Sunday, 31 January 2010

Giveaway! 'The Edge of Ruin' (Melinda Snodgrass)

I Loved 'The Edge of Reason' when I read it back in 2008 so I was more than pleased when the sequel came through the door. I wanted to spread the love and Tor were happy to help me spread that love so here goes...

I have one advance copy of 'The Edge of Ruin' to give away to one lucky reader (but only if they live in the US or Canada...) Do you want to be that lucky reader?

If you want in then simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else :o)

I'll be leaving this one open until the 7th of February and will announce the winner on the 8th...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Giveaway! 'Warriors' (George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)

Thanks to those wonderful folk at Tor, I have one ARC of 'Warriors' to give away to one lucky reader of this here blog (only if they're in the US or Canada though...)

There is a new GRRM 'Westeros' tale in the book but there is also plenty more in what looks like it could be a very tasty collection indeed. I'm looking forward to the Tad Williams, Naomi Novik and Carrie Vaughn offerings in particular. How does that grab you? :o)

All you need to do to enter is just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. That's all I need and I'll take care of the rest...

I'll leave this one open until the 7th of February and will announce the winner on the 8th...

Good Luck!

P.S. As ever, comments next to competition posts do not count as entries, just so you know ;o)

Friday, 29 January 2010

‘Feast of Souls’ – Celia Friedman (Orbit)

The world is made up of many things; my own personal viewpoint sees it as being made up of ‘authors I really should get round to checking out at some point’. Guy Gavriel Kay is one such author and Tim Powers is another (although I do have a copy of ‘The Anubis Gates’ waiting to be read). They’re names that I hear and think that I must pick up one of their books... and then I end up doing something else and forget all about it until the next time. Do you have the same kind of problem or are you made of sterner stuff and go straight out to pick these books up?

Celia Friedman is one of those authors that I’ve always meant to check out, particularly as her ‘Coldfire Trilogy’ is one of those series that everyone seems to rave about online. The beginning of a new trilogy is always a good place to start so I made it my mission to read ‘Feast of Souls’. Celia Friedman can now sit firmly on my list of ‘authors I’ve finally got round to reading’ and I will be making it my business to read the rest of this trilogy at least. ‘Feast of Souls’ is rather good...

The son of King Aurelius is dying, laid low by a mysterious wasting disease that strips him of his life daily. The King demands an explanation from the magical community and Magisters from across the land are summoned in an attempt to solve the mystery. The answer will strike at the very heart of their secret order, a magister is involved and must be silenced before certain unpalatable truths become known to the world...
But all of this merely serves to distract both men and Magisters from the danger that is arising to the north. An evil long forgotten is stirring and defences that once stood strong are weaker than ever before. The world is about to become an even more dangerous place than it is already...

‘Feast of Souls’ is one of those clever books that gets it’s hooks into the reader and ties them to the story without their even knowing it. That’s what happened to me. Despite some misgivings (more on those in a bit), ‘Feast of Souls’ was a book that I couldn’t stop reading. On the few occasions when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about what might happen next in the book, there aren’t many books that do this to me!

Friedman has painted an incredibly bleak world for her story to play out against, a bleakness that did it’s best to drive me away from the page whilst keeping me going at the same time. This is a truly joyless place to spend time in with none of that joyful spark you get when you’re transported into another world for the first time. Everything is too downtrodden for that; the Magister’s dark secret holds an entire world in oppression without their even realising it and Friedman pulls no punches in her depictions of the life of the lower classes. Friedman also adopts the same approach to interactions between the ruling classes with certain scenes in particular making me wince! Life is truly cheap, especially if you’re a Magister.

A world so bleak and seemingly bereft of hope like this one is astonishingly hard to get into. You almost find yourself asking what the point is; everything is obviously going to hell in a handcart anyway. Friedman rescued the book from my putting it down by showing her readers that even in a world like this there can still be hope for the future. It’s actually the whole point of the book.
No matter how bad your situation, there is always a way onwards and upwards for those who wish to take it. The way out may lead you somewhere even worse but that isn’t really the point. It’s all about not giving up, learning to live with your mistakes and keep pushing on. Through the characters of Kamala and Andovan, Friedman celebrates humanity’s refusal to break under pressure and that is ultimately what kept me reading.

Here are two characters who have both been dealt a poor hand by fate although one of them had more influence over that hand than the other. What makes for compelling reading is watching their attempts to either make the best of their situation or change it entirely. Hard decisions have to be made and you will question the morality of these. Underneath it all though is an all consuming desire to live and that’s something that we can all identify with. Once I made that connection with the characters I knew that I wanted to see how it all ended.

As the opening book in a trilogy, ‘Feast of Souls’ is primarily about setting events up for future books as well as introducing the setting and characters within it. As such, the focus is more on politicking and world building and this does affect the pace of the book, slowing things down when I wanted them to speed up. The politicking is enthralling though (especially as the larger picture becomes apparent) and the world is beautifully drawn (albeit bleak...) As a payoff I found that this more than made up for the lack of pace in areas of the book. When events flare into life Friedman has her hands firmly on the reins and delivers scenes that are tightly controlled while sparkling with vitality.

‘Feast of Souls’ is a tough one to get into (maybe a little too tough for a opening book in a trilogy) but I found that the effort paid off in style. Like I said earlier, I’m glad that I finally got round to reading something by Celia Friedman. If this is anything to go by then I’m looking forward to reading ‘Wings of Wrath’.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Book Trailer for 'A Dark Matter' Peter Straub

Just had this emailed to me and I thought I'd share :o) It's short but pretty spooky...

Having seen the blurb and the trailer I'm going to go for it and read 'A Dark Matter'. I haven't actually read anything by Peter Straub so it will be good to check him out and see what he's all about. Has anyone else read any of his books? If you have, what did you think?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

‘Heart of Veridon’ – Tim Akers (Solaris)

I generally pick the next book I’ll be reading via a mixture of genre, cover art/blurb and sheer pot luck. Picking a book to read when you’re stumbling around in the dark never fails to bring up an interesting and unexpected choice!
I also base a lot of my reading choices around certain blogs that I respect either for well thought out reviews or their ability to throw something my way that I wouldn’t normally consider picking up. Tim Akers’ ‘Heart of Veridon’ was a ‘Book of the Year for 2009’ over at Fantasy Book Critic and the accompanying Review more than piqued my interest. When the book itself came through the door I knew it wouldn’t be long before I gave it a go.
Finishing the book, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy ‘Heart of Veridon’ as much as Liviu did (for reasons that I will go into later). At the same time though, I’m glad I took the time to give this one a go...

Jacob Burn is not the kind of person you want to be standing next to on an airship; having crashed the only one he ever piloted and been involved in the crash landing of another. These days he uses his connections with the nobility to make a living in the underworld of the ancient city of Veridon. That last crash landing is about to become a lot more painful than the injuries he sustained however. A strange artefact came into Burn’s possession just before the crash and it seems like the whole of Veridon now wants to get their hands on it. It’s not just the citizens of Veridon either; something strange is stalking Burn through the streets, something that will make Jacob question everything that he thought he knew about himself and the city he has always lived in...

One thing that I’ve discovered about myself is that I love immersing myself in cityscapes when I’m reading fantasy or science fiction. I love walking along the streets of places like Viriconium (I know I’ve still got read the rest of that one!), New Crobuzon or Unta, catching furtive glimpses of dark alleyways and wondering what’s happening in them. The promise of a new city to explore got me really excited; for someone who isn’t really into travelling I do like to visit new places!
Veridon is an intriguing mix of steam-punk that’s been kicked up a couple of levels with the introduction of living metal and a religion founded on scraps of technology that drift downriver. Not only that but it hides a secret at it’s heart that makes it thoroughly worth while following the story that flows through its streets and alleys. It’s a bit of a shame then that ‘Heart of Veridon’ didn’t really give me much of a feel for the city itself. While it’s always in the background, it’s deliberately cast in a vague light that keeps the focus wholly on the plot itself. While I understand the reasons behind this, the plot is one that demands your attention, it was frustrating to have these tempting glimpses of the city that weren’t elaborated upon. What you get as a result is a plot that feels like it isn’t grounded in anything. I’m hoping for further works, in this setting, that cast more light on the city itself.

The plot itself is compelling with elements of mystery and pursuit thrown together at breakneck pace. Maybe the plot runs too quickly for the reader to get any sense of where they are? Burns is presented with a mystery that seemingly has no connections to him even though he is fully involved. Watching the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together is a joy (although slightly bewildering, I might need to re-read this one just to completely ‘get it’). Absolutely no-one can be trusted and a double cross can easily become a ‘triple cross’ or even more; this inevitably results in gunfire and fights with a creature that has to be seen to be believed. The uncertainty surrounding the plot certainly kept me on my toes and kept me reading. Jacob Burn is a character that I was more than happy to follow on his journey. Although he can sometimes verge on being the stereotypical ‘thug with a heart of gold’, Burn is a character who demands your attention by using his wits to get out of trouble in increasingly ingenious ways; definitely one to keep an eye and I hope we see more of him soon.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book that ends as abruptly as ‘Heart of Veridon’ and this wasn’t good as far as I was concerned. You can usually tell if a book is about to spawn a sequel or not and it’s good for the reader to have some clue in this regard. ‘Heart of Veridon’ isn’t obliging and left me wondering, ‘what now?’ A great way to have the book make a lasting impression; not so great if the reader is left wondering whether the story has ended or not...

‘Heart of Veridon’ is a book that suffers from a lack of background for the plot to ground itself on; sometimes I found myself thinking that this book could be set anywhere... There are enough hints to keep you going though and the plot is ultimately rewarding although a little too abrupt in it’s end. If there is another book in this setting I would pick it up.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Cover Art! 'Flesh and Iron' (Henry Zou)

I don't tend to post a lot of cover art here (except when I get the same book from two different publishers...) but sometimes I just see the cover for a book and have to post it! Check this out...

Vicious men in a vicious jungle... with big guns! It doesn't get too much better than that, a cover that's almost aimed at me personally... (how do they do that?)
The blurb doesn't look bad either...

There are reports of an uprising on the planet of Solo-Baston. Indigenous forces are rebelling against Imperial rule, led by the mysterious 'Dos Pares'. Amidst the conflict, the 31st Riverine Imperial Guard are dispatched to seek and destroy a vital battery of siege guns, but find themselves beset on all sides by hostile forces. And what they originally thought was simple tribal warfare soon reveals a much more sinister activity. Henry Zou's latest novel serves as a prequel to Emperor's Mercy and delivers non-stop action and mystery in the grim world of Warhammer 40,000.

I wasn't too keen on 'Emperor's Mercy' but I did say that I thought his next book could be worth picking up. I guess we'll soon see :o)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

‘Halo Evolutions: Essential Tales of the Halo Universe’ (Tor)

I’ve said it before (just down the page in fact) and I’ll say it again; if you want to get a real feel for a shared universe setting then the best way to go about it is a collection of short stories that gives you as broad a picture as possible. Tobias Buckell’s ‘The Cole Protocol’ caught my imagination so when I heard that there was a collection of ‘Halo’ stories in the offing I found myself in a state of eager anticipation. Apart from ‘The Cole Protocol’, my only experience of ‘Halo’ was trying to get Master Chief to do stupid things in the game itself and I thought it would be interesting to find out a little more about the history and background that go to make up this world...

‘Halo Evolutions’ is a collection of fifteen short stories and poems that come together as a series of snapshots to form a larger picture of the war between humanity and the alien Covenant. As with the games, humanity’s perspective on the war is the main one but time is also made for the perspective of the alien ‘Elite’ and I’d say that the end result is a fairly balanced one. It’s also interesting to see that while the Covenant are clearly defined as the aggressors, Earth’s administrative body (‘United Nations Space Command’) has a less than benevolent grasp on the outer colonies at the same time. This approach removes any sense of polarisation and makes for an earthier, more intriguing, read whichever story you’re reading. I couldn’t really get into the poetry though; nothing wrong with Jonathan Goff’s work as such, more a case of my natural preference for prose...

If you didn’t know it already, ‘Halo Evolutions’ really hits home with the message that war is hell. It really is you know, these stories all succeed in showing their readers the horrors of war and how it affects the combatants on both sides. In the midst of all the dirt and gloom though, this collection also shows that there is room for honour, love and even a little humour.
In a minute, I’ll be going through each story individually and giving some quick impressions that I had. Overall, ‘Halo Evolutions’ has a lot going for it in terms of spectacle and characters that you want to spend time with. I was left with the impression though that only fans will get the most out of this book as there is a lot of references to equipment and background history that could have done with more elaboration for the casual reader. A couple of stories are also only going to make sense if you’ve played the games already, I’m looking at you ‘Human Weakness’...

Anyway, here goes with the stories themselves...

‘Pariah’ – B.K. Evenson
This was an intriguing opener for me, purely because I’d read Evenson’s ‘Last Days’ and was interested to see how he fared in a shared universe. On the whole Evenson did really well with a sobering look at the dark side of the SPARTAN programme and what can go wrong. Soren is an interesting character to follow over the course of the story, Dr. Halsey is as well but I couldn’t help feeling that long term fans would have got more out of this insight into her character.

‘Stomping on the Heels of a Fuss’ – Eric Raab
Raab skilfully weaves the tribal workings of a Covenant slave race with the machinations of a UNSC soldier spying on them. The results were good up until an ending that came out of left field so much that it appeared only tenuously connected with the story itself rather than the shock ending it wanted to be.

‘Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian’ – Frank O’Connor
Imagine waking up after an operation to find that you’re the last person alive in the entire hospital... A marine has a similar problem when the Covenant invade his ship while he’s under the anaesthetic. What he has to do next, in order to stop the location of Earth falling into Covenant hands, makes for some gripping reading. War is about the small sacrifices that go un-noticed but mean an awful lot; ‘Midnight’ lifts the lid on such a sacrifice in the best possible way.

‘Dirt’ – Tobias S. Buckell
After reading ‘The Cole Protocol’, Tobias Buckell’s ‘Dirt’ was a story that I was looking forward to and I wasn’t disappointed. At the heart of it all, ‘Dirt’ questions what soldiers actually fight for and how it all boils down to just one thing in the end. ‘Dirt’ is the story of one soldier’s journey through a changing political landscape and how it changes him, Buckell is guilty of the infodump but most of the time he incorporates into the story so well that you won’t even notice that it’s happening. A story worth reading.

‘Headhunters’ – Jonathan Goff
This story started out looking like it was going to be a mine of trivia for the long term ‘Halo’ fan and not much else. Lots of background information on the SPARTAN III’s took the focus away from the story; not so bad if you’re there for the technical detail but not so good if you’re me. Towards the end though, Goff turns everything on it’s head in a moment of sheer genius that casts the title in an entirely different light. ‘Headhunters’ is a story that’s unbalanced but worth sticking around for the payoff.

‘Blunt Instruments’ – Fred Van Lente
‘Blunt Instruments’ follows a team of Spartans on a mission where a misunderstanding is likely to prove fatal... I liked this tale as it cuts to the chase and just gives you the facts, no messing around with the need to place it in some kind of context. The bit where everything suddenly makes sense is a real shock to the system!

‘The Mona Lisa’ – Jeff Vandermeer and Tessa Kum
This story of an encounter with the Flood, on an abandoned prison ship, ended up being the highlight of the book for me. Vandermeer and Kum (although Vandermeer has said that he was strictly playing second fiddle here) combine to place all the right kinds of emphasis on the story itself rather than the background history. Haunted spaceships are always cool and the ‘Mona Lisa’ is no exception with danger lurking round every corner. A taut pace is maintained throughout in an entertaining tale that has you wanting to find out more about the ‘Halo Universe’, not being put off by ‘information overkill’.

‘Palace Hotel’ – Robt McLees
Master Chief’s actions in and around the campaign on New Mombasa left me feeling cold and I’m guessing that this is because I’m still new to his story. His mission (kidnapping a Covenant Hierarch) is made out to be important but I never really got a sense of exactly why this was. His meeting a familiar face from the past also lost some of it’s emotional resonance as McLees seemed to expect his reader to have a closer connection with the characters than I actually did. Some great ‘all action’ combat scenes though!

‘Human Weakness’ – Karen Traviss
Having read and enjoyed a few of Traviss’ books, ‘Human Weakness’ was one of the stories in this collection that I was most looking forward to reading. It was a real shame then that this story, which explores the unique predicament of being an AI in the ‘Halo’ universe, was a disappointment. Much is made of the setting that the story takes place against but it was one where a prior knowledge of the game is needed if you are to get the most out of it. Apparently it’s quite a pivotal point.
Traviss also moves away from her strengths as a writer of military sci-fi (troop movements, engagements etc) to write a more introspective piece about the nature of artificial life. Ultimately, this is a move that didn’t work for me. The length of the story means that any sense of tension is dragged out and lost and I just didn’t get the sense that Traviss was as interested in the thoughts of an AI as much as she is in the thoughts of a regular grunt in a warzone.

‘The Impossible Life and Possible Death of Preston J. Cole’ – Eric Nylund
The one story that I thought would demand some prior knowledge ended up giving me everything I needed (via flashbacks etc) to know without coming across like a massive info dump. One of those stories where you get to spend time with a fully rounded character that you’re glad you got the chance to know a little better. Fans will no doubt appreciate this one more but as a character study it definitely works for the casual reader.

‘The Return’ – Kevin Grace
The war didn’t just affect humanity and the end of the war leaves members of the Covenant looking for a new purpose. The internal journey that an ‘Elite’ takes in this regard is worth following; especially as he is standing upon the results of what should have been his greatest achievement which has been soured... An interesting journey to follow but, again, one that assumes a reader must have a certain level of background knowledge (as to how the war ended) if they are to get the most out of it.

The memo following ‘The Return’ hints at further developments for the future of the Halo universe, I wouldn’t mind seeing what happens next...
It’s this feeling of interest being whetted that saves ‘Halo Evolutions’ being a book for hardcore fans only. While you do need to be a fan to get the most out of it, there is enough here for the casual reader to get stuck into as well.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ – Brian Keene

January is officially the most dismal month of the year as far as I’m concerned. Christmas and New Year are over and done with and the only thing there is to look forward to is going back to work. Yeah, what a great month January is...
Having said that though, I have found that January does have it’s good points as well. As a long time fan of Brian Keene’s work I’ve found that I can pretty much set my clock to a new release of his coming out every... January (or thereabouts, go with me on the whole ‘poetic licence’ thing here!) Ever since reading ‘Urban Gothic’ last June (one of my favourite books of last year) I’ve been itching to read more of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ other than the teaser excerpt. This weekend I got the chance to do just that when ‘Darkness’ arrived in the post...

The night before, everything was fine and just as it should be. The following morning the residents of Walden woke up to find... nothing. Beyond the town limits lies nothing but darkness. Nothing can get through and the people of Walden don’t even know if there is anything out there trying to get in. All they know is that anything trying to get out will just end up dying horribly; the screams are still ringing in their ears...
What has caused the darkness to surround the town? Is there any way that the darkness can be got rid of? If there is, what will be left? The most important question of all though is... the darkness is speaking to the townspeople, can they survive what it has to say?

I’ll say right away that I’ve been a big fan of Brian Keene’s work since I found a copy of ‘City of the Dead’ so you might want to bear that in mind when you’re reading this review ;o)
As with all of Keene’s books, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ was a book that was barely out of the packaging before I started reading it. It wasn’t long before I finished reading it either; ‘Darkness’ is only two hundred and sixty four pages long but it was the concept, and Keene’s execution, that made the pages literally fly by. If you’re a long term reader then you’ll see the ‘Labyrinth’ linking this story to others but it doesn’t matter if you’re not; ‘Darkness’ can very much be read and enjoyed as a stand alone piece.

There were times though when I found my thoughts wondering away from the page, something that very rarely happens when I’m reading books by this author! Without fail, Brian Keene writes a superb story when he’s dealing with the apocalypse as it happens; full of adrenaline, tension and assorted viscera! The thing about ‘Darkness’ though is that it’s a story where the apocalypse has already happened... When the apocalypse has come to an end, all you’re left with is the creeping dread about what might be left and how you’re going to survive amongst people who value their survival above yours. Keene does a good job at portraying this gradual breakdown of what is left of society (more on that in a bit) but the slow pace feels forced, as if he’s having to rein himself in from his more natural pace. This was confirmed to me when Keene really lets go in the latter stages of the book and goes for the jugular, you can tell that this is what he does best!

Like I said, despite the ‘forced’ pacing holding him back Keene still does very well to show his readers just how close we all are to reverting to savage behaviour and our over riding primitive urge to survive at all costs. It’s made all too clear that the veneer of civilisation is a thin one and Keene’s depictions if regular people (being regular people) make it all the more shocking when they flip and... you’ll see. Keene has never been one to hold back and he doesn’t disappoint this time! The Darkness on the edge of Walden must have been sat there wondering if its presence was necessary, considering what the residents of the town get up to.
The darkness itself is a tool that Keene uses to maximum affect in unsettling not only his characters but his readers as well. There’s something about the way it just hangs there (with no explanation as to it’s cause, at least to begin with...) that just grows in your mind and has you wanting to find out more. When Keene finally lets the hammer drop he drops it with gusto, proving that he is a writer who really knows how to press the buttons that make you shudder with horror. Again, he’s not afraid to let fly with grotesque imagery that will stay in your mind far longer than you want it to...

‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ is a book that suffers slightly from Keene choosing not to play to his strengths and following a different path instead. Despite this, it’s a path worth following and one that will lead you to some very dark places indeed. Fans will love it, if you’re not a fan (but you love horror) then give it a go anyway (actually, start with ‘Urban Gothic’). Roll on ‘A Gathering of Crows’ in August...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

'Prospero Burns' - Publication pushed back to January 2011

From the email...

Due to author Dan Abnett’s health issues, the Horus Heresy novel Prospero Burns will now be published in Jan 2011. This novel chronicles the epic story of the Space Wolves and their dire battle with the Thousand Sons for the eponymous planet. It provides a counterpoint to A Thousand Sons, which tells the story from the Traitor Legion’s perspective and is published in March 2010.

The million-selling Horus Heresy series continues to go from strength-to-strength throughout 2010, with three major new novels and three original audio dramas. For a full list of 2010 titles please visit the Black Library website at

Statement from Dan Abnett:

“As some of you will know, I became ill in the latter part of last year. The problem was eventually identified as epilepsy, which I am now managing, but it took several rather troubling months to reach that diagnosis. As a consequence, Prospero Burns did not meet its deadline, and the decision’s been made to push back its release. I’d like to say two things: thank you for all the messages of support, and sorry there’s going to be a delay. I’ll do everything I can to make sure that Prospero Burns is worth the wait.”

I'm a fan of the 'Horus Heresy' series and Dan Abnett's work in general. Illness is never a good thing (whatever form it takes) so I'm glad he's managing it and I hope he continues to do so. Good health is such an important thing, I can wait a while longer for 'Prospero Burns' if that's the payoff.

Monday, 25 January 2010

A post where I talk about comics...

Except I don't talk about here, I talk about it over Here instead. Harry asked me what I thought about comic books and social stigma; if you're a comic book reader then you probably think all this already but it was fun to write... :o)

‘The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Volume 1’ – Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Jesus Redondo, Bryan Talbot (Rebellion)

When I was a lot younger, science fiction (at least the stuff that I saw and read) seemed to be very much about the threat from outer space. If there was anything living out there then more than likely it was holding a ray gun pointed firmly in our direction! That’s a very one sided view though isn’t it (which is reasonable, to an extent, seeing as we don’t know for certain whether we’re alone in the universe or not…)? Who’s to say that there isn’t a planet out there where the inhabitants are wondering just what might come out of that small blue green planet in the night sky…?
Things don’t seem to be too bad these days, we will at least talk to aliens first before we get the big guns out! What would have happened though if that fear and resentment were allowed to grow and fester until inevitable day of first contact? Pat Mills offers us a possible vision of that future with his tales of Nemesis the Warlock…

Tens of thousands of years from now Earth is now Termight, a radioactive wasteland where the inhabitants are forced to live underground in tunnels and vast caverns. Life is cruel as well as hard with any signs of deviancy being rooted out by the sadistic Torquemada and his Terminators. Torquemada’s ultimate ambition is to expand the Terran empire into the stars, purging the galaxy of all alien life regardless of it’s intentions towards Termight. With the Terran populace cowed and alien technology that is no match for the fire power that Torquemada the galaxy has never been a more fearful place to live. There’s only one threat to Torquemada’s ascendancy, the most unlikely hero you will ever meet…

‘The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Volume 1’ collects the first four books in the series, introducing us to the world of Termight and the main players in the struggle that engulfs this world and those beyond. The first couple of stories (‘Terror Tube’ and ‘Killer Watt’) are more about how weird this strange new world of the future is; it’s very weird and Kevin O’Neill’s very detailed art leaves us in no doubt of this. This approach does mean that any story takes a back seat though, this is pure scene setting.

We really get a taste of what the story is all about over the course of the first three books (‘Book 1’, ‘The Alien Alliance’ and ‘The World of Nemesis’) where plots are set in motion and we’re introduced to a far wider cast of characters. The stories themselves are very entertaining and fun to read, again in no small part due to Kevin O’Neill’s evocative artwork (although Jesus Redondo also does a good job when he steps up to the plate) but I found that this was one of those occasions where transferring ‘comic serials’ to a collected format didn’t quite work for me. These tales are very formulaic in their structure, snappy pieces that are designed to come to a conclusion very quickly. This works when you’re picking up a comic every week but in a larger collection I found myself wanting more from them, something that they couldn’t do. I got into the groove of reading short snappy stories but I wanted something with a little more bite to it…
Luckily that’s just what I got with Book Four, ‘The Gothic Empire’… Here’s the book that originally got me interested in Nemesis way back in the day (although it took me a long time before I finally got round to reading it all…) Have you ever wondered where all those radio signals go when they shoot off into space? Is anyone else listening to them? The Gothic race picked up signals from the earliest days of radio and modelled their resulting empire on the greatest one of all. The problem is that if there’s one thing that Torquemada hates more than aliens it’s aliens pretending to be human, Can Nemesis save an entire race from extinction?

I’m not going to tell you how it ends, only that it’s a hell of a ride to the finish line. Here’s a story that breathes the history that I was craving from the earlier books as well as delivering fantastic action sequences. It also draws on the wider universe of 2000AD by roping in the ABC warriors (robots who have only ever known war) to help Nemesis and the Goths. At the risk of repeating myself, Pat Mills’ artwork is superb and Bryan Talbot also weighs in with art that is reminiscent of Victorian England yet utterly alien at the same time. For my money, the collection as a whole is worth it just for this story. ‘The Gothic Empire’ hits the spot on all levels.

One book down, two more to go…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

The 'Where did my Weekend go?' Competition Winner's Post...

Seriously, who stole my weekend? I put it down for a second on Saturday morning, looked up and it was Sunday night... :o( If anyone has seen my weekend lying around anywhere then I'd be very grateful for its safe return. There may or may not be a cash reward...

Anyway, there's no time for me to moan... not when there are competition winners to announce! Thanks to everyone who entered last week, my email inbox felt all warm and loved :o) The lucky winners were...

'Soul Hunter'

Chafic Mekkaoui, Canada
Karen Holsten, Fife, UK
Kriss Logan, Australia
Jani Hujanen, Finland
Stuart Davies, Redditch, UK

'Black and White'

Andy Phillips, Macclesfield, UK
Sue Sales, Pickering, UK
Hollie Marsh, Kent, UK

Well done guys, your books should be on their way even as we speak... :o)

Better luck next time everyone else, why don't you scroll down and see if either of this weekend's competitions take your fancy...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Giveaway! 'Original Sin' (Allison Brennan)

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read books that I wouldn't normally go for so it looks like some 'Paranormal Romance' is back on the menu! Allison Brennan's 'Original Sin' came through the door a couple of days ago so I guess that's as good a place to start as any. Here's the blurb...

Haunted by chilling memories of demonic possession and murder, Moira O’Donnell has spent seven years hunting down her mother, Fiona, whose command of black magic has granted her unprecedented control of the underworld. Now Moira’s global search has led her to a small California town that’s about to become hell on earth.

Tormented by his own terrifying past and driven by powers he can’t explain, ex-seminarian Rafe Cooper joins Moira’s dangerous quest. But Fiona is one devilish step ahead. Hungry for greater power, eternal youth, and stunning beauty, the sorceress is unleashing upon the mortal world the living incarnations of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Together with a demonologist, a tough female sheriff, and a pair of star-crossed teenagers, Moira and Rafe are humanity’s last chance to snatch salvation from the howling jaws of damnation.

Can you feel the romance...? :o) Wish me luck!

In one of those strange twists of fate, I was offered the chance to host a giveaway for this title the following day. I thought to myself... "Why not?" :o)

I've got one copy of 'Original Sin' to give away to one lucky reader (only if you're living in America or Canada though...) To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll take care of the rest!

I'm leaving this one open until the 31st of January and will announce the winner on the 1st of February.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

‘Giveaway!’ ‘Death and Dishonour’ (Black Library)

I’ve been reading a lot of the Black Library’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ fiction but there’s a whole other world out there that I tend to pass over more often than I should. I’m talking about the ‘Warhammer’ world (fantasy based as opposed to sci-fi) where the Empires of Man must not only hold out against the evil on the edges of their borders but that lies within as well...
The Warhammer world is vast with plenty of stories to choose from. The best way to get into a world such as this is a set of short stories that will give you a taster for what the world is all about and what authors you might like to read more of.
How would you fancy winning a copy of that book...?

Thanks to the Black Library, I have five copies of ‘Death and Dishonour’ (a collection of stories set in the Warhammer world) to give away to readers of the blog. This competition is open to everyone by the way, it doesn’t matter where you live!

To enter, 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. That’s all you need to do (other than make it clear that this is the competition you are entering!) I’ll do everything else...

I’ll be leaving this one open until the 31st of January and will announce the winners on the first of February.

Good Luck!

Friday, 22 January 2010

‘Horns’ – Joe Hill (Gollancz)

I hate waking up in the morning after a few drinks the night before. The hang over is the least of my worries, I’m one of those unfortunate people who can remember every single embarrassing thing that they did or said while under the influence and ‘the morning after’ inevitably involves an internal debate over whether I dare show my face outside the house! It could be worse though; I could be one of those people who can’t remember what they did at all, just that it was something really bad. Could it get any worse than that? It can if you’re Ignatius Perrish. Just when you think that life cannot get any worse, Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ paints a stark picture of just how bad things can really get. Like all the best art, ‘Horns’ painted a picture that I just wanted to lose myself in for hours at a time...

Ignatius Perrish has no idea what he got up to last night while very drunk; only that he did terrible things. They must have been terrible if the horns growing out of the top of his head are anything to go by... Ig’s new horns come with powers that will tear the lid off the sleepy town where he grew up; a town that still blames him for the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend and wishes him dead.
With great power comes great responsibility but who should Ig be responsible to? Trying to do the right thing by everyone else never got him anywhere; maybe it’s time to do the right thing by himself...

The plan was originally to read ‘Horns’ on the morning commute and tackle other stuff in the evenings. That was the plan... What actually ended up happening was that everything else was put to one side while I became completely and utterly engrossed in the tragic and horrific tale of Ignatius Perrish.

Joe Hill has a firm grip on the course that he charts for Ig’s slow destruction; keeping the pace constant throughout and doing very well to keep the eventual outcome under wraps until the final pages. There’s only one way that things can really pan out but the nature of Ig’s internal conflict means that the reader can never be quite sure. The only way you’re going to find out is by reading right to the end and Hill makes sure that this is a definite pleasure rather than a chore.

Hill takes great relish in getting right under his character’s skin and peeling it back to show the rotten core that lurks in all of us, a core that we like to pretend isn’t there even though it is. The previously untold confessions that the reader comes across are the real moments of horror in ‘Horns’. The window into people’s souls has never had the curtains drawn so wide onto scenes so disturbing, especially when the confessions come from people you wouldn’t normally look twice at. Ig’s predicament is horrifying enough but these moments hit harder because you know, deep down, that you already have the same kind of thoughts...

Ig is a fascinating character to follow over the course of the plot. Here is a man who has discovered that life has one more cruel trick to play on him (after a series of cruel tricks) but he can use it to play a few tricks of his own. What price his mortal soul though? Does it even matter when life has become so intolerable? These are just a couple of the questions that Ig must answer and I for one was hooked on the way that his character developed as he answered these questions. A compelling picture is painted of a man who has hit rock bottom, only to have the rug pulled from under his feet and to fall even further. Hill is not afraid to throw everything he can lay his hands on at Ig; revelations towards the end of the book cast everything in a new light and really had me feeling for him! Despite everything that he goes through, Ig’s essential humanity shines through in direct conflict with what he is becoming (which made Ig’s final decision a little hard to believe...) and we learn that justice isn’t just for the wicked. Everyone is deserving of something and it makes for some good reading seeing how people get what they deserve...

Lee Tourneau is the man who personifies everything that has gone wrong in Ig’s life and whom Ig must face if his life is to progress in any way at all. Tourneau is another compelling character in his remorseless lack of empathy and thought processes that defy normal logic. Along with a natural charm, Tourneau not only represents a big obstacle to Ig but also manages to shape his life in the process. The easy way in which it happens makes things all the more chilling but, at the same time, Hill challenges us not to feel any sympathy for Tourneau at the same time. Even a rampant sociopath can act the way he does because he genuinely misread a situation and the flashback to the moment where Tourneau becomes the person he is... He may be a bastard but he didn’t have much choice in the matter and the moment of ‘childhood innocence lost’ is a sharp and intense one.

If there was one moment where I personally felt that Joe Hill dropped the ball it’s when he chooses to reveal how Ig came to have the powers that he does. Part of what really made the book work for me is that was no explanation to begin with; it’s all about what Ig does next and the fact that you don’t know what gave him his powers adds to the tension and mystique. Finding out so late in the day felt like an anti-climax to me, especially as there wasn’t a lot of time left to tie this revelation back into the story itself (although it does add an interesting new slant on an earlier event). I was left wondering if this was something that the reader actually needed to know...

However, because this niggle came so late in the day it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book as a whole as I’d had so much fun up to that point. It’s great to read a book so early in the year that sets the bar for others to follow; ‘Horns’ is one of those books. Gollancz will be publishing it next month, not sure about the US release dates though...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Free Reading! Chapter One of Peter Straub's 'A Dark Matter'

But only if you're on Facebook (which you probably are!)... Click Here to have a read.

Here's the blurb for the book...

The charismatic and cunning Spenser Mallon is a campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes. After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body—and the shattered souls of all who were present.

Years later, one man attempts to understand what happened to his wife and to his friends by writing a book about this horrible night, and it’s through this process that they begin to examine the unspeakable events that have bound them in ways they cannot fathom, but that have haunted every one of them through their lives. As each of the old friends tries to come to grips with the darkness of the past, they find themselves face-to-face with the evil triggered so many years earlier. Unfolding through the individual stories of the fated group’s members, A Dark Matter is an electric, chilling, and unpredictable novel that will satisfy Peter Straub's many ardent fans, and win him legions more.

I want to include more horror on the blog so I might just give this one a go...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

‘Muse and Reverie’ – Charles de Lint (Tor)

There’s something about the winter months that seem to draw me towards Charles de Lint’s latest work. Of course, this could simply be a case of the publication schedule coinciding with my desire to read away a rotten day outside, there’s nothing like reading a good book indoors when the weather’s bad! I guess that’s part of it but I don’t tend to read to publication schedules though (I wish I had the time!) My reading Charles de Lint in the winter months is more about knowing that, for me, his books are a lovely warm read that will balance out the chill of the air outside.

It’s no surprise then that the end of January (and some bitterly cold winter days) have seen me pick up de Lint’s latest collection for a read. Not all of the stories did it for me but then I wasn’t really expecting all of them to blow me away in any case. In any collection I find there’s always a couple of stories that don’t do the business for one reason for another.

Despite this though, the bottom line is that Charles de Lint has delivered another collection full of the magic that only he can conjure up. If you’re like me, not all of the stories will be to your taste but there’s more than enough there to keep you reading. De Lint looks at old fairy tale themes of redemption, courage and honour (love as well, there’s always love...) and effortlessly brings them into a modern setting by introducing us to well drawn characters facing dilemmas that only a brush with the otherworld can cure. The city of Newford itself is a spectacular setting in this respect, a city that’s as ordinary as the one you live in but with that hint of magic in the air that makes turning the next corner a real adventure. I’m also a fan of the gentle tone that de Lint uses when he tells his stories. Not only does it reinforce the fact that these are modern day fairy tales but this tone also serves to make the dark moments even darker when they arrive. You’re lulled into a false sense of security and before you know it you’re in the middle of darkness that you never knew was round the corner...

I never quite know how to tackle short story collections in terms of a review. Sometimes I’ll go for general impressions, and single out stories that caught my eye, but this time I thought it might be cool to go through the whole list and give short thoughts on each story. Here goes...

‘Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box’
This story of a girl coming into contact with the otherworld, through a paint box, does a good job of setting the magical tone for the rest of the book but I found it to be a little too predictable in it’s outcome. Having said that though, it does well to show how you can compromise between the real world and the imaginary, having both at the same time. Maybe not the best story to open the book on...

Do you ever find yourself getting into something far too much? In Newford, that kind of attitude can yield unexpected results but can also help you sort through issues that seemed far too complicated before. I liked the humour in this one and as a frustrated writer (on occasion) completely identified with characters that can come to life, from the page, and put a spanner in the works. I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Refinerytown’ become a series of it’s own but that’s unlikely to happen... :o(

‘A Crow Girls Christmas’
Here’s a story that is full of the best kind of humour, the sort that you can only find in two people having the time of their lives and not giving a damn about anything else. It’s a shame then that I had the feeling that I should have read a lot more of de Lint’s work to really get what the Crow Girls were all about... One for long time fans I think, this one might not be for first time readers if my reaction was anything to go by.

‘Dark Eyes, Faith and Devotion’
A cab driver working in Newford must have a thousand stories to tell (could that be a theme for another collection?) and this is one of them. Our hero finds himself helping out on a kidnapping quite unlike any other... Magic and reality clash in a front room and de Lint deftly shows how quick thinking can outwit the strongest magic of all. ‘Dark Eyes’ is also a detailed portrait of a former criminal with a kind heart, a character that I was more than happy to spend a few minutes with. A favourite of mine.

‘Riding Shotgun’
If you could go back in time, would you change your own history? Should you change it? That is the theme of this story where a man’s attempts to stop his younger brother dying show that sometimes the past is best left as it is, or is it? Sometimes the path to redemption has lots of unexpected twists and turns and this makes ‘Riding Shotgun’ such an interesting read. I loved the way that everything came together to form an ending that’s bittersweet yet full of promise for the future. One of the better stories in this collection.

'Sweet Forget-Me-Not’
Here’s one for anyone who’s ever been bullied and wished that everything would magically get better. It’s also a tale of heart break and hope that kept me hanging even though I knew how it had to end. I didn’t have a tear in my eye! Well, maybe a little one...

‘That was Radio Clash’
I didn’t get this one, I have to say. I liked the method of time travel but I wasn’t sure what the actual point of it was. A possible problem here was that certain characters weren’t sure either and that uncertainty bled off the page. Having said that though, I’m not put off completely and would go back for a second read at least.

‘The Butter Spirit’s Tithe’
I love tales where human ingenuity gets the better of otherworldly creatures and ‘The Butter Spirit’s Tithe’ is full of this. ‘The Butter Spirit’ is a tale that demands your attention (the stakes are high) and promises a payoff that it delivers in style. I wanted to high five our hero by the end!

‘Da Slockit Light’
This story bugged me in the same way that the opening story did. Lovely setting and tone but a little too predictable for my liking. Everything seemed to fall into place a little too easily and real life isn’t like that. Fairytales maybe but not real life. This is a fine line to draw, when you’re writing about both at once, and ‘Da Slockit Light’ couldn’t maintain the balance.

‘The Hour Before Dawn’
People with magical powers can sometimes spend their whole lives helping everyone except the one person who really needs it. ‘The Hour Before Dawn’ sees the tables being turned in a gentle yet very effective way; it also gently reminds us that we shouldn’t judge people by what we see at first glance and has an ending like a flower about to blossom. Lovely stuff.

‘Newford Spook Squad’
I don’t read enough ‘Hellboy’ so it was a nice surprise to open this book and find a story about the big guy! De Lint handles the character well by adopting the novel approach of putting him in the background and letting his presence do the talking for him. The focus instead lies on the man in charge of the newly formed ‘Spook Squad’, a man who denies the supernatural for very good reason. The journey through the sewers is actually Sam Cray’s journey towards revelation and new found purpose. Not only is it very well done but you also get to see Hellboy take on a Kraken; you can’t lose!

‘In Sight’
Chance meetings can give rise to many things, especially in Newford. For me, the payoff was inspiring but this story was all about the conversation between the two lead characters. Talk about opening a window into the soul... ‘In Sight’ was a story that stayed with me a long time after finishing it.

‘The World in a Box’
Absolute power doesn’t corrupt so much as it makes everything a whole lot more complicated than when you started... Sometimes it’s far easier to take a step back, and then keep walking! ‘The World in a Box’ isn’t so much about the magic as it is about one man’s attempts to sort his life out using magic. The lesson is a little too heavy handed for my liking but the characters are so well drawn that I had to see how they ended up! A great way to bring the curtain down on the collection.

‘Muse and Reverie’ is a mixture of stories that work and ones that just fail to hit the mark. As a whole though, this book is well worth the read.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

'The Goon' on iTunes!

'Chinatown' is one of the best graphic novels that I've ever read so this is great news for anyone looking to check out 'The Goon' for the first time. I highly recommend it!

From the email...

JANUARY 20, MILWAUKIE, OR—Fans and critics alike rejoiced in 2008, when creator Eric Powell took his redneck zombie noir, The Goon, monthly for an entire calendar year. Following the release of the landmark graphic novel Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker, Powell laid out his most complex story line to date, spanning twelve issues. In 2009, the creator celebrated the tenth anniversary of the title, releasing a special anniversary issue to coincide with a burlesque anniversary party in his honor in Nashville, followed by a special all-silent issue in November. While both were strong standalone issues, the significantly lighter release schedule left fans wondering what’s next for the madcap mercenary.

Now, The Goon goes digital, as both Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker and The Goon #7, which features Hellboy, are made available on the iPhone platform. Chinatown marks Powell’s first self-contained graphic novel, which chronicles the earliest adventures of Goon and his wisecracking sidekick, Franky. After a new figure in the crime scene begins taking out the Goon’s business operations one by one, the Goon’s darkest moment comes back to haunt him, when his mind and body were left scarred . . . and his heart was left black. This new platform promises to expose an all-new readership to comics’ most beloved brute.

Not to worry, however: longtime fans will be rewarded with an all-new spinoff title based around Goon Year’s most notable character, Buzzard. Eric Powell gives one of his most beloved and mysterious characters his own highly anticipated, three-issue miniseries.

Following his brutal showdown with the loathsome Zombie Priest, Buzzard leaves his home, wandering aimlessly until he steps into the shadowy spirit realm of the forest. A dark path leads him to a small village living in fear of a bestial race of savages. More animal than man, these creatures hunt the villagers and drag them from their slumber in the depth of night.

“Buzzard has always been a personal favorite of mine from the Goon cast, and from the amount of requests I’ve gotten to give him his own series, I imagine he’s a favorite of the readers as well,” said Goon creator Eric Powell. “I’m really excited to finally be giving him his own story, along with the revival of Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities!”

For those who missed Goon Year, Dark Horse will be giving this twelve-issue story line the deluxe treatment with the release of Fancy Pants Edition Volume 3: Goon Year on July seventh. Powell’s all-new Buzzard series will arrive on shelves later this fall.

Look for news forthcoming on the return of the Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities short stories—a revival of the series from 2005 that paired Eric Powell with artist Kyle Hotz. The three-issue series will launch later this year.

Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker is available for download today in the iTunes store. For a limited time, this heart-wrenching story is available for the sale price of 1.99. In addition, the celebrated one-shot The Goon #7 is available for free download for the next three days.

Like I said, it's well worth a look :o)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Graeme’s Retro-Classics! ‘The Robocop Trilogy’

Or, should I say, the first two ‘Robocop’ films...?

The original ‘Robocop’ was a searing look at big business gone mad in an America of the future; an America where a man’s life was nothing compared to the figures on the company spreadsheets. A message that was heavy handed but nevertheless relevant. I was twelve though and none of that actually mattered. What I was up for was ninety odd minutes of criminals being blown away by a cyborg cop! Is there anything cooler than that? No, I didn’t think so either... :o)

For someone who’d spent years waiting for the ‘next Star Wars’ to come along (and was still to see ‘Terminator’ or ‘Predator’) ‘Robocop’ was the film I’d been waiting for. The cops were cool, even the criminals were cool (‘Can you fly Bobby...?’) and the real villains were the ones in the board room. Definitely one of those videos where if I’d watched it one more time the tape would have snapped!

‘Robocop 2’ was more of the same but even more so. This sequel had a tendency to veer towards the cartoonish (the special effects weren’t quite up to scratch on Robocop 2 itself) but the amount of firepower on display was more than enough to keep me happy as a blood thirsty fifteen year old. That summer was all about renting ‘Robocop 2’ out from a video store where they didn’t care how old you were! :o)

And then came Robocop 3...

I saw this on a film night at college, one of those nights where it only costs a pound to see a film and you think you can’t go wrong. Can you? Well, apparently you can...

‘Robocop 3’ was an attempt to make the franchise a little more accessible to the kids that did this by taking everything that was good about the first two films and chucking it right out of the window. What you were left with was a feisty little girl heroine who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the film, a toothless Robocop and a sickly sweet message about regular people standing up to big business. Cyborg ninjas are always cool though! :o)

I don’t know what’s going on with the ‘Robocop reboot’ but I’m hoping that it’ll be more about the first two films than the third. Happy childhood memories marred by a final film that was just childish...

P.S. My wife watched all three films with me over the course of last Sunday. She wasn't impressed... Her verdict? "These films really do desensitize you to violence don't they? After having to sit through all of that I want to go out and shoot something now!"

Just wait until she watches 'Predator' and 'Predator 2'... :o)

Author News!

It seems like only yesterday that I was moaning about horror being under-represented in the blogs I frequent (actually, it was only yesterday...) so it's great to be able to redress the balance a little bit with news of two authors whom I think are worth checking out...

Gary McMahon signs for Angry Robot!

Gary McMahon’s Pretty Little Dead Things and its sequel promise an astonishing mix of David Peace and modern Japanese horror cinema to create a truly unique fusion of intense writing and sheer terror.

Marc Gascoigne, Angry Robot’s publishing director, said: “Horror thrives in movies and graphic novels. Like our other recent discovery, Kaaron Warren, Gary is at the forefront of a new generation of writers bringing that energy back to horror fiction.”

McMahon added: “Working with the Angry Robot family, it feels as if I’m participating in something fresh and vital. Exciting times lie ahead.”

Pretty Little Dead Things will be published in the UK and Australia this July, and in the US (also by Angry Robot) in winter 2010. Its sequel, Dead Bad Things, follows in the Spring of 2011, with US publication shortly thereafter.

I loved Gary McMahon's 'Hungry Hearts' (Read my review Here) and am looking forward to 'Pretty Little Dead Things' on the strength of this.

Brian Evenson's Last Days Selected as Best Horror Novel of 2009 by Reference User and Services Association

Brian Evenson's Last Days, published by Underland Press, has been selected as part of the Reference User and Services Association's 2010 Reading List.

The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (which includes suspense, thriller, and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction, and is selected by the association's Reading List Council, composed of members representing libraries across the United States.

The association praised Last Days in a statement released this week: "Through spare language, a noir sensibility, and macabre humor, Evenson crafts a compulsively readable nightmare..."

I'm biased but I'm still going to say that I think 'Last Days' is a book that deserves to do well in any list that it's nominated for. If you'd like to read my review for 'Last Days' just click Here and you can also read my interview with Brian Evenson Here.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ – Seamus Cooper (Nightshade Books)

Sometimes a book title hits the nail squarely on the head in terms of it catching my eye and getting me to pick it up straight away. It could be a book about... well... anything. If the title does it’s job properly then it doesn’t matter, I’m up for giving it a few pages at least! ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ is one of those titles; a title that works if you have a passing knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft or even if you just like the sound of an octopus headed monster (with a weird name) turning up in a shopping mall.
Happily enough, I fall into both of these categories (I’m also a person who secretly hopes for a ‘Godzilla/Cthulhu Faceoff’ in the River Thames by my office, could liven things up a bit around here...) so one look at the title and I was hooked on the idea of giving this book a go. I had an issue with the structure of the novel but one thing that I couldn’t complain about was the amount of fun I had reading this one...

Laura and Ted’s unlikely friendship arose from an even more unlikely source. Ten years ago, Ted rescued fellow college student Laura from certain death (undeath?) at the hands of a vampire sorority and hasn’t left her side since. These days Laura can be found working for the FBI (although it’s not what she was expecting) while Ted works at the coffee shop across the street (it is exactly what he was expecting, although he has perfected the ultimate latte...) All that is about to change though when Ted unwittingly stumbles on a plot to resurrect the dread god Cthulhu in a Providence mall. Ted and Laura have to take action and do so in style on a mission that will take in the sights of Boston, Providence and sunken R’lyeh itself. Nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake here...

‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ is many things. It’s a horror novel that takes the time to be unexpectedly funny as well. It’s a fast paced tale of adventure that’s also a wry commentary on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a novel of conspiracies at the highest level. It’s an examination of an interdependent relationship born out of violent trauma. The problem is though, ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ is only a mere two hundred and thirty five pages long...

What this essentially means is that ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ is a book that wants to be many things but doesn’t give itself the space to do any of them as effectively as it could. The hints you get are delicious (more on that in a bit) but left me wanting more instead of being fully sated. I don’t know if this is the first book in a series; if it is then that might just explain a few things and ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ could well be a book that improves in the reading once it’s part of a larger picture. What I was left with though was a book that promised lots more... but wouldn’t let me at it! Maybe if the book had concentrated on one or two areas, to the exclusion of others, things would have felt a little more coherent. Either that or a couple of hundred pages extra would have worked just as nicely!

Like I said, all of that isn’t to say that what you do get isn’t worth the time. It really is. The structure of the book may be a little ‘patchy’ but the payoff here is that you get a narrative which throws the reader straight into a plot that maintains a fast moving tempo throughout. Something is always happening and deft use of ‘the cliff hanger’ means that there is always a good reason to keep the pages turning. ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ mixes police procedural and chilling supernatural terror very well in this respect.

There’s plenty of humour to be found although it was more of the ‘chuckle’ rather than ‘laugh out loud’ kind. Ted trying to wake Cthulhu itself was the ‘laugh out loud’ exception! The humour also serves to highlight just how ‘wrong’ the Lovecraftian moments are; in a supernatural sense as well as other ways...

‘It’s kinda convenient that so much of this stuff is unknowably indescribable, isn’t it? I mean, it really saves him [H.P. Lovecraft] from having to imagine something and then describe it. So basically we have no idea what to look for.’

Cooper leaves his reader in no doubt that he’s a Lovecraft fan who can see the faults as well!

‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ is one hell of a lot of fun, there’s no denying it. I just couldn’t help thinking that if it hadn’t tried to be too many things then it could have been even better...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

New Blogs on the Blogroll...

First things first, I'm shamelessly stealing this idea from Aidan who totally got there first. It's a great idea though and an alternative that's far easier on the eye than going through my blogroll trying to work out what's new and what isn't... ;o)
If it's on my blogroll then it's worth your time reading it (except if I forgot to put a great blog on my blogroll then... it's still worth your time!) so here goes...

'Floor to Ceiling Books'

Here's someone who could almost be me, diving into a book to get away from the tedium of the day job. Amanda isn't just about books though (although her posts for January suggest otherwise...) and also talks about 'Buffy' as well as publishing and her thoughts on the interaction between authors and their readers. Check out Amanda's blog over Here.

'The Speculative Scotsman'

I love a blog where you feel like you've been reading it forever even though it's only just kicked off. That's the deal with N. R. Alexander's blog, a guy who not only says it exactly how it is but already has a blog full of content that you just have to read. Again, this blog isn't just about books as it takes in games and movies too. And horror is on the agenda, something that is a little under-represented in the blogs that I frequent. Hopefully Mr Alexander is going to be around for the long haul! Check out his blog over Here.

'Stomping on Yeti'

I'm a sucker for a blog with a cool name and 'Stomping on Yeti' is possibly one of the coolest names I've come across so far :o) I haven't seen any sign of real 'Yeti Stompage' though (not even a toy Hoth Wampa under booted foot...) but I'm sure that will be happening soon. Please let it happen...!
What you do get though is a guy who really knows what he's on about with detailed book reviews, commentary on covers and news. He's also not afraid to let you know what he hates about your blog. I'm suitably chastised and will do better! Check out Patrick's blog over Here.

That's all the new blogs on the blogroll for now, what am I missing that needs to be there as well? I'm talking sci-fi/fantasy/horror review stuff naturally :o)
Comments please!

Monday, 18 January 2010

The 'Slightly Late' Monday Morning Competition Winner's Post!

Slightly late... Not only did the Aaron Dembski-Bowden interview take pride of place today (scroll down and have a read!) but my system is currently being propped up by coffee and not much else. I want to sleep...
Enough of that though! This post is all about who won last week's competitions after all. Those lucky people are...

'The Golden City' (John Twelve Hawks)

Mystica Varathapalan, Sri Lanka
Rick Fennelly, Maine, USA
Thomas Anderegg, Switzerland

'The Judging Eye' (R. Scott Bakker)

Jan Wroblewski, London
Peta Banks, Norwich, UK
Marie Tetley, Bognor Regis, UK

Well done guys, your books are on their way even as we speak!
Better luck next time everyone else, scroll down a bit and see if you fancy your chances at either of this weekend's competitions...

Author Interview! Aaron Dembski-Bowden

In one of those strange twists of fate, my Year's Resolution to include more interviews on the blog came at roughly the same time as reading 'Soul Hunter' and thinking that I wouldn't mind asking Aaron Dembski-Bowden a couple of questions. Thanks go to Aaron who got the answers back to me in double quick time! Here they are (and they're good)...

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

S’cool. I charge by the word. You know that, right?

Your author bio says that you’re a big fan of Warhammer 40,000 so I have to ask, when writing your books do you use Space Marine figures to act out the scenes? I would...

Don’t give me ideas. I have enough trouble trying to grow up as it is. I do have a squad of unpainted converted scouts on my desk right now, and when my mouse cord inevitably knocks them over three times a day, I do their voices as they go flying. “Officer down!” “Medic!” “Argh, my fucking pancreas!”

I’m 29 years old, by the way. My parents aren’t proud of the fact I still think ThunderCats is rad.

Thundercats are cool, no question about it. Your hobbies also include helping people spell your surname correctly; I have a similar issue with people who flat out refuse to spell my first name correctly (it’s not hard people!) What methods do you have for dealing with persistent offenders...?

I’d like to say I have some tried and tested technique that helps people get it right after a while, but that’d be a lie. I’ve perfected the art of sneering at them, though.

Do you have a Warhammer 40,000 army? If so, how successful are they?

I did have one (shock horror, Space Marines) but they did nothing except suck and die. We could blame my skills as a general. I mean, we could, but we won’t. Let’s blame every other guy for cheating, instead.

Me, my fiancĂ©e Katie, a few of our friends, and Salamander author Nick Kyme have vague plans for 40K weekends once in a while (read: an excuse to get drunk) at our place in the wilderness of Northern Ireland, and for that I’m trying to raise a Black Legion force. But really, my painting skills haven’t evolved since I first laid siege to my copy of Space Crusade as a kid, and destroyed all the models with thick coats of primary colours.

While I understood on some level that mixing the three primary colours could somehow make every other colour in the visual spectrum, this was like some alien lore that never actually bore fruit. Everything I did made brown, so it was either sticking to red, blue and yellow – or making stuff brown.

My genestealers were unshaded, unhighlighted, and a delicious full-body lemon yellow. They had brown eyes, which was my nod towards making them masterpieces. If that’s not appealing, I simply don’t know what is.

There are a lot of authors writing in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, how do you all decide which Space Marine Chapters you will write about? Is it something that authors can choose or do Black Library make the decisions here?

We choose that stuff. The obvious exception is when someone else already has a recent claim to a specific faction. F’rex, if I wanted to do something about the Ultramarines (and I don’t; the only thing I do want to do to them is kill them all) I’d have to fight Graham McNeill in the Thunderdome. They’re his babies, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d totally win. He’d stick to notions of honour and nobility, and expect me to do the same. I’d actually stab him in the throat with a broken bottle while he was still bowing at the start of the match.

That’s how I roll. That’s how legends are made.

One thing that I’ve often wondered about tie-in fiction is how restrictive authors find it writing in a universe where endings to a story are often out of their control (I’m thinking Star Wars here). Is this the case with the Black Library? Past events in the Warhammer universe are pretty much set in stone but do the ‘present day’ books form a larger arc going forward?

This is a pretty tough question to answer. Bear in mind that the past events ‘set in stone’ are – let’s be honest – often little more than minor mentions in pretty ancient source material. I’ve come to the Black Library with an immense love for 40K’s lore and all the source material, but I’m not blind to what it is, y’know? It’s not utterly holy and sacred stuff that must never be changed or retconned: the fact is, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense in the context of a story, or even consistent realism within its own universe. Stuff changes all the time, and it’s a nightmare.

I stick to the lore whenever I can because I love it, because it’s great, and because that’s my job as a hired gun for the 40K license. But there are plenty of moments that you take a step back from a paragraph in some forgotten codex and think: “This is clearly just a quick mention by a game designer who didn’t reeeeally care if it would make a good story or novel.”

And that’s cool. They’re game designers, after all, not veterans of writing a thousand novel synopses. They made a universe that I’ve loved for 20 years, and I like to play in that sandpit 99% of the time. But I don’t think it’s black-souled heresy to change 1% in the name of a better story. I’d never do it for a quick fix, but sometimes you have to. Otherwise, it’ll be dated/senseless/silly/lame/worthless in a novel.

The great thing about 40K is that no one, not a single person, sees the universe and its themes in exactly the same way as anyone else. If I ever wrote about the Space Wolves and Ragnar Blackmane, they’d be nothing like Bill King’s or Mike Lee’s. That doesn’t make me right, or those guys wrong. It’s just the nature of 40K.

With the greatest respect, some fans never get that. A story can be beautifully-written, but because it doesn’t match what they’d expect from a faction, they call it out as crap. I can understand their frustrations as a reader myself, when Author X zigged instead of zagged on my favourite factions, but I recognise the writer’s right to run with whatever he wants to run with. He sees it that way, I don’t, end of story.

‘The Horus Heresy’ series is the Black Library’s flagship series right now, are we going to see a ‘Horus Heresy’ novel from yourself at some point in the future (especially having just written a book about the Night Lords)? If you were to write a book, how would it feel using characters that you’ve already written about ten thousand years down the line...?

I’m almost halfway through my first Horus Heresy novel. It’s called The First Heretic, and it’s about... the first heretic.

I wouldn’t use characters from 40K in a 30K book; at least, not ones of my own making. I think that’s crass and lame. I wouldn’t mind inferring their presence, but actually naming them? Giving them some “LOOK AT ME” dialogue? I don’t see that as a DVD Easter egg or anything. I find it sort of tacky.

The Horus Heresy series doesn’t need to ‘join up’ perfectly with the universe as presented 10,000 years later. The entire drive behind 40K is that it’s a future history of stuff that’s been forgotten, misunderstood, altered and corrupted by a dozen species with staggeringly different outlooks and their own versions of things. And in each of those species, especially humanity, you have squillions of factions that see history in their own ways, too.

(Random sidenote: It could be argued that this is an excuse for authorial laziness, right? That you can do no research and make mistakes that can be blamed on “Uh... different lore”. That’s a pretty vicious argument, though. It also misses the point of the setting by nine thousand miles. If everything added up, it would suck, and there’s a difference between realistic interpretation and simply making a mistake. Interpret all you like, so long as it’s interesting, consistent with the universe, and benefits the lore. Don’t use it as a cover for errors, though. That’s not cool.)

Re: the Night Lords of 30K and 40K, one of the great things about a Chaos series is that most of your characters were there in the Horus Heresy anyway, so you can have your cake and eat it. I can write about all the awesome ancient stuff without needing to force it into an actual Horus Heresy book. The Heresy has its own jazz already, and there’s plenty for us there to write about.

The Nightlords live in perpetual darkness, did you ever find yourself turning off all the lights in the house while you were writing (just to get into character)?

Nope. I have quite severe Nyctophobia, actually. I’d say something funny about it, but I’m reaching the point now where I’m considering therapy to get rid of it. It can be incapacitating.

One of the things that’ll get more and more attention as the Night Lords series goes on is what it’s like to live in a place where light is a sin, and you have to grow used to the darkness, or go insane. Learn to focus on other senses and maintain compensating technology, or dwell in senseless nothingness. I think that’s a pretty powerful theme, and something all the Legion’s serfs and slaves have to overcome.

What influenced your decision to write about the forces of Chaos instead of the forces of the Emperor or the Xenos races?

Because Chaos is awesome. Duh.

Essentially, Chaos is relatively unexplored, and there’s so much you can do with it. With Astartes fiction, I’ve always been most interested in how they relate to humans (and vice versa). Where Chaos Astartes are concerned, the appeal is magnified. All the eerie inhumanity of Astartes, plus the unnatural madness of Chaos. How do people deal with that stuff? How do the Astartes and their human allies survive? How do they fight their wars? How do they win?

Those are the kinds of questions I care about.

If you had command of your own Space Marine Chapter for one day, what organisation (that really gets your goat) would you choose to bring into ‘compliance’?

The Inland Revenue. Filling out self-employment tax forms is like punishment from some soul-sucking hell realm of accountancy. I hate, hate, hate it.

“Tax needn’t be taxing”, they say. It needn’t be? Oh, but it is, my number-crunching friends. It really is.

Finally, why should ‘Soul Hunter’ be the book that anyone checking out Warhammer 40,000 fiction pick up first?

Because Jon Sullivan has done the single greatest cover in the history of the Black Library. And because the book’s really, really good. But mostly, because of the cover.

Thanks for your time, I really appreciate it!

You’re welcome. Now leave me alone, I’m going to play Left 4 Dead 2.

And there you have it! While you're here, have a look at my reviews for 'Cadian Blood' and, if you haven't read it already, 'Soul Hunter'...

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Giveaway! 'Black and White' (Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge)

Thanks to Piatkus Books I have three copies of 'Black and White' to give away (only to people in the UK though...) to three lucky readers of this very blog. You want in? Keep reading.

Entering is as simple as sending me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is as well as making it clear that this is the competition you are entering. In fact, that's all you need to do!

I'm leaving this one open until the 24th of January and will announce the winners on the 25th...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Giveaway! 'Soul Hunter' (Aaron Dembski-Bowden)

If you scroll down the page a little bit you'll see how much I loved this latest slice of Warhammer 40,000 fiction :o) I'm all about spreading the love here and, luckily, so are the Black Library...

I have five copies of 'Soul Hunter' to give away to five lucky winners. This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live! All you need to do to enter is merely 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 header that this is the competition you are entering. That's it! I'll do everything else...

I'm leaving this one open until the 24th of January and will announce the winners on the 25th...

Good Luck!

P.S. If you're a fan, or just fancy seeing what Aaron has to say for himself, stop by on Monday when I'll be posting my interview with him.

Friday, 15 January 2010

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ – Ari Marmell (Spectra)

At the back end of last year I was having real trouble getting into any books at all. I’m glad to say that’s all over now (which is a relief for me!) but it was a really strange feeling for a while...
Going by the blurb, Ari Marmell’s ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ seemed like a nice light read that would get me over the bump and back into other stuff; just the book for a fun (and light) Christmas read. As it turned out, ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ turned out to be just that and a book that I’d recommend to readers of this blog. That’s not to say that there weren’t any problems though...

Corvis Rebaine has a dark secret that he keeps from everyone in the small village where he lives, even his own children. Only seventeen years ago Rebaine’s army cut a bloody swathe across the land of Imphallion, inexplicably bottling themselves up in the capital city and fragmenting just when victory seemed assured.
These are new times though and a new evil is arising to launch an attack on Imphallion. Rebaine is happy with his quiet life and is willing to let events play out so long as they don’t affect him and his family. A brutal assault on his daughter soon changes his mind...
Now Rebaine will find himself going up a new Dark Lord in a battle that will determine the fate of a country. He can’t do it all by himself though and will need the help of his former allies. When one of them would rather see Rebaine dead, and another is working for the enemy, things start to get really interesting...

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ is one of those happy finds that I find myself picking up quite by chance and enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would. That’s not to say it’s without any issues though. The blurb at the front of the book makes mentions of comparisons to David Edding’s work and this is apparent in the level of sarcasm and playful wit that characters level at each other over the course of the plot. I’m always up for some of this attitude in any book and, to begin with, it works very well. I found myself chuckling at the idea of a former Dark Lord getting nagged by his wife and similar humour had me smiling at other points as well. As the book went on though, it all started to feel a little too much when every character ended up adopting those very same sarcastic traits. Too much of a good thing ends up not really being a good thing at all and it got to the point where I found myself double checking names just to see which character was talking...
Everything seemed to come together at the end (and Marmell does very well to spring a few surprises on us along the way) but I was left wondering if it all fitted as well as it could have done. That’s not to say that there were any gaping plot holes but things somehow felt forced into a resolution rather than being allowed to flow naturally.

Despite these issues though, ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ remains a thoroughly entertaining read that kept me reading until there was nothing left to read. Marmell adopts a ‘David Gemmellesque’ approach to the story, combining moments of introspection with thrilling scenes of combat that keep the plot moving forward at a very fast (yet smooth) pace. The introspective scenes are very much along the ‘What does it really mean to be a hero?’ and ‘If I do the wrong thing for the right reasons then am I really doing the right thing?’ kind of line. Nothing that you haven’t seen before but Marmell’s deft characterisation keeps you interested in the eventual answers to these questions. All of Marmell’s characters may possess the same ‘Extremely Sarcastic’ gene but they’re all very much people (even the two Dark Lords) and I was left in no doubt as to exactly what it meant for these people to be in the situations they were in. I really came to identify with Rebaine by the end of the book and look forward to the promised sequel. The funny thing was though that I ended up identifying with Rebaine’s nemesis Audriss as well and that’s one of the great things about Marmell’s work; you get to see it from every angle.

Marmell also proves equally adept at giving us scenes of battle that really get the blood pounding. Whether it’s two Dark Lords going at one another or two armies coming together in pitched battle, Marmell keeps it really personal and throws his reader in right at the heart of things. You can almost feel shields splinter under the blow of a sword or mace! Marmell is also fond of throwing things off course when the mood takes him. Anything can happen and that’s one of the many things that kept me reading.

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ has its issues but overcomes these to become a book that any fan of epic fantasy will get a lot out of. Like I said, there’s a sequel promised and I’m looking forward to it. Look out for ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ at the end of February/beginning of March.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten