Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Little Wishlist...

I've spent the last few days in Plymouth and very nice it's been too :o) As much as I don't want to go back home I don't really have much choice in the matter so I'm hoping that there will be at least a couple of books waiting on the doorstep to sweeten the deal. You want specifics? Here goes...

Because I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book and it sounds like just the kind of reading that I need right now ('engaging and fun' is the order of the day with a side of 'sword and sorcery'). I've really got my fingers crossed for this one.

The 'Horus Heresy' series has very much become a 'mark the release of each new book in the diary' kind of affair for me; a 'Horus Heresy' book from Dan Abnett gets the same treatment plus at least one sleepless night wondering if my copy will show up the next day. I really hope today's that day...

If I had to choose one of these books I'd go for... Well, it has to be 'Know No Fear', Abnett hasn't let me down yet while Ahmed is an unknown quantity (although like I said, I've been hearing good things). We'll see what the postman has left for me I guess... Are any of you guys positively itching for the postman to show up at your door? What book(s) are you waiting for and should I give them a go?

In other news, 'A Dance With Dragons' is nearing the close and right now I don't know how I feel about it. There are flashes of brilliance but there are just as many moments that, well... just aren't. I'm hoping to have it all read by the end of the week so you can expect a review fairly soon after that.

Thanks for bearing with me, over the last week, by the way. The whole 'job ending' thing has meant a whole load of changes already and it's only been a week since I finished! Things are on the up again though so the blog should be looking more like it should very soon ;o)

Monday, 30 January 2012

‘Elric: The Balance Lost’ #1 – Roberson & Biagini (Boom! Studios)

A bit of a shorter post than normal for those of you who turn up on a Monday to hear me moan about being in the office of a morning. No job equals no office to be in so things are a little jauntier today; I’m also feeling good because I’ve spent the last couple of days poring over a comic that I’d completely forgotten was on the shelves last year. Thank goodness for reprints or, in this case, other comics on the shelf that hid this one.

I had my eyes open for the ‘Balance Lost’ series, last year, so I don’t know how it passed me by. Perhaps it was the mention of it being written by Chris Roberson, I’ve never finished a book of his that I’ve started so I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence when I heard that he had control of the reins. Turns out I was mistaken; ‘The Balance Lost’ looks like it could well be another title to collect in trade format.

The set up is a familiar one especially if, like me, you’ve read the ‘Chronicles of Castle Brass’. The Cosmic Balance is threatened across the Multiverse and three incarnations of the Eternal Champion are slowly being summoned to combat whatever is behind the collapse. In our world a games designer, Eric Beck, dreams nightly of events taking place in other dimensions. What is his connection to the three Champions and are his dreams about to become reality…?

‘The Balance Lost’ #1 runs very much along the lines of setting everything up whilst giving nothing away of what the future holds in store. This approach verges on the tedious although I understand that this series is going to be a long running one so maybe taking one issue to set things up is understandable. I think what this is all about is catering to readers who aren’t all that familiar with Moorcock’s work and I guess that’s far enough really. You might want to bear that in mind though if you’re a long term fan.

Roberson makes up for all this though with the situation that he throws Elric into the middle of; you know Elric will escape but it’s set up as such that I really want to find out just how he does it. It’s also good to meet Dorian Hawkmoon (who is fast becoming a favourite Champion of mine) and Corum again and have certain gaps, in their history, filled in. the introduction of Eric Beck isn’t going to raise any serious questions amongst long term fans but the sub-plot with his brother looks like it could have some real potential. I want to see how it plays out in terms of echoing certain stories, of the Multiverse, that have already been told.

Francesco Biagini’s art kind of crept up on me when I was least expecting it. It started off looking a little too ‘Marvel’ for my liking but Biagini’s depictions of the raw stuff of Chaos really catch the eye. His portrayal of the Champions is a little more hit and miss though. Elric looks a little too cartoonish although his final panel really captures the essence of the Pale Prince. Hawkmoon though… I saw him and felt straight away that this was the man I had been reading about., Biagini captured him perfectly (war weary yet noble) as far as I was concerned.

‘The Balance Lost’ looks like it could be a series worth following then. A quick look on Amazon sees that Volume Two will be out in July, has anyone else been reading this series?

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cover Art - 'The Pillars of Hercules' (David Constantine)

Because Nightshade Books always come up with good cover art and I've enjoyed David Constantine's work in the past, albeit under a different name...
I won't bother giving you the blurb as it's right above you, click on the picture (to make it bigger) and you'll see just what 'Pillars' is all about. I'm looking forward to it... :o)

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Win tickets to see Star Wars 3D ('The Phantom Menace') at the BFI IMAX

You might even see me there... I need to know whether 'The Phantom Menace' works better in 3D, it has to! :o) Thanks to those lovely people at the BFI I have three pairs of tickets to give away, if you fancy a little bit of '3D Star Wars' then you've come to the right place. Here's what you need to do...

- Click Here for a list of dates that the film is showing. Pick a date that you'd like to go on.
- Drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are, your address, and the date that you'd like to see the film. The subject header needs to be Star Wars.

Erm... and that's it :o) I'll do everything else. The only condition of entry is really obvious. You need to be in a position where you can make it to the IMAX, in London, on the date you've asked for (Edited to add... That's any date apart from the opening weekend. Sorry for any confusion). There's no point in entering otherwise is there...?

I'll let this one run until Sunday the 5th of February and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 January 2012

‘Creepy Comics 1’ (Dark Horse Books)

As a boy, if there was a minor operation to be had (and time off school afterwards) then you could bet that I’d be taking up a hospital bed somewhere. It wasn’t that I was particularly ill or anything, it was just that various small parts of me would need removing from time to time. That’s just the way it goes I guess. It goes without saying that the resulting time off school was always the best part, especially when a Grandparent would show up with comics for me to read while everyone else was in lessons :o)
One time while I was off the ‘Get Well Soon’ comic pile threw up an issue of ‘Scream’, a relatively short lived UK comic that I will always remember for a story about a tower block run by an AI that would systematically kill off everyone that threatened his residents. I think that may have been the moment I fell in love with horror comics…

This was a love affair that died spectacularly during my teenage years and was barely remembered when I got back into reading comics at college. The ‘Zombie World’ comics took care of that though and, more recently, so did ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ and ‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’. I’m always after more horror in my comics though and the first collected volume of Dark Horse’s new ‘Creepy’ series (collecting issues #1 to #4) seemed like a great place to get my fix. Have you seen how much the older volumes of ‘Creepy’ are going for? Before I spend serious money on those (and it would be serious money) I thought I’d check out the latest stuff first. There was also the fact that I’m a sucker for Eric Powell’s artwork and this book is full of it. Having read the book, there’s definitely potential for future issues and I’ll probably be there to see how it all pans out. I’ll be hoping for stories that are more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ though as that’s how I’d sum up Volume One…

If your comic book is called ‘Creepy’ then that’s making a serious statement of intent. Not only are you making promises on the quality of the content but you’re also hearkening back to the ‘Creepy’ of yesteryear, a series that was very well received back in the day. I guess the bottom line is that the revitalised ‘Creepy’ of today should have been called ‘Some of it is Creepy but there’s a lot of filler that isn’t’… I know that’s a long title for a comic book cover but sometimes you’ve got to be honest about these things.

‘Creepy Comics 1’ can be split into two halves. You’ve got the stories that are genuinely creepy, the stuff where the revelation sends a genuine shiver up your spine and you can’t get it out of your head. You also have the stories that forego these chills and set out to just plain shock you instead. Not creepy at all in other words.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal but a number of these stories don’t really shock at all. Neil Kleid’s ‘All the Help You Need’ has a great concept but the ending can be seen a mile off. It’s the same kind of issue with Mike Baron’s ‘Muscle Car’ but this tale takes a big step backwards when it decides to concentrate purely on the gore. Doug Moench’s ‘Pelted’ could have been something special but Angelo Torres’ art was far too plain and functionary to do it the justice it really deserves.

Braun and Haffner’s ‘Xchange’ though… That was the one story that set out to shock yet somehow ended up being quite creepy at the same time. I won’t spoil the ending, even though you can probably guess just how Hitler managed to escape Germany at the end of the war, I’ll only say that’s it very well handled and worth sticking around for.

It’s not just about the shocks though, thank goodness. ‘Creepy’ does show moments of real… well, creepiness and that’s what not only made the book one that I stuck with but ensured that I’ll check out future volumes.

I really want to see more along the same lines of Joe Harris’ ‘The Curse’ for a start; a genuinely unnerving tale of what ultimate power can do to the unprepared. It’s also a tale that introduces you to the darkness in everyone as well as making you question just what reality really is. ‘The Curse’ spans several issues of ‘Creepy’ but there are also one shots that do the job just as well. Take Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘Drawn Out’ for starters, a tale that really ratchets up the tension and has you wondering just how unlucky one man can be. Not that he didn’t deserve it… Andrew Foley’s ‘Fit for a King’ is another such tale, one that shows you what can happen when a cannibal chooses not to finish a meal… Michael Woods’ ‘Chemical 13’ marries horror all too well with the horror of the Nazi concentration camps and is more than ably drawn by Saskia Gutekunst. The collection signs off in just the right way with Andrew Mayer’s ‘Om Nom Nom’, a tale of the grotesquely cute that ends up being just plain grotesque in its creepiness. Lukas Ketner’s art really catches the tone of this piece perfectly.

There are more tales that are just as unnerving but I’ll let you find them for yourself. There is a lot of filler in this collection but when ‘Creepy’ hits the spot it does so in such a way that you won’t get those stories and images out of your head. I’d like ‘Creepy Comics 2’ to be more consistent in what it promises to deliver and I’ll be there to see if it makes good on that promise.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Some cover art that caught my eye...

In case you were wondering where all the reviews are this week... I'm well and truly into 'A Dance With Dragons' at the moment (about four hundred pages in) so I'm sure you'll understand that there hasn't been time for much else! ;o) Thoughts so far? I wish they'd hurry up and get on with whatever they're going to do. It's not so much 'A Dance With Dragons', more like 'Dragons telling each other how strong the King is and why they can't fight him even though he's a little boy'... Oh yes, there's also lots and lots of detail about what people are eating; makes me hungry just reading it! There are flashes of brilliance but I thought the book would have taken off by now, I'm far enough in to keep reading though and the potential is there. I'll see how I feel in six hundred pages time...

I might be able to post a review (maybe two, we'll see...) before the end of the week. In the meantime, here are a couple of covers that have caught my eye over the last couple of days.

This one caught my eye in a reproachful way initially, gently reminding me that I still haven't read 'The Winds of Khalakovo'. Soon, I promise! Once the guilt was out of the way, I was able to fully appreciate what looks like a very crisp, fresh cover (Nightshade are good at coming up with these); even if I'm not a hundred percent convinced about the perspective employed on the front. I'd rather see what the guy is leaping onto personally. Pat loved 'The Winds of Khalakovo', anyone else read it?

It's like I was saying the other day... A cover doesn't necessarily have to be good just so long as it's eye catching. Some bright orange letters make sure this cover catches your eye, even if it took me a little while longer to work out what the rest of it was all about. Is this a cover that draws you in, asking you to make sense of it, or is it just badly drawn with some splashes of colour? I'm going for the former but it could just as easily be the latter... I'm not sure whether I'll give 'The Troupe' a go or not, still thinking about it.

And now it's back to the 'Dance' :o)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Audrey Niffenegger comes to Solaris for Magic anthology

From the Press Release...

International best-selling author Audrey Niffenegger is to pen her first ever story for a commercial trade anthology, after signing to Solaris’ forthcoming short story collection, Magic.

Solaris are proud to announce that Niffenegger, whose novel The Time Traveller's Wife has sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide, is to produce a story for the themed anthology of the occult and arcane, due for release in November 2012 in North America and the UK, in both paperback and ebook.

The story marks Audrey’s first ever appearance in any commercial trade anthology and is the third themed collection from Solaris editor-in-chief Jonathan Oliver. The previous critically-acclaimed anthologies include The End of the Line, which featured stories set on the Underground, and House of Fear, which rebooted the haunted house for the 21st Century. The titles garnered ecstatic reviews, with The Times describing End of the Line’s stories as “exceptionally good”.

“I'm delighted to be involved in this project,” said Audrey Niffenegger. “My story is called The Wrong Fairie and is about Charles Altamont Doyle. He was a Victorian artist who was institutionalized for alcoholism. He was also the father of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he believed in fairies.”

“It's really very exciting to be working with Audrey, whose novels The Time Traveller's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry show an author with a great talent for subverting genre norms and delivering the unexpected,” said Jonathan Oliver. “Audrey's story is sure to make a great addition to Magic.”

The line-up for Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane is set to include other high profile authors, including Richard and Judy Book Club-choice Alison Littlewood, NYT Bestseller Dan Abnett, and celebrated authors such as Christopher Fowler, Storm Constantine, Robert Shearman, Paul Meloy, Sophia McDougall, Will Hill, Gemma Files, along with new writers such as Sarah Lotz, Lou Morgan and Thana Niveau and more.

I'm not too bothered about the news as such, having never read any Audrey Niffenegger, but the news about the shape of Solaris' next anthology has got me excited. Solaris produce good anthologies you see... :o)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

2012 World Book Night... Now with added SFF!

I didn't really pay much attention to World Book Night, last year, and only really caught the tail end of all the fuss and bother about there not being any SFF on the list. One year on and World Book Night has not only 'redeemed' itself a little bit by including SFF on the list but has showed that it knows what it's talking about by including 'Let The Right One In' and Iain M. Banks' 'The Player of Games'.

Having never read 'Let The Right One In' (any good?) this post is all about plugging 'The Player of Games'; it's been a long time since I read it but the twist in the tale has stayed with me all that time. A stunning work of SF as far as I'm concerned, maybe I'll read it for World Book Night...

Anyway... If you want to be a giver on World Book Night, or if you want to find out more about 'The Player of Games' then click on this Link and get going. I'll tell you now though, give it a read; you won't regret it :o)

Monday, 23 January 2012

‘Game of Thrones’ Episode One: ‘Winter is Coming’

What with one thing and another I never got round to watching the first season of ‘Game of Thrones’, I kind of figured that I’d read the books so wouldn’t be missing out on a huge lot… would I? On the other hand…The thing is, I’d always fancied checking out at least one episode; I’d really enjoyed the books and wanted to see how it all translated onto the small screen. Like that was ever going to happen though, I’d have to wait at least a couple of years for the box set price to drop and even then I’d still be way behind everyone else. Who knows, at that rate George might have even finished writing the series by the time I caught up with Season Three…(probably not but it’s not like I don’t have a heaving pile of books to get through in the meantime).

Then I saw this post and was off down to my local HMV in the time that it would normally take for Robert Baratheon to father another bastard child. I might still have to wait a little while for a cheap box set deal but the first episode should be enough to keep me going in the meantime.

Before we get started, is there anyone who hasn’t read the books? How about anyone who hasn’t seen the first episode of ‘Game of Thrones’? Really? I don’t believe that…;o)
Look, if you haven’t read the books or seen the show then you need to be aware that I’m not going to skirt round any spoilers; if I see one coming at the end of a paragraph then I’m just going full steam ahead. The season defining spoilers don’t come along until much later but even so, you’ve been warned.

The bottom line is that ‘Winter is Coming’ really worked for me, I’ve definitely got my eye on the box set now (even though I’ve read the books). Some of the CGI scenery is a little too obviously CGI (I thought the Direwolf pups looked fine myself) but when that’s the only thing wrong with the episode, well… you can’t complain really can you?

What we’ve got here is an episode that introduces us to the Seven Kingdoms, sets up all the players on the board and then has them jockeying for position while nasty stuff is starting to happen up North beyond the Wall. Those scenes in particular were superb as far as I was concerned, tense and shocking moments that held my attention straight away. The producers/directors (I can never tell the difference) are obviously not afraid to skimp on the blood and that is definitely in keeping with GRRM’s grim medieval world.

There’s only an hour to get all the initial stuff set up and so it’s inevitable that not everything will fit in. It seemed to me that events took precedence over characterisation although the main players do get a chance to shine. Peter Dinklage in particular shines as Tyrion Lannister.  When an actor replaces my own mental image of a character then I just know that they’ve done a good job. When I next read the books it will be Dinklage’s Tyrion that I see. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's Jaime Lannister was almost as impressive but looked a little too much like Prince Charming (‘Shrek 2’) for me to be totally convinced. Sorry, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. And just where is Rickon Stark? I couldn’t see him but that’s not saying that he wasn’t there. Help?

Like I said, all the main events (from the opening chapters of ‘A Game of Thrones’) are covered in enough detail that the viewer is left with a decent idea of who means what to whom and why certain events are still resonating down the years. You can see how certain events build up a good head of steam (poor Bran) that will carry things along nicely in terms of pacing. From what I could see of the scenery, Ireland looked like a good place to film Winterfell. Where were the Dothraki scenes filmed? That looked gorgeous as well.

Apart from a couple of ropey CGI moments, ‘Winter is Coming’ really kicked things off in fine style and promises good things for the rest of Season One. You probably all knew that already though ;o) Don’t expect to see me talking about the rest of Season One anytime soon as I’m waiting on that box set…

Sunday, 22 January 2012

‘Millennium Falcon: Owner’s Workshop Manual’ – Ryder Windham, Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas (Del Rey)

Now I’m sure you’ve all been reading the blog long enough to know that I cover genre fiction here and not really anything that’s non-fiction. That’s just the way my preferences lie I guess, I want to lose myself in worlds of speculative fiction not have them stripped down and opened up for inspection. With this in mind then, why am I talking about the ‘Millennium Falcon Haynes Manual’…? A work of non-fiction arising from a fictional universe, that counts as non-fiction for me!

Star Wars and the Haynes Manual… An unlikely combination that has somehow awakened a severe bout of nostalgia in me. The ‘Star Wars’ element pretty much speaks for itself, I challenge anyone my age not to feel just a little bit nostalgic about the original trilogy (notice the important distinction there…) The Haynes Manual though… Well, that brings back memories of my very first car, a Mini that was older than I was, and the Haynes Manual that came with it. I’ve got to admit that I barely looked inside said manual (the stuff that happened to that car couldn’t be fixed by a mere manual!) but it was very much part of the whole ‘rites of passage, I don’t have to walk anywhere now that I have a car’ thing that crops up in everyone’s life. Two nostalgic things then, what happens when you put the two together? Put it this way, I wasn’t rushing to watch the films so I could see the Falcon in action. It wasn’t a bad read though, it made for a interesting hour or two.

If you’ve owned or read a Haynes Manual in your time then you’ll know the format which is basically an in depth look at where all the bits in your car are meant to go if they are to work properly. That’s what you’ve got here with the Millennium Falcon manual, a detailed guide to what is what and how it all works together to keep the ship moving. It’s not a hard format to stick to and the end result was that I felt like I was holding a proper manual instead of something based on a spaceship in a film. I couldn’t ask for a lot more than that and the authors take things a step further by going into a lot of detail, not only about the craft itself (I never realised that the Falcon had its own tractor beam projector…) but about the Corellian Engineering Corporation, the company that originally built the YT-1300 freighter. That’s a lot of information for fans, all accompanied by detailed schematics of the Falcon and its component parts.

The book definitely looks very good and there’s a lot of information inside for fans. The thing is though; it’s a tough one to get through, very tough in fact. You see, the thing about manuals is that they’re not really there to be enjoyed, a manual is there to give you information in order to get things working again. The authors succeed in adopting this tone, for the most part, although I did find myself wondering why the manual needed to include information on previous and current owners. What does that have to do with how the ship itself works? Sometimes though, the authors succeed in adopting this tone a little too well and the resulting material makes for dry reading to say the least. It’s the kind of book that a die-hard fan would love but a more casual fan might put down, after a while, because it’s so heavy going.

Having said that though, the ‘Millennium Falcon: Owner’s Workshop Manual’ did make for some nice nostalgic reading even if it ultimately wasn’t entirely for me. Before you pick this book up just ask yourself, ‘how much of a fan are you?’

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Reader of many books, finisher of none...

"I've been waiting for ages for this book and it's here! Time to start reading! A hundred pages later and... "Actually, this other book has been on the pile for ages, I really should give it a go..." A hundred and fifty pages later... "Why am I reading fantasy when it's horror that I'm really after, I'll check out this other book instead." Seventy five pages later and...

That's me at the moment; reader of many books and finisher of very few of them (I've got a couple ready for review but the number of partially read books outweighs this right now). Do you have this problem? I really wish I could settle on just one book at a time...

This post then is about some of those books that I've started and then put down to move onto something else entirely. This should give you an idea about what to expect over the next few weeks, if I ever finish them off...

'Neuromancer' - William Gibson

I put this one down thirty eight pages in when I realised that I wanted to read something where the air of cool felt natural instead of being so forced. What? Don't tell me you don't feel the same... Look, it's a re-read so the plan is still to go back and see if the actual plot is as good as I remember. I'll see if I still feel the same then.

'The Emperor's Knife' - Mazarkis Williams

I made it through all of thirty nine pages here when I realized that the book was just that little bit too bulky for commuting on the Jubilee Line. What I was really after was something smaller, probably a mass market paperback of some description. What I read though looked very promising indeed and it's not as if I'm commuting at the moment... :o)

'Brimstone Angels' - Erin Evans

I was really enjoying this 'Forgotten Realms' novel (I made it fifty four pages this time!) but wanted to read a couple of shorter works, for the blog, before my job ended. I'll be back into 'Brimstone Angels' before you know it :o)

'The Call of Cthulhu' - H.P. Lovecraft

If there was one lesson that I learned last year it's that a man can only read so much Lovecraft before all the stories (short and otherwise) blur into a squamous mass of tentacles and you can't tell the difference between 'The Picture in the House' and 'The Rats in the Walls'. I bailed out at page one hundred and seventy this time round, just as 'The Colour out of Space' was about to begin... A title like that means I will be back to find out more; I just needed to read something different.

'Giant Thief' - David Tallerman

You know what? I have no idea why I put this book down at page fifty one. Let me get back to you on that one...

'A Dance With Dragons' - George R.R. Martin

I know exactly why I put this book down (at the end of the first 'Tyrion' chapter)... It's simple, I wanted to read a book that I didn't have to do warm up exercises in order to be able to hold for any length of time! Don't get me wrong, I love reading 'door stopper' fantasies but damn 'ADWD' is heavy!

Would you like to see any of these books reviewed here? Would anyone care to hold 'Dance' for me while I read it...? ;o)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Chuck Wendig Returns To Abaddon

From the Press Release,
The author behind Abaddon’s fastest-selling title of 2011 is set to return with a follow-up novella and a brand new series.
Abaddon is delighted to announce that Chuck Wendig has signed up to write an ebook sequel to the popular Double Dead, as well as create a brand new series for Abaddon in 2013.
An October 2011 release from Abaddon, Double Dead was Wendig’s first original novel and became the fastest-selling Abaddon title to date, with a particularly strong showing as an ebook.
The freshest take on the undead for years, Double Dead saw the vampire Coburn awaken during the zombie apocalypse, only to realise that if he wants to survive he has to protect his food source from the undead hordes.
Now Wendig is set to return to the world of Coburn later this year with Double Dead: Bad Blood, an ebook-only novella sequel. It will be released on May 14th on all e-platforms.
Wendig is also working on an exciting new urban fantasy series for Abaddon Books, bringing gods and monsters onto the city streets in a thrilling new-take on classic genre tropes. The first in this new series is due for release in 2013.
With his prominent online presence, including his popular blog on which he is not afraid to give his opinions on the process of writing and the industry at large.
“It’s wonderful to be welcoming Chuck back to the Abaddon team,” said Jon Oliver, editor-in-chief of Abaddon Books. “He’s certainly one of the most exciting new writers around and Chuck is going to build on the success of Double Dead while bringing a brand new series to Abaddon.”
"The vampire Coburn kicked his way out of my skull and onto the pages of Double Dead,” said Wendig, “so it's great to be revisiting that cantankerous old bloodsucker. And I'm utterly geeked to be working with Abaddon to help birth this brand new series of gods and monsters."

On the one hand this is great news as I loved 'Double Dead' and want to read more from Wendig (I'm expecting great things from his next book 'Black Birds'). On the other hand, it looks like there's another reason for me to fork out for a Kindle. There's no escape for my poor wallet...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Zen Cover Art?

The blog is going to look a little odd this week as I get used to being at home an awful lot more and not having all that free time to read on the train. I'm not missing the commute though, I feel a sense of peace that I never felt on the underground... Stick with it though (I am), normal service will hopefully resume in the next day or so when my reading finally catches up with itself. I'm halfway through a lot of things right now :o)

In the meantime, two books arrived yesterday and I thought I'd share the cover art with you (I'm not sure whether I'll be reading them or not). Check em' out...

This isn't the 'Zen cover'. What we have here is a cover that has me wanting to watch 'Empire Strikes Back' whilst eating very large mushrooms at the same time. No idea why ;o) It's all looking very 'alien' and 'sci-fi' and this has got me interested in reading a little more. The only problem is though, I never read the first book (which had a cover that didn't grab me at all). Has anyone read John Meaney's 'Absorption'? What did you think?

Whether cover art is good or bad, if it gets a reaction (and someone picks up the book to see what it's all about) then it's... erm... good cover art, right? The cover art for 'In The Mouth Of The Whale' is neither though. Bland and unimaginative, yet presented with just enough attention to detail so as not to be offensive. What we have here is a cover that falls right in the middle of the spectrum; exciting nobody but not annoying anybody either. We're talking perfect balance, I'm having a 'zen moment' here :o)
Here's the blurb if you're interested,

Fomalhaut was first colonised by the posthuman Quick, who established an archipelago of thistledown cities and edenic worldlets within the star's vast dust belt. Their peaceful, decadent civilisation was swiftly conquered by a band of ruthless, aggressive, unreconstructed humans who call themselves the True, then, a century before, the True beat back an advance party of Ghosts, a posthuman cult which colonised the nearby system of Beta Hydri after being driven from the Solar System a thousand years ago. Now the Ghosts have returned to Fomalhaut, to begin their end game: the conquest of its single gas giant planet, a captured interstellar wanderer far older than the rest of Fomalhaut's system. At its core is a sphere of hot metallic hydrogen with strange and powerful properties based on exotic quantum physics. The Quick believe it is inhabited by an ancient alien Mind; the True believe it can be developed into a weapon, and the Ghosts believe it can be transformed into a computational system so powerful it can reach into their past, collapse timelines, and fulfil the ancient prophecies of their founder.

So... A lot more interesting than the cover suggests, I still think cover art needs to inspire some kind of reaction though. What do you think?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

‘Who Goes There?’ – John W. Campbell (Gollancz)

Was I the only person who was excited about the recent prequel to ‘The Thing’? Judging by certain sounds arising from the internet (and the distinct lack of other sounds) it looks like I was. As it turns out, I never got round to seeing it at the cinema (insert regular ‘baby excuse’ here, I miss going to the pictures...) but I’ll definitely be watching it somewhere down the line. All this excitement is down to the fact that I love the John Carpenter version of ‘The Thing’, can’t get enough of it in fact, and will quite happily watch it over and over again with little or no excuse needed.

This post was originally going to be about the 1951 film ‘The Thing From Another World’ but I never got round to sitting down and watching it. Going through the ‘Boston Legal’ box set takes precedence over everything else right now! No worries though... The ‘Thing’ prequel has prompted Gollancz to release the original novella, along with several of John W. Campbell’s short stories, and so this post was reborn. We’re headed back to 1938 and a novella that has inspired three direct retellings of the original story along with many other films that have also been influenced.

An Antarctic expedition has discovered something amazing under the ice, a spaceship that crash landed on Earth many thousands of years ago. Even better than that; an alien corpse has been perfectly preserved under the ice, ready for examination by the expedition’s scientists. What these scientists could never have realised though is that they’re not dealing with a corpse at all... The team is about to discover the true meaning of paranoia and will also find that they are the only thing standing in the path of an alien invasion unlike any other...

This is going to be a shorter review than most, purely because ‘Who Goes There?’ weighs in at an incredibly slight and slender seventy five pages long. No wonder Gollancz had to include several of Campbell’s other stories, this is a book that needs some serious bulking up. More on those stories another time.

With only a little space to work in (apparently the novella was published in ‘Astounding Science Fiction’ so maybe there was a space issue that had to be worked around) Campbell does well to convey his message of paranoia and mistrust along with several ‘alien encounters’ and a sobering revelation right at the very end. That is quite a lot to pack into a small space and certain elements of the plot inevitably suffer for it. You don’t get much of a sense of what the alien looks like, for example, along Campbell leaves you in no doubt as to what it can do. This is done both through its own actions and through the theorizing of the scientists. The theorizing did drag on a little bit for my liking though (the concept is very well thought out and presented though) especially when the gradual growth of paranoia, on the base, was being dealt with so well.

Reading ‘Who Goes There?’ you soon realise that the alien could be any member of the team and Campbell keeps you in the dark just as much as he does the surviving members of the team. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the base also plays well into this growing sense of urgency and fear. There’s something out there and you’ve got very little room to manoeuvre when it comes for you.This approach makes for some very tense moments with revelations that are suitably explosive. I was on edge just as much as the main characters were. The only thing that detracted from this very impressive effect was Campbell’s occasionally ‘matter of fact’ prose, telling it like it was when a little more embellishment could have made the novella all the more engaging.

‘Who Goes There?’ was nothing short of a gripping read though, one that I had to finish even though I’d already seen the film (well, one of them). If there was a little more meat on its bones I could see this novella sitting quite comfortably in the ‘SF Masterworks’ range; that shouldn’t detract from what it does though. Another masterful work and I’ll be reading the other stories very soon if the quality here is anything to go by.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

‘Rogue Moon’ – Algis Budrys (Gollancz)

Regular readers will already know that I’m starting to get quite a kick out of reading stuff that’s been around for a long time (albeit not necessarily on the shelves). Finding a good book, written years ago, can be just as rewarding as looking ahead and getting excited about books that haven’t been published yet. For me, this has been very much the case with the Gollancz ‘SF Masterworks’ series. I’m still not a hundred percent sure on what the criteria for ‘Masterwork’ status are but, on the whole, the series has done a great job of opening my eyes to great science fiction from way before I was even born. See what I mean? You absolutely have to look backwards as well as forwards otherwise you’ll miss out. I can’t wait for the Fantasy Masterworks series to kick off again.

I’ve got a little backlog of ‘SF Masterworks’ books on the pile right now (I say ‘little’... some of those books are massive) and ‘Rogue Moon’ seemed like the best place to start in terms of chipping away at that particular sub-strata of the pile. Yep, it’s another short and sweet read; I should have time for thicker books from tomorrow onwards... :o( Having read ‘Rogue Moon’ last night I’m in two minds about the whole thing. There’s a lot for me to think about here, I don’t even know if I’ll come to a conclusion by the end of this review...

The US military has found a mysterious structure on the moon, a murderous labyrinth that no-one has yet been able to penetrate. With the military running out of volunteers only one man is seen as being up to the task. All his life, Al Barker has courted death in any number of ways and this mission on the moon could be just the challenge that his masculinity craves. Could it be though that Al has picked a challenge that even he can’t deal with? What is required of Al is not just that he die the once; Al will experience the trauma of dying over and over again...

‘Rogue Moon’ is a tough one to call, one that I suspect will be nagging away at my brain when I should be thinking about other stuff. There’s no doubt that ‘Rogue Moon’ is a masterful work but is it an ‘SF Masterwork’? I’m not sure.

‘Rogue Moon’ has its SF elements, there’s no question about it. How can it not when you’ve got an alien structure on the moon and people being beamed up, by matter transmitter, to take a look at it. The thing is though; ‘Rogue Moon’ isn’t so much about the science fiction as it is about the people trying to make sense of it all. In fact, the science fiction elements are shoved firmly (but politely) to one side to make room for the attention paid to the relationships between the main characters. It’s a move that pays off like you wouldn’t believe and I’ll go into that more in a bit. I think, if anything, that I was expecting something a little more ‘sc-fi centric’ from a book with ‘SF Masterwork’ emblazoned proudly on the cover. Does that mean it’s not an ‘SF Masterwork’ then? Not necessarily, using underlying SF concepts to bring out the human relationships so well (especially in terms of questioning human identity in a person who has been duplicated from the original source material) is definitely a master stroke here. What did I tell you? There’s a lot to think about here.

So, what have we got in the meantime? Like I said, the SF elements are in place and Budrys’ execution of these makes for a very thoughtful read that got me into the plot slowly but inexorably. On this side of things, ‘Rogue Moon’ is very much a book of two extremes with the matter transference technology detailed very carefully but the structure on the moon deliberately left very vague and ‘alien’. It’s an approach that works in terms of the emphasis on ‘alien’, especially when you find out just how arbitrary the structure is in terms of dealing out death. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and that’s how you can tell the approach works. What I did find myself wondering though was whether the technology was gone into in a little bit too much detail (especially for a book that’s only just over a hundred and seventy pages long). Reading about how technology works has always stumped me though, you might get a real kick out of these passages. The payoff at the end is deliberately understated; again to emphasise the ‘alien’ but also to draw attention to the final revelation of Dr Hawks, a man who it turns out knew a lot more than he ever let on...

The payoff is also understated to draw the focus onto the relationships that play out between Al Barker and Hawks in particular but also those of Connington and Claire. These moments are where the book steps up to another level entirely with the resulting discussion of identity on more than one level. We get to find out that some people will never change, the various iterations of Barker allow for a degree of self awareness on his part (thanks to Hawks) but he is ultimately the same person at the end as he was at the beginning. People can change as well though, Connington and Claire leave the novel in a different form to the way they entered and the question is whether they are the better for it. Hawks though... His character examination is one that provokes the most thought and, for me anyway, will continue to do so after the novel ends (which is why I can’t go into too much detail here). Budrys really seeks to lay bare everyone who appears in the novel and it is done with varying degrees of success in relation to his own obviously high standards here. On the whole it worked very well indeed for me.

Is ‘Rogue Moon’ an ‘SF Masterwork’ then? I’m going for ‘yes’ but it could just as easily be no (in terms of the thematic balance). I’d certainly be interested to see what others think. For me, ‘Rogue Moon’ is a very clear example of what the gentle application of science fiction elements can do to bring out the very best in the rest of the plot. The end result here is masterful.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 16 January 2012

The 'Clearing My Desk' Competition Winner's Post!

In one of the worst ways to start a week off, I find myself clearing my work desk of all the assorted junk and clutter that has built up over the last four and a bit years. My job comes to an end tomorrow (curse you departmental restructure!) and I want to be a little ahead of the game so I can shoot off home as quickly as possible. It's not the nicest thing to be doing but, on the other hand, I'm up one stapler and a little bottle of surgical hand gel already. It's like a little treasure hunt over here :o)

So yeah, a slightly depressing morning going on here; all the more so when Chris Wraight's novel 'Luthor Huss' is in my bag and I can't read it (have you guessed that I'm enjoying it?) This morning will hopefully be a little cheerier for the winners of last week's two competitions though. Those lucky winners were...

'In The Lion's Mouth' 
Tanya Estell, Oklahoma, US

Hazel Wright, Derbyshire, UK

Well done guys, your books are on their way. Better luck next time everyone else, there's always another chance to win something around these parts :o)

I'm not really sure what the rest of the week will look like blogwise, namely because things are going to change dramatically after tomorrow. I can guarantee one 'SF Masterwork' review and a comic book review though which will be worth checking out; there'll be a whole load of stuff in the middle as well :o) See you back here tomorrow...?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Who would you put your money on in this fight...?

From the press release...

What was rumored as an April Fools’ joke has turned into a full-blown miniseries sure to bring laughs and excitement. Dark Horse Comics is proud to announce Groo vs. Conan!
It had to happen: The most heroic warrior in history meets the stupidest, as Robert E. Howard’s immortal Conan the Barbarian crosses swords with Sergio Aragon├ęs’s Groo the Wanderer in Groo vs. Conan #1! 
This four-issue miniseries was concocted by the Eisner Award–winning team of Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragon├ęs, aided by master illustrator Thomas Yeates and master colorist Tom Luth. Will Conan annihilate Groo? Will Groo turn out to be the man who can defeat Conan? We’ll see.Groo vs. Conan is on sale April 18, 2012!

This one is too close to call, I reckon it could go either way... ;o)

Saturday, 14 January 2012

‘The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel’ – Jennifer Williams

If you’ve read my review policy (not the most interesting post ever but it needed to be written) then you’ll know that there’s a lot that I don’t actually read and review. Self published stuff for a start but not for the reasons you might think. Other books that I won’t look at are those published for e-readers; I don’t actually own an e-reader (am I the only one left?) so there isn’t really an awful lot of point in my accepting ebooks for review...

It takes something that’s either pretty special, or something that happens to catch my eye at the right time, for me to go back on this policy. Jennifer Williams’ ‘The Copper Promise’ caught my eye, at a time when I was after a little ‘Sword and Sorcery’ action, and I was lucky enough to be able to score a PDF for review (this one is published for the Kindle, only a couple pounds to buy). It’s also pretty special. I’m either going to have to fork out for a Kindle or hope that ‘The Copper Promise’, and the three novellas that will follow it, is eventually published in a physical format.

The Citadel of Creos is the last place where any sensible person would want to find themselves; there are armed guards outside to deal with the not-so-sensible people trying to gain entrance.
The young Lord Frith wants in as he has heard that the secrets within the citadel are his key to revenge. Sebastian and Wydrin want in because Lord Frith has promised to pay them on delivery of said secrets. Treasure hunting in Creos could also prove to be an interesting distraction from other things in their lives though.‘Interesting’ isn’t the word for it though. The Citadel of Creos is overflowing with traps to catch the unwary (for ‘catch’, read ‘gut and generally dismember’) but the real danger lies in the hidden depths of the Citadel. Something waits in those depths and all that is required to release it is a little blood...

When I was a lot younger than I am now, I used to raid the bookstall on Norwich market for all those pulp fantasies that pretty much kicked the genre off. I had some great summers reading those books and the books that followed :o) Reading ‘The Copper Promise’ is like going back in time and finding one of those gems on the market stall all over again.

The plot looks fairly straightforward at first and, to be fair, there isn’t a lot of room for tricksy stuff in a book that’s only fifty four pages long. There’s a citadel with riches promised inside, there’s a group of adventurers that want some of those riches (well, more like ‘all’) for themselves. They break in and go adventuring, that’s it.

Actually no, that isn’t it. Williams has given us three characters that I really found myself enjoying hanging out with. By the end of the book I found myself hoping that Lord Frith gets to regain his lands and castle, I’d only known the guy for fifty four pages but Williams made every use of those pages to have me rooting for him, both now and in the future. Same deal with Wydrin, the ‘Copper Cat’ whom the book takes its title from. Wydrin’s handy with a blade and also free and easy with the wise-cracks, an entertaining character to follow but with hints of depth that I want to see explored in the future. Sebastian? I don’t want to spoil his story but the same deal applies here.

Time was strange here, down in the dark between these secret walls, as though it were draining away down hidden cracks, pooling in unknown crevices.

And the Citadel... The Citadel of Creos might be a little too influenced by D&D and ‘Knightmare’ (do you remember that?) but once you’ve gone through a few of the rooms you won’t notice anymore. It’s grim, dank in all the right places and full of little surprises to catch out the unwary. This is the cue for lots of action set pieces that prove Williams is as capable of writing a fight sequence as she is getting us into the heads of her characters. I read ‘The Copper Promise’ over a lunch break and came out of it feeling exhilarated and eager for more. The world outside the Citadel isn’t drawn as neatly but that just left me wanting those gaps to be filled in.

There are three more novellas planned and I intend on being around to see more of the world that Jennifer Williams is creating. I might even have to buy myself a Kindle for the trip. ‘The Copper Promise’ might wear its influences a little too proudly but this approach feels kind of apt for what is going on in these pages. I got the chance to take a little trip back in time and I’m grateful to Jennifer for giving me that chance. I want to make that trip again so I’ll be back for more.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Friday, 13 January 2012

‘The Faceless’ – Simon Bestwick (Solaris)

In what is certain to be an ongoing theme this year, I am temporarily ditching my vow to read lots of fantasy in order to pick up some horror instead. It’s not like I haven’t done this before so shall we just pretend that the vow never happened? No, I still intend to read a lot more fantasy, than I have done, this year but I’m sure you’ll understand if other books come along that catch my eye and beg to be read (I know I’m not the only person that this happens to...) Books like Simon Bestwick’s ‘The Faceless’ for example.

‘The Faceless’ was a book that I’d earmarked, at the back of my mind, for future reading a long time ago. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere already but Bestwick’s ‘Tide of Souls’ wasn’t just a great spin on regular zombie tales but it was also a gripping and chilling read in its own right. After putting that book down I promised myself I’d be reading whatever novel he wrote next.

When ‘The Faceless’ came through my door I had to make good on that promise and get reading more or less straight away. It was worth getting stuck into as well. You’ll need a word a lot stronger than ‘chilling’ to describe what’s going on here...

A mist has fallen over the Lancashire town of Kempforth, all the better to hide the dark deeds happening in it’s streets and homes. People are disappearing and the locals are blaming the Spindly Men, masked figures out of legend that might not be so mythical after all...
When a two year old girl goes missing, Detective Chief Inspector Renwick vows to stop at nothing until she finds her. It’s a journey that will bring her into contact with TV psychic Allen Cowell and his sister Vera, visions summoning them back to a town that they thought they’d never see again. It’s a journey that will also bring Renwick into contact with Anna Mason, a local historian who is just beginning to realise the true scale of the dark secret that the town hides. It’s a journey that will end in the depths of a long abandoned hospital; something terrible waits for them there and only a few will make it out alive. However, they might just come to wish that they had died inside with their friends...

A good horror novel will leave you shocked or scared at what you find on each page and secretly glad that you can put the book down, at its end, and return to your normal everyday life. An excellent horror novel though, well... An excellent horror novel will leave you feeling strangely hollow to begin with as what you read demands all your mental space and will swiftly vacate any pretence you had of getting back to normality. That done, the excellent horror novel will move in; making you feel horribly uncomfortable while it settles in. It might be days, or even weeks, before it moves on and you won’t be able to get those deeply unsettling images out of your mind in the meantime. ‘The Faceless’ is an excellent horror novel and this is exactly what it has been doing to me since I read it. It will happen to you as well and that’s why you should give it a go.

The premise is very simple yet rendered through Bestwick’s ability to tread that fine line between delivering the horror while paying the utmost respect to the subject matter. The soldiers of the Great War sacrificed a lot for their country, some of them made that sacrifice for years afterwards. What if they could see what was bought through their sacrifice and felt cheated? Some might want to lash out in anger, others might want to come back and remake the world to fit in with their own ideals and dreams... Bestwick doesn’t sensationalise anything here and that’s what makes the book work so well. He leaves you in no doubt as to the sacrifice these men made and how they were exploited on more than one level. There’s true horror here and while you will recoil from what these men will eventually do you won’t be able to help but feel sympathy for them at the same time.

At the same time, we have a living cast who are trying to get to the bottom of a mystery in the mist filled streets of Kempforth. They have no idea what is going on and it’s all credit to Bestwick that he manages to keep the reader in the dark as well, even while he is slowly telling us about what is really going on. Thanks to this approach there are some nasty surprises in store and it only gets worse, and even bleaker, as the plot progresses. This isn’t a tale of redemption as no-one really deserves any here.

What you get here then is a cast of damaged characters feeling their way through mist filled streets that are gloriously atmospheric. They don’t know what lies in the fog and neither do you, the reader gets to find out at exactly the same time as the characters and this makes for some heart stopping moments. All the while, we’re being shown just exactly what makes these characters tick. You may not like all of them (I didn’t) but you can totally empathise with them as they make decisions that are questionable to say the least.

‘The Faceless’ is primarily a psychological horror but this doesn’t stop Bestwick from laying on the gore at exactly the right moments and at just the right level. It will shock but it’s never cartoonish. Perhaps the real horror lies in the serious consideration paid to a certain course of action right at the very end of the book. That was an image that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

‘The Faceless’ is a relentless spiral into the dark side of humanity and readers will get to see some truly horrifying things, headed in the opposite direction, as they make that journey downwards. Absolutely essential reading for anyone after a scary read that carries on it’s work long after you’ve put the book down.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 12 January 2012

‘Seven Princes’ – John R. Fultz (Orbit)

It’s still early days yet for 2012 but there is already a bit of a reading pattern (that probably began late last year) starting to form on the blog and I can’t see it changing any time soon. I’m not talking about Michael Moorcock either, well... maybe I am a little but not in the way you think.
You see, what I’m really after reading more of this year is fantasy whether it’s epic, high, weird, sword and sorcery or whatever; it’s where I started out in the genre and it’s way past time that I paid it a visit again. The other side of this reading pattern is that I really want to enjoy whatever I pick up; this year is about to get very interesting (three working days left and then my job ends, nothing else to go to as yet) and I’m not ashamed to say that if I’m not picking specific comfort reads then I’m certainly looking for a little comfort from a genre that hasn’t let me down yet.

With this in mind, internet murmurings seemed to suggest that John R. Fultz’ ‘Seven Princes’ might be a good book to pick up next. Heroes, villains and a large bucket load of monsters were what was on offer and that was just what I was after. Was it any good though? I’m not saying that ‘Seven Princes’ wasn’t without its issues but there’s no question of my not picking up the sequel (whenever that comes out).

In one night of blood and terror, a sorcerer out of pre-history slaughters the King of Yaskatha and his entire court. The only survivor is Prince D’zan and if the sorcerer Elhathym has his way that won’t be for much longer... Prince D’zan is on the run then but hopefully not for too long as he has his eye firmly fixed on reclaiming the throne that once belonged to his father. This will take some doing though and nothing less than a grand alliance of the other city states will achieve this. Such an alliance will be difficult to achieve and, all the while, Elhathym and his own allies are on the move...
The fate of an entire land will fall upon the heads of D’zan and six other princes. Pride will drive them on but also treachery and a desire for revenge...

‘Seven Princes’ kicks off Fultz’ ‘Books of the Shaper’ series but it is suitably epic in its own right at the same time. More on that in a bit. What we’re looking at here is a story that’s at least ninety five percent self contained with that remaining five percent getting things ready for book two. This is the kind of book that I like to read and Fultz baits the hook (for book two) with the re-emergence of a threat that I’d enjoyed finding out more about over the course of the book.

This ‘re-emergence’ though is symptomatic of an issue that plagued the book and perhaps made my own reading experience a little less enjoyable than it could have been. To be blunt, things were a little too predictable for my liking. I’m not talking about the climatic scenes either. Although the outcome may have been assured there, the way it was arrived at made for compelling reading. You know the hero is going to win but Fultz really gets you thinking about just how that’s going to happen. That's where the excitement lies.

No, what got me was what not only the reliance on certain fantasy tropes (did certain princes and princesses/goddesses really have to be paired off so easily?) but an underlying feeling that maybe things weren’t as dangerous as they were being made out to be. There’s a fine line between true heroism and a hero that’s basically invulnerable, Fultz is guilty (every now and then) and stepping over that line and coming up with invulnerable superheroes and powerful wizards who save the day all too easily. That’s where I started to wonder if the stakes were as high as they were being made out to be; surely they couldn’t be if someone could just turn up and set things straight.

Having said that though, I kept reading all the way through. I couldn’t stop in fact.

John R. Fultz has basically written a sprawling, epic, Technicolor fantasy that’s reminiscent of much older pulp fantasies (I’m thinking Conan and what little of Karl Edward Wagner that I have read) and makes for a gripping read. You may think that the ending is assured but you can’t escape the feeling that Fultz’ world is a nasty, brutal world where life can be distressingly short for the supporting cast (a supporting cast of thousands, you don’t get a lot more epic than that). People here can die all too easily and Fultz isn’t afraid to sacrifice entire cities to get his point across. You get the feeling, while reading, that you’re wading through blood but the heroes that you follow make that gory trek more than worthwhile, especially when they go up against any number of monsters that Fultz throws into their path. Sea serpents, wyrms and zombies; we’re talking seriously old school stuff here that Ray Harryhausen would have loved to have got his hands on. And it all works, Fultz’ enthusiasm for his creation drives the plot along at just the speed that it needs to; breakneck but never choppy.

Fultz’ characters are also well worth taking the time to get to know. Their aims may be simple (not one dimensional) but Fultz takes us right inside their heads and engages with us through their vitality and life. Fultz also proves that he is capable of going that little bit deeper with the character of Iardu making the reader initially feel a little disdain but then compassion as you realise the enormity of  the task he has set himself. I really want to find out what happens next to all of these people, even if I’m not surprised by the end.

I think I wanted to be shocked and surprised, a little more than I was, but ‘Seven Princes’ remains a rollercoaster ride that I didn’t want to get off at the end. When that ride starts up again, you can guarantee that I’ll be in the queue waiting for more.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ – Michael Moorcock (Mayflower)

My journey through the ‘Chronicles of Count Brass’ has been a little up and down, to say the least, with a rocky opening leading into a much improved second instalment that nevertheless suffered from the same issues. Check the reviews Here and Here if you haven’t read them yet.

When I reviewed ‘The Champion of Garathorm’ I mentioned that there was no way I wouldn’t finish the series and the same reasons apply here. Not only that but I was genuinely curious to see how this all ended, especially with the story starting to tie into the wider creation of Moorcock’s Multiverse. I’m into (very) short reads at the moment as well and, at only a hundred and twenty six pages long, ‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ fitted the bill perfectly. One thing before I get into the review proper, is this series called ‘The Chronicles of Castle Brass’ or ‘The Chronicles of Count Brass’? The covers for each book seem to disagree with each other on this score although that score is two to one in favour of ‘Count Brass’... A little help here?

Anyway, the review...

Hawkmoon has finally been reunited with his true love Yisselda but his two children still remain to be found. If Hawkmoon is to finally reunite his family, he must first find the fabled and almost mythical city of Tanelorn.
Many dangers lie between Hawkmoon and his destination though, the most dangerous of which will be reached by a ghost ship carrying more than one incarnation of the Champion Eternal and promising an apocalyptic fight at the voyage’s end. This will prove to be the least of Hawkmoon’s worries though when he finally reaches Tanelorn and finds the true identity of the shadowy figure that has dogged his every footstep...

‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ is another book that attempts to do an awful lot in not very many pages. This time round though, things are even more ambitious than what Moorcock attempted to do in the previous two books. Not only are we looking at a trilogy being wrapped up but Moorcock takes things one step further than that and attempts to tie up certain elements of his entire ‘Eternal Champion’ series. That’s quite a lot to cover so... how does he do?

The answer is surprisingly well, especially given the amount of pages that he does it all in. There are questions left still to be answered and I’m guessing that gaps were deliberately left so as to be filled in at a later date. You do get more answers than questions though as well as a very clear picture of what’s been going on the whole time. A certain character’s death is revisited and the eventual fate of another is finally revealed, a nice mixture of resolution tempered by a sense of the overall tragedy that surrounds each incarnation of the Eternal Champion.

Hawkmoon’s own quest is placed very nicely in context with the wider reaching arc and this gives a real sense of depth to both plots. That’s not to say that Hawkmoon’s quest doesn’t receive that same treatment though; things are rounded off perhaps a little more neatly for Hawkmoon and, given what he has been through, you can’t say that he doesn’t deserve to just kick back and enjoy the fruits of his labours. I would in his shoes :o)

I wasn’t too sure about how all the events befalling Hawkmoon linked together (the Kamarg to an island battle via a ghost ship... how?) but one thing I have learnt reading Moorcock is that sometimes he just likes to say ‘things just happen’ and then let them all happen to his main character. Like I said, sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly why things happen but Moorcock writes with such energy here that you find yourself flying over any awkward spots and just getting on with the story. It’s a much smoother ride than you might think.

And what a story! Moorcock really has got all of the explanations out of the way now (apart from some stuff right at the end and that’s necessary to tie things up) and is happy to throw Hawkmoon back into the weird mash up of Sword & Sorcery/Sci-Fi that has characterised this trilogy, and the ‘Runestaff’ series, for me. The energy in Moorcock’s writing gives the plot the urgency it needs and makes some of the weirder events that little bit weirder. There’s no doubt that Hawkmoon has to overcome what’s in front of him, if he doesn’t there’s every chance that the plot will just move on and leave him behind! ‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ is one of those effortless reads where you suddenly find yourself naturally settling into the pace of the book and going along with it. A pleasure to read on that score.

I do have some reservations about the trilogy, as a whole, but ‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ proved to be a great way of rounding things off on more than one level. If you haven’t read the rest of the ‘Eternal Champion’ series that’s no problem, you can get plenty out of this trilogy on its own. I think the real joy though will come for those who have read the other books and want to see an overall conclusion. Either way, a very entertaining read.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Cover Art courtesy of The Image Hive

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

‘The Walking Dead: Volume 15, We Find Ourselves’ – Kirkman & Adlard (Image Comics)

So... For all my talk yesterday of how zombies aren’t just about the post apocalypse, I go and follow it up with a post about one of the best (and longest running) ‘post apocalyptic series featuring zombies’ out there at the moment. That’s how I roll :o) And it’s not only that, there have been a few little blips along the way but (on the whole) ‘The Walking Dead’ has been a consistently well written series that has given me a lot over the years. Full on zombie action with a healthy dose of the consequences of living in this brave (and slowly rotting) new world. This is one of a select few series where the publication of a new chapter means that I will inevitably drop whatever I’m reading and get stuck in. Maybe that’s about to change though...

I moved to London way back in 2004 and ‘The Walking Dead’ was already on its third volume (maybe even the fourth) by this point. That’s a long time for any series to be consistently putting out new content (notice that I’m not counting series that have been going far longer that have had breaks in between) and you can’t help but wonder when the tipping point will come. I don’t think it’s come quite yet for ‘The Walking Dead’ but the signs are there. I think.

After the events of ‘No Way Out’ (Volume 14) the community is trying to rebuild itself and look to make itself stronger for a safe future that Rick really wants for Carl. Will Carl see that future though? He’s in a coma and showing no signs of waking up. There are also ominous rumblings from longer term residents that the arrival of Rick and his band has spelt nothing but trouble for them. They were safe before but now they’re dying at a tremendous rate, Rick and his friends have to go... one way or another.
Will Rick be able to deal with all these new developments though? Rick is reaching his limits and cannot live with what he has become...

Long term readers of the ‘Walking Dead’ series will notice that there’s a well defined pattern to how the story plays out. Rick and his friends get settled, start to make a life for themselves and then it all comes crashing down in a series of violent events that will leave at least one main character eaten by zombies. Pieces are picked up and the whole thing starts all over again. This is very much what ‘We Find Ourselves’ is, a transitional piece where everyone gets a chance to take a breather before they start again. This time though, this approach doesn’t work nearly as well as it has done in the past.

The bottom line is that there is no real sense of danger to give the plot any urgency whatsoever. In the past, transitional books have been driven by the fact that zombies are still out there, often quite literally snapping at the heels of the survivors. Rick and his band have to find shelter before they can begin to recover.

This time, the gap in the wall is filled in and... That’s pretty much it. A small group of zombies is picked off with almost contemptuous ease and the one or two others encountered have been frozen, its winter, so can be picked off even more easily. You’re probably thinking that’s ok though; after all we have a rebellious faction within the community itself that should make for an interesting turn of events. That rebellious faction has potential but this is wasted by the fact that Kirkman not only uses them too soon but clearly doesn’t give them a brain cell to share between them all. They are also taken care of far too easily (having never really had to fight for survival like Rick and his friends) and the status quo resumes too smoothly for my liking.

The story really needs the walls of the community to come crashing down, in order to spice things up, but at the same time the logical step for the survivors is to make those walls even stronger so they can settle down and live. It’s an interesting conundrum for the series and one that suggests to me that the ending can’t be too far away now, however it turns out.

In the meantime, Rick’s introspection (and having to rebuild his relationship with Carl) doesn’t quite balance out the fact that nothing is really happening here. I get that you can’t have zombies all the time but you’ve got to replace it with something that keeps the story vital and interesting. There’s very little of that here, just hints for the future that don’t match what has gone before.

‘The Walking Dead’ hasn’t let me down, on the whole, so I am more than willing to be proved wrong as the story continues. Right now, things just felt a little lacklustre (including the artwork), like the story was just marking time instead of actually doing something. That doesn’t bode well for the future but, like I said, I’m willing to be proved wrong.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 9 January 2012

Zombies in Speculative Fiction...

I’ve been reading John R. Fultz’ ‘Seven Princes’, over the last few days, and tweeted about an absolutely awesome scene (right at the beginning) involving my favourite decaying members of the undead community. Yeah, them :o)

This tweet got a reply from a favourite blogger of mine that went a little something like this...

Gavreads - @graemesfantasyb @AnnaGregson zombies??? In fantasy?? Nice!

My first thought was, ‘Gav doesn’t read a lot of fantasy does he?’ My second thought was, ‘maybe he’s being ironic?’ You see, the thing is, zombies are all over fantasy (and science fiction) like you wouldn’t believe. Ok, I might be stretching things a bit; I’m not a hundred percent sure what the difference between a zombie and a Lich is for example, or between a zombie and a Mummy for that matter. For the sake of this post, I’m going with a fairly loose definition of ‘human, recently returned from the dead with an overpowering desire to rend the living (and possibly eat them)’ ;o)

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that zombie fiction isn’t just about grim post apocalyptic survival (although this fiction is very cool). If you fancy seeing zombies in a slightly different setting then you could do worse than check some of these books out...

Anything from the Black Library

You’re a publisher that publishes books based around a tabletop wargame or two. Said war games give you the option to field armies consisting solely of the undead, you can guess where I’m going here... Yep, certain Black Library books are crammed full of zombies just waiting to be offed either by projectile weaponry or a dirty great big sword. Specific titles that I’ve reviewed include Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s ‘Cadian Blood’ and Nathan Long’s ‘Zombieslayer’. You could also pick up Mike Lee’s ‘Nagash’ trilogy (if you do, tell me what it’s like as I haven’t read it yet)

‘Seven Princes’ – John R. Fultz

I can’t not include this book as there would be no post without it! Zombie action has grown lighter, as the book has progressed, but the opening scenes culminate in zombies eating an entire city. AN ENTIRE CITY people! Now that’s putting the ‘epic’ back in Epic Fantasy.

‘Leviathan Wakes’ – James S.A. Corey

I loved this book anyway (looking forward to the sequel) but all the more so because it had space zombies that absolutely would not stop in their quest to take a big old bite out of humanity. Essential reading for fans of Space Opera or fans of Space Zombies :o)

‘The Forge in the Forest’ – Michael Scott Rohan

I’m taking things a little ‘old school’ here with a book that was published just over twenty years ago. An old favourite of mine as well, I highly recommend this series to any fan of well written fantasy. But what about the zombies? Well... What’s the one thing that’s worse than loosing all your travelling companions in the midst of a dark and forbidding forest? When they all come back from the dead to make certain that you join them... Those particular passages scared me back in the day and they still do now.

Abaddon Book’s ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series

I had to think hard about whether to include these books, or not, as most of them are either set in the present day or are tied to a particular point in history. As a whole though, the series deserves to be mentioned here so I’ll highlight Al Ewing’s ‘I, Zombie’ (sci-fi/horror), Paul Finch’s ‘Stronghold’ (historical background but the use of Welsh legend swung it for me) and Toby Venables’ ‘The Viking Dead’ (which I still haven’t read but the blurb merits its inclusion). Oh the hell with it, give ‘Anno Mortis’ a go as well.

‘Deathtroopers’ & ‘Red Harvest’ – Joe Schreiber

The universe of Star Wars is vast and, as such, there’s room for a little bit of everything... including zombies. A couple of chilling reads here that fans of zombies and Star Wars (but probably mostly Star Wars) will enjoy.

‘Shadow Prowler’ – Alexhey Pehov

Now here’s a book that was roundly slated when it was published in English; not by me though, it was a light fun read that proved to be just what I was after at the time. And it has zombies in it :o) Certain readers here might not know this but, as a rule, if there’s an deserted town or treasure filled crypt in fantasyland then you’ll find zombies lurking around all sorts of corners within. That’s what you’re looking at here and, possible translation issues to one side, it’s all done very nicely.

And now I’m starting to struggle a bit, serves me right for not making a list beforehand like I promised myself I would. Without going into specifics (because I don’t know any), D&D tie-in fiction has to be a massive resource for reading about the undead what with all those tombs etc waiting to be broken into (and evil necromancers doing their thing). I’m wracking my brains trying to remember if Conan has fought the living dead (any the pen of any author, not just Howard) but I’m pretty sure that Elric has.

Hopefully I’ve shown, a little bit at least, that zombies aren’t limited to the bombed out cities of apocalyptic fiction. Please help me fill in the massive gaps I’ve left by adding any further reading suggestions in the comments below...