Friday 31 May 2013

No seriously, this really is the last blog post here :o)

For those of you who still pop back and have a little browse (hello!) I thought you'd like to know that I can now be found blogging over here...

It's a very new blog (one post old...) which needs a few cooing noises, and possibly the underneath of its chin tickled, before it gets up and starts walking by itself. Fancy heading over and saying hello? Of course you do :o)

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!