Monday, 31 October 2011

The 'Far too busy for a Monday morning' Competition Winner's Post!

Blimey, where did October go...? I turn my back for a second and it's Halloween already! Apart from a few zombie novels here and there, my Halloween reading somehow totally failed to happen (again) this year but I am going to do my utmost to make it up to you this week with some H.P. Lovecraft (if I can get it all read in time) and another of my favourite vampire tales - possibly my second favourite after 'They Thirst'. I'm still not talking about 'Dracula' either... That leaves a couple of gaps, for the rest of the week, where I'm just going to take pot luck and see what falls off the 'read pile' :o)

Before that though, I ran a competition for some weird horror fiction last week and it's way past time that I announced the winner of that little bundle. Someone is about to go on a journey into the darker parts of New England as well as take a glimpse into the mind of Arthur Machen... That lucky person is,

Lori Magill, California, USA

Nice work there Lori, your books are on their way even as we speak...
That's pretty much that for me today, I've got absolutely loads to do (what with one thing and another) and I need to get it all done :o( Don't you just love Mondays...?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Cover Art that has caught my eye (some of it for all the wrong reasons...)

It was quite ironic really, just as I was really getting into culling the reading pile (there were books there that were never going to be read) the postman knocks on the door with a huge bag full of books that somehow managed to arrive on my doorstep all at once... I had to laugh, so did the postman as he wasn't carrying that large bag anymore :o)
Here are a few of the books that came with the post, for one reason or another the cover art caught my eye...

'Star Wars, The Old Republic: Revan' - Drew Karpyshyn (Del Rey)

Proof positive that, once you've got a successful franchise on the go, you don't really need to make an effort with cover art any more. I mean, the artwork looks ok but... a Jedi with a lightsaber. Wow, that hasn't been done before has it...? I'm sure that will look nice with all the other 'Jedi with a lightsaber' covers on the bookshelf. I'm reading the book anyway (it's 'Star Wars', I can't help it) but try a little harder next time guys? Here's the blurb,

Revan: hero, traitor, conqueror, villain, savior. A Jedi who left Coruscant to defeat Mandalorians—and returned a disciple of the dark side, bent on destroying the Republic. The Jedi Council gave Revan his life back, but the price of redemption was high. His memories have been erased. All that’s left are nightmares—and deep, abiding fear.

What exactly happened beyond the Outer Rim? Revan can’t quite remember, yet can’t entirely forget. Somehow he stumbled across a terrible secret that threatens the very existence of the Republic. With no idea what it is, or how to stop it, Revan may very well fail, for he’s never faced a more powerful and diabolic enemy. But only death can stop him from trying.

 'Dead of Night' - Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin's Press)

The Leisure edition of Brian Keene's 'The Rising' had a similar kind of cover but not only am I notoriously forgiving when it comes to zombie cover art, you just can't beat undead hands grasping at you from the front of a book. I would probably read a wider range of books if this style of cover art was the norm :o) As it is, I'm reading this book while you're reading this post! Here's the blurb,

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in the grave.  But all drugs have unforeseen side-effects.  Before he could be buried, the killer wakes up.  Hungry.  Infected.  Contagious.  This is the way the world ends.  Not with a bang…but a bite. 

 'The Weird' - Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Corvus)

If it wasn't for 'The Wise Man's Fear', this anthology of weird tales would be the single largest review copy I've ever received. As it is. I will be reviewing 'The Weird' but don't expect to see that review any time soon (look at the size of it!)... Nice cover art though, offering proof that Octopi can read books. I'm not sure if that's weird but it's certainly intriguing...

'Theft of Swords' - Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit)

A little too soft focus for epic fantasy? Is our man getting ready to draw steel on some miscreant or is he showing off for the ladies...? I think only he knows. I'll be reading this one soon(ish), if only because everyone else has already read these books and thinks that they're great. I want some of that! Here's some blurb,

THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY MADE A BAD DECISION. Royce Melborn is a superb thief, his partner, Hadrian Blackwater is a skilled mercenary. Together they make a profitable living as agents-for-hire to wealthy nobles until someone sets them up to take the blame for the murder of the king. Captured and sentenced to death the two are saved by an unlikely woman with a simple demand that will change the lives of the thieves, the course of a kingdom, and the foundation of an empire. 

Not a great week for cover art then but seeing as I'll be picking all these books up anyway... does it really matter in the end? What do you reckon...?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Giveaway! 'House of Fear (An Anthology of Haunted House Stories)' - Edited by Jonathan Oliver

The tread on the landing outside the door, when you know you are the only one in the house. The wind whistling through the eves, carrying the voices of the dead. The figure glimpsed briefly through the cracked window of a derelict house. Editor Jonathan Oliver brings horror home with a collection of haunted house stories by some of the finest writers working in the horror genre, including Joe R. Lansdale, Sarah Pinborough, Lisa Tuttle, Christopher Priest, Adam L. G. Nevill, Nicholas Royle, Chaz Brenchley, Christopher Fowler, Gary Kilworth, Weston Ochse, Eric Brown, Tim Lebbon, Nina Allan, Stephen Volk, Paul Meloy and more.

Can you think of a better Halloween giveaway? Nope, me neither. Thanks to the people at Solaris, I have one copy of 'House of Fear' to give away to one lucky reader (UK entrants only)... Are you up to it...?

Entering is scarily easy. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your address is, the subject header needs to be 'House of Fear'. Don't even think about entering more than once, you know the kind of thing that can happen to wrongdoers over Halloween...

I'll let this one run until the 13th of November (a little longer than usual) and will announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 28 October 2011

‘The Cold Commands’ – Richard Morgan (Gollancz/Del Rey)

It was way back in 2008 (2008...? Now I feel old) that I read ‘The Steel Remains’;  a book that , for me, was a welcome return to the kind of books that Richard Morgan can write when he’s on top of his game (he’d done the same with ‘Black Man’ the previous year, the last two ‘Takeshi Kovacs’ novels hadn’t done it for me though). ‘The Steel Remains’ might not have done anything new for the fantasy genre but what it did do was eye catchingly brutal along with an intriguing storyline that drew me in almost without my realising. I had a great time reading ‘The Steel Remains’ and was all geared up for the sequel pretty much as soon as I’d finished reading. It was a bit a shame, for me, then that (what with one thing and another) the sequel was three years in coming. Oh well, it wasn’t like I didn’t have enough books to be going on with in the meantime :o)
Three years later then and I’ve got to admit that I was surprised when a copy of ‘The Cold Commands’ came through the letterbox; look, an awful lot has happened since 2008 (I’ve read a lot of books in the meantime as well)... It didn’t take long for that surprise to replaced by excitement though and I got stuck right in. ‘The Cold Commands’ might not be the easiest book to get into (more on that in a bit) but it was everything that ‘The Steel Remains’ was, perhaps even a little bit more...

Life hasn’t been too kind to Ringil Eskiath of late; once a hero of renown he is now reduced to a life on the edges of society, fighting for a cause that may well be just but has set an entire nation against him. Things are about to get a lot worse for him though, not only is Gil about to come down with a nasty case of plague but it appears that the gods themselves have plans for him...
Egar the Dragonbane isn’t having a great time of it either. Left to his own devices while his mistress entertains her husband, Egar hears tell of an unusual trade in slaves that will not only set him against the city’s dominant religion but will also uncover the machinations of an old enemy and land him with an execution order...
The half Kiriath agent Archeth also has problems to contend with as one of the Helmsmen has fallen from orbit with word of a new danger to humanity; the Ilwrack Changeling stirs from his slumber and when he wakes the forces of the Dwenda will return to claim their heritage. An expedition is being organised but who can Archeth rely on to make sure her fractious crew doesn’t tear itself apart...?
It looks like Ringil might just be in a position to help his friends out but what about the demands made by the gods? Well, Ringil isn’t a man who takes too kindly to demands but it looks like he might just have to go along with these...

‘The Cold Commands’ was a tough nut to crack for me, at least initially, although I found it easier to get into as I went along. The simple reason here is that ‘The Cold Commands’ relies on you having read ‘The Steel Remains’ fairly recently in order to get it straight as to who is who and what the differences between the League and the Empire are. Morgan has a story to tell (dammit!) and there’s no time for him to make sure that everyone is caught up with what has already happened. That’s fair enough really so do yourself a favour and re-read ‘The Steel Remains’ before taking on ‘The Cold Commands’; I didn’t and made things a whole lot more difficult for myself...

Once I got my head around it all though, ‘The Cold Commands’ swiftly became an absorbing read where (more often than not) I literally couldn’t take my eyes away from the page. I’m hoping that I won’t have to wait as long for the next book, as I did for ‘The Cold Commands’, but any wait will be worth it. Morgan’s story is shaping up to be a fine one indeed.

If there was one thing that you could say about ‘The Steel Remains’ it was that Morgan perhaps had to find his feet in a genre that he hadn’t written in before. That’s no longer the issue here with Morgan well and truly settled in; the result being that he is able to tell a compelling tale with his usual passion and honesty. It also doesn’t hurt that the sci-fi influence is a little more overt that it was last time.

Morgan tells a tale of Sword and Sorcery (or is it merely forgotten technology...?) that is propelled forwards at a ferocious rate not only by Ringil’s sword, the Ravensfriend, but also by the way in which Egar’s tribal ways constantly clash against the ‘civilized’ ways of the city. Morgan has already proved that he can ‘do ultra-violence’ and he shows once again that he is very comfortable making you feel very uncomfortable reading just how Ringil takes his enemies out of the game. I winced, you’ll wince too...
The action starts early and just doesn’t stop (I really enjoyed the raids on the temple), intrigue is piled upon intrigue and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily seemingly disparate plot threads came together at the end. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the plot and Morgan remains in control of it throughout the book; it’s a tight, breathless affair that pulls you along effortlessly in its wake.

Morgan also appears a little more comfortable this time round in that he is able to let you really know what he thinks about some of the things happening over the course of the book, slavery in particular. His opinions won’t surprise you but you will be more than a little taken aback at how forcefully he puts them. One of the things that I love about Richard Morgan, as a writer, is just how honest he is and that really comes through in his writing here. I wouldn’t want to make him angry!

The characters in ‘The Cold Command’ are all well drawn individuals whose quick temper is just as likely to send the plot in strange new directions as their desire to do the right thing. None of them are perfect (Ringil in particular, you really won’t like what he has done to a female slaver at the beginning of the book...) but that just made me want to hang out with them all the more. Despite Morgan’s tight rein on the plot, you really get the sense that Ringil and co are running the show and that’s just the way it should be.

It’s hard to see how Richard Morgan can top what he has come up with in ‘The Cold Commands’, here is a writer clearly on top of his game and revelling in the energy of his writing. I’ll be around to see what Morgan pulls out of his hat for the next instalment.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 27 October 2011

‘Doctor Who: Paradox Lost’ – George Mann (BBC Books)

When Sue and Hope went away, last weekend, I used the time to get all caught up with season five of the new Doctor Who show. I also used that time to watch ‘Flight of the Living Dead’ but that’s another story I think (‘Snakes on a Plane’ + Zombies = a film that probably didn’t want me to laugh at it as much as I did...) Having completed my little ‘Doctor Who Marathon’ I found myself at a bit of a lose end with no new episodes to watch and a quite reasonable unwillingness to pay full price for the latest box sets (I feel a rant coming on about those so moving swiftly on...) Luckily for me I have a few Doctor Who books on the reading pile, they won’t keep me going for long but I haven’t seen a badly written story in this series, yet, and they’re all original stories as well. You can’t go wrong, can you...?

Well, I wasn’t so sure about that when I picked up ‘Paradox Lost’ and saw that it had been written by none other than George Mann. Long term blog readers will already know that I was disappointed by Mann’s ‘The Affinity Bridge’, but have actually quite enjoyed his writing in the Warhammer 40K shared universe, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting with ‘Paradox Lost’. Luckily for me, it was more of the latter than the former.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a London burglar gets far more than he bargained for when a seemingly empty house is suddenly full of alien creatures all eager to devour his mind. Several hundred years later on and an impossibly old android is dredged from the depths of the Thames river; an android with a message that it will only deliver to a man known as the Doctor...
Now the Doctor and his companions must solve a mystery that spans two different Londons and several hundred years. Anything less than success could very well see the inhabitants of the entire universe devoured by the parasitic Squall...

If you watch Doctor Who fairly regularly then you’ll already know that you’re expected to suspend your disbelief (in pretty much every episode) and just accept that time itself is a funny old thing that will throw up all sorts of stuff in order to keep the show ticking along and doing its job of being entertaining. On the whole (and there have been a couple of moments where even I’ve found myself thinking, ‘oh come on...) this works in a TV format as everything moves so quickly that you find yourself caught up in the thick of it without much time to think. In a book though, that’s a different thing entirely (you’ve got that time to stop and think about what you’ve read) and this is where ‘Paradox Lost’ fell  down a little bit; on the very bit that is meant to be the point of the whole story. Insomuch as a paradox can work, the one that Mann presents us with does work in terms of turning the story right on its head and raising the stakes a lot higher than they already were. What I wasn't so keen on though was that the Doctor himself was eager to brush over all discussion of the paradox (when Rory asked some pretty good questions) and move on with the business at hand. Getting your own characters to cover for you is a little bit of a cop-out, as far as I’m concerned, and just made the central conceit of the plot feel a little more flimsy than it probably was. I guess some things just work better on the small screen than they do in a book...

Despite this though, ‘Paradox Lost’ still ended up being an entertaining tale that I happily found myself lost in for a few hours.

Reading ‘Paradox Lost’ (and ‘The Affinity Bridge’ as well come to think of it) it becomes very clear that George Mann is in love with London, whether it’s the London of a hundred years ago or a fictional London of the far future. Mann really enjoys taking us down London’s streets and alleyways; either showing us the grim detail of its past or speculating on how it might look in the future. Not only does the reader get a clear picture of what’s going on, at any point, but you also can’t help but pick up a little of that love yourself and you end up enjoying the read all the more. I loved it.

What I also loved (if you could call it that) reading about was the parasitic alien race that Mann populates London with. The ‘foggy London town’ of the early twentieth century, in particular, is made for creatures like the Squall to suddenly loom out of and swoop on their prey. There are some really nerve wracking moments as you soon come to know when such an attack might happen.  As more and more Squall arrive they become more intelligent (being a hive race) and this ups the ante in a great way, adding extra urgency to what the Doctor must do.

Mann lends the Doctor enough verve and zest to make him instantly recognisable, as a character, but cleverly avoids making the Doctor’s character a mere caricature of himself. The Doctor can’t resist a joke comes up with some great one-liners but is well aware of the threat posed by the Squall; he gives them a chance to leave but is fully prepared to do what is necessary to ultimately defeat them. This contrast keeps you reading as Mann gives you no idea as to what side of the Doctor you will be dealing with next.

The outcome is never in any doubt (although that’s hardly Mann’s fault, he’s dealing with an iconic figure who is pretty much guaranteed a lot more screen time in the future) but it’s the journey there that counts and it’s a ride you’ll enjoy. I did and I hope to see more Doctor Who books from George Mann in the future.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Do You Remember Me Talking About The 'Happy Dance'?

You know, the other day? Well, the dance was well and truly danced last night as visits to the blog topped the one million mark :o) I don't go on too much about milestones here but this is one that I'm proud of, especially as blogging consistently has become a lot more difficult over the last year or so.

Thanks then to everyone who has stopped by and had a read, I hope you've enjoyed it :o) Thanks as well in advance to those of you who are planning on coming back tomorrow (and the day after and so on...) to see what happens next. See you tomorrow? ;o)

One for 2012? (Probably Not For Me...) 'Tribulations' - Ken Shufeldt

Real life has once again got in the way of writing reviews, at least it has today so you'll have to wait until tomorrow for a post along those lines. There will be one though! In the meantime, advance copies for 2012 releases are starting to come through the door so I thought I'd showcase them here, just to give you all a little heads up on what's headed your way in the New Year. There will be titles that I'm really excited about but, if I'm going to do this properly (based on whatever comes through the letterbox), there will also be titles that leave me feeling absolutely nothing whatsover. Take 'Tribulations' for example (due for release in January)...

Now there's a bland cover if ever I've seen one, it could almost have been designed to blend in with the lower reaches of the sci-fi bookshelf and not be noticed at all... It's certainly not a cover that had me racing to open the book and get reading. If that wasn't bad enough, check out the blurb...

The world has ended…. The war is only beginning.

An asteroid storm has obliterated the Earth. Billy and Linda West have built enough space-going arks to save a small number of people who now roam the void in search of a new home.

Desperate to find a safe haven, Billy makes a dangerous attempt to exceed the speed of light. When his plans go terribly wrong, the Wests’ severely-damaged ship is separated from the fleet and left drifting near a mysterious planet.

This world’s conditions are hospitable—but its inhabitants are not. Suddenly the Wests and their fellow survivors are caught in the middle of an ancient war between two brutal nations. Faced with horrific dangers, they are forced to choose a side just to survive.

So, a bland cover and a blurb that reminds me a little too much of 'Lost in Space'. I was never really that bothered by 'Lost in Space' so I won't be reading 'Tribulations' (especially after a search for Ken Shufeldt on Amazon showed what most people thought of his last book...)
'Tribulations' might well be your thing though so it gets a mention here. Do you think you'll be picking it up?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Short Story Corner! ‘Muriel’ and ‘Torment’

Because that’s the way my reading seems to have gone these last couple of days; either reading a short story in a genre magazine or focussing on the bits I haven’t read in an omnibus collection. It has made for a really nice change actually; I’m going through one of my phases of not really being able to get into anything (entirely down to me, not the books I’m picking up) so reading something that’s only a few pages long meant that I could finish it before the apathy kicked in. I reckon you might just see a few more short stories showing up here in the future.
What short stories have I been reading then...?

‘Muriel’ – David Moody

I might be wrong here (although I don’t think I am) but the only way you’re going to be able to read ‘Muriel’ is if you pick up one of the few remaining copies of the ‘SFX Zombie Special’ that are still on the shelves. The magazine itself is a bit pricy but if you like zombies then you’ll find yourself picking it up anyway I’m sure. I did and I’ve had a lot of fun reading it :o)

Moody already has strong zombie form for his ‘Autumn’ series which had a massive following (thanks to free downloads) before Gollancz took it on board. I’ve reviewed a couple of the books Here and Here if you fancy a look. He was perhaps an obvious choice then to contribute a story, for the ‘Zombie Special’ and the decision definitely paid off as far as I was concerned. The setting is aligned a little more closely with the ‘traditional’ zombie apocalypse than Moody is known for (‘Autumn’ looks at the zombie apocalypse in perhaps a slightly more thoughtful way) but Moody does still manage to showcase the kind of character development that he does so well. Chris Wilkins (our hero) is full of how great he is at surviving the zombie apocalypse but there’s still one more lesson for him to learn and it might just kill him. It’s the way that Moody delivers this lesson that makes the story work the way it does, changing the tone from being rather smug to one where Chris is suddenly incapable of saving his own life. Without giving too much away, I enjoyed the way in which the tables are turned on Chris again and again; he really isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and we also learn a lesson that overconfidence can be deadly.

Above all though, Moody shows us that the zombie apocalypse is an intensely personal affair and you must embrace that if you are to stand any chance of surviving. Cutting yourself off can do more harm than good...

‘Torment’ – Anthony Reynolds

If you scroll down the page, just a little bit, you will see the cover art for the ‘Word Bearers Omnibus’; ‘Torment’ is the short story that sits right at the end of this collection. As such, it’s pretty clear that you need to have at least read ‘Dark Creed’ if you’re going to get the most out of ‘Torment’; the tale stands well enough on its own but there’s so much more background waiting for you to get your teeth into it.

Again, I can’t give too much away (especially if you haven’t read ‘Dark Creed’) but ‘Torment’ is essentially a ‘chase story’ that asks a pretty big question of both its main character and the reader; what is real and what is our ‘hero’ running away from? The answer is pretty clear, or is it...? If you’ve read ‘Dark Creed’ then you’ll know for sure (maybe) but that end note of uncertainty is delicious nevertheless. The chase sequence is both exciting and nightmarish all at the same time. The Basilica of Torment brims over with all that is dark and hideous, run through with an air of religious devotion that has been twisted into something utterly wrong. We’re talking imagery that you will find sat behind your eyelids long after you finish the actual story. All of this is punctuated with action sequences that show you all too clearly that the only thing tougher than a Space Marine is a Space Marine that has been bonded with a daemon of the Warp... ‘Torment’ is a dark and powerful read that I think all fans of this particular series will enjoy.

Cover Art! 'Wordbearers: The Omnibus' (Anthony Reynolds)

If our friend here ever loses his job as a Space Marine then I reckon he has a future in litter collection; all those spikes have to be good for something... ;o)
Seriously though, this is another great looking cover from Clint Langley who could well be carving out a little niche in Warhammer 40K cover art if this is anything to go by. The book itself is a fairly hefty looking lump of paper but, seeing as I've already read two of the three books collected, I'm expecting it to be a quick read :o) Check out my reviews for 'Dark Disciple' and 'Dark Creed', I'll let you know what I thought of 'Dark Apostle' fairly soon. 'Word Bearers: The Omnibus' will be published early in the New Year.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The 'Quiet, almost... too quiet...' Competition Winner's Post!

Sue and Hope went up to Yorkshire at the weekend and I had the house to myself; cue lots of takeaway food, bad zombie films and DIY involving the strongest superglue I could get my hands on! No watching 'Mary (Bloody) Poppins' either :o) This may not sound like a big deal but when you're forced to watch it every mealtime, otherwise someone won't eat, then you end up really appreciating the break... :o) I even got a little bit of reading done ('A Dance With Dragons' is shaping up to be a good read but I do wish it would get a move on...)
It was far too quiet though so I was really glad when Sue and Hope got back, things are back to normal again.

So yeah, where was I...? That's it, competition winners! Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Towers of Midnight' competition last week, just goes to show that there are still people out there who will wait that extra year for the paperback release (and I like that). The winners were...

Deb LeBlanc, Florida, US
Evan Christopher, Michigan, US

Nice one guys! Your books should be on their way to you later today. Better luck next time everyone else...
That's it for me today (I need a coffee like you would not believe...) but stick around this week for zombies, Doctor Who and to see what I review on Friday; I've got no idea what I'll be reviewing on Friday....
You might also get to see me do a little happy dance when the blog hits a million views sometime in the next three or four days... :o)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Giveaway! Lovecraft's 'The Call of Cthulhu' & Machen's 'The White People and Other Weird Stories'

I still haven't read anything by H.P. Lovecraft... In my defence though, I'm planning on remedying this (and just in time for Halloween as well) when my copy of the latest Penguin edition of 'The Call of Cthulhu' arrives, Same deal with Arthur Machen's 'The White People and Other Weird Stories'. While I'm waiting for the books to arrive/reading them, how would you like to win a copy of both books...?

Thanks to the people at Penguin, I'm giving away one pack (containing both books) to one lucky reader. 'One lucky reader'... I actually should have said 'one lucky US reader', this competition is only open to people living in the US. Sorry about that everyone else.

If you're still with me then the odds are that you already know what to do next, 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 'Weird Horror'. Entering more than once is a guaranteed way of getting all your entries deleted so don't do it!

I'll be leaving this one open until the 30th of October and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

One for 2012? 'Empire State' (Adam Christopher)

Is it me or am I doing this earlier and earlier every year...? :o)

As the end of the year approaches, I'm going to be pointing out a few books that you can expect to see in 2012 (until those crazy Mayans and their calendar bring everything crashing to a halt...). Some of them are books I'm looking forward to reading, some are ones that I'm kind of meh' about but think you might like to know about. 'Empire State' falls firmly in the former category. Check out the cover and then check out the blurb...

EMPIRE STATE is a story of superheroes, and a city divided in two. Detective Rad Bradbury picks up the trail of a murderer, only to discover that the world he has always known is a pocket universe, recently brought into existence by an explosion of phenomenal power. With a superhero on his tail he crosses into a city that bears a remarkable resemblance to his own – a city called New York. There he uncovers a deadly threat to the Empire State, and finds that the future of both realities are at stake.

Having enjoyed the hell out of Al Ewing's 'Gods of Manhattan' I think I'm going to have a similar time with 'Empire State' with it's mention of noir and superheroes (certainly sounds like there are some similar themes). My advance copy is quoting a January release date, for the UK, but I reckon you'll see a review here a lot sooner than that, maybe sometime in November...

You can read an interview with Adam Christopher (on cover art) Here and then (because you want to know more dammit!) you can read another interview Here.

So, what do you think? Are you planning on getting yourself a copy of 'Empire State' in the New Year?

Yet another reason why I need to buy myself an eBook reader (Robert McCammon to release nine classic titles as eBooks)...

From the website...
'Open Road Media is pleased to announce the publication of nine terrifying tales by New York Times bestselling master of horror Robert R. McCammon, including Swan Song, his first novel to win the coveted Bram Stoker Award. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, McCammon, an Alabama native, contributed significantly to the reemergence of the horror genre by crafting intense, character-driven narratives that blended elements of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, and Southern gothic literature. McCammon’s wonderfully ambitious Swan Song tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which a girl with psychic abilities struggles to evade a mysterious force intent on destroying all remaining traces of beauty and hope. The novel is regarded as a horror classic in the same league as Stephen King’s The Stand. Recently called it “a monster of a horror book, brimming over with stories and violence and terrific imagery—God and the Devil, the whole works.”

Here's a look of what's being released (in pretty much every format going by what the website had to say for itself)...

 Robert McCammon Ebooks
Of these titles, I read 'Swan Song' years ago but reviewed 'Blue World' on the blog, I'll always regret the day I saw a second hand copy of 'Stinger' and never picked it up... 'They Thirst' doesn't appear to have made this list and that's a real shame as it's one seriously scary vampire novel. No sign of 'Baal' or 'Bethany's Sin' either but I'm reliably informed that they will be republished (elsewhere) in the very near future. I'm a fan (of what I've managed to get my hands on so far...) but I still think this is a great opportunity for people who haven't checked out McCammon's work to give it a go. If you like your horror then I don't think you'll be disappointed.

There's a video of McCammon talking about his work in the website; I was very kindly given the embedding code so it's here as well :o) Check it out,


Friday, 21 October 2011

‘Flesh Eaters’ – Joe McKinney (Pinnacle Fiction)

There’s a lot of zombie fiction out there waiting to be read; some of these books are excellent but others... not so much. As someone who loves good zombie fiction, and just so happens to have a blog, I feel it’s almost my sworn duty to point you folks in the direction of the good stuff whilst (at the same time) urging readers gently, yet firmly, away from the books that I don’t think you should be wasting your time on. It’s a very hard job (I find myself automatically enjoying a book if it has zombies in it so it is difficult to be objective sometimes) but it’s well worth it :o)

One of the authors I’ve found myself recommending here is Joe McKinney, a writer who has consistently come up with the goods with his zombie fiction. Regular visitors to the blog have more than likely already heard me sing McKinney’s praises. If you haven’t, or just want to hear me sing again, click on the links for my thoughts on Mckinney’s ‘Dead City’ and ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’.

I wasn’t sure where things could go next, after ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’, although I think there are future books planned so I’m sure I’ll find out at some point. There is a big gap to be filled though, right at the beginning (before the events of ‘Dead City’ even kick off), and that’s where ‘Flesh Eaters’ comes in; the story that tells us how it all began...

Houston has been battered by the mother of all storms but the real danger is lurking underneath the flooded streets that the storm has left in its wake. Certain flood victims may be dead but that won’t stop them trying to assuage a terrible hunger for human flesh. The fight to stay alive amidst the debris just got a lot worse...
In an attempt to limit the spread of the zombie infestation, Houston is quarantined with an order given to shot anyone approaching the fences whether they are living or dead. Emergency Ops Sergeant Eleanor Norton has been trying to uphold the law in a city that is quite literally crumbling away before her eyes; now she must fight to save her family from a creeping menace that could either be lurking beneath the waters or just round the next corner.
At the same time, others are seeking to escape the city with enough stolen money to ensure a secure future in a world suddenly gone mad. Can Norton reconcile her family’s safety with her desire to uphold the law (especially when the chief perpetrator is an old friend)? And all the while, the dead are closing in...

Whenever someone goes back in the narrative, to fill in the gaps, I find myself wondering why they didn’t just start at the beginning in the first place... I guess I’m just a linear kind of guy at heart. I guess there are all sorts of reasons for this approach and there’s no rule that a writer has to start right at the very beginning if inspiration dumps him a little further along the road.

Whether the story delivers though; that’s the main thing and I’m pleased to say that McKinney has more than delivered again. ‘Flesh Eaters’ is nothing short of a chilling read; a ‘zombie crime caper’ novel that had me gripped from beginning to end.

‘Flesh Eaters’ kicks off with a real assault on your senses as Houston is battered by an immense storm that not only finds time to completely overcome the main characters but also reaches off the page and gives you a hefty smack round the face as well. The storm is that powerful and McKinney makes you doubly aware of this by leaving you stranded in the wreckage of Houston along with everyone else. Talk about a way to really open the novel and grab you right from the word go!

Could it get any worse than that? Of course it could, there are zombies involved and McKinney goes all out to make life that much worse for the dazed people of Houston. I really enjoyed the way he did it. After the sheer intensity of the storm, McKinney dials things back a bit and has his zombies gradually appear on the scene rather than attack en masse all at once. This approach has the effect of slowly racking up the tension and that’s just the kind of thing that a book like this needs. McKinney pulls it off superbly in my opinion as the slowly growing number of zombies really highlights the ability of the authorities to contain and deal with the problem. Before you know it, the city is completely overrun and McKinney shows us this through spectacular scenes of crowds of refugees being torn apart and individuals being chased through desolate streets.

McKinney doesn’t tell us a lot more about the zombies than he has already which might not please readers of the last two books; questions have been raised in these books to which I’m sure people would like the answers. Personally, I was happy with this approach as there isn’t a lot you really need to know about zombies other than what they do (although I did miss the ethical debate raised in ‘Dead City’). You’re left in no doubt as to what McKinney’s zombies are capable of.

The other reason that I wasn’t too bothered about finding out more about the zombies is that zombie books are all about what the survivors do. That’s where the character development can be found (I can only think of one zombie that has ever really developed as a character...) and that’s where the attraction is for me, seeing just what people will do to survive...

McKinney tackles this by showing us two different extremes of what people are capable of. Everyone wants to survive but you can understand that some people might want to come out of things a little richer than they started, I think we all would.

The outcome was perhaps a little predictable (a result of McKinney’s law enforcement background perhaps?) although there is a nice little twist right at the end. What I enjoyed though was the conflict in one character in particular as he had to weigh up his principles in the face of providing for his family. McKinney did really well to come up with such a sympathetic character when you consider what this character sets out to do.
Eleanor Norton also proves to be a fine character to hang the plot off with enough conflict in her life to keep sending her in directions that she doesn’t want to go. I ended up really rooting for Eleanor as she made it her goal to do the right thing by pretty much everyone she came across, no matter what.

Despite a couple of very small niggles, ‘Flesh Eaters’ proved to be a slice of quality zombie fiction from Joe McKinney. Give it a go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 20 October 2011

‘Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks’ – Trevor Baxendale (BBC Books)

Despite my best efforts, I’m still horribly behind as far as watching the current series (season six I think) of ‘Doctor Who’ goes. I managed to watch the odd episode here and there but I’m once again forced to wait for the DVD box set to turn up cheap in the sales whilst still trying to catch up with season five. What’s that? I should get a TV licence? Don’t get me started...
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Doctor Who books are a great way of getting stories about an iconic sci-fi character in between series. Whereas the old Target novels adapted stories already shown on television; the latest books tell original stories and that’s even better as far as I’m concerned (I know I’ll get round to catching up with the TV show sooner or later, it’ll just take a while). I really can’t get enough Doctor Who; can you tell that I’m a fan....? ;o)

I’d heard, here and there, that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ was a book that was a little bit darker than the normal fare; I love to see a family friendly character tackle something a little bit darker so I made it my mission to pick up a copy as soon as I could. As it happened, this took a little longer than expected but my birthday trip to an amazing second hand book shop came up with a copy. ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is a dark read, very dark in fact...

The relentless advance of the Daleks into systems under the control of Earth has got humanity fighting in every way it knows how, trying to deny Dalek control on all fronts. While Earth battle fleets face off against the enemy bounty hunters hover on the fringes of the conflict, looking to take advantage of the Earth Command edict that a bounty will be paid for every Dalek killed, the eyestalk to be provided as proof of a kill.
Forced to leave the TARDIS behind, the Doctor finds himself stranded on board a starship with a group of bounty hunters who have just found themselves in possession of the ultimate prize, a deactivated Dalek ready to be interrogated for its secrets. Is it quite that simple though? The Doctor knows that the Daleks are quite capable of springing vicious traps and the only thing worse than death at their hands is to become their prisoner...

As with all the Doctor Who books that end up getting a mention here, this will be a shorter review than normal; for the simple reason that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is only two hundred and fifty pages long. Don’t let the length of the book deceive you though. It took me a lot longer to finish ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ than I thought, there’s a lot to chew on here.

I said that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ was a dark read and I’ll go even further to say that it’s possibly the darkest Doctor Who novel that I’ve read. When the Daleks make an appearance you know that the resulting death toll is going to be high, it’s what Daleks do after all. Despite this knowledge though, I wasn’t prepared for just how much death Baxendale was prepared to have the Daleks rain down on anyone who just happened to be passing through, let alone have got in the way... No-one is safe (except the Doctor and even then you’re not sure sometimes) and no sooner have you got to know a character then they are dead. In this respect, ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is a sobering read that leaves you in no doubt as to how utterly deadly the Daleks can be, whether it’s torturing prisoners or just killing them out of hand. Passages like the one below really drive the message home,

‘And you know how those Dalek guns work don’t you? On full power, they can blast a human being into atoms in a split second. But they never do that. Every Dalek dials down the power on its gun stick to the specific level that will kill a human being. Then they lower the power setting just a tiny bit further, so that the beam burns away the central nervous system from the outside in, meaning that every human being dies in agony. So it takes a full two to three seconds for a Dalek to exterminate one of us – and it’s deliberate.’

Once you get past this, the plot itself is a familiar one to readers who have grown up with tales of Dalek conquest over the years. A little too familiar in fact, I appreciate that Daleks are single minded and their machinations now need to tie in established canon but... again? I wouldn’t have minded seeing them try out something a little different for a change.

Despite that though, the book is still a lot of fun to read; especially when you get to see events play out on a planet that has been half destroyed (our heroes get to look over the edge, a spectacular moment). Baxendale imbues David Tennant’s Doctor with just the right amount of rage (in the face of his most deadly enemy) and childish curiosity (like I said, looking over the edge of a planet!) to power the plot forwards at a very fast rate. The Daleks do their fair share here as well (they don’t give up and this lends added impetus to the pacing) and the arrival of the monstrous ‘Dalek X’ raises the stakes even further. The outcome may not be in doubt (is it ever) but the odds are high enough to keep you reading in the meantime.

When push comes to shove, ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ might not do anything new in terms of the Dalek’s motivation it’s still a read that sets the stakes high and lets you know all too clearly that hardly anyone will make it to the end of the book in one piece. You can’t help but read a book like that.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

‘A Serpent Uncoiled’ – Simon Spurrier (Headline)

I’m a guy who’s lucky enough to have a large pile of books constantly on hand whenever I fancy something new to read; the best position to be in if you love reading like I do :o) These days, my reading list chops and changes depending on my mood (and if I’ve promised someone that I’ll read a particular book) and you’re likely to find that my choice of reading is either dependant on pot luck or what’s closest to hand (or is that just the same thing...?) Sometimes though, a review appears online that makes me abandon this haphazard approach and go straight for my own copy, wherever it might sit in the pile. A review like this one in fact.

I’d been feeling a little burnt out, on my usual fare, and fancied something a little different to read; the ‘Pornokitsch’ review came along at just the right time for me, promising a read that looked like it had plenty of meat on it but was perhaps a different flavour to what I’d normally pick up. I don’t read many crime novels (hardly any in fact) so that might explain why ‘A Serpent Uncoiled’ didn’t work for me in the same way that it did for others. I’m not sure that’s the whole reason though...

Dan Shaper used to work as a ‘fixer’ for one of London’s leading crime families until a catastrophic breakdown reduced him to his current state, working freelance and staving off the brewing insanity through an intuitively administered dose of internet purchased anti-psychotic medication. Shaper can’t let himself get too used to the medication (in case his body develops an immunity) so undergoes regular ‘detox’ sessions in the safety of his own flat, locked away from the demands of the outside world. His latest session is about to be interrupted though and the race is on to solve a case before his mind falls to pieces...
George Glass has just been told that he’s on a list of people being killed off one by one, seemingly random killings connected by one horrifying forensic detail. Glass cannot remember what he might have done to end up on such a list but that’s understandable, your mind play funny tricks when you’re three thousand years old... Shaper is the only person Glass can trust to solve this case but can Shaper trust his own failing mind to carry him over the finishing line...?

‘A Serpent Uncoiled’ sets itself up with an intriguing premise. From my own admittedly limited experience there’s usually some kind of race against time in books like this, generally revolving around having to solve the case before someone else dies, another valuable item is stolen and so on. It’s not often though that the guy pressed into solving the case finds himself in a race against time with himself. In ‘A Serpent Uncoiled’ the actual crimes being committed (grotesque as they are) find themselves playing second fiddle to the big question being posed. Dan Shaper is in no fit state to take the case on to begin with and it’s pushing him into places where he is most definitely not comfortable at all. How much longer can Shaper survive being pushed closer and closer towards the edge and will he go over...?

This is a premise that really caught my eye and Shaper is enough of a mixed up character (looking for redemption but doing it on the wrong side of the law) that you want to follow him through the plot and see how he does. You’re certainly left in no doubt what could happen if Shaper’s mental state goes past the point of no return.
Where things fell down for me was that it felt like Spurrier went a little too easy on Shaper and perhaps missed a chance to really push the boundaries and see how Shaper took it. Don’t get me wrong, there are some moments where you’re given a clear picture as to what is going on inside Shaper’s head (and I’m talking about the bit where Shaper comes out of an ‘episode’ to find that he is driving his van with no idea as to how he got there in the first place). Shaper’s hallucinations are also beautifully described (as much as maggots and rotting flesh can be ‘beautiful’...) and the nature of the story has you wondering whether certain of these hallucinations are in fact real. This device is a great way of getting you right into the plot and making you really think about what is going on.
For each of these moments though, there are at least two more where the ‘edge’ is either pushed back or you’re shown that Shaper’s head is actually better equipped to deal with it than we thought. To me, it almost felt like I’d been cheated a little. If, for the most part, Shaper can deal with his issues then it’s not really a race against time... is it? Any tension that had built up dropped away for me when I realised this and I settled into a routine of watching Shaper encounter the occasional mental curveball but recover nicely.

It’s a good job then that the question of the murders was a little more engaging. Spurrier comes up with a list of compelling reasons why any one of a number of people could be the killer and then leaves Shaper to try and find the one who actually did it. The beautiful thing is that Spurrier lets you know who the killer is within the first couple of chapters but it’s so subtly done that only hindsight will reveal it. The rest of the plot is a morass of dead ends and false clues that somehow all come together to form a seedy picture of London’s underworld, punctuated with the kind of violence that you would expect from such a setting. It’s a plot that flows very smoothly and is full of the kind of questions that keep you reading.

While there’s no doubt that ‘A Serpent Uncoiled’ kept a keen hold on my attention it didn’t quite match up to its own self-proclaimed intentions. It was a gripping read but, at the same time, a book that felt like it could have been a whole lot more. Having said that though, I’ll be keeping an eye open for more for Simon Spurrier.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

‘The Eternal Champion’ – Michael Moorcock (Grafton Press)

In an ideal world, I’d start reading all series at the beginning and finishing at the end. That’s the whole point of a series of books isn’t it? You start at the beginning, finish at the end and read all the books in between. The end result is that the setting and the plot build up over a number of books and you end up with a complete picture by the end. However, this is all well and good if you’re living in an ideal world but I’m not; at least as far as buying books from overseas (I’m looking at you Glen Cook) and second hand books goes. If I waited until I had complete sets of these series then I’d never get any reading done at all!

I’ve already banged on long enough about how difficult it can be to get hold of certain of Moorcock’s books that have perhaps been eclipsed by his more iconic creations. The Millennium editions are prohibitively expensive now so I’m left scrabbling around in second hand bookshops etc and hoping that I get lucky... Like I said, if I wait on getting full sets of each trilogy then you won’t see much here at all and that’s why, after having read ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’, I’m going back to the beginning of Erekose’s story and reading ‘The Eternal Champion’...

John Daker is called from our world into a world of the far future where, as the Eternal Champion Erekose, he must fight to protect Humanity from the demonic scourge of the Eldren. This is not the only fight to be fought though as Daker must also fight his own fragile mind in order to come to terms with the fact that his identity may span more worlds than the two that he is currently aware of. And what if the battle lines of the future aren’t as clear cut as he was originally led to believe? A hard choice awaits our Champion, a decision that neither Humanity nor the Eldren would have him make...

 ‘The Eternal Champion’ is one of those books that I can’t help but find myself liking, despite the little bits here and there that tempt my opinion to go in the other direction. As such, it’s a bit of a difficult one to write about so please bear with me...

I think that the biggest issue I had with ‘The Eternal Champion’ (both in this read and when I first read it some years ago) is that the two opposing sides, Humanity and Eldren, are so polarised that you can see the big twist coming from a mile off. For me this was especially the case as one of the two opposing parties never got to state their case until almost three quarters of the way through the book. If you’re anything like me, you’ll see the big twist coming from a mile off (although the fact that I’d read the book before probably worked against me here) and you might just find yourself wondering if it’s worth carrying on with the read. I stuck with it though and I’m glad that I did; the tension might not be there but there’s still plenty to recommend ‘The Eternal Champion’.

Science Fiction and Fantasy literature is full of people being snatched from the comfort of their everyday life and dumped somewhere strange to get on with it the best they can. Most of these people will attempt to make some sense of their new surroundings but not Erekose. Our hero takes Humanity at its word and immediately begins working out ways of defeating the Eldren... Now you could say that this approach is a little too simplistic (and if you do then maybe the twist in the tale will get you after all...) but what really appealed to me here was the sense of just how earnest Erekose is about it all. Our hero doesn’t ask questions, he just gets on with doing what he believes to be the right thing; he is basically pointed at the enemy and left to do his thing. It’s interesting to see how the questions start to arise as the book progresses and Erekose goes from being a person who would wipe out an entire race (because he thinks he should be in love with the daughter of the King) to someone who is able to look at the bigger picture. Erekose’s tendency to act first, and think about it later, does get the better of him one more time and that just makes the final scenes all the more tragic...

All of this is set against a lush backdrop that is familiar enough to be accessible yet, at the same time, alien enough to be eye catching. The battle scenes really make the plot surge forward as well, whether these battles are fought at land or on the sea. Moorcock’s Erekose strides the battlefield like some earthbound god of war and although you know that nothing can touch him, you can’t help but feel a little stirred by the way in which he takes his fight to the enemy.

‘The Eternal Champion’ was signposted a little too clearly, for me, to really surprise in the way that it wanted to but this is more than made up for by the roar of constant battle and the developing character of Erekose himself. My review for ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’, the second book in the trilogy, is over Here. All I need to do now is find a copy of ‘The Dragon in the Sword, and I’ll be able to finish off Erekose’s story.

Eight and a Half out of Ten
Cover Art courtesy of The Image Hive

Monday, 17 October 2011

The 'Slightly Fragmented' Competition Winner's Post!

This weekend was all about getting a bagload of books signed by Messrs Charan-Newton and Tchaikovsky (Why did I offer Adrian Tchaikovsky a whoopee cushion from my bag, why? I really shouldn't be allowed to talk to authors sometimes...) but it was also about dealing with a teething baby who'd had no sleep and was on a mission to break Christmas decorations in a posh London store. Great times were had by all...

The resulting tiredness meant that I ended up blearily surfing through various websites, email etc when I got home; not such a waste of time as you might think as I came across the following...

From the email...

Just under 2 weeks from publication, & Halo Waypoint are proud to simultaneously present the first two online excerpts from Halo: Glasslands by Karen Traviss (out for real on October 25th). The Prologue & Chapter 1 are up here:

While Chapter 2 is up here:

A timely reminder, for me, that Karen Traviss used to be one of my 'go to' authors for military sci-fi... at least when she was writing 'Star Wars' books. I've enjoyed what 'Halo' books I've read and I think Traviss could be a very good fit in this setting. I think there's a copy of 'Glasslands' headed my way but I will be checking out these excerpts when I get a spare moment.

Here's the news that really got me going though; taken from a thread on Gollancz' new 'SF Gateway' forums...

We will revive the Fantasy Masterworks series – which has been on hold since # 50 was published – in 2012, and are also adding to the SF Masterworks series with renewed energy. New SF Masterworks titles scheduled up to the end of 2012 are as follows:

Floating Worlds, by Cecelia Holland
Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Odd John, by Olaf Stapledon
The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams*
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells*
Synners, by Pat Cadigan
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, by D.G. Compton
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban*
Take Back Plenty, by Colin Greenland
Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell

Titles marked with an asterisk (*) will be published in hardcover, and will not have eBooks available from Gollancz. The others will be published in paperback, and eBook.

The Fantasy Masterworks list will relaunch in 2012 with these titles:

Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock
Last Call, by Tim Powers

I thought you might like to see what new SF Masterworks are in the pipeline but the bit that really got me excited was the bit right at the very bottom. There's a little while to wait yet but they're relaunching the Fantasy Masterworks series! One of my reading regrets is that I never picked up enough of the Fantasy Masterworks books when they were first published; it might be a little too much to hope that the earlier books are reissued so I'll settle for being in at the start next year :o)
I've read 'Mythago Wood' but not 'Lavondyss' so I'm looking forward to checking it out. I still have yet to reda anything by Tim Powers; yes I know...

Anyway, it's way past time that I announced the winners of last weeks competition so lets do that :o) The lucky winners, of a copy of 'The Book of Dzur', were...

Jen Roper, New Mexico, US
Chris Miller, Maryland, US
Melita Kennedy, California, US
Howrd Beleiff, Philadelphia, US
Sara Chamama, Brooklyn, US

Well done everyone, your books should be on their way to you very soon! Better luck next time everyone else...

Right, I'm off to see if I can get 'The Cold Commands' read and reviewed before the signing on Saturday. It could go either way so wish me luck!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Giveaway! 'Towers of Midnight' (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)

(Belatedly) marking the paperback release of ‘Towers of Midnight’, I have two copies (courtesy of Tor) to give away on the blog. This one is only open to US readers though. For those of you who somehow managed to miss all mention of ‘The Wheel of Time’ over the last year (and I’m counting myself in that number, I still need to read ‘The Gathering Storm’...) here’s some blurbage for you...
The Last Battle has started. The seals on the Dark One's prison are crumbling. The Pattern itself is unravelling, and the armies of the Shadow have begun to spill out of the Blight. Perrin Aybara is haunted by spectres from his past. To prevail, he must find a way to master the wolf within him or lose himself to it for ever. Meanwhile, Matrim Cauthon prepares for the most difficult challenge of his life. The Tower of Ghenjei awaits, and its secrets will reveal the fate of a friend long lost. The end draws near. It's time to roll the dice.
If you want in then you know what you need to do next. Erm... you don’t? No worries, I’ll tell you :o)
To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be ‘Towers’.
I’ll let this one run until the 23rd of October and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.
Good Luck!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Cover Art! ‘Blood of Anaerion’ (William King)

I know variety is the spice of life, and all that, but sometimes I can’t help but wish that Raymond Swanland was on cover art duty every time it featured someone all armoured up and striking a pose with a big sword. Like ‘Blood of Anaerion’ for instance, check it out...

Has Swanland drawn cover art that isn’t stunning? I don’t think so. Here’s the blurb,
Tyrion: Unparalleled swordsman and tactician

Teclis: Greatest natural sorcerer of the age, his power rivalling that of fabled Caledor
Together these twins are the greatest high elf heroes to walk the earth. 

A powerful daemon, banished millennia ago by the twins’ ancestor, Aenarion the Defender, has returned to wreak bloody revenge. Plucked from their home in the wilds of Chrace, Tyrion and Teclis must learn the arts of war and the mysteries of magic, as well as the secrets of survival in the Phoenix King’s court. Hunted by daemonic assassins and beset by treachery, they must fight to survive and claim their destiny as the greatest heroes of the age.

A gorgeous cover and the promise of elves fighting daemons (amongst other things). I think I’m in :o)

Friday, 14 October 2011

‘Salvation’s Reach’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

My ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ reading has taken a strange path to say the least, starting off with ‘Blood Pact’ and then going right back to the beginning to read the first three novels in the series (and reading the ‘Sabbat Worlds’ anthology in between). Normally I’d start at the beginning and work through to the end of a series but, knowing exactly what I’m like with long series these days, I figured that if I didn’t jump in at the deep end then I’d never get going at all.
This approach proved to be the best one, for me, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far and it has more or less guaranteed that I’ll not only finish the completed books but will also stick with the series until it is done. The Black Library has carved itself a fine reputation, as a purveyor of fine military science fiction, and it’s in no small part due to Dan Abnett and this very series.

This brings me neatly on to ‘Salvation’s Reach’, a book that I’ve been waiting to get my hands on ever since I finished ‘Blood Pact’. I seem to have found myself reading this series on two fronts (from the beginning and from the end, all at the same time) but books like ‘Salvation’s Reach’ make the whole thing worthwhile. If you’ve enjoyed previous books about Commissar Gaunt and the Ghosts of Tanith then I reckon you’re going to love this one...

The Tanith First and Only have been stationed on the world of Balhaut for far too long now and their time away from the front lines has seen the regiment descend into apathy and petty crime to pass the time. All that is about to change though as a high ranking military prisoner has just passed on information that could stop the Sabbat Worlds Crusade becoming a bloody stalemate.

The remote installation of Salvation’s Reach contains secrets that could change the war and even turn factions of the enemy against one another; all Gaunt and his men have to do is cross enemy space and break into it... Are they up to the task though? Time away from the front lines might have cost the Ghosts their edge and even if it hasn’t, elements working within the regiment itself are planning to stop the Ghosts from reaching Salvation’s Reach at all. Or is an even longer game being played here...?

Life has contrived to stop me reading just recently (for all the normal reasons, she’s doing well just in case you were wondering) but ‘Salvation’s Reach’ literally laughed at most of the other demands on my time and kept me reading away. The book is only three hundred and fourteen pages long but you wouldn’t think it given how much Abnett manages to pack in. It’s quickly becoming clear that I can always rely on Dan Abnett to deliver in terms of dark and gritty military science fiction and now I want more.

‘Salvation’s Reach’ is the tale of an Imperial Guard Regiment desperate to prove that it can still do what it has always done best; a regiment looking to regain its sense of identity and strike a blow for the Imperium once more. The eventual payoff is almost incidental to the work Abnett puts into showing how the return to action affects certain members of the Ghosts as well as the entourage that follows them into the warzone. I haven’t been reading these books very long so it’s all credit to Abnett that I was able to engage with the characters as quickly as I did. Abnett has created a regiment of living, breathing characters that actually have feelings about standing up and being shot at. Some of these characters will surprise you with how they feel, they certainly surprised me... I’m talking about the Commissar who is afraid of going into battle and the sniper who takes lessons from an unexpected source in order to rediscover his aim. Despite what the setting encourages you to think of people like this, you can’t help but root for them and there’s at least one character that I’ll be keeping an eye open for in the next book because of this. Even established characters are given reason to be apprehensive about the return to action with one main character about to reap the consequences of something that happened way back in the third book... One thing I would say though is that Abnett hasn’t really given himself enough room, in the book, to flesh out the supporting cast in the same way as the lead characters. This is only to be expected, to a degree, but the dividing line is a little too sharp and too noticeable at times.

‘Salvation’s Reach’ isn’t just about the characters though, there’s a job to be done and it’s made very clear just what the stakes are. We’re talking about a pretty big deal here and when you see just what the Ghosts must deal with you can understand why the secrets contained within Salvation’s Reach could well change the face of the war.

Abnett shows, only too well, that he is not only capable of drawing finely realised characters but he can also sit them right in the middle of some explosive situations. Even before the Ghosts reach their objective they must deal with massed combat in space, warfare between ships so huge in size that you may not know right away if you’ve even bit hit. As passengers, the Ghosts cannot affect the outcome of this fight and Abnett does well not only to convey that resigned uncertainty but also give the Ghosts pressing matters (closer at hand) to deal with in the meantime.

Upon arrival at Salvation’s Reach, Abnett ramps things up even more (I didn’t think he could but I was wrong) and throws the Ghosts into the kind of fire fight that long term fans, and me, have probably been waiting for since ‘Blood Pact’. This is the bit where the pages really start to fly along and Abnett keeps that momentum going by throwing surprises into the mix to keep things fresh. Salvation’s Reach is riddled with traps to be overcome but certain teams will face lethal difficulties before even making it that far. Abnett has shown that he won’t let his characters dodge a bullet and that is very much the case here as one main character (and another character, not sure if he’s a main character though) bows out in a way that not only brings a little lump to your throat but literally proves to be an explosive way of ending the conflict.

A few questions are left unanswered but there is more than enough to chew on here and it has just whetted my appetite for further stories to come. ‘Salvation’s Reach’ is a fitting return to the fray for Gaunt’s Ghosts and promises great things for the future.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 13 October 2011

‘Fighting to Survive’ – Rhiannon Frater (Tor)

It was back in August that I picked up Rhiannon Frater’s ‘The First Days’, a tale of two women fighting to survive the early days of a worldwide zombie uprising. Yep, the dead are walking once again and no-one wants to be on the menu, not surprising really! You can read the full review Here or you can read the last couple of paragraphs that went a little something like this...

The only bit that really didn’t work for me were the constant references to George Romero films made by Jenni over the course of the book. Again, I totally agree with her sentiments (I am not going to a mall in the event of a zombie uprising) but did she have to keep saying the same thing over and over again? It just got tired as did Juan’s moaning about the zombies being able to run. If you’re moaning about it then you obviously don’t feel the need to deal with it do you...?

These were relatively small complaints though when placed against a book that does a superb job of detailing people’s reactions, and what they find themselves capable of, when zombies quite literally land on their doorstep. I’m there for the next book, really looking forward to it!

What we are looking at then is a book that left me with a few small misgivings but also a book that gave me a number of reasons to come back and pick up the sequel... and here I am! You won’t be able to pick up the Tor edition, of ‘Fighting to Survive’, until next month but there are zombies and its Halloween month so I thought an early review wouldn’t be out of place here. Not only that but the series was originally self published so the odds are that you may have even read the book already.
As it turned out, I found myself having the same kind of issues with ‘Fighting to Survive’ that cropped up in ‘The First Days’ (and a couple more) but that didn’t stop this book being another entertaining read.

Ashley Oaks fort is as secure as it’s ever going to be. The zombies can’t get in but all that means is that other problems are stepping up to take priority... As the number of survivors increase, food supplies and safe shelter are rapidly running out. The only option left is to break into the recently renovated hotel but who knows how many zombies are trapped inside? There’s only one way to find out and it’s going to involve a battle the likes of which hasn’t been since since the outbreak kicked off.
If that wasn’t enough, people have got problems that don’t necessarily involve the zombies that shamble outside the walls. The Mayor has a heart problem, Jenni’s sanity begins to crumble again, Juan is accused of murder and Katie is viciously assaulted. And all that is before people realise that covetous eyes are watching the fort from outside...

‘Fighting to Survive’ has a lot going for it but, at the same time, I couldn’t help but think ‘is this it?’ This was especially so after the great time I had reading ‘The First Days’. I’m still looking forward to the final installment, just perhaps not as much as I was previously.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhiannon Frater still manages to do exactly what it was that made ‘The First Days’ such an entertaining read. Frater takes you into the heads of Katie and Jenni, even more than she did last time round, with new opportunities for character development all being taken advantage of. This is seen most prominently in the case of Jenni who never had the chance to deal with the issue of her abusive husband (and the death of her family) in the first book, to be fair there was a horde of the living dead that took priority. ‘Fighting to Survive’ revisits these issues and not only leaves us in no doubt as to the demons that Jenni faces but raises compelling questions as to whether she will beat them. The outcome may not be much of a surprise but it’s the journey getting there that counts.

Frater also shows us that she has lost none of her touch in terms of pitting desperate survivors against a horde of the undead. Again, the battle for the hotel is a vicious affair that never lets up and springs a few surprises along the way. These pages made for very easy turning.
Unfortunately, as great as these scenes are, Frater does have an unfortunate habit of signposting impending death for supporting characters. It got to the point where you could tell that a supporting member of the cast was going to die... just because a main character spoke to them. This approach took tension out of moments and that didn’t need to happen.

There is a lot to recommend ‘Fighting to Survive’ but, at the same time, it felt like things were a bit too safe to make for really gripping reading. To be blunt, after clearing out the hotel the fort is just too safe; zombies cannot get in and survivors are checked for bites etc before they can be allowed to stay. There was never any danger of things getting beyond the control of the survivors in the fort; even the mysterious vigilante only took out the bad guys and stayed silent the rest of the time. I don’t want to give away too much about the bandit threat but if the zombies couldn’t get in...

This lack of any credible threat not only slowed the book right down but also proved to be a prelude to what is actually going to be a pretty big threat in the concluding volume. While I can appreciate this approach (and it will make more sense when the story is complete) it did leave ‘Fighting to Survive’ feeling a little flat in the meantime. I’m sure the story will pick up but the reader is essentially left waiting for an event that you won’t see until April next year. I can wait but that’s almost besides the point.

‘Fighting to Survive’ does everything that ‘The First Days’ did so well but suffers a little bit too much from ‘middle book syndrome’ to be truly effective. I’ll still be around for the conclusion though.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

‘Thorn & Talon’ – Dan Abnett et al (Black Library)

I couldn’t get a seat on the train yesterday morning and was the recipient of an absolutely foul glare off a middle aged woman, just because I happened to be wearing earphones (not that she could hear anything, I checked). I didn’t care though. Transferring from the train to the tube, someone (who really could have done with leaving his house five minutes earlier) decided that the carriage wasn’t jammed enough and took up a little more space, leaving me a little less room to do things like move and, well... breathe. I still didn’t care though, the reason being that I was listening to the latest audio book from the Black Library.
The quality of these audio books has been known to vary, check out my earlier reviews, but I’m always pleased to see one come through the door as I know that means I’ve got at least one commute that I will actually enjoy, one where I won’t end up wanting to kill my fellow passengers. Why would I when I can live vicariously through characters unloading serious amounts of ordinance upon the aliens and heretic scum of a grim and dark universe...?

‘Thorn & Talon’ was a particularly welcome arrival as I’d just finished Dan Abnett’s ‘Salvation’s Reach’ (review on it’s way this week) and was looking for something to tide me over until I could get round to picking up one of those massive omnibus editions that Black Library are well known for. I’ve also never read any of Abnett’s ‘Inquisitor’ books so ‘Thorn & Talon’ looked like as good a place as any to start.
Sometimes I think that life is made up of an ever-growing list of books that I really must get round to reading at some point. Listening to ‘Thorn & Talon’ has added another couple of books to that list; I really want to find out more about Inquisitors Eisenhorn and Ravenor...

‘Thorn & Talon’ tells three tales from various points in the life of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn although he is more of a peripheral figure in one of these tales and I’m guessing that this tale will prove to be a gateway into one of Abnett’s future projects. We see Eisenhorn as an Interrogator, a new Inquisitor starting out and an Inquisitor nearing the end of his life but still fighting against the darkness. One of these stories is a lot more straightforward than the other two (you can see where it’s going) but together, all three make for some great listening.

‘Master Imus’s Transgression’
kicks things off and while it fits in with the chronological approach taken to the audio book; it’s perhaps not the best tale to kick things off on. This tale of a clerk’s perceived dalliance with the Ruinous Powers has some neat surprises up its sleeve (insofar as the way in which we see Eisenhorn deal with Master Imus) but the overall course of the plot is a little too obvious, at least it was for me. Abnett does make up for this by ending things on a very bleak note but the damage for me was done in getting to that point. While the production here was as good as ever, it also didn’t help that Rupert Degas (as Master Imus) had a nasty habit of making Imus’ voice a little too ‘mumbly’ and hard to make out. More than once, I found myself having to rewind and see if I could make out what was being said. More than once, I found myself having to give up on this if I was ever going to get on with the rest of the story... Jonathan Keeble makes for a great narrator though, very much in keeping with the sombre tone of this piece.Not a bad tale all in all but could have been better. 8/10

‘Regia Occulta’ was more like it though with an enforced stay on a storm wracked planet leading Eisenhorn into a series of murders that must be solved. All the clues are right in front of you but Abnett very cleverly keeps things under wraps until just the right moment. There’s also a really grim atmosphere surrounding this piece, both in the storms that wrack the planet and when we get to find out just what Eisenhorn is capable of, even though he hasn’t been an Inquisitor for very long.
I could see where the killer was coming from but I didn’t realise what it was until those frantic last moments where it all kicks off in the best possible way and with a novel approach to a hostage situation. It was all over a little too quickly but was a hell of a rush in the meantime and everyone involved delivered their lines pretty much perfectly. If we ever do see more of Eisenhorn then I really hope it’s Gareth Armstrong doing the honours. 9.5/10

‘Thorn Wishes Talon’
rounds things off and is easily the best of the three stories. Inquisitor Ravenor, and his retinue, are summoned to a distant planet by a cryptic message but must fight for their lives if they are to decipher just what it means. The constant stream of gunfire hurries things along and I loved the way that Abnett sets you up to think ‘Thorn Wishes Talon’ is going one way, only for you to find that it opens up into something far wider in scope. Not only does Abnett do this but he also manages to tell two stories at once which totally caught me out until the end. Whereas Black Library have previously relied on one actor to deliver a number of different voices, this time there’s a whole cast involved and this means there’s more that is different to catch your ear. Rupert Degas does take on more than one character though and all credit to him that I didn’t realise this until I looked at the credits. 10/10

Like I said, ‘Thorn & Talon’ has got me keen to dig out those ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ books lurking at the bottom of the pile. ‘Thorn and Talon’ proved to be a great place to jump on board and I reckon that seasoned fans will get a lot out of it as well.