Saturday, 30 June 2012

Giveaway! 'The King's Blood' (Daniel Abraham)

I am deep into 'The King's Blood', with short breaks to read other stuff, and it's shaping up to be at least as good as (if not better than) 'The Dragon's Path'. No promises on exactly when you'll see a review but it's on the way :o)

In the meantime, how would you like to win a copy for yourself? Thanks to Orbit, I have one copy to give away right here although only UK residents can enter (sorry everyone else!)
You in? Brilliant! All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top of the page) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'The King's Blood'.

I'm letting this one run until the 8th of July and will announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 29 June 2012

'The Apocalypse Codex' - Charles Stross (Orbit)

I've always thought that the current trend (I say 'current', it's been going on for years) for angst ridden, relationshippy (it's a word), Urban Fantasy is taking the focus off what Urban Fantasy should really be all about. I'm talking about a world just like ours where just a couple of details can turn everything on its head and make you think twice about walking down certain alleyways (even in the middle of the day). Luckily for me there are still people out there writing Urban Fantasy like this; I'm talking Kate Griffin, Mike Carey and Charles Stross in particular.

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Stross' 'Laundry' series for years now and seeing how Britain's brave secret agents fight creatures from extra-dimensional space whilst dealing with the latest round of meetings and Civil Service budget cuts. Having worked in government I find this really funny because it's true (the bureaucracy I mean, not the extra-dimensional creatures...)

I was a little bit worried that things might be coming to an end when I reviewed 'The Fuller Memorandum' back in July 2010. I rounded off my review by saying,

'The end result is part smirk inducing satire and part chilling horror; a mixture that (despite some awkward moments) had me chuckling and shivering all at the same time. The ending of ‘The Fuller Memorandum’ could be one that either closes things off or leaves them open for another book. I’m very much hoping for the latter.'

I was really pleased then when a copy of 'The Apocalypse Codex' arrived and it was clear that things would continue for a little while longer at least. Throwing everything else that I was reading to one side (sorry 'other books that I was reading') I got stuck in straight away...

Despite himself, Bob Howard's star is on the rise within the corridors of the Laundry (a secret government department tasked with making sure that tentacled monstrosities stay on the right side of the walls of reality). Career fast-track and management training beckons but so does one more job and it may be too much for even Bob's ability to cheat death on a regular basis.
An American televangelist is taking rather too much of an interest in the Prime Minister and that's the one area of government that the Laundry cannot spy on. Freelancers are required then and it's Bobs job to report back with their findings. Sounds simple and it is... until things start going wrong and other agencies get involved. If, by any chance, Bob should survive what the Laundry has in mind for him isn't exactly a nicer alternative.

The original plan was to finish the book I was reading and then get going with 'The Apocalypse Codex' after that. As it turns out, I can't even remember the name of the book I was reading before I decided to give Stross' latest a little go. A few pages in and all of a sudden I was there for the duration. I even stayed up late last night so I could finish 'The Apocalypse Codex' on the train to work so I could get this review up today. It's that good.

Part of the appeal for me was that Stross appears to be of the mind that he is done explaining all the technical stuff that underpins this setting (stuff that has always slightly got in the way of what I've come to see). We've had a few books for it all to sink in and now it's time for the plot itself to have some room to breathe. It's a great move on Stross' part; his plots are normally brimming over with cool stuff anyway but the extra room allows things to ramp up to another level.
Basically, with 'The Apocalypse Codex' you're looking at everything that I've ever loved about this series with even more energy and surprises. You literally don't have the time to stop for a breather as the plot will run away from you if you're not careful; just when you think you have a handle on everything something will happen that casts everything in a whole new light. Nowhere is this more evident than at the end where Stross flips everything upside down and changes the game entirely (highlighting intriguing possibilities for future books, I think there will be more now).

The only thing that I would have a little moan about (maybe) is that Howard, his allies and his enemies all seem to be going after the same 'big bad' that they went after in previous books. It's not a huge problem at the moment but it feels like a pattern is starting to emerge when maybe a little variety would keep things fresh. The answer to that is probably along the lines of 'can you get any more bad than the big bad?' Probably not but it would be nice if we could see Stross try.

It's a minor quibble though when you have a plot that races along like 'The Apocalypse Codex'. Stross' vision of the occult arm of the Civil Service is familiar enough now to draw the reader in easily but there are still some nasty surprises in store to trap unwary characters and make 'The Apocalypse Codex' a book that you simply have to finish. My only regret is that I finished the book too quickly and now I have to wait for ages until the next installment.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 28 June 2012

'The Kingdoms of Dust' - Amanda Downum (Orbit)

It was way back in the murky depths of 2009 that I picked up 'The Drowning City' (based on a heady mixture of cool title, intriguing blurb and some glorious cover art). Unfortunately, what was inside the book (you know, all the stuff that really matters...) didn't match up to what was on the outside... You can read my full review Here or, if you really don't want to, have a couple of quotes here that sum things up,

'I had real trouble engaging with the characters in this book, possibly because any character development came across as pre-determined rather than as a result of reacting to the situations they were facing.'

'I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like I could pull any book off my shelf and read about layers of intrigue and a mission that must be resolved. A book has to be pretty special to pull that trick off these days and ‘The Drowning City’ didn’t quite cut it.'

‘The Drowning City’ ended up being a little disappointing but there was enough there to suggest that any further books could be worth a look. I’ll see how it goes...'

Well, the plan was to check out further books, it didn't quite work like that. 'The Bone Palace' looked like just my kind of thing but a whole load of things stopped me from picking it up (along with a whole load of other books, the last two years have been mad) and I lost track of the series altogther. Until 'The Kingdoms of Dust' appeared.

The one thing that really grabbed me about 'The Drowning City' was the world building. 'Alive and vibrant' were the words that I used in the original review and if I could rewrite it I'd add the word 'lush' to that description. I wanted more of that and I was also curious to see how Isyllt's story eventually played out. No choice then but to pick up 'The Kingdoms of Dust' and see what happened....

Another copied and pasted blurb for you,

With her master dead and her oaths foresworn, necromancer and spy Isyllt Iskaldur finds herself in exile. Hounded by assassins, she seeks asylum in Assar, the empire she so recently worked to undermine. There, warlords threaten the Empire's fragile peace, and the empress is beset by enemies within the court. Even worse, darkness stirs in the deep desert. Ancient spirits are waking that could destroy Assar faster than any army. Isyllt must travel into the heart of the desert to lay the darkness there to rest once more. But first she must stop an order of mages that will do anything to keep the Empire safe - even raze it to dust.

Have you ever read a series and wished that the last book in the series had actually been the first? Not literally, that would really confuse the plot, I guess I'm talking more in terms of energy, plot and characters. As far as that goes, I really wish that 'The Kingdoms of Dust' had been the book that kicked things off here.

That strong worldbuilding is on display again; this time taking in the desert cities of Assar (both well known and those that are secret). You can really feel the heat in the air, and the dust under your feet, in these places (I'd love to see some of the stuff that's only hinted at, like the home of the Djinn) and it's such an effective way of grounding the reader in the story that is to follow.

And what a story it is! Reading 'The Kingdoms of Dust' made me re-evaluate a lot of what I'd read in 'The Drowning City' as it becomes clear that Downum has been playing a long game here. A lot of stuff comes to light (or fruition) here where you see it and think, 'so that was what was going on in the first book...' Downum has basically written something pretty deep here that will surprise you with its complexity; those who have stuck with the series will be rewarded by the end (I should have stuck with the series). If you factor in all the magic, sword fights and so on you have a book that is immediately engaging when you pick it up. A quick word on the action... It's not understated but it's never overdone either; Downum gets the balance just right and the reader gets a smooth ride, through the plot, as a result.

It's a shame then that the characters don't quite match up to the promise of everything else. Don't get me wrong. 'The Kingdoms of Dust' makes big strides away from the issues that I had with 'The Drowning City'. Isyllt and the rest of the cast are very much shaping their own stories here instead of just being put in place and aimed at an ending. 'The Kingdoms of Dust' is very much ' tale of crossroads' for its characters; no-one has roots anymore and everyone has a decision to make about where their life goes next. This is a great approach in terms of shaping the story but I was left wondering if Downum shied away from a few tough decisions of her own when tying up loose ends...
Does a character deserve a happy ending if they've had a rough ride for several books? Or should their past not allow them that easy way out? That's a tough one to answer (I think you can only really answer that on a case by case basis...) but, without giving too much away, Downum's ending suggested that she had a little sympathy for some characters and wanted to give them a break. That's her choice but this approach didn't quite click for me.

Apart from that though, 'The Kingdoms of Dust' was a great read and a fine way to round off the trilogy. I have a feeling that we won't be seeing any more of Isyllt Iskaldur (although I'm happy to be proved wrong) but I hope that Amanda Downum sticks around in this world she has created and gives us more stories; I think there are some good ones waiting to be told. For now though, I'm off to see if I still have my old copy of 'The Bone Palace'...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

New Deal For Peter F. Hamilton.

From the press release,

New Deal For Peter F Hamilton

Bella Pagan, Senior Commissioning Editor at Tor UK, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, has acquired UK & Commonwealth rights to two new books by Peter F Hamilton. The agent is Antony Harwood.
Peter will begin writing what is provisionally titled The Chronicle of the Fallers in 2013, with the first book ready for publication in 2014. It’s a return to his Commonwealth Universe, set in the time before the bestselling Void Trilogy, and will tell the story of Nigel Sheldon and what happened when he broke into the Void.
Peter F Hamilton said ‘After delivering Great North Road (to be published September 2012), Macmillan offered me an excellent two book deal which I was extremely happy to accept.  They have been my publisher for two decades now, and have never let any of my books go out of print, which is quite remarkable in this day and age, so continuing that relationship with them is important to me.’
Jeremy Trevathan, Publisher for the adult lists at Pan Macmillan, said ‘Peter is one of the country’s bestselling Science Fiction writers and a long-standing Macmillan author, I’m delighted that our relationship is set to continue and look forward to continuing success with the new books. It’s rare to have a twenty year history with an author and it is an honour for us to have that with a writer of such acclaim as Peter.’
You can find out more about Peter F Hamilton on his facebook page:

This particular series keeps getting longer and longer and I still haven't started (so many books and so on...) Really need to do something about that but I suspect I'd need a really long holiday, to properly get stuck in, and I'm not having one of those any time soon...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

'Ultimatum: Requiem' - Various (Marvel)

Just a quick review really as 'Requiem' only collects a few issues of the 'Requiem' issues. Or maybe it collects all of them, I don't know, I am a complete newcomer to Marvel's 'Ultimate' setting as I generally stay away from anything even vaguely hinting at at alternate universe (apart from the original 'Age of Apocalypse' plot which was excellent). The concept just seems like a bit of a cop out to me, a handy way of getting the writer out of tricky situations or (even worse) a cynical way of getting you to part with your cash.

Thinking about it though, maybe alternate universes aren't such a bad thing after all; not if they are a way of re-examining how characters might turn out if things were even slightly different. That's what prompted me to pick up 'Requiem', well... that and the fact that it was on offer (can you see a pattern emerging with the Marvel collections being reviewed here?) It turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag but there were some real moments of magic on the way.

I pretty much know nothing about the 'Ultimate' universe but a couple of pages into 'Requiem' it becomes clear that, at some point, Magneto unleashed an immense tidal wave on Manhattan and various superheroes have been left to pick up the pieces. It's a time for regrouping and it's also a time for re-evaluation of how others have been portrayed...

'Requiem' looks at how the X-Men and the Fantastic Four cope in the aftermath of the Ultimatum wave as well as other recent events (for the X-Men). Spiderman's character is also re-examined while his fate remains unknown.

It's the story of Spiderman that is the most powerful as his fiercest critic is forced to not only confront Spiderman's heroism but write a piece where he faces up to his own hostile attitude. It's really sobering stuff, especially when set against the wreckage of a Manhattan that Spiderman fought to save, and the flashbacks make for good insight into Spiderman's character (in the Ultimate universe). The ending killed it a little bit for me, I wonder if Brian Bendis would have done better staying away from a predictable ending and going with what was proving to be an incredibly powerful plot. The journey getting there nade it all worthwhile though. Best story in the book.

I wish I could say the same about the 'Fantastic Four' story. The fracture of the group dynamic draws you in but the moments with Reed Richards were just dull to be honest. I know the guy is meant to be singleminded here but his obsession just looked pointless in the face of the wider picture. Maybe this was the intent but, for me, the story came across as two halves fighting against each other instead of moving forward together. I wasn't impressed at all by the end result.

The 'X-Men' piece went some way towards redressing the balance with moments of introspection and grief that the 'X-Men' books seem to do so well. It just felt so slow though, like it was deliberately slowing things down in preparation for a crescendo that never happened (not in this book anyway). A halfhearted confrontation with their enemies sparked a little bit of interest but not a lot.

'Requiem' hints at good things from the preceding story and maybe I'll pick up more of these books. Maybe.
Despite some very good moments though, the rest of it didn't quite grab my attention in the way I was hoping for. The Spiderman story was great but I suspect that the rest of it won't stick around in my head for too long...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Exactly the cover art post I wanted to write!

After yesterday's post (I'm linking to it but you could, you know, just scroll down...) bemoaning my inability to show you the back cover of 'Bitter Seeds'... Orbit very kindly sent me an image of the full cover. This makes me wonder why I didn't just ask them in the first place but I got there in the end :o)

So here you go, check out that back cover and tell me that it isn't great. If nothing else it really captures that 'British Secret Service report' vibe, really letting you know that the Secret Service are on the case so all this talk of Nazi supermen is a pretty big deal...

You're going to need to click on the image if you want to see it in more detail. If I make it any bigger it'll take out a chunk of the page...
What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

'Doctor Who and The Ark In Space' - Ian Marter (BBC Books)

Is this going to be a review or me waxing nostalgic about Saturday evening cheese on toast, reading a Doctor Who book while waiting for it to appear on the TV? I'm aiming for the former but please excuse me if it turns into the latter from time to time; childhood memories of cheese on toast will do that to me every time... ;o)
'Doctor Who' was an absolutely massive part of my childhood though, not least because of the novelisations that enabled me to catch up on adventures, of previous Doctors, that I had never seen before. It's just under thirty years since I last read 'The Ark in Space' and remember being really freaked out by the descriptions of the giant insect Wirrrn. The re-release of 'The Ark in Space', by BBC Books, gave me the chance to take a little trip back in time and see if the magic was still there. In a slightly unexpected turn of events, I had exactly the same problems with 'The Ark in Space' that I had when I was eight or nine. Not sure quite what to think about that...

Blurb copied and pasted because I need to save all the time I can today!

The survivors of a devastated future Earth lie in suspended animation on a great satellite. When Earth is safe again, they will awaken. But when the Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive on the Terra Nova, they find the systems have failed and the humans never woke.

The Wirrrn Queen has infiltrated the satellite, and laid her eggs inside one of the sleepers. As the first of the humans wake, they face an attack by the emerging Wirrrn.

But not everyone is what they seem, and the only way the Doctor can discover the truth is by joining with the dead mind of the Wirrrn Queen. The price of failure is the Doctor's death, and the end of humanity.

I ought to start off by saying that I have never seen the 'Ark in Space' TV episodes so this review won't be about how the two formats measure up to one another. I'm all about the book here although not for long as 'The Ark in Space' is only a hundred and forty eight pages long, it made for a nice couple of hours reading but not without those issues I mentioned...

If the afterword, mention is made that Marter's book differs in a number of small ways from the TV episodes but I'd say that the detail he puts into setting the scene shows a faithfulness to what was on the screen. It's a shame that he doesn't do a particularly good job of it then; I didn't think he did when I was nine and I don't think so now. You know the story takes place on a space station but it's all too easy to get lost as the descriptive passages don't leave you with a lot of clues as what it looks like or where stuff is in relation to other stuff. It's pretty confusing to be honest although Marter does capture the claustrophobia of the narrow tunnels that must be crawled through...

The best thing to do then is stick with the actual plot and that is where Marter comes into his own with a taut and gripping tale of alien insects intent on assimilating the human crew. You get to see the whole process with one crewmember and I couldn't help but wince in sympathy. Marter doesn't pull any punches here with a rather visceral account of alien transformation.

It's also interesting to see that, while the Doctor has plenty of ideas (and takes centre stage the whole way through), it's the human crew who eventually save the day. I liked the way this showcases the Doctors faith in humanity and why he will do anything to protect the Earth. His energy inspires the other characters to come up with solutions of their own and this approach makes the plot sizzle when it really counts.

'The Ark in Space' is a story of two halves then. The plot is nothing less than gripping but if it wasn't for the words 'space' and 'station' the background would be a complete letdown. Luckily the plot makes up for this, to a great extent, and I loved the read. I won't leave it another thirty years before picking up 'The Ark in Space' again; now I just need to watch it on DVD...

Eight out of Ten

Not the cover art post I wanted to write but... Oh well...

Everyone (me included) loves to go on about great/awful/meh' cover art is and you can understand why. It's there in your face, calling to you from the bookshelves and online; you can understand why we all want to talk about it.

It occurred to me though that while everyone talks about the front cover, I don't think I've ever seen anyone post about what's on the back. I mean, the back cover is a cover as well isn't it? And there's artwork there as well, why don't we talk about that along with the stuff on the front?
The reason that occurred to me is that my review copy of 'Bitter Seeds' (UK edition) turned up last night and the back cover looks absolutely awesome. The artwork, and the blurb, is all done up to look one of those military files you see in old war films; I'm a sucker for anything that has 'Classified' stamped on it in red :o) I also loved the way that the blurb is written 'report style'.

'Brilliant!' I thought, 'This could make for quite a cool post.' At least that's what I thought until I went looking for an image and couldn't find one. Because no-one talks about the artwork on the back of a book do they...

So, erm... yeah. Check out the back of 'Bitter Seeds' if you see it, I thought it was great :o)

In the meantime, here's the cover art for Charles Stross' 'The Apocalypse Codex' instead.

It's alright I guess. I didn't think much of what was on the back though... ;o)

Monday, 25 June 2012

The 'really need to cut out the casual swearing...' Competition Winner's Post!

Because I didn't realise how much I swear until Hope started talking and copying what I say... Her reaction to a spilled cup of tea (the other day) was quite funny, swearing in front of the grandparents perhaps less so. We got through it though, now I just need to start using other words that she'll copy instead (and save the foul language for when she's asleep)...

Enough of me showcasing my poor parenting skills (although I can get Hope to say 'please' nine times out of ten)... :o) Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Control Point' giveaway, last week, but there could only be one winner and that person was...

Thomas Mulrooney Burnley, UK

Nice work there Thomas, your book should be on its way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else; setting up competitions is getting harder and harder, these days, but I'll do my best to keep them coming... ;o)

If you're planning on popping in this week you can expect to see me having a little rant about alternate universes, in comics, as well as reviewing a little fantasy and some sci-fi too. I can't see myself finishing 'The King's Blood' this week but it's shaping up to be just as good as 'The Dragon's Path' (if not better). Hopefully there'll be a review next week.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

'The Walking Dead Vol. 16 - A Larger World' Kirkman, Adlard (Image)

I've been reading the ‘Walking Dead’ books for at least a couple of years longer than I've been running the blog and I've been running the blog... Well... Ages now :-) It's along time then to stay with any series so you couldn't blame me for feeling a little let down when Volume 15 never really went anywhere. Not only did I have ages to wait until this volume bit vol 15 hinted at a direction, for the overall series, that didn't look promising from where I was sitting. You can read the review Here if you like, a review that I summed up by saying...

'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.'

Like I was ever going to stop reading though... You put years of reading in and there's no question about whether you'll see it through to the end. It didn't really take too much for me to give Kirkman the benefit of the doubt either. The 'Walking Dead' series has had far more ups than downs so all I had to do was hope that vol 16 took things back on an upward path rather than the other direction.
It's a slow path upwards but 'A Larger World' does start to move things in the right direction again.

Supplies are growing dangerously low in the settlement and the surrounding area has been picked clean of anything useful. Trips further afield are in order and one such trip reveals that Rick's community isn't the only one trying to survive. New encounters envariably mean new problems to solve though and Rick and his friends must face up to some tough decisions if their community is going to make it through the winter...

'A Larger World' has similar problems to the previous volume in terms of just how safe the characters all are. There's a big walled settlement for shelter and even the weakest character has killed enough zombies for that not to be an issue either. A little bit of the tension is missing then but Kirkman sidesteps this rather neatly by throwing the wider setting into sharper focus. There's a whole new world out there and Kirkman shows us the potential here for new tales yet to come.

If there's a problem here it's very much that all these tales are 'yet to come'. 'A Larger World' is all about setting things up for future volumes so be prepared for not a lot to happen at times. Balancing this out though is the air of menace that Kirkman builds up over the course of the book; 'A Larger World' isn't just filler, things are being laid in place that promise something explosive in the very near future. This is what I'm after and I don't mind waiting a little bit longer if I know it's coming.

There are also more developments, on the personal front, for our band of survivors and it's all credit to Kirkman that he keeps things becoming too much like a soap opera. These are people learning to feel again, after some traumatic events, and I think Kirkman captures that perfectly.

Like I said then, it's a slow road but 'A Larger World' sets the plot back on an upward trajectory. I’m all excited again about seeing where the series takes us next.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Couple of Odds and Ends...

A bit of a short and sweet one today, what with being away for the weekend and generally preoccupied about a whole load of stuff. Life can throw up all sorts of stuff when you least expect it but more on that another time (maybe). In the meantime...

I generally try not to plug books unless I've actually read them but, after going on about how you can't find anything by Karl Edward Wagner these days (not cheap anyway), I've recently seen that you can get hold of Wagner's short story 'Undertow' in Tachyon Press' 'Sword & Sorcery Anthology'. I briefly mentioned 'Undertow' in my review of 'Night Winds' but it's a story that has taken on greater significance to me the more I think about it. There's about a hundred other good reasons to buy 'The Sword & Sorcery Anthology' but don't skip over 'Undertow' in order to get to them, you'll be missing out on a dark treat indeed.

And for those of you are interested, here's what I bought for myself on a trip into town this afternoon...

'The Ark in Space' originally aired about seven months before I was born (I feel old) but I had this out of the library, when I was a kid, and I'm looking forward to a little nostalgic reading about five minutes after I finish this post :o) The reissuing of the original Target novels is more than welcome as far as I'm concerned (having lost several 'Doctor Who' books that I now have the chance to recollect).

Friday, 22 June 2012

'Siege'- Rhiannon Frater (Tor)

Despite a few misgivings along the way, I've enjoyed reading Rhiannon Frater's 'As The World Dies' books; it was just a bit of a shame that the major misgiving I had covered all of the second book. You can read the reviews of the first two books Here and Here but, if you don't want to, it's all summed up just below...

On 'The First Days'

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

On 'Fighting to Survive'

'To be blunt, after clearing out the hotel the fort is just too safe; zombies cannot get in and survivors are checked for bites etc before they can be allowed to stay...'

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

It took me a little while to get to that concluding part but I got there in the end! Like I said, there was enough to the story to hold my interest and well, you know, zombies :o) Those earlier misgivings meant that I was a little wary this time round though and it turned out that I had good reason to be. 'Siege' looks amazing but if you dig a little deeper, well...

The old world is long gone but a new one is slowly taking shape in Ashley Oaks, Texas. With the fort safe from zombie attack; Katie and Jenni have not only been able to find new love but Katie will soon give birth to her first child.

All isn't well though... Zombies cluster at the gates, trying to get in, and must be dealt with regularly. Inside the fort itself, divisive factions seek to gain power while the mysterious vigilante dispenses lethal justice of his own. And if all that wasn't enough, a former US senator (and her soldiers) is casting envious looks in the direction of the fort. When the largest zombie horde ever seen appears on the horizon, will anyone be left alive...?

On the surface, 'Siege' looks to be a rousing finale for the 'As The World Dies' trilogy. It's packed full of zombies and hard people having to make hard decisions off the back of this post-apocalyptic landscape. A zombie bite, or scratch, is a death sentence and Frater doesn't flinch from what it's like to have her cast carry this sentence out. There are some really heart rending moments for the reader... Add to this the fact that Frater's cast are genuinely flawed people (who often can't see the big picture past their own desires) and will endanger everything just to increase their own standing. All the best zombie tales focus on how humanity's inability to co-operate will cause big problems and 'Siege' is no different. The reader has a tale that is nothing short of compelling when it really gets going, just like it did in 'The First Days'.

Is it enough though? I didn't think so by the time I finally put the book down.

The best zombie films/books etc really make the point that life is cheap in this scenario and that death can come quickly for anyone. No-one is truly safe and that is what keeps things so fresh and engaging. Is your favourite character going to make it to the end? And what kind of an ending will that be? Usually very bleak...

Rhiannon Frater's big problem is that she cannot bear to let any of her main characters die, not even the ones who actually die (which lent a para-normal air to the proceedings completely at odds with the gritty bleakness that had been the norm). If you're a member of the supporting cast then you're fair game. These characters die in their droves and as a result, Frater is able to point to a high body count that's in keeping with zombie fiction. These are all people who don't really matter though; people that you'd be hard pressed to remember if you hadn't read the other two books fairly recently. There's no attachment to these characters (at least there wasn't for me), they're just a part of the scenery to be chewed on by various zombies.

The main players though? They're pretty much guaranteed clear passage to the very last page of the book, even if they die in the meantime (can you tell that really bugged me?) Maybe I'm just not used to an optimistic zombie tale but this approach robbed the story of a whole load of the suspense and had me foccusing on what was going on, in the background, rather than the plot itself. Why do otherwise? I knew that these people were going to make it.

I think the fairest thing to say about 'Siege' (and possibly the other two books as well) is that it's 'zombie lite'. It looks good but shys away from tackling the themes that really matter, the themes that could have pushed this book to the next level. Black and white then with no shades of grey. It's a shame given how good the first book was...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 21 June 2012

'Blackout' - Mira Grant (Orbit)

I love zombie novels, zombie films, the works really. I don't think there's any other form of media where you can get such an honest insight into someones character while the guy next to them is having their lower intestine pulled out and eaten by hordes of the hungry dead. It's a sub-genre that pretty much ticks all the boxes as far as I'm concerned :o)

It will take something pretty big then to get past my enthusiasm and spoil the whole experience for me; even the 'Hard Rock Zombies' film was so bad that it was actually quite enjoyable to watch. (It's two hours of your life that you won't get back though, think very carefully before watching it...) Mira Grant's 'Feed' was one of those books . Yep, you heard me; I'm talking about multiple Hugo award nominated Mira Grant here. 'Feed' wasn't a bad story in itself, it was all the baggage that came with it that proved to be its downfall as far as I was concerned. You can read the full review Here but if not, these quotes sum up my feelings...

'Miriam Grant’s explanation behind her outbreak of zombies is superbly done but it hobbles the story at the same time...'

‘Feed’ is meant to be a book about zombies. Stop telling me about the safeguards, insurance premiums, disease control measures etc and start giving me the good stuff!'

‘Feed’ was a gripping yet ultimately frustrating read where I ended up learning a lot about the setting at the expense of the story and its characters. Not the balance that I look for when I’m reading...'

So not one of my favourite reads here then. The sequel, 'Deadline' kind of passed me by (last year) but I was always interested to see how the trilogy ended so when 'Blackout' turned up on the doorstep it wasn't too long before I picked it up for a read. And what a read! 'Blackout' may suffer from its own problems but was a real step up from 'Feed' in terms of quality. Blurb copied and pasted in a vain attempt to save myself some time on what is going to be a horribly busy day...

The year is 2041, and Shaun Mason is having a bad day. Everyone he knows is dead or in hiding. The world is doing its best to end itself for the second time. The Centre for Disease Control is out to get him. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, he must face mad scientists, zombie bears and rogue government agencies before the conspiracy that killed Georgia manages to kill the only thing he has left of her - the truth.

And if there's one thing he knows is true in this post-zombie, post-resurrection America (full of mad scientists, zombie bears and rogue government agencies), it's this: Things can always get worse.

So, about those zombie bears... The way I see it, if you promise me zombie bears then it's reasonable to expect a frantic chase through a forest followed by a tense standoff, maybe even a little wrestling with a dead (but still ravenous) bear. That's what I want to see next time; what I got this time round was a brief glimpse of zombie bear followed by some congratulatory noises about how easy it was to kill a couple of chapters later. I spent a large chunk of the book looking forward to some zombie bear action and then Grant deals with it when no-one is looking so to speak. I did feel a little let down here...
The good news is that this is pretty much the only thing that Mira Grant really did wrong. 'Blackout' had a couple of other problems but it was a book that I found very hard to put down.

I was a little bit concerned that, having missed out on 'Deadline', I'd have a lot of catching up to do that might get in the way of the plot. I shouldn't have worried; while readers are obviously going to get a lot more out of having read all the books, the main plot here takes a twist that means things pick up almost straight from where 'Feed' left off. I can't say too much more other than it was a twist I never saw coming and Grant's habit of explaining everything in detail really paid off here. It all worked fine from where I was sat.

I wasn't too sure about how sure about the rest of the plt hang to be honest. When I finally found out what was going on, why everyone is fighting and being all covert, I couldn't help but think... 'everyone's getting worked up over this?' It's not actually that big a deal. Where Grant really rescues it though is that she has believing it's a big deal through what happens to her characters and how keen they are to get to the bottom of things before it's too late. There's a real sense of urgency here that really powers the plot forward and you can't help but be caught up in the wake of it. It also really helps that Grant has clearly come ot the conclusion that she has told us all there is to tell about her 'post zombie- apocalypse' world. This means we get to spend a lot more time with the cast and we get to see a whole load more zombies doing what they do best (apart from the bear that is, I'm still sore about that...) If you're anything like me you'll find it really nervewracking peering round certain corners in 'Blackout', anything could be lurking...

'Blackout' isn't a great read then but it does offer plenty to keep the reader occupied while they're reading. I'm glad I got to see how it all signed off for the cast and the 'extra bonus short story 'Countdown' shows you the chilling and impersonal nature of how it all began...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

'Malediction' - C.Z. Dunn (Black Library)

Why is it the audio books come out when I'm trying my hardest to escape from something truly soul destroying...? Ok, maybe not 'soul destroying' but even so, pretty bad. When I was working for TFL you would usually find me listening to an audiobook somewhere in the depths of the Jubilee Line (on the early morning commute). It really was the best way to avoid completely losing it with certain selfish commuters (and we've all met those)...

My current job sees me somewhere in the middle of what looks like possibly several weeks of data input. I'm not knocking people who do this for a living but it's not the most stimulating job in the world is it? It wouldn't be a stretch to say that it's exactly the opposite in fact...

The only way I've been able to get through this job is to have my iPod on pretty much constantly, throughout the day, and yesterday it was the turn of the Black Library's latest audiobook to get a good listening to. I was particularly interested to listen to 'Malediction' as I've only ever really come across C.Z. Dunn as an editor and not as an author in his own right. I wanted to see how his audiobook measured up to previous efforts and I'm pleased to say that not only did it measure up but it sets a pretty good standard for future audiobooks to follow.

Blurb copied and pasted today because, you know, data inputting waits for no man... :o(

On the world of Procel V, veteran Imperial Guard officer Regan Antigone is being honoured for his role in the planet's liberation from the forces of Chaos, some twenty-five years earlier. But when his old comrade, Master Tigrane of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter, arrives to join the festivities and asks to hear the glorious tale told once more, Antigone falters. With the details of his account cast under close scrutiny and with the judgement of the Imperium hanging over him, will his noble reputation remain intact?

For seventy five minutes yesterday I was able to escape a rather dull job and look through the eyes of a beleagured Imperial Guardsman onto a battlefield gone mad with the horrors of war in the far future. Then I got to turn the iPod off and return to some measure of normality afterwards; the universe of Warhammer 40K is a great place to visit but not one where you'd want to stay for too long...

'Malediction' is a tale of deception on the battlefield and the cost that one man must pay for living with that knowledge afterwards. Regan Antigone hates the pomp that has grown around his 'heroism' and I started the tale feeling little sympathy for him. Once you get to find out the truth though, you can't help but feel sorry for a man put in an impossible position. Everyone wants to live and terrible oaths will be sworn on a battlefield to gain a few more hours of life. When you bring it down to that level you can't blame Antigone but how will his oath cast him, in the eyes of the Imperium, when that truth comes to light? Long term fans of the game, and the Dark Angels Chapter in particular, will have a lot more fun debating that argument than newcomers to the setting but the twist in the tale is one that everyone will enjoy I think. The ending is brutal, and very abrupt, yet somehow fitting.

If that wasn't enough for you, 'Malediction' is also an insightful tale of perhaps the most heroic soldiers in the armies of the Imperium, the Imperial Guard. These are just mere men tasked with defending humanity against the xenos hordes armed with nothing but a las-gun and a lot of faith. Dunn does very well to capture the fear that Antigone and his friends feel and the way that they soldier on regardless up until the point where their nerves can take it no longer. Dunn also does very well to show how the allies at a Guardsman's back can be just as terrifying as the enemy in front of them. No matter what Antigone wants to do, the only way he can go is forwards...

Sean Barret's narration is dry and imposing while Rupert Degas and Saul Reichlin combine to fool the listener into thinking that the cast of 'Malediction' is far more than just three people. All in all, one of the better listening experiences from Black Library and one that I think will definitely set the bar for future audiobooks in the range.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

'The Mighty Avengers: Earth's Mightiest' - Slott, Pham, Sandoval & Segovia (Marvel)

As a rule, I generally stay well clear of the Marvel universe for the simple reason that it's pretty much impossible to get by readng just one of the series. Everything is tied together so cleverly that even with the best of intentions you will find yourself buying more and more comics in order to get the whole story. Is this approach about telling an integrated story, across several platforms, or is it an underhand attempt to get comic fans to part with even more cash? Being ever so slightly cynical I know which one I'd choose... I got my fingers burned collecting 'X-Men' comics and swore off Marvel after that. Until now.

The recent release of the 'Avengers' movie (which I still need to see at some point, probably at Christmas when the DVD comes out...) got me all interested though and I thought I read some 'Avengers' if I got the chance. Just to see what I was missing really. Where to start though? I mean, how long has 'The Avengers' comic book been running for? That's an awful lot of continuity to get caught up on... As it turned out, the best place to start was with 'Earth's Mightiest' which I saw on special offer in The Works. The story looked relatively self contained and I wouldn't be too out of pocket if it didn't work for me.

Did it work for me? I can't see myself going out and buying more 'Avengers' books off the back of 'Earth's Mightiest' but it made for a pretty entertaining read in the meantime.

The initial premise is simple, perhaps a little too simple for me. A new team of Avengers are assembled to take on a variety of threats; they meet the threat head on, deal with it and are moved on to the next threat. That's the main bulk of the plot really and you could argue that doesn't make for much of a plot at all. I'd have to agree with you there. Pham, Sandoval and Segovia all take turns at showing us what's happening and it all looks really dynamic on the page. It verges on the edge of being repetitive/monotonous though and it's only the fact that the book is so short (as well as setting the Avengers up against the Fantastic Four) that saves the day. There's enough action here to get things buzzing but I'd say that Slott does well to keep it on that side of the line.

It was the little hints at a wider picture that proved to be more intriguing for me, both in terms of plot and character. Everyone has their issues here but Hank Pym's struggles to be a leader, and pay some kind of meaningful tribute to his dead ex-wife at the same time, proved to be really engaging. The guy is totally off his head (I think) and I couldn't help but root for him a little because of this.

I also found myself noting little asides as well that hinted at the state of the wider Marvel universe. I don't want to give too much away but I'm sure that a particular Norse God was a guy the last time I saw anything of him. And what's going on with Norman Osborne? Shouldn't he be... Oh I don't know. These little snippets of information are all very interesting and clearly designed to have you picking up the next comic as well as all the back issues you can lay your hands on. I don't have the money, or the space, for that and I think a visit to Wikipedia is probably in order to answer those questions.

'Earth's Mightiest' is a very well drawn comic and I'd love to see more work from Pham, Sandoval and Segovia in the future. It's very lightweight though in terms of plot, a lot of fun to read but feels strangely hollow at the same time. Hollow enough in fact I'll probably only pick up future 'Avengers' books if they're on offer as well. There isn't quite enough here to make me want to dig deeper to get the whole picture...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 18 June 2012

The 'Can't find a decent bacon roll on the South Bank' Competition Winner's Post!

As soon as I've written this post I'll be off out to hunt down some breakfast (well, more like second breakfast but who's counting...?) but I'll be doing so with a heavy heart. I've been working on the South Bank for just over a couple of weeks now and I still haven't been able to find a decent bacon roll. Well, not one that doesn't cost the price of a decent pub meal anyway. Anyone reading this who works on the South Bank, where do you get your bacon rolls from in the morning? And hi! If you're wondering who I am, I'm the guy with the beard constantly browsing the book stalls under the bridge :o)

Enough of me and my stomach though (at least for now). Thanks to everyone who entered the two competitions that I ran last week. It's around about time that I announced some winners so without further ado, here goes...

Wendy Lam, London, UK

James Keith, Washington, US
Kevin Sly, North Carolina, US
Amy O'Neal, Virginia, US

Nice work there! Your books will be headed to you very soon :o) Better luck next time to everyone else.
There might be another post from me a little later on but the next few minutes at least are going to be all about that bacon roll. See you later :o)

P.S. Forgot to mention, reviews this week will mostly feature zombies, Avengers and a little sci-fi if you're wondering... ;o)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Did anyone read 'Glimmering' last time round?

A copy of Elizabeth Hand's 'Glimmering' arrived the other day courtesy of Underland Press; not something that I'd normally devote a whole post to (apart from the occasional 'book haul' posts) but the fact that it had already been published, back in 1997, caught my eye. Apparently, this edition has been newly revised by the author but I've still got to ask... Did anyone read 'Glimmering' last time round? What did you think?

For those of you who haven't here's the cover art and blurb...

It’s 1999 and the world is falling apart at the seams. The sky is afire, the oceans are rising—and mankind is to blame. While the spoils of the 20th Century dwindle, Jack Finnegan lives on the fringes in his decaying mansion, struggling to keep his life afloat and his loved ones safe while battling that most modern of diseases—AIDS.

As the New Millennium approaches, Jack’s former lover, a famous photographer reveling in the world's decay, gifts him with a mysterious elixir called
Fusax, a medicine rumored to cure the incurable AIDS. But soon, the "side effects" of Fusax become more apparent, and Jack gets mixed up with a bizarre entourage of rock stars, Japanese scientists, corporate executives, AIDS victims, and religious terrorists. While these larger players compete to control mankind's fate in the 21st Century, Jack is forced to choose his own role in the World's End, and how to live with it.

Same kind of question then. If you haven't already read 'Glimmering' would you read it based on the blurb? Underland Press hasn't let me down yet so I'll be reading 'Glimmering' at some point soon.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Giveaway! 'Control Point' (Myke Cole)

I enjoyed the hell out of 'Control Point' when I read it last month (review Here) and am really excited to see a UK publisher taking a chance on it; here's a book that deserves all the nice things happening to it and being said about it.

If you're after the UK edition then it won't be on the shelves until August but, thanks to Headline, I have an advance copy to give away for those who want to read it a little sooner. Before you all get too excited though, this competition is unfortunately only for UK residents. Sorry about that...

For all those UK residents still reading, you know what to do next. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Control Point'. I'll do everything else ;o)

I'm letting this one run until the 24th of June and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 15 June 2012

'Night Winds' - Karl Edward Wagner

In a world where Karl Edward Wagner's 'Kane' books are long out of print (and going for quite obscene prices on Amazon etc, seriously, check it out...) I've been lucky enough to build up my collection through the awesome powers of the internet. Having only read 'Dark Crusade' (reviewed at the very beginning of this month and still superb reading even after all these years) I'm pretty excited at seeing how the other books measure up so you can expect to see reviews here on a fairly regular basis :o)

I really should have looked up the running order of the series, before getting into it, but sometimes it's a lot more fun to read books at random and see how they fit together. So it was then that I made my next 'Kane' read 'Night Winds' and it proved to be a good choice, being a collection of short stories that feel like they can be read on their own if you don't have the other books to hand.

What the reader gets with 'Night Winds' is a series of episodes from Kane's life, beginning in his early days (although he has already been around for centuries at this point) and heading through to, well... I don't know. There is a real timeless air to these stories that defies any attempt to place them within the timeline of the larger series. The only clue that we are given lies within comments about just how long Kane has been walking the earth. What are fairly recent memories to Kane are literally myth and legend to the people that he meets; that's the only clue you need about his age as it becomes really clear that Kane is practically immortal.

Being relatively short stories (the 'Night Winds' collection is only a hundred and seventy five pages long in the edition I have) you don't really get the chance to explore Kane's character in the way that you did in 'Dark Crusade'. Each story has that same air of darkness surrounding it though. Kane lives in troubled times (mostly because of his own actions) where a strong sword arm, and no morals at all, is all that you need to take whatever you want and make it your own. It's interesting to see Kane fight against this attitude, even more so when the fight is done and you realise just why Kane set himself against the status quo. Kane can show some measure of humanity, surprising for someone who has lived long enough to have lost it all, that mostly serves to show him as an anti-hero but can also sometimes send a story spiralling off in a different direction entirely.

Not all the stories worked for me but one thing that all of them did do was to keep me reading; mostly to see what Kane would do (here's a clue, it's mostly bloody and he's the last one standing by the end) but also for that dark atmosphere. A world so cruel that it shouldn't exist but a world that endures anyway. I don't fancy your chances of finding a cheap copy of 'Night Winds' but certainly give the book a go if you do come across it. It's pulp fantasy with an edge that demands your attention.

The stories within 'Night Winds' are...


'Undertow' proves to be an apt tale to kick off proceedings as it takes place in the city of Carlsultyal, a city out of the antiquity of Kane's world. It makes for interesting reading then, especially when we are given clues at how long Kane has already lived by this point. The story itself hints at how badly Kane is dealing with his immortality at this point, with tragic consequences (for one character) that we never see coming. Kane will do anything to make the long years worth living, regardless of what it means for anyone else.

'Two Suns Setting'

One of the more straightforward of the tales on offer with Kane raiding an underground tomb to aid his giant companion. What's interesting though is the campfire conversations where they discuss humanity's emerging place in the world, all at the expense of their giant forefathers. Is it right that humankind should claim dominance (just because they breed more rapidly) after giantkind has done all the hard work? Of course it isn't fair but that's just the way the world is, something Wagner shows us all too well.

'The Dark Muse'

Considering I'm not a big fan of poetry, at all, it was surprising then that 'The Dark Muse' ended up being my favourite tale in the collection. The actual poetry didn't do anything for me, it was the journey into the mind of a poet (determined to capture his dark vision at any cost) that proved to be compelling. Couple this with a tale of demons stalking the ruins of an ancient city (picking off Kane's men one by one, like a forerunner of 'Predator') and 'The Dark Muse' delivers on all fronts.

'Raven's Eyrie'

Here's another strong story in that Wagner places Kane pretty much at death's door and then has him fighting a tenacious bounty hunter whilst trying to save the daughter he never knew he had. What I loved about 'Raven's Eyrie' is that Wagner shows just how capable Kane is without recourse to magic. Everything that happens is down to either Kane's ingenuity or sheer blind luck and it adds an edge to the tale that the others don't have. Definitely worth re-reading.

'Lynortis Reprise'

I wasn't really sure what to think of this tale. I loved the twist at the end, another one that shows just how long Kane has been around, but the rest of the tale just felt like it was going by the numbers. Here's Kane, here's some people who want to kill him, lets have a big fight. 'Lynortis Reprise' felt like a bit of a let down after some very strong stories beforehand...

'Sing a last Song of Valdese'

The last story in the book hardly features Kane at all and this makes his eventual entrance, on the penultimate page, all the more powerful when it finally happens. The actual story is a little too predictable for my tastes though. There's a lovely 'Haunted Inn' atmosphere going on here but it means you can see what's coming a way off. Perhaps not the best tale to sign off the collection on then...

A mixed bag then but enough with atmosphere and character to balance things out overall. Worth a look if you happen to chance upon a copy...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 14 June 2012

'Ready Player One' - Ernest Cline (Crown)

Ever since I read 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' about a year and a bit after everyone else, I've got the art of arriving late to the party down to a fine art. Not that I do it deliberately; I love talking about books with people so I want to read the books that other people are reading when they're reading them. It never seems to work out that way though... 'The Lies of Locke Lamora', 'The Name of the Wind'; I'm so late reading 'The Heroes' that I may as well not bother at all (I will though, of course I will) And then there's 'Ready Player One'.

About a year ago, everyone was reading 'Ready Player One' and going on about how great it was. I had a copy sat on the shelf waiting to be read that I somehow contrived to igonore completely until a few days ago... I don't know how I do this but it always happens.
It was when I received an email asking if I'd like a paperback copy to review that I thought to myself, 'don't I still have the hardback somewhere...?' I did and I got reading straight away. I'm really glad that I did as it would have quite literally been a crime to have left 'Ready Player One' any longer. What an amazing read...

It's the year 2044 and the world is reeling from global unemployment, a decades long energy crisis and a climate beyond hope of repair. Famine, poverty and disease are widespread and the only escape from the daily grind lies within a virtual world just the blink of an eye away from our own.
Lke most of humanity, Wade Watts spends most of the day plugged into the OASIS, a virtual universe of ten thousand planets where you be anything you want to be. What Wade wants to be is the first person to solve the riddles scattered through the OASIS by its deceased creator, James Halliday. Whoever cracks these puzzles will inherit not only Halliday's fortune but control of the OASIS itself. All you need to stand a chance of winning is to be as clued up about eighties pop culture as Halliday was himself. It's been years since the contest began and people are beginning to think that no-one will ever solve the first riddle... Until the day that, quite by chance, Wade stumbles across the solution.
Now the race is on in earnest with a number of people willing to commit murder in the real world to gain control of the virtual one. Wade Watts may know his eighties trivia and can make his way round the OASIS with the best of them; now he must come to grips with a world that he has spent his life trying his best to ignore...

Whenever everyone raves about a particular book I can't help but be a little cynical. I mean, no book is that great... is it? 'Ready Player One' may not be that book but it's so close that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. There were a few bits that I found myself skimming but I couldn't drag my eyes away from the rest of the book.

'Ready Player One' is a homage to all the stuff that anyone reading this blog will have loved about the nineteen eighties, all wrapped up in a technothriller plot where what's at stake is nothing less than the fate of an entire universe. Ok, it may only be a virtual universe but Cline spells it out, really clearly, that this is a huge deal. When the real world is falling to pieces you've got to take care of what's left and there are people out there prepared to make the OASIS worse for everyone else. By showing us, in loving detail, just what you can expect to find in the OASIS Cline lets us fall in love with it as well and we're left rooting for Wade and his friends. It certainly didn't take me long to size things up and realise who I wanted to win.

Going back to the homage then and I found that there were times that this approach worked against the plot as much as it helped it.
It's not a spoiler at all to say that'Ready Player One' is every single one of those films you watched, as a kid, where the school loser not only proves himself to the rest of the school/alien warriors recruiting through an arcade game etc but gets together with the hot girl right at the end. It's a familiar theme then and one that perhaps takes a little bit away from the suspense that Cline tries to work up over the course of the book. To be fair, there are moments where you feel that things could go either way but, hanging over it all, is the knowledge that there's only one way it can finish up.

Having said that though, that's really the whole point of the book (what with being a homage and all) so my advice is if you've picked the book up for a read then just enjoy it for what it is. That's what I did and my experience was all the better for it. ‘Ready Player One’ tears along at a furious rate and every time the book thinks you’re lagging behind another bit of eighties trivia is tossed out as an incentive for you to keep up. The rate and variety of this trivia is such that I’m pretty sure that Ernest Cline could give James Halliday a run for his money. Add a main character that is self aware enough to be truly engaging and the result for me was a book that made for compulsive reading. Apart from those times when Cline geeked out a little too much over his own creation that is; I’m talking about the occasions when he would go into the OASIS technology in a little too much detail. It served no purpose to the rest of the plot and that’s when I started skim reading…

That’s a very small complaint though when I was able to spend several absorbing hours revisiting my childhood and taking a look into the future all at the same time. ‘Ready Player One’ has claimed a permanent spot on my bookshelves and it’ll do the same for you if it hasn’t already. When you finish reading this review go and find yourself a copy.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Emergency Cover Art Post! 'The Wind through the Keyhole' (Stephen King)

Today was meant to be all about my 'Ready Player One' review but yesterday turned out to be all about discovering a crack in the house and working out what to do about it. It was like that Doctor Who episode only instead of being able to see into another dimension we were able to see the back of our neighbours kitchen paneling and then go upstairs to see the hole in his roof... To cut a long story short, it really freaked us out but it can all be sorted with the minimum of fuss but a lot of brick dust.
In the unlikely event of the previous owner, of our house, reading this post I'd just like to say one thing. You knew the crack in the kitchen was there, did you really think that a few tiles and a mug rack would fix it? Knowing you just a little bit, I'll bet you did...

So the 'Ready Player One' review gets pushed back a day. I'll tell you right now though that I thought the book was nothing short of awesome, how's that for a mini-review? ;o) Come back tomorrow and I'll elaborate on that a bit lot more. What do you get in the meantime though? A copy of 'The Wind through the Keyhole' arrived yesterday and I want to show the cover off.

After reading 'The Gunslinger Born' the other day, scroll down a bit for the review, I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into this :o) Just need to polish off the latest Mira Grant book first (and that's not bad either). Doesn't that cover make you want to go off on a quest for the Dark Tower yourself...?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

'The Assassin's Curse' - Cassandra Rose Clarke (Strange Chemistry)

Back in the day, when the blog was all new and fresh, I used to review a little YA here and there. As time went on though I found myself moving away from YA altogether and concentrating on regular genre stuff instead, just because there was so much of it that I wanted to read first. Nothing against the YA stuff you understand, well... maybe a little bit. I might have just been picking the wrong books up but it really wasn't grabbing me at all and sometimes life is just far too short for that kind of reading.
Fast forward a few years and YA has become more and more of a big deal across the boundless domains of the internet. You may love YA books, you may not be able to stand them but there's no doubt now there's a lot going on here that's worthy of discussion. I wanted some of that action and I was a little curious to see what I'd been missing out on in the meantime (if anything...)

Where better place to start then with one of Strange Chemistry's debut titles? No, I can't think of anywhere more suitable either. We're looking at a brand new publisher headed up by an editor (Amanda Rutter) who was a real champion for YA books back when she was blogging over at 'Floor To Ceiling Books'. I miss that blog by the way and not only because I could search my name and see lots of nice things said about me :o)
'Assassin's Curse' was the first book to head my way from Strange Chemistry then and while it wasn't a perfect read there was more than enough there to leave me looking forward to future instalments in this series (trilogy).

Blurb copied and pasted today as I'm kind of run off my feet with other things as well...

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together. To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.

(Note: I think this is a blurb for the whole series. I can't remember seeing a single manticore, haughty or otherwise...)

‘Assassin’s Curse’ has an intriguing premise but it turned out to be one that failed to grip me in the way that I’d hoped for. Luckily for the book, and me, I found myself reading for other reasons entirely and I’m pretty much on board until the story reaches its end. I’m perhaps hoping for a little more from the next book but ‘Assassin’s Curse’ did the job that it set out to.

The reason I’m on board (no pun intended) is Ananna, a girl who was raised to be a pirate perhaps a little too well by her parents. Instead of behaving herself and settling into a political marriage Ananna basically decides to do what she was raised to do i.e. exactly what she wants. I loved Ananna’s forthright honesty about her situation and how this is all littered with swear words and ‘pirate talk’. Clarke may be telling the story but it’s all about Ananna and that’s the way it should be.

Or should it?

You see, it’s not just about Ananna; not really. There’s also a story going on here and a world that it’s set against. Clarke gives us a look into Ananna’s head that had me completely engaged and wanting to find out more. Books about romantic tension generally don’t do a thing for me but this time round I couldn’t help but feel for Ananna as her life becomes clearer yet more confused all at the same time. You can see the end, of the series, coming a mile off but I’m rooting for Ananna anyway, I reckon you just might as well.

The problem is that all of this comes at the expense of the world building and, to an extent, the plot itself. The reader can spend so long inside Ananna’s head that stuff happens almost without you realising it. I found myself having to go back and retrace my steps, just to get an idea of what was going on while Ananna was agonising over something. Great character then but not a story that flows well. This is a real shame as, like I said, the premise is a good one and Clarke also shows that she can really ramp up the action and suspense when she wants to (as well as develop Ananna and Naji’s relationship in a plausible manner). Hopefully the balance will sort itself out over the next few books.

I also found myself wanting to see Ananna’s world in more detail and being disappointed when I couldn’t. In a way this is a good thing but it was frustrating as well. We’re talking desert cities where assassins prowl the shadows (literally) and magic islands where anything could happen to you. This is a world brimming with possibility but a world that Ananna is too familiar with to let us really get to see. Again, I really hope that this resolves itself over the next few books.

Having said all that though, the measure of ‘The Assassin’s Curse’ lies in the fact that I’ll be back to see how it all pans out, make no mistake about it. The book feels unbalanced but all the ingredients are there for something really special to happen and I can’t see myself passing up on that.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 11 June 2012

‘The Gunslinger Born’ – David, Furth, Lee & Isanove (Marvel)

Despite a few ups and downs just recently, I love blogging here and can’t see myself stopping any time soon (although if I don’t renew the domain name soon that might be taken out of my hands, keep reminding me?) If there’s one thing that I don’t enjoy though is that I never seem to find the time to go back and re-read some old favourites. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in an amazing position where I can finish a book and get to pick up something new straight away. There are certain books on the shelf though that give me reproachful looks, wondering why it’s been years (in some cases) since I stopped by to say hello.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to handle that one, in the long term, but every so often I get to ‘cheat’ a little and revisit old favourites whilst reading something new at the same time. Seriously, it can work sometimes. Like with ‘The Gunslinger Born’ for instance, a Marvel series that I meant to check out a while back but never did; not only a rather nice hardback collection appeared on the shelves at ‘The Works’. I’ve just spent a couple of hours engrossed by this book and I’d recommend you do the same.

A word of warning though (although I’d imagine I was the last person to find this out…) I saw the title and thought that my luck was in and that I’d be reading something brand new about Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower. I will be reading something new soon (once I get a copy of ‘The Wind through the Keyhole’) but ‘The Gunslinger Born’ didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. What we have here is a mixture of moments from the first few books (mostly ‘Wizard and Glass’) thrown together to give us Roland’s story as it actually happened, not told through flashbacks and so on.

So yeah, I was a little disappointed at first but that feeling soon faded to be replaced by being engrossed instead. I reckon you’ll feel the same if you give the book a go.

Stephen King may not have played a huge part in this book (creative and executive director this time round) but ‘Wizard and Glass’ is perhaps one of the best books in the ‘Dark Tower’ series and that cannot help but shine through here with a dark tale of romance, betrayal and standoffs in old bars at the world’s ending. It makes me want to go back and read ‘Wizard and Glass’ all over again (maybe I will).
King brings the ingredients to the table, David and Furth combine extraordinarily well to adapt what is a sprawling epic to a tighter comic book format. There’s a lot that we miss out on here (including Roland’s current wanderings which form the framework surrounding this tale) but you’d only notice if you’ve read the books in the first place. What you get are the key points of the original tale all wrapped up with a dry and forthright narration that is entirely in keeping with what Mid-World and its history is all about. King’s stories may not adapt particularly well to the small screen (and we all know which ones I’m talking about here) but a lot of work has clearly gone into making the transition a lot smoother here. The hard work most definitely pays off.

The real stars of the piece for me though were Jae Lee and Richard Isanove who provide us with artwork that is nothing short of gorgeous. A world on the cusp of a slow death is rendered in all its stark glory and this is reflected in the people we see on each page. It’s a hard and brutal life but there’s no choice but to live it the best way you can, Lee and Isanove leave us in no doubt as to what this lesson means.

What a book! ‘The Gunslinger Born’ may not tell us the whole story but it’s really hard to hold that against it when what you do get is superb. I think there’s more of this story from Marvel (am I right?) and I’m going to have to check it out. I’m hoping for some of the stuff only hinted at in the books but if this is what’s on offer then I’ll gladly take it.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Giveaway! 'Sky Dragons' (Anne McCaffrey & Todd McCaffrey)

Thanks to those nice people at Del Rey, I have three copies of 'Sky Dragons' to give away here although unfortunately this competition is only open to those living in the US...
Here's the blurb,

With all of Pern imperiled by the aftereffects of a plague that killed scores of dragons and left the planet helpless against the fall of deadly Thread, the only hope for the future lies in the past.

There, on an unexplored island, a group of dragonriders led by Xhinna, a brave young woman who rides the blue dragon Tazith, must battle lethal Merows and voracious tunnel-snakes to build a safe home for themselves and the dragons, whose offspring will one day—if they survive—replenish Pern’s decimated dragon population. But as the first female rider of a blue dragon, and the first female Weyrleader in the history of Pern, Xhinna faces an uphill battle in winning the respect and loyalty of her peers . . . especially after an unforeseen tragedy leaves the struggling colony reeling from a shattering loss.

Amid the grieving, one girl, Jirana, blessed—or cursed—with the ability to foresee potential futures, will help Xhinna find a way forward. The answer lies in time . . . or, rather, in
timing it: the awesome ability of the dragons to travel through time itself. But that power comes with risks, and by venturing further into the past, Xhinna may be jeopardizing the very future she has sworn to save.

Sounds suspiciously like the plot to one of the earliest 'Pern' books ('Dragonquest'?) but anyway...

If you want in (and you do!) entering is as easy as it was for the 'Ready Player One' competition yesterday. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Sky Dragons'.

I'll let this one run until the 17th of June and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

'Not free at all but very cheap' reading! 'A Discovery of Witches' (Deborah Harkness)

Just a quick post for those of you who have ebook readers and are wondering if Deborah Harkness' 'A Discovery of Witches' is any good (that might narrow things down a bit but oh well)... A nice lady at Penguin Books told me that for today only, 'A Discovery of Witches' will be priced at $2.99 pretty much wherever you can buy ebooks (something to do with the forthcoming release of the sequel 'Shadow of Night'). I've no idea what $2.99 is in sterling (or euros or anything else actually) but I'm guessing it's not much more. Don't say I never do anything for you ;o)

If you do pick 'A Discovery of Witches' up (or if you've read it already), could you do me a favour? I've never read the book myself and would be interested to know what others think, any comments below this post would be appreciated. Cheers :o)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Giveaway! 'Ready Player One' (Ernest Cline)

I started reading 'Ready Player One' a couple of days ago and it is awesome. Why didn't I listen to all those people who were telling me to read it a year ago...? Oh well, better late than never I guess :o) I'm aiming for a review next week, keep an eye out for it if you want to hear me saying nothing but nice things. If you haven't already read 'Ready Player One' don't leave it longer than I did, get on it right away and thank me later.

Which kind of leads me to the point of this post :o) To mark the US paperback release of 'Ready Player One' I have one copy to give away to one lucky reader here. In a welcome break from the norm, this competition is open to people living in the US and UK. That opens things up a bit :o)

For those of you who haven't read the book yet, here's some blurb...

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to
win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Are you in? If you are then entering is as easy as ever. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Ready Player One'.

I'll let this one run until the 17th of June and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 8 June 2012

‘Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 19’ (Rebellion)

I’ve been waiting something like eighteen years for this book to be published. Kind of puts the whole ‘Dance with Dragons’ thing into perspective doesn’t it…? ;o)
It was way (way) back in 1993 that I followed the ‘Inferno’ story line (and the ‘Titan Prison Break’ plot that ran just prior to it, anyone know where that’s collected?) in a series of lunchtime reads, at the local newsagent, when I was at sixth form. I know… It’s not good but comics came a poor last behind running a car, buying books and those really nice fruity sweets that I can’t remember the name of. A holiday meant that I missed an episode and once the story was up… that was it. I kept an eye out for the trade but there wasn’t one and so the wait began. Until now, a chance trip to Forbidden Planet set me straight and I managed to get hold of a review copy. It was like I’d never been away but a few years between reading and re-reading showed up some flaws as well.

What I loved about ‘Inferno’ back then, and now having read it again, is how it really ups the ante on previous story lines and sets the Judges of Megacity One against their renegade counterparts. Judge Dredd can deal with zombies and aliens but how is he going to cope with psychotic Judges running wild with all the training that has made him so feared? If that wasn’t bad enough, Dredd and his team have two weeks to solve this pressing problem before an alien virus literally strips the meat from their bones. The stakes are high and the only thing that might work in Dredd’s favour is the madness of Grice, the renegade Judge behind the invasion…
For me, this inevitable conclusion kind of took the edge off things and this was a real shame as ‘Inferno’ is one hell of a story, full of real power and energy. You know that 2000AD has a real story on it’s hands when Carlos Ezquerra does the artwork and it really shows here with some really striking scenes of violence and destruction. Grant Morrison sets things up for an intriguing tale, with possible ramifications that could echo a long time into the future, but (in a way) it feels like he wrote himself into a corner and had to rely on something utterly implausible to get himself out of a spot. That’s ok though as Grice was mad and would do something like that. I don’t know… There is still a lot to recommend ‘Inferno’ but I think that these days I’m about a little more than just the (admittedly gorgeous) artwork…

Onto the rest of the book…

What I love about these collected editions is that you get a whole load of little stories surrounding the ‘main event’. Volume 19 is no different in that respect and while things were a little hit and miss for me I managed to lose a couple of hours trawling through the adventures of Mega City One’s finest. Stories like Ennis’ ‘Enter Jonni Kiss’ are there purely to set things up for a tale that you won’t see until Volume 20 or 21 and feel a little disjointed as a result (some lovely artwork from Greg Staples though, really atmospheric). Not the best choice to open the collection with then but Ennis promptly makes up for it by giving us ‘The Judge who lives Downstairs’, a tale that manages to be comedic, slightly tragic and more than a little bit forbidding all at the same time. Ennis shows that this wasn’t a one off by rounding off the opening chapters of Volume 19 with ‘The Chieftain’ where he shows that he is more than capable of blending trademark violence with some of the more surreal aspects of Megacity life.

While I had a lot of fun reading Volume 19, I think the big issue that I had with the book, as a whole, is that a number of the stories don’t actually have titles to go with them. This makes it kind of difficult to write a review when you’re stuck with saying things like ‘I really liked the story of the psychotic amputee looking for a new arm, don’t ask me who wrote it though…’ It was a great story actually, as was the brief epilogue to the ‘Mechanismo’ storyline (although I couldn’t tell you who wrote/drew that either) ;o)
I guess this won’t be such a big deal to long term fans that know these tales inside out and are just looking to replace worn out original comics. If you’re someone like me though, who wants to know what they’re reading, it’s a different deal altogether. Just enjoy the ride I guess, there is a lot to enjoy despite a few false starts here and there (I’m looking at you, story about the ‘Branch Moronians’ that doesn’t have a title either, same deal with the ‘Madonna’ story). There’s just enough weirdness and action to ensure that I’ll be back around about the time Volume 20 turns up on the shelf.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten