Saturday, 30 April 2011

Giveaway! 'Shadow Prowler' & 'Shadow Chaser' (Alexey Pehov)

To mark the release of Alexey Pehov's 'Shadow Chaser' I've got a nice little giveaway for those of you who haven't picked up his work yet...

Thanks to the people at Tor, I've got a copy of 'Shadow Prowler' and a copy of 'Shadow Chaser' to give away (as a pack) to one lucky reader. US readers only for this giveaway though I'm afraid (and I am trying to sort a couple of things out for readers in the UK etc, we'll see how it goes...)

What do you have to do to enter? Same thing you always do :o) Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 8th of May and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Cover Art – ‘The Immorality Engine’ (George Mann)

I wasn’t too keen on George Mann’s ‘The Affinity Bridge’ (which is stopping me from delving into ‘The Osiris Ritual’) but here’s some really tasty cover art that might well get me back into things. Check out the cover for ‘The Immorality Engine’....

Shamelessly stolen from the good folks at Fantasy Book Critic. A tip of the cap to you good sirs!

So... A clockwork horse carrying a machine gun toting dude in a bowler hat, words fail me at describing just how cool that is (other than, 'I love steam punk'). What do you think? And have you read ‘The Osiris Ritual’? What did you think of it...?

Check out the blurb (for ‘The Immorality Engine’, not ‘The Osiris Ritual’...)

On the surface, life is going well for Victorian special agent Sir Maurice Newbury, who has brilliantly solved several nigh-impossible cases for Queen Victoria with his indomitable assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, by his side. But these facts haven’t stopped Newbury from succumbing increasingly frequently to his dire flirtation with the lure of opium. His addiction is fueled in part by his ill-gotten knowledge of Veronica’s secret relationship with the queen, which Newbury fears must be some kind of betrayal. Veronica, consumed by worry and care for her prophetic but physically fragile sister Amelia, has no idea that she is a catalyst for Newbury’s steadily worsening condition.

Veronica and Newbury’s dear friend Bainbridge, the Chief Investigator at Scotland Yard, tries to cover for him as much as possible, but when the body of a well known criminal turns up, Bainbridge and Veronica track Newbury down in an opium den and drag him out to help them with the case. The body is clearly, irrefutably, that of the man in question, but shortly after his body is brought to the morgue, a crime is discovered that bears all the dead man’s hallmarks. Bainbridge and Veronica fear someone is committing copycat crimes, but Newbury is not sure. Somehow, the details are too perfect for it to be the work of a copycat. But how can a dead man commit a crime?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

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

I love reading genre fiction (you may not have realised this but it’s true...) and this means that every year is crammed full of little ‘genre highlights’ that I find myself looking forward to. There’s plenty of speculative fiction and some of this pokes its head above the rest and demands my attention straight away; chief amongst this select little band is the arrival of any new ‘Horus Heresy’ book from the Black Library.

There have been a few little blips along the way (I’m looking at you in particular ‘Descent of Angels’...) but on the whole, the ‘Horus Heresy’ series has consistently demonstrated why it’s the flagship series for the Black Library. They’re well written, engaging and enjoy the position of being able to open up previously unexplored background for established fans as well as being an ideal starting point for newcomers. Plenty there then for me to get excited about and I was very excited when my copy of ‘Age of Darkness’ arrived; of course it took me weeks to finally get round to opening it but that’s just the way things seem to go round here these days...

'Age of Darkness’ marks the point in the Imperium spanning civil war where the Warmaster Horus has achieved all his short term goals and is finally ready to begin his march on the Emperor’s palace on Terra. There are a lot of planetary systems to annex and conquer before then though and this is what underpins the short stories that make up this collection. It’s not all just about Horus though, loyalist Primarchs and their legions (and even groups of Marines who have decided not to side with Horus) must make their stand against the oncoming storm and try to salvage something from the wreckage in order to safeguard an uncertain future. ‘Age of Darkness’ highlights an area of the conflict that isn’t as overt as you would come to expect from this setting but is still just as deadly...

Could ‘Age of Darkness’ be the best Warhammer 40K anthology that I’ve read yet? It could well be... Some of the tales have their issues (more on that as we go) but on the whole this is a very solid collection that achieves its aims in some style. There is another war happening in plain sight, but hidden by more prominent conflicts, and it’s time that this particular fight got the attention it deserves. All the writers here combine well to show a warfare of diplomacy and intrigue that is still punctuated by the clatter of bolter at all the right times. They also foreshadow the ‘modern Imperium’ in a number of clever ways that I think fans will get a lot out of. I’m no big expert on the setting but I get the feeling that there will be more than one surprise here for fans who thought they knew the whole story behind the Horus Heresy. The stories themselves run as follows...

‘Rules of Engagement’ – Graham McNeill

Graham McNeill opens proceedings with a tale that leaves the reader (and the Primarch featured) in no doubt as to the perils that humanity faces as a result of the war. It’s very interesting then to see the steps taken by this Primarch, especially as we know how these steps will be seen in the fortieth millennium, an ultimately futile gesture but one that still has to be taken. The nature of the plot gives rise to repetition in its structure that makes for a stodgy read but ‘Rules of Engagement’ is still worth a look 8.5/10

‘Liar’s Due’ – James Swallow

The only story in the collection that doesn’t feature a single Space Marine and ‘Liar’s Due’ works all the better for it. ‘Liar’s Due’ looks at the air of paranoia that grips the galaxy (in the light of the Warmaster’s rebellion) and does an amazing job of showing how this feeling can be twisted to work for the enemy without a shot having to be fired. The sense of inevitability makes this read all the more compelling 10/10

‘Forgotten Sons’ – Nick Kyme

Nick Kyme tells an engaging tale here and provides insight into just how the seemingly invincible psyche of a Marine can be damaged irreparably. Everyone has their role but some of these roles are dumped on those who have no other use... What I thought was missing though was a sense of how ‘Forgotten Sons’ tied into the themes shared by the other stories here. It felt more than a little disjointed from the rest of the pack... 7.5/10

‘The Last Remembrancer’ – John French

John French is a name that I haven’t come across in the Black Library but if ‘The Last Remembrancer’ is anything to go by then I expect that to change very soon. Could one of Horus’ greatest masterstrokes come about far from the main battlefields? An unassuming man is deposited in Imperial space carrying a book that could rock the Imperium at its very foundations... ‘The Last Remembrancer’ is a fascinating study of one of the Heresy’s leading figures and shows roots that will come to fruition ten thousand years hence. It’s all very atmospheric but the ending is in no doubt and that does spoil things a little... 9.5/10

‘Rebirth’ – Chris Wraight

Imagine if you had unwittingly sat out one of the major events of the war and arrived at your home planet to find...? That is the premise of Chris Wraight’s tale but the real fun is to be found in seeing how Chaos is fracturing Horus’ forces even as it seeks to make use of them. An intriguing glimpse into the mindsets of traitor marines, who will soon become the bitterest of foes, and a tale that I can see myself reading again (even though that sense of inevitability works against the tale once you realise who the antagonist is...) 8.5/10

‘The Face of Treachery’ – Gav Thorpe

‘The Face of Treachery’ tells another side to the rescue of the Raven Guard Legion and worked best for me as a means of fleshing out the story told in ‘Raven’s Flight’. Not that it doesn’t work well in it’s own right (with plenty going on to hold the attention) but the reasons behind the involvement of the duplicitous Alpha Legion are left so vague that the story feels like it tails off without any clear ending and I guess I was after something a little more solid... 7.5/10

‘Little Horus’ – Dan Abnett

Little Horus was a character that I wanted to see a lot more of, in the opening stages of the series, and I finally got my chance here with this tale of Little Horus’ self doubt set against an ambush that’s potentially deadly in it’s simplicity. Abnett writes excellent military sci-fi and ‘Little Horus’ is no exception with a skilfully rendered account of military engagement. I wasn’t so sure about the character study though with certain conclusions dismissed too readily by Little Horus himself. It felt like a lot more could have been done with this character and an opportunity was lost... 8/10

‘The Iron Within’ – Rob Sanders

I’ve had issues with Rob Sanders’ work in the past and, to begin with, ‘The Iron Within’ shows those same problems with regimental detail getting in the way of the story itself. Sanders moves past this in some style though and gives us an insight into the psyche of the Iron Warriors in the best way possible, siege warfare. I also liked the links with McNeill’s opening story. Who was the narrator though? That’s going to bug me... 9/10

‘Savage Weapons’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Who better to end the anthology with than a Black Library writer who doesn’t seem to be able to put a foot wrong? ‘Savage Weapons’ isn’t one of Bowden’s strongest works in my opinion as the opening passages don’t have that clear sense of direction I always find in his work. This is more than made up for though with a tense finale and a final sentence that either confirms the intent behind McNeill’s story or throws everything into doubt at just the right time. I loved it 9/10

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

‘Department 19’ – Will Hill (Razorbill)

The publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ always had me in mind of the fall of the Roman Empire in a way. Seriously, stick with me on this one... The Harry Potter books took over ‘Young Adult’ literature in a way that you don’t often see at all. Nothing could stand against these books and their influence could be seen in other books published at the same time. Everything comes to an end though and that was certainly the case here; Harry Potter did what he set out to do and there was nowhere else for the series to go after that. ‘Young Adult’ fiction suddenly had a great big hole in it, waiting for another series to assume pre-eminence and build a little empire of its own.

No writer appears to have stepped up to the plate (yet) and written a young adult series with the same universal appeal as ‘Harry Potter’; what we’re getting instead (at least as far as I can see and please correct me if I’m wrong here) are series targeted at a more specific audience. Will Hill’s debut ‘Department 19’ is one of these and I can see it doing very well in that regard. It’s a shame then that it didn’t quite work for me...

Jamie Carpenter always thought that his father died a traitor to his country; that’s certainly the stigma he has had to live with for much of his young life. The truth is far stranger though and it will take the kidnapping of Jamie’s mother for this truth to come to light.
When Jamie’s mother disappears he finds himself rescued from the clutches of a vampire and taken into the protection of Department 19, a top secret government agency that combats supernatural threats. The operatives of Department 19 are perfectly placed to keep Jamie safe and introduce him to a future that he never even knew existed. They might even be able to rescue his mother from her vampire kidnappers but that will prove a little trickier, especially when the true nature of the vampire threat begins to reveal itself...

‘Department 19’ is one hell of a read, no doubt about it; I tore through this one like you would not believe (up to and including using the baby as an excuse to stay up and do a little extra reading at the weekend). By the end though, that awesome rush was tempered by the fact that the whole thing felt a little hollow in maybe the worst possible way.

When ‘Department 19’ takes off it doesn’t just take off, you can tell that Will Hill is flying with his story and having a lot of fun along the way. ‘Department 19’ may well be another tale of secret government agencies fighting the supernatural etc (and there are plenty of those) but it is also an adrenaline fuelled romp full of stand up fights with vampires, double crosses and stuff blowing up. There are also more than a few chilling moments that you find yourself having to get through in order to find out what happens next. This all throws the pace into overdrive and the book moves too fast for you to even consider getting off. Just enjoy the ride while it lasts.
You could accuse Hill of just throwing everything at the page (to see what sticks) and you wouldn’t be far off the mark here. I got the feeling that Hill was operating on the principle that more spectacle must make for a better reading experience and, to be fair, there is a case to be made for that. It certainly made the pages fly by here.

Spectacle will only get you so far though and luckily Hill appears to have taken this on board, paying real attention to his plot and background. The plot is well thought out with enough twists and turns to maintain interest over a book that is five hundred and thirty seven pages long (in the ARC format). Just when you think you have a handle on things Hill makes a mockery of your assumptions by asking pertinent questions and sending the ball rolling in a totally different direction. The setting is gorgeously realised as well with Hill taking elements from classic horror novels (I’m not telling you which ones but I’m sure you can guess...) and wrapping them up with a well thought out government organisation. Certain chapters in the book detail the founding of Department 19 and how events from the past have influenced what is happening in the present. I liked the way that these chapters were staggered across the book and give the reader a handy dose of information at exactly the right time.
Vampires may be the enemy but that doesn’t mean that they are treated any differently in terms of how they come across on the page. Hill pays equal attention to setting the scene with these guys and the overall affect is a fully immersive background that provides the ideal stage for the plot to play out against.

It’s a real shame then that the character of Jamie himself proves to be such a poor choice to hang the whole thing off. Given his circumstances you can expect Jamie to be a little obsessive about what he’s after (rescuing his mother) and how he goes about getting that. What got me though was the fact that Jamie’s character shows very little sign of developing as the story progresses. Jamie reacts to things but there’s never any thought behind that reaction and there’s certainly no sign of his character altering in any way as a result of those reactions; it’s just on to the next reaction and it all felt a little one dimensional to me (especially when there were far more interesting characters in the background). I wonder how the story would have turned out if Jamie had remained the focus but the perspective had shifted onto someone else?
The bottom line for me was that the gorgeously rendered background and supporting cast didn’t gel with the rather stolid and one dimensional lead and that often made the read a chore when it really didn’t need to be.

There is a lot to recommend ‘Department 19’ and I can certainly see it appealing to readers who are after a ‘high stakes’ read that will engage you right away. Unfortunately for me, the lead character didn’t offer that same level of engagement and that’s where things fell down as far as I was concerned. I’m pretty sure I’ll be around for the sequel though so we’ll see if things pick up there.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The 'Tiny Bit Late and Fuelled by Coffee' Competition Winner's Post!

Morning all :o)

Did you have a good Bank Holiday Weekend? Are you still on holiday? I'm not but there's only a few more days until the next long weekend so I can't really complain. I even managed to get a fair bit of reading done over the weekend (in between sun bathing and rescuing other sunbathers from being mauled by Hope); 'The Dragon's Path' proved to be the excellent read I was expecting and if the review doesn't go up this week it'll definitely be up next week instead.

I could ramble on like this (and considering I was up at five this morning it would be all too easy to ramble) but I'll draw a line under it here otherwise I'll never get round to announcing the competition winners from last week. Those lucky folks were...

'The Last Four Things' (Paul Hoffman)

Amber Young, Idaho, US

'Embassytown' (China Mieville)

Alexander Brown, Arizona, US
Shaun Viechweg, Maryland, US
Christine Sporleder, Ilinois, US

Well done guys, your books will be on their way to you very soon. Better luck next time everyone else (I'm always working on featuring more competitions here...)

Right, time for another coffee I think. See you all tomorrow!

Monday, 25 April 2011

What Cover Would You Go For?

Welcome back to this semi-regular feature where two copies of the same book turn up on my doorstep and I ask readers which cover art you all prefer. Sounds simple doesn't it? Not this week...

Today I give you Robert Redick's 'The River of Shadows' and here's the blurb to start you off...

In the gripping sequel to Robert V. S. Redick’s acclaimed epic fantasy novels The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The Ruling Sea, the crew of the vast, ancient ship Chathrand have reached the shores of the legendary southern empire of Bali Adro. Many have died in the crossing, and the alliance of rebels, led by the tarboy Pazel Pathkendle and the warrior Thasha Isiq, has faced death, betrayal, and darkest magic. But nothing has prepared them for the radically altered face of humanity in the South.

They have little time to recover from the shock, however. For with landfall, the battle between the rebels and centuries-old sorcerer Arunis enters its final phase. At stake is control of the Nilstone, a cursed relic that promises unlimited power to whoever unlocks the secrets of its use—but death to those who fail. And no one is closer to mastering the Stone than Arunis.

Desperate to stop him, Pazel and Thasha must join forces with their enemies, including the depraved Captain Rose and the imperial assassin Sandor Ott. But when a suspicious young crewmember turns his attentions to Thasha, it is the young lovers themselves who are divided—most conveniently for Arunis. As the mage’s triumph draws near, the allies face a terrible choice: to break their oaths and run for safety, or to hunt the world’s most dangerous sorcerer through the strange and deadly dream kingdom known as the River of Shadows, and to face him a last time among the traps and horrors of his lair.

Now normally, either the US or UK cover art establishes itself as a clear winner over the other and I can pick a favourite right away. Not today though. Today we have...

The US Cover...

 Looks very nice and all but doesn't really tell you anything about the book itself (other than that there's a sword and shield in there somewhere...)
The UK Cover...

This cover tells us a little more about the story but, unfortunately, what it seems to be telling us is that a sea serpent has been disturbed in the shower (by a big ship) and hasn't had time to dry her hair...

Neither of these work for me but if you had to choose one for your bookshelf which one would it be? And has anyone here read the first two books? Here's another series that has passed me by and I'm wondering if it's worth a look...

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Comic Book Cover Art!

It's Easter Sunday, no-one's really up to doing much today... lets take it easy and feast our eyes on a little cover art :o) What do you reckon?

I've been enjoying the 'Conan' comics for a little while now (finally reading the first Fantasy Masterworks collection as we speak) and artwork like this is a large part of the reason why; isn't it gorgeous? This is Conan as he should be and gives a lot more insight into the character than Schwarzenegger's dumb posturing ever did. I'm going to have to get my hands on this book, as much to stare at the cover as finish off the story itself...

I don't usually read PDFs but got an advance copy of 'Gladstones #1' in this format and will probably give it a go. Does anyone know of an e-reader that you can read comics on? (My 'gizmo knowledge' is appalling).
On a first glance though I'm not convinced by the cover art here. Villavert does a good job with dynamic poses and vibrant colour but the whole thing just seems a little too 'Cartoon Network' (or even Nickelodeon...) for me. Maybe that's the whole point of it, I'll have to check out 'Gladstones' and let you all know.

So, what do you reckon? Do either of these covers float your boat? And have you got any favourite comic book covers that you'd like to share with us? I don't think that you can post pictures in the comments section but feel free to leave links.

Have a great Sunday! I'm off to stop Hope from pinching the dog's breakfast, she will do it if I'm not careful...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Giveaway! 'Robopocalypse' (Daniel H. Wilson)

Daniel H. Wilson's 'Robopocalypse' is an amazing read (no doubt about it) and I recommend you pick it up and give it a go when it hits the shelves in June. Or... how would you like the chance to check it out much earlier...?

Thanks to DoubleDay Books, I have ten advance copies of 'Robopocalypse' to give away on the blog. Yes, that's right... Ten Copies. Just think, if only ten people drop me an email then they're guaranteed a copy of the book and, like I said, it's worth the read. I am afraid that only people living in the US can enter though, sorry about that...

For all the American people left reading this post, here's what you do...

To enter, just send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header needs to read, 'Oh No! Robots!' That's all you need to do, I'll do the rest.

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

Good Luck!

Friday, 22 April 2011

‘Conan Volume 7: Cimmeria’ – Truman, Corben & Giorello (Dark Horse Books)

If you scroll down the page a bit you’ll see that this week has been a great week for reading (mine!) here on the blog. Being honest though, I’ve got to say that the cumulative affects of lack of sleep (over the last few days) meant that I found myself naturally gravitating towards the stuff that I knew I’d enjoy. That’s just the way it goes round here sometimes and I wouldn’t be too surprised if you saw more of the same in the future.
 Anyway... I was looking for something to read that would end the week on a high and ‘Cimmeria’ seemed like the best way forwards here. I’ve been enjoying Truman and Giorello’s run on ‘Conan’ for a while now and ‘Cimmeria’ was a great way to fill in some of the gaps that inevitably occurred while I was collecting the comics a year or two back.
Well the gaps can now well and truly be considered filled in as far as this storyline goes. The artwork is as lovely as ever (even more so at times) but the plot itself didn’t seem up to the same high standards this time round...

Weary of the duplicity of so called civilisation, Conan finds his feet taking back towards his dark and misty homeland of Cimmeri, where a foe would never dishonour himself by stabbing you in the back and life is so much straightfoward. After so long away, Conan wants the kind of honesty that only his homeland can offer. Cimmeria has it’s own internal bickering though and Conan must swiftly come to terms with this if he is to protect the woman that he first loved. A raiding party of Aesir hint at a truce in danger of being broken and Conan’s first love Caollan lies at the heart of it all…

‘Cimmeria’ is split into two tales, Conan’s return to his homeland and the journey that his Grandfather Connacht made when he left. The two plots dovetail well and not only is this a nice way of getting two stories for the price of one but Cimmeria as a country is shown to exert a very strong pull on it’s countrymen. You get a really clear picture of what it means to be Cimmerian. I’m no scholar of Robert E. Howard and couldn’t tell you how much of Connacht’s story is based on what Howard actually wrote (my suspicion is very little if any). It does however remain a very interesting story that suggests where Conan got his own wanderlust as well as showing us Conan’s world through a set of fresh eyes. You can’t argue with that and Connacht’s story was the highlight of the book for me, especially how it is rendered through Richard Corben’s striking artwork. There is no way that you will get the two tales mixed up here…

It’s a shame then that the same cannot be said for Conan’s own story (although Tomas Giorello comes up trumps again with his artwork and has pretty much supplied the definitive Conan as far as I’m concerned).
Conan’s tale is an expansion of the Robert E. Howard poem ‘Cimmeria’ and those initial lines (coupled with Giorello’s art) really take you into the setting itself. I’m finding out more and more about Howard at the moment and I can add ‘writes a mean poem’ to that list. The rest of the story doesn’t quite capture that same feel though; Truman’s writing here (good though it is, intrigue and blood drenched action in equal measure) fails to maintain this feeling and suffers for it. What you have is a story with atmosphere but not the atmosphere we were promised right at the start…

‘Cimmeria’ is visually stunning but very much a book of two slightly uneven halves that affect the flow of the story as a whole. This won’t stop me reading though, the ‘Conan’ books, from Dark Horse, are well worth your time.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Orbit Announces International Publication of Digital Novella

From the press release...

SF and Fantasy imprint Orbit has announced that it will be publishing a new novella by New York Times bestselling author Brent Weeks simultaneously in the US and the UK , in both ebook and digital audio editions. Perfect Shadow, set in the world of his popular Night Angel Trilogy, will be released in June.

Orbit Publisher Tim Holman says: ‘The digital marketplace provides an irresistible opportunity to publish shorter works of fiction. With over a million copies sold worldwide since its launch in 2008, Brent Weeks ’ Night Angel Trilogy has become one of the fastest selling fantasy series of all time. Publishing a new novella set in the same world, and doing so simultaneously around the world in ebook and audio editions, has been a really exciting publishing challenge – and working with Brent and his agent, Don Maass, to make it happen has been terrific.’

Brent Weeks says: ‘When I wrote Perfect Shadow, I was afraid it was going to fall into a publishing no-man’s land: too short to be distributed as a novel, too long to be sold as a short story. Orbit’s digital publishing has given me a way to get this story out. More than that, it’s given me the artistic freedom to write a story exactly as long as it needs to be.’

The ebook edition of Perfect Shadow will be available from ebook stores worldwide from June 2011. It will be simultaneously released as an unabridged audiobook for digital download.

Good news there for fans of Brent Weeks but perhaps only good news for those fans with e-readers (although the downloadable audiobook should balance things out somewhat I suppose). I've got a lot of catching up to do with this author (having only read the first book); how excited are you by this news? Is Weeks an author worth totally throwing my reading order out for?

‘Robopocalypse’ – Daniel H. Wilson (DoubleDay)

Robots, we can’t live without them but we sure as hell can’t trust them to just simply get on with their programmed duties without getting ideas above their station and rising up to destroy their hapless creators. The general rule of thumb is that if you find a robot in a science fiction novel then it’ll more likely than not try and take over the world within a couple of chapters; that’s what robots do and they’re very good at it. That does lead to the question of why people in science fiction novels insist on continuing to build super intelligent artificial intelligences but I guess that’s a question for another time...

Robots’ rising up against their human masters is a tried and tested plot device (one word, ‘Terminator’...) and it’s hard to see anything new that can be brought to the table to freshen things up. At least, that’s what I thought before I read Daniel H. Wilson’s ‘Robopocalypse’. Here’s a book that’s generated a lot of pre-release buzz and I do mean a lot. A great deal of this buzz has come about through the fact that Steven Spielberg took up the option to direct ‘Robopocalypse’ (look out for it in 2013) before the book had even been sold to a publisher; now that has to say something about the quality of the book, right?
It does. ‘Robopocalypse’ isn’t a perfect book but comes so near that you may not notice the difference.

A robot cleaner enters a cafe and tries to kill the staff inside. An urban pacification unit in Afghanistan disarms an insurgent and then turns the gun on innocent civilians. A young girl has a very strange and unsettling conversation with her ‘smart doll’. What initially looks like a series of isolated events proves to be far more but no-one will make that connection until it’s far too late...
An extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence has decided that the only way it can peacefully exist is to remove humanity from its position as dominant life form on the planet. People that rely on robots in every aspect of their daily life will get a horrible shock when these previously docile machines suddenly rise up and declare war...
Humanity finds itself united in the face of this new threat but has this new found unity come too late?

If you’ve found out one thing about me, by reading this blog, then it will probably be that I love reading fantasy, sci-fi etc. I can’t get enough of the stuff and will get itchy if I don’t have a book immediately to hand when I finish whatever I’m reading. It’s a rare book though that will make me forego things like sleep (a precious commodity these days!) just so I can race through and see how it all ends. ‘Robopocalypse’ is one of those books and it was more than worth going without sleep to finish. Actually, I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter; ‘Robopocalypse’ is nothing short of compelling.

Whereas most other ‘robot uprising’ tales jump in right at the deep end with full on war, ‘Roboapocalypse’ takes a slightly longer term view and is all the better for it. We get to see the conversation that kicked off the whole Robot War and a gradual build up of ‘precursor’ events that introduce characters who will carry the plot forward into the war itself (along the same lines as Max Brooks’ ‘World War Z’). This approach gives the plot a solid foundation that lends the book a real sense of plausibility. I’m not one for the science of the book (that kind of stuff inevitably flies right over the top of my head) but Wilson’s writing leaves you in no doubt how such an event could come to pass. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the scenario and this shines through on the page. The war itself progresses along a clearly defined path and is an exercise in how self aware robots might adapt and evolve in order to protect themselves. It’s startling to see some of the results and Wilson writes a mean battle scene to accompany these moments!

What was slightly disappointing here though was that a book where everything seems so logical and clear cut relied on a speculative ‘jump’ in order to get humanity back in the game and competing on more equal terms. I can understand why robots might want to experiment on (and augment) humans but one experiment came across a little too obviously as a means of moving the plot to a particular conclusion rather than being an exploration of a theme. That jolted the flow of things somewhat.

It’s a small niggle though as Wilson not only provides that well thought out scenario but also proves to be more than adept at writing scenes that engage with the reader and draw you in. Wilson proves that he can capture those moments when a robot does something entirely unexpected and forces a human witness to change their world view in a split second. You really get inside these people’s heads and can feel the fear that they experience when faced with an implacable robot that just will not stop. The moments that really stood out for me though weren’t those life and death struggles but the occasions where a delicious chill of fear was introduced into something that appeared totally commonplace only a second ago. The look on Lurker’s face when he realises what he is dealing with. Mathilda’s conversation with her doll. Those moments made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and they’ll be in my head for a long time to come.

‘Robopocalypse’ takes a tried and tested plot and reinvigorates it with gripping narrative, engaging characters and a veritable swarm of robots bent on humanity’s destruction. What’s not to like there?
I’m glad that I have the book to read again, 2013 feels like a long time to wait for the film...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ – Glen Cook (Roc)

You heard it here first; I totally give up on the whole thing about making ‘reading resolutions’ for the year, it never ever works. If you were around at the beginning of the year then you would have heard me give it the whole ‘I’m going to be so great at reading these particular books in 2011’ spiel and obviously not take into account all the other shiny looking books on the pile. We’re well into April now and my unofficial resolution to read more books by Glen Cook hasn’t faltered as such, mainly because it hasn’t actually got off the ground! As a quick aside, how are your reading resolutions going this year?

Glen Cook is one of those authors where I think I’ve got them pegged as writing one particular series, only to find that they are far more prolific than I ever realised. Cook certainly qualifies here and a series of his that I haven’t really read much of are the ‘Garrett P.I.’ books; tales of a private eye trying to make a living in a city teeming with elves, trolls and wizards. ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ (sequel to ‘Sweet Silver Blues’) was my latest trip to the city of Tunfaire and it was a trip well made.

The residents of ‘The Hill’ are the most powerful of Tunfaire’s residents and the Stormwarden Raver Styx is pre-eminent amongst these. The Stormwarden is away though, fighting on the front in the Cantard, so what better time for someone bearing a grudge to finally make their move against her. Raver Styx’ son has been kidnapped and Garrett is hired in a consulting capacity to make sure that everything possible is done to make sure that he is returned. The switch is made and the son is returned; something doesn’t quite add up though and Garrett is determined to get to the bottom of things (even though some trolls with pretty fists would rather that he didn’t). When a corpse turns up on the scene, it becomes really clear that something isn’t right and Garrett is even more determined to get some answers. Those answers are going to involve even more corpses though...

I think that the main reason I tend to shy away from Cook’s work is that while the plot is generally excellent Cook doesn’t mince his words and chooses to tell it how he sees it, plain and simple. You would think that this is a good thing (and it is) but it can also make the story a little difficult to get into as you don’t have much of a sense of what’s going on in the background. I need a little bit of both to get a good feel for the book as a whole and Cook’s novels can sometimes feel a little disjointed in this regard.

Well, ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ bucks a trend in that Cook gives his reader a little more insight into the city of Tunfaire and it’s people. I think it’s a good approach to take as the first book has already given us a little idea of who Garrett is; now we get to find out a little more about him by seeing the city he has to operate in. It’s not handled perfectly as there were still occasions where I found myself wanting Cook to open up and really wax lyrical about his world. It made for a refreshing change though and the book felt like its separate elements were not only working together but actually wanted to work together. Taking this approach didn’t make concessions to the flow of the plot either with a brisk pace being maintained just as it was in the first book.

One of my complaints about ‘Sweet Silver Blues’ was that the intuitive leaps made by Garrett felt like they were a little ‘too intuitive’ and designed to move the plot forward rather than actually cast any light on the case itself. These ‘leaps’ were bolted on and interrupted the flow of the plot as a result. I’m pleased to say that this wasn’t an issue in ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ although maybe I just had a better idea of what to expect this time round...

The mystery that Garrett has to solve is intriguing enough to initially pique your interest and the constant drip feeding of clues maintains that interest nicely. Not only does everything fit together very neatly at the end (with a surprise or two that added a little edge to the proceedings) but Garrett has to take his time solving this one and that adds a little more impact to the plot. You get an impression of how much this is costing Garrett, both physically and mentally, and this leaves you in no doubt as to how tough the case is to crack. It’s interesting to see though that Garrett never loses his cool, no matter how tough things get. Cook is very much playing the ‘stereo-typical hard boiled P.I.’ card here but you’re left with the feeling that this nonchalance is a part of who Garrett actually is and that’s another reason to keep reading.

Cook appears to have laid his cards out in the first book regarding who Garrett actually is and you don’t get to find out an awful lot more here. There are hints though that while Garrett has a noble streak in him he’s capable of putting that to one side if there’s something that he wants, a woman other than his girlfriend Tinnie Tate for instance. You may not agree with who he is but you can’t deny that these slightly darker sides to Garrett’s character make for interesting reading and hint at the intriguing possibility of plot developments to come.

Glen Cook doesn’t quite escape the issues that made ‘Sweet Silver Blues’ tough going at times and you’re left thinking that resolving these issues isn’t really something that he’s interested in. ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ is very definitely a step in the right direction though; another engrossing read that has me wondering why I don’t just make the time to tear through these books all at once.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

'Embassytown' - Bits and Pieces from MacMillan

China Mieville’s ‘Embassytown’ is out next month in the UK (I think it’s being released in June over in the US, not 100% sure though...) and it would have been remiss of the Pan MacMillan publicity people if they hadn’t dished out a whole load of links to get us all excited and chomping at the bit for the book itself. Luckily for us, those publicity types are very much on the ball and have, well... dished out a whole load of links to get us all excited and chomping at the bit for the book itself.
Check this lot out...

You can read a chapter extract from ‘Embassytown’ and get a taste of what the book is all about. Click Here.

If you're into the whole cover art side of things (And why not? It's all part of the reading experience) then have a click Here and check out the artwork for 'Embassytown' and the rest of Mieville's back catalogue.

An 'A to Z' of China Mieville? Yep, they've got one those too :o) Click Here for a selection of words that I'm having trouble pronouncing right now. It's all interesting stuff though...

If you fancy watching the man himself on video then click right Here to see China talk about 'Embassytown'.
If you're in the UK then you might fancy popping along to see China talk about 'Embassytown' on one of the dates Here. I'll be at the Forbidden Planet event on the 3rd of May and will be hoping that they've done something about the air conditioning in the basement...

I'm looking to start 'Embassytown' this weekend and will hopefully be in a position to let you know how it turned out sometime next week...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

SF Signal wins SFX Blogger Award.

Congratulations go to SF Signal for winning 'Best Literary Blog' in the SFX Blogger Awards, a well deserved win there! If you don't already visit this site regularly then you really need to do something about that. There's all sorts of quality posts there every day just waiting for you to read them, check it out ;o)

‘Enclave’ – Ann Aguirre (Feiwel & Friends)

You would have thought that the merest mention of a fictional apocalypse would have people staying away from the book in question and looking to read something nicer instead; something that has ponies in it maybe. It’s one of life’s strange things then that we can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. If there’s an apocalypse going on in a book somewhere then it’s more likely to be picked up than passed over. I’m as guilty as the next man here with more than a few zombie books sat on the shelf.
Why the fascination with the apocalypse? Are we all looking to pick up tips on how to survive when it all kicks off? Are we looking for the thrill of experiencing the collapse of civilisation without actually being in the middle of it all? Or are we just so overloaded with all the bad stuff happening in the world that we’ve all become extremely morbid and are looking for safe ways to reconcile ourselves with our own mortality? There’s probably a little bit of all three going on there with added extras that vary from person to person.
I’ve never read of Ann Aguirre’s books until now but I’m told (by Amazon) that she is well known for her paranormal romances; this may be why I’ve never tried her work... ‘Enclave’ is Aguirre’s first foray into the realms of the ‘post apocalyptic’ (for young adults) and it’s worth a look if you’ve been missing your daily dose of civilisation collapsing...

Who knows what lies above the tunnels and passageways surrounding the ‘College’ enclave? And who knows what drove people to live down there in the darkness? Deuce certainly doesn’t, she has spent her whole life in these tunnels and, at sixteen, is a huntress tasked with finding food for her people and defending the enclave against the attacks of the mutated ‘Freaks’. When the Freaks start to show signs of cunning and strategy Deuce’s already hard life becomes a lot more difficult, especially when the elders of the enclave refuse to believe her. Life in the enclave is governed by strict rules and any deviation from these is punished harshly. It would appear that blind adherence to these rules could spell disaster for the enclave and everything that Deuce does to try and help only serves to push her further away. Deuce is soon looking at the worst punishment the elders can offer but even she could never imagine that it will take both her and her hunting partner topside...

‘Enclave’ isn’t without its issues but still remains a book that I tore through over the course of an evening and a commute to work the next day. On occasion ‘Enclave’ is a little lightweight for my tastes but was a lot of fun and a book that I reckon could appeal to adult readers as much as it would to the Young Adult audience that it targets.

‘Enclave’ weighs in at a ‘slight’ two hundred and sixty two pages and much of this is down to Aguirre stripping things right down and telling the story purely as it is without too much embellishment (if any at all). Not only does this approach propel the plot forward at great speed (at least to begin with, the plot meanders when Deuce and her friends don’t have a specific aim in mind towards the end of the book and these bits dragged) but it also proves to be a great way of giving the reader an idea of just how dangerous and spartan life underground can be. There is no time to flesh things out as that time could literally be the difference between life and death for one of the members of the enclave. Danger can spring from the shadows at any time and Aguirre doesn’t shy away from showing the grim and bloody consequences of this. I loved that approach and particularly how it was reflected in the attitude of the main character Deuce.

Deuce is focussed solely on fulfilling her role in the enclave, no matter what, and as she begins to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes (with the elders) her character is forced to react and develop accordingly. While I liked the outcome of this, the relative brevity of the novel itself means that a few corners are cut and the plot feels a little shallow as a result. A lot of what we have to go on are Deuce’s ideas and theories (as well as a brief revelation from her partner Fade) about how the elders maintain their power and there isn’t enough time to see if these are real or merely fanciful ideas on the part of Deuce. You could make an educated guess and probably get it right but it all felt a little too uncertain for me and not enough to hang a plot from. I won’t give away too much about the inevitable love triangle (you could see it coming) but while I wondered if it detracted from the impact of the apocalypse I did like the way that it was left unresolved at the end. I don’t know if there’s another book planned here but leaving things hanging like that made it feel a little more real somehow.

Aguirre has clearly done her research into just what an apocalypse entails, the aftermath as much as what had happened before. The landscape looks just like you would expect but it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into what you could still reasonably expect to find in an abandoned store or salvage for use. Apocalyptic fiction cannot get away from being speculative at its heart but Aguirre’s apocalypse certainly has an edge of realism that really works to the book’s benefit.

Issues with structure got in the way of a smooth read and eventually stopped ‘Enclave’ from being the excellent book that it initially promised to be. There is a lot to recommend the book though; a fast paced adventure set against a sobering backdrop with a lead character that I was rooting for the whole way.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bits and Pieces...

Bit of a slow one today, purely because I'm finishing off all the stuff that I'm planning on writing about over the course of the week (really hoping to polish off 'The Dragon's Path' for a review this week rather than next)! There should be a little something for everyone though; comics, books, the usual... :o)
In the meantime, here are a couple of little bits and pieces that have turned up in the email inbox over the last couple of days...

Cover Art & Blurb - 'Low Town' (Daniel Polansky)

There are so many books out there and the blogosphere can end up talking about the same old stuff every now and then. No shame in that at all but it does mean that some books can end up falling under the radar when they deserve a little more exposure. If I hadn't asked for a review copy of 'Robopocalypse' I don't think I would have heard of 'Low Town' at all and I think it could well be the better the book. I've got an ARC on the way, here's the cover art and blurb to be going on with...

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this, does it sound like something you'd fancy checking out?

If you're about in London on the 29th of April then you might want to check this out...

SCI-FI LONDON All-Nighter (15) (35mm*, 70mm and Digital)

BFI IMAX and SCI-FI LONDON have teamed up to present the ultimate night of sci-fi on Britain ’s biggest screen.

29 APRIL 2011

Including Richard Dreyfuss’ brush with UFOs in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (35mm*), Peter Hyams’ space western Outland (1981) (70mm) starring Sean Connery, Douglas Trumbull’s brain warping thriller Brainstorm (1983) (70mm) and finally Kubrick’s pioneering masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (Digital).

Free tea and coffee will be served between each film to keep everyone going until dawn and there will be the usual mix of competitions and prizes. This all-nighter will finish at approximately 9.30am on Sunday 30 April. This time includes tea/coffee breaks.

I might have to check this out, it's not as if I'm getting much sleep at the moment so I may as well put those 'wide awake hours' to good use :o)

That should be enough to be going on with for now, see you all tomorrow :o)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Giveaway! ‘The Last Four Things’ (Paul Hoffman)

One of the great things about last year was the fuss and kerfuffle stirred up by Paul Hoffman’s ‘The Left Hand of God’. Here was a book that brooked no middle ground, you either loved it or the very sight of it made you sick to the core... (For the record – I never read it, there were a whole load of books that didn’t get read last year...)

Well, it might all be happening again this year with the release of the sequel ‘The Last Four Things’... Or it might not, we won’t know until those advance reviews start to come in. How would you like to be one of the people who gets an advance copy? Check out the blurb,

To the warrior-monks known as the Redeemers, who rule over massive armies of child slaves, "the last four things" represent the culmination of a faithful life. Death. Judgement. Heaven. Hell. The last four things represent eternal bliss-or endless destruction, permanent chaos, and infinite pain.

Perhaps nowhere are the competing ideas of heaven and hell exhibited more clearly than in the dark and tormented soul of Thomas Cale. Betrayed by his beloved but still marked by a child's innocence, possessed of a remarkable aptitude for violence but capable of extreme tenderness, Cale will lead the Redeemers into a battle for nothing less than the fate of the human race. And though his broken heart foretells the bloody trail he will leave in pursuit of a personal peace he can never achieve, a glimmer of hope remains. The question even Cale can't answer: When it comes time to decide the fate of the world, to ensure the extermination of humankind or spare it, what will he choose? To express God's will on the edge of his sword, or to forgive his fellow man-and himself?
Thanks to the people at Dutton Books, I have one advance copy of ‘The Last Four Things’ to give away to one lucky reader from the US (this giveaway is US only...) and entering is as easy as ever. All you need to do is 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 needs to be ‘The Last Four Things’.
I’ll let this one run until the 24th of April and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.
Good Luck!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Giveaway! ‘Embassytown’ (China Mieville)

This has to be one of my most anticipated releases this year and it’s only through a supreme effort that I’ve managed to hold off reading it this far. Don’t expect that to last though (it’s right at the top of the pile)... Check out the blurb,

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

For those of you who are also having trouble waiting I’ve got a giveaway that will suit you a treat. Thanks to the good people at Del Rey, I have three advance copies of ‘Embassytown’ that three lucky US readers (yep, it’s a ‘US only’ competition I’m afraid) will be able to get stuck into before the book hits the shelves.

Entering this competition is simple. All you need to do is 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 needs to be ‘Embassytown’.

I’ll let this one run until the 24th of April and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 15 April 2011

‘Never Knew Another’ – J.M. McDermott (Night Shade Books)

Is there a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ time to check an author’s work out (especially if it’s for the first time)? If the number of books that I’ve put down recently is anything to go by (because I wasn’t in the mood...) then the answer is a definite yes. It’s like your sub-conscious is also your ‘inner librarian’, recommending good reads to you at just the right time...
Sometimes though, life decides to give your ‘inner librarian’ a helping hand and make sure that particular books don’t find their way to you until exactly the right time’. This is what happened with J.M. McDermott’s ‘Never Knew Another’. I’d heard nothing but good things about ‘Last Dragon’ but never got round to checking it out due to all the crazy things that happened last year. Just as things started to calm down I was asked if I’d like to give ‘Never Knew Another’ a go and I was still sufficiently intrigued enough to say yes. Not only am I glad that I did, I’m also glad that life didn’t put it in my hands until just recently. I wouldn’t have got on with this book at all if I’d read it sooner. ‘Never Knew Another’ is a book that demands your full attention if you’re going to get the most out of it but that extra input is well worth your time.

Rachel Nolander is the child of a demon and if anyone discovers this secret then she will be burnt alive. She has spent a large part of her life moving from city to city, with her brother Djoss, and the city of Dogsland represents possibly her last chance to make any kind of life for herself. Not that it’s much of a life if you live in Dogsland and are not one of the rich; the poor are left to scrabble in the mud and do the best they can. The city is capable of coming up with a few surprises though as another demon’s child lives there too. While Rachel cowers and tries not to be discovered, Corporal Jona Lord Joni hides his secret in plain site as a member of the City Guard. ‘Never Knew Another’ is the story of what happens when these two outcasts meet.

At only two hundred and thirty one pages long (I’m not going to count the three lines that spill over onto page two hundred and thirty two) ‘Never Knew Another’ gives the impression of being a quick read. Don’t let it fool you though; here is a book that not only has plenty to say for itself but will stick around in your head for a long time after you’ve read it.

‘Never Knew Another’ takes a brave approach in that you find out what will eventually happen to one of the main characters on the very first page (you also have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with the other). I was intrigued enough by this move to keep on reading but found myself wondering if one of the points of my continued reading had been taken away a little too early. As time went on though it became clear that letting the ending out of the bag early is no big deal as this isn’t actually what the book is about. ‘Never Knew Another’ is an examination of loneliness and how it can affect a person at it’s most extreme. Giving away the ending at this very early stage actually serves to lend an extra sense of urgency to Rachel and Jona’s interactions, when they finally meet, and there’s also a sense of inevitability that gives these moments extra weight and emphasis. It’s a bold move to take but it’s also entirely the right one to make.

Rachel and Jona take centre stage against a backdrop that is shot through with a violent contrast between the rich and the poor residents of the city. While the focus was entirely right I wouldn’t have minded seeing the city itself in a little more detail. In this regard, it felt like the descriptions of the city were there purely to highlight Rachel and Jona’s plight rather than provide a backdrop in its own right. I wonder whether the intended effect might have been more effective if descriptions of the city had been allowed to grow organically rather than shoehorned into highlighting what was going on with the characters...? The story is told through the memories of one of the main characters, taken in by one of the people hunting them, and this approach ended up being a great way of bundling a set of perspectives together and telling a story that has more than one layer. McDermott ties everything together very neatly and it has the added consequence of making the reader really concentrate on what’s on the page. You can find yourself tripping up easily, if you’re not careful, and having to read a passage over again to find out what’s happening. There’s enough left unanswered to make you want to find out more and that’s partly why I’ll be back for the next book.

McDermott really hits the nail on the head with his examination of loneliness and what it can do. Both Rachel and Jona deal with their loneliness in different ways but it’s made clear that they are on their own and there is nothing they can do about it without calling down the wrong kind of attention. You really get an idea of the intensity of what they’re feeling and this makes it all the more poignant when they finally discover each other. You get hints of this meeting throughout the book but this doesn’t detract from the almost childlike emotions the two of them experience when they realise that they are not on their own at all. I really felt for both of them, I still do in fact.

Despite a slight feeling of imbalance, ‘Never Knew Another’ is a very strong opening instalment in a trilogy that looks like it will pay real dividends to follow. Give it a go if you’re after something a little more thoughtful.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 14 April 2011

‘Doctor Who: The Way through the Woods’ – Una McCormack (BBC Books)

Looking back, a whole load of things got me into science fiction at a very early age which led me into the realms of fantasy only a few years later. ‘Doctor Who’ kicked it all off though (closely beating the radio adaptation of ‘Lord of the Rings’) For me, the mid to late seventies were about the simple things in life; like learning to walk, putting my own clothes on and getting a spoonful of food in my mouth (for the record, I can now do at least two of those three things...) These years were also about watching my first ever episode of ‘Doctor Who’ (‘Destiny of the Daleks’) and starting to get my hands on the books as well. I’ve been a fan ever since and the original books still get pulled off the shelves for a read every now and then.

The advent of the new series has seen a whole wave of new ‘Doctor Who’ novelizations hit the shelves and the good news this time round is that, unlike the original Target editions, these books give us completely new and original adventures rather than simply adapting what we have already seen on the television. For the fan, that’s double the goodness at least! Are the books any good though? I’ve already told you what I thought of ‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ and couple of the other books have been mentioned here and there. This time it’s the turn of a forthcoming release and it’s not a bad one either...

Everybody stays away from the old woods, just outside the village, and no-one seems to know why. Those who do stray beneath the trees do so by accident and are never seen again. Two teenage girls have vanished in the woods within weeks of each other and the Doctor is on the scene, in the present day, to see if he can solve a mystery that is thousands of years old. At the same time, the Doctor is also in 1917 and trying to find out what has happened to Rory who is lost in those very same woods. Something is at the heart of those woods and is just starting to wake up; if the Doctor can’t get to the bottom of things before it does... very bad things are going to happen.

If you’re a fan of the ‘Doctor Who’ show in its current format then (if you didn’t know already) you’ll be pleased to know that ‘The Way through the Woods’ follows the same kind of lines. A single mystery that’s taken to pieces and solved in no short order with danger to be faced by companions and everything eventually being taken care of by the Doctor. While the original ‘Doctor Who’ books stuck to the format of the show, with pretty much a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter, this book feels like it develops much more organically with cliff hangers happening where they need to instead of where people want them to. The setting is gorgeously dark and foreboding and you really get a feel for just how scary the forest as McCormack takes her readers under the tree line. Once you’re in the forest itself things get seriously strange and McCormack does well to strike that balance between showing off that strangeness and still keeping it accessible for the reader. ‘The Way through The Woods’ is very easy to read on that score. There’s a real mystery to be solved here and McCormack made me want to hang around for the outcome. Having said that though, the finale somehow manages to be a tense affair yet utterly predictable at the same time as it draws on tropes that we’ve all seen before (not going to say what these are, no spoilers here). Not sure what to make of that...

Having only watched a couple of episodes of the latest series of ‘Doctor Who’ (I know, that’s what DVD box sets are for...) I couldn’t really say how close to the mark McCormack is with her depiction of Matt Smith’s Doctor. What she does convey though is just how old the Doctor is and how this incredible sense of age can help and hinder his interactions with humans, both in equal measure. Watching the Doctor drop himself in it is not only funny but also serves to heighten the tension when you know that the only thing stopping him saving the day much earlier is his own clumsiness. I don’t really know much about the characters of Amy and Rory either but would again say that they come across here as very well defined on the page.

I guess my big issue with ‘The Way through the Woods’ is that it’s a little too faithful to the TV format and does suffer for it. The show runs at a fierce pace, there’s a lot happening and you don’t have to pay too much attention to what’s in the background because it’s right there in front of you; you can just take it in without even thinking about it. You don’t need me to tell you that a book is a whole different thing and it’s something that you have to take a little more time over. Sticking to the TV show format caused some problems in the pacing of ‘The Way through the Woods’. Sometimes it felt like some of the more descriptive passages were there purely to rein in a story that was running too quickly for the number of pages that were there to be filled. You’ve got two parts of the book’s structure pulling against each other when they should have been working together...

‘The Way through the Woods’ doesn’t flow as smoothly as it perhaps could have done and the climactic scenes felt to me like I was revisiting themes that could perhaps do with a little rest. What McCormack does do though is fill in the rest of the book with all the things that you would expect to see in a ‘Doctor Who’ novel and she does so with a fine flourish. An entertaining read if not a read that will stick around in your head for the long term.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

‘Dead in the Water (Ciaphas Cain)’ – Sandy Mitchell (Black Library)

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t get the humour or if it’s simply because I haven’t got onto the good stuff yet; the bottom line is that I just don’t get why people love roguish Commissar Ciaphas Cain so much. A couple of the footnotes make me laugh here and there but, on the whole, I end up feeling like I’m the only guy in the room who doesn’t get the joke (and I’ve been to a few parties like that in real life). I really enjoy the setting itself though so always seem to find myself coming back for more; this time for Ciaphas Cain’s debut in audio book format. I really should look at reviewing more audio books for the blog as the Black Library audio books have been a great way to take the edge off a commute that’s never pleasant. ‘Dead in the Water’ proved to be more of the same but I still had the same old issues with the story, as well as a brand new one...

Commissar Ciaphas Cain is a renowned hero of the Imperium; an officer who has faced down the worst that the xenos races and creatures from the warp have thrown at him. What Cain isn’t so well known for though is the fact that he’s the biggest coward in the Commissariat and will do anything to stay out of the firing line. Overseeing the pacification of a feral river world seems like the ideal posting for Cain then but something deadly is stirring on one of the many islands and is about to make a relatively simple posting a lot more complicated for the erstwhile Commissar. The only way that Cain can avoid this new threat is to understand it and that means meeting it head on...

‘Dead in the Water’ proved to be a bit of a mixed bag for me in that I wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. Was it a humorous episode along the same lines as previous outings for Cain? Well, the main source of laughs for me were not there at all this time round. To be fair though, I’m not sure how you could incorporate footnotes into an audio book... Any suggestions? If my reading of the books is correct then it’s Inquisitor Amberley Vail’s footnotes that make for the humour instead of Cain’s narrative. What you’re left with instead are a series of events where Cain is trying to get out of trouble without looking like he is trying to get out of trouble. If there is a joke there (I didn’t see it but you might) then it gets repetitive very quickly. If you’re looking at it terms of tension being racked up though, ‘Dead in the Water’ is more successful in this respect. The plot is very simple but Mitchell leaves you in no doubt as to what the stakes are for our main Cain and that’s where the fun comes in. You can see the ending coming (it’s not an alien threat so it doesn’t take much to work out) but the sound effects beef things up nicely and gives it all the sense of the spectacular that it needs. Toby Longworth is on fine form as always and I particularly liked the way he gave different voices to the young Cain and the retired Cain telling the story.

I think the best thing to say here is that fans of Ciaphas Cain will enjoy ‘Dead in the Water’, probably for all the same reasons that you guys love the books. For me though, ‘Dead in the Water’ made for an entertaining hour’s listening but didn’t really do what I thought it set out to.

Seven out of Ten

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

‘Marvel Visionaries: The Mighty Thor’ – Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato (Marvel Comics)

Think of Marvel Comics and what’s the first character that springs to mind? For me it would probably be Spiderman but hot on his heels would probably be Iron Man and the Hulk. If you asked me to name five Marvel superheroes off the top of my head (or even ten) then Thor probably wouldn’t come anyway near that list but he’s been around for a while now fighting crime with the best of them. In a universe that’s full to the brim (and beginning to overflow) with superheroes it’s inevitable that some of them will fall off the radar and I guess that’s what happened with Thor and I. I was too busy reading ‘X-Men’ comics and he was too busy fighting Norse gods to really care what I was doing. If it hadn’t been for my wife picking up ‘The Mighty Thor’ in the library last week then I guess we would have gone our separate ways and never met. As it was, I had the chance to find out what Thor was all about for the first time and, as fun as it was at times, I don’t think I’ll be going back for any more.

‘Marvel Visionaries: The Mighty Thor’ collects ‘Thor’ #491-494 along with #498-500 and that’s a fair obstacle in itself to overcome for a new reader like me. If you’ve read a good chunk of those other issues of ‘Thor’ then you’re fine but if you haven’t... Well, even though the two tales here are fairly self contained, this book kind of assumes that you’ve been keeping up with your ‘Thor’ and doesn’t want to hang around for those who haven’t. There’s a lot here that might not make sense to the first time reader but long term fans shouldn’t have any trouble at all.
Now, it’s not the book’s fault that I haven’t been keeping up with my ‘Thor’ so I’m not going to blame it for that. What I wasn’t so keen on though was how the stories themselves were handled. In issues 491-494 the world tree Yggdrasil itself is trying to kill Thor out of a misguided belief that Ragnarok has already happened and I could get my head around that. What I couldn’t get my head around though was the shoehorning of a random character in so there could be an explanation behind Yggdrasil behaving in the way it did. I was also left bemused at why so much time and effort was put into developing the character Warren Curzon when nothing was actually done with him at all. Things felt rather flat when I saw his eventual fate, what was the point of all the work that went into him in the first place?

I also wasn’t too keen on Ellis’ take on Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ though. Jamming Thor into an operatic setting not only felt contrived (some of the explanations that they had to come up with were awkward to say the least) but also like it had been done before. The end result was fun but very confusing at the same time, more confusing than it had to be.
Mike Deodato’s artwork gives the story vibrancy and a life all of it’s own but isn’t enough to carry the whole book which is pretty much what it ends up doing. Are there any other ‘Thor’ books that you think I should pick up? This one really didn’t do it for me...

Five out of Ten.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The 'Hope took her first step!' Competition Winner's Post!

Yep, Hope took her first step this morning. I don't think she realised what she was doing but it still counts. It's a real shame that I was at work when it happened... :o( Still, at least she did it which makes this week incredibly cool before it's had a chance to even get started!

How was your weekend? Mine was lovely and warm; I'm even sporting a little bit of a tan from chasing Hope around St. James' Park when I really wanted to be drinking beer and reading. And it looks like the weather has got it right for once as well; I'm back at work just as the sunny weather is about to come to an end... :o)
The only thing that could make today better would be if I'd won books in a competition. Sadly that hasn't happened so I'm going to go for the next best thing and announce the winners of last week's competitions instead. They were...

'Swords and Roses' (Michael Moorcock)

Jay Wilson, Arizona, US

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' (Seth Grahame-Smith)

Stuart Blakeley, Marino, Australia
Fraser Januchowski-Hartley, Queensland, Australia
Michael Carter, British Columbia, Canada
Arief Abidin, Malaysia
Sebastian Zeh, Stuttgart, Germany

Well done everyone! Your books are on their way :o) Better luck next time everyone else, I'll be looking to set some stuff up for this coming weekend...

What can you expect to see before then? A comic book review, an audio-book review, an absolutely gorgeous fantasy and a little Doctor Who. Something for everyone I think! Stick around...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Very Definitely a Cover Art Post...

Because I love covers that are done up to look like old style theatre posters...

Gorgeous isn't it? My copy arrived yesterday as has moved straight onto the 'not quite sure when I'll get to it but definitely want to give it a go' pile. Have any of you folks read this before? Apparently 'Anno Dracula' was originally published in 1992... Do you think it's worth a look?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Not a Cover Art post...

I’ve said before that sometimes all I’m after is a book cover that doesn’t mess around. I want a book cover that gets right down to it straight away and tells me what it’s all about. Books like these don’t come along very often but today I can give you...

I don’t even need to give you the blurb, the title says it all :o) It’s ‘Urban Fantasy’ but I probably didn’t need to tell you that either. I’m looking forward to the sequel, a male oriented Urban Fantasy anthology titled ‘Guys mooch around trying to solve crimes and get beaten up instead (unless they're vampires that is)’... ;o)

Friday, 8 April 2011

‘Blood Reaver’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

If you’ve hung around these parts for long enough you’ll hopefully know that tie-in fiction isn’t just an easy way for writers to make money by coming up with stories in settings where someone else has already done the groundwork. Okay yeah, there are examples of that out there (Star Wars springs to mind for example, you know the ‘gang’ will always win through as George Lucas has pretty much said they have to...) but there are other settings where adherence to canon takes a back seat to telling a decent story. That’s where books from the Black Library come in. You can’t mess with the setting itself but you can tell whatever the hell story you like within it, a formula that makes for some quality ‘Gothic military sci-fi’ that you could do a lot worse than pick up. And that’s where Aaron Dembski-Bowden comes in. You may not have heard of him a couple of years ago but he’s very much in the top tier of Black Library writers right now with books such as ‘Helsreach’, ‘Cadian Blood’, ‘Soulhunter’ and ‘The First Heretic’ (you have to be doing something right to get a shot at writing for the flagship ‘Horus Heresy’ series). You can tell I’m a fan can’t you? You might want to bear that in mind here...

I had a great time with ‘Soulhunter’ (the first book in Aaron’s ‘Night Lords’ series) and ‘Blood Reaver’ soon found itself becoming a novel that I was anticipating more and more. I finally got round to reading it a couple of days ago and it was more than worth the wait. If there is anything that Aaron Dembski-Bowden can do wrong in terms of writing, well... he hasn’t done it yet.

The Night Lords traitor Marines have escaped the attack of the Loyalist Blood Angels and seek to continue their mission of striking terror into the heart of the Imperium from the dark shadows between the stars. Not only are their supplies running low though but their ship won’t obey its navigator and there is discord amongst the Marines over their future course as a warband fighting in the name of Chaos but not sworn to it. One thing is clear though, if they are to proceed in any direction at all an alliance must be sought with the treacherous Red Corsairs in the short term. The price the Night Lords must pay is high though as they will find themselves in the vanguard of an attack on one of the most heavily fortified planets in the Imperium, the home of an Astartes Fortress Monastery...

While other Black Library writers have chosen to chronicle the history of humanity’s bravest champions, Aaron Dembski-Bowden has chosen to bring us the tale of one of the most secretive yet destructive of the Traitor Legions instead. It’s a deal that will suit the reader very well as Aaron spares no expense in lifting that veil of secrecy and showing us just what goes on behind all the gunfire and explosions that you might expect from a book of this nature. If I’m anything to go by, the end results will stay in your head for a long time after you finish.

That’s not to say that you don’t get a taste of the Night Lords in action, not at all. ‘Blood Reaver’ shows the Night Lords doing what they do best and Aaron does a great job of springing it all on you when you least expect it (let alone their intended victims). What makes this book stand out from the rest of the pack though is that the Night Lords are fighting everyone; whether it’s Loyalist Marines, their ‘traitor allies’ or even amongst themselves. These guys are truly duplicitous and you just don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s happening right in front of you. That uncertainty kept the pages turning for me and Aaron’s prose kept them turning very smoothly. There’s plenty going on and you’re right there in the middle of it, the best place to be. You get to feel every bolt hit and every blow land but you get to put the book down at the end of it!

The action is all well and good in that it gives the plot a good shove in the right direction and then keeps it moving along nicely. Where ‘Blood Reaver’ really shone for me though was it’s characters and not only the Marines either, I’m talking about the ship’s crew who must fight with their masters for no other reason that they will be executed if they don’t. The crew do not share the Night Lord’s hatred of the Emperor and adopt a pragmatic approach based on their own survival which contrasts nicely with the hate ridden zeal of their masters. Because of this, we get to see a little more of the crew’s life (they do other things than merely fight) on the warship ‘Covenant of Blood’ and the book fleshes itself out even more. You wouldn’t have thought there was time to carve out a life for yourself (however precarious) on an Astartes warship but Aaron shows us how wrong this view is. Relationships come to life and grow in the darkest of places and there is time for love, no matter that it is as awkward and stilted as it is in real life (and Aaron does well to point this out). It’s also interesting to note that it’s in the near complete darkness of a Night Lords warship that people’s eyes are really opened to what’s around them, I’m thinking of the navigator Octavia finding out that there is more to her mutant attendant than what she sees on the surface. It’s all handled very well by Aaron and you can’t help but feel a little thoughtful about it all by the time you put the book down.

‘Blood Reaver’ is a tale of never ending war but it’s also a heist story and a romance as well as a ghost story, a tale of espionage as well as an examination of the tensions that can arise in a group of Marines that have been fighting together for thousands of years for a common cause but absolutely hate each other at the same time. It’s all credit to Aaron that he fits all these separate parts together so neatly and gives his readers something fast moving and thought provoking at the same time.

‘Blood Reaver’ may be a dark novel based in near total blackness but it still manages to show you far more than the average Black Library novel. Essential reading as far as I’m concerned.

Ten out of Ten

Thursday, 7 April 2011

‘Moon over Soho’ – Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey/Gollancz)

Way back in January (and yes, it does feel like a long time ago now) I decided to give Urban Fantasy yet another chance to prove itself to be more than the regular dose of ‘girl meets hot werewolf/vampire etc’ that seems to come my way. I got very lucky here as the book I chose to pick up was Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London’ (‘Midnight Riot’ if you’re in the US), first in a series of adventures of Peter Grant, the only policeman in London who happens to be a wizard’s apprentice at the same time. I could wax all lyrical about how much I enjoyed this book but I already did over Here. Suffice it to say that Urban Fantasy got another chance to show me what it could do; I love it when this sub-genre actually concentrates on living up to its name rather then being a soap opera... Funnily enough, the next Urban Fantasy I picked up happened to be the sequel to ‘Rivers of London. No confusion with different names this time round, wherever you pick this book up it will still be ‘Moon over Soho’. Not only that, Aaronovitch very smoothly picks up from where he left off and proceeds to give us more along the same lines of ‘Rivers of London’. That’s no bad thing as far as I’m concerned.

It’s a sad fact of life that not only do people die but this is an occurrence that happens all too regularly. When the body of a heart attack victim has the notes of the old jazz song ‘Body and Soul’ rising from it though... That doesn’t happen regularly at all and is a sure sign that the involvement of Peter Grant is required. A number of jazz musicians have died in Soho over the years and there’s something supernatural going on here that only Peter can tease out. Something deadly haunts the streets of Soho and if that wasn’t enough, it will soon be joined by something even deadlier. Pete must use all the resources at his disposal to solve this puzzle and they may not be enough. Especially when the trail leads him straight to the doorstep of his own father...

‘Rivers of London’ was a lot of fun but wasn’t without it’s flaws (at least as far I was concerned) and I was interested to see if these were addressed over the course of ‘Moon over Soho’. The good news is that the issue that bugged me in the first book isn’t a problem this time round. The not so good news though is that another issue came to the fore because of this. The end result though is pretty much what you got in ‘Rivers of London’ so you can’t really complain. I certainly couldn’t and I’m too busy looking forward to the next book to even try.

‘Rivers of London’ suffered from a big old case of overindulgence in the police procedural side of the plot. Not everything needs to be explained but Aaronovitch clearly delighted in taking his reader right into the minutiae of every single element of a policeman’s job. Not only was there not enough room left to tell the actual story at times but the pacing also suffered as a result of this approach. That is not the case this time as Aaronovitch seems to have decided that his readers have enough background knowledge from the first book to be going on with. This time round, there are small ‘info-dumps’ that keep the ‘police procedural element’ at the forefront but these don’t come at the expense of the story and you can see the difference almost straight away. It all feels a lot smoother and the plot is allowed to flow at its own pace for the most part; generally very fast with enough questions thrown up to provide fresh impetus and keep the reader guessing. I saw the ‘big reveal’ coming but all credit to Aaronovitch for clouding it with enough uncertainty to maintain interest.

However, this new approach did throw up another issue that stopped me engaging with the book as much as I would have liked. ‘Moon over Soho’ has a little more room to breathe than it’s predecessor and some of this extra room is devoted to throwing an extra case into the mix for Peter to solve that appears to be connected to the original case. Or is it? I couldn’t really tell and that bugged me. It felt like a little too much effort was being made to get these two cases to dovetail when the only thing they had in common was that they were both based in Soho. Now I could be entirely wrong and these cases were not connected at all (only at the end where everything gets solved all at once) but that was the way it felt like it was meant to be and it didn’t feel quite right. This sense of things ‘grinding together’ threw me out of the flow and it took a while for it all to get going again.

This was an issue for me but the rest of the book more than made up for it, just like it did last time round. There are questions to be asked and the answers come ready supplied with either a dose of action or chills. The chills are especially chilling and make for a unique vision of a London where magic collects in forgotten corners, poor Lennie the Lark... There’s an image that stayed in my head far too long after I’d finished reading!

Aaronovitch also gives us a little more insight into certain of the main characters who make up the plot, not too much though and it’s a clever way of whetting the reader’s appetite for more to come in the future. Peter Grant is the obvious choice for this treatment and we get to see a little more of his family life as well as how he is coping with his magical training. Peter’s inquisitive nature in this regard promises good things to come as he starts to look at the rules of magic and see what he can really do with them...
Other characters are gradually fleshed out as well such as Leslie and Molly. Aaronovitch is slowly building up a detailed picture of his London and it’s done in such a way that you enjoy what you see while wanting to find out more.

‘Moon over Soho’ swaps one set of issues for another but still does a more than admirable job of popping you right in the middle of a magical London (that is far more than you ever thought it was) and then giving you a mystery to solve. We’ll be waiting a little longer for the next instalment but if the first two books are anything to go by it’ll be worth it. ‘Moon over Soho’ is published by Del Rey in the US (and I think you can get it right now) and by Gollancz over here in the UK (look for it at the end of April).

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten