Sunday, 30 June 2013

'The Sigillite' - Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Nick Rondeau – This first Black Library review is for you seeing as you were wondering whether there would be any here :o)  There will be more to come.

There used to be a time when I would listen to Black Library audiobooks as a way of escaping the hell of the daily commute into work. They really helped, there's no better way of shutting out an awful journey, on the underground, than by listening to far future tales of a time that is far worse. The constant echo of gunfire helps as well!
It has almost been a year since I was last in work so, these days, Black Library audiobooks are something that I listen to before I go to bed. Sometimes, depending on the day I've had, I'll even find the sound of gunfire soothing enough to send me to sleep. It's funny how things change isn't it?

Chris Wraight is a BL author that I've always had a lot of time for so I was pleased to see that his 'promotion' to the Horus Heresy line (first with a short story contribution and now with his debut audiobook) shows that a lot of people clearly think the same. I might well be the only person left who wishes that Chris would write more Warhammer Fantasy stuff but there you go. He is worth reading either way.
I'd been particularly interested to hear this story as it deals with a character who may well be at the forefront of everything happening, in the Heresy, but is also a character that we don't know an awful lot about. Malcador the Sigillite may well be the Emperor's right hand man but what does he actually do when he is at the office? Chris Wraight's 'The Sigillite' tells us and in some style.

Before we get into the story itself, I ought to point out that I am reviewing an MP3 file instead of the usual CD. This was a deliberate choice (Hope broke the CD tray on the computer) but it means that I have no idea who played what part... So for now then, lets just say that the production and narration is at least on a level with some of Black Library's better audiobooks. I certainly found the story very easy to get into on that score. Talking of which, onto the story itself…

The galaxy is divided, but while his armies prepare for battle the Emperor himself remains curiously absent. In his place stands Malcador – legendary Sigillite, First Lord of Terra and regent to the throne – now arguably the single most powerful man in the Imperium. Army officer Khalid Hassan reports back to the Palace after a disastrous secret mission into the wastelands of Gyptus, but soon learns an awful truth about the destiny of mankind. Where do Malcador’s true loyalties lie?

On the surface, ‘The Sigillite’ is perhaps a little too straight forward for my tastes although, with a running time of 75 minutes, that’s understandable. Dig a little deeper though and you realise that ‘The Sigillite’ is more of a character study than an exercise in ‘twists in the tale’. It’s here that Wraight excels, giving us more of a glimpse into Malcador than I’ve come across anywhere else. This being the case, ‘The Sigillite’ is a tale for fans rather than the casual listener. I fall into the former set and I had a great time.

Without giving too much away… Not only do you get to discover just what Malcador is all about, Wraight ties this into our own past as well lending as sense of real poignancy to the proceedings with the hope that Malcador is trying to give humanity for the future (as well as what the Emperor is up to while he is ‘away’). If you’re a fan then you will know just what kind of world Terra is ten thousand years after Malcador’s demise and it makes things all the more sad that we know it’s coming while he doesn’t. Or is Wraight planting seeds that will come to fruition and make the universe of the 40th millennium a better place after all? I don't think so either but maybe there’s some hope yet…

If you’re a fan then you should have either listened to ‘The Sigillite’ by now or be waiting for it to turn up in a future anthology. Either way, make sure you listen to/read ‘The Sigillite’. It’s a tale that you need to get into.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Cover Art - 'Requiem' (Ken Scholes)

I read 'Lamentation' years ago (really enjoyed it from what I can remember, it's been a while) but never got round to reading the others. That will change very soon as I suddenly realised that 'Requiem' was published just recently. I loved the whole 'Dying Earth' vibe, back then, so expect a flurry of reviews in the near(ish) future. In the meantime, have the cover art for 'Requiem' if you haven't seen it already.

I was going to include some blurb but there isn't much of it to be honest. I'm a big fan of the way the cover is all posed, and the slightly archaic font, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the artist. It's on the tip of my tongue... Help?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Giveaway! 'Man of Steel' (Titan Books)

For all those who haven't been able to make it to the cinema yet (like me)... This one is for you :o) Thanks to those nice people at Titan, I have three copies of the movie novelization to give away (I would normally post some blurb at this point but you either know the story already or don't want to be spoilt). I'll point out now though that this competition is only open to people in the UK. Sorry about that everyone else.

If you're still reading and you want to enter, here's what you do. I haven't got round to creating a new email address yet  so drop me an line at (remove the 'NOSPAM' bit) telling me what your postal address is. The subject header should be 'Man of Steel'. Just to make this one a little more interesting, winners will be determined by how sorry I feel for you after you tell me why you haven't been able to see 'Man of Steel' at the cinema :o)

I'm letting this one run until the 3rd of July and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

‘Terminus’ – Adam Baker (Hodder & Stoughton)

I’m not so hot on zombie novels any more but if there’s a good apocalypse between the pages of a book then you can bet that I’ll be picking up to see if anyone is left standing by the end. Adam Baker’s last two books (‘Outpost’ and ‘Juggernaut’) have been a healthy mixture of the two with a thoughtful new spin on the zombie genre blending well with some fast paced horror. I enjoyed ‘Outpost’ a whole lot more than its sequel but I’d still recommend reading ‘Juggernaut’ anyway; to be honest I don’t think you’ll have much of a choice after reading ‘Outpost’…

All good things come to an end though and that’s no different here. At least I don’t think there are any more books planned here although I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong; it’s been one hell of a ride. But anyway…
My copy of ‘Terminus’ came through the door on Friday afternoon and (after brief stops for barbecues etc) I had finished it by Sunday evening. It wasn’t a perfect read but, at the same time, it was also one of those books that I couldn’t help but read until it was done. Now I’m waiting for ‘Terminus’ to become a movie (along with the other two books), I’d definitely go and see it.

The techno-virus has spread across America; locking its victims halfway between life and death while sending them out to spread the pathogen even further. New York has just had an atomic bomb dropped on it (to halt the spread of the virus) but the one man who might have been able to find a cure didn’t get out in time. Luckily, radio signals coming from the shattered city suggest that not only is he alive but that he found the answer everyone was looking for…
A rescue team is dispatched to search the subway tunnels, beneath Manhattan, and bring back the scientist. The radiation count is rising, infected survivors lurk under the water and there’s something lurking in the walls of Base Camp. Not an easy job then but there isn’t any other option when humanity itself is on the brink of extinction…

What a way to end the series! (I should note that these three books can be read in any order but I’m personally sticking with order of publication) It’s like Adam Baker has stared into the dark heart of the apocalypse and truly gets what it means. While there will always be hope, do you seriously think hope stands a chance hiding amidst the radioactive rubble and trying to dodge techno-zombies. Nope, me neither. I found ‘Outpost’ and ‘Juggernaut’ notable for just how bleak they were and Baker doesn’t let up here. If a radioactive, bombed out, landscape wasn’t bleak enough for you, Baker proceeds to fill it full of the kind of human stupidity that lends even more inevitability to the outcome. First rule of the apocalypse: Work together and you will be fine. Second rule of the apocalypse: People cannot work together, not even if their lives depend on it. Baker plays to these rules and does it with a cast of characters that I couldn’t help but root for. Yep, even Galloway (especially after what he did to escape infection…)

In an apocalyptic scenario some things are just inevitable but luckily for us, Baker really gets the importance of a good story to go along with the doom and gloom. There’s no chance of us getting bogged down in just how depressing and final this apocalypse is. Baker shows us that there is still room for human drama to play out and that’s the hook. Strong characters will rail against the inevitable, whether it’s down to the possibility of a cure or purely because they are so hardcore that they won’t give up until they are literally covered in techno-zombies. Baker  gives us some of each and this mix moves the plot along nicely. Some characters act out of hope for a positive resolution and this makes some of the twists even more powerful. Others act purely out of a desire to stay alive for as long as possible and this lends the action scenes even more of a punch (especially when Lupe gets involved). There is a lot going on in what feels like a relatively short read, just over four hundred pages but all written at break neck pace. Baker doesn’t let ‘Terminus’ forget its horror roots either (would you call these books horror or sci-fi?) with finely crafted moments of tension suddenly exploding into viscera and gore. Like I said at the start, this book would make for some great cinema.

If there was one thing that I didn’t get on with in ‘Terminus’ it was, well… not what you think actually. I could handle the revelation behind the pathogen as not only had it been hinted at, in the preceding books, but confirmation came out of a twist in the plot that just changed everything and left me gasping. Brilliant stuff.
No, what I found difficult was that while Baker was clearly on top of his game in terms of plot and characters, there were so many tunnels and little rooms (all with very little to distinguish them) that I had no idea where things were happening let alone how they came to happen there. I can see that Baker was going for a sense of claustrophobia (which he got) but I spent too much time trying to figure out where stuff was happening to really feel it like he intended.

When there was so much else happening though, this became a minor niggle that was fairly easy to move past. I found ‘Terminus’ to be a heady concoction of horror and sci-fi, all served up at the world’s ending. A great book to end a memorable trilogy.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A Couple of Tales from 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities' (Edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, Harper Voyager)

I will pick up anything with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's names on it, that's just the way it is. Getting round to reading those books though, thats another matter entirely. Lets just say that my copy of 'Shriek' is still looking suspiciously new and there probably hundreds of stories in 'The Weird' that I am still to read. This is an attempt to redress the balance a little bit then with a couple of tales taken from the collection of the infamous Dr. Lambshead; a collector of all sorts of strange and arcane things.
It's also an opportunity for me to read some short fiction by two of my favourite authors, Michael Moorcock & Tad Williams, which is something I'll never pass up. These guys have never let me down yet and, if you have yet to try them, I don’t think they’ll let you down either. They’ve certainly both delivered this time round…

“It resembles a Lazy Susan,” commented a reporter for America’s New York World, “but instead of spinning to present dishes to be served, its revolutionary motion is meant to deliver children to Scholarship.”

I’d be the first person to admit that I’m a big fan of Tad Williams’ work and should probably give you a pinch of salt to take with this short review. The fact is though, I found ‘A Short History of Dunkelblau’s Meistergarten’ to be a tale all the more chilling for his leaving the ending deliberately ominous and open. Through his descriptions of the machine in question, Tad invites his readers to marvel at Dunkelblau’s invention whilst also questioning the people who would willingly surrender their children to its embrace. Dunkelblau’s madness also comes under the spotlight albeit with an edge of sympathy for a man who was perhaps a little too close to his mother and subjected to the world of academia at a very tender age.
The stated aim of the ‘Meistergarten’ is at odds with the results in all but one of the children it ‘teaches’ but the reader is left asking whether its one ‘success’ is perhaps the most insane of them all. With that question asked, ‘A Short History’ ends very abruptly but in just the right place to have you thinking about it for a long time afterwards. Another great read from Tad Williams who proves here that he is just as adept at telling short stories as he is at telling ones much longer.

‘The bare facts of the case were as bizarre as they were brief: The small daughter of a Bermondsey tailor claimed that her half-grown cat, Mimi, had eaten a fairy.’

If you’ve read Moorcock’s genre fiction, you will know that it will inevitably tie back into his wider mythos (call it ‘The Multiverse’, ‘Second Aether’ or whatever, it’s all the same thing). I’m not sure quite how I feel about this sometimes but in ‘Shamalung (The Dimunitions)’ it feels right somehow; especially when placed in context with the voyage that our intrepid explorers make. Think of this tale as a Steampunk version of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (albeit outside the human body) and you won’t go too far wrong; I particularly liked the idea of Christian missionaries using this device to preach the word right at the very boundaries of existence (despite the inevitable cost).
I think what I really liked about ‘Shamalung’ is how it is initially dressed up as a pulp style detective tale that is suddenly revealed to be a lot more. That ‘pulp energy’ drives things along nicely (with an intriguing hook) and then you are deposited in the middle of a revelation so vast that it is all too easy to keep turning the pages and see where you end up. Moorcock also decides to end things on a question which, although not as urgent as Williams, does leave you wondering at the sheer size of a landscape only really hinted at in the story. Another tale well worth reading if you get the chance.

It’s great to open up a short story collection (every now and then) to have a browse, and I do have a few more collections on my shelves, so I think you can expect to see more posts like these in the future. Are there any collections that you would recommend for a guy who likes fantasy (and some weird fiction in particular)? Bear in mind that I already have a copy of ‘The Weird’ and am working my way through ‘Fearsome Journeys’. Doesn’t have to be a new collection either. Leave a comment if you think of anything :o)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Books, Books & Books...

You may have heard me go on about this elsewhere but I'm on a bit of a mission to collect the old Fantasy Masterworks series. The rules are simple; all purchases can only be made through second hand book-shops/market stalls etc. When I finally get a job, one small excursion into the world of 'Amazon New & Used' will be permitted :o)

With this in mind, there was no way that I could pass up a visit to the Hilly Fields Fair (just up the road from where I live, always fun) without a little nose around the second hand stalls after time spent watching Hope try to kill herself on the bouncy castle. No Fantasy Masterworks this time, the search continues, but I did manage to find this...

Last time I came across one of the 'Eternal Champion' books in hardback ('A Nomad of the Time Streams' in case you were wondering) it set me back £15 for a first edition. I'm not sure if 'Von Bek' is a first edition (how do you tell?) but it only cost me a pound so I'm not too bothered if it isn't :o) I don't often get luck like this on the second hand book trail so am feeling pretty pleased with myself right now. All I need to do is to find some 'Jerry Cornelius' at a similar price and I'm all set :o)

In terms of books that have come through the door recently; I put down whatever it was I was reading (must have been good then...) to have a go at these two...

'Man of Steel' is the kind of book that makes me want to go out and buy a coffee table just so I have something to put it on. It looks absolutely gorgeous inside and out with all those shots from the film and the double spread concept art. That's where the appeal ends for me though... 'Man of Steel' is one of those books that gives you a lot of background in terms of actors insight into a character, location details etc and that's just not my thing. I love to escape into a story, not have it stripped down into the mechanics of what made it in the first place. If this is your thing then I would totally recommend 'Man of Steel' but, if I can't get to the cinema, I'll wait for the novelization to show up.

I'm about fifty pages off the end of 'Terminus' so won't say too much right now other than that I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far. Have some blurb,

The world has been overrun by a lethal infection, ravaged by a pathogen that leaves its victims locked half-way between life and death. New York, bombed to prevent the spread of the disease, has been reduced to radioactive rubble.

A rescue squad enters the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan, searching for the one man who can create an antidote.

The squad battle floodwaters, lethal radiation and infected, irradiated survivors as they race against the disease that threatens to extinguish the human race.

Review to come later this week I reckon.
I was going to say that 'Terminus' is a great way for Baker to round off his series but the books haven't been written in order of events so, erm... It's a great way for Baker to begin the series? You can read these books in any order so I'll let you make up your own mind ;o)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Free Reading Friday!

I've spent the last couple of days on a course where you are told how to go out and find a job (turns out I was doing most of this already...) so haven't had time to write the reviews that I wanted to. In the spirit of this new (slightly more relaxed in terms of posting reviews) blog that's not a huge deal though. Everything gets pushed back a couple of days and will turn up a little later ;o)

So what do you get in the meantime? Does a little bit of free reading sound good? Are you a fan of Mark Lawrence's 'Broken Empire' books? If you answered 'yes' to both questions then you might want to click Here to read his free short story 'Sleeping Beauty'. If you want to read Mark's thoughts on finishing the 'Broken Empire' trilogy (the last book will be published next month I think) then have a click Here.

In slightly related news I'm going to have another crack at reading 'Prince of Thorns' with the aim of being all caught up by the time the last book comes out. Last year wasn't the right time for me and that book but I think it could well be now. Keep an eye out here and I'll let you know how it goes...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The post where I turn up late to the new 'Star Wars' films discussion.

Look, it has been a busy few months ;o)

So, a copy of this turned up in the post today...

I'm not going to bother copying/pasting a blurb because I can't even get that enthusiastic about the Star Wars Expanded Universe anymore. Series that just seem to go on forever with main characters that seemingly cannot be killed (it's the more interesting new characters that seem to die off); there's nothing there for me anymore apart from some nostalgic Timothy Zahn re-reads maybe...

It's not just that though. George Lucas used to cast a pretty long shadow over the EU and made it clear that his vision for the films always took precedence over EU canon. Fair enough I guess, it was his toy after all although I couldn't help but feel sorry for Karen Traviss and her 'Clone Trooper' books. If that wasn't bad enough, Disney's plans for the new Star Wars films could see the EU cut off and left further adrift than ever. I know this discussion is months old already but I hadn't really paid it that much attention until 'Mercy Kill' came through the door earlier.

I guess my question, to all those still following the Star Wars EU, is this. How are you guys going to deal with it when the investment (time and money) that you put into the books is essentially brushed aside for a whole new canon to kick off? Are you even going to try? Is having your own personal Star Wars canon the way forward?
As far as I'm concerned... After 'Return of the Jedi' there's 'The Truce at Bakura'; then there's the original 'Thrawn' books... and that's it for me. I reckon the films will be fun but I'll know where the real story lies, at least in my head.

What about you?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Mike Carey's 'The Girl With All the Gifts' - Cover Art, Blurb and a small plea from me...

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

I found this on the Orbit site and I think that it has been mentioned elsewhere already. It certainly looks like a book I'll be picking up next year, having thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read of Mike Carey's. But that's the thing though, I can't help but feel like I'll be picking up the wrong book if I don't see any kind of closure to the 'Felix Castor' books in the meantime.

Whatever happened to Felix Castor? I know he was a bit disreputable; letting his best mate be possessed by a demon and suffering severe beatings over the course of five books, but he was all set up nicely to do whatever needed doing in book six. And what a book that promised to be; a book that gave us all the answers but loads more questions all at the same time.

Where did it go? Where is Felix Castor?

I miss Felix quite a bit and while I'll happily settle for 'The Girl With All the Gifts' I'll be thinking of him while I read it. Have you seen Felix anywhere? If you have, let him know that there are people out there who miss him and want to know what he is up to...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

‘Age of Voodoo’ – James Lovegrove (Solaris)

I’m falling in love with my bookshelves all over again :o) After a couple of months of not really being that interested, all of a sudden I’m finding old friends again as well as books that I’m pretty sure weren’t there the last time I looked. Like James Lovegrove’s ‘Age of Voodoo’ for example. I had completely forgotten that this book was in the house until I found it again whilst having an idle browse the other day. I also found my copy of ‘Time’s Arrow’ which I really need to read. That’s a story (and hopefully a review) for another day though.

Readers of the blog will know that I had a few issues with ‘Age of Aztec’ (scroll down a bit, it might still be on this page) but I was still in the mood for more of the same so ‘Age of Voodoo’ came along at just the right time. Or did it? As far as writing this review goes, I’m not so sure.
Have some cut and pasted blurb…

Lex Dove thought he was done with the killing game. A retired British wetwork specialist, he's living the quiet life in the Caribbean, minding his own business. Then a call comes. One last mission: to lead an American black ops team into a disused Cold War bunker on a remote island. The money's good, which means the risks are high. How high, Dove doesn't discover until he and his team are a hundred feet below ground, facing the fruits of an experiment in science and voodoo witchcraft gone wrong. As if barely human monsters weren’t bad enough, a clock is ticking. Deep in the bowels of the earth, a god is waiting. And his anger, if roused, will be fearsome indeed.

As a rule, I usually try and space out books by the same author if I’m going to review them after reading. It keeps my reading feeling fresh and it stops problematic reviews like this one coming along and biting me when I least expect it. It’s too late now though so here goes…

My problem is that ‘Age of Voodoo’ is so similar to ‘Age of Aztec’ that it’s all I can do not to point you at that review and just get you to swap the words ‘Aztec’ and ‘Voodoo’ around. Plot, structure, tone, the works; it’s the same story all over again. I guess this is to be expected after, being several books into a series based around one all defining concept. Leaves me in a bit of a bind though, certainly if I want to write something that isn’t going to leave you guys wondering why I’ve just wasted a post repeating myself. I’m going to give it a go anyway because there was one minor tweak that made ‘Age of Voodoo’ a slightly satisfactory read.

I did enjoy reading ‘Age of Voodoo’; don’t expect anything too deep from it but if you’re after a heady dose of adventure and horror, in the Caribbean, then you won’t go too far wrong here. It’s like ‘Live and Let Die’ was rewritten for the twenty first century and given some extra zombies for good measure. I can’t complain about that really. Lovegrove has a firmer hand on the pacing in this book; there are still some moments where he ‘info-dumps’ (slowing things up) but on the whole, ‘Age of Voodoo’ zips along just like a ‘pulp/action/horror’ book of this kind should. I found it very easy to keep reading, even if there were bits that I found myself impatiently skimming to get to the good stuff. There are some neat little twists that propel things forward nicely and if anyone from Solaris (or even James himself) reads this… Can we have more Team Thirteen please? I liked them a lot (especially Buckler).

What I liked most of all though was that Lovegrove dials back the influence of the gods and basically lets the humans get on with it (good voodoo against bad). The gods are there but almost as observers and happy work events for their own ends. I really appreciated the way that this approach brought the frankly more interesting characters right to the fore and it really benefited the plot as a whole. Just enough ‘god presence’ to keep things interesting but not enough to drown the plot in ‘deus ex machina’.

‘Age of Voodoo’ basically does exactly what ‘Age of Aztec’ does then but a lot better in small but very important ways. If I could have more of this in the future then I would be a very happy reader indeed.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The 'Didn't get the job... Again...' Catch Up Post!

I was actually very hopeful about this one as a lot of my experience tied into what they were asking for. Then, somewhere between my CV reaching HR and then being sent to the department in question, they decided that they wanted the role to encompass a whole load of other stuff too. I didn't have what they needed so it's a case of 'ho hum, back to the drawing board...' So near but yet so far :o(

But anyway, enough moaning. Sorry for the brief silence on the blog, I've just spent the last few days either tucked up in a lovely Welsh hotel or in the grounds of a lovely Welsh estate (rolling valleys, gorgeous river, dark forest, the works) enjoying my friend's wedding. It was great :o)

Back to business now though. I have a few reviews that I'm aiming to post this week (everything else permitting) but right now this post is all about my having posted elsewhere today. Yes, it's the..

Over at, you'll find my thoughts on 'Shadows Linger' which just so happens to be my favourite book in the series. Go have a read while I go back to the job boards and carry on looking for that elusive job...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Book That Got Me Blogging Again – A Short Review

To be honest, at the tail end of last year I wasn’t sure that I would come back to blogging. Reading wasn’t grabbing me at all and life had told me in no uncertain terms that I had far more important things to be getting on with. I still do in fact but here I am. So what happened?

I was still receiving review copies and one of the last stragglers came through the post a couple of months ago. I thought I’d give it a go, just because nothing else was doing it for me, and despite feeling really jaded with reading I ended up being hooked by the whole thing. I had to finish the book and, when I did, really wanted to tell people about the time I’d had with it. There’s only one way to do that so, a couple of months later, the first post on my new blog was born :o) It’s taken me a little while to actually post about this book but that’s no surprise really!

So, what was the book?

Took out half a million people.

Put that number to shame.

Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks . . . Four billion dead.

You can't trust that people are still people.

No one knows.
But it's coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs.
Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors.
To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.

Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up

Surprised? I was… I’ve got nothing against YA fiction per se but do find that it misses rather more than it hits when I read it. I thought that ‘The 5th Wave’ would be more of the same with the ol’ tried and tested ‘one girl having to choose between two boys’ storyline coming to the fore. I’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it before and it’s getting more than tired now. I’m not sure about the whole reasoning behind the alien invasion either. Without giving too much away, the aliens could have co-existed quite peacefully with humanity (without us even knowing in fact) but for some reason decided to wipe us out instead. No, me neither.

What really nailed it for me was just how brutal the alien invasion was (even the bits that you, or Cassie, don’t see happen have power through what is left afterwards) and the state that you see the survivors in afterwards. This is a world where trust cannot exist but has to if people like Cassie are to retain their humanity. Yancey captures this feeling really well in Cassie, who is all on her own but must learn to interact again if she is to not only survive but find her brother again. Cassie is a very engaging character whom I couldn’t help but root for, even though I knew where the story was headed. Okay, I didn’t see the ‘5th Wave Twist’ coming (which turns the plot upside down in a spectacular way) but as soon as Cassie met Eva, I knew where that was going.

It’s a world where aliens really don’t pull their punches. Invading, and a five-year-old boy is forced into military service to combat the threat (with some really heart wrenching moments that just made me want to give the little guy a hug). Yancey doesn’t sugar coat anything and it’s this honesty that will see me return for the next book in the series. There may be some tired old tropes putting in an appearance but the overall feel of the book is refreshing and has left me wanting more. Count me in for the next installment.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Cover Art - 'A Discourse In Steel' (Paul S. Kemp)

Just because it is on my desk, staring at me (books can stare...) in all its 'Sword and Sorcery' glory...

This is everything that the cover for 'The Hammer and the Blade' wanted to be but didn't quite manage. Very striking and with just the right hint of derring do that says, 'this is sword and sorcery and it's going to be fun'!
While we're all here, have some blurb,

Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them!
But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.
And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…

If there's a Thieves Guild involved then it's definitely Sword and Sorcery time :o) Talking of which, it always seems to be the Thieves and the Assassins who get Guilds (unless you're Terry Pratchett of course). What other Guilds would you like to see in a Sword and Sorcery setting?

I had a lot of fun with the last book (even though I wasn't sure about the ending, still not sure in fact) which is why I'm reading it almost as we speak, along with 'Wasp' (a very good book so far) and wherever I am with the Black Company books. Talking of which, I have a post to write. See you all later :o)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

'The Goon: Them That Raised Us Lament' - Eric Powell (Dark Horse)

If you followed me on my last blog then you already know that I am a huge fan of 'The Goon'. It's a question of 'what's not to like?' as far as I'm concerned. Old time gangster takes on all comers (mostly zombies and weird Lovecraftian monsters) for no other reason than to keep the money coming in from his own rackets. Or is the Goon a good guy at heart and just trying to do the right thing? That's the question that keeps me coming back for more; that, the gorgeous artwork and the steady flow of toilet humour.

When a new 'Goon' collection turns up then it's always a question of everything having to wait while I settle down for a couple of hours of quality reading. It's a comic book that has never let me down... Until the other day when I read 'Them that raised us lament'. Don't get me wrong, it was still a lot of fun and I would recommend the series to anyone who asked. It's just that this time round...

'Them That Raised Us Lament’ collects 'The Goon' #38-41; a point in the series where one major storyline has ended and there is a brief lull in the proceedings while things gear up for the next plot arc to kick off. You can't blame Eric Powell for wanting to kick back and chill out for a bit after all of that; a lot of work went into that storyline and I think he deserves a break.
Having said all that though, you can't get away from the fact that at least two of the four issues collected here (maybe even three of them) really feel like they are marking time before the main event arrives. There is a lot of filling in backstory (which isn't a bad thing, more on that in a minute) but even that feels like a bit of a placeholder and I don't want placeholders. I'm after something that at least ties into the main plot, something that the last story does very well (although what do you call a zombie priest with no zombies...) but a little too late in the day to really make the whole book stand out. There is some interesting discussion, on the evil in the town, and it does have me looking forward to the next book though so I guess that's all you can ask really :)

That's not to say that there isn't a lot to recommend the stories in 'Them That Raised Us Lament'. I spent an enjoyable hour or two reading and I reckon most fans will feel the same. Powell's tale of the Goon's Aunt Kizzie is as heartbreaking as it was the first time I read it and the last line gives us a little insight into the Goon that you don't see very often.

'When you died I knew there was one less person in this world that really loved me.'

It's a story of how hope can just sour over time and Aunt Kizzie's first words to the Goon are even more poignant given that we know how he ends up as an adult.

The superhero pastiche generally delivers its message very effectively albeit a little too heavy handedly for my liking. I also wasn't sure if this was the right place for what Powell was saying.The message is essentially 'don't be something that you're not' but Goon is such a different concept that I was left wondering if it was too different to actually prove its own point. Some readers might say that this is the whole point, and that is true enough, but I'm still not a hundred percent sure here.

The 'moonshine runnin', zombie hot rodding' tale is a lot of fun to read, possibly my favourite out of the whole lot. It might just be back story, and not the whole story, but it has all the energy, imagination and vicious irreverent humour that I've come to expect from this title. And if anyone from Dark Horse is reading this (possible, you never know…), I want to see Goon’s hotrod race with the Hooch Monkey on a t-shirt sooner rather than later. I’d buy it :o)

A good read then but as Powell himself says, in the superhero pastiche, 'On second thought... I'll stick with this Goon.' 'Them That Raised Us Lament' does its job well but I know what I like from this title now and I'm hoping that future collections get right back to doing what 'The Goon' does best.

Monday, 10 June 2013

'Waking up from the American Dream:The Horror Of Memory in Brad Anderson’s Session 9' David Annandale essay at 'Black Treacle'

Well, today was meant to be a review day but it ended up being a day where I spent the afternoon wrestling with an on-line application form (I hate them) as well as having an argument with my three year old daughter who was hacked off as we wouldn't let her play hopscotch in the street. If this is what she's like now then I'm dreading her turning sixteen...

Anyway, everything gets bumped forward a day (so review tomorrow then) but what do you get in the meantime? Some mooching around on Twitter led me to David Annandale's (writer of some excellent Warhammer 40K stuff) essay on 'Session 9' over at 'Black Treacle'. If you're a fan of the film then you should read it if you haven't already; I'm not sure I want to agree with his definition of Simon (even though I know he's right, I just prefer to be kept wondering) but the essay is thought provoking and really captures the feel of the film itself. I am a fan of the film by the way; it just freaked me out so much that I can't watch it again. (excellent work by director Brad Anderson).

If you haven't seen the film then the essay is stacked full of spoilers, just so you know ;o)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

RIP Iain Banks

The SF community has lost one of its leading figures and far too young; really sad news and my condolences go to his family.

Adam has written a very detailed piece Here but I just wanted to say thanks Iain for 'Use of Weapons'. Thanks to you and that book, I got back into reading science fiction at a time when I never thought that would happen again. My reading has been the richer for it ever since then.

Rest In Peace.

Lou Morgan signing 'Blood and Feathers: Rebellion' at Forbidden Planet.

'Blood and Feathers' was a great read so I will be in the queue to get a copy of the next book signed :o) And isn't that an amazing cover...?
LOU MORGAN will be launching BLOOD & FEATHERS: REBELLION at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore, 179 Shaftsbury Avenue, WC2H 8JR on Thursday 27th June 6 – 7pm.

Driven out of hell and with nothing to lose, the Fallen wage open warfare against the angels on the streets. And they’re winning.

As the balance tips towards the darkness, Alice – barely recovered from her own ordeal in hell and struggling to start over – once again finds herself in the eye of the storm. But with the chaos spreading and the Archangel Michael determined to destroy Lucifer whatever the cost, is the price simply too high? And what sacrifices will Alice and the angels have to make in order to pay it?

The Fallen will rise. Trust will be betrayed. And all hell breaks loose...

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Not a review, more of a 'heads up' - 'Theatre of the Gods' (M. Suddain)

It was a hard lesson to learn but I now know that there is no way I will possibly read all the books that I want to. There just isn't enough time and the time I do have will be cut further in the next few months. It's time to be a little more selective about what I pick up then; especially if I want to make the most of the time and, you know, actually enjoy what I'm reading :o)

So where does that leave the 'almost' books then? Those books that look very intriguing but don't quite match my mood (or whatever)? Even if you haven't read a book, you can still talk about it (well only up to a point but you know what I mean...) and so an occasional series of posts were born. A book turns up that I think looks like something you might like; I'm not going to read it but I'll point you in its direction.
A book like 'Theatre of the Gods' for example...

This is the story of M. Francisco Fabrigas, philosopher, heretical physicist, and perhaps the greatest human explorer of all ages, who took a shipful of children on a frightening voyage through dimensions filled with deadly surprises, assisted by a teenaged Captain, a brave deaf boy, a cunning blind girl, and a sultry botanist, all the while pursued by the Pope of the universe and a well-dressed mesmerist.

Dark plots, cannibal cults, demonic creatures, madness, mayhem, murderous jungles, the birth of creation, the death of time, and a creature called the Sweety: all this and more waits beyond the veil of reality.

'Theatre of the Gods' looks like the kind of 'Weird Sci-Fi' that I would enjoy if my head was a little less frazzled right now. A quick read of  Niall's review confirmed my suspicions. I couldn't read past the first couple of chapters of 'Embassytown' without getting a vicious headache and that's not an experience I care to repeat! 'Theatre of the Gods' looks like it could be fun though and that's enough to get a mention here. If anyone does pick it up, leave a comment here and tell me what you think.

Have a look at the Blacklist site for an extract from the book and then stay awhile to drink in the deliciously dark atmosphere they're creating over there. It's all good.

Friday, 7 June 2013

A few books that came in the post...

I'm trying to get my head round what I want to say about 'Shadows Linger' (for my next 'Black Company Re-Read' post) so while I do that I thought you might like to check out some books that came through the door today. All of them specifically requested by me and therefore all due to be reviewed over the next... well, however long it takes (but hopefully not that long). Go on, have a look :o)


The war had been going on for nearly a year and the Sirian Empire had a huge advantage in personnel and equipment. Earth needed an edge. Which was where James Mowry came in.

If a small insect buzzing around in a car could so distract the driver as to cause that vehicle to crash, think what havoc one properly trained operative could wreak on an unsuspecting enemy. Intensively trained, his appearance surgically altered, James Mowry is landed on Jaimec, the 94th planet of the Sirian Empire. His mission is simple: sap morale, cause mayhem, tie up resources, wage a one-man war on a planet of eighty million.

In short, be a wasp.

'Slow River'

She awoke in an alley to the splash of rain. She was naked, a foot-long gash in her back was still bleeding, and her identity implant was gone. Lore van de Oest had been the daughter of one of the world's most powerful families... and now she was nobody, and she had to hide.

Then out of the rain walked Spanner, predator and thief, who took her in, cared for her wound, and taught her how to reinvent herself again and again. No one could find Lore now: not the police, not her family, and not the kidnappers who had left her in that alley to die. She had escaped... but the cost of her new found freedom was crime and deception, and she paid it over and over again, until she had become someone she loathed.

Lore had a choice: She could stay in the shadows - stay with Spanner - and risk losing herself forever. Or she could leave Spanner and find herself again by becoming someone else: stealing the identity implant of a dead woman, taking over her life, and creating a new future. 

 'Take Back Plenty'

It is carnival time on Mars, but Tabitha Jute isn't partying. She is in hiding from the law, penniless and about to lose her livelihood and her best friend, the space barge "Alice Liddell". Then, the intriguing Marco Metz offers her some money to take him to Plenty, and then the adventure begins. 

'The Sea and Summer'

Francis Conway is Swill - one of the millions in the year 2041 who must subsist on the inadequate charities of the state. Life, already difficult, is rapidly becoming impossible for Francis and others like him, as government corruption, official blindness and nature have conspired to turn Swill homes into watery tombs. And now the young boy must find a way to escape the approaching tide of disaster.

Like Gav, my 2013 is going to be all about reading projects. I'm already almost half way through my 'Black Company Re-Read' and reading some SF/Fantasy Masterworks is something that I've been meaning to do for a long time. It's not like I don't have enough on my shelf already but these four caught my eye and I had to get hold of copies. I'm reading 'Wasp' at the moment.

'Ghost Omnibus Volume 4'

After what seems like a lifetime trying to reconstruct the events that led to her death, Ghost finally nears the white-hot core of the truth. But like pieces of a broken window, the shards of the past can be dangerous and razor-sharp, and sometimes the truth goes deeper than anyone would want. And for the Spectral Avenger, a past revealed may mean a future destroyed.

 'The Goon: Them That Raised Us Lament'

Zombie rockabillies, superheroes with hilarious gay abandon, and the tragicomedy of carny folk are just a few bizarre tales in this new Goon collection from Dark Horse Comics! This volume collects The Goon #38-#41. 

You'll see 'Ghost Volume 3' reviewed here first but I've never read the stories collected in this final volume so I'm looking forward to having a few questions answered. I spent this afternoon reading 'The Goon' and... I'm not so sure about this one. I need to get my thoughts sorted before I post them but this was a slim volume in more ways than one... More on that some other time.

Any of these catch your eye? 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

‘The Chronicles of Corum’ – Michael Moorcock (Grafton)

While I’m not planning on writing too many reviews at the moment (what with one thing and another) it’s coming round to that time of the fortnight when I need to be writing the next instalment in my ‘Black Company’ re-read over at It’s ‘Shadows Linger’ just in case you were wondering. I don’t want the blog to suffer, quite so early in, so you get an extra review today. You’re welcome :o)

The other day, I was trying to remember just what Moorcock book I actually read first; I’ve got a feeling that whatever I may have said in the past was wrong. I was about eleven and the school library had a shelf full of his books. It might have been ‘Elric at the End of Time’, it might have been ‘Nomad of the Time Streams’ or it might have been this one. Back in the day, I read this book as ‘The Prince with the Silver Hand’ but my recent attempts to locate a second hand copy saw me balk at the prices; seriously, check Amazon. ‘The Chronicles of Corum’ though? Same collection but a whole lot cheaper, you might want to bear that in mind although the new collection from Gollancz does look rather nice and has the better sounding name.

These three books (‘The Bull and the Spear’, ‘The Oak and the Ram’ and ‘The Sword and the Stallion’) have long been among my favourite ‘Eternal Champion’ stories as we start off with a man who has nothing to fight for anymore. His wife has just died of old age (you can’t blame anyone for that) and his people died a long time ago. Corum truly is the last of his kind and what we see at the start is a man on his own whose contemplations have seen him reconciled with his eventual fate (until the voices kick in). Corum believes there is nothing left and this lends a much more sombre and thoughtful tone to these books (much more so, I think, than any of the others). Even when he is given a purpose, Corum knows deep down that there will eventually be no more need for him and his time will be over.
And what a purpose… To fight for people (far in his future) who believe him to be the physical incarnation of one of their legends. It’s a big struggle for Corum to connect with these people (on more than one level) and I think Moorcock handles this struggle very well, particularly regarding Corum’s growing relationship with Medbh. Life is never easy for the Eternal Champion, whoever he may manifest as.

What proves far easier for Corum to get his head around though is the enemy that he must defeat and the means by which he will accomplish this. Yep, you guessed it. Corum must quest for objects of power that will turn back the Fhoi Myore and their cold legions. Having read a few of the Eternal Champion books now I’m kind of used to this structure although I think it works far better in individual volumes than it does in a collection like this. When you have a couple of hundred pages left to go that early cliffhanger doesn’t seem quite as urgent as it did before. You know that Corum will be around, in some shape or form, come the end (and more on that ending in a minute). Having said all that though, the final book does give the last battles a real sense of uncertainty that keeps the interest at just the right time.

But again though, you can’t deny the power and sense of adventure in the meantime with Corum battling his way through all sorts of enemies to reach his goals. Moorcock may take a lot from Celtic mythology but he still brings his own cosmic mythos and sense of the weird to the proceedings. The result is a land of tree men and evil wizards who will play both sides against each other; a land of marooned dimensional beings and a land where promises are double edged in the best traditions of heroic romance.

Yeah, that ending. In some ways it’s a foregone conclusion for long term readers of the series but I was eleven when I read this and had no idea what happens to Moorcock’s Eternal Champions when the multiverse has no more use for them. That final abrupt sentence (all three words of it) blew my mind way back when. Even now, it still has the power to shock as Moorcock really makes you think that everything could turn out ok, even though he has also been planting the seeds of this ending for quite a while.

I think these books work a whole lot better as individual volumes and I would have loved to see Gollancz re-publish them as such. Realistically though, that was never going to happen (different world and all that) and there is still plenty of magic here to lose yourself in. If you haven’t already got this collection (and the other one) then do yourself a favour, it’s well worth the read.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

‘Age of Aztec’ – James Lovegrove (Solaris)

Sometimes it’s nice just to pick a book off the shelf (almost at random) and have a read. ‘Age of Aztec’ wasn’t quite a random read, I knew what I was after in a book and, when I just happened to see the book on my shelf, I knew that it would deliver on some level. ‘Age of Odin’ was fun, although not without issues of its own, so I was hoping for more of the same here.

A quick true story about this read... I made it up to page 60 of ‘Age of Aztec’ before inadvertently donating it to a charity shop with some other books. I was so hooked on the plot that I ended up paying to get the book back so I could carry on reading as quickly as possible. It was a bit of a shame then that things tailed off after that… I don’t regret parting with my £1.50 (went to a good cause and all that) but it all felt a little bit hollow by the time I finished reading.
Go on, have some blurb…

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning and the Aztec Empire rules the world. The Aztecs' reign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, encompassing regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Then the Conquistador is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and their gods. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice.

I love the concept of the ‘Pantheon’ series (humans and Gods versus other Gods with the age of some heavy firepower) and when Lovegrove nails it the story flows like quicksilver. It can be superb and this is the case for those first opening pages.
It’s funny then that the Gods don’t make an appearance at all in the opening chapters; it’s all about setting up the world and introducing us to the main players. And what a dark world this new Aztec Empire is, a world where human sacrifice is a normal part of daily life and the HR department dishes out lethal punishments to under-performing police officers (seriously, the ‘striping’ made my stomach turn). A world like this needs a Conquistador to strike a blow for freedom and as luck would have it, Lovegrove gives us a dashing hero (with a dark past) who is ready to do what is needed. There are some lovely little twists here which kept the plot flowing very smoothly and were the whole reason why I just had to keep reading.

I loved these moments, all through the book, where Lovegrove basically mixes a whole load of volatile ingredients together and then leaves his readers right in the middle of the resulting explosion. In some ways, it’s clear that Lovegrove has a pretty good handle on his series now as he gives us God on God confrontations with all the bone-crunching  force that it entails. I’ve said it before, these moments would look awesome on the big screen. It’s not just the Gods either , with the Conquistador and Mal Vaughn consistently punching above their weight in a setting where their entire world has been turned upside down (they don’t see the twist coming so it’s a little disappointing then that the reader sees it coming a mile off). What also threw me a little bit was the little ‘side revelation’ about the Aztec Gods that (at the risk of spoilers) throws everything into doubt. All I’m going to say is this, is this a story about Gods or not? I think I actually liked the book better right at the start where there were no Gods at all, although some of the resulting discussion (on the infallibility of the Gods) can be quite interesting.

Lovegrove generally paces things very well but the interminably long/dull journey through the jungle really made the plot lurch along when it shouldn’t have done. I’ll admit that some of this was necessary, in terms of getting things ready for the next act, but it still felt like a drag compared to the rest of the book.
Lovegrove does make up for this, right at the end though, with an ending that’s worth the price of entry; particularly so when you look at the decisions made by the human cast in light of what is happening around them.

‘Age of Aztec’ makes for an awesome ‘present day Aztec police thriller’ but its when the Gods themselves actually appear that things lose a little bit of their spark. At least they did for me; I reckon fans will have just as much fun with ‘Age of Aztec’ as they have with the rest of the series.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Black Company Re-Read at

The really nice people at have allowed me to indulge my love of the 'Black Company' series by giving it the re-read treatment on the site. A couple of posts have gone up already but it's by no means too late to join if you want to give the books a go or just want to chip in with an opinion or two.
Here's what I've posted so far...

The Revised Schedule and Primer Post
'The Black Company' - (The first book, post went live earlier today)

Have a read and feel free to leave comments :o)

‘Conan: Throne of Aquilonia’ – Thomas, Hawthorne, Panosian, Lucas & Jackson (Dark Horse)

Here’s something nice and simple to get me (maybe you too) into the week. It’s been a little while and I’m still finding my feet with posting and so on; some thoughts on ‘Throne of Aquilonia’ seemed like the best way forward.

If you’ve followed me in the past, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Dark Horse’s Conan output. If you didn’t… Well, now you do :o) When it’s done right (and Dark Horse do it right more often than not) it just feels so natural to see Conan’s tales told in comic book format. It’s pulpy, it’s violent and that comes across so well in this form. When it’s not done right though...? Well, it just comes across as really clunky and awkward, not the kind of thing that I want to be reading at all. I keep plugging away, in hope of more of the former than the latter, so where did ‘Throne of Aquilonia’ fall? As luck would have it, ‘Throne’ fell slap-bang in the middle with moments of pure awesome sharing the stage with moments that made me wonder why I was still reading…

Conan is still nearing the end his travels on the Road of Kings and what a way to end, drafted into a conspiracy to unseat the King of Aquilonia. Before he is done, Conan will face zombies, monstrous insects and a bloody great monster in the catacombs beneath the city.
If that wasn’t enough to be going on with, a chance encounter with a old friend will see Conan at the end of every sword in a small port city. Betrayed once again by the hypocrisy of civilised men, Conan must once again embrace his barbarism if he is to win free.

Having been a tiny bit scathing a few sentences ago, I ought to clarify things just a little bit. Roy Thomas does some pretty good work, as writer in residence, basically taking stuff that Conan always does and making it into a compelling story with lots of twists. You know how it goes… Conan’s naivety sees him being used/framed/generally messed around by civilised men with plans of their own. Conan realises too late and uses his sword to cut a bloody swathe to freedom. It can get a bit repetitive but it always makes for an entertaining read. Thomas makes it an entertaining read by springing the twists at just the right times and then throwing Conan and his friends into an underground fight with just about everything that can be thrown at them. There are also some nice little moments where Conan finds himself in charge of the little girl Albiona and his looking after her shows that he is most definitely not just about chopping heads off and getting drunk.

The encounter in Argos is also very readable with events leaving Conan in a prison cell before he’s really had a chance to find out what’s going on. This becomes a more straight forward affair, than the last story, with Conan basically doing what he does best but there’s an energy that makes this an exciting read. Nice cliff-hanger ending as well that sets things up for the next storyline (the title of which has completely escaped me…)

What annoyed me then? The artwork… I have a lot of time for Dan Panosian’s art which really captures that gritty pulp feel of the story; I’m thinking of every fight scene and that big monster (which is just ‘lizard like’ enough not to be too fantastic). I think Panosian draws a pretty good Conan as well. It was Mike Hawthorne’s artwork that let things down for me. At best it was overly cartoonish. At worst, the characters were overly cartoonish and awkwardly posed with no sense of movement in them. While Hawthorne’s art here is very crisp it really broke the flow of the story and that made for some ‘stop/start’ reading as far as I was concerned. Not so good when you’re trying to get into a story…

‘Throne of Aquilonia’ isn’t a bad read then (it has a lot going for it in fact) but I’ve got to say that I’ve read so much better from Dark Horse’s Conan line. It’s funny just what some inferior art can do…