Saturday, 31 December 2011

The 'Big, Fat End of the Year' Post!

And another year comes to an end in a flurry of genre related goodness... Well, not counting yesterday’s review but even that book wasn’t all bad so I’m still going to say that 2011 ended on a high reading wise :o)

2011 was a great year for reading, in my house, although once again there’s a caveat in that you could say that I didn’t take much of a risk with my reading. If 2011 was a year for anything, it was the year of ‘Life being too short to read anything other than the good stuff’. We’ll see if that changes next year...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the blog in 2011; whether it was to post a comment, answer some questions for an interview or set me straight when I hadn’t got my facts right. I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by and make this blog better than I ever could on my own :o) No thanks at all though to the spammers and spambots who seem to go to a lot of effort to leave comments that never get anywhere near the front page (or any other page for that matter). Guys, take a hint... please?

Like I said, 2011 has been a great year for reading and below is a list of all my favourite reads (complete with handy links to each review just in case you missed them). Apologies to Sykes, Rothfuss, Abercrombie, Martin, Erikson and the rest for not getting round to your books this year. I’ll give it my best shot to get them all read in 2012! :o)

So, list! Here goes (in no order whatsoever)...

‘Zoo City’ – Lauren Beukes (a worthy 'Arthur C. Clarke Award' winner)
‘The Damned Highway’ – Brian Keene & Nick Mamatas (superb)
‘Robopocalypse’ - Daniel H. Wilson
‘Low Town’ – Daniel Polansky
‘The Dragon’s Path’ – Daniel Abraham (can't wait for the sequel)
‘Never Knew Another’ - J.M. McDermott
‘Leviathan Wakes’ – James S.A. Corey (see 'The Dragon's Path')
‘Among Thieves' - Doug Hulick
'Theft of Swords' - Michael J. Sullivan (awesome 'old school' fantasy)
‘The Cold Commands’ – Richard Morgan
‘Manhattan in Reverse’ – Peter F. Hamilton (Hamilton is just as good at writing short stories as he is with the long stuff)
‘Blood Reaver’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (the king of Warhammer 40K fiction)
‘The Ritual’ – Adam Nevil
'Blood of Aenarion’ – William King
‘Salvation’s Reach’ – Dan Abnett
‘Dragonmage’ – Chris Wraight
‘The Outcast Dead’ – Graham McNeill
‘Sword of Vengeance’ – Chris Wraight
‘Stories for Nighttime and Some For the Day’ - Ben Loory (highly recommended, please read it)
‘The End Specialist’ – Drew Magary

If you’re looking for a good read then any of these should do the job I think :o)

Well that’s all for me this year, have a great last few hours of 2011 and I’ll see you all on the other side...

Friday, 30 December 2011

For all you people who got e-readers this Christmas...

I wasn't a member of this merry band by the way, I'm holding off a little while longer and waiting for an affordable reader that will let me read comic books. The wait continues... :o)

For everyone else, the SF Gateway site is running a sale where all of the books on the site are just £2.99 each between now and the 3rd of January. I'm not sure what constitutes a decent price for an e-book (which makes me feel rather old come to think of it) but there are loads of books on the site so it has to be worth a look :o)

Happy Browsing! :o)

‘The Time Dweller’ – Michael Moorcock (Mayflower)

So here we are, the last review of 2011. Before we get into the book itself, this review is actually the one hundred and seventy fourth posted this year. That’s not bad going for me (I don’t think I’ll ever manage over five hundred in a year though!), especially with all the other demands on my time. I guess it just goes to show that there’s no such thing as not having time to read, at least not as far as I’m concerned :o)

And... back to the book at hand. While the subject matter is very different, it’s clear to see that Michael Moorcock was the Brandon Sanderson of the sixties and seventies (maybe even the eighties as well). Here is a man who just couldn’t help but write and some of his best known ‘sword and sorcery’ tales were actually written in a matter of days. I wish I could do that... It’s been an unofficial mission of mine to work my way through Moorcock’s back catalogue, over the last couple of years, and I’ve had a great time doing so. The stories may vary in quality but the imagination behind it all is nothing short of staggering and that’s why I’ll be continuing to read his works; despite ‘The Time Dweller’ not quite working out for me as a collection of short stories.

I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections just recently; I think there’s something about this time of year that makes me want to read in bite sized chunks rather than get stuck into something thick and meaty. I saw a copy of ‘The Time Dweller’, in my favourite second hand bookshop, and knew it would make for ideal reading over the Christmas/New Year period. Well that’s what I thought at the time...

I never expect short story collections (anthologies, whatever you want to call them) to be consistent, in quality, the whole way through. The law of averages seems to suggest otherwise and there’s also what I’m bringing to the book as a reader. That’s a lot for any book to work against so I never really get my hopes up. Sometimes this means I’m pleasantly surprised by a collection (one of which will be on my ‘favourite reads of 2011’ list tomorrow) and sometimes it works out even less well than I expect.

With certain stories in ‘The Time Dweller’ the problem for me was that whatever Moorcock was trying to say was drowned out in a mass of admittedly beautiful but overall stifling imagery. Don’t get me wrong, I love Moorcock’s use of imagery and settings but I love it far more when there’s a story happening against it all. I’m sure that there was something going on in these stories but I couldn’t see it (a re-read would probably take care of this but, in the meantime, I’ve got to go on first impressions). Take ‘The Golden Barge’ for instance, what was all that about? I liked the exploration of Jephraim Tallow’s character but why was he chasing the Golden Barge? And considering this pursuit was made out to be such a big deal, why did he stop for a break? There’s something to be said for stories that have you asking questions (and you end up re-reading them) but there is also such a thing as being too obscure and alienating the reader entirely...

It was the same kind of thing with ‘Wolf’ and ‘The Ruins’, both very atmospheric and beautiful looking reads but also reads where I struggled to find any point to the story. The saving grace here was that it felt like the answers were on the tip of my tongue and another read would make things a lot clearer; still an infuriating read in the meantime though. With ‘Wolf’ in particular, I found that the character was so interesting that I wanted to know a lot more than I was given.

That’s not to say that the entire book was like this though. While the stories I’ve mentioned didn’t work for me, others very much did and this kept the book ticking over nicely on the whole.

The thing I’ve found with Michael Moorcock’s short stories is that they keep popping up in different collections, often when you least expect them. I was reading ‘The Deep Fix’ and ‘The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius’ and thinking that they felt familiar. It turned out that was because I’d already mentioned them in a couple of other collections... I won’t go into them in detail here but you can read what I wrote Here and Here if you like.

‘The Time Dweller’ and ‘Escape from Evening’ (the latter following on from the former) make for a very strong opening to the collection with a beautifully drawn backdrop, of a very old if not dying Earth, throwing up interesting problems for the leading characters to face and overcome. The whole ‘nature of time’ thing generally goes right over my head but this time round Moorcock not only really nails it, in terms of clarity, but also gives us a different perspective to ponder by attacking the subject matter with two short stories.

‘The Mountain’ rounds off the collection in a good way with a compelling tale of obsession in the face of ultimate futility. My favourite tale though was ‘Consuming Passion’; the madness of the lead character makes this story a ‘must read’ but it’s the last few lines (and a possible connection with Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’, I’m not sure...) that make it all the more intriguing.

‘The Time Dweller’ ended up being a collection where the negatives ended up dragging the rest of the book down a little more than I’d normally be comfortable with. There are some gems here though, you just need to dig a little.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

(Cover Art courtesy of 'The Image Hive')

Thursday, 29 December 2011

‘Unclean Spirits’ – M.L.N. Hanover (Orbit)

It feels like a long time since I last read any Urban Fantasy (actually, it was back in August but even that feels like a long time ago when we’re sat right on the cusp of the New Year) and it’s been even longer since I’ve read any of that kind of Urban Fantasy. You know the stuff I mean; feisty heroine should be keeping the peace but ends up falling for the local Vampire Master and the leader of the Werewolf Pack at the same time, cue lots of soul searching while the plot hangs around and wonders what to do next. I think that’s what killed my Urban Fantasy reading; it all felt very much like the same story was being told over and over again. When it got to the point where I could tell where the story was going next (with far too great a degree of accuracy) then I figured it was time to bow out and read something else instead.

And now here I am to tell you about the opening shot in a new(ish) Urban Fantasy series that I ended up quite enjoying, certainly enough to make me want to give the next book a shot when it comes out. What happened there? I’d pretty much decided that it would take something big to get me reading Urban Fantasy again and, these days, it doesn’t seem to get a lot bigger than Daniel Abraham.

If there’s a sub-genre then, more likely than not, you will find Daniel Abraham writing in it either under his own name or an assumed one. I’ve enjoyed his fantasy works and his space opera series opener (written with Ty Franck) is one of my favourite books of 2011; when I realised that Abraham was also writing as M.L.N. Hanover I knew I had to give his Urban Fantasy work a go as well. The end result? I’ll certainly be back to see how the sequel pans out.

Jayne Heller never really got on with her family; only her Uncle Eric was ever there for her and now he has been murdered. Jayne travels to Denver to settle Eric’s affairs, only to find that these are a lot more complicated than she ever realised. Not only is she the sole beneficiary of his estate (bank accounts bulging at the seams and property all over the world) but she also seems to have inherited his rather unconventional business...
Uncle Eric died fighting to rid the world of supernatural ‘riders’, parasites that possess humans for evil ends. Now it’s up to Jayne to avenge her Uncle’s death by finishing off the job he was trying to do when he died. If that job killed her Uncle though, what hope does Jayne have? Luckily she’s not in this on her own...

By the time I got to the end of ‘Unclean Spirits’ I was really into it and couldn’t put the book down until I saw exactly how it ended. I knew how it had to end, the beauty was in the details... but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Things could have been so different though. You see, ‘Unclean Spirits’ is a real book of two halves (at least for me). The good news for fans of Urban Fantasy though is that the things that bugged me are all things that I’m pretty sure you will love.

A first glance at the plot had me feeling like I could be reading any one of a number of other Urban Fantasies; there certainly isn’t a lot that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack. You’ve got the heroine (from an oppressive family background) who discovers that not only is she a heroine but she has loads of cool fighting skills that make every confrontation look like a scene from ‘The Matrix’ (I like ‘The Matrix’ but that’s not the point...) You’ve got a good looking side kick that Jayne inevitably falls for but cannot have. There’s even the cool looking ‘jealous loner’ to provide a little bit of romantic uncertainty. I looked at all this and my first thought was, ‘well, this isn’t exactly original is it?’ This setup may well appeal to you but If I’m reading a book I want it to have an identity of its own and ‘Unclean Spirits’ suffers from fitting in a little too well with the rest of the scene.

It’s a good job then that M.L.N. Hanover is Daniel Abraham as the inevitable result of this is that there’s a lot more to ‘Unclean Spirits’ than at first meets the eye.
Hanover takes a very familiar looking set of building blocks and infuses them with a little spark of difference that makes everything a lot more readable; it kept me reading and that’s saying something given how I feel about Urban Fantasy!

Jayne Heller may be just like any other Urban Fantasy heroine and that goes for her self questioning as well. Where Hanover bumps things up to another level though is that Jayne isn’t just questioning what to do about her love life; we have a lead character here who questions her reaction to coming into an absolute fortune and (more importantly) will question how her decisions affect her colleagues. Hanover makes it clear that this is a dangerous world and the wrong decision can have fatal consequences. Already, we have a heroine who is prepared to think past the end of her nose and make it about other people too; I like that. This attitude of Heller’s has set up some interesting possibilities for the sequel and I’ll be there to see what happens next.

This world of vampires and werewolves (and so on) is also familiar but with just enough of a difference (once you get into the book) to keep the pages turning while you try to find out the answers to the questions posed by this new world. I’ve already said that this is a dangerous world and Hanover emphasises this with some bone crunching fight scenes that can have your teeth jolting in sympathy. Heller’s new found skills can come across as a little too good to be true but there’s no denying that it all looks great on the page and powers along a story that is already brimming with intrigue.

‘Unclean Spirits’ isn’t an original read but Hanover’s treatment of the subject matter makes it a very entertaining book where the pages turn all too easily. I’ll be back for more and I reckon I’ll see you there with me. The series has been out, in the States, for a little while already. Anyone here read it?

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Author Interview! Richard Ford ('Kultus')

This interview should have gone up a while ago but then Christmas went and got in the way... Thanks to Richard for being more prompt with his answers than I was at posting them! You can read my review of 'Kultus' over Here if you haven't read it already.

And now, on with the questions...

What has the reaction been like towards 'Kultus'? Anything like you were expecting?

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did know, with this being a debut novel, that it wouldn’t be universally well received… and I was proved right! However, I’m quite pleased that people either seem to love it or hate it – ambivalence would have been the worst reaction of all.

The people who have loved it seem to do so for the right reasons, though. Kultus isn’t an in-depth character study, it’s a balls-out action-adventure set in a steampunk background and with a main protagonist who could rip your head off and crap down your neck – and most probably will. If that’s what you’re expecting before you read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Which came first, the city of Manufactory or the character of Thaddeus Blaklok?

Blaklok definitely came screaming fully formed from the depths of my imagination first. For me, novels always start with characters before anything else. For such an uncompromising character I needed somewhere for him to play that would be equally as challenging. So, like Judge Dredd has Mega City One and Batman has Gotham, Blaklok has the steam-fuelled hellhole that is the Manufactory.

Where did your inspiration for the story come from? Any influences or did this one just pop into your head?

The main seed for the story actually came while I was reading the last Harry Potter book (in fact for people with no frame of reference who’ve asked what Kultus is about I’ve said it’s kind of Harry Potter for grown ups). In the Potterverse there’s a group of wizards known as Aurors whose job it is to track down errant wizards who use the Dark Arts for ill. It’s suggested that the Aurors end up almost as twisted and violent as the evil which they’re tasked with stopping, and I thought this might make a great premise for a character. From this came Thaddeus Blaklok!

Is Thaddeus really such a bastard as you're making out?

Yes, most definitely. But perhaps he has hidden depths – you’ll just have to wait and see.

I loved the scenes with the Hellfire, did they come about after a hard night's curry eating?

Let’s face it, we’ve all had those nights – and sometimes it’s from both ends, though for me that was a rather nasty kebab meat pizza I ate, rather than a curry.

You've written a comic book introduction to Thaddeus Blaklok, will we be seeing any more of these and will they be included in future books?

Ryan E Horvath did a fantastic job of rendering Blaklok in comic strip form and I’d love for him to appear in more. In fact I’d love to explore other media for the character – I’ve often thought he’d be great in an anime movie. Let’s just wait and see.

What's in store for Thaddeus in the future? Answer in ten words or less...

Elastoplast and therapy. Well maybe not the second one.

What are you reading at the moment and why should we be reading it too?

I’m currently reading A Dance with Dragons by George Martin, which I’m sure needs no introduction, and I don’t think it needs me to tell people why they should be reading it either – pure epicosity!

And finally, someone is thinking of picking up 'Kultus' and you've got ten words (yep, that again!) to convince them to give it a go. Have at it...

It’s got the best Romantic Interlude you’ll ever read… sort of.

That was eleven words but let’s not quibble over it, eh!

Hmmm... Ok, I'll let you have that extra word now but an extra word will be taken off any answers you have to give to questions in the future ;o)

Cheers Richard!

(For more information, Richard Ford's website can be found Here)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

So, what books did you get for Christmas?

I thought I'd give the reading pile a break, this year, and so only asked for a couple of books... And I got both of them! Check em' out...

I'm getting into the 'SF Masterworks' series more and more although not to the point where I'd start up a whole blog about it (I wish that was still going...) If I'm not reading 'The Stars My Destination' already, you know I schedule these posts, then I will be very soon.

A couple of other non-genre books came my way as well...
This book is about my life right now... :o)

This guy has far too much time on his hands... to the cost of on line scammers and spammers everywhere. I couldn't stop laughing while reading this book :o)

Sue had also been saving up my incoming review copies so I could have them all on Christmas Day :o) Highlights included...

I've heard a lot of good things about this book... or have I just heard a lot of people saying that they're looking forward to reading 'Seven Princes'? I don't know. Either way, I'm looking forward to picking it up.

It's Daniel Abraham, I've got to give this one a go!

More classic sci-fi, something I want to read more of in 2012.

That's enough about me, what reading matter did Father Christmas leave for you the other day? And how does he deliver books straight to Kindle...?

Monday, 26 December 2011

'The Hobbit' Trailer (or 'Graeme finally admits that he was wrong the whole time...')

I know everyone else has already posted this trailer but bear with me :o)

So, I wrote this post just over four years ago and the time has come for me to admit that having singing in this film isn't such a bad idea after all (although I still hope that the Elves  won't be singing in Rivendell)...

Isn't that amazing? Sends chills right down my spine...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas everyone! I hope you have a brilliant day full of everything that makes Christmas great :o) Don't tell me what happens in the 'Doctor Who Christmas Special' though? It might be a while before I get to see it...

Have a good one!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Giveaway! 'Juggernaut' and 'The Return Man'

Because nothing says 'Christmas Eve', on this blog, like a giveaway for zombie books! :o)

Thanks to the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton, I've got two books to give away (in one 'pack') that I think any zombie fan should enjoy. You'll probably enjoy them even if you're not ;o) check out the blurbs...

Iraq 2005

Seven mercenaries journey deep into the desert in search of Saddam's gold. They form an unlikely crew of battle-scarred privateers, killers and thieves, veterans of a dozen war zones, each of them anxious to make one last score before their luck runs out.

They will soon find themselves marooned among ancient ruins, caught in a desperate battle for their lives, confronted by greed, betrayal, and an army that won't stay dead...
The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States.

It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace.

Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.

But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you . . .

Two zombie books (advance copies as well, neither will be out until early 2012), one lucky winner... Are you in?

Before we go any further, this competition is only open to UK residents. Sorry about that everyone else... If you're still with me then you'll know only too well that all you need to do to enter is drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and your postal address. The subject head needs to be 'Zombies!'

I'll leave this one open until New Year's Day and will aim to announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Richard Matheson – Some Short Stories...

A shorter than normal post today, so much to get done before Christmas...

We might act cool and make out that what’s on the cover on a book wouldn’t dissuade us from picking it up. I’m not so sure though, at least from my own perspective. I’ve still to see the Will Smith ‘I Am Legend’ although the reviews I’ve seen suggest that I might just be better off sticking with the book... Tor very kindly sent me a copy of ‘I Am Legend’ (so did Gollancz but that’s another story) and my first thought when I saw it was, ‘oh no, it’s got the Will Smith cover...’ I know that sounds really ungrateful but there you go.

I guess the point of this post really is to give you all a little heads up and say that even though the cover might seem off-putting at first give this edition a chance; there’s much more to this book than meets the eye and I’m really glad I picked it up.

Get past that front cover (which isn’t actually that bad...) and you’ll find that not only are you getting ‘I Am Legend’ but you’re also getting a collection of short stories as well. Short stories that scared the you know what out of me... The quality may vary but only because Matheson is prepared to take a shot at experimenting with different writing styles. ‘Dress of White Silk’ is written from the perspective of a small girl and her language stops the story from being as clear as it would like to be. The end line rescues things though and in some style. If there’s one thing that Matheson is good at, it’s a killer final line that turns everything on its head and leaves you gasping. ‘The Near Departed’ is a great example of this with the line “As soon as I get home”... It makes me shiver even now and I highly recommend you track this short story down even if you don’t read any of the others. I wasn’t too keen on ‘Dance of the Dead’ either as the attention paid to the spectacle seemed to come at the expense of any point to the story...

The short story section actually opens with ‘Buried Talents’, a weird tale that focuses on fostering a sense of unease around something that cannot be explained. The real twist comes in the final paragraphs though and the reader has to really pay attention if the final line is to make any sense. Re-read that bit as many times as you need to, the end result is worth it.

‘Prey’ is probably my favourite story in the collection, a fast paced and remorseless affair where a woman is trapped in her house by a killer doll. While I ended up skimming certain other stories (I’m looking at you ‘From Shadowed Places’, you meandered in all the wrong places) I couldn’t take my eyes off ‘Prey’ until it ended and, even then, it still played on my mind afterwards.

‘Witch War’ didn’t look like there was much to it at first but the shocks came through the contrast between these sweet looking girls (with their banal conversation) and what they were able to do to the enemy. Matheson doesn’t hold back and this just makes things that much more powerful.

Things took a comedic turn when I got round to reading ‘The Funeral’ (creepy but intentionally amusing) and this change in tone came at just the right time, after the creeping madness and inevitability of ‘Mad House’. ‘Mad House’ is a nasty but compelling read, I could see the ending coming but found myself reading on to see if Chris would realise what was happening and get out. Another powerful ending was on display here and Matheson turned Chris’ anger back on himself in a way that will have you eyeing your household furniture nervously (if you’re anything like me).

Things were rounded up with ‘Person to Person’, a devilish tale where Matheson keeps turning things round until neither the reader nor Millman knows what’s going on. The ending is all the more scary for this as you’re left still not really knowing any of the reasons behind it. What a way to keep you thinking about the story after you’ve read it...

‘I Am Legend’ is a book that’s worth picking up anyway but if you see the Tor edition (mass market) then definitely pick it up; there are some real gems here for those who enjoy a chilling read...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

‘Morning Glories: Volume Two’ – Spencer, Eisma, Esquejo (Image Comics)

I have absolutely no discipline at all as far as books and comics are concerned. I am incredibly difficult to buy presents for as I can’t wait for my birthday/Christmas if I’m enjoying a series. I will also invariably skip to the end of a book to find out how things end. I’ve already told you, a few posts ago now, that I will continue to buy single issue comic books whilst waiting for the trade to come out so I can buy that as well.

After reading the first volume of ‘Morning Glories’ (scroll down a little bit or just click Here instead...) I was resolved to be good and leave off reading volume two until next week at least. After all, we’re looking at what could potentially be an excellent series here and I wanted to drag things out as much as possible (I have no idea when volume three will be on the shelves). All it took was one day off sick though, that’s all it took... I wanted to read something but couldn’t focus on a page full of words. A page full of words and pictures though...? Well, that was a different story and all the excuse I needed really after enjoying the hell out of volume one. So much for my being disciplined about this; you’ll probably see me in Forbidden Planet (picking up single issues) before the end of the year...

This is the point of the review where I normally give you a brief outline of the plot but... This is ‘Morning Glories’ and there is nothing resembling a plot, at least not yet. Once the series is complete I’m sure I’ll look back at this volume and see things very differently but that’s not what it’s like right now. All sorts of crazy stuff is happening and I’m not sure how much of this is happening in the school itself or in the mind of one of its newest pupils...

What we do get though is a little glimpse at the past lives of the six new students and what led them to enrol at the Academy. What this inevitably means is that many more questions are raised although I was pleasantly surprised to see one question, from volume one, answered. While more questions are raised, the end result is that things seem to be a little more cohesive this time round. Spencer threw you in at the deep end in volume one; you’re still in at the deep end now but now Spencer is letting you get your bearings a little and start to see what’s out there. And that’s where volume two really shines. We’ve had a chance to get to know the characters and even come to like them a little bit. By raising questions about their past, and tying this in with the school, both the plot and the characters became that much more intriguing to me and I didn’t think they could become any more so than they were already.

I also couldn’t help but feel for certain characters once I found out a little more about them, even characters whom I’d already come to dislike a little (Zoe and Ike, I’m looking at you two here...) Without giving too much away, Jun’s story is particularly powerful and if his was the only story going on here, I’d still want to hang around to see how it played out. Nick Spencer’s plotting throws up some real curveballs, along with the constant questions, and is dripping with the bizarre (‘so we created our own gods...’); it promises something superb and has more than succeeded in it’s aim to make sure that I stick around for the rest of it. Who is Abraham...?

I don’t know what changed but this time round I found myself really enjoying Eisma’s artwork, possibly because (like I said) things were more cohesive. With a plot like this maybe the art doesn’t need to be too involved after all, I don’t know...

‘Morning Glories: Volume Two’ has more than confirmed my sneaking suspicions that this series is definitely one to keep an eye on. I’m in for the long haul and, if you’re after a series that will keep you thinking about it, you should jump on board as well.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Talking about books elsewhere...

Not only did I review 'Deliverance Lost' today (look below this post) but I was also over at the Book Smugglers, talking about some of my favourite reads of 2011, for Smugglivus! Check it out and then hang around afterwards to take in the rest of what is an awesome line-up of guest posts :o)

‘Deliverance Lost’ – Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

There are a number of authors who churn out books on a fairly regular basis, almost to the point where I used to be able to plan my reading year around their output (at least that was the case before the little one decided I would never read any of my favourite authors ever again...) It’s the same deal with series and a number of these can always be relied upon to pop up here and there, throughout the year, as well. Like the ‘Horus Heresy’ books for example.

I’m sure that you already know I’m a fan of this series, and Black Library books in general, but that’s only because (apart from a notable exception) the books are well written and guaranteed to entertain. What’s to argue with there? Nothing really and that’s why I always keep an eye open for what the next ‘Horus Heresy’ book is and when I can expect to get my hands on it. Suffice it to say that I’ve been keeping an eye open for ‘Deliverance Lost’ (having thoroughly enjoyed ‘Raven’s Flight’ when I last listened to it) and when it finally arrived I moved it right up to the top of the reading pile. Was ‘Deliverance Lost’ worth displacing any number of equally readable books though? Well, yes and no...

After the events on Istvaan V, the Raven Guard Legion have been almost decimated and their Primarch is left wondering how he can possibly continue with the fight against the traitor Legions. It looks like the only way forward is to go out in a blaze of glory (three thousand loyalists against hundreds of thousands that number) but then intervention comes from none other than the Emperor himself...
Now Corax, the Raven Guard Primarch, is on a mission to rebuild his shattered Legion with previously secret gene tech handed to him by the Emperor. Corax’s aim is to overwhelm the traitors not only with superior numbers but with superior marines genetically engineered for that crucial edge over their erstwhile former brothers. His job will not be easy though... It wasn’t just the Raven Guard that returned from Istvaan, the treacherous Alpha Legion have infiltrated the survivors and are working from within to thwart Corax’s aims. The Alpha Legion Primarchs have been ordered by Horus to secure the gene tech for him but they want it for themselves as well...

If you think Black Library books are exclusively about big men firing big guns then ‘Deliverance Lost’ will have you swiftly reconsidering your position. It wasn’t the easiest book to get into though...

I’ve read a few of Thorpe’s books (plus a few short stories), just recently, which has given me a chance to work out why I seem to have trouble really getting stuck into his work. I think the bottom line is that Thorpe loves the setting a little too much and that gets in the way of the story itself.

Thorpe throws the full force of his writing into every aspect of ‘Deliverance Lost’ and the end result is a richly detailed work that can bring Corax, and his Raven Guard, to the fore in the best possible way. Brilliant stuff when Thorpe hits the target but what can also happen is that the story struggles to break free of detail that hinders the plot and stops it moving at the speed it really wants to. When that happened, I found myself just wanting things to pick up again. I might even have skimmed a few pages in desperation...

What’s annoying about this approach is that when the balance is right ‘Deliverance Lost’ is a story that approaches being superb. While I enjoyed these moments (and there were plenty of them) they did leave me wishing that the rest of the book could have been the same.

I’ve already mentioned that Thorpe’s attention to detail brings Corax, and his Raven Guard, to the fore in the best possible way and it does, it really does. Fans are absolutely going to lap up this insight into Corax’s psyche (tortured by failure but never once gives up trying to do the right thing) and the flashbacks to his early years really flesh out his character and leave you in no doubt as to why he behaves the way that he does.

The real meat of the book though, for me anyway, is the espionage and counter-espionage that are the inevitable consequences of any dealings with the Alpha Legion. This is where Thorpe really comes into his own, weaving a web of truth and lies that I found myself really wanting to untangle. This is more difficult than it looks... Everything comes together at the end but, in the meantime, there is a lot of misinformation to plough throw. Thorpe seems to find incredibly easy to send his readers down blind alleyways and into dead ends. Thorpe had me thinking that I knew where things were going and then constantly showed me just how wrong I was. I ended up feeling that I owed certain characters an apology for ever doubting their loyalties. Surprisingly enough, this was mostly the case with the Alpha Legion infiltrators where Thorpe has his lead infiltrator battling with implanted memories and doubting where his loyalties should lie. The outcome here may be inevitable but Thorpe strings the tension out wonderfully.

Space Marine books shouldn’t just be about the fighting but, at the end of the day, we reading about Space Marines and that’s what they do so... Thorpe sprinkles the espionage with moments of combat that are as bone crunching as the best of them. What’s more, Thorpe really has you feeling that the death of each individual Raven Guard Marine is another nail in the coffin of the Legion itself (there’s only so many of them left) and that proved to be all the investment I needed to keep reading. Well, that and gigantic Titan war machines levelling a city :o)

‘Deliverance Lost’ can be a stodgy read at times but stick with it and there’s a story inside that will reach out and grab you with everything it has. If you’re a gamer or a fan of military sci-fi/espionage then you really should give ‘Deliverance Lost’ a go when it’s published in January. Recommended.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

‘Morning Glories: Volume One’ – Spencer, Eisma, Esquejo (Image Comics)

I’ve been after a new comic to try out for a while now. It’s not that I’m not enjoying what I’m reading, not at all, I just realised that I was after something new to spice up my comic book reading. Circumstances being as they are (my job is due to end in the middle of January...) I was loath to follow my usual practice of throwing stacks of cash at Forbidden Planet, and seeing what worked out, and the comic book shelves at the local libraries weren’t much help either so... I asked a good friend of mine what he was reading at the moment; he knows his comics and I trust his recommendations so... ‘Morning Glories’ was the recommendation, a series that was far enough away from my usual reading (zombies, horror and a little Conan here and there) to sound intriguing and just what I was after. I was able to get myself copies of volumes one and two and have found myself in the position where I’m having to stop myself cracking open volume two and finding out just what the hell is going on at the Morning Glory Academy. If I start reading too soon then I’m only going to have to wait for volume three that much longer. ‘Morning Glories’ is by no means a perfect read but it has proven to be an addictive story already; I’m well and truly hooked.

Morning Glory Academy is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country but when six new students arrive to start the school year they find life at the Academy to be very different to what they had expected. Psychotic room mates and armed guards in the corridors are only the least of their worries and it soon becomes clear that their lives are at stake. Luckily for these students though, they were selected for this academy for any number of reasons that can be turned against the teaching staff. Some of these reasons aren’t even clear to the students themselves, yet.

I’ve got misgivings about ‘Morning Glories’; I’m eager to get cracking on volume two but I’m already wondering if volume one is the pivotal book where things either go on to greater heights or, well... they don’t.

Nick Spencer’s plot is nothing short of compelling reading with an underlying mystery wrapped up in a layer of smaller (yet no less important) questions that all need to be solved. There is so much going on and Spencer leaves his reader with the nagging suspicion that the answer is right there in plain sight, if only you could see it... That’s what ultimately kept me reading, the sure fire feeling that I would work it all out on the next page. Nice going there Nick, getting me all confident about working the mystery out and then leaving it all hanging on the last page. I will be back to see if any of my questions are answered in volume two.

This approach does have its drawbacks though. To be blunt, there were so many questions being raised that I had real trouble remembering the names of the six new students and that’s never a good sign. In fact, I couldn’t tell you those names right now... Having said that, the emerging dynamic of the group does throw up a few surprises here and there and I want to see how that develops as well.

While I’m sure that all these questions will be answered over the course of the series, the scattershot approach to raising these questions does make the plot seem a little piecemeal, there’s not really much to tie things together at this stage which does make me wonder how things will go in the next book...
At the end of the day though, it’s Spencer’s ability to pose these intriguing questions that means I will be back for the second volume, you just can’t argue with that kind of storytelling.

Joe Eisma’s art tends to veer towards being a little too simplistic, for me, but is never anything less than eye-catching. Rodin Esquejo’s cover art is gorgeous and had me half wishing that I’d collected single issues when the series kicked off. I can’t complain too much though, not when all of it wrapped up in this trade :o)

Right now, the jury is out regarding which way ‘Morning Glories’ will ultimately go but there is more than enough here to have me back for volume two. If you’re stuck for a comic book to read then you should check this book out.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 19 December 2011

Festive Reading...

It’s a bit of a slow day for the blog so I brazenly strode into the SFX Forum and shamelessly pinched the idea from this thread (thanks Boo!)

I haven’t re-read a book in a long time but I used to do nothing else but re-read all my books as a kid, especially at Christmas when I could tell that new books were sat under the tree and I had to find some way of passing the time until I could open them on the big day. If there wasn’t a decent film on then I’d probably end up either reading something or watching TV while reading something (which inevitably led to some interesting cross-over storylines... Someone needs to write a Ladyhawke/Star Wars crossover if they haven’t already).
What did I re-read though? I read a lot as a kid so it’s actually quite hard to narrow it down but a couple did stand out...

What is it about winter that makes me want to read books where the weather is even colder? I’m not a big fan of winter so I guess I want read something where the main character is even colder than I am. ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ (Tad Williams) was a good one, for this kind of reading, as poor Simon Snowlock had a very cold time of it when he journeyed into Rimmersgard in the face of some really brutal weather. Michael Scott Rohan’s ‘Winter of the World’ books were also good ‘cold reading’ with an entire world under threat from glaciers under the control of the gods. I’ll always remember when Alv steps onto the ice for the first time and the intensity of the cold is like physical pain... You guys really should read these books if you haven’t already, I highly recommend them. Like I said, these days I very rarely re-read anything although I’m getting a little bit nostalgic as we speak... ;o)

Going with the other question from the thread... I can’t help but associate Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books with Christmas for the simple reason that there were a number of years where the latest paperback would be under the tree. I would deliberately set out to lose the family game of ‘Christmas Afternoon Monopoly’ (or cards, or whatever game it was) so I could get back to reading me some Pratchett. That was what Christmas was really about in those days :o)

Tad Williams’ ‘The Stone of Farewell’ is another book that I’ll always associate with Christmas as well; another present that I couldn’t help but dive into and only surface for things like food and drink. The big one for me though is...

I watched the TV adaptation, as a kid back in the early eighties, and was given the book not long afterwards. If there was ever a book the screamed ‘Christmas!’ then this is that book. Not only is the whole book covered in a thick blanket of snow but Christmas itself has to be saved (from a gang of criminals who have a car that can turn into an aeroplane, it’s funny what details you remember...). You just can't get a lot more 'Christmas' than that, you just can't.
The last time I read 'The Box of Delights' was one May and it just didn't feel right, this is a book that absolutely has to be read at Christmas or not at all :o) Now I'm feeling even more nostalgic for a re-read...

How about you folks then? Are there any books that you make a habit of re-reading over the festive season? Are there any books that mak you think of Christmas when you were a child? You know where the comments go...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Cover Art Sunday! 'Dark Eden' (Chris Beckett)

If there was ever cover art that got me reading a book straight away it's this...

Simple yet... absolutely gorgeous. I've got a stack of books that I want to read before the end of the year, so I think I'll have to put 'Dark Eden' down for now, but what I have read looks very promising. Check out the blurb...

You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest's lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you. 

You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. 

You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.

Yep, I'm in :o) How about you? (Look out for 'Dark Eden' next month)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

One for 2012? 'The Isis Collar' (Cat Adams)

The ARCs keep coming in and I'm posting em' here to give you folks a heads up on what's coming your way in 2012. Like this for example...

Celia Graves was once an ordinary human, but those days are long gone. Now she strives to maintain her sanity and her soul while juggling both vampire abilities and the powers of a Siren.

Warned of a magical “bomb” at a local elementary school, Celia forces an evacuation. Oddly, the explosion seems to have no effect, puzzling both Celia and the FBI. Two weeks later, a strangely persistent bruise on Celia’s leg turns out to be the first sign of a magical zombie plague.

Finding the source of the plague isn’t Celia’s only concern. Her alcoholic mother has broken out of prison on the Sirens’ island; her little sister’s ghost has possessed a young girl; and one of Celia’s boyfriends, a powerful mage, has disappeared.

'Urban Fantasy' or 'Urban Fantasy Soap Opera'? 'The Isis Collar' sounds a little too much like the latter to be of any interest to me. Even the bit about zombies. I mean, come on... Isn't the 'Fantasy' bit enough? Let vampires, werewolves (and so on) do what they do best and leave the soap opera stuff out of it, please... I mean, most of these creatures are undead and not actually interested in romance at all dammit! And another thing...

Sorry, I guess I'm not quite ready to pick up an Urban Fantasy novel just yet... :o) 'The Isis Collar' will be published in March next year if you're interested...

Friday, 16 December 2011

‘Age of Legend’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

If Black Library books find their way here then, more often than not, they’re usually set in the grim and dark universe of the forty first millennium. As much as I love reading these books (and you can see from the blog that I do) it’s not my favourite setting out of the two on offer from Games Workshop and the Black Library. No, my longstanding preference for fantasy over science fiction (the subject of a whole other post probably) has always seen me gravitate towards the ‘Warhammer’ setting of the Old World and the constant warfare raging between its member races. It’s well written (for the most part), the battles are suitably epic and there’s a lot more intrigue and story going on than you would think; certainly for a setting that is based around war gaming. The quality can vary but very few of these books have ever let me down.

One ‘Warhammer’ book that I’ve been looking forward to, for a long time now, is the ‘Age of Legend’ anthology, a collection of tales from the dawn of the Old World. My progress through the ‘Time of Legends’ series has been a bit slow to say the least (five books down and four to go...) so I thought it would make a nice change to get stuck into some shorter stories that would fill me in on the detail without taking their time about it. I didn’t get quite what I was after on that score as there’s a lot of background history to get stuck into and the book doesn’t really give a timeline that the stories can be placed against. What I did get though was a collection of thoroughly entertaining tales that served as a great way to blunt the niggly stresses of rotten days at work and a hyperactive baby that just will not sleep. Of course there were some stories that worked for me better than others did; I wouldn’t say that the overall quality was consistent across the board. The overall effect was a good one though; a veritable tidal wave of all out war (heroic deeds, desperate last stands, you name it...) laced with engaging characters who held their respective plots together nicely. As seems to be the tradition here, I’ll take a quick look at each individual story and tell you exactly what I thought of them...

‘A Small Victory’ – Paul S. Kemp
I’ve been following Paul Kemp’s work for a long time and it’s great to see him make an appearance here. Kemp’s work is great, whatever setting he writes in, and this is very much the case here with his tale of a man braving an onslaught of the undead to save the woman that he loves. No word is wasted in a union of zombie conflict and a character that you’ll root for. The ending is a little predictable but the way Kemp tells his tale will make you want to go back and re-read it, just to see if he was telling the tale that you thought he was... 9.5/10

‘Bloodraven’ – Sarah Cawkwell
This short story is very much an introduction to the character of Valkia the Bloody who we will see a lot more of next year. It’s also a tale of heroism against all the odds as an outpost of Dwarves must stand alone against an invasion of Chaos warriors from the north. Plenty of combat lends the tale a lot of energy which keeps things moving very smoothly. Where Cawkwell really shines though is in the way she takes what initially looks like a foregone conclusion and draws out the uncertainty until the last couple of pages. This is a battle that could go either way until the last sword stroke falls; I was utterly hooked. 10/10

‘City of Dead Jewels’ – Nick Kyme
Now here’s a tale that could have shone a lot more if it hadn’t been placed right next to the excellent ‘Bloodraven’. ‘City of Dead Jewels has a lot to recommend it (particularly the tale of the apprentice Dwarf Skalf) but what is meant to be a slow, measured hunt for a monster dwelling underground ends up dragging when placed against the more purposeful ‘Bloodraven’. Actually, ‘City of Dead Jewels’ dragged anyway. There’s also much made of relationships, within the hunting party, that doesn’t seem to come to any kind of fruition. Not a bad tale but could have been better. 7.5/10

‘The Last Charge’ – Andy Hoare
I wasn’t too sure about ‘The Last Charge’ either... Here’s a tale where the ending is given away by the title and the lead character isn’t quite strong enough to make the story interesting in the meantime (you get glimpses of pathos but only glimpses). There’s a nice array of monsters on show but the story doesn’t make the best use of them... 7/10

‘The Ninth Book’ – Gav Thorpe
I’ve found myself reading a lot of Gav Thorpe’s books just recently and have found that his slow, methodical approach to recounting events has been a little offputting. Not this time though! Thorpe’s tale of a vampire, a Chaos Warband and a group of human mercenaries (caught in the middle) is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. I’m not sure who this mysterious vampire is but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him as well. 9/10

‘The Gods Demand’ – Josh Reynolds
When you live in a world that can punish the slightest loss of attention with instant death, what can the constant stress do to a man? Josh Reynolds gives us a idea with his story of a Count’s battle to defend a town from an invasion of beastmen. Count Ludendorf will do anything to defend his people but at what cost to his sanity? Was he even sane to begin with? Reynolds brings the realities of war in the Old World crashing down on the reader and pulls no punches. You might wince at the demands made on Ludendorf (plus those that he makes of others) but his steadfast refusal to back down makes for some absolutely glorious battle scenes. 9/10

‘Plague Doktor’ – C.L. Werner
I’m never quite sure whether I like C.L. Werner’s work or not but this time round I definitely did with his tale of an opportunistic scavenger who bites off a lot more than he can chew when he decides to impersonate a plague doctor. The confrontation, right at the end, plays second fiddle to the fractious relationship between Grau and Kahlenburg; a relationship of dependency that highlights what a harsh and unforgiving place the Old World can be. I loved the way that Werner hides the real menace in the shadows and throws it at the reader right at the very end! 9.5/10

‘The City is Theirs’ – Philip Athans
The Orcs are invading the city of Nuln and all that stands between them and victory is a grief stricken Halfling... I liked the premise here but the execution really didn’t work for me. The mix of character viewpoints made the battle look even more confusing than it probably was and when the viewpoint switched to Katzchen (the Halfling) I couldn’t make out what was going on. There was a sense of something massive happening but it didn’t really focus into much detail... 7/10

‘The Second Sun’ – Ben Counter
Here’s a tale that stands out from the rest because there is no combat whatsoever, ‘The Second Sun’ also bridges the gap between the past and present in a way that none of the other stories do, I liked the way that Counter had two stories running parallel to each other and the arrogance of the Bright College left the tale hanging on an ominous note. There was more than enough here to have me interested in more of this particular tale if Counter was to ever write it 9/10

‘Aenarion’ – Gav Thorpe
I’m not really going to go into detail about what I thought of ‘Aenarion’, simply because I’ve already reviewed the audio-book over Here and it's basically the same story. As with James Swallow’s ‘Heart of Rage’, it’s good to see these audio-books perhaps reach a slightly wider audience by making the jump to print format. I can’t help but feel a little sorry though for the people who have forked out for the CD and now find themselves coming across it again... A great tale though.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

‘The Shrinking Man’ – Richard Matheson (Gollancz)

Is it just me or does time seem to flow more and more quickly as the end of the year draws ever closer? This is my way of saying that not only do I still need to write my ‘Smugglivus’ post (it’s coming, honest!) but I still haven’t started on ‘The Heroes’. It’s also my way of saying that it was only four weeks ago that I watched ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ but it feels like a lot longer...

You can read what I wrote over Here but the gist of it goes a little something like this,

The film was so good, in fact, that I went out and bought the book not long afterwards. Check it out, seriously...

So, not only a film that I watched the hell out of but a film that prompted me to visit ‘Amazon New & Used’ the following day and pick up the book. Thanks to the Richard Matheson connection, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ may have also nudged me in the direction of re-reading ‘I Am Legend’. Was the film really that good? Yes, yes it was.

All in all then, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ made for a great way to spend an hour and a bit. Now I need to get on and read the book...

Yep, I was full of the praise that day wasn’t I? I’ll stand by it as well; ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ was an excellent film. I didn’t hang around getting myself a copy of ‘The Shrinking Man’ but, things being the way they are these days, it took me a little longer than normal to get round to reading it. I got there in the end though and picked up the book with high hopes of a novel that was as effective as the film. My hopes were realised but what I didn’t realise, at the time, was that ‘The Shrinking Man’ would prove to be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever found myself having to write...

It’s around this point in a review that I give a little blurb on what the book is all about. I’m not going to go into too much detail this time round as I’ve covered this already when I spoke about the film (click on the link at the top if you haven’t already). Suffice it to say that Scott Carey has been exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray and is slowly, but steadily, shrinking. And as Scott Carey shrinks, his problems just keep growing larger and larger.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Shrinking Man’, a book that somehow contrived to lose the ‘incredible’ out of the title but was no less incredible for it. Sitting down to write about it though proved to be a different matter entirely...

You see, the thing is that either the film is a very faithful adaptation of the book or the book dovetails very closely with the film. Actually, looking at the comment next to my film post, it looks like the book came first. The end result though is that I found myself in a position where I’d already said everything about the story itself whilst covering the film adaptation. It’s that faithful to the book.

So, was there anything new I could write about 'The Shrinking Man'? As it happened, yes :o)

Whereas the film sticks to a fairly straightforward, and linear, portrayal of Carey’s shrinking the book jumps backwards and forwards along the timeline, using seemingly random landing points to show us either a new facet of Carey’s character or a problem caused by his shrinking. The ‘film storyline’ works in terms of setting up just how relentless Carey’s shrinking is. I have to say though that I much preferred how the book approached things as the emphasis is more on Carey himself and how he reacts as his previously comfortable becomes something else entirely. The film veers off from the book and that it only gives a brief nod to the changing dynamic between Carey and his wife. The book goes into a lot more detail here and we get to see a much greater degree of emasculation on Carey’s part. He wants to make love to his wife but, as he shrinks, she cannot help but treat him like a child and this fosters a real sense of tension when they are together. Not only does Carey become ‘less of a husband’ but he also becomes ‘less of a father’ as well; in the book he has a daughter and Matheson uses this changing dynamic to strip away a little more of Carey’s manhood. By the end of the book, Carey’s character is stripped right down to the basics and it’s this that ultimately enables him to not only survive but also to move on with his new life. It’s an intriguing journey made all the more detailed by it being written down instead of shown on the screen.

The book also gives us an opening, into the story, that is far more effective than the film’s and has to rank in my top five list of great novel openings that hook the reader right from the off (now there’s a post that I will have to write sometime). Possible spoilers coming up here... We are given a brief description of what happened to Carey (radioactive spray) but no idea of what it will lead to. We are then shown Carey’s passage through a strange and bewildering landscape that seems strangely familiar. The reader’s perspective pans out to show us the cellar and it’s then we realise Carey’s true predicament. Matheson’s approach is masterful, throwing the reader titbits, to keep them interested, and then hitting them right between the eyes with the revelation. Even I was hooked and I knew the story before I’d picked the book up. Matheson takes things one step further by making the confrontation between Carey and the spider a real matter of life and death where the giant environs of the cellar can contain deadly traps for the unwary (at least one passage actually made me jump). The added theme of the spider’s perceived desire for revenge (which you don’t find out about until much later on in the book) adds some real urgency to these passages.

Despite having seen the film only a few weeks beforehand, I couldn’t help but find myself being irresistibly drawn into the story once again and I didn’t put the book down until I’d finished. The idea of people shrinking isn’t a new one but I’d say that it’s Matheson’s treatment of the theme that makes ‘The Shrinking Man’ a book that well deserves its place as an ‘SF Masterwork’. I’ve seen copies still available in bookshops but Amazon is probably the place to go if you’re after a bargain. Whichever way you go, pick a copy up.

Ten out of Ten

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

‘Doctor Who: Borrowed Time’ – Naomi A. Alderman (BBC Books)

Over the last year or so, it has become clearer to me that I much prefer ‘Doctor Who’ in it’s natural home, on the TV, rather than in book form. Not that I don’t enjoy the books not at all (especially if it’s Michael Moorcock taking up the writing duties) but, for me, the quality has been a lot more consistent in the show. As far as the books go though, for every ‘Dead of Winter’ there is a ‘Touched by an Angel’... To be blunt, the TV show churns out winners a lot more than the books do.

That’s not to say that I’ll stop reading the books though (no matter what I might have said after reading ‘Touched by an Angel’). The simple fact of the matter is that I love ‘Doctor Who’ and I’ll seek out my fix wherever I can (especially now the TV show is over for the time being) whether it’s old clips on Youtube, the old Target novelizations or what BBC books are bringing out at the moment. Which brings me neatly onto Naomi Alderman’s ‘Borrowed Time’. ‘Touched by an Angel’ was so disappointing that I briefly considered not bothering with the books anymore but ‘Borrowed Time’ was there, waiting to be read, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m really glad I did. ‘Borrowed Time’ isn’t a perfect read, by any means, but I had a lot of fun with it all the same...

Andrew Brown never seems to have enough time to get everything done, a really bad thing when you’re working at an investment bank and your main rival for promotion is always one step ahead of you. How come Sameera Jenkins always seems to find those extra few minutes in the day, where is she finding the time?
Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop have just the answer; they are prepared to lend Andrew time at a very reasonable rate of interest, in the same way that they have been lending time to everyone else at the bank. Has anyone read the small print though? No, they haven’t and that’s where the Doctor comes in.
The Doctor senses danger and goes undercover at the bank to find out just what is going on. Events become a little more urgent though when Amy borrows a little time for herself and realises just what it’s going to take to pay it back...

Like I said, ‘Borrowed Time’ isn’t a perfect read but what it’s just like is watching one of those madcap episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ on the TV. You know, the ones where everyone seems to be running a lot and there’s always a monster hiding round the corner when you least expect it. That’s ‘Borrowed Time’ and it was a lot of fun to read. I’d love to see a few more ‘Doctor Who’ books just like this one if that’s ok?

Now I’ve got no idea what compound interest is and precisely the kind of mind that refuses to grasp the concept. I can write a blog but numbers make me want to go and hide somewhere with loads of books to distract me, that’s just the way I am I guess :o)

What this meant of course was that when the Doctor tried to explain what was going on, to Amy Pond, the whole lot went straight over my head and I couldn’t help but find myself thinking of cake (read the book and you’ll see why...) Now this isn’t the book’s fault but I found myself wondering how the younger section of the Doctor Who fan base would cope with that explanation... The short answer is ‘probably better than me’ but I still wonder if those passages could have been a little bit clearer (and if anyone wants to leave a comment next to this post, that explains compound interest, I’d be very grateful thanks!)

Once you get past this though you’ll find yourself slap bang in the middle of some classic ‘Doctor Who’ storytelling. As far as I’m concerned, Naomi Alderman hits the target dead on with what she brings to the page.

Alderman kicks things by somehow letting us know exactly what’s going on but dressing it up as a mystery, that we need to get to the bottom of, all at the same time. We know what’s happening (well, some of it) but the Doctor and his companions don’t and the Doctor’s inquisitiveness is infectious, I wanted to be around to see him discover the big picture. That big picture is a delightful blend of investment banking with an alien flavour that intrigued me more than enough to keep reading. I loved the way that Alderman took something fairly mundane and shows the reader that the rest of the galaxy is at it as well, it has just been taken to a whole new level...

I’ve already mentioned the abundance of running in the plot, whether it’s away from something or a frantic dash to be somewhere so the day can be well and truly saved. The predatory Messrs Symington and Blenkinsop are ‘Doctor Who’ monsters in the nastiest tradition, full of teeth and utterly remorseless. They’re also very quick on their feet and this has the added affect of keeping the plot moving rapidly whenever they make an appearance. Events move along quickly and you end up moving along with them. Alderman builds up enough of a rapport with her characters to make you care about what happens to them (especially Amy Pond) and when you add this to the underlying mystery, and those monsters snapping at the Doctor’s heels, you end up with a book that almost demands you keep reading.

A large chunk of ‘Borrowed Time’ went over my head and perhaps could have been explained a little more clearly but this is more than made up for with the rest of the book. What you’ve got here is a tale that any fan will love and I hope that Naomi Alderman writes more ‘Doctor Who’ books in the future.

Nine out of Ten

Free Reading! Chapter One of 'Double Dead' (Chuck Wendig)

You all read my review of 'Double Dead' and saw how great I thought it was (You didn't? Click Here then...); now you can read it for yourself and see what you think. Well, you can only read Chapter One but that's got to be more than enough of a taster to see if you'd like to read the rest of the book, hasn't it? :o)
Click Here for loads of different formats that you can download, then come back here and let me know what you thought of it...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

‘Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth’ – Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle (Dark Horse Comics)

It’s embarrassing to admit but I am a comic book seller’s dream customer. If I’m going to buy a story it will inevitably be in trade format. Not only does it save me a few pounds but they look so much nicer on the bookshelf (well, more like in my cupboard at the moment; Hope is not getting her hands on my comic books!) I save it saves me money but... Every now and then I can’t resist getting the single issues as well, especially if I’ve really enjoyed a story and want to know what happens. I’m particularly weak here when it comes to ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Goon’.

This was the case way back in March this year (seems like so long ago now...) when I couldn’t help but pick up the first issue of the ‘Axe Cop’ mini-series ‘Bad Guy Earth’. Have a quick read of the review that I posted and you’ll see that both my wife and I were giggling like a couple of school kids, all the way home on the bus, as we read it. Me being me (and my daughter being, well, a hyperactive attention demanding toddler) I never picked up the other two issues and that March review looked to be in danger of becoming an unfinished tale. Luckily for me (and you ‘Axe Cop’ loving blog readers) the trade came out a couple of months ago and, once I realised it was on the shelves, I didn’t hang around picking it up.

‘Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth’ is written by a seven year old boy so attempting to summarise the plot is an impossible task at best. And why would you want to? Ethan and Malachai Nicolle clearly revel in the surreal world of Axe Cop and are more than happy to just go with the flow and see where the story takes them. That seems to be the way ‘Axe Cop’ is written (and I just know that we can all remember playing games like that when we were little, don’t pretend you didn’t) and it’s certainly the best way to read it. Just go with the flow; accept that there will be dinosaurs that can breathe fire and have gatling guns for arms, accept that entire planets can be destroyed with a tiny ‘Planet Shocker’ (it has a ‘giant’ button) and accept that Dinosaur Soldier can’t help but transform into something else whenever he comes into contact with blood (President Zombie Bear Cop? Yep...) If you still really want to know what the plot is, Axe Cop and his team must stop two psychic brothers (from outer space) turning our planet into ‘Bad Guy Earth’. I still think you’re missing the point though.

‘Bad Guy Earth’ is your chance to take a little trip back in time and be six or seven years old again, playing games in your back garden on a sunny August afternoon. Malachai Nicolle and his imagination are your hosts for the ride and you are in good hands. You might not be able to play games, like you did when you were a kid, but Malachai’s sheer joy and exuberance more than make up for it. No monster is too big and no explosion is too big either. Malachai throws Axe Cop at the most hideous dangers with the kind of joyous confidence that only a six year boy can have in his heroic creation. It’s no surprise then that Axe Cop always wins, the story just wouldn’t work otherwise (and it definitely won’t work if you approach it with an adult mindset, just relax and suspend that disbelief a little). The outcome is never in any doubt but it’s the journey there that counts, a journey that is crammed full of awesome :o)

What a story like this needs is an artist that completely gets the vision of the writer and if you’re the writer’s big brother then that is never going to be a problem. It’s clear, just by looking at each page, that only Ethan Nicolle could draw Axe Cop. He’s the guy with the insight into Malachai’s imagination and it shows with pages jammed full of monsters, explosions and a law enforcement who will chop your head off if you’re a bad guy. There’s no beating around the bush here, Ethan Nicolle absolutely nails the artwork to the extent where I found myself wondering what the point of the ‘Guest Artist Gallery’ was...

‘Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth’ is a superb read and the most fun I’ve had since I read the last ‘Axe Cop’ book. Comic books just don’t get any more fun than this.
Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday Morning Cover Art! (Christian Slater Edition...)

Is it just me or is that Christian Slater being chased by a giant down some twisting street or other? What do you reckon...?

I picked 'Giant Thief' up last night thanks to this post from the Mad Hatter; I'm only a few pages in but will add my voice to his as far as recommending this 2012 release (from Angry Robot) goes. It's all looking very promising, check out the blurb...

Meet Easie Damasco, rogue, thieving swine and total charmer.

Even the wicked can’t rest when a vicious warlord and the force of enslaved giants he commands invade their homeland. Damasco might get away in one piece, but he’s going to need help.

Now there's a blurb that's short and sweet! No mention of the... that would probably be telling. I'm looking to post a review possibly next week so you'll find out more then :o)

What else am I reading? Well, I've picked up 'Neuromancer', for the first time in years, and I've also got Gav Thorpe's 'Deliverance Lost' and Christian Dunn's 'Age of Legends' on the go. If that wasn't enough, I'm gearing up to get started on 'The Heroes' and 'The Emperor's Knife'; my copy of 'The Call of Cthulhu' is also starting to feel all neglected and unloved at the bottom of my bag. Yet again, I can't seem to settle on just one book at the moment...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

One for 2012? 'Range of Ghosts' (Elizabeth Bear)

Oooh, this could be more like it...

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.
Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Epic Sword and Sorcery? I've had mixed results from the books, of Bear's, that I've read but 'Range of Ghosts' sounds like it could easily be my thing. I find myself reading a lot more fantasy these days and what I can see of the setting here looks appealing. How about you though, can you see yourself giving 'Range of Ghosts' a go?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

One for 2012? 'The Return Man' (V.M. Zito)

You all know the drill by now :o) My doormat is starting to see books land on it that won't be on the shelves until as late as March next year. I'm having enough trouble getting this year's books read so I won't be reviewing next year's books just yet. What I am doing though is giving you folks a little heads up on what you can expect to see putting in an appearance next year. Take 'The Return Man' (due to be published in March 2012) for instance...

The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States.

It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace.

Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.

But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you . . .

I've got mixed feelings about this one I have to say... 'The Return Man' is all about zombies and that's great as far as I'm concerned, if there are zombies in a book then it's at least 50% guaranteed that I'll enjoy it. Having said that though, that second sentence in the blurb makes the book sound a little too much like Jonathan Maberry's 'Rust and Ruin' for comfort (I haven't actually read the book yet but have read the Maberry short story where it came from). I'll be reading 'The Return Man' but I'm hoping for a little more than what it's promsing here... How about you? Can you see yourself picking this one up?

Friday, 9 December 2011

‘Kultus’ – Richard Ford (Solaris)

What with one thing and another, it’s been a crazy week that has left me with urge to start drinking strong coffee (possibly some Lucozade as well) and never stop. A week where all the things that needed urgent attention were rapidly obscured behind an ever thickening cloud of ‘brain fog’  that has done its level best to stop me functioning. (What? ‘Brain Fog’ is a real term...) And would you believe that, at the time of writing, it’s still only Thursday? I’ve still got another day to get through before weekend kicks in? A weekend, might I add, that’s also full of things that I need to get done...

As far as my reading goes then, it was obvious then that I needed something to clear the fog and give me enough of a boost to get over that last hurdle before the weekend. Obvious to everyone apart from me that is... The only reason I picked up ‘Kultus’ was because of the rather eye-catching cover. Have another look at it, have you ever seen a book cover better designed to ensure that you pick the book up to check out the blurb? Nope, me neither.
I’m a sucker for good cover art and that’s what got me reading ‘Kultus’. What I wasn’t expecting though was a shot of steampunk powered adrenalin that had me quite literally buzzing for more.

Thaddeus Blaklok is not a person you want to be on the wrong side of, not ever. Not only is he a mercenary and demonist but he’s more than a bit of a bastard in general, someone who will make sure you stay down when you’re on the floor... and then give you an extra kicking just because he felt like it.
Blaklok‘s the ideal man then for a mission where he will be working for the very denizens of Hell itself. The Key of Lunos is far more than just a very well guarded museum curio; it can open gates that should never be opened and there are people in the city of Manufactory who want to open those very gates. Blaklok has no idea who he’s working for but the job seems simple enough; get the Key of Lunos and make sure that no-one else gets their hands on it. How hard a job can it be? Very hard when you’re just one man against a city teeming with gangsters, mercenaries, brutal law enforcers and heel spawned monsters. Luckily for Blaklok, there’s far more to him than a vicious right hook...

‘Kultus’ is by no means a perfect read and I’ll go into more later on. ‘Kultus’ is very good at what it does though which is the literary equivalent of throwing a bucket of ice cold water into the reader’s face and leaving them gasping. I was certainly left gasping more than once; I couldn’t help but wince a few times as well. Ford is quite happy to have his ‘hero’ Blaklok pull no punches whatsoever and the results are appropriately bloody. Blaklok wades through a sea of blood and broken bones and absolutely nothing is going to stop him from getting to what he wants, even if he doesn’t fully understand why the Key is so important. Ford keeps things ticking over nicely by making everyone that Blaklok goes up against at least twice his size and keen to dish out a pounding. The result of each confrontation is always slightly in doubt (especially the explosive finale, I really couldn’t put the book down at this point) and its Blaklok’s sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps things moving, you can’t help but want to hang around and see if there is something that can finally put him down. There were also enough hints at Blaklok’s dark past to make me want to find out more about him, I’m hoping for at least one book that features him.

The plot itself is a manic head rush of  heists and standoffs; no-one seems to be capable of holding on to the Key of Lunos for more than half a chapter and sometimes you feel like the plot is almost trying to keep up with its own headlong pace as the Key falls into yet another set of hands. Everyone is out to get the upper hand on everyone else and there is a real atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust coursing through the novel. What I found here though was that while I didn’t know which character would suddenly betray the others, I did know that it would happen and that lent a repetitive feel to the pace of the plot. I knew there was going to be another big ‘switch around’, I was expecting it in fact, and the plot lost its ability to surprise as a result.

What I also found was that more attention was paid to the plot than its surroundings. This is fair enough; plot should take precedence but not entirely at the cost of scene setting. I knew that the city of Manufactory was heavily polluted and... that was about it (apart from the gorgeously realised ‘Repository of Unnatural History’). It’s not that Ford doesn’t let you know where his characters are, I just didn’t really get a feel for what that meant. I’ve said this before about other books; if there’s no scene setting then, in some respects, a book is only doing half of its job.

There’s no denying that Ford really delivers on that half though. ‘Kultus’ is a rip-roaring, bone crunching beast of a book that drops you right in the middle of the action and leaves you ducking to avoid flying fists and Hellfire (seriously, watch out for the Hellfire...) I couldn’t help but feel though that it could have been a whole lot more though if a little attention had been paid to the setting. I’ll definitely be back for any sequels though, I’ll let you know how things pan out...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten