Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Guest Blog/Blog Tour! Lawrence Santoro (Editor of 'Tales to Terrify')

What better way to do Halloween here than to be a part of a blog tour for a book that features a number of my favourite horror writers? I also got to find out what happened to one time blogger Harry Markov (look, there's his name on the cover). Enough of me though, editor Lawrence Santoro has very kindly written a piece about how childhood terrors never really remain in your childhood; they stay with you for a long time to come... Check it out,

THE DRAGON I KNOW by Lawrence Santoro

Every school year at 5th and Spring Elementary ended with a neighborhood celebration held on the school’s playground and called the “Strawberry Festival.”

For us, Hebhardt, Mahler, Davy Brown, Missie and Trissie, the Talking Magpies, that that was THAT for the school year. No more Feinerfrock, no more dreaming out the windows while John Levy did long division at the blackboard, no more Patty Bullock baton-twirling, no more Hazel Gensler cooties. The Festival was it, over and out, summer’s kickoff.

We spent weeks in advance going around the neighborhood selling Festival Ticket Books—four strips of heavy paper stapled together, each strip with 5 stubs, each stub worth 5 cents. This was Festival currency used to buy baked goods, things from the “White Elephant” table (one year the table yielded a large red book from the 1880s, “Wood’s Natural History.” This told of the Reverend J.G. Wood’s wanderings among African and Pacific Island tribes. Pictures galore, graphic steel engravings of native women doing native women things, wondrous images of cannibal tribes doing cannibal things. Reverend Wood became our favorite man of God; his illustrations causing us to reassess the twin Magpies, Missie and Trissie Fritz. Reverend Wood’s life work was, of course, snatched away when the parents actually opened the book. Pardon the digression.) There were pony rides for the kiddies, merry-go-round rides for bigger tots, really good, finger-scalding French fries, music—if you liked that stuff—and there were steaming dry-ice frozen bricks of ice cream with a runny dollop of strawberries ladled over it.

And cartoons in the gym. A full hour. The three-story cavern still smelled of sweat, socks, and disgrace. A million wooden folding chairs clattered, the projector ratcheted away in half-light and tossed an image barely bright enough to see. The sound track bounced around backstage and on the tile walls and up among the steel rafters, it played around the stowed rings and up-cranked basketball nets, and got to your ears with so many echoes of itself that the lips on the screen had forgotten what they’d said.

Still, it was an HOUR of cartoons, watched, assessed with chums, made loud fun of as they played out; like Saturday matinees at the Strand except we knew these, we knew what was coming, when to respond, when to warn, when to chorus-with. Of course we did. We’d been there every year. They never changed, most were scratchy black and white from the 1930s. Still, we cheered when Heckle and Jeckle’s smart-aleky faces appeared. We loved Droopy Dog. And everyone, bar none, even Principal Ash—ticket-taker, projectionist and monitor—loved the anarchist, Woody Woodpecker.

The reason I came to the show every Festival evening, was “The Brave Little Tailor.”

I had seen it at my first Festival. I was six, new in the neighborhood, a kindergarten dropout from my old place across town. I hadn’t yet started at Fifth and Spring, so that first time I was most likely alone among strangers or, if not alone, then with a parent. Parents, though, never reckoned the difference between what they saw and what I did.

“The Brave Little Tailor” came at the end of the show. Woody and Droopy, Heckle and Jeckle, Farmer Alfalfa, and Andy Panda had come and gone. Then, in black and white stop-motion animation. “The Brave Little Tailor” begin: It is Fairy Tale time. The land is threatened by a dragon. Nightly, the beast waddles from its cave in the hills and eats local sheep. The usual rewards are offered. Brave huntsmen, knights go forth. They are eaten. Yes, eaten.
Finally, the smallest person in the film, a tailor’s apprentice not much bigger than I, says he’ll try it. Instead of armor and shield, he wears his tailoring clothes. Instead of arrows, sword, and spear, he stuffs poison into a sheep’s skin and stitches it up quick as that. When night falls he carries the stuffed sheep into the dark and scary woods, up the hill, and to the mouth of the dragon’s cave where he leaves the skin. He hides behind rocks, waits and waits. The night gets darker, scarier, the moon goes behind clouds. Finally, the little guy grabs a stone, goes to the cave mouth, and tosses the rock into the dark.

Out roars the dragon. It bellows, rears up, its wings spread—big pointy bat-wings flap and blow a gale that nearly knocks our hero down—the dragon snorts fire and steam at the little tailor who retreats. The dragon turns, leaps, rages. He is terror itself. I nearly faint. Then it sees the poison pelt, sniffs it, picks it up, plays with it, teases us… Sniffs it again, then eats it in a gobble.

Like/that, the creature knows something’s wrong. He goes funny. He turns round and round, staggers. His movements become even jerkier. He staggers past the little hero. He’s forgotten him. All the dragon now wants is water, something to cool the poison fire in his belly. He buries his snout in the nearby stream and drinks. He drinks and drinks. The little tailor can’t believe how much he drinks. The dragon stomach swells and swells. The tailor is amazed. Amazed. The dragon’s gut is so large, round, and tight, his stubby feet can’t reach the ground. He is a scaly balloon of a dragon, now. Finally…

Here I must stop. My factual memory is that the dragon died. That was all. Dragon dead. Tailor returns to village, claims his reward. Happy. End of film.

The fact is, I never found out what happened to the critter until maybe fourth grade. I hid my eyes. Yearly. I was not only afraid of dragons but of balloons. An about-to-burst-dragon balloon was really more than I could take. So, hide the eyes, stuff the ears. End of story. Dragon dead.

That’s was a beginning, see? The reason I tell this is because the dragon became a companion.

Through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, to this day he was expected, a constant, and a presence in the narrow space between the wall and my bed. Wherever that was.

I knew—I know—he’s there. He waits. Tonight I will sleep with my back to that narrow darkness between bed and wall. I know if I see him… Well.

But, if you don’t see him; he can rear up, his spiky ears can touch the ceiling, he can spread his wings and roar silent at the night, but he can never, ever harm me. That much I know of the rules of terror. He knows them too. An agreement. I am his to take but he is mine, and will feed and nourish me with life and shivers for as long as we both shall be.

Thanks for reading. Sometimes, you see, sometimes our fears, our little terrors born in childhood do become the things on which you build your life. That’s all. That’s all.

Award-winning writer and narrator, Lawrence Santoro began writing dark tales at age five.

In 2001 his novella “God Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate Him” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. In 2002, his adaptation and audio production of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat,” was also Stoker nominated. In 2003, his Stoker-recommended “Catching” received Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s 17th Annual “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” anthology. In 2004, “So Many Tiny Mouths” was cited in the anthology’s 18th edition. In the 20th, his novella, “At Angels Sixteen,” from the anthology A DARK AND DEADLY VALLEY, was similarly honored.

Larry’s first novel, “Just North of Nowhere,” was published in 2007. A collection of his short fiction, DRINK FOR THE THIRST TO COME, was published in 2011. He lives in Chicago and is working on two new novels, “Griffon and the Sky Warriors,” and “A Mississippi Traveler, or Sam Clemens Tries the Water”.


If you've missed the rest of the tour, and want to catch up, here's where the tour stopped over the last week...

October, 22nd: Innsmouth Free Press
October, 23rd: Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews (
October, 24th: Kaaron Warren (
October, 25th: Sci fi & Fantasy Lovin' News and Reviews (
October, 26th: Fantasy Book Critic (
October, 29th: Wag the Fox (
October, 30th: Angela Slatter (

 There's also a competition going on where you can win a PDF of 'Tales to Terrify'. Find 'Tales to Terrify' on Facebook or Twitter and tell em' what scares you the most. It's that simple. The competition does end today though (not sure exactly what time) so I'd get a move on if you want to enter...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

From My Bookshelf… ‘Stardust’ (Neil Gaiman)

This isn’t a review, at all, by the way; more a case of me gushing about a book that I love :o)

It was Christmas 1999 when I picked up my copy of ‘Stardust’ and it was quite by accident. I’d somehow found myself with two copies of ‘The Unseen University Challenge’ (Christmases eh…?) and just enough time to nip into town and swap one of them for something else. The only reason I picked up ‘Stardust’ (well, apart from the blurb of course) was that it cost exactly the same as ‘The Unseen University Challenge’. A straight swap then with no need to go digging into my pockets for change that I knew wasn’t there anyway.
How could such a random choice of book become one so close to my heart? As I’ve read more by Gaiman, over the years, the only answer I can come up with is that it’s because he wrote it. There are loads of great writers out there but only one Neil Gaiman.

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall - named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining...

‘Stardust’ is one of those books that I plan to write about but end up just gazing at the monitor trying to get my head round it instead. I caught myself doing that just now so really need to keep plugging away at this post or I will stop again.
The bottom line for me is that everything about ‘Stardust’ is just beautiful; the idyllic setting (on both sides of the Wall), the language, everything. The story is simple enough to get you hooked and with enough twists and turns to keep you reading (just as you start to think this is all a little too simple… it isn’t at all) It’s done so well that I could read this book over and over again (and do) and still be just as engrossed as I was that first time almost thirteen years ago.

I think what I love most is the way that Gaiman tells a fairy tale that is traditional and very modern all at the same time; just by using the odd word here and there. Like this for example,

‘Or almost gone. There was a dim glow pulsing from the middle of the hazel thicket, as if a tiny cloud of stars were glimmering there.
And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said , ‘Ow’ and then, very quietly, it said, ‘Fuck,’ and then it said ‘Ow’, once more’

It’s a lovely little touch that lets the reader know that the story is well aware of where the reader is (it doesn’t all have to be the other way round).

So, ‘Stardust’. A book that led me on to read a whole load more Neil Gaiman (which indirectly led me back to Michael Moorcock) as well as a book that became a very watchable film. I’ve got a lot to be grateful for as far as ‘Stardust’ is concerned. If you haven’t read it already then you really need to do something about that.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Cover Art! 'The Annotated Sword of Shannara' (Terry Brooks)

Because it just arrived in the post, this morning, and I thought this would tide things over until I can expand on my review of the 'Eisenhorn' trilogy (currently three words, 'I loved it!') Here you go,

I don't know... It looks very nice but I can't help but think that, well... It's the 35th anniversary of the book being published! Surely they could have come up with a cover that looks like it's happy about the fact. I'll admit that I'm not sure what that would involve something with a little more energy than this. Cool looking sword though :o)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

New Books in the Post.

Some interesting looking books have turned up in the post over the last couple of days. Check 'em out (along with a brief glimpse of Hope's foot, she was really interested in the photos being taken)...

The theme of the day seems to be 'authors that I've never read' and that always feels quite exciting. I probably should have read Lackey and Farmer long before now but it never quite happened. You can blame some awful cover art (Lackey) and some really uninspiring blurb (Farmer) for that. Has anyone here read any of these three books? 'A Feast Unknown' looks like it has the 'pulp vibe' that I'm into at the moment ;o)

'Malice' looks like it could satisfy my cravings for a book full of men hitting each other with swords (signing on can do that to a person...) so will more than likely be read before its December publication. Not too sure about the 'dark evil rising once again' though. Check out the blurb...

A black sun is rising … Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

The only one I'm not sure of is Paul Cornell's 'London Falling'; nothing to do with the book itself, more about my growing ambivalence towards all kinds of Urban Fantasy (I couldn't even finish 'Whispers Underground' and I've really enjoyed those books in the past). Have some blurb anyway...

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.

Do any of these books take your fancy?

Saturday, 27 October 2012

'The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: The Project' - John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra (Rebellion)

It's a fact of comic books (a law even in the case of some of the larger publishers) that no-one really dies, not if bringing them back will mean a good story and a few more comics sold. Ok, there are probably a few exceptions out there ('Walking Dead' anyone?) but these are exceptions that invariably prove the rule. Superhero A didn't actually die, their body was kept in stasis by a hitherto unknown alien species. Superhero B did die but it turns out that he was from a parallel universe so that's ok; we still get to keep the one that we're used to. What 'great' ways to tug at the heartstrings but not have to develop new characters, not ones that matter to the reader anyway...

You've probably guessed that I'm not a big fan of this plot device in comics. Put it this way, if Eric Powell ever brings Goon's Aunt Kizzie back to life then I will quit readinf there and then. I thought that the characters on 2000AD would be safe from this wanton resurrection. After all, here is a comic that kills its characters in such ways that they are never coming back (apart from Judge Death I guess)... Doesn't it? Turns out I was wrong. One of 2000ADs most iconic characters is back in the land of the living and I hadn't realised that he was dead in the first place...

If you're a mutant, in 22nd century Britain, then your best chance of escaping the ghettos is to sign up with the Search/Destroy Agency and become a bounty hunter ('Strontium Dog'). Johnny Alpha was the deadliest Strontium Dog on the books and a keen fighter for mutant rights until his death (saving his kind from genocide).
Years have passed and word on the streets is that Alpha didn't actually die at all. Friends race to find his body but there are those who are equally determined to make sure that the job of killing Alpha is done properly this time. Plans are underway to finish off the mutant population for good and Johnny Alpha is the only person who might be able to stop them...

This probably goes without saying but I'm going to say it anyway. While 'The Project' works very well on its own (especially the latter parts) you really need to have read around the circumstances of Alpha's 'death' before getting stuck in here. It's not that 'The Project' doesn't fill in the gaps for new readers; it does this very well indeed, giving you enough to be going on with but not getting in the way of the story itself. If you're anything like me, you will need to have seen Alpha's sacrifice in order to fully get why it is such a big deal to the friends he left behind. I'd never read about Alpha's death so 'The Project' felt a little hollow on that score...

The story itself is fairly straightforward although Wagner does supply his readers with enough little hints to keep things interesting, certainly enough for me to want to pick up the next volume. Talk about a cliffhanger to leave things on...
Part of what Wagner does so well here lies in his treatment of Alpha's return. Again, it's all done very simply but Alpha's resurrection isn't a superhero one. No, Alpha literally has to start all over again and who can't sympathize with that? Not only that but Alpha has brought something back from beyond the grave; something that sits in his head hurling abuse at him and is clearly designed to catch our interest. It worked for me, I really want to know what is going on here...

The rest of the plot is nothing new (returning from the grave and ethnic cleansing in sci-fi, nothing we haven't seen in other books) but is examined with a real refreshing honesty that you can't help but be drawn in by. Couple this with artfully placed intrigue and gunfire and you can't really lose.
Talking of art, this is a difficult area to talk about as I can only say (once again) that Carlos Ezquerra's art is superb and it's all too easy to just sit there and stare at it. Ezquerra is 2000AD, make no mistake about it.

'The Project' is perhaps a little too familiar, in terms of subject matter, to make for a truly essential read. How Wagner treats that subject matter though... That made for an engrossing read and a story that I am eager to see conclude.

Friday, 26 October 2012

‘Star Wars – The Essential Reader’s Companion’ – Hidalgo, Trevas & Carlisle (Titan Books)

Some books defy analysis because they are so well written that you can’t stop thinking about them in order to come up with any kind of conclusion. At the other end of the scale, other books defy analysis as they are so poorly written as to be unreadable. ‘Star Wars – The Essential Reader’s Companion’ sits firmly in the middle of this chain but I have to say that my feelings towards the book are more negative than positive…

You see, ‘The Essential Reader’s Companion’ may look lovely on the coffee table (some lovely illustrations inside as well) but all it amounts to is a collection of synopses for every Star Wars novel written to date. Well, give or take a few books I guess. What can I say about that…?
Each synopsis is very detailed (a good overview of each story) but that’s about it really and surely any Star Wars fan thinking about picking this up will have a large chunk of the actual books already. That surely punches a large hole in the objective of ‘The Essential Reader’s Companion’ (being a handy reference guide). I personally had a little trouble remembering certain events in Timothy Zahn’s ‘Vision of the Future’ the other day. I could have picked up the ‘Reader’s Companion’ (yay for review copies!) but you know what? I just picked up my copy of the original and found what I needed to know.

That is my big problem with this book, it just feels redundant before it’s even had a chance to sit on the shelves for a few days (it was only released a week ago). It’s not telling us anything that we didn’t know already; it feels like a cynical attempt to fleece fans of a little more of their money. I’m a big reader of the ‘Daily Mash’ and one of their articles described ‘Star Wars’ as ‘the memory of a franchise now consisting largely of insults to its memory’. Books like ‘The Essential Reader’s Companion’ just confirm that for me…

If you have a massive collection of ‘Star Wars’ books (that you’re not going to read) and you’re looking to make some space then ‘The Essential Reader’s Companion’ would be a great way to free up room and keep a vague guide to each book. If you don’t have all the books and want to fill in some of the gaps then I guess this book could do a job there as well. Other than that though, I see no reasons to get yourself a copy of ‘The Essential Reader’s Companion’; not when most of this stuff is online anyway…

SF Gateway to publish Michael Scott Rohan's 'Winter of the World' trilogy (and I'm very pleased to hear it!)

When I answered those questions for Jo Fletcher Books (link down the page) I mentioned that some of my favourite books were Michael Scott Rohan's original 'Winter of the World' trilogy. Regular readers of the blog will already know this; I spoke about the first trilogy Here (might need to reappraise my opinion of the 'tedious descriptions of smithcraft' though...) and the second series over Here.

These books can be found on Amazon (ridiculously cheap) and I'd always recommend them. The other day, I was told that SF Gateway will be publishing the first two books ('The Anvil of Ice' and 'The Forge in the Forest') as ebooks early next month. Thanks for the heads up Simon! ;o) Shame they're going for the plain yellow cover rather than the gorgeous Ian Miller originals though.

I'm a self confessed fan of these books but they are worth the read anyway, no doubt about it. It's long past time I had a re-read so I'll be picking up 'The Anvil of Ice' and 'The Forge in the Forest', aiming for reviews in early November. You Kindle owners could do a lot worse than head over to Amazon and grab yourselves copies (£2.99, if I didn't already have second hand copies then I'd fork out the cash).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

'Sandkings' - George R.R. Martin

“Quiet,” said Wo. “Listen to me. This is your own doing. Keep your Sandkings well, and they are courtly ritual warriors. You turned yours into something else, with starvation and torture. You were their god. You made them what they are. That maw in your cellar is sick, still suffering from the wound that you gave it. It is probably insane. Its behaviour is… unusual. You have to get out of there quickly…”

‘Sandkings’ was one of those stories that I’d heard loads about (I think it was even made into a TV show or something?) but never got round to reading until the ‘Dreamsongs’ collection came out a few years ago. With the US paperback release of ‘Dreamsongs’ (I don’t know what the fascination is with trade paperbacks but that’s another post…) I thought it might be time to revisit this tale and see what I got out of it second time round.

The premise is simple. Simon Kress is an animal collector always looking for new pleasures in what his pets can do to each other,

‘The piranhas could always eat one another if he were detained longer than expected. They’d done it before. It amused him.'

Kress’ latest acquisition (a tank of insectile ‘Sandkings’) offers him new opportunities to visit cruelty on a species that literally worships him as a god. What will happen though when Kress’ actions clearly mark him as a devil…?

‘Sandkings’ is a science fiction/horror crossover that does more to showcase GRRM’s flair for the latter than it does the former. The story takes place on an alien world but we never find out much about it or its technology. Making up for this is a very detailed examination of specific xeno-biology that gives the reader a very thorough grounding for what is to come.

This is a tale of horror, first and foremost, both in Kress’ ability to torture his animal charges (and what this ultimately drives him to) along with just how the Sandkings eventually strike back. Martin ramps up the tension superbly with lots of unspoken warnings and the ‘faces’, in the Sandking castle letting us know that something horrible is looming on the horizon. Martin is very good at this, drawing the reader in and leaving them hanging until just the right moment. Just when you think you can’t hold your breath (metaphorically speaking) any longer, Martin not only hits you with a moment of violent terror but then lets you know that it wasn’t the climax at all. Things are going to get even worse…

‘Sandkings’ operates along these lines up until the end and that is the beauty of this tale. Martin spends so much time convincing you that things are going to get worse that the brief ray of hope that he offers is enough for you to grab it. That’s just what he was after, the ending was always inevitable but that slight change in pace means that you won’t see it coming until it hits you.

The only thing that slightly grated for me was that while Kress is portrayed as very intelligent (almost psychotically so) he does have a nasty habit of getting incredibly drunk at precisely the wrong times. You know, the times when he could just get out and leave the house far behind him. Or call for the one person who could help to come and help him. It felt like Martin had written a character who was far too clever for his own good and needed some way to keep him in the house until what needed to happen happened. A little bit contrived then.

Apart from that, ‘Sandkings’ was a gripping read that I had to finish, even though I’d read it before and knew what happened. GRRM isn’t just an excellent writer of fantasy; he’s a dab hand at the horror as well.

One for 2013? 'The Six Gun Tarot' (R.S. Belcher)

The end of the year is in sight and (once again) that means I'm starting to find advance copies of next years books landing on the doorstep. And so the 'One for...?' posts were born; a little 'heads up' here and there highlighting books that I think could be worth taking a look at :o) Books like this one for example...

Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.

I got to admit that this one caught my eye because of the great time I had reading Lee Collins' 'The Dead of Winter', I'm really after reading more fantasy type stuff in a Wild West setting :o) 'The Six Gun Tarot' looks like it's taking things a lot further than 'The Dead of Winter' though and I'm cool with that, the weirder the better :o)

'The Six Gun Tarot' will be published in January next year (don't know the exact date, not that publication dates seem to matter these days...) and I'm hoping to give it a go a little before then, how about you? Is this a book that you can see yourself picking up?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

They interviewed me...

I've been really busy today putting up a bed (then taking it down because it was wrong, then putting it back up again, then...) so totally forgot to mention that the very nice people at Jo Fletcher Books let me answer a few questions for a weekly feature that they have going on. If you click Here you can find out exactly what happened to me in that nameless temple under Whitechapel and how I saved Christmas not long afterwards. Actually, those are answers for another day but what you get in the meantime is pretty cool too ;o)

'Joe and Me' & 'Thin Men with Yellow Faces' (This is Horror)

Apologies for the break in posting! There has been an awful lot of other stuff going on these past few days; I wish I could say that I've built up a nice little backlog of 'read books' to review but I haven't had time for that either... Things might be like this for a little while, bear with me a little bit while I try and figure out how to fit the blog around a whole load of new things that may (or may not) be happening in the near future. Life eh? :o)

Anyway, I may not have not been able to get much reading done but I was able to polish off a couple of chapbooks from the 'This is Horror' line. I haven't read many chapbooks but there's something instantly appealing about a bite sized read that you don't have to invest a lot of time in but promises a great return. When the authors in question are David Moody ('Joe and Me'), Simon Bestwick and Gary McMahon ('Thin Men with Yellow Faces') then I was up for the read even more; regular readers will know that I have enjoyed their work before.
Chapbooks are, by their nature, very short affairs and I found that this meant that I had to combine the two titles to get a decent sized post. In some respects, it's more of a 'thoughts' post than the kind of review I'd normally write; the length of each chapbook didn't leave me with time for much else than thoughts really. They were both entertaining enough reads although...

It was 'Joe and Me' that left me feeling a little non-plussed when I finished it. On the face of it, Moody gives us a likeable protagonist who will do anything to save his son from... I'm not going to tell you exactly what, suffice it to say that Simon's dilemma is one that the reader can really get behind, what would you sacrifice to save a loved one? When you see what the outcome feeds into though... That's when it didn't quite work for me. The story is written well enough but it fleshes out another story that worked brilliantly precisely because the true reasons for the catastrophe were never really known (only hinted at as a possibility) They are now though and that mystery is no longer a mystery. 'Joe and Me' killed something off, in a story I really enjoyed, and I can't help but feel a little resentful about that...

'Thin Men with Yellow Faces' though, that was more like it. McMahon and Bestwick's tale of evil lurking beneath the streets of a run down council estate makes for compelling reading as their heroine is faced with a choice that will damn her whatever she decides to do. 'Thin Men' also has you asking questions of its villains, creatures who commit unspeakable acts but only do so because they truly believe that not acting would lead to far worse. What is the right thing to do when the life of a child is at stake? Add some utterly grotesque imagery, along with some chilling moonlit chases, and you have a chapbook that takes time to make you think while it's turning your stomach. You can't ask for a lot more than that.

 A bit of a mixed bag then, as a series opener, but there is enough here to suggest that 'This is Horror' are onto something that could be pretty special. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The 'I've got my copy of Red Country!' Update Post!

For no other reason than that I've finally got the book in my hands and it is gorgeous :o)

I've still got to read 'The Heroes' though, my 'blogging break' (in a couple of weeks) looks like it just got booked solid :o)

If you're wondering what's coming up a little nearer to now though... I'm working my way through 'Tomorrow The Killing' (which is excellent) along with 'Ecko Rising' (also very good). I'm also looking at the vast tome that is 'Star Wars: The Essential Readers Companion' and am wondering how I'm going to be able to pick it up. Hope just likes to look at the cover and say, 'there's Yoda!' repeatedly... :o)
I've also got a couple of comic books and audiobooks that should get a mention as well. Plenty of cool stuff happening here then :o)

What are you reading?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

‘Predators’ (2010)

My reading schedule, for the week, has been turned upside down due to, well… All sorts of stuff really :o) Everything has been put back by a day so there will still be reviews for this week! In the meantime, I finally got to watch ‘Predators’ the other day (only two years after it was released, that’s pretty good for me…) so here’s a few of my thoughts to tide things over until reviews start up again tomorrow. I’m not going to bother with a blurb, partly because I’m sure you’ve already all seen it but also because…

I really enjoyed ‘Predators’, mostly because it didn’t mess around with the classic plot (not like ‘Predator 2’ did although I enjoyed that for different reasons). You know what I mean, a group of hardened killers in the jungle suddenly discovering that they share it with a killer that’s even more hardened than they are. If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it ;o)
Basically rehashing the original does come with its own problems though. Our ‘heroes’ may not know what’s going on but we do, having all seen the original, and we know what’s coming as a result. Royce’s climactic fight, with the last Predator standing, was very cool but borrowed a little too much from Dutch’s fight (in the original) to make it really compelling; I’d seen it all before… Taking the action ‘off world’ is a relatively decent way to get round this as it asks new questions of our team which does lead to interesting developments (although the ‘revelation’ about Edwin wasn’t much of a revelation, saw that one coming). Adding a little bit of variety to the Predators didn’t do a lot for the plot (they don’t really make much use of their different skills) but having more than one keeps the film moving along nicely. You can kill one but the threat remains as deadly as it was. Hanzo’s sword fight with a Predator made for a nice touch though, expanding on the fight (between Billy and the Predator) that we never got to see in the original.
Some of the alien ‘fauna’ makes for decent viewing as well with the hunting beast’s attack making for a few gripping moments (the CGI looked convincing to me). I did wonder though if a trick was missed not having a few Aliens hiding in the trees, especially after you see those bits of skin in the cages…

Not a bad film at all then but maybe a little too similar to the original to really stand out in its own right. ‘Predators’ was a lot of fun to watch in the meantime though, how could it not be when you have heavily armed soldiers going up against alien hunters with Laurence Fishburne cackling away in the background?

Monday, 15 October 2012

‘The Slithering Shadow’ – Robert E. Howard

So, after having a little moan (yesterday) about how the makers of ‘Conan’ stayed well away from Howard’s original tales, I thought it would be only fair to follow that up with a little look at one of those very tales. You know, in the whole spirit of ‘You see? I was right!’ or ‘Actually, they had a point…’
I’ve already covered a few ‘Conan’ tales here and there, on the blog, so this time round I took the step of, well… opening up one of my collections and pretty much picking a random tale that I’d never read before. The lucky tale turned out to be ‘The Slithering Shadow’, a pulp tale of a seemingly deserted city and the nameless horror that lurks in its depths.

Before I talk about whether ‘The Slithering Shadow’ could be filmed; a few words about the story itself… I really enjoyed the read but it did remind me why I always cherry pick a story at a time here rather than going through the whole collection (I’ve only ever done that once, never again…)
While there is a lot to be said for ‘The Slithering Shadow’, it does run very much along the same lines as a lot of the other ‘Conan’ stories that I’ve read (which isn’t all of them to be fair). Conan and a female companion (usually a different one to the previous story) battle hordes of faceless soldiery and at least one evil monster in a foreboding setting. Conan wins through, although sometimes at great cost, and continues his journey to the next big fight. In the case of ‘The Slithering Shadow’, the formula proves to be a winning one (albeit the same one). The setting is intriguing enough to make you want to step inside the gates of Xuthal and see what waits. Conan facing off against the Xuthal guards makes for some tense reading while the creature Thog may not have a great name but does bring a real sense of cosmic terror to the climax of the plot. There is without a doubt plenty to enjoy here; I’m glad that I picked it up even if it wasn’t necessarily offering anything new. I wonder if Moorcock's 'Dreaming City' of Imrryr was inspired by Xuthal, there's enough there to suggest a link of some sort.

The real question though is whether this short story is ‘filmworthy’ or not. ‘The Slithering Shadow’ is only thirty five pages long so probably wouldn’t make for an entire film (although if they ever did a ‘Conan’ TV show…) but I reckon there is plenty enough here to make for a twenty minute, or even half hour, sequence in a film. Great setting, loads of action and a ‘toad creature from hell’; definitely worthy of a moment in film and I’m still left a little perplexed why moments like this didn’t make the cut. Is there a ‘rights’ issue or something going on? I don’t know…

One for 2013? ‘Red Moon’ (Benjamin Percy)

I’m a sucker for business cards at the best of times so when this came through the door, on Saturday, I was immediately interested…

On first glance my initial thought was, “Another Urban Fantasy novel? The world needs another one of those…” I was tempted to ring the Help Line number though, I still might (just to see who picks up). There was nothing with the card though (no press release or anything like that) and it was a Saturday so… I did a little digging to find out what ‘Red Moon’ (the title on the other side of the card) was all about. A little Googling later and I find that ‘Red Moon’ will be released by Hodder in May 2013 and looks to hopefully be a little different from a lot of Urban Fantasy. I’m hoping so anyway as the blurb looks interesting. Check it out,

They live among us.
They are your neighbour, your mother, your lover.
They change.

Every teenage girl thinks she’s different. When government agents kick down Claire Forrester’s front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero.

President Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy.

So far the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge, and the battle for humanity will begin.

Like I said, the blurb has intrigued me enough to give ‘Red Moon’ a go (it reminds me of 'The Strain'). How about you?

If you’re after finding out more about Benjamin Percy, have a click Here for his website.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

‘Conan the Barbarian’ (2011)

Every so often, a brief window of opportunity comes along where it’s not just kids DVDs being played on the TV and I get a chance to watch something that doesn’t involve Winnie the Pooh or Pingu. Ok, Pingu is quite cool (in very small doses) but even so…
One of those windows arose, a couple of days ago, so I took the opportunity to finally give last year’s ‘Conan the Barbarian’ a go. Now here’s a film that I haven’t heard a single good word about. The fact that it was for sale on the discount shelf, at Tescos, speaks volumes considering the film is only just over a year old. I went for it though. I mean, how wrong could I go with a film that only cost four pounds and features one of my favourite fantasy characters pretty much doing what he does best?

The answer is, well… I don’t know really. On the one hand, I watched ‘Conan’ and thought, ‘well, that was pretty much what I expected.’ On the other hand though, I watched ‘Conan’ and wanted to give it a good slap before sending it home to think about what it had done. Quite a confusing film then.

I think the biggest issue for me was the film makers decision to ignore all the previous ‘Conan’ continuity (Robert E. Howard’s works, ‘Savage Sword of Conan’, you name it…) and basically rehash the 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘Conan’ film. There are a lot of excellent tales there that are waiting to be told on the big screen; why the big deal about a film that is essentially one that we have already seen before? It was a little disappointing, to say the least, to realise that I could have stuck with the original and not been any worse off. Making a couple of references to what Conan did, in Howard’s tales, didn’t come off as paying homage so much as it did remind me what this film could have incorporated. This was quite galling and I couldn’t help but wonder why Howard’s tales weren’t utilised more, is it a ‘rights thing’?

To add insult to injury, a lot of the dialogue is mumbled so you don’t really know what’s being said, only that such dialogue ends with Conan doing something violent to someone or bedding Tamara. There are some well-choreographed fight scenes that are fun to watch and really, that is what Conan is all about so I couldn’t complain too much about the film. It would have been nice though to hear what people were saying while this was happening… And what was with the whole ‘Conan must fight the ‘end of level boss’ before he can face Khalar Zym’? That really made things feel contrived when there was actually quite a smooth and straightforward path for the plot to follow.

But it was fun to watch though that’s the confusing thing. The filmmakers stayed true to Howard’s vision in that they kept things fairly simple and concentrated on Conan fighting stuff, both other men and some giant thing with tentacles. It was fun to watch and the backdrop to it all looked pretty spectacular albeit not really Conan’s world at all. You can’t just say, “here’s Cimmeria and here’s the coast of Zingara, definitely Hyboria then”, not when other parts of the continent seem to be called other things entirely. I wasn’t too keen on that either, if it’s going to be Conan’s world then make it Conan’s world.
Talking of Conan though, I thought Jason Momoa pretty much nailed it with the whole ‘brooding, violent and ready with a quip’ approach. I liked that :o)

‘Conan the Barbarian’ was a fun way to spend an evening then but anything more than that? Nope, not really. It looks like my wait for a decent ‘Conan’ film will take a bit longer…

Saturday, 13 October 2012

‘The Hobbit’ (Illustrated Edition) – J.R.R. Tolkien, Illustrated by David Wenzel & Adapted by Charles Dixon (Ballantine Books)

We all know the story of ‘The Hobbit’ so I’m not going to take up your time with some pointless blurb ;o) If you don’t know the story then there’s a film, looming on the horizon, that will take care of that for you (or you could just read the book…) and that means publishers are scrambling to find anything related that has been previously published and can be wheeled out again. Books like this illustrated edition for example (a book where the cover looks like it has been reworked to look more like the forthcoming film).

This illustrated edition was previously published by Eclipse Books and Del Rey, in the US, while Harper have published it in the UK. This book does come with six new pages of artwork though (don’t ask me which pages they are, I never read the original…) so could be worth your time if you’re looking for a new copy.

As an adaptation, this book works very well for the most part. The main elements of the plot are all covered and, in a move that I particularly appreciated, the poetry is kept to a bare minimum. I used to love reading it when I was a lot younger but, these days, I find that it gets in the way of the actual story so it was a bit of a treat not to have to deal with it. It’s also interesting to be reminded of some of the smaller details in ‘The Hobbit’ and wonder if they will make it onto the big screen. Dixon is very faithful to these details and I was left wondering if the film will show us the mountain giants (throwing rocks) like the book does.

I couldn’t help but wonder though if Dixon was perhaps a little too faithful to the detail. A lot of the panels are crammed full of descriptive passages that the illustrations convey perfectly well by themselves. This leads onto the feeling that the text and illustrations are both fighting to make themselves heard (or seen) instead of working together and getting on with it. You could say that this leads to a more engrossing work where you have to take the time to really uncover the detail. I however felt that this end result was more counterproductive despite there being an awful lot here to get your teeth into.

The illustrations are gorgeous by the way. David Wenzel really captures the look and feel of Middle Earth on paper; it’s not the film that we’re all used to but no less absorbing for all that. I’ll be keeping my copy and can see myself flicking through the pages, every now and then, and just getting lost in how lovely it all looks.

Adaptations are always a little difficult to sum up but ‘The Hobbit’ (Illustrated Edition) does the job that it has set out to do. Perhaps it’s a little too faithful to the original text, a move that doesn’t quite suit this format, but it’s a lovely book to read and I can see it whetting appetites for the film when it arrives.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 12 October 2012

‘Ravenor Vs Eisenhorn: Pariah’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

If you were about yesterday then you will have seen me going on about how it can kill things, just a little bit, when a tie-in novel makes a big deal about how it’s tying in with a game rather than just concentrating on telling a tale. If you weren’t here yesterday, I’m not going to link to the post in question because that post is right under this one. Go and have a read if you like, I’ll still be here when you get back ;o)
What really bothered me about this approach, in ‘Dark Vengeance’, is that Black Library usually deliberately avoid it in their other books; preferring to actually tell a tale rather than use the book as something else that you should buy with the game. Black Library books usually concentrate on the setting and, for the most part, they do it very well.

It was good then that the other book I’d been reading, at the same time as ‘Dark Vengeance’, was Dan Abnett’s ‘Pariah’. Long term readers here will know that Abnett has serious form for writing top notch novels set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Click Here, Here, Here and Here to see what I mean. I’ve always meant to pick up the ‘Eisenhorn’ books but have been put off by the size of the omnibus edition (not a practical commuter read for me). That, in turn, has led to my never checking out the ‘Ravenor’ omnibus either. ‘Pariah’ though, that’s a different story. At a mere three hundred and seventeen pages long the book sits comfortably in the hand and the blurb suggested something sufficiently ‘stand alone’ that I could get into quickly.

 ‘Pariah’ does make reference to earlier events, something fans should get a lot out of as it continues on from the last two trilogies. However, the adoption of a new point of view character, as the lead, makes this a book that anyone should be able to pick up and get into fairly quickly. It’s the same universe but seen through different eyes and I can see that adding a refreshing twist to familiar surroundings, especially when Abnett gets going with some of the more intricate ‘ins and outs’ of the plot.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit, here’s the blurb…

In the city of Queen Mab, nothing is quite as it seems. Pariah, spy and Inquisitorial agent, Alizebeth Bequin is all of these things and yet none of them. An enigma, even to herself, she is caught between Inquisitors Gregor Eisenhorn and Gideon Ravenor, former allies now enemies who are playing a shadow game against a mysterious and deadly foe. Coveted by the Archenemy, pursued by the Inquisition, Bequin becomes embroiled in a dark plot of which she knows not her role or purpose. Helped by a disparate group of allies, she must unravel the secrets of her life and past if she is to survive a coming battle in which the line between friends and foes is fatally blurred.

The bottom line is that I couldn’t put this one down, despite a little overindulgence (on Abnett’s part) in the descriptive passages surrounding the City of Queen Mab. There really is only so much that you need to know about alleyways before you just want to get on with the plot. Queen Mab isn’t a character by the way; it’s the name of the actual city, that one totally threw me for the first few pages…

‘Pariah’ is a story full of twists and turns; something that really kept me hooked. Just when you think you have a handle on proceedings, Abnett will throw you something right out of left field that sends the plot careening in a brand new direction. There are some huge surprises here that I never saw coming. The beautiful thing is that the plot is such a roller coaster ride (you would not believe what happens to Bequin in the space of just a few days) but comes together to make perfect sense by the very end. Not only does it all make sense but Abnett still finds time to round things off with another big question and the introduction of perhaps the most evil sidekick of all. I can’t wait to read ‘Penitent’ now.

Bequin makes for a most suitable character to see the story through. There is something almost Dickensian about this orphan who is left to fend for herself with the aid of several mysterious benefactors (who always seem to turn up at just the right moment…) The introduction of a strange woman living in a derelict manor hit the mark, in that respect, as well. I did have a little moan, earlier, about the amount of time spent describing Queen Mab but there are some deliciously atmospheric moments that really capture the feeling of just how deadly Bequin’s surroundings can be. I’m thinking about the Basilica Saint Orphaeus and what happens underneath.

The plot isn’t just twists and turns although readers expecting that confrontation between Ravenor and Eisenhorn will be disappointed (it’s the first book in a trilogy, give the plot a chance…) There’s plenty of action to make up for it though with more traitor Marines than you can shake a stick at and at least one Marine who might not be a traitor at all (I don’t know).

‘Pariah’ almost has it all, there is certainly very little not to like about this book and I had a great time reading it. You can count on Dan Abnett not to disappoint and I’m really looking forward to ‘Penitent’ when it is released.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 11 October 2012

‘Dark Vengeance’ – C. Z. Dunn (Black Library)

Anyone following me on Twitter yesterday (what do you mean, you don’t follow me?) would have seen me itching for a book full of big swords and a dragon or two. I was at the Job Centre and it didn’t go that well (although it does serve me right for waiting in completely the wrong room)…
I couldn’t find anything that I was happy to dip into, for an afternoon, until I realised that I just needed to do a little bit of fine tuning :o) Keep the swords but add Space Marines toting big ol’ guns and blowing chunks out of each other… That’s what I was after, something light but incredibly violent.

That’s not to say that all Black Library books are like that. If you read the blog you’ll already know that I think BL books are, on the whole, very well written with an unfair ‘tie-in fiction’ stigma attached. ‘Dark Vengeance’ does fall foul of that stigma though, being written to tie in (see what I did there) with the release of Games Workshop’s ‘Dark Vengeance’ game. It’s also a hardback book that’s only a hundred and twenty pages long and costs £12. It’s a fun read, great way to wind down after the morning I had, but I’m not sure it was that much fun (especially when the ‘Storm of Magic’ novellas were being sold at a third the price, in paperback). Enough of me moaning about money though, here’s the blurb…

The Dark Angels are among the foremost Space Marines, the First Legion of old. Devastated millennia ago by a dreadful schism, the Dark Angels are constantly on the hunt for the mysterious Fallen, former brothers who have turned from the light of the immortal God-Emperor and embraced the dread powers of Chaos.

Newly ordained Company Master Balthasar of the Dark Angels leads his forces to the world of Bane's Landing, the resting place of the ancient and powerful Hellfire Stone, in pursuit of the Chaos Space Marines of the Crimson Slaughter. Kranon the Relentless, the evil lord of the Crimson Slaughter, seeks to use the stone to summon forth his daemonic masters and usher in an age of darkness. As the Dark Angels race to stop him, the scene is set for a mighty conflict between the loyal Balthasar and the traitor Kranon.

A book that is only a hundred and twenty pages long isn’t really going to be about the plot and perhaps it’s unfair to expect that (I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more though). What we have here is a book that sets its stall out early, with a very simple premise and what the stakes are, and then leaves the characters to throw awesome amounts of firepower at each other. If you’re basing a book solely on what can happen in a tabletop war game then you’re not going to get a lot else. It is certainly entertaining though with lots of pyrotechnics and action lighting up proceedings. Dunn can certainly write a combat scene with the best of them and you can almost feel the punches that these superhuman warriors through at each other.

Having said that, Dunn does make the time to (briefly) introduce us to the main players and let us know what they are all about. There are some interesting hints that I wouldn’t mind seeing expanded upon in future novels (like what can drive a Chapter of Loyalist Marines to turn traitor, evil trickery is the answer…) but time constraints mean that these hints remain just that.

Again though, the blurb talks about ‘discovering the characters behind the models’ and ‘the story behind the scenarios’. Maybe Black Library are just being very honest about what this book is but the rest of their books don’t normally feel this detached from the setting. I know you shouldn’t place too much store in a blurb but, this time round, the blurb kind of killed it for me. If I’m reading about something based on a game, I don’t want to be reminded all the time that it’s a game (and structurally, ‘Dark Vengeance’ very reminds us where it came from). I want to get into the story and I couldn’t quite do that here despite how entertaining Dunn makes it.

‘Dark Vengeance’ is a tough one to call then; thoroughly entertaining but perhaps a little too honest for its own good. I like that in a book though, at least you know what you are getting here.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Cover Art - 'The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight' (Jack Campbell)

For no other reason than that I have a touch of 'spaceship nostalgia' tonight and this cover reminds me of the spaceships that I used to see on Asimov novels (and the like) around thirty years ago. That really makes me feel old :o( Anyway...

Not only does the cover take me back to the days when spaceships looked cool, they just did, but 'Tarnished Knight' looks like it's a standalone novel (requiring minimal knowledge of the rest of the series). No having to catch up for me then :o) I'll move this one up the pile accordingly...

'New' JRR Tolkien epic due out next year

Ok, it's not new at all. This from The Guardian...

'HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien's never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien's story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory's tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur's reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king's battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war.'

'For the book's editor at HarperCollins, Chris Smith, the news that Tolkien had finished work on The Fall of Arthur was an unexpected surprise. "Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter's Biography and JRR Tolkien's own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day," he said. He described the previously unpublished work as "extraordinary", saying that it "breathes new life into one of our greatest heroes, liberating him from the clutches of Malory's romantic treatment, and revealing Arthur as a complex, all-too human individual who must rise above the greatest of betrayals to liberate his beloved kingdom".
These are the "new" poem's opening lines:
"Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking."
Not being a poetry fan, I can't see myself picking this one up to be honest. How about you?
Nice timing with the publication date as well. Just in time for all those people, who have just finished reading (re-reading?) 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings', who will be looking for something new to read. Can't help but wonder if they'll be a little disappointed though...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Guest Posts Needed! (An Open Invitation)

I'll be taking a little blogging break, in a couple of weeks time (no real reason, just need a break from it), and thought I'd leave the blog to run wild and free just like I did the other week.  I've already done a weeks worth of competitions so didn't want to repeat the same old thing all over again. This time, I thought I'd do something with the blog that I've never done before (well, not on this scale). For one week only, I'm turning the blog over to anyone who wants to post about anything sci-fi/fantasy/horror related. Do you want to talk about your favourite book/comic/film/whatever here? That's good. Do you want to have a little moan about something genre related? That's good as well. Are you thinking of something else entirely? Well, that's ok just so long as you're not one of those people who offer guest posts and then give you something about online poker (yep, I'm looking at you)

This one is primarily open to writers and other bloggers (as they're the ones you normally find doing all the writing) but if you're a reader who wants to have a go at posting them I'm cool with that as well. Just drop me an email (address at the top) and tell me what you're thinking of. If I like it then I'll be back in touch and we'll take it from there. The only thing is that I'd need your post by the 28th of October. If you fancy helping a blogger out then send me an email ;o)

Monday, 8 October 2012

‘Morning Glories: Volume Three’ - Spencer, Eisma, Esquejo (Image Comics)

Yep, I decided that I really ought to review ‘Morning Glories: Volume Three’ before I take on the ‘Hobbit’ graphic novel. After all, this poor book has been sat on the shelf for a few months now; it’s waited for long enough…

The big question though is why I’ve held out on reviewing this title for so long. Especially when I enjoyed the first two books so much (reviews Here and over Here).
The bottom line is that I really should have re-read those first two volumes before tackling this one.
In its comic book format, I’m guessing that the ‘Morning Glories’ plot must be fairly easy to keep up with if you’re only waiting a few weeks at a time for the next issue. If you’re like me, and waiting for the trades, though… Well, that’s a few months wait, at least, between each book. I was lucky enough to be able to read the first two books really quickly but the wait for the third book (and all the other books that I read in the meantime) meant that I really didn’t have much of a clue what was going on when I picked up Volume Three. That’s my advice to you guys then; if you’ve got your hands on Volume Three then you should really take some time out to read the preceding books before you get going.

I persevered though because, well… ‘Morning Glories’ has proved to be a really intriguing read, posing questions that I really want to see answered. I wasn’t going to let something like ‘a few months between books’ stop me working this one out :o) It took me a while to get my head round this one but here I am, ready to go.

So, we’ve already established that your experience of Volume Three will depend on how recently you’ve read the last two books. Once you get past that you will find that this book is, structurally, very similar to Volume Two. The further you get into the book, the more you find out about the mysterious ‘Morning Glory Academy’, certain of its students and the sinister faculty staff that runs it. The more you find out though, the more questions Spencer poses for you; there is a lot more to both the plot and the Academy… or is there? I’m not sure. Answering a question with another question is a great hook (hey, it got me) but it does raise questions over the shelf life of the series. After all, there’s only so long that you can string out this kind of approach before you run out of meaningful questions to ask.
Funnily enough, I’m more than ok with ‘Morning Glories’ being a story that will eventually end instead of being spun out. I’d much prefer to see a plot that remains true to itself rather than being diluted by the urge to make a few more dollars. We’ll see which way it goes but I’m happy to stick around in the meantime.

I digressed a little bit there, sorry. The latter half of the book really begins to let you know what (or least ‘part of what’) this setting is all about. When you see what is hidden in the grounds of the school, and where it sends Casey, not only will things start to become clear (in terms of certain ‘flashbacks’) but you will find yourself with yet another hook that will have you back for more if you’re anything like me. If you’re still not sure then the cliff-hanger, right at the end, will definitely ensure your return.

There is a lot to get your head around then but there’s no question that it’s all worth the effort. The main cast all get a little more depth and I challenge you not to feel for them as they struggle to survive against the backdrop of a school where strange laboratories are hidden in the woods and ‘sacrifice’ is discussed in dark corridors (all beautifully rendered by Joe Eisma). I’m still in for the long haul, I’ll just make sure that I read the first three volumes before tackling Volume Four.

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 7 October 2012

An Apologetic Competition Winner’s Post…

Because I find myself full of apologies today :o( Here goes…

So yeah, sorry that this post has been over a week in coming. Not only were things a little crazy here (after Majorca) but, when we got back, I thought I’d pack as many reviews as I could onto the blog to make up for a ‘review light’ month in September. I should hopefully have a few more to come this week but still, sorry this post didn’t happen over a week ago. Thanks for waiting!

And as far as ‘waiting’ goes, an apology is owed to those people waiting on their copies of ‘Stormdancer’. I didn’t realise that these hadn’t gone out but, now that I do, I’m on it like, erm… I’m on it :o) These should hopefully be posted to you this week.

And talking of ‘posted’, Adam Wallace… Your copy of ‘The Guv’nor’ is going in the post tomorrow morning. I am really sorry that it has been sat on my bookshelf since late August. Apparently, I’m much better at posting competitions on the blog than I am posting the books myself… :o(

Phew! That’s me unburdened. Right, onto the winners of all those competitions that I set up to run while I was away. Here goes…

‘Black Bottle’ (Anthony Huso)

Caleb Billman, Michigan, US

‘Existence’ (David Brin)

Kasey Azevedo, California, US 

‘Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice’ (Stephen Baxter)

Emma Mason, Nottinghamshire, UK
Joanna Sawka, London, UK
James Holyland, Leicester, UK

The ‘No Man’s World’ Trilogy (Pat Kelleher)

Phil Darling, Stowmarket, UK
Keith Phillips, Birmingham, UK

Nice work there everyone! I’ll be sending your details across, to the publishers, tomorrow morning so hopefully you won’t have too long to wait until your books arrive :o)

In the meantime, I’ll be doing my utmost to pack the coming week full of more reviews for you. There’s a couple of Black Library books that will definitely feature and I’m working my way through ‘Whispers Underground’ as well. Fingers crossed, I might even take this afternoon off and crack open one of those big thick books that I don’t have the time to read anymore. Hmmm…
There will also be at least one comic book/graphic novel featured. My heart says, ‘ooh, read the ‘Hobbit’ graphic novel’ but my head says, ‘that copy of ‘Morning Glories Vol. 3’ has been sat on the shelf for far too long’. Could go either way, which one would you pick?

See you tomorrow ;o)

Saturday, 6 October 2012

‘The Only Good Dalek’ - Justin Richards, Mike Collins (BBC Books)

The Daleks are undergoing a little bit of a renaissance in my house these days, not only because of the latest series of ‘Doctor Who’ but also because Hope has developed a real fascination with science fiction robots. If she’s not running around with her C3P0 and R2D2 toys then she’s yelling ‘Exterminate!’ or ‘Delete!’ at people in the street. Oh well, any excuse to get another piece of Dalek/Doctor Who merchandise into the house… :o)

‘The Only Good Dalek’ is another title that I’ve had my eye on for a while but have only just got round to securing a copy. All good things come to those who wait though, or do they…?
I’ve already reviewed ‘The Dalek Project’ here, I had a few issues with it, and was hoping for better things from ‘The Only Good Dalek’. This graphic novel offered more of the same problems though and I was left wondering if this is a format that BBC Books really want to pursue as it is. This is a real shame considering that the strips from ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ have been collected rather nicely by Panini, IDW are doing some good work here as well).

Blurb copied and pasted as I’m having a bit of a lazy Saturday over here…

Station 7 is where the Earth Forces send all the equipment captured in their unceasing war against the Daleks. It's where Dalek technology is analyzed and examined. It's where the Doctor and Amy have just arrived. But somehow the Daleks have found out about Station 7 - and there's something there that they want back! With the Doctor increasingly worried about the direction the Station's research is taking, the commander of Station 7 knows he has only one possible, desperate defense. Because the last terrible secret of Station 7 is that they don't only store captured Dalek technology - it's also a prison. And the only thing that might stop a Dalek is another Dalek!

‘The Only Good Dalek’ has proved to be a very difficult review to write, as I really wanted to avoid repeating what I’d written for ‘The Dalek Project’. That’s more or less impossible though in terms of the artwork (Mike Collins is doing it again here) so I’m just going to jump right in and quote what I said last time,

‘I’m really half and half on Mike Collins’ artwork which can come across as rushed at times (almost scribbled) which works in terms of showing how urgent the situation is but also just ends up looking, well… rushed really.’

As with ‘The Dalek Project’ though, Collins does throw a few gems out there for us to come across as we read. He’s a dab hand at space battles for a start and he certainly doesn’t shy away from showing us the number of grisly ways that a person can die fighting the Daleks.

The plot itself is, again, very straightforward with a couple of little twists that aren’t all that surprising but do pop up at just the right time i.e. just when it looks like things might be running out of steam. For all the action and excitement though, and there is loads, I couldn’t escape from the feeling that there wasn’t actually an awful lot happening. If I had to sum the book up in one sentence it would be ‘Daleks cannot be trusted and space stations are places where it’s very easy to get lost’. An awful lot of running around happens here, something that I think comes across a lot better on the screen as oppose to a comic. The fact that I can sum the book up in one sentence would rather suggest that there isn’t an awful lot here to get your teeth into.

But it’s the Daleks though! :o) Despite my misgivings about the book, as a whole, it’s still all too easy to get into just how relentlessly evil these aliens are. I found that it was very easy, sometimes, to put my misgivings to one side and just watch the Daleks doing what they do best, Richards’ Daleks exterminate all other life with the best of them.

And before I finish here, I’ve got to say that if ‘The Only Good Dalek’ is canon (and as a BBC book I’m pretty sure that it is) then there is such a thing as a ‘good Dalek’ and the Doctor knows it as well. I don’t know what that was all about in the book… I always swore that I’d stay well clear of canon so I won’t do it again :o)

‘The Only Good Dalek’ is another fun read that doesn’t quite stand up to more determined scrutiny. It’s still worth a look (whether you’re a fan or not) but you should bear that in mind before giving it a go.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

'Unfettered' (Edited by Shawn Speakman), Table of Contents

I've been looking forward to this collection ever since it was announced and the race is now on to find a job so I can actually afford a copy to call my own (it's now available for pre-order). I mean, I need a job to pay for lots of other things as well but... you know :o)
In the meantime, have a look at the table of contents, looks good doesn't it? Any collection with a Tad Williams tale in it gets my vote but there are a few others here that catch the eye. There are also a few reminders here about authors that I still need to check out (*cough*MarkLawrence*cough!*) How about you?
  • The Shade of Allanon by Terry Brooks (a Shannara tale)
  • Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks (a precursor to the Word/Void trilogy)
  • How Old Holly Came To Be by Patrick Rothfuss
  • River of Souls by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (a Wheel of Time tale)
  • The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams
  • Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey (a precursor to the Kushiel series)
  • Dogs by Daniel Abraham
  • Mudboy by Peter V. Brett (a Demon Cycle tale)
  • Nocturne by Robert V. S. Redick
  • The Sound of Broken Absolutes by Peter Orullian (a Vault of Heaven tale)
  • Untitled by Geno & R.A. Salvatore
  • Keeper of Memory by Todd Lockwood (a Summer Dragon tale)
  • Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn
  • The Lasting Doubts of Joaquin Lopez by Blake Charlton
  • The Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne (an Iron Druid tale)
  • Select Mode by Mark Lawrence (a Broken Empire tale)
  • All the Girls Love Michael Stein by David Anthony Durham
  • Strange Rain by Jennifer Bosworth (a Struck epilogue tale)
  • Unbowed by Eldon Thompson (a Legend of Asahiel tale)
  • Untitled by Naomi Novik (a Temeraire tale)
  • The Jester by Michael J. Sullivan (a Riyria Chronicles tale)
  • The Duel by Lev Grossman (a Magicians tale)
  • The Unfettered Knight by Shawn Speakman (an Annwn Cycle tale)

Friday, 5 October 2012

‘Man Plus’ – Frederick Pohl (Gollancz)

This read has been a long time coming and by ‘a long time’ I do mean years. I first saw ‘Man Plus’ when the ‘SF Masterworks’ series originally kicked off (about twelve years ago I think) and the blurb and cover caught my eye even then. I never picked it up though, for a whole number of reasons including 'no money’ and ‘I actually prefer reading Fantasy over Science Fiction, I think I’ll check out the Fantasy Masterworks series instead’.
That pretty much remained the case up until just recently when I found myself reading more ‘SF Masterworks’ (with still more waiting to be read on my shelves) and thought, ‘what was the book that had a picture of a man with bug eyes and wings on the cover?’ Readers of the blog will already know that I found a copy of ‘Man Plus’ in Forbidden Planet and took it away with me for a week in Majorca. The bottom line is that I thought it was superb but I should give you a little more detail than that so here goes…

According to computer predictions, colonisation of Mars is mankind’s only hope of avoiding extinction; the Man Plus Programme is an exercise in biological engineering that will pave the way to humankind being able to live on the Red Planet.
Ill luck made Roger Torroway the test subject for the Man Plus Programme but everything else that was done to him was deliberately designed to give him the best chance of survival on Mars. Underneath that monstrous exterior though, Torroway still carries an all too human capacity for suffering and this could mean the difference between life and death for more than one species… 

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I picked up ‘Man Plus’ and started reading. It really was a question of the blurb and cover looked intriguing so I finally decided to act on it and give the book a go. I certainly never expected to be gripped in the way that I was, doing my utmost to make every second of reading time count so I could enjoy the book for that little bit longer. Surprise read of the year? Quite likely. My copy of ‘The Space Merchants’ has just been moved up the pile on the strength of this read.

Out of all the planets you’re ever likely to come across in science fiction, it has always been Mars that has drawn readers in. Whether it’s a fear of alien invasion or the pioneering urge to conquer its surface, the concept of Mars has grown to monstrous proportions and it’s interesting that Pohl has chosen to tackle this concept with a monster of his own. Let’s face it, he didn’t have to. While the science of Torroway’s transformation is plausible enough (both the reasons and the results) I’ll bet he could have come up with a solution that didn’t involve Torroway being transformed to the extent that he is. There is an element of ‘reclaiming Mars’ (or not letting it overawe us) here that softens the hard science and makes things a little more personal. If I’m being completely honest it also makes things that much more accessible for the likes of me.

The actual conquest of Mars is almost a side note to the proceedings although there is the hint of a third party being involved which ends things on a very interesting note. ‘Man Plus’ is more about getting Torroway to Mars and how his humanity is forced into conflict with the changes being made to his external appearance. It all makes for compulsive reading as you can’t help but ask yourself how you would react in the same situation. Once you start doing this you can’t help but root for Torroway to come through each of his trials, especially the ‘tiny little operation’ that almost kills him. It’s interesting to note the forces at play in these moments, one entirely unaware of the other but both working to make sure that Torroway has the best possible chance of success. As a character, Torroway is pretty bland to begin with and Pohl uses this façade to great affect, cracking it open again and again to get those primal responses.

And Torroway really does have a lot to face up to. Not just the countless operations that he has to go through either (all rendered dispassionately, a move which brings home the full impact of these). There is also the fact that his gradual transformation is estranging him from a wife that is already having an affair with the man working on Torroway’s new eyes. The new eyes makes for an interesting side plot in itself (how can Torroway see the truth if someone else has determined what he sees and doesn’t see?) but the President’s intervention, as well as the unseen narrator, goes to show just how important Torroway and his mission are.

‘…do you know what the history books are going to say about me? ‘Fitz-James Deshatine, 1943-2026, forty-second President of the United States. During his administration the human race established its first self-sustaining colony on another planet’. That’s what I’ll get Roger, if I get that much – and you’re the only one who can give it to me.’

‘Man Plus’ is a high stakes tale of science with a human heart beating underneath an exterior that is anything but. It’s a lot more than that though as our ‘unseen narrator’ proves. No matter where Torroway goes it sees his every move and will do whatever it can to help; it is the reason the ‘Man Plus’ Programme was created in the first place and it has its own ulterior motives for lending assistance.
Pohl drops plenty of hints as to the identity of the narrator but they are deliberately lost in what is made of Torroway as his trip to Mars grows ever closer. If you’re like me, you won’t find the revelation to be that much of a surprise but what is really clever is how Pohl keeps it under wraps for an entire book. Great stuff, a ‘story within a story’ that adds to the urgency of the overall plot.

I’m very glad that I finally gave ‘Man Plus’ a go and would say that if you’re thinking about picking it up, don’t wait for as long as I did. I’d definitely say that it is a Masterwork with its superbly executed concept matched up with tight plotting and a lead character whom you will empathise with.

Ten out of Ten

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Blog Tour - Steve Bein's 'Daughter of the Sword'

Today I'm pleased to be a brief stopover on Steve Bein's 'Daughter of the Sword' blog tour (a book that I'm into pretty much as we speak, review next week I reckon). Here's the blurb if you haven't come across this book already...

Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.

The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.

But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her. 

Like I said, look out for my review next week but here's Steve now with 'The Fighter in the Writer (Part One)'...

They say you should write what you know, and I guess it’s fair to say I know fighting.  I’ve been in the martial arts for about twenty years, earning black belts in a couple of arts and dabbling in about two dozen others.  So with all of that under my belt—white, at the moment; I’ve returned to Brazilian Jiujitsu after many years off the mat—I want say a bit about what all the training has done for me as a writer. 

There are some obvious benefits.  Daughter of the Sword is about—duh—swords, and since I spent a little time studying kendō, iaidō, and Florentine sword fighting, I also have a sword rack in my basement.  It’s handy to have a katana or two in your house when you need to know just how much space your samurai character has to swing in an average bedroom. 

More important is the experience itself: not just the techniques but the feel of the sword’s weight in your hands.  Writers can try to fake it, or else they can go out and do some research—as I needed to do, for example, when it came to my police detective’s pistol work.  I think readers can tell when you’re faking it, so I made sure I got to spend some time with cops shooting pistols.  (It really helps when one of your martial arts buddies is also a range officer.)

But that stuff only helps when writing about the weapons themselves.  Martial arts have helped me write plenty of pages without fight scenes, because it turns out earning a black belt and getting published have a lot more in common than you might think (and certainly more than I’d ever expected).

First and foremost is simple pain tolerance.  Everyone knows writing demands a certain degree of stick-to-it-iveness, but before I started this game I didn’t really understand how much of that was discipline and how much of it was the sheer refusal to acknowledge you’ve been hurt. 

I got a very strange piece of luck right out of the gate: the first story I ever submitted was a winner in the Writers of the Future contest.  Because of that, I got the idea that getting stories accepted was normal.  It was only afterward that I discovered just how many rejection letters I would collect before publishing my next short story.  I’ve got enough of them now to wallpaper my office.

A natural inclination for a lot of writers is to take each one of those rejections like a kick in the crotch.  Fortunately for me, my best friends used to kick me in the crotch on a weekly basis.  For years.  I even paid money for the privilege.  It’s not the sort of thing most guys are thankful for, but I’ll tell you this: rejection letters ain’t so bad after that.

Editors will beat you up in this game.  Critics will too.  The trick, to quote Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, is not minding that it hurts.  And full-contact fighting will teach you that trick lickety-split.

Cheers Steve :o)

If you're following Steve's tour (or want to catch up), here is where he has been and where he will be over the next few days,