Wednesday, 30 June 2010

‘Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files 01’ (Rebellion)

Have you ever suddenly realised that you’ve read far more books in a series (or about a particular character) than you thought you had previously? After a couple of years of saying that I hadn’t read all that many 2000AD comics (always difficult when you’re sneaking them off the shelves for a read before the newsagent notices...) I suddenly remembered that this wasn’t the case at all. My best mate had a whole stack of 2000AD annuals, and holiday specials, that I would read round his and it was ‘The Restricted Files’ that reminded me of Judge Dredd and some of his holiday related crime solving...

‘The Restricted Files 01’ collects a whole bunch of ‘Judge Dredd’ comic strips from various annuals and holiday specials that came out in the seventies and eighties (spanning the years 2099-2106 ‘in world’). Not all of the comic strips I’d venture to say, the title suggests that there will be more of these volumes in the near future. I’m cool with that, this first volume of ‘The Restricted Files’ was very much a fun way to spend an afternoon and I’d be happy to see more along the same lines.

That’s not to say that we have a perfect read on our hands here. The strips from the seventies, and early eighties, show the character of Dredd as very much a ‘work in progress’ without the background detail that makes his stories so rich. To be fair, the comic itself had only been out a few years at that point so there hadn’t exactly been much time to establish the setting! The end result is the same though, Judge Dredd solves crimes but we don’t really know much about who he is and where he is doing his policing. Stories such as ‘The Judge’s Graveyard’ and ‘Videophones’ suffer for this (although Kevin O’Neill and Mike McMahon provide quality artwork for both stories) as they feel disconnected from the larger setting...

There is also a sense of disconnection arising from the way in which this volume has been assembled. This arises from the stories themselves though and can be easily forgiven. The bulk of the stories have no real connection to events in Mega City One that took place in the weekly issues of 2000AD, they’re snapshots of daily life if anything. The only stories that have any connection to established events are Alan Grant's ‘Law of the Jungle’ and ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (at least as far as I could see). That’s the nature of the book though. What we have here is a collection of ‘one shot’ tales, nothing that will add anything meaningful to the established history of Mega City One. If you bear this in mind then you’re ok, most of the stories are very entertaining in their own right (even ‘Christmas Party’ which is fun but totally breaks the fourth wall in the worst way). If you’re looking for something that links things up a little tighter then you’re going to be very disappointed... Take the book as it is and you won’t go wring at all.

Even though these stories are all ‘one shots’, the writers still manage to find time and space to inject some of the social commentary that makes the stories of the ‘Big Meg’ really stand out from the rest. John Wagner’s ‘The Alien Zoo’ is an example of inner city boredom taken to spectacular levels while ‘It’s happening on Line 9’ shows the reader only too well what happens when living in the Big Meg gets to be just that little bit too much. Along the same lines, Alan Grant’s ‘The Beast in 24B’ shows the kind of things that can happen in Mega City One, on a daily basis and the mentality of the citizens who just accept these things as normal. These three stories are fun to read with a slight undertone of the tragic that makes you stop and think after you’ve finished them...

I came to this volume looking to read more stories from John Wagner and Alan Grant, two writing stalwarts of 2000AD. I was surprised then to see that all my favourites (both from this read and reading the stories in the past) were written by one T.B. Grover. ‘The Other Slab Tynan’ offers a unique fix to dealing with a time travelling criminal while ‘Tarantula’ offers us a look behind the scenes of Mega City life that just happens to be action packed at the same time. ‘Beat the Devil’ is a Halloween based tale that succeeds where ‘Christmas Party’ totally bombed and ‘Halloween’ shows us what might be lurking in the shadows on the last day of October... A little bit creepy but still enjoyable.

The artwork is consistently good throughout with nothing at all that lets the side down. Top of the pack though are Carlos Ezquerra and Ian Gibson, two artists that typify 2000AD and ‘Judge Dredd’ in particular. Even if you don’t read the comic their work is still worth checking out.

There is a lot more to ‘The Restricted Files’ than I’ve had time to cover, I chose instead to go with the stuff that leapt out at me for one reason or another. The book as a whole is an entertaining affair (once it gets going) and worth picking up. If you’re a fan looking to replace old back issues then this is just what you’re looking for. If you’re just after a slice of life in the ‘Big Meg’ then you can’t go too far wrong here.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

‘No Man’s World - Black Hand Gang’ – Pat Kelleher (Abaddon Books)

As a History A-Level student I went on a field trip to the First World War battlefields of the Somme; something that cannot fail to leave it’s mark on anyone who goes (even a bunch of eighteen year guys who were trying to find out where the nearest pub was to the hostel, I don’t think we ever found out...)
One part of the trip I’ll always remember is visiting the Hawthorn Crater where 40,000lb of explosives were detonated as part of the offensive to capture German positions. As with most British plans during the war, it worked well in principle but not in practice with the Germans easily driving off the British advance... Such monuments to man’s inability to get to grips with a whole new kind of warfare are dotted all over the Somme. What if they were monuments to something else entirely though? That’s Pat Kelleher’s spin on things and the result is a gripping start to a new series from Abaddon...

On November 1st 1916, nine hundred men of the Pennine Fusiliers vanish in the middle of their advance on the German positions in Harcourt Wood. They awake to find themselves in the middle of an alien world where the natives are aware of their presence, and hungry...
Getting back home is the number one objective but this must be balanced out with replenishing dwindling supplies, maintaining some semblance of morale and surviving first contact with an inscrutable alien race. All these perils though might just fade into insignificance however when the soldiers are faced with a threat within their own ranks. It might just be that the Fusilier’s arrival on this planet was someone’s plan all along...

I’m pretty much like this the whole year round but it’s always the summer months that bring out a real need in me to indulge in some good old fashioned pulp fiction. You know the stuff that I’m talking about here. Books that you can read in the sun but can easily put down when it gets too hot and you want to reach for that second beer. That is exactly what ‘Black Hand Gang’ is but with one difference, at least as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t put this one down, not until I’d finished reading it. It wasn’t a perfect read but there was never any question of my stopping with it.

Pat Kelleher has clearly gone to a lot of effort and research to give his readers a look at life in the trenches that is as authentic as possible. He has played around with some of the place names etc (and his prologue adds a subtle hint of ‘what if…?’ to the proceedings) but what the soldiers go through in the book is pretty much what their real life counterparts would have experienced. Kelleher pays tribute to these men by not holding back with the conditions that their own commanding officers forced them to fight under. Officers saw shellshock as cowardice and punished it accordingly, there’s plenty of that here and it’s all the more pointless when you see what the men are running from.

Having got his readers filthy in the mud of the trenches, Kelleher then proceeds to use this authenticity to make what is to come even more bizarre and out of this world. Kelleher only gets it half right but what he does hit the target it’s definitely worth sticking around for. He really nails not only what it must be like to experience an alien world for the first time but what it must have been like for a soldier of the First World War (who might never have gone beyond his village until he joined up) to experience that world. There’s a real stand off between claustrophobia and agoraphobia as the men are at constant alert with no idea of what might come over the horizon… When they finally meet the natives the scene is set for explosive action as the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force meet… you’ll have to wait and see. It’s done brilliantly and I’m looking forward to more of the same in future books.

Sometimes it goes a little awry… I seem to have a thing about too much background detail at the moment, especially when it gets in the way of the story. ‘Black Hand Gang’ falls foul of this on more than one occasion with perhaps a little more detail of alien forests etc than is needed for the story to flow smoothly. That the story tends to flow very smoothly the rest of the time makes these moments even more infuriating; you know what the story is capable of and it leaves you wondering why it seems to have taken a backward step.
If this wasn’t bad enough, you’re getting all of this through the perspective of soldiers who often don’t have the slightest idea what they are looking at. If they don’t know then you’re not going to know either as Kelleher sure as hell isn’t going to tell you. Why should you know when they don’t?
While this approach does make an alien landscape even more alien it can also leave the reader as confused as the characters they’re reading about. There’s nothing to connect with other than a bunch of guys who are just as confused as you are but I guess we all get to find out what’s going on together!

When Kelleher gets the story away from these moments, it’s clearly one that I’ll be around for more of at least. Black magic, alien beings and a dirty great tank! ‘Black Hand Gang’ is very much a book that sets up future sequels but those three ingredients mean that it’s a lot of fun to read in the meantime and there are intriguing possibilities for the future (as well as a degree of closure that you wouldn’t normally get in the opening book of a series). Kelleher may be writing pulp here but he takes time to give us characters that we can care about. The ending comes with a couple of cliff-hangers and one of these in particular left me feeling really sorry for a main character. That’s not something that happens an awful lot and I’m all the more eager to find out what happens to him next.

‘Black Hand Gang’ does suffer from erratic pacing at times and a narrative approach that can leave a reader floundering. Give it a chance though, ‘Black Hand Gang’ is also a thoroughly entertaining tale that promises great things for the future. I’ll be around to see if the series meets the standard that it has set itself.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 28 June 2010

The 'It's Too Damn Hot!' Competition Winner's Post!

And it's due to get even hotter apparently. Woohoo, just in time for me to go to work on the train in the morning...
If you haven't guessed already, I hate the heat and so does the little one who spent most of yesterday trying to get to sleep and not being able to because it was so hot. Roll on autumn and some lovely cool breezes, that's what I say!

Rant over... maybe. While I warm up (pun possibly intended) for another outburst, here are the winners of last week's competitions...

'Swords & Dark Magic'

Callie Barnwell, Raleigh, North Carolina
Eric Kolkmeier, Lewisville, Texas
Amrey Mathurin, Amherst, Massachusetts
Ben O'Connell, Washington, DC
Fred Coughlin, Philadelphia

'Sword of Justice'

Zoltan Gecse, Budapest, Hungary
Julia Garvey, New South Wales, Australia
John McLintock, Glasgow, UK
Colin Shields, Northern Ireland
Zoe Coombes, Leicester, UK

Well done guys, your books will be on their way very soon! Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more competitions to try your hand at...

And it's back to the reading for me. I seem to have mislaid my copy of 'The Anubis Gates' which is a shame as it was turning out to be pretty interesting. I'm working my through 'The Fuller Memorandum' (Charles Stross) instead and it's not too shabby. Look out for a review later this week...

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Giveaway! 'The Fuller Memorandum' (Charles Stross)

I’ve enjoyed Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry’ novels pretty much since this blog began and, as a result, ‘The Fuller Memorandum’ has stealthily crept to somewhere very near the top of the reading pile. You can expect a review soonish :o)

While you’re here, check out the blurb...

Bob Howard is an IT specialist and field agent for the Laundry, the branch of Her Majesty's secret service that deals with occult threats. Overworked and underpaid, Bob is used to his two jobs overflowing from a strict nine to five and, since his wife Mo has a very similar job description, he understands that work will sometimes follow her home, too. But when 'work' involves zombie assassins and minions of a mad god's cult, he realises things are spinning out of control. When a top-secret dossier goes missing and his boss Angleton is implicated, Bob must contend with suspiciously helpful Russian intelligence operatives and an unscrupulous apocalyptic cult before confronting the decades-old secret that lies at the heart of the Laundry: what is so important about the missing Fuller Memorandum? And why are all the people who know dying ...?

Good isn’t it? Well, thanks to Orbit, I’ve got three copies of ‘The Fuller Memorandum’ to give away so you decide for yourself just how good it is (it has zombie assassins in it, it can’t be bad... can it?) You can only enter if you live in the UK or Europe though...

Entering is easy. 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. You also need to make it clear, in the subject header, that this is the competition that you want to enter... I’ll do everything else :o)

I'm letting this one run until the 4th of July and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Giveaway! 'Shades of Night' (Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge)

Thanks to the people at Piatkus, I've got three copies of 'Shades of Night' to give away on the blog. If you enjoyed 'Black & White' this could be one for you! Unfortunately though, you can only enter this one if you live in the UK. Sorry about that everyone else...

If you're still reading then you know the drill. Drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. You also need to make it clear that this is the competition you want to enter. If you don't then you don't get entered at all...

I'm letting this one run until the 4th of July and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 25 June 2010

‘Throne of Lies’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

As a man who loves to lounge around in the morning, when he should be getting ready for work, I regard it as my unassailable right to forget stuff when I’m dashing out of the door. You name it, I’ve forgotten it; keys, cash, lunch... None of these though were as potentially catastrophic though as my forgetting to pick up a new book when I left the house the other day. You know how I feel about my daily commute... If I can’t get away from it in a book then the odds are that something violent is going to happen somewhere between A and B...
Luckily for everyone on my train, what I hadn’t forgotten was my iPod and it’s handy selection of Black Library audio books. Up on that occasion was Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s ‘Throne of Lies’ (to be released in August, I think)...

The traitorous Night Lords Space Marines chapter strikes from the shadows, feeding on the decaying remnants of the Imperium of Mankind. They are not sworn to any one of the Chaos powers but their quest remains the same, to bring down the regime of the false emperor.
Sometimes though, even this must take a back seat to concerns that are far more pressing. The Night Lords are sworn to another crusade, one that they will sacrifice everything to complete, and it looks like Talos the ‘Soul Hunter’ has just discovered the path to it’s conclusion...

Aaron Dembski-Bowden builds upon what he began in ‘Soulhunter’ and expands his vision of a traitorous Space Marine chapter on the brink of extinction but still aiming to spit in the eye of the Imperium one more time before the inevitable occurs. As was the case with ‘Soulhunter’, I like the way that the Night Lords (while allied with their chaotic brothers) are rebelling for reasons of their own; it gives the whole scenario a little more depth and colour. The story itself does stand on it’s own but if you’ve already read ‘Soulhunter’ then I think you’ll get a lot more out of ‘Throne of Lies’. Reading ‘Soulhunter’ isn’t exactly a chore either (if you haven’t already), it’s very good indeed.

‘Throne of Lies’ was certainly a gripping tale to listen to, from the opening flight through the perils of the warp to the strangely poignant message from M’shen right at the end (with a political assassination in the middle). It does suffer though from the format that it finds itself in. There’s only so much story that you can fit on a CD of this length and you’re never going to be able to get all the twisty turny bits that you would find in a book... As a result, ‘Throne of Lies’ was a little more linear (in it’s plot) than I would have liked. You get to spend a little more time getting to know the characters but the story very much starts at A and ends at a slightly predictable B. It did whet my appetite for more tales of the Night Lords though, hopefully the next instalment will be a book and not an audio book...

Black Library seem to be investing a little more in the production of their audio books and this shows in what is a very atmospheric tale in terms of its sound effects. The narrator tells you what is happening but it’s all those little background noises that show you. You can almost feel the warp pressing against the hull of the ‘Covenant of Blood...
‘Throne of Lies’ is also memorable in that it’s the first Black Library audio book (at least, that I’ve heard) to feature a female voice in the narration. Beth Chalmers doesn’t have a lot to say but when she does step up it’s all done professionally and adds to the overall affect. John Banks has the largest chunk of narrative duties and really makes the story his own. There is one part though where he loses the voice of a character and goes back to his ‘narrating voice’. I’m surprised that didn’t get picked up actually...

'Throne of Lies' isn't without it's flaws and was a step backwards from the standard set by Nick Kyme's 'Fireborn'. What 'Throne of Lies' definitely was though was a thoroughly entertaining listen that bodes well for future Night Lords tales (but only if they're books though...)

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 24 June 2010

‘Nemesis’ – James Swallow (Black Library)

The ‘Horus Heresy’ books have pretty much become the flagship series for the Black Library’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ line and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re already a fan then you’re finally getting a story that fills in all the gaps for one of the most important events in 40K history. Instead of internet speculation (and the odd paragraph or two in ‘White Dwarf’ magazine) you get to see what actually happened, all of it.

If you’re not really a fan of the setting then there is still plenty to recommend these books. Genetically engineered warriors with big guns fighting wars that engulf entire star systems; what’s not to like about that? If you like military sci-fi then you really need to be reading these books if you aren’t already.
I’m not a gamer but I fall firmly into the first camp as a fan of the setting and books. The ‘Horus Heresy’ series hasn’t been a perfect ride so far (and I haven’t read all the books yet) but there’s been more than enough to it to have me eagerly anticipating each new release. James Swallow’s ‘Nemesis’ is the latest release and it could very well be the best of the lot...

After the horrors wrought by Horus in the Istvaan system, all out war is declared on the Imperium and the march on Terra begins. Planet after planet falls and it becomes clear that the only way to stop the onslaught is to kill Horus himself. In the shadowy recesses of the Imperial Palace, an unprecedented alliance between the Assassin Cults sees a handpicked team sent to execute the Archtraitor and end the war before it can develop further.
What the agents of the Imperium cannot know though is that their traitorous counterparts have similar designs of their own. While the Imperial assassins head out to intercept Horus, another assassin is headed in the opposite direction. His mission, to strike a deadly blow at the very heart of the Imperium itself...

I’ve had mixed results with what I’ve read from James Swallow in the past. For every ‘Black Tide’ there’s been a feeling that Swallow likes to use the ‘haunted spaceship’ scenario a little too much for my liking (although I’ll admit that I do need to read a lot more of his 40K fiction before that feeling becomes more concrete). With this in mind, my anticipation of a new ‘Horus Heresy’ read was tempered by the fact that I wasn’t sure which way this was going to go. Were we talking ‘Black Tide’ here or would I find myself on board another haunted spaceship...?
It turns out that I needn’t have worried, not only was ‘Nemesis’ a storming read but there were no haunted spaceships at all!

‘Nemesis’ is a deftly written mixture of action and intrigue that really captures the feel of a galaxy that has just tipped over the precipice and is beginning the long slide into anarchy and chaos. It’s also the thirteenth book in the series, so far, so I really wouldn’t recommend beginning the series here (although there is enough background detail for you to be able to do it if you really wanted to) That’s not a problem though, not only will you have ‘Nemesis’ to look forward to but there is plenty of goodness to keep you going in the meantime! :o)

The big problem facing ‘Nemesis’ is that if you’re a fan of the setting then you will know of Horus’ ultimate fate and how that ultimately influences the outcome of this book. If you’re not then it doesn’t matter at all but there’s definitely an issue there for anyone with a little background knowledge of the 40K universe.
It wasn’t a problem for me. Apart from a few moments where I felt that Swallow was perhaps a little too verbose in describing the scenery (well done but not as relevant to the book as it thought it was) I couldn’t put this one down and I knew how the mission had to end. So... what happened?

For a start, and perhaps most importantly of all, Swallow isn’t afraid to mess with your head a little and at one crucial moment in particular. You may look back at it, afterwards, and think to yourself that it makes sense for it to have gone the way it did. While you’re reading it though, that’s a different matter...
Swallow builds things up to a real crescendo and then hits you right between the eyes with the last thing you would possibly expect to happen. I couldn’t believe it and the accompanying imagery really drove that impact home. Great stuff!
On a lesser scale, Swallow does a similar thing when rounding off one of the subplots. This one didn’t hit me as hard but, again, I never saw it coming and it’s a testament to Swallow’s skill at blindsiding his readers.

When he’s not messing with your expectations, James Swallow tells a pretty mean story. ‘Nemesis’ is a high octane ride where assembling a team of assassins can be just as dangerous as the mission itself. It’s also a ‘police procedural’ where nothing is as it seems as well as being a snapshot picture of a galaxy’s uncertainty as stability crumbles and chaos begins to take over.
Swallow switches effortlessly between these plots, giving his readers a multi-faceted tale that has something for everyone as well as coming together to form something pretty special. The battle lines are clearly drawn, between the two opposing forces, but the divisions within each side make for passages that resonate with intrigue. Everyone is on the same side albeit for reasons of their own...
When we’re not working our way through the labyrinthine corridors of Imperial (and rebel) politics, Swallow ups the tempo by pitching us headfirst into full on warfare between assassins. When this happens the story flows like quicksilver and so do the assassins who are fighting. Whether it’s the berserker fury of the assassin of Clade Eversor or the psionic fury of the assassin of Clade Culexus; Swallow shows us all too well that we are witnessing fights between humans with abilities augmented and far beyond our own. It’s great to watch.

Swallow’s character reflect the 40K landscape perfectly and all credit to him for creating an entire cast of cast that are completely unlikeable but that you also feel compelled to follow. This is especially true of the group of assassins tasked with killing Horus. Not one of them has a redeeming feature but you really feel how important their mission is and you have to see it through to the end. Characters who initially appear to be the most shallow turn out to be the ones with the most depth and they can really surprise you with their actions. You won’t engage with these characters because of who they are; you’ll engage with them because they’re so cleverly written into the landscape and the things taking place their.

Apart from a couple of minor niggling flaws, I can quite confidently say that ‘Nemesis’ is the best novel yet in the ‘Horus Heresy’. Here’s hoping that the rest of the series maintains this momentum...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

‘The Bloodstained Man’ – Christopher Rowley (Tor)

I wasn’t all that keen on Christopher Rowley’s ‘Pleasure Model’ but somehow found myself going back for a second helping with ‘The Bloodstained Man’. I guess the bottom line is that the morning commute to work just isn’t the time or place for anything too highbrow. Something that will keep me awake is what I’m after, I want explosions described so well that you can almost hear them!
The problem is though, I also want some kind of story to go with the spectacle and ‘Pleasure Model’ didn’t deliver on that score. Is it even possible for a pulp novel to be too ‘pulpy’? That’s certainly the impression I got with Rowley’s first offering in this series. I found myself back for more though and I got pretty much what I was expecting...

Detective Rook Venner, Mistress Julia and the gene grown human Plesur are on the run from government troops that want to kill them and a shadowy organisation that wants the information in Plesur’s head. If only Venner knew what this information actually meant...
The only option for our heroes seems to be to hide out in the flooded New Jersey territories but they’re about to find that this particular hiding place is even more dangerous than what they had left behind. Separated from each other, Venner finds himself an unwilling contestant in gladiatorial games while Julia finds herself at the mercy of a gangster with only one thing on his mind. Both of them need to get themselves out of trouble before Plesur lands even further in it...

As I said at the start, is it possible for a pulp novel to be too ‘pulpy’? If it gets in the way of the story then I’d say that the answer is a resounding yes. And that’s what we get over the course of ‘The Bloodstained Man’.
There is plenty of style on display here, all skilfully rendered by Rowley. If you’re not getting shootouts that look effortlessly cool then you’re up against sex scenes that skirt the edges of decency (just enough for you to get that sense of the degrading but no more). You could almost be watching a film here instead of reading a book, a feeling that is sadly emphasised by Justin Norman’s slapdash approach to the interior art this time round. When Norman’s good he’s really good. At other times though, it feels more like he’s rattling off some quick storyboard art instead. The difference in quality really does show... The bottom line though is that ‘The Bloodstained Man’ is a slick affair that moves forward at a nice pace.

Having a lot of style is all well and good but I came away feeling like there was nothing of substance to back things up. There’s a mystery in the background, waiting to be solved, but it doesn’t get a chance to come to the fore as people are too busy looking cool and blowing stuff up. With such a key and integral part of the plot relegated to the background there’s nothing left to give the book any real structure. What we’re left with is a confusing series of events that propel our characters towards a finale that the author hasn’t deemed important enough to be given much (if any) airtime...

The characters get the same kind of treatment. As was the case with ‘Feed’ (reviewed yesterday); Venner, Plesur and co are too busy conforming to various pulp tropes for the reader to get a real picture of who they actually are. I know this is a pulp novel but surely that doesn’t mean that the characters can’t take on their own identity as well as being hard-bitten, glamorous yet vulnerable and so on...
When I start to feel that a character could be anyone (with no real identity of their own) that’s when I start to lose interest and I don’t think the whole ‘pulp’ excuse really cuts it...

‘The Bloodstained Man’ isn’t really the second part of a trilogy as such and, having read the first book, I’d say that what we’re looking at here isn’t really a trilogy at all. What we’re getting here feels more like one large book that has been split into three smaller parts. The two books flowed nicely into one another but with no cliff-hanger as such. There’s more of a cliff-hanger, at the end, than there was last time round but there still wasn’t that sense of urgency that would have set things up nicely for the finale. It was more a case of ‘I know what will happen next so I’m not too worried about it...’ As was the case with ‘Pleasure Model’, ‘The Bloodstained Man’ plays to its pulp roots so heavily that you can more or less predict what will happen next (although I’m willing to be proved wrong!) With only one book left I’ll probably finish the series but I’m not invested in it at all. Having three distinct books might have given the plot some much needed impetus but the complacent way that the first two have flowed into one another robbed the series of the urgency that it needed.

In the great battle between style and substance, ‘The Bloodstained Man’ came out firmly in favour of style. What was a victory for style though felt like a bitter defeat for the story itself. It may be too late for the trilogy but I’m hoping that things pick up for the final chapter...

Six out of Ten

The ‘Second from Last Thing at Night...’ Competition Winner’s Post.

Because the ‘last thing’ is going to be me going to bed after another heavy day. I wish tomorrow was Saturday! Oh well...

Back to the business at hand! Thanks to everyone entered my competition for David Gunn’s ‘Day of the Damned’. If you didn’t win then this is a book that’s worth going out and finding a copy of. If you did win then your name is one of the names below...

Simon Moore, York, UK
Nikolay Ivanov, Bulgaria
Janet Broughton, West Yorkshire, UK
Marianna Kiss, Cornwall, UK

Was your name in the list? Well done if it was (your book is on it’s way!) and better luck next time if it wasn’t...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

‘Feed’ – Mira Grant (Orbit)

This one goes out to Gav who mentioned in a comment on his blog, some months ago now, that he would like to see me review some longer books on the blog. ‘Feed’ took some chipping away at, what with one thing and another, but five hundred and seventy four pages later... I made it. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for you Gav! I might even be warming up to tackle something even longer...

‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ is like a black hole for anything that’s zombie related. If it’s out there then you can bet that it is slowly being drawn towards the blog for some kind of review or feature; that’s just the way it is. There are some places that I would never expect to see a zombie novel claw it’s way out of; with its predominantly sci-fi and fantasy list Orbit Books is definitely one of those places so a zombie novel from them was always going to pique my interest. Add that to my natural leaning towards zombie fiction and ‘Feed’ automatically jumped right to the top of the reading pile. It’s a shame then that the book didn’t turn out to be quite as enjoyable as I was expecting...

What do you get if you cross a cure for cancer with a cure for the common cold? In a word... zombies! You also get a lot of characters who smoke but that’s besides the point... Blogger coverage of the initial outbreak has made bloggers the ‘must read’ source of news and they will go to any lengths to improve their ratings. Georgia and Shaun Mason are bloggers with a hook on one of the biggest stories of the year. What they don’t know is that what they’re involved in is only part of a story that is even bigger. A story that will literally eat them alive if they’re not very careful...

One of the most important things about any zombie novel is whether the author chooses to explain just what caused the whole mess in the first place. People like George Romero and Robert Kirkman have proved all too well that having an element of mystery to a zombie outbreak can pay real dividends in terms of putting the focus totally on the story. If you’re going to take things in the other direction then you need to make damn sure that what you’re pushing is going to do the business!
Miriam Grant’s explanation behind her outbreak of zombies is superbly done but it hobbles the story at the same time...

Miriam Grant is a lady who has clearly spent far too long thinking about how a zombie outbreak might occur and what the ramifications might be for any survivors. On the face of it, this is nothing but a good thing. The root causes of Grant’s outbreak have been thoroughly thought out and transferred to the page with the same care and attention. I’m hard pressed to think of a speculative book (that I’ve read) that’s had as much thought put into it as this one. You actually don’t deserve the amount of thought that Mira Grant has put into this book. What the reader gets, as a result, is a post apocalyptic world where no stone has been left unturned. It’s the ultimate picture of life after the zombie apocalypse... or is it?

Miriam Grant is having a lot of fun showing us around the world that she has created but sometimes I was left wondering if she was having a little too much fun at the expense of the story itself. ‘Feed’ is a solemn look at how a future America might function after the zombie apocalypse but when there aren’t actually that many zombies to be seen over the course of the plot...? I’ll happily admit that my ‘ideal zombie cast’ runs into the thousands (at least) and I’m not going to get this every time. Having said that though, ‘Feed’ is meant to be a book about zombies. Stop telling me about the safeguards, insurance premiums, disease control measures etc and start giving me the good stuff! Or is ‘Feed’ really a book about zombies? You could say that the book’s concentration on political skulduggery and the evolution of the news media makes it an entirely different read... that just happens to have zombies in it. It’s all very detailed but all that detail left me feeling sorry for the poor story underneath that was doing its best to get out... It is a good one with a mystery that creeps up on you (just when you’re not expecting it) and demands to be solved.

Whichever way round it is, when the zombies do appear Grant really kicks things into gear and shows us what she can do with zombies if she really sets her mind to it. The opening chapter is nothing short of awesome with our heroes cornered by zombies and having to take extreme measures in order to escape. Every so often, over the course of the book Grant throws zombies at us and, without fail, it rocks every single time. Once again, Grant has put a lot of thought into her world but this time it comes with a generous side order of adrenaline and blood, just the way it should be. It’s just a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t be like this...

Grant’s characters encounter similar difficulties (to the zombies themselves) in that the sheer complexity of Grant’s world doesn’t really give the characters a chance to breathe. When you’re talking about your main characters that’s a real problem. Georgia and Shaun Mason stand out in their own right but you don’t get much of a feel for who they really are. Bloggers in ‘Feed’ are divided into three distinct groups and what I found was that both Shaun and Georgia adhered to the qualities of their respective groups without really going beyond that.
Again though, when Grant does give her characters a chance to stretch their legs she does it in style. Grant really captures what it must feel like to live in the middle of a zombie infestation and all the grim realities that must entail. I may have shed a little tear at a certain point very near the end; Grant is that good but only when she wants to be...

‘Feed’ was a gripping yet ultimately frustrating read where I ended up learning a lot about the setting at the expense of the story and its characters. Not the balance that I look for when I’m reading...
There was more than enough here though to have me interested in picking up the next book and seeing what happens next. ‘Feed’ is the start of a series with potential but it could go either way...

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 21 June 2010

Cover Art Monday!

Having a little one in the house means that the reading pile is steadily growing once more and laughs at my feeble attempts to scale it. I'm chipping away at it (and have reviews in the pipeline) but I often find myself just looking at the cover art instead. And so this post was born. Here's a look at some cover art which has caught my eye for one reason or another...

If you've been around for a while then you'll know that I occasionally get review copies of the same book from different publishers. Here's the latest book from Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge (courtesy of Piatkus and Spectra),

Not sure why they had to go for a different title for the UK and US release but there you go I guess. Anyone know?
In the ocean spanning battle between UK and US cover art, 'Shades of Gray' steals it for the US in my opinion. Congratulations also go to the Book Smugglers who got themselves quoted in that edition. I had some fun with 'Black and White' so will give this a go soon.

The Black Library always come up with the goods with their cover art and the artwork for the 'Enforcer' omnibus is no exception, check it out...

Lovely stuff by Marek Okon but there was something about this piece that nagged away at the back of my mind, almost like I'd seen that person before... It took me a while but I finally worked it out. Is the blogosphere's very own Amanda Rutter enforcing Imperial law in the Hydraphur system under an assumed identity? Have a look at Amanda's photo and decide for yourself. I think the evidence speaks for itself...

Hannu Rajaniemi's 'The Quantum Thief' gets a mention here because the cover looks darn cool,

See what I mean? Adam loved this book, I'm not such a huge fan of hard sci-fi but could easily be persuaded to give this one a shot.

Finally, I have a not so proud reputation of being the last one to the party whenever there's a great book that everyone is talking about. A lot of people on various forums have enjoyed Michael J. Sullivan's 'The Crown Conspiracy' and I've finally got my hands on a copy...

It's not often that you come across a cover that gives you no clues about what the book itself might hold, that's just what this cover does though (apart from hinting that trees and a castle might play some kind of role in the plot...) I shall give it a read and let you know how those trees get on... ;o)

And now it's back to the books themselves. The plan is to finish 'The Anubis Gates' this week; things are starting to speed up after a slow start and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes (although an intuitive leap saw me solve the mystery of William Ashbless before the book had barely begun...) I can't believe that I 'spoilered' the book for myself...

R. Scott Bakker - New Website

I can only dream of the day that I end up in a job where I'm forced onto the internet and left to do my thing. If you're R. Scott Bakker though, that's the kind of thing that happens to you and you end up with a new blog as a result.
Click here to find out just why God took violent exception to Bakker's poor computer... and then read the rest. That's what I'm doing (while I'm waiting for 'The White Luck Warrior', the publication date of which has totally slipped my mind... help?)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Giveaway! 'Sword of Justice' (Chris Wraight)

Thanks to the quite frankly awesome people at the Black Library, I have five copies of Chris Wraight's 'Sword of Justice' to give away on the blog. Just to clarify, it's still books that I'm giving away here and not five replicas of the mighty blade that Mr Wraight is rumoured to keep and uses when justice needs to be done... ;o)

Still with me? Brilliant! Here's the blurb for what is the first book in the new 'Warhammer Heroes' series...

Fresh from the slaughter of the Emperor's enemies in the north, Ludwig Schwarzhelm, Emperor's Champion, is sent to Averland to oversee the inauguration of a new elector count. Beset by greenskins, and hampered on all sides by the ambitions of rival magnates, he is soon fighting to keep the fractious province together. But the rot runs deep. Powerful forces in Altdorf seem determined to see him fail, and suspicion falls on even his most trusted allies. When all is at its bleakest, the mark of Chaos and the full horror of his task is finally revealed. Alone, doubted by those closest to him, this will be Schwarzhelm's greatest ever challenge, one on which the destiny of the Empire itself depends.

If this sounds like your kind of thing then you know the drill by now. Send me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. You also need to make it very clear in your subject header that this the competition that you want to enter. If you don't then your entry doesn't make it into the final draw...

This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

I’ll let this one run until the 27th of June and will aim to announce the winners as soon as I can afterwards...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Giveaway! ‘Swords & Dark Magic’ (Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders)

I had one hell of a time with ‘Swords & Dark Magic’, scroll down a little bit to see what I mean... Now I’m spreading the love a little with the help of those nice people at Eos! I have five copies of ‘Swords & Dark Magic’ to give away to five readers of the blog. The only thing is though... you can only enter if you live in the US. Those are the rules I’m afraid, sorry about that everyone else.

Entering is as simple as always. See my email address in the top right hand corner of the screen? No... the right hand corner. You got it! Drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is, you also need to make it clear in your subject header that this is the competition that you want to enter. I’ll do everything else.

I’ll let this one run until the 27th of June and will aim to announce the winners as soon as I can afterwards...

Good Luck!

Friday, 18 June 2010

‘Transformers: Exodus (The Official History of the War For Cybertron)’ – Alex Irvine (Del Rey)

I’m not a huge Transformers fan; my involvement runs to watching two of the films (the brilliant 80’s film and ‘not quite as brilliant but still quite cool’ 2007 version) and sneaking a look at my little brother’s comics once he’d finished reading them. There’s nothing more fun though than watching (or reading about) giant robots smashing the hell out of each other so reading ‘Transformers: Exodus’ was a bit of a no-brainer really...

Like I said, I’m not a huge Transformers fan but there’s still something a little odd about a book that styles itself as ‘The Official History of the War for Cybertron’ when the franchise itself has been running since the early eighties and any history arising from that is about as ‘official’ as you’re going to get. Someone left a comment, next to my earlier post about this, saying that ‘Exodus’ will more than likely only be canonical with the forthcoming Transformers video game. If that’s the case then fair enough I guess, might be worth bearing in mind though...
Enough of that though, on with the book itself...

‘... every Cybertronian has the right to self determination’

You think you’d have a pretty good guess at which Cybertronian would say something like this... but you’d be wrong. So what happened to make a revolutionary with high ideals become the focal point of a scourge that threatens to bleed Cybertron dry of energy at the very least? And how did a lowly librarian become Cybertron’s last hope? ‘Transformers: Exodus’ answers these questions amongst others, giving it’s readers a first hand account of the war between Autobots and Decepticons and the tumultuous last days of Cybertron itself...

‘Transformers: Exodus’ is one of those books that is hobbled by the fact that you know how it’s going to end. Even if you haven’t read the comics or seen the cartoons, the title is a dead giveaway as to what the last few pages will have in store (it’s not a spoiler at all to say that there’s an ‘exodus’ in the offing...) In this kind of situation you really need something that will take the place of an ending that could go either way, something that will hook the reader and keep them interested despite everything else. Alex Irvine gets it right but he also gets it wrong at the same time, at least as far as I was concerned...

The trade off for knowing how things are going to end is that we get a fresh look at two leading figures in the Transformers universe, Optimus Prime and Megatron. Irvine lets his readers have a real close look at these characters, detailing their rise and fall as well as the relationship that they share. I enjoyed reading this as Irvine didn’t spare any of the detail here (impressive seeing as my ARC copy of the book is only four hundred and seventy six pages long); you really get to find out what’s going on in their heads and how this will affect the future of an entire planet. Cybertron is also laid out very well on the page, fans should recognise a few landmarks while newcomers will have plenty to get to grips with.

What I wasn’t so keen on was the war itself and how it was portrayed on the page. Don’t get me wrong, you still get robots laying the hurt on each other in all the best ways from the initial bursts of insurrection all the way through to all out war. You can feel the beating that these guys take and the introduction of characters like Omega Supreme make for some spectacular moments!
What I wasn’t so keen on though was Irvine’s decision to switch his descriptions of the war from Optimus Prime’s perspective on the front line to the journal accounts of the historian Alpha Trion.
In theory, it’s a great way of getting a large of chunk of action and events into a book that shouldn’t be able to hold it all and on that score this approach hits the target. What I found though was that the combination of high octane action followed by drier historical recounting just didn’t gel at all for me. It was almost a case of getting two stories when there should have only been the one... The pace never really had a chance to settle into something constant and I had real trouble getting into the flow...

I also had issues with the book that, to be fair, are more about my only really being a casual fan and not knowing too much about the background of the Transformers universe. I think that long term fans may read the book and see a natural and logical progression to what the Autobots have to face based on what they already know. What I found though was a confusing muddle of ‘we’ve defeated this obstacle but now we have to defeat something even bigger!’ that only seemed to serve the purpose of driving the story for another few pages. I’m prepared to write this off to my lack of background knowledge but, even so, I wasn’t keen on what I felt was the story being dragged out when it didn’t need to be...

‘Transformers: Exodus’ has a lot going for it in terms of it being a light and entertaining read that worked for me over a couple of trips to work and back. I had issues with its structure though and was left feeling that someone who was more a fan would get more out of it than I did...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Terry Pratchett Prize!

From the email...

Sir Terry Pratchett and Transworld Publishers are proud to launch a new award for aspiring debut novelists, The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now Prize. Transworld will offer the winning author a publishing contract with a £20,000 advance.

The award will be judged by the esteemed Sir Terry Pratchett, the wise Tony Robinson, the savvy Mike Rowley from Waterstone’s and two members of the editorial team at Transworld Publishers.

Sir Terry Pratchett had this to say:

“Anywhere but here, anywhen but now. Which means we are after stories set on Earth, although it may be an Earth that might have been, or might yet be, one that has gone down a different leg of the famous trousers of time (see the illustration in almost every book about quantum theory).

We will be looking for books set at any time, perhaps today, perhaps in the Rome of today but in a world where 2000 years ago the crowd shouted for Jesus Christ to be spared, or where in 1962, John F Kennedy's game of chicken with the Russians went horribly wrong. It might be one day in the life of an ordinary person. It could be a love story, an old story, a war story, a story set in a world where Leonardo da Vinci turned out to be a lot better at Aeronautics. But it won’t be a story about being in an alternate Earth because the people in an alternate Earth don’t know that they are; after all, you don’t.

But this might just be the start. The wonderful Peter Dickinson once wrote a book that could convince you that flying dragons might have existed on Earth. Perhaps in the seething mass of alternate worlds humanity didn't survive, or never evolved -- but other things did, and they would have seen the world in a different way. The possibilities are literally endless, but remember, it’s all on Earth. Maybe the continents will be different and the climate unfamiliar, but the physics will be the same as ours. What goes up must come down, ants are ant-sized because if they were any bigger their legs wouldn't carry them. In short, the story must be theoretically possible on some version of the past, present or future of a planet Earth.”

The deadline for submissions will be 31 December 2010 and a shortlist of six entries will be announced on the 31 March 2011. The winner will be announced by the end May 2011.

Entrants must be over 18, have no previous published full-length works of fictionand live in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth. Submissions should be emailed to: For full terms and conditions visit

Dust off your quills and begin!

The 'It just looks like I'm up late, we all know I scheduled this post' competition winner's post!

Thanks to everyone who entered the competitions for Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ and David Moody’s ‘Dog Blood’; your mails made the ‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review Inbox’ very happy at all the attention it got! :o) Unfortunately for everyone else, there could only be one winner for each book and those lucky chaps were...

‘The Passage’

Greg Wargo, Fort Collins, Colorado

‘Dog Blood’

Steve Deighan, Edinburgh, Scotland (Steve gets some little extras with the book as David emailed me and very kindly offered to throw a few extra bits and pieces in with the book!)

Well done guys, your books should hopefully be with you very soon! Better luck next time everyone else, I’ve got more competitions lined up so maybe next time will be your time...

In other news, a recent influx of books has led to me pretty much abandoning all pretence of a reading list (especially with Hope’s extremely short boredom threshold meaning that reading larger books is out of the question right now...) ‘Salute the Dark’ will be up soon and ‘The Anubis Gates’ won’t be too far behind it. After that though, who knows... (just the way I like it!)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

‘The White Road’ – Lynn Flewelling (Spectra)

I usually try and finish whatever book I pick up, just to see how the story ends if nothing else. Every now and then though, a book comes along that I just can’t finish. Sometimes (for whatever reason) it’s a book that I just can’t stomach, life can really be too short for that kind of thing... Other times though, it’s not the book’s fault at all and ‘The White Road’ was one of those books.
Here’s the blurb...

Dissolute nobles, master spies, and the unlikeliest of heroes, Alec and Seregil have survived exile, treachery, and black magic. But the road that lies ahead is the most hazardous they’ve ever traveled. For with enemies on all sides, they must walk a narrow path between good and evil where one misstep might be their last.

Having escaped death and slavery in Plenimar, Alec and Seregil want nothing more than to go back to their nightrunning life in Rhíminee. Instead they find themselves saddled with Sebrahn, a strange, alchemically created creature—the prophesied “child of no woman.” Its moon-white skin and frightening powers make Sebrahn a danger to all whom Alec and Seregil come into contact with, leaving them no choice but to learn more about Sebrahn’s true nature.

With the help of trusted friends and Seregil’s clan, the duo set out to discover the truth about this living homunculus—a journey that can lead only to danger or death. For Seregil’s old nemesis Ulan í Sathil of Virèsse and Alec’s own long-lost kin are after them, intent on possessing both Alec and Sebrahn. On the run and hunted, Alec and his comrades must fight against time to accomplish their most personal mission ever.

I’ll quite happily jump straight into the middle of a series these days, more often that not out of curiosity to see how the book works on it’s own. It’s a strategy that has paid dividends in the past and is always worth a shot; it didn’t work this time...

From what I read, ‘The White Road’ is a book that seeks to build upon and develop relationships that have been in place since the beginning of the series. The problem I had here was that, not having read the other books, I couldn’t really get the feel for these relationships that would have made the read easier to engage with. Imagine being the outsider who is introduced to a group of people that have known each other for years and, although welcoming, aren’t that accessible as a group. That was how I felt reading ‘The White Road’. The story itself takes a back seat to the character development and that made it even more difficult for me to engage fully with the book itself...

That pretty much killed it for me although I read enough to get me half interested in going back to the beginning of the series and starting from there, if I ever get the time...

Any comments from people who have read the other books in this series are more than welcome! Did you like the books, dislike them or were you left feeling cold...?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

‘Swords & Dark Magic’ – Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders (Eos)

‘Sword and Sorcery’ fiction is back! Hang on... I never thought that it really went away. To be fair, the way I see it is that ‘sword and sorcery’ is more a part of the whole fantasy literature experience these days rather than a sub-genre in it’s own right. It’s still there though, you just need to know what to look out for (those little nods and winks to a movement that has been hugely influential in the way fantasy literature has developed over the years).

As far as Anders and Strahan are concerned though this isn’t really the point. What they’re after is a celebration of the sub-genre that’s reminiscent of its successful earlier days as well as highlighting authors who are adding their own spin to it right now. This isn’t a book that seeks to redefine the genre, it’s more of a book that sets out to remind us that the genre never really went away and that there’s a lot of new stuff that we would all like. In this regard the anthology totally hits the spot, at least for people like me who are after entertaining slices of sword and sorcery where there’s a magical artefact/monster to be stolen or killed. There’s a good mixture here of new work from old hands and new work from those who haven’t been around for quite so long. It’s certainly fair to say that there’s something here for everyone but, at the same time, this can also mean that not everything hits that spot. This was the case for me. On the whole, ‘Swords & Dark Magic’ was a thoroughly entertaining read. When I got into individual stories however, not all of them did it for me...

I’m a fan of fast paced, swashbuckling sword and sorcery tales. I also enjoy the work of most of the authors in this book (which you might want to bear in mind when you read this review). I was very much looking forward to reading certain tales in the book and those particular authors did not disappoint.
Things kick off in style with Steven Erikson’s ‘Goats of Glory’, a tale of soldiers sheltering in a castle that is already well occupied... Erikson has already shown that he can do long rambling epics as well as shorter humorous pieces. In ‘Goats’, Erikson shows us that he’s also a dab hand at tighter, action packed pieces. The pace doesn’t let up (until Erikson decides otherwise) and the story is full of surprises. And what a way to end the tale! What could possibly be worse than what was in the castle? We will never know but you’ll be thinking about for a long time to come...
As a long time fan of the ‘Black Company’ it was a real treat to come across an all new story from Glen Cook in ‘Tides Elba’. Cook may not be doing anything new with his characters but this tale is more about getting reacquainted with old friends in any case (at least as far as I was concerned). Cook proves that he hasn’t lost his touch in showing his readers the life of a frontline soldier and the story itself serves to flesh out the world that he created. If that wasn’t enough, it’s a lot of fun as well.
No ‘Sword and Sorcery’ collection is complete without a tale from Michael Moorcock and he doesn’t disappoint here with his story ‘Red Pearls’. This is a new tale of Elric that fills in one of the gaps in his travels with Moonglum. Given that Elric’s tale came to an end some years ago, I found that this tale (entertaining as it was) was lacking in the tension that could have raised its game considerably. Still worth a look though.

Tim Lebbon has become a favourite of mine over the last couple of years so it was a welcome surprise to see a contribution from him in the book. ‘The Deification of Dal Bamore’ gives the reader an interesting spin in that it’s not so much ‘sword and sorcery’ as it is ‘sword and... sorcery?’ Here’s a tale where the ending could go either way and Lebbon isn’t dropping any hints as to what will eventually happen. If this is what we can expect from Lebbon’s forthcoming ‘Echo City’ then I for one will definitely be picking it up!
Scott Lynch has been off the radar for a little while but pops up with the goods in ‘In the Stacks’. Here’s what the Unseen University Library would look like if Terry Pratchett got out of bed on the wrong side and decided to tell something a little darker instead of comedic... It is comedic in places though and you can tell that Lynch is having a lot of fun here, I had a lot of fun as well.
Joe Abercrombie rounds the book off in much the same kind of style with which Erikson opened proceedings. ‘The Fool Jobs’ throws some names at us that you may have come across before if you’ve read Joe’s other books. It’s good to see that Joe is as equally at home writing shorter fiction as he is the longer stuff. Whirrun laughs out loud right at the end of the tale and I wasn’t far off joining him. You could tell how this one was going to turn out but this one is more about the journey itself, it’s worth the trip.

But what about all the other stories? Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten them...

I found myself dividing ‘Swords and Dark Magic’ into two sections. We’ve already been through the stories that I made a special effort to be around for, here’s the rest...

Gene Wolfe is one of those authors who is a giant in the genre but also one that I have never read anything of. I know, shame on me... ‘Bloodsport’ seemed as good a place as any to get started! Wolfe clearly knows how to tell a good story but I found myself to be not so clear on what story he was actually telling. What I thought was going on at the beginning didn’t appear to be what was going on by the end... or was it? I don’t know so I can’t say an awful lot more without a re-read first...
James Enge’s ‘The Singing Spear’ ended up being a lot more accessible than I thought it would be. I wasn’t too impressed with ‘The Blood of Ambrose’ and that led to my not even bothering with ‘This Crooked Way’. If only I’d read ‘The Singing Spear’ first... Fast paced, witty and with an ending that made me chuckle at Morlock’s ingenuity.

While other bloggers talk about how many books they’ve read I’m quite happy to go in the other direction and readily admit that there are loads of authors whom I’ve never read before. ‘Swords & Dark Magic’ threw up a few for me to cross off that list... A few days ago I mentioned that I had never read anything by C.J Cherryh. ‘A Wizard of Wiscezan’ was my first foray into her writing and it had a neat little spin on the whole ‘boy who is more powerful than he realises’ plotline. It didn’t really grab me though, possibly because I was coming in right off the back of ‘The Singing Spear’ and was looking for that momentum to continue (which it didn’t).
I have read some of Tanith Lee’s work but that was so many years ago now that it’s safe to say that it felt like I was approaching her work for the first time (I mean, if I can’t even remember the names of the books I read...) ‘Two Lions, a Witch and the War Robe’ was gently playful, in it’s language and plot, with just enough of a hint of darkness to lend proper credence to its fairy tale feel.
‘Dark Times at the Midnight Market’ was my first venture into Robert Silverberg’s ‘Majipoor’ and I picked the right time to make that trip. The misadventures of a certain potion maker had me hooked right up until an ending that you could see coming but was non the less apt.

Not all the stories worked for me though. Greg Keyes’ ‘The Undefiled’ felt like it had been taken out of a longer story and dumped on the page. The feeling of disjointedness, and the natural slow pace of the plot, was a real obstacle to my engaging with the story itself. Funnily enough, Bill Willingham’s ‘Thieves of Daring’ had that same kind of feel but worked a lot better, possibly because the pace was a lot faster and the ending was more definite.
Michael Shea’s ‘Dapple Hew the Tintmaster’ was another disappointment. A slow read where the promised ‘star turn’ was more of a cameo than anything else. I’m not sure that I’d give Shea’s other work a go on the strength of this...

And to round things off... K.J. Parker’s ‘A Rich Full Week’ did it’s job well enough but didn’t really grab me. Parker defines magic as a branch of science but doesn’t really make the definition particularly clear. Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be but at times I wasn’t sure whether I was reading about magic or science... I liked the concept though and the ending was just right.
Garth Nix’ ‘A Suitable Present...’ made me laugh, both at the humour within and the way it all fitted together to achieve that affect. Caitlin Kiernan’s ‘The Sea Troll’s Daughter’ was a bit of a slow starter but became something gorgeous by its end. I enjoyed Kiernan’s gradual focusing upon the real hero of the piece and again, the ending was suitably vague...

Could this be the longest review I’ve ever posted here? Possibly, thanks for sticking around! The fact is though that there is plenty to talk about in this collection; a collection that may be a bit ‘hit and miss’ in places but achieves it’s aim with a more than solid batch of entertaining tales. Recommended reading as far as I’m concerned!

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 14 June 2010

Accquisition Announcement - Terry Pratchett

Shamelessly copied and pasted from the email press release as I'm trying to make sure that the baby doesn't wake up just yet...

Transworld Publishers are delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

Sir Terry Pratchett first developed his vision of a chain of parallel worlds, The Long Earth, in an unfinished novel and two short stories in 1986, after writing Equal Rites, the third novel in what would turn into the hugely successful Discworld series. Now, at last, this long-gestating concept is to see the light of day in two as-yet-untitled books written in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, author of Flood, Ark and the Time’s Tapestry and Destiny’s Children series.

‘Our Earth is but one of a chain of parallel worlds, each differing from its neighbours by a little (or a lot) in an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And you can just step from one world to the next…’

The deal was brokered through Colin Smythe and Ralph Vicinanza and the first Long Earth novel is due to be published by Doubleday in spring 2012.

Additionally, Sir Terry Pratchett has recently completed I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth in the Tiffany Aching books, to be published in September, and is already at work on his next Discworld novel for publication in autumn 2011. Number 37 in the series, Unseen Academicals, has just come out in Corgi paperback.

Sounds interesting...

‘A Tale of Two Comics…’

Comic books have been on the shelves since, well… forever. I on the other hand have only been reading the things on and off for the last few years. It’s fair to say then that I have a lot of catching up to do with certain long running titles and my wallet recently put its foot down regarding how far I can go back in time with these (thank the comic book gods for the collected editions!) It was a nice surprise then to find a couple of ‘first issues’ that looked worth a shot, especially as they had zombies in them! :o) My little foray to the comic book store resulted in a bit of a mixed bag though…

‘i zombie’ (Vertigo) – Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

Gwen Dylan works as a gravedigger at the local cemetery, nice choice of career really as she is a zombie! When she’s not digging graves, she’s digging up graves so she can get to the juicy brains within (but only once a month, brains don’t taste that nice). Gwen’s flatmate is a ghost from the nineteen sixties and she suffers from the geekish attentions of the local were-terrier. Who’s the mysterious good looking guy in the car though…?

Hang on…

Zombies can run if they want but they mostly shamble. Their ‘lives’ are ruled by the overriding desire for human flesh, not their love life or a desire to catch the killer of the dead brain that they just ate. Zombies and that certain kind of Urban Fantasy don’t mix, if you try to make a zombie sexy then what you’re left with isn’t really a zombie is it? I’ll give you a clue, the answer isn’t yes.
The story itself sets things up nicely for future issues (lots of potential plotlines are introduced) and Michael Allred’s artwork did what it set out to do although it doesn’t do much else. To be honest though, I can’t see myself being around for issue two. I think I’d rather read some Kelley Armstrong instead. 4/10

'Marvel Zombies #1’ (Marvel) – Robert Kirkman & Sean Phillips

After my rant about the previous comic you would have thought that I’d be dishing out more of the same for ‘Marvel Zombies’. Not so. Robert Kirkman has a fine zombie writing pedigree already and he knows just what a zombie comic should be all about. The Marvel zombies may still all have their powers (apart from Spiderman) but at the end of the day it’s all about satisfying that hunger for human flesh. Kirkman has his ‘heroes’ go for it in style and they’re up against the most powerful mutant of all. I’ve never really cheered Magneto on in the past I had to this time round, you will too.
Issue one is fast paced and funny but ultimately very, very bloody; just the way it should be. Sean Phillips’ artwork complements what Kirkman’s story does in just the right way. Forget picking up issue two (even though it has the Silver Surfer in it), I might just have to go for the collected editions here. Anyone else read this series? 10/10

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The 'Catch Up' Post...

I’ve been away the last week, visiting the in-laws in Plymouth and showing the baby off, and very nice it’s been too! I’ve also been trying to catch up on some reading (because the pile is getting very big now) and the plan is to have reviews up for ‘Swords & Dark Magic’, ‘Salute the Dark’ and ‘The White Road’ up over the next few days. You might even get to see what I thought of the first ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ collection as well. Stick around, I’m pretty excited about what’s on the blog this week… :o)
That’s all to come though, this post is more about a couple of things that have been mentioned on line while I was away (hence the catchy title)...

Everyone has been posting about this and that’s far too many links to include in one simple blog post. I got an email from the publicist at Tor so I’m going from that instead ;o) If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson then you’ll probably want to know that have the first fifty pages of ‘The Way of Kings’ for fans to whet their appetites on. You need to be a registered user to get the whole excerpt but even if you’re not you still get the prelude and prologue to chew on. That can’t be bad!
I enjoyed ‘Elantris’ but never read ‘Warbreaker’ and never finished the ‘Mistborn’ series either (just couldn’t get into it…) ‘The Way of Kings’ does sound interesting though so I reckon I’ll give it a go.

Adam linked to a post from Sara Douglass who talks about her cancer and how it will inevitably kill her.

I am sick of this tawdry game. I am sick to death of comforting people when all I want is to be comforted. I am sick of being abandoned by people for months on end only to be told eventually that ‘I knew they were thinking of me, right?’ I am sick of being exhorted to be silent and sweet and stoic. I know I face a long and lonely death and no, I don’t think I should just accept that.
I don’t think I should keep silent about it.

Damn right. It can only be good for everyone if things like this are talked about.
For what they’re worth, all my best wishes go to Sara Douglass and her family at this time.

And finally, Pat links to a piece written by Stephen Deas who is understandably a little hacked off by the fact that someone got him to autograph an advance copy of ‘The Thief Taker’s Apprentice’ and then promptly went off and sold it on ebay. I wonder if Stephen wasn’t so much hacked off about the money as he was about the fact that he feels a little taken advantage of by someone whom he thought was a fan but was just on the take. Either way it’s not particularly nice.

My advice (for what it’s worth) is to go down the whole ‘personalised book signing’ route. If you’re a fan then it’s a little bit special and it should also cut down on the number of ebayers who would want to buy the advance copy (not something I do anyway but I certainly wouldn’t want a book that was signed for someone else…)
Does anyone really care what I do with my advance copies once I’ve finished reading them? You do? Ok then… If I like ‘em I keep ‘em. If I don’t then off to the charity shop they go (or to friends). I get these books for free and it’s always felt wrong to make money off them because of that…

Oh well, back to the reading… :o)

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Giveaway! 'Day of the Damned' (David Gunn)

I reviewed this book back in June last year. I even ran a competition for copies not long afterwards. 'Day of the Damned' is out in mass market paperback though and because it's such a fun read I thought I'd give it away all over again... :o)

Thanks to Transworld Books I have five copies of 'Day of the Damned' to give away on the blog. Anyone can enter this competition but only if they live in the UK or Europe... Sorry everyone else! 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 where you live. You also need to make it clear, on the subject header, that this is the competition you're entering. If you don't tell me then you don't get entered...

I'll let this one run until the 20th of June and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards...

Good Luck!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Cover Art vs. The Blurb...

Sometimes you see a cover and you immediately think, "I'm having some of that!" That's what I thought when I saw the cover for Rowena Cory Daniells' 'The King's Bastard'. Check it out...

Gorgeous isn't it? :o) But then you turn the book over to a blurb that really dampens your enthusiasm, much like Rowena Cory Daniells' 'The King's Bastard'... Here it is,

Only seven minutes younger than Rolencia's heir, Byren has never hungered for the throne. He laughs when a seer predicts that he will kill his twin. But the royal heir resents Byren's growing popularity. Across the land the untamed magic of the gods wells up out of the earth's heart. It sends exotic creatures to stalk the wintry nights and it twists men's minds, granting them terrible visions. Those so touched are sent to the Abbey to control their gift, or die. At King Rolen's court enemies plot to take his throne, even as secrets within his own household threaten to tear his family apart. Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in an exciting new fantasy trilogy.

I have to say it doesn't sound like anything I haven't read before. There's enough there to make me want to give it a go, at least, but I'm not holding out much hope. I'm a real sucker for cover art at the moment though and what I see there really makes me want to have the book prove me wrong!

What about you though? Is this a book that you would pick up? And what happened here to have the cover art and blurb at odds with each other...?

'Go Mutants!' The Website...

I mentioned this title a few weeks ago, still waiting on my review copy but I'm looking forward to giving it a go when it arrives.
In the meantime though, there's a whole Website that you can check out with stuff like a trailer for the book itself as well as a whole load of trailers for old B-Movies. Worth a look I reckon :o)

Here's the blurb for the book itself...

What if the movies that glowed from drive-in screens from the '50s and '60s weren't fantasies but really happened? In Go, Mutants!, Larry Doyle has created a world populated with the monsters, aliens, and mutants of B-movie legend, with all the beach parties, dances, fist fights, and hotrod races of classic teen dramas. An unforgettable era of pop culture is brought to life in an uproarious mash-up filled with Romance! Danger! Intergalactic Conspiracy! Molting!

Earth has survived alien invasions, attacks by hordes of atomic mutants and the ravages of dinosaurs brought back to life. Now we're in the blissful future. The grass is always green, freshly mowed by famous robots. Carhops in jetpacks deliver burger and fries to your atomic coupe. And automatic sidewalks can take you anywhere: the Watch the Skies Drive-in, Crater Cove, and Manhattan High, where everybody roots for the Mutants.

J!m, the son of the alien who nearly destroyed the planet, is a brooding blue-skinned rebel with an enormous forehead and exceptionally oily skin. Along with Johnny, a leather-jacketed radioactive ape, and Jelly, a gelatinous mass passing as a fat kid, J!m navigates a scary adolescence in which he really is as alienated as he feels, the world might actually be out to get him, and true love is complicated by misunderstanding and incompatible parts. As harmless school antics escalate into explosive events with tragic consequences, J!m makes a discovery that will alter the course of civilization, though it may help his dating life.

I'm off to watch some old school B-Movie trailers, hopefully they've got 'The Blob'...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

I've never read anything by...

As I'm posting this, I've never read anything by one C.J. Cherryh; yet another name on the long list of fantasy/sci-fi writers that I've yet to read...
By the time you read this though, things will be slightly different. I'm working my way through the 'Swords & Dark Magic' anthology (very good so far) and next up is one C.J. Cherryh's 'A Wizard in Wiscezan'. Maybe I'll like it and maybe I won't, we shall see...

From what I know though, C.J Cherryh has written more than just the one short story. There's at least two series of hers that I've seen on the shelves! I've recently found myself looking for books to read that are a little different from my normal fare as well as by authors that I haven't read before (I know I've still got to read 'The Anubis Gates' and the new David Weber book, I'll get there...) I've never read any of Cherryh's series and I'm wondering if they might be worth checking out. Have any of you folks read her books? What did you think? My preference is running towards fantasy at the moment and I know she's written a couple of these at least, are they worth a look?

All comments much appreciated!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

‘Legends of the Space Marines’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

Regular visitors to the blog will know that I’ve got a real thing for Black Library books at the moment and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. They’re all a lot of fun to read and fun is what I’m after when I’m stuck on the tube of a morning :o) Regular visitors to the blog will also know though that I’m not too keen on the way that the genetically engineered Space Marines are treated in these books. Nine foot tall, covered in power armour and packing enough fire power to make even the nastiest alien think twice. There doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop them and that doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying story at times. I mean, where’s the suspense? You can imagine how I felt then when I was confronted with a whole book full of short stories dealing with the adventures of humanity’s finest. You could probably even take a guess at how I felt when I put the book down…

The funny thing is though, you’d only be half right. It turns out that not only do Space Marines sometimes fail in the face of the opposition but sometimes they can even be hamstrung by their own traitorous kind (or themselves)... A ‘Legend’ doesn’t necessarily mean good things in this case; you can easily be remembered for all the wrong things. All of a sudden this was more the sort of thing that I was after. Obstacles that actually mean something when they are faced down, that’s what keeps me interested and wanting to read more. All of the authors on display do a fine job of showing us what’s at stake on the battlefields of the 41st millennium and the resolve of the Marines who are the Imperium’s best defence against the encroaching darkness. They also all get it spot on in capturing the ‘Gothic’ feel of the Warhammer 40K universe, you know what you’re reading here!

That’s not to say that this is a perfect read though; there are some blistering highs but I also found that there were certain stories that fell short of the others for one reason or another. As a result, the collection as a whole lacked the cohesiveness that would have made it a truly excellent read. Don’t let that put you off too much though. On the whole, ‘Legends of the Space Marines’ is an entertaining read full of bite sized chunks of warfare in the far future.

The contents were as follows…

‘Hell Night’ – Nick Kyme

Sometimes you’re all geared up to deal with a certain kind of enemy and you just can’t get your head around the fact that it might be something else entirely… Nicky Kyme kicks things off with a bang with his tale of the Salamanders Chapter and their intervention in the Vaporis campaign. Kyme cleverly leads you to certain conclusions and then sweeps them away, introducing a revelation that paints everything in a new light. If that wasn’t enough, I got to meet old friends from that particular company of Space Marines. An engaging read that had me looking forward to the rest of the book.

‘Cover of Darkness’ – Mitchel Scanlon

‘Cover of Darkness’ was a little more straightforward in it’s approach with the White Scars Chapter engaged on a mission and another mission that only one of their number knows about… The stand up fights are suitably spectacular but I was looking for something with a few more twists to it and this wasn’t it. ‘Cover of Darkness’ was entertaining but not much else.

‘The Relic’ – Jonathan Green

The Armageddon Campaign has many tales and Green’s tale of a Dreadnought taking on an Ork Horde sounded like it could be a lot of fun. It was a shame then that Green let things run away with him, miring the story in an excess of descriptive prose when things really needed to be a lot sharper to do the story justice. Read Green’s ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ books if you want to see him on top of his game.

‘Twelve Wolves’ – Ben Counter

Counter’s tale stands out from the rest in that it is an established legend rather than the tale of a legend about to be born. It also shows how the Space Marines (in this case, the Space Wolves) all have an Achilles Heel that they must be on guard against, just the kind of thing I wanted to read about. ‘Twelve Wolves’ enjoyed a nice, crisp delivery and a pivotal moment where the teacher is taught a lesson by his student. Brilliant.

‘The Returned’ – James Swallow

Once I stopped laughing at the name ‘Doom Eagles’ (I mean, who thinks of some of these names…?), ‘The Returned’ was a surprisingly poignant tale of a returned Marine’s struggle to be accepted by the Chapter that thought him dead. Legends are born but sometimes no-one wants them to be… Swallow writes a harrowing tale that contrasts violently with Tarikus’ steadfast wish to simply be allowed to fight alongside his brothers. One of the highlights of the book.

‘Consequences’ – Graham McNeill

It only seems like yesterday that I was bemoaning the lack of character detail for the Ultramarine Uriel Ventris. In one of those moments of random chance, Graham McNeill handily filled in some of the background for me! I really got a feel for Ventris and the events that led to his trial; you could really feel the gravity of that particular event in the story… ‘Consequences’ is more about the birth of a legend than the legend itself. I’m glad I took the time to give this one a go.

‘The Last Detail’ – Paul Kearney

The only work I’ve read of Paul Kearney’s is ‘The Ten Thousand’ and I really need to read more if ‘The Last Detail’ is anything to go by. His language may be brutal and to the point but Kearney shows his readers, in great detail, just how the sparks of legend are born. By the end, the main character wants to become a Space Marine and you can kind of see where he’s coming from…. Like I said, I need to read more by Paul Kearney and if you haven’t then you need to as well.

‘The Trial of the Mantis Warriors’ – CS Goto

The story of Chapter Master Neotera’s trial is one that demands a level of background knowledge, of the Warhammer 40K universe, greater than that of the casual reader. My WH40K trivia knowledge is minimal and as a result I became totally lost in the shifting politics of mutiny. By the time I’d worked out what was going on the story had ended and I didn’t have the energy to go back and give it another go. Possibly a great story for the long term fan and Goto certainly handled his characters very well. Not one for the likes of me though…

‘Orphans of the Kraken’ – Richard Williams

I liked what Williams set out to do here, a Marine Chapter dying on it’s feet has to decide whether to perpetuate it’s existence or go out in a blaze of glory… Given the ultimate decision it’s a shame then that the story dragged and the pace came nowhere near to matching to ambitions of its principal characters. I wonder if this would have worked better as a full length novel where there would have been more time to explore certain themes at a more appropriate length (instead of having to jam everything in to a few pages)…

‘At Gaius Point’ – Aaron Dembski Bowden

‘Legends’ not only kicks things off in style but signs off with a bang as well. Dembski-Bowden’s tale of a hunt across the battlefields of Armageddon feels rushed at times but he really captures what’s going on for his characters and shows us that Space Marines can be legendary for all the wrong reasons. Despite this, you can’t help feeling for Zavien and how his story ends (even if that’s how it has to end)…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten