Friday, 31 August 2012

X Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude - Various (Marvel)

Out of all the comic books I've ever read (not as many as some but still a fair old few) why is it the 'Age of Apocalypse' series is the one that has always managed to occupy pride of place in my head? I mean, there are definitely better series out there

'I don't know' is still the honest answer. It's probably a cross between my picking the books up at a time when college life suddenly got a lot better (it had been pretty bad at one point) and the series being a whole world away from the X Men cartoon I'd made a habit of watching. All of a sudden anything could happen and I wanted some of that action!

I didn't stick with the X Men books for that long, just long enough to see what happened with the Onslaught storyline, but I've always had a little soft spot for the 'turn everything on its head' madness of the 'Age of Apocalypse' books. The collected editions are very much on my 'to buy list', once I can pick up copies without crippling my wallet... I can wait :o) I had never really given much thought to what led up to the main event, too busy being blown away by the good stuff, but something had to kick it all off... I finally got my chance to find out when I came across a copy of 'Prelude' in a local library. There was no way that I wouldn't be reading it!

The premise is simple. Professor Xavier's mad son, Legion, has woken from a coma and promptly jumped back twenty years into the past. His plan is to make the world a happier place by killing its greatest villain before he turns to a path of darkness. Can the X Men of the present save the Magneto of the past? A lot more than one man's life rides on the outcome... And what if the wrong man were to die? That death could turn the present into a far differemt world entirely...

In many respects 'Prelude' is the book that I have been waiting years to read. I already knew what the Age of Apocalypse was all about but I never really knew what caused this event to take place (well, not in any great detail). Now I do and it's a story that may be a little too straightforward for some (like me) but also a story that resonates with a lot of power and emotion. This can lend a 'soap opera' air to proceedings (part of the reason why I stopped reading these books) but not as much as I thought there would be.

I did wonder how much of what happened was necessary to the plot though (Iceman's issues and Gambit's run in with Sabertooth for example) and this was where things got a little too much for me. 'Prelude' is as self contained as it can be but there's no escaping the fact that it's part of a much larger narrative with lots of smaller sub-plots that clearly need to be rounded off before a new scenario can begin. This is ok for those readers who are familiar with the story already but if you're not (like me) then things can feel a little disjointed with what feels like several plots all working against each other. There are also loads of little references to events happening in other comics entirely (a 'Rogue' mini-series and 'Wolverine' for starters). This is a pet hate of mine anyway, it just feels like a money making gimmick, but it also has the unfortunate affect of making you feel like there's even more story that you're missing.

Once you get past this though, 'Prelude' still has a lot to offer and I'm glad I got to give it a go. I'm always up for a bit of super powered confrontation and there is plenty of that on offer here, particularly in the end stages where the X Men take on Legion in a suitably pyrokinetic fashion. The artwork is of a good standard anyway but was glorious in these sequences.

I also got a lot out of the focus on the relationship between Xavier and Erik; not only in how it gave the plot added impetus (and added an air of tragedy to the climax) but also in that I'd never seen this relationship before. It made for a real nice change to see things actually play out rather than be referred to yet another back issue.
'Prelude' suffers from problems that I think are endemic in Marvel comics as a whole but there is still a lot there to recommend the read. Definitely worth sticking with and it's got me all fired up to finally track down the big 'Age of Apocalypse' collections. I'm glad I read it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 30 August 2012

‘The Clockwork Sky: Volume 1’ – Madeleine Rosca (Tor)

So I’ve been feeling a little jaded with my reading, at the moment, with nothing really inspiring me to feel… well, anything really. That’s not a good place to be in, not if I want to give everything a fair shot, and (the other day) Sue suggested that it might be an idea if I started reading a few books that I wouldn’t normally look at. I thought she might be onto something, in a ‘jolting me out of a rut’ kind of way, and a couple of books have turned up that I wouldn’t normally look at so… lets do it :o) I still want to read those other books I spoke about but I’m going to try and shake things up a little with a few other books. Books like ‘The Clockwork Sky’ for instance.

I’ll quite happily read all the Manga you can throw at me, it’s just that not a lot of it seems to head my way and I don’t really know where to start myself. That’s why you will see some Manga here but not an awful lot of it. ‘The Clockwork Sky’ turned up at just the right time then, killing two birds with one stone. It’s not a bad read but I’ve got my reservations… Here’s the blurb,

London, 1895: Riots in the streets!

Erasmus Croach’s miraculous factory, Ember, has flooded London with steampowered automatons. The already suffering working class take to the streets to protest the jobs lost to these machines, and to quell the riot, Captain Thorn of Scotland Yard calls in Ember’s latest and greatest creation, the automatic police boy, Sky!

Meanwhile, Sally Peppers, Croach’s headstrong and brilliant niece, dreams of a life beyond manners and marriageability. When she escapes her overbearing governess on a motorized velocipede and joins a no-rules road rally through the slums, Croach sends Sky to bring her back, preferably alive. Together, the impulsive Sally and the naive Sky crash headlong into a mystery involving rogue automatons prowling the sewers, children disappearing without a trace, and a dark secret so big it could overturn all of London. But the biggest mystery of all is why Sky is the first robot who can dream....

‘…the biggest mystery of all is why Sky is the first robot who can dream...’ I’d say that the biggest mystery of all is why Rosca felt the need to signpost things so clearly with a cartoon villain who may as well just tell the police what he is up to. It really is that obvious right from the start. It was a good job that there was enough action, in the plot, to draw attention away from just where it was headed. I should be fair and say that there are still two more volumes to come where anything could happen. On the strength of this opening though, I can take a pretty good guess at what’s coming.

Why did I keep reading then? The dynamic between Sally Peppers and the steambot policeman Sky is one that you can’t help but follow. Sally’s rebellious nature and Sky’s programming bounce off each other in ways that may not affect the overall plot but make the ‘now’ really unpredictable and interesting. Sky’s dreams are also very intriguing and I can’t help but want to be around when we find out what’s going on there.

The ‘steampunk London’ setting isn’t particularly original but I did like how Rosca, albeit briefly, examines how this setting impacts on the life of regular people who have suddenly found themselves out of work because a steambot does it quicker and better. Some detailed artwork really captures the atmosphere here, I loved the moment where Sally and Sky find the massive pipe under London (no dialogue, minimal art and a lot of darkness…) but it tends to feel a little ‘rushed’ when things hot up. I had real trouble working out what was going on in the race for example. Sky also looks a little too much like Astroboy for my liking and what was Doctor Robotnik doing hosting the big race? I’m pretty sure this wasn’t done on purpose but it really didn’t help when I was trying to get into the swing of things.

I can see myself reading Volume Two though, despite my having a pretty good idea how it’s all going to end up. Sally and Sky are two characters that I’d like to get to know a little better and I’ll definitely be taking that opportunity when it arises.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

‘Savage: The Guv’nor’ – Pat Mills, Patrick Goddard (Rebellion)

I should have reviewed this days ago… I probably would have done as well if ‘The Guv’nor’ hadn’t left me with so many things that I wanted to think about first. More on that in a bit.
Everything gets reviewed here eventually though (some books just have to wait a little longer for their turn…) and ‘The Guv’nor’ was no different. I had a great time reading this book and, now I’ve finally got my thoughts together, I can tell you just what I thought. First though, here’s some blurb…

In 1999, Britain was successfully invaded by the Volgs. When London lorry driver Bill Savage learnt that his family had been killed by the Volgs, he became a one-man war machine - a persistant thorn in the side of the occupying army. Having adopted the identity of his dead brother, Savage operates out of a bombed-out london, leading the resistance against his hated enemy. Now, business brain Howard Quartz - the CEO of Ro-Busters - has launched an attack on the Volgan forces with his Mark-One War Droids, but the Volgs have some technological tricks of their own, including a functional teleportation device and a powerful beast with a taste for human flesh....

It’s a rare comic book that I don’t just tear through quickly, on the first read, and then go back for another go. Even favourites of mine, like ‘The Goon’ or ‘Conan’, don’t have that much time spent on them for that first read. I’m just so eager to get going that I’ve finished reading before I even realise that I’ve started. This wasn’t the case with ‘The Guv’nor’ though, a book that I really got into and found that I was really taking my time over the read; I didn’t actually want it to finish at all.

This was a little odd as ‘The Guv’nor’ has a very episodic feel to it with a new danger, or mission, routinely being dealt with by Savage and his gang; if it’s bit dealt with in one story then it’s pretty much guaranteed to be resolved in the next one. You can understand this approach, given that the whole book has been collected from individual issues of 2000AD, but I’ve never been a fan of it personally. What works in a comic doesn’t really work when you essentially repeat the same story over and over again in a larger book. Hints at a larger arc save the day this time round but the flow of the plot was still a little too repetitive for my tastes.

There is a lot to recommend ‘The Guv’nor’ though, not least how unrelentingly grim and nasty this book is. If there wasn’t such a clear line drawn between the invaders and the resistance you would be hard pressed to see who the heroes were. It’s a grim life in ‘Volgan Britain’ and Savage’s crew is prepared to do whatever it takes to restore freedom. This is the cue for some nasty stuff to take place and you can’t help but wonder if Savage oversteps the mark more often than not. Is he a freedom fighter or a terrorist? ‘The Guv’nor’ is quite a thoughtful piece in that regard as well as being a series of explosions and armed pursuit.

The book is also a lot of fun to read with just enough sci-fi elements to freshen up the bleak backdrop, we’re talking teleportation and robot soldiers here. The latter in particular were also interesting to follow not only for the real life parallels drawn but how they tighten lines of continuity across 2000AD as a whole. It may be a reboot (I think) but I love detail like that.

‘The Guv’nor’ benefits from having the same artist running the show throughout, Goddard’s clean style complements the story and I didn’t have to worry about the introduction of a new artist disrupting things halfway through. I didn’t realise that Charlie Adlard was the artist, for ‘Savage’ prior to Goddard; I wouldn’t have minded seeing how his work matched up to the plot (I reckon he would have been a good fit)…

While ‘The Guv’nor’ does fall foul of repetitive plotting (which I think was unavoidable to be fair) it makes up for this in a number of other ways. I’m glad I picked it up and can see myself reading more, no doubt about it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Cover Art - 'The Rise of Ransom City' (Felix Gilman)

For no other reason than that my advance copy has no cover art on it, at all, so I googled it in a brief moment of curiosity. One brief moment of curiosity later and...

I really like this cover. It's clear, it's simple (with nice hints at what you can expect inside) and that green bit on the side reminds me of all those old books I used to pore over as a kid. You can't beat cover art with added nostalgia :o)
Here's the blurb if you're interested,

This is the story Harry Ransom. If you know his name it’s most likely as the inventor of the Ransom Process, a stroke of genius that changed the world. Or you may have read about how he lost the battle of Jasper City, or won it, depending on where you stand in matters of politics.

Friends called him Hal or Harry, or by one of a half-dozen aliases, of which he had more than any honest man should. He often went by Professor Harry Ransom, and though he never had anything you might call a formal education, he definitely earned it. 

If you’re reading this in the future, Ransom City must be a great and glittering metropolis by now, with a big bronze statue of Harry Ransom in a park somewhere. You might be standing on its sidewalk and not wonder in the least of how it grew to its current glory. Well, here is its story, full of adventure and intrigue. And it all starts with the day that old Harry Ransom crossed paths with Liv Alverhyusen and John Creedmoor, two fugitives running from the Line, amidst a war with no end.  

I have to say that I'm half and half over whether I'll read this though. There's nothing that looks bad about 'The Rise of Ransom City' but I never read 'The Half Made World' (can't even find my copy...) and I'm a little wary about jumping in at the second book. We'll see what happens...

Gollancz announces major new Michael Moorcock publishing project.

They're finally going to do it :o)

I picked this up via the Multiverse forum (thanks to Guy Lawley for the heads up!) but I'm guessing that it will be on the Gollancz website as well. From the first post in the thread...

Gollancz has announced a major two-year publishing project to release the entire science fiction and fantasy back catalogue of Michael Moorcock in both print and eBook editions, as well as a substantial amount of his literary fiction.

Starting in February 2013
, the programme will bring back all of Moorcock’s genre works including Hawkmoon, Corum, Von Bek, the Eternal Champion books and, of course, his most famous creation, Elric. At the same time Gollancz will also publish Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels, The Brothel in Rosenstrasse and other non-genre fiction.

The newly published books are definitive editions, carefully prepared with the author and his long-standing friend, bibliographer and editor, John Davey. The new versions will be particularly important to fans as they will present the Elric stories in a consistent internal chronological order together with associational material never previously published.

The books will be published by Gollancz as print omnibus editions with a matching livery. Individual eBooks will be published by SF Gateway, Gollancz’s ground-breaking online SF&F digital library of classic genre fiction. The programme begins with the publication of the last three Elric novels:
Daughter of Dreams, Destiny’s Brother and Son of the Wolf.

“I am extremely pleased to be continuing a relationship with Victor Gollancz which began nearly fifty years ago,” said Moorcock. “This new programme will make available many of my books which have been hard to obtain in any form and will now be available in both print and electronic form in newly revised definitive editions prepared by myself and my long-standing friend and editor John Davey.” 

If you've been scouring second hand shops for these books then your life just got a lot easier. If you haven't then this is the ideal time to get into some awesome fantasy and science fiction. Me? I'm looking forward to finally being able to get my hands on the 'Jerry Cornelius' books... :o)

Monday, 27 August 2012

The 'Typical Bank Holiday...' Competition Winner's Post!

It began with my arm down the toilet (the truth is far more boring than whatever you're thinking right now so... don't ask) and it has just ended with a liberal dose of whiskey and coke. I'd personally prefer more of the latter, and less of the former, but all in all I can't complain really. How was your Bank Holiday?

This is a bit of a late post so I'm not going to hang about in announcing the winner of last week's competition. The winner of my spare copy of 'The Guv'nor' was...

Adam Wallace, Milton Keynes, UK

Nice work there Adam, your book will be in the post just as soon as I can get to a post office tomorrow morning :o)

I'm running out of books, that are waiting to be reviewed, so I'm not entirely sure what this week is going to look like review wise. I'm reading the hell out of 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' though (really enjoying it) so hopefully that will feature at some point. Let's wait and see...

See you tomorrow ;o)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

‘Alone’ – Brian Keene

So it was half three this morning and I was wide awake, Hope having climbed into bed with me and made herself comfortable. I couldn’t move and there was no way that I was going back to sleep; I couldn’t turn on the light for a read but luckily I was able to grab my phone and its ‘oh so handy’ Kindle app…
I’d been reading about Keene’s brief foray into self-publishing, a couple of days ago, and figured that I deserved a little ‘Keene goodness’ as a reward for toddler induced insomnia (I’m a fan if you didn’t know already). After some messing around with the Internet on my phone, and £1.53 spent, ‘Alone’ was all mine and waiting to be read.

At only fifteen thousand words long, ‘Alone’ didn’t demand too much from me (a good job really all things considered) but gave a lot in return. I’d rather have had the sleep but ‘Alone’ was still a great way to while away a couple of those early morning hours, despite how unsettling the read was…

Blurb copied and pasted because… Well, I’m tired…

When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbours. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth... or is he?
‘Alone’ is one of those books where you get to the end and think, ‘Why didn’t I see that coming? The ending is so obvious…’ Well, without giving too much away, the clues are there but Keene cleverly disguises them with a whole load of other stuff that grabs your attention and distracts you at just the right moments. There’s even a moment where Keene basically tells you what has happened but the doubt (and despair) in Miller’s mind pushes the plot on before you really have a chance to get your head around it.

The chief distractions are the atmosphere on Miller’s street and his own bewilderment about what has happened. Having no idea about what is going on Miller assumes that something has happened to everyone else and watching his theory gradually being disproved really adds to the tension. Miller panics more and more, no closer to discovering the truth, and you can’t help but share that anxiety (even if that little voice at the back of your head is telling you what’s really going on). You can’t help but get caught up in it all.

The fog, in his street, is a brooding presence throughout the book and it grows on you with each page that passes. This is even more the case once Miller finds what is waiting for him in the midst of that fog. I was willing Miller to make it back to his house before the thing in the fog caught up with him (that was one frantic paragraph in the book!)

There’s a lot of build up to the revelation then but when that revelation finally gets there… Well, it’s a tiny bit of an anti-climax (it just feels a little too obvious) but, at the same time, I also felt like I had to give Keene his dues for pulling the wool over my eyes for as long as he did. The ending is a bit abrupt but, given the nature of that ending, you can’t really blame Keene for concluding on that note.

Not a perfect book then, by any means, but what a ride in the meantime. ‘Alone’ takes a familiar premise and disguises it so well that you’re not a hundred percent sure what you’re reading until the very end…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

'No Nonsense' Cover Art! 'Zombie Apocalypse: Fightback'

Because as I've said before, sometimes you want cover art that gives it to you straight with no messing around! Like this...

Go on, take a look at that cover and tell me that you're having trouble guessing what the book is about... :o)
You are? Oh well, have some blurb to go with it then...

This long-awaited sequel to the bestselling Zombie Apocalypse! is once again a 'mosaic novel' which weaves together contributions from big-name horror writers in the form of essays, reports, letters, official documents and transcripts to create a coherent and compelling narrative. In volume one old-school, flesh-eating zombies spread 'The Death' around the world. Now, the fightback begins.

Guess what I'm reading right now :o) (Actually, I'm reading 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' as well so either answer gets a point!) There's a Neil Gaiman tale lurking in here somewhere and I'm looking forward to checking it out. My review for 'Zombie Apocalypse' is over Here if you fancy a look.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

More Zombie Short Stories...

Like those people who always make sure they have plenty of tinned goods (in case of an emergency) I always make sure I have at least a couple of short story collections to hand. You know, just in case a book isn't working for me and I don't know what to read next. Or if Hope has been running me ragged and I just want something to read that's even shorter than normal. Yesterday was one of those days (I was also completely wiped out after taking Hope to the Strange Chemistry launch on Thursday night...) so I needed some short story action just to keep me ticking over. I'm sure it won't surprise you at all to learn that I have a zombie anthology ready for situations just like this one... :o)

I haven't made it all the way through Otto Penzler's 'Zombies' yet but I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that it's a collection that any self respecting zombie fan needs to have on their shelves. And not just because it is so large and weighty that it makes a very effective zombie killing weapon... What we have here is a book that stretches the definition of zombie to the point where the reader is presented with a wide range of stories that tackle zombies in all their forms. There is something here for everyone. The last time I picked 'Zombies' up I was immediately introduced to a writer that I'd never heard of. This time round I was pleased to make the re-acquaintance of three writers that I should have known would have written a zombie tale; I just never realised that they had. The table of contents here is so large (there's over eight hundred pages of zombie tales...) that there are lots of little gems waiting to be found.

After reading 'Friday Night in Beast House', the other day, I was keen to read more by Richard Laymon if only I could find it. 'Zombies' duly obliged by giving me 'Mess Hall', a story of serial killers and revenge from beyond the grave. The plot itself is a little too straightforward albeit with a twist that makes the tale one worth sticking with. After all, why would zombies want to rescue the heroine when they could just eat her instead? This twist adds a frantic flourish to the closing paragraphs and Laymon balances out the linear plot by racking up the tension and gore in all the right places. He doesn't hold back on the 'prelude to torture' either and that's something that you might want to bear in mind before giving this tale a read...

It's always a bit of a treat to come across an unexpected Richard Matheson story so I was really pleased to find 'Where There’s A Will’ lurking in the contents. This was written in conjunction with his son, Christian, and gives the reader a slant on zombie fiction that is perhaps missing from today’s tales of ‘post zombie apocalypse’ survival. A man wakes up inside a coffin and… Well, you can probably guess. As with ‘Mess Hall’, 'Where There’s A Will’ is predictable and very straightforward (although it would have made for a great horror episode on TV, shot from a first person perspective). You know what’s coming straight away and that’s a bit of a shame given what the Mathesons do with the subject matter. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that felt as claustrophobic as this one. The Mathesons leave you in no doubt just what it must feel like being trapped in a very tight fitting coffin. I found myself unconsciously flexing my arms as I read it (just to give myself a little more room). Despite knowing where the plot was ultimately headed, I couldn’t help but root for the hero and that’s what added the real impact to the ending.

Last up was Robert McCammon’s ‘Eat Me’, a tale of one zombies search for companionship in a world where admitting loneliness is now a crime. What I love about McCammon’s work is how he really goes to town telling us just how weird the ‘post apocalypse’ can be. Everything is as it was before but with enough of a slant on it to let us know that things are actually really different. In that respect, reading ‘Eat Me’ reminded me of McCammon’s ‘Something Passed By’; another tale of ‘end time weirdness’.  The atmosphere here is bleak but you can’t help but drink it in.

McCammon uses the characters of Jim and Brenda to really explore the inherent loneliness of being a zombie, giving it a human voice that we can all identify with. And if zombies ever do end up having sex I’m pretty sure they’d be doing it just like Jim and Brenda do in ‘Eat Me’. I wasn’t sure what to expect here but I certainly wasn’t expecting something so visceral yet tender at the same time. If there’s ever a sequel to the ‘Hungry for your love’ collection then I fully expect to see ‘ Eat Me’ there.

A mixed bag of short stories then but all were good to one degree or another. You can guess what the stand out tale was for me; the other two did a good job but were ultimately restricted by their own plots.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Synopsis for 'Blood and Feathers: Rebellion'

If we make it through the whole 'end of the world thing', in December, 'Blood and Feathers: Rebellion' is one of the books that I'm already looking forward to in 2013. Check out my review for 'Blood and Feathers', over Here, and you'll see why.

Solaris have officially announced that they are publishing 'Blood and Feathers: Rebellion' (which I thought was more or less a done deal but there you go...) and have released a short synopsis to get the ball rolling. Here it is,

“This is a war. The war. There is no stopping; no getting out. You're in this – just like the rest of us – to the end.” Driven out of hell and with nothing to lose, the Fallen wage open warfare against the angels on the streets of our cities. And they're winning.
As the balance tips towards the darkness, Alice – barely recovered from her own ordeal in hell and struggling to start over – once again finds herself in the eye of the storm.
But with the chaos spreading and the Archangel Michael determined to destroy Lucifer whatever the cost, is the price simply too high; and what sacrifices will Alice and the angels have to make in order to pay it? The Fallen will rise. Trust will be betrayed. And all hell will break loose.

I'm in and, if you're not already, you should be too.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

‘Doctor Who: Shada’ – Douglas Adams & Gareth Roberts (BBC Books)

Given the number of ‘Doctor Who’ books and TV series that I still haven’t got round to looking at, I’d always thought that it would be a waste of time worrying about ‘Shada’, the lost series that was delayed by strike action and never made it onto the screen afterwards. I’m talking about the original here by the way, not the animated feature or audio book that came along years after. There have been attempts to recreate ‘Shada’ then but this book looked like the definitive version and that’s where I jumped on board.  Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor was the one I came across first and I’ve been enjoying catching up with him on DVD (more on that another time, maybe). It was no surprise then that I’d be after a little more.

I actually read ‘Shada’ on the train to Plymouth, a few weeks ago, and it has taken me a while to get my thoughts together for this review. ‘Shada’ stayed in my head the whole time though and that really says it all.

I absolutely had to copy and paste the blurb this time. The usual time constraints apply once more but I also think that everyone should read the first paragraph (taken straight from the book); it still makes me chuckle.

At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways – with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, ‘Wait a second. That means there’s a situation vacant.’

The Doctor's old friend and fellow Time Lord Professor Chronotis has retired to Cambridge University - where nobody will notice if he lives for centuries. But now he needs help from the Doctor, Romana and K-9. When he left Gallifrey he took with him a few little souvenirs - most of them are harmless. But one of them is extremely dangerous.

The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey isn't a book for Time Tots. It is one of the Artefacts, dating from the dark days of Rassilon. It must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. And the sinister Skagra most definitely has the wrong hands. He wants the book. He wants to discover the truth behind Shada. And he wants the Doctor's mind...

This incarnation of ‘Shada’ is the only one I’ve ever come across. I’ve never read the script, listened to the audio book or seen the animated feature. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have no idea how well the book holds up to Douglas Adams’ original vision of the story; I’m not even sure that’s a comparison that needs to be made. I’m taking the book on its own merits and there are loads of them. ‘Shada’ is nothing less than a thoroughly entertaining read and I’m really glad that I took the plunge and gave it a go.

'Shada' is a number of things that all seem to be haphazardly thrown together yet all somehow seem to fit together perfectly. The end result is a book that never fails to surprise you, both in the plot itself and the way that it constantly switches from one form of narrative to another.

'Shada' is, above all else, very much a Douglas Adams novel (Roberts very wisely lets this remain at the fore of the book) with all the wry and observant humour that this entails. If this isn't your thing then you might not want to bother picking 'Shada' up at all. Having overdosed on 'Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy', at a very early age, I initially approached 'Shada' with some caution but shouldn't have worried, I couldn't help but chuckle along (especially at the development of Skagra’s ship as a character in its own right). It's the same brand of humour but the different setting saved things this time round.

Having said all that, 'Shada' is also very much a 'Doctor Who' novel and this comes with its own set of problems. You may not know the details, until you've read them, but if you're familiar with 'Doctor Who' in any way then you already know how it has to end. There's only one way it can end. Luckily for us, 'Shada' is all about the journey to that conclusion; the stakes are high (although when are they not?) and there are plenty of little details and twists to keep things very fresh and moving along at a decent rate. And that's where the rest of what 'Shada' is comes into play.

'Shada' is a book that is low on action (when it does happen though, you really get your money's worth) but very high on incident. The number of times that the Doctor and Skagra miss each other in the street (or Skagra just misses the book that he is after) has to be seen to be believed but is never overdone. It's an approach that will have you laughing and gasping in equal measure. The way it all fits together at the end is superbly done although I'm not too sure about Skagra's ultimate fate. This felt just a little too meta-fictional for my tastes...

Perhaps most importantly for the reader though, 'Shada' is a book all about its characters; not just what they must deal with but who they actually are. I can see this approach really appealing to fans and newcomers alike as the relationship between the Doctor and Romana is explored in depth and has some new light shed on it. There’s even a romantic sub-plot, between two minor characters, that should appeal to fans of the current TV show.

‘Shada’ basically has it all and a couple of (very) minor niggles do not detract from what is a very gripping and entertaining read indeed. I’m really glad I gave ‘Shada’ a go, I shouldn’t have waited so long before I did.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Free Reading! Excerpt from Stefan Petrucha's 'Dead Mann Running'

The excerpt isn't actually here, you can click Here to access it via Petrucha's website or Here to go straight to the PDF (probably a little easier if you don't want to go searching for the excerpt link on the site). Here's some cover art and blurb to help make your mind up for you...

Just because a bullet has your name on it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t duck… 

Either I’m stubborn, or it’s rigor mortis, but being dead didn’t stop me from being a detective or finding my wife’s killer. But it’s tough out there for a zombie, and lately it’s been getting tougher. These days the life-challenged have to register and take monthly tests to prove our emotional stability. See, if my kind gets too low, we go feral. I’ve been feeling a little down lately myself… 

So when a severed arm—yeah, just the arm—leaves a mysterious briefcase at my office, my assistant, Misty, thinks figuring out where it came from will keep me on track. But this case goes deeper and darker than I imagined, and my imagination gets pretty dark. Turns out the people after it know more about my past life than I can remember, and even more about what I’ve become.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

'Friday Night in Beast House' - Richard Laymon (BCA)

This isn't the way that I normally start things off here but that title is really bugging me... It just feels like there's a word missing here, something like 'the' or even 'a'. Oh well... It's a good job then that the rest of the book made up for this.

The only other book of Laymon's that I've read, prior to now, is 'Savage' (and I didn't get on with that at all) so there's still a pretty big gap to be filled if I'm going to count myself as a fan of horror fiction; Laymon's work is a pretty big deal. Where better place to start then than 'Friday Night in Beast House', a book that was only 99p in my local 'Works' (always a great place to pick up cheap books). Not only that but the book was only a hundred and fifty one pages long. I'm all about quick reads at the moment :o)
'Friday Night in Beast House' was a surprisingly good read (although a little bit of a let down at the end, more on that in a bit), certainly good enough to have me keeping an eye open for any of Laymon's other books.

Alison has one condition for guys wanting to date her; that first date starts at midnight and is in the legendary Beast House (the site of several gruesome murders decades ago and now a major tourist attraction). Mark will do anything for a date with Alison and has managed to find a hiding place in the Beast House  waiting there until the tour guides have locked up and gone home. As he tries to settle his first dates nerves, Mark has no idea that things are about to get a lot worse...

I really didn't think I'd get into 'Friday Night in Beast House' as much as I did. I may not have jumped once (not such a good thing...) but it's a very tense read and one that I found myself having to stick around and finish. This is all down to Laymon really getting that a first date can be just as scary, for a teenager, as what might still lurk within the Beast House. There is a lot riding on Mark's attempts to stay hidden and the reader can't help but share in his anxiety as he works his way around the house, trying to find somewhere to hole up and stay hidden.

The tension continues after closing time as Mark slowly realises that he might not be alone in the house after all; especially after what he found on the roof earlier. My heart was pretty much in my mouth as he tries to get out of the door, thinking that something is behind him...

The last part of the book leaves the tension behind though and heads back into familiar horror territory; a move that ended things on a slightly sour note for me. Two horny teenagers in a haunted house? It wasn't hard to see what would happen next and... it did. The final scenes were harrowing, and ever so slightly implausible (Alison was ok after that...?), but completely expected and any tension just blew away...

Despite that ending though, I had a lot of fun reading 'Friday Night in Beast House' and can see myself searching out the other three books to see what they're like. A scary read that didn't quite live up to its early promise.

Eight out of Ten

Cover Art - 'The Mad Scientist's Daughter' (Cassandra Rose Clarke)

 I enjoyed 'The Assassin's Curse' (albeit with some reservations) so I'm looking forward to 'The Mad Scientist's Daughter' already. It's not out until February 2013 though so have some cover art and blurb to be going on with in the meantime... :o)

There’s never been anyone - or anything - quite like Finn.

He looks, and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is to tutor Cat.

When the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

Angry Robot have pretty much always come up with the goods with their cover art (except perhaps with 'The Hammer and The Blade'...) and it's good to see that this cover proves to be part of the rule rather than the exception. I need to clear the 'Reading Pile' first but like I said, I'm looking forward to reading  'The Mad Scientist's Daughter' when it finally reaches us next year :o)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Reading books on my phone (a couple of quick reviews)...

If I'm being completely honest, one of the main reasons that I upgraded my phone was that I was tired of being the only person on the train who couldn't play 'Angry Birds' on the way to and from work. Of course I'd always rather be reading but nothing helps you gets you through the morning commute like throwing cartoon birds at cartoon pigs. You know what I mean... ;o)

The other, slightly more serious reason, is that I could save myself spending money on a Kindle by getting a phone (for free) with a screen big enough to read books on. One Kindle app (amongst several other eReader apps) later and I've got to say that the jury is still out...

On the one hand I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to read off the screen; nice clear resolution and so on. The Kindle app is very cool but I'm also enjoying other readers as well, I'm talking about any reader that takes the time to give me pages that deliberately look all old and yellow. That really appeals to me. On the other hand though... I can actually feel my eyeballs start to dry up if I read anything longer than a small novella and also finding that I much prefer reading off pages that are the size of, well... pages. You can't fit enough text on a phone screen to keep the story engaging, not for me anyway. If I'm ever going to read anything larger then I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get that Kindle...

I have been reading a few short works on my phone though; here's what I thought of a couple of them...

Orbit have recently released a line of short fiction designed to fit snugly onto your e-reader and ease you gently into longer works by the same author. I've totally stalled in my reading of the 'Expanse' series (thought I'd finish reading 'The King's Blood' first, that went well...) so I thought that James S.A. Corey's 'The Butcher of Anderson Station' would be a good place to hop back on board and remind myself of what I was missing.

Not only is 'Butcher' a good place to jump back on board but it's also a great starting place for readers new to the series as we take a little step back in time to see what made a certain character fight for a new cause. On the surface things look very simple with a hostage situation that can only end in one way (especially if you've already read 'Leviathan Wakes') but once you get into the plot things become a lot more intricate. Corey really makes good use of the limited space to explore the relationship between the two leads in a lot of detail, exploring characters in depth and building up a narrative that is nothing short of engrossing. You may know how it will end but if you're anything like me you'll have to stick around for that ending.

There's  lot of excitement building up around the new 'Dredd' film and Abaddon are getting in on the action with 'Judge Dredd Year One: City Fathers'. Dredd has been upholding the law, in Mega City One, for less than twelve months and is about to face his toughest case yet. A dead agent points at the arrival of a new drug on the streets, a drug that causes mass hysteria in users before killing them. Chaos is about to erupt sector wide and Judge Dredd is the only person who can stop it...

I love the way that the title sets you up to expect one story and then hits with another story entirely (and at just the right time as well). This approach throws things into a new light and gives the plot fresh impetus just as the plot reaches its climax. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

What we have here is a mixture of detective story and introductory scene setting for new readers; it'a a mix that works but only up to a point. I couldn't help but wonder whether Dredd works better in comic book format... The background is gloriously bleak and grimy, fans will recognize it straight away while newcomers will get a clear picture of what Mega City One is all about. The story is a good one as well with plenty of questions and gunfire to keep the plot moving at a nice rate.

I just found myself wondering whether Dredd is the man to carry a novel. The whole point of Dredd is that he is meant to be one dimensional, at least this early in his career, all about upholding the law and nothing else. This works fine in the comic as you have a lot of other stuff to look at. In a book though, I'm not so sure... There's a lot of focus on Dredd and his character isn't quite up to that level of scrutiny.

'City Fathers' is a lot of fun though and I'm glad I gave it a go. Fans in particular will enjoy seeing all the little nods at what is to come in Dredd's future.

'The Butcher of Anderson Station' - 9/10
'City Fathers' - 8.5/10

Monday, 20 August 2012

Zombie Hunter - Steve Barlow & Steve Skidmore (Orchard Books)

As a rule, I don't normally review children’s/young adult books. Not that I've got anything against them (a book can be badly written whatever age group it's for), it's just that there's a whole load of adult genre fiction that I want to read/review first.

Every so often though something will happen to change my mind. Something like my wife finding a kids zombie book, in the library, whilst looking for books for Hope. Something like said zombie book being a 'choose your own adventure' book; I've never reviewed one of those here and I thought that this might be a good place to start (I've got a few others that I want to review as well). The book pretty much sold itself really :)
It's a bit of a shame then that 'Zombie Hunter' didn't quite live up to its early promise but it was a fun way to while away half an hour.

The premise is simple. You are a zombie hunter called to the South Pacific to help the Nutco Corporation deal with their zombie problem. It's a big problem though and there's more to it than just zombies. You're going to have your work cut out if you want to stay alive...

Like I said 'Zombie Hunter' was a fun way to pass half an hour but not a lot more than that. This was a real shame as any book that features a shotgun toting 'white trash' zombie grandma deserves a lot more...

The story itself isn't too bad with a twist in the tale that is saved until just the right point so it throws the story into a new light (you may have seen it coming already, I just liked where it was placed). There is also bucket loads of gore (both in the text and accompanying illustrations) and the zombies don't stop coming; whether they're flying helicopters or riding motorbikes (I'm cool with zombies doing this but only in moderation). The relentless zombie attacks are balanced just right, adding to the tension without getting repetitive.

Where things fell down for me were in the mechanics of the 'game' side of the book. 'Zombie Hunter' is divided up into a hundred small paragraphs, going through these in the right order will win you the game. Initially, I was impressed at how Barlow and Skidmore were able to tell their story in such a short space but reading into it a bit more... Only having a short space to tell the story really limits the number of choices you can make and this highlights the fact that the plot itself is a little too linear for my tastes. There are no interesting diversions that take you back into the main plot; just right and wrong answers that can leave you feeling like you're reading a flow chart rather than a book. And there are only so many times that I can read the same 'death page' before I start wishing for a little more variety. You can keep things tight but there is such a thing as ‘too tight’ I think…

‘Zombie Hunter’ was a quick fun read but also a story that was hampered by its format when it really shouldn’t have been. To be fair, I would have loved reading this when I was twelve and I'm just not in that market anymore… I’m glad I stuck around for the zombie Grandma but if I’m reading a ‘choose your own adventure’ book then I want a few more choices while I’m reading…

Seven out of Ten

Sunday, 19 August 2012

What I did yesterday (and why you should do it too!)

Yesterday had to be one of the hottest days we've had this year; lovely if you're into that kind of thing but not if you're me and frantically trying to jump from one cool shadow to another. It was a really good job then that we all found ourselves at the Royal Festival Hall (on the South Bank) where not only was it really cool but we got to hang out in this,

The photo doesn't quite do it justice but what you're looking at here is basically a large maze where all the walls are made out of books. Have you ever been in a maze where you can stop and browse the walls? I didn't think so and that's why you really need to check this one out if you find yourself on the South Bank. There's a little something here for everyone, plenty of sci-fi and fantasy if you keep your eyes open. What's really cool though is that you can get pictures like this on the way round...

When I die, I want to be buried at the centre of this maze :o)

When I wasn't chasing Hope around (she wasn't too bothered about the books, she just wanted to go running), this was one of the most chilled out afternoons that I've had in a long time. Finding my way through a maze and browsing books while I did it (amongst other things - a little bit of horror, some 2000AD and the rules for fielding a Warhammer army of Elves), what's not to like? I'm not sure how long the maze is there for so if you're in the area I'd give it a look before it goes :o)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Giveaway! 'The Guv'nor' (Pat Mills/Patrick Goddard)

I seem to have landed myself with two review copies of 'The Guv'nor' so it seemed like only the right thing to do to give one copy away here :o) Check out the blurb...

In 1999, Britain was successfully invaded by the Volgs. When London lorry driver Bill Savage learnt that his family had been killed by the Volgs, he became a one-man war machine - a persistant thorn in the side of the occupying army. Having adopted the identity of his dead brother, Savage operates out of a bombed-out london, leading the resistance against his hated enemy. Now, business brain Howard Quartz - the CEO of Ro-Busters - has launched an attack on the Volgan forces with his Mark-One War Droids, but the Volgs have some technological tricks of their own, including a functional teleportation device....

I'm horribly late with my review but take it from me in the meantime, 'The Guv'nor' is a great read.

So, what do you need to do to win my spare copy? First things first, this competition is only open to people in the UK and Europe (I'm paying postage so I can't afford to post it far). If you're still reading then all you need to do next 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 'I am the Guv'nor!'

I'll leave this open until the 26th of August and will announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck :o)

Friday, 17 August 2012

The 'Look, the sun was out...' cover art post!

Give me a break, it's not often the sun comes out these days; I had to make the most of it! That leaves me with little/no time for review writing though so have some cover art instead. Cover art like this...

I'm hoping that the novel is as unique and stunning as we've been told because that cover isn't up to much is it? I don't know about you but if the blurb mentions a 'dimension jumping inn' then that's exactly what I want to see on the cover dammit! Another example of 'cover art for the commuter' rather than art that celebrates the book... I have been looking forward to 'Ecko Rising' though and would have started on it tonight but I'm already late for the Fantasy Faction signing at Blackwells (Cole, Abercrombie, and Brett; just in case you were wondering)...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Forbidden Planet doing nothing but signings in September!

Well that's how it looks judging by the press release, check this lot out...
Coming up in September: -

Thursday 6th September 6 - 7pm - ADAM CHRISTOPHER will be signing the Forbidden Planet exclusive edition hardcover of SEVEN WONDERS, the follow-up to his astounding EMPIRE STATE. (Wouldn't mind going to this, we'll have to see...)

Friday 7th September 6 - 7pm - SCOTT K ANDREWS will be launching, for the first time in collected edition, his dystopian vision SCHOOL'S OUT FOREVER (I am there for this one, I've got my book ready and everything!)

Thursday 13th September 6 - 7pm renowned fantasy artist BRIAN FROUD will be signing his absolutely exquisite TROLLS, a fascinating revelation in to the world of rainbow waterfalls and shadowy thickets.

Thursday 20th September 6 - 7pm we will have star of stage and television John Barrowman, and Professor of English Carole Barrowman, upstairs, signing TORCHWOOD: EXODUS CODE... 

And simultaneously, DANIE WARE will be downstairs launching her debut title, the gleefully sardonic and genre-bending ECKO RISING. (Really looking forward to reading this one, might have to get it signed as well)

Saturday 22nd September 1 - 2pm, we'll have live dinosaur sketching (that's live sketching, not live dinosaurs) and a signing with STEVE WHITE for his astounding book of DINOSAUR ART.

Tuesday 25th September 6 - 7pm, we welcome back the king of British SF, PETER F HAMILTON, signing his latest title GREAT NORTH ROAD.

Wednesday 26th September, 6 - 7pm, we will have napkin-scribbling visionary BRENT WEEKS signing his amazing epic fantasy THE BLINDING KNIFE (probably not written on a napkin, in fact).

And we round off the month with a pre-FantasyCon Signing Bonanza from TITAN BOOKS, featuring GUY ADAMS, SAMIT BATSU, JOANNE REAY, KIM NEWMAN and DANIE WARE. (I have a couple of books by Guy Adams that I wouldn't mind getting signed, just need to find out the date...)
Thursday nights are tricky these days but there's a couple of events that I'd like to get to. Anything there takes your fancy?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

‘Aliens vs Predator: Three World War’ – Stradley, Leonardi, Pennington (Dark Horse Books)

Am I the only person who didn’t think that ‘Alien vs Predator’ was that bad (I haven’t seen ‘Requiem’ so can’t comment there)? If you look at it in terms of the overall continuity then there is a marked decrease in quality but why do that in the first place? Why not just let the film stand on its own as a relatively harmless piece of fun where two iconic aliens pound the crap out of each other in an underground pyramid? To be fair, beer does help as well… I should probably stop there :o)

I’m always up for some Predators and Aliens killing each other, with hapless humans caught in the middle, so when I saw ‘Three World War’ (the clumsiest sounding title ever?) in the library I was immediately bugging Sue to see if she had any room left on her library card, I’ve lost mine again…
The Raymond Swanland cover was a pretty big draw as well; it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I will read pretty much anything if Swanland has been involved in the cover art.
‘Three World War’ is basically ‘Aliens’ with some added Predators to spice things up a bit. It’s fun while you’re reading it but when you’ve finished you realise that there actually wasn’t an awful lot to it after all…

And here’s the blurb,

A centuries-old interstellar conflict threatens humanity's very existence as a long-lost Predator clan stakes its claim for galactic dominance, intent on exterminating its rival clan, the selfsame trophy hunters who have plagued Earth's history and every world they have touched. And if the advanced technology and military precision of this new threat weren't enough, they have an even more terrifying weapon at their disposal -- Aliens, weaponized and under their malefic control. This puts earthmen in the dangerous position of parlaying with the same alien warriors who have relentlessly hunted them, and who better to carry out the negotiations than Machiko Noguchi, the only human known to have spent time alongside the Hunters.

‘Three World War’ collects the original six issue mini-series and I found, very quickly, that I couldn’t put it down. There is an awful lot going on here, at least I thought so at the time…
It’s very easy to get all caught up in the action, there’s plenty on display, as two factions become wary allies and join forces to take down the third faction. Predators fight Predators, the Aliens fight Predators and Humans while the Humans just seem to shoot at whatever is trying to kill them at any one time. It doesn’t let up for a second with smooth transitions from planetary confrontations to warfare in space; there’s something for everyone and Leonardi and Pennington illustrate it all to great effect. These guys clearly know what an ‘Alien/Predator scrap’ should involve and they deliver, no question about it.

Going through the book though, I couldn’t help but wonder if Stradley had really missed an opportunity to really flesh things out and give us a plot that’s a little more three dimensional. After all, as entertaining as it was there is only so much that you can do with a series of big ol’ fights. There doesn’t seem to be much underpinning these, just the need for some conflict resolution (the final solution to the conflict was a little too simple for me as well). This is quite annoying, in a way, as you can see moments where things could have been expanded to give the reader something far more engaging. I mean, we have a human character that lived with a Predator clan; what an opportunity to explore precisely what that means. We don’t get that though, just a few comments designed almost to throw us off the scent entirely. The Predators are far too alien to understand properly, unless they really lay it on the line, so why bother? That’s a real cop out as far as I’m concerned.

A lot of fun then but ‘Three World War’ ends up feeling strangely hollow, at least it did for me. I wouldn’t mind seeing it on the big screen though, could be even more fun…

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

‘Doctor Who and the Cybermen’ – Gerry Davis (BBC Books)

A later (and shorter) review than normal; it’s funny how the day fills itself up when you’re not stuck in the office… This is the first chance I’ve had, all day, to sit in front of the computer and get this done. Let’s go :o)

BBC Books have been re-releasing specially selected (voted for?) ‘Doctor Who’ stories from the old Target range; books that recount the old TV serials and as such were essential reading when I was a lot younger. How have they stood up to the test of time though? That’s one reason I’m working my way back through these books. The other (being totally honest) is that I loved these books as a kid and it’s always worth revisiting your childhood every once in a while isn’t it?
I’m working through these books in ‘order of Doctor’ (well, I am now) so ‘Doctor Who and the Cybermen’ (originally broadcast as ‘The Moonbase’ back in 1967) was up next. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this one…

Here’s the blurb,

In 2070, the Earth's weather is controlled from a base on the moon. But when the Doctor and his friends arrive, all is not well. They discover unexplained drops of air pressure, minor problems with the weather control systems, and an outbreak of a mysterious plague.

With Jamie injured, and members of the crew going missing, the Doctor realises that the moonbase is under attack. Some malevolent force is infecting the crew and sabotaging the systems as a prelude to an invasion of Earth. And the Doctor thinks he knows who is behind it: the Cybermen.

Here is a book that is set up to be something special. A moonbase under siege, Cybermen marching across the moon and striking from hidden places when you least expect it, a mysterious plague that must be halted before it claims more lives. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, maybe the TV serial was (I haven’t seen it) but it doesn’t make the transition, to novel format, that it needed to.

These books were never meant to be anything more than story lines, from the show, laid out on the page and I’m one of many people who are very glad that they were there to be read (don’t get me wrong). I think what went wrong here, for me anyway, is that’s all this book is; a recounting of the TV show. That’s fair enough in itself but it doesn’t make for a particularly gripping or engaging read when everything is laid out so matter of factly. I came away knowing what had happened but there was nothing there to tell me how the characters felt about what had happened, how they felt about each other while it was happening. It may have been there, for us to see, on the show but it’s a hell of a chunk of plot to be missing in a book…
What you’re left with is something very dry that a fan might get something out of but won’t do a lot for someone who isn’t. Actually, I’m a fan and it didn’t do a lot for me. It’s competent storytelling but it could have been a lot more. I know there's only so much you can do with a book this length but there are other (older) ‘Doctor Who’ books out there that take that extra step and are better for it. I’m talking about ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ and ‘Day of the Daleks’ amongst others.

I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘The Moonbase’ on the strength of what I read here, just to see the actors breathe some life into it. That was what ‘Doctor Who and the Cybermen’ really needed and it was a real shame that it wasn’t there.

Six out of Ten

Monday, 13 August 2012

The 'Just tried to toast a bagel in the knife rack...' Competition Winner's Post!

It's a Monday morning, things like this are meant to happen on a Monday morning... If you follow me on Twitter you'll know that I was up late last night trying to find a mosquito before it tapped one of my veins. the end result? Mosquito 1 Graeme 0. The sneaky little thing waited until I gave up looking then chewed the hell out of my leg while I was asleep... :o( Revenge will be mine.

Hopefully this week will start off a bit better for two people who have only gone and won themselves copies of Lou Morgan's excellent debut novel 'Blood and Feathers' (review Here). The winners were,

Mel Symonds, Surrey, UK
Michaela Gray, Bedford, UK

Your books are on their way right now :o)

The bookshelves are in a bit of a state right now so I need to find my 'finished books' before I can actually review them! That does leave things a little vague for this week but I will (finally) post my thoughts on 'Morning Glories Vol. 3' and 'The Guv'nor'. That should be enough to keep you going for now, I'm sure I can fit a couple of reviews either side of those...

See you tomorrow :o)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What I'm reading right now...

I'm in and out of several books at the moment and for a whole load of reasons (the usual ones as well as a couple that will become clearer in time). When I'm busy like this I find myself skimming a few pages, from different books, here and there and waiting for that moment when something clicks and I just carry on reading until I'm done. Here is the pile of books that is currently sat next to the bed. No promises when a review will be posted, just that it will happen sooner or later...

This is a great book to read as the format (collected short stories/novellas) doesn't put the pressure on to finish it all in one go. That's the kind of reading I enjoy, right now, and am planning to take my time over this one. You should give it a go though, I haven't read a bad story yet.

Purely because I wanted to read something with gladiators in it; I can be incredibly shallow sometimes :o)

Same deal as above but swap 'gladiators' for 'superheroes' :o) I also never got round to picking up 'Empire State' (really need to) so this is my attempt at getting caught up with Adam Christopher without it looking too much like I'm lagging behind...

There's a lot of great Warhammer fiction that gets overlooked in favour of its far future counterpart. I reviewed 'Fear to Tread' yesterday so am balancing things out by starting on 'Orion' as well.

Because I haven't been able to finish the last two books and there's enough there to make me really want to. I'm hoping that going back to the very beginning of Morlock Ambrosius' life should give me a little more impetus. That and this is a very short book, I love short books right now ;o)

This is the book getting the most attention, at the moment, and rightly so. I'm a big fan of Tad Williams and reading a new book of his always feels like coming home :o)

That's what's on the pile at the moment. What are you reading? Do you think I should be reading it too?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

‘Fear to Tread’ – James Swallow (Black Library)

It’s been a good week for reading this week (scroll down for the last two reviews and you’ll see what I mean) so I thought that I’d round things off with a book that I’ve been waiting on for a while; one that I knew I’d enjoy. The sun’s out so it would be a shame to waste in on something that I wasn’t going to enjoy, life’s too short for that sometimes.

It’s no surprise then that I jumped ahead one ‘Horus Heresy’ book to the forthcoming ‘Fear to Tread’ from James Swallow. The ‘Horus Heresy’ series has been a lot of fun to read, apart from a couple of rough moments here and there, and James Swallow hasn’t let me down with his entries. Go on, have a look at my reviews for ‘Nemesis’, ‘Oath of Moment’ and ‘Legion of One’; they’re all worth a look.

It was a real no-brainer then to pick up ‘Fear to Tread’ and get stuck in then. Having finished it though, I’m really in two minds about the whole thing. Here is a book that quickly moves from one end of the scale to the other, never really settling down and giving us something that is consistent from start to finish. I finished it though and that has to say something about the book overall. Fans of the setting will more than likely get a lot out of it.

Blurb copied and pasted because… yes, it was that time of day when I was writing this.

Since the earliest days of the Great Crusade, Sanguinius - angelic Primarch of the IXth Legion - was ever among the closest and most loyal of Horus's brothers. But the Blood Angels have long kept their true nature hidden from the rest of the Imperium, and when the Warmaster hints that the key to their salvation may lie in the ruins of a conquered world, the sons of Sanguinius race to claim it. Now, as the revelation of their betrayal dawns and the traitors' hand is revealed, the Blood Angels must face all the warp-spawned armies of Chaos, as well their own personal daemons, upon the blasted plains of Signus Prime...

This could well be a shorter review than normal and not just because the sun is out. I really got into ‘Fear to Tread’, total immersion in fact. There was a lot to enjoy about this book but, once I came out the other side, I found that there wasn’t actually much to say about it. That’s not so good when you have a book that makes big promises with its cover featuring an all out scrap between a monstrous demon and a winged man with a big sword.

It’s not that ‘Fear to Tread’ is a bad book though, far from it. Things are sign posted far too early, in the book, for the climactic scenes to be truly effective but (up to a point) you can’t blame ‘Fear to Tread’ for that. We’re looking at the twenty first book in a series that has already been proven to jump backwards and forwards along its own timeline and certain events here have already been alluded to. Having said that though, Swallow isn’t averse to jumping backwards and forwards himself and this can rob the book of a little surprise as well as a little pace.

Swallow makes up for this though by writing with a power and urgency that effortlessly carries the reader along in its wake. System spanning wars happen and any of these could prove pivotal to the galactic conflict. We’re talking high stakes here and Swallow leaves us in no doubt as to how high they are (even though fans already know how it all turns out). We may know where the story is headed but the Blood Angels don’t and Swallow has us really feeling their tension as they slowly move towards a monstrous confrontation.

Swallows depiction of the Blood Angels Legion, and its Primarch Sanguinius, is also well worth the price of entry. If you didn’t already know that Swallow had written several Blood Angels novels (which he has) you’d be left wondering if he had. The basic ‘Space Marine’ trope is overwritten with a heraldic splendour and barely contained savagery that make the Blood Angels really stand out as an entity in their own right. And when Swallow lets them loose on the fields of battle, wow…You know those moments when you read a passage and think it would really work on the big screen? The last chapters of ‘Fear to Tread’ are full of those.

The big problem I had, with this book though, is that all of this good stuff didn’t seem to contribute much to the plot if anything at all (the plot itself is incredibly simple). It’s basically just a lot of (admittedly well done) scene setting, like Swallow thought ‘it’s not as if fans don’t know the story already, I’ll just dress it up real good and then hit them with a big fight right at the end.’ As an approach to a novel this works but only up to a point; like I said, I really got into ‘Fear to Tread’ but when I’d finished it there was a real hollow feeling about it. There are good bits but the lead up to these didn’t sit well with me.

‘Fear to Tread’ is rich in detail but lacking when it comes to the real meat of the plot; I’m guessing Swallow didn’t have an awful to work with here? I had fun reading it but I don’t think it’s a book that I’ll return to.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 10 August 2012

A couple of bits of news...

A couple of press releases came through that I thought you might find interesting. Check em' out,

From today (Graeme Note: I actually got the email yesterday but the 'Mockingbird' review took pride of place...), Tor UK, Pan Macmillan ’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, has made its ebooks DRM-free and available to purchase from and, as well as through other retailers. In a move announced earlier this year, Tor UK has joined sister company Tor Books in New York in removing Digital Rights Management from all its titles so that once you purchase a Tor book, you can download it as many times as you like, on as many ereaders as you like.

“We believe that making our Tor ebooks DRM-free is the best for our readers, allowing you to use legitimately-purchased ebooks in perfectly legal ways, like moving your library from one ereader to another,” says Jeremy Trevathan, Publisher at Pan Macmillan . “We understand that DRM can make your ebooks less easy to read. It also makes building and maintaining your digital library more complicated. For these reasons, we are committed to remaining DRM-free.”
The news that Tor UK ebooks are now DRM-free has been met by readers, authors, bloggers and journalists with lots of enthusiasm and support:
China MiĆ©ville called the decision ‘a game changer’
‘The decision by Tor Books to ditch digital rights management signals the beginning of the end of the ebook format wars’ Cory Doctorow writing in the Guardian
‘DRM hasn't stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalised for playing by the rules. The books of mine they have bought have been chained to a single e-reader, which means if that e-reader becomes obsolete or the retailer goes under (or otherwise arbitrarily changes their user agreement), my readers risk losing the works of mine they've bought. I don't like that. So the idea that my readers will 'buy once, keep anywhere,' makes me happy’ John Scalzi

As someone who is only just starting to get into e-books this is great news for me and might (just might) persuade me to invest in a reader that's bigger than my phone, we'll see.

Scott K Andrews signing 'School's Out Forever' at Forbidden Planet

SCOTT K ANDREWS will be signing SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER (ABADDON) at The Forbidden Planet Megastore on Friday 7th September from 6:00 to 7:00pm. “After the world died we all sort of drifted back to school. After all, where else was there for us to go?” 

Lee Keegan’s fifteen. If most of the population of the world hadn’t just died choking on their own blood, he might be worrying about acne, body odour and girls. As it is, he and the young Matron of his boarding school, Jane Crowther, have to try and protect their charges from cannibalistic gangs, religious fanatics, a bullying prefect experimenting with crucifixion and even the surviving might of the US Army.

Welcome to St. Mark’s School for Boys and Girls...

A signing that's on a Friday (Thursdays really don't work for me anymore)? I reckon you might just see me there. I did have issues with the books (review, review and review) but I can't deny that they were all a lot of fun. You could do a lot worse than pick them up :o) 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

'Mockingbird' - Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)

If you’ve been around these parts for a while then you’ll know that I have a problem with about ninety percent of Urban Fantasy that’s on the shelves at the moment. This is probably why I don’t read ninety of percent of Urban Fantasy that’s on the shelves at the moment… :o) That other ten percent though… There’s some amazing stuff hidden on those shelves if you have the time to go and look for it. Chuck Wendig has already written one of those books and another one is set to be released very soon (late August or early September depending which side of the Atlantic you’re on).

I’ve been a fan of Wendigs work since the brutal ‘Double Dead’ came my way and ‘Blackbirds’ took things to another level entirely. You can read my review Here or run your eyes over a couple of choice paragraphs just below,

‘I’m hard pressed to remember any other book that I’ve read where death haunts the pages in the way it does here. Death is quite literally everywhere; whether it’s in the bleak landscape Miriam walks through, the hearts (and ultimate fates) of the people she meets and Miriam herself. ‘Blackbirds’ is a short read, clocking in at two hundred and eighty seven pages, but it’s a book where the subject matter makes the book feel that little bit heavier in your hands.’

‘The guy has only written two books and already I can’t get enough. If you’re after some urban fantasy that is by no means typical then ‘Blackbirds’ is probably already on your wish list. For everyone else, give it a go anyway and have your mind blown. Wendig takes you on a journey, down the forgotten highways of America, that you won’t soon forget.’

You can imagine my reaction when ‘Mockingbird’ turned up at the door… :o)

I read a few pages and then I couldn’t stop reading until there were no pages left to read. Chuck Wendig has only gone and done it again with a book that, for my money, eclipses its predecessor.

Blurb copied and pasted once again as it’s ‘nap time’ and I need to shave seconds, off writing this, wherever I can!

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole "settling down thing" that Louis has going for her just isn't working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis--who's on the road half the time in his truck--is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn't going well. Still, she's keeping her psychic ability--to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them--in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she's keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.
Then one day she touches a woman, in a supermarket, and finds that the lady has exactly three minutes to live. That’s when it all starts to fall apart again.

If you haven’t already read ‘Blackbirds’ then you really need to give a go before moving onto ‘Mockingbird’. Not only is it a great story in its own right but there’s a lot of back-story that you will want to get caught up on first. Miriam is just one of those characters that you will find yourself wanting to know everything about. A dark and sometimes nasty character but nonetheless compelling for that. A character who really wants to do the right thing but whose innate viciousness (lashing out against a world that has treated her very badly) will lead her down dark paths. That’s what Wendig brings to the table here and, once again, the results make for stunning reading.

What I would say though is that Wendig isn’t really doing anything that he didn’t do in ‘Blackbirds’. Same character, same relationships, same themes. Once again, we’re headed deep into ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ territory… It made for a difficult review to write, what with me not wanting to repeat myself (just click on that link if you haven’t already)…
I’m in two minds here to be honest. ‘Mockingbird’ does repeat itself but gets over that for reasons that I’ll go into in a bit. It’s something that you should be aware of though. Having said that, the signs are that the final volume, ‘The Cormorant’, should take things in a whole new direction entirely so I’m cool with things headed along the same path as before (at least for the moment).

What really saved it for me though, and edged ‘Mockingbird’ past ‘Blackbirds’ in terms of quality, is just how deep Wendig is prepared to go in order to give his readers a story that they will not be able to stop reading, I certainly couldn’t.

If you thought ‘Blackbirds’ was a dark read then I’m giving you advance warning to adjust your expectations accordingly, ‘Mockingbird’ is a whole lot darker. Wendig takes us further into Miriam’s head, showing us just what she is capable of when the chips are down (or when she’s feeling suitably bloody-minded). Miriam isn’t just acting like this for the hell of it either; the mystery that she faces is brimming over with the kind of deaths that even someone like Miriam has never seen. It’s a mystery that Miriam has to solve, especially when it becomes clear that doing so will help her discover her own place in this strange world. I liked that last bit in particular, Wendig’s worldbuilding is so subtle that you won’t even realise its happening but it is and fleshes things out in a most intriguing manner.

Wendig plumbs real depths of bleakness and horror to bring us the world that Miriam must negotiate. It’s a world that we all know is there and one we are secretly glad that we can put down when the book is done; no-one would want to live with what Miriam has to. The way Wendig presents it though makes for nothing short of compelling reading, a book that eclipses ‘Blackbirds’ in its determination to head to new depths for the sake of a good story. Wendig knows that his readers deserve nothing less.

If you’re waiting for ‘Mockingbird’ then take it from me, you’re in for a bit of treat. If you’re not waiting for ‘Mockingbird’, well… you should be.

Nine and a Half out of Ten