Saturday, 31 March 2012

Giveaway! 'Pax Omega' (Al Ewing)

I loved 'Pax Omega', scroll down for the review or click Here, and I reckon you will as well (although you might want to give 'El Sombra' and 'Gods of Manhattan' a go first and get the whole picture). That's why I'm running a competition here to win three copies of 'Pax Omega', courtesy of those friendly folks at Abaddon Books. Did I say that this is a competition for UK entrants only? I didn't but it is... Sorry about that everyone else.

Still with me? All you need to do to enter 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 'Pax Omega'. I'll do everything else ;o)
Oh yes, it goes without saying that if you try to enter more than once then all your entries get deleted...

I'll leave this competition open until the 8th of April and will announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 30 March 2012

‘Axe Cop: Volume Three’ – Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle (Dark Horse Books)

So, yeah… I was in need of some laughs and ‘A Game of Groans’ raised absolutely no chuckles whatsoever. It was more of a wasted afternoon than anything else and I needed a laugh more than ever after putting the book down. What was a Graeme to do?
Luckily for me, I had a copy of the latest ‘Axe Cop’ book set aside for just this purpose. A sure-fire sanctuary of comedy in hard times :o) After all, I’ve had fun with everything else, featuring Axe Cop, that I’ve read so I couldn’t go wrong here… could I?

The thing was… I wasn’t so sure. We’re into ‘Volume Three’ territory now and a joke can only be funny for so long before it, erm… stops. Malachai is also a little older now and I couldn’t help but wonder how that would affect the story lines. Would it still be a game that becomes a comic or would things start to get a little more ‘self aware’? Once it stops being a game then the whole point of Axe Cop goes out of the window.

So… I found myself looking forward to the read but there was a little trepidation as well. It turns out that I needn’t have worried too much. There’s a whole load of material on the Axe Cop web site that still needs to be caught up with and Volume Three mines that wellspring of ‘child logic’ where anything goes and hidden lasers can always deal with the toughest of troubles. Anything goes and sometimes the jokes were a little more hit and miss because of this, for me anyway. I wasn’t too keen on the ‘Axe Cop Presents’ extras which didn’t have the larger than life presence of Axe Cop. On the whole though I was laughing more often than not. Even (especially?) at what poor Uni-Baby had to go through while Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier were babysitting her.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I wish Ethan Nicolle was my big brother and if they ever need another member for Axe Cop’s team then I’m available most days :o)

There are moments though that make you laugh and then think, ‘hang on, that’s actually quite deep…’ Take Army Chihuahua for example…

Army Chihuahua – ‘That was the day I gained the ability to turn into a Chihuahua when I am ready to fight.’

Axe Cop – ‘Wait, so you can turn back into a man any time you want?’

Army Chihuahua – ‘Only when I am not ready to fight… Which is almost never.’

An insight into the human condition… via a Chihuahua, which is the ‘Axe Cop’ series in a nutshell really.

‘Ask Axe Cop’ is the real meat of the book as far as I am concerned with a whole round of quick fire questions and answers that always raised a chuckle at least. The team up with Doctor McNinja was nothing short of awesome and will have me checking out Doctor McNinja in a lot more detail very soon.

A shorter review than normal then and maybe that’s indicative of where the series is going in the long term; there is only so far you can say about the same joke after all. Right now though, there’s plenty enough to keep me laughing and reading and that's what matters.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Didn’t Finish It… ‘A Game of Groans’ – George R.R. Washington (Thomas Dunne)

This post was actually meant to be a review of something completely different but this week just seems to laugh at all my plans to review certain books… What do you get instead then…? No review, just a few words on why I didn’t finish this book.

Just in case you were wondering (this being the second book that I’ve put down unfinished this month), the plan is still very much to actually… you know… finish books and review them here. Wouldn’t be much of a blog otherwise. These days (what with job hunting and so on) I think I’m a little more impatient with books than I used to be. I don’t have as much time to wait for a book to deliver so if it doesn’t do the job that it promised then that’s that I’m afraid. It’s not just that though. A book might be awfully written and have me giving up in disgust. It might simply be that I’ve picked the wrong book up at the wrong time and I’m not in the mood to press on with it. Or… it might be a book like ‘A Game of Groans’.
Go on, have some blurb…


In the land of the Eight (or was it Six?) Kingdoms—where the seasons last as long as a series of bestselling Tolkien-esque novels—trouble is brewing. The mud is growing muddier, the onions are rotting, the Wall to the North (or is it the South?) is melting, and Lord Barker of Summerseve is getting worried. His wife is addicted to Godsweede, his King is too fat to fit into his armor, and the foreshadowing is out of control. All in all, not the position you want to be in when Summer is coming.

From this world of outdoor fornication with horse-people (and indoor fornication with blood relatives) comes an epic story of novella proportions. Amid plots and counterplots, power-hungry warriors and overworked ravens, poor reception and no wireless, the future of the Barkers, their BFFs, and their enemies dangles in the balance, as each strives to survive long enough to appear in at least two of the sequels.

If there are sequels to ‘A Game of Groans’ you won’t find me mentioning them here as this book simply wasn’t as funny as it desperately wanted to be. What I read actually wasn’t funny at all and that’s pretty much a deal breaker if I’m going to read a book that promises some laughs. The ‘jokes’ are forced onto the reader by a writer who is trying just a little bit too hard to be funny. Maybe things could have been different with a little bit of observational humour rather than fart jokes and lame sounding commentary on where George R.R. Martin got his ideas from. What I was left with though… It all just fell flat and I actually felt more in need of a laugh than I did before I picked the book up in the first place.

I’ll admit that I am a fan of GRRM’s books but that wouldn’t have stopped me sticking with ‘A Game of Groans’ if it had made me crack even the tiniest of smiles. None of that was forthcoming though so down the book went. I wouldn’t let this post put you off picking up ‘A Game of Groans’ and trying it for yourself; just because I didn’t find it funny doesn’t mean that you won’t. Ultimately though, this isn’t a book for me.

New Cover Art for Michael Moorcock's 'The Warlord of the Air'

Titan will be republishing Michael Moorcock's 'A Nomad of the Time Streams' series and the cover for the first book, 'Warlord of the Air', will look like this...

Not bad if you like your books to look like the old cover art for Stephen Hunt's 'The Court of the Air'. Me though, I'd say that the steampunk theme in the 'Nomad' series should get a little more cover time than the merest skeletal outline of an airship...
That's why I'm really glad that my edition (collecting all three books) looks like this instead...

Which cover would you go for? Yep, me too :o)

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

‘Pax Omega’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)

Ever since I finished Al Ewing’s ‘Gods of Manhattan’, way back in January last year, I’ve been waiting for the follow up to see what happened next. How could I not? ‘Gods of Manhattan’ was nothing short of an awesome pulp read. You can see my review over Here or you can just keep going and read a couple of (much shorter) paragraphs where I said things like…

‘Everything comes together very well at the end with the chaos unfolding in the plot doing very well to draw attention away from a firm pair of writing hands at the wheel. There is plenty going on here but all of it serves a purpose.’

‘I can’t emphasise enough how much fun I had with ‘Gods of Manhattan’, a read with no pretensions other than to give its reader a ride like never before. Not only does it succeed but it does so in some style.’
‘Gods of Manhattan’ is pretty much made for days like today where all you want to do is bask in some hot sun and read something fun. In fact, I recommend you do just that after you’ve finished reading the rest of this post :o)

I didn’t realise that ‘Pax Omega’ was going to tie things up, for Al Ewing’s part of the Pax Britannia series, so there was a little sadness going on when I finally picked up the book and started reading. That didn’t last for too long though; things may have finally come to an end but Ewing rounds things up in some style.

This is the part of the review where I would normally give you a little blurb on what the book is about. Not this time though. There’s potential for massive spoilers (with the way I normally do things) so all I’ll say here is that Ewing gets all ambitious on us readers, seeking to tie up the fate of several lead characters while telling us just how the world of Pax Britannia came to be how it is in the first place. If that wasn’t enough for today’s jaded reader, Ewing sets out to tie all of this into the fate of the entire universe. Still not enough for you? Seriously? Okay… Ewing sets out to do all of this in two hundred and sixty six pages.

Does Ewing succeed? Only up to a certain point, as far as I was concerned, but of course he does. Ewing is the kind of writer who loves a challenge like this and is up to the task of delivering. It’s Ewing’s willingness to raise the bar that has me long for the ride each and every time.

‘Pax Omega’ might only be two hundred and sixty six pages long but Ewing manages to fill it with content that would sit comfortably in a book twice the size. Some of what he tries to achieve does suffer as a result of this as issues and themes are tackled in a series of short stories ranging from the dawn of time to… The whole thing about time travel could have benefited from a few extra pages to actually let us know what it was on about. The addition of new characters does wonders in eventually fleshing out the wider universe of Pax Britannia but can be a little confusing within the confines of each tale.

Balancing this out though are Ewing’s typical frantically paced moments of action and adventure, all slightly askew to give us the ‘weird steampunk’ that worked so well in ‘El Sombra’ and ‘Gods of Manhattan’. The atmosphere is there and it’s chock full of sword fights, super powered encounters and science fiction on a grand scale. I found myself marvelling at the sword fights, bruised by the super powered encounters and mouth agape at the sci-fi. It’s all awesome stuff.

What has slightly turned me off Ewing’s work, in the past, is when he takes things a little too far and ends up throwing the reader out of the story entirely (I’m looking at that fourth wall being broken in ‘Death Got No Mercy’…) When you’re totally immersed in a story, being thrown out of it can jar just that little bit too much.
Well, Ewing doesn’t shy away from trying that same kind of approach again with ‘Pax Omega’. The good news though is that Ewing reins in his wilder metaphysical impulses this time round. It’s still very much a case of ‘anything goes’ but only in the story itself and that proves to be more than enough. Ewing is willing to put his characters through anything if it proves beneficial to the story and the results this time round really have to be seen to be believed. If you’re fan of Doc Thunder or El Sombra (or even a couple of others) then ‘Pax Omega’ will literally blow you away with their eventual fate. I know that I sat there, a couple of times, and went ‘what the f…?’

Things aren’t entirely resolved by the end of the book and this approach is more about leaving you really thinking about what you just read (rather than leaving the door open for further sequels, at least I think so). For a book that wears its ‘pulp traditions’ proudly, ‘Pax Omega’s’ sombre ending does make for some thoughtful moments after you put the book down. It’s a book then that rounds things off in the best possible way and all credit to Ewing for sticking to the path that he chose to follow here.
If you’ve already read ‘El Sombra’ and ‘Gods of Manhattan’ then, just like me, ‘Pax Omega’ is the book that you’ve been waiting for, superb stuff.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

New website for Col Buchanan

And it's a great way for fans of the series to find out more about 'The Heart of the World'/kill a few hours at work (delete as applicable) by playing around with the very cool looking interactive map on the site. If it hadn't been for babysitting duties then I'd probably still be playing on it now :o)

Anyway, click Here for the aforementioned map and loads of other news. Before you do that though, check out my reviews for 'Farlander' and 'Stands a Shadow' to see I'm raving about the author and his books...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

‘Eye of Vengeance’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

‘Eye of Vengeance’ is a short story that will be found in the forthcoming ‘Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus’ as well as being an audio book (also forthcoming, I think) in its own right. Both are appearing at roughly the same time and I do find myself wondering how that’s going to work. Do you pay ten pounds for an audio book that only lasts sixty five minutes or do you get the omnibus which is crammed full of books that have been out for ages and most people already have? I’ve got them, here are my reviews for ‘The Killing Ground’, ‘Courage and Honour’ and ‘The Chapter’s Due’.
This short story is a bit of an odd one to place then. I think it would have been best suited in one of the Space Marine anthologies where there would have been enough variety amongst the other tales to make the repetition of this one a little more forgiveable. Given that the story itself isn’t that much cop either… Well, you can see where I’m going here.

The agricultural world is under attack by Dark Mechanicus priests and their terrifying weapons of destruction. The Ultramarines stand firm against the onslaught but their resistance can only last so long against an enemy that rebuilds itself even as it is destroyed. More subtle measures are called for if the forces of the Dark Mechanicus  are to be thrown back; measures that can only be employed by sergeant Torias Telion and his band of Ultramarine scouts. Their mission will take them deep into enemy territory to halt the supply of fresh armaments at its very source. If they don’t fall foul of the many dangers on the way though then what lies in the Temple Forge could well prove the death of them all.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to experience ‘Eye of Vengeance’ in both of its formats. Unfortunately though, it didn’t really work for me in either…

‘Eye of Vengeance’ sits at the end of ‘Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus’ like a misplaced afterthought. There’s very little connection (that I could see) to the preceding three novels and I really felt this lack, especially as those preceding novels fit together so tightly. You end up wondering why ‘Eye of Vengeance’ is there at all (especially as it’s also an audio book) other than to fill in a few extra pages.
The story itself is set up well but tails off into a series of smug encounters between the Ultramarines and their enemy. There’s no tension to speak of as the scouts either win through or withdraw from more dangerous threats because they have a mission to complete. What waits for them in the Temple Forge does make up for this a little bit but to have Telion take it on single-handedly…? I couldn’t buy that one, especially with the foregone conclusion.

Being exactly the same tale, I had exactly the same issues with ‘Eye of Vengeance’ as an audio book. The production made up for it a little bit, there’s plenty going on in the background that you can immerse yourself in. What I did have trouble getting around though was the actor’s (not sure which one but I’m guessing Rupert Degas) decision to portray Telion as a rather posh sounding RAF captain from a World War Two film. That really didn’t work for me at all, I found myself wanting Telion to stop talking so I wouldn’t have to listen to him.

Overall then, a disappointing experience on both fronts. If I had to recommend one format over the other I’d… Oh, I don’t know. There’s not a lot to recommend either really although I can see the audio book doing better as it’s not saddled with three other books that people already have.

‘Eye of Vengeance’ The Short Story: 6/10
‘Eye of Vengeance’ The Audio Book: 7/10

Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' to become a video game.

One for fans of Brandon Sanderson (me after reading 'The Alloy of Law') who have posh new games consoles (erm... not me). From the press release...

Little Orbit revealed today that they will be bringing best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series Mistborn to games late next year for PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, Windows PC and Mac.

The upcoming RPG video game will feature an original storyline created by Sanderson, set several hundreds of years before the first Mistborn novel, and will focus on a unique combat system that puts Allomancy into the hands of gamers. Players will suit up as Fendin “Fiddle” Fathvell, an arrogant young nobleman who must quickly master his newfound Allomantic abilities before forces at work can destroy his entire family. 

“I’m a huge fan of the series, and I cannot wait to get this into the hands of gamers,” said Matthew Scott, CEO of Little Orbit. “Between the distinctive magic system, the story twists Brandon has planned for the game, and the rich depth of character skills, we’re creating something very unique for players to enjoy.”
Sanderson is no stranger to video games. He recently completed story development on the Infinity Blade II video game including the accompanying Infinity Blade: Awakening novella.

“As an avid gamer, I’m extremely excited by this opportunity,” said Sanderson. “The chance to write the story for a Mistborn game while working with a team of talented developers is, quite literally, living a dream.” 

It looks like the official website has only just gone up (and it's not like there's much else to tell anyway) but you can check it out Here if you like.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The 'Far too nice to be doing everything that I'm doing' Competition Winner's Post!

I'm talking about job hunting and mending a door, it's a glamorous life that I lead over here :o) I'd much rather crack open a nice cold can of beer and get stuck into a good book; I've got loads of those on the go as it happens but more on that in a minute. There's a competition winner that I need to announce first...

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Wise Man's Fear' competition last week, a book where my reading has utterly stalled in the last few days. I might just have to put it to one side and come back another time. Hopefully this weeks winner will have better luck with it than I did, that winner was...

Jimmy Milligan, Whitley Bay, UK

Nice one Jimmy, your book is on its way. Better luck next time everyone else...

In case you were wondering, this week will see reviews posted for 'Axe Cop: Volume 3', 'Bitter Seeds' and 'Pax Omega'. That leaves one day free, no idea what will go in there just yet...

See you all tomorrow :o)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Orbit Reviewer Party 2012

Last Wednesday evening saw me poring over books and hovering near a table full of sandwiches, beer and those little flying saucer sweets that are filled with sherbert (it was like I was five all over again). Yes, it was the Orbit Reviewer Party :o) James Long has also covered the party (I say 'also'... he totally got there first) over Here; a lesson for me to 'suck it in' a little when there are people taking photos... dammit.

Thanks to Orbit for inviting me along on Wednesday. I'm sure that the sandwiches were lovely but my house was a 'sugar free zone' at the time so I was paying more attention to other areas of the table... I had a great time catching up with some people and meeting others for the first time. I also enjoyed the presentation very much; always interesting to see how things work on the publishing side as that's not something you often get a look at. It was very cool to see a bunch of people extraordinarily passionate about the books they are publishing. I mean, I know it's their job but I've been in a number of jobs that I've been indifferent to at best. These guys clearly enjoy their work and this blogger went home just a tiny bit envious of that...

I'd be very surprised if you didn't see the event covered elsewhere so I'll just focus on some of the books, in the presentation (and the publishing schedule for this year/early next year), that caught my eye in particular. There are a few and they all look pretty good to me (cover art was hard to come by for obvious reasons...)

May and June will see David Gemmell's Orbit back catalogue re-issued with some rather nice looking new cover art to bring the series up to date a little bit. These are already on my shelf but it's always good to see Gemmell on the shelves, his works are timeless as far as I'm concerned. I'm also interested to see if Orbit submit any of these titles for the Gemmell award; I don't think there's any rule that says you can't... ;o)

October will see the arrival of Jesse Bullington's new book 'The Folly of the World'. I still need to read his last book but 'The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart' was an awesome read so I'm expecting great things here too.

Next month sees the release of Ian Irvine's 'Vengeance', book one of the 'Tainted Realm' trilogy. I've never read any Ian Irvine (any good?) and the first book in a trilogy is always a great place to jump on board. Expect a review sometime soon(ish).

Ian Tregillis' 'Bitter Seeds' gets its UK publication in December although the enthusiasm of a rather large UK bookseller could see publication jump forwards by a few months. No doubt a few of you have already read the US edition (and is it a co-incidence that Tor are finally getting their act together releasing the books in the States?) but hang around for the UK edition if you can ;o) I'll be posting my review this week but will sum the book up with one word in the meantime... glorious.

We got a tiny little peek into 2013 with Francis Knight's debut fantasy 'Fade to Black' due to be published in February next year. 'Fade to Black' sounds very promising indeed and I'll be keeping an eye open for it around the time. The book that really piqued my interest though didn't feature in the presentation at all... In August, watch out for Tim Lebbon's 'The Heretic Land' which I'm hoping will be a sequel to 'Echo City'. If it isn't then I'll be happy if 'The Heretic Land' is as good...

Thanks again to Orbit for having me along, same time next year?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Cover Art! 'The Goon - The Deformed of Body and the Devious of Mind'

Because I've been looking forward to this for a long time now and there's only a few months (it's out in July I think) until I can get my hands on it :o)

It's in keeping with the cover art for the new 'reissued' volumes and I have to say that I miss the variety of the old covers. It's what's inside that counts though and I'm really looking forward to seeing some sparkly vampires get a good old fashioned beatdown from the Goon... :o) Bring it on!

Friday, 23 March 2012

‘Legion of the Damned’ – Rob Sanders (Black Library)

The ‘Space Marine Battle’ series has been a bit hit and miss as far as I’m concerned. Hang on, a ‘bit hit and miss’? More like ‘more than a bit hit and miss’ actually as the quality see saws wildly between superb and, erm… its polar opposite. For every ‘Helsreach’ there’s a ‘the Purging of Kadillus’. For every ‘The Gildar Rift’ there’s a ‘Hunt for Voldorius’. And so on…
I keep going back though, as much for those hidden gems waiting to be found as for a morbid sense of curiosity that wonders which direction the series will swing in next.
Add Rob Sanders to the mix and my curiosity was piqued yet further. I’ve read two of Sanders’ books so far and I’m still sat firmly on the fence about his work. It’s not that Sanders can’t write, he’s very good but prone to sometimes forgetting the story and going overboard on the background. You can’t ‘not read him’ though as you are potentially missing out on some great stuff if you ignore his books.
Which side of the fence did ‘Legion of the Damned’ fall on then? Lets just say that I’m looking forward to reading Sanders’ novella in the forthcoming ‘Primarchs’ collection.

Heralded by a blood red comet, the Cholercaust has come to the cemetery world of Certus Minor… An unstoppable horde of cultists, daemonkin and World Eaters Traitor Marines seeking to burn a path to ancient Terra itself. Only one company of loyalist Excoriators Space Marines stand in their path, not nearly enough to halt such a tide of blood. Or is it?
Inquistorial forces arrive on Certus Minor to find one Excoriator left alive amidst a veritable sea of traitorous corpses. Just what happened on Certus Minor to have victory spring from inevitable and crushing defeat? Sometimes, only sometimes, prayers are answered in the strangest of ways…

Like I said, I’ve had trouble with Sanders’ books in the past and this time was no different in that respect. This time though, Sanders rose above those issues to deliver a novel that proved to be only a hairs breadth away from being a compelling read. I could put it down; to do other stuff, but doing that was very difficult. I’ll have more along these lines please!

The issue I’ve always had with the ‘Space Marine Battles’ book is that a lot of them take the easy way out and just make the battle the focal point of the entire plot. In fact there isn’t a plot, just one big battle where the outcome is predetermined because of who is involved. The good guys either win or make it so that the Traitors cannot win themselves. It kind of takes the fun out of the read for me…

Thank goodness for Rob Sanders then who turns the whole thing upside down and presents us with a question out of that seemingly foregone conclusion of a victory. Yes, there was a victory but how could there have been? What the hell really happened? It's a great hook to snare the reader on, I was certainly interested to read more and find out what happened.

This was where the journey started to get a little choppy though. Sanders likes to delve into the murky background of Warhammer 40k and give his readers a full on encompassing view of these times of war. The only problem is that the story gets shoved to one side and you’re left with a whole load of detail. That’s what happens here with the ‘Feast of Blades’, a great piece of action but one that becomes mired in the politics of the competing Chapters a little too much to hold up properly for the length of time that it takes to recount. There were some awesome bone crushing moments of raw combat but I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to hurry along and get to the main event.

It was a good job then that the main event ended up proving to be more than worth the wait.

Sanders clearly knows that a battle isn’t just about weapons being fired, it’s also very much about the people forced to pull the trigger in the heat of the moment. What are they feeling? Do they even want to be there?
These questions are answered in the contrast between Marines bred for war and un-enhanced humans forced to defend their homes and livelihoods. There’s a full range of emotions and motivations on display here and Sanders balances these nicely with the constant bark of bolter fire to give us an in-depth look at the conflict.

What’s interesting though is that this contrast is very much evident in the lead character of Zachariah Kersh himself. Kersh is a Marine who glories in warfare but would much rather be doing it elsewhere. Duty has called him and his men to Certus Minor though and Kersh will see that duty fulfilled despite the grumbling from within his company. Kersh questions himself (and his very sanity) at every turn and this keeps his character fresh, there are lots of questions to be answered in the heat of battle.

This battle is depicted very clearly without becoming too ‘technical’ and like a White Dwarf battle report. You know just what’s at stake from the sheer energy and focus that people put into just staying alive. What you do know though is the outcome and Sanders faces a tough task springing something that we already know onto us. He does it but it’s a very close thing, the answers are with us the whole time but you won’t see them until everything fits together and the picture is complete. Yet another plot device that holds the attention superbly.

‘Legion of the Damned’ suffers from a choppy start but recovers to become something really close to a stand out moment in the ‘Space Marine Battles’ series so far. I’ll happily keep reading these books if I can have more moments like these.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Orbit UK releases science fiction novel with limited edition 3D cover

From the press release...

Orbit UK is proud to announce the release in June of a spectacular new novel from a grand master of science fiction – with a very special limited edition cover.
Over 20 years ago, David Brin began the Uplift series  a set of novels that would sweep the board for science awards year after year. That was the beginning of a career that would see David writing a vast range of fiction, computer game storylines and graphic novels as well as having a novel being turned into a major motion picture with The Postman.

Now, 10 years after his last book, David Brin returns in epic style with Existence – an all-encompassing novel of the near future. Both brilliant and terrifying, the book portrays mankind facing a crisis and potentially its imminent demise.

We are also thrilled to unveil the news that the first edition of Existence, released on 21st June 2012, will feature a cover with a unique 3D "lenticular" effect. The cover gives an impression of floating in space miles above Earth, and its distinctive nature means that this book is likely to fast become a collectors’ item. There will be just one print run of this edition and it will only be available until stocks last.See the following video for a preview of what's to come:

I'm not normally a fan of 'freaky' looking covers, the cover art for Simon Morden's books actually brings on a massive headache every time I look at it, but I've seen the cover for 'Existence' and my eyes didn't bleed, not once :o) One for collectors, fans and maybe people like me who need to read more David Brin (is he any good?)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ – Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

I’ll admit that I’m just as much a victim of a glowing review as much as the next man… If enough people say that they like a particular book then my ears perk up and I’m checking it out sooner rather than later. That was very much the case with Saladin Ahmed’s ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’, a fairly recent release that has had an awful lot of good stuff said about it already.

It’s not just that though. With things being how they’ve been just recently I’ve found that I’ve been actively searching out ‘fun’ reads. Not ‘comfort reads’ though and ‘fun’ doesn’t have to equal ‘light’ either. I’m happy to be stretched a little but, right now, enjoyment counts for one hell of a lot more. Again, ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ looked like it could do the business based on what I’d heard and read. ‘Caine’s Law’ was put to one side then (brilliant but heavy going, more on that another time) and I’ve spent the last few days reading ‘Throne’ instead. It took me a little longer to finish than I expected (paid work has ceased but there’s plenty to do around the house…) but that was ok as it meant that I got to enjoy the book for a little while longer.
It may only be March but I’ve already got one eye on a list of ‘Top Reads in 2012’, ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ will be on that list for certain.

The great city of Dhamsawaat is about to explode as the Khalif and his corrupt City Watch seek to put down the growing rebellion headed by the mysterious ‘Falcon Prince’. Both men want to rule the city and who’s to say that their reasons aren’t so very different…? Something else is going on though, something that could have far graver consequences for the city of Dhamsawaat and the wider world.
A spate of supernatural murders are bought to the attention of Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," a man who much rather retire in peace but cannot resist his calling. Aided by his assistant Raseed bas Raseed (a Dervish of great piety but troubled in spirit) and Zama Badawi (wielder of the Lion Shape and the main cause of unrest in Raseed’s soul) Adoulla must track down this threat and destroy it before the very city of Dhamsawaat is drowned in the blood of its people.

Weighing in at a rather slender two hundred and seventy four pages, ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ looks (at first glance) like a book that you could whip through in an afternoon. At least that’s what I thought when I first picked it up. Odd jobs around the house to one side, ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ has to be the reason why the phrase ‘deceptively small’ was first coined. There is an awful lot more than you would think crammed into those pages and all of it is very good indeed. No filler here, Saladin Ahmed has written a lean and purposeful book that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and wouldn’t put me down until the end.

Not that I wanted to stop reading anyway. How could I when the lead character is an irascible rogue such as Doctor Adoulla Makhslood? Adoulla is a fascinating character in his own right with Ahmed giving us an insight into a man entering his twilight years and regretting the sacrifices he has been forced to make for his calling. That calling is more important than ever though as Adoulla not only believes that he is the last true member of his order but knows full well what will happen if he turns his back on the darkness of the world. Ahmed shows us that those dangers are out there and just what they are capable of. I really felt for Adoulla but also found myself admiring a man who is most definitely a hero.

When you add Raseed into the mix you get the classic ‘buddy cop’ scenario with two very different people working together when they wouldn’t normally. The ensuing relationship is fraught with sniping little remarks (mostly from Adoualla) that made me laugh but did have me also wondering just how much Raseed was a foil for the Doctor as well as a character in his own right. That’s not to say that Raseed doesn’t have an equal amount of attention paid to him; I guess that Ahmed’s Adoulla is so much larger than life that he just overshadows everyone else that he shares a page with. Brilliant characterisation but it does backfire a little bit in that respect.
What I came away with though was a real sense of mutual respect and admiration between Adoulla and Raseed that translates superbly onto the page. The duo aren’t just fighting for their city, they are fighting so that their friendship can continue, I love that. There’s a real sense of depth to the ensuing struggle between good and evil that you don’t really find in many other books.

The story itself raises the stakes right from the start with a graphic look at just how evil the villains of the piece really are. These are harrowing scenes that hook the reader right from the start.
As things continue, the plot becomes rather straightforward with a clear line drawn between good and evil. There are a few twists and turns but nothing that really deflects proceedings away from the inevitable confrontation at the end. Ahmed has already shown us just what is at stake and proceeds to rescue things further with some literally awesome scenes of magic and combat against some well realised monstrous creations. The pages turn all too easily in a book that is both fast paced and smooth.
Where Ahmed really excels though is in the creation of Dhamsawaat itself; a bustling city that not only lives and breathes on the page but masks the straightforwardness of the plot with smells of sand and mint tea, the cries of the city guard and the haggling of back street magicians. Even though the book ended, I still wanted to hang around and sample a little more of what Dhamsawaat has to offer. I’m hoping that I’ll have the chance to do so again very soon.

‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ is nothing short of essential reading for fans of ‘Swords & Sorcery’ and fans of fantasy in general, any hype is well deserved. Highly recommended by me, give it a go now.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

From My Bookshelf… ‘Desperation’ – Stephen King

Because now that the new bookshelves are up there’s even less of an excuse to go back and revisit some of the books that have been there for years (and subsequently been passed over for the ever growing ‘to be read’ pile). What’s the point of keeping them on the shelves otherwise?

Reading ‘Desperation’ got me thinking about a lot of things but it also got me thinking about books that live on my bookshelf but are very unlikely to ever be read again. Well maybe that’s a bit harsh; these books will be read but only very occasionally. It’s been a good five years since I read ‘Desperation’ and, after this read, it will probably be another five years at least before I feel the inclination to pick it up again (if I feel that way inclined at all). Do you have books like that on your shelves?

I’ll admit it, my problem is that I’m a completist as far as books are concerned. If I enjoy a book and there’s another book that ties into it then I’ll buy it, no question about it. And if that’s not bad enough, I’ll keep both books no matter what I thought of the second one. After all, just having the one book wouldn’t look right on the shelves. I managed to beat my ‘completist urge’ with the ‘Wheel of Time’ books (I’ve got the last two on the shelves but have got rid of the rest) but it’s still very much a problem on the shelves. It’s very much the case with ‘Desperation’, a book that I ended up having to have because I’d already bought a copy of ‘The Regulators’ (reviewed Here). It may ‘complete the set’ but it’s not in the same league at all.

Desperation. Population: One cop who prowls the highways and dispenses justice that is decided by the creature that has taken him over. If you’re pulled over then the best you can hope for is a quick death at the roadside; what lies in the town of Desperation itself is far worse as Johnny Marinville, David Carver and Steve Ames are about to discover. A battle is about to be fought in Desperation and neither side cares whom falls along the way…

I remember when I first read ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’ I spent hours trying to tease out the connection that I heard linked the two books as well as looking for the link to the ‘Dark Tower’ series that I’d also heard existed.
Well, I’m still looking for that link to the ‘Dark Tower’ series (and suspect that I will be for a while to come) but have finally come to the conclusion that the solid connection I was looking for just isn’t there. Desperation essentially has the same characters as ‘The Regulators’ but they’re all slightly different and are all doing slightly different things. If anything, it’s another way of looking at the monster Tak and how it affects the landscape at the source of it’s infestation. That’s about the size of it really and I’m pretty much done looking for any deeper connection than that.

It’s a good thing really as I’ve got no real inclination to pick the book up again after this re-read, not for a long time. ‘Desperation’ is Stephen King at his best and at his worst but this time round it’s the ‘worst’ that colours things and taints the book as a whole.

There is a lot of good stuff going on in ‘Desperation’; stuff that will shock and frighten you as well as really get you involved in the lives of everyone on the page. Stuff like this,

‘You have the right to remain silent,’ the big cop said in his robot’s voice. ‘If you do not choose to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?’

Five words cleverly hidden in something you hear almost every day on TV shows, and so on, five words that will shock you out of normality and throw you straight into this dark world that King is bringing to life. The book is full of moments like these and the characters journey through Desperation can be just as chilling with nasty surprises lurking around every corner.
The characterisation is there as well with another cast of well defined characters where King’s easy going prose lets you get to know them all without even realising it. You root for them and you can’t help but grieve with them when things go wrong (and they do, they really do).
Tak is just as vicious and evil as it was in ‘The Regulators’; you get more of a sense of its origins this time round but it’s motivations are as alien as they were before which is brilliant in terms of the sense of weirdness that it conveys for the book.

The scene is set then for a brilliant book then. Well, it would have been if it wasn’t for King’s habit of excessive verbosity coming to the fore…

Everything is overanalysed or gone into in far too much detail. Tension is dragged out and then lost by the end of that third unnecessary paragraph. Character’s memories are gone into at such length that I found myself wishing that the story would hurry the hell up and get going again. And there is only so much detail about a deserted mining town that a story can take…
At the very best, ‘Desperation’ is a book where the pacing is severely disrupted by this approach. At the very worst… ‘Desperation’ is a long and rambling affair where the effect of the aforementioned nasty surprises is very much muted by the time that it takes to reach them. I’m half tempted to go into this at greater length but that would be falling into the same trap as King does.

‘Desperation’ then is a novel with potential that sadly goes unfulfilled. King may ramble in his other books but it all seems to have a lot more purpose than it does here. You know what though? If I was to give it another five years (or even ten maybe) I’ll bet that ‘Desperation’ is still sat next to ‘The Regulators’ on the bookshelf. Damn me and my completist ways…

Seven out of Ten

The Simpsons - 'Game Of Thrones Intro'

I'm not a big fan of The Simpsons these days but I do like this :o)

Apologies if you can't make out all the detail, blogger seems to hate me posting videos here...
Would you believe that it's this video that has made me want to re-read 'ASOIAF' all over again? It's like the final piece of 'Game of Thrones' media that broke the camel's back :o) I've got no idea where I'll find the time (you should see some of the other books that I want to read as well) but I want to give it a shot. Oh well, and it's back to the Stephen King review that I'm working on (didn't enjoy the book as much as I thought I would)... See you all later!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ – George Mann (Black Library)

There haven’t really been any audio books featured here recently and this is very much to do with the smallest member of the household becoming fascinated with the way that the CD tray slides out of the computer. After repeated button pushing, the CD tray still works but I can’t put anything onto my iPod now… Thanks a lot little miss…
The problem rectified itself when I realised that I still had my old personal CD player on a shelf somewhere. I feel like I’ve suddenly gone back to the nineties but that’s not such a bad thing sometimes ;o) At least I now get to catch up on some of the audio books that I’ve been missing out on.
Audio books like ‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ for example. Regular blog followers here will no doubt already know that George Mann’s work is as likely to infuriate me as it will enthral me (no links this time, it’s all on the blog if you want to look). That’s not going to stop me giving his work a go though and ‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ was next on the list.

I suspect that the faults I found with ‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ are because of its format, as much as anything else, but it still made for an entertaining seventy five minutes listening.

On the mortuary world of Kasharat, a drama is playing out (far from the front lines) that could well determine the fate of an entire Sector of contested space. While Imperial and Chaos forces clash, a small force of Marines from the Brazen Minotaurs Chapter infiltrate a temple complex on a mission to retrieve something of vital importance to their Chapter. Traitor Marines of the Death Guard stand between them and their prize. The Brazen Minotaurs and Death Guard are not the only Marines in the complex however. The secretive Raven Guard lurk in the shadows waiting to strike… but why?

It pretty much goes without saying that you can only fit so much story into an audio book that’s only seventy five minutes long. That’s fair enough but I couldn’t help wondering whether this happened here to the cost of the story itself…

‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ has to be one of the most linear stories I’ve ever come across, more than likely because there wasn’t much room for anything else. Or was there? I’ve listened to a lot of stuff from the Black Library that has done so much more in the time allotted. Does the fault lie with George Mann then? Maybe… An interesting premise is set up but the way it all unfolds is just that little bit too straightforward to really hold the interest. There are no real surprises (and the sense of urgency decreases because of this) and it ends in just the way you would expect. Without giving too much away, a little ‘friendly fire’ incident right at the end could have turned everything on its head and left us thinking for a long time afterwards.

So what kept me listening then?

Like I said, the set up was intriguing and you never find out what the Brazen Minotaurs are after until the very end. That in itself was enough to keep things ticking over.
What really kept me going here was the fact that, in my opinion, ‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ is one of the better produced audio books from this range. Nothing springs to mind (ok, ‘Throne of Lies’) as being quite so atmospheric as ‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ and it is a very easy audio book to get sucked into because of this. I particularly liked the change of background music whenever the focus switched onto the Raven Guard.

The narration and acting were top notch as well with Sean Barrett’s world weary narration giving us a real feel for the setting while Saul Reichlin and Rupert Degas give us a clear and distinctive line between the two sets of Marines. The Black Library look like they’re building up a great cast for these audio books and I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future. It’s almost enough to make me forget about Toby Longworth…

‘Labyrinth of Sorrows’ is a case then of a slightly weak story being more than buoyed up by superior production and acting. That was what really gripped me in the end and I had a great time listening as a result.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 19 March 2012

The 'Painting A Shed' Competition Winner's Post!

Not that I'm making excuses for the current slowness of my reading, it's just that I really have spent a large part of the morning painting a shed... What an exciting life I lead right now :o)
I'm really hoping that this afternoon doesn't involve more of the same as I'm deep into 'Throne of the Crescent Moon' right now and enjoying the hell out of it. In this age of Internet shopping it doesn't really matter where a book is published but I'm really hoping that a UK publisher picks up 'Throne' and gives it that little bit more exposure over here; it really deserves it. There'll be a review up this week, definitely.

A couple of books came through the door this morning and I just want to mention one of them quickly before I get onto the serious business of announcing competition winners.
This looks like it could be an entertaining read (I could do with a laugh right now...)

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news.

The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own
everything—and the aliens are not amused.

Nick Carter has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly, and he’s an unlikely galaxy-hopping hero: He’s scared of heights. He’s also about to be fired. And he happens to have the same name as a Backstreet Boy. But he does know a thing or two about copyright law. And he’s packing a couple of other pencil-pushing superpowers that could come in handy...

'Year Zero' won't be published until July so I reckon you can expect a review maybe at the end of May or the beginning of June. maybe even a bit sooner in fact, I could really do with reading a book that makes me laugh :o)

Anyway, on with the whole business of competition winners. Thanks to everyone who entered the competition to win a copy of 'The Games'; there could only be a certain number of winners though and they were...

Galena Ostipow, Michigan, USA
Paul Sparks, Milwaukee, USA
Bobby V. Berry, Jr, Colorado, USA
Kriti Godey,  Rhode Island, USA
Lori Magill, California, USA

Well done everyone! Your books will be on their way very shortly...

I'll see you all tomorrow for a 'beginning of the rest of the week' that should involve a lot more reviews than there have been recently. Looking back at this month (and last) it seems that I've been slacking off a bit. We'll just have to see about that...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cover Art - 'Railsea' (China Mieville)

Because I promised myself that whatever book came through the door yesterday would get it's own cover art post today. I could have done a lot worse than this one... :o)

I've got a couple of books on the go but 'Railsea' has displaced a couple of others in the pile!
Go on, have some blurb...

Sham Yes ap Soorap, young doctor’s assistant, is in search of life’s purpose aboard a diesel locomotive on the hunt for the great elusive moldywarpe, Mocker-Jack. But on an old train wreck at the outskirts of the world, Sham discovers an astonishing secret that changes everything: evidence of an impossible journey. A journey left unfinished…which Sham takes it on himself to complete. It’s a decision that might cost him his life. 

Looking forward to getting stuck into this one very soon :o)

Robert Kirkman to publish 'Walking Dead Michonne Origin Story'... In Playboy...

I'm not going to lie, I'm a big fan of 'The Walking Dead' (the comic books, way behind on the films) so when I read the first part of the headline (that Michonne's tale would finally be told, link Here) I was really excited. There's a lot of mystery around Michonne and I'd love to see her tale told. Great news... or was it?

Then I read the second part of the headline and thought to myself, 'how the hell would I explain to my wife that I wanted to buy a copy of 'Playboy' so I can read a zombie story?' It's the truth but there's no way that she'd buy it... Great way to reach a wider audience, also possibly a great way to alienate the audience that you already have. I'll be waiting for this story's inevitable inclusion in one of the later trade collections.

And then I thought, 'Michonne, Playboy, really...?' There is a pretty big spoiler ahead so you be careful... ;o)

Michonne being a victim of sexual abuse makes for an odd choice of character (to say the least) to showcase in an adult magazine, doesn't it? It may be her 'origin tale' but we all know what's coming so it's an origin tale that's sending the lead character down a path that will eventually lead to her being raped. And this is in an adult magazine.

Shit really does happen in the world of the 'Walking Dead' and that's how the readers like it. I certainly do, you never know what will happen next and it keeps me reading. It only really works within the confines of the series itself though (and I'm applying this to what I've seen of the TV show as well). Step outside that venue though and you need to be very careful about where you continue to tell the story. I'm not sure what happened here but, like I said, an odd move to say the least...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Giveaway! 'The Wise Man's Fear' (Patrick Rothfuss)

To mark the paperback release of 'The Wise Man's Fear' (and also to mark the fact that I'm already floundering at page seven of said book, turns out that I really don't have the patience for drawn out scenes of bar cleaning...) I'm giving away a copy right here on the blog. This competition is only open to people in the UK though so bear that in mind before dropping me an email...

Talking of which, that's what you need to do if you want to enter; just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Wise Man's Fear'.

I'll let this one run until the 25th of March and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 16 March 2012

‘A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel (Volume One)’ – George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

In this new age of the HBO show (forthcoming computer games and so on) is there anything left to say about 'A Game of Thrones’ that hasn’t already been said? We’re all up to date with the books now and there’s the promise of more seasons of the TV show to come (two more or is it three?) That’s not even counting the flood of merchandise off the back of the show…
Well, it turns out that there is something new to talk about with the arrival of Volume One of the ‘Game of Thrones’ comic book series. Marvel (and previously the Dabel Brothers) has already published the tales of the Hedge Knight Ser Duncan the Tall but this is the first time that the main series of books has made that transition to comic book format.

Not wanting to fork out for another long running comic book series (which this could well end up becoming) I waited for just this moment, a hardback edition collecting the first six issues of ‘A Game of Thrones’. That in itself comes in at an impressive one hundred and eighty three pages so I was interested to see just how well ‘A Game of Thrones’ lends itself to the comic book format. As it happens, the transition was a lot smoother than I would have thought possible and it’s thanks to one Daniel Abraham that it works so well.

I’d be very surprised if there was anyone reading this post who hasn’t already read ‘A Game of Thrones’, or seen it on the television, so I’m not going to go too deeply into the blurb here (thus hopefully avoiding too many spoilers for anyone who isn’t familiar with the book). Lets just say that issues one to six cover the time between the first ranging beyond the Wall to Daenerys beginning to make a home for herself within the Dothraki Khalasar.

Like I said, the story itself has been covered extensively elsewhere and perhaps shouldn’t be the focus of this review anyway. What I was more interested in, right from the start, was how it adapted to this medium and it did very well in this regard.

My copy of ‘A Game of Thrones’ weighs in at an impressive eight hundred and seven pages which isn’t counting the appendices. That’s a lot of detail then and there’s no way that it would all fit into a comic book series, not unless you were happy for the adaptation of the first book to run for a hundred issues at least.
What Abraham does then is to take the more important moments in the book, dress these up with some of the minor details and present this to the reader as a fait accompli. It’s an approach that worked very well as far as I was concerned. I felt like I was getting a clearly defined tale that worked very well within the parameters of the format. There may have been plenty missing but it didn’t feel like there was anything missing out and that was the main thing for me.

It was also interesting to see that Abraham was able to do this by taking the focus off individual characters and merging everything into one ongoing tale rather than the approach that Martin himself takes (with each chapter devoted to one particular character). Maybe I’ve been out of the ‘Reading ASOIAF Game’ a little too long but things seemed to flow much more smoothly here with a story that gradually unfolds rather than jumping to and fro across continents and even timelines.

I suspect that Tommy Patterson’s artwork will come to grow on me more as the series progresses. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, Patterson really brings the world of Westeros to life (aided and abetted by Ivan Nunes’ colours) but the facial expressions he lends to his characters don’t seem to back up the whole ‘gritty, harsh and Machiavellian’ thing that Martin wants his reader to be a part of. It feels like they’re all smiling at the most inopportune times!  It’s a small complaint though and I think that, as the story progresses, Patterson should be more than up to conveying some of the darker moments to come.

Volume One then is an excellent start to the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series in comic book format. It neatly side-steps all the problems that I foresaw and, if it continues in this vein, promises great things for the future. I’m certainly there for the long haul now.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Didn’t Finish It… ‘Fated’ – Benedict Jacka (Orbit)

Because life is far too short to keep plugging away at a book that just isn’t working for you… isn’t it? I’d say yes, of course it is!
As much as I try to finish everything I read it’s not going to happen all the time, law of averages and all that. Some books are just plain atrocious (and there are a few of them covered here in this blog) and others have the misfortune to be the wrong book at the wrong time. Other books are out down for other reasons entirely, books like Benedict Jacka’s ‘Fated’ for instance. Here, have some blurb…

Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and the canal. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals, where tourists and moody teenagers mingle, and where you can get your ears pierced and your shoulder tattooed while eating sushi washed down with a can of super strength beer. In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won't sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you're looking for, he might just be able to help. That's if he's not too busy avoiding his apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light, and investigating a highly toxic Relic that has just turned up at the British Museum.

That looks like a great blurb doesn’t it? Well, the book itself may work for you but it didn’t for me.

I knew something was up when Jacka’s Camden didn’t come across nearly as cool and lively as the real thing. I don’t spend nearly as much time there as I’d like to but I love Camden and this just wasn’t Camden, not for me. It just felt a little lifeless.

I could have dealt with that though, and kept going, if it hadn’t been for the big issue that really turned me off reading any further.
The way I see it, you have to be very careful if you pay homage to another writer’s work in your own piece. If you’re not careful then you’ll find yourself writing in that writers world rather than your own; you really want to avoid this if you’re writing your debut novel and want to get readers involved in your own world.

For my money, Jacka fell foul of this trap when he paid a little homage to one Jim Butcher and his ‘Harry Dresden’ books. Butcher’s world is larger, and more established, so one almost throwaway sentence had the unwelcome effect of making Jacka’s world a part of Butchers.
So that was the sense of identity well and truly gone then and things started feel more and more like a ‘Dresden’ novel after that. It was at that point where I realised that if I wanted to read a ‘Dresden’ book then I may as well read one of the originals instead of ‘Fated’. About three seconds after that I put ‘Fated’ down and haven’t picked it up since. Fans of Harry Dresden might like it but not me, not this time.

If anyone here has read ‘Fated’ and disagrees with me please feel free to leave a comment in the usual place. This is how I feel about the book at the moment but I’m willing to be talked round :o)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

‘Phalanx’ – Ben Counter (Black Library)

Was it only a month and a bit ago that I had a little rant about mediocre cover art and Ben Counter’s ‘Phalanx’? Yes, yes it was.

For the record I still stand by everything I said about the cover in that post, a cover seemingly designed purely to make me shrug my shoulders and grunt ‘meh’. I was always going to read the book though, I’ve heard great things about Ben Counter’s ‘Soul Drinkers’ series and I particularly enjoyed his ‘Horus Heresy’ novel ‘Galaxy in Flames’ (which I read way back in the day, before this blog was even a hint of a twinkle in my eye). I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about ‘Battle for the Abyss’ though (notable flaws but a fun read nonetheless) so my anticipation was perhaps a little tempered somewhat…
Not enough to stop me though! The last few weeks have been rough, what with one thing and another, so I was after a little something that would let me escape all that for a little while. Something like ‘Phalanx’? As it turned out, yes; ‘Phalanx’ did the trick very well indeed. Not a perfect book by any means but a great deal of fun that made me think a little bit at the same time…

‘Phalanx’, the great star fort of the Imperial Fists (Great? More like very dull… ok I’ll stop all that now) is the venue for a solemn and sorrowful event attended by Space Marines from many other Chapters as well as Inquisitors, Sisters of Battle and agents of the Adeptus Mechanicus. What is left of the once noble Soul Drinkers Chapter stands trial for crimes of heresy against the very Imperium that birthed them. The sentence for their crimes is death and their guilt is beyond any doubt but other forces are gathering that would use the Soul Drinkers for their own purposes. Can redemption finally be found in one last great battle or will the ‘Phalanx’ birth an evil that will swamp the galaxy…?

‘Phalanx’ is the last book in the ‘Soul Drinkers’ sequence and, as luck would have it, the first book in the sequence that I have picked up. That in itself isn’t such a huge deal though. With five preceding books in the series it’s obviously advisable to go and read those first but if you do end reading ‘Phalanx’ before the others then don’t worry too much. What you have here is a relatively self contained story, that actually stands very well on its own, with references to prior events that tie things together without becoming ‘info-dumps’. I’d love to read the previous books in the series but suspect that I probably won’t have the time for a long time to come. ‘Phalanx’ being set out as it is then is a real boon for the likes of me.

‘Phalanx’ is a novel that tackles more than one theme as it moves along. We have the more or less obligatory ‘gene-enhanced superhumans pounding seven shades of… out of their enemies’ which makes for some stirring moments as plots become clear and violence erupts. There were moments that had my eyes glued to the page, just to see how a particular battle ended, but there were also moments that made me think ‘hang on a minute…’
The fight between Space Marines Reinez and N’Kalo (to determine whether the Soul Drinkers would have N’Kalo speak in their defence) dragged on far too long to be really effective as far as I was concerned. After a couple of pages I’d had enough and also felt that the final judgement was a bit of a foregone conclusion really (it could have ended things a lot earlier).
I also found myself wondering about the exact size and dimensions of the ‘Phalanx’ itself, not a great thing to be wondering when you really should be well into the book. Counter doesn’t make an awful lot of the size of the star fort and so it became a little jarring when I took in the full size of the host that wanted to take it towards the end. How big is this thing that it could fit a… well, that would be telling but I really wanted to be in the midst of the book itself and not wondering about things like that.

The real meat of ‘Phalanx’ though is in another theme entirely and that had me not only wanting to see how events played out but also investing a lot more in the much-maligned Soul Drinkers Chapter as a result.
The Imperium of Man is a cruel and bloody regime where thousands die, on a daily basis, just to ensure it continues. There is a good argument for the necessity of this regime but readers (well, me anyway) can’t help but feel a little sympathy for those who seek to either change things or bring the system down entirely. People like the warriors of the Soul Drinkers Chapter...

These warriors have been touched by the taint of Chaos but haven’t given themselves over to it… yet. The Soul Drinkers seek to make the Imperium a better place by going against everything that it stands for, a structure so rigid that any deviance is punishable by death. You can’t help but admire the resolve of characters like Sarpedon to stand up for their beliefs in the face of execution. Counter’s masterstroke though is to place this steely resolve in direct contrast to a wider plot that has been playing out in secret. Can Sarpedon and his men still hold true to their beliefs when doing so could see their galaxy become a very different place indeed? The answer makes for some compelling reading and at just the point where it really matters.

‘Phalanx’ is a novel of two halves then and I found myself wondering if these parts really fitted together as well as Counter perhaps wanted. On the whole, the mixture of combat and contemplation didn’t quite gel for me…  The journey into the twisted psyche of the Soul Drinkers is worth hanging around for though and I can imagine a lot of people following the books will be pleased at how it all comes to a close. I certainly was and this is the only book in the series that I’ve read. Maybe I’ll go back and catch up on the others…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

'Straits of Galahesh' Competition

Not here, somewhere else... :o)

Just a quick one to point folks in the direction of a competition that Bradley Beaulieu is running to promote the forthcoming release of his new book 'The Straits of Galahesh' (I still need to read 'The Winds of Khalakovo', I know...)

The competition is only open to people in the US or Canada which is a real pain as I would have loved the chance to win a Kindle Fire... Now I know what it feels like to be at the wrong end of a 'US & Canada only' competition :o) It all looks very cool though so I'd get over there and check it out if I were you.

The competition details are Here while there's also a very cool 'Lays of Anuskaya' interactive map that can be found right Here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cover Art! 'Void Stalker' (Aaron Dembski-Bowden)

Because I finished the book last night and just had to post something while I get my head around the task of saying how great it was without using the word 'awesome' more than once... Check out the cover art,

If it wasn't for Clint Langley's gorgeous cover art, I'd be more than happy to see even more Black Library covers from Jon Sullivan in the future.
Without going into too much detail here, Dembski-Bowden ends his trilogy in possibly the only way it could end but still managed to surprise me right at the very end; literally on the very last page. There will be a review shortly, have some blurb in the meantime...

The hunters have become the hunted. The Night Lords flee to the dark fringes of the Imperium to escape their relentless pursuers – the eldar of Craftworld Ulthw√©. Their flight takes them to the carrion world of Tsagualsa, where their primarch died and their Legion was broken. There, history will repeat itself as a deadly assassin stalks the shadows, and the Night Lords are drawn into a battle they are destined to lose. 

You can read my reviews for 'Soul Hunter' and 'Blood Reaver' Here and Here. Then go out and buy the books, seriously :o)

Douglas Adams at No.1

From the press release,

Sunday 11th March would have been Douglas Adams’ 60th birthday. Pan Macmillan are delighted to announce that Adams once again proves he is as relevant and entertaining as he ever was, with the eBook omnibus edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Trilogy of Five, published by the Tor imprint, going straight to No.1 on the Kindle chart.
While friends, fans and the likes of Sanjeev Bhaskar,  David Gilmour and Terry Jones were celebrating his birthday with a party in his honour at London’s Hammersmith Apollo last night, the omnibus edition hit the No.1 spot and remained there as of, Monday 12th March.
Adams’ legacy is very much alive in other ways, with the second episode of the Dirk Gently series airing on BBC Four tonight. The Hitchhiker’s Guide radio script plays will be on tour from June this year.

I'm not the fan of Douglas Adams that I once was but had to share this as there is something somehow apt about the 'Hitchhikers' books being read in eBook format; I think Adams would have appreciated that :o)

Monday, 12 March 2012

The 'Slightly Behind With Everything Today' Competition Winner's Post!

What? It's sunny outside and I wanted to get some of that sun before the rest of the week swallows me up in a mess of job hunting and cleaning the loft out (amongst other things). Surely you wouldn't begrudge me one last little ray of sunshine...? Thought not :o)

Just a quick one today then... Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Arctic Rising' competition last week, there could only be one winner though and that lucky lady was,

Holly Bryan, North Carolina, US

Nice work there, your book is on it's way! Better luck next time everyone else...

What's in store for the rest of the week? Well, there's a little bit of a 'Black Library Backlog' review wise but I'm hoping to spice that up a little with a 'Throne of the Crescent Moon' review at the very least. You might even get lucky and find yourselves reading a 'Caine's Law' review as well; that's turning out to be a very good read indeed.

Have a good one today and I'll see you back here tomorrow :o)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Bookshelf Porn!

It's a title that pops up in various forms on various book blogs but it holds special significance for me today as two family members, who regularly read the blog, just did a shocked double take and maybe even spat tea on the keyboard... This one's for you! :o)

We had new shelves put up last week and someone asked for pictures; I'm always happy to oblige so here goes (apologies in advance for any blurriness, I'm blaming the camera phone)...

Not a new bookshelf at all, this is an old bookshelf drafted back into action to deal with all the books that were still left over after the shelves went up. The smallest member of the household somehow managed to bag a whole shelf for her books, I think that shelf should have been left free for me but there you go... :o)
Notable books here that I still need to read include 'Helliconia', 'The Heroes' & 'The Book of the New Sun'.

The first of the new shelves, complete with 'finger puppet zombies' and the Mos Eisley Cantina Band :o)
Notable books that I still need to read... erm... most of them but definitely 'Black Halo', 'The Goblin Corps' 'Throne of the Crescent Moon' and 'Empire State' (amongst many others)

 Older bookshelves covering up an amusing attempt at DIY by the previous owner of our house; I'm growing to dislike him more and more every day (and so is my wallet)...
Everything here has been read at least once. These are the books that will probably stay with us forever and a day. Yes, even the books by David Eddings :o) My camera isn't so hot on detail but there is an old and much loved copy of 'Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth' that I've had since I was five; I love that book :o)

This was the best I could do in terms of the natural light that we get in this room and, to be honest, you're not missing an awful lot from the bottom three shelves that didn't get into the shot...
These are my favourite shelves I think, a whole load of books live here that I'm really excited about getting round to reading (even if it takes a while). Notable books that I still need to read...? Definitely :o)

I may rearrange the shelves at some point but am still having a lot of fun finding certain books in the most unlikely of places :o) For now though it's back to the reading ('Caine's Law' in case you were wondering), have a great rest of the weekend! :o)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Giveaway! 'The Games' (Ted Kosmatka)

Thanks to the nice people at Del Rey I have five ARCs of Ted Kosmatka's 'The Games' to give away on the blog. You can read the blurb Here along with my thoughts on the cover art...

You want in? It's another US entrants only competition... (Sorry about that everyone else, I'll see what I can do to even things up a bit in the future) To enter, simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and your postal address. The subject header needs to be 'The Games'. I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 18th of March and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 9 March 2012

‘The Colour Out Of Space’ – H.P. Lovecraft

You are going to be seeing an awful lot of short stories on the blog this year… I hope you don’t mind although there’s not an awful lot I can do about it if you do! Things being as they are at the moment (you know, the whole job hunting thing and so on…) reading time is at a real premium so shorter reads are inevitable. I also thought that focusing on a few short stories, here and there, would be a nice little way to give a little nod to all those anthologies that end up on my shelves and never seem to be picked up. Collections like ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ for instance.

The plan was to run a much larger post that talked about the book as a whole but as I was reading through I couldn’t help but feel that Lovecraft was basically telling the same story over and over again. You boil things down and each story is essentially saying that man isn’t physically or mentally capable of handling the fact that the world is a lot larger than he ever realised. It’s a cruel and uncaring world beyond the limits of what is familiar… I think that’s fair enough to a degree, writing to a formula is pretty much a must if you’ve discovered a way to sell your stories to the pulp magazines. Saying the same thing about each story though… Well, that wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting review really so I thought I’d pick one story out of the book and write about that instead. I will continue to read ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ but probably along those same lines; I think it’s a book that needs to be tackled in bite sized chunks rather than read in one sitting.

Anyway, the story I chose was (of course) ‘The Colour Out Of Space’; purely for the sense of intriguing weirdness that nestles within the title. A Colour from Out Of Space? What’s that all about…? There’s only one way to find out and I found it all too easy to get reading. ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ is a slow-burner but ultimately proves to be worth the initial effort required.

The narrator has been sent to the area west of Arkham to carry out survey work for a new reservoir that is to be built. The stories he hears though makes him glad that the area will soon be underwater and also makes him promise himself that he will never drink that water. There something lurking in the countryside that is not of this world…

I’m not going to lie, Lovecraft almost lost me here before the tale even got going and precisely because the tale takes its own sweet time getting going. What’s odd here is Lovecraft takes very little time in painting a dark and sinister picture of countryside tainted by… something. It’s a great hook that had me wanting to find out more straight away but Lovecraft went wrong (as far as I was concerned) was in telling the reader exactly what was going on and in no small detail. These pages drag and told me more than I wanted to know about scientific experiments on the meteorite etc. The weirdness is dispelled (albeit temporarily) by the cold light of science which lays things bare a little too well. What’s even more odd is that Lovecraft manages to cram all that unwanted detail into about three pages, three incredibly stodgy and dry pages that did their level best to put me off reading any further. Nice work there Mr Lovecraft…

I kept reading though and am glad I did. Lovecraft shows the reader that there is a lot more weirdness to this downed meteorite than at first meets the eye. ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ soon becomes a tale of inexorable doom being visited on a farmer and his family, drawn out with lots of little (and not so little) hints that things are horribly wrong.

For a writer who sought to redefine horror by moving his tales away from the realm of ghosts and witches, Lovecraft seems quite happy to dress ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ in the clothes that made those tales so scary in the first place. We’re talking unexplained lights and trees moving when they shouldn’t; we’re also talking about of the gradual descent into insanity for the family that this is all visited on.
Having said that though, Lovecraft does add his own touch of weirdness as well and the overall affect makes for a deeply unsettling yet compelling read. I couldn’t get enough of it anyway, rooting for the poor family of Nahum Gardner but knowing that their fate was already sealed.

Lovecraft ekes things out gradually and the gradual release of detail proves to be a great way of making the reader want to stay around to get the full picture. And what a picture it proves to be, a family and an entire region blighted by an alien presence that seems to be barely aware of anything else other than itself, except when it’s hungry. That lack of motivation (or acknowledgement of its surroundings) makes the ‘Colour’ somehow seem even worse than your regular vampire, or whatever, that has some dreams of power at least. The ‘Colour’ just exists to, well… exist really. It’s the repercussions for this existence that are horrifying.

Lovecraft leaves us with the knowledge that we are less than a thought to the other life forms of the universe that pass by our planet. The passing of such life forms will always leave a mark though and the repercussions of this will echo long after the ‘Colour’ gets to wherever it was going in the first place.
‘The Colour Out Of Space’ hasn’t left me wanting to avoid drinking the water from my local reservoir but is an unsettling read nonetheless. If it had got into gear a little quicker then maybe I’d be thinking twice about turning the tap on.

Eight and a Half out of Ten