Friday, 30 August 2013

A New Cover for Adam Nevill's 'House of Small Shadows'

I saw mention of this on Twitter and there's a blog post about over Here where you can compare the two covers. This post is about the new cover though and here it is...

There's not a lot to add, that hasn't already been said, but what I would say is that I'd like to see this cover with the deeper, richer colours used in the old cover. This one looks a little washed out to me...

It's what's inside that counts though and the blurb has me intrigued...

The Red House: home to the damaged genius of the late M. H. Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, where he lived and created his most disturbing works. The building and its treasure trove of antiques is long forgotten, but the time has come for his creations to rise from the darkness . . .

Catherine Howard can’t believe her luck when she’s invited to value the contents of the house. When she first sees the elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals and the macabre puppets, she’s both thrilled and terrified. It’s an opportunity to die for.

But the Red House has secrets, secrets as dreadful and dark as those from Catherine’s own past. At night the building comes alive with noises and movements: footsteps, and the fleeting glimpses of small shadows on the stairs. And soon the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare begin to collapse . . .

I haven't read a bad book yet from Adam Nevill (still to read 'Last Days' but I'm quietly confident it will be as good as the rest) so am looking forward to getting my hands on 'House of Small Shadows'. If you're after a spot of horror or a ghost story but don't know where to start, give Adam Nevill a go. You won't regret it but your dreams might... ;o)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Thoughts on 'Thinking about Book Collecting'

So I was reading 'Thinking about Book Collecting' (over at Pornokitsch) and, funnily enough, it got me thinking about book collecting. More specifically, the collection(s) that I am attempting to build (SF and Fantasy Masterworks). Or is it just an excuse to go into second-hand bookshops? A little bit of both, I love second-hand bookshops :o) Anyway... Because it's late I'm going to use Jared's questions to frame my own post. Here goes...

I started collecting Fantasy Masterworks because I was daft enough to let a couple of them go to the charity shop several years ago. I want to read them again (in particular 'Land of Laughs') so the hunt began. Things somehow changed from a couple of titles to collecting all the titles and then the 'SF Masterworks' got incorporated into the whole thing as well. What? I want to read them all and see what the big deal is.
Somewhere along the line, I've found myself focussing on collecting titles rather than editions. Editions are preferable but I figured that if I ever wanted to read these books then I was going to have to compromise a little. It's making the 'Masterworks Shelf' look a little more funky at the same time; I love some of those old covers that seem like they have very little to do with the book itself :o)

Am I looking for value or completeness? Completeness, definitely. If you saw my copy of 'Gloriana' then you would know what I mean. I'd always rather buy a nice looking book but so long as all the pages are there then I really don't mind too much; especially if I can pick up a book for pennies (very important right now). The reading is the thing.

Is it more important to search or to find? Amazon could bring the collecting to an end very quickly but the fun is very much in the hunt. That's the rule in fact. Books as presents? That's ok(ish) and I will treat myself to a little spree when I finally land that increasingly mythical looking job. In the meantime, it's charity shops and second hand book shops all the way. And that's how I like it. There's something almost magical about second hand bookshops anyway; to go into one and discover a book that you never knew was there but were searching for anyway? That's where the real magic lies. I was lucky enough to score a couple of 'hits' the other day. Check 'em out...

'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' (Cornerstone Books) was an amazing find as it is one of the books that ended up in the charity shop all that time ago. Same edition and looking rather good for it's age, I'll take that :o)
'Flow My Tears' (St Luke's Hospice Book Shop) though... This was a book that literally burrowed its way to the top of the box while I was telling Hope that she could have the 'Disney Princess' annual that she really wanted. And I'd swear that it wasn't there the last time I looked... That's what it's all about for me and why I don't actually want this collection to be complete any time soon.

What are you guys all collecting?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Another Excerpt From 'The Dark Defiles'

A short and sweet one for you guys today; it's lovely outside you see... :o)

If you're a fan of Richard Morgan's fantasy (like me) then the odds are that you are already following his blog and have read his latest excerpt from 'The Dark Defiles'. If, for some reason, you aren't following his blog then have a little click Here and treat yourself to another hard edged, atmospheric, scene setting read. My appetite has been whetted once again, how about yours?

Now, me and my copy of 'Bleak Seasons' are going to go and sit in the sunshine for a while...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

'The Riders' - Lord Dunsany

Who treads these level lands of gold,
The level fields of mist and air,
And rolling moutains manifold
And towers of twilight over there?

No mortal foot upon them strays,
No archer in the tower dwells,
but feet too airy for our ways
Go up and down their hills and dells.

The people out of old romance,
And people that have never been,
And those that on the border dance
Between old history and between.

Resounding fable, as the king
Who held his court at Camelot.
There Guinevere is wandering
And there the knight Sir Lancelot.

And by yon precipice of white,
As steep as Roncesvalles, and more,
Within an inch of fancy's sight,
Roland the peerless rides to war.

And just the tip of Quixote's spear,
The greatest of them all by far,
Is surely visible from here!
But no, it is the Evening Star.

I'm not one for talking about poetry, not really. I wouldn't know where to start for one thing; I paid my dues at English A-Level (which was hard enough) but now a lot of poetry is like a foreign language to me. It sounds musical to my ears but I can't understand it. The landscape described in 'The Riders' though, it's where we all go isn't it? Well, fans of fantasy anyway. It may well be that 'No mortal foot upon them strays' but we have all caught a glimpse of 'these level lands of gold' whenever we've opened a book and caught a glimpse of the magic. It's the 'rolling moutains', and that almost tangible connection between legend and the fantasy stories of today, that keep us turning the pages. Well, me anyway (now that I'm thinking about it a little more).

Looking back at what I've just written, maybe it was just that I never found the right poems that would talk to me in the way that 'The Riders' did. Lord Dunsany's imagery is magical and not only can I see those lands but I want to go back and visit again. On the old blog, I once wrote a short post about how poetry in fantasy just left me cold; I'll still hold to that with certain books (*Cough!*The Hobbit*Cough!) but maybe I'm ready to be proved wrong just a little bit. Any recommendations? I'm pretty sure Robert E. Howard wrote a poem or two and a couple of others whose names escape me (Clark Ashton-Smith? Lovecraft?)

Saturday, 24 August 2013

'Judge Dredd, Day of Chaos: Endgame' - Various (Rebellion)

Visitors to Mega City One will know that the city has a habit of getting the stuffing knocked out of it on a fairly regular basis. If it isn't being judged by the Dark Judges then it might be undergoing a saturation bombardment of nuclear missiles. If it isn't being attacked by millions upon millions of zombies then rogue Judges have escaped from Titan and are out to bring the city to its knees... Whatever happens though, you can always safely bet on there being enough of the city left for things to get back to normal. The population has been culled but the infrastructure is at least rescueable. What would happen though if the infrastructure went as well? What would happen if the city descended into utter chaos...?

'Endgame' leads on from 'The Fourth Faction' and is all about answering that very question. We've had the buildup and now it's time for the payoff. And what a payoff it is. If you're a fan then this is a book that will stay with you for a long time. It's a real 'game changer' as you just know that nothing can ever be the same again afterwards. I'm hard pressed to know where to start with this one as there is so much stuff going on here, all of it combining to leave Mega City One a smoking ruin and Judge Dredd reflecting on the action he took (thirty years ago) that led to this point. Basically, the rule of 'Endgame' is that if something bad can happen then it will. Go on, think of something bad... Yep, that certainly happened.

What makes this approach interesting though is the way that it is structured, all part of an 'Endgame' (see what I did there) years in the making that leaves the Mega City Judges constantly trying to catch up but failing. There's a great balance between the hope that things can be resolved and the crushing inevitability of what is to come. The Judges aren't just working against a foreign foe, they're also working against elements within their own city, even within Justice Department itself, and it all proves too much for them to be able to handle. If I had one small criticism it was that the Dark Judges were taken out of the game a little too quickly and too early, even though it is setting the scene for a pretty awesome storyline sometime in the future.

This approach also makes for some stunning spectacles on each page with iconic sections of the Mega City skyline falling down in flames. None of it is gratuitous either, it's all part of the plot with the Academy of Law and Statue of Judgement (housing the Public Surveillance Unit) coming under heavy attack. I'm still not sure how the PSU never saw the missiles coming, and how the statue managed to fall over without destroying the Statue of Liberty, but it all looked stunning. There is some great artwork here, in this trade, which really captures the chaos of a city falling apart from the inside out (as well as a lovely shot of Mega City One by night). While all this violence is erupting, the Chaos Bug is working its way across the city doing just as much (if not more) damage along the way. A pretty big ethical question is posed and the answer just makes things a whole lot worse. It's all really powerful stuff and leaves you wondering just where Mega City One (and Dredd, breaking if not broken) will go from here. Awesome stuff and highly recommended by me.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

'Exit Kingdom' - Alden Bell (Tor UK)

Zombie fiction has now officially taken on the guise of the creature that it focuses on. Hundreds of books (well, it feels like it) encroaching on the last bastions of 'zombie free' horror shelf space. Some of these books are clearly only recently deceased, still showing some signs of individuality and an ability to do what the rest cannot. And the rest? Rotting carcases of books that could easily be mistaken for another zombie book entirely. No individuality, no flair; just a relentless chunk of sub-genre that absolutely refuses to stop. What will the 'post-zombie' horror landscape look like once the sub-genre has burnt itself out? I'm thinking something along the lines of Atlanta in the 'Walking Dead' show...

So why do I still carry on reading zombie fiction if (as you have probably already guessed) I'm getting a little bit sick of it? Mostly force of habit I think and I'll bet you can all understand that on one level or another (a post for another day perhaps?) There's also the fact that I have found some real gems in the past (undead gems?) and sometimes it's worth ploughing through some mediocre stuff to get to the good books. Call it a zombie treasure hunt! :o)

I'm talking books like Alden Bell's 'The Reapers are the Angels'; an absolutely awesome book that, for me anyway, redefined what zombie fiction was all about. A 'literary zombie read'? Absolutely. I could wax lyrical about this book all over again but I did all that over at the other blog so have a look over there to see why I enjoyed 'Reapers' so much. As for this blog, lets just say that when I found 'Exit Kingdom' waiting for me I was in a bit of a rush to pick it up. So why was I ultimately a little disappointed? Have some blurb first before we go into all that...

In a world where the undead outnumber the living, Moses Todd roams the post-apocalyptic plains of America. His reprobate brother, Abraham - his only companion - has known little else. Together, they journey because they have to; because they have nowhere to go, and no one to answer to other than themselves. Travelling the bloody wastelands of this ruined world, Moses is looking for a kernel of truth, and a reason to keep going. And a chance encounter presents him with the Vestal Amata, a beguiling and mysterious woman who may hold the key to salvation. But he is not the only one seeking the Vestal. For the Vestal has a gift: a gift that might help save what is left of humanity. And it may take everything he has to free her from the clutches of those who most desire her.

At first glance, 'Exit Kingdom' looks like a worthy prequel to 'Reapers'. Or is it a sequel? Two stories are being told here, past and present, so you could make case for either really. I'd go with 'prequel', as that story takes up most of the book, which creates problems that I'll go into a little later on. It certainly looks good on the surface though with those wide open American spaces hiding little pockets of weirdness (I'm thinking of the airport here) as humanity deals with zombies in any number of ways. There's plenty to see here and it feels like the best kind of roadtrip, miles of empty road in front of you and nothing to do except watch the scenery.

There is a story though, of course, but it almost feels a little redundant given the fact that the book is a prequel. We've seen 'what happens next', we know that the zombies are still very much a problem by the time Moses comes to tell his tale. The tale of the Vestal Amata feels a little pointless then. Her relationship with Moses makes for interesting reading (as he constantly tries to do the right thing by someone who is a real chaotic force of nature) and the plot is driven by her ability to get into trouble. What is the point though if we know that she doesn't save humanity from the zombies? Maybe that is the whole point but that kind of approach doesn't hook me and want to carry on reading. Why did I? Mostly because of the gorgeous scenery but I'm digressing here. I could make a similar argument about Moses' brother (we all know what happens to him) but don't want to repeat myself too much. Lets just say that I still can't get my head round the idea of people writing tthe sequel first...

I also wasn't a hundred percent sold on the idea of Moses as the main character. His relentless implacability made him the ideal foil for Temple in the previous book as they both did their part in driving the plot. Here though? Apart from a couple of interesting hints (his wife and child), there just isn't enough to Moses to make him a chracter that can carry a book from beginning to end. All he wants to do is get from A to B and that introduces a linear tone to the book which it could really do without. I was strangely heartened though to see Maury still in tow.

I get the feeling that if you enjoyed 'Reapers' then you will more than likely enjoy 'Exit Kingdom', not me though. While I can appreciate that there was still a story to be told, the execution wasn't as effective as last time round. I'm fighting the urge to make a really bad pun about 'exiting' this series but would probably read another book if there was one. I just wouldn't pick it up as quickly as I did the other two...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

'Conan The Barbarian Vol.6' - Roy Thomas/Barry Smith

 Have a look a little way up the page for a picture of the cover, can't find it on Google...

The first time I came across the 'Conan/Elric' story was in a psychiatric hospital, in Northampton, some years ago now. Before you ask, I was working there... ;o) The plan was always to grab my own copies but they proved pretty much impossible to come by. I thought I'd finally cracked it when I came across the issues in 'Orbital' (worth a look whenever you're in London) but they went in the time it took to get some money and come back...
You can forgive me then for practically jumping on this small collected edition when I saw it at Nine Worlds last weekend. Not only did I finally get to read the story (finally!) but I get a nice little buzz of nostalgia seeing it collected in the same kind of format that we used to read war comics when I was at school :o) Happy days...

It felt a bit odd then to feel ever so slightly disappointed after reading the story then. Don't get me wrong, I did have a lot of fun reading and there is plenty happening here. An impossible quest, the machinations of Xiombarg and two heroes against the chaos pack of Gaynor the Damned. And not just that, we're talking two heroes who are used to being top dog and are constantly fighting not to fight each other; the dynamic between Elric and Conan does keep things ticking along nicely which is good as I have a feeling that the actual story wouldn't have done the job all by itself. It's just a little too straightforward for my tastes, full of spectacle (that Barry Smith could have perhaps illustrated a little better than he did and he can’t seem to draw eyes at all...) but no real twists. And I don't know, with two such iconic characters meeting on the page, for the first time, it just didn't feel like much of an occasion. While things like this do happen fairly regularly in the worlds of sword and sorcery, it just felt a little too casual here.
'A Sword called Stormbringer' and 'The Green Empress of Melnibone' combine to give the reader a tale then that is fun but not a lot more...

What was a nice surprise though was to see Howard's 'The Hyborian Age' as part of the collection. The format makes this history a little easier to follow and a whole lot less dry than it was in the book.
'The Blood of the Dragon' though...? While the other three stories hint at epic strokes of history (or cosmic history in the case of Elric...) this story is strictly a one off that keeps things very much in the here and now. So to speak, you know what I mean :o) 'The Blood of the Dragon' does its job well enough but really stands out as the 'odd one out' here.

All in all then? I'm kind of half and half. These tales are fun reads that don't really stand up to a great deal of scrutiny; maybe we shouldn't be asking that much of them?

Monday, 19 August 2013

The 'Slightly Sheepish...' Update Post!

Has it almost been a week? Where did the time go...? I'll tell you :o) I've been 'dog-sitting' for the last few days at my folk's house in Ipswich. I tried to get on line (I really did) but their broadband kept running these self-diagnostic sessions and, in the end, it was far easier just to turn the computer off and go read a book instead. And walk the dog. And take Hope swimming. And a whole load of other bits and pieces that were only interesting if you were there at the time :o) I'll try not to leave it so long next time (no promises though, life being as it is these days).

So, what have I got for you by way of apology? Well, this for a start...

Yep, it's 'Black Company Re-Read' time over at and this week I'm tackling 'Dreams of Steel', a book that is far more awesome this time round than I remember it being. Go and read my post Here and then leave a comment if the fancy takes you :o)

Anything else? Only a picture of three interesting looking books that were waiting when I got home yesterday...

I enjoyed Tom Lloyd's 'The Stormcaller' but never had time to finish the series. 'Moon's Artifice' is a chance then for me to get back into his writing at the start of a series (instead of part way through). A definite read then (look for it on the shelves around November time), have some blurb...

In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.

After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers - guardians of the Emperor's laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn't possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.

On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste's rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all - Moon's Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire. 

Look at that cover for 'The Six Gun Tarot', isn't it gorgeous? It's the cover which encouraged me to start reading this book today (again, I never got round to picking up the Tor edition) and it's looking promising so far. Blurb? Go on then,

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 didn't even know that there was going to be a third 'Low Town' book so the proof copy 'She Who Waits' (look for it in October) was a brilliant surprise to have waiting on the doorstep. I'm with Myke Cole by the way, Daniel Polansky is a great author who is criminally overlooked. If you're after noir detective fantasy then you really need to be reading the 'Low Town' books if you aren't already. And here's the blurb for 'She Who Waits'...

Low Town: the worst ghetto in the worst city in the Thirteen Lands.

Good only for depravity and death. And Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Low Town denizen of them all.

As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds, and never as many as when he worked for the Black House. But Warden's growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, faster than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn't get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A hospital full of lunatics, a conspiracy against the corrupt new king and a ghetto full of thieves and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden never expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today.

The one woman he ever loved.

She who waits behind all things. 

That's me for today, time to go off and make sure that we're not all waiting another few days for the next blog post... ;o)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Didn't Finish The Book... 'Three' - Jay Posey (Angry Robot)

Because I only have limited time now for reading and I want to make sure this time goes on reading the right books. There can be all sorts of reasons why I don't finish a book and sometimes these reasons aren't so much about a book as they are about me. Take 'Three' for example... 

The world has collapsed, and there are no heroes any more.
But when a lone gunman reluctantly accepts the mantle of protector to a young boy and his dying mother against the forces that pursue them, a hero may yet arise.

Now 'Three' is a funny book for me to give up on as not only does it have a whole load of things that I like but they're all very well written and combine to form a decent sounding enough tale. Post-Apocalyptic landscape? Check. Evil creatures prowling said landscape? Check. Mysterious hero who ends up doing the right thing against his better judgement? Check again. What's not to like? Nothing really but the fact remains that if you put a book down and forget to pick it up for a month then something clearly hasn't worked. So what happened?

Well, this time is was none other than the titular character himself; a character so closed off that it was impossible to relate to him. Now I know what you're going to say but go on, say it anyway. What? That's the whole point? Posey is holding his hand close to his chest and will spring something major two thirds in? I can see that and, based on what I read, I think he has the skills to pull it off. That wasn't enough for me though; I needed a little more of a hook early into the book and that wasn't happening here. 
Has anyone else read 'Three' yet? I'm willing to give this book another chance as there is definitely potential for a gripping tale further in. I really wanted this book to work for me (and it still might) so let me know if you find it :o)

Monday, 12 August 2013

The 'Nine Worlds Geekfest!' Catch-Up Post!

Until this weekend, the closest I'd ever got to going to a sci-fi convention was the inaugural SFX Weekender. All we had to do was pack and go there but then Hope started throwing up repeatedly and we spent most of the time in A&E instead. Happy days...

This weekend though, I actually made it to my first ever convention and I will definitely be back for more if 'Nine Worlds' was anything to go by. I got to meet loads of old friends and sat in on some really interesting panels - what was not to like? Funnily enough, as it happened, I never made it to any of the book panels; the door always seemed to be closed and I didn't want to be the one who opened it in the middle of someone talking. It was cool though, the Steampunk door was wide open so I snuck in and listened to Jonathan Green, Stephen Hunt and Raven Dane talk about all things Steampunk literature. Robert Rankin was there as well but seemed more interested in steering the conversation towards the phallic shape that he had seen on the back of a chair... What's Steampunk after all, without a little phallic upholstery...? I think the Steampunk people missed a bit of a trick by the way, Charles Stross was in the building and I think they should have got him on that particular panel...

The panel about 'Doctor Who Villains' was really good to sit in on and it was cool to see the moderator steer the discussion away from 'Daleks vs Cybermen' and onto other monsters/villains that don't get the same kind of press. I was a little ashamed to admit that the Haemovores scared the life out of me (and still do) so have some admiration for those people who 'fessed up to their childhood fears.
I even found myself sitting in on a 'Torchwood' panel which is odd seeing as I've seen one full episode (the first) and small chunks of about three others. I ended up really getting into it though as the enthusiasm of the panel members (especially Kai Owen) was totally contagious. If 'Torchwood' is repeated on the TV then I might give it another go.

And then I went and spent far too much money on books...

As a kid, I used to practically live in second hand book shops/market stalls when we were on holiday; quality sic-fi and fantasy for under 50p. I would probably never have read any David Gemmell if I hadn't discovered 'Legend' on a wet weekend away. But anyway...

The second hand book stall was absolutely massive (easily the largest stall in the Dealer's Room) and I totally got lost in it for hours, browsing away. Do you want to see what I came home with? Of course you do...

I'm still hunting out 'SF Masterworks' and the only way I'm going to be able to do it is if I'm not too fussy about the editions. These two books are in really nice condition by the way, they all were actually. I haven't read enough Phillip K. Dick so this is my attempt to set that straight. I was looking for a copy of of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' and clearly didn't read the small print underneath 'Blade Runner'... What was I thinking? I don't know...

When I do find a 'SF Masterworks' edition though, it gets snapped up right away :o) 'Stand on Zanzibar' is a book that I've always meant to read so, when I saw it on the table, the book pretty much bought itself.

These two books were only a pound each and are the same edition as my copy of 'The King of Elfland's Daughter'; I thought they'd all look nice together on the shelf :o) It's not just that though. I've been reading more short stories and Lord Dunsany's have been recommended as ones to read if you like your fantasy well written. I enjoyed 'How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles' so am hoping for more of the same here.

I'm always on the lookout for more 'Conan' and thought it was a good time so branch out a little and get other author's takes on this iconic character. The 'Stan Lee Presents' was a bit of a find for me as it carries the 'Conan'Elric' team-up storyline, which I thought I'd never see again, and 'The Road of Kings' was a chance for me to read more Karl Edward Wagner. The cover for 'Conan The Buccaneer' really stood out to me as a child (on holiday close on thirty years ago...) and now I get to see what the story itself was like. 'The Gods of Bal-Sagoth' is the only book in the picture that was actually written by Robert E. Howard and a good chance to sample his stories outside 'Conan'.

Quite the little haul then :o) All of it will be reviewed here but I'm not setting any deadlines; I want to savour these books... I try not to link to online stores here but the seller has loads more books like these; have a look Here if you're interested.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Friday Free Reading!

A bit of a 'cheats post' this morning as I'm actually trying my hardest to come up with sensible sounding questions for an interview that I have this afternoon. Any good luck wishes will be greatly appreciated as I have a horrible feeling that it's going to be a bit of a fight to get into my suit...

In the meantime, Free Reading! I found this link on Facebook (can't remember who posted it but thanks anyway!) and it's an amazing resource if, like me, you haven't read a lot of science fiction written by women. Looking back at my reading, this is something that I really need to address. One of the perils, I think, of not reading an awful lot of sic-fi anyway and (recently) letting my reading be decided by a book's cover art... I'll have to see what I can do about that.

Anyway, enjoy some free reading!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Bits and Pieces in the Post...

I'm starting to get a few books turn up in the post, some of which might be read/reviewed while others make that short journey to the charity shop... Here are some that turned up in the last couple of days,

So there's a 'will definitely read', 'might read' and 'will not read' here, one of each :o) I have absolutely no interest in reading 'The Deepest Night' which looks like another 'Supernatural Boarding School Tale'. I may be doing it a disservice but there's only so much time in the day and more appealing books to fill it with! 'Children of Fire' looks like it could be it could be worth a go but I've never got on with Karpyshyn's 'Star Wars' books, have a read of the blurb and tell me what you think...

Long ago the gods chose a great hero to act as their agent in the mortal world and to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion, Daemron, with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power at his command corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.

Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.

Bound by a connection deeper than blood, the Children of Fire will either restore the Legacy or bring it crashing down, freeing Daemron to wreak his vengeance upon the mortal world.

On the one hand, it looks like fun. On the other hand, more children born in Fantasyland who have magic powers...? Really not sure, has anyone else read it?

'The Orphan' though...? I've realised recently that I am after something properly spooky and this looks like it could fit the bill nicely...

Darren and Beth Lynwood always dreamed of having a son, but when young amnesiac runaway Adam enters their lives, he brings with him a creeping darkness that threatens to engulf their family and everyone around them.

When Adam's memories claw their way to the surface, Darren finds himself haunted by thoughts of his own childhood - and of a boy very much like Adam who was done an unspeakable wrong.

As buried secrets are unearthed, the Lynwood's happy home becomes the hunting ground for a relentless evil and an obsession that will not die.

There's no point locking the door.
There's no use shutting out the night.
Because the orphan is already inside.

If it's half as good as 'The Birthing House' (which I really enjoyed) then 'The Orphan' should make for some chilling reading and will definitely be read at some point soon.

What about you guys though? Do any of these books tickle your fancy? Leave comments in the usual place if they do... ;o) 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

'The Charnel God' - Clark Ashton Smith

So I was mooching around on Amazon 'New and Used' yesterday, having a look at how much I could pick up second hand Fantasy Masterworks for. Yep, I'm still on the lookout for those books (definitely a long game this one…) and Amazon is a good place to start - a little too easy perhaps but that's another story. I'd never read anything by Clark Ashton Smith so was quite pleased to see that 'Emperor of Dreams' has gone down in price from 'Wow that's extortionate!' to 'Hmmm, might just have to treat myself to that at some point…' I wanted to read something now though (dammit!) and a little more online mooching led me to this site where I managed to download a whole load of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories. Where does a guy begin when faced with a lot of short stories and no idea where to start? In my case, I will invariably go for the story with the coolest sounding name and so my 'Clark Ashton Smith Reading' began with 'The Charnel God'…

"And all who die within the walls of the city are sacred to Mordiggian. Even the kings and the optimates, at death, are delivered into the hands of his muffled priests. It is the law and the custom. A little while and the priests will come for your bride."
"But Elaith is not dead," protested the youth Phariom for the third or fourth time, in piteous desperation…'

The more I read, the more I find myself after a baited hook that will catch me as quickly as possible. I don't know about you but I just don't have the time these days to wait and see if a story will catch the imagination. It's not that I won't give a book a chance, some books ultimately prove that they're worth persevering with. I just want it to do its job as quickly as possible. 'The Charnel God' does an admirable job, of baiting that hook, within a paragraph. A beautiful bride is about to be offered up to a hungry god; can her husband exploit the one loophole that might save her? Tell me that you read that paragraph and didn't want to find out what happened to Elaith. I wanted to know and I didn't stop reading until I found out. I'm not sure whether the conclusion to the tale was predictable or not (more on that in a bit) but the experience as a whole was dark and richly satisfying. I don't think I would want to read more than one short story in a sitting but I will be reading more.

A matter of life and death is playing out on the dark streets of Zul-Bha-Sair but it feels like the city itself takes centre stage as a fine example of how Ashton Smith can create a setting steeped in myth and dark legend. Phariom certainly spends enough time wondering around the streets while waiting to breach the temple of Mordiggian. This did make me wonder if the story should have been balanced a little more in favour of the plot but I couldn't really complain all that much when I got to wonder 'the gloomy, serpentine streets of Zul-Bha-Sair' with Phariom. 

'The sun had risen above the over jutting houses, but it seemed to him that there was no light, other than a lost and doleful glimmering such as might descend into mortuary depths. The people, it may have been, were much like other people, but he saw them under a malefic aspect, as if they were ghouls and demons that went to and fro on the ghastly errands of a necropolis.'

I like what Ashton Smith does here, basically saying that the city is a dark and gloomy place, with those over jutting houses, but a lot of this is down to Phariom's state of mind (and you can't really blame him for that). A great way to get double the insight for the price of one paragraph.

Like I said, I thought that Phariom perhaps spent a little too long wondering the streets, mention of 'furious, aimless haste' felt rather apt but the cityscape is worth it, giving the first time reader (me!) a little insight into Ashton Smith's world as well as the city itself. It's when we get to the temple itself that the plot decides to make an appearance with a nice twist that renders a seemingly straightforward tale a little more interesting.  Abnon-Tha, 'sorcerer and necromancer', is looking to double cross the priesthood of Mordiggian and this leads him into direct confrontation with Phariom (thanks to his apprentice taking a keen interest in the body of Elaith). There are some very tense moments here that are geared to make the finale as exciting as possible but the arrival of Mordiggian just overshadows everything, quite literally…

'Its form was that of a worm-shapen column, huge as a dragon, its further coils still issuing from the gloom of the corridor; but it changed from moment to moment, swirling and spinning as if alive with the vortical energies of dark eons. Briefly it took the semblance of some demoniac giant with eyeless head and limbless body; and then, leaping and spreading like smoky fire, it swept forward into the chamber.'

What an amazing description of something that clearly cannot be described. Something that is clearly holding a larger part of itself outside of human comprehension. As is right and proper in a pulp tale like this, the villains of the piece meet their end but I really wasn't sure about Phariom and Elaith being allowed to leave. Was it predictable that the 'good guys' win through? Or was it a bit more of a surprise, given the dark environs that they had found themselves in? I'm going to have to give that one some more thought…

For now though, 'The Charnel God' was a lovely slice of the darkest fantasy and I can see myself going back for another helping sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The 'Dogsitting...' Catch-Up Post!

This post should have gone up yesterday but, to be honest, a day trip to Brighton beats blogging every time, even when it rains for large chunks of the day... :o) I didn't find any of the second hand bookshops I'd heard were in Brighton but watching Hope clean up on the 2p machines pretty much made up for that (there will be other times for bookshop hunting...) And today sees me dogsitting for a friend, not a hard job as the dogs seem to be catching up on their sleep right now. I like dogs :o)

So where does that leave the blog then? Well, everything gets bumped back a day which gives me a little extra time to make inroads to 'King of Thorns' (which is great by the way) and a couple of other books that I want to talk about here. What are they? Wait and see... :o)

In the meantime, my latest 'Black Company Re-Read' post went up on yesterday and it would be totally remiss of me if I didn't link to it from here. Have a click Here if you want to read what I have to say about 'Shadow Games', a whole new chapter in the history of the Black Company and a step forward towards the big finale in Khatovar. Only five more books to go...

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Short Story Sunday, ‘Nyarlathotep’ - H.P. Lovecraft.

So, guess which word I will mostly be copying and pasting over the course of this post...?  I tried to read 'The Call of Cthulhu and other Weird Stories' all in one chunk, when I was doing the other blog, but swiftly got bogged down in a set of stories that all felt the same. A man sees something that destroys his sanity and the story ends with him either about to kill himself or ruminating on matters beyond mortal understanding. I love Lovecraft's fiction but there is only so much of it that I can read in one sitting. A bite sized chunk for a bite sized post though? I can do that and ‘Nyarlathotep’ barely registers as a bite sized chunk in any case, weighing in at a painfully slender three pages.

‘Nyarlathotep’ is an odd one to call, being an introduction to one of Lovecraft’s pantheon as well as being the tale of a man caught in Nyarlathotep’s spell. You look at the length of this tale and wonder if there is enough room for either objective, let alone both, but it soon becomes clear that Lovecraft knows what he is up to.

‘… everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt.’

Starting things off on such a grim note, and then introducing this entity, really sets the tone of the piece; both in terms of background and an ominous promise of something that we can’t quite place, until it is far too late. Nyarlathotep is a messenger (or a harbinger of something…), arriving at the very point that humanity needs to hear what he has to say. And that’s the thing, mankind (as encapsulated by our narrator, who talks of ‘static electricity’ and ‘imposture’) clearly cannot understand the message and must pay the consequence.

And what a consequence… It is here that the story (for me) dissolves into a mass of apocalyptic imagery that suggested time travel but is also perhaps the narrator having his eyes opened to what lies beyond the narrow frame of human vision. It gets really weird here with the ‘revolting graveyard of the universe’ laid bare for the reader. This is powerful stuff with talk of ‘corpses of dead worlds’ and ‘charnel winds that brush the pallid stars’. If that wasn’t bad enough, this crescendo of imagery builds up to a point where Lovecraft feels that we are finally ready to learn just what Nyarlathotep actually is; a revelation that didn’t surprise me but was none the less powerful for it.

I’ve read several of Lovecraft’s stories but ‘Nyarlathotep’ is the one, for me, that really lets us know what his mythos is all about. Life is ultimately fruitless and governed over by gods that are indifferent to our presence at best, if they even know we are there at all (‘blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles’). Not a Sunday morning read then if you’ve had a heavy Saturday night but one I would recommend you read if you want a strange slice of weird horror…

Friday, 2 August 2013

Some More Quick Thoughts - 'Dredd' (2012)

Some things never change… I will always be the last person to see a film and very much the last person to blog about it afterwards. I get there in the end though.

The conversation about 'Dredd' has moved on from the film itself and is now firmly in the territory of 'Will there be a sequel? Please let there be a sequel…' Having watched the film on DVD a few times now (no worrying about 3D here, stupid 3D…) I'm very much in that camp; hopefully it will happen.

I'm a self confessed fan of the comics and I have to say that despite some unfortunate similarities with 'The Raid' (two very similar films just happened to come out the same time) the producers got it absolutely bang on the money here. Shying away from filming an established storyline, from the comic, lets the film stand on it's own two feet and avoids any of the pitfalls that the Stallone version (fun but horribly, horribly flawed) fell into. If there is a sequel then maybe that will be the time to look at something like 'Judge Death' (rumoured) or something like that. 

What we have here then is no special event, just another day in the life of a Mega City Judge and that makes the violence all the more depressing somehow. This shit goes on every single day and what Dredd and Anderson are doing to fight it won't even scratch the surface of a huge problem. They fight anyway (for what looks like differing reasons but I actually suspect they're more similar than Dredd would want to admit) and that is where the power in this film comes from. It's a very straightforward story but Karl Urban's Dredd carries it along nicely and Olivia Thirlby's Anderson acts as an effective counterpoint. A naive belief in the law (until Anderson has to actually enforce it) versus an implacable drive to see justice done.

Going back to the Stallone version for a second, I thought the only thing they did right there was the backdrop that it was all set against. It was proper Mega City One just like in the comics and that was cool. 'Dredd' moves away from this backdrop entirely with a grim and bleak cityscape that is totally different yet somehow encapsulates just what Mega City One is all about; a refuge in a nuclear desert where the only release for the populace seems to be violent acts of crime. Very much like Elephant & Castle, in London, but without the nuclear fallout. That gritty backdrop suits the underlying tone of the film far better than a futuristic sci-fi cityscape ever would have done.

It's like a whole new version of 'Judge Dredd' then with enough nods to the original (Chopper and 'The Krysler Mark' were two that I spotted) to keep people like me happy. I've got all my fingers crossed for a sequel and I wouldn't mind seeing more of Urban's Dredd in comics (I think that IDW missed a trick here…)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

'Scorched Earth' (Nick Kyme, Black Library) ), Some Quick Thoughts on an Extract.

When I was offered the chance to review an extract from 'Scorched Earth' I couldn't help but say yes; mostly because I'm a sucker for the 'Horus Heresy' series (this is the closest I've got to one of their limited edition novellas) but also because it's fast becoming a habit to read stuff off my phone. There was also the fact that I have never reviewed an extract of something before and was interested to see how it would pan out on the page. Before we get started on that though, lets have some blurb for 'Scorched Earth' so we can place the extract in a wider context...

Nearly a quarter of a million loyal Space Marines lost their lives on Isstvan V – the Dropsite Massacre lasted only a few hours, and yet the Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders were slaughtered by those they had once called kin. With the disappearance of their primarch weighing heavily upon their hearts, Ra’stan and Usabius of the XVIIIth Legion leave behind their fellow survivors and strike out into the Urgall Depression. Their mission: to find what, if anything, remains of mighty Vulkan...

‘I am a Space Marine of the XVIII Legion Salamanders, one of the Fire-born and true son of Vulkan, and for the first time in my life I know despair.’

The extract places us right in the middle of the ‘Dropsite Massacre’, on Istvaan, where Salamanders Ra’stan and Usabius are searching for the Primarch Vulkan whilst trying to stay alive. After reading more ‘impersonal’ recounts, in other books, this extract is a real breath of fresh air in that it deposits you right in the middle of this surpremely traumatic event. Ra’stan is fighting for his life but can’t quite believe it is happening. As a loyal marine, he never thought he would fight his own kind and Kyme’s portrayal of the aftermath, of the massacre, matches the turmoil happening in Ra’stan’s head. Everything is debris and nothing ever will be the same again.

The extract is very fast paced, not pulling a single punch, and Kyme’s prose makes it very easy to keep reading; engaging characters in a situation where you have to see how it is resolved. Having said that, the title of a forthcoming ‘Horus Heresy’ tale does give that away but I don’t think fans are going to mind too much about that.

Based on this extract, I think that if I had been given the whole book to review, I would have probably read the whole of ‘Scorched Earth’ in one sitting. I had a lot of fun reading and now I find myself in the position where I want to carry on. Maybe one day... :o)