Monday, 28 February 2011

Cover Art Monday! (Or, 'Jetski-ing Dwarf thinks about getting a little frisky...)

Dwarves, is there anything that they can't do? They mine gold, silver, and precious stones; they're pretty handy in a fight and (if the cover of 'The Trials of Trass Kathra' is anything to go by) they can jetski as well! Check it out,

As you can see, our dwarf is obviously a natural on a jetski; so comfortable in fact that he's leaving all the driving to the lady in front. Is it me or is our dwarf not quite sure where to put that hand...?

Blurb? Oh yes, there's a blurb...

“CHILD OF TRASS KATHRA. WELCOME HOME.” One year after Kali Hooper defeated the Pale Lord, Bastian Redigor lives on in the body of Jakub Freel. The mysterious entity known as the Hel’ss, meanwhile, moves closer to Twilight, welcomed as a herald of their Ascension by the spellbound Final Faith. Only Kali and her friends know the deadly reality of what the Hel’ss will bring but they have been declared outlaws, hunted by the Order of the Swords of Dawn and the sinister spheres, the Eyes of The Lord. So begins Kali’s penultimate adventure, a quest far beyond the Stormwall to the mythical Trass Kathra, the Island of the Lost. Here she will suffer the Trials of Four to discover the true nature of Twilight’s gods and her own shocking origin in the chaotic depths of the Thunderflux. Kali Hooper is dead, and this is the beginning of the end ...

I'd have probably picked this one up anyway but now I really want to see a jetski-ing dwarf... :o)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Giveaway! 'Dark Jenny' (Alex Bledsoe)

Is this one of my most anticipated releases of 2011? I do believe it is. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ and ‘Burn Me Deadly’ but they also got me to give Glen Cook’s ‘Garrett P.I’ books another go and I’m enjoying them as well. I’m looking forward to cracking open my copy of ‘Dark Jenny’ over the next couple of days and, all being well, you might even see my review this week.

Check out the blurb,

Murder, betrayal, and magic--just another day on the job for Eddie LaCrosse.

Freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse is in the wrong place at the wrong time while conducting an undercover investigation on the island kingdom of Grand Bruan. When a poisoned apple kills a member of the queen's personal guard, Eddie becomes the prime suspect in the murder. He must do some fast talking to keep his head attached to his shoulders. While trying to clear his name and find the real killer, Eddie becomes embroiled in a nasty political scandal. Someone is trying to ruin Queen Jennifer and doesn't care who is killed along the way.

Like I said, I’m in but how about you? How do you fancy winning one of two advance copies of ‘Dark Jenny’? Thanks to Tor I have two copies to give away on the blog but only to readers from the US. Sorry about that everyone else...

If you want in then you need to 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 email subject header will be ‘Dark Jenny’. I’ll do everything else.

I’ll leave this one open until the 6th of March and will aim to announce winners as soon as possible after that date.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

What I'm going to be reading...

If you’re in London over the next couple of months and you see a guy reading one of the following books on the train then it’s probably me. Tap me on the shoulder and say hello! :o) I totally reserve the right to change the list without any notice whatsoever (like say, for example, if a copy of ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ was to turn up on the doorstep) but this is pretty much what it’ll look like…

The Graphic Novels.

 Enough said really... I whip through these fairly quickly so don’t be too surprised to see me talking about these in the next couple of weeks.

Books by authors whom I’ve never read before.

Obviously there are loads of authors that I’ve never read before but these are the two that stood out for me when I was looking through the pile. I never got into Gail Z. Martin’s first series so it’ll be good to start this one at the beginning.

Books I’ve been looking forward to reading.

I will stop whatever I’m reading for Conrad Williams and the same goes for Alex Bledsoe, both are very good at what they do. I guess that means that you’ll see reviews for these sooner rather than later as well.
‘Arrowland’ isn’t an eagerly anticipated read in that same way but I have enjoyed the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ and am looking forward to seeing how things tie together in this novel.

Big Thick Books.

I’ve only read a little of ‘The Unremembered’ so far and am enjoying it so far, I'll let you know how it goes.
‘City of Ruin’ is one of those books that I really wanted to read last year until life got in the way. I’m hoping for better luck this time round.

Books built for commuting.

After having really enjoyed ‘Rivers of London’, ‘Moon Over Soho’ somehow found itself at the top of the pile. Funny how these things work…
I’ve been letting my Glen Cook reading slack off a bit so ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ will be read soon (I’ve got loads of his books to read…) and Black Library books always make good commuter reading so ‘God King’ will be read at some point.

The ‘I’ve been going on about it for long enough’ Books…

It’s the return of an old favourite to the ‘will be read soon’ list. All I can say is… all the cool kids have been talking about ‘The Crippled God’ and I want in! I just need to read ‘Dust of Dreams’ first. This might be more of a holiday read than a commuter read but we’ll see how it goes.
I’ve been flicking through the ‘Conan’ book (warming up for the big read) and I like what I see so far; could be another holiday read though…

So that’s me and what I hope to be reading over the next few weeks. Like I said though, you can expect the odd change here and there as a book cover catches my eye and I think ‘ooh, pretty…’

Anything on the list that catches your eye? And what are you reading/planning to read right now? Tell me dammit! ;o)

Friday, 25 February 2011

‘Iorich’ – Steven Brust (Tor)

Way back in August 2008 (seems like such a long time ago now...) I picked up a copy of Steven Brust’s ‘Jhegaala’ on the basis that I’d heard a lot of good things about Brust’s work and it was way past time that I gave him a go. ‘Jhegaala’ had been sent to me as an unsolicited review copy and I figured it was as good a place to start as any but I was taking a bit of a risk starting my ‘Vlad Taltos’ reading here as ‘Jhegaala’ was the actually the eleventh book in a series where I hadn’t read the previous ten. I got lucky that time round as ‘Jhegaala’ was self contained enough for it not to matter too much if you hadn’t read the other books. Seriously, check out my review here.

Having enjoyed ‘Jhegaala’ as much as I did, when I saw that ‘Iorich’ had been released I knew that I had to read it. No hanging around waiting for a random copy to drop through the door though; this time I actually asked the publisher for a copy as I was so eager to get reading. ‘Iorich’ is the twelfth volume in a series where I haven’t read the first ten but I figured that wouldn’t be too much of an issue. After all, ‘Jhegaala’ stood up very well on its own so I was sure that ‘Iorich’ would be a similar kind of deal. I can be so naive sometimes...
Onetime crime boss and assassin Vlad Taltos has a price on his head from organized crime syndicate House Jhereg; they want him dead and, as such, it would make pretty good sense for Vlad to stay well away from Dragaera City where the House bases its operations. So what is Vlad doing strolling the streets of Dragaera looking like he doesn’t have a care in the world?

Only disturbing news could bring Vlad home and it doesn’t get a lot more disturbing than finding out that an old friend is facing the death penalty on the charge of practicing elder sorcery. Not only disturbing but also intriguing, everyone knew that Aliera practiced elder sorcery so what is the big deal now? Why aren’t Aliera’s friends coming to defend her and why won’t she defend herself? All of these questions are just the kind of questions that will get a man like Vlad to stroll into the jaws of danger looking like he knows exactly what he’s on about. Even if he doesn’t have the slightest clue what’s really going on...

So there I was thinking that I could pick up the twelfth book in a series having only read the previous book and none of the others... What was I thinking? Well, I thought that ‘Iorich’ would be much the same as ‘Jhegaala’ in terms of the story standing well on its own but it’s very much the other way round. The bottom line is that ‘Iorich’ draws extensively on relationships and past history that has built up over a number of books. If you’re not grounded in the setting that you’ll be floundering in no short order and that’s what happened to me with characters popping up whom I’d never met before and references made to events that I’d never heard of, let alone seen. Now, I’m going to blame book twelve in an ongoing series for not being all that accessible to the first time or casual reader because that would be pretty daft really. It’s worth highlighting though for those of you wondering if this is a good place to jump on board for the adventures of Vlad Taltos. It isn’t. ‘Jhegaala’ works but you would be better off going right back to the beginning and starting off with ‘Jhereg’.

Once I managed to get my head round all this new stuff (no mean feat) I was able to concentrate on the story itself and it’s certainly an interesting premise with a mystery to be solved and questions raised over why no-one is actually attempting to solve it. Everything is dealt with very methodically and Brust throws up enough curve balls to keep things fresh and moving forwards at a decent pace. If you can get your head around the minutiae of Dragaeran legal practices (again, no mean feat, there was so much this that it made my head hurt...) you’ll see that everything fits together very neatly at the end and what looked like a simple case at the beginning was actually hiding something far larger and with serious ramifications for the Empire.
Like I said though, there is a lot of legal stuff to wade through on the way. If Brust was trying to say something about the convoluted process behind the wheels of justice then he certainly succeeded but it’s almost a case of him having succeeded all too well. The legal process is so detailed that you will sometimes have difficulty working out where the story is in amongst it all and that’s not a good thing. There’s also an infuriating sense that not a lot is actually happening (other than a couple of bursts of action at the beginning and end of the book). Vlad goes to see his legal advisor, Vlad then goes off to find stuff out and reports back to his legal advisor who then asks more questions and the process begins all over again. Things seem like they’re about to happen and then proceed not to and by the time things really did happen I’d almost stopped caring...

It was fun though to spend time with Vlad Taltos as his slightly acerbic, world weary character is more than good for a few chuckles along the way. If he can’t be sarcastic about something then Vlad won’t say anything at all and this sarcasm never got old for me. Same deal with Loiosh, Vlad’s tame Jhereg.

As was the case with ‘Jhegaala’ though, the reader will find themselves at the mercy of Vlad’s first person account and his annoying tendency to decide that the reader doesn’t actually need to know particular bits of the story as they’re not important. Maybe I don’t need to know and maybe I do; what I’m not keen on though is having that decision made for me in such an open manner. That probably says a lot more about me than it does the book but there you go...
I’m not going to give ‘Iorich’ a score this time round as the main issue that I had with the book was not it’s fault at all. Suffice it to say that ‘Iorich’ is not a book to be tackled unless you’ve read the others first. The story itself keeps you reading but could have done with being allowed to not only surface for air, from time to time, but also with being allowed to run around and do its own thing for a bit.

Having said that though, both ‘Jhegaala’ and ‘Iorich’ have left me sorely tempted to search out ‘Jhereg’ and see how it all began...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

‘Primeval: Extinction Event’ – Dan Abnett (Titan Books)

I watched the first few episodes of ‘Primeval’, when it first aired on TV a few years ago, but ended up losing the ongoing ‘battle of the remote control’ that frequently played out in the years before Hope arrived; she just prefers to grab it first and then try to eat it... I never really got back into ‘Primeval’ after that, ‘Doctor Who’ was on the other side, but I always had a soft spot for the concept behind it all. Who wouldn’t? We’re talking about a show where dinosaurs appear in present day Earth via wormholes in time, how cool is that? Very cool from what I can remember with dinosaurs causing havoc and a team of scientists trying to keep a lid on it all.

I actually thought the series had been cancelled but it turns out that it was entirely the opposite case with the show not only being in its fourth season but a whole load of books out there adding to the whole experience. One of these was ‘Extinction Event’ and I wanted to read it, for much the same reasons that I wanted to read James Swallow’s ‘Deus Ex’. I’m a big fan of Dan Abnett’s Black Library output and have read enough of his stuff outside that setting to know that the quality in his writing survives the transition. As a result, I’ll pretty much pick up anything with Abnett’s name on it and was interested to see how his writing fared in the ‘Primeval’ setting. ‘Extinction Event’ is a good example of Dan Abnett doing what he does best but I wasn’t entirely convinced this time round...

Most dinosaur incursions are easily dealt with and covered up by the team working at the Anomaly Research Centre (ARC) but a pair of Entelodons rampaging down Oxford Street presents a challenge that the team may not be up to. This isn’t the biggest challenge headed their way though. Their Russian counterparts in Siberia are experiencing similar difficulties and have no qualms about kidnapping three of the ARC team to help them. What Nick Cutter discovers in Siberia though runs far deeper and far more dangerous than a mere infestation of dinosaurs. The anomalies themselves are changing and the ramifications of this could ultimately have grave consequences for the planet...

‘Extinction Event’ is another book that I picked and devoured almost in one sitting; sometimes life gets in the way and demands that you do other stuff instead. It wasn’t a particularly satisfying read though. If it hadn’t been for the way in which it all kicked off then I’m not sure that I would have continued reading. Maybe fans of the series itself would get more out of this book?

You can imagine Dan Abnett sitting down in front of the TV with a couple of ‘Primeval’ DVD box sets (research of course) before getting stuck into writing the actual book. Nice work if you can get it! Whatever form the research took the end result is pretty special as the book kicks off in spectacular style with giant dinosaur pigs causing mayhem on the streets of London. Talk about the best way to get your readers hooked right from the start! Abnett draws the tension out superbly with the team following a trail of destruction and not seeing their quarry until it’s almost too late. A long drawn out dose of tension swiftly followed by a manic rush of ‘dinosaur pig violence’ was more than enough to get my attention.

Abnett swiftly follows this with a kidnapping and the gradual revealing of a far greater menace than mere dinosaurs. That’s not to say that the dinosaur sightings dry up though; Abnett takes a whole load of dinosaurs from a specific period (not saying which one as that could well be a spoiler...) and then hides them throughout the trackless wastes of Siberia, springing them all on the reader whenever it’s least expected. This works really well in terms of showing just how widespread the dinosaur problem is in Siberia and also emphasises the deadliness of a ‘super predator’ that is able to pick off various Russian soldiers at will. There are some moments here, in particular, that made me jump. You will not believe how quietly this dinosaur can move... until it’s right behind you.

I’m not really sure what to say about the characters themselves at this point as my only real exposure to them was in a couple of episodes of ‘Primeval’ that I watched several years ago. I’ve got no basis for comparison here so if you want to know if the characters here match what’s on the screen then I’m not the person to ask. I guess what I can say though is that Abnett works hard to make his characters distinctive with their own motives for surviving through what is unfolding. You get to know them as people in their own right and there’s enough character in each of them to make following their progress rewarding.

Unfortunately though, it’s more or less at the moment when the ‘big threat’ is revealed that things began to get sticky for me. This imminent threat is accompanied by a raft of technical stuff; either people trying to do something technical or people holding forth with lots of technical jargon. This stuff tends to fly way over my head anyway and the resulting feeling of having missed something here interrupted things when I could have been really into the plot instead. You can’t really blame the book for a problem that I have with books in general (not just this one) but another unfortunate effect of this approach was that an otherwise smooth flowing plot was interrupted and never really picked up that smooth pace afterwards. Abnett attempts to set things right with a monster show down right at the end but, while it’s definitely fun to read, it felt like too little too late. It may not seem like a big thing written down here but it really made a difference to how I read the book...

‘Extinction Event’ is a lot of fun but, for me, it was also a book that was a lot of fun but with an unfortunate hiccup just when things really needed to step up a gear. If you’re a fan then you’ll most likely forgive the book and carry on reading regardless, it wasn’t that simple for me though...

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

‘Deus Ex: Icarus Effect’ – James Swallow (Del Rey)

When I saw this book hitting ‘Books I received’ posts around the blogosphere, I was immediately intrigued and after a copy for myself. I have never played the ‘Deus Ex’ computer game it’s based around, life stopped at the PS2 for me and the closest I get to gaming these days is playing the odd game on my phone when coming home from work. I’ll swear that my phone has better graphics and gameplay than my old PS1 but that’s another story...
No, the reason I had to find a copy of ‘Icarus Effect’ was simply because it was written by James Swallow who has turned out some quality reads for the Black Library without being one of their leading lights, at least as far as I can see. While luminaries such as Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill are turning out the big hitters, Swallow quietly gets on with turning out stuff that any self respecting Warhammer 40K fan knows to be worth picking up. Check out my review for ‘Nemesis’ as an example.

With all this in mind I figured it could be very interesting to see what I thought of Swallow’s work outside its ‘natural habitat’ (so to speak) and ‘Icarus Effect’ gave me the chance to do just that. Having read it though... Well, I would pick up more of his work in other settings but I wasn’t all that impressed this time round.

It’s the year 2027 and the world is swiftly dividing itself into two camps, those who make use of extensive physical augmentation and those who prefer to keep their bodies ‘pure’ and free of mechanics. Things go much deeper than that though with a shadowy cabal of ruthless individuals looking to block the flow of potentially limitless human evolution and make sure that humanity remains under its control...
Two people are about to fall under the gaze of this group and their lives will become even more dangerous, than they were already, as a result. Secret Service Agent Anna Kelso has been suspended for investigating the shooting that claimed her partner’s life. Can the group of hackers that she discovered protect her from the people wishing to make sure that what she has discovered remains a secret?
Mercenary Ben Saxon finds himself embroiled in the intrigues of a special ops teams claiming to be a force for good. The truth is far different though and Saxon is about to find himself on the run from a group of the deadliest killers in the world. When circumstances force Saxon and Kelso to team up, that’s when things get really nasty...

I really should have enjoyed this one a whole lot more than I did; I finished it so that’s saying something at least. ‘Icarus Effect’ has cyberpunk technology and attitude coming out of its ears with cybernetically enhanced assassins and edgy looking hackers running to keep up with a plot that flows like quicksilver. Swallow paints the background in appropriately dirty and gritty tones and the reader is left in no doubt about how dangerous this scenario is for all the characters concerned. When things kick off it’s all done in fine style with bullets flying and loads of cybernetic gizmos doing some pretty cool looking stuff. Just the kind of thing that I’m into. Right?

Well... yes but only up to a point. All of that was enough to keep me reading and I can’t deny that it was entertaining but there were elements that, in the end, had me reading just to say that I’d finished the book.

The main problem for me was that the whole book was signposted a little too clearly for someone like me who likes a little surprise in their reading every now and again. Without giving too much away, it didn’t take long before I could tell who the bad guys really were, who was going to turn traitor and how things had to end.
Now, I know that if you’re going for a book that’s full of cool technology, guns with impressive names and stuff blowing up then something else will have to give. More often than not it will be a few twists and turns in the plot but to get rid of all them is something else entirely. The ‘impossible choice’ that Saxon has to make, right at the end, lost all impact for me because it was all too clear what he would choose to do. When things get to that point then you can count yourself damn lucky that the plot flows as smoothly as it does because that’s the only thing keeping things going. I could see this approach working on the big screen as you’re caught up in all the visual stuff, there needs to be a little more to a book though and that wasn’t the case here... As this is a tie-in book, I wonder if Swallow was limited by word count or what established canon would let him write. I don’t know...

The characters of Ben Saxon and Anna Kelso didn’t do a lot for me either. I was expecting more from two characters meant to be carrying the whole story to be honest. While they’re both capable of fighting their way out of trouble that’s pretty much all they do. They both make personal journeys towards some kind of truth and redemption but the character traits that define them are so heavily emphasised that the journey loses all sense of importance. You know that Saxon’s sense of honour will lead him to certain decisions in the same way that Kelso’s sense of justice will do the same thing. When you know all this you end up feeling that you may as well skip the personal quest and go straight to the destination, you won’t be missing out on anything and that was the case here. I’m looking for a little more substance (perhaps a little humanity even?) from characters meant to be holding the whole thing together.

I think the fairest thing to say is that if you’re a fan of the computer game then you will probably enjoy the book with its references to ‘in game’ stuff (yep, I looked it up on Wikipedia). For me though, what was an entertaining read was also an infuriating read at the same time as the approach the book went for demanded sacrifices (in terms of plot and characterisation) that didn’t sit well with me. Would I read the next book? At the moment, I’m not sure...

Six and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

‘Essential X-Men Volume 8’ – Various (Marvel Comics)

I used to love watching the old X-Men cartoon back in the mid nineties (Afternoon lectures or X-Men? No contest...) so when I finally made it into a comic shop it was fairly obvious I’d be picking up these titles to read through. I started off on ‘Uncanny X-Men’ and ‘X-Men’, two titles that seemed to compliment and feed into each other’s ongoing storylines. Then I found myself picking up ‘X-Factor’ and ‘X-Man’ to tie up loose ends. And then I found myself also picking up ‘Excalibur’ as a little offshoot on a side plot. And then I found myself picking up an issue of ‘Cable’ (to tie up something happening in ‘X-Man’) and thought to myself, ‘hang on a minute...’ It was at that point that I decided that Marvel had taken enough of my money with their scheme to tell one story over several comic titles that you had to buy. I wasn’t a great buyer of comics after that but I always made sure to avoid the ‘cross over’ when I was on the lookout for something to read.

The thing was though; I still loved the whole background to the X-Men and wanted more. I wasn’t prepared to hand over the cash though and so was reduced to living vicariously through Wikipedia character biographies; better than nothing but still not a patch on the real thing. Imagine how pleased I was to see all the old X-Men stuff being released in ‘Essential’ volumes... The cover suggested that you’d be getting the whole story and the price didn’t look too shabby either. I was in and decided to kick things off at... volume eight...

Conventional wisdom would suggest that volume one is, in fact, the best place to start and normally I would agree with you. A friend of mine at college had lent me the comics where the Brood face off against the X-Men and that story was in this volume; I had to have it, what else can I say?

‘Essential X-Men Volume 8’ collects ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #229-245, ‘Annual’ #12-13 & ‘X-Factor’ 36-39 and this takes us way back to the very late eighties. It wasn’t too long before I found that I still wasn’t getting the whole story though with loads of those little footnotes referring to events in other comics that weren’t featured here. Will I ever be free of the ‘Cross over Curse’? I have to say that I don’t see that ever happening but what I will say is that the stories in volume eight are as near as dammit self contained in any case so those tantalising glimpses of other comics may be irritating but they are not detrimental to what you are reading.

What are you reading? It’s a bit of a mix of everything really. There are some ‘one shot’ stories (I liked the Christmas one) and the ongoing tales all involve the X-Men operating out of their new base in the Australian Outback and trying to do some good in a world that thinks they are dead. There’s a fight with the Reavers in the Outback along with a fight for mutant rights on the island state of Genosha and the Brood attempting another infestation of Earth. The big one though is the ‘Inferno’ storyline where Manhattan suffers an extreme case of demonic possession which coincides with the appearance of one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies and a vicious betrayal by one of their own.

I got lost in this volume for hours, possibly even a couple of days. There is a hell of a lot going on here with a wealth of detail paid to each and every character and, as a result, it’s all too easy to get fully immersed in the scenario playing out. Would I buy more of these volumes? If the stories are anything to go by then I probably would.

I wasn’t too keen on the presentation though... The artwork is lovely (I’m looking at you in particular Marc Silvestri) but I felt like a lot of the impact was lost by it being in black and white instead of the original colour. Not that I’ve got anything against black and white art here (I’m looking at you in particular ‘Walking Dead’) but black and white art that’s just colour art with all the colour taken out...? There were moments in the ‘Inferno’ storyline where I actually had trouble making out what was going on in some of the big standoffs. The book itself was a nice price (a big part of the reason I ended up getting it) but I would still pay a few pounds more to have the whole lot in colour.

Storytelling duties are essentially shared between Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson and, to be honest, if it hadn’t been for the writing credits at the start of each issue I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the two. If I’d read more ‘X-Men’ comics then maybe differences would be a little more apparent but I’m counting this as a good thing (in the meantime) as it helped things to flow a lot more easily and there were no irritating ‘bumps’ where the baton was passed from one writer to the other.

I’d read the ‘Brood’ story years ago and it was great to go back and give it another try. The whole thing with the gigantic ‘space shark’ made a lot more sense this time round and there was also some interesting discussion over the fate of people infected with the Brood virus. These are innocent people who can’t be allowed to live for fear of the virus spreading...

The ‘Genosha’ storyline was perhaps a little too earnest to be truly engrossing with a clear line between good and evil that made closer examination almost pointless. There’s a lot to look at in the meantime though and, along with the ‘Brood’ plot, there are a lot of pointers to get the reader ready for the ‘Inferno’ storyline...

The ‘Inferno’ plot is what the whole book leads up to and, for the most part, it doesn’t let you down with both the X-Men and X-Factor teams set against each other while the true evil behind the scenes makes its move. Cue loads of full on combat between people who are meant to be friends and a massive revelation for the X-Men. It’s a confusing read though and I’m going to have to re-read it, just so I can get it clear in my head just exactly when a particular something actually happened. It’s not exactly a big chore but I wish things had been a little clearer.

The whole ‘black and white artwork’ thing really let things down for me but you can’t deny the power in the story. Claremont and Simonson paint a vivid picture of superheroes who are real people at the same time and this brings a whole load more issues to the table other than who has the coolest mutant power. It’s a soap opera for geeks but is that actually a bad thing? Not when the story is as well told as this.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 21 February 2011

The 'Going back to the Source!' Competition Winner's Post!

Yes, all the votes are in and 'Conan' ran out as a pretty comfortable winner so that's what I'll be reading, starting from... erm... yesterday! Don't expect a quick turnaround here though as I want to take my time and enjoy this one; I'm aiming for a review in the next fortnight or so but we'll just see how we go. I've got the two 'Fantasy Masterworks' editions to get through and then it's onto Lankhmar after that. Poor Elric though, I guess he'll just have to wait his turn.

In the meantime though there are competition winners to be revealed and revealed they shall be! Last week's competition was for copies of Melissa Scott's 'Trouble and Her Friends', the winners were...

Angie Dubisher, Colorado, US
Jillian Potter, Wisconsin, US

Your books are on their way!

What can you expect to see from me this week? Well, a little bit of everything really and it's all in that weird 'somewhere between mass market paperback and trade paperback' size. What is with that? If you want to save money as a publisher then why publish stuff in all these shapes and sizes that looks to me if it's using more paper than necessary...? It makes me feel old (you crazy kids get off my lawn dammit!) but sometimes I long for the days when a book came in either hardback or massmarket paperback format...

Oh well, see you tomorrow!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

‘DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book’ – Robert Schnakenberg & Paul Levitz (Quirk Books)

Every so often a book crosses my path where I really have to think carefully about how I phrase my response to it. This could be for any number of reasons and one of these reasons is very much apparent in the DC Comics 75th Anniversary Poster Book. Here is a book where plot is non-existent; characters are mentioned only in passing (showing no development at all) while world building is a concept that has no place here. That’s all ok though as this book needs none of that at all; it’s a book full of posters from seventy five years of DC comics. Has it been that long? Apparently so...

So why do I need to think carefully about how I phrase my response to this book? Well, I concentrate on fiction here and (as far as I can recall) have never tackled a non-fiction work consisting primarily of pictures with some added commentary. There’s a first time for everything though so here goes...

‘The 75th Anniversary Poster Book’ is one of those books that will sit nicely on the coffee table, waiting patiently to be picked up and flicked through. What it isn’t is a book that you will tear through in one sitting; it’s far too big and unwieldy to be carried around and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the ‘picture, commentary, picture, commentary’ cycle verging on the monotonous and want to break it up with other reading.

If you take it in bite sized chunks though, the poster book is an informative read as well as offering the reader some lovely artwork to pore over at the same time. Schnakenberg knows his stuff and is able to give a detailed analysis on each piece and there the variety of comic titles and cover art on display surprised me. I didn’t realise that DC’s output, over 75 years, had been so extensive. I knew that there was a lot of Batman related stuff but comics like ‘Girls Romances’, ‘Weird Western Tales’ (Scalphunter arm wrestling with Abraham Lincoln!) and ‘The House of Mystery’ were all news to me. I certainly came away from this books knowing a lot more about DC Comics than when I first picked it up.

And that’s really all there is to say about this book in a review that markedly shorter than normal. ‘The 75th Anniversary Poster Book’ does its job but maybe doesn’t do a lot more than that, it’s not a book that’ll stick around in your head for days after you’ve finished reading it. What more can it do though other than what it says on the cover? Maybe you need to be a fan of DC Comics to really get something special out of this book...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

UK & US Cover Art for 'Moon over Soho' (Ben Aaronovitch)

I really enjoyed ‘Rivers of London’ (or ‘Midnight Riot’, whatever you want to call it) so when my copy of ‘Moon over Soho’ arrived the other day it went straight to the top of the reading pile and you can expect to see a review on the blog probably at the back end of next week.

My first glimpse of the cover (I’ve got the US edition which is due in March, the UK edition won’t be available until towards the end of April) had me thinking about all the chatter over the different titles for the first book and its accompanying artwork. The UK cover won out on both counts that time and I thought it could be cool to see what surprises ‘Moon over Soho’ will throw our way.

The big surprise (if you could call it that) is that both books have the same title this time round. It’s not really a surprise at all to see that both editions are sticking with the same art style that they did last time round.

Here’s the US cover,

And here’s the UK cover,

Del Rey are going for the ‘Peter Grant is going to **** you up, with magic!’ approach on their cover while Gollancz are looking to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that London itself is magical in its own right. It’s the UK cover for me again, what do you think?

Here’s the blurb for ‘Moon over Soho’, it might just be a little bit spoilery so be warned...

I was my dad's vinyl-wallah: I changed his records while he lounged around drinking tea, and that's how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And it's why, when Dr Walid called me to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing. Something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint like a wax cylinder recording. Cyrus Wilkinson, part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant, had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. He wasn't the first. No one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene. I didn't trust the lovely Simone, Cyrus' ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens' portrait, but I needed her help: there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives. And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard 'Lord' Grant - my father - who managed to destroy his own career, twice. That's the thing about policing: most of the time you're doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you're doing it for justice. And maybe once in a career, you're doing it for revenge.

Like I said, look out for a review next week sometime.

Friday, 18 February 2011

STORMDANCER, a debut novel by Jay Kristoff, acquired by Julie Crisp at Tor UK

From the press release...

Tor UK, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, has acquired World English rights for Stormdancer and two subsequent books in the series in association with Pete Wolverton at Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St Martins Press in the US , from agent Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

Stormdancer is a dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan and follows Yukiko and her warrior father who are sent on an impossible mission to capture a legendary Thunder Tiger – a griffin. But an accident means Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, broken-winged griffin for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, and even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is that he’d rather see her dead than help her.

Meanwhile, the country around them is on the brink of collapse. A toxic poppy-based fuel is slowly killing the land; the omnipotent, metal-clad Guild is publicly burning those that they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own power.

In hopes of saving her country – and herself, Yukiko must earn the griffin’s trust to become a symbol to her people; a myth, a legend – a Stormdancer.

Julie Crisp, editorial director at Tor UK, said ‘This is an incredibly imaginative and well-executed fantasy. Think Across the Nightingale Floor and Eragon mixed with steampunk, strong original characters and fast-paced action. It’s a wonderful read that everyone in-house fell in love with. So we’re thrilled that Jay will be joining the Tor UK team’.

Tor UK will be looking to publish Stormdancer in 2012.

I want to be excited about‘Stormdancer’ but I’m in two minds right now…

On the one hand we’ve got a killer looking blurb here with loads of genre buzzwords all doing what they’re supposed to. Not only is there ‘steampunk’, and a ‘metal clad guild’ (fantasy guilds are cool, make no mistake there) but the land is dying as well. I blame that ‘toxic poppy based fuel’ myself…

After such a great buildup though everything is suddenly knocked sideways by the ‘Eragon’ comparison. I’m sure that Julie Crisp didn’t mean to say that ‘Stormdancer’ is a book where the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Star Wars’ influences were all too visible but that was my impression of ‘Eragon’ so you can’t blame me for jumping to that conclusion. I can see myself giving this one a go anyway but maybe with some slight caution.

How about you though? Has the blurb got you all excited? Did you shy away from the ‘Eragon’ comparison? And has anyone here read ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’? I haven’t…

Fritz Leiber Centenary Tribute at Conceptual Fiction

I love the internet. Really, I do. The internet is a place where you can mention that you don't know a lot about Fritz Leiber and, a matter of hours later, be sent a link (not Wikipedia) to an article that tells you everything you need to know and then a bit more. If you're like me and confess to a lack of knowledge on one of the big names in fantasy fiction then click here and solve that problem straight away. Here's the first few lines to get you going...

A few weeks ago, the 100th anniversary of author Fritz Leiber's birth passed largely unnoticed.  The literary community offered up no tributes.  No celebrations or symposiums were held.  Perhaps that should come as little surprise.  None of Leiber's books are in stock at my local chain bookstores, and most of his writing is out of print.  Yet few authors of the 20th century anticipated the storytelling of the current day with more prescience than Leiber, who passed away in 1992 at age 81.

I’d have to actually read some of Leiber’s work before I could comment on Ted Gioia’s thoughts on how Leiber’s work has influenced so many others. The plan is to do that very soon although ‘Conan’ is currently winning the ‘What Sword & Sorcery’ to pick up first?’ vote… As a biographical piece though, you can’t go wrong with the level of detail here, check it out.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

‘Autumn: The City’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

Doesn’t time just fly when you’ve got a pile of books that is steadily climbing up your bedroom wall...? It feels like I read David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ only last week but a quick look at the blog reveals that it was way back in November last year. Sometimes I feel like life is going just a little too fast for me to keep up with! Anyway...

In case you were wondering, I absolutely loved ‘Autumn’ with its very downbeat and low key depiction of a zombie apocalypse. Niall, on the other hand, was very disappointed with the opening instalment in Moody’s series. As always, I would say that the real truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. In ‘Autumn’s’ defence though, I’d say that it’s very much about setting the scene for events to come and, if the dead aren’t eating people right from the outset, then there won’t be an awful lot happening... at least to start with. Niall’s ‘short tempered’ characters were shell shocked by events (as far as I could see) so I could forgive them being a little snappy.

The long and short of it is that I’ll lay money on my having looked forward to the next instalment far more than Niall; I know that I jumped on my copy when it arrived. It wasn’t a perfect read but it didn’t let me down either...

In the wake of whatever it was that killed billions of people on one September day a small group of survivors hole up in the middle of the desolate remains of a city and try to make a life for themselves amongst the ruins. They are not alone though... Corpses that were originally lying in the streets have begun to get up and start walking around and their interactions with the survivors are growing steadily more violent. The survivors are outnumbered hundreds of thousands to one and it’s clear that their future must lie outside the city. How will they escape though and what kind of future awaits them even if they manage this? Perhaps the most important question though is where the convoy of armed soldiers has come from all of a sudden...

Moody’s zombies are slowly but surely evolving and becoming more aware of their surroundings; this comes with displays of near homicidal rage whenever they see one of the living. While this may not be good news for the characters trying to eke out an existence in this post apocalyptic landscape it’s definitely welcome news for readers who were looking to see things really kick on from the previous book. You can’t just walk along a street full of zombies now; finding cover is the order of the day now and if you’re spotted then you had better be ready to make a quick getaway! This new development makes for some exciting moments as people search for food etc while trying to avoid becoming lunch at the same time. It also pushes the plot inexorably forwards as our survivors swiftly realise that staying in one place will only lead to eventual disaster; for some as yet unknown reason every single zombie in the city is making its way towards their shelter... Something has to be done and it has to happen soon. Our cast of characters here include a couple of familiar faces (providing continuity from the previous book) along with a larger number of new players. Everyone is pushing in the same direction for the most part (namely to survive what has taken place) and this does mean that there isn’t a lot of variety in the cast. The one main exception to this felt more than a little contrived when set against this particularly bleak background; there are easier ways to commit suicide than go out in a haze of alcohol and Moody captures this far more effectively in a heartbreaking moment between mother and daughter...

‘Autumn: The City’ is very much a book where things start to happen although don’t come to this book expecting answers to the questions raised in the first book. What you get instead are the introduction of elements that will eventually come together to give you an answer, at least that’s the way I see it happening. I am intrigued enough to want to stick around for the long haul and the sombrely realised landscape (with its motley collection of survivors trying to get by) more than helps foster this resolution.

This bleak landscape is one of the most effective tools that Moody brings to the book (and the series as a whole I suspect) as it lends a dark tone to everything that takes place here. At the same time though, it also works against what Moody is trying to do and this can make for a frustrating read at times.

The bottom line is that there’s just too much landscape and not enough people left alive to play in it (I’m not counting the zombies here as they’re pretty much part of the scenery anyway). The impression I got here was that the wide open spaces are so vast that the activities of the survivors lose their impact against such a large backdrop and become less significant as a result. You could argue that this is actually the whole point of a zombie novel as it’s all about the fact that railing against a zombie uprising is ultimately pointless; if you don’t find yourself being eaten then the odds are that you will eventually join the ranks of the living dead. While I can see that here my main impression was that the stage was simply too big and I had trouble finding the players on it...

This wasn’t a big enough issue to stop me reading although I will be interested to see if this problem reoccurs in future works. ‘Autumn: The City’ is a book that starts to encounter problems as it moves the plot forward but the ultimate direction that things are moving in are more than enough to keep me reading for now.

Eight and Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

‘The Emperor’s Finest’ – Sandy Mitchell (Black Library)

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth mentioning again. If you’re after a hefty slice of military sci-fi (at a decent price) then you can’t go too far wrong with the Black Library ‘Warhammer 40K’ omnibus editions. Three books wrapped up in a big book and it only costs slightly more than one Peter Hamilton book; you can’t argue with that! These editions are a great way to get caught up with what’s happening in the Imperium of Mankind (mostly war but there is other stuff happening as well) but I find that their size can work against me considering that I do the bulk of my reading on the way to and from work. I long for the day when they introduce ‘reading carriages’ on the underground but I suspect that’s a long way from happening. Space issues on the train have meant that a whole load of the Black Library omnibuses haven’t made it off the reading pile and that’s the main reason why I’m horribly behind reading of the adventures of one Commissar Ciaphas Cain (there are other reasons that I’ll touch on later).

In the universe of the far future, Commisar Cain stands out as a shining example of a Hero of the Imperium; an officer always ready to lead from the front in the Imperiums constant struggle against the Xenos hordes. The truth is another matter entirely though... Commissar Cain is a self confessed coward whose main aim is to see out his military career as far from the front lines as possible; if he’s leading from the front then it’s only because he doesn’t want to be shot as a deserter by his own side! Cain’s attempts to dodge the fighting only serve to propel him into greater acts of heroism though and he has ended up with a reputation that may flatter his ego but constantly puts him in dangers way.

Duty calls once more and the hunt for the source of a planetary rebellion leads Cain, and the Space Marines of the Reclaimers Chapter, to a drifting space hulk swarming with Genestealers (think aliens but with bigger claws). Cain would much rather see this one out from the relative comfort of a neighbouring star cruiser but fate puts him in the depths of the space hulk... just as the Genestealers awake and proceed to tear his Marine escort to shreds. Cain and his aide Jurgen are on their own and must get to their landing craft before the Genestealers get to them. And then they stumble upon Ork stowaways... Will Cain make it out alive and, more importantly, will he find a way to come out of this debacle as a hero?

Due to the whole ‘omnibus thing’ I’m about five books behind on my Cain reading; I’ve read ‘For the Emperor’ but didn’t get further than that as I felt, at the time, that Cain is a character best read in bite sized chunks rather than gorged on all at once.

I wanted to get back into it though and thought I’d have a go at jumping in at the most recent book, just to see how well it stood on its own. I think you’ll get a lot more out of this book if you’ve read the others first but it stands very well on its own with a self contained plot and enough slight references to prior events that you come away with a good idea of who Cain is as a character and why he does all the things that he does.

As a character, Cain holds the plot together admirably although I have to say that I could see his constant conniving and intriguing starting to grind on me if I was to read one of his omnibus collections. It works well over the course of a single book but three books in quick succession? I’m not so sure...

As I said, Cain’s constant intriguing works to good affect over the course of ‘The Emperor’s Finest’. Not only does it give us a good insight into just how devious our Commissar is but it also shows us just how deadly the setting as a whole is if Cain’s whole attention is forever focussed on how best to avoid trouble. In the end, fate makes a mockery of Cain’s plans and Mitchell uses these cruel quirks to move the plot forward smoothly and take it to places where Cain definitely doesn’t want to be. Luckily for us, these places are just where the reader wants to be and Mitchell details the ensuing fire fights in all the right ways, giving the reader a candid look at how the outcome of these fights are more often than not down to plain luck.

The ‘editor’s notes’ (this story being part of a larger collection under the guardianship of the Inquisitor Amberley Vail) offer the reader a chance to look at Cain in a different light and it’s left up to us to decide whose version is closest to the truth. Can a coward be a hero by simply doing heroic things or is Cain just a coward plain and simple? Or Cain too self effacing for his own good and is more of a hero than anyone would realise? To be honest, I think everyone who reads these books is going to have a different opinion as far as that goes and I’m undecided myself. It’s just fun in the meantime to have the plot take you backwards and forwards, casting Cain in a new light in each turn.

The one thing that didn’t sit well with me was the humour on display throughout the book. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘Casablanca’ reference made me laugh as did the tech-priest/garage mechanic comparison. It’s probably down to my reading some of the darker 40K novels first but things just felt a little too light hearted for what is essentially a horribly grim and dark setting. I had real trouble reconciling the two elements and this made the read a lot less smooth than it perhaps could have been...

I think that this issue will iron itself out as I read more of the books though, ‘The Emperor’s Finest’ has got me in the mood to do just that with an entertaining mixture of guns, plans gone hopelessly awry and a Guardsman aide with a personal hygiene problem. Cain’s tales aren’t my thing just yet but I reckon they soon could be...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What Classic 'Sword & Sorcery' book should I read first?

It's another 'unspoken and unofficial New Year's Resolution' moment... :o) At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to read more books that I knew I'd get into quickly (life's too short sometimes and I want to read stuff that I know I'll enjoy) and 'Sword & Sorcery' is a subgenre that always comes up with the goods here. It's powerful, it's exciting and that's just what I'm after; a blast of a read that'll wake me up in the morning and give me enough energy to make it home, at the end of the day, without falling asleep on the train (I fell alseep on the train one time and ended up in Dartford instead of Lewisham, that had more to do with my being drunk than tired though...)

What to pick up first though? I've got three books that look like they could do the business but I've no idea which one to choose. I mean, they'll all be read eventually but I just need a little help to get going and that's where you all come in. Chose me a book to read from the following...

'Elric: Swords and Roses' (Michael Moorcock)

I've been enjoying these reissued editions of Elric's adventures as they've been a great way to fill in some of  the gaps in my reading (there are loads...) I haven't read 'The Revenge of the Rose' or 'Black Petals' and am looking forward to giving them a go. Should I pick this one up first or should I check out...

'The First Book of Lankhmar' (Fritz Leiber)

I might be making this up entirely but didn't Leiber coin the term 'Sword and Sorcery'? Whether he did or didn't, I haven't read this classic work and I've had a copy on the reading pile since before Christmas... It's about time I read this book but do I pick it up first or do I read...

'The Conan Chronicles Vol 1: The People of the Black Circle' (Robert E. Howard)

I've been enjoying the comics so it's more than about time I gave the original text a go. This is another book that's been sat on the pile since Christmas and I am resolved to actually read books that I buy this year dammit!

Which one do you think I should read first? Have I messed up entirely and chosen three books that aren't 'Sword and Sorcery' at all? Whatever it is, leave me a comment next to this post :o) The book that has the most votes by Saturday evening will be the book that I start reading (amongst others of course) on Sunday morning...

‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ – Jonathan Stroud & Andrew Donkin (Corgi)

What with one thing and another, I really wasn’t in the mood to push it reading wise over the weekend so fancied something light and relatively easy going instead. The comic books I normally read don’t fall into this category at all (I dare anyone to say that ‘The Walking Dead’ is a light and easy going read...) but I did happen to have a couple on the pile that looked like they could be worth a look while the baby was using me as a climbing frame...

I’d read Andrew Donkin’s adaptation of ‘The Arctic Incident’ back in March last year and enjoyed it enough to be on the lookout for more of his work. It turned out that my review ended up giving me the chance to have a look at a review copy of Donkin’s adaptation of ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ as well and I couldn’t say no to that. As it turned out, ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ was exactly the kind of light and easy going read that I was after but not an awful lot more than that...

In a modern day London (and what looks like an empire beyond it) controlled by magicians, apprentice magician Nathaniel is out for revenge and will stop at nothing to get it. What Nathaniel has in mind involves the summoning of five thousand year old djinni Bartimaeus for a campaign of revenge that will begin with the theft of the fabled amulet of Samarkand. What Nathaniel doesn’t know though is just what kind of a wizard he has chosen to take on in the vicious Simon Lovelace. The resulting feud will escalate throughout the corridors of Parliament itself and Bartimaeus is caught firmly in the middle...

I don’t normally do this but before I go on to talk about the book itself, I’m just going to say a couple of words about... erm... the book itself...
After a few pages my copy of ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ suffered a sudden and violent case of pages starting to come away from the spine and I wasn’t so much reading the book as I was ‘holding it gingerly and hoping for the best’. A few more pages in and this stopped being a problem but it wasn’t as if I was being particularly rough on the book to start off with... I don’t know if this was a one off case so if you’re thinking about picking up a copy for yourself then you might want to have a quick flick through first and see if all the pages stay where they are meant to.

Once I got past this small issue I ended up really getting into and enjoying this adaptation of ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’; I haven’t read the original book but felt that this version told us all the important bits that we needed to know. Having said that though, it felt like this format couldn’t fit in everything that the original book did. I came away with the impression that there was a positive wealth of background history that there wasn’t room to showcase. You could say that this lends a nice sense of depth to the background setting but, at the same time, the story itself felt a little too lightweight with nothing to properly back it up. Reading from a more ‘adult’ perspective, I couldn’t quite buy the reasoning behind Nathaniel’s desire for revenge either. It seemed a little too petty to hang a whole story off although a young adult reader might totally get it.

Having said all that though, ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ was still a lot of fun to read. The plot was a little too linear for my tastes but there is always something exciting going on (you know how it’s going to go but it’s great to look at) and it’s all vibrantly rendered by Lee Sullivan’s art and Nicolas Chapuis’ colours. This is a graphic novel that’s a joy to look at. Bartimaeus takes centre stage with a bucket load of self-confidence (bordering on arrogance) that had me rooting for him the whole way through with his refusal to let mortal danger get in the way of a good quip. You know what? I even found myself warming to Nathaniel in the end after some of the stuff that happens to him…

Despite some issues with the way the story is told, I couldn’t help but enjoy the exuberant way in which ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ is presented here and that got me back into the story before I realised what was happening. Fans of the original book will probably enjoy it more than I did but it’s still a great little read for a Sunday afternoon.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 14 February 2011

The 'Someone put a curse on the bagel toaster...' Competition Winner's Post!

That's the only way I can explain a machine that takes a perfectly normal bagel and proceeds to burn the outside whilst returning it's innards to the uncooked doughy matter from which it originally came... You know what though? I still ate it :o) Today is shaping up to be a particularly evil kind of Monday (I wasn't best pleased with the attitude of some of my fellow commuters this morning...) but I am not going to let it beat me dammit!

Anyway, you're all here for news of who won last week's competitions and maybe also to find out about what's lying in wait on the blog this week. Some particularly lazy reading, over the weekend, means that the blog is mostly going to involve comic books this week but you can also expect to see a nice dose of zombies and Orks (not 'orcs', I've been reading Warhammer 40K fiction again...) over the next few days. If I see anything that really catches my eye then you might even see a cover art post as well, we'll see how that goes.

Thanks to everyone who entered last weeks competitions, it's your emails that guarantee more competitions in the future (although I bet you'd rather win a book than feel virtuous that you've given other people the chance to win stuff...) The 'Auralia' competition started out life as a chance to win all four books in the series but somehow became all about winning signed copies over the course of the week... Not sure what happened there but I will do my best to make sure this happens. The winner of that competition was...

Cody Steele, New Mexico

Well done Cody, your books are on their way!

The other competition was for advance copies of Peter Orullian's 'The Unremembered', one of those books that everyone is talking about. My copy only arrived at the weekend so I haven't had a chance to crack it open as yet. The three lucky winners were...

Judy Stewart, North Carolina, US
Tanja Wooten, Arkansas, US
Mike Bergsma, British Colombia, Canada

Congratulations to you guys as well! And better luck next time everyone else...

Oh well, back to it...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Cover Art - 'The Meowmorphosis' (Franz Kafka & Cook Coleridge)

Because there aren't enough cute kittens on this blog (or so I've been told...)

Don't you just want to rub the little guy's ears or something? :o)

Check out the blurb,

“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that he had been changed into an adorable kitten.”

Thus begins 
The Meowmorphosis—a bold, startling, and fuzzy-wuzzy new edition of Kafka’s classic nightmare tale, from the publishers of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! Meet Gregor Samsa, a humble young man who works as a fabric salesman to support his parents and sister. His life goes strangely awry when he wakes up late for work and discovers that, inexplicably, he is now a man-sized baby kitten. His family freaks out: Yes, their son is OMG so cute, but what good is cute when there are bills to pay? And how can Gregor be so selfish as to devote all his attention to a scrap of ribbon? As his new feline identity threatens to eat away at his personality, Gregor desperately tries to survive this bizarre, bewhiskered ordeal by accomplishing the one thing he never could as a man: He must flee his parents’ house.

Quirk Fiction may yet be ultimately responsible for the coming inevitable backlash against zombie fiction but I still can't help but get a little kick out of their spin on well established classics. I'll certainly be reading this one when it's published in May.How about you though? Are these kind of books an easy way to read classics that you wouldn't normally pick up (I'd say 'yes' here, for me anyway) or do you think the whole thing is in danger of being done to death...?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Giveaway! ‘Trouble and Her Friends’ (Melissa Scott)

Here’s a book that I plan to read over the next week or so.... hopefully; real life doesn’t seem to want me reading too many books at the moment... Check out the blurb,

100 years from now, the forces of law and order crack down on the world of the internet. India Carless, alias Trouble, managed to stay one step ahead of the feds until she retired from life as a hacker. But someone has stolen her pseudonym and begun using it for criminal hacking. One of the fastest guns on the electronic frontier, Trouble has been called out of retirement for one last fight. And it’s a killer…

I haven’t read any cyberpunk in a long time so it will be good to pick this up and get back into the game. In the meantime, those lovely folk at Tor have given me two copies of ‘Trouble and Her Friends’ to give away on the blog (open to US readers only though I’m afraid).
If you fancy your chances then you know what to do next. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is, the subject header will be ‘Trouble’.

I’ll leave this one open until the 20th of February and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 11 February 2011

‘The Goon Volume Ten: Death’s Greedy Comeuppance’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)

There are some things that the rest of the world just has to stop and wait for and a new ‘Goon’ collection is very much one of those things. If you’ve been around these parts for a while (or if you haven’t but have used the search function here...) then you’ll know that I’m a massive fan of ‘The Goon’ and would probably place it above ‘The Walking Dead’ as my favourite comic book series. It’s laugh out loud funny and it’s tearfully tragic, very often all on the same page at the same time. If that wasn’t enough for you, Powell’s Lovecraftian world of Lonely Street offers zombies and other monsters up to be taken apart by the Goon in a veritable orgy of violence. You can’t complain at what’s on offer can you? I certainly couldn’t and that’s why everything stopped last night when my copy of ‘Death’s Greedy Comeuppance’ came through the door. It’s another top notch effort from Powell and a timely reminder of what we can expect when ‘The Goon’ returns (don’t know when, soon hopefully...)

‘Death’s Greedy Comeuppance’ collects ‘The Goon Tenth Anniversary Issue’ (#32) as well as Issue 33. I’ve spoken about these two issues elsewhere on the blog so don’t want to go repeating myself too much here. What I will say though is that Issue 33 (a comic that has no written dialogue in it at all) blew me away all over again with just how intense it is, even though no-one actually says a word. Powell’s pictures are more than worth a thousand words anyway but possibly nowhere more so than in the speech bubbles here. One simple picture gives you a real insight into each of the characters and Powell had me chuckling and doing heartfelt sighs in equal measure.
‘The Tenth Anniversary Issue’ was just as much fun this time round as it was last but what was interesting was how the humour which rubbed me up the wrong way last time didn’t feel like such a big deal now. Proof, I guess, that every read is a different experience (even when you’re re-reading the same thing over again).
I did find myself wondering why the ‘Goon/Dethklok’ crossover wasn’t included in the collection; it doesn’t tie in with the ongoing storyline at all but I was expecting to see it there for completeness’ sake...

What I’d really come for was the ‘Buzzard’ mini-series that I hadn’t been able to pick up last year; I wasn’t going to miss out a second time round! ‘Buzzard’ is a real departure for Powell (at least in this setting) as the Goon and Frankie don’t feature at all and the tone of the piece veers away from the tragic-comedy towards straight drama. It’s a move that Powell makes very well.
The Buzzard has left Lonely Street and wanders the world looking for an end to his cursed eternal existence. The plight of a village could well provide him with a way out, or perhaps not...

Powell’s dreamlike artwork comes into its own like never before here with a visual journey that’s reminiscent of Roland Deschain’s journey towards the Dark Tower. It’s weird and it’s never anything less than dangerous but, at the same time, it’s also a compelling journey that you just can’t take your eyes off. Even though I know how the story ends now you can count on me taking that journey again, just so I can stop and admire the landscape.
The plot itself is simple, and relatively straightforward, yet all the more effective because of this. Watching Buzzard do what he (reluctantly) does best keeps the pages turning nicely but it’s his developing relationship with his new apprentice that makes the story come alive. Some of the dialogue is really poignant when you match it up with the art...
‘Death’s Greedy Comeuppance’ is a wonderful read that suffers only because of the problems by the last two issues of ‘The Goon’. The ‘Buzzard’ storyline more than makes up for these and is worth the price of entry alone.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Little bits of news...

Here are some bits and pieces that have landed in my inbox over the last couple of days...

Justina Robson signing at Forbidden Planet (Liverpool)

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by Justina Robson for the fifth Quantum Gravity title, Down To The Bone, at Forbidden Planet, 92 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HY on Saturday 19th February 1 – 2pm.

Lila Black faces her greatest challenge yet as she takes herself, her dead lover and the AI in her head into death's realm. The Quantum Gravity series, set in a world where our reality mixes with other dimensions that are the homes to Faeries, elementals and demons, is unique in modern SF - a series that is willing to incorporate legend, myth and magic while maintaining a rigorous approach to scientific and psychological reality. And in Lila Black, Justina Robson has created an enduringly strong yet quirkily human and flawed heroine.

Justina is from Leeds, Yorkshire. She studied philosophy and linguistics before settling down to write in 1992. Her earlier novels, Silver Screen (1999) and Mappa Mundi (2001), were both shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

You won’t be seeing me at this event, the in-laws are visiting on the 19th and even if they weren’t Liverpool is still a fair old trek (from London) for a signing event that only lasts for an hour... There’s also the fact that I’ve only read the one book in the ‘Quantum Gravity’ series (book two, ‘Selling Out’) so don’t really know an awful lot about the series anyway. Is it any good?

Exclusive Excerpt and Book Trailer from Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson's ‘Hellhole’

Only the most desperate colonists dare to make a new home on Hellhole. Reeling from a recent asteroid impact, tortured with horrific storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and churning volcanic eruptions, the planet is a dumping ground for undesirables, misfits, and charlatans…but also a haven for dreamers and independent pioneers. Against all odds, an exiled general named Adolphus has turned Hellhole into a place of real opportunity for the desperate colonists who dare to make the planet their home.

As General Adolphus secretly builds alliances with the leaders of the other Deep Zone worlds and the colonists work on developing the damaged and volatile planet into a safe haven, they have no clue that Hellhole hides an amazing secret. Deep beneath its surface lies the remnants of an obliterated alien civilization and the buried memories of its unrecorded past that, when unearthed, could tear the galaxy apart.

We are thrilled to reveal’s exclusive first excerpt that goes live February 8th at noon! With free registration, users will have first access to Chapter 1. To view this early, special preview of HELLHOLE, please click on the following link: In addition, please check out the wonderful, new book trailer for HELLHOLE at and Enjoy!

There will be more to come between now and March 15th – additional excerpts, blog posts, tour dates and other exciting materials – but for now this should whet a few appetites for this amazing original science fiction series.

Yeah, I know this excerpt has actually been up since the 8th.... I’ve got this one sat somewhere in the reading pile and will hopefully be getting round to it before March 15th. Herbert and Anderson have come in for a lot of flak over their treatment of the ‘Dune’ series (I might even have had a few words to say on the subject myself) so I’m interested to see how they fare in a setting that is entirely their own. We’ll see...

Tor Books announces launch of monthly Twitter Chat Series

New York, NY – Wednesday, February 9, 2011 – Tor Books is excited to announce the launch of #Torchat, a new SF/f genre-themed, hour-long chat series hosted on Twitter. Guest authors will join fans in lively, informative and entertaining discussions of all that’s hot in genre fiction (140 characters at a time) from 4 – 5 PM Eastern on the third Wednesday of every month. Each #Torchat will revolve around a different genre topic of interest, with new guest authors and exclusive fan giveaways from @Torbooks.

Next Wednesday’s first #Torchat will revolve around a discussion of “hard” science fiction, that ambiguous and often narrowly defined subgenre of SF that purports to extrapolate from “real science.” Special guest authors Greg Bear (@spacegriz), Steven Gould (@StevenGould), and M.J. Locke (@MorganJLocke) will lead a fan chat on what Hard SF means, whose really doing it (and whose not…), and the science behind the fiction, using the Twitter hashtag #Torchat.

The chat will be introduced and (loosely) moderated by Tor publicist Justin Golenbock (@jgolenbo), with giveaways of advance copies of upcoming summer SF releases from @TorBooks preceding and following the 4 PM chat.

You used to be able to find me on Twitter but not these days, lets just say I learnt a hard lesson in terms of moaning about work and not locking my Tweets... #Torchat probably won’t persuade me to open another account but does look like it could be fun and worth checking out. Anyone fancy taking part and then letting me know how it goes...?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

‘The Satan Factory’ – Thomas E. Sniegoski (Dark Horse Books)

It’s no secret here that I love pulp fiction and the more ‘old school’ it is the better as far as I’m concerned. I have to wait until I get to work before I can have my morning coffee (seriously, have you tried drinking a coffee on the train during rush hour...?) so the next best thing is the literary equivalent of a shot of caffeine that gives you a heavy dose of action and adventure.
My ‘Hellboy’ reading brought the character of Lobster Johnson to my attention and he seemed like just the kind of masked crime fighter to satisfy my need for early morning pulp reading. We’re looking at a man who takes on the might of organised crime (and sometimes the occult) armed only with infra-red goggles and an automatic pistol. And it’s in Depression Era New York as well, you can’t get a lot more ‘old school pulp’ than that can you? The answer is ‘no you can’t’ and the resulting read ticks all the right boxes...

Jonas Chapel was a respected physician and heir to a fortune before gambling and drink saw him land firmly on the wrong side of the mob and finally saw him hiding out in Mexico from inevitable mob justice. Chapel is discovered and his execution is halted only by the discovery of an old witch and the cursed skeleton that she guards. This skeleton has the power to transform men into monsters and Chapel sees the chance to return to New York and stake his own claim for power.
Now monsters stalk the streets of Manhattan, the ultimate weapon in gang warfare and a constant source of terror to the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Only one man can possibly halt the tide of what eventually become a living hell on earth. The Lobster is on the prowl and he will not stop until justice has been served...

Carrying on that whole ‘reading pulp fiction is like drinking coffee’ thing (but not for too long, promise!)... Once you’ve had that quick buzz off a cup of coffee you’ll find that it doesn’t last for very long and you’re left feeling kind of hollow and probably in need of another cup depending on the kind of day that you’re having. It’s the same deal with pulp fiction, I can fill myself up on the stuff but that feeling’s never going to last for long and I’ll be after another hit sooner rather than later. This is very much the deal with ‘The Satan Factory’; a book that doesn’t leave a lasting impression once you’ve put it down but is one hell of a rush in the meantime.

While you’re reading ‘The Satan Factory’, it quickly becomes very clear that this book has all the ingredients required to be a thoroughly entertaining read with a lot to recommend it. Sniegoski quickly sets the scene with a backdrop showing the seedier of life in the Depression Era, just the right setting for occult evil to thrive in fact and this also quickly becomes very clear when you see what happens to certain players in this drama. When you’ve got a threat that combines demonic menace with a number of major New York crime families... well, you need someone of the appropriate stature to tackle this threat. And that’s where the Lobster comes in.

You don’t really get to find out much about the Lobster himself other than that he fights crime and does so very well indeed. I’m torn between whether the author assumes prior knowledge of the character, on our part, or whether he’s going for the whole ‘mysterious hero’ affect. The end result is that of ‘mysterious crime fighter’ so I guess the authors approach works.
The Lobster is a little too good to be true; always pulling through to defeat whatever is in front of him. In one sense that’s the point of the whole tone of the book but it does detract from any tension that Sniegoski raises. You know the Lobster will pull through so you can’t quite buy into the sense of danger that comes about in each cliff hanger...
Having said that though, Sniegoski uses the character of the Lobster to good affect over the course of the book. The Lobster hates evil and will go to any length to stamp it out; this makes for some exciting and spectacular moments where evil must be faced and fought. ‘Spectacular’ is definitely the word to use here as Sniegoski throws everything at his hero, blows it all up and then proceeds to throw the burning remnants at his hero as well. The constant rattle of gunfire and explosions drive the plot forward at a ferocious pace and it’s very easy to get caught up and on board.

The single minded approach of ‘The Satan Factory’ delivers the goods as far as entertainment goes but also ultimately prevents the book from being something that will stick around in your head after you’ve finished reading it. The format demands action and adventure (which you get) but there isn’t a lot of substance to back it up, with a plot that’s very lightweight and straightforward. You could say that this is the whole point of this sub-genre (and you’d be right) but there is other pulp fiction out there that has a lot more substance to it and makes for a more satisfying read; Al Ewing’s ‘Gods of Manhattan’ worked very well for me in this regard. If you’re happy to accept the book on these terms then I think you’ll have fun with it, worth bearing this in mind though...

‘The Satan Factory’ was a lot of fun while I was reading it and I can see fans of ‘Hellboy’ having the same kind of fun that I did. It’s a great read for the commute to work or a ‘quick pick me up’ during your lunch break. Anything more than that though might just be asking a little too much of it (and maybe that’s the way it is meant to be...)

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

‘Star Wars: Knight Errant’ – John Jackson Miller (Del Rey)

Some things are just a given aren’t they? You don’t even need to think about whether they will happen, you just accept it as a matter of course when they do. Night follows day, brandy and a nice cigar after dinner (or maybe that’s just me) and the crushing inevitability of going back to work after a weekend are just a few examples of this. Hang on, there’s one more... it’s very much a given that the Star Wars franchise will continue to churn out new fiction as fast as we are able to read it, probably faster in fact.

I wasn’t too bad at keeping up with all of these books until the New Jedi Order series came along and showed me that my wallet really wasn’t up to the task of keeping up with a mammoth series that I probably wouldn’t read more than once anyway. I fell out of the loop and never really got back into it; there must be dozens of Star Wars books now that I haven’t read. I still like to keep my hand in though and occasionally pick one up for a go, preferring ‘stand alones’ rather than something that requires me to dive into a series. ‘Knight Errant’ looked like it would deliver the goods on this score (it continues the story began in the Dark Horse comic book but I haven’t read that and it still worked for me...) so I decided to check it out. While I liked the approach it took in terms of avoiding some of the pitfalls prevalent in this sub-genre it failed badly at avoiding others. Or maybe it didn’t. To horribly misquote a certain famous Jedi, it all depends on your point of view...

A thousand years before the events of ‘A New Hope’ the galaxy is in a very different shape with Sith Lords running rampant (fighting Jedi when they’re not too busy fighting each other) and the Jedi more or less confined to a tiny area of Republic space where they remain on guard duty. Kerra Holt is a newly promoted Jedi knight whose participation in a covert mission into Sith space has left her stranded behind enemy lines with no real idea of how to get home. While she’s in Sith space, Kerra may as well see what she can do about the Sith Lords in the meantime...
One Jedi against several planets worth of Sith and their underlings. The odds aren’t good but the web of intrigue that Kerra Holt is about to walk through could well end up working for her as it does against. There is a pattern behind these warring Sith

I briefly mentioned the cover for ‘Knight Errant’ a week or so ago when I said that a franchise as well established as Star Wars can easily afford to go generic on the cover art. I mean, look at it... If it wasn’t for the title then this could be any Star Wars books. Unfortunately, the same goes for what’s inside that cover.

At a first glance things don’t look that bad and the book does actually go a long way towards avoiding some of the more obvious problems associated with fiction in the Star Wars universe. Setting the story one thousand years in the past removes the problem of coming up with an interesting story for characters that are ‘untouchable’; instead you have characters that (in theory) could have anything happen to them.
Well, that’s the theory.

What you get instead is pretty much what you get in every Star Wars novel that you pick up; a hero who is going to win through simply because she is the hero and that’s what heroes do. There isn’t even a brief moment of ‘oh dear, I could be brushing with the Dark Side here...’ as Kerra Holt is just too damn good, even though she has only been a fully fledged Jedi for such a short time.
Miller does capture the scheming of the Sith very well with layers of intrigue folded neatly on top of each other, gradually unfolding to form the whole picture. When the rest of the story is so black and white though you’re left wondering just what the point of all the intrigue is. It just doesn’t sit well when you know that the hero will cut through it all with one sweep of her lighsaber because... she’s the hero.

But isn’t that the whole point of Star Wars though? Good honest pulp fun that leaves you on the edge of your seat at the display but also leaves you safe in the knowledge that the right people are going to come out victorious at the end? Of course it is and, in that respect, Miller has come up with a Star Wars book that will sit comfortably with the rest of them even if it might not stand out from the rest of the pack. The heroes are heroic, the villains are evil and when the two meet the end result is the kind of pyrotechnics that you would expect to see on the big screen. (That’s not counting the obligatory well meaning guy on the wrong side of the tracks who learns a lesson about doing the right thing...) In keeping with all good Star Wars books, ‘Knight Errant’ moves along at a ferocious pace and it’s very easy to get caught up in the rush.

Was that enough for me though? Not really. ‘Knight Errant’ may well be very good at what it does (and it is) but it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the rest of the pack as a book in its own right. It could be any Star Wars book that I’m reading here and if that’s the kind of choice that I’m faced with then you’ll always see me going for the Star Wars reads that I know will do the job for me. Timothy Zahn’s books are the deal here.
I guess you can’t blame Miller really as the success of the line is based on a well established formula that looks like it must be adhered to (although like I said, there are loads of Star Wars books that I haven’t read now so I could be wrong here). ‘Knight Errant’ is just a little too formulaic for me though...

Six out of Ten