Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So Long 2013...

On the old blog, I used to do ‘Big Fat End of the Year’ posts but this won’t be one of those; partly because I don’t want to rehash stuff like that but also there were large parts of 2013 that I have no interest in dwelling on. I’m leaving the long period of unemployment and the litigious neighbour right where they are and looking forward to a much nicer new year in 2014. That’s not to say that 2013 was all bad though, just that all the good stuff seemed to happen right at the end :o) I’m now in a job that I enjoy, working with good people, and my youngest daughter is about three and a half weeks old, happy(ish) days are here again ;o) I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned over the year, wading through a sea of crap is never good but you will always be able to reach dry land in the end; I feel for anyone who’s going through similar stuff right now (it will get better).

2013 was also the year that I started this blog and it’s been a lot of fun so far, definitely good to be back chatting about the stuff that I love. I’ve posted 70 reviews which isn’t bad given all the other stuff that has been going on; I’ll be aiming for a few more than next year I reckon… I’ve covered a few new books but I’ve actually had a lot more fun re-reading books on the shelf and going back to read books that are a lot older. Covering some Robert E. Howard short stories was a lot of fun (I knew it would be, that’s why I did it) but what was even more enjoyable was checking out Lord Dunsany’s poetry and some short fiction by Clark Ashton-Smith for the first time. I reckon there will be a lot more of that next year too. This blog is already taking a bit of a different direction then, one that felt totally needed if I was to keep enjoying genre fiction. I will still be reviewing the new stuff though so stick around for that. I’m reading ‘The Phoenix and the Mirror’ (not a new release but new in this edition), ‘The Boy with the Porcelain Blade’ and ‘The Barrow’ at the moment and they are all books that I think you will get a lot out of next year.

Like I said, I only posted 70 reviews this year and the balance of stuff that I read makes a ‘Best of 2013’ list a little bit, well… unfeasible really. A ‘Fiction that I Really Enjoyed’ list though… Yeah, I reckon I could do one of those though ;o) Here’s a list of all the stuff that really stood out for me then (in no order), here we go…

‘The Desert of Souls’ – Howard Andrew Jones (Head of Zeus) – An absolutely spellbinding read that has got me hassling the poor publicity lady, at Head of Zeus, for the next two books. If you haven’t read it then you really need to do something about that.

‘The Copper Promise’ – Jen Williams (Headline) – I don’t think I’ve enjoyed reading a fantasy novel so much in a long time. Fantasy that you used to read as a kid but for the 21st century.

‘The Year of the Three Monarchs’ – Michael Swanwick (‘The Sword & Sorcery Anthology’, Tachyon Press) A tightly spun tale that drips with atmosphere and clever bits that make you go, ‘oohhh…’

‘Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and The Red Death’ – Richard Corben (Dark Horse Comics) Richard Corben does amazing weird horror art work and it feels like he was born to do the art for these. Corben doesn’t disappoint.

‘The Riders’ & ‘The Quest’– Lord Dunsany. Just because that’s the way I feel whenever I pick up a fantasy book.

‘The Charnel God’ – Clark Ashton Smith. Probably the whole reason why I bought a copy of ‘Return of the Sorcerer’ and am still keeping half an eye open for ‘The Emperor of Dreams’; an amazing slice of the darkest kind of fantasy.

‘Prince of Thorns’ – Mark Lawrence (Harper Voyager) I’m horribly late to this party (and still need to read the other two books) but it is so clear why everyone has been saying good things about these books. An awesome story with a compelling lead.

And that was my 2013 in terms of books that I read; I reckon you could pick up any of those books and not be disappointed.
As far as resolutions for next year go, I’ve got loads of books on my shelves that I planned on reading but never got round to. I’m talking ‘Happy Hour in Hell’ and ‘She Who Waits’ in particular, both awesome books that I never got round to. 2014 will be the year that I do something about that I think :o) There are also a couple of series that I want to re-read just because it’s been too long and way past time I revisited. More importantly though, the plan is to keep enjoying how this blog is going, I don’t think that will be too hard ;

Have a great New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you all on the other side ;o)

Monday, 30 December 2013

What TV taught me over Christmas...

Well I say TV... We don't have a licence (that might change in the New Year though...) so it was more like working our way through the enormous pile of DVDs that was under the tree. We're only about halfway through that pile so here's what I've learned so far...

There is such a thing as 'He-Man & She-Ra' Christmas special. And there I was thinking that I'd wasted a large chunk of the eighties watching all of these cartoons... I never knew there was a Christmas special, did you?

Lego Star Wars is much better than the real thing, seriously. We were watching 'The Yoda Chronicles' and it struck me how much fun it is, just like Star Wars was way back in the day. It doesn't take itself too seriously either, quite the opposite in fact, whichbis so much easier on the senses than convoluted (and ultimately flawed) discussions about the how good the Living Force is while the Jedi send the Clone Troopers off to die in battles that they never asked to be a part of... See? Just thinking about the prequels makes me rant, you never get that with Lego Star Wars.

'Doctor Who: Paradise Towers' looks horribly dated (hell, it looked horribly dated back in the eighties when it first aired...) but, if you give it a chance, it’s actually quite a dark and scary story; cancelling out all the Red Kang/Blue Kang stuff by making good use of all those dark and cramped corridors to deliver some suitably tense moments. Despite all that though, I’d still say that Bonnie Langford’s Mel is still my least favourite Doctor Who companion though and I can’t help but wish that the robot crab (in the swimming pool) had finished her off…

Funnily enough though, ‘Spiderman and His Amazing Friends’ didn’t feel dated at all. Did the artists deliberately crop the billboard so it said ‘Eat Crack’ (instead of crackers) or was it just a mistake guaranteed to make me chuckle around thirty years later? Either way, made me laugh :o) I loved this show as a kid and now Hope has the box set, happy times ahead for me then :o)

I’d never thought an awful lot of the ‘Thor’ comic book but the film absolutely rocked (certainly enough to have me keeping an eye out for when ‘Thor 2’ comes out on DVD, I might even pick up some of the comics now) Chris Hemsworth did a fine job as Thor but Hiddlestone’s Loki stole the show as far as I’m concerned. I might have a teeny tiny man-crush there :o)

Same deal with ‘Sherlock’, I could never get into the original books but I’m now officially hooked on the TV show. It’s made of awesome, Sue and I are having to be really good and not watch the whole box set all at once.

Did you watch anything good over Christmas? And can anyone tell me what they thought of the new ‘Anchorman’ film? I haven’t seen it yet…

Sunday, 29 December 2013

One for 2014 (Seriously, the last one this year)? Star Wars: Honour Among Thieves' - James S.A. Corey

Royal Mail may have given up for the last few days of the year but DHL are still doing business it would appear. We did feel very sorry for the very grumpy driver who arrived on our doorstep, complaining that he hadn't been able to drink over Christmas because he was working... (I had an extra one for him that evening)
Anyway, I've got a couple of posts planned for the next couple of days so this really will be the last 'One for...' post this year, promise. Go on, have a look at the cover and blurb...

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever. 

I'd pretty much given up on Star Wars books for a whole load of reasons that you've all heard before. Ok, recycled plots with the same old characters that the franchise won't allow to die (erm... zombie Star Wars?) 'Honour Among Thieves' could be different though, slotting somewhere in between 'Star Wars' and 'The Empire Strikes Back', meaning the characters won't feel quite so 'same old' then. If that wasn't enough, James S.A. Corey has got form for writing quality space opera and that's something the Star Wars franchise could really do with a good dose of. And if that wasn't enough, 'Honour Among Thieves' is only two hundred and forty six (and a bit) pages long; that makes it the ideal read for a couple of train rides to and from work. So yep, despite all my misgivings about Star Wars books in general I'll be giving 'Honour Among Thieves' a go and I reckon you'll hear my thoughts a little while before the March 2014 publication date.

How about you, will you be reading 'Honour Among Thieves'? And are there any new(ish) Star Wars books that you think could change my views on Star Wars books in general? Go on, leave a comment ;o)

Friday, 27 December 2013

Books in the Post (Father Christmas Edition)

How was your Christmas? Mine was pretty awesome thanks for asking :o) I watched ‘Lego Star Wars’ and ‘Spectacular Spiderman’ with Hope (while she wasn’t grinding pink playdough into our green carpet…) and spent a large part of the day cuddling Elana; I couldn’t have asked for a lot more than that really. Except that I did :o) It was Christmas, I had loads of Christmas lists doing the rounds! I am now well stocked up on DVDs, so much so in fact that I might have to cull some of my old DVDs that I haven’t seen in a while…. As things stand right now, you can expect to see posts on ‘Thor’, ‘Captain America’ and ‘Doctor Who: Paradise Towers’ (guilty pleasure time…) You might even see a post on the ‘He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special’, I didn’t even know there was a He-Man and She-Ra Christmas special…

This post is all about the books though, and not just the ones I got for Christmas either. A few extra books snuck in via the post, a day or so beforehand, and I think they’re all worth mentioning so here goes… Christmas books first then,

‘The Star Wars Vault’ is full of all sorts of goodness , pretty much everything a Star Wars fan could want from the very quick flick through that I’ve had. There will be a more in depth post on this at a slightly later date I reckon. One thing I will say now though is that it’s the heaviest book I’ve ever held; anyone breaking into my house will be met with this book as I can see it working as an effective shield and weapon combined. Thanks to my little brother Chris for getting me this.

Well, there was going to be a 'Fantasy Masterworks picture here but the picture and blogger have apparently decided not to get on with each other; Christmas Spirit only lasts a couple of days I guess :o) What I'll do instead is say that I was given 'Peace' (Gene Wolfe) & 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' (Michael Swanwick) by my folks (thanks!) and 'The Phoenix and the Mirror' by Sue's folks (thanks!) The rules clearly state (well they don’t but…) that I can break my ‘second hand bookshops only’ rule for Christmas’ and birthdays so there you go. I’ve still to read a full length novel by Gene Wolfe and ‘Peace’ looks like a nice quick(ish) read to address that shortfall, ‘The Iron Dragon’s Daughter’ looks interesting as well (especially after reading 'The Year of the Three Monarchs' and getting a feel for what Swanwick's writing can be like). I actually started reading ‘The Phoenix and the Mirror’ on the way to work this morning (yep, I had to go to work this morning…) and what I’ll say right now is that it’s the book I’ve been looking for without realising it. More on that when I post my review.

And here are the books that snuck in through the post before Christmas. Mark Smylie’s ‘The Barrow’ looks like a lot of fun and I can see it getting bumped up the pile once I’ve finished a couple of others. I know I said I was getting a bit tired of Warhammer 40K fiction but a) ‘Master of Dragons’ is Warhammer Fantasy and b) it’s written by Chris Wraight and I will read anything that he writes. I just need to read ‘The Great Betrayal’ first…

‘The Return of the Sorcerer’ is my admission that I will never find a copy of ‘The Emperor of Dreams’ for a reasonable price and it’s also a way of patting myself on the shoulder and saying, ‘there there, never mind’ :o) I’ll be dipping in and out of this book over the next few weeks.

And that was my Christmas in terms of books! I now need to go away and make some room on my shelves, the charity shops are going to be very happy with me I reckon. What books did you get for Christmas?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

'The Death of Integrity' - Guy Haley (Black Library), Didn't finish the book...

Am I falling out of love with Warhammer 40K fiction? Yep, just a little bit and I think it's down to the success they are having with the 'Horus Heresy' and the knock on affect that is having on the other books they are publishing. If you have a series that is now regularly hitting the NYT bestsellers list (albeit the lower reaches) then that is the series you put all your energy into. More than that though, if you're publishing a series that will pretty much define the Warhammer 40K setting forever then your attention has to be on it to make sure it's the best that it can be. You can't really argue with that but where does that leave the other books? Left to pretty much fend for themselves if 'The Death of Integrity' was anything to go by.

After pursuing an insidious genestealer cult across the sector for years, Chapter Master Caedis of the Blood Drinkers stands ready to destroy the original source of the infection - the vast and mysterious space hulk designated Death of Integrity. However, immediately coming into conflict with both their brothers in the Novamarines Chapter and the priesthood of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Blood Drinkers must reign in their more aggressive instincts and accept the possibility that the hulk itself may be of value to the Imperium...

Now you know that I've always had issues with the 'Space Marines Battles' series; a series that misses the target more often than not and really should have been left as battle reports in White Dwarf magazine. If you don't have a good story to really flesh it out then all you have is a series of gunshots and then a victor. Haley tries to bulk out 'Death of Integrity' with an exploration of the heraldry, honour and brotherhood between two Chapters of Space Marines. It didn't work for me though, certainly not by the time I put the book down unfinished. What I read was cumbersome and didn't feel like it was adding to any kind of plot, couple that with an enemy that drive a story rather than actually contributing to it and I decided that enough was enough. I skipped to the end, just for a quick read, and did like the big reveal (especially with what it had to say about the state of the Imperium); unfortunately though, it wasn't enough to make me want to go back and read the rest of the book.

I can't help but think that if the Black Library put as much thought into this series, as they do the Horus Heresy, then it could one worth following. As it is though, it will only be names that I can trust to deliver that will have me reading this series in the future. That’s probably more than a little unfair on Haley’s book but that’s the way I feel about the series as a whole.

Monday, 23 December 2013

'The Desert of Souls' - Howard Andrew Jones (Head of Zeus)

'The Desert of Souls' was one of those books that never made it past the burn out that led to the end of my old blog. Seriously, there were times where I literally couldn't look at this book (amongst others) without getting a headache and there's no point in reading if you're not enjoying it, don't even try.
This was all the more a huge shame as, at the time, 'The Desert of Souls' was having a lot of good things said about it by all the people whose 'book opinions' matter to me. I guess I subconsciously filed this one under 'must read when the headaches stop' as when I saw that Head of Zeus were publishing 'Desert' in the UK my curiosity was piqued all over again and requested a review copy.
I'm really glad I did, I've been lost in 'The Desert of Souls' for the last few days and didn't really want to find my way back out again. Thankfully there are more books in the series to look forward to. Please excuse the copy and pasted blurb, it’s Monday morning and I’m tired…

THE CHRONICLE OF SWORD & SAND: Baghdad, AD 790. Caliph Harun al-Rashid presides over the greatest metropolis on Earth, ruler of an empire stretches from China to Byzantium. His exploits will be recorded in Alf Layla or, as we know it, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
But The Thousand and One Nights are silent on the deeds and adventures that befell two of the Caliph's subjects: the renowned scholar Dabir ibn Kahlil, and his shield and right hand, Asim el Abbas. For their story, we must turn to the Chronicle of Sand and Sword...
THE DESERT OF SOULS: Amid the trackless sands of ancient Arabia, two companions - a swordsman and a scholar - search for the ruins of the lost city of Ubar. Before their quest is over, they will battle necromancers and animated corpses, they will confront a creature that has traded wisdom for the souls of men since the dawn of time and they will fight to save a city's soul.

Before I start on the tale itself, I just want to get a little nostalgic and say how much I like the book as, erm… a book :o) When I was little you used to be able to get hard back books where the cover art was part of the book rather than just on the dust jacket (I’m thinking of my ‘Dalek Omnibus’ in particular here) I haven’t seen that for a long time so it was really cool to see it here. Took me right back…

But anyway, the actual plot. ‘The Desert of Souls’ has a little something for everyone whether you’re into the action and excitement of Sword and Sorcery (there is loads of this by the way, absolutely brilliant stuff) or a really thoughtful plot that takes in the politics of a nation at the same time as the delicate (and sometimes tragic) interactions of the main players. It’s just like all those ‘Sinbad the Sailor’/’Thief of Baghdad’ films you used to watch as a kid. There are even some vicious little undead monkey thieves that had me wishing that Ray Harryhausen was still around for if this book makes it to the screen. There’s a lot to enjoy then and Jones’ skilful handling of his plot and characters makes the book fly by, almost with you realising it.

How could a plot to destroy Baghdad possibly be discovered through the death of a pet parrot? You wouldn’t have thought it possible but Jones unfolds the plot so carefully (tying everything together so neatly) that it all makes perfect sense. As things become more clear the stakes are raised appropriately (through a series of clever twists and cliff-hangers), building swiftly to a real crescendo just at the right time. At no point does Jones not appear in control of the plot; he displays a fine touch, in this regard, but there’s no doubt that he’s in charge.
The other compelling element of the book (and one that really bodes well for books to come) is the growing friendship between Asim and Dabir; two men from very different backgrounds who forge a real bond in the face of dark magic, Djinns, and running battles through cities and the desert. It’s a pleasure to see this friendship grow from polite association to something far deeper where each man trusts the other with his life. That’s not to say there aren’t a few bumps along the way but it all seems to tie together and make their friendship even stronger.

I want to read more of these books and there is no way I’ll be waiting so long to read the next one. ‘The Desert of Souls’ really is like all those Harryhausen films you used to watch, as a kid, but with a real air of thoughtfulness behind it that you don’t normally see. If you haven’t read ‘The Desert of Souls’ already then I wouldn’t leave it any longer if I were you. Highly recommended.

Friday, 20 December 2013

One for 2014? 'The Boy with the Porcelain Blade' (Den Patrick)

I reckon this could well be the last ‘One for…’ post of 2013 (given that Royal Mail are currently experiencing their annual ‘Christmas Meltdown’, I really feel for them) as I’m only covering stuff that comes through the door and catches my eye. Books like ‘The Boy with the Porcelain Blade’ for example. Having read a couple of Den’s short stories, this is a title that I’ve been keeping an eye open for and (small daughters and Christmas permitting) will more than likely dive straight into after I finish ‘The Desert of Souls’. That’s an awesome book by the way but more on that when I finally finish it.
But yeah, ‘The Boy with the Porcelain Blade’. Have some blurb…

An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.
Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

I’m not going to lie here, I’m hoping for more Peake and Grimwood than Hobb (never got the fuss there…) but it all looks quite promising from where I’m sat with what looks like a good mix of politics and swordplay. Reminds me of some family Christmas’ from when I was a kid… Anyway, ‘The Boy with the Porcelain Blade’ will be published by Gollancz in March next year but I’ll let you know what I think sooner than that. Is it one that you’ll check out?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

‘Elric: The Balance Lost Volume 3’ – Roberson, Biagini (Boom! Studios)

One of the things that I really wanted to do with this blog was move slightly away from the new and shiny releases and concentrate on clearing the backlog on my shelves. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of ‘new and shiny’ on those shelves already but there’s also a load of other books that are worthy of mention too. The range of genre fiction out there is massive and it’s always worth stopping, every now and then, to appreciate just how much stuff is out there. I’m never going to read all of it but I reckon I’ll have fun trying.
‘The Balance Lost’ series kind of falls in between these two extremes then, being a very recent publication but also very much tying in to an older series of books that has influenced much of what you’ll read today. I’ve also got a ‘kind of resolution’ to finish series that I start and ‘The Balance Lost 3’ falls into that category as well (being the last volume in the series). It’s like I’m killing a number of birds with one stone here! So yeah, onto the book itself…

Following the events of the last two volumes (go and have a look for reviews of these in my old blog); Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon and Eric Beck have journeyed to another universe entirely to discover who has destroyed the Cosmic Balance. What awaits them there is beyond even the power of Elric’s black sword but can the Eternal Champions combine one last time to defeat this menace? While this titanic battle is being fought, it is Eric Beck’s final showdown with his brother that will have more bearing on the fate of the Multiverse itself…

If you’re a long term reader of the ‘Eternal Champion’ books then you won’t be surprised by the direction this book takes, a direction that Moorcock himself has followed more than once. This lack of surprise is countered though by a beautiful rendition of the ‘Three in One’ by Biagini whose artwork seems to getting more simplistic and straightforward as the series progresses. Having said that though, what Biagini’s art lacks in complexity is more than made up for in the way that he conveys a sense of sheer scale in the scale of the final battle itself and in the size of certain participants. Some of the panels are amazing in this respect. The story itself will be familiar to long term fans (perhaps a little too familiar?) but Roberson balances this out with a surprise appearance from a couple of favourites, a nice twist at the end and a real ability to tie the whole multiverse together with a few strategically placed panels. ‘The Balance Lost 3’ is a very short book (the big reason why I don’t have an awful lot to say about it…) but those few little mentions here and there make it seem like there’s far more to it.

The twist at the end was a good way to round off the series and ‘The Balance Lost’, as a whole, is a worthy chapter in the life and times of Elric. Now I just need to find copies of the ‘Stormbringer’ comic (much easier said than done I think) and ‘The Making of a Sorcerer’ for my collection to be complete(ish).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

‘Zombo: You Smell Of Crime And I’m The Deodorant!’ Ewing/Flint (Rebellion)

Is it just me or do you sometimes find yourself having the best time reading a book but having no idea what is actually going on? Anyone…? Oh, just me then… :o)
Every so often I’ll come across a book like this, full of everything that I love but with nothing remotely resembling a coherent plot. On the whole, it works for me as sometimes I don’t really want to think about why stuff is happening; I want to be swamped by a ‘tidal wave of things just happening’ (the kind of book that can leave you mentally gasping for breath as you’ve spent so much energy just trying to follow events). This ‘Zombo’ collection is very much that kind of book but it’s also the kind of book where that approach can be really annoying at the same time. Here’s the blurb, copied from elsewhere because I still couldn’t tell you what this book is all about…

When the Government's latest crime deterrent, Obmoz goes completely off the rails and starts to destroy everything from the underfunded super team Planetronix to the president himself, who ya gonna call? Not Zombo, because he s dead and not in a zombie-type of dead way, but in a brain-melted-by-laser kinda way! Now the only thing standing between mankind and total annihilation is a male stripper and a well-padded pair of underpants! I don't think we’re going to make it...

‘You Smell Of Crime’ is undoubtedly a lot of fun to read, both in terms of all the crazy mad stuff going on and the fact that Henry Flint is clearly the natural choice for art duties on this particular tale. He’s a man more than capable of rising up to the challenges raised by Al Ewing’s fevered imagination. It’s Al Ewing that’s the problem here for me though. Sorry Al but that’s the way it is. I could just about get on with Ewing’s ‘chuck it all in the mix and hit blend’ approach to ‘Zombo’, it may be hit and miss but the ‘hits’ more than make up for the misses (even though the book feels horribly unbalanced as a result). What I wasn’t keen on, at all, was the constant repetition of jokes that were clearly meant to be ‘one offs’. Once was funny, twice was less so, more than that was just tedious at times (especially when they were emphasised at the expense of the plot, a poor undernourished thing left cowering in a corner while crazy stuff happened around it).

Die hard ‘Zombo’ fans probably ‘get’ this in a way that I just can’t right now. With that said, I think they’ll love ‘You Smell Of Crime’ (this is a late review so they are more than likely loving it already) but it’s a book operating on a wavelength that I can’t seem to tune into. Shame that, I quite enjoyed the first volume.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

'Necromancy in Naat' – Clark Ashton Smith

It’s official, I’ve given up trying to find a second hand copy of ‘The Emperor of Dreams’ (Fantasy Masterworks edition). I don’t mind forking out a little extra money for a book that I really want but thirty pounds is a little too much, even for me (especially with Christmas coming). Luckily ‘The Return of the Sorcerer’ is not only a fraction of the price but on its way to me as we speak. All I have to do is get the baby to go to sleep on me and I’ll be able to settle down for a nice read without being interrupted :o)

In the meantime, there’s plenty of Clark Ashton Smith stories to be had online if you know where to look. I found a free download of all his works and ‘Necromancy in Naat’ can also be found Here if you fancy wading your way through a massive, seemingly never ending, wall of text. It’s your call but I went for the free download myself. Whatever one you choose, ‘Necromancy in Naat’ is another wonderfully atmospheric read that needs to be explored by anyone with even the slightest taste for fantasy that is on the dark and gloomy side. It can be a bit stodgy to get through at times (a slight over emphasis on setting the scene) but ‘Necromancy in Naat’ pays real dividends if you keep at it.

‘Yadar, prince of a nomad people in the half desert region known as Zyra, had followed throughout many kingdoms a clue that was often more elusive than broken gossamer. For thirteen moons he had sought Dalili, his betrothed, whom the slave traders of Sha-Rag, swift and cunning as desert falcons, had reft from the tribal encampment with nine other maidens while Yadar and his men were hunting the black gazelles of Zyra… He had sworn then a great oath to find Dalili. Whether in a slave-mart or brothel or harem, whether dead or living, whether tomorrow or after the lapse of grey years.’

What is it about the men of Zothique that they seem to keep losing their women? This is possibly the second or third story I’ve read where this has happened and I’m starting to wonder if anything actually gets done other than the resulting quests. Oh well, it’s always a good way to kick things off and make sure that the stakes are appropriately high. If that wasn’t enough, things promptly get worse with our hero being stuck on a ship floating inexorably towards the edge of the world. And if that wasn’t bad enough… The ship is wrecked on the shore of a necromancer’s isle where our hero waits to be sacrificed to a demon familiar. Clark Ashton Smith sure knew how to ‘do bleak’ didn’t he? For me, the end result was that I really wanted to stick with this story just to see if Yadar’s fate was really that clear cut. There’s a real crescendo being built up here and I wasn’t sure if Ashton Smith was doing that deliberately in order to hit the reader with something completely unexpected (I wouldn’t have put that past him). Without giving too much away, the ending is that clear cut but, at the same time, not at all what I expected (there are a couple of twists along the way). And I think that only Ashton Smith could go for the ‘happy ending’, in a situation like this, and get away with it.

I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t need quite so much detail about the island of Naat; although it contributed appropriately to the atmosphere it also stifled the progress of the story itself. Don’t let that put you off though, ‘Necromancy in Naat’ is not only free to read but has it all; intrigue, a quest, foul magic and an unsettling ‘happy ending’. Give it a go.

Monday, 16 December 2013

'Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders' - Charlaine Harris & Christopher Golden (Jo Fletcher Books)

Me and Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance/Whatever You Want To Call It (I don't even know if there is a difference anymore) decided to go our separate ways a long time ago. It had been kind of fun while it lasted but what looked to be a fairly interesting sub-genre swiftly became the same 'angst ridden sex' plot recycled over and over again. This may sound rich coming from me (the guy who has a bit of a soft spot for derivative epic fantasy) but there you go; I never once said I was fair minded ahout these things. Urban Fantasy and I were done... Until now that is.
You all know that I am a sucker for comic books (especially right now) so it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would give 'Cemetery Girl' a go.The blurb sounded interesting as well; go on, have a look.

Half remembered traumatic events lead to a young girl waking up in a graveyard with no idea of who she is, only that she must hide if she wants to survive. Others live in the cemetery but they are more interested in passing on to whatever life comes next, they are no danger to her.
What was a search for answers becomes a whole lot more though when our heroine witnesses an arcane graveside ritual gone badly wrong. Our heroine is on the run again with a passenger in her head who can't leave until justice is done.

'Cemetery Girl' is a very quick read, so this will be a shorter review than normal, but it was also a book that was incredibly easy to get into and read along. While I could probably take an educated guess at where the story is going, Harris and Golden's handling of the plot so far means that I will stick around for a while at least.

Harris and Golden make this first instalment a gripping one by dialling back the supernatural elements (making them more intriguing) and concentrating on the mystery of our heroine instead. Who is she? Where has she come from? Will she ever find it in herself to trust the lonely old caretaker? Okay, that last bit probably wasn't what the writers were aiming for but, for some reason, that one hit the spot for me.

There are loads of questions to be answered here and, on the whole, Harris and Golden do a good job of maintaining the readers interest. They do string things out a little too far though, there's only so much you can say about a character with no identity (when you're not planning on answering your own questions just yet) before it starts to get old. Luckily for us, Harris and Golden rescue things by allowing the ritual murder plot to have a little time. It's a good one too if resolved a little too simply.

On the whole then, 'Cemetery Girl' is a promising start to what looks like it could be a promising series. I wasn't too sure about the artwork (Kramer's work is good but missing a little something that I can't put my finger on, let me get back to you on that...) but there's enough here for me to give the series one more book at least. Maybe Urban Fantasy and I aren't quite done after all...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

What, more comic books that I've been reading?

Yes, just a couple more at least ;o) The week just gone has been one of those weeks where not a lot of reading gets done. Understandable really, given that my youngest daughter is eight days old  (with all that entails) and my oldest daughter is growing just a little bit jealous. I wouldn't swap it for anything, I'm soft like that, but I have been really glad of the few minutes I've had where I could sneak off and read comics on my phone; especially when one of the ones I've just read is kicking off a series that I've wanted to see for years.

Yep, 'Ghost' is finally back albeit rebooted. The same kind of questions are being asked about Elisa Cameron's origins but this time the action takes place in Chicago rather than Arcadia. I still miss Arcadia, as it happens, and can't help but wonder why 'Ghost' couldn't stay where she was; especially given that the 'X' reboot does take place in Arcadia. Chicago is a pretty good substitute though it has to be said, in terms of the kind of imagery it throws up, and I think it will grow on me.
As a first issue, it wouldn't be fair to expect much more from 'Ghost' than what it gives us; introductions, questions to be answered and a liberal dose of action to get things rolling in the right direction. It's a mix that is handled very well by DeConnick and Sebela while Ryan Sook's delicate artwork hides its energy until just the right moments. I would probably have said this anyway but I will definitely be following 'Ghost' to see where the story takes me.

'The Song of Belit' is another case of my jumping into a 'Conan' mini-series at least one book too late; one day I'll get the timing right... Thanks to Brian Wood's script though, jumping on board with Part Two isn't as daunting as it looks; there's a little bit of scene setting and then Conan is left to do what he does best, just get on with it. I like this approach, especially with the added impact it lends to the surprise Conan is given partway through the book.
Riccardo Burchielli's art is nothing short of gorgeous by the way; a tiny bit cartoonish but really managing to capture the jungle atmosphere as well as the character of Conan himself. It's the kind of art where it almost doesn't matter if the dialogue is there or not, you could still follow the story either way. I'll probably never see the issue that began this story but I'll be sure not to miss the rest.

I'm always on the lookout for other comics to read by the way, any recommendations?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Elana Sky Flory

Sorry it's been a little quiet (ok, very quiet) the last few days but... Actually, I'm not sorry at all; not even a little bit. Around about twenty past nine on Saturday morning, my second daughter was born and she is amazing. Go on, have a look...

Mother and baby are doing really well which is even more amazing given that Sue lost two and a half liters on blood and spent most of Saturday and Sunday on the critical observation ward. I'm just really glad to have them back home and that I've got a week off work to be with them.

When Hope was born, I was up and blogging within a couple of days but this is a different blog entirely so don't expect the same kind of commitment here ;o) Whatever passes for normal service will resume in the next few days though so don't go away. See you later :o)

Friday, 6 December 2013

'The Gods of Bal-Sagoth' - Robert E. Howard

This story is taken from the collection of the same name. I'm pretty sure these tales can be found in more recent collections but this book is going for pennies on Amazon at the moment, just a thought... ;o)

As a rule, I normally stay away from reading too many Robert E. Howard stories in one sitting. As good a storyteller as Howard was (and he was) he was writing for very specific markets so there’s the danger of essentially reading the same story more than once if you know what I mean. That’s a very easy way to get turned off an author and that would be real shame in this case as Robert E. Howard is a very good storyteller.
So the plan was to read and post about something very different then but one of my ‘go to’ favourites let me down and left me with a gap in the early morning commute to work. Sorry ‘They Thirst’, you just weren’t the book for me this time round. Where to go for my reading fix then? I’d noticed ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ while I was reading ‘Casonetto’s Last Song’ and ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’ (scroll down the page for my thoughts on those) and figured it was just the right length for a quick read on the train.
As it turned out, ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ wasn’t just quick filler for the train; it swiftly became a story where I didn’t notice the train stations flash by. I was lucky I got off at my stop and not another one down the line…

Turlogh O’Brien, a mighty Gaelic warrior serving no master but gold, is shipwrecked on a strange island with only his axe and an old Saxon comrade for company. There’s no such thing as a deserted island for Robert E. Howard though and soon, Turlogh is caught in a fight between old gods and the new and a struggle for ultimate control of the ancient city of Bal-Sagoth.

Do you ever get the feeling, reading a book, that the author wrote it just for you? Like they knew exactly what you were after and just gave it to you, all wrapped up in plot and characterisation? That’s the feeling I got with ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’, reading it at just the time I did. Howard tells a story here that took me out of a rather grimy train carriage (I was sat next to the toilet…) and away from everything that’s going on for me in the real world. For half an hour, it was all about high adventure on the seas, facing down a twelve foot tall devil bird and exploring an ancient city. All of this was accompanied by stern heroes and gripping swordfights. Thanks for that Mr Howard.

It’s not just about the swordfights though (well, it mostly was with me but I was having one of those mornings…) It’s also interesting to see Howard play on the title and cast new light on the ‘gods’ who want to control Bal-Sagoth. One is pretending to be a god, one has aspirations to godhood and the final one could well be a god indeed (with definite food for thought regarding its ‘actions’) I also liked the way that the ‘damsel in distress’ is a lot more cunning and Turlogh himself isn’t bound by morals either; this approach adds a bit of a fresh twist to the well-established way that Howard has of telling his tales.

I also really enjoyed the ending where Turlogh ends up with something he was never looking for and no way at all of making it work for him. Everyone loses and just being alive is the best you can hope for here; I like endings like that and will have to dig around and see if I have any more ‘Turlogh O’Brien’ tales lurking on my shelves.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Comics I’ve Been Reading…

Last night I was sharing a room with my three year old daughter who, and lets be completely honest here, was snoring like someone a lot older and a lot heavier. Sleep wasn’t easy to come by then but that was ok; there was just enough battery on my phone to catch up on some comic book reading. While I love my phone for this, by the way, I wouldn’t mind something with a larger screen. Maybe it’s time for an iPad? I don’t know…
But anyway, last night was all about reading the latest batch of comics (well, the ones that I wanted to read…) from Dark Horse. I’ve said it before but I’m going to say it again, I love Dark Horse Comics. Not everything they offer hits the spot but a lot of my favourite books come from them and it never gets old being able to dive into one of their mini-series without having to worry about catching up on years of continuity. I’ll admit it, I’m just a lazy comic book reader who doesn’t want to have to work too hard when I’m reading :o) Enough of my confessions though, let’s have a look at some comics…

‘Clown Fatale’ #2 of 4 – Gischler/Rosenzweig

It’s really hard to add anything new to this when all my problems from last week still stand. Having said though, deaths by enraged gorilla and senile lion power things along rather nicely and make for a couple of eye-catching panels. I’m hoping that things make a little more sense, over the last two issues, but I’m too far into the series to jump out and you know what? I’m not sure that I want to now. With mad clowns shooting up stuff, maybe the story doesn’t really matter after all…

‘X’ #8 – Swierczynski/Nguyen

This is where the ‘Dogs of War’ storyline ends up with X doing what he does best; distinguishing between good and bad cops and dishing out punishment accordingly. This is another brutal offering from Swierczynski and Nguyen that offers not only lashings of violence from X (and he really does dish it out) but also tiny little insights into who X is. That gradually unfolding picture is what will have me coming back for more. Okay, that and the ultra-violence as well :o)

‘Star Wars’ #12 - Wood/D’Anda

While the last issue was all about space battles and double-double crossing, this issue is about tidying up loose ends and setting up things for the next chapter. As such, it doesn’t feel like an awful lot actually happens but D’Anda’s art makes it a really smooth read – even if nothing is actually happening (you can tell how I felt about this one can’t you?)

‘Conan: The People of the Black Circle’ #3 – Van Lente/Olivetti

I’ve come to this series quite late but am not too bothered as I’ve read both the original story and also come across it in ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ (I think). Van Lente does a fine job with the script although given what he has to work with that’s not too hard. I’d be more surprised if he hadn’t done a good job. When I’m already familiar with a story I tend to focus more on the artwork and Olivetti’s art not only captures ‘raw and primal Conan’ but also the savagery of the mountains and the otherworldliness of the Sorcerers. Olivetti’s art does it all in fact, nothing short of superb, and I think that’s why I’ll be back to read the final issue.

‘Eerie #4’ – Various

I’ve read a couple of the big ‘Eerie’ collections and wasn’t all that impressed. They just weren’t that scary at the end of the day… I saw Al Ewing’s name on the cover here though and thought I’d give this issue a go, I’m glad I did. While I don’t have the faintest idea of what ‘The Alien Plague’ was about (might have to give that another read) Ewing’s ‘Shadowplay’ had a vicious twist in the tale while Jolley’s ‘Invulnerable’ made up for a signposted ending with some suitably grotesque artwork from Norm Breyfogle. Be careful what you wish for indeed…

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

'Daughter of Dreams' - Michael Moorcock (Gollancz)

Thank the Lords of the Balance that all of Michael Moorcock’s books are being republished by Gollancz. As much as I like trawling through second hand bookshops (in my top five list of favourite things to do) it’s always good to be able to get my hands on sought after books without searching for them. It’s also always a welcome surprise to think I’ve read all the ‘Elric’ books and then find that there are a load more that I’ve still to read. Books like the ‘Moonbeam Roads’ trilogy, for example, that I had never picked up until now. It’s worth pointing out, for those of you wondering, that ‘Daughter of Dreams’ is actually the new incarnation of ‘The Dreamthief’s Daughter’, all spruced up to reflect various changes in the multiverse since it was last published. If you want an updated version then this is the copy for you but if you’re not too bothered about that kind of thing… Well, it’s up to you :o)
Like I said though, I’ve never read these books though so was more than happy to jump in here. And what a ride it was. On the one hand, it was very much your typical adventure of the Eternal Champion but, on the other hand, it was a lot more at the same time...

Dark forces are behind the rise of Hitler and imprisoned Count Ulric von Bek must fight to keep his family's black sword out of Nazi hands. Left for dead, he is rescued by a mysterious Englishman and a woman named Oona, the Dreamthief's daughter. Journeying with them to a strange subterranean world, he meets his counterpart, the albino Elric, last sorcerer-king of Melnibone. Ulric and Elric must become one hero to save the entire Multiverse from the machinations of Ulric’s cousin Gaynor, soon to be Gaynor the Damned…

Certain of the Eternal Champion books all follow the same lines and ‘Daughter of Dreams’ is no different. A man of means sees his world come crashing down around him and must fight to regain that world, a fight that invariably becomes part of a much wider struggle. ‘Daughter of Dreams’ doesn’t stray too far from that path and I will be interested to see if the trilogy, as a whole, stays on those lines as well. That’s not to say you’re reading the same book all over again though. Moorcock sets up Ulric Von Bek as a distinctive character in his own right (albeit with perhaps a little too much philosophising sometimes) and sets him against a backdrop that has links to both our history and that of Moorcock’s multiverse. All kinds of familiar names crop up but I’d say that ‘Daughter of Dreams’ remains a book that can be read on its own without too much knowledge of the wider setting, being structurally very self-contained. There is a lot here to reward long term fans though (finding out more about Gaynor was a big plus for me) and there’s a lot to reward fans of fantasy in general. Moorcock’s fantasy worlds are always a pleasure to visit (not sure that I’d ever want to live in any of them though…) and this time round was no different. It made for gripping reading to find out about the landscape (dreamscape?) that underpins Moorcock’s multiverse with the mechanics of the Moonbeam Roads resulting in some beautiful passages. It’s not just the worldbuilding though, ‘Daughter of Dreams’ is very much about high stakes adventure and the swordfights that result from this. If that wasn’t enough, you even get to see dragons take on the Luftwaffe. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Perhaps the biggest change that I encountered in ‘Daughter of Dreams’, compared to other ‘Eternal Champion’ books, is that we see Elric’s adventures through a first person perspective; finding out more about his thoughts than we do normally . Structurally this move makes a lot of sense, seeing that we have the same viewpoint for Ulric , but for me a lot of Elric’s mystique seemed to disappear and he needs that air of mystery about him. It’s almost like we know a little too much about Elric now; he is no longer a man of brooding silences and melancholy, just another guy with the same problems as us. I’m hoping for a little less of this approach and more of the Elric that I’m used to seeing in the next book.

This is a relatively small niggle though when the story, as a whole, makes for an incredibly satisfying and fun read (with a little bit of Multiversal Mechanics to chew on at the same time) I'm rubbish at leaving Moorcock trilogies unfinished so I’ll be into ‘Destiny’s Brother’ pretty soon.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Couple of Robert E. Howard Short Stories.

After reading ‘Conan the Buccaneer’ the other day, and being pretty disappointed to say the least, I knew that the only way forward was to go ‘back to the source’ and read some Conan that had been written by the man himself. I’m doing just that and it has quickly become very clear that there’s no substitute for the real thing in terms of high adventure and storytelling. If I could make it happen I’d get everyone to take an hour out of today and read a Robert E. Howard ‘Conan’ story, especially now it’s December and the sky has suddenly gone a seemingly permanent shade of grey.

Having said all that, this isn’t actually a ‘Conan’ post at all (that one is a little way off right now, give me a couple of weeks). I was mooching through my bookshelves and realised that I hadn’t got round to reading anything from ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ (one of the books that I picked up at Nine Worlds). Howard’s writing output always astounds me (not just quantity but the range of genres he covered as well) so I thought I’d pick a couple of short stories for the commute and see where they took me. I deliberately picked two of the shortest tales, ‘Casonetto’s Last Song’ and ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’, to read as I’m never really a hundred percent awake for the morning commute (despite the Lucozade) and needed a short, sharp burst of storytelling to get me going. And that’s what I got…

‘I eyed the package curiously. It was thin and flat and the address was written clearly in the curving hand I had learned to hate – the hand I knew to now be cold in death’

‘Casonetto’s Last Song’ starts in that deliberately innocuous way that always suggests something really bad is going to happen over the next page or two. Having set things up in such a way, Howard doesn’t disappoint with a satanic recording that takes our narrator back to a moment of sheer terror… and then refuses to let him leave. I think the danger with opening a story like this is that the reader knows what is coming and things lose a little punch as a result. Howard sidesteps this pitfall by ramping up the effects of the recording to new and unprecedented levels. The end result is that while you may have known what was coming, there was no way you could ever know that it would be this bad. ‘Casonetto’s Last Song’ looks like it might just be another ‘by the numbers’ horror story and then swiftly becomes anything but. The ending is also abrupt enough to throw you back into yourself just when you least expect it, the reading equivalent of having a glass of ice cold water thrown in your face when you’re asleep. A fitting way to end quite a shocking tale.

‘Rotath of Lemuria lay dying. Blood had ceased to flow from the deep sword gash under his heart, but the pulse in his temple hammered like kettledrums.’

When I first started reading ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’ I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if even Robert E. Howard could make something interesting out of the drawn out death of a pre-historic sorcerer. I mean… Sorcerer takes a mortal wound, Sorcerer dies. Job done, surely?
There’s a little more to it than that though with a link to Kull proving to be intriguing (I really need to read some more ‘Kull’, does this story lead on from a ‘Kull’ tale?) while the sheer anger of Rotath, at his impending demise, powers the story along nicely to the point where Rotath basically turns his body into gold so his cursed skeleton will survive the passage of ages. And that’s where ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’ really delivered for me. Is the skeleton really cursed or was what happened to the jungle explorer just sheer ill luck? Howard phrases it so it could be either and the ending becomes one that will really make you think about what just happened. It is still making me think (although I’m now veering towards the ‘proper curse’ ending).

A couple of really good stories here then and further confirmation of the fact that I can always rely on Robert E. Howard to deliver short stories (as well as slightly longer ones) that I will always enjoy. I’ll be coming back to ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ sooner rather than later I think.

Monday, 2 December 2013

One for 2014? 'Traitor's Blade' (Sebastian De Castell)

I'm kind of hoping it is as the blurb intrigued me enough to ask for a review copy :o)
Here's some cover art and a blurb...

(This cover art, from the Jo Fletcher Books website, is much nicer than the incredibly generic artwork I was 'treated to' in the Quercus catalogue. I'm really hoping they stick with this.)

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike. 

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. 

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

I love reading Judge Dredd and talk of 'travelling magisters' has got me thinking of something similar here but in a fantasy setting. I probably couldn't be more wrong but I can dream in the meantime :o)
I'm really into fantasy at the moment (Comfort reading? Maybe...) so I will definitely give 'Traitor's Blade' a go; it sounds promising and possibly just what I'm after. It's not being published until March 2014 though (not sure if it has a US publisher) so I'm in for a bit of a wait :o)
How about you? Will you be reading 'Traitor's Blade'?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

All genre books should start like this.

'This is the reader's book. All proper names are therefore to be pronounced in any way he chooses, except in conversation with another reader, in which case the two must settle their differences as best they can, for there is no rule.'

From the 'Author's Note','The Well of the Unicorn' (Fletcher Pratt)

As someone who regularly mangles carefully constructed fantasy languages (Steven Erikson and GRRM in particular) this sentence made for welcome reading when I picked the book up for a quick skim through :o) I'm working my way through Moorcock's 'Daughter of Dreams', along with the second Fantasy Masterworks 'Conan' collection, but 'The Well of the Unicorn' just moved itself up the pile, almost without my realising it... Anyone here read it?