Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Last Blog Post.

No, seriously :o)

It's been a little while coming but it's time to bring this blog to a close. Obviously there are a whole load of reasons (none of them particularly interesting to you guys) but the bottom line is that I'm not really enjoying it anymore and that means that it's time to stop. That's not to say that I won't come back, in the future, and start something up again; just not here. I've got some ideas but I just want to stop and chill out for a while.

I'm going to try and keep this relatively short and sweet... :o)

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by and read the blog since it started. I may not have replied to all your comments but it meant a lot to me that you posted them and kept coming back to read what I've been writing. I'm sure that I'll be here and there on the internet so we'll probably bump into each other again.

Thanks as well to all the publishers who have very kindly fed my book habit and enabled me to post stuff here. I really appreciate what you have all done for me and I'm sorry that there will inevitably be books of yours, on my shelves, that I promised to review and haven't. I had to draw a line under it somewhere.
There will be an email going out shortly, asking you all to take me off your mailing lists. Don't feel that you have to by the way, I love getting books in the post ;o) They just won't be reviewed if they do turn up.

I think that's about it. It's been an amazing experience but you have to know when it's time to stop. It's time to stop :o)

Happy Reading!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

'The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection' - Various (DC/Rebellion)

There’s nothing quite like reading comic books over a rainy weekend. Well, except when I’m being hassled by the toddler but there you go. The point still stands :o)

My weekend reading, this time round, was the ‘Batman/Judge Dredd’ collection and (a few minor criticisms not withstanding) I had a great time working my way through the stories here. How could I not? How could you not? We’re looking at two iconic comic book heroes, both dedicated to upholding the law but both going about it in entirely different ways. One is dead set on arresting the other, for ‘vigilante activity’, and neither will go down without several preceding pages of all out slugfest (and supporting villains from Mega City One and Gotham). You can’t ask for a lot more than that, can you? Well, maybe…

This collection starts and ends with its best stories and no, I’m not counting the Lobo story right at the end. That seems to be there more as a favour to collectors rather than anything to do with the two main protagonists.

‘Judgement in Gotham’ is as ‘off its head manic’ as I remember, from all those years ago, with Dredd and Batman having to settle their differences in order to take down Scarecrow and Judge Death. Batman finds himself in Mega City One and watching his reactions to his new surroundings (as well as how he deals with a Justice Department interrogation) is a pleasure. The real pleasure though is watching Judge Death having to get used to life in Gotham, especially his new uniform and having to confront his worst nightmares courtesy of the Scarecrow. It’s as chilling as it is laugh out loud funny, all more than ably illustrated by what looks like pretty much everyone judging by the credits. Take it from me, it’s all good.

It’s a shame that the same can’t really be said about ‘Vendetta in Gotham’; several pages of Batman and Dredd beating the (you know) out of each other with a time travel subplot bolted onto the end. Watching Scarface deal with his temporary new owner makes for some funny moments but everything screams ‘filler’, presumably while the following two stories were in development (although Cam Kennedy’s art made for a nice break from the full on madness of ‘Judgement in Gotham’)
‘The Ultimate Riddle’ is more of the same; there’s some lovely artwork here (courtesy of Critchlow and Power) but the actual plot relies a little too much on the fight sequences to cover up a conclusion that you can see coming. Nice dialogue between Dredd and the perp though.

Don’t worry, the best is saved until last with the entrance of the Gotham villain that everyone has been waiting for. ‘Die Laughing’ benefits from a wide range of artists combining (once again) to really show off the weirdness that is Mega City One. If you can think of something outlandish, the odds are that these guys have crammed it into a panel somewhere. Especially with the focus on hedonism…
The plot is a little straightforward but the quality of the villains more than makes up for this with Gotham’s most insane criminal teaming up with extra-dimensional creatures who have decided that all life is a crime. Even though you know where this one is going, the dialogue and dynamic between the villains is compelling; even more so once the Dark Judges realise just what they have accepted into their ranks.
Dredd and Batman are almost relegated to mere spectators but prove that there is still enough about them to justify what they are able to do. ‘Die Laughing’ is a great read, that’s all there is to it.

‘Batman/Judge Dredd’ is a mixed bag then but with just enough verve and energy to get you through the bumps and onto the good stuff. Well worth picking up whether you’re filling in the holes in your collection or are completely new to the stories.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

P.S. I understand that is likely that we won’t see ‘Judge Dredd vs Predator’ collected because of legal stuff. Please sort it out guys… For me?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

'The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury' - Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga (Tor UK)

If you follow 'The Walking Dead' in any of its incarnations (I didn't even realise that there was a video game until today...) then you/re not just in it for the gore. You want to see just what regular people will do in order to survive one more day of the zombie apocalypse. Either that or you want to see the real psychos cut loose when law and order stop working. How do I know this? I'm still one of those readers.

Even though I no longer read the comic book (it was a little too much, even for me), Kirkman and Bonansinga's filling in the Governors backstory is still required reading. We're talking about a character who has done some absolutely vile things. Even if you know his ultimate fate, don't you want to know just why the Governor turned out the way he did? I do (despite some initial reservations) and that's why I'm sticking around for the time being.

Lily has been running all her life so, in some respects, the arrival of the walking dead hasn't changed her life that much. Zombies are just another thing to run from after all. Running away is easy though, it's what you run towards that's the clincher. Lily and her friends find herself in the walled community of Woodbury, a community beginning to turn on itself as tensions grow. As the Governor's rule brings new dangers, Lily realises that she has nowhere left to run. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and fight.

'The Road to Woodbury' doesn't have quite the same impact as its predecessor. The big revelation has come and gone, leaving us to wonder what the final volume of the trilogy has in store. There was a sense that the book was really just marking time until that final instalment, laying a few more foundations (so we can say, 'oh... that's where the bit in the comic book came from...') but not really doing much that's new. At least, not to those of us who have read the comics.

I'd say stick with it though, while 'The Road to Woodbury' may not have the urgency that 'Rise of the Governor' did, it's actually a very thoughtful piece that rewards continued reading. That's not to say that the gore isn't there (or that sense of creeping terror as zombies crowd outside a house), this is 'The Walking Dead' after all! Lovers of gore will get what they came here for (and then some), there's a little bit more to this book though...

Lily and her friend Megan are essentially the same kind of person, defenceless against this new threat and looking to survive in any way that they can. The big difference is that Megan believes she is more honest in how she goes about it, giving herself to men for protection as well as satisfying her own urges. Lily wants to be with just the one man (Josh) but isn’t sure why. Does Lily love him or is she using him as a barrier between her and the zombies? This makes for an interesting internal dilemma that you don’t normally come across in zombie fiction (even though it’s a valid question for this setting) and the addition of Megan makes for some thought provoking comparisons. Is there room for a conscience in the zombie apocalypse? Fair play to Lily for trying to do the right thing but, by the time she has figured it out, this is the world of ‘The Walking Dead’… Tragedy is never far away.

At the other end of the scale is the Governor, a strangely subdued character given that this is meant to be his tale and the focus lies on another character entirely. Not that he doesn’t have his moments though; if you haven’t already seen what he keeps in those fish tanks… Well, you’re about to and it’s just as grim as it was in the comic books.
What’s more interesting to follow though is the way that the Governor stamps his authority on the people of Woodbury. It’s cruel, and the arena makes for some brutal reading, but all the Governor is doing is giving the people exactly what they want. It just so happens that offering a release to the tension neatly coincides with the Governors need to stay in control. It’s very cleverly done and offers another dimension to this character. A large chunk of us probably already know how the story ends but treatment like this hints at a potentially explosive finale that could still spring some surprises.

I’d say that ‘The Road to Woodbury’ does suffer from being a ‘middle book’ and the shift in focus isolates the Governor in the wrong kind of way (it’s meant to be a series about him). Despite that though, Kirkman and Bonansinga have come up with the goods again. ‘The Road to Woodbury’ has everything that makes ‘The Walking Dead’ such a compelling read; I will be there to see how it ends.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 23 November 2012

Cover Art! 'Among Others' - Jo Walton (UK Edition)

Because it feels like a nice summery cover and it's really horrible outside at the moment. I wish it was still summer...

After seeing what actually goes on in a cover art meeting, I have a feeling that these posts are going to be a little harder to write from now on... I like this one though with its hint of magic setting the cover off nicely rather than making it 'all about the magic'. If you want to read genre fiction on the train, but for no-one else to know that you're doing it, then this is just the kind of cover you're looking for.

Everyone else has read 'Among Others' already (sounds like a love it/hate it read from what I've seen) but here's the blurb for anyone who hasn't...

Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books. She works a spell to meet kindred souls and continues to devour every fantasy and science fiction novel she can lay her hands on. But danger lurks... She knows her mother is looking for her and that when she finds her, there will be no escape. 

I'm trying to sort out what books I want to have read by the end of the year and 'Among Others' will be somewhere in that pile. I'm also a person who likes to retreat into a book... ;o)
Have you read it? What did you think?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

'Red Country' - Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz)

When I went to the Fantasy Faction Blackwells event, back in August, Joe Abercrombie was understandably surprised that I still hadn't read 'The Heroes'. I was quite surprised myself; in fact the only person who wasn't surprised was my daughter and her habit of taking books off me while I'm trying to read them...
This was going to be a 'Heroes' review then but Abercrombie had to spoil things by having another book published in the meantime ;o) A book that somehow came on holiday with me rather than its predecessor. A book that hinted at the return of a favourite character of mine...

That review of 'The Heroes' is going to have to wait a little while longer then but hopefully not too much longer. 'Red Country' is another excellent read that has got me eager to go back and finally fill in that last gap. I'm guessing that everyone who is going to read 'Red Country' will have done so by now. If you haven't though... I'll do my best to avoid spoilers but you have been warned.

Shy South thought that she had left her bloody past far behind her but her burnt out homestead and missing siblings suggest otherwise. It's time to hit the trail again, this time to get her family back. Her only companion on the trail is her cowardly Uncle Lamb, a man running from a bloody past of his own. In the Red Country though, everyones past will catch up with them sooner or later...

Reading 'Red Country' made me realise that it has been far too long since I read anything by Joe Abercrombie and I won't leave it that long again. I've got another couple of books that I want to read first but 'The Heroes' is now officially very much back on the 'To Read' pile because of the fun that I had reading 'Red Country'. It's not a perfect read (not like 'Best Served Cold' was) but it's so close that I feel a little guilty for mentioning the little niggly bits. More on those in a paragraphs time...

Before we kick things off, I ought to say that I'm not a big watcher/reader of Westerns these days. I've reviewed a couple of 'genre westerns' here and I've had to sit through repeated viewings of 'Calamity Jane' (long story), that's about as far as it goes. If you're after a more qualified opinion on whether Abercrombie hits that 'Western target', I'd be clicking Here. As far as I'm concerned... If Westerns are about wide open spaces, wagons, bar room brawls, the natives getting a raw deal and a quest for redemption then Abercrombie hits the nail right on the head. My little trip to the Far Country left me with a dry mouth, from all that trail dust, and a grudging respect for a cast of utter bastards who nevertheless stand firm against an inhospitable country that wants settlers to just turn round and go back where they came from. Abercrombie paints the Far Country in broad strokes, creating an epic backdrop for our cast to toil against. ‘Red Country’ is a book that demands a backdrop like this but I personally found it a little too big. It felt to me like that backdrop actually overshadowed the story when the plot really needed to take centre stage and get moving. I'm talking about those long, just a little too drawn out, wagon journeys that I just wanted to end so the story could continue. I think Abercrombie might have done his job a little too well here...

It's a good job then that the plot more than makes up for this.

Upon a first glance, you might think that 'Red Country' is a little too simplistic, it certainly looks like it. Shy's family is kidnapped so Shy goes to get them back (with her uncle in tow), that pretty much sums it up. There’s a lot more to it than that though and it’s to Abercrombie’s credit that it all ties back into the story. No filler here, at least no filler apart from those slightly ponderous wagon journeys that I mentioned just now.

Abercrombie basically pulls it off by populating ‘Red Country’ with some thoroughly reprehensible people who actually want to do the right thing (even if they don’t realise it at the time) as well as at least one man who wants to be good but will realise what a bastard he still is. You know whom I’m talking about here… I personally liked the way that Abercrombie never actually calls this character by his old name. You know who he is (the fight with Glama gives it away) but there’s a little mystery there that I like.
With a cast like this, ‘Red Country’ becomes a novel crammed full of individual journeys that you can’t help but want to follow (especially when hints are dropped about where the series might go in future). There are children to find and a wagon full of gold that could end up anywhere, that was enough to keep me occupied in itself as Abercrombie fills his plot full of little twists and turns. These personal journeys really open up the characters and Abercrombie is brutally honest about what you will find inside. What makes for gripping reading here is that Abercrombie leaves everything wide open. A bastard can be a bastard and somehow find redemption at the end of the book… or bleed out on the floor of a frontier brothel. It could go either way and I found that I had to keep reading to see which way the dice fell.

When you factor in Abercrombie’s ability to write engaging dialogue alongside brutal scenes of combat, ‘Red Country’ swiftly becomes a book that you can’t put down until you absolutely have to. The backdrop may weigh a little too heavily on the plot but that plot makes for a thoroughly satisfying read. Now I need to start on ‘The Heroes’ again.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Free Thanksgiving Reading (Courtesy of Nightshade Books)

Just saw this over at Grasping for the Wind and it looks like an offer that everyone should be taking advantage of. 'Agatha H and the Airship City', 'Of Blood and Honey' and 'The Emperor's Knife' for free (ebooks though, not hard copies); all you need to do is send Nightshade Books an email :o)

Now if only I could get my phone to behave itself and download the books...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My 'Masterworks' Shelf

Bloody hell, who would have thought that this ‘Red Country’ review would be so hard to write? It’s a great book by the way; I just can’t seem to write about it. Oh well, maybe tomorrow…

In the meantime, have a look at my ‘Masterworks’ shelf, great isn’t it? :o)

I started mooching around second hand bookshops in an attempt to see how many of the old ‘Fantasy Masterworks’ books I could get hold of (like I need another excuse to go into a second hand bookshop…) and this soon became a mission to see how many of the ‘Sci-Fi Masterworks’ I could get hold of as well. Everything on the shelf is a ‘Masterwork’ although the edition may differ. I’d go mad trying to collect some of these titles in the ‘Masterwork’ format! I probably should have included the Del Rey ‘Elric’ books but they’re on a shelf all of their own.

My camera phone isn’t great so here are the titles (linked back to a review where there is one)…

‘The Anubis Gates’ - Tim Powers (couldn't get into this one the last time I tried it)
‘Viriconium’ – M. John Harrison
‘The Compleat Enchanter’ – L. Sprague De Camp & Fletcher Pratt
‘Gloriana’ – Michael Moorcock
‘Replay’ – Ken Grimwood
‘Air’ – Geoff Ryman
‘The Broken Sword’ – Poul Anderson (read this years ago but not for the blog)
‘Grendel’ – John Gardner
‘The Mark of the Beast’ – Rudyard Kipling
‘Non-Stop’ – Brian Aldiss
‘The Shrinking Man’ – Richard Matheson
‘Man Plus’ – Frederick Pohl
‘Flowers for Algernon’ – Daniel Keyes
‘The Fall of Hyperion’ – Dan Simmons
‘The Conan Chronicles (Vol 1) – Robert E. Howard
‘The Conan Chronicles (Vol 2) – Robert E. Howard (I reviewed ‘The Slithering Shadow’ but nothing else as yet)
‘I am Legend’ – Richard Matheson
‘The Dancers at the end of Time’ – Michael Moorcock
‘Floating Worlds’ – Cecilia Holland
‘Of Men and Monsters’ – William Tenn
‘Hyperion’ – Dan Simmons
‘The Difference Engine’ – William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
‘The Stars My Destination’ – Alfred Bester
‘Helliconia’ – Brian Aldiss
‘Hellstrom’s Hive’ – Frank Herbert
‘The Body Snatchers’ – Jack Finney
‘The Book of the New Sun’ – Gene Wolfe
'Lankhmar' - Fritz Leiber
‘The King of Elfland’s Daughter’ – Lord Dunsany

As you can see this is a real ‘shelf of shame’; filled up with good intentions but not a lot else. There’s still a few weeks until the end of the year and I want to cut this list of unread books down to size; are there any books (in particular) on the list that you would like to see reviewed here. HINT: Shorter books are more likely to be read… ;o)
Comments please!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

One for 2013? 'A Conspiracy of Alchemists' (Liesel Schwarz)

Today was meant to be a 'Red Country' review but that clearly isn't happening (hopefully tomorrow instead...) so today is going to be about another 2013 release instead. ARCs arrive and they may/may not be read so I figured it would be worth flagging up a few of the potentially noteworthy ones here. Like this one...

It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural.

Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spellcasting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret.

But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.

What is the publishing world going to do once everyone has had enough of Steampunk? That's a question for another day I think.

I'm not too sure about this one. Steampunk? Yes. Urban Fantasy? Maybe. Paranormal Romance? No, not at all. 'A Conspiracy of Alchemists' (to be published in March next year) is all three so I'm not in a mad rush to pick this one up? What about you?

Monday, 19 November 2012

The 'need to catch up with myself' Competition Winner's Post!

After all the fun last week it's back to job hunting and trying to cure Hope of her crush on Yoda. Seriously, my daughter is weird. It's a good weird but... he's made of Lego for goodness sake! If that wasn't enough for me to be getting on with there's also a whole load of books waiting to be reviewed right here. Some good ones and one that hasn't aged as well as I thought it would. Oh well, more on those later this week...

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who entered the 'Rogue Trooper' competition. My inbox was glad of all the attention. There could only be two winners though and they were...

Brian Stabler, East Yorkshire, UK
Steve Renshaw, Bradford, UK

Nice work there guys :o) Give me a couple of days to get to the post office and your books should be with you very soon.

That's it from me. I shall be spending the rest of the day trying to separate a stray job from the rest of the herd and running it down in a feast of gainful employment; wish me luck!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

‘Ragemoor’ – Jan Strnad, Richard Corben (Dark Horse)

A living castle, born of blood and eager to work its will on the people that it ensnares. A castle with plans that must come to fruition, no matter what the cost in human lives… Hang on, haven’t we heard this all before? Aren’t we just looking at yet another haunted house story and isn’t that all just a little bit old now…? Everything derives from something; I’m going to stick my head out and say that nothing is really original, there’s only stuff that you haven’t read yet. What really matters is how the writer treats his material, it’s the story that counts. ‘Ragemoor’ riffs on some long established themes but the resulting story is nothing short of superb. It’s an unsettling read that I personally had to finish off in one sitting (okay, ‘standing’, I was on the tube…)If you’re a fan of haunted houses, insect men and Lovecraft then I’d be very surprised if you haven’t given it a go already.

A large part of the impact that ‘Ragemoor’ has comes in the form of Richard Corben’s striking artwork. I am a big fan of Corbens contribution to the ‘Cimmeria’ storyline and he proves more than able to step up and deliver over the course of an entire book. Corben displays a real ability to capture love, loss and outright screaming fear in the faces of the cast; it becomes all too easy to feel that fear yourself once you see it in them and that does half the job of the plot all by itself. Corben also captures the hellish environs of Ragemoor beautifully. It’s bleak and desolate but with an air of danger that hits you hard when it comes to the fore. If that’s not enough, Corben also delivers in terms of the weird horror that lurks at Ragemoor’s heart. Worm men and insect men are only half of it… All of this is delivered in black and white, there is nothing to distract the reader from the horror and that’s as it should be.

This book isn’t all about Corben though. Jan Strnad gives us a plot that clearly wants to be free of the ‘four issue mini-series’ restriction but has a lot to say for itself in the meantime. It’s all credit to Strnad that he can have Herbert and his manservant, Bodrick, fight against Ragemoor and then for it in such a short space. It’s a transition that is tightly plotted and all too plausible. Sometimes the devil you know really is better than the horrors that lurk beneath… My only real criticism is that you can see how it will ultimately end as Strnad doesn’t really give himself room to do a lot more than tell what is ultimately a haunted house story with accompanying family curse. It’s the journey that really counts here though. Strnad really lays on the weird here and this means hints of a universe even more dark and horrifying than the castle itself. And the castle itself is pretty terrifying, just ask poor Anoria…Now there is a sub-plot worth following with the course of true love and human greed meaning nothing to a castle fighting an eternal battle of its own.

Everything devolves into madness, come the end, and this lends proceedings a real frantic air and a burst of energy just at the right time. To close the book with the same line that opened it was a masterful stroke as well; an unsettling way of demonstrating the grim implacability of Ragemoor.

I wouldn’t have minded seeing ‘Ragemoor’ developed a little further (ten issues maybe?) although you could just as easily say that it’s hearkening back to its pulp roots. I can’t really complain though given this intense dose of weird horror that doesn’t leave you after the book is closed and put down. I think I’m going to be a regular visitor to Ragemoor, I’m just glad that I don’t have to live there…

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The post where I talk about my work experience with Tor...

The last time I wrote anything like this was way back in high school when I had to write an essay on my work experience with an insurance firm in Ipswich. I couldn’t find the essay now but, from what I remember, there was a lot of filing involved. I think I got to stamp bits of paper too.

Fast forwarding just over twenty years since that time…

I’ve been out of work for a while now (apart from a three-month contract that ended in July) and I thought it was way past time that I tried my hand at a little work experience in publishing. If you love reading books then you can’t help but wonder if publishing is where you’re meant to be and I’ve wondered this for a while. There’s only one way to find out and there’s no better time to do it when you’re out of work with free time on your hands. A flurry of emails later and I was lucky enough to find myself all set for a week with the editorial team at Tor UK. Thanks to Bella and Julie for arranging it and thanks also to Louise for taking time out of her (very busy) schedule to talk me through what needed to be done.

I’m going to get straight to the point; I really enjoyed the last week and I’m already planning how to get more work experience with other publishers. If you’re a publisher then it’s likely that you’ll be hearing from me soon!

There’s only so much that you can fit into one week but the tasks I carried out gave me a pretty good idea of the kind of things that happen on a daily basis. I had a go at rewriting the blurb for Peter F. Hamilton’s ‘A Second Chance at Eden’. This was harder than it looked, as the original blurb was pretty succinct, but I made a few changes though. I wrote cover copy for the first draft of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Warmaster’s Gate’ which was a lot of fun as it meant I had to read through the book first. ‘Warmaster’s Gate’ still needs to be edited but I can confidently say that fans have got a lot to look forward to here; it has spurred me on to get caught up on the rest of the series (I’m four books behind). I was also the man reporting on unagented submissions which is basically book reviews; I love writing book reviews if you hadn’t already noticed :o) I even spent an enjoyable half hour comparing the ‘Great North Road’ audio-book script with its manuscript counterpart; something that has (again) inspired me to finally kick on and read more Peter F. Hamilton.

I’m not going to lie… There was filing, an abortive attempt to bend Wikipedia to my will and a lot of tracking down author agents on Google. If you’re working with something that you’re passionate about though, it doesn’t seem quite so soul destroying as it would do otherwise. I want a job like that, at the very least I want more work experience like that. We’ll see how it goes.

P.S. The best coffee machine in London can be found in the depths of the Pan Macmillan building. I’m missing that coffee machine already.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A few more books in the post...

Thanks for bearing with me through what has been a 'review light' week. The good news is that everything I have read this week (plus all the other stuff that is outstanding) will feature next week instead. Quite a few reviews then, can't say fairer than that :o) All I'll say in the meantime is, 'Ragemoor' is quite brilliant and I'm glad that I finally got round to reading it.

For now then, have a quick look at the books that were waiting for me when I got home last night; it's quite the little bundle...

The eastern seaboard of the USA is experiencing the worst winter weather in living memory, and John Redlaw is in the cold white thick of it. He's come to America to investigate a series of vicious attacks on vampire immigrants - targeted kills that can't simply be the work of amateur vigilantes.

Dogging his footsteps is Tina 'Tick' Checkley, a wannabe TV journalist with an eye on the big time.

  The conspiracy Redlaw uncovers could give Tina the career break she's been looking for. It could also spell death for Redlaw.

I've got a great feeling about this one, mostly because I loved 'Redlaw', and I'll be getting straight into it over the weekend. Can't say a lot more than that really :o)

Paris. City of lights. City of lovers. City of dreams. Yet if one man gets his way, its inhabitants will soon be forced to endure a nightmare such as they have never known.

Hero of the British Empire Ulysses Quicksilver is determined to stand in his way... even as he returns from the past to appear on the scene of a horrific murder!

Before he can hope to rescue the French capital from its fate, Ulysses must go on the run and track down the real killer. His intention: to clear his good name, and get back to England in one piece. And quickly, for the love of his life is about to take a most ill-advised trip to the Moon.

Can Quicksilver stop the terrorist known only as ‘Le Papillon’?

I'm not going to bore you with links back to all the reviews that I've done. Search the blog for Jonathan Green and you can see for yourself. Green's chunk of 'Pax Britannia' is pulp, it's Steampunk and it's a hell of a lot of fun. You really need to be reading these books if you aren't already. While you're getting caught up, 'Time's Arrow' will be another weekend read.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It's a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more delighted when he's assigned to the ship's Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn't be better . . . although there are a few strange things going on...

(1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces

(2) the ship's captain, the chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these encounters

(3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed. 

Suddenly it's less surprising how much energy is expended below decks on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned an Away Mission. Andrew's fate may have been sealed . . . until he stumbles on a piece of information that changes everything . . . and offers him and his fellow redshirts a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives...

I heard lots of buzz about 'Redshirts' but I don't think I saw a single review although that's probably just me needing to catch up with my blog reading. Have you read it? Fair enough, what about you? Have you read it? I want to read 'Redshirts' soon but it might have to fight it out with some of the other books on the pile...

Lord Brentford has a dream. To create a Grand Exposition that will showcase The Wonders of the Worlds and encourage peace between the inhabited planets of Venus, Jupiter and Earth. Ernest Rutherford has a dream. To construct a time ship, powered by the large hadron collider he has built beneath the streets of London . Cameron Bell is England's greatest detective and he, too, has a dream. To solve the crime of the century before it takes place, without blowing up any more of London's landmarks. Darwin is a monkey butler and he also has a dream. To end Man's inhumanity to Monkey and bring a little joy into the world. Lavinia Dharkstorrm has a dream of her own. Although hers is more of a nightmare. To erase Man and Monkey alike from the face of the Earth and to hasten in the End of Days. Then there is the crime-fighting superlady, all those chickens from the past and the unwelcome arrival of The Antichrist. Things are looking rather grim on planet Earth.

A new Robert Rankin! I totally need to read this straight away, or I would if I didn't have 'The Japanese Devil Fish Girl' and 'The Mechanical Messiah' to read first. I am so behind with my Robert Rankin reading (try saying those last three words really quickly...); 'The Educated Ape' might just have to wait a little bit longer...

Any of those books take your fancy?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

One for 2013? 'The Farm' - Emily McKay (Berkeley UK)

There hasn't been a lot of time for reading/reviewing this week (see yesterday's post) but this book came through the door yesterday evening and I thought it was worth a post here. Check it out,

For Lily and her twin sister Mel there is only the Farm ...

It's a prison, a blood bank, a death camp - where fear and paranoia rule. But it's also home, of sorts. Because beyond the electric fence awaits a fate much, much worse. 

But Lily has a plan. 

She and Mel are going to escape - into the ravaged land outside, a place of freedom and chaos and horrors. Except Lily hasn't reckoned on two things: first, her sister's ability to control the horrors; and, secondly, on those out there who desperately want to find and control Mel. 

Mel's growing power might save the world, or utterly end it. But only Lily can protect Mel from what is to come... 
Horror on the inside and even worse on the outside? A blood bank, are we talking vampires here?Yep, I'll have some of that :o)  'The Farm' will be published in February next year and it looks like there will be a whole load of stuff happening on Twitter before then. I'm intrigued enough to give this one a go before the release date, possibly sometime next month. How about you? Has this one caught your eye?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

So I've been blogging elsewhere today...

It's been a busy week for me as I'm right in the middle of work experience with Tor, busy but possibly one of the best weeks at work that I've ever had :o) I'll tell you more about it at the end of the week.

In the meantime, I was asked if I could contribute something to their blog; something about being a blogger, and what it can mean, as well as any tips for those thinking of starting their own blogs up. It didn't take much for me to say 'Yes!' If you want to read about Star Wars Glitter Picnics, a dodgy boiler and blogging then click right Here.

Giveaway! 'Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth 03'

I've got this one on the go at the moment but two copies also arrived for me to give away so I figured... why not do it now?

As the Norts and Southers wage war on the battle-torn world of Nu-Earth, the genetically-engineered soldier, Rogue trooper, continues to search for an antigen which will restore his bio-chipped comrades to life. If that wasn't enough to deal with, Rogue is also recruited to carry out a string of assassinations, in an attempt to end the war once and for all!

I'll actually be posting the winning copies out myself (i.e. out of my own pocket) so I'm keeping this one UK only in terms of entrants. Sorry about that everyone else.

For those of you who are left, entering is as easy as ever. All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Rogue Trooper'.

I'm going to let this one run until this Sunday (18th November) and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

'Resident Evil: Retribution' - John Shirley (Titan Books)

I know, I know... :o) 'There are far too many zombie books out there and I can't be bothered with it any more!' I said. Fast forward a few weeks and what do you get? A review of the latest 'Resident Evil' movie novelisation, that's what you get. Didn't take me long to come crawling back, did it...? :o)
To be fair, David Moody did write a very convincing guest post about why I shouldn't give up on the genre just yet. There was also the fact that I'd just finished Joe Abercrombie's 'Red Country' (review in the pipeline) and was after a read that was a little lighter. The bottom line though is, well... Zombies! Once you've been bitten then you're infected with a craving that will never let go.... A craving for a genre that can be a lot more intelligent than you'd think.

With that last sentence in mind, a 'Resident Evil' movie novelisation might seem like an odd choice then but, like I said, I was after a light read and this book came through the door at just the right moment. I've enjoyed the 'Resident Evil' films that I've seen, by the way, and was looking forward to catching up with what had happened. What had been going on? Not an awful lot if 'Resident Evil: Retribution' was anything to go by. Check out the blurb...

Just as she finds a safe haven, free from the Undead, Alice is kidnapped by her former employers the Umbrella Corporation. Regaining consciousness, she finds herself trapped in the most terrifying scenario imaginable. As the T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the world s population into legions of flesh-eating monsters, Alice must fight her way back to reality in order to survive.

I can't help but think that some films are meant to be just films. Don't mess around with the novelisation; just leave the film where it belongs and let it do what it does best. 'Retribution' is very much one of those films.

I haven't seen the film but, reading the book, you can imagine how it would look on the big screen. Flashy and full of action packed spectacle; certainly enough to disguise the paper thin plot and the fact that this is a whole film designed to get everyone in one place before the final film kicks off (I'm guessing the next one will be the last). The problem is though, a book isn't nearly so forgiving when it clearly has so little to work with. You can't be distracted by crazy images of exploding zombies and other monsters. All you have are words on a page that give away a lot more than the author perhaps intended.

'Retribution' is basically a big ol' slug fest, from start to finish, and John Shirley doesn't portray this as effectively as he could have done. Instead of keeping these fights relatively short and sweet, Shirley takes his cue from the script and tries to capture every single little thing that happens. This approach works fine on the big screen as it all happens very quickly, this is far from the case in the novelisation. What you get here are confrontations that are drawn out so much as to lose any impact that they might have had. When I start skimming paragraphs, to get to the end of a fight sequence, I know there's a pretty big problem. That was very much the case here. Shirley says, in his introduction, that some of these scenes were inspired by the screenplay and don't actually appear in the film itself. If this is the case then my argument goes double for those scenes.

Dragging the fight scenes out also just shows the reader that there isn't much in the way of plot going on and I wonder if that was why Shirley chose to introduce a sub-plot of his own. I can see why Shirley chose to branch things out but this sub-plot really doesn't gel that well with the main one. There doesn't seem to be a lot of point to it and it slows things down even more, something that this book really doesn't need.

One good thing about 'Resident Evil: Retribution' is that it promises a great finale to come but I wish I hadn't had to sit through this book just to get to that point. If Shirley had trimmed things back then this book would have been a different deal. I reckon this book could have lost a third of its pages and been the better for it. As it was though, 'Retribution' is the very definition of a throwaway read. If you were to ask me about this book next week, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you a single thing about it.

Five out of Ten

Monday, 12 November 2012

'Eisenhorn' - Dan Abnett (Black Library)

I've read a few books by Dan Abnett, over the past few years, and have enjoyed pretty much all of them (seriously, have a look Here, Here and Here and you'll see what I mean). Even the book that I didn't like quite as much as the others had a lot going for it. The one book I've never picked up though was the 'Eisenhorn' omnibus, the one book that everyone has said I should be reading and were surprised that I hadn't.
The reasons for this tended towards the 'Have you seen the size of it?' I can't lug that around on the tube....' end of the spectrum but there's nothing like not having a job to take that excuse away from a man. I finally decided to pick the book up a couple of weeks ago and check it out; I then kicked myself for not reading it much sooner, it's that good.

I've spent a lot of time here talking up what comes out of the Black Library, all of it for the most part very well written. I've probably even spent time telling you what you need to read first. Well, you can take that list, move everything down one place and put 'Eisenhorn' at the top. Do it right now and thank me later.

Far away from the frontlines of the forty first millennium, the ranks of the Holy Inquisition fight a constant battle to ensure that the human Imperium doesn't fall prey to the threats lurking in its midst. Heretics, aliens and daemons; all are the prey of the Inquisition who hunt them down with the utmost zeal and ruthlessness.
Chief amongst the Inquisitions number is Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor of unquestioned purity and devoted to his calling. Eisenhorn will stop at nothing to bring the enemies of mankind to justice and this will force him into some very difficult decisons. Will the demands of his calling force him into collaboration with the very forces that he has sworn to destroy? Why does the daemon Cherubael haunt his dreams...?

The 'Eisenhorn' omnibus collects the novels 'Xenos', 'Malleus' and 'Hereticus'; making it a pretty hefty looking book by anyones standards (certainly by mine anyway). At least that's what I thought until I started reading. To say that 'Eisenhorn' is very easy to get into is a real understatement; pages were turning almost without my realising it and other commitments had to be really pressing in order to get me to put the book down. Sorry life but that was just the way it went... :o) All of this is testament to Abnett's ability to assemble a plot that works superbly on a number of levels.

If you have ever wondered what the regular citizens of the Imperium do, while everyone else is off fighting, then 'Eisenhorn' is very much the book for you. Abnett paints a grim yet compelling picture of worlds whose only purpose is to provide men and machines to feed the demands of the Imperial war machine. What of those that are left behind though? Well, that's where the plot gets really interesting; dealing with people who will do whatever it takes to escape the drudgery of their daily lives, even consort with the ruinous powers. Life has got to be pretty bad to force someone into making those choices, Abnett leaves you in no doubt that life in the Imperium really can be that bad.

All of this makes for an intense plot where the stakes are always high and extreme measures are required to resolve constant threats to the galaxy. Put like that, the plot can seem a little repetitive and I'd say that it probably is. When you're in the middle of it all though it's very easy not to notice this as there is so much going on. 'Eisenhorn' is very much a grim 'James Bond in space' with cackling villains up to real evil while our hero tries to stop them. The higher the stakes the greater the spectacle and this makes for set pieces that have to be seen to be believed. I'm talking about the confrontation with the Titan in particular.

'Eisenhorn' isn't just a 'shoot em' up' action piece though. Abnett takes time to show us who Gregor Eisnhorn really is; in particular how most of the bad stuff that happens to him is through bad choices that he can't help but make. I don't want to give too much away but I'm thinking about the Titan again... Eisenhorn is a deeply flawed character (and credit to Abnett for revealing this gradually rather than all at once) but also a man who believes in his vocation and won't flinch from making those tough choices in order to get the job done. Even at the risk of his very soul. Eisenhorn is a character where you will find yourself telling him not to do certain things but you can't help but respect him for the price that he is willing to pay. Having said that, you can’t help but hate him a little bit for the price that he is willing to have certain of his friends pay…

‘I stared at him levelly. I won’t kill a man just to provide a host.’
‘You did on Miquol,’ he hissed softly.
‘What did you just say?’
‘You did on Miquol. Verveuk wasn’t dead. You sacrificed him for the good of us all. Why would you flinch from doing it again?’

Shame on me then for not reading 'Eisenhorn' a whole lot sooner. I'm already well into the 'Ravenor' omnibus though so I won't be making that mistake again. If you haven't read 'Eisenhorn' already then I'd say don't hang around. It's a masterful chunk of dark sci-fi that anyone will get a lot out of.

Ten out of Ten

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Cover Art! 'Out for Blood' (Kristen Painter)

It's very unlikely that I'll be picking this one up, for the simple reason that it's Book Four and I haven't read the other three... It's not like I don't have other long winded series to get all caught up on first ;o) Doesn't the cover look lovely though?

Gorgeous isn't it? Loads of lovely detail but, like I said, the cover is about as far as I'm likely to get here. Has anyone else read this series?

Here's some blurb if you're interested...

Will she ever be free?

After nearly dying Chrysabelle finds new determination to move beyond life as a comarré and grasp hold of some normality. Until a new task is brought to her doorstep: rescue the child kidnapped by her rival Tatiana, or Mal becomes enemy number one.

But before Chrysabelle can begin that mission, the mayor declares a curfew in Paradise City in order to control its othernatural population. A close friend gets caught and when Mal takes his place, the mayor decides to make an example of him. Running to Mal's rescue, Chrysabelle unwittingly unleashes a power that's lain dormant in him for centuries...

Saturday, 10 November 2012

One for 2013? 'The Holders' - Julianna Scott (Strange Chemistry)

It's that time of year again when ARCs, for next year, come through the door. I probably won't get round to reading all of them so I thought it could be fun to pick some out (here and there) and see if they catch your eye.

If you're a blogger then you're probably like me and keeping at least half an eye open on what Strange Chemistry is up to. Most book bloggers secretly (or not so secretly) aspire to some kind of life in publishing and it doesn't get a lot bigger than being a blogger and scoring your own imprint. That's exactly what Amanda Rutter did and Strange Chemistry has been making a YA name for itself ever since. 'The Holders' will be released in March next year, check it out...

17-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother – from their father leaving and from the people who say the voices in his head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland’s “problem” and details about a school in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper, Becca is up in arms. 

She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece find out information about their family’s heritage and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for—but, they are all, especially Becca, in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

Uninspiring cover but a blurb that's intriguing, that'll do me :o) I can see myself reading 'The Holders' a little closer to the release date (loads of other books that I want to read first) but... yep, I'll be picking this one up. How about you? 

Paul Cornell Launching 'London Falling' at Forbidden Planet

From the press release...



The dark is rising . . .

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal.

Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out. Now, the team must find a 'suspect' who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again.

As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game - and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

Paul Cornell has written some of Doctor Who's best-loved episodes. He has also written a number of comics for Marvel and DC, including The X-Men and Batman & Robin. He has been Hugo Award-nominated for his work in TV, comics and prose, and won the BSFA Award for his short fiction. LONDON FALLING is his first urban fantasy novel.

I'm still half and half about whether I'll be reading this one (Urban Fantasy and I, the same old story...) but thought the launch was worth a mention. Has anyone else here either read 'London Falling' or started? What did you think of it?

Friday, 9 November 2012

‘Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat’ (DC Comics)

Being realistic, I knew (months ago) that there was no way I’d be getting to see the latest Batman film when it came out. Other commitments, and some prohibitive London cinema ticket prices, mean that I am very much a ‘wait until the DVD’ kind of guy. I’ll get round to it eventually and it’s not as if I didn’t read the novelisation in the meantime.
I had another plan though. While such a big deal was being made of the film, why not go back to the comic book where it all began. I read the ‘Knightfall’ series way back in the mid-nineties, enjoyed the hell out of it if I recall correctly, so it was definitely time for a re-read.
With this in mind, I bought the first volume and… promptly forgot about it. That’s the way I roll these days :o) That and the fact that Hope has started pinching my comic books so she can read them herself. I’m cool with that although I am really glad that I sold my ‘Walking Dead’ collection…
Anyway, the book. Did it hold up as well as I’d hoped it would (it had been a long time…)? Well, yes and no. Mostly yes actually.

A rocket attack on Arkham Asylum heralds the darkest days that Batman has ever known. All of his deadliest enemies are in the horde of madmen streaming into the night… And they are all coming for him, all at once. Batman must face the likes of the Joker, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Amygdala and Zsasz if he is to protect the innocent folk of Gotham City and he wasn’t in top shape to begin with. If Batman is still standing at the end of it all there is an even greater mystery to be solved. Who ordered the rocket attack on Arkham Asylum? Who wants Batman brought to ruin so badly? Who is… Bane?

When I first read ‘Knightfall’, all those years ago, it was my first experience of seeing a hitherto ‘invincible’ superhero brought low. That, and the ‘Death of Superman’ storyline, left a real impression on me. Fast forward a few years though and the whole concept feels a little, well… passé. We all know that superheroes don’t die and there’s nothing so big that they ultimately can’t come back from. How did ‘Knightfall’ hold up in the face of my jaded attitude? Surprisingly well actually.

What you have here is a plot that is relentless in terms of what it throws in the way of a Batman who was struggling to get back to full health as it was. The pressure doesn’t stop for a second; if anything it just grows. As soon as one villain is dealt with, Batman must immediately go onto the next one; no time to rest, not even time to catch his breath. A plot like this should feel like a video game with Batman beating his way through the henchmen to get to the ‘end of level boss’. It really should but it doesn’t. For every bad guy (and lady) that Batman takes down you are left in no doubt as to the cost that he pays for it. Some of the artwork looks dated now (at least it does to me, it was the only thing that jarred here) but it does an amazing job of showing you just how drained Batman is after each encounter. You can’t help but feel for him, especially as you know what is looming on the horizon. And talking of which, who is that bloody huge bad guy lurking in the shadows? Why has he got such a big grudge for Batman? This revelation is a little bit of an anti-climax but it’s the resulting fight that we came for and that doesn’t disappoint.

A little extra knowledge of events leading up to ‘Knightfall’ will help you get more out of the story (‘why was the Riddler pumped full of Venom?’ and ‘what was Batman recovering from?’) but the book is surprisingly self contained and doesn’t need an awful lot of background knowledge to dive in and get going. I wish more comic books could be like this (yep, I’m looking at you Marvel). ‘Knightfall’ is a very dark read and nothing short of compelling. As soon as I can, I’ll be picking up the next two volumes to see if that standard is maintained.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Judge Dredd joins World Book Night

World Book Night isn't until April 23rd next year but this is well worth the mention now because, well... Judge Death! :o)

From the press release,

2000 AD is delighted to announce that one of its titles has been chosen as the first ever graphic novel to be featured in World Book Night. Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges is an all-time classic from the pages of the ongoing weekly British comic, and this pocket-size ‘B format’ reprint sees the ultimate lawman of the future encounter his deadliest foes - Judges from a dimension where even life itself is a crime! It is the first time that a graphic novel has been featured in World Book Night, which aims to give away 500,000 books to promote and encourage reading. The BBC has returned as the charity’s media partner, with the book selection to feature on BBC1’s “The One Show” as well as “Newsnight Review”.

Featuring some of the most iconic moments in the strip’s history, this volume includes the original Judge Death story, along with the sequels, Death Lives and The Dark Judges, and the Judge Anderson follow-up, Four Dark Judges. The Dark Judges are the four grotesque lawmen of the Apocalypse: the chilling Judge Fear, the devastating Judge Fire, the terrifying Judge Mortis and their leader - JUDGE DEATH! Twisted alien super-fiends from another dimension where all life has been declared a crime, after wiping out their own world, they plan to bring that murderous mission to Mega-City One! Judge Dredd and his wise-cracking psychic partner, Judge Anderson, must do everything they can to stop the fearsome foursome bringing their brand of justice to the city!

“As one of the most iconic British brands in publishing we are absolutely delighted to be a part of World Book Night ,” said 2000 AD and Rebellion Publishing manager Ben Smith. “Not only is The Dark Judges a classic Judge Dredd story, but the role that comics can play in encouraging reading and boosting literacy is well known. I have no doubt that people who receive one of the free copies will discover a new world of amazing stories, and hopefully will develop an appetite for great British

I can't help but think this has happened because of the fuss made over the number of genre titles in the last World Book Night. When the bottom line is more people getting a chance to read some classic Dredd though... You can't complain really, I'm not :o) If I haven't already read the book by next April then I'll be reading it on the 23rd. You should give it a go if you get the chance.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

‘The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook’ (Black Library) – Quick Thoughts on a Quick Read

You there, soldier! Don't know a las-cutter from a lascannon? Not sure which prayer to the God-Emperor will protect you from enemy artillery fire? Need to know how to survive an explosive decompression on your drop ship, or set up a crossfire ambush in a death world jungle? Better consult the handbook. The Munitorum adepts give us these things for a reason, you know...

Collected for the first time in a single kitbag volume, the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer and the Imperial Munitorum Manual provide a wealth of background on the history, tactics and ethos of the Imperial Guard.

I’ve been racking my brains on this one and I actually find myself really hard pressed to remember a book that has left me feeling more non-plussed than this one. Hang on, there was that book… No, ‘The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook’ still wins (or loses, depending on how you look at it).

It’s not that the book doesn’t do what it sets out to do, far from it. There is a wealth of information on the Imperial Guard, how it works and how the individual Guardsman should conduct himself within its ranks. There’s also some interesting background history to flesh things out; something I always like to see in a book.
I think the problem lies in that fact that ‘The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook’ does its job a little too well for the likes of me. It’s really easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of Imperial Guard and Departmento Munitorum; something that I think is purely intentional on the author’s part (given the nature of the setting). This is all well and good if you’re really into the setting (I’m looking at gamers who have an Imperial Guard army for instance) but for someone who just wants a good story to get into, like me, this approach can be incredibly off-putting. ‘The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook’ is aimed well and truly at the hardcore fanbase and there’s nothing wrong with that, not if you want a book to sell well. An outcome though is that casual fans (me again) and newcomers are going to feel a little alienated and not able to engage with the book. In my case, I ended up not wanting to. You have to admire Black Library for knowing exactly whom they’re selling books to and going for it wholeheartedly. It’s a bit of a shame for the rest of us though. Oh well, it’s not like there isn’t Black Library fiction that I can be reading in the meantime.

I can see ‘The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook’ being a nice little stocking filler for the aspiring Guardsman or Commissar with a point to prove on the tabletop field of battle. For the likes of me though? Well, I really wasn’t that bothered at all.

Cover Art! 'Only Superhuman' (Christopher L. Bennett)

Raymond Swanland is great isn't he? I'm a lot more used to seeing his art grace the covers of fantasy novels so this one almost passed me by. I say 'almost'... There was something about this cover that caught my eye, enough to make me feel that a cover art post was in order. It started with the gorgeously retro laser gun and ended with me thinking how well the artist had captured the feeling of a split seconds worth of action. Then I saw who the artist was and it all made sense :o)

Here's the blurb,

2107 AD: A generation ago, Earth and the cislunar colonies banned genetic and cybernetic modifications. But out in the Asteroid Belt, anything goes. Dozens of flourishing space habitats are spawning exotic new societies and strange new varieties of humans. It’s a volatile situation that threatens the peace and stability of the entire solar system.

Emerald Blair is a Troubleshooter. Inspired by the classic superhero comics of the twentieth century, she’s joined with other mods to try to police the unruly Asteroid Belt. But her loyalties are tested when she finds herself torn between rival factions of superhumans with very different agendas. Emerald wants to put her special abilities to good use, but what do you do when you can’t tell the heroes from the villains?

I'm a little wary of the 'Hard SF' label that I've seen applied ('Hard SF' and I don't play well together) but I think this could be interesting. It's back to the commute next week so maybe I'll take 'Only Superhuman' along for the ride. Has anyone else read it? Would you want to give it a go?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

One for 2013? 'The Mad Scientist's Daughter' (Cassandra Rose Clarke)

I actually posted about this book way back in August but I started reading my advance copy today and find myself in the position of being able to answer my own question a little earlier than next February (the 7th is the release date). One for 2013? Based on what I've read so far, the answer is a resounding 'Yes' :o)

I should hopefully have something a little more in depth for you, next week (I think), but do make a note to watch out for 'The Mad Scientist's Daughter' when February comes round. I think this one is going to be special.

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.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Do we really need the whole story?

So I got back from Malta, early this afternoon (yes, it was a lovely hot 'shorts wearing' break from the blog, thanks for asking!) I had a lovely week doing, well... not an awful lot really :o) Lots of lovely walks through Valetta and Mdina as well as time spent happily at the beach. I'm not too impressed at being back in London (ice in the morning and rain in the afternoon) but that's the way it goes. Thanks to Jamie, Jen, David and Lawrence for supplying some great posts while I was away. I find myself in the position of having to up my game to keep the standard as high as they did! That can't be a bad thing though... :o)

Anyway, I got back home to find this book waiting for me on the doorstep...

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master - but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power...over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis's chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination - and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of another to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?

I'm not too bothered about Star Wars books these days but I do have a whole load of them on the shelves so they will feature here at some point. 'Darth Plagueis' got me thinking though... Given that 'Revenge of the Sith' basically answers all these questions, is there really any point to this book? A bigger Star Wars fan than I might say otherwise but I'm having trouble seeing that point if there is one...

Looking at that blurb also got me thinking about the franchise's need to fill in every single little gap around each of the films (a gap often chiseled out of the tiniest piece of dialogue). Do we really need to know every single little bit of a story or is it better to leave some of it deliberately vague? I'm in two minds but if I had to make the choice I'd veer towards the latter. I like not knowing everything about a fictional world and its history. If a writer gives it all to me, on a plate, then there's nothing to explore and get into. I like to fill in those gaps myself; I find that it really helps me 'live the book' rather than just read it. Don't tell me what happens in that alleyway behind the pub; I'd much rather go off and work it out for myself. If you tell me everything then it's still a cool story (hopefully) but the mystery isn't there any longer and that's a shame.

How about you? Do you like to have it all or do you like to go away and think about all the stuff that you haven't been told? Comments please and any examples of books that do it (or not) for you would be great as well...

Monday, 5 November 2012

Guest Post! Complementary genres – fantasy and heavy metal

Last but not least... :o)

When I sent out a call for guest posts, Jamie Gibbs was the first to reply with an offer of a post on Fantasy and Heavy Metal. I'd never even thought about the relationship between the two so was interested to hear more. Through no fault of Jamie's, I wasn't able to put the album covers onto the blog so have linked to the images on Amazon where I could (have a look, they're gorgeous) Check it out...

First off, a big thank you to Graeme for having me here. His blog was the first one I followed when I first started my own, and he’s been a big inspiration. It’s an honour :)

As a genre, fantasy is able to adapt itself to suit almost any medium of expression, and music is no exception. I'm not talking about the sprawling epic soundtracks that accompany movies like Lord of the Rings, but rather that unique blend of imagery and music that is found in the metal genre. There is something about this kind of music that is particularly open to fantasy influences, and it does a great job at conveying elements of the fantastic through music.

Here are some concept albums and songs that have borrowed heavily from fantasy novels, and a few that have told their own fantasy story exclusively through music.

Dragonland - Under the Grey Banner 

As a genre, fantasy is able to adapt itself to suit almost any medium of expression, and music is no exception. I'm not talking about the sprawling epic soundtracks that accompany movies like Lord of the Rings, but rather that unique blend of imagery and music that is found in the metal genre. There is something about this kind of music that is particularly open to fantasy influences, and it does a great job at conveying elements of the fantastic through music.

Here are some concept albums and songs that have borrowed heavily from fantasy novels, and a few that have told their own fantasy story exclusively through music.

Kamelot - Epica/The Black Halo 

Kamelot are one of my all-time favourite fantasy metal bands, and this dual concept album is some of their best work. Based on the story of Faust by Goethe, Epica and The Black Halo tells the story of a brilliant philosopher who sells his soul to the demon Mephisto for untold knowledge.The narrator eventually falls in love with Helen of Troy and realises soon after that you should be careful what you wish for.

Check out Epica’s “Descent of the Archangel” for the initial bargain struck between Mehpisto and the narrator; a brilliant track that shows off the vocals of former singer Roy Khan and the persuasive nature of the demon in the tale. Kamelot are masters of concept tracks and have a host of excellent songs under their belts including a trilogy of songs about Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a four-part saga about a vampire lord, and the upcoming original concept Silverthorn with new singer Tommy Karevik.

Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle Earth 

Any list about fantasy metal wouldn’t be complete without Blind Guardian, who are heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Nightfall in Middle Earth is a musical version of The Silmarillion; as well as full-blown tracks, Blind Guardian narrate a number of passages from The Silmarillion to connect parts of the story. Vocalist Hansi Kurch sings like a medieval bard, lending an authentic fantasy-like quality both to the songs and the narration.

Listen to “Nightfall” for a flavour of this one; it tells of how the dark lord Morgoth and the spider Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor and brought darkness to the land.

… And the songs

These are just a few of the concept albums that take on fantasy stories in sweeping, 15-track arcs. There are also a load of individual tracks that cover self-contained fantasy stories in themselves:
  • “Dante’s Inferno” by Iced Earth is a sprawling, 17-minute epic number that takes you on a journey through all nine circles of Hell.
  • “Tower of the Queen” by Falconer follows the political upheaval of a plot to overthrow the Queen and her tyrannical rule.
  • “A Storm to Come” by Van Canto is an acapella rendition of the 19th Century Norwegian play, Peer Gynt, which plays with the line between reality and fantasy and how they can be blurred.
The list goes on. Fantasy and metal music blend well together, and it can be a great inspiration when writing your own fantasy worlds. Fantasy as a genre is immersive and filled with imagery; qualities that are shared by the music that it inspires.


Jamie Gibbs is that bearded, caffeine fuelled zombie fan from the fantasy book review blog Mithril Wisdom. He claims to be a full metal head, but likes to listen to Billy Joel when no one is looking. If you want any more fantasy metal goodness, throw him a message on his Twitter.

Cheers Jamie!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Pan Macmillan acquires two new horror novels by British author Adam Nevill

A little bit late (ok, very late, should have gone out on Wednesday) but still well worth a post here.

From the press release...

Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan, has concluded a world rights deal for two further horror novels by British author Adam Nevill with agent John Jarrold. The deal also involves re-publication of Adam’s first novel, BANQUET FOR THE DAMNED, as a Pan paperback. The new books will be published in 2014 and 2015.

Adam Nevill’s novels APARTMENT 16 , THE RITUAL and LAST DAYS have already been published by Pan Macmillan, with HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS due for publication in May 2013. THE RITUAL won best horror novel at this year’s British Fantasy Awards and the Guardian recently dubbed Adam ‘ Britain ’s answer to Stephen King.’

Julie Crisp said: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled that on the perfect day for it – Halloween – we’ve acquired the next two books from Adam Nevill. We have a proud tradition of publishing horror at Pan Macmillan and Adam is a shining example of brilliant – and terrifying – British horror writing!’

Adam Nevill said: ‘I am thrilled about this opportunity to keep building a body of work with a terrific publisher, and one with such a significant legacy in the field of British horror fiction. On Halloween too. Perfect timing. In celebration, sacrifices will be made to strange gods.’

'Britain's answer to Stephen King' indeed :o) I'm a little behind with my reading here (still need to read 'Last Days') but Nevill has already done more than enough to make each new book of his one that I'll be reading. If you're a fan of horror then you should too, trust me on that :o)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Guest Post! 'The Road There and Back Again' (Jennifer Williams)

I love reading Jen's blog, and really enjoyed 'The Copper Promise' too (go and read it), so was chuffed to bits when a cheeky request for a guest blog was met with a 'Yay!' (really, it was)
If there's one thing I've found out this week it's that I'm better at asking for guest posts than I am at saying what should go in them. Lucky for me then that everyone has come up with great posts of their own; posts like this one (coming with its own map, a first for this blog)...

The Road There and Back Again

I do like a book with a map at the front. It’s a fantasy fan thing, I guess. I was once lightly teased on a coach trip because the book I was reading had a map in it, but I think they are rather lovely things – little snatches of imaginary worlds, briefly pinned down to paper. It’s pleasing to think that if you were deposited there, transported via a magical storm or a wilful piece of furniture, that you could even navigate your way to safety, avoiding the parts marked “abandon ye all hope” and “spiders here”.
With this in mind, I wanted to share with you a piece of my own personal fantasy map, a guide to the journey that has taken me from a small child endlessly colouring in dragons with felt-tip pens, to a writer banging out fantasy novels of her own.

At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

This is a weird thing to admit, but when I was very small I don’t think I really understood books. I was an excellent reader, always at the top of the reading group, but in truth I was just processing words. I never really felt connected to the book I was reading; they were just exercises to be completed, and if I didn’t really comprehend what was happening it didn’t matter. I vividly remember reading several books in junior school and having no clear idea what they were about, despite being able to read and understand each word. Weird kid.
 I remember picking up The Lord of the Rings at the library because it was famous, and because it was fat. “Aha,” I thought. “This will be a challenge. Look at all these words to process! I will process the shit out of ‘em.” (That’s probably not exactly what I thought – I was ten years old and convinced the monsters under my bed would eat me if I swore). 

LOTR was really the start of books for me. For the first time I was truly transported by a novel; I remember reading it while on a caravan holiday with my family, and in my head I was more in Hobbiton than Dymchurch. I went with Frodo and Aragorn to another world, and it was a place I wanted to see more of.
    It’s perhaps a little easy to be dismissive of Tolkien now, partly because it can feel old-fashioned – Crom knows these days I prefer my books with a touch more sex and violence – and partly because it has been copied ad-nauseam (when I mentioned I was writing a blog on fantasy, a friend suggested “Why don’t you ask why fantasy hasn’t moved on since Tolkien?” – I don’t agree, which is why I’m not talking about that. I can be slippery sometimes) but it’s clear that LOTR and The Hobbit are often a gateway drug to the larger world of Fantasy, along with D&D, and there’s a good reason for that. Middle-earth is a complete world, and so many of the books I was reading as a kid were about children travelling from our world to another, and then, disappointingly, back again. I was in the middle of reading the Narnia series when I picked up LOTR; once I’d seen Rivendell I never went back through the wardrobe again. Hobbiton was the start of my adventure, just as it was for Bilbo and Frodo, and so the Shire sits at the bottom of my map, awaiting the long trek north.

When You’re Tired of Ankh-Morpork…

The Discworld books are so close to me that I almost can’t separate them from myself. Does that make sense? After all, didn’t I grow up in Ankh-Morpork? (I’m half convinced that my great love of London is partly born of its fictional shadow-sister) Wasn’t Nanny Ogg an aunt of mine? Didn’t I take holidays on the Chalk? Sometimes it feels like I did, and that Sir Terry Pratchett’s books have been with me all my life.    The Discworld is famously a satire of Fantasy, but when I started reading it, it simply was Fantasy. It was dragons and wizards and witches and wild, dangerous magic, and yeah, it was all very funny, but that’s as it should be – I’m sure the Discworld books contributed to my need for human fantasy; that is to say, fantasy where the characters aren’t all po-faced and spouting thee’s and thou’s. People are funny, even when things are going wrong; it’s what makes them so brilliant.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started reading the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber and realised where all that stuff came from; the Thieves Guild, the dodgy taverns. Pratchett may have started off gently lampooning the genre, but in the end the Discworld became the centre of it, for me at least, and consequently Ankh-Morpork sits at the very heart of my own fantasy map.

A City Unconvinced By Gravity

We skip forward now. A line of red dots marches across the map, and as we zip past the wildly differing landscapes we take in such sights as Derry and Castle Rock (never really human places, don’t you believe it), and the doom-laden city of Lud on the edge of Mid-World. We see the crumbling mansion of the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair in the distance (a terrible, dimly lit place), and onwards through the Six Duchies to the stalwart fortress of the Drenai empire, until we reach somewhere altogether… different. In short, reading Perdido Street Station by China Mieville was like being smacked upside the head with a giant mallet made of drugs. I have a thing for weird cities (you may have noticed) and New Crobuzon was the Weird City. I read it just as I was starting to take writing a little more seriously, and it showed me that fantasy can be anything; that the language of dreams is infinite. It took what I thought I knew and stuffed it full of dreamshit, and so New Crobuzon crouches at the gateway to new and unexplored territories.

I am the Watcher on the Walls

I first picked up a copy of A Game of Thrones a couple of years ago, just before they announced a TV series was going into production. At the time I was feeling a little jaded about Fantasy as a genre, having read a number of books that felt rather cold, the characters quite distant. At the same time I was in the midst of a full-blown obsession with the video game Dragon Age: Origins. If you are unaware of this prince of RPGs, it’s a game that gathers up traditional fantasy and gives it a sexy little cuddle; the story is great, the characters become your best mates, and there’s an extraordinary amount of depth. I was looking for the novel equivalent of that, and while A Game of Thrones is definitely nothing like Dragon Age, it did have characters that ripped my heart out and trampled on the juices.

A Song of Ice and Fire is fantasy given a thick coating of meaty-flavoured realism, and the magic, when it does appear, is dangerous and unpredictable. This was the human fantasy I’d been looking for; people make bad decisions (come on, Ned, you twat), they do terrible things to each other, and they have sex, and they argue and bleed and eat, just like real people. Almost all the characters are morally dodgy and George R.R Martin continually turns you on your head – the essentially good characters do terrible things, like the honourable Catelyn Stark treating her step-son like an unexpected turd in her cereal, and the horrendous bastards end up being your favourite characters (I’m looking at you, Jaime Lannister). The series’ most iconic figure must be Tyrion, and aside from him always having the very best lines and generally outwitting everyone else, I think he represents the books’ whole ethos: for your traditional fantasy hero he’s the wrong shape, and he’s aligned with the most evil family in the book, but Tyrion is a wonderful collision of sharp wit, scheming cleverness and a genuinely good heart underneath it all. Ask anyone who’s read ASOIAF, and Tyrion will either be their favourite character or at least in the top three, and we’re not even sure if he’s supposed to be a goodie or not. This is a long way from Tolkien. And so are we. The winding road north has taken us through lands dangerous and startling, and now we’re heading up into the frozen wastes. Who knows what we could meet up there? So let’s fill our pockets with lembas bread, oil our best swords, and head deeper into fantasy country.