Monday, 30 September 2013

‘It’s a Good Life’ – Jerome Bixby

I’m going back to the ‘Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One (1929-1964)’ one more time and then off to whatever the next book is that catches my eye. I came across ‘It’s a Good Life’ (first published in 1953) when I mislaid my bookmark and was trying to find ‘Born of Man and Woman’ for another quick re-read (I could read that one again and still not get bored). The title intrigued me, especially with that emphasis and its suggestion of an undertone, so I thought I’d give it a try and find the Matheson story later.
Not only am I really glad that I did but I’m starting to think that ‘The Science Fiction Hall of Fame’ will be worth getting into a whole lot more (if the stories I’ve read are any indicator of the overall quality).

The people of Peaksville live in fear of little Anthony with his ability to read minds and make people’s wishes come true. If everything is good then maybe, just maybe, Anthony won’t do anything else. What Anthony has already done to Peaksville is horrifying enough, what he can to people that he doesn’t like is even worse… Just don’t ever let him hear you sing.

With ‘It’s a Good Life’ Bixby initially adopts a narrow focus and concentrates our attention on Anthony; a three year old boy with a ‘bright, wet purple gaze’ who casts an ‘odd shadow’. Just enough detail to unsettle but not too much, Bixby clearly likes his readers to do the legwork and that’s the best way. After all, the readers can frighten themselves a lot more effectively if they are left to fill in the gaps. Anthony is clearly a person with great power (and maybe not entirely human) but is also a three-year-old child who is dangerously impulsive with that power. See what happens to Bill Soames, a person that Anthony actually likes. You can see then why everyone must act like everything is ok and ‘good’; no-body knows just what Anthony will do to solve things that are bad, only that it won’t end well…

‘Like the time Mrs Kent’s husband, Sam, had come walking back from the graveyard, because Anthony liked Mrs Kent and had heard her mourning.’

Bixby lets you get used to this idea and then slowly widens that narrow focus so that you get the full horror of what Anthony has done to the people of Peaksville and the town itself. Without going too much into that, it really puts everyone’s plight into perspective when you realise that there is no way out at all (we’re told in no uncertain terms) and that the townsfolk are totally at the mercy of Anthony and his whims. It’s a really abrupt way to end the story and this sense of blunt power is underlined by what Anthony has done to Dan Hollis for singing.

‘Bad man’, Anthony said, and thought Dan Hollis into something like nothing anyone would have believed possible, and then he thought the thing into a grave deep, deep in the cornfield.’

There’s a real sense of hopelessness and despair hiding behind the fake smiles of the characters and it’s this which makes ‘It’s a Good Life’ such a harrowing tale. Even the very last sentence lets you know that the people of Peaksville will still be suffering long after you finish reading,

‘Next day it snowed, and killed off half the crops – but it was a good day.’

If you haven’t read this story then I really think you should; either that or watch the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. Definitely worth it.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Cover Art! 'The Doctor and the Dinosaurs' (Mike Resnick)

I'm normally a pretty big fan of Pyr, both in terms of their output and the gorgeous covers that they dress it all up in. This time round though? Hmmm...

Is it just me or would this cover look a lot more at home on the front of a computer game? Pulp + Steampunk + Dinosaurs should normally equal a lot of mad fun and the book itself may well have all that in pades. It's just a little too cartoonish for me though (although nice font for the title).
It's a good job then that the synopsis seems to promise a little bit more...

The time is April, 1885. Doc Holliday lies in bed in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado, expecting never to leave his room again. But the medicine man and great chief Geronimo needs him for one last adventure. Renegade Comanche medicine men object to the newly-signed treaty with Theodore Roosevelt. They are venting their displeasure on two white men who are desecrating tribal territory in Wyoming. Geronimo must protect the men or renege on his agreement with Roosevelt. He offers Doc one year of restored health in exchange for taking on this mission.

Welcome to the birth of American paleontology, spearheaded by two brilliant men, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two men whose genius is only exceeded by their hatred for each other's guts.

Now, with the aid of Theodore Roosevelt, Cole Younger, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Holliday must save Cope and Marsh not only from the Comanches, not only from living, breathing dinosaurs, but from each other. And that won't be easy.

I've always had a soft spot for cowboys and dinosaurs (what was that old film again...?) so will more than likely give 'The Doctor and the Dinosaurs' a go a little close to its publication date in December. How about you? Has anyone else here read any of Resnick's 'Weird West' books? 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Could this be the best book signing ever...?

I reckon it comes very close :o) Check out the press release,

On Tuesday 5th November at 6pm, come and celebrate Fawkes’ night, Forbidden Planet style as welcome two amazing authors! Meet SCOTT LYNCH and PATRICK ROTHFUSS, signing THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES and THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore.

In Scott’s Lynch’s THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES, Locke and Jean come back from their high seas adventure, and are brought down with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi. It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long lost love, who wants nothing more than to destroy them for ever. The Gentleman Bastard sequence has become a literary sensation in fantasy circles and now, with the third book, Scott Lynch is set to seal that success.

Patrick Rothfuss’s THE WISE MAN’S FEAR is the follow-up to the hugely successful THE NAME OF THE WIND, and has been hailed as the exciting fantasy since George R. R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Picking up the tale of Kvothe Kingkiller, this book follows him into exile, into political intrigue, courtship, adventure, love and magic . . . and further along the path that has turned Kvothe, the mightiest magician of his age, a legend in his own time, into Kote, the unassuming pub landlord. 

There is no doubt at all that I will be there on the night. Ok, there is some doubt that I will be there on the night (baby number two will only be a month away at that point) but I'll try my best. See you there?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

‘Born of Man and Woman’ – Richard Matheson

I’ve had a copy of ‘The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One (1929 – 1964)’ on my shelf for a long time now. I never really picked it up as I’ve found that I have a bit of an aversion to being told what is good and what isn’t, I’d rather read something and make my own mind up. Here, the blurb talks about ‘twenty six of the greatest science fiction stories ever written… the considered verdict of the Science Fiction Writers of America’. I’m sure they know what they are talking about but even so, I want to find my own ‘greatest science fiction stories ever written.’

Well, that was what I was thinking until I picked up ‘The Science Fiction Hall of Fame’ the other day (really want to get back to reading books that I already have on the shelves) and saw that there was a Richard Matheson story lurking within. I say ‘lurking’, ‘Born of Man and Woman’ is only three pages long and is very easy to miss if you’re flicking through the book. Richard Matheson hasn’t let me down yet so I thought I’d have a quick read before I went to bed last night…

‘X- This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch…
Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how I saw the water falling from upstairs.’

Matheson sets things to play with our expectations very early on. A small child locked in the cellar by an abusive mother and a father who cannot bring himself to touch the child at all,

‘Look at you he said and didn’t have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it is alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldn’t reach.’

These early moments in the story are all about identifying with the child. It loves it’s parents, despite their rejection, and has been shut away from everything. It is the father’s reaction though that suggests there is a little more to this tale then at first appears and the readers have to ask themselves, ‘just why has this child been shut away…?’

The beauty of Matheson’s writing lies in his ability to drop major revelations in a very matter of fact way. Blink and you’ll miss it, catch those moments and the whole story will suddenly be turned upside down. The child escapes the cellar, briefly, and his father finds him,

‘The anger came in his eyes. He hit me. I spilled some of the drip on the floor from one arm. It was not nice. It made ugly green on the floor.’

All of a sudden we start to realise exactly why the child (we never find out if it is male or female) has been locked away and just why its parents are so unloving towards it. It is not entirely human. At the same time though, we are looking at this story through the eyes of a child  (‘Ohgod he said. And only eight’) that is trying to express uncertainty and unhappiness through very immature speech. It works, the reader ends up feeling very sorry for everyone involved but most of all for the child.

But then that all changes. ‘This is another times…’ and the child has grown to a point where the father can no longer fully control it. If this wasn’t bad enough, the child has realised that the balance of power has shifted, ‘I have a bad anger with mother and father… If they try to beat me again Ill hurt them. I will.’

We’ve all heard children say this (and have probably said similar things ourselves as children) but Matheson adds a touch of horror to these words with the nearest thing to a description of just what is locked in the cellar. We still don’t know what it looks like but the descriptions of what it will do gives us some pretty vivid clues.

‘I will screech and laugh loud. I will run on the walls. Last I will hang head down by all my legs and laugh and drip green all over until they are sorry they didn’t be nice to me.’

I’m thinking some kind of bat-creature here (although that’s just me) but what is clear is that the fear of the parents has driven the child to fully embrace its monstrous nature and things will undoubtedly get a lot worse.

Matheson has written a pretty damn terrifying story all in all; a story made all the more terrifying through the inability of any of the characters to resolve a situation that could be resolved. Or could it? That’s the question you have to ask and that adds another level of fear to the narrative.
Either way, I’ve just read another story by Richard Matheson that stuck in my head for hours afterwards and had me wondering what happened next. You can’t ask for a lot more than that and while I’m still not sure if ‘Born of Man and Woman’ is one of the ‘greatest science fiction stories ever written’ I’m more than happy (if ‘happy’ is the right word) with what I’ve just read.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Book Haul! (Moorcock and Eddison Edition)

I've been waiting a little while to show this haul off, mostly because the books were in a charity shop (in Ipswich) and then they were residing at my folks house (thanks Mum!) waiting to come over and meet their new owner.
They're all mine though now and a real example of what a determined bit of prodding around, in the most unlikely looking charity shops) can do. Have a look,

I've never read the 'Epic Pooh' essay (although have heard what everyone else thinks of it) so am looking forward to reading that, amongst others, in 'Wizardy and Wild Romance'. I haven't read any Jerry Cornelius at all and have still to start 'The Dancers at the End of Time' series so 'The New Nature of the Catastrophe' and 'Legends from the End of Time' are just what the doctor ordered. Actually, I have read 'Elric at the End of Time' (which is in 'Legends') and I'm looking forward to reading that story again.

You wait ages for some 'Jerry Cornelius' and then two books come along at once :o) I like the way that 'A Cure for Cancer' is marked as 'Science Fiction' on the cover', I guess someone thought the skeleton woman holding a ray gun was a little bit too subtle...
I'm looking forward to seeing if/how 'The Golden Barge' expends on the short story and 'The Worm Ouroboros' was an opportunity to nudge my 'Fantasy Masterworks' collection onwards a little bit (even though it's not the correct edition, not a big deal so long as I get to read the books). All will be reviewed here in the fullness of time :o)

If you do happen to find yourself in Ipswich, check out the Samaritans charity shop (Carr Street) as they still have a whole load of very cool (and cheap) sci-fi and fantasy books on the shelves. Then turn around and get the hell out town! Seriously, there are nicer places to spend your time, don't say I didn't warn you...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

‘Monster Massacre’ Vol. 1 – Various (Atomeka/Titan Comics)

There are some books that will defy any attempt to review them, simply because the cover already says everything that the reader needs to know. Is there any point talking about a book where the first thing you see is this…?

If that didn’t make things clear enough for you, the blurb on the back talks about ‘hot Nordic goddesses punching evil stuff in the face!’ Do I really need to go on…?
Well actually I do. ‘Monster Massacre’ is a book clearly geared towards lovers of busty Nordic goddesses (both ‘Sharky’ and ‘El Zombo’ cater for that) but there’s a lot here for everyone else as well and it’s all fun to read.

Although I wasn’t too keen on some of the artwork on display (Andy Kuhn’s ‘Monster Puncher’ was a little too ‘sketchy’ for my tastes and the same accusation could also be levelled at Dave Dorman’s ‘Monkey Business’) I don’t think there is a single outright bad story in this collection. Okay, ‘Sharky’ and ‘El Zombo’ fall just the wrong side of being too one-dimensional (sacrificing plot for spectacle although both tales do make for quite the spectacle) but make up for it by being a lot of fun in the meantime.

What really made the book work for me is that each story takes a different look at what being a monster can mean and the different kind of consequences that must be faced. Delsante and Aranda’s ‘Daikaiju’ asks who the real monsters are when people will do anything to be the person who kills a mythical dragon. Edginton and D’Israeli’s ‘Little Monsters’ is also worth a look in that regard; a similar story but set against a gorgeously surreal backdrop (wonderfully illustrated) that adds new layers to an old theme. I’d like to read ‘Kingdom of the Wicked’ based on this story. Mark Nelson’s ‘Bandits’ is a post apocalyptic look at highway robbery involving a very cute (but highly poisonous) little purple monster. I particularly loved this story as not only is the artwork beautiful but the story itself is told without any words at all. None are needed because of the artwork; ‘Bandits’ is a silent piece that is somehow eloquent all at the same time.

If you like your ‘Cthulhu’ then ‘Monster Massacre’ caters quite nicely with Paris and Suydan’s ‘Deep Six’ (full of action but hinting at a wider story that I really needed to have read first) and Mike Elliott’s ‘The Thing in the Surf’, a piece that surprised me with it’s inclusion (being a wholly prose piece with no artwork at all). It is a very chilling tale though and Elliott’s descriptive prose allows ‘The Thing in the Surf’ to hold its head high with the rest of the tales in this collection.

I’m always on the lookout for more fantasy comic strips (there aren’t enough for my liking) so it was great to see ‘Monster Massacre’ featuring Mark A. Nelson’s ‘Seasons’ as well as Marz and Raney’s ‘Pair of Rogues’. It’s funny how these two stories stand up in comparison to each other. ‘Seasons’ features perhaps some of the best artwork in the collection (outside of the galleries) but literally has no story to speak of. ‘Pair of Rogues’, on the other hand, has some very workmanlike artwork in places but has a compelling storyline with two lead characters that I would like to see more of. Funny how things work out isn’t it?

‘Monster Massacre’ then is a real lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The stories collected may be a little hit and miss but there is something here for everyone and it’s all geared to really get you thinking about what monsters are actually all about.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

‘Final Duty’ – David Guymer (Black Library)

I’m probably still one Kindle away from reading full length novels electronically; I’ve tried reading them on my phone and it doesn’t work for me, not on a small screen. Short stories and stuff like that though…? Me and my phone have that one covered. The shorter the story the better and it just so happens that Black Library have released a series of 1,000 word short e-stories. I’ve read a few Warhammer 40K stories now but I’d never even heard of the Hospitallers Space Marines, let alone come across them, so my interest in ‘Final Duty’ was instantly piqued. I also wondered how much story you could fit into a thousand words, quite a bit as it happens…

Imperial Guard Lieutenant Caleb lies near death, entangled on razorwire, until he is rescued by a warrior from legend, a mighty Space Marine of the Hospitallers Chapter. Taken for treatment, he soon discovers that his rescuer may be more dangerous than the foes he originally faced…

Writing a story in only a thousand words must be quite a challenge, what with background to fit in as well as story. Guymer circumvents this by leaving out a lot of detail and going for the whole ‘this is just one battle in a whole galaxy at war’ approach. It worked for me. Not only do you get that ‘wide screen’ feel of a galaxy at war but Guymer makes room to show you just how brutal it is up close and personal.
In some ways, Caleb isn’t an ideal character to take you through the story as he is out of his mind with pain and fear. On the other hand though, Caleb is the ideal character to introduce Brother Raphel of the Hospitallers; a marine with a holy mission that will never end whilst war is being waged.
It’s not the mission you think either. I won’t say too much here, for fear of spoilers, but the ‘final reveal’ was a neat little twist for someone like me, who wasn’t familiar with this Chapter, and Guymer even provides a nice little cinematic touch to the last paragraph or two.

At 99p for the download, I don’t think fans can go too far wrong with ‘Final Duty’ and, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing what Guymer can do with a little more room to work in. If it’s anything like this, I could well be in for a bit of a treat.

Friday, 20 September 2013

'Calvin & Muad'Dib'

I saw this linked on Twitter this morning and, even though it's been on Tumblr for a while, I thought I'd share :o) I'm enough of a fan of both for it to be a nice Friday chuckle. Anyone care to hazard a guess at how humanity would have fared if Calvin had taken charge of Arrakis and its supply of spice...?

You can find the 'Calvin & Muad'Dib' tumblr over Here.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Table of Contents for George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois' 'Old Mars'

I've been out of the loop for a little while and completely forgot about this book until it landed on my doorstep yesterday. I was saying, the other day, that this blog hasn't had enough spaceships on it yet. Well, this spaceship should go a long way towards making up for that...

Old school 'pulp' rocketships win every time :o) And look at the strange Martian city in the distance...

'Old Mars' is a book that I'm looking forward to dipping in and out of, over the next few weeks, as I don't have the time to read a whole anthology in one sitting (which reminds me, I still have 'Fearsome Journeys' to finish off at some point, it's awesome by the way). If you haven't seen the Table of Contents yet have a look now...

'Martian Blood' (Allen M. Steele)
'The Ugly Duckling' (Matthew Hughes)
'The Wreck Of The Mars Adventure' (David D. Levine)
'Swords of Zar-tu-kan' (S.M. Stirling)
'Shoals' (Mary Rosenblum)
'In The Tombs of the Martian Kings' (Mike Resnick)
'Out Of Scarlight' (Liz Williams)
'The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls' (Howard Waldrop)
'A Man Without Honor' (James S.A. Corey)
'Written In Dust' (Melinda Snodgrass)
'The Lost Canal' (Michael Moorcock)
'The Sunstone' (Phyllis Eisenstein)
'King Of The Cheap Romance' (Joe R. Lansdale)
'Mariner' (Chris Roberson)
'The Queen Of Night’s Aria' (Ian Mcdonald)

A whole load of intriguing titles here :o) Out of the list, I would have to say that I'm looking forward to reading 'The Lost Canal' most (for obvious reasons) but I'm also keen to read 'In The Tombs of the Martian Kings' (Resnick writes great space opera) and 'King of the Cheap Romance' (just to see what Lansdale does with the 'Old Mars' setting). I'll let you know how it all goes here.

How about you? Any titles here that catch your eye?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

‘Kick Ass 2’ – Millar/Romita Jr. (Titan Books)

One of the problems I’ve faced with the ‘Black Company Re-Read’ is constantly trying to find something new to say about a series with recurring characters and situations. Luckily for me, Glen Cook made it pretty simple, with an ongoing story that continues to engage, but it’s still an issue that has to be considered.
You would have thought that I’d learn my lesson then. Read a book, sure, but try and break a series up with other stuff so it all continues to feel fresh. You would have thought, wouldn’t you? You didn’t? Then you know me a little too well… Having read, and enjoyed the hell out of, ‘Hit Girl’ I immediately jumped straight into ‘Kick Ass 2’ and enjoyed the hell out of that too. Have some blurb,

Wearing a wetsuit and armed with a pair of batons, Dave Lizewski became Kick Ass; a superhero with no powers and no idea of what he was about to unleash on modern culture. What’s next when everyone is dressing up and fighting crime though? The answer, create the world’s first superhero team.
Red Mist is about to take it all one step further though, in his own quest to become the world’s most notorious supervillain, and if he can take Kick Ass down then so much the better. Kick Ass’ family and friends are targets now; will Kick Ass even make it as far as the final showdown in Times Square…?

So… Same level of detailed characterisation, same levels of ultra-violence and it’s all drawn beautifully with the same art (nice work Mr Romita Jr.) Where does a review go from here? Well, the good news is that while reading ‘Hit Girl’ helps, you can jump straight into ‘Kick Ass 2’ without having read the prelude first. That has to help things stay fresh.

In my position though… I couldn’t help feel that Millar and Romita are treading water a little bit here. That’s not to say that ‘Kick Ass’ isn’t a powerful read and stuff happens that will blow you away. I’m talking about the panel where we see what happened to Colonel Stars, the massacre on Katie’s street and, well… all the bits where violence happens really. I think the problem is that the first two books took things to a level where you can’t really go much further (apart from an ‘off screen rape’ that was unnecessary to say the least and I wonder if even Millar realised that he had gone too far there). Hence the ‘treading water’ in that respect.

Where ‘Kick Ass 2’ was a lot more effective for me was in its examination of people trying to live the superhero dream without the superpowers or billionaire funding. The war against crime is fought with nothing more than a piece of wood and a real desire to make a stand. ‘Secret Lairs’ are in garages where everyone chips in for snacks and supervillain Red Mist orders a shark, for his lair because it looks cool.
Take superpowers out of the equation and what you are left with is a story that really focuses on character and motivation. That’s where the gold is here and the personal journeys of Kick Ass and Hitgirl, in particular, give the reader a lot to chew on.

The book ends on a real cliffhanger and things are very much left open for ‘Kick Ass 3’ to kick in and carry the story on. I’ve got enough invested in Kick Ass and Hitgirl to follow this one through to the end but I can’t help but hope for things to go in a slightly different direction to the well trodden path that this is becoming.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The 'Post Birthday' Update Post!

No post yesterday as I was too busy being spoiled rotten on my birthday :o) I had a lovely time, thanks for asking, although it's becoming clear now that there isn't a lot of 'thirties' left before I turn forty. I wonder what that will be like.
Most of the 'birthday book shopping' will be happening in a few days time but I did receive a couple of books on the day. Check 'em out...

I've read a little bit of 'Something Wicked' (the 'Fantasy Masterworks' collection grew by one!) although the 'Black Company Re-Read' is taking precedence now we're into the last two books. The 'Birthday Book' though... Read that one yesterday and it was just as surreal and funny as I expected (coming from the mind of my three and a bit year old daughter). Aliens, Peppa Pig, camping trips and a lightsaber fight that Hope won (even though she hadn't been in the book up to that point); kind of a cross between pulp space opera and kid's TV :o)

Talking of the 'Black Company Re-Read', my latest post went up yesterday on Head over Here for my thoughts on 'She is the Darkness', the 'Knife of Dreams' (only better) of the 'Black Company' series. Leave a comment while you're there.

Because I don't want to miss another deadline (I'm going for the record by all accounts) there will be a lot of comic book stuff here this week. It's all good though, especially 'Trifecta' and 'Monster Massacre', so do come back for a read. Seeing as it's you, I'll even try and squeeze in a book review somewhere ;o)

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

'Kick Ass 2 Prelude: Hitgirl' - Millar, Romita Jr (Titan Books)

The week just gone has not been a great one for reading books, what with one thing and another. Hope started nursery (which she is loving so far) and it has been really hard to see her trot off and do her own thing after having her with us for the past three years. And the job hunting? Lets not talk about that right now...
Not the best conditions for losing yourself in a good book then, or even a bad one come to think of it. The absolute best conditions though for picking up a comic full of garish ultra-violence and letting the main character take it out on people for you. The absolute best time then for a copy of 'Hit Girl' to turn up at my door and demand to be read. Especially with my record of getting to see films at the cinema; it's very likely that I won't see 'Kick Ass 2' for a long time yet... Here's the blurb,

After the events of 'Kick Ass', Mindy McCready (aka Hitgirl) tries to settle down as a regular schoolgirl, but really wants to be dispensing justice to the scum of New York. She takes Kick-Ass on as her sidekick, and, in return,he is helping her to survive school - without spilling anyone's blood. But when Kick-Ass gets benched, leaving her to face the mafia solo, even Hit-Girl may be in over her head.

'Hit Girl' is a tough one to call, even though I had a great time reading it. Seriously, it's one of those comic books that I'll finish and think 'wow, was I really reading for that long?' It's still a tough one to call though as 'Hit Girl' seems to pride itself on not taking itself seriously while taking itself very seriously all at the same time. I get that approach and, to be fair, it does work in terms of constantly keeping the reader on their toes and hitting them when least expected. I think where the problem lies here is that I was after something a little more straightforward. Don't blame the book then, blame me ;o)

There's a lot to think about here then and it's all wrapped in the kind of lavish violence that we all secretly know we would unleash if we ever got the chance (don't worry, your secret is safe with me). Cartoonish and over the top? Definitely. Eye catching and a not so subtle reminder of the inevitability of what would happen (when super powers are taken firmly out of the equation)? Almost certainly. Millar and Romita Jr keep things very much in the real world here and there's a 'real world mentality' about how it plays out. If you can't fly and don't have heat vision, you'd better make damn sure that your gun is bigger than the one that Mafiosi is going for.

Which brings us right onto Hitgirl, one hell of a conflicted figure who is trying to balance a whole load of pressing issues that have come about now she has been forced to live in the real world. Millar reminds us that the real world has problems that are kore than a match for any superpower, let alone a twelve year old girl who may be a lethal killing machine but has just lost her father and is having to adjust to a new family and tough times at high school. I really felt for Mindy, especially when it all comes out at her father's grave.
Ultimately, some problems can only be solved by being yourself and Mindy has always been Hitgirl. I liked the way that Millar puts a spin on the whole secret identity thing and frees Hitgirl up to basically sort things out by doing what she is good at; namely applying violence to her problems until she is the last one standing. On a similar note, I also liked the spin that Millar gives Red Mist's own journey, a 'super villain' on a quest to avenge the death of his father. I wonder how Batman would feel about that?

But back to Hitgirl again and the violence that she dishes out on the New York underworld not only sets things up nicely for the next book but really stabilises her as well. Hitgirl may not be able to carry on as she is but she is in touch with who she really is and that's more than enough.

I may have been after something more straightforward but that shouldn't take away from the fact that 'Hitgirl' is an awesome read and I will be onto 'Kick Ass 2' as soon as I've posted this. I'm pretty sure it's what quiet Sunday afternoons are for after all :o)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Cover Art! 'Marauder' - Gary Gibson

Because the 'Black Company Re-Read' is kicking my behind at the moment (hello deadline, nice to see you again...) and I don't have anything chunkier to post right now. Bear with me a little bit on that one?
Also, spaceships :o) I love spaceships and we don't see enough of them here, especially ones that like to pose against a sun and make me want to watch 'Babylon 5' all over again. Check this baby out...

I always look at pictures like these and find myself wondering why I don't read more sci-fi... 'Marauder' is a stand alone book so, once I've got the last three books of the 'Black Company Re-Read' out of the way, I'd like to give it a go. Here's the blurb...

Megan has a mission. But must she sacrifice herself to save a world? Pilot Megan Jacinth has three goals, and they all seem unattainable. She must find her friend Bash, who she’d left for dead to save her own life. Then she needs Bash’s unique skill-set to locate an ancient space-faring entity. Lastly she must use this Wanderer’s knowledge to save human-occupied worlds from an alien incursion. The odds seem impossible, but the threat is terrifyingly real. Megan finds Bash, but the person she’d known and loved is a husk of his former self. Bash is also held captive by her greatest enemy: Gregor Tarrant. Tarrant wants the Wanderer too, even more than he wants her life, with motives less pure than her own. And he’s close to finding Megan’s most closely-guarded secret. A race across space to reach the Wanderer seems Megan’s best option. But this entity is also known as the Marauder, and is far from benign. The price for its secrets may be just too high. Megan should know, as she still bears the scars from their last encounter … 

Has anyone else here read anything by Gary Gibson? I haven't so would love to know what you think... Comments?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

‘Sonnie’s Edge’ – Peter F. Hamilton

Tor UK are re-releasing Hamilton’s first short story collection, ‘A Second Chance at Eden’, and (to mark the occasion) have made ‘Sonnie’s Edge’ available to download on their blog over Here. I’ve read ‘Manhattan in Reverse’ (the other collection, very good as it happens) but have never picked up ‘A Second Chance at Eden’ so I figured I’d give ‘Sonnie’s Edge’ a go. Also, I’m really starting to get into reading stuff on my phone (short stuff, not long stuff, don’t get any ideas…) It’s like the grown up equivalent of reading in bed with a torch when you really should be asleep… :o)

But yeah, ‘Sonnie’s Edge’. It's set on Earth in the year 2070, and is a story about the popular sport of beastie-baiting - contests to the death between artificial monsters controlled via human affinity bonds. Sonnie's team is particularly successful, and her monster, Khanivore, has one special advantage... (Thank you Wikipedia, I’m not quite awake enough to ‘re-blurb’ blurbs this morning)

‘Sonnie’s Edge’ is a short and fun read but could have been a little more so in my opinion. ‘Fun’, not ‘short’, I mean. It felt like there was a lot of scene setting when really what I wanted to see were the artificial monsters going at it to the death. While I get that approach in the context of the book (which is kind of a prelude to the ‘Night’s Dawn’ universe so some scene setting is required) I’m not sure that it works so well when the story stands on its own. It’s worth sticking around though as the vague hints about Sonnie’s character are given a vicious twist that brings everything into focus and has it all making sense. Talk about a twist in the tale and so soon after what you think is the actual twist. You feel like you should have seen that ending coming so all credit to Hamilton for keeping it under wraps.
And, of course, there is the monster fight which not only has all the pounding brutality you would expect but forces the reader to re-examine it in the wider context of the ending.

 ‘Sonnie’s Edge’ is a free download so is worth taking a punt on anyway; I’d recommend it though as a short, sharp(ish) dose of sci-fi with an ending that you have to see. I might even have to pick up ‘A Second Chance at Eden’ to see if the other stories are as good.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

One for 2014? 'Archetype' (M.D. Waters)

I've been blogging a little while now, here and there, and it still amazes me how publishing as a whole manages to stay ahead of itself, not only in terms of getting the next book out but getting people talking about it as well. Fair play to 'em I say, having totally been sucked into that discussion with my 'One for...?' posts :o)

Take 'Archetype' for example. Dutton won't be publishing it until February next year (I was under the impression that Tor UK were publishing it here but can't find anything to back that up now...) but advance copies are already doing the rounds, including one that landed on my doorstep. Check out the blurb...

Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during her daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman, and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which… 

Now I've got to say that this is the kind of book that I wouldn't normally go anywhere near, especially with reading time being scarce (blahblahblah). 'Archetype' has caught my eye though as I read it (during a publishing work experience placement) while it was on submission. I was interested enough to read about half of it, before skipping ahead to the end to see how it ended, and then gave up. The book felt like it was going nowhere fast, at the time, but there was enough to it to have me thinking that I might give it another go now. December is due to be an incredibly busy month (not just because of Christmas either) and I reckon 'Archetype' might be just the book to dip in and out of during all the hectic stuff. We'll see but, in the meantime, has 'Archetype' caught your eye?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Cover Art! 'The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes' (Titan Books)

Because I was turned down for both of the jobs that I interviewed for, this week, and am feeling a little bit low and sorry for myself. No reviews today then but you do get a very intricate and pretty looking book cover for 'The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes'. Go on, have a look...

A collection of short stories detailing the supernatural steampunk adventures of detective duo, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in dark and dangerous Victorian London. Along with Chief Inspector Bainbridge, Newbury & Hobbes will face plague revenants, murderous peers, mechanical beasts, tentacled leviathans, reanimated pygmies, and an encounter with Sherlock Holmes.

Say what you like about the morality of Steampunk (yes Mr Stross I'm looking at you, I don't agree with what you say either) but it always comes wrapped in gorgeous looking covers like these. I've got to admit that I wasn't too keen on 'The Affinity Bridge' when I read it, back in 2010, but any book that promises reanimated pygmies will automatically pique my interest :o)

I won't be tackling this book in one go, this one will be more about taking each short story at a time and giving it it's very own post. There are fifteen short stories here so this could very become a bit of a feature on the blog. Let's see how it goes shall we?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

'A Stir of Echoes' - Richard Matheson (Tor UK)

I'm always looking out for more books by Richard Matheson after having had a great time reading 'I am Legend' and 'The Shrinking Man' (as well as several short stories and watching 'Duel' again). Matheson is just a master of horror, it's that simple.

It was Niall Alexander's excellent 'British Genre Fiction Focus' feature (over at that pointed me in the direction of Tor UK's reissue of 'A Stir of Echoes' and I'm afraid that I've been incredibly unsocial whilst reading it over the last few days. Although I would personally rank 'A Stir of Echoes' just below 'I am Legend' and 'The Shrinking Man' (for reasons that I will go into in a bit) it's still a compelling read and another example of Matheson making the whole art of writing chilling horror look incredibly easy. Here's the blurb...

Madness is only a step away . . . Tom Wallace is happy with his suburban lot. Until an evening of casual entertainment turns reality into nightmare. Tom sees himself as a pragmatist, and when his brother-in-law challenges him to undergo hypnotism, he obliges to prove a point. So no one is more surprised that Tom when it works. But this cheap parlour trick unlocked something that now threatens his sanity, way of life and marriage. Suddenly he can sense his neighbours’ darkest desires, and some are dark indeed. When shadows from the past and glimpses of the future are revealed to him, Tom tries to deny what’s happening. But as his existence becomes increasingly unbearable, the biggest revelation of all awaits -- a message from beyond the grave.

While I wouldn't say that I have read extensively in horror, I've read a fair bit and I've yet to come across another writer who can capture that sense of ordinary life being dislocated, by the unexplainable, as well as Matheson does. I don't know if he overplays the mundanity of suburban life or if it really is that dull. Whatever it is, the sudden contrast thrown up by the supernatural (here, Tom Wallace's sudden ability to tell what people are thinking) really jars and unsettles the reader as much as the characters themselves.

It's very cleverly done although I couldn't help feeling that the focus was a little too narrow in terms of what happens to Wallace. You get to see how this power affects his relationships with his neighbours and, to be fair, that is worth the price of entry on its own. Everyone has a dark side and not only are there some creepy surprises (Elsie in particular, those moments made me squirm, and the ghost talking through Wallace's son... actually, all of it creeped me out) but it all feeds into a murder mystery from beyond the grave that has the capacity to shock you just when you think that you have it all figured out. I skipped to the last few pages, early in, and the book still managed to spring a big surprise when I read it through properly. And what an ending... Matheson shows us that while the supernatural can be scary, the real fear lies in having your family held at gunpoint by a mad person. Some seriously scary and powerful moments here.

I couldn't help but think though, more of a focus on Wallace's wider interactions (in the workplace and so on) would have lent more weight to his fight against the stress caused by the situation. Not that the poor guy didn't have enough on his plate already (because he really does) but I'd say that anything which tightens the screw further has to be a good thing, right? It would have also made things a little more rounded, a concept this intriguing deserves more exploration although I do get you can only do so much exploring in a book that is only two hundred and eleven pages long...

I couldn't put 'A Stir of Echoes' down though and, at the end of the day, that's what really counts. It's a genuinely creepy read that had me rooting for Wallace and now has me wondering what is really going on in my neighbours' heads...

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

One for 2014? 'Red Rising' - Pierce Brown

It feels like this feature gets earlier and earlier every year... :o)

When I was running the other blog, I liked to flag up 'next year's' new releases a little ahead of time, just for the hell of it really and to see if they caught anyone's eye. I hadn't planned on doing it here but 'Red Rising' came through the door this morning and the timing just felt right, the 'One for...' series is now a thing again! Here goes,

Darrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Hodder are publishing 'Red Rising' at the end of January next year, here in the UK, while Del Rey will be publishing at the beginning of February in the US.

So what do you reckon? I'm always up for a stirring tale of slaves overthrowing their masters so will be probably give 'Red Rising' a go a little nearer the time. I'm a little tiny bit wary though having read the tag-line 'The Hunger Games meets Ender's Game' on the back. Nothing against either of the two books (which I enjoyed) and I know that publishers have to make these kinds of comparisons to generate interest. It can work the other way though... Do I really want to read another version of 'The Hunger Games' or 'Ender's Game'? No, not really, I've read them already. I'm hoping more a little bit more from 'Red Rising' then, we'll see how it goes.

How about you?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

‘X’ # 4-5 : Swierczynski & Nguyen (Dark Horse Comics)

Way back when I first started reading comics, I always thought that the vigilante X was more of an incidental character in the ‘Ghost’ books. Shows what I know… X was one of the original line-up for Dark Horse’s ‘Comics Greatest World’ and had a series all to himself. Pretty bloody by all accounts although I’ve never read it. That will have to change now that X has been re-booted and is back with us courtesy of Dark Horse (I always like to compare where I can).

True to form, I’ve joined the series at issue four (will I ever start a series at issue one…?) but from what I’ve seen, I have to wonder if I’ve actually missed out on that much, it looks like you can just jump straight in here. Issues four and five are very much all about stand up fights without a lot of story to bulk them out. To be fair, it is early days for this new series and I’m sure that a story will come to fruition sooner rather than later. There are some interesting hints about what might be coming up (particularly in issue four) which means I’ll be following this series for a little while yet.

In the meantime though, it’s all about the violence and the lengths that men will go to in order get along in the urban wasteland of Arcadia (I’m pleased to be visiting again, I wish Ghost had stayed in Arcadia…) Nguyen doesn’t hold back on the gore and you get to feel every punch that Berkshire (a crime lord with a pig’s face, nice…) dishes out on X in issue four. It’s not just the art that makes this issue though, Swierczynski’s dialogue dovetails very nicely…

‘Want to know why I use that lock on my mask, George? It’s not to protect my identity. It’s to remind myself… To hold back.’

The panel that follows shows us in no uncertain terms what happens when X doesn’t hold back. It’s powerful stuff and you totally get why Leigh is left retching afterwards..

Issue five is currently up for pre-order so I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers. The Dark Horse site is carrying blurb though so I figure there isn’t too much harm in sharing.

Disguised as harmless suburbanites, “the Rents” are actually psychotic assassins, determined to take their place at the top of Arcadia’s food chain. Leigh delivers X’s traditional warning . . . but ends up in a construction-site firefight with some very unpleasant soccer moms!

What I will say is that while Tony Parker’s art makes for a nice change, Nguyen has the edge as far as I’m concerned and I’m looking forward to more from him. The story itself is very simple but offers another little insight into the weirdness that makes up Arcadia’s underworld. I’m looking forward to delving in further although I’m hoping to see some super powered villains in the future (just like the old Arcadia)

‘X’ then… A vigilante tale that looks like it could be a little bit more than a ‘gangster of the week’ being cut down by a masked hero (if X can be called that). I’ll let you know how it goes from here on in.

Alan Moore Signing at Waterstones Piccadilly

For those of you who are fans, Alan Moore will be signing copies of 'Fashion Beast' at Waterstones (Piccadilly) between 4.30 - 7.30pm, this coming Friday. Apparently he will sign other stuff but only titles from Avatar Press (according to the press release) so don't be taking your copy of 'Watchmen' along. Unless you want to read it on the train that is, in which case go right ahead :o) I'd like to be there so we'll see what happens on Friday... In the meantime, blurb and a picture it is!

Alan Moore wrote Fashion Beast as a screenplay in 1985, during the very same period of stunning creativity that yielded seminal works such as Watchmen, Miracleman, Swamp Thing, and V for Vendetta. The project came to be when Malcolm McLaren, the fashion designer best known for founding the Sex Pistols, approached him with the offer to write a film… that was ultimately never produced.

Fashion Beast follows Doll Seguin, a sassy coat-checker who escapes into the carefree lifestyle of fashion, music and decadence while the world outside fears an oncoming nuclear war. It’s a re-telling of the classic fable Beauty and the Beast that immerses readers in the rich, living characters of its dystopian future setting. 

I'm always up for some 'dystopian future' so will be reviewing 'Fashion Beast' sooner rather than later. If you want to check out Alan Moore for yourself then 'Watchmen' is the obvious place to start. Give 'Swamp Thing' a go as well though and 'Neonomicon' is worth a look too (although that particular book is heavy on sexual assault and should be approached with caution).

Monday, 2 September 2013

The 'You wait ages for an interview and then...' Catch Up Post!

Seriously, wow :o) Two interviews this week with the possibility of a third on the horizon (a job that I would love). I am not at all nervou... Actually I am very nervous and am hoping that I don't end up doing the 'Mary Poppins' style interview that I did the other week. Fingers crossed and all that, I'll let you know how it goes.

Frantic interview preparation means that all the stuff I've been reading will be discussed here a little later on in the week. For now, lets just say that 'Stir of Echoes' is masterful but not on the same level as 'The Shrinking Man' or 'I am Legend'. And as far as the reboot of Dark Horse's 'X' goes... 'Violent' doesn't begin to cover it. More on that later.

In the meantime, it's another Monday so that means...

Yes, another 'Black Company' post has gone up over at, only three more books to read and I'm all done. I'm talking about 'Bleak Seasons' today, a book that (now I think about it) could well be the series' 'Crossroads of Twilight'. Read the post Here and then feel free to leave a comment afterwards.

That's me for now, back to the interview preparations...