Monday, 31 May 2010

Giveaway! 'The Folding Knife' (K.J.Parker)

I wasn't too keen on 'The Company' but there's something about K.J. Parker that has always intrigued me. It might be the blurbs for his work, it might be the fact that no-one knows who he is. I could be sat right next to him now and I'd never know...

Whatever the reason, I'll be giving 'The Folding Knife' a go at some point soon and thanks to Orbit three other readers will be able to do exactly the same (only if they're from the UK though...)
Here's the blurb,

Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. Basso the Murderer. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning and, above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he's only ever made one mistake. One mistake, though, can be enough.

If yo ufancy your chances at winning a copy, 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. Remember to make it clear in the header that this is the competition you want to enter... I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 6th of June and will endeavour to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Giveaway! 'Starcraft II: Heaven's Devils' (William C. Dietz)

Thanks to the nice people at Sneak Attack Media, I've got five copies of William C. Dietz' 'Heaven's Devils' to give away on the blog. I reckon this could be just the thing for you if you're a fan of 'Starcraft', I'll be giving it a go at some point soon and will let you know what I think...
Oh yes, before I forget... This competition is only open for those people living in the US and Canada only, sorry about that everyone else...

If you're still with us, here's the blurb...

For the poor, hardworking citizens of the Confederacy's fringe worlds, the Guild Wars have exacted a huge toll. Swayed by the promise of financial rewards, a new batch of recruits joins the fight alongside a slew of mysteriously docile criminals -- and a few dubious military leaders. Eighteen-year-old Jim Raynor, full of testosterone and eager to make things right at home, ships off to boot camp and finds his footing on the battlefield, but he soon discovers that the official mission is not what he's really fighting for.

For the first time ever, StarCraft enthusiasts will learn the origins of the enduring friendship between the young upstart Jim Raynor and the streetwise soldier Tychus Findlay. Watch as they battle on the front lines of a fierce interplanetary war and bear witness to the Confederacy's rank corruption -- corruption so reprehensible that it rains immeasurable death and destruction upon the government's own people.

Sound good? All you need to do to enter is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. You also need to make it clear in the subject header that this is the competition that you're entering. That's all you need to do! I'll do the rest...

I'll let this one run until the 6th of June and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

PS... Go Here for a PDF excerpt from the book. Have a click right Here for the audio excerpt :o)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Giveaway! 'Feed' - Mira Grant

It's the Bank Holiday Weekend over here which means that (if the car is working...) I'm going to be driving hither and yon doing all the nice things that work gets in the way of. If the car isn't working then nappy changing is still very much on the agenda these days...
Either way, I don't have a lot of time for blogging this weekend so... the Bank Holiday competitions were born! :o)

To be fair, the only real difference to the competitions I run normally is that these are happening on a Bank Holiday weekend but... free books, right? ;o)

First up is Mira Grant's 'Feed', a rather handy looking zombie novel that I'm probably reading while you're reading this. Here's the blurb...

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.

Sounds good doesn't it? Well, thanks to Orbit I have three copies to give away to three lucky readers of the blog. The thing is though, only UK readers can enter...

If you're still reading then what you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Make it clear in the subject header that this is the competition you are entering!

I'll let this one run until the 6th of June and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 28 May 2010

What I've realized about my reading in 2010 (so far)....

Adam did it first, then Amanda decided to have a go as well. My reading schedule has been shot to merry hell (what with one thing and another) so I thought that now would be a great time to have a look at how things have been going review wise over the last five months. Hopefully things will get back to normal reading wise over the next few days...!

Since January, I’ve racked up 69 reviews on the blog, I’m not sure what my numbers were for last year but I’ve got a sneaking feeling that I’m not matching what I managed to achieve over the course of 2009. Having said that though, a lot of the comic book reviews are incorporating more than one comic book so the numbers are a little bit better than I thought J The aim is to try and double this number by the end of the year, we’ll see how that one goes...

I don’t have the time to go into great analytical detail over the stats but here are some general impressions that I got from looking back over the list of reviews...

- There are a lot more comic books being featured on the blog this year, I’m cool with that :o)

- I’m reading predominantly fantasy and sci-fi at the moment, it’s new stuff that I haven’t read before but there’s a real need for comfort reading at the moment (if not comfort reading then a genre that I feel more comfortable in). Urban Fantasy of a particular kind just isn’t working for me anymore.

- Gay vampire fiction may be for you but it isn’t for me...

- I’ve read more books by male authors than female but the gap is definitely shrinking here.

- Due to the lack of reading time, most of the books on the list (so far) come in at somewhere between 300-450 pages (approx)

- The majority of the books I’ve read have been recent releases but there are a couple of older works (and collections) to be found in the list. I’m hoping to cover a few more...

What about you folks though? How many books have you read? Have you stuck to one genre or switched and swapped between a number? Do you have a number of books that you would have liked to have read by the end of the year... or are you just reading for the pleasure of it and are not worried about numbers at all?

Comments please! ;o)

'Ghost Dance' (Rebecca Levene) - Cover Art & Synopsis

Morgan is sent on a new mission for the Hermetic Divi­sion, investigating the murder of the world's foremost expert on Elizabethen alchemist John Dee. Her killer - an agent of Mossad with superhuman powers. In the US, Alex, a powerful medium, is employed by the CIA to invesitage a new cult called the Croatans who seem to be able to possess animals. Alex and Morgan's path cross when Morgan is drawn to the US in pursuit of Dee's greatest treasure - and the dangerous young man who plans to use it to achieve immortality!

While I'm not too keen on the cover art (the ol' pentangle doesn't feel particularly original although it does give a slight Dennis Wheatley feel to proceedings) The blurb has got me more than a little bit excited. I wasn't expecting to enjoy 'Cold Warriors' as much as I did and the excerpt from 'Ghost Dance' at the back of the book had me looking forward to more of the same. The blurb confirms my anticipation. I'll be reading 'Ghost Dance' when it's published in July and if you like a more sinister (and British) brand of urban fantasy then you could do with picking it up as well...

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Comic Books I’ve been reading...

Over the last couple of weeks it’s all been about spending time with some of the denizens of the 2000AD comic. While I revisited one set of characters (so will probably only give them a brief mention here) the other set were a group that I was only meeting for the first time...

‘Robo Hunter: The Droid Files Vol 2’

I’ve had an on/off acquaintance with 2000AD over the years and because of this (along with the fact that I kept being chased away by shopkeepers who saw that I was reading the comic without ever buying it...) there are a number of characters that I’ve heard of but never read about. The bounty hunter Sam Slade was one such character; I say ‘was’ because I’ve just finished reading about Sam, his idiotic kit-built robot Hoagy and the robot cigar Stogie.

Going straight into volume 2 wasn’t too much of an issue. While I’d never met the characters before, the concept was simple to grasp and the writers weren’t afraid to drop in references (quite subtly done as well) to earlier stories that serve to flesh things out a bit. Like I said, I haven’t read volume 1 but by the time I’d finished volume 2 I felt like I had. At the same time, the stories themselves are self contained enough that you can get a lot out of them on their own. Not a bad reading experience in that respect, shame the same can’t be said about the opening couple of stories in the sequence...

‘Football Crazy’ sees Sam trying to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the ongoing sabotage of the robotic England football team’s world cup hopes. What promised to be quite a fun story ended up squashed under a relentless torrent of football references and puns. Quite apart from the fact that they were all based around English football in 1982, and the story shows it’s age as a result, the overemphasis forced the story itself into the shadows as far as I was concerned. I could also imagine certain readers (with not a lot of knowledge of football) missing out entirely as some of the funnier moments would go right over their heads...
‘Play it again Sam’ was another story where a potentially good idea (growing tensions between robots and humans in Brit-Cit) was spoiled by too much being made of one facet of the plot. This time round a law has been passed in Brit-Cit where everyone has to communicate via song (why, just... why?) It was passably funny for the first couple of pages but then it got old very, very quickly... I was glad when these two stories were over. Wagner and Grant didn’t do themselves any favours with these stories although Ian Gibson’s artwork was worth the price of entry. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Ian Gibson’s art, it was great in ‘The Ballad of Halo Jones’ and it was just as great in ‘Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire’. It was a pleasure to get reacquainted :o)

The first two stories in this collection had me seriously wondering if I should carry on reading, not something I was interested in if the rest of the story was the same! I gave it a go though and was very glad that I did. It was almost like everyone knew that the first two stories weren’t up to scratch and decided to up their game...

‘Slaying of Slade’, ‘Slade’s Last Case’ and 'Farewell my Billions’ are three stories that form a larger arc where Slade begins by having to solves the mystery of his own death and ends up back where he started after Hoagy and Stogie spend the billions that he earned solving a particularly tricky case. Moore and Wagner give us a tale that is dark, action packed, humorous and strangely tragic all at the same time. You know where it’s all going (at times) but I still found myself having to travel that path to the end, just to find out what obstacles Wagner and Grant would throw in front of Slade. It was a lot of fun to read and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Slade, Hoagy and Stogie by the end...

The rest of the book collects the ‘one off’ Robo Hunter stories that popped up in the years after the main arc came to an end. They’re a bit of a mixed bag if you ask me and they also suffer a little for not having Ian Gibson provide the artwork. Gibson’s style, for me, encapsulated the whole tone of the series and the move to different artists was a difficult one for me to take on board. There are some good stories here though; the standout ones for me were ‘Winnegan Fake’, ‘Metrobolis’ and ‘Fax and Deductions’ (all worth a read).

‘Robo Hunter vol 2’ might well be better suited for long term fans of Sam Slade but there is still fun to be had within the covers. Just skip the first couple of stories...

Eight out of Ten

‘Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol 2’

Back in the days when this blog was still pretty young (it’s not exactly old now but you know what I mean...) I was sent a whole bunch of ‘Rogue Trooper’ comic books for review. This collection collects the latter part of the Rogue Trooper’s hunt for the traitor general and the events that lead him to commandeer a shuttle and make for the mysterious planet of Horst...
You can find all of these reviews on the blog and you probably don’t want to hear me repeating myself as my opinions on the story haven’t really changed. What I would say though is that it felt like a much smoother read having the whole lot in one big volume (which isn’t all that surprising I guess). While the rhythm of the stories can still be somewhat predictable, having them all collected together makes it easier to go from one to the next without this being too much of an issue. Could this be the best way to read ‘Rogue Trooper’? I think so...


I am worse at catching up with films that I’d like to watch than I am at working my way through the reading pile... (I’m actually hanging my head in shame as I write this) ‘Zombieland’ has been out for far too long now for me to have any other excuse for not watching it than just plain being rubbish at getting round to it... :o(

I’m glad I finally did though! I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a zombie film since ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and I may have laughed even more this time round. Explaining the zombie outbreak wasn’t such a great approach; not only does it takes away all the mystery but if you’re going to do something like that then at least come up with a decent explanation! The fact that it was so much fun to watch though outweighed this admittedly small issue. People get killed by zombies in amusing ways and zombies die in ways that are even funnier (thank you Cynthia Knickerbocker!) You can’t ask for a lot more than that other than having Bill Murray in a cameo role... which there was :o)

The unrelentingly bleak landscape of the zombie apocalypse really sets off the moments of humour (of which there are loads) and had me watching the whole way through. There’s talk of sequels and I’m excited already, I won’t be leaving it so long to check these out! Well, maybe I won’t. We’ll see...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

‘The Jewel in the Skull’ – Michael Moorcock (Tor)

These days, life is conspiring to keep me away from the big ol’ ‘doorstopper’ books that I love losing myself in. Not that I’m complaining about this at all but the shelves that my reading pile is sat on are starting to groan a little...! I’ve recently found myself veering towards the shorter, quicker reads and Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Jewel in the Skull’ certainly fits the bill here, weighing in at a positively waif-like two hundred and twenty two pages. With Lou Anders’ ‘Swords and Dark Magic’ looming on the reading horizon, I also thought it would be interesting to go back in time a little and check out ‘swords and sorcery’ in one of it’s earlier forms. If that wasn’t enough for me, the Vance Kovacs cover art had me hooked from the moment I saw it. Go on, have a look at that cover and tell me it isn’t gorgeous...
With three good reasons to read ‘The Jewel in the Skull’, it only remained to be seen then if what was inside the covers worked for me. It did...

The Earth of the far future has grown so old that it has all but forgotten the scientific advances that have brought its people to their current state. Science is sorcery in this not so enlightened age and the greatest proponents of this new sorcery are the sorcerer philosophers of the Granbretanian Dark Empire, a rampaging movement that won’t stop until the whole world is under its sway.
Dorian Hawkmoon swore to bring down the Dark Empire but instead found himself at their mercy, forced into doing their bidding by a Black Jewel implanted in his forehead. One wrong move will lead to his brain being eaten by the malevolent force within the jewel... Hawkmoon’s mission is to carry out the vengeance of Baron Meliadus and bring down the small but powerful state of Kamarg from within. When higher powers are involved however, nothing is ever as simple as this...

I’m a big fan of Michael Moorcock’s work and a great thing about being a fan is that there’s always something written by Moorcock that I haven’t come across before. The man’s back catalogue is huge! I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it...
The tales of Dorian Hawkmoon are amongst those works of Moorcock’s that I haven’t read yet. ‘The Jewel in the Skull’ was the first on the list and if it’s anything to go by it won’t be too long before I pick the rest up.

For a book that’s only two hundred and twenty two pages long there was never going to be enough room for Moorcock to let us really get to know his characters and tell a story at the same time. There’s a choice to be made here and Moorcock opts to give his full attention to the story. That’s not to say that the players in this piece are the flimsiest of cardboard cut outs, not at all. Hawkmoon, Count Brass, Meliadus and the rest all have enough about them to distinguish one from another and Hawkmoon in particular is engaging enough (in the space that he has) to be a character worth sticking with. It’s all about the story though and what a story it is!

‘The Jewel in the Skull’ is the perfect book for the commute to work; a short and snappy read where there is always something happening. You literally can’t turn a single page without finding yourself in the midst of a dramatic swordfight or roiling clouds of magical technology. And that’s before you factor in the confrontations with grotesque monsters and the tender trysts with the heroine. All the ingredients are in place for a good old fashioned ‘swords and sorcery’ style romp and Moorcock mixes them up to good affect. There is no shortage of action here and it’s all placed against the backdrop of an encroaching empire that is not only evil but also utterly insane... It’s definitely stirring stuff.

The pace is fast but settles into a rhythm that may put off people who are looking for something that they can really chew on. To be blunt, Hawkmoon spends the whole book getting himself into tricky situations that always seem to be resolved in just the nick of time... If you’re after something a little more plausible then this pulp tale may not be for you. If you’re after a fun read that throws you into the thick of dangerous situations (just as quickly as it pulls you out) then I reckon this could be just the book for you. I think you can guess which camp I fell into...

Moorcock does manage to find time to comment (although perhaps only on the very broadest terms) on the whole notion of empire building. He presents both sides of the argument equally but inevitably (given the nature of the enemy in this piece) settles firmly on the side of being against the whole thing. Is stability worth it if your rulers are constantly looking to indulge in excess? Probably not...
What’s more interesting though is the way that Moorcock casts the British as the foes here while at the same time portraying the lands of America as an idyllic utopia far removed from the troubles of the rest of the world. I don’t really know enough about this approach, of Moorcocks, to properly comment. For all I know, this could be as much down to a desire to give things a different spin as it could be a commentary on the British Empire of the past. I know one of the editions has a little more commentary in it but not this one. Anyone care to chip in at this point? :o) From my perspective, it was simply refreshing to see things handled a little differently.

The inevitable links to Moorcock’s multiverse are also there to be picked up although, given this is merely the opening shot in the sequence, they’re a little more understated than you would expect. They’re nice little extras for fans and they don’t get in the way of the story for everyone else.

‘The Jewel in the Skull’ is one of those stories that you’ll have fun with but only if you accept it on its own terms. What you’re getting here is fast, pulpy fun all wrapped up in a gorgeous Vance Kovacs cover I enjoyed it and if that’s the kind of read you’re after then I reckon you’ll enjoy it too.

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Guest Blog! David J. Williams

Once the baby stops screaming for two minutes I'll be getting stuck into 'The Machinery of Light', the concluding part to a trilogy that I've been following since just after this blog began! If you like William Gibson, Richard Morgan or a mixture of the two then you owe it to yourself to give these books a go!
In the meantime, I thought it would be cool to see what David himself had to say about the sources of inspiration and influence that led to the series. Luckily for me, David thought that would be pretty cool as well. Here's what he had to say for himself...

Thanks to Graeme for the space, and congratulations on the arrival of his new addition to the family! Over here at AutumnRain HQ, I'm working on unveiling my own 'offspring', THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT, which completes the trilogy that began with THE MIRRORED HEAVENS and THE BURNING SKIES. And I thought it might be interesting to talk about the Autumn Rain trilogy as a hybrid work that combines several elements, drawing on my favorite influences, and whipping them up into one big stew:

Cyberpunk: I think anyone who writes near-future SF is writing cyberpunk by definition. And yet old-guard cyberpunk's focus on rival corporations battling each other in an age of weakened/vanishing nation-states never quite rang true to me. .. and makes even less to me now that we seem to be entering upon a new age of cyberwarfare (witness Russia's shutdown of the Georgian nets in 2008). Rather than being mercenary street samurai, my hackers are all intel agents working to Keep America Safe. Of course, that brings us to ..

Espionage: I grew up on Cold War thrillers – Deighton, LeCarre, etc., which had a marked influence on the direction I took with the Autumn Rain trilogy. I used to warm up for writing sessions by re-reading pages from LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, so when my agent sold the trilogy to Bantam as "LeCarre on sci-fi crack", it couldn't have made me happier.(I'm still working on finding a good dealer for sci-fi crack, though.) But of course this is espionage in the 22nd century, so the enemy could be inside your head already. And those memories of yours? – let's just say you'd be wise not to trust them completely…

Military SF: I find the Manichean world painted by a lot of military SF to be somewhat tedious, in that real life tends to be more complex than Forces of Good battling the Evil Hordes. But at the same time, I love a great battle sequence, and was really looking to raise the bar here, with supersonic maglev trains beneath the Atlantic, powered armor slugouts at the lunar south pole, O'Neill cylinders with asteroids stapled to their poles and as much cool weaponry as possible. Which leads me to:

Space warfare: Not exactly a separate category—and frankly, not even fiction – but this is where the books had their genesis, when I became fascinated by how the center of gravity of modern warfare is inexorably moving into space. The orbits are already militarized—every time an American GI uses GPS, that's drawing on space's militarization – but the question remains what it's going to look like when nations (and insurgents) start putting weapons up there. That this is likely to occur in tandem with the maturity of directed energy weapons (e.g., lasers, particle beams, etc.) is almost certain to put international tensions on an absolute hair-trigger. My Earth-Moon system is an armed camp, divided between the two superpowers. . . .and last year, I also released an essay on my website that details the likely evolution of warfare's next stage (and presented it at the National Academy of Sciences and the Library of Congress last year, which was a lot of fun).

Video games: A totally separate medium, sure – but it's where I got my start. A quirk of fate put me in the cockpit of Relic Entertainment's Homeworld franchise back in the day; I have story concept/co-writer credits on the first game, and was a contributing writer on the Homeworld 2 sequel. That experience taught me all about the importance of spectacle .. . . and it also made me contemplate an approach to characterization and story where one holds back key elements in order to draw the reader further into the narative – to make the reader function in some ways as a character – as they do in video games -- in that they're the only one who has the vantage point necessary to see across the strands of interlocking conspiracy woven through the books….

But video games also left me eager to render some of the books' content in a visual medium. Not only does my website feature a lot of cool art relating to the trilogy, but I'm also pleased to unveil this kick-ass trailer created by one of the visual-sound maestros behind Homeworld, my friend Paul Ruskay. Roll 'em for MACHINERY OF LIGHT. . .

And thanks again Graeme!

No worries :o) You can check out David's website over Here and like I said, I'll let you know what I thought of 'The Machinery of Light' as soon as I've got a spare second to read it...

Because Sometimes...

You want a book cover that doesn't pussy foot around with vague promises of what lies inside. You want something that gives it to you straight, dammit!

Something very much like this...

Now no-one should be asking themselves what this one is all about! There's an apocalypse and there are zombies involved! :o) That's more than enough for me, it's just a shame that the book isn't out until October... Oh well, I can wait :o)

Monday, 24 May 2010

I have never read anything by…

One of the reasons I started doing the blog was to see what else was out there other than what was on my bookshelves. It turns out that there’s one heck of a lot out there and I may never get round to reading it all. That’s not going to stop me from trying though… :o)

Ian McDonald is one of those authors that has nothing but good things said about them (particularly when ‘Brasyl’ was published). He’s also one of those authors whom I’ve never read anything by (the closest I came was looking at an awful looking cover for ‘Ares Express’ some years ago) and thus fits neatly into my latest admission that I’m nowhere near as well read as I sometimes like to think.
The ‘immediate’ reading pile is pretty much set at the moment but there’s always room to fit another book in, especially when it’s by an author I’ve never tried before. I’ve got no idea what the best book, by McDonald, to start on is so when an advance copy of ‘The Dervish House’ came through the door that pretty much answered my question for me!
Here’s the cover art and blurb…

It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shockwaves from this random act of 21st century pandemic terrorism will ripple further and resonate louder than just Enginsoy Square.
Welcome to the world of The Dervish House; the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey. The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union; a Europe that now runs from the Arran Islands to Ararat. Population pushing one hundred million, Istanbul swollen to fifteen million; Turkey is the largest, most populous and most diverse nation in the EU, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It's a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and Central Asia.
Gas is power. But it's power at a price, and that price is emissions permits. This is the age of carbon consciousness: every individual in the EU has a card stipulating individual carbon allowance that must be produced at every CO2 generating transaction. For those who can master the game, who can make the trades between gas price and carbon trading permits, who can play the power factions against each other, there are fortunes to be made. The old Byzantine politics are back. They never went away.
The ancient power struggled between Sunni and Shia threatens like a storm: Ankara has watched the Middle East emerge from twenty-five years of sectarian conflict. So far it has stayed aloof. A populist Prime Minister has called a referendum on EU membership. Tensions run high. The army watches, hand on holster. And a Galatasary Champions' League football game against Arsenal stokes passions even higher.
The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core--the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself--that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama and a ticking clock of a thriller.

Sounds interesting… The book itself isn’t out until July so I’ve got a little while to get stuck in, you can expect to see a review soon(ish).
In the meantime, this is where you come in! Have you read anything by Ian McDonald? What did you think? Have you read any reviews of work by Ian McDonald? Where are they? I want to read them! And does the blurb for ‘The Dervish House’ appeal to you? Can you see yourself picking it up for a read? Please leave the answers to any or all of these questions in the comments section below… ;o)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Three of the Best at Forbidden Planet!

I feel like a bit of a fraud posting about this as other commitments meant that I only got to spend a few minutes there before having to dash off and be elsewhere. I was there though (albeit briefly) so this post does count!

Forbidden Planet have got a good thing going in terms of evenings where a bunch of authors get thrown at a bunch of fans to see what happens next. Thursday night was no exception with none other than China Mieville, Mark Charan Newton and Adam Nevill admirably performing their signing duties. If that wasn't enough, there were loads of old blogging friends that I hadn't seen in an age along with some new faces that I unfortunately never got to say hi to (maybe next time!) Such a mixture can only mean one thing... A good time was had by all :o)

I didn't get time to take any pictures but that's not actually not such a bad thing as Chloe from Pan MacMillan did a much better job than I ever would have done. I didn't think I was around for long enough to get in any of the pictures but if you find the picture of Amanda (I think) then you'll see my bearded face looking suitably awed at the prospect of meeting China Mieville. China was great to talk to although my budding theory that the London of 'King Rat' was also the London of 'Kraken' was a bit of a non-starter...

Thanks to all those people who let me jump in front of them to get my books signed so I could get away quickly. Recent events have meant that I'm about three weeks behind myself when coming up with decent excuses to jump the line. To set the record straight, my wife hasn't been pregnant for about three weeks now but there is a baby that I had to get home to...!

The books I took along looked something like this after I'd left the store (apologies as always for poor quality photos, I really should get someone else to take photos for me) ...

I was lucky enough to get quoted at the front and Mark was grateful on my behalf :o)

Thanks again to Pan MacMillan and Forbidden Planet for running this event. Next time I'll be staying for the drinks afterwards!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Giveaway! 'The Sword of Albion' (Mark Chadbourn)

If you're a regular reader of the blog then you'll already know what I thought of Mark Chadbourn's 'The Sword of Albion'. If you're not a regular reader, or if you just forgot, then have a click right Here to see what it's all about... ;o)

Back with us? Great! 'The Sword of Albion' is due out very soon and, thanks to Transworld Press, I've got three copies to give away. I like spreading the love for books that I've really enjoyed! And if that wasn't enough for you... This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live this time round!

Entering is simple. See my email address at the top right hand side of the screen? All you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else.

I'll be letting this one run until the 30th of May and will announce the winners on the 31st.

Good Luck!

Book Trailer Saturday! 'Wyrmeweald' (Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell)

'Wyrmeweald' is on the reading pile as we speak but there are a number of other books that I want to read first before I'll get anywhere near it. I'll probably give it a go at some point though, having a real soft spot for dragons :o)
In the meantime, here's the trailer...

I generally stay away from children's books purely because there are so many adult ones that I want to read first. 'Wyrmeweald' looks like one I might just have to try though... Has anyone else here (or their children) read anything by Stewart and Riddell? If so, what did you think?

Friday, 21 May 2010

‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ – Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Classics)

It is a truth universally acknowledged on this blog, that a Graeme in possession of a good zombie book must be in want of more good zombie books to read. Don’t even try and argue with this point, you will fail. Regular visitors to the blog will already know that my obsession with the walking dead is only slightly healthier than said zombies single minded quest to devour fresh brains. That’s just the way that things are around here :o)
Being a zombie fan inevitably lends some bias to the books that I talk about on the blog, that’s just the way that it goes as well. I have turned up some real gems though and one of these was Seth Grahame-Smith’s ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, an extremely funny retelling of just how Jane Austen’s classic tale would have panned out had it taken place in the middle of a zombie uprising. True love will always find a way, no matter what is tearing its way out of the ground to devour you...
I didn’t see where things could go after ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ ended until a trip into Waterstones showed me the way. If you can’t go any further forwards with a narrative then why not take a couple of big steps back and fill in the gaps? That’s what ‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ is all about and, despite a couple of fairly major issues, it’s not a bad read at all...

Four years before Elizabeth Bennett first met Mr Darcy, for the first time, the Bennett sisters were the very picture of respectability, living a life of leisure and idly speculating upon whom they might marry. That was until the unfortunate incident at the funeral...
Now the dead are walking and the Bennett sisters must adapt to this new world if they are to stand any chance of surviving at all. The zombie onslaught raises further questions for Elizabeth however. Master Hawksworth teaches the ‘Deadly Arts’ to the sisters and firmly believes that the only good zombie is a dead one. Dr. Keckilpenny is of a different opinion however, his belief is that advances in science can be used to educate the living dead to live in harmony with those who are still human. Both men harbour feelings for Elizabeth, will she choose either of them or will all three of them become the main courses of a zombie banquet...? Only time and a very sharp sword will tell...

‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ finds itself at a bit of a disadvantage right from the start. Well, I say ‘finds’ but the approach the book takes means that it’s more of a case of ‘places itself intentionally...’
‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ was a clever (if slightly immature but I’m cool with that) riff on the original text that had the full weight of Austen’s classic behind it. This meant that not only did you get a hefty dose of zombies and ninjas but you also got Austen’s prose, humour and commentary. The result was the best of both worlds, a new take on an old classic that was a lot of fun to read for both fans of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and those who had never read the book at all.

‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ takes a step back from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, preferring to base itself entirely around Seth Grahame-Smith’s version. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but what does happen is that Austen’s input is lost almost entirely. While you still get the sense of homage being paid the book itself comes across as a lot weaker for Austen’s words not being in it. It’s unavoidable really as I’m guessing that there was no Austen book for ‘Dawn’ to be based upon (having never read anything by Austen I’m happy to be proved wrong on this score!) so Hockensmith had to focus more on what Grahame-Smith did instead. The end result though is something that comes across as a rip off of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ rather than something that plays with the original book and comes up with something new... You can see what it’s trying to do, in terms of building upon the success of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, but for me it fell some way short on this score...

That’s not to say that ‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ wasn’t an entertaining read though. If you’re a fan of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ then you’ll find a lot to entertain you here with the same characters going up against the zombie threat whilst trying to work their way through various romantic entanglements. If you’re a fan of zombie films then you’ll also find a few nods to some classics... Hockensmith does well to stay true to the trail originally blazed by Seth Grahame-Smith while injecting his own brand of humour into the proceedings and stamping his own mark on the characters. You may have seen them all before but Hockensmith does make them his own.

The story itself is worth following as well, just to see how everything all ties together by the end as well as wending your way through the intricate relationships between the aristocracy and the gentry of the countryside. And if that wasn’t enough, the zombies are not only out in force but are regularly decapitated in all the best ways! ‘Dawn’ may be a paler imitation of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ but you can’t complain really... :o)

Like I said, ‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ doesn’t really stand up to comparison with it’s predecessor and maybe there’s a lesson to be learnt here for Quirk Classics in terms of quitting while you’re ahead. On it’s own though, ‘Dawn’ is an entertaining read that any zombie fan should seriously think about picking up.

Eight out of Ten

Tor Books announces enhanced re-issues of the original Halo novel trilogy

From the press release...

Reissue of first three Halo novels to be updated with new content, edits, covers, art!

New York, NY - May 19, 2010 - Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC—the largest publisher of science fiction in the world— is pleased to announce the reissue of the first three original novels in the New York Times bestselling Halo® series, now presented as definitive editions with updates and all-new original content to expand upon the universe created in the hugely successful Halo videogame franchise for the Xbox and Xbox 360. The first novel, HALO: THE FALL OF REACH by Eric Nylund, will be available in August 2010, setting the stage for the launch of the new game “Halo: Reach” coming this fall. Previous Halo novels published by Tor have sold over a million combined copies to date, and in 2010 Tor will also publish the first in a new Halo trilogy by science fiction icon Greg Bear, giving readers and gamers the first look at the Halo universe during the time of the Forerunners.

HALO: THE FALL OF REACH is the original Halo novel first published in 2001. It tells the origin story of the Master Chief, Halo's iconic hero, from his childhood to his rise to the top of the Spartan-II program, where his legend will be solidified. This trade paperback edition will serve as the definitive version of the novel that started Halo fans reading the series.

HALO: THE FLOOD, by William C. Dietz, was originally published in early 2003. A dramatic novelization of the events occurring in the very first Halo game, the award-winning “Halo: Combat Evolved,” it continues the storyline established in the first book and expands upon the relationship between the Master Chief and his companion AI, Cortana.

HALO: FIRST STRIKE, by Eric Nylund, was originally published in late 2003. Its story bridges the crucial events between the first Halo game, “Halo: Combat Evolved,” and its sequel “Halo 2.”

“These novels were the foundation for what has become one of the greatest and most vastly read science fiction novel series of the new century,” says Eric Raab, Tor Editor. “The great part about the HALO novels has always been they exist as wonderful storytelling whether you play the games or not.”

Together, this trilogy of novels illuminates critical back-story and along with the other novels in the series helps set the stage for one of the most-anticipated videogame launches in history, “Halo: Reach,” scheduled for release in Fall 2010. Each of the new editions will contain new material, including art and a series of short artifacts and stories that provide fascinating new detail for each novel and shed light on some of the greatest mysteries of the Halo universe.

“Reach is one of the foundational pieces of extended Halo fiction and a wellspring from which so many incredible characters and scenarios flowed. It’s gratifying and exciting to revisit old friends, old enemies and old scores,” said Frank O’Connor, Franchise Director at 343 Industries. “We’re thrilled to partner with Tor for this reissue and give both collectors and new readers alike, compelling reasons to revisit or explore this pivotal world.”

The Halo franchise is an award-winning collection of experiences that have grown into a global entertainment phenomenon. Beginning with the original “Halo: Combat Evolved” for Xbox in 2001, the rich fiction of the franchise has since inspired a series of blockbuster Xbox and Xbox 360 video games, New York Times best-selling novels, comic books, anime, action figures, apparel and more. To date, sales in the Halo franchise have eclipsed $1.7 billion. The newest game in the franchise, the highly-anticipated blockbuster prequel to the award winning Halo trilogy, “Halo: Reach,” is due out in the fall. With a fully fleshed-out universe of heroes, villains and epic scenarios, the novels expand the universe to give fans a grander view of the game environments and characters they encounter.

I've enjoyed what I've read of the Halo universe so far but have always thought that the books aren't particularly accessible for the casual reader. I'm wondering if these reissued books are a better place to jump on board. We shall see...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

‘Shadow’s Son’ – Jon Sprunk (Gollancz/Pyr)

Assassins! Whether they’re meting out justice or killing purely for coin, if you need ‘one of those jobs’ doing then you can be pretty certain of finding the right person for the job in any city across the length and breadth of ‘Fantasyland’. And that’s kind of the problem really, sometimes it feels like you can’t move without tripping over an assassin or three. Assassins are without a doubt the coolest people in fantasy literature so bunging a few in your book is the best way to sell extra copies. When it gets to the point though where authors are having to invent Guild Wars to cull the local assassin population (because they breed like rabbits apparently...) then you just know that there’s a surfeit of assassins and maybe fantasy literature needs to be looking in a new direction for the next cool thing. There’s also so much that you can do with an assassin for a character. They kill people, sometimes getting all angst ridden over their chosen profession, and... erm... that’s it.

You’ve probably guessed what I think about assassins by now so when I received a copy of ‘Shadow’s Son’ for review I approached it with a little trepidation. Assassins are cool but did I want to be reading the same story about assassins all over again? As it turned out, I got something a little different to what I’d been expecting. The problems I had were with something else altogether.

Most assassins are prone to introspection about the darker side of their job and whether they should be killing people at all. Not Caim however. Not only does his work as an assassin in the holy city of Othir pay very well but Caim actually enjoys it at the same time. Not bad work if you can get it.
Things are about to get out of hand though as the changing political climate in Othir is about to reach out and suck Caim right into a maelstrom and dark magic. Caim will quite happily take credit for the work that he does do but when someone tries to pin a murder on him that he didn’t commit, that’s a different story entirely...

Reading through ‘Shadow’s Son’ can be very much like reading any one of a number of ‘assassin fantasies’ at times. Knife fights in dark alleys, shadowy rooftop chases... it’s all happening again in ‘Shadow’s Son’. You can excuse this up to a point. After all, an assassin’s work is going to be the same wherever you go and it’s more often than not done under the cover of darkness. That didn’t stop me getting that sense of déjà vu though and there were times when I felt that I could have been reading another novel entirely and that there wasn’t a lot to mark out ‘Shadow’s Son’ as a title in it’s own right...

It’s a good job then that these occasions were relatively few and far between. Sprunk recognizes that he needs to do things differently and does it with great aplomb.

Without giving too much away, you will come away from ‘Shadow’s Son’ feeling that you have seen these characters before in other books. Part of this is down to the relative shortness of the book (my advance copy is a mere 281 pages long), there’s only so much you can fit into any one space! However, Sprunk does take time to give little hints about each character that makes them a little bit more than they first appear and interestingly so. It’s not just Caim’s skill as an assassin that will have me coming back for a sequel; tantalising glimpses into his past (and how these will affect his future) flesh his character out and made me want to find out what happens to him on his journey. Do I spy a love triangle on the horizon? Possibly so and for the first time ever (I think) it’s one that I want to see play out.
Josey’s character is also an interesting one to follow as her pampered ways are slowly changed by her experiences of the Lower City. While her revelation won’t come as much of a surprise to any fan of fantasy literature the way in which Sprunk pulls it off does. I never saw it coming...

When Sprunk gets going, he writes with an energy that has to be experienced to be believed. Sprunk knows that if your main character is up against a wall and facing ten swordsman then the resulting fight for your life can’t be written at anything other than a break neck pace. Not only does Sprunk more than deliver on this score but he remains in control of his writing the whole time. Nothing gets away from him and and the resulting passages are a lot tighter for it. Sprunk’s eye for spectacle means that if ‘Shadow’s Son’ was ever made into a film I’d definitely be there to watch it. He has a real feel for what he wants his characters to do and where he wants them to do it. When Sprunk is really on fire, the end result is action that’s almost perfectly choreographed and looks damn cool!

It’s a shame then that it can’t be like that all the time. When Sprunk has assassins, and weird magical phantasms, going at it full tilt then things are just great but the spark seems to die out when talk of the politics of Othir come into play. Sprunk has created a vibrant cityscape but while the results of the politicking (fireballs and riots!) are eye-catching the politicking itself is less so. Although it is the catalyst for everything that happens Othir’s politics seem somehow disengaged from the wider picture, possibly because it’s not something that you can write about in the same way you would a rooftop knife fight with a demonic sorcerer. Whatever the reason, this made for some moments where the pace of the novel fell into a ‘stop/start’ routine that was difficult to stay with.

Despite this though, ‘Shadow’s Son’ is a thoroughly entertaining read that had me wondering if perhaps all assassin stories aren’t the same after all. The book has it’s flaws but that won’t stop me from picking the sequel up (and the one after that)... Look out for this one in July if you're in the UK, US readers will be able to pick it up a month earlier.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

‘Redemption Corps’ – Rob Sanders (Black Library)

My reading time has taken a real battering over the last couple of weeks, not that I’d want it any other way but the ‘book geek’ part of my brain has been starting to get withdrawal symptoms... As has often been the case, over what’s been an incredibly hectic last few months, I’ve found myself going back to what I’d loosely call ‘comfort reads’. You know the ones, they may not be books that you’ve read before but you pretty much know that you’re going to enjoy them.
At least, that was the plan. The latest ‘Imperial Guard’ novel, from Black Library, looked like it would be right up my street and give me just the read I was after. Any book with a cover like this has to worth checking out... right? Well, yes and no.
‘Redemption Corps’ has a story that’s worth the read but you do have to wade through a lot of filler to get to it. I was left wondering if it was all necessary...

If the Imperial Guard are the backbone of the Imperium’s military might then its storm troopers are very much the blunt weapon, used for those missions where a quick and decisive outcome is required. Captain Mortensen’s ‘Redemption Corps’ is one such regiment and their current deployment sees them headed back and forth across the Kaligari Cradle, carrying out high risk assignments in various warzones.
Life is tough for Mortensen and his troopers but now things are about to get even tougher. Orks are invading the system but it’s an invasion unlike any Mortensen has ever seen, something fundamental has changed and dangerously so. If that wasn’t bad enough Mortensen suddenly finds himself under the puritanical gaze of the Sisters of Battle, the Ecclesiarchy’s brutal warrior maidens. If the xenos threat doesn’t get Mortensen then the darker side of the Imperium surely will. It’s a tight spot for anyone to find themselves in but tight spots are where Mortensen and the Redemption Corps work best...

‘Redemption Corps’ is full of everything that makes a Black Library read a great one. It’s just a shame that... I’ll get to that in a minute...
What the reader gets here is a read that typifies the Warhammer 40K universe; unrelentingly brutal but full of characters and events that stir the blood and will keep you reading. Sanders is more than happy to show his reader that he has a keen eye for both of these, capturing future warfare (and the people who fight in it) in fine style.
Sanders sets his stall out very early in terms of what he’s promising his readers with the quelling of a troop transport mutiny the ideal way to meet the ‘Redemption Corps’ and find out just what they’re capable of. A fine balance is maintained between introductions to each character (although don’t get too attached to any of them) and letting them get on with what they do best. The result is a suspenseful opening couple of chapters that burst into bullet ridden life at just the right moments; just the right kind of hook to have you coming back for more.
Sanders gives the rest of the battles in the book a similar treatment and, for the most part, it all comes off nicely. There were moments where I thought that things could have been faster paced but you could forgive these seeing as initial landings, securing perimeters etc are never going to be the most action packed of affairs! Infiltrating a gigantic Titan war machine (in the middle of a planetary revolt) though? Fighting your way out of a maximum security prison? These are the moments where Sanders really shines. You can feel the tension in every footstep that a trooper takes, not knowing what’s round that next corner. You can feel bolter shells fly past your head and I found myself glad that it was the guys in the book who were the casualties of these, it meant that I was able to keep reading.

Sanders also takes time to remind his readers that these moments of excellent military sci-fi are taking place in the Warhammer universe. Not only is he fully conversant with all the terminology but he hits the nail firmly on the head in his portrayal of just how bleak and dark this universe is. Lots of religious imagery and a stark reminder of the punishment for heresy (on board Canoness Santhonax’ starship) is the order of the day here and Sanders isn’t afraid to hold back in terms of his descriptive passages in all of this. A brutal universe has to be depicted brutally otherwise what’s the point? Sanders knows this and makes it work to his advantage.

The promise of an excellent read is maintained all the way through ‘Redemption Corps’ but, for me, it never quite made that transition. ‘Very good’ is nothing to sniff at but when you’re faced with something that could have been ‘excellent’ then it’s hard not to feel disappointed...

The Imperial Guard is a massive organisation numbering billions of soldiers across a war torn galaxy. Sanders may not have a cast that size but he is determined to reflect this resulting complexity in the character introductions that he makes. Every character comes with not only a rank and regiment but also a list of regiments that they previously served with, prior engagements that they served in and a detailed summary of just where they fit into the Guard structure. While this approach does what it sets out to, when you take into account the number of characters being introduced over the course of the book (a lot!) what you end up with is a plot that doesn’t have as much room to breathe as it would like. When things do get going they roar along nicely but you have to wade through a lot of filler first. If you’re a Warhammer gamer then this level of detail may appeal to you but what I was after was the story itself and having it being drip fed to me wasn’t part of the deal (at least I didn’t think so)...

I also found that I wasn’t too keen on the way that the story would start off by feeding us a future event and then show us the events leading up to it. The gap between past and future was just that little too big for the two timelines to properly fit together and do the job they were meant to. It felt like I was reading two stories instead of one...

Like I said, ‘Redemption Corps’ positively screams with the potential to be an excellent read but issues with its style and structure keep it firmly in the ranks of the ‘Very Good’. This isn’t bad in itself but I was left wondering what could have been...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Normal Service Resumes…

Well, you call it ‘normal’… I’m swapping the wailing cries of a newborn baby trying to make her way in the world for the wailing cries of thousands of commuters trying to make their way to work during the rush hour. Yep, back to work today. Whoopee…

If there’s one bright spark in all of this it’s that I’ll have time to read a few more books on the way to and from work so the blog will be looking a little more like it should over the next few days. Thanks for sticking around by the way; I really appreciate it!

I did manage to get some bits and pieces read over the last few days and they’re what you can expect to see reviewed over the next day or two. Rob Sanders’ ‘Redemption Corps’ was one such book and so was Steve Hockensmith’s ‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ (a prequel to ‘Pride, Prejudice and Zombies’). Also keep an eye open for ‘Robo-Hunter Vol. 2’, a book that I thought wasn’t going to be up to much but ended up proving me very much wrong…

While reviews for those books are being posted, I’m in and out of China Mieville’s ‘Kraken’, Jon Sprunk’s ‘Shadow’s Son’ and Ian Tregillis’ ‘Bitter Seeds’. I can’t settle on one book at the moment so I’m having a little bit of everything :o)

What’s in the pipeline over the next few weeks? My not so trusty camera phone will tell you…

'Anubis Gates' won the vote from the other week so it's going in the pile before I forget (again)!

'The Left Hand of God' can't be as bad as everyone says... can it? I'll find out one way or the other...

This is the immediate reading pile and there’s a good few weeks worth of reading there! (Subject to change of course if anything suitably juicy comes through the post…) The sharper eyed amongst you will notice that ‘Dust of Dreams’ has found its way back into the pile again. The more cynical amongst you will no doubt chuckle at my earnest declaration that this time will be the time I finish it. I fancy my chances this time though, lets see what happens…

Other than the three books I’ve got on the go at the moment, there’s no real order to what I’ll be reading over the next couple of weeks. Is there anything there that you would like to see me have a go at first?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Jay Lake's 'Pinion' - Cover Art

Because clockwork mechanical men are never anything but cool and should be celebrated :o) Nice work by Stephan Martiniere...

I still need to read 'Escapement' before I start on 'Pinion' though. Has anyone here read 'Escapement'? If so, what did you think?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Buy a Good Book for a Good Cause.

Got this facebook message a couple of days ago from Pat of The Hotlist and it's definitely worth sharing :o)

Hey guys,

You may or may not know this, but my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Fortunately enough, though it was extremely hard on the family, my mom went through chemo and surgery, and now she's doing great.

Still, witnessing how tough it was for her to get through this ordeal and feeling woefully inadequate in the support I was giving her through it all, I always promised myself that I'd try to do something if the occasione ever presented itself. And it did in the summer of 2008, when the folks at Subterranean Press invited me to compile and edit a speculative fiction anthology for them.

I accepted the gig, but only if a portion of the proceeds would go breast cancer research. Fast-forward today, and the pre-order page for SPECULATIVE HORIZONS has just gone up. And from now till May 21st, 10% of the cover price for each copy sold will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

So if you feel like supporting this worthy cause, please follow the link and place your order. Here's what the publisher had to say about the anthology:

"Speculative Horizons is the newest in our series of short anthologies, helmed this time by Patrick St-Denis, best known for running Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, the place to go for fantasy news, contests, excerpts, and interviews.

Pat’s gathered an eclectic mix of contributors, including L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (with a new Recluce short story), C. S. Friedman, Tobias S. Buckell, Brian Ruckley, and Hal Duncan, who has written a story so wrenching it’ll rip out your heart and come back for your lungs.

If that’s not incentive enough to preorder a copy, until the end of day, May 21, 2010, we’ll be donating 10% of the price of each copy sold direct through SubPress to the American Cancer Society."

Don't do it for me, as I've been paid a flat fee to edit this book. So I'm not likely to see another dime unless we get multiple printings. Do it to help raise funds for cancer research. It beats buying a lame T-shirt, after all!

And feel free to spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, your blog, website, etc. The more copies pre-ordered, the more money will be donated to the American Cancer Society.



Here's the link to the pre-order page. I'm off to see if there's any spare change down the back of the sofa so I can get a copy...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Trailer for 'The Machinery of Light'

Because not only do I love book trailers but I also enjoyed the first two books in this series... :o)

THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT trailer from Claire Haskell on Vimeo.

Check out my reviews for 'The Mirrored Heavens' and 'Burning Skies'. Give it a week or so and you'll be able to see what I thought of 'The Machinery of Light', looking forward to getting stuck into this one!

Friday, 14 May 2010

‘Ignition City – Volume One’ – Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar Press)

My impromptu week of Warren Ellis is pretty much at an end. From what I understand, Ellis is a pretty big deal and I haven’t even scratched the surface of his output. What else should I be reading of his stuff?
What I have read though has been pretty much excellent and it’s a safe bet that I’ll be searching out more of his stuff to check out. Last stop on this whistle stop tour was volume one of ‘Ignition City’, a book that the blurb promised would be a “a retropunk future of the past where spaceships still belched smoke and arguments were still settled with laser pistols.” When something sounds just up my street, like this, I’m always a little suspicious that what’s inside won’t match up to my expectations. ‘Ignition City’ didn’t quite hit the mark for me but I still had a lot of fun reading it. If there’s a volume two out there then I’ll be after a copy…

The space faring Earth of the nineteen thirties and forties has been grounded by the nineteen fifties. There’s just too much to fear out there and people are better off staying where they are, at least that’s what the government want you to think.
Mary Raven has enough trouble being a space pilot whose craft has been confiscated by the US government but now her life is about to get much worse. Her father is dead and he didn’t die easy…
Mary is looking at a trip to Ignition City (Earth’s last spaceport) in order to retrieve her father’s effects; she’s also looking at finding out how he died and settling some scores while she’s there. Ignition City is home to a lot more than the petty squabbling of its denizens though; Mary Raven is about to find something out that will blow the lid off everything…

‘Ignition City Volume 1’ is clearly designed to be the opening salvo in something that should run and run. Attention is focussed on introducing us to the main players such as Mary Raven, Lightening Bowman and Dr Vukovic; characters who are fun to be around and show the reader just what it’s like to be living in an era when man has only just turned his back on the stars. It’s a hard existence when you’ve clearly had your dreams snatched from your grasp, Pagliarani’s squalid depiction of Ignition City makes this only too clear (although he’s not so hot with the facial expressions on some of the characters…)
The problem for me was that the focus on the characters felt like it came at the expense of the story itself. Maybe this is something that will iron itself out over future volumes but things felt very much unbalanced in the meantime…
Because there wasn’t enough room in the book to flesh things out sufficiently the ‘big reveal’ at the end of the book felt forced to say the least. I couldn’t quite get the connection between it and the events leading up to it. Having said that though, I do want to find out what happens next though so Ellis wasn't completely off his game :o)
Mary’s search for her father’s killer suffered from a lack of room as well. Because there’s no time for things to twist and turn, the reader gets something a little more linear instead and it’s clear from the start who the killer is. I was left thinking that with another fifty pages the plot could have been what it really wanted to be…

You know what though? When you’ve got a book full of raygun fights, weird aliens and gorgeous looking ‘retro’ spacecraft you can forgive a book it’s faults. And that’s what ‘Ignition City’ was. Despite my misgivings the pages still seemed to fly by in a welter of gunfire and hard-bitten space heroes facing off and posturing. ‘Volume 1’ is all about atmosphere and high adventure on some pretty mean streets; if you’re happy to let the plot wander off and do its own thing then I think you’ll be happy with what’s left over. Like I said, I’m certainly interested in seeing the broader picture that promises to develop in ‘Ignition City’. Recommended if, like me, you used to enjoy watching the old ‘Flash Gordon’ series on Saturday morning television…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 13 May 2010

‘FreakAngels Vol.1’ – Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar Press)

Where does the time go? When I received a copy of ‘FreakAngels Vol.1’ for review I vaguely remembered posting about this book going online as a web comic. A little bit of trawling through the blog and I realised that post was way back in the depths of 2008… As always, I was full of good intentions and made loud noises about how I’d follow this one for a bit. Of course, life got in the way and I totally forgot all about it. This was possibly down to my not getting on well with reading stuff off a screen. The printed page has always been my friend so when ‘FreakAngels’ turned up I took a few seconds to feel faintly embarrassed at my earlier well intentioned intentions… and then got stuck right in. Is anyone else reading the webcomic though (is it even still running…)? If so, what do you think?

23 years ago,
Twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment.

6 years ago,
The world ended.

This is the story of what happened next.

Warren Ellis is clearly playing a long game here. There’s no hint of the furious fast paced action that I came across in ‘Black Gas’, something a little more in depth is hinted at in the way that Ellis lets things slowly unfold. Volume 1 isn’t about letting us know how the world ended or even how the FreakAngels were involved in this. There’s going to be plenty of time for everything to come to light… In the meantime though, Paul Duffield’s excellent artwork (along with Alana Yuen’s colouring) offers some hints. There’s a delicate hint of the surreal in how ‘washed out’ everything looks that suggests we’re not just dealing with any old ‘end of the world event’ here…

What we get instead is a strangely gentle look at life in the aftermath of whatever it was that the apocalypse threw at the world. There are some moments of extreme violence (although again, not so in your face as ‘Black Gas’). Ellis is more interested though in introducing us to the FreakAngels themselves and showing us how they’re coping with their feelings of responsibility both for their own powers and for the shape of the world as it is now. On the whole, their focus is on the community that has grown up around them. If they’re not literally watching over them (Kirk) then they are making sure that various engines keep ticking and that there is always fresh water to drink (Carolyn). This can lead to things initially seeming a little flat as there isn’t much actually happening. Stick with it though…

What we lose out on in terms of action (of which there is plenty at the end of the book) we more than gain in terms of character study and a plot that promises plenty of answers to all the interesting questions that we’re given. I found myself really wanting to get to the bottom of what makes Arkady tick and hoping that Luke finds a little peace (although I’m not hopeful of that). The big question though is whether the mysterious Mark is actually alive or not…

I’m definitely hoping for more volumes to come. This was a book where, once I spent some time with the FreakAngels, I didn’t realise where the time had gone. One of those books where you can lose a couple of hours out of your life and not even notice. ‘FreakAngels Vol. 1’ may be a little bit too much of a slow burner for some people’s tastes (it was a close thing for me) but give it a chance and you’ll find there’s something there for everyone.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

World of Warcraft Wednesday! ‘Death Knight’ – Dan Jolley & Rocio Zucchi (Tokyopop)

It’s only going to be a little ‘World of Warcraft Wednesday’ today as there was only the one book that came through the post. It’s not a bad one though…

The Lich King’s Scourge rampages through the land of Azeroth, led by his fearsome Death Knights. Thassarian is one such knight who will commit the foulest crimes until the day that an attack on a temple causes the Lich King’s control to vanish. Thassarian is now free to use his own considerable powers to avenge himself on the Lich King but finds himself hard pressed to gain the trust of his new allies, especially when some of them are more than they seem. While Thassarian seeks to establish himself, his past is trying to make itself a part of his present once more…

Any book about a character from a computer game is only really going to strike a chord with readers who have already met that character in the game itself. To be fair to ‘Death Knight’, the book doesn’t try and get away from this fact, making no secret about embracing its target audience fully. Not being part of that target audience however, I found myself wondering if I should have been playing the game to totally ‘get’ just how ‘tragic’ Thassarian’s story really was…

To be blunt, things really weren’t that tragic at all apart from one moment where Thassarian’s dark master made him kill someone very close to him. The events leading up to Thassarian’s fall will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of ‘falling into evil and then gaining redemption’ in fantasy literature. Thassarian is likeable enough as a character but he’s not engaging enough for it to really hammer home when the inevitable happens to him. The guy is basically a generic sword swinger with not a lot else going for him…
Not being overly familiar with the background setting I also found myself a little confused at the motivations behind certain characters and what they did. To be fair again, I think this was down to my never having played the game. If I had then perhaps things would have been a little clearer.

Despite all this though, ‘Death Knight’ was a read that (although a little formulaic) was a lot of fun. Jolley struck just the right balance between scene setting and moments of outright carnage, creating a story that flowed very smoothly and made sense at the same time. He was more than ably assisted by Rocio Zucchi whose artwork made the story come alive in more ways than one. The characters may have been formulaic but I came away from the book with a real idea of who they were and Zucchi’s action scenes were brutally rendered on the page. A good combination that kept me focussed.

‘Death Knight’ is by no means ground breaking fantasy and it is very much one for ‘World of Warcraft’ gamers. Don’t let this put you off too much though, if you’re after a quick read that’s both light and fun then I don’t think you’re going to go too far wrong here.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The 'I'm actually getting a decent amount of sleep' competition winner's post!

Hope is proving to be quite the chilled out little baby at the moment. She'll let us know if there's something wrong but, in the meantime, she's quite happy to wave her legs in the air and watch what's going on. This means that both Sue and I are getting more sleep than we'd planned, long may it stay that way!

One thing I am finding though is that I just cannot get into any book that I pick up at the moment. Not that there's anything wrong with what I'm trying to read but other things are taking priority. I'm back at work next week so hopefully we'll see things return to normal, 'review wise', on the blog.

In the meantime, and slightly later than I'd intended, here are the winners of last week's competitions...

'The City & The City'

Kriti Godey, Ohio, USA
Stephen Ahn, California, USA
Joan Bedinger, Georgia, USA

The 'Autumn Rain' Competition

Roberta Padoan, from Italy, won herself a copy of 'The Machinery of Light'

Neville Thompson, of South Africa, bagged himself a copy of 'The Mirrored Heavens'

Well done everyone! Your books will be on their way very soon :o) Better luck next time everyone else...

Monday, 10 May 2010

‘Black Gas’ – Warren Ellis (Avatar Press)

You know how it is, you spend ages waiting for a Warren Ellis comic book to check out and then three come along at once…
I’ve never read anything by Warren Ellis and, being more than partial to a good comic book read, this was something that I had to rectify sooner rather than later. Ellis is supposed to be a pretty big deal after all.
First up on my quick stop tour of all things Ellis was ‘Black Gas’, a book that piqued my interest with a picture of what looked like zombies on the cover. That was more than enough for me to crack it open but there was so much more inside…

A tiny island off the East Coast of America is far more than it seems. The American Indians fought a bloody civil war there hundreds of years ago and no-body knows why. Until today.
A crack in a fault line has let loose a black gas that has got into the lungs of all but two people on Smoky Island. These two people are trapped on an island where the people aren’t people anymore. The inhabitants of Smoky Island started eating each other an hour ago. Now, it’s about to get worse…

When is a zombie not a zombie? When they’re acting like a zombie but not actually dead… There’s enough of the zombie here to get people like me interested but there is a lot more to the Black Gas than a regular ‘Dawn of the Dead’ style read. A lot more… ‘Black Gas’ is very much an adult read with Ellis’ plot & Fiumara and Waterhouse’s artwork all combining to present the reader with something that is dark yet utterly compelling. A word of warning though, don’t read this book if you are in any way squeamish. Ellis and co. don’t hold their punches… Even I was a little taken aback by what I found inside the cover. Fiumara won through in the art stakes but it was a close run thing.

When the apocalypse comes, there’s no messing around with people getting in touch with how they feel about it all. It’s all about the race to survive and not end up as lunch for some ravening monstrosity. Robert Kirkman has shown this to good affect in ‘The Walking Dead’ but Ellis takes it one step further. When civilisation goes down the pan it happens fast. Ellis has his hands firmly on the reins here and the result is a tale where I actually had to make a conscious effort to slow things down so I could enjoy the art. Things move quickly in ‘Black Gas’ and it’s at a pace that will have you along for the ride before you realise what you’re doing.

Ellis strikes a fine balance between plumbing the depths of depravity (which he does with an ease that is a little suspicious…) and showing his reader just what it’s like for the people who are left. Tyler and Soo are two characters who will surprise you at just how they manage to cope with what’s going down. Ellis led me to think that each person would take it in a certain way… and then totally turned my expectations upside down. We don’t get to spend a lot of time with Johnny but he proves to be more than effective in showing the reader what an apocalyptic event is all about; relentless violence and tough decisions. And, as is the case with any good apocalypse, just because our heroes tale comes to an end it doesn’t mean that things have come to an end altogether. The final panels are simple yet horribly effective and you just know that there could never be a sequel.

‘Black Gas’ was perhaps a little too graphic for this reader (although, without giving too much away, that was perhaps due to things that have happened to me over the last week) but a read that was never anything less than gripping. If this is what Warren Ellis is all about then I reckon I’m in for a treat with the next couple of books…

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Just in case UK readers felt a little left out...

Here's some information on a couple of signings coming up soon at the Forbidden Planet store in London... (all taken from various emails and press releases)


Thursday 13th May 6 – 7pm

FORBIDDEN PLANET and Gollancz Publishing are delighted to be hosting an open-format, multi-author signing. At at 6pm on Thursday May 13th, Forbidden Planet 179, Shaftesbury Avenue, London will be playing host to: -

·Stephen Deas
·M D Lachlan
·John Meaney
·Sarah Pinborough
·Adam Roberts

Forbidden Planet and Gollancz Publishing have gathered a host of science fiction and fantasy talent into one event – an event to bring writers and fans together and to promote interest in new and different kinds of fiction.

This is a free-form and open signing, bringing the authors out from behind their tables and giving their readers a chance to meet them and talk to them about their work. An array of fantastic books will be on hand to be picked up and signed – including works by every one of the writers present.

The last sentence made me chuckle. Will the Gollancz authors sign anything that's put in front of them...? Not sure that I can make this one but it looks like it could be a lot of fun...

Three of the Best!

Thursday, 20 May 2010 6 - 7pm

Three huge talents; one signing event - FORBIDDEN PLANET are delighted to be hosting a triple signing with China Miéville, Adam Nevill and Mark Charan Newton on Thursday 20th May at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JR 6 - 7pm.

In China Miéville’s KRAKEN, a prize specimen has come to the Natural History Museum – a giant squid, whole and perfectly preserved. When it disappears, curator Billy Harrow finds himself in a city of warring cults and surreal magic – and the forthcoming end of the world.

APARTMENT 16 by Adam Neville is wonderfully written, deftly plotted tale of utter horror which will have you turning the lights on in the middle of the night. Follow and unravel the tale of Barringon House – and discover that the doorway to Apartment 16 is a gateway to something terrifying.

Two weeks in advance of publication date, CITY OF RUIN by Mark Charan Newton is the follow-on to the massively successful Nights of Villjamur, taking us back to the lands of the Red Sun. This time, we go to to Villiren, where Brynd and investigator Jeryd must fight to save a city that’s already in ruins.

I will definitely be about for this one, hope to see you there :o)