Thursday, 30 September 2010

‘The Runestaff’ – Michael Moorcock (Millennium/Tor)

If you’ve been collecting the Tor editions of the ‘Hawkmoon’ series (and why wouldn’t you, the Vance Kovacs cover art is gorgeous) then you’ll be waiting until December this year for the final instalment to come out. Myself though? I managed to find myself an old second hand copy of the Millennium edition. While the cover art doesn’t match what Kovacs came up with (although it’s not bad at all) the book itself takes up less room on the shelf and I don’t have to hang around waiting until December to read ‘The Runestaff’. I can’t lose really!

I’ve had one hell of a time reading the ‘Hawkmoon’ books these past few weeks and I’m a little sad that the adventure has finally come to an end. Maybe I should have paced myself a little better but there you go. I can’t say that I’ll learn a lesson from this :o)
The last three books have been building up to what promised to be a cracking finale. ‘The Runestaff’ didn’t let us down there...

Hawkmoon chose to ignore the call of the Runestaff, deciding instead to sail home and be with his wife Yisselda. The plans of destiny are not to be altered though and Hawkmoon will have to tread the path that the Runestaff has chosen for him...

Back in Londra, Baron Meliadus’ all consuming hatred of Dorian Hawkmoon has led him not only to go against the commands of his Emperor but to plunge the Dark Empire of Granbretan into all out civil war. Whatever remains of the Empire will be what Hawkmoon faces when Meliadus’ machinations force the return of Castle Brass to its home dimension. No matter what the state of the Empire though, its soldiers still outnumber Hawkmoon’s men by thousands to one though so the final battle looks like it can only go one way, doesn’t it?

As was the case with ‘The Sword of the Dawn’, ‘The Runestaff’ comes across (at times) as not being so much about Hawkmoon itself as it is about the rest of the rest of the supporting characters. This can only be a good thing (and is) as the book is fleshed out substantially and we don’t have a situation where an overabundance of one dimensional characters detract from the impact of Hawkmoon as the lead character. Hawkmoon is a character worth spending time with (not as melancholy as certain of Moorcock’s other incarnations of the Eternal Champion, he just wants to fight for his love and for revenge) and deserves a supporting cast that highlights these positive points.

So, as a result we get to see how Baron Meliadus spirals further into insanity as the result of a misplaced oath (on the Runestaff itself) that influences whatever decisions he makes. His is an object lesson in being careful how you wish for something, especially if you swear an oath on an object of power! All the best intentions of Meliadus count for nothing as the Runestaff throws all his plans into disarray. It’s also very interesting to have the perspective of someone who is totally neutral in the whole affair. Flana’s neutrality (which places her squarely in the middle between Hawkmoon and Meliadus’ excesses) embodies the notion of ‘Balance’ that Moorcock has running throughout his ‘Eternal Champion’ books. This is fully confirmed when you see who inherits the power of the Dark Empire at the end of the book. While I wouldn’t say that Flana is the incarnation of the Eternal Champion in this dimension (it is very obviously Hawkmoon), I still found that the approach employed here enhanced the story itself and placed it firmly in a wider context.

One criticism that you could level at the book is that the Runestaff itself influences destiny to such an extent that there isn’t any real surprise at the outcome of the story. I can certainly see where people might be coming from with that argument as everything is geared at one conclusion with not a lot of room for many (if any) surprises. I for one found myself settling down for a foregone conclusion to the story...

The thing is though; I’d say that this observation is kind of missing the point of the whole thing. ‘The Runestaff’, and the ‘Hawkmoon’ series as a whole, is very much about swashbuckling spectacle (and a classic fight between good and evil) rather than anything else. All the characters have a decent degree of depth to them but are far too polarised to make for a story that can tread a different path. The ‘Hawkmoon’ books are all about an entertaining ride to the climax. If you’ve got this far and are expecting something different then maybe you should switch your attention elsewhere... What I would say though is that Moorcock’s use of the whole ‘and this is how X died’ approach did rob the book of a couple of surprises that it would have been able to comfortably incorporate.

At the risk of repeating earlier reviews, ‘The Runestaff’ has all the ingredients that made the previous three books such an entertaining read. The action doesn’t stop for one minute but it never feels overdone. Instead, I found myself turning pages all the more quickly so that I could keep up with the pace. ‘The Runestaff’ is most definitely a fast paced book, punctuated with well written scenes of combat that are constantly lending fresh impetus to the story (including a finale that is well worth hanging around for). There may not be any surprises but there is a lot of fun to be had here.

Like I said right at the start, I’m a little sad to have got to the end of the series but that’s been more than balanced out by the fun I had reading it. If you’re after a fantasy series that sets out to entertain above all else then give the ‘Hawkmoon’ books a go. ‘The Runestaff’ rounds things off in fine style.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A Quick Question About 'The End of the Line'

I use the Underground pretty much every day (go to work, come home from work... and repeat) and I guess I’ve become far too used to it over the years for it to scare me in any way. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the scariest thing about the Underground is watching commuters (who are obviously running five minutes late to wherever they are going) literally throw themselves through the doors as they are closing. I fully expect to see someone chopped in half before the year is out...

That’s pretty much it for me though, the Underground just isn’t that scary. Or is it? Solaris editor Jonathan Oliver seems to think so as his name sits proudly on the front of ‘The End of the Line’, a horror anthology where the stories all share one theme; what’s lurking on the tracks that lie beneath our feet. I’m saving my review copy to read next month (Halloween and all that) but in the meantime I thought I’d go straight to the source and ask the following question...

'I use the underground everyday and I'm here to tell the tale. What's down there that's so scary?'

Jonathan Oliver was kind enough to take time out of his schedule for a reply and here it is...

I don't use the Underground every day. I don't get into London that often, but I used to go a lot when I was a stand-up comic. Usually gigs would go on quite late and I'd have to catch the last Tube. This would see me standing on the platform alone often as not, listening to the distant rumbling getting closer and closer, while feeling the brush of the warm wind rushing out of the darkness of the tunnel. There's something eerily atmospheric about the Underground, and I've often thought that it's criminally underused in horror fiction. There are a few examples (well, more now since we've published The End of The Line) I can think of, such as Deathline, the scene in the Underground in American Werewolf in London, Creep, Neverwhere, but there you see most of those are films, rather than prose. So, the idea for Underground horror has been in my head for quite a while, so when we decided to launch an anthology of horror fiction, this seemed to me the perfect theme. I was so pleased with how varied the stories we got were. These aren't just 19 ghost stories set on the Tube. Instead we have journeys within the characters themselves, as well as on the rails. There are brilliant ghost stories such as Christopher Fowler's 'Down', but there are also stories about impossible destinations (Michael Marshall Smith's 'Missed Connection'), a past love brutally re-visited (Paul Meloy's brilliant 'Bullroarer') as well as more lyrical stories about loss ('All Dead Years') and the paranoia induced by this error of terror (Ramsey Campbell's 'The Rounds). And these are just a few of the treats you can find here.

So what's down there that's so scary? Well, according to my authors, oh so very much. Where do you want to start?

I’m up for being persuaded that there could well be spookiness on the Underground after all, especially when Jon reminded me of ‘American Werewolf’ (that bit was scary!) I’ll be reading ‘The End of the Line’ sometime next month (you should be able to pick it up around the end of October or beginning of November) and will be sure to let you know if it lives up to its promise...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ – Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall (Quirk Fiction)

Is there anyone here, reading this blog, who didn’t watch ‘Star Trek’ when they were a kid? I didn’t think so. I used to love Star Trek when I was a kid, a good substitute for ‘Star Wars’ in those ‘pre-video’ days when I would have to wait until Christmas to see Han/Luke etc. All good things come to an end though and I ended up switching allegiance to ‘Babylon 5’ and, later still, ‘Lexx’. I still like the occasional episode of ‘Star Trek’ but I’m not a massive fan and don’t get all the references that my friends (who are fans) make about the show. All of this made the prospect of reviewing ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ a bit of an odd one. How can I review something if I don’t really get the fandom that it’s sprung out of?

Ah but that’s ok; it’s chock full of zombies! This is something that’s always a good thing for me to come across... or is it? These days I find myself wondering if there’s a little too much in the way of zombie fiction out there. ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ was very much a good thing but it opened the doors for everyone who had a ‘zombie spin off’ to pedal. Don’t get me wrong, I love my zombies but the media dosage has been set on overkill. All of this made the prospect of reviewing ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ a bit of an odd one. Could I review a book about zombies when I’m starting to feel all ‘zombied out’?

As it happened, I ended up being pleasantly surprised on both fronts...

After a hellish tour of duty in Afghanistan, all Jim Pike wants is a life without any kind of responsibility at all. Assistant Manager in a small Houston hotel sounds like just what he’s after, once he gets the yearly ‘Star Trek’ convention out of the way. There is a nasty surprise lurking in the midst of all the people dressed up as Klingons and Borg though, a strange virus that transforms its hosts into flesh eating zombies! Not only must Jim and a group of survivors escape the hotel but they must also halt the spread of the virus before it takes over the entire planet. All they have is some prop Klingon weaponry and an in depth knowledge of one of the most successful sci-fi shows ever...

I was seriously thinking of taking a break from zombie fiction and films before I picked up ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’. Now that I’ve finished it, I find myself really eager to get to two more zombie books that have somehow found their way to the top of the reading pile. So, what happened?

To put it quite simply, ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ has a little something for everyone and it all comes together to form something pretty special.

My initial fear about not being ‘Trekkie’ enough to ‘get it’ was dispatched fairly early on. While there may be bits that only the die hard ‘Star Trek’ fans will pick up on, Anderson and Stall pitch ‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ firmly at the likes of people like me; people who know who Captain Kirk is but not necessarily what colour boots he was wearing in the third episode. The result is a lot of fun with plenty of references thrown in that everyone should be able to enjoy. For instance, what do you think the odds are of the guy in the red shirt escaping from a hotel full of zombies..? :o) It’s never laid on to thick either, everything makes sense in the context of the story while raising a wry smile at the same time. As a Star Wars fan, I was pleased to see that it wasn’t just the Star Trek references making an appearance. The quotes used were spot on with a nice little side commentary about genre rival that served as a counterpoint to the serious zombie business going on elsewhere.

What about those zombies though? I arrived at the book expecting something that would poke a little fun at the sub-genre. You’d expect it with this kind of mixture wouldn’t you? What I got instead was something more along the lines of regular zombie fiction. Zombies gnawing bits off the living while the survivors try and make out the best they can. These zombies are slightly different to the regular kind and this difference is where the urgency to the plot springs from. It also leads to a twist in the tale that I saw coming from a long way away. There’s not much effort made to hide it so I had to wonder if this was an intentional move on the author’s part...

In the meantime though, what the reader has is a tale more than effective in its ability to make you jump when you’re not expecting it; you don’t know what’s hiding behind that hotel door... For a book with such a premise it’s also surprisingly apocalyptic with small hints gradually building up into something that’s quite awesome when you see it from the hotel window. Anderson and Stall hit the nail right on the head here.

‘Night of the Living Trekkies’ is a lot of fun to read and features characters that I wanted to stick around for, I reckon you will too. Books like this are the reason why my reading diet will always contain a lot of pulp...

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 27 September 2010

Cover Art - 'Surface Detail' (Iain M. Banks)

Sometimes I'm sure that publishers look at a book, that they'll be releasing, and think to themselves, 'Everyone knows who this writer is, he must be one of the most popular ones on our books. Lets not go too crazy on the ol' cover art, people are going to buy it anyway....'
Check out the cover of Iain M. Banks' 'Surface Detail' for example,

It's not often that I come across a cover that's quite as bland as this one. The only things I can make out about the story, from this cover, is that it involves a planet with the sun shining off it and a woman with eyes. I'm sure Banks has woven a decent tale involving these two ingredients but a first look at the cover left me thinking that 'Surface Detail' is only one of many sci-fi books where the sun rises over a planet and there's a woman with eyes... The only thing that really leaps out is the author's name; it's 'Iain M. Banks' and that's what will sell the book at the end of the day.

A look at the blurb though tells a different story...

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture. Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

Now that's more like it! While I don't know if I'll get round to reading 'Suface Detail' ('insert usual excuse about my life here...') my interest was certainly piqued by a blurb that really makes the book stand out as something that could only have been written by Iain M. Banks. Shame you can't say the same thing about the cover really. Makes you wonder why they bothered with cover art at all, I'm sure just as many copies would have been sold if they'd just stuck the title and the author's name on the front of the book...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Giveaway! 'Haunted Legends' (Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas)

I'll be leaving 'Haunted Legends' a little while longer before I pick it up (well, it is Halloween next month...) but I thought I'd give you folks a chance to read it a little sooner :o)

Thanks to the folks at Tor, I have one copy of Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas' collection of ghost stories, based on legends from around the world, to give away on the blog. This time round though, the competition is only open to readers living in the US...

To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header will be 'Haunted Legends'. I'll take care of everything else...

I'll be leaving this one open until the third of October and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good luck!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Giveaway! 'The Fall' (Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan)

If you enjoyed 'The Strain' then this could well be the competition for you! Thanks to the people at Harper Collins, I have three copies of 'The Fall' to give away to three lucky readers of  this blog. You should note that by 'three lucky readers' I should have said 'three lucky UK readers'. Yep, this competition is only open to UK residents (sorry about that everyone else...)

If you're still here then check out the blurb for 'The Fall' (beware of possible spoilers if you haven't already read 'The Strain'...)

Humans have been displaced at the top of the food chain, and now understand – to their outright horror – what it is to be not the consumer, but the consumed.

Ephraim Goodweather, director of the New York office of the Centers for Disease control, is one of the few humans who understands what is really happening. Vampires have arrived in New York City, and their condition is contagious. If they cannot be contained, the entire world is at risk of infection.
As Eph becomes consumed with the battle against the total corruption of humanity, his ex-wife, Kelly, now a vampire herself, is ever-more determined to claim their son, Zack.
As the Biblical origins of the Ancient ones are gradually revealed, Eph learns that there is a greater, more terrible plan in store for the human race – worse even than annihilation…

Sounds good doesn't it? If you fancy your chances at winning one of those three copies then you probably know what you need to do next but I'm going to tell you anyway :o)

To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header needs to be 'The Fall'. That's all you need to do, I'll do the rest...

I'll be leaving this competition open until the third of of October and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 24 September 2010

‘The Sword of the Dawn’ – Michael Moorcock (Tor)

Despite all my talk about ‘wanting to make the journey last’, I found myself reading ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ a lot sooner than I’d expected. The bottom line is that it’s been a rough last few days and I wanted to pick up something that I just knew I’d have a good time with.
The other reason was that, given the ending to ‘The Mad God’s Amulet, I was really interested to see how Moorcock continued the story. Without giving too much away, Hawkmoon’s tale could have stopped quite neatly at the end of ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ and I was curious to see whether ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ flowed on smoothly or if it came across as being ‘tacked on’. What do you do with a hero once he has nothing to fight against and his cause is done? That’s the question I was hoping ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ would answer...

Dorian Hawkmoon, and the other inhabitants of Castle Brass, are safe from the malign influence of the Dark Empire... but only for now. There is still a way that the armies of Granbretan can finish their work and the evil Baron Meliadus finally achieve revenge for past humiliations. It’s up to Hawkmoon and his companion D’Averc to beat the Dark Empire to the source of this power. Greater games are afoot though. The power of the mysterious Runestaff seeks to bend all to a destiny known only to itself; Dorian Hawkmoon will find that before he can turn his attention to the Dark Empire he must first seek out the fabled ‘Sword of the Dawn’...

A couple of paragraphs ago, I was wondering what you do with a hero once his cause is over and there’s no-one left to fight. If you’re Michael Moorcock, you make sure that your hero gets bored really easily and hankers after unfinished business (even if he’s quite legitimately entitled to hang up his sword and enjoy a nice break). This seems to be a common trait in Moorcock’s Eternal Champions and the ideal tool to get them back in the game and the plot rolling again. This is particularly true of Hawkmoon who doesn’t seem to be able to deal with inactivity that well. Once there’s an opportunity to be adventuring again Hawkmoon doesn’t need asking twice!

I thought the scenario that whisked Castle Brass away from its enemies was pretty water tight and not one that could be circumvented easily. Moorcock proved me wrong but only by turning this scenario back on itself so that there could be a threat once more. It’s done cleverly enough but there was a hint of contrivance about it, almost as if it was there just to get things moving rather than be a part of the story itself. What it does very well though is imbue Hawkmoon with the energy that both he and the story need to really get going. Our man has a purpose once more and things can finally kick off.

And kick off they do! While it’s very much more of the same, in terms of Hawkmoon questing and having to fight off hordes of the enemy, the books holds to a good pace and is never anything less than entertaining at the very least. If you’ve already enjoyed the first two books then not only will you enjoy ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ but I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself looking forward to seeing how it all ends in ‘The Runestaff’ (keep your eye open for the Tor edition around December time).

Moorcock throws Hawkmoon and D’Averc up against all sorts of horrors, ranging from warriors of the Dark Empire to monstrosities that live in a pool of blood, with a regularity that could become monotonous if left to another writer. It never goes that way in ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ though. Moorcock seems to be enjoying himself here far too much to the book get bogged down in routine. Sure, the same fights happen over and over again but it all makes sense in the context of the story and the wider world surrounding it. The fights are all very exciting to witness as well, with plenty of vicious ‘cut and thrust’ action going on and last gasp reprieves from certain death...

What really shone through in ‘The Sword of the Dawn’, for me, was that this time round things were a little more fleshed out in terms of the characters and their motivations. It’s not just about the fighting this time. We get to see Baron Meliadus gradually become even more insane than he already is as he starts to believe that the Emperor he has fought for is no longer worthy of his service. We also get an insight into the inner workings of the citizens of Granbretan and discover that their hunger for conquest (and the monstrous crimes that they commit). Their lives are so decadent that all they’re really afraid of is boredom. This makes the atrocities we witness all the more repellent as we find out that they are motivated by the fact that the Granbretans, of the Dark Empire, are bored and fancy a change. They’re scared of running out of ideas so have made it a competition of excess instead...

While everything is clearly being set up for the final volume, ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ is self contained enough for the wait on the final instalment relatively easy to bear. I have an old ‘collected’ edition so I won’t be waiting that long myself :o)
‘The Sword of the Dawn’ is another more than solid entry in the ‘Hawkmoon’ series that chooses to build on its predecessors rather than merely ape them. The book is all the better for it and I’m now eager to start on ‘The Rune Staff’.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Jennifer Rardin - RIP

Just read about this over at the Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' Blog. My condolences to Jennifer's family and friends.

I'm not the biggest fan of a certain brand of Urban Fantasy (feisty heroine falls for undead something or other) but Rardin had the happy knack of getting me to read that particular brand and still come back for more. There's one more book of Rardin's to come ('Bitten in Two') but I know I'll miss finding out what things were in store for Jaz and Vayl after that...

I'll be around for this!

Recent events (which I've more than likely gone on about far too much) have meant that I've had to scale back on the signings and things that I would normally love to attend. Can't believe I missed Robert Rankin and Peter Hamilton...

There's always an exception to the rule though and it came around a lot sooner than I thought it would. Check this out (from the Forbidden Planet website)...

MICHAEL MOORCOCK will be signing his new Doctor Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Thursday 21st October from 6pm until the signing queue ends.

Miggea - a star on the edge of reality. A point where space-time has worn thin, and is in danger of collapsing... and the venue for the grand finals of the Arrow of Law competition. The Doctor and Amy have joined the Terraphiles - a group re-enacting Earth’s ancient sporting events and they are determined to win the Arrow. But reality is collapsing, ships are disappearing, Captain Cornelius and his pirates are looking for easy pickings. The Doctor and Amy have to find out who is prepared to kill to get their hands on the Arrow. And uncover a traitor. And win the contest. And – of course – save the universe from total destruction. This is a thrilling, all-new adventure featuring the Doctor and Amy, as played by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

Like the title says, I will make sure that I'm around for this particular signing. The only problem is though... everyone else is going to be there as well. I mean, it's Michael Moorcock! :o)

Get there early for this one, just make sure that you don't arrive as early as I do ;o) The blurb says the signing will go on until the signing queue ends; the website says that the signing will be from 6-7pm. Make of that what you will...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

‘The Exile’ – Diana Gabaldon (Del Rey)

Every so often, I get a strange kick out of parading the fact that there is a multitude of sci-fi/fantasy authors out there that I haven’t checked out yet. Have a click on the ‘Random Thoughts’ tag and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t ask me why I’ll quite happily admit to not being as well read as I could be, I don’t honestly know...
Diana Gabaldon is one of those authors who would have made it into the ‘I’ve never read anything by...’ posts sooner or later. One of those authors with loads of books under her belt that everyone else seems to have read, apart from me that is.
Well, I’m sure that one day this would have been the case if I hadn’t received a copy of ‘The Exile’ for review. Not only have I got a bit of a graphic novel thing going on right now but ‘The Exile’ also looked like just the right kind of book for me to find out what Gabaldon is all about (without getting bogged down in something that I don’t have the time to read).
As it turned out, I had a lot of fun with ‘The Exile’ but couldn’t help wishing that I’d perhaps started with something else instead...

It’s 1743 and Jamie Fraser has come home to Scotland, after a lengthy exile overseas, but it’s not a happy homecoming. Not only is there a price on Jamie’s head, courtesy of the British Captain Jack Randall, but he is also set to become an unwilling pawn in the machinations of the MacKenzie Clan where the only two possible choices he could make may well lead to his death.
And then Claire Randall suddenly appears, a woman who will throw everyone’s plans into chaos but who also has an agenda that she cannot reveal to anyone. Jamie falls in love with her but just what is she hiding from him? As events play out in the stronghold of Clan MacKenzie, Jamie Frasier wonders if Claire is a witch but the truth is a little harder to swallow...

‘Experience Jamie’s side of the story!’ Well, that’s what it says on the cover. The only problem I had here was that Jamie’s side of the story was the only side that I’d experienced... ‘The Exile’ works best for those who have already read ‘Outlander’ and are after a little change in perspective in order to flesh things out. It doesn’t give you the whole story here, it was never really meant to. For people like me, it’s like reading half a story with tantalising glimpses of what the rest of the story is really all about. This isn’t the book’s fault at all but is worth bearing in mind if you’re thinking about picking it up without having read ‘Outlander’ first. Just a thought ;o) (Although I was left wondering if someone who had already read ‘Outlander’ would feel that they were reading the same story again…)

Having said that though, the story here is worth following to its end. Like I said, I’m not how I’d feel if I was reading the same story over again but I had fun reading it this time round. Gabaldon really kept the pages turning for me with a nice mixture of mystery and action along with a burgeoning relationship that developed naturally and wasn’t forced in all those directions that I seem to see fictional relationships going these days (you know the ones I mean). The pacing is deceptively gentle yet smooth at the same time. Half the time I didn’t even realise that I was turning the pages, things were executed that smoothly. I knew how it had to end but I still found myself wondering right up until the last panel, just the way I like it sometimes.

The real star of the show is Hoang Nguyen’s absolutely gorgeous artwork and that very almost proved to be the downfall of the book itself. Nguyen’s male characters all look suspiciously similar (which made following the story difficult at times) but I could just sit there and stare at his landscapes for hours, they are wonderful and really capture the spirit of the Scottish Highlands. The only problem there is that I found that the artwork was taking over from the story itself, at least as far as I was concerned. Either Nguyen needed to tone things back a little or Gabaldon needed to inject a little urgency into her tale to balance things out; that balance wasn’t there though.

‘The Exile’ proved to be a very entertaining read; one of those books that has me thinking that I really should go back and try the earlier works if I ever get a spare second. However, I would have got a lot more out of it if I’d read those earlier works first and I’ll reckon that you’ll feel the same. If you’re a Gabaldon fan already then I reckon you’re in for a bit of a treat.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

A Couple of Bits of News.

From the email...

RHPG announces Lara Adrian chain story

Paranormal authors come together for the Random House Publishing Group's first fan-driven, multi-author, chain story eBook: A GLIMPSE OF DARKNESS. Lara Adrian, Harry Connolly, Lucy A. Snyder, Kelly Meding, and Stacia Kane lend their unique talents to the tale of Munira, a “retriever” of magical items in the fictional city of Port Nightfall. The daughter of a djinn, Munira is contacted by the most powerful sorcerer in the city, the wily Temesis who makes her an offer she can’t refuse: steal the Light of Ta’lab from an evil necromancer or he will kill her father! Fans will have the opportunity to vote on the choices Munira makes in the story via, and each new section (penned by the various authors), will reflect the fans’ voices. The short story begins on Monday, September 20, 2010 and, once completed, will be available for download as a ¢99 eBook.

This one sounds interesting but you won't see me voting I'm afraid. The mood I'm in at the moment, the story could go in some peculiar directions... I may have posted this a little later than I intended but at least you've got some story already up on the site to read now :o)

Everyone else seems to have already mentioned the whole 'Towers of Midnight' prologue being available to purchase thing' so I thought I'd post details of the signing tour that will be accompanying the book's release. Oh yeah, I thought I'd post the trailer as well. Here it is,

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT tour schedule

Tuesday, November 2nd - Midnight
BYU Bookstore
Wilkinson Student Center (WSC) / University Hill
Provo, Utah 84602
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Tuesday, November 2nd – 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
1725 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95815
*With special guests Harriet McDougal and Jason Denzel

Wednesday, November 3rd - 7:00 PM
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45208
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Thursday, November 4th - 7:00 PM
10720 Preston Road, Suite 1018
Dallas, TX 75230
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Friday, November 5th – 7:00 PM
Books A Million
7000 Arundel Mills Cir
Hanover, MD 21076-1282
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Saturday, November 6th – 2:00 PM
5871 Crossroads Center Way
Baileys Crossroads, VA 22041
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Sunday, November 7th - 3:00 PM
The Harvard Coop
1400 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
*With special guest Harriet McDougal

Monday, November 8th - 7:30 PM
Barnes & Noble Booksellers – Lincoln Triangle
1972 Broadway
New York, NY 10023
*With special guests Harriet McDougal, Maria Simons and Alan Romanczuk

I still need to read 'The Gathering Storm' at some point...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

‘Kick Ass’ – Mark Millar & John Romita Jr (Titan Books)

This is perhaps one of the more stupid and obvious questions that I will ever ask on the blog but I’ve managed to type this far so I’m going to go the whole way. Have any of you guys ever wanted to be a superhero? Yep, I thought so :o) Lets try and narrow it down a bit though. Would any of you guys still want to be a superhero? Cool, a few hands have gone down but we all know that those people are trying to protect their superhero identities. I can understand that... ;o)
I wouldn’t mind being a superhero, even now. I don’t know what powers I would want to have though, I would probably settle for looking damn cool and being able to fight crime without getting too beaten up myself! That’s the thing about fighting crime though; you’re going to have to take a few bruises yourself, that’s just the way it goes.

For those of us who are unwilling to take a beating and would prefer to live vicariously through someone else’s, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr have teamed up to give us the chance to do just that in ‘Kick Ass’...

Dave Lizewski is an ordinary American teenager who is about to become so much more, just by following his dream. For someone who loves comic books there is only one career path you can go down and Dave is about to tread that path. The city has a new hero and he is about to... well, you know ;o)
There are other heroes operating on the mean streets and a team up is inevitable. Can comic book idealism conquer organised crime though? That remains to be seen...

I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic book where the title sums up the feeling I was left with in just two simple words. In fact, this is one of the hardest reviews that I’ve ever had to write purely because I’m trying my hardest to avoid the blindingly obvious way of describing just how cool ‘Kick Ass’ is. ‘Kick Ass’... it just does.

Here is a book that lets you live out that dream of ‘If I were a super hero’ in a massive dose of Technicolor mayhem. It’s no holds barred stuff, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. don’t appear to want it any other way. Romita’s artwork, and White’s colours, in particular really make the sheer power of what’s going just jump off the page and maul your eyeballs. Artwork and plot combine to make the pages turn almost without you realising.

‘Kick Ass’ isn’t just about the violence though (although there is something cool about a ten-year-old girl feeding a mobster into a car crusher, I can’t deny it). At its heart, ‘Kick Ass’ is also a strangely bittersweet book about the fragility of childhood dreams and how they are ultimately lost in the face of adult reality. Comic books are cool but only comic book heroes are ever going to get the better of a man with a gun. Amidst all the violence, there’s also a sense of naivety being pounded into something a little more cynical and nasty. The sense of inevitability makes it all the more sad somehow.
It’s also a rites of passage tale unlike most others. Dave grows up in any number of ways throughout the book and sometimes I wasn’t sure which he found hardest, it’s tough being a superhero and a teenager...

Read it for the high octane action and body count; read it for a real searching look and just what it means to face up to your actions (even when you’re sure you’re doing the right thing). ‘Kick Ass’ worked (for me) on all the levels it set out to do a job on. Another one that’s highly recommended around these parts!

Ten out of Ten

Book Trailer: 'Night of the Living Trekkies'

Doesn't this trailer look great? :o)

The book is on the pile and the trailer has reminded me to bump it up a book or two. It's a great time to be a zombie fan although I'm starting to wonder if there's a little too much zombie action going on. I'll let you know, one book at a time... ;o)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Competition Winners!

Morning all :o)

Hope you're all having a good one so far. My morning has so far involved my four and a half month old daughter crying down the phone after learning (the hard way) that she can't bite her own fingers as hard as she bites mine! Oh well, she'll learn...

Hopefully the week can only get better from here on in. It'll certainly be getting better for the following people who won last week's set of competitions. Those lucky winners were...

'Against All Things Ending'

Rich Daniels, Wiltshire, UK

'The Food of the Gods'

Christopher Bell, Surrey, UK
Michael Botterill, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

Well done guys, your books will be on their way in the next day or two!
Better luck next time everyone else...

What do you want to have read by the end of the year?

I know... It's not a race, it's good to have a few books on your shelf that you haven't read blah blah blah ;o) If you're anything like me though, you have more than a few books on the pile where you look at them and think, "I was looking forward to reading that months ago, what happened...?"

Life happened, that's what :o) Now it's almost October and you're wondering where the year has gone. One thing you do know though is that you want to read at least three of those books in the pile that have been there since before the pile sprang into its unwieldy existence. What three books are they?

Mine are...

'Dust of Dreams' - Steven Erikson

Yep, that old chestnut again. I've come too far into the series to give up but I just can't get beyond the first one hundred or so pages. And so 'Dust of Dreams' continues to sit there, glaring at me and daring me to have another go...

'Lord of the Silent Kingdom' - Glen Cook

This book has actually been sat in the pile since this blog sprang into being. 'Surrender to the Will of the Night' isn't far off its release date so I want to get stuck into 'Lord' sooner rather than later.

'Shadowrise' - Tad Williams

This one hasn't been on the pile all that long but Tad is a favourite author of mine so I can't believe that I haven't picked it up yet, 'Shadowrise' feels like it's been sat there longer than it actually has...

Those are my three books then. I'm not challenging myself to finish them by the end of the year because we all know how rubbish I've been at the challenges recently! I'll just have to see how it goes, there's a few months yet :o)

How about you guys? Are there any books that you definitely want to have polished off by the end of the year? Leave me a comment and maybe we can all come back on New Year's Eve and see how we got on. I'll be the one still stuck on page one hundred and fifty of 'Dust of Dreams'... ;o)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Free Reading! 'The New Brighton Archaeological Society' Online

This looks like a possible fun way to spend your lunch break... The first book in Mark Andrew Smith's 'New Brighton Archaelogocial Society' series is available to read online for free and is being updated daily :o) Here's the blurb,

Out of the ashes of misfortune will rise the next generation of great adventurers! After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, four children begin to unlock the secrets of their parents' mysterious lives, discovering a hidden world of mystical artifacts, mythical creatures, and arcane knowledge. Soon they find themselves drawn into a conflict over a great library that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries, the children must save an enchanted forest, the birthplace of magic itself. Join us as these children become the latest members of the fabled New Brighton Archaeological Society, and take their first steps towards their true destiny!

Indiana Jones for kids? It might well be but I'll be checking it out anyway :o) I've had a quick look at the site and there's already plenty of pages to be going on with, a new page will be added every day.

You can check it all out Here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Diana Gabaldon - Signing Dates

I've never read anything by Diana Gabaldon before now but I'm really enjoying her new graphic novel 'The Exile', expect a review some time next week. If you're a fan then I reckon you're going to want to pick it up! With that in mind, I thought I'd post details for Gabaldon's latest US Signing Tour. If you're in the area, then it might be worth stopping by :o)

Phoenix, AZ Tuesday, September 21 Poisoned Pen at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts

Denver, CO Wednesday, September 22 Tattered Cover (Highlands Ranch)

Kansas City, MO Thursday, September 23 Rainy Day Books at Unity Temple

Washington, DC Saturday, September 25 National Book Festival

San Francisco, CA Tuesday, September 28 Book Passage

San Diego, CA Wednesday, September 29 Warwick’s Bookstore at Gillispie School

Los Angeles, CA Thursday, September 30 Vroman’s Bookstore

Tucson, AZ Saturday, October 2 Barnes & Noble

Tempe, AZ Wednesday, October 6 Changing Hands Bookstore

Westbury, NY Thursday, October 7 Borders Books

New York, NY Friday, October 8 New York Comic-Con

Charleston, WV Sunday, October 17 West Virginia Book Festival

Friday, 17 September 2010

‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ – Michael Moorcock (Tor/Orion)

My slow meander through Michael Moorcock’s back catalogue continues at the kind of pace we’ve all come to expect on this blog. I’ve got no date in mind whatsoever for completing this particular journey, the size of the backlist that awaits me defies all attempts at setting firm dates for completion. And you know what? I’m enjoying the ride far too much to want it to be over any time soon; this one is all about making the most of the journey while it lasts.
I read ‘The Jewel in the Skull’ way back in May and a whole load of events (noteworthy only to myself), this week, conspired to put a copy of the sequel in my hands for a read. I was reading the Millennium edition this time round but the Tor edition (a lot easier to get hold of) is only two hundred and eight pages long so you can easily tell that this is just the quick and snappy read to round off the week on. Like its predecessor, ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ was a lot of fun to read...

Following the events of ‘The Jewel in the Skull’, Dorian Hawkmoon journeys back to the Kamarg in order to continue his fight against the Granbretanian Dark Empire. It looks however as if Dorian has a lot of fighting to do before he can even begin his journey in earnest. The soldiers of the Dark Empire are everywhere and they all have orders to capture Hawkmoon for the pleasure of the Emperor, an enemy thought dead is also about to make an appearance.
If that wasn’t enough for Hawkmoon and his friends to contend with, the mysterious Warrior in Jet and Gold appears with a mission that Hawkmoon has no choice but to embark on. The Mad God is possession of an amulet that is Hawkmoon’s by right, even though he has never heard of it. Higher powers work on Hawkmoon’s very destiny and more than he realises depends on the amulet being reclaimed from the grip of the Mad God...

‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ proved to be the ideal book for yesterdays commute and this morning as well. In much the same way as ‘The Jewel in the Skull’, this book is a fast paced read that relies on a constant stream of armed combat and monstrous confrontation to keep the plot moving and the pages turning. Don’t forget the swashbuckling as well! The action doesn’t stop when the characters leave dry land; there is also warfare at sea where our outnumbered heroes resolve their situation in a manner that I really enjoyed reading.

There’s only so much room, in this book, though and what you’ll find is that once again the action comes very much at the expense of character development. What you get are quick flashes of character determined by what is happening at the time instead of characters that drive the plot forwards. I was happy with this as it more or less continued the approach laid out in the first book. The chronicles of Hawkmoon make it very clear that they’re all about entertainment first and foremost, no apologies made! If that’s all you’re after then I reckon you’ll have a fine time here. If you’re after something with a little more to chew on then you might want to consider picking up something else...

This air of simplicity is also apparent not only in the familiar rhythm that ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ settles into (see my review of ‘The Jewel in the Skull’) but also in the steps that Moorcock has to take in order to keep things flowing smoothly and at the pace he demands. There’s no time to resolve cliff hangers with any real detail so Moorcock pulls any number of tricks out of his hat to keep things ticking over. Hitherto unmentioned races of advanced humans, weapons that save the day at the last possible moment, you name it. To Moorcock’s credit though, he tosses these ‘deus ex machina’ out with such casual abandon that you find yourself just going along with it. That’s what the story’s about after all! It’s only afterwards that you find yourself thinking, ‘Hang on...’ If you enjoyed the story beforehand though, surely it doesn’t matter?

‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ isn’t ashamed to be anything other than what it is; good old fashioned entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Any book that can use the line “Most of our Flamingos are dead, so we have virtually no protection in the air”, and keep a straight face, is fine by me! I won’t be leaving it too long before I read ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ if ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ is anything to go by.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 16 September 2010

‘The Third Bear’ – Jeff Vandermeer (Tachyon Press)

I can’t remember where I read it but I seem to remember reading, fairly recently, that most authors hate being asked where they get their ideas from. Can’t say that I blame them really. If I was an author, I’d be wanting people to enjoy what’s written on the page rather than rushing off and deconstructing it. That’s the thing about us readers though, isn’t it? If something really works for us then we want to get right inside the text so we can take it to pieces and see how it all worked. I’m like that most times but every now and then I get the feeling that a book (or an author) is best left to say its piece on its own terms. ‘The Third Bear’ is one of those books and Jeff Vandermeer is one of those authors. I don’t want to know where Jeff Vandermeer gets his ideas from, just in case I ever meet one of them in the cold light of day. Having read ‘The Third Bear’, I’m also rather enjoying the feeling of discomfort that the book left me with...

Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘The Third Bear’ is a deeply unsettling collection of short fiction, at least that’s what I found. Seriously... Some of the stories in this collection are still inside my head, chewing away at my mind, leaving me speechless but overwhelmed by an intense feeling of ‘what the f...?’
Whether it’s the background, plot or characters, there is something in each and every one of Vandermeer’s tales that will make you go ‘hang on...’ You might even shiver a little. I did.

‘The Situation’ was the chief culprit here; a nightmarish tale of office politics in a world gone utterly insane. The workings of any office would make for a nice slice of weird fiction at any time and Vandermeer seems to emphasise this fact by making both the business and its surroundings a real exercise of the surreal. Everyone has fallen foul of an office clique and Vandermeer’s approach, in ‘The Situation’, really lays on the paranoia that can come out of this. Not only was this the case but some of the vivid imagery employed here (giant lizards crawling through a ruined city and the child eating manta ray) really stuck in my head. They’re still there.

Vandermeer isn’t afraid to bombard his readers with images ranging from the merely grotesque to the outright disturbing in order to convey his message. What is his message though? Here’s the thing... I’m not entirely sure. In his afterword, Vandermeer says that ‘The Third Bear’ is a book designed to be read over and over again whereby the connections between the stories will become ever clearer. Maybe I should have read the book a couple of times first as, apart from the obvious link between ‘The Surgeon’s Tale’ and ‘Appoggiatura’, nothing really sprang out at me. My thinking was though that what if I read ‘The Third Bear’ a dozen times and nothing sprang out at all? I was going to end up writing about it at some point so it may as well be after the first read :o)

One thing that did creep up on me though (and isn’t so much a direct link between stories as it is something that they all have in common) is how Vandermeer’s definition of the ‘weird’ helps to make all these tales such a deliciously chilling experience. In Vandermeer’s world, there is no reason or rationale behind something weird happening, it just does. The beautiful thing about ‘The Quickening’, for example, is that you never find out anything about Sensio and why he can talk. Sensio just talks (albeit only when he wants to) and the reader just has to deal with the consequences. Same deal with ‘The Secret Life of Shane Hamill’. Again, we never find out anything about Shane other than what he’s ultimately capable of. This total lack of reason emphasises the weirdness in the best possible way. Weirdness... just is. If there’s no logic behind it then it can happen anywhere and at any time; that’s why Vandermeer’s tales are so unsettling. You come away with the feeling that it could happen to you at any time...

What also emphasises the weirdness is the way in which people seek to impose their own order on what is happening to them. Not only is the contrast impressive to see but you also come away with a keen sense of the affect that these events have on the human mind. Some will accept what is happening to them in the way that only certain people can; the child in ‘The Quickening’ again as well as a man waking in a strange city only to realise that he’s exactly where he should be (‘Lost’). Vandermeer himself is a great example of this in ‘Errata’, if you’ve been writing ‘weird fiction’ for a while then I guess you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way...
Other people can’t accept anything outside their own normality and will seek to impose that on their surroundings. The two characters in ‘Finding Sonoria’ are great examples of this although their journeys take them in two entirely different directions. The sharpshooter, in ‘Three Days in a Border Town’, also adopts this approach. Her reality is based around her husband and she will find him no matter what the mirage like landscape throws at her.

When you add all these stories (and the rest) together what you have is a collection that the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson might have written if they really wanted to mess with the heads of small children. Vandermeer more than sets his stall out, in this vein, with ‘The Third Bear’ short story as well as ‘The Predecessor’ (a story that may have been to blame for the disturbed nights I’ve had since reading it...)
Meaning may have eluded me in certain tales (I’m looking at ‘Appoggiatura’ here) but the collection as a whole is so deliciously dark that I will be sure to return and see what I come across next. There wasn’t a single tale in ‘The Third Bear’ that didn’t resonate in me at some level or another, powerful storytelling accompanied by gorgeous images. Highly recommended.

Ten out of Ten

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

‘Dr. Dale’s Zombie Dictionary’ – Dr. Dale Seslick (Allison & Busby)

Perhaps one of the most important things you will ever do, in your entire life, is to formulate your ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan’. With such a plan constantly at the back of your mind, you won’t be caught short when the living dead turn up in your neighbourhood to take a bite out of the living. You’ll be safe and able to enjoy a quiet drink while everyone else is running round in circles, getting chunks torn out of them and then rising again to become just another part of the zombie scourge. I’ve got my plan all ready to roll if it all goes down (no I’m not telling you what it is, you might get there first!) If you really care about your family and friends then you owe it to them (as well as yourself) to plan for the inevitable event.

Like I said, my ‘Zombie Survival Plan’ is already all mapped out but it pays real dividends to keep reviewing what you’ve planned, just in case you’ve forgotten something or someone else’s perspective offers new insight. With this in mind, when I came across Dr. Dale’s ‘Zombie Dictionary’ I knew that I had to check it out. Having finished the book, I can quite confidently say that it could prove to be the difference between life and ‘undeath’ when there’s no more room in Hell and the dead are walking the earth...

It hasn’t happened yet (and maybe it never will, who knows) but Dr. Dale knows how important it is to be fully prepared for a full scale infestation of zombies. He wants YOU to survive (or at the very least buy his book) so he has prepared a book containing everything you need to know to get along when the dead start walking. If it’s relevant then it’s inside. If it’s irrelevant... then it’s inside! Deciding which bit is which is entirely up to you...

Every time I review a humorous book I always end up mentioning this but, as ever, it’s worth pointing out. Different things make different people laugh; humour is a really subjective thing. Admittedly, there were parts to the ‘Zombie Dictionary’ where the humour came across as somewhat forced and the joke was lost as a result. What I found more often though was that things weren’t making me laugh then it wasn’t the joke’s fault, it was more a case of it simply being something that I wouldn’t find amusing. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh then there was a lot here that had me chuckling. Don’t take my word for it though, read a few pages for yourself and see how much it makes you laugh.

Dr. Dale covers the basics of zombie survival very well, covering all the angles that you could reasonably expect from a book like this. Initial reactions to the zombie apocalypse, finding and maintaining a shelter as well as procuring supplies are the orders of the day. Once you’ve done this, you can then look at the kind of clothes you need to be wearing as well as what you should do if you come across a zombie. What kind of a zombie though? Dale helpfully points out that there is more than kind of zombie and it’s this level of detail that could prove to be invaluable in the post-apocalypse.

Where ‘The Zombie Dictionary’ really stood out for me though was when Dale goes off on a mad tangent and comes up with something that’s completely unexpected but still manages to make perfect sense in terms of surviving the zombie onslaught.
Take giraffes for example. I’d never factored one of these into my own plan but their height, coupled with their ability to deliver a devastating kick, make them the ideal animal to have at your side in a zombie infested landscape. Thank you Dr. Dale, you’ve made my potential post apocalyptic life that little bit easier!
It’s the same kind of thing with the ‘zombie sound track’. It had never occurred to me that dispatching zombies in a post apocalyptic landscape could be that much more fun if accompanied to music... but it is! For the record, my ‘getting ready to fight’ song would be ‘Paradise City’, my ‘fighting zombies’ song would have to be ‘Firestarter’ and my ‘celebratory’ song would be ‘Zip a Dee Doo Dah’. What? It’s a happy song! :o)

‘The Zombie Dictionary’ is full of little gems like these and even though not all of it made me laugh, the funnier moments more than made up for these. ‘Dr. Dale’s Zombie Dictionary’ is a book that you won’t regret having at your side when zombies finally appear in your neighbourhood. Any book that makes me reassess my zombie survival plan is worth getting hold of...

Nine out of Ten

I’ve never read anything by...

Yes, once more you’re all being treated to the sight of a fully grown book blogger admitting to all and sundry that there are books out there he just hasn’t got round to reading just yet. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, how boring would the world be if we’d all read everything there was to read? It always surprises me though how some of the more obvious reading choices just seem to fly under the radar as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t say that I concentrate exclusively on the new and shiny releases (have a look over the blog and you should see this) but maybe there’s something in that argument after all. Take the latest entry in my ‘I’ve never read anything by’ series for example...

Fritz Leiber.

Yes, Fritz Leiber. The guy who’s practically a (if not ‘the’) founding father of the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ sub-genre. I love reading ‘Sword and Sorcery’ but have somehow never got round to picking up one of the seminal works. It’s funny how these things pan out...
Will I ever pick up the books of Lankhmar though? I’d love to say yes, I really would, but my track record hasn’t been great with this so I’m not going to say yes and hold myself up to ridicule later on! :o) We’ll have to see what the future holds...

In the meantime though, what am I missing out on? Should I drop whatever I’m reading now and pick these books up? Or do you think they’re overrated and I should be reading something else instead? Your comments won’t influence my final decision but I’d be interested to see what your thoughts are on an author that I’ve never read anything of...


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

‘Ghost Omnibus Volume 2’ – Eric Luke et al (Dark Horse Comics)

Sometimes you should never go back. At other times, going back is a real treat and you find yourself resolving never to stay away for so long ever again. It was very much a case of the latter when I picked up the ‘Ghost Omnibus Volume 1’ at the back end of last week. I’d give you the link, to the review, but there’s no point really seeing as it’s only halfway down the page. Go and have a look :o)
I was all buoyed up for tackling the next omnibus but there was a little hint of caution this time round. Whereas the first omnibus contained the bulk of what I’d previously read (with a few new bits to fill in the gaps) the second omnibus was the other way round with one giant gap in my reading being filled in with a few snippets here and there. Even way back then, I wasn’t good at reading things in order...
As things turned out, ‘Volume 2’ didn’t quite hit the heights of the first volume (although there is literally nothing between them) but still ended up being an entertaining read that rounded things off in some style.

Elisa Cameron has a little more of an idea about her past life but all the big questions still remain unanswered, namely who had her killed and why... Finding those answers is going to take Elisa not only out of Arcadia but underneath it to the city’s own dark heart.
If this wasn’t enough for Elisa, she still has to contend with daily life in the dark city of Arcadia. If she’s not fighting to the death with her own personal demon then she’s up against every single gangster toting a gun in the city, there’s also a shape shifting assassin with plans for Ghost as well. Perhaps the most damaging thing Elisa has to deal with though are the repercussions of her attempts to finally let friends into her life...

‘Volume Two’ pretty much carries on doing the same job where Volume One left off, good news for me after having really enjoyed the first instalment. The bullets are still flying in a city that is as dark as ever, perhaps even more so when certain secrets rise to the surface of the plot. We still haven’t got the whole picture but things are guaranteed to make a lot more sense by the time you come to the end of the book. The ‘paranormal’ side of Arcadia is also explored in a little more depth this time round, making the setting stand out that little bit more by really adding Arcadia’s underground counterpart to the mix. Is there a hint of Marvel’s ‘Mutant Massacre’ in the confrontation within the tunnels? I thought there was (and could see some parallels) but the story kept its own shape and identity despite this.

The only (very small) problem I had was that, this time round, the format of the story meant that things didn’t flow as well as they did last time round. The events of Volume One flowed seamlessly one into the other to form a unified whole. Ghost having to travel in and out of Arcadia (as well as underneath) had the unfortunate affect of breaking the overall story up into something a little more piecemeal and the pace stuttered as a result.

That’s not to say the story isn’t worth following though, there was a lot here for me to get my teeth stuck into and Ivan Reis’ artwork complemented it superbly. The ‘Miasma’ storyline shows us what Ghost could quite easily have become, bolstering her character while setting up events for the rest of the book. ‘Black Heart’ shows us what became of Cameron Scythe (formerly Cameron Nemo) while Ghost was fighting Miasma. This character is one of my favourites; I love his vicious sense of humour!
‘Exhuming Elisa’ is the storyline that brings Elisa’s tale to a conclusion and is suitably epic, all the more so as it’s done in such a short space. I loved reading the book as a whole but I couldn’t stop reading this story in particular, not until it was done. To see Elisa where she is, at the end, is a real treat (both for me as a reader and for the character herself). Redemption is great, especially when you find out that you never had to go looking for it.

I said ‘a conclusion’ earlier as there is still another chunk of Elisa’s tale to be told. I’m not sure if there are plans for that to happen (it hasn’t yet) so it’s a good thing then that the ending here does a great job of tying up loose ends and stands well on its own. I had a great time reading about the adventures of Elisa Cameron and this omnibus edition (as well as the first one) has earned ‘pride of place’ status on my shelf.

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 13 September 2010

Giveaway! ' The Food of the Gods' (H.G. Wells)

H.G Wells is one of those authors where, just as I find myself thinking that I know of everything he's written, along he comes with a book that I've never even heard of. Not bad for a writer who's been dead well over fifty years now...
Take 'The Food of the Gods' for instance. Here's the blurb,

Mr Bensington and Professor Redwood were amongst that new breed of men - or 'scientists' as they had become known. And in the mid-nineteenth century, being a 'scientist' was not something one cared to admit to. But Bensington and Redwood were rather more interested in their new discovery than the nomenclature of pedants, especially when their new discovery was none other than Herakleophorbia. The first three variants were rather unremarkable, but Herakleophorbia IV - Herakleophorbia IV was the very food of gods...

I have a copy of 'The Food of the Gods' that I'll hopefully be getting to in the next few days. As it happens, I also have two other copies of 'The Food of the Gods' to give away on the blog (thanks to the people at Gollancz)... This competition is only open to people in the UK and Europe I'm afraid.

If you're still here then you know what to do next. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header will be 'I want some Food of the Gods!'

I'll be leaving this one open until the 19th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Graeme's Retro Classics! ‘Galactica 1980’

Over the last week, or so, we’ve been watching the final series of the original ‘Battlestar Galactica’; one day I might even get round to watching the more recent series (although I’ve been saying that for a long time now)...
After ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was first cancelled, at the back end of the seventies, fan pressure resulted in the series being bought back for another shot. I’ll bet all those fans, writing their ‘please bring Galactica back’ letters, never thought that the end result would be as... awkward... as this though.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun watching ‘Galactica 1980’ and some of the reasons we had so much fun were good ones. It’s been a little while since I’ve watched any ‘old school Galactica’ and it was pretty cool to see the Colonial Vipers going up against the Cylons again as well as seeing a few familiar faces. It was at these moments though that I started to wonder... Why is it that Cylons always fly to the left when trying to avoid laser fire? The Galactica gunners pick them off every time, it’s almost like they either know in advance or the same piece of film is being repeated over and over again to save some money. I did tell myself off for being cynical until a few more episodes in when I realised that no matter where Colonial Warriors Troy and Dillon were, if they took off on their flying bikes then they would always end up flying over LA... Oh well, the stories stand up to viewing fairly well (Galactica’s attempts to protect an Earth unable to protect themselves against the Cylons whilst looking after their own needs as well) so I guess you can forgive a few, not so subtle, repeats of footage here and there. It’s all good fun in a ‘I remember this when it first came out kind of way’ :o)

The ‘awkwardness’ comes from the fact that nobody really seemed to know where they wanted this particular series to go. The series starts out with a time travel theme and abruptly dumps it with no explanation, leaving things in a bit of a mess to be blunt. One of the main characters is played by two different actors (again, with no explanation) and the series was cancelled halfway through a storyline featuring the return of a major character. Honestly, if you’re not going to do things properly then don’t do them at all!

On the flip side though, you do get things like the Cylons landing in New York (on Halloween) and flying motorbikes so it’s not all bad. I guess the one thing I took away from it all is that ‘Galactica 1980’ is a fun way to spend a few hours, just as long as you don’t think about what you’re watching too much...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Giveaway! 'Against All Things Ending' (Stephen R. Donaldson)

As much fun as it is to jump in, halfway through a series, and see where it takes you... sometimes a series is just too big for that to work. That was the case for me when I received an ARC of the latest 'Thomas Covenant' book 'Against all Things Ending'. The last time I read a 'Thomas Covenant' book was about twenty years ago and that one was the fourth in the series (or something like that). Far too much for me to catch up with here...

The next best thing then is to be able to offer one lucky winner an ARC copy of 'Against All Things Ending' here on the blog (courtesy of Gollancz). Having said that, I'm afraid you can only enter if you live in the UK...
Here's the blurb (with possible spoilers if you haven't read this far in the series),

Desperate for help to find her adopted son, Jeremiah, Linden Avery has resurrected Thomas Covenant in a cataclysmic exertion of Earthpower and wild magic. But the consequences of her efforts are more terrible than she could have imagined. Sorcery on that scale has awakened the Worm of the World's End: the ultimate end of all Time, and therefore of all life, has been set in motion. And on a more personal level, the results are no less extreme. The stress of reincarnation so many centuries after his death has fractured Covenant's mind. He cannot tell Linden where to find her son. And his leprosy has renewed its grip on him, inexorably killing his nerves. The Ranyhyn had tried to warn her. Now, plunged to depths of desperation and despair for which she is entirely unprepared, Linden seeks radical responses to the dilemmas she has created. Searching for Jeremiah, and accompanied only by a few friends and allies - some of them unwilling - she takes chances that threaten her sanity, forcing her to confront the Land's most fearsome secrets. Dreadful futures hinge on all of her choices, and she and her companions are driven beyond the limits of their endurance. Yet she still walks paths laid out for her by the Despiser, and his forces are ready...

If you fancy your chances, simply 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. The subject header needs to be 'Against All Things Ending'. I'll do everything else ;o)

I'll be letting this one run until the 19th of September and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 10 September 2010

‘Ghost Omnibus Volume 1’ – Eric Luke et al (Dark Horse Comics)

It’s fifteen years ago and a summer spent cleaning toilets in a psychiatric hospital (seriously) sees me back at college with more disposable income than I can reasonably be expected to drink over the course of the year. My inability to handle the booze could well be the subject of another blog entirely! With this in mind then, was it any surprise that I found myself in the local comic shop looking for titles to get into?

I’d never really been heavily into comics previously and the choice of books on offer just blew me away. It was only a small shop but it felt like they had everything! I found myself steering clear of most of the established superhero comics purely because the sheer amount of back story didn’t make them inviting prospects for a newcomer looking to jump on board (although I did pick up ‘Generation X’ fairly early into the series and ‘Uncanny X-Men’ did offer a great place to jump on, just before the ‘Onslaught’ storyline kicked off). I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t pick up ‘Ghost’ because of the cover art (cut me some slack, single geek guy at college and all that...) but the title seemed to promise something a little more intriguing than the standard superhero fare.
My copies of ‘Ghost’ all went in the ‘Great Comic Purge’ of ’97 but the ‘Ghost’ omnibus editions offered me the chance to revisit an old favourite in it’s entirety (I never managed to find all the comics) and I found that the story was a lot more intriguing than I had at first realised...

The premise is quite simple. Its three weeks after her death before Elisa Cameron finally discovers her name; all she needs to do now is discover who killed her and why... All Elisa knows is that she was a reporter covering a story before someone decided she was getting too close to the truth, but what was the truth...?
As a ‘ghost’, Elisa can do all the stuff you would normally expect; she can also ‘warp’ over greater distances but only via another dimension where the inhabitants want her dead and she can actually die. If Elisa Cameron can negotiate this dimension and its inhabitants, as well as the streets of a city mired in crime, then she might just stand a chance of discovering why she died in the first place...

I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic where the main character’s psyche is delved into as deeply as it is with Elisa Cameron. That might not be saying much as there are loads more comics out there that I still have to read! What I’ve got in the meantime though is a character whose sheer single minded intensity of purpose drives the plot relentlessly through dark ‘art-deco’ streets that are skilfully rendered by a number of artists.
The whole ‘man hating’ thing does come across as being overplayed at the beginning (although I would say that, being a man and all...) but as events play out you slowly start to realise that it’s not overplayed at all. Elisa Cameron has a very good reason to be the person she is and that final revelation, along with the way that it gradually fits together, made me want to keep reading. There is also a much larger narrative building around this that promises good things to come and more questions that need answering. Her newfound relationship with her sister also plays out with just the right hint of pathos to make it really interesting.

What I particularly enjoyed is the way that this level of character exploration is applied to other characters as well. Villains are not just cardboard cut outs with delusions of grandeur, they have lives as well and you can even find yourself with a little sympathy for the positions that they find themselves in. I’m looking at ‘Hunger’ and ‘Cameron Nemo’ here, two characters with real depth. I wasn’t too sure about Dr. October though, a character that initially looked intriguing but ended up coming across as shallow instead. With another volume to go though, it may be that things pick up on that front.

As I said earlier, Ghost’s adventures in Arcadia are gorgeously styled although the constant chopping and changing between artists does take a little getting used to. I can see this approach working between individual issues but it doesn’t seem to flow so well when it’s all collected together. When you get used to it though, it turns out to be a lot of fun with Terry Dodson and Adam Hughes in particular really capturing what Ghost and Arcadia are all about.

Volume 1 of Ghost’s adventures isn’t without its little flaws (I really wish the Predator had featured more for example...) but, on the whole, Eric Luke has created an amazing tale that was a real pleasure to revisit. Volume 2 is waiting to be read and the weekend has arrived at just the right time!

Nine out of Ten

Thursday, 9 September 2010

‘Noise’ – Darin Bradley (Spectra)

What would you do if you were ahead of the game and knew that society was about to collapse irretrievably? If there were zombies involved then I could give you an answer straight away but this time the undead don’t come into the picture at all; we’re just talking a ‘regular run of the mill’ collapse here. I guess my honest answer is that I don’t know. We can all say that the bottom line is all about survival but how would we go about achieving this? I’m going to be completely honest and say that I would just wing it; I don’t know how far that would get me but it’s all I’ve got right now.
Luckily for terminally ill prepared types such as myself, the speculative fiction is full of writers who are constantly thinking about these things are sharing their insights with us. Darin Bradley is one of these writers and has obviously thought about this a great deal if ‘Noise’ is anything to go by...

After the switch from analog to digital there are a lot of dead airwaves left over, just waiting to be used by anyone with the proper equipment and something to say. There are plenty of people with plenty to say and one of these groups is Salvage, broadcasting warnings of the collapse of civilisation and harsh lessons in how to avoid it.
Levi and Hiram are ahead of the game, they’ve been listening to Salvage for a while now and are ready to ride out the forthcoming apocalypse. When it comes down to it though, are they really ready for what they’re about to find on the streets...?

‘Noise’ is one of those books that effortlessly drags you in and keeps you reading until it’s all over. That was the case with me and I found that I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. I had to keep reading, not only to find out how the apocalypse pans out but also the conclusion of everyone’s individual journeys within it.

‘Noise’ isn’t an easy though and for reasons that add value to (as well as others that detract from) the book as a whole. Bradley sets the collapse of civilisation running and then leaves it to his reader to catch up as best they can. The end result can be confusing, to say the least, as the viewpoint switches between what’s going internally for Hiram and what’s happening on the street with little or no warning. Having said that though, you get a real feel for Hiram’s character and what it means for him to do what he does. Getting any sense of the structure of ‘Noise’ can be difficult because of this approach and the book treads a very fine line between being a frustrating read (not to be revisited) and one that you’ll find yourself going back to in order to tease out more of the meaning.

It may not happen for a while but ‘Noise’ proved to be an intriguing enough read that I will revisit it at some point in the future. Society’s collapse is handled with enough atmosphere and energy to send the plot powering forward at one hell of a rate. Like I said, this pace may be too quick but it does an admirable job of hooking the reader right from the outset.

However, the ‘Collapse’ almost plays second fiddle to the dramas that unfold in it’s midst. At it’s heart. ‘Noise’ is primarily about the creation of a new society from the ashes of the old one (salvaging?) and people’s struggle to establish themselves, both in the aftermath of the Collapse and in the creation of something new. Explosions and gunfire are constant but secondary to the explosive nature of the human relationships that arise.

Everyone’s actions are governed by ‘The Book’, a work that details just exactly how you can survive the Collapse and prosper in the aftermath. Every detail is there and people’s lives literally depend on how closely they follow these rules. It made for compelling reading as I found myself wondering just how closely the rules would be followed and what would happen to those who transgressed. Bradley gives a great class in ‘Less is More’ by deadening the physical impact of such ‘final acts’ and concentrating on what it means for the group as a whole. However, I did find myself wondering if Bradley perhaps made it a little too easy for Hiram, Levi and the others by giving them a way of opting out of personal responsibility for the actions that they had to commit to survive. Changing your name is one thing but does it really change who you are? This approach works for the characters but I couldn’t help but wonder if it worked because Bradley wanted it to rather than it working in its own right... Having said that though, the ultimate act that Hiram has to commit, in the name of ‘The Book’, made for an ending that sat with me for a long time after I’d finished reading.

Ultimately, every character must choose between obedience to their group or being one person in a where individuals are picked off by the masses. The end result is perhaps what ‘Lord of the Flies’ would have been if Piggy and co had tried working together instead of arguing over a sea shell; a compelling exercise in the birth of society out of the ashes of disaster.
‘Noise’ is a tough nut to crack initially but its well worth the effort. In a year that is becoming more and more defined (to me anyway) by the emergence of quality apocalyptic fiction, ‘Noise’ sits proudly amongst the very best of it’s kind.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Stupid Spammers...

I thought I'd beaten them but comments about Nike trainers are starting to creep into the posts...

As a result, I've had to turn on the comment moderation for all posts. Some of the stuff these spammers are posting is pretty vile and I don't want it on the blog at all! This means that you're going to have to wait a little while for your comments to appear if you make any. Don't worry though! If you're commenting about about posts (instead of just linking to rubbish spam) then your comments will make it onto the blog... :o)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

‘And Ministers of Grace’ – Tad Williams

I was conducting one of my periodic culls of the ‘Reading Pile’ the other day (seriously, it has to be done otherwise the walls of the house would be bulging quite severely by now...) and realised that my copy of the George RR Martin & Gardner Dozois anthology ‘Warriors’ was sat right at the bottom of the pile. It was doing a fine job of supporting several other hardbacks but obviously hadn’t done such a good job in terms of being read by me...

There were a couple of reasons for this, the main one being... have you seen the size of this book? If I was to take it on the commute to work then I would probably have to buy the book its own train ticket. Big books don’t work so well with me these days so invariably get left to their own devices and forgotten...
The other reason was that the majority of the authors inside didn’t really appeal, either through their choice of subject matter for the anthology or based on books of theirs that I’d read before. I didn’t get rid of ‘Warriors’ though as there were two authors whose stories I was definitely up for reading. Tad Williams was one of them, you can probably guess who the other one was and now the book is in front of me I’ll be reading his novella real soon.

I’ve been a big fan of Tad Williams since the late eighties when I picked up a copy of ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ based on a recommendation I happened to see in a newspaper. These days, I’ll still pick up anything that has his name on it. If Tad Williams was to write a two page children’s book called ‘My House is Red and it has a window’ I’d still buy it, just to see how many windows the house really had... :o)
It’s been a while in coming but there was never really any question that I wouldn’t read Williams’ tale of a cybernetically enhanced religious assassin sent to kill the leader of an enemy world and, as is typical of Williams’ work, I really enjoyed it.

After having been fed a diet of Williams’ typical ‘doorstopper’ sized epic tales, it made for a refreshing change to come across one of his stories that was only twenty odd pages long. The sheer scale world building that Williams is known for (which some might say is on the excessive side, I don’t mind it personally) is sacrificed in the name of ‘available room’ but you still get a sense of massive amounts of world building sat just off stage. The world of Arjuna isn’t described in great detail but the ease with which it sits on the page suggests that a lot more than twenty odd pages worth of work went into its creation.

This stripped down version of Williams’ normal work allows the reader a lot more time to dwell on what ‘And Ministers of Grace’ is really all about. Lamentation Kane is a warrior of God and we get to see him put all his training into action in scenes of high octane violence cleverly merged with military tech that you will have seen before (think ‘Bane’ meets ‘The Terminator’ meets ‘Altered Carbon’) but still makes for both plausible and entertaining reading.

Williams shows his reader what kind of a warrior Lamentation Kane is through the scenes of combat and these are worth sticking around for. What’s more interesting though is Williams’ exploration of a warrior utterly submerged in the culture of the enemy and left to fend for himself. The constant babble of Arjuna’s internet equivalent constantly stretches Kane to breaking point and there is parallel drawn with the biblical ‘Tower of Babel’ that may not have much to do with the story itself but is still interesting to note. Kane knows what he has to do but the conditions that he is working under make this job his hardest one to date and it’s how he copes with this that makes for compelling reading.
Kane is not the only warrior at work on Arjuna and it’s also interesting to see fleeting glimpses of others in this role. It’s clear that Williams sees being a warrior as being an attitude just as much as a matter of training and he explores this in different ways, with different characters, in order to really flesh out the covert war being fought on the planet.

The only issue I had with the story was when the two opposing ideologies finally get to debate their case. While the arguments do serve their purpose, I think I was hoping for something a little more original rather than lines that I’d seen trotted out in other, similar, works.

What is good to see though is the position that Williams leaves Kane in at the end of the story. Kane is still a warrior at heart but is finally able to pursue his own destiny. I reckon there’s mileage in this particular character for at least another story and I wouldn’t mind seeing what life has in store next for Lamentation Kane...

Eight and a Half out of Ten