Friday, 29 November 2013

'Conan the Buccaneer' - Lin Carter & L. Sprague de Camp

It really didn't take that long did it? There has always been something about my commute that makes me want to escape into a genre novel, mostly fantasy ones. I won't go too deep into the details of my commute (if you live in London you will automatically know what I'n talking about anyway); lets just say that it's safer for all concerned if I let some literary creation swing his sword around instead ;o)
Which kind of neatly brings me to this latest Conan review. I've somehow found myself collecting the old Conan books, with gorgeous looking covers, that weren't written by Robert E. Howard at all. The ones where other writers took it on themselves to fill in the gaps in Conan's life. We've already had 'The Road of Kings' here, now it's the turn of a book written by the two men who basically kicked the whole 'filling the gaps' thing off. I’ve pinched the blurb from Wikipedia…

Conan, now in his late thirties and captain of the Wastrel, becomes embroiled in the politics of the kingdom of Zingara when he seeks the rumored treasure on the Nameless Isle. The fugitive Princess Chabela, the privateer Zarono, and the Stygian sorcerer Thoth-Amon are among those mixed up in the treasure quest.

I seem to be into summing up books in one word, at the moment, and todays word is 'perfunctory'. 'Conan the Buccaneer' does everything that a Conan tale should but feels like it has been assembled rather than created. Take one barbarian warrior and a king who is being controlled by sorcery; add a princess in danger, from said sorceror and an evil rogue, and a tribe ruled by cruel Amazon women. Throw it all in a pot and sprinkle with sex, you have one 'Conan the Buccaneer'; a book that's linear, and a little too straightforward, in its approach.

That's not say 'Conan the Buccaneer' isn't a fun book; it is although the casual racism coupled with Conan's sexual prowess does its best to derail things. There's plenty of stuff happening and at least one indestructible monster that Conan must pit his wits against.In some ways you can't ask for a lot more than that from a Conan tale; Lin Carter even argues, in his introduction that this is the whole point of this and other Sword and Sorcery tales. While I agree with what Carter says on the whole, I find myself disagreeing in the case of this book. Sword and Sorcery is about telling an exciting story, above all else, and this is something that Carter and de Camp seem to have forgotten in their eagerness to line up all the ingredients in the right order. Some of the energy is here but there is surprisingly little heart to be found. 'Perfunctory' and 'by the numbers' doesn't cut it when you're dealing with Conan and I was left more than a little disappointed by the end. I'll still be collecting the titles though, just hoping for better things here on in.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

'Skaar - Son of Hulk' - Pak, Garney, Guice (Marvel)

I used to entertain the wild notion that I would someday be able to make sense of the wild mess of decades spanning continuity that is Marvel Comics. I mean, it couldn't be that hard could it? Yeah, I know... That was kind of naive really. I could barely get to grips with the X-Men let alone the rest of it! That way led to headaches and sleepless nights (seriously, that's what I'm like) so I decided to just play it safe and dive into whatever caught my eye. Comics are there to be enjoyed at the end of the day, same with everything :o)
We were in the library, the other day, and Sue found 'Skaar - Son of Hulk' for me to read; my wife is great isn't she? While Sue was rooting out the good stuff, I was looking for a princess book for Hope (I know but what can you do...?) Anyway... I had a great time reading 'Skaar' (great commuter read, the other passengers don't know what to make of it) but that whole continuity thing got the better of me in a way I wasn't quite expecting...

Born in fire. Raised by monsters. Destined to smash. On an alien planet shattered by war, no one is stronger than Skaar, the savage Son of Hulk. But as a Fillian warlord, an Imperial princess, and a mysterious Earthman spread chaos through the wastelands, will Skaar save the puny survivors -- or eat them?

So, Marvel does 'pulp planetary romance' with a lone hero making his way through a world of monsters, techno-barbarians and god-like beings. A world where bombs may fall from the sky but all the important decisions seem to be made by sword or fist, great stuff then if you're the son of the Hulk and are having a bad day. There are too many artists working here to pay credit to each one individually but take it from me, they all know just what they're there for and they all do their job damn well. Sakaar is an alien world of magnificent barbarism and wonder. You don't dare take your eyes off the page for a second for fear of missing yet another piece of gorgeous detail. And they all capture the inherent rage of Skaar himself which makes the battles all the more stunning.

I wasn't too sure about Greg Pak's writing work here though... On the one hand, Pak tells a compelling story of a man trying to find his place in a world that is painfully wary of him at best (actively seeking to reject him at worst) Skaar has tough choices to make and Pak leaves us in no doubt that the outcomes will affect the entire planet.
Did he have to tell all that backstory though...? It felt like every time the main story got going, Pak would bring it to a juddering halt just so one of the supporting characters could tell a story to tie things up a little bit. While I appreciate the attempt at making 'Skaar' more accessible for readers like me, I just wanted the actual story to get going and it never quite managed (although, to be fair, the collected format means that all of this could just be setting things up for more story down the line, I don't know...)

'Skaar - Son of Hulk' is glorious visually then but probably requires a lot more time, than I had, to get the most out of the story itself. There's enough there though (Silver Surfer!) that I'd pick up more of these books if they're in the library.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

'The Copper Promise' - Jen Williams (Headline)

Before I get started there's just enough time for some disclosure. I know Jen Williams well enough for her to have very kindly supplied a guest post, at the old blog, and for us to make appreciative noises at cool books whenever we bump into each other. That's not going to stop me telling it how it is but, you know, just so you know :o)
I've been fortunate enough to read 'The Copper Promise' in both of its previous incarnations (you can tell I've been watching Doctor Who recently can't you?) and I've been really looking forward to seeing the book in its final form. This would explain my initial bumping 'The Copper Promise' up the reading pile and I've spent the last couple of days totally lost to everything else while I read it. I know that writing and publishing is a 'long game' but even so, can we have the sequel now please?

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel: some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him ... and now someone is going to pay.
For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Carverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There's the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they're done.
But sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes it pays to listen. Soon this reckless trio will become the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they're not even getting paid.

If there was one word I'd use to describe 'The Copper Promise', it would be 'joyful'. This is a book that may wear its influences a little too proudly (hints of Leiber and Fighting Fantasy for me) but makes up for it by revelling in these influences and having a lot of fun with them, just the way fantasy should be sometimes. That’s not to say that Williams is just rehashing the ‘good old days’ either; the plot, characters and world are clearly her own and they all work together in just the right way.
But back to that sense of fun I briefly mentioned. Thinking about it, it all comes from the Copper Cat of Crosshaven herself. No matter whether she’s flying a griffin (and being chased by a dirty great dragon) or journeying into a forbidden underground citadel; the ready wit on display and her constant enthusiasm (so long as the day doesn’t start too early) shows that Wydrin is having the time of her life. Adventuring isn’t just what she does, it who she is and Wydrin has as much fun doing the rough stuff as she does loading her dice and fleecing unwary gamblers. When a character is clearly having that much fun, you can’t help but enjoy reading along; it’s the perfect mix and Williams makes it all look really easy. I may even have a tiny crush on Wydrin, as a result, but anyway…

The Copper Promise’ has it all; dark dungeons and cities where your safety just cannot be guaranteed (map please!), all crawling with villainous types who pale into insignificance when you see the dragon and her army on the horizon. Actually, having said that, Fane and Roki made for pretty awesome villains and I’m looking forward to seeing more along those lines in future books. Where was I? Yes, the dragon provides a real air of menace and the resulting battles make for spectacular reading. What ‘The Copper Promise’ was all about for me though was friendship and doing the right thing by your friends (even if you don’t realise that’s what they are at the time). A theme like this sounds almost quaint when placed against some of the fantasy novels doing the rounds, these days, but give it a go; Williams’ strong characters offer a solid base to build on this theme and the exploration makes for some surprisingly touching moments during the questing and warfare (yes, even with the walking dead guy).

While some sub-plots are left open (presumably for future books, I want to see more of Bezcavar) you never get the sense that ‘The Copper Promise’ is anything other than a stand-alone book and I really appreciated that approach. A complete story with hints of what is to come; that kind of book leaves me wanting more but not feeling cheated by a cliff-hanger ending. I hope this will be the approach for future books as I will be reading them.
‘The Copper Promise’ then is a gripping ‘Sword & Sorcery’ read that promises a hell of a lot for the future, both in terms of adventuring and characters that promise to grow with each book. I’ll see you for the sequel.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

'The Day of The Doctor'

We don't have a TV licence so it's taken me this long to finally watch 'The Day of the Doctor', thanks to not only my phone refusing to get along with iPlayer but my my computer as well. Honestly... I would have been better off peering through someone's window and asking them to turn the sound up ;o)
I got there in the end though, I can be pretty bloody-minded where Doctor Who is concerned, and here's what I thought about the whole glorious mess. Before we get to that though, it's only fair to let you all know that I'm making the assumption (a pretty big one too) that everyone who wanted to see 'Day of the Doctor' will have seen it by now. There will more likely than not be spoilers lurking in the words ahead... Are we all good? Then lets go.

Every time I watch Doctor Who I have to make a little bit of room in my head for the five year old me who started watching all those years ago. We both loved 'The Day of the Doctor', a big old mess of everything that has made the show great over the years. From where I was sat, I was in awe of how everything seemed to just tie together, all those seemingly incidental lines, thrown out over the last few years, that have home to roost in a plot that was pretty darn tight. Not just the immediate plot either, I'm talking about all the stuff that is clearly going to be happening from here on in. Everything is different now and there was no sense of any compromises being accepted in terms of the overall plot. I liked that :o)

While all that was going on, the five year old me (ok, and the thirty eight year old me too...) was having the time of our life watching the Doctor do what he does best, save the day in the face of everything. Only it wasn't just the one Doctor it was all of them and that has to be one the most awesome things I've seen on TV, sorry Olympics Opening Ceremony... The three Doctors taking centre stage more than lived up to that focus. The Doctor's regenerations never seem to get on with each other and Matt Smith and David Tennant clearly had a lot of fun reprising all that sarcasm and put downs John Hurt's 'War Doctor' was a pleasure to watch, unable to believe what he was to become after what he had been forced to do. And Zygons, and Daleks and, well... everything else all thrown into the mix and dished up as slices of humour, action and pathos. Seeing Tom Baker at the end was the icing on the cake.

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about Doctor Who in a long time (it’s all good but the Matt Smith era kicked off on a bit of a meh’ note for me personally). I can’t wait for the Christmas special now :o) What did you think of it?

Monday, 25 November 2013

'The Language of Dying' - Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books)

A woman sits beside her father's bed as the night ticks away the final hours of his life. As she watches over him, she relives the past week and the events that have brought the family together. There has never been anything normal about the people raised in this house, and the bonds that bind them are fragile.

Sitting through her lonely vigil, she remembers what she saw all those years ago, the thing they found her screaming for. And as she peers through the window, she finds herself hoping it will come again.

Because it's one of those nights: a special, terrible night - and that's always when it comes. If it comes at all...

It's really hard to know where to begin with 'The Language of Dying' possibly because although I finished the book yesterday I'm still living it. It's one of those books where the subject matter gets under your skin and lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that it will leave in its own good time.

I can't ramble on too much though so here goes. 'The Language of Dying' takes two fairly major taboos and delves deep into them with a raw honesty that left me mentally gasping. Death and families; we don't like to talk about them too much, what they really mean to us, but they are always there. Sarah Pinborough gets the reader to confront them and makes it so you can't shy away from the dark stuff. There isn't a lot of bright stuff either although there are moments that make you realise that death can be a positive thing. For this family though, the positive notes are shortlived and it becomes clear that some families are meant to go off in different directions.

The narrator (I don't think we ever hear her name) tells her story with such a brutal honesty that, at times, I felt like I was intruding on something incredibly personal and shouldn't be there at all. At the same time though, I felt like I had to respect that honesty and make the journey with her. That's what kept me reading, that and a guilty feeling of 'this hasn't happened to me so I feel like I owe her'. Everything is laid on the line and you can't look away.

This brutal yet poignant journey into death is beautifully told and the element of the supernatural adds another layer of storytelling that will keep me thinking about the possibilities to be found in 'The Language of Dying'. Is the creature real or is it a sign of the kind of madness that affects her brother (maybe even her own family)? Either way, it's the offer of some kind of escape that is important and adds that final impetus to the tale.

While ‘The Language of Dying’ may not be the kind of book that I re-read (it would pay dividends but I don't think I could) it’s definitely the kind of book that I will never forget having read. It doesn’t pull any punches and is somehow beautiful all at the same time.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Books in the Post - 'All the Books!' Edition

Because sometimes you wait for one book to arrive and then they all show up at once. And they are all books that I want to read; I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few weeks.
Before we get started on those though, here are some books that turned up literally minutes after I posted last week,

While I won't be reading 'The Arrows of Time' (I didn't even know there were two books before it...) I will very much be reading 'Last Call' (because I just want to finish a book by Tim Powers, everyone else has) and 'The Falling Woman' (Fantasy Masterwork, enough said).
And here's the rest...

It would appear that right now, I'm just after reading about men hitting other men (and monsters) with big swords :o) Someone on Twitter said something about this being down to the nights drawing in and I think she's right. If other blogs are to be believed (and I trust them) there's some good reading to be had here. I'll let you know how that goes.

I already mentioned 'The TIme Traveller's Almanac' yesterday and will be picking more stories, from it, to write about over the next few days and weeks. I finished 'The Language of Dying' about ten minutes ago and will try and get a review up tomorrow. All I'll say for now is that it's incredibly powerful stuff and cured me of a minor urge to start smoking again. 'The Desert of Souls' has come my way before but I think now is the right time for me to finally give it a shot (the 'reading burnout' headaches are a thing of the past).
And 'Seven Sorcerers', the final book in a series that it appeared I was only person who actually liked. I've still got 'Seven Kings' to read but this one is definitely on the radar.

All of this, of course, comes after I've finished 'The Copper Promise' and maybe a couple of others. We'll see about those. What are you reading and what did you think of 'Doctor Who' last night? I'd tell you what I thought but iplayer is messing me around on both my phone and the computer. Thanks a lot iplayer...

See you guys tomorrow ;o)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

‘Death Ship’ – Richard Matheson (From ‘The Time Traveller’s Almanac’, Edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, Head of Zeus)

'Death Ship' is the opening story in Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's 'The Time Traveller's Almanac' and, as such, was the perfect way to combine two of my favourite reading past times at the moment. I'm always looking to read anything by Richard Matheson and if the Vandermeers were to release an anthology of shopping lists, you just know that said anthology would have you considering shopping lists in ways that you never thought you would. Anything with their name on it is required reading for me then.

Have you seen the size of 'The Time Traveller's Almanac' though? It's massive, a book that could easily cause some damage if it fell from a great height (I say this because it fell off the bunkbed this morning and caused some damage...) I'm not going to be able to cover all the stories inside, in one post, so I'll be focussing on some in a bit more depth and offering a few thoughts on the book, as a whole, a little closer to Christmas.

Which brings me neatly back to Richard Matheson and 'Death Ship'.

‘Mason stood up as the captain gestured towards the door. Mickey started to move, then hesitated. He looked at the bodies.
“Shouldn’t we…?” he started to inquire.
“What, what?” Ross asked, impatient to leave.
Mickey stared at the bodies. He felt caught up in a great, bewildering, insanity.
“Shouldn’t we…bury ourselves?” he said.’

Whilst exploring a planet, for potential colonisation, the crew of a spaceship discover another ship has already crash-landed. It's not just any old ship though, the bodies inside the wreckage are theirs... Having seen their fate, the crew must decide whether to depart the planet or cheat death by staying. They can't stay though...

When I realised what the ending actually meant for the crew (I read it three times and suddenly went, “wow…”) I had to ask myself how much of a time travel tale ‘Death Ship’ actually is. There’s a definite element of horror there that, for me, overshadowed the whole time travel thing (and I can’t say more without giving the game away, Matheson does his trick of setting expectations then blowing you away with something out of left field). Time travel is definitely a feature though so it counts. Magnanimous of me, I know :o) I liked the Matheson introduces the theme as it asks a lot of questions of characters already on the edge. It asks a lot of questions of the reader as well. Can the crew cheat fate? On that score ‘Death Ship’ is a tale that gets you thinking.

It’s a Richard Matheson tale and, for me, that means very intelligent use of language that sets the reader in the middle of things right away. You never find out much about the planet itself, you don’t need to. This is all about the crew and their reactions to one hell of a conundrum. I really felt the sense of panic in the crew as things became much clearer, Matheson takes the reader along at exactly the same speed (never giving anything away until the right moment) and it’s like you’re right there with the characters.

And that ending… If the rest of the tales in ‘The Time Traveller’s Almanac’ are of the same standard then I’m looking forward to dipping in and out of this book over the next few weeks.

Friday, 22 November 2013

2000AD Prog 1859

I'm a little bit later than planned with this post but that's kind of been the story of this week really! Just a short post for today then, I am so looking forward to this weekend and just resting up a little... Anyway... Prog 1859 was fun to read, possibly because I decided that life was too short and ditched one story entirely. You can probably guess which one that was.
Here are some quick thoughts on what I read. This time round, I’m concentrating more on the stories as the artwork has remained pretty much consistent from the last issue (apart from the ‘Future Shocks’ story which is new). Here goes,

'Judge Dredd: Ferals (Part 2)'

I only started reading this story last week and already it's at a crossroads. I've got a horrible feeling this story is treading familiar ground (won't someone think of the children?) but I've still got high hopes that it's somehow going to form part of something much larger. Please let it be the latter, please? Still fun to read though, especially with Dredd's interactions with the Juves.

‘Future Shocks: Home Are The Heroes’

I have no idea what was going on here (the plot hinges on something that was never explained) but the note of horror, right at the end, really made it for me. A story that really makes you consider the title in a whole new light. I really enjoyed Nick Dyer’s art as well, reminded me of the copies of 2000AD I used to sneak a look at when I was a kid.

'Brass Sun: The Diamond Age' (Part Ten)

This story is far too advanced for me to get caught up quickly and I found that I wasn't interested in even trying so, erm... I haven't.

‘Flesh: Badlanders’ (Part Ten)

This one is kind of hard to call really. Part Ten has all the awesome stuff that Part Nine had but didn’t really move the story on that much if at all. But… Dinosaurs! Well, one big dinosaur facing off against one lone cowboy. Yeah, I’ll be back for more of this next week :o)

‘Damnation Station: The Howling Beast on the Borderline’

Is there nothing that Al Ewing can’t write? I’m still getting to know the characters (and I’m wishing that I spoke more than just English, couldn’t understand a word the lady was saying…) but this is an awesome slice of void warfare with aliens boarding a space station and some hard choices to be made by the command staff. And what a cliff-hanger… I will definitely be back to see what happens here.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cover Art – ‘Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond’ (Edited by Bill Campbell & Edward Austin Hall)

Why the post? Look at the cover art and you’ll know right away… :o)

Isn’t that just gorgeous? The kind of vibrant cover art that brings a little colour to these increasingly dull looking autumn mornings. I really want to read this collection (I have an electronic review copy) but it’s just that tiny bit too large to fit comfortably on my phone (reading fifty or sixty words at a time, then turning the page, makes for a reading rhythm that I can’t quite hack over longer books) so it might be a while before I can do it justice. I want to review the book as a whole, not just cherry pick stories. In the meantime, have a look at the press release that came with the review copy.

On Friday, October 18 [Graeme’s Note: Yep, I know but I’ve been busy…], a bold, new anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, will be hitting the streets. The goal of this anthology is to give “space” some much-needed color. As publisher, Bill Campbell, stated:

“When we look up at the night sky, space is black as far as the eye can see. Yet, when we read novels about it or watch something on TV or in the movie theater, it is white beyond all comprehension.”

Featuring the works of such stellar talents as Junot Díaz, Lauren Beukes, Victor LaValle, Linda D. Addison, S.P. Somtow, and more, Mothership not only represents the emerging diversity in the speculative fiction field but also that diversity's quality. The Pulitzer, American Book Award, Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, James Tiptree, and countless other awards are represented by the writers in this collection.

You can get yourself a copy of Mothership’ via

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

'The Year of the Three Monarchs' - Michael Swanwick

I love reading Sword & Sorcery books right now.Apart from a few books here and there, most Sword & Sorcery books are fairly lightweight reads and thats just what I'm after at the moment (what with all the other stuff going on). It's not just that though, Sword & Sorcery is all about hooking the reader quickly and then making it worth their while with derring do, a bit of swashbuckling and some dark magic. Like I said, just what I'm after these days and the main reason why I keep going back to Tachyon Press' 'The Sword & Sorcery Anthology' when I have a spare half an hour to kill and want to read something that's fun...

Friday night saw me absolutely shattered from work and after something short and snappy for my reading. It doesn't get a lot shorter and snappier than Michael Swanwick's 'The Year of the Three Monarchs', a tale that weighs in at a painfully slender four and a half pages long; a tale that you just want to take home and bulk up with some nourishing chicken soup :o)

Don't be fooled though, there is so much more going on here than you think although it's over so quickly that themes and approaches are highlighted rather than explored. The rather odd outcome of this then is that for a story with so much going on, there isn't actually an awful lot to say. Funny that...

Read 'The Year of the Three Monarchs' though, definitely read it. While I'd recommend the collection to anyone, this is the story that you need to read first. It may even be my new favourite story in the collection itself. 'The Year of the Three Monarchs' has it all, up to and including hiding its punch line in plain sight just as the story starts to move forwards. I love it when an author does that. You have three strong characters interacting in the most unexpected of ways and only one of them will be the ruler at the end of the story. If that wasn’t enough, Swanwick paints an enthralling picture (in hardly any time at all) of just the kind of dark and dangerous world that the best ‘Sword & Sorcery’ tales sit in. ‘The Year of the Three Monarchs’ is certainly one of those as far as I’m concerned.

Like I said, I think you should all be reading ‘The Sword & Sorcery Anthology' anyway but ‘The Year of the Three Monarchs’ has been a real unexpected highlight for me. I’m really keen to read ‘The Iron Dragon’s Daughter’ now if this is any indication of what Swanwick is like as a writer. Brilliant stuff, the ideal way to spend the last little bit of Friday night.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A little bit from 'Behind the Sofa'

And I'm not talking about what I found, the other day, when moving our sofa. That bloody mouse, I will catch it if it's the last thing I do...

No, I'm talking about the 'Celebrity Memories of Dr. Who' that is out right now. With the 50th Anniversary episode out in a few days time (yep I'm excited especially after watching the 'minisode' the other day) Gollancz have been releasing little snippets of book out into the wilds and seeing where they land. I got a piece by Ben Lawrence (TV & Radio Commissioning Editor at the Telegraph apparently, you learn something new every day...) and here it is.

It is hard to believe now, but there was a hint of cynicism in the air in March 2005. Us lifelong Doctor Who fans had been dreaming of a regeneration for nearly 16 years, but of course we had been here before. In 1996, Paul McGann and The TV Movie had tried to breathe life into a dead franchise, but had twisted the premise into a cod US imagining of what a British science fiction show might be. It was unexciting and, crucially, lacking in any charm.The press launch for Russell T Davies’s new series in Cardiff proved that the BBC had faith in it. They had invited celebrities (Charlotte Church, Robson Green, Matt Lucas), produced proper canapes and, unfortunately for me not stinted on the wine. And then the screening. I can still feel the whizz of adrenaline.Rose lasted 45 minutes but it seemed to last seconds. A tightly constructed story, its use of Autons was inspired, their aesthetic blending in perfectly to 21st century TV. It was funny. And Billie Piper as Rose silenced all the naysayers with her touching, heartfelt performance. But it was a speech that really struck me. Christopher Eccleston’s “Now forget me, Rose Tyler” was unlike anything the series had witnessed before. It was the Doctor as Prospero and the moment that Doctor Who was elevated from tea-time whimsy to award winning drama.Enjoyable, always. But now with something genuinely important to say. I was grinning from ear to ear. As was everyone after the launch. Barry Letts was there, looking exactly as he did in 1973. This wise old guardian of the show clearly approved. As did Terrance Dicks, although you could tell that razor-sharp mind had been unpicking the structure and the dialogue, wondering what he would have done better.And that was it. The day Doctor Who became a critic’s choice, the day the world changed. The day I drank too much red wine and got black lips, and had to later endure an army of Autons marching through my head. Still, it was all worth it.

I can't remember exactly where I watched that episode but I remember feeling similar kinds of things. Dr. Who was back and, better than that, it looked really promising. I'm hoping for more of the same next weekend and I'm pretty confident I'll get it. I think we all will.

As I said somewhere up the top, Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Dr Who, edited by Steve Berry is out now, Gollancz, £9.99 (author royalties are donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK). You can find out more about the book Here and, if you do buy a copy, you can see where those author royalties go by visiting the Alzheimer's Research UK Site.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Books in the post - The 'Three Weeks In, Three Weeks To Go...' Edition!

Three weeks into the new job (which doesn't feel so new anymore...) and I'm finally starting to feel like I've got back into the world of work. I've even started to wake up naturally instead of having to drag myself out of bed with the alarm. Having said all that then, I think this will be the last time I talk about being back at work. It's good to be back, lets just leave it like that ;o)

Three weeks to go until our baby turns up though... Yeah, you'll probably find me talking about that a little bit more before the time comes ;o) It feels like the last eight months have gone really quickly although Sue would violently disagree with the way she's feeling right now. Keep an eye out for 'new baby' pictures here over the next few weeks...

What with everything going on then, there hasn't been any room left in the week for new books to arrive. A couple managed to squeeze in actually. Go on, have a look...

I'm really keen to get reading 'The Copper Promise' as I've already read it twice in different formats (self published novella and submitted manuscript) and want to see the shape it has finally taken. Also, it's proper old school sword and sorcery and I can't get enough of that right now.
'The Forgotten Beasts of Eld' (has anyone read this?) is my last 'free pass' Fantasy Masterwork, purchased on Amazon. From here on in, it's back to scouring the second hand bookshops, I wouldn't have it any other way ;o)

That's me then, I'll be into 'The Copper Promise' soon but I'm reading 'She Who Waits' right now and it's amazing; I don't actually want it to end.
See you all tomorrow but in the meantime, what are you reading this weekend?

Friday, 15 November 2013

‘Epic Pooh’ – Michael Moorcock

The ‘Epic Pooh’ essay can be found in the ‘Wizardry and Wild Romance’ collection and I’m not a hundred percent sure if said collection is being re-published as part of Gollancz’ new ‘Moorcock’s Multiverse Collection’. Amazon says no but Amazon tends to say a lot of things that are easily disproved; the collection is going for pennies though and is probably worth a punt if you want to see what Moorcock has to say when he’s not writing books.
One of these essays, of course, is ‘Epic Pooh’; an essay that caused a little bit of rowdiness on forums that I have frequented in the past (people love to yell on forums don’t they?) I’d never read it myself so when I saw the book, in the charity shop, I was quite keen to pick it up and see what the fuss was all about. Having polished it off on the commute this morning I’m finding this post a little difficult to write. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Moorcock says but, at the same time, can’t help wondering if he has missed the point a little bit.

Commuting constraints meant that ‘Epic Pooh’ was a quick read (in terms of me having to get through it) so what I’m giving you guys are quick thoughts and reactions to it; nothing too deep here then…

To sum things up, Moorcock basically attacks the likes of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and a couple of others, saying that their work is a kind of comfortable ‘rural romance’ where middle class ideals and religious propaganda ‘dull’ the actual story. I can kind of see where he’s coming from here, especially (and I’m going off on a slight tangent here) when he talks about Tolkien’s ‘awful verse’. I can’t stand Tolkien’s poetry, does very little if anything for the actual plot, and it’s my fear of encountering Tom Bombadil again (and his insistence on poetry) that stops me reading ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ as much as I would otherwise. Sorry, I’m digressing; Tolkien’s poetry will do that to me…. I’d also agree with him in that I would much rather read a book by Alan Garner than C.S. Lewis. Garner is the better storyteller, in my opinion, and keeps that as the sole focus; no pushing an agenda here. I really need to re-read ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ and ‘The Moon of Gomrath’ again… Moorcock does come across as attacking Lewis for his beliefs rather than his storytelling though and that does take the edge off what he is saying (keep it about the books, don’t make it personal). The point does stand though. There is an element of comfort to these works that don’t make them particularly challenging reads, hence the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ argument.

So Moorcock also says that these books somehow betray what Epic Fantasy (or romances) is all about and that’s where I think that his argument at least falters, if not completely falls down. By acknowledging the big difference between the two strands; it becomes clear that while the slight similarity offers room to have a little moan, Moorcock’s vehemence on this score highlights the fact that there isn’t really an effective basis for comparison. So does ‘Epic Pooh’ become a case of Moorcock having a moan about books that he just doesn’t get on with? Not quite, there’s enough analysis here not to make that an issue, but I couldn’t help feeling that Moorcock was framing things to suit his argument and perhaps missing the point of what the focus of his ire was all about. Have any of you guys read ‘Epic Pooh’?

Thursday, 14 November 2013

‘Conan: The Road of Kings’ (Sphere)

Despite how it looks, I’m (very) slowly working my way through the books that I brought home from Nine Worlds. There are so many cool looking books on the pile right now that it’s hard to know where to start sometimes (and how cool is that?)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from wanting to read only Howard’s Conan to reading the comics as well and finally just wanting to read anything with Conan on the cover. No matter who the author is, there are core elements guaranteed in a Conan story that will pretty much hit the target with me so it was long past time I widened my scope. I’ve been a bit of a fan of Karl Edward Wagner’s ‘Kane’ books (more evidence that ‘grimdark’ has been a thing for far longer than we realise) so when I saw his name against ‘The Road of Kings’ the book pretty much bought itself :o)
‘The Road of Kings’ weighs in at just over two hundred pages long and was therefore just the right book to be reading on a commute where the carriages can get a bit cramped sometimes. It took me a little longer to finish than I’d planned (I’m far too into playing games on my phone at the moment) but, on the whole, was worth the read. If you’re looking for a copy yourself by the way, ‘The Road of Kings’ can only be found second hand; but I’m digressing, onto the book itself…

Conan is about to find himself at the wrong end of the hangman’s rope but the daring rescue of a fellow prisoner catapults him into the murky Zingaran world of organised crime and revolutionary politics. Sedition is brewing in Zingara and Conan is about to play a crucial role in the overthrow of a corrupt King. But what happens next when the new ruler is not only prey to the corruption of power but is backed by an army of stone warriors that even Conan’s sword arm cannot prevail against…?

Well, it’s Conan that we’re talking about here so we know how things will end up, how things have to end in fact. Wagner spins a pretty good tale though, keeping certain secrets hidden until the last minute so the reader has to find out how things tie together. That part of things is done pretty well by the way, we’re given a reasoned theory that is tested to completion rather than a ‘sudden reveal’ which just magically sorts everything out. I was more than happy with another level of uncertainty which moved the plot forward nicely at a critical moment.

Other than that though… Being as short as it is, ‘The Road of Kings’ is an entertaining read but also a read where the plot is forced into a straight line by page constraints. Working within those constraints, Wagner actually does a very good job of giving the city of Kordava (and ‘The Pit’ beneath) enough depth for it to be more than just a backdrop. I already knew that Wagner could write a mean fight scene but he proves it here all over again with enough swordplay and viscera to keep people like me happy. Wagner also has a pretty good idea of what Conan is all about, giving us the viewpoint of a barbarian constantly bemused (and contemptuous) by the eccentricities of southern ‘civilisation’, eager though to make his mark where the situation demands. To be fair, Robert E. Howard laid those guidelines pretty darn clearly, in the original tales, but Wagner makes Conan stand out on the page in just the way that he was always meant to. You can’t ask for much more than that really.

Or can you? Like I said, the plot starts at point A and moves through all the points, in order, ending at point Z. Conan is not as simplistic a character as people might think and I couldn’t help but think that he deserved a plot that would test the limits of his character, not just his sword arm. It was a nice move by Wagner, forcing Conan to confront indestructible stone warriors, and looking for alternative means to defeat them, but I wonder if there was room for more along those lines. I guess there’s only so much you can fit into so many pages but even so…
I couldn’t complain too much though when all the ingredients of a classic Conan tale are present, in ‘The Road of Kings’, and delivered with gusto. A nice little slice of old school sword and sorcery that made me forget about the perils of the commute; if I could have more of that in my reading I’d be a happy man :o)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

'The Lost Canal' - Michael Moorcock

My reading being the way it is right now, it's very unlikely that you'll see an anthology reviewed here in its entirety. I'm more likely to dip in and out of collections, reviewing a short story here and a short story there; at least until I get a spare couple of hours to sit down for some serious reading time.

I used to love watching the old Flash Gordon shows on a Saturday morning (they were repeats on TV, I'm not that old...) so I was instantly interested in Martin and Dozois' latest anthology. Those guys are prolific aren't they?
Where was I? Yes, 'Old Mars'... We're not talking about the Mars of someone like Kim Stanley Robinson, all sterile and waiting to be terra-formed, this is the Mars that we all wished for as kids; majestic and brimming with the possibility of adventure. In case you're still not sure, there's a picture of an old school ray gun on the back. Yep, we are all about the pulp here.

So where to start then? A quick look at the contents and there was really only one option. I (still) have Michael Moorcock's 'Mars' books waiting to be read so 'The Lost Canal' looked like a great way to get accquainted with what Moorcock can do in this setting. As it turned out, 'The Lost Canal' is actually set thousands of years later (and possibly in a slightly different strand of the Multiverse) but it was still a lot of fun to read, albeit with a small reservation...

Mac Stone is a man on the run across the deserts of Mars, for reasons that he is unaware of. The answer lies under his feet, amidst a secret kept for thousands of years. The clock is ticking though and if Stone cannot evade capture then the future of Mars itself is at stake...

If you follow this blog then the odds are that you followed the last blog and know that I am a big fan of Michael Moorcock; a man who has the happy knack of writing pulp sci-fi and fantasy that makes you think at the same time. There’s a real sense of adventure in Moorcock’s writing that, coupled with engaging characters, will always keep me reading. That’s very much the case here with a high stakes scenario being played out by a character that you can’t help but feel sympathetic towards as he has no idea why he is in so much trouble. The answer is another clever hook, to engage the reader, that really opens up the history of Moorcock’s Mars (tying it into earlier works I think) while at the same time making it clear what the threat is in the ‘here and now’. A bomb, from a million years in the past, set to blow up the planet in seven hours time. I wasn’t too sure about that by the way; if the scientists of the past knew where the bomb was and how to deactivate it, why are they calling someone from the future to do the job? I’ll need to go back and re-read those passages I think. While I wasn’t sure about that, there’s still a real sense of urgency here that powers the plot forward in just the right way. Moorcock rounds things off in style with a chase through ancient catacombs followed by a tense and (literally) explosive finale. There’s even a little time for Mars to fall back into the hands of the people who really love it, giving the reader some hope for the planet’s future. It felt like a fitting way for the story to end.

The only other real issue I had here was with the amount of background history Moorcock gives us for Mac Stone and Mars itself. While I love getting into a character’s head (and here, Mars is as much a character as Mac is) it did feel, at times, as all that background took precedence over the plot. This imbalance was unfair on the plot as it ended up feeling a little more lightweight than it actually was. ‘The Lost Canal’ was still fun to read though, a nice little way to spend the commute to work.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

More Fantasy Masterworks coming from Gollancz

And I'm all excited and stuff, you already know most of this first paragraph so feel free to skip it if you like ;o) I love well written fantasy that I get lost in for days at a time (well, the commute to and from work at least) so I was very excited to learn that the Fantasy Masterworks series was getting a makeover and a whole load of new titles to kick things off for new readers. I thoroughly enjoyed the old books (that I’d read) and there were a whole load of new titles here that I’d never heard of. I’m looking forward to talking about them here very soon. Disclaimer: Reading time at a premium and all that (blahblahblah)

What I was slightly more interested in though was the bit of the Gollancz press release that said they would be re-publishing some of the old Fantasy Masterworks from years ago. As someone who is trying to collect the old series, I’m up for anything that makes my collecting a little easier and a little cheaper at the same time. I’ve mentioned it before but ‘Emperor of Dreams’ (amongst others) is going for ridiculous money, second hand, and that’s the kind of thing that makes those gaps, in the series, look like they will never be filled.
So what ‘old’ books will Gollancz be re-publishing then? Amazon isn’t the most reliable of sites sometimes but I was having a little nose around and came across the following titles…

‘Little Big’, John Crowley (published December 2014)
There’s a little while to wait for ‘Little Big’ then but I can hold on as this is one of the ‘old titles’ that I’m having trouble tracking down in the old format. Score one for me then, go me! :o)

‘Beauty’, Sheri S. Tepper (published November 2014)
I’d completely forgotten that ‘Beauty’ was even on the old list so this was a nice surprise. It’s not a title that I’ve come across in my travels (anyone here read it?) and now, if I don’t find it in the meantime, I’ll be able to read it in a year’s time. I’m two up now and things are looking good.

‘Ombria in Shadow’, Patricia A. Mckillip (published October 2014)
Okay, this isn’t one of the old Masterworks at all but I’m intrigued nonetheless as I’ve yet to read anything by McKillip. Anyone here read this book?

‘Mythago Wood’, Robert Holdstock (published September 2014)
I already own a copy (absolutely gorgeous read) but wanted to mention ‘Mythago Wood’ here as it’s long past time this book made the ‘Fantasy Masterworks’ series. If you haven’t read ‘Mythago Wood’ yet then don’t wait until September next year to read it; go out and buy a copy now. Literally, right now. Turn your computer off and go buy that book. You can thank me once you’ve read it :o) Or you could wait until next year if you wanted to. If the recent ‘Fantasy Masterworks’ covers are anything to go by I can’t wait to see what they do for ‘Mythago Wood’.

‘The Broken Sword’, Poul Anderson (published August 2014)
‘The Broken Sword’ is another great book (and one that I’ve read) but it feels like a bit of a lazy choice this time round when there are other authors that could really do with being reintroduced to a new audience. Everyone know’s that ‘The Broken Sword’ is a Masterwork and it’s been published, as such, at least twice that I know of. Or it might just be me wanting to Gollancz to make my collecting easier by just publishing the stuff that I want them to… You decide ;o)

There are some good books on the way then, will you be reading any of them?

Monday, 11 November 2013

2000AD – Prog 1858

I’ve managed to get onto the list for electronic copies of 2000AD so you can expect to see more posts like this in the future. I’m still not a hundred percent sure when I’ll post them but Prog 1858 is out on Wednesday so I figured today would be a good time to kick things off.

The thing about comics like this is that, unless you’re very lucky, you’re never going to be able to start at the beginning. You’ll always be catching up and there will always be at least one story where you’ll never know how it began (unless you’re willing to backtrack a little and I’m not one for that these days). You have to start somewhere though and although I’ve come in at the beginning of the Judge Dredd story, as well as ‘Damnation Station’, I’m playing catch up with the other three. In at the deep end then, lets get going.

‘Judge Dredd: Ferals’ (Part One)

I’ve read a few Dredd stories now and I’m feeling like I’ve heard this one before with a monster prowling the ruins of Mega City One and Dredd the man to stop it. This is only the start though so there’s still time to be surprised. Emma Beeby sets things up well and there’s a nice little hint of ‘bringing law back to a lawless city’ (Dredd has a lot to do in the eyes of the juves) that I think could be as interesting to watch play out as the main plot. Nice artwork by John Burns as well with his minimalist approach to the Mega City Skyline heightening the sense of devastation.

‘Brass Sun: The Diamond Age’ (Part Nine)

There was always going to be one story here where I didn’t have a clue what was going on; ‘The Diamond Age’ is that story. The story is buzzing along a little too fast to get caught up (my fault, not the story) and the art didn’t give me much of an idea of what was going on and where.
I’ll follow ‘The Diamond Age’ through to its conclusion but really I’m waiting for this one to finish I think.

‘Flesh: Badlanders’ (Part Nine)

I loved ‘Flesh’, way back in the day (and on the other blog), so I was looking forward to more tales of cowboys harvesting dinosaurs and inevitably doing something really stupid so the dinosaurs get loose. This is another ‘part nine’ but it was really easy to get caught up here. It’s simple, a dinosaur gets loose and there’s carnage. Pat Mills and James McKay are sticking to a formula that won last time round, they may be playing it safe but the end result is cool so I don’t mind too much.

‘Tharg’s 3rillers: Rewind’ (Part Three)

And sometimes you’ll come in right at the end of a story… This time round a dead cop finds that there is still police work to be done, involving time travel, so that the restless dead can finally have justice. There’s not much to say here other than that the ending seems to tie everything up very neatly. I get the impression that ‘Rewind’ was strictly a one off but I wouldn’t mind seeing more.

‘Damnation Station: The Howling Beast on the Borderline’

I’m a big fan of Al Ewing’s work (although I still need to re-read the second ‘Zombo’ collection just to work out what the hell is going on…) so ‘Damnation Station’ was a great way to round off this issue. It’s typical space opera with a typical weird twist from the man Al Ewing; I loved how the battle played out (as well as the dialogue between the Commander and the alien Host) and the cliffhanger has got me really eager for the next issue to come along. It’s brilliant stuff and Mark Harrison is clearly the man to illustrate the darkness at the edge of space.

Not a bad prog to get things started here then. There will be more to follow…

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Some Books in the Post - The 'Got The House All To Myself' Edition!

I seem to be getting into a habit of saying this but, wow what a week...!
Sue and Hope spent the first part of the week being ill here (bronchitis for Sue and a filthy cold for Hope) and have since spent the second part of the week being ill down in Plymouth with my in-laws. Hopefully they should be well and back here in the next couple of days (I miss them).As for me? I've been busting my bits trying to get head round the ins and outs of the new job; I'm almost there :o)

This week has been all about the books as well though, isn't it always here? :o) You've seen one of them already (see the post below) but there were a few others as well. Check em' out...

The 'Judge Dredd Casefiles' are all about me trying to catch up with, and revisit, some of the cool stories that I missed out on years ago. This post has been scheduled so volume 20 will be what I'm reading a few hours from now when I wake up. Volume 21 could well be a 'commute read', on Monday, so if you're in London and see someone reading this book, it's probably me. Come and say hello :o)

I'm not going to lie, as soon as I knew Sue and Hope were on their way to Plymouth I took the chance to nip across town to the 'Book and Comic Exchange' in Notting Hill; a second hand bookshop that I'd been meaning to visit for a long time. Normally the only time we're ever there is for the Notting Hill Festival which isn't the best time for browsing books... This time was different though :o)
I've got to say that the 'Sci-Fi Corridor' was more like a slightly elongated 'Sci-Fi Alcove' but it was still crammed full of the good stuff so I shouldn't complain. You really need to go and check it out if you're in the area. Anyway...
The 'Fantasy Masterworks' collection grows a little bit more with 'The Land of Laughs'. I used to own a copy of this, which got lost in a long ago purge, so I was really pleased to see it on the shelf. Same deal with 'The Centuari Device'; it might not be the same cover but the book is back where it belongs on my shelf (and that's good).
I'm not quite sure how it happened but I somehow seem to be collecting old 'Conan' stories now and 'The Sword of Skelos' is the latest addition :o)

All of these books will get the review treatment here at some point. Can't say exactly when though as I've got some other bits and pieces that I want to write about first. Have a good Sunday everyone :o)

One for 2014? 'Moth and Spark' - Anne Leonard (Headline)

It's still only November (although where has this year gone...?) but advance copies are starting to show up are starting to arrive for all the books next year. You have to admire all those publicity people who are already thinking about books that are months from publication as well as dealing with the 'here and now' of book publicity. :o)
But anyway... I used to do this on the old blog and thought it would be worth continuing here; a little feature where I talk about these books and any first impressions that I have. Here goes...

Prince Corin has been given the task of freeing the dragons from their bondage to the Empire. However, it seems that that not even the dragonriders themselves know how these terrifying beasts are kept under control.

When Tam, a doctor's daughter, arrives in the capital she makes an amazing discovery: she is a Seer, gifted with visions.

Sparks fly when Corin and Tam meet ... but it's not all happily ever after. Not only is the prince forbidden to marry a commoner, but war is coming to Caithen. Torn between love and duty, they must work together to uncover the secret that threatens to destroy their country.

First things first. If I see a nicer looking cover next year I'll be very surprised. The book looks just as nice in my hands as it does on the screen. It's not just about the cover though is it? If it was, well... Just imagine what publishing would look like.

The blurb though, doesn't look too inspiring though does it? Luckily I've got the book to hand and, based on the few pages that I glanced at, I'll give it a few more chapters to prove itself. Also, the way it has been pitched ('The Princess Bride' meets 'A Game of Thrones' with a dash of Jane Austen) has caught my interest as well. Yep, I can't say when I'll get round to reading 'Moth and Spark' but read it I will. How about you?

'Moth and Spark' will be published in the UK, by Headline in February 2014. A quick Google shows it also being published in the US, by Viking, at around the same date.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

'Hollywood is Dead' - Kickstarter Project Now Live

I'm still idly holding out hope for a newly published zombie book to come along and do it for me like they used to back in the good old days. I'm not holding out a lot of hope to be honest but, in the meantime, this tickled me a little bit so I thought I'd share :o)

Artist Matt Busch has just released a crowd-funding campaign for the long-awaited Hollywood is Dead coffee table art book. Clocking in at 192 pages, the hardcover book will feature the giant collection of zombified parody movie posters that Busch has illustrated over the past five years, dozens of which have never been seen. The tome will also take a look behind-the-scenes at how the posters are created and feature a gallery of his other zombie-related works for properties like Night of the Living Dead and The Walking Dead.

The Hollywood is Dead project began as a series of Star Wars movie poster images at the request of Lucasfilm, only to be repainted by Busch into a twisted undead universe. With fandom hits like Zombie Wars: The Living Dead Strike Back, it was clear that the artist was destined to move beyond Star Wars and into the rest of the iconic cinema classics. The project soon gained attention on G4TV's Attack of the Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as Busch unveiled one new zombified poster after another. Fan favorites include Breakfast at Tiffany's (Breakfast is Tiffany), Edward Scissorhands (Deadward Scissorhands) and Toy Story (Toy Gory).

Details on how the book will be available outside the campaign are not ironed out yet, but Busch assures that pledgers will get the book well before anyone else, and at a better price. The Kickstarter also features exclusive reward packages, like signed / sketched books, and art prints not available anywhere else. The campaign for the Hollywood is Dead art book (only 4 weeks, which is shorter than most) is now live, and will expire on November 29th.

The direct link to the Kickstarter page and video is here:
What's not to love about zombified movie covers? Especially ones like this,
 And this,

I'd maybe wait for those 'Details on how the book will be available outside the campaign...' to be ironed out before chipping in but 'Hollywood is Dead' looks like it could be a book worth supporting (just for the novelty value of having a book like that on your coffee table). What do you think?

Friday, 8 November 2013

‘The Iron Wolves’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)

Sometimes I don’t want a book that makes me think. There, I said it.
Sometimes all I want in a book is the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster with gaping plot holes covered in spectacle and characters that will reach out from the page and grab you by the throat. I want a book that will wake me up in the morning when I haven’t had my coffee; a book that will drown out a horrible day with the sounds of swords clashing and evil dying a bloody death in the penultimate chapter. Whenever I want a book like that I will inevitably turn to whatever Andy Remic has written most recently; he is the guy who ticks all of those boxes, doing so with some style with his ‘Clockwork Vampire’ trilogy.
When ‘The Iron Wolves’ arrived on the doorstep I immediately saw it as the book to get me through a rough opening few days in my new job. I was right, oh how I was right. While there are flaws and shortcomings, I still tore through ‘The Iron Wolves’ and can see myself doing exactly the same thing with ‘The White Towers’ when that is published. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a book.

Have some blurb to be going on with,

Thirty years ago, the Iron Wolves held back mud-orc hordes at the Pass of Splintered Bones, and led a brutal charge that saw the sorcerer Morkagoth slain. This ended the War of Zakora, and made the Iron Wolves heroes.

Now, a new terror stalks the realm. In hushed whispers, it is claimed the Horse Lady, Orlana the Changer, has escaped from the Chaos Halls and is building an army, twisting horses, lions and bears into terrible, bloody hunters, summoning mud-orcs from then slime and heading north to Vagandrak where, it said, the noble King Yoon has gone insane...

After hearing a prophecy from a blind seer, aged General Dalgoran searches to reunite the heroes of old for what he believes will be the final battle. But as mud-orcs and twisted beasts tear through the land, Dalgoran discovers the Iron Wolves are no longer heroes of legend... Narnok is a violent whoremaster, Kiki a honey-leaf drug peddler, and Prince Zastarte a drinker, a gambler, amoral and decadent: now he likes to hear people scream as they burn...

United in hate, the Iron Wolves travel to the Pass of Splintered Bones; and as half a million mud-orcs gather, General Dalgoran realises his grave error. Together, the Iron Wolves hold a terrible secret which has tortured them for three decades. Now, they only wish to be human again...

‘The Iron Wolves’ is a book that sacrifices much to deliver on its promise of action and bucket loads of gore. You can tell that Remic writes a story like he’s watching it unfold on the big screen; everything is larger than life and full of vitality but take a little step back for a bit and you’ll find yourself thinking ‘hang on a minute…’
The narrative jumps forwards and backwards in time and that’s fair enough; that kind of thing happens all the time in books. It’s when you realise that this approach is purely to have people in the right place, without all the boring journeys in between, that it starts to feel a little contrived.
And imprisoning a major character only to have him break free, with no explanations as to how, so he can deliver the cliffhanger is, well… contrived again and doesn’t ring true at all.
You can tell that the story is really important to Remic (more on that in a bit) but he’s writing it like it’s a film and that doesn’t work when you’re dealing with words instead of moving pictures. You don’t see all the journeying in a film but a book has to at least mention it otherwise your reader is thinking, ‘how the hell did she suddenly turn up there?’ Films positively thrive on the bad guy suddenly appearing with no explanation, and throwing everything into chaos, but the book has to at least say who undid all the knots otherwise… Things just don’t fit together and there were a few too many of these moments in this book. And don’t get me started on the guy who suddenly pieces it all together so he can tell a lead character just in the nick of time. Just don’t…

You know what though? I totally forgive Andy Remic his little foibles, as I couldn’t put ‘The Iron Wolves’ down (except for those awkward moments where I had to do more than one thing at the same time). ‘The Iron Wolves’ is just wall to wall (or should I say cover to cover) action covered in liberal doses of blood, brains and other assorted viscera. I love that, there is always something happening and Remic ramps the stakes up to unbelievable heights. It may feel like a Saturday morning cartoon but it works; I had to keep reading to find out what happened (even though I had a rough idea that was proved right) and I came away feeling like I’d fought in some of those battles myself.

It’s not just the spectacle either, Remic fills each moment full of flawed anti-heroes that you can’t help but root for once you find out a little more about what is really going on for them. You’d be forgiven for wondering whether there is any room for good in Remic’s world but, in the best traditions of David Gemmell himself, Remic shows us that there is room for redemption in even the bitterest heart. He makes us wait on that though and I loved that little move of his. What a way to bait the hook, a bunch of cynical who really don’t want to be around for the final battle and won’t be given half a chance.

I’ve said before that Remic is the only writer I know who can coin the phrase ‘mud orc’ and get away with it. He is also the only writer I know who can introduce an element of Power Rangers to a ‘Gemmellesque’ final battle and get away with that too. Nothing is too outlandish for Andy Remic and that’s why I’ll continue to read his fantasy books at least.
‘The Iron Wolves’ may be flawed but it’s glorious all at the same time. Keep an eye out for this book in January and thank me later.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

‘Slaine: The Book of Scars’ – Various (Rebellion)

The more I think about it the more I realise that I was completely wrong in saying that one book started me off on a decades long love of genre fiction. How could that possibly be when I was reading loads of genre books? They all did their bit in gently ushering me down a path that I haven’t ever wanted to step off in all these years. Loads of bits from loads of books, all shaping what I’m into now. Slaine the Beserker was one of those elements. I knew about Slaine way before I ever got round to picking up a Conan book. Conan may have the better stories but Slaine is a character that looms on the page in exactly the same way. I read what I could of Slaine, when I could, and it was all awesome. Well, maybe not all of ‘Slaine the King’ but enough of it for me to be happy.

All of this quite possibly makes me the wrong person to be reviewing ‘The Book of Scars’ then; being the fan that I am I probably won’t be all that objective. Or will I? Lets have a go and see what happens shall we?

The thing to be aware of with ‘The Book of Scars’ is that the actual story, that gives the book its name, barely takes up half of the book itself. The rest of the book (the bulk in fact) is given over to a retrospective dealing with thirty years of absolutely gorgeous Slaine artwork (thirty years, I feel very old). That’s brilliant if you’re a fan like me, more on that in a bit, but probably not so good if you’re not and want a book with lots of story. You might just want to bear that in mind.

If you are a fan though, you’re in for a bit of a treat.

The ‘Thirty of Years of Slaine Covers’ is a dream come true for fans of Slaine and, it has to be said, fans of barbarians that either look brooding or just like to fight whatever is in front of them. Great stuff.
It’s not just artwork though, it would get boring really quickly if there was only the art (yeah, I’m looking at you Black Library with your ‘The Emperor’s Might’…) What we get here is a little insight into each piece from the creator themselves. I for one find this approach really interesting as it offers a completely different perspective on things. Slaine may well be fighting his way out of a dragon’s jaws but why? Some of the answers will make you look at the covers in a whole new way.

The ‘Book of Scars’ story feels a little lightweight (in terms of length, there isn’t much to it) although there is plenty going on with Slaine revisiting past triumphs and fighting to keep history moving forward on the right path. Again, this is probably more one for fans who will undoubtedly get more out of seeing pivotal moments in Slaine’s history twisted into new threats to the Land of the Young. I certainly did, especially watching Ukko have to rewrite Slaine’s fight with Slough Feg (which made me laugh).
What I really got into though was the stunning artwork that once again really captures Celtic influences, the wildness of Slaine’s world and all the blood and brains that seem to be following in the path of Slaine’s axe. It’s stirring stuff although sometimes the influences can be a little too strong (Elfric anyone?).
What was also interesting to see was Clint Langley taking on art duties for ‘The Bride of Crom’ but carrying them out in the style of Massimo Belardinelli (the artist for the original story). Langley pulls it off in such a way that it is faithful to Belardinelli’s work while still showing what Langley is all about. I loved it.

I think it’s fair to say then that ‘The Book of Scars’ is one for the fans but then who else but a fan would buy an ‘Anniversary Edition’ book anyway? Fans will love what they find in these pages though, I did. Here’s to another thirty (which would put me at sixty eight, I’m game…)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

‘The New Girl’ – S.L. Grey

It didn’t take S.L . Grey long to become a writer that I will stop reading everything else for. Both ‘The Mall’ and ‘The Ward’ were deeply unsettling reads that I couldn’t put down, either if I’d wanted to. Good horror fiction (weird or otherwise) still feels like it’s hard to come by so I will always make time to read the good stuff.
I’m still a little bit behind with what’s being published, and when, so the release of ‘The New Girl’ came as a little bit of a surprise to me. No matter though, the second I realised the book was out I made damn sure I had a copy to read. That was a couple of weeks ago though and I’ve only just got round to writing my thoughts down, so what happened?
It’s been hard to collect my thoughts around this book; everything was there that made the last two books so gripping but I came away from the experience feeling a little bit, I don’t know… emptier than before. It took me a little while to work out just why and here I am now, ready to say. Let’s go shall we?

The blurb has been copied and pasted because it’s one of those days today :o)

Ryan Devlin, a predator with a past, has been forced to take a job as a handyman at an exclusive private school, Crossley College. He's losing his battle to suppress his growing fascination with a new girl who seems to have a strange effect on the children around her.
Tara Marais fills her empty days by volunteering at Crossley's library. Tara is desperate, but unable, to have a baby of her own, so she makes Reborns - eerily lifelike newborn dolls. She's delighted when she receives a commission from the mysterious 'Vader Batiss', but horrified when she sees the photograph of the baby she's been asked to create. Still, she agrees to Batiss's strange contract, unaware of the consequences if she fails to deliver the doll on time.

Sometimes, even if you have all the same ingredients it’s the execution that can really make or break things. I’m talking from experience here having made the saltiest buttermilk pancakes ever (long story)… That’s where I think ‘The New Girl’ went slightly awry for me. Everything was there that made ‘The Mall’ and ‘The Ward’ essential reading; the focus has shifted though and ‘The New Girl’ isn’t the same for it.

That’s not to say that ‘The New Girl’ doesn’t have cool stuff going for it. While the book wasn’t one that I couldn’t put down, it was still a book that posed interesting questions where I had to find out the answers. There is a lot of stuff going on that affects the lives of Ryan and Tara in some deliciously unsettling ways and it’s these moments that power the plot forward in just the right ways (even if jumps in perspective force the reader to go back and repeat stuff from a different viewpoint). ‘The New Girl’ is an incredibly easy book to settle into in that respect; it flows very smoothly and takes you along with it. Ryan Devlin is also an interesting character to have centre stage. While his abusive past is hinted at enough for us to see him for what he is, Grey really opens up Ryan’s thoughts and shows us motives that, while twisted, force us to consider Ryan in a new light. The ‘morality’ of Grey’s setting means that Ryan will eventually be punished for his crimes but you can’t help but wonder if it’s a happy ending for all concerned.

It did feel like things went astray though. With two previous books already having established the ‘weirdness’ of Downside, and how this can be horrifying when faced for the first time, it was perhaps inevitable that this setting would lose some of its punch by the third book. That ‘punch’ is lessened further though by the new direction this book takes. Instead of having ‘Downside’ discovered by us, Grey has the denizens of Downside actively seeking to make contact with ‘Upside’ in order to further their own agenda. Admittedly, this agenda results in some horrifying imagery but Grey’s writing strength lay in holding ‘Downside’ up as a mirror and forcing us to confront what’s inherently odd about our own society; it doesn’t work the other way round. We already know that ‘Downside’ is twisted’ so using our world as a mirror to highlight that is kind of pointless really and the end result feels strangely muted (although the ‘New Girl’ herself does come across as completely out of place when compared to her classmates). This feeling carries through to the rest of the book where , despite all the other good stuff, things feel a little bit directionless. This may be resolved in future books, where the direction becomes more clear, but for now it’s an infuriating thing to deal with when it feels like Grey was a lot clearer on this in the previous two books.

‘The New Girl’ is an odd one to call then. Like I said, all the ingredients are there but they’ve been used differently and the end result feels like ‘The New Girl’ isn’t the book that it could have been. Maybe this new direction will make a bit more sense in future books; I’m still a fan of the setting so will be around to see where things go next.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Comics I've been reading...

I’m reading stuff on my phone more and more these days; while there are books that aren’t suited to the small screen (and I’m talking the big fat epics here) I find that short stories and novellas are just right. Is this an open invitation for short, self-published pieces? Maybe, let me think about that one (the reading pile is large enough as it is).
I’m also reading a lot of comics. While it’s not the same as having the actual thing in your hands, reading off the phone still lets me get lost in the artwork… Until the battery runs out that is :o)

I’m reading a lot of stuff from Dark Horse at the moment as the range on offer really lets me broaden my horizons beyond one shared setting. This means that the quality can vary but I’m happy to take that risk.
Here’s some quick thoughts on what I’ve read over the last couple of days (stuff that will hit the shelves next week, I think)

‘X’ #7 – Swierczynksi/Nguyen

This issue continues the ‘Dogs of War’ storyline, from #6, and is very much a bridging piece between all the mad stuff that happened previously and a promised spectacular finale. Unfortunately what this means is that not a lot actually happens, just a bunch of cops realising that they have been set up by their superiors. There’s some nice character work by Swierczynksi and while I like Nguyen’s art the Dogs of War look a little too canine compared to the more ordinary police officers. I didn’t like that contrast although I am hoping that it will bring out some of the more paranormal elements of Arcadia. Here’s hoping, I will be around to see how things pan out in the next issue (as #7 ends with a decent cliff-hanger)

‘Star Wars’ #11 – Wood/D’Anda

I go on about how Star Wars is losing its charm for me but I can’t help but keep going back for more (little kid at heart and all that). This time it paid off as Wood and D’Anda combine to give us a little piece of what Star Wars is really all about – space battles, double crossing and Darth Vader making an appearance. I loved D’Anda’s representations of Leia and Han while Wood really kept me guessing (which in turn kept me reading). It was all brilliant and I had a great time reading, I’ll give this comic another couple of issues to see if the momentum keeps up.

‘Clown Fatale’ #1 of 4 – Gischler/Rosenzweig

‘Clown Fatale’ is only running for four issues so I’ll probably see it through to the end but I’m not a hundred percent convinced by what I’ve seen. Rosensweig’s art, complemented by Dinisio’s colours, grabs the eye immediately but I’m not sure about how Gischler has set things up. I like the concept but I would have also liked to know a little more about what was happening. Given this is a mini-series it just feels like Gischler has left himself an awful lot to do in later issues. Unless everyone is just going to shoot loads of guns at each other that is (and I can see that happening). I’ll let you know how it goes…

I'm always open to comic book recommendations by the way, what are you reading at the moment?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Books In The Post - The 'Poor Tired Graeme' Edition!

What a week... After fifteen months of unemployment I'm back in the world of work and it's a transition that has required a lot of adjustment on my part, very much like being in a car that goes from nought to sixty in less than a second... It's all good though but I am hoping that things start to feel a little easier this week ;o)

Anyway, the last week has been full of books waiting for me when I got home and this is the post where I show you what those books were. Not all of them will be reviewed, reading time is at a premium and will be even more so in about five weeks when our next child arrives... :o) I want to use that time then on books that I'll either enjoy or will get me thinking, either's good. The other books still deserve a mention though so here we go,

My Fantasy Masterworks collection is starting to look pretty special now although there's a way to go yet before it's complete (especially now they are bringing out the new books). This little lot came courtesy of Amazon ('The Riddle Master's Game' and 'The Well of the Unicorn') and my good friend James who popped 'The Dragon Waiting' through the door last weekend. The plan is to lay my hands on more of these at Christmas, what's here should keep me going in the meantime though :o)

I'm not going to go on loads about 'Zombo' as that is what the post below was all about. I had a lot of fun reading it, yesterday, though and there will be a review sometime this week. If I can work out what most of it was about that is... The 'Slaine' book is as gorgeous as it looks but strangely lightweight at the same time. More on that this week as well.

And the rest... I'll definitely be dipping in and out of 'End of the Road', Jonathan Oliver has got form for editing amazing collections so I'm looking forward to seeing what this one is like. It will probably happen one story at a time though (and I know which ones I want to start off with). 'The Wisdom of the Shire'? I don't think so, I had no interest in the hardback review copy I got last year and I've realised that my feelings haven't changed in the slightest. If anyone has read this book and wants to comment then feel free :o)
I'm quite interested in reading 'Fiddlehead' and 'The Art of Hunting' but they're both parts of series and that's putting me off a little bit. I know there's only one book preceding 'The Art of Hunting' but how standalone is 'Fiddlehead'? Does anyone know?
And 'The Waking that Kills'... The blurb is quite interesting but there are a lot of other books that I want to read first so don't expect to hear much about this book (here) any time soon. Here's that blurb for those interested...

The ghosts that haunt us are not always strangers.

When his elderly father suffers a stroke, Christopher Beale returns to england. He has no home, no otherfamily. adrift, he answers an advert for a live-in tutor for a teenage boy. the boy is lawrence lundy, who possesses the spirit of his father, a military pilot – missing, presumed dead. unable to accept that his father is gone, lawrence keeps his presence alive, in the big old house, in the overgrown garden.

His mother, Juliet lundy, a fey, scatty widow living on her nerves, keeps the boy at home, away from other children,away from the world. and in the suffocating heat of a long summer, she too is infected by the madness of her son. Christopher Beale becomes entangled in the strange household... enmeshed in the oddness of the boy and his fragile mother. only by forcing the boy to release the spirit of his father can there be any escape from the haunting.a dark novel of possession.

And, it has to be said, the cover looks lovely. You can see that over Here.

That's that for today I think :o) I'm going to settle down somewhere comfortable and read either Remic's 'The Iron Wolves' or Wagner's 'Conan: the Road of Kings'. I'm totally undecided so it will probably be a little bit of both :o)
Have a good weekend!