Sunday, 31 July 2011

Giveaway! ‘The Postmortal’ (Drew Magary)

This book hasn’t made it to me yet but that’s no reason not to have a giveaway as ‘The Postmortal’ looks like a very good read. Here’s the blurb...

John Farrell is about to get "The Cure." Old age can never kill him now. The only problem is, everything else still can . . .

Imagine a near future where a cure for aging is discovered and-after much political and moral debate-made available to people worldwide. Immortality, however, comes with its own unique problems-including evil green people, government euthanasia programs, a disturbing new religious cult, and other horrors.

I’ll definitely be giving this one a go and, thanks to Penguin in the US, one lucky blog reader will get to give it a go as well as I have one copy to give away. This competition is only open to US and Canadian readers though. To enter, just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your email subject header needs to be ‘Postmortal’.

I’ll let this one until the 7th of August and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

P.S. Gaspar – I did see your comment the other day but never got round to replying, sorry about that. I try to make these competitions open to as many people as I can but am limited by restrictions placed upon publishers as to where they are able to send books. Keep checking back and I’ll see what I can do for you...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Random Cover Art Saturday (and a giveaway that isn’t the regular kind of giveaway...)!

There’s no way round it, while I’m lucky enough to be sent books on a regular basis there’s no way that I’m ever going to be able to read them all and the vast majority end up in a massive pile either waiting to be read or just plain ignored. The pile was starting to teeter once more (it’s a bit of a health and safety thing actually) so the last few days have seen me carefully pruning the reading pile, here and there, to get rid of the books that I’m just blatantly never going to get round to reading. If you were wondering, the pile is still HUGE but looking a lot more manageable... well, I don’t know about that last bit... we’ll see ;o)

What I love about going through the reading pile (of course) is finding all those books that have unfortunately found themselves hidden away by the relentless encroachment of more books on top and all around. Some of these books have been hidden away for years and have forgotten what natural light looks like... Going through the pile is like a treasure hunt in this respect as I know that I’ll find something cool, especially after the last year when a large number of ‘must reads’ went by the wayside because of more pressing priorities. That was certainly the case this time round and I might just have to radically re-jig my reading order yet again to incorporate some of these reads. I would tell you what these books are but the thing is, you know what they are already. Think of an amazing new fantasy release from the past couple of years... Yep, that was in the pile. So was that one. And that one too. I’ve got my work cut out for me here! ;o) What was the last book you found in your reading pile that you completely forgot you owned?

Some really nice pieces of cover art leapt out at me, while I was trimming the pile down to size, and in any other post I’d include all of them. Not this time though as the rest pretty much paled into insignificance when this cover came to the fore. Check it out...

There’s a reason why people like Charles Vess’ work so much and it’s all over that cover. Just look at it. Now look at it again, there’s no way you caught all the detail first time round. Isn’t that just lovely? If that wasn’t enough for you the inside of the book is crammed full of all the best stuff that Charles de Lint has ever written. I really mustn’t let this book get away from me again...

Now, looking at the title of this post, I’m pretty sure that a number of you are reading this and wondering if I’ll ever get round to talking about this giveaway that isn’t a giveaway. This next bit is just for you guys... :o)

This little clearout of mine has meant that another pile of books has built up far too rapidly for me to comfortably get them all to the charity shops like I normally do. I haven’t counted these books but we’re looking at two boxes and a large plastic bag full of the critters as well as all the loose ones (and I’m adding to this pile all the time, 45 loose books at the last count...) Who wants to take this little lot off my hands?

There’s a couple of conditions that you need to fulfil as this is the only giveaway I’ll ever run here where I intend to be the winner :o) I can’t afford to post this lot out so you’re going to have to come and get them yourself. If you’re worried about going round some strange internet guy’s house then bear in mind that I’m just as worried about having a stranger off the internet turn up on my doorstep ;o) Don’t worry about it, I’m sure we’ll get on fine. If you do come though, bring a car. Seriously, there are a lot of books.

The other condition is that this load of books goes as a single job lot or not at all. I want to get rid of them quickly and make the house look tidy again. With this in mind, I’m not limiting this to people from London but Londoners are going to have a shorter distance to travel...

If you meet those two conditions, drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) and we’ll see if we can sort something out...

Friday, 29 July 2011

‘Imperial Glory’ – Richard Williams (Black Library)

The Imperial Guard aren’t kitted out for battle in the same way that their Space Marine comrades are; no power armour for them, just the cheapest mass produced helmets and flak jackets. No hi-tec weaponry for them either, just a mass produced las-rifle that they’re told to point at the nearest enemy and then open fire. Not only are the Guard cheap to supply but there’s so many of them (billions) that they’re totally expendable. No matter how well defended the obstacle, throw enough Guardsmen at it and you’ll win through... eventually.

For me, all of this makes the Imperial Guard one of the most interesting armies to read about in the Warhammer 40K setting. They’re not super soldiers or armed with daemonic powers; they’re just ordinary people in the last place they’ve ever wanted to be, the frontline of a major warzone. This perspective can really open a story up in terms of character exploration and how this in turn can affect the plot. As far plot goes, you’ll see Guardsmen doing things that Space Marines (for example) would never do and, for me, this really refreshes the setting as a whole.
Having said all that then, you can safely assume that my ears prick up when I hear the thud of another Imperial Guard novel landing on the doormat. You’d be right in that assumption, these are books that work their way up the reading pile very quickly (apart from that rather cumbersome omnibus edition, you’ll need to give me a little more time with that one). Richard Williams’ ‘Imperial Glory’ certainly made it to the top of the pile very quickly. Not only is it an Imperial Guard book but I’d also very much enjoyed Williams’ ‘Reiksguard’ and was looking forward to more of the same here. What I got though wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for...

The Guardsmen of the Brimlock 11th have been fighting in the Ellinor Crusade for some twenty years and their very souls are exhausted by constant warfare. Now they have been given the chance of retiring from the frontline and settling on a frontier planet (Voor) where they can live out the rest of their days in peace. All they have to do is fight one last battle in order to claim that planet. The secessionist colonists already there have no wish to see the Imperium establish a foothold on Voor but they had no choice but to ask for aid. A plague of feral Orks are spreading across the planet and only Imperial firepower can turn them back. Are the men of the Brimlock 11th up to this one final task though? They have been through a lot already and, for some, this final push may well be too much.

Richard Williams had already proved that he could write military fantasy, in ‘Reiksguard’, and with the Warhammer 40K being far more popular (than its fantasy counterpart) it was perhaps inevitable that readers would see him attempt the same kind of thing with military sci-fi as well. ‘Imperial Glory’ does its job well enough but there was something missing there for me that made it less than the read it could have been.

That’s not to say that ‘Imperial Glory’ isn’t a good read in itself. While I wouldn’t say that it was a compelling read there’s certainly plenty to recommend it and there was never any doubt that I’d finish the book once I got started.

Williams tells a well thought out tale of a military operation carried out by men who are on their last legs. Every stage of this military action is carried out methodically (you can see where it all fits in an overall plan) but you find yourself wondering if the exhausted troopers will be able to complete their orders. This adds a nice air of tension to the plot but, at the same time, the methodical way in which the Voor operation happens comes across a little too strongly in that plot. More often than not, it’s very much a case of ‘X happens, then Y happens which means that Z happens last’.  This approach gives you a very clear picture of the relentless force of the Imperial war machine but it also makes the plot feel like it’s plodding along when it should be moving with a lot more purpose. It’s far too easy to plod along yourself and you can end up missing out on things worth picking up; I had to go back on more than one occasion to re-read bits that I’d missed.

When Williams picks up the pace though... That’s when things do get interesting and you find yourself feeling glad that you stuck around. Williams’ family has its own share of military figures and you get a sense of this in the book when the chips are down and combat is joined. If Williams never stood on the front line himself (and faced down the enemy) then it’s clear that he knows someone who has and this is what comes across in the book. The enemy is fearsome but the line has to held, that’s the message that we’re given through the reactions of every single Guardsman in the fight and it’s a message of bravery under the most extreme conditions.
These battle scenes have the appropriate amount of pyrotechnics as well. There’s plenty to see and hold your attention, Williams holds these moments together with fine aplomb.

It’s a bit of a shame that the one thing I was really looking to seeing didn’t actually happen, I’m talking about the chance to really explore what was going on for the Guardsmen while they were on Voor and elsewhere. Williams did a fine job of exploring his characters development in ‘Reiksguard’ but he didn’t have a whole regiment of them to deal with. This is of course the case in ‘Imperial Glory’ and, what with everything else that’s going on, Williams simply doesn’t have the time to go into a lot of detail with his cast; a couple of the main players (Stanhope and Carson) get the treatment that their status deserves but the rest are left to get on with it. That’s not something you can really take him to task for (you can only do so much with so much room) but, at the same time, I was left with a cast the vast majority of which had one characteristic tacked on which is meant to see them through. This, in turn, robs quite a poignant ending of the impact that it was clearly meant to have.

‘Imperial Glory’ won’t rank up there with my all time favourite Imperial Guard novels, it plods along when it shouldn’t and doesn’t really do what I’ve come to expect from these books. For all that though, ‘Imperial Glory’ kept me reading and when it really got going I was glad that I’d stuck with it.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 28 July 2011

‘Undead’ – John Russo (Titan Books)

You’ve probably all seen ‘Night of the Living Dead’ already (and if you haven’t then you really should check it out) but there may well be spoilers lurking in this review for those who haven’t. You might want to bear that in mind...

I’ve watched ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (the original 1968 version) a number of times now but it still remains a film that has me on the edge of my seat, no matter that I already know how it’s going to end. The terror and suspense is ratcheted up superbly and I always seem to find myself getting sucked into the inevitability of what is to come. I really can’t get enough of this film, just writing that last sentence has got me wondering if it’s time to put the DVD on again.
That’s the thing though, with a little one who prefers musicals (‘Calamity Jane’ in particular...) and a wife who has been known to suffer from nosebleeds during horror films there’s never a right time to sit down and watch something really scary. This is the reason why I was so pleased (really, I did the little dance and everything) when a copy of ‘Undead’ came through the door a few days ago. ‘Undead’ contains John Russo’s novelizations of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead’ (a sequel to ‘Night’, not the film you’re probably thinking of). Not only would I be able to read these two tales (while baby watches her musicals and wife enjoys not having a nosebleed) but they were written by a man who actually worked with George Romero in getting ‘Night of the Living Dead’ up on the screen. I mean, that’s got to be a sure fire recipe for success doesn’t it?
Why was I so disappointed then...?

‘Night of the Living Dead’ tells the tale of a dysfunctional group of characters trapped in an isolated farmhouse on the day that the dead begin to rise. It really doesn’t help that this farmhouse just so happens to be very near to a cemetery... The clean-up operation is in affect but can our characters hold out until help arrives? They can’t even agree on a united course of action so the signs aren’t looking good...
‘Return of the Living Dead’ picks up the story some ten years later with a religious cult that believes all dead bodies must be ‘spiked’ in order that the dead never rise again. Cult members arrive first at the scene of a horrific crash but are unable to finish their work before the police arrive. You can guess what happens next. The dead are rising once more and slowly adding to their numbers...

‘Night of the Living Dead’ recounts the events of the film but doesn’t do a lot else; in fact, it doesn’t do anything else to flesh out the characters or plot. If you haven’t seen the film then maybe this won’t be such a big deal to you and the novelization does do a decent enough job in conveying the growing sense of fear amongst the people trapped in the farmhouse. You also get a fair idea of how events can play out in a situation such as this; everything clearly happens for a reason and you can clearly see those points where everything goes wrong.

For someone who has seen the film though (me!) I couldn’t help feeling that an opportunity had been missed here. We could have found out more about Barbara for example or had a little insight into just what made Harry so unwilling to follow Ben’s lead. We didn’t get anything like that though, just a rather dry recounting of the events in the film. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, a film novelisation should run along those lines (and the film itself works because it just gives us a series of events without time for introspection). I couldn’t help but think though that a chance had been missed though in terms of really building on such an iconic story and the ending left me a little flat about the whole thing really.

It was ‘Return of the Living Dead’ though that really got my back up.

Despite that similar dry tone in the prose, things actually start out fairly well with Russo pondering on what changes might take place in a society that has successfully repelled its first zombie attack. The ‘spikers’ in particular are a very interesting theme on how organised religion (or perhaps its more fundamentalist offshoots) might react to the living dead suddenly taking up space in their belief systems. It’s a very pragmatic reaction on one level but you do get an edge of hysteria behind the whole thing.

The gradual return of the zombies happens in a way that’s plausible enough but that’s where the positive ended for ‘Return of the Living Dead’, at least for me. The rise of armed gangs and rapists, in the wake of the zombie attack, signals a course of events that leads to another stand off between survivors trapped in a house and the zombies outside. I was a little wary here, hadn’t I seen this happen before in the previous tale? I had but I let it go; after all, people are going to need to take shelter somewhere and a house is probably the most secure shelter that you are going to be able to find quickly.
What eventually led me to believe that Russo was rehashing ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was not only the fate of his hero but the fact that he was lifting chunks of prose from ‘Night’ and dumping them into ‘Return’ with little or no alterations. Seriously, check out page 110 (‘Night’) and then see how this page is spread word for word over pages 289-292 (‘Return’). Ben’s pondering over whether to make a break for it (‘Night’) is also reproduced as David’s ponderings in ‘Return’.

Now you could argue that events would play out in a similar fashion if there was a‘re-infestation’ of zombies. Word for word though? I really don’t think so. While there may have been intent behind this approach it just came across as nothing short of lazy and made me feel like I was basically reading the same book all over again. Coupled with that dry ‘tell it like it is’ narrative style, a story that could have pushed the entire book upwards ending casting very much the wrong kind of shadow over everything.

If you’re a die-hard fan then there may well be something here for you. Me though? I’ve got the original film to keep me happy and I personally think that should be enough for everyone. I thought I was in for a treat here but Russo’s treatment of the book left me very disappointed.

Five out of Ten

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ – Truman, Giorello and Villarubia (Dark Horse Books)

I still have volumes one to three of ‘The Savage Sword of Conan’ (and the actual books themselves, still...) to work my way through but this review pretty much marks the end of my journey with Conan in terms of comic books that I’ve come to love. I’m not going to go into that right now, long term blog readers will doubtless remember all my reasons anyway :o)  I can’t see myself going straight back to the beginning of this run, and filling in the gaps, as I want to do that by reading the books themselves. I can’t really see myself picking up the new ‘Road of Kings’ series either as I’m not too keen on the artwork that I’ve seen. I may have to search that book out as well...
So, onto ‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ then and what a way to sign out (for now...)

Blurb copied and pasted from Amazon (busy day yesterday...)

On the run from the army of Turan, Conan and fellow fugitive Olivia hide out on a small island in the Vilayet Sea. They soon find themselves stalked by an unseen terror in the jungles and threatened by a group of pirates belonging to the Red Brotherhood, which is led by Conan's sworn enemy - Sergius of Koth! However, those may be the least of Conan's concerns, because when the moon rises on this island, the ruins of a lost civilization stir and an ancient, deadly curse awakens!
‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ (the main story in the collection itself, also called ‘Iron Shadows’...) completely blew me away to the extent that Darrick Robertson’s ‘Conan and the Mad King of Gaul’ and ‘The Weight of the Crown’, also included in this collection, were left firmly in it’s shadow. Not that either of these two stories were lacking in any way and you’ve probably already seen my mini-review of ‘The Weight of the Crown’ so you know how highly I hold that particular comic. For the record, ‘The Mad King of Gaul’ engendered the same kind of reaction (as I had to ‘Weight of the Crown’) although its job, setting the scene for events in ‘The Weight of the Crown’, makes it a slightly more pedestrian affair than its sequel.

No, ‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ takes top billing here and deservedly so; taking events from as far back as ‘Black Colossus’ and weaving them all into a tale that ties everything off nicely. I was sad to see the Giorello/Truman partnership end here but there’s no doubt that it’s a fitting place to sign out on.

We get to see Conan from a completely different viewpoint here as much of the tale is told through the eyes of Olivia, the woman he rescues from a terrible fate. I never had a problem with tales being told from Conan’s perspective as his character rules the page and powers the plot forward. It was refreshing though to see him through another character’s eyes; not only do we get to see someone meeting Conan for the first time (he comes across as an explosive individual but with moments of tenderness that I don’t think we would have seen had things been reversed) but we also get to see a female lead in her own right as opposed to someone whom Conan can, well... you know...
Olivia is a very frightened woman who wants the protection of Conan but the addition of reasons for this add a depth to the character that was very much welcome this time round.

Truman takes the elements already mentioned and weaves them into the tale itself to give us a show that explodes with action but, at the same time, offers quite moments for thought. Earlier work on ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ won me round to Truman’s writing and ‘Iron Shadows’ confirmed it for me. Truman knows exactly what Conan is about and can tell us better than anyone out there at the moment.

When the action kicks in, Truman and Giorello combine to give us what we know Conan is capable of. He’s a man who won’t back down from anything and apparently this includes giant gorillas! While the pirates are finding out about the island’s curse (in the worst possible way, loved the depiction of the background history) Truman and Giorello show us the main event, two primal forces of nature trying to kill each other quickly. You know how it’s going to turn out (it’s not hard to guess is it...) but you will feel every punch and gouge in the meantime. You’ll also feel very sorry for Conan at the end, there’s no doubt that he’s just been in the hardest fight of his life...

Dark Horse have moved Conan on to new things but the ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ series has been a joy to follow. Truman and Giorello sign out here with the best offering of the lot.

Ten out of Ten

Gollancz '50th Anniversary Top 10'

I was mooching around Twitter the other night and saw that Gollancz have finally tallied up all the votes for their ‘50th Anniversary Top 10’ collection. The results are over Here, go and take a look :o)

Having looked at the list, a couple of things struck me...

1)      Yellow? Really?? I know that it’s retro but it also makes my eyes hurt. Quite a lot actually. Just because Gollancz had a job lot of yellow (back in the day) that they needed to use up on book covers shouldn’t mean that we get subjected to it all over again. What do you think of these covers?

2)      I suspect this won’t stop me picking up a number of these titles anyway, there’s a number there that I haven’t read and it is my birthday in September...

3)      Seven of these titles are on the ‘SF Masterworks’ list already while the other three, erm... aren’t. We’re talking ‘Eric’, ‘The Name of the Wind’ and ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. In thirty or forty years time, which one(s) do you think will be regarded as ‘Masterworks’? I think ‘Lies’ could well be...

4) I still haven't read 'The Book of the New Sun', I am ashamed of myself...


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ – Frank Herbert (Gollancz)

It doesn’t stop me wanting to get into the rest of the ‘SF Masterworks’ collection but I’ve had mixed fortunes with two of the latest additions. While Jack Finney’s ‘The Body Snatchers’ was nothing short of superb, I was left wondering if H.G. Wells’ ‘The Food of the Gods’ had somehow played on the name of its author in order to sneak onto a list where it perhaps shouldn’t have been...
Yet again then, I found myself in a position where things were evenly balanced between ‘good’ and ‘not so good’. While the next ‘Masterwork’ I read was never going to tip things one way or the other in terms of the overall collection (because we’re talking about a collection here rather than a series) but I was eager to ‘keep score’, as it were, and see how things panned out with whatever book I picked up next.

That ‘next book’ was Frank Herbert’s ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’. Herbert already has one entry on the ‘SF Masterworks’ list, that I’m aware of, (I’ll give you one guess what it is, the title rhymes with ‘rune’...) and I’ve got to admit that I approached ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ with a little caution because of this. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was another example of backlist titles being hoovered up and put on the list because of the author’s name. After all, a writer can’t write a ‘Masterwork’ every time, can he?
The rest of Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series suggests to me that you’re not going to hit that spot every time. ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ though is a definite step in the right direction.

Mankind may be the dominant force on the planet but it’s the countless species of insects that are best placed to survive in the long term. A covert agency of the American government has discovered that film-maker Dr. Hellstroms ‘Project 40’ involves a secret laboratory, on his farm, and could possibly be intended for the construction of a terrifying new weapon. A team of special agents is dispatched to the farm to get into that ‘secret’ laboratory; what they will find is something far more astonishing (and terrifying) than any mere weapon. A weapon is being developed but the nature of the people whose hands it rests in are the true cause for concern.

The one thing that I really love about speculative fiction is where you find that one moment in a book where you can see that the author sat down, one day, and thought ‘what if...?’ It’s that one moment of creative vision that results in the book that you’re holding and you almost feel like you’re there at the birth as it were.
Herbert’s vision here is so detailed, and spread wide over the book, that I found ‘what if?’ moments almost every page. What if mankind decided to live like insects? That’s what we’re talking about in ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ and the end result is something very unsettling, especially given the way that Herbert signs off.

It is clear that Herbert has put a great deal of thought not only into how a ‘human hive’ might function on a daily basis but also it’s long term needs and demands as well as how it might react to external threats. The Hive is full of individuals but it’s also an entity in its own right and no stone is left unturned showing just what this entails.
Where things get seriously unsettling is when you take a step back and realise that this ‘Hive’ is full of humans, conditioned since birth to live life in the style of an insect (probably ants but maybe termites instead?). The Hive dwellers do things that seem outlandish and grotesque to us and that’s the whole point as far as Herbert is concerned. They are similar to us but totally different at the same time and it’s the similarity that highlights those differences. Herbert very much hits the target that he was aiming for here. Future demands that will be placed on the Hive (the urge for a new Queen to ‘swarm’ with her followers) also add an element of urgency to the plot and perhaps a sense of inevitability as well. Herbert deliberately leaves his plot open ended, a device that lets us know that the threat is still very much there and one that left me pondering the book for a long time afterwards.

The plot itself follows the ‘race against time’ scenario on both fronts as the Agency seeks to understand Hellstrom’s project while the Hive seek to effectively defend themselves against a new and encroaching threat. Herbert is not afraid to throw his readers a few curve balls here and these highlight how both parties must cope with something totally unfamiliar. The Hive has their own agents in the ‘Outside’ but they have never had to deal with anything like the Agency before. The Agency, on the other hand, is sure that they’re dealing with something else entirely.
Intrigue comes up against counter intrigue and attack is met by counter attack. As the plot proceeds Herbert slowly clarifies things for both sides and the full picture becomes clear. As I mentioned earlier, Herbert chooses to end things with this picture and that’s what keeps the questions coming.

The plot then is a glorious mix of action and intrigue, especially when both parties must confront dissidents from inside their own ranks. It’s a shame then, in a way, that it’s Herbert who is writing it. One of the things that have put me off going back to the ‘Dune’ series is that I personally find Herbert’s prose to be a bit laboured at times. It seems to take a while to make its point and doesn’t flow as well as it could as a result. I found this to be very much the case in ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’, a plot driven novel that seems to have far too much time dedicated to the ins and outs of its characters. What’s actually happening is the important stuff, delving into the psyche of certain characters sometimes pays off but more often than not makes things drag...

Is ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ an ‘SF Masterwork’ then? I had to think about this for a while but I’m going to say ‘yes’. Despite my own perceived shortcomings in Herbert’s writing, he pulls off the execution of his ‘what if?’ moment with some ease and leaves ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ percolating away at the back of your mind, asking you some very uncomfortable questions. It’s this after affect that gives the books its ‘Masterwork’ status. ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ is a book that will leave you both thinking and talking about it for a long time after you’ve finished.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 25 July 2011

The 'Random Cover Art That Has Nothing To Do With The Competition' Competition Winner's Post!

Yep, this particular piece of cover art has nothing to do with the rest of this post at all. The book came through the door on Saturday morning, I took one look at the cover and was all full of thoughts like 'wow...' and 'robot dragons rule...' I reckon you'll be the same as well, check it out,

Isn't that cool? What, you're after the blurb as well? Ok, here you go...

In the Volstov capital of Thremedon, Owen Adamo, the hard-as-nails ex–Chief Sergeant of the Dragon Corps, learns that Volstov’s ruler, the Esar, has been secretly pursuing the possibility of resurrecting magically powered sentient robot dragons—even at the risk of igniting another war. That Adamo will not allow. Though he is not without friends—Royston, a powerful magician, and Balfour, a former corpsman—there is only so much Adamo and his allies can do. Adamo has been put out to pasture, given a professorship at the University. Royston, already exiled once, dares not risk the Esar’s wrath a second time. And Balfour, who lost both hands in the climactic battle of the war, is now a diplomat who spends most of his time trying to master his new hands—metal replacements that operate on the same magical principles as the dragons and have earned him an assortment of nicknames of which “Steelhands” is the least offensive.

But sometimes help comes where you least expect it. In this case, from two first-year university students freshly arrived in Thremedon from the country: Laurence, a feisty young woman whose father raised her to be the son he never had, and Toverre, her fiancĂ©, a brilliant if neurotic dandy who would sooner share his wife-to-be’s clothes than her bed. When a mysterious illness strikes the first-year students, Laurence takes her suspicions to Adamo—and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change Volstov forever.
Here's a book where the cover has made me just want to pick the thing up and get going; the only thing stopping me here is that I haven't read the previous two books. Can I get away with just diving stright into this one? I'll have to think about that one...
Onto the important business of the day now. Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Awakenings' competition last week; there could only be one winner though and that lucky person was...

 Ariel Eisler, Louisiana, USA

Nice work there Ariel :o) Your book will be on it's way very soon.

So, what's coming up over the course of the week? Like I'm going to tell you that right now... ;o) All I'll say is that I'll be reviewing one book that turned out to be a hell of a lot better than I thought it would be. I'll also be reviewing two more books that I thought would be cool but ended up being, well... disappointing to say the least.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Giveaway! 'Conan the Barbarian: The Stories That Inspired The Movie'

I've just finished reading this so you can expect to see my review towards the end of the week. Suffice it to say, in the meantime, that I enjoyed the hell out of these five specially picked 'Conan' stories and think that this book is a great entry point to the life and times of this iconic literary figure.

So how would you like to win a copy? Thanks to Del Rey, I have three copies to give away but only to people living in the US I'm afraid, sorry everyone else.

Entering is as easy as, well... something that's really easy to do :o) Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Conan'.
I don't normally say this but felt that I needed to after I caught someone submitting five entries (all under different email addresses) to the 'ADWD' competition. You can only enter once. If I catch you entering more than once then all your entries get deleted and I'll be really sad about the whole thing...

I'll let this one run until the 31st of July and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

What Cover Would You Go For?

What Cover Would You Go For?

You all know the score by now. Every now and then I get the same book given to me by two different publishers and I’m only going to read one of them. Well, I could take it in turns and read a chapter from each but that just feels like a little too much effort just to be fair to both publishers. So yeah, only one copy will be read but what I’ve found interesting is some of the discussion that results from sticking both covers on the blog and asking you folks which one you’d prefer to have on your bookshelf. People will often say that UK covers are generally better than their US counterparts but after a few of these posts I’m not so sure anymore. Today’s covers come from the UK and US editions of ‘The Difference Engine’ by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, check em’ out...

The UK Edition.

I’m not sure if I’d call it an ‘SF Masterwork’ but it has been a while since I’ve read the book (years in fact). Maybe the upcoming re-read will change my mind.
The US Edition.

The 20th anniversary edition, has it really been that long? Apparently so...
And here’s the blurb,

The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with Charles Babbage's perfection of his Analytical Engine. The Industrial Revolution, supercharged by the development of steam-driven cybernetic Engines, is in full and drastic swing. Great Britain, with her calculating-cannons, steam dreadnoughts, machine-guns and information technology, prepares to better the world's lot ...

Both copies go for the same kind of theme, and both do it very well I think (the eye doesn’t have a lot to do with the plot but you’ve got to love that stare), but the UK edition is a little too bright for me. The US is a darker and more atmospheric piece, just the sort of thing that will catch my eye and get me all intrigued. I’ve also got no idea what the UK cover is meant to be showing us; it’s all very ‘steampunk’ but... what is it? A typewriter isn’t exactly inspiring but at least I know what I’m looking at.

So, the much darker (and yet somehow clearer, how does that work?) US cover wins for me but how about you? What do you think? Comments in the usual place please!

Finally, here’s the cover on the edition that I owned a good ten years ago now. I wouldn’t say that it trumps either of the other two but I was feeling a bit nostalgic so in it goes (sorry about the quality of the picture)...

I can't help but wish I'd had this one instead...

 I think that's enough 'Difference Engine' for one day don't you? ;o) So, UK or US cover but if you have something to say about either of the other two (or the book itself)...

Friday, 22 July 2011

‘Awakenings’ – Edward Lazellari (Tor)

It’s an old tale here and one that I’m not going to go into anymore; suffice it to say that Urban Fantasy invariably ends up disappointing me (with rare notable exceptions) for pretty much the same reasons every time. Long term readers will know what I’m on about and why the merest mention of Anita Blake makes me want to break something...
At first sight, the cover art for ‘Awakenings’ looks very much like your typical Urban Fantasy (mean streets with a hint of the supernatural, very nice cover actually) and I have to say that I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence at this point. I’m always a total sucker for a well placed cover quote though and a brief comment from Glen Cook persuaded me to give the book a go. I have no idea whether Glen Cook likes Urban Fantasy but I like his books so his recommendation was good enough for me. I should have read the quote a little more thoroughly, ‘Awakenings’ isn’t an Urban Fantasy at all. It’s something else entirely and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the read.

What does dedicated family man and New York cop Cal MacDonnell ultimately have in common with self destructive photographer Seth Rancrest? Cal has no idea and neither does Seth because the other thing that they share is retrograde amnesia, neither of them can remember anything at all past a certain point some thirteen years ago.
They may not remember their past but that past is about to catch up with them in the worst possible way. A group of very dangerous men lurks in the shadows and they are prepared to kill anyone who stands between them and our two amnesiacs. How can Cal and Seth defend themselves if they don’t know what’s going on? A strange woman holds the key to their memories and once unlocked, Cal and Seth’s memories may hold the key to the continued life of a very important child and the salvation of a broken empire. All in a days work for a tough New York cop and a streetwise photographer? Maybe not this time...

‘Awakenings’ is one of those books that it’s far too easy to get into. Before you know you know it, you’re doing things like grumbling because the commute is over too soon and reading by torchlight so as not to wake everyone else up at night. That’s not to say the book is without any problems at all; this is far from the case and you’d do well to be aware of at least one pitfall before you start reading. Despite that though, I couldn’t get enough of ‘Awakenings’ and am eagerly looking forward to reading more in this series.

‘Awakenings’ is essentially a tale of two worlds colliding and the repercussions that come about as a result. As things slowly become more clear there’s also an element of a ‘race against time’ which is made all the more delicious as our protagonists have no idea whether the race has already been lost or not. You have to keep reading to find out (and the stakes are high), only to be told that there’s another book to come and those questions will remain unanswered for a while yet. That’s a little infuriating but that’s the nature of series I guess, each instalment has to end somewhere and you do get some sense of closure on other elements of the plot.

What you can’t escape though is the fact that the whole ‘two worlds colliding’ thing has already been done and plenty of times at that. The onus is on Lazellari then to give things a fresh spin and, to some extent, he does.

Lazellari’s approach is to really ground his readers in the ‘ordinary, everyday’ feeling of our world... and then hit us with something right out of leftfield to remind us that there is far more going on than we realise. Most of the time this works with well described scenes of magic and monsters contrasting well with their more mundane surroundings. Other times though, it’s like we’re grounded a little too well and the events that follow don’t gel as successfully. At times like these I was left a little doubtful as to how plausible it all was instead of being taken along for the ride like I was when Lazellari is really at the top of his game. Luckily for the reader the pace remains constant throughout and you’ll find that these slightly sticky moments are over before you know it (and you’re back to the good stuff).

And there’s plenty of good stuff to be had here. Lazellari gives us a mystery that needs to be solved and gradually gives us answers as well as more questions along with constant reminders of what threatens Cal and Seth. These threats result in some great action sequences that really had me holding my breath.

Where Lazellari also shines (and gives the whole ‘two worlds things’ fresh impetus) is in his treatment of the two main characters. As they become more aware of their past, Cal and Seth must both face up to new responsibilities that they cannot avoid and this forces their characters to develop in new and interesting ways. Cal in particular is the interesting one here as his time on our world has worked against everything he held dear elsewhere. He has a whole new set of responsibilities that he will not put to one side and this creates a real sense of conflict that offers a real sense of intrigue concerning what is to come.
At the centre of all this is a young boy who really has no idea of the conflict that his very existence has set off. All he can do is lurch from one life crisis to another and no matter how bad it gets for him Lazellari leaves you in no doubt that it will get much worse. Given the climactic scene in this sub-plot, Lazellari has got his work cut out making good on that promise but you’re left with the feeling that he can deliver.

As the opening book in a series, ‘Awakenings’ suffers a few teething troubles but remains a thoroughly entertaining read with a cast that you can really get behind and root for. If ‘Awakenings’ is anything to go by then I think we’re in for a series that’s worth following. Look out for 'Awakenings' around the end of August.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

P.S. You can find Edward Lazellari's blog over Here. You can also follow him on Twitter if you like...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Gollancz Announces SF Gateway! (Or, 'Graeme's blog reaches a new low...)

No you're getting the press release, not this time. I wasn't so quick off the mark yesterday and pretty much every other blogger beat me to it with this one. Click Here if you haven't got the slightest idea what I'm on about and want to catch up.

Every now and then the internet can make me really rather narcissistic, almost like it listens to me and then answers back. It was only the other day I was bemoaning the fact that you can't get at Michael Moorcock's extensive back catalogue outside of second hand bookshops. Gollancz haven't sorted that one out for me but they've pretty much outdone themselves with what they will be offering, in the meantime, in this digital library of theirs. Edgar Rice Burroughs, EE 'Doc' Smith & C.L. Moore to name but a few... All those books you've heard of but just can't find anywhere, rescued from 'out of print oblivion' and in our hands once more. You can't complain at a deal like that can you?

I think the only people who would complain are those unfortunate few who don't have eBook readers. Like, erm... me. Dammit.

I did have good reasons for holding back on buying an eBook reader but they don't seem all that hot right now; not when placed against a digital library that will hopefully hold some 5,000+ titles by 2014. I'm hoping that Gollancz will whet our appetites for the big launch by publishing a few 'hard copy' collections from that list of authors (hint: Edgar Rice Burroughs...) but it's more likely that I will have to 'skim' the nappy budget and cough up for a eBook reader. Unless anyone has a spare one that they don't want anymore...? I told you this would be the post where the blog hits a new low ;o)

‘Roil’ – Trent Jamieson (Angry Robot)

There are many variables to take into account when I’m deciding on what book to pick up next from the pile. There’s all the usual stuff (do I want fantasy or sci-fi for example) but other things that sometimes get taken into account include the likelihood of overcrowding on the tube (which cuts out anything by George R.R. Martin or Erikson) and how little sleep I’ve had the previous night (far too little this days...)
It may be a little shallow of me (and that’s a discussion for another time I think) but any cover art that catches my eye will always mean that the book itself is read sooner rather than later. What I’m finding though is that this mandate is beginning to cover bad cover art as well as the good. What kind of a book gets treated with such disdain that it has bad cover art slapped on it (before it’s even published sometimes)? There’s only one way to find out, read the book.

Take Trent Jamieson’s ‘Roil’ for example where a grim and foreboding cityscape is spoilt by the introduction of a figure that would look better placed on the cover of a very old Playstation game. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the choice of cover and the blurb sold me. Having finished the book I’ve once again learned the lesson of not judging a book by its cover. ‘Roil’ may be a tough nut to crack initially but if you sticks with it then you will be rewarded.

The Roil is coming... A vast chaotic storm that hides hordes of monsters in it’s black depths, the Roil has already consumed eight of the twelve cities of Shale and left dark wasteland in it’s wake. Now another city lies directly in its path whilst another is being attacked from within. Shale is dying...
All hope isn’t lost though. There is one more chance to beat back the Roil and it lies within the hands of a drug addict, a four thousand year old man and a young woman out for revenge. Is it already too late though and is the chance to save the world worth using the weapons to hand...?

I’ve got to admit, the first few chapters of ‘Roil’ really didn’t do it for me at all and I found myself wondering whether to just put the book down and check out something else instead. ‘Roil’ found its feet in the end though and I would check out the next book to see if this early promise continues.

Considering the number of books already doing this, another book that opens with the death of a loved one leading to an orphaned teenager going on the run has got to pull something pretty impressive out of the hat in order to stand out and keep you reading. Unfortunately for ‘Roil’, its opening scenes didn’t do enough to engage me straight away. There was precious little to engage with in the character of David (who could barely engage with himself, proving that narrative about drug use can backfire if you’re not careful) and the end result was that I found myself looking for that ‘hook’ when the book really should have grabbed me a lot earlier.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the setting wasn’t particularly inspiring either; a dark and gloomy ‘steampunk’ city where politics can be lethal as the Mayor will do whatever it takes to stay in control and bring his vision to fruition. I read this and couldn’t get China Mieville’s ‘New Crobuzon’ out of my head; this feeling really didn’t do a lot to give the city of Mirrlees-on-Weep an identity of its own. To be fair, there are hints of something more science fiction based that really flesh things out (and provide that sense of identity) but this all comes much later in the plot so you’re pretty much stuck until then...

I stuck with it though and am glad that I did.

As the book moves on it gains a momentum and identity all of it’s own that pushes things forward in all the right ways and offers intriguing possibilities for books to come. I’ve mentioned the tenuous sci-fi link already but, to my mind, the real star of the show is the Roil itself. We’re talking about a massive (possibly continent spanning) storm that advances at a relentless pace, it can only be halted for a short while and then it will grind you right down with the various monsters that lurk within it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Roil (and its inhabitants) has somehow developed the capacity for rational thought. The Roil won’t just come at you mindlessly; it will fight you with weapons that you thought only you possessed. What was once a stand up fight has now become something far more insidious and offers possibilities that this book positively thrives upon. The manner of weaponry employed by humanity, in this fight, also makes for some refreshing reading as well as some awesome battle sequences.

As the fight spreads across the landscape we are slowly given more of an idea of what Shale is like to live in. It’s an unforgiving world but the only alternative is far worse (as we are made only too aware of in certain scenes)! This lends the story the urgency it needs to push on, there’s a real sense of ‘race against time’ here. It’s a shame then that the group of characters fighting to save Shale aren’t really given the same treatment. Margaret is too set in her ways (and hence one dimensional) to really develop further. Paul suffers from the same kind of treatment but the payoff here is that he is being set up to do more in the next book (that may not help you here though...)
The big draw for me was Cadell, a four thousand year old man guilty of something terrible and weighed down heavily by whatever it was. He is a man still capable of terrible things and whenever he does he is so apologetic as he really has no choice when some of his darker needs come to light. It’s this contrast that makes him a character that you just have to keep following.

‘Roil’ is a real book of two halves in terms of readability but luckily the stodgy stuff comes at the beginning and the good stuff takes over soon after. The second half of the book offers a tantalising glimpse of what might be a series worth keeping an eye on. Look out for ‘Roil’ at the beginning of September this year.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

‘Empire’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

It’s taken me a long time (and I’ve read the series in completely the wrong order, that’s just the way it goes sometimes...) but I have finally come to the end of the ‘Legend of Sigmar’. By ‘the end’ I mean book two, I told you I read this series in completely the wrong order...

When placed against Warhammer’s 40K setting, the Old World (we’re talking fantasy here for those newcomers) always seems to come in second place to 40K’s vicious heroes toting seriously heavy firepower in the direction of the alien menace. In some ways you can understand this but there is a lot of quality Warhammer fantasy fiction out there that isn’t getting the attention it deserves and I’ve set out to see if I can redress the balance a little bit :o)
As far as the ‘Sigmar’ trilogy goes, the first two books I read have done plenty to even things out.  When I read ‘God King’ I found myself saying that ‘if the previous two books were anything like this then I’ll have to pick them up very soon’. ‘Heldenhammer’ was up next and once I’d finished reading that I said ‘Heldenhammer’ suffers from its flaws but manages to rise above these to become an entertaining read that more than rewards the persistent reader. Bring on ‘Empire...’
Well, I’ve finished reading ‘Empire’ and (no pun intended) it’s the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of this trilogy, the best of the lot...

The orc invaders have been pushed back into the mountains and Sigmar’s fledgling empire can finally begin to grow and prosper. All is far from well though, not in a land still mostly untamed where danger can still spring from dark forests and foreboding mountains. Sigmar still has plenty to do to hold things together, especially when the discovery of an ancient artefact threatens to undo everything that he has worked for. All this pales into insignificance though when an army of Chaos sweeps down from the icy wilds of Norsca. Blood and death is the aim of these invaders and Sigmar’s armies must fight as never before if they are to safeguard their homes...

Just recently, I’ve really been after reading books full of blood and thunder where I can be taken away from daily stuff and get a real dose of adrenalin. I’m not done with this urge yet (and suspect I never will be thanks to the dull grind of London commuting...) but ‘Empire’ did an amazing job of plugging the gap in the meantime. It’s one of those books where you put it down and realise that you’ve been holding your breath, for several pages, and your face has gone a interesting shade of red...

Most, if not all, of this is down to the enemies that Sigmar’s armies must face this time round (and it’s not like they’ve had much of a chance to rest from the last battle). There wasn’t really a lot to identify with as far as the orcs of ‘Heldenhammer’ go; they fight just because they can and that isn’t much to hang a story off. Same deal with the living dead in ‘God King’. There is some personality to the force controlling them but essentially what you’re left with is a horde of zombies that drive the plot without necessarily adding anything to it.

Not so with the hordes of Chaos. There are motives and aspirations aplenty in this slavering horde that stretch far beyond just wanting to hit someone with something sharp. Revenge is on the mind of a lot of people and the re-introduction of one character in particular adds pathos and depth just where it’s needed. The end result becomes far more than fighting for the sake of it. We know why Sigmar’s armies fight but having the other side treated in the same way gives the battle scenes that much more impact.

Not that McNeill needs any extra impact at these moments as he proves just as capable as ever at delivering those pivotal battle scenes where everything can hang on a sword stroke delivered at just the right moment. Set against some gorgeously described backdrops (forests, mountains and inside mountains...) McNeill chronicles the ebb and flow of battle like a conductor wielding a sword instead of a baton. You’re drawn right into the thick of things and McNeill leaves you very glad that you have the choice to close the book and step away when things get too manic, and they do...

It’s a shame then that the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the momentous standards set by this particular plot...
The other main plotline involves the discovery of an artefact that gradually bends Sigmar to its will and has him ruling his empire in a way that threatens it’s very existence. This is all well and good and you do get to find out a lot more about Sigmar and the way in which he deals with this threat. I’m sure that fans of the setting will appreciate the insight that we get here. I wasn’t so sure though...

Sigmar has basically been built up to be such a fearsome character that the threat posed doesn’t quite seem big enough to be that much of a threat at all, especially when set against the Chaos threat which really is a threat that could fell Sigmar and his empire. What we have here is a threat that we know Sigmar will overcome and that kind of destroys the point of the whole thing. The end result is a bit of a mess, at least as far as I was concerned. Is Sigmar really going to fall for something that isn’t worth his time on any other day? Of course he’s not; not when the format of the book demands his presence at the final battle.

It’s a good job then that the ‘Chaos’ plotline carries the whole book almost effortlessly with a hefty dose of everything that you’ve come to like about what McNeill has done with this character and setting. Triumph, tragedy and warriors in that endless cycle of kill or be killed. While you can’t help but wonder what might have been (if the other plotline had been handled better) ‘Empire’ still ended up being just what I was after. You could do a lot worse than check it out, read the series in order though... ;o)

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Some Gorgeous Cover Art for New Solaris Trilogy

Amanda got there first with this and Stefan beat me to the punch as well. Apologies then if you've already seen this, there'll be a book review in a few hours so come back then :o)

I couldn't not post about this though as I've enjoyed Clint Langley's work in 2000AD as well as the cover art that he's produced for the Black Library. The guy is a veritable mine of cover art gold and he's come up trumps again. Check this lot out...

Glorious aren't they? Here's the accompanying press release...

Solaris has unveiled the stunning covers for Rowena Cory Daniells’ new epic fantasy trilogy, due to be published in 2012.

The books in the trilogy - Besieged, Sanctuary and Exile - each come with a lush, detailed fantastical cover by Clint Langley, who was responsible for the covers on Daniells’ best-selling The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin and whose artwork is regularly seen in weekly comic anthology, 2000 AD.

The Outcast Chronicles is the exciting new series that follows the fate of a tribe of dispossessed mystics. Vastly outnumbered by people without magical abilities, they are persecuted because ordinary people fear their gifts. This persecution culminates in a bloody pogrom sanctioned by the king who lays siege to the Celestial City, last bastion of the mystics.

This is a family-saga set in a fantasy world. Four people linked by blood, love and vows struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal, and some discover great personal strength.

I never got round to reading Daniells' last trilogy so might have to make amends by picking this one up instead. Those covers have done their work already... What do you think?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Angry Robot sign up Paul S. Kemp

I'm pretty excited by this news :o) Shamelessly copied and pasted from the announcement over Here...

Million-selling US writer Paul S Kemp is unashamedly a fan of the classic “swords and sorcery” fantasy of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. Such a passion has fed into his New York Times-bestselling titles for Star Wars and Forgotten Realms. Now he’s created a series of original fantasy novels that bring swords and sorcery right up to date, for us here at your ever-lovin’ Angry Robot.

The Hammer and the Blade will introduce you to Egil and Nix, a pair of down-at-heel treasure hunters and incorrigible rogues. Egil is a priest, happy to deliver moral correction with his pair of massive hammers. Nix is a sneak-thief; there’s no lock he cannot open, no serving girl he cannot charm. Between them, they always have one eye for a chance to make money – the other eye, of course, is on the door. Only this time, the treasure they’ve thieved is an important relic of a most sinister and ancient family, who will stop at nothing to get their bloody revenge.

The Hammer and the Blade – a Tale of Egil & Nix will be published in July 2012, with a sequel, A Discourse of Steel, to follow in early 2013.

Because you always do this sort of stuff on press releases, I said: “Mixing the classic buddy pairings of swords and sorcery with very modern language, all delivered at a breathtaking pace, these entertaining novels are a tremendous addition to Angry Robot’s list.”

Paul added all sorts of crazy stuff, but we managed to cut it down to: “To say that I’m excited about joining the Angry Robot family would be an understatement. I’m beside myself with evil, maniacal glee. When I look at their talented family of writers – Abnett, Beukes, Tidhar, Broaddus, Forbeck, Remic, Warren, just to name a few – I think that surely someone made a mistake. I mean, in that family I’m pretty much the crazy uncle they lock in the attic.”

The deal, for world rights to two novels across all formats, was arranged by AR’s publishing director Marc Gascoigne and Kemp’s agent, Bob Mecoy, of Creative Book Services in New York.

Now I know we're not even going to see the first book until this time next year but I had a lot of fun with Kemp's 'Erevis Cale' books (reviews Here, Here and Here) and the thought of him doing that kind of thing all over again... Well, you can't blame me for looking forward to July 2012 already :o)

If I were you I'd mark this one in the diary and then go check out the 'Erevis Cale' books...

‘The Walking Dead Vol. 14: No Way Out’ – Robert Kirkman/Charlie Adlard (Image Comics)

When was the last time I reviewed a ‘Walking Dead’ book? Feels like an absolute age... As it turns out, with the last review coming way (way) back in November last year it has been an absolute age since I’ve had a decent dose of zombie goodness to cover on the blog. Publishers and their schedules eh...?
It’s not like there haven’t been enough comic books to cover in the meantime with my local library confirming my fears about jumping headlong into long established series (as well as throwing some nice surprises my way). Conan has also featured heavily here and I’ve found myself with yet another title where I want to hoover up everything I can find. All the while though I’ve had ‘The Walking Dead’ at the back of my mind, especially when a chance glimpse at one of the comics (in Forbidden Planet) showed me what was on the horizon. Talk about a cliff-hanger! Times like that will see me pick up a few copies of the comic (just to tide things over, you understand...) but this time I held out and resolved to wait until Volume 14 made its way onto the shelves. A cliff-hanger like that has got to mean that there’s something really special in store, doesn’t it? In the case of ‘No Way Out’, it most definitely does.

The safety of the community comes under the worst kind of threat when shots are fired which attract a herd of zombies up against wall that suddenly don’t seem as sturdy as everyone thought. When a section of wall collapses the outside world makes its presence known in the way that only a herd of zombies possibly can. Something has to be done, and someone must take charge, but how can this happen when stepping outside your front door means certain death? Rick must step up to the plate but when the bullets start flying again will he have what it takes...?

If things felt a little flat in Volume 12, and Volume Thirteen was all about setting things up for the main event, ‘No Way Out’ balances everything in some style. Kirkman promised us something big and he delivers on a scale like you won’t have seen since the big showdown in the prison.

The build up is evenly paced and balanced nicely so that the payoff hits just the right note of adrenalin and fear. No-one is safe and this is a lesson you find yourself learning along with the rest of the cast. Things are fast paced and frantic as always and you can’t help but get caught up in what could be the death of one man’s dream. Death by zombie appears to be a fate reserved for the lower key members of both Rick’s group, and the community at large, and you could argue that Kirkman is afraid to go that extra mile here (despite the fact that he’s done it before) and really stick the knife into a character that you’ve grown to care about. I can see why you’d think that, I was thinking the same kind of thing myself in the earlier stages of the book. And then...

Robert Kirkman has had several volumes now to get us all used to the idea that he is the man to come to when you’re after really getting to know a character and then seeing them eaten alive in front of your eyes. He takes a slightly different tack here; there’s still plenty of bloodshed to contend with but this time he takes you right inside Rick’s head and gives you a ringside seat while he proceeds to really mess things up.

Rick has a really hard choice to make and only a matter of seconds to make it in. You’ve got to feel for the guy but the bottom line is that you know it’s a decision that Rick will make in a heartbeat. What happens just after that though...? I can’t give it away as you really have to see this one for yourself and experience not only your feelings but what Rick goes through in the aftermath. I sat there and just stared at the pages for what seemed like hours; I literally couldn’t look away and all credit to Kirkman and Adlard for delivering one scene that makes the entire book. In my last review I wondered if Adlard was growing complacent with this gig; I totally take that back now.

Lessons are learned but you can’t help but wonder if these have been learned too late on a number of levels. That uncertainty is only part of what will have me back for Volume 15 and beyond. What Kirkman and Adlard do in ‘No Way Out’ isn’t far off masterful, words fail me at what this book did to me while I was reading it.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Slightly Bleary Eyed' Competition Winner's Post!

That's what I get for eating ham, egg and chips literally minutes before going to bed last night! There's a whole week ahead of me and I don't even know if I'm going to make it through the next hour... I don't care though, it was a price well worth paying... :o)

So, what's in store this week? I'll tell you in a minute (lets not get ahead of ourselves here) as there's the small matter of a competition winner to be announced first. Thanks to everyone who entered the 'A Dance With Dragons' competition last week. Some two hundred people entered in all and I'm not counting the guy (you know who you are) who thought he could get away with entering the same details under four or five different email accounts. It's not something I've ever felt the need to make a point about because I figured people wouldn't be so dumb as to think they could get away with entering more than once. You can't get away with entering more than once, you'll only get all your entries deleted if you try...

Anyway, the eventual winner was...

Emma Portus, Sheffield, UK

I've got a horrible feeling that the book didn't get there in time for the weekend so keep an eye out for the post!

That's that then so, what's happening here for the rest of the week? To be totally honest, I haven't thought too far past tomorrow's review of 'The Walking Dead Vol. 14'. I can't get my head past that book, at the moment, purely because of the absolutely HUGE 'WTF moment' that leapt off the page and seared my eyeballs. Just when you think Kirkman can't be any more brutal to his characters he proves that he still has something nasty up his sleeve for them. More on that tomorrow.

Apart from that, it's wide open as to what you're going to see over the rest of the week (although the smart money is on a review of 'Hellstrom's Hive' at some point). Stick around and see what comes up :o)
Until then, here's some artwork for the 'to be released at some point' 'Ninjas vs. Werewolves',

If you were here at the weekend then you'll know that the first two issues of 'Ninjas vs. Zombies' weren't entirely my cup of tea but I'm a sucker for comic book cover art and this does look good... :o)

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Giveaway! 'Awakenings' (Edward Lazellari)

I’ll actually be reviewing ‘Awakenings’ later this week but the competition I set up seems to have found itself being run today. What can you do? :o)
Here’s the blurb,

Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.
Cal's and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men's past lives. But these creatures aren't here to help; they're intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they're being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.

If it hadn’t been for my reading Ben Loory’s ‘Stories’ last week ‘Awakenings’ could well have been my surprise find of the year, I really enjoyed it. How do you fancy winning an advance copy courtesy of Tor? This competition is only open to US readers though I’m afraid...

If you’re still with us, and you want in, entering is as simple as ever. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be ‘Awakenings’.

I’ll let this one run until the 24th of July and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.
Good Luck!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

‘Ninjas vs. Zombies’ #1 & 2 – Chillemi, Martinez, Rodriguez & Alejandro (Azure Comics)

Off the top of your head, what are the two coolest things in the world?

If you didn’t immediately answer, “why ninjas and zombies of course” then that’s ok as everyone is entitled to their own opinion on weighty matters such as these. It doesn’t stop you being totally and completely wrong though (sorry...); there is nothing in the world that is possibly as cool as ninjas and zombies.
This makes it a little odd then that I somehow managed to miss an entire film featuring ninjas and zombies going at it. Odd perhaps but not entirely unexpected, not when the newest addition to the household insists on repeated viewings of ‘Calamity Jane’ and ‘Pocoyo’...

With the TV situation the way it is round here, I was more than happy to find that my potential dose of zombie and ninja goodness could be obtained elsewhere. The writer of the comic book tie-in got in touch and asked if I’d like to take a look at the first two comics in what I’m guessing will end up being a mini-series. I jumped at the chance by the end result wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
Here’s the blurb,

Seven friends, struggling with late 20s, early 30s life, find themselves in terrifying danger when a long-dead loved one is magically resurrected and starts devouring souls. To make matters worse, three of them have been granted the power of the ninja, and now must lead the fight against a power they cannot hope to vanquish. If they fail, the undead will overrun their little town, and maybe the world...
The reason that I’ve pretty much copied and pasted the blurb is that this series (only two issues old) looks like it could be a difficult one to get into if you haevn’t already seen the film. Well, I haven’t seen the film and I found this a hard one to get into...

Instead of telling the story as I’m guessing it appears on the screen, Chillemi opts for a different route and tells the same story from the perspective of two of the main characters (Kyle in issue 1 and Cole in issue 2). I get this approach in terms of exploring the characters a little and Chillemi does this to some extent. I have to say though that I didn’t really find an awful lot to engage with in either one (although Chillemi does do a good job of exploring Cole’s situation)...

Where things fell flat for me though is that I couldn’t get away from the feeling that, despite the perspective change, I was essentially reading the same story twice. There’s no real suspense either as Cole’s mission (which must have been the finale in the film) is resolved in issue 1 and this almost renders the rest of the series pointless. If that wasn’t bad enough, we get to see it all over in issue 2 and I couldn’t help but wonder if these climactic scenes had come at least one issue early.
What I had in front of me was a confusing read where one character dies (except he doesn’t) and a lot of the foregrounding that you would have got in the film doesn’t appear here. What was that bit all about with the drama teacher?

At least the artwork team capture the sheer awesomeness that you’re always going to find when ninjas and zombies go at it; some nice panels there. It’s a bit of a shame then that the rest of the art feels stagnant, no-one really seems to be doing much and there’s no energy. You could argue that this is how it should be with a bunch of 20/30 somethings all having life crisis’ but I’m not so sure. I need something a little more energetic to capture my attention.

I’d probably finish ‘Ninjas vs. Zombies’ just to see how Chillemi’s approach to the story pans out when he’s finished writing about each character. There might be something there at the end but it’s heavy going in the meantime...

Six out of Ten

Friday, 15 July 2011

‘Stories for Night Time And Some for The Day’ – Ben Loory (Penguin)

One of the things that I enjoy most about blogging here is the opportunity that it gives me to take a chance on something new every now and then, something that you wouldn’t normally find me picking up at all in fact. A large chunk of the time I’m reminded of why I never pick up certain books but I’ll often find myself pleasantly surprised by a sub-genre that I thought I’d got a handle on.

Much rarer though are the occasions where taking a chance on a random book will uncover an absolute gem of a book that will leave you astounded by just how much it has been able to reach into your head and mess with your very soul. A book that you just can’t stop thinking about. Last night I was lucky enough to come across one of these books, Ben Loory’s debut short story collection. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a book that I couldn’t put down until I’d finished and it’s spent every moment since then elbowing my more mundane thoughts out of the way and taunting me with the questions that it’s left unanswered.

When reviewing a short story collection I’d normally say something about each of the stories within. Not this time though, we’re looking at forty short stories here and I don’t have the time to tackle that right now (even though each story is four or five pages long at the longest, the whole book is only two hundred and ten pages long). I also suspect that you folks wouldn’t have the time to read through all that so lets just say that I’m doing you a favour and leave it at that ;o)

The other reason I’m avoiding that approach here is because Loory has written all the stories and I would invariably end up saying the same things about each one. I don’t want to do that either but it is worth talking a little about how Loory approaches each story in the book as a whole, the end effect is something really special.

Loory has the happy knack of being to take something really weird (afternoon tea with an octopus for example or a romance between two aliens) and write about it in the most ordinary way. The end result are very accessible stories that introduce you to the weirdness without you even realising it; it’s so gradual so that you don’t even know what’s going on until right at the end, the exact moment where Loory will hit you with a powerful ending over and over again. I am in awe of any author who can consistently hit the nail on the head with endings that either shock or leave you deep in thought; Ben Loory is very much a member of this select group.

At the same time, Loory also has the talent of being able to take something completely ordinary and write about it in the strangest of ways (a love shared by an elderly couple over many years for example). These stories have a similar kind of effect, as when Loory approaches his stories from the opposite direction but the end result for the whole book is all the more compelling for it. The bottom line is that you just don’t know whether you’re going to get ‘ordinarily weird’ or ‘weirdly ordinary’ (or even sometimes downright terrifying – check out ‘The Tunnel’ and you’ll see what I mean) and you find yourself having to keep reading in order to find out.

I’ve already mentioned ‘The Tunnel’ but other highlights for me were ‘The Octopus’, ‘The Man Who Went to China’ and ‘The Snake in the Throat’. The first two get picked for their weirdness while ‘The Man Who Went to China’ was chosen for an open ending that adds to the overall impact of the tale. ‘The Snake in the Throat’ however was chosen for another theme that Loory has added to the book.

Ben Loory is fond of including little messages to his tales (fables?) that are there to give you something to think about, maybe even to make you wonder if there’s something that you personally could learn. Sometimes Loory can be a little heavy-handed with these messages at the expense of the story itself; possibly because this book is meant to be as much for children as it is adults. You can understand this but it doesn’t mean that you have to like it. There were occasions where it all felt a little forced to me but, on the whole, you can’t argue with a book where the overriding message runs along the lines of, ‘be happy but keep an eye on the shadows at the same time’ (and I’m thinking of ‘The Swimming Pool’ here, another favourite).

Loory doesn’t dress up his tales in fancy prose either. He is obviously a man who appreciates the importance of a good tale well told and strips his prose right down in order that the story itself can shine. And his stories do shine, every single one of them. Loory may fall into the trap of labouring his point, every now and then, but when you look at the book as a whole... I’ve gone on about it enough already. I’m going back for a re-read of a book that has found itself my surprise read of the year.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

The 'A Dance With Dragons' Competition...

... is closed. Don't even think about sending me an email as I'll only delete it :o)

The winner's book should be on it's way right now. I'm not going to say who it is though as I'm hoping they'll get a nice surprise in the post tomorrow morning :o) I'll tell you who won the book on Monday morning...

Cover Art! 'Manhattan in Reverse' (Peter F. Hamilton)

I've had varying degrees of success with the various books I've picked up by Peter F. Hamilton (and I really should get back to 'The Dreaming Void' someday) but the one thing they've all had in common is some absolutely lovely cover art. It doesn't scream 'sci-fi' at you, it doesn't need to; your eyes are telling you that already. The forthcoming short story collection 'Manhattan in Reverse' is another example of this don't you think? :o)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

‘Corum’ – Michael Moorcock (Gollancz)

Would you believe that this was the only decent cover picture I could find on the entire internet? (Taken from my blog post Here last April...)

Something that struck me as a little odd the other day... Go into any second hand book shop and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see shelves absolutely heaving with old books by Michael Moorcock. Seriously, pick any second hand book shop and that’s what you’ll get. Go into any high street book shop and how many Moorcock books will you see? Hardly any, that’s how many; just a couple of the more obvious titles (well... ‘Elric’ mostly although Tor did re-release the ‘Hawkmoon’ books last year) and nothing else. Considering the number of people who make a big deal of the influence on the genre that Moorcock has had its very surprising that this isn’t reflected more on the bookshelves. Unless I’m looking at the wrong bookshelves that is, I could be... Just strikes me as a little odd that publishers haven’t taken the opportunity to cash in on an extensive back catalogue of a very popular author. Oh well, the second hand book shops will be getting my business in the meantime :o)

I read ‘Corum’ a long time ago but my original copy mysteriously disappeared during a house move (or something like that, I have real trouble keeping track of my books sometimes...) As luck would have it though, a random browse in a charity shop saw another copy fall into my hands (see, there was a point to the first paragraph!) and I figured it would sit very nicely in the occasional Moorcock reviews that happen here. It’s been a while since I picked ‘Corum’ up but I was soon reminded of why I’d enjoyed it last time round. I did have a couple of issues with it though...

The time of the Vadhagh has come to an end and it has ended in fire and blood. Prince Corum is the very last of the Vadhagh and his tortures, at the hands of the human Mabden, have driven him half mad. Revenge is the only thing on his mind but two things are about to get in the way of Corum’s quest for vengeance. Corum not only finds himself falling in love with a Mabden woman but will also find that he is part of a much larger battle that encompasses far more than the world he knows. All the fury of the Chaos Lords is turned against Corum for he might just be the hero that can bring their reign to an end...

I was lucky enough to have the first three ‘Corum’ tales (‘The Knight of the Swords’, ‘The Queen of the Swords’ and ‘The King of the Swords’) all handily wrapped up in one collected edition and this meant that I didn’t have to spend any time, in aforementioned second hand book shops, hunting for each individual book in the trilogy. On the other hand though, it did highlight one fairly major issue that I might not have come across if I hadn’t read all three books back to back...

Way back in the day (and we’re talking the late sixties/early seventies here) Michael Moorcock was known for his quite frankly awesome ability to get books written in a matter of days. It’s not really an exaggeration at all to say that in the time it will take me to write this review, Moorcock would more than likely be several chapters into writing a book and would probably have a fair idea of how things were going to finish up by the end of the book.
Looking at these three books though, it would appear that Moorcock’s reputation for speedy writing is based on some very formulaic writing (at least in this case). Each of the three books follows the same pattern to the point where you could take the titles away from each book and not really notice any difference. There’s a big threat to overcome and Corum must undertake a quest in order to win through. There are loads of dangers to overcome (all accompanied by very similar evil villains) and Corum will find out more about the larger role that he has to play. That’s the deal in each of the books.

Now, if a writer is writing to that kind of fierce schedule (bills to pay and all that) then you can’t really blame them to adapting a similar kind of framework to each book in a trilogy; you just can’t. It’s also worth noting that the similarity between books is also in some part down to Moorcock’s examination of his ‘Eternal Champion’ mythos (more on that in a bit). When you’ve essentially read the same book three times in a row though... You’re going to feel like you’re in a bit of a rut by the end. If you’re not careful you’ll end up falling into the ebb and flow of each book rather than following the story itself... What I’m going to suggest here is either buying individual copies of each book or spacing the read out with other stuff in between. The issue will still be there but you can work around it.

The approach taken to the trilogy proved to be more of an issue as the read went on but it also ended up helping things along in the best possible way and made ‘Corum’ a read that I couldn’t help but get into. The energy that Moorcock put into writing these books in such a tight timescale shines through in the writing and powers the plot forward like you wouldn’t believe. There is always something happening and it will more likely than not be solved either by the sword or by the magical items that Corum must carry. Fair play to Moorcock here for avoiding the ‘deus ex machina’ route here, Corum’s magic will get him out of a spot but there is a price to be paid in his very soul...
If you’re after a fast paced ‘Sword and Sorcery’ read then you really can’t go wrong with ‘Corum’. Quests, sword fights and some truly vicious deities and monsters to overcome; in this respect ‘Corum’ has it all and dishes it out to the reader in fine style.

It’s not all just swords and monsters though. Moorcock shows that he can mix commentary into the proceedings as well, no small feat given how short and fast paced the three books are. Moorcock’s examination of Corum as a hero lends another facet to the ‘Eternal Champion’. This time we are given a hero who would really rather be doing any number of other things rather than fighting to keep the Balance. You can’t blame him either; a lot has happened to Corum that he needs to deal with! It’s a good job then that the needs of the Balance eventually dovetail with Corum’s need for revenge on his enemies. Moorcock leaves you wondering what Corum might have done if this wasn’t the case...

It’s also interesting to note Moorcock’s continued exploration of his theme of an ancient races slowly being usurped (by humanity) because of their own decadence. The Vadhagh suffer the same fate as Elric’s people and for the same kinds of reasons. When there’s nowhere left to expand into, all you can do is look inwards and that’s dangerous when new threats are making themselves known. There’s a sad inevitability about the decline of the Vadhagh that kept me reading.

The collection of the three ‘Corum’ stories in one volume raises an issue, over the repetitive nature of each book that readers should bear in mind. The stories themselves though? Pure ‘Sword and Sorcery Gold’ with an edge to them that will get you thinking...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten