though. ‘The Cole Protocol’ was a good introduction to the ‘Halo’ universe (for me) and a book that I think long term fans, as well as fans of military sci-fi, will get a lot out of.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

William Horwood's 'Hyddenworld'...

I loved William Horwood's 'Duncton Wood' books, when I was younger, so the news that he is writing a new fantasy series was very much welcome around these parts! I'm not sure if it's YA or not (I think it is) but even so, I'll still be checking this one out. Here's what the email had to say...

February 2010 sees the publication of Hyddenworld: Spring, the long-awaited return to fantasy by William Horwood. Famous and treasured for the 1980’s classic bestsellers, The Duncton Wood novels, about a civilisation of warring moles, William’s work sparked a multitude of anthropomorphic spin-off tales and earned him a devoted fanbase. Sixteen years after the sixth and final Duncton book was published, with a memoir, a historical thriller and a host of sequels to The Wind in the Willows under his belt, William introduces us to the world of the ‘hydden’: the little people existing on the borders of our world. The journey begins with Spring and an epic journey undertaken by two brave and captivating young heroes, who must cross into the Hyddenworld to save both worlds from environmental destruction.

Hyddenworld: Spring is the first of four books, to be published annually from 2010. William’s research for the series—he's about to hand in the second, but knows how the fourth and final book will end—has included marching up Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham to see if it was doable (it isn't), and taking a course in Old English to help create the book's mythology.

I'm up for reading this and will let you know how it goes. In the meantime, Pan Macmillan will be conducting a video interview with William Horwood (next week) and are opening the questions to anyone who would like to ask one. If you're one of these people, just drop me an email (at the usual address) and I'll make sure that your questions get to the right person. Try and get your questions to me by Sunday 22nd of November though...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ – Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)

Every so often a book will just come out of nowhere and blow you away. I’m not talking about books by your favourite author either (although they’re obviously very cool). I’m talking about a book that you wouldn’t normally consider picking up at all (by an author that you’ve never heard of). That’s what happened to me in June last year when I read Daryl Gregory’s ‘Pandemonium’. I could go on at length about how great I thought it was but it would be quicker just to point you at the review over here instead.
When I realised that Gregory had another book on the way I knew that I would have to check it out. However, this feeling was tempered by the nagging doubt as to whether ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ would live up to what Gregory accomplished with ‘Pandemonium’. Of course, there was only one way to find out and I duly took the plunge!
Having finished ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’, I have to say that while it didn’t quite match up to ‘Pandemonium’ but it’s still worth a look...

Transcription Divergence Syndrome (TDS). No-one knows how it happens but the results are only too plain to see in the eastern Tennessee town of Switchcreek. Fifteen years ago TDS struck Switchcreek; killing a third of the population and mutating the rest into giant grey skinned ‘Argos’, hairless seal like ‘Betas’ or the grotesquely obese ‘Charlies’. Only a few people escaped these changes, Paxton Martin was one of these people and his father (a Charlie) shipped him out of Switchcreek as soon as possible. Now one of Paxton’s childhood friends is dead and he has returned to Switchcreek for the first time in fifteen years...
On the outside, life in Switchcreek is the same as it was when Paxton was there last. Look beneath the surface though and Switchcreek is a town full of secrets; some may answer why Paxton’s friend died, some may influence the future of humanity itself...

I know I mentioned it before, in another review, but sometimes things don’t have to happen for a reason. They just happen and it’s up to people to adapt as best they can to their new circumstances. This is the approach that Daryl Gregory takes in ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ and although I’m normally into books like this I had mixed feelings about its effectiveness this time round.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the concept and Gregory does a lot of good things with it, raising interesting questions along the way. While people’s lives have irrevocably changed, they are still human and deal with their resulting problems in a very human way (even the Betas although you wouldn’t think so at first). Sometimes you have to really stir up the weirdness to place greater emphasis on the underlying humanity and Gregory does this with style. Twelve foot tall Argos who cannot have children, seal like Betas who cannot stop getting pregnant... Gregory really brings out the way that people are suffering through this approach and this makes for some really touching moments (Deke and his wife spring to mind pretty much straight away).

These unexplained mutations are also a great means of kicking off a plot full of secrets and devious behaviour from the townspeople. Everyone has something to hide, even if they don’t realise it, and this makes for a plot full of twists and turns that isn’t afraid to send you down blind alleys when you’re least expecting it. There’s plenty to ponder here, both in terms of the plot itself and the questions it raises over the cause of TDS and its ramifications.

If you’re not going to give an explanation for an event then the danger is always that the resulting speculation can cross that line between ‘just enough to provoke discussion’ and ‘stifling the story itself’. There are moments in ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ where pages of speculation and techno-babble (although I do like the sound of ‘Quantum Teleportation’...) slow things down to a crawl and make it really difficult to get back into the story itself.
This is also the case with the main character (Paxton) and that’s not really a good thing. To be fair, there’s not a lot for him to do but think things through; part of the whole point of him coming back to Switchcreek is to think things through and resolve certain issues in his life. This approach allows him time to develop as a character, and that’s cool, but it also slows things down when they could be moving along nicely. Time spent trying to get back into the story should be time spent in the story and it just doesn’t happen...

For me, what felt like the constant deliberation over TDS stopped ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ being what it had the potential to become. Having said that though, there’s still a lot to recommend it with an interesting concept coupled plenty of plot to get your teeth into. I might have slight reservations next time but I would still check out further books from Daryl Gregory.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 16 November 2009

Michael Moorcock to write Doctor Who story for the BBC.

After my posts about tie-in fiction last week, it turns out that Michael Moorcock will be writing a Doctor Who novel for the BBC. I'm a fan of Moorcock's fantasy/sci-fi as well as being a fan of Doctor Who as well, this could well be the ideal combination for me...

What I watched this weekend...

For one reason and another, this weekend was more about watching films on DVD than it was about reading books (although books have been read and reviews will be going up later this week...) This weekend was also about surprises, particularly when my father-in-law asked me if I had any horror films worth watching. Talk about things you never expect to hear...
Anyway, I had a couple of DVDs that I hadn’t got round to watching so I thought we could give them a try. One of them worked but the other one didn’t go down quite so well. See if you can work out which is which...

Nazi Zombies! They’re always good in a horror film. Except these aren’t so much Nazi Zombies as they are ‘Nazi Super Zombies rendered indestructible by Cosmic Rays’ which has to be even better! And it is. ‘Outpost’ recounts the tale of an ill fated mission to loot the contents of an underground SS bunker and what happens once the sun goes down. These days you have to ask yourself why teams of battle hardened mercenaries insist on raiding places where military experiments have taken place. Haven’t they figured out what’s likely to happen when they go into these places? Luckily for the father-in-law and I, DC’s team of mercenaries thought this was just going to be an ‘in and out job’; how wrong they were... ‘Outpost’ hasn’t got the best script in the world but a solid concept coupled with a fine line in tension being drawn out (to some particularly gory ends) makes this a film that’s worth a look if you like horror, zombies or both at the same time. And it looks good too; gunfights between mercenaries and Nazi Zombies are always welcome in this house! IMDB has mention of a sequel and I’ll definitely be checking that out when it arrives.

‘Black Sheep’
Here’s one that I’d picked up weeks ago and then completely forgotten about... until last night. ‘Outpost’ had gone down a treat so I thought we could give this one a go too. After watching ‘Black Sheep’ the question on my mind was how much can you laugh at a film before you’re laughing at it for all the wrong reasons? ‘Black Sheep’ (genetic modification breeds killer sheep on a New Zealand farm) was a lot of fun but I was laughing a lot more than I normally would. Was it the appallingly bad ‘lamb puppet’ that tore off a guy’s ear? Was it the actors deciding that the best way to deal with the script was to take a run at it and yell lots? Possibly ‘yes’ to both of those questions... Having said that though jokes about sheep farts never stop being funny, at least in this film anyway. ‘Black Sheep’ is a lot of fun but don’t even try and take it seriously, you might hurt yourself.

‘Dead Set’
Just over a year since it was on television and I finally get round to watching this tale of zombies attacking the Big Brother House (something I’ve often thought about!) I am so bad at keeping up to date with what’s on television...
I’ve been meaning to get round to this one for a while now and it was well worth the wait. I prefer zombies that shamble rather than run but I was willing to let that one go as the episodic nature of ‘Dead Set’ (I watched this one at various points over the weekend) meant that things had to move quickly. And they certainly moved quickly! The action did not let up for a second and even when things quietened down we still got an in depth look at how the survivors were coping with the zombie threat. Fraught and tense are the words of the day here! As always, the zombies don’t need to stir up the survivors as our band of Big Brother contestants and production crew are more than capable of fragmenting all by themselves. While I could see how things would deteriorate I wasn’t entirely convinced by the manner in which the zombies finally stormed the TV studios. I don’t want to give too much away (even though I’m possibly the last person to have seen ‘Dead Set’ for the first time!) but I couldn’t see why one particular character did what he did...
Despite this though, ‘Dead Set’ made for some superb viewing (and the nods to the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’, and the remake, were a nice touch as well) All good things come to a Graeme who waits :o)

Back to book reviews tomorrow...

The Monday Morning Competition Winners Post - The 'Slightly Hungover Edition'

Morning folks. I'm keeping this post short and sweet while I wait for the Nurofen to kick in... Hopefully your Monday morning is treating you a bit more kindly! Monday morning is certainly being nice to the following people who won last weekends competitions...

'Elric in the Dream Realms' (Michael Moorcock)

Jaydee Dusenberry, Oregon, USA

'The Gathering Storm' (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson'

Claire Melvin, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Sarah Oztoprak, Bristol, UK
Elaine Maunders, Newbury, UK

'Gardens of the Moon' Tenth Anniversary Edition (Steven Erikson)

Karen Barrett, Bolton, UK
Beth Melito, New Jersey, USA
Ole A. Imsen, Norway
Stephen Castle, Kent, UK
Claire Higgins, Blaenavon, Wales

Well done guys, your books are on their way! Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Giveaway! 'The Cardinal's Blades' (Pierre Pevel)

You've read the review (scroll down a little bit if you haven't, it's still there), now you have the chance to win a copy of the book itself! Thanks to Gollancz, I have three copies of Pierre Pevel's 'The Cardinal's Blades' for three lucky readers to get their hands on (entries from the UK and Europe only though I'm afraid, I'm working on getting some competitions for the US/Canada next week...)

Entering is simple. 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 what your mailing address is. You also need to make it clear that this is the competition that you are entering. I'll do everything else :o)

I'll let this one run until the 22nd of November and will announce the winners on the 23rd.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Giveaway! 'The Templar Magician' (Paul Doherty)

The good people at Headline not only offered me a copy of 'The Templar Magician' but also wondered if I'd like some copies to give away. It looks like an interesting read so I said yes! :o) Here's the blurb...

Murder and mayhem set at the time of the secretive Templar Order.

The year is 1152, and Jerusalem is still in the hands of the Crusaders, although the lofty ideals of before have now been replaced by subtle power-play. Meanwhile, in England, King Stephen is waging bloody war against Henry Fitzempress. The Templar Order, now fifty years old, is a wealthy power, glittering with tempting riches. Against this background of bloodshed, Robert de Payens, grandson of Eleanor, one of the co-founders of the Temple, finds himself caught up in a murder mystery when Raymond, Count of Tripoli, is brutally assassinated. Who would have wanted to murder Raymond, and is it possible that the answer may lie within the hallowed ranks of the Templar Order itself?

Sounds good to me! Now, how do you fancy winning a copy? (This one is only open to entries from the UK and Europe, sorry everyone else...)

It's easy to enter. 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 that you want to enter. That's all you need to do, I'll do everything else ;o)

I'll be letting this one run until the 22nd of November and will announce the winners on the 23rd...

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 November 2009

‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ – Pierre Pevel (Gollancz)

When you’re off for a weekend in Paris and a book arrives promising a mixture of Cardinal Richelieu. Musketeers and dragons... Well, there’s really no choice but to take it with you! As it turned out, ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ ended up playing second fiddle to Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Finch’ but I still managed to find the time to get stuck in (both in Paris and throughout the commute this week). Readers of the blog will know that I am always up for anything with a hint of swashbuckling about it but ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ also offered me the chance to start filling in a gap in the blog that I’ve never been aware of until now. I’ve never really read outside my own language, more than likely due to the fact that high school was a long time ago now and I’ve totally forgotten the little I’ve learnt in the way of foreign languages (French and German, I wasn’t particularly good at either of them). ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ is a translated work (Tom Clegg did the honours here) but I figured that it was a start at least in terms of redressing the balance on the blog.
‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ isn’t without its issues but the bottom line is that I couldn’t put it down until I was finished. Are there any more books about the Cardinal’s Blades? I hope so...

The year is 1633 in a France totally different to that which you may have read about. The big difference is the proliferation of tame dragonets and wyverns that are made use of by the populace and the shadowy Black Claw sect that looks on France, with covetous eyes, from Spain. Louis XIII may reign over France but it is Cardinal Richelieu that rules the country; working constantly to thwart assassination attempts, espionage and other threats to the throne. The threat from the Black Claw is great and there is only one way to counter it; Captain La Fargue must reform the ‘Cardinal’s Blades’, an elite band of swashbucklers who were once ready to risk all for France. Are they ready to take up the fight once more? Will their best be enough, even if they are...?

‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ is one of those books where I find myself really wishing that I spoke the original language that it was written in (French) so I could get a proper feel for this book and what it’s all about. Not that there’s anything majorly wrong with the translation. Clegg takes the original text and reworks it into an English version that doesn’t seem to spare any of the detail. Or does it? An overabundance of descriptive pieces (about the history of certain locations or simply what they look like) has the unfortunate effect of slowing the book down to a crawl when it really needs to be gearing up for a sprint. I also found that the relative shortness of each chapter (and the constant switching back and forth between characters) lent a choppy air to the pace which made it difficult to stay with the story. I was left wondering if translating ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ into English robbed the piece of the more natural flow that it may have enjoyed as a book written in French. Has anyone here read the original French version? If you have, how did it work for you?

Luckily, ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ is one of those books where a little persistence over the flaws uncovers a book that is well worth sticking with. Any book where I get to the end and am left wanting a sequel has to be doing something right!

When it gets going, ‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ is a rip roaring mixture of sword fights, spies, evil schemes and (best of all) dragons. While the dragons are very much present in the book, Pevel doesn’t hang the whole story on this concept and things work all the better for it. The ‘matter of fact reference’ to dragons (and the Black Claw sect) makes their presence all the more plausible whilst giving the ‘spy plotline’ a chance to shine. And shine it does! Big cities have ever been a breeding ground for labyrinthine schemes and seventeenth century Paris is no exception! Everyone has something going on and all credit to Pevel for bringing such a large number of schemes together to form a plot that’s driven forward by answers that spawn yet more questions. Anything can happen and Pevel’s deliberate vagueness about his characters ensures that it invariably does. Pevel also has some real surprises for his readers, especially regarding the Blades themselves. Here’s a group that’s proof that no matter how close knit a team is, self interest will always undermine a common aim... Pevel saves some real surprises up for the very end and their impact is intensified by the amount of time that the reader has had to get used to certain people. I’ll admit to getting a little lost with it at times but it certainly all came together at the end!

Pevel adds colour to all of this by including sword fights and rooftop chases that I thought were the very definition of ‘swashbuckling’. Our heroes are cool under pressure, capable of delivering witty one liners whilst fighting off multiple foes and considering whether or not to jump through the nearest window. Swordfights are brutal yet delivered with a certain flourish; I wouldn’t mind seeing this on the screen...

‘The Cardinal’s Blades’ may have lost a little something in the translation (although I’ll never know for sure until I learn to read French!) but it remains a thoroughly entertaining read that I had a lot of fun with. The final pages hint at further developments and more adventures, I hope this is the case.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 12 November 2009

‘Total Oblivion, More or Less’ – Alan DeNiro (Spectra)

Hands up everyone who has ever sat at their desk (on a particularly dull school or work day) and thought, “what if...?” If you read a lot of speculative fiction then this is a common side affect and one that is somewhat of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I feel adequately prepared for a zombie infestation or for a sea monster to rise from the Thames and start laying waste to the city. On the other hand though, I never seem to get anything else done...
If we’re really lucky, our ‘what ifs’ can transcend mere idle speculation and make the leap onto the printed page. Alan DeNiro has done just that with his debut novel and the result makes for some interesting reading. Not all of it though...

What if our world was suddenly invaded by warriors from Ancient Europe? Here’s a question that sixteen year old Macy must answer when the invasion comes to Minnesota. One day everything is normal; the following day (and those to come) is full of warring tribesmen, wasp borne plagues and talking dogs. As the world is unravelling so is Macy’s family and she must struggle to keep both intact as best she can. The alternatives aren’t good...

In the spirit of all the best ‘What Ifs’, DeNiro’s ‘Total Oblivion’ never even attempts to get to the bottom of just why North America has been invaded by warriors from the past. That’s not the point at all. What’s important is that it’s happened and that people must somehow find a way to deal with the consequences, Macy’s family in this case. This is where the story truly lies and the fact that it’s being driven by something totally unexplained (but at the same time very apparent and dangerous) gives it the concept a little extra kick which should speed the plot along nicely.

I say ‘should’ because although the plot does flow well it did feel more than a little bogged down by the fact that much of the plot is advanced through talk rather than physical action. In one sense this is very much a good thing as we get to see Macy’s character develop over time along with others. It also gives us an insider’s view on how the world is changing and continues to change. On the other hand though, when the balance of the plot shifts towards talk (over action) then you can be left feeling that not a lot is actually happening. This is certainly how I felt at times when reading ‘Total Oblivion’, not a good thing when the book itself is only three hundred and six pages long.

It’s not all bad though. As I’ve said already, the mystery surrounding the invasion not only provides an intriguing entry into the story but also serves to paint a vivid backdrop for the story to be set against. While the story may slow down in places, it is rescued by a plot that demands things be done otherwise certain characters won’t make it all the way through... These two things are what kept me reading in the main, an interesting central character was the clincher.

If the world goes belly up then the first thing you’re going to want to do is try and get some level of control over what is left. This is the approach that DeNiro takes with Macy and it works well as far as I’m concerned, almost rendering the state of the world in microcosm through the workings of Macy’s very dysfunctional family. Macy must learn a lot about herself in order to more effectively fulfil her aims and this is where the character development comes in. By doing this, Macy is also able to learn a lot more about her brother Ciaran and so we see his character in a new light as well. He’s still the same guy by the end of the book but at least we have a better idea of why he behaves the way that he does. Things aren’t quite the same by the end but was anyone expecting them to be? When your world falls apart things are never going to fit back together in exactly the same way. What matters is that things are good enough to get by. DeNiro recognises this and ends the book appropriately.

‘Total Oblivion, More or Less’ is a book where the concept hooked me from the start. Unfortunately the book’s structure made it more difficult to get into than it needed to be, it didn’t do itself any favours there. However, a little perseverance uncovered a tale that was worth taking the time to find. Worth a quick look if you come across this one in the bookstore.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Genre Fiction vs. The Tie-In: Two Discussions.

This seems to be a debate that crops up every now and then. They've been chatting about it over at Westeros and now Mark Charan Newton and Dan Abnett have got together to chew the fat on this topic over at Ecstatic Days. Both discussions are well worth a look and browse.

Do I stand anywhere on this? I'm probably preaching to the converted but running this blog has taught me not to turn my nose up at tie-in fiction; you may have to wade through some absolute crap (actually, there's no 'may' about it!) but you will find some gems on the way. Paul S. Kemp is one (gutted to hear that he's moving on from Wizards of the Coast but apparently he'll be writing Star Wars books in the future) and Karen Traviss is another (and there's also Dan Abnett of course). As far as the rubbish goes, I've been quite lucky so far but Keith Baker's 'The Queen of Stone' was one that really didn't work for me...

A book that I'll be reading very soon is Tobias Buckell's 'The Cole Protocol' (from the 'Halo' universe) so I'll guess I'll see how this balances things out in the ratio of 'Good Tie-In' to 'Bad Tie-in' fiction... How about you guys though? What are your experiences of tie-in fiction? Anything that you think I should look out for?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

‘Finch’ – Jeff Vandermeer (Underland Press)

How do you choose which book to pick up next? I generally go by a mix of genre choice and book cover but I’ve also been known to choose slim books over doorstop novels as well as closing my eyes and grabbing a random book from the pile. Sometimes though I really cannot decide what book to read and, in those times, I know that I should take my choices to a higher power and let them decide what I should be reading. Yes, sometimes I get my wife to choose a book for me... :o)
Last week I showed the wife two books to see which one she would go for. After careful consideration it was ‘the book with the pretty cover’. I won’t tell you what was said about the other choice, it wasn’t pretty...
The ‘book with the pretty cover’ was Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Finch’ and I’ve just spent the last few days utterly enthralled by this tale. I don’t know quite where it will end up in my list of reads for the year but you can bet that it will be somewhere near the top.

Ambergris is not the city you knew before. The fungal Gray Caps have taken advantage of a drawn out civil war to rise above ground and make their presence felt. The city is now theirs.
In this bombed out landscape, haunted by the Gray Caps and their hybrid human allies (‘Partials’), detective John Finch is tasked with solving an impossible double murder. When you’re working for the enemy though, how much do you let them know? How much can you let anyone know in a city where personal survival is paramount and knowledge is power? When it comes down to it, what does Finch really know at all...?
The answers will become apparent but whether Finch will live to reach them is another matter entirely...

I love a good cityscape in a fantasy novel; if it’s done well then it almost becomes a character in its own right and you put the book down feeling as if you’ve actually been there rather than just read about it. Vandermeer already achieved this with Ambergris in ‘City of Saints and Madmen’ (I’ve still yet to read ‘Shriek: An Afterword’) and does it again in ‘Finch’.
The Ambergris of ‘Finch’ is a striking mix of bombed out wasteland and nightmarish fungal growth; Vandermeer doesn’t lay the description on thick but there’s no question of you not knowing what you’re walking through on the way to the conclusion. Landmarks play an important role in defining the current landscape of Ambergris as well as the constant sight of rubble. If you’ve walked down either Manzikert Avenue or Albumuth Boulevard before then these familiar streets will ease you back into Ambergris while at the same time showing you just how much time has passed. If you haven’t then... maybe you need to read the two preceding books first. In fact, you definitely need to. There’s a lot going on here that will make a lot more sense if you read ‘City of Saints & Madmen’ and ‘Shriek’ first and the conclusion (although fine on it’s own) really needs that prior reading to kick ass in the way that it was designed to.

Ambergris also feels like a character in its own right as the city itself comes across as practically empty during the course of Finch’s mission. There are other characters but they are all hidden away, behind their doors, for Finch to find. What you get as a result is a sense of silence that is almost palpable and is perhaps a hearkening back to the original ‘Silence’ that blighted the early history of Ambergris. There is a story to be told but a lot of the time the emphasis comes across as being on the city itself and those are the best times to get a feel for Ambergris. I’m glad I don’t live there but the atmosphere was so rich and compelling that I didn’t want to leave.

Detective stories are inevitably tales of impossible cases, double crossing and a detective who has no idea of what he’s got himself into until it’s far too late. Vandermeer doesn’t stray too far away from this outline and you can find yourself getting a feel for the ebb and flow of this part of the plot; so much so in fact that you may be able to predict just when the case will either hit a dead end or move in a new direction. There is such a delicious sense of the ‘alien’ about things though and this balances out the feeling that you may know where the plot is going. Where else would you find a detective novel where the chief was a ruthless talking piece of fungus? And having a partner being eaten alive by a fungal disease certainly adds an interesting new slant to the idea ‘the cop and his partner’ solving a case while sorting out their own issues. Like ‘Lethal Weapon’ with talking mushrooms...

Finch himself also drives the plot forward in the best possible way. Here’s a character who can’t even remember who he really is and has enough ties with the shadowy organisations of Ambergris to make knowing who to support a tricky question every single time. Finch is a tenacious character though, even if his overall motives are questionable, and it’s this tenacity that makes you want to stick with him and for him to make it through to the end. Does he end up doing the right thing though? I’m still not sure about that one...

‘Finch’ is not only a gripping detective story but a triumphant conclusion to events set in motion a long time ago. Things are left open for more tales in Ambergris and I hope things are explored further as I would certainly be there for more.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

The World of 'The Adamantine Palace' - Free Gazetteer available for download.

If you enjoyed Stephen Deas' 'The Adamantine Palace' (I did!) and you're having trouble waiting for 'King of the Crags' (I am...) then this might just help you through...

Stephen Deas has been working on a big ol' gazetteer detailing the world of 'The Adamantine Palace' and has made it available as a free download. If you fancy a read then click Here for the download...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie, Volume One’ (Marvel Comics)

When I picked up Mike Raicht’s ‘Zombie’, and later on Kyle Hotz and Eric Powell’s ‘The Zombie Simon Garth’, (a couple of years ago) I had no idea that Simon Garth was a reworking of a much older character of the same name. Google and Wikipedia set me straight on that score but I was left thinking that I would never be able to read the original comics. Marvel set me straight on that score! Little did I know that there was an ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ collection that would fill in the gaps. It took me a while to get hold of a copy but eventually I did, only to have the front cover/spine/back cover come off in my hands as I was reading it this weekend. It’s a thick book and I guess that the glue wasn’t up to the job (something you guys might want to watch out for if you’re planning on picking up your own copy or any other of the Marvel ‘Essential’ collections). It was a good job then that the story inside was worth the read, even if Simon Garth isn’t the kind of zombie that I would normally read about...

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie Volume One’ collects ‘Tales of the Zombie #1-10’ along with ‘Dracula Lives #1-2’ and tells the tale of Simon Garth; a work obsessed executive who is set to learn some hard lessons about the true meaning of happiness and love. Garth is set to become a human sacrifice in a voodoo ritual but manages to escape when help arrives from an unexpected source. This reprieve is short lived however and Garth is killed by his former gardener, only to be brought back from the grave as an undead zombie. Now, Garth is under the control of the fabled amulet of Damballah and must obey the will of whoever holds it. Despite this though, Garth’s real aim is to achieve the peace of true death...

You would have thought that I’d know better by now. I thought that Marvel were solely about superheroes and mutants but way, way, back in the day they were also all about Dracula, the Wolfman and... the Zombie. This isn’t the George Romero style zombie (what I would normally go for); what we have instead is the zombie of Voodoo lore and this Caribbean tone adds a more vibrant feel to the proceedings (and the artwork). What we get as a result is a refreshing contrast to the grimy and bleak post-apocalyptic fare that I’ve been used to in the past.

What I also enjoyed was the change in approach to what I’ve seen in Romero’s films and ongoing serials like ‘The Walking Dead’. Whereas the zombie media I’ve been into concentrates more on mankind’s attempts to survive in the face of a zombie infestation, ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ turns this round and comes back at it from the opposite direction. Simon Garth is one zombie on his own in a world full of humans only too ready to take advantage of his situation; he has limited control over his actions (although he does display some evidence of free will) and must somehow get by in the face of overwhelming opposition. As with all zombie fiction, it’s the humans who are worst of all. It helps then that Garth is a hard character to put down...!

There’s also a lesson in morality to be learned it that comes across very well. By stripping away everything that Garth originally found important he is able to put things in perspective and eventually act to put things right in his life; both as a zombie... and later on.
I very much enjoyed reading the tale of the original Simon Garth. If ‘Volume Two’ is ever released then I’ll be sure to pick it up.

That’s not all there is to ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ though as the book also collects the ‘one off’ short stories that accompanied the main feature. This is the bit where I would normally have a list of examples but my copy of the book is in pieces (awaiting repair) so I don’t have it to hand right now! As you would expect in shorter stories, the emphasis isn’t so much on character development as it is on quickly setting things up and then smacking the reader in the face with a gore ridden conclusion. The simple message is that evil never wins and it’s a message that’s played out almost too far across a volume of this size (the same thing over and over again)... To be fair, the affect would have been far more pronounced in a shorter punchier monthly issue.

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ was perhaps a strange choice of reading for a weekend in Paris but was nevertheless an entertaining read that I had a lot of fun with. Like I said, if volume two ever makes an appearance then I’ll be there to pick it up.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

The 'Early Morning Competition Winners Post' - French Edition!

Just got back from a weekend in Paris (very nice it was too) and I'm really after just going to bed, stupid noisy neighbours in the hotel... Before I do that though, here are the winners from last week's competitions!

'7th Son: Descent' - J.C. Hutchins

Bryce Lee, Wyoming, USA
Rob Charron, Ontario, Canada
Sheldon Florence, British Columbia, Canada

'The Big Fat Horror Giveaway!'

Lee Barker, Thurnscoe, UK
Stuart Pickering, Birkenhead, UK
Caroline Allard, Floing, France
Mark Devery, New Zealand
Yuriy Volyanskyy, Ontario, Canada (Canada did really well this time round!)

Well done everyone, your books should be on their way really soon! Better luck next time everyone else, why don't you scroll down a little bit and see if any of the current competitions take your fancy...?

Normal service will resume soon but not until I've got some sleep. See you all in the morning! :o)