Monday, 31 March 2014

Books in the Post...

Afternoon all, did you have a good weekend? I did (very busy, playing with the kids) although the clocks going forward caught me out; what felt like a nice lie-in was no lie-in at all, thanks for nothing stupid clocks with your insistence on going forwards...
Anyway, the weekend was also about books turning up in the post and that's what this post is about. The two books that arrived are pretty cool and I fancied showing them off. Check em' out...

Rorqual Maru was a cyborg - part organic whale, part mechanised ship - and part god. She was a harvester - a vast plankton rake, now without a crop, abandoned by earth society when the seas died. So she selected an island for her grave, hoping to keep her carcass visible for salvage. Although her long ear heard nothing, she believed that man still lived in his hive. If he should ever return to the sea, she wanted to serve. She longed for the thrill of a human's bare feet touching the skin of her deck. She missed the hearty hails, the sweat and the laughter. She needed mankind. But all humans were long gone ... or were they?

It's amazing what a well written blurb can do isn't it? I've been looking forward to reading 'The Godwhale' for months and early indications (well, I'm about halfway through the book) are that it will live up to that promise. So far, I've been absolutely captivated by the characters, the world and the premise; long may that continue :o) I've already got plans to read 'Half Past Human' based on how much I'm enjoying 'The Godwhale'. Has anyone else here read it?

In a world where the Plantagenets never fell, Lord Darcy is Chief Investigator for the Duke of Normandy…
Welcome to a world where the Plantagenet kings survived, the laws of magic were discovered and the physical sciences never pursued. In the resulting Anglo-French Empire, a detective like Lord Darcy needs more than a keen mind and an observant eye. Luckily, Darcy can call on the aid of Master Sean O’Lochlainn, forensic sorcerer.

In a world where all the cover art talk tends to focus around the new shiny releases, Gollancz have been quietly going about their business putting gorgeous cover art on older works. Doesn't this cover look lovely? Far better than the one below that I found while having a mooch around on Google...

Oh the early eighties, what a time it was for cover art that didn't quite hit the mark. I much prefer the Golllancz cover which looks a lot fresher, bringing Lord Darcy to the fore instead of hiding him away. I am woefully behind with my Fantasy Masterworks reading (I have a horrible feeling that I promised to do something about that...) so I can see 'Lord Darcy' being an Easter holiday read I think...

Either of these two books tickle your fancy?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

‘The Art of Ian Miller’ – Ian Miller & Tom Wyte (Titan Books)

I first came across Ian Miller’s work on the covers of Michael Scott-Rohan’s ‘The Winter of the World’ series back in the late eighties. Actually, that’s not quite true; the first time I came across Ian Miller’s work (although I didn’t realise it at the time) was on the front of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook ‘The Citadel of Chaos’ (which I still need to read but anyway…) I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Ian Miller is one of those fantasy artists who has done a lot more work than you think; you’ve probably even seen his work and not realised it – like all that work he did for Games Workshop back in the day (late eighties again) that I didn’t realise was him until I read the back of this book.

‘The Art of Ian Miller’ has over three hundred pieces of artwork, spanning a career that is decades long, and is a book that I got lost in for what felt like hours the other night. Every single piece of artwork is full of detail that demands your full attention and is also full of ominous undertones that really capture the darkness in the worlds that Miller portrays; be it Gormenghast (I saw little hints of the ‘Winter of the World’ covers there), Lovecraft’s mythos or just the strange stuff that apparently goes on inside Miller’s head.

These are dark and dangerous worlds that Miller gives us a window into and he gives us some commentary on each piece at the same time. I got a lot out of the history of each piece but got a little lost when he started to explain the process of how each piece was created. If you’re really into your art then you’ll get a lot out of this; I on the other hand just like to look at the pictures and there is plenty of scope in this book to do just that.

For those who didn’t know it already, ‘The Art of Ian Miller’ clearly shows that Ian Miller has the imagination and skill to capture iconic moments of fantasy in just the way they were intended to be. Not only this though; Miller has more than a few dark visions of his own (those trees…) and it all makes for disturbing yet compelling viewing. If you get a chance, have a look for yourself.

Friday, 28 March 2014

‘Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster’ – Terrance Dicks

Because not only do I have a few of these books still lurking on my shelves but I had a belting headache on the way into work and wasn’t quite up to tackling ‘The King in Yellow’. I’ll do that on the way home instead.
Doctor Who novelizations are almost pointless these days given that you can have a quick poke around online and just, you know, buy the DVDs. For people like me though, they will always be a reminder of the days when these books were the only way that you could catch up with Doctor Who adventures that were already years old by that point. Take ‘Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster’ for instance; when the last episode aired (20th September 1975) I was only four days old so there was no way that I would have ever seen it. Enter the books then, nearly all of which felt like they were written by one Terrance Dicks. The first truly prolific author in genre fiction? Not at all but it felt like it when I was five or six and just starting to go to the library.
I’ve brought more than a few Doctor Who DVDs since then but never watched ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ so, once again, I was very grateful to Terrance Dicks and his ability to seemingly pull a finished book out of thin air. You want some blurb? Well, here it is…

Centuries ago, a Zygon spaceship crash landed in Loch Ness. Now, with their home planet destroyed, the alien creatures plan to take over Earth. Their most powerful weapon is a huge armoured dinosaur-like creature of terrifying power that they brought to earth as an embryo - the Loch Ness Monster.
The Doctor, Sarah and Harry soon discover that the Zygons have another weapon. They can assume the identity of any human they capture. Who knows which of their friends might really be a Zygon?
UNIT faces one of its toughest battles as Broton, Warlord of the Zygons, puts his plan into action and the Loch Ness Monster attacks.

My commute into work is just over an hour (on a good day) and that was just enough time to polish off ‘Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster’; a light entertaining read that seemed to be written especially for a commute. There is nothing deep about this book at all; Dicks always seems to take the approach of ‘telling it exactly how it happened on the telly’ and that never seems to leave any room for character development or even a little more description of the background scenery. In a sense that approach is what made the Doctor Who novelizations so appealing to kids like me; the knowledge that what you were reading was exactly the same as what would have been on the TV. As a reader though, it’s hard to ignore the fact that ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ is very light on everything you would expect from a good read. There are thrills and adventure but there’s not a lot else. One thing that Dicks does do well though is capturing the essence of the main cast (again, tying it back to that whole ‘what you would have seen on TV’ approach). The Doctor has that hint of the alien about him, the Brigadier is very uptight (but resigned to the Doctors way of doing things) and Sarah Jane is resourceful and keen to do the right thing. It’s not enough to raise the overall quality of the read but does give you a feel for the characters and that’s always welcome.

‘Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster’ is more than likely one for people like me then, trying to re-capture memories of reading the Target novelizations as a child. That nostalgia will get through this book (and the rest) but if you don’t have that nostalgia, ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ is nothing more than a fairly enjoyable way to kill an hour’s worth of commuting.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

'Heroes Die' - Matthew Woodring Stover (Del Rey, Orbit)

So that’s another book I can cross off the ‘Really Should Have Read Years Ago…’ list and about time too because ‘Heroes Die’ could easily be the best book I read  this year; right now I don’t see anything else coming close even though we’re only at the end of March. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Readers of my old blog will know that I've been reading the ‘Caine’ series entirely out of order; starting from book three and going on from there. In my defence, these books are difficult to come by over here so I figured that I’d pick up where I could and see where it went from there. I’d heard enough good things not to want to hang around… It’s fair to say that the results were mixed; ‘Caine Black Knife’ and ‘Caine’s Law’ are great books but it’s clear that you really need to have read from the beginning of the series to get the most out of them. So the other day then, I took ‘Heroes Die’ to work with me on the train and completely got lost in the world of Caine. Seriously, when I get home tonight I might just end up ignoring a whole load of jobs around the house (that really need doing…) and dive straight into ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (I’m a firm believer in making up for lost time with books).  Have some blurb to kick things off…

Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana as the Blade of Tyshalle, Caine has killed his share of monarchs and commoners, villains and heroes. He is relentless, unstoppable, simply the best there is at what he does.

At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on a far-off world for the entertainment of his own planet--and bound to keep his rage in check.

But now Michaelson has crossed the line. His estranged wife, Pallas Rill, has mysteriously disappeared in the slums of Ankhana. To save her, he must confront the greatest challenge of his life: a lethal game of cat and mouse with the most treacherous rulers of two worlds . . .

 Where do I start with ‘Heroes Die’? I’m still getting over the rush of five hundred odd pages of Caine’s controlled rage and desire to beat the system on two worlds so he can save his estranged wife… ‘Heroes Die’ is a book that will leave you gasping by the end (and at several points before that) with just how Caine does this. Caine is ferociously violent and has no compunctions about killing or destroying anything that comes between him and his goal (including a god-emperor who is actually trying to rule fairly and well). Caine is also ferociously intelligent though and ‘Heroes Die’ is about him realising this and using it to blindside everyone in a gripping finale. Stover has a habit of meandering with his prose at times (although you could argue this is a necessary approach given how important Caine’s perspective is to the plot) but it all comes together superbly right at the end, making you realise that the whole book is a lot leaner and tighter than you thought at first. There is a point to everything and, more often than not, there is also a point in everything as the body count rises. Stover generally focuses on the supporting cast here (I can think of dozens of soldiers, gang members and a torturers apprentice who wish that they’d stayed in bed instead of coming in to work) but that’s only so the death of a main player has even more impact when it happens. I was absolutely heartbroken (really, I was) when a certain character died.

In keeping with the theme of the book, Stover plays the Ankhanan scenes like a blockbuster film and so ‘Heroes Die’ is full of running battles and spectacular set pieces all tied together by Caine’s laconic commentary. It’s a little bit more than that though as the ‘Earth’ strand of the plot is also a commentary on capitalism gone mad and where it could ultimately lead our society. Hari Michaelson (Caine when he’s back on Earth) occupies quite a privileged position in this society, as an Actor who quests in Ankhana for the entertainment of the masses on Earth, so it’s interesting to see him rebel against it in the way that he does. A gilded cage is still a prison for some people I guess.

‘Heroes Die’ is a dark and brooding affair that explodes into bloody action at all the right moments. Quite frankly, it’s an awesome read that I would recommend to anyone who likes their fantasy dark and very grim (see what I did?)

Orbit publish all the ‘Caine’ books in the UK but only as eBooks so UK readers after a physical copy will have trawl Abebooks and places like that. It’s worth it though, it really is.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Graeme Is Comfort Reading (Again!), ‘The Briar King’ – Greg Keyes (Tor UK/Del Rey)

Because as awesome as 'Heroes Die' is... Bloody hell it's dark! :o) Anyway...

Has it really been almost ten years since I first read ‘The Briar King’? That’s a rhetorical question by the way so don’t feel like you have to answer that one ;o) Time always moves on but a good book will last forever; ‘The Briar King’ is very much one of those for me and has become a book that has a permanent home on my shelves, a book that I will come back and dip into every year or so (the first book that I went to after ‘reading burn out’ killed the old blog). An excellent series opener which makes it more of a shame that the series didn’t end well at all; more on that another time as and when I get round to reading the other three books. Let’s just say that I’ve always said that Keyes can’t end a series…
Here’s some blurb to get you started,

In the kingdom of Crotheny, two young girls play in the tangled gardens of the sacred city of the dead where, fleeing an imaginary attacker, they discover the unknown crypt of a legendary, ancestral queen. In the wilds of the forest, while investigating the mass slaughter of an innocent family, the king's forester comes face-to-face with a monstrous beast found only in folk tales and nightmares.

Meanwhile, travelling the same road, a scholarly young priest begins his education in the nature of the evil that festers just beneath the surface of a seemingly peaceful realm. For the royal family is facing a betrayal that only sorcery can accomplish. And now, for three beautiful sisters, for a young man elevated to knighthood, and for countless others, a darkness is emerging to shatter all that once seemed certain, familiar, and good.

Numerous separate destinies will become entangled as malevolent forces stalk the land -- and the Briar King, that primeval harbinger of death, has awakened from his slumber.

‘The Briar King’ is a book that has detailed world-building leaking from every paragraph; a little bit Fae but touching our own world just enough to give readers enough of a hook to get into it. The fact that this hook eventually amounts to nothing does nothing to lessen the impact of ‘The Briar King’ overall. You’re already in the middle of a world where humanity thinks it has won the war but is living on borrowed time, down to its own politicking as much as an ancient curse hanging over the land. It’s a world rich in detail that I still find myself getting lost in (Keyes’ descriptions of the kingdom of Crotheny are lush) and it’s also a world where the shadows under the trees not only have teeth but can hurt you just by looking at you. There is plenty to see here and that’s before the story itself kicks off.

The plot, it has to be said, is nothing new with an ancient prophecy steadily coming to fruition while rival kingdoms bicker and a young princess starts to slowly move towards her destiny. Heard it before? Yep me too. Keyes lays it all out very well with moments of action acting as dramatic punctuation to the politicking, and setting up tense cliff-hangers , but it’s nothing new. Where Keyes does shine though is with the characters acting all of this out. They’re quite simply a pleasure to spend time with (Cazio and z’Acatto in particular), being drawn so well that even after several re-reads I still find myself with heart in mouth reading about Aspar White and Winna being chased through the forest by… Well, you’ll have to read that for yourself.

It’s funny then that while ‘The Briar King’ is a long term comfort read (and highly recommended by me) the same cannot be said for the three books that follow it. Maybe the rot set into the series a little earlier than I’m prepared to admit; I suspect the cause is the world building lessening over time and the reader just being left with the plot to contend with. I don’t know, I’ll have to read on and find out all over again, it’s a good journey to take.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Weekends and Comic Books...

How was your weekend? Mine was great thanks for asking :o) It mostly involved eating good food, drinking a little too much red wine and having Elana fall asleep on me – three of my favourite things. It also involved me reading comic books, on my phone, when everyone had gone to bed, another of my favourite things :o) Here’s what I thought of them all; it’s all ongoing stuff that I’m into (for the most part) and my feelings about the artwork haven’t changed so this is just going to be about plot and things like that. Here goes then…

‘Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial’ -  Richard Corben (Dark Horse)

I’ve said this before but if there was ever an artist born to illustrate Poe’s tales it is Richard Corben. Corben doesn’t let us down here with some appropriately gloomy gothic depictions of both ‘The Premature Burial’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’; I could just sit and stare at Corben’s art, it captures the tone perfectly. Both tales are slight adaptations but not so much that they detract from the power of the original stories; what you get is a bit of a fresh spin that helps you re-live the horror all over again.

‘Grindhouse – Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll: Part One’ – Alex De Campi, Gary Erskine (Dark Horse)

Pre-Colonial zombies take on a camp full of hockey playing teenage girls and a gang of teenage boys. Erm… and that’s it :o) ‘Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll’ is possibly the most shallow and exploitative comic since ‘Clown Fatale’ but I came to it after watching ‘Piranha 3D’ so I was in just the right mood for what it had to offer. This is a comic that is pulp fun at its pulpiest (nice little twist at the end)with art to match by Gary Erskine. I’ll be back for part 2.

 ‘Get The Lobster: Part 3 of 5’ - Mignola, Arcudi, Zonjic (Dark Horse Comics)

You know those bits, halfway through a series, where everything has been set up and it’s not quite time for the big finale? Those moments where there’s nothing really to do apart from let the plot plod along until it’s time to really get going? That’s exactly what we’re looking at here. There are some nice action moments to be had (with a grenade toting Chief of Police amongst them) but the impression I ended up coming away with was of a comic just marking time until the big stuff. A comic that’s sole purpose was to be #3 because you can’t just jump for #2 to #4. I’m still going to be around to see what happens next but was a little disappointed here…

‘Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle’ #5 - Straczynski, Woods (Dark Horse)

I’m still very much of the opinion that the Terminator franchise is going to end up time-travelling up its own bottom, if it insists on playing to the same old tropes every single time, and #5 hasn’t done anything to change my mind. This is an issue where events are being set up so the first issues can play out as well as the first two Terminator films; I liked the sense of things playing out in reverse but I wouldn’t have minded seeing some actual story instead. I did enjoy the whole ‘Terminators being controlled by a serial killer’ thing though as it gives Woods licence to be really creative with his battle field scenes. As before, I’m sticking with this series (duh, it’s the Terminator…) but I’m not holding out much hope for it at all now.

‘Veil’ #2 - Rucka, Fejzula (Dark Horse)

I think ‘Veil’ could well become my new favourite comic with intriguing new questions arising out of every answer given as we find out a little more about the mysterious Veil and where she might have come from. Veil herself is also a very intriguing character, the reader is torn between her vulnerability and what she is able to do to people who threaten her. I’m kind of half rooting for her but ever so slightly scared of her at the same time…
Two issues in and ‘Veil’ has become required reading as far as I’m concerned. I’m in for the long haul with this one and I’d recommend that you get in early as well.

Gollancz signs-up space opera from multi-award-winning author

Totally meant to post this on Saturday but, erm… Better late than never? You may have seen this news elsewhere already but it’s worth repeating. From the press release…

Gollancz, the science-fiction and fantasy imprint of The Orion Publishing Group, is delighted to announce the acquisition of World Rights to a two-book space opera from John W. Campbell and Hugo-Award-winning author, Elizabeth Bear.

Combining a unique concept with a compelling plot, Elizabeth Bear’s novels imagine the invention of The White Drive: an easy, nonrelativistic means of travel across unimaginable distances. The gripping story follows salvage operators, Haimey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz, as they pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human – and alien – vessels.
Elizabeth Bear is the author of a number of novels and short stories. She has received extraordinary recognition including two Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (2005), a Sturgeon Award, a Locus Award, an Asimov’s Reader’s Choice award, a Spectrum Award, and an honourable mention for the Philip K. Dick Award.

Simon Spanton, Gollancz Associate Publisher, acquired World Rights, including Audio, to two novels by Elizabeth Bear from Jennifer Jackson at the Donald Maass agency for a high five figure dollar advance. The first book, ANCESTRAL NIGHT, will be published in late 2016.
Elizabeth Bear says: I'm incredibly excited to work with Simon and Gollancz on the kind of sweeping big-idea project that's so dear to my heart. This is going to be fun!

Simon Spanton, Gollancz Associate Publisher, adds: We’re always looking for exciting new voices in SF; sometimes that voice is already there but hasn’t broken through in a particular market. Elizabeth’s novels have always fizzed with ideas, passion and character. The chance to publish a new SF novel from her and welcome her to Gollancz is one I absolutely relish.

I’ve read a couple of books by Elizabeth Bear (‘All the Windwracked Stars’ and ‘By the Mountain Bound’ just in case you were wondering) but haven’t got round to reading her ‘Eternal Sky’ books just yet (soon, soon…) I always enjoy a bit of Space Opera though so will keep an eye open for these books when they are published. Has anyone here read the ‘Eternal Sky’ books?

Friday, 21 March 2014

‘The Complete Accident Man’ – Pat Mills et al (Titan Comics)

Mike Fallon is a hitman who can make 'death by chocolate' a reality...

As sexy as James Bond; lethal and discrete as an air bubble to the heart, Mike Fallon is a genius at the art of making assassination look like an unfortunate accident.

The Complete Accident Man collects, for the first time ever four tales of sex, revenge and violence written by legendary comics author Pat Mills together with Tony Skinner and artwork by an outstanding selection of international stars.

Sometimes titles can be so misleading can’t they? Having never read ‘Toxic’ back in the day, ‘Accident Man’ sounded like something a little bit slapstick and that sounded like just what I was after (rough week and all that). It turned out that I was half right; Mike Fallon doesn’t have accidents, he creates them to hide his handiwork and this makes for a collection of tales that perhaps aren’t best suited to being collected in one volume. It’s not that they’re not entertaining; it’s just that they all follow the same line – Mike has a hit to carry out and he makes it look like a tragic accident every single time. It did feel like if you read one then you’ve read them all, you certainly end up knowing how the latter stories are going to turn out (although, to be fair, a lot of the deaths are very cleverly planned).

It’s still a very entertaining read though; not least down to Mike Fallon himself, a professional hit man who somehow manages to endear himself to the reader by being amazingly shallow. Every life ended is nothing more than perhaps a new motorbike or Ferrari to buy with the proceeds; Mike embodies the worst excesses of the eighties then (a yuppie hitman?) but his easy smile lets him get away with an awful lot. You can’t help but root for Mike because of his sheer honesty funnily enough.

Reading ‘The Complete Accident Man’ is like listening to the same song over and over again but Mills’ approach (a dash of sly humour coupled with a lot of action and intrigue) just about pulls it off. Don’t expect anything too deep and meaningful here (listening to Mike hold forth on saving the environment puts paid to that!), just a fun way to kill an hour or so… A shorter review than normal then but, sometimes, a book doesn't leave you with much to say (nice cover art though...)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

‘The King’, in: Yellow’ Brian Keene

A short story today as I find myself in the middle of a couple of books (both good, I really should have picked up ‘Heroes Die’ years ago…) and I also realised that I haven’t been paying much attention the books on my Kindle App just recently. I think there’s part of me that will never see books as being anywhere other than bookshelves; even my Dad is more technologically with it than I am and that’s kind of sad…

Anyway, I first read ‘The King’, in: Yellow’ way back in July 2012 but figured it was due a revisit as the vague memory of the read prompted me to finally pick up a copy of the original ‘The King in Yellow’ (Robert W. Chambers) this morning. It’s a nice slim commuter read so you can expect to see a review sooner than later I reckon.
I’ve a limited knowledge of the original work but I have enough (thanks for that Wikipedia) to know that Keene takes the ‘King in Yellow’ play out of the background of the original (where you never actually see it performed) and gives it centre stage in a story where a couple’s plan for a night out take a terrifying turn at the Chambers Theatre (see what Keene did there?)
Last time I read ‘The King’, in: Yellow’ I said,

Keene really taps into the effect this play will have on you (you can feel the fear and Keene pulls the curtain right back on the insanity that follows) but there was nothing to the play itself that would suggest such a reaction. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not but it felt like the two elements of the plot just weren't gelling for me.

Having re-read ‘The King’, in: Yellow’, having also read a little more weird horror since then, the play has more of an affect this time round. It’s not just random names being spouted, you come away with a real idea of the mythos behind it so maybe this is one to read once you have a little more horror under your belt. The other thing I noted this time round was Keene’s ability to switch almost seamlessly from ‘body horror’ to good old fashioned tension (reminiscent of Lovecraft in taking Fin and Kathryn into unknown dark parts of the city), both of which he does very well. It’s very bloody when it needs to be but also has a nasty habit of making the hairs on your arm stand up at the same time. I still don’t get all the dead rock stars being included (I suspect they had to be there so Keene could word play on the title) but ‘The King’, in: Yellow’ works a lot better on a second read, no doubt about it. If you want to read it yourself, you can find ‘The King’, in: Yellow’ in ‘Jack’s Magic Beans’ (Deadite Press).

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

'No Hero' - Jonathan Wood (Titan Books)

I’ve never really been one for Urban Fantasy Police Procedurals; gave the whole thing a go but couldn’t escape the feeling that it was the same story being told with different characters – ‘copper finds out there’s supernatural stuff going on, does a bit of old fashioned police work, job done and off down the boozer for a pint with the lads’. And hasn’t Ben Aaronovitch cornered the market here already? Is there really room for another one?
Jonathan Wood seems to think so and, more tellingly for me, so do a lot of bloggers who know their stuff. I was after a little change in my reading (‘Blood Song’ and ‘Half a King’ is enough to keep me going for a little while I think…) so figured I would see how ‘No Hero’ and my daily commute got on together. The answer was ‘not perfectly by any means but not too badly thank you very much…’

What would Kurt Russell do? Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace asks himself that question a lot. While he s a good cop, he prefers his action on the big screen. But when he sees tentacles sprouting from the neck of a fresh corpse, the secretive government agency MI37 comes to recruit Arthur in its struggle against a threat from another dimension known as the Progeny. But Arthur is NO HERO! Can an everyman stand against sanity-ripping cosmic horrors?

‘No Hero’ is the first in a trilogy (according to the ‘also available’ bit at the back of the book anyway, there might be more to come) and so it falls to the book to introduce the players, set the ground rules for this new setting and so on. Wood also gives us one hell of a ride through a plot featuring Lovecraftesque parasites trying to bring about the end of the world. It’s all awesome stuff, and more on that in a moment, but I couldn’t help but feel that certain elements of the book were trying to race each other rather than give the reader something a little more coherent.
The plot runs at such a breakneck pace that it gets away from all the important stuff about setting the rules and saying what can and cannot happen. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Wood has a tendency to let certain characters ‘info-dump’ a little too much, but the result for me was that I kept having to stop and ask myself why certain things were happening and if they could actually happen or not. Not at all good for the flow of the book.

That was about the only thing wrong with ‘No Hero’ though; Jonathan Wood has a story to tell and does it with gusto. While the end result may not be polished you can’t deny the urgency of the plot and the unexpected directions that it takes the book in. Nothing is certain with the characters and the reader kept on their toes throughout; you wouldn’t have thought that Wood could maintain that tension for so long but he does it and makes it all look very easy.

The highlight for me though was Arthur Wallace, a regular copper who would rather watch stuff blowing up on telly than be the guy lighting the fuse. Sometimes life doesn’t give you that choice though and Wallace will have to stand or fall on his police instincts and ‘What would Kurt Russell do?’
Wood nails it dead on with Wallace whose dry humour helps him to cope with the mind numbing fear of monstrosities from beyond time and space. It’s not only an interesting examination of what actually makes a hero but it also made for the only urban fantasy novel I’ve ever read that made me laugh out loud. ‘No Hero’ is a very funny read in places and I’m hoping for more of the same in the next book (which I will be reading, just to see the zombie dinosaur).

‘No Hero’ could do with a little more polish around the edges but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless and I’m pretty sure this blog will be featuring the next two books in the very near future.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Graeme + Brandon Sanderson + Three Questions = ?

So I got to be part of Brandon Sanderson's latest blog tour, for 'Words of Radiance', how cool is that? The answer is pretty damn cool indeed :o)
The deal was that I got to ask three questions and Brandon answered them; pretty simple then and thanks to Brandon for answering them. Here's how it went down...

1. On a scale of flashlight to floodlight, how radiant are the words in ‘Words of Radiance’?

I would say at least 300 broams’ worth, if not more. Full broams.

2. Shard plate and shard blades can win wars, what would you have made out of shard to win the battles in your day?

These are very inventive questions. What would I want made out of this stuff? Someone once suggested a Shardpen. But no, a Shardpen isn’t going to work any better than a non-Shardpen. I would say a Shardphone. If I could get a phone that never broke and everything always worked perfectly on it--or a Shardlaptop, that would be awesome.

3. And finally… I know you’re a fan of ‘Magic: The Gathering’; would you like to see the ‘Stormlight Archives’ become a card game along the same lines? Do you think it will happen?

In my fondest dreams I can imagine an actual Magic set being done. It’s never going to happen. Wizards doesn’t do that. I respect them for not doing it. Magic is its own property. It probably wouldn’t even make sense. But if I had that chance, then yes. An actual card game would be fun, and you may see us playing with these kinds of ideas. It would be pretty awesome. But my fondest dream would be an actual Magic set, because Magic is kind of my addiction. There are people who are gamers who play a lot of games and appreciate games. I am less one of those, and it’s more that I love this one game that I enjoy a lot.

Thanks again to Brandon for taking time out from his schedule which must be jammed solid. If you want to read some more then have a look at the other blogs etc (on the banner) that Brandon has stopped at, it's all good :o)

Monday, 17 March 2014

A Couple of Warhammer 40K Short Stories…

Because sometimes you’re stuck on a packed train with no room to reach into your bag and get the book that you’ve been dying to read, ‘No Hero’ by Jonathan Wood just in case you were wondering. It’s all you can do to hold a hand out and read whatever is on your phone; Facebook and Twitter mostly but also Warhammer 40K short stories on occasion, stories like these two…

‘Truth Is My Weapon’ – Justin D. Hill

Interrogating a prisoner who calls himself Alpharius, Wodin Grime of the Inquisition begins to question everything he knows and all that he holds dear.

To be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to make of ‘Truth Is My Weapon’. On the surface it’s written solidly enough but a little too straightforward to be really engaging; it’s over before you know and I was left thinking, ‘oh, was that it?’ Let the story sink in a little bit though and the duplicitous nature of the Alpha Legion casts a whole new light on this story and lends it some real impact. Or did Justin Hill strike lucky and really did just write a solid but uninspiring tale? With the Alpha Legion you can never be sure.

‘Censure’ – Nick Kyme

In the depths of Calth’s arcology network, the Underworld War has raged for years. Aeonid Thiel, previously an honoured sergeant of the Ultramarines, once again finds himself in trouble – pitted against the daemonic forces of the Word Bearers, he has no choice but to venture back to the ravaged surface and brave the deadly solar flares that have scoured all life from this world. With a lowly Imperial Army trooper as his only companion, it falls to him to drive the maniacal Dark Apostle Kurtha Sedd and his warband from the overrun XIIIth Legion stronghold.

I loved the character of Aeonid Thiel from ‘Know No Fear’, seemingly the only Marine capable of thinking outside the box a little and therefore one of the only Marines capable of turning the tide. Thiel is up to more of the same here as his mission across the surface of a ravaged Calth makes for opportunities to get to know him better (explored through the relationship with his Imperial Guard companion) and also watch him take down the enemy in stunning moments of future warfare. There’s a nice little twist at the end as well. A welcome return for one of the Horus Heresy’s lesser known, but still very intriguing, supporting cast. If anyone fancies writing more about Aeonid Thiel then I for one would be very grateful. ‘Censure’ made for a gripping read where Calth’s sun itself is just as much the enemy as the forces of chaos wandering the planet.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Some Cover Art That Caught My Eye...

It's Saturday and that means it's time for a spot of cover art here; sometimes I like it and sometimes I can't stand it but it all ends up here :o)
Solaris can be a bit hit and miss in the ol' art department (I find anyway) but these two titles caught my eye with differing approaches to simplicity. Check these out...

Meet Talus the world's first detective. A dead warrior king frozen in winter ice. Six grieving sons, each with his own reason to kill. Two weary travellers caught up in a web of suspicion and deceit. In a distant time long before our own, wandering bard Talus and his companion Bran journey to the island realm of Creyak, where the king has been murdered. From clues scattered among the island's mysterious barrows and stone circles, they begin their search for his killer. But do the answers lie in this world or the next? Nobody is above suspicion, from the king's heir to the tribal shaman, from the servant woman steeped in herb-lore to the visiting warlord whose unexpected arrival throws the whole tribe into confusion. And when death strikes again, Talus and Bran realise nothing is what it seems. Creyak is place of secrets and spirits, mystery and myth. It will take a clever man indeed to unravel the truth. The kind of man this ancient world has not seen before.

I'm well into 'Sherlock' at the moment so the blurb has really caught my attention. What I like about the cover though is that it all looks very simplistic but when you look closer, that's when all the detail starts to shine through. I spent quite a long time, the other night, just looking at the cover and finding loads of little things to look at :o)

Blood Kin is told from the dual points of view of Michael Gibson and of his grandmother Sadie. Michael has returned to the quiet Appalachian home of his forebears following a suicide attempt and now takes care of his grandmother old and sickly but with an important story to tell about growing up poor and Melungeon (a mixed race group of mysterious origin) while bedeviled by a snake-handling uncle and empathic powers she but barely understands. In a field not far from the Gibson family home lies an iron-bound crate within a small shack buried four feet deep under Kudzu vine. Michael somehow understands that hidden inside that crate is potentially his own death, his grandmother's death, and perhaps the deaths of everyone in the valley if he does not come to understand her story well enough.

I'm not sure I'll be reading this one but the cover here is very effective. The title has 'Blood' in it, lets make the whole thing red then. Eye-catching like a sledgehammer but it does the job very well and that's all that matters isn't it? ;o)

What cover art is catching your eye at the moment?

Friday, 14 March 2014

‘Half a King’ – Joe Abercrombie (Harper Voyager/Del Rey)

‘I swore an oath to be avenged on the killers of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath’
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…

Joe Abercrombie must be the only writer I know who takes a sabbatical and ends up using it to write three more books; me must be approaching the same level of output as Brandon Sanderson, albeit with a hell of a lot more grit and (for my money) ultimately better written tales. Genre circles online have been all abuzz with talk of this new series; mostly because it’s by Joe Abercrombie but also because the series is aimed at the Young Adult market and that’s a departure from his fantasy novels which are most definitely adult in tone.
It’s been so long since I read a YA book that I couldn’t even tell you what the genre does anymore; I’ll admit to half formed ideas of Yarvi going to a new school and possibly falling in love with a vampire while his parents separate. See? I told you it had been a while. Despite this complete lack of knowledge, I was anticipating changes in Abercrombie’s plot delivery and was interested to see how it all ended up. Plus it’s a Joe Abercrombie book, of course I was going to read it.

Reading ‘Half a King’ then, I was surprised to see just how little of the delivery actually changes. The swearing isn’t there (no ‘shit’ here, it’s ‘soil’) but that’s about it; Abercrombie does pretty much the same thing he always does and the end result is pretty much the same as it always is (if it ain’t broke and all that..) ‘Half a King’ is a very engaging opening to a trilogy that is promising good things already.

‘Half a King’ is another ‘rites of passage/coming of age’ tale and what better place to test all those themes than in one of Abercrombie’s settings; a typically brutal world where might takes right and a relative will happily have you thrown out of a castle (shades of ‘Best Served Cold’ there) if he thinks it will advance his own ambitions. That’s Yarvi’s world and he has to make his way in it so he can fulfil his oath without dying first. You can see the ending coming (Yarvi is clearly going to be around for the next book at least) but what Abercrombie does with Yarvi in the meantime is what you end up staying to see.
Abercrombie strikes a fine balance with Yarvi, a young man up against it from the very start but with the brains to win through if he can think quicker than an axe swing. Yarvi is clearly quick on his feet but is also clearly a short term thinker; in a sense he has to be (his life depends on it) but Abercrombie also uses this to paint a vivid picture of a slightly bewildered teenager coming to grips with the fact that actions, and rashly sworn oaths, always have consequences. These consequences are what you would expect from a Joe Abercrombie novel, a very solid foundation then to build on what already looks like a very interesting character (and likeable too, not what I was expecting at all).

The story itself sometimes feels as linear as the route Yarvi and his friends take around the Shattered Sea (Abercrombie isn’t one for maps but does like to show readers his creation here) but it has enough twists and little cliff hangers for you not to worry about that too much. What I particularly enjoyed were the little clues that Abercrombie hides in plain sight which cast new light on the plot at just the right moment. Add in some brutal close combat and you have yourself a tale that I couldn’t get enough of. I couldn’t and now I’m eagerly anticipating ‘Half the World’, if only to see if Yarvi has learnt some lessons or not. Maybe he has but I suspect he will be learning some new ones.

‘Half a King’ is published at the beginning of July by Harper Voyager over here and Del Rey in the US. You’ve been looking at the US cover, by the way, as I couldn’t find a UK cover anywhere…

Thursday, 13 March 2014

'Blood Song' - Anthony Ryan (Orbit)

We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.
Vaelin Al Sorna is the Sixth Order's newest recruit. Under their brutal training regime, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly - all in the name of protecting the Realm and the Faith.
Now his skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

Maybe it’s the demands of an increasingly busy life; maybe it’s just the fact that hardbacks are cumbersome and I have never liked trade paperbacks (a pointless format if ever there was one), I am resigned to the fact that I will never be on top of the big releases in genre fiction. That’s the way it goes sometimes and it’s not as if there aren’t great bloggers out there with time to do just that (I read them all the time and get very jealous).
Anthony Ryan’s ‘Blood Song’ was a bit of a big deal, in blogging circles, when it was first self-published and then when Orbit took it on, repackaged it and then sent it out into the world again. I’m still interested to see how many extra copies of a book can be sold after it has done so well first time round (self-published) but that’s another story… ‘Blood Song’ passed me by in its first and second incarnations and I was determined not to miss out this time round. I spent the larger part of last week reading ‘Blood Song’ and it was time well spent to say the least. If you’re like me and haven’t got round to reading ‘Blood Song’ yet then I would totally recommend that you go and do just that.

At first glance, ‘Blood Song’ really didn’t look like it was going to last the pace with me. A boy taken in at a young age and trained to be a bad-ass killer by warrior monks who aren’t all that bad once you get to know them. I’ve read enough ‘rites of passage’ fantasy fiction to know when I see it and it was clear that ‘Blood Song’ wasn’t going to break any new ground.
It does though, at least a little bit. While most other authors will opt for playing safe with a young protagonist (let them get into a little bit of trouble but be on hand to bail them out) Ryan doesn’t do this with Vaelin at all. While Vaelin might well be a little too good to be true in terms of his physical prowess, never really threatened, Ryan is fully prepared to let Vaelin have his head and face the consequences of his decisions in future books. There’s an element of uncertainty then that has piqued my interest and the potential for more tough decisions to be faced, down the line, that I will be there for. Vaelin’s advancement follows all too familiar paths but it’s what you see Ryan doing behind the scenes that makes it work so well. I found Vaelin himself to be a very engaging character that I was rooting for throughout. A young man stuck in a situation not of his choosing and trying to do the right thing by himself and his Order, even when he has the opportunity to go back to his old life. Vaelin may have his darker moments, which also send the book off in new directions, but you can’t help but get behind a guy who has been abandoned and is trying to make his way in the world, no matter where it takes him…

I found that Ryan doesn’t really play with his tropes for the rest of the book but he does the familiar stuff so well that it’s a real pleasure to read. Vaelin’s world is one defined by warfare in all its forms and Ryan uses this to deliver a story where the politicking is as furious as what happens on the field of combat. If that wasn’t enough, there’s stuff brewing in the background that threatens to turn everything upside down… This is only the first book people! Ryan builds a strong sense of anticipation for what is to come and does it with an assured confidence in his own ability to deliver (that’s another reason why I will be back to see what happens next).

A fully realised world that doesn’t overshadow the actual plot, a plot that does its job admirably (whilst promising more to come) and action that stirs the blood whilst leaving you in no doubt about the brutal nature of the Sixth Order. There is nothing not to like about ‘Blood Song’ and I’m left hoping for more of the same from ‘The Tower Lord’(which isn't too ar away I think).

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

‘Bird Box’ – Josh Malerman (Harper Voyager)

Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news.
But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street.
Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent.
The phones stopped ringing.
And we couldn’t look outside anymore.
Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors.
The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows.
They are out there. She might let them in.
The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall.
Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them.
Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.

Horror fiction and I go way back, back to times when I couldn’t read but would quite happily sit and stare at the gore on the covers (the early eighties was a great time for that). Horror fiction is the big reason I shy away from most Urban Fantasy; an obvious attempt to dumb down and make palatable all the stuff that horror does so well. I love to be scared and then put the book down, safe in the knowledge that it’s not real… Or is it? I’m always looking for my next fix and, as such, it’s great to see a new crop of horror writers slowly come out of the dark places and into the world. Josh Malerman is the latest with ‘Bird Box’ and, despite a couple of rough edges to his work, it’s a book that any fan of the genre absolutely has to pick up. You will read it in one sitting and then close your eyes…

What’s scariest for you, the monster in front of you or the monster that lurks at the corner of your vision, waiting to strike? I’d have to go for the latter; I know what’s in front of me and can deal with it (even if that means running away screaming…) but you never know what’s behind you until it’s far too late. This is part of the reason I prefer to sit with my back to the wall at work but that’s another story… :o)

Josh Malerman has written a book where it’s all about that fear of the unknown. You never see what has caused society to break down so rapidly, only what happens to the people who gaze upon it. That is more than enough to raise the stakes and leave you in no doubt as to why Malorie and her children must be blindfolded for their journey. A journey that would be difficult enough at the best of times becomes almost impossible when you can’t see where you’re going and so ‘Bird Box’ also becomes a book about human determination and doing whatever you can to protect yourself and your children. How far would you go? Would you blind your children so that they literally couldn’t see the threat? These are the questions that Malerman poses and the book becomes all the more compelling as we see Malorie grow into the kind of person who will tackle these questions head on.

But that theme is almost a side note to what ‘Bird Box’ is really about, those nightmares at the edge of your vision. And admit it, you’re reading this review because you like to be scared as well and you’re wondering if ‘Bird Box’ will do it for you as well. Here’s your answer, it will.

I’ll admit that I came into this book thinking that it would be a bit of a tall order to make Malorie’s voluntary blindness a scary thing for the whole of the narrative; I mean, that’s a lot of book to stretch one concept out for. It does feel a little bit stretched at times (especially towards the end) but on the whole, Malerman makes it look incredibly easy. Just ‘hearing’ all those sounds, without actually knowing what they are, put me on edge; it could be anything out there and I ended up pretty much taking that journey with Malorie and her charges. It was nerve-wracking to say the least.
Malerman clearly knows though that there is only so much mileage in this approach (although he cuts it pretty fine) and splits the narrative with flashbacks to what led Malorie to her current situation. The house is full, in these flashbacks, and the dynamic leads to a collapse that is inevitable but still compelling through a considered dismantling of any optimism and Malerman’s finely tuned moments of suspense. It’s amazing what the mind can do to itself when it doesn’t have eyes to rely on; Malerman knows this and uses it to spine-chilling affect.

Apparently the film rights have already been optioned and I’d be interested to see the results given that half of the book is set behind a blindfold. As a book, ‘Bird Box’ does its job and a little bit more besides. I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent horror fiction this year but ‘Bird Box’ is the clear winner so far and it’s hard to see any other book topping it (yes, I know there’s a whole lot of year left but even so…) I had no choice but to finish ‘Bird Box’ in one sitting and I reckon you’ll feel the same.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

'The Wolf of Ash and Fire' - Graham McNeill (Black Library)

As much as I moan about issues with the Horus Heresy series as a whole, it seems that I can't help but follow it. What's not to enjoy after all? Enhanced post-humans fighting each other in a civil war that will lay waste to a galactic empire; there's a lot of good stuff to be found here and certain authors can always be relied upon to come up with those goods. Graham McNeill is one of those authors, and has written some excellent Horus Heresy novels, so when I saw that Black Library were giving away a free Horus Heresy short story of his (for World Book Day) I was all over it like a rash.
It was a bit of a shame then that 'The Wolf of Ash and Fire' wasn't really that good. Is there such a thing as a bad book if it doesn't cost you anything? Well, I didn't hand over any money for 'Wolf' (that's true) but I did invest time in reading that I won't be getting back...

'The Wolf of Ash and Fire' is essentially a prelude to the prelude of the Horus Heresy series (Horus and the Emperor fight Orks on a scrap world before moving on to the main conflict on Ullanor). There's no real sense of connection to the larger narrative then, just a lot of fighting that is eye-catching to begin with but tails off into nothing when you realise that there is no real plot to hang it off. Orks die and then we are promised that more Orks will die in a story that hasn’t been written yet (if it ever does). A bit anti-climactic really. Actually, more than 'a bit', much more.

‘The Wolf of Ash and Fire’ works as an introduction to what the universe of Warhammer 40K is all about (hence it being free I guess) but it doesn’t actually work as a story because a key component (the plot, people!) is missing. It’s more of an advert really and I guess that’s fine if you’re happy with that, I wasn’t. As far as I know, ‘The Wolf of Ash and Fire’ is still a free download if you want to give it a go yourself.

Cover Art! ‘Raising Steam’ – Terry Pratchett (Doubleday)

It has been literally years since I’ve read a Terry Prachett book; partly because I stopped laughing at the jokes but also because I wasn’t one for the whole ‘using the Discworld to reflect the real world’ approach that was starting to become more and more apparent. I always preferred it when Pratchett was gently lampooning Fantasy and all the things that are quite funny when you think about it. Another, slightly silly, reason that I stopped reading the Discworld novels was that Josh Kirby stopped providing the cover art (for very obvious reasons). Kirby’s art and Pratchett’s words went together so well that it just didn’t feel like I had the complete package anymore and (apart from a couple of false starts) I never really went back.

There will never be another Josh Kirby but the cover art for the US edition of ‘Raising Steam’ is the closest I’ve seen (it has a similar kind of energy to the old covers that I still love) and, funnily enough, has piqued my interest in reading about the Discworld again. No promises, we’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, have some blurb,

Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man with a flat cap and a sliding rule. He has produced a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and it’s soon drawing astonished crowds.
To the consternation of Ankh-Morpork’s formidable Patrician, Lord Vetinari, no one is in charge of this new invention. This needs to be rectified, and who better than the man he has already appointed master of the Post Office, the Mint, and the Royal Bank: Moist von Lipwig. Moist is not a man who enjoys hard work—unless it is dependent on words, which are not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. He does enjoy being alive, however, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs, and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all from going off the rails...

What really got me about this book was the press release that came with it, basically saying that Doubleday are really going to be pushing Pratchett in the US. I thought he was a big deal there already and didn’t need pushing? Or is that just over here?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Gollancz to offer cut price eBook debuts.

From the press release...

Gollancz announce strategy to reduce the price of eBook editions of its 2014 debuts to £1.99 for the week of publication.

The science fiction and fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group has decided to reduce the price of the eBook editions of six stunning debut novels to £1.99 for the week of publication. All pre-orders and purchases for these titles, made up to a week after publication, will cost the reader less than a cup of coffee.

Darren Nash, Digital Publisher at Gollancz, writes:

“When we publish a debut novel, we’re very aware that we’re asking readers to take a chance on something new, rather than spend their money on an established author they know they’ll enjoy. That becomes even more challenging at a time like this, when money doesn't stretch as far as it used to. So, we’ve decided to help. We're confident that all of our debut authors are wonderful new talents that you should read – so confident, in fact, that we're prepared to put our money where our mouth is and make it possible for you to try these books for less than the price of a Saturday newspaper.”

The Gollancz debuts that will be included in this initiative are The Boy With the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick, In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt, Barricade by Jon Wallace, The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano, The Incorruptibles by John Horner Jacobs and The Relic Guild by Edward Cox.

A couple of things about this announcement, cool though it is...

- A Saturday newspaper costs more than a couple of quid? That says an awful lot about my weekend newspaper reading habits (definitely not highbrow papers and the price reflects this, I am ashamed...)
- £1.99 for an eBook is not to be sniffed at though, especially when some of those titles look very intriguing (I'm looking at you 'The Relic Guild'). If I had a Kindle I'd be all over this offer... And then I'd go out to find a cup of coffee that cost less than £1.99. I'm bloody minded like that ;o)

Did Not Finish… ‘House of Small Shadows’ – Adam Nevill (Tor UK)

The Red House: home to the damaged genius of the late M. H. Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, where he lived and created some of his most disturbing works. The building and its treasure trove of antiques is long forgotten, but the time has come for his creations to rise from the darkness. Catherine Howard can’t believe her luck when she’s invited to value the contents of the house. When she first sees the elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals and macabre puppets, she’s both thrilled and terrified. It’s an opportunity to die for. But the Red House has secrets, secrets as dreadful and dark as those from Catherine’s own past. At night the building comes alive with noises and movements: footsteps, and the fleeting glimpses of small shadows on the stairs. And soon the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare begin to collapse…

Is a ‘Did Not Finish’ ever a good thing? Not often, I’ll admit, but every now and then it really is (in a way, kind of).
I finished Josh Malerman’s ‘Bird Box’ over the weekend and was in the mood for a bit more horror; ‘House of Small Shadows’ has been giving me the book equivalent of reproachful looks just recently so the decision pretty much made itself.
Well, that’s what I thought… What I hadn’t counted on is that Nevill gets better with each book and ‘House of Small Shadows’ was such a creepy book that I couldn’t finish it. If it wasn’t the tension being built up by the suggestion of old dolls creeping around, at the corner of your vision, it was Nevill brutally exposing just how damaged Catherine Howard is as a person. Add these two things together and, nope.. I just couldn’t go any further with ‘House of Small Shadows’, it was just too intense for me.

Is this the first ever ‘Did Not Finish’ that is actually a backhanded compliment? I think so :o) If you want to read some seriously scary stuff then by all means get stuck into ‘House of Small Shadows’. I’ll just stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘LaLaLa!’ very loudly if you try and tell me about it...

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The 'Belated Happy World Book Day! / Books in the Post' Post!

Happy World Book Day, for the other day, everyone! Hopefully you all enjoyed what you were reading and supported at least one ‘proper’ bookshop by making a purchase. Don’t worry if you didn’t buy anything, I didn’t buy anything either; had every intention of buying a book (like I need any excuse really…) but the day kind of got away from me and now it’s Saturday… Never mind, there’s always next year (and a whole load of days in-between)

What’s the next best thing though? Coming home to find some awesome looking books already waiting for you of course! Have a look at the picture,

‘Sea Kings of Mars’ was a little treat to myself for passing my college course (go me!) As with the Clark Ashton Smith collection, I’ll be reviewing a short story here and there instead of posting my thoughts on the whole book; look out for those posts kind of soonish. This also seems like a good time to say that I love the term ‘planetary romance’ . Give me a little longer to figure out exactly why but, for now, lets just say it’s a much nicer way of saying ‘pulp’ :o)
But anyway…

The book on the left is a proof of Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Half a King’ and I’ll be reading that very soon (hoping it will whet my appetite to finally read ‘The Heroes’ and of course I’m interested to see Joe’s take on YA)
Out of the three books on display, the one I’m most intrigued by is Josh Malerman’s ‘Bird Box’, a horror novel that Harper Collins are predicting good things for (although they would say that, wouldn’t they?) I love to read a little horror every now and then, especially when it’s someone who isn’t one of the big names already taking up shelf space; the blurb definitely looks interesting…

Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news.
But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street.
Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent.
The phones stopped ringing.
And we couldn’t look outside anymore.
Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors.
The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows.
They are out there. She might let them in.
The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall.
Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them.
Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.

What do you reckon?

Friday, 7 March 2014

‘Uber’ Vol.1 – Kieron Gillen, Caanan White (Avatar Press)

April 24, 1945. The world holds its collective breath as the war is only days away from ending. Russian troops move through Germany to the final objective... Hitler himself. As those around the mad dictator crumble, the much ridiculed threats of the "Wunderwafen" materialize. A new weapon is delivered, one with unstoppable power - a weapon like no other and with a madman pulling the trigger. The Ubers change the direction of World War II, providing a dark and uncompromising alternative history in a way that you've never seen.

I’ve never really been one for alternative histories in genre fiction; I’d much rather see something brand new than a reimagining of something that has already happened. This would explain why I’ve read very little by Harry Turtledove…
If you’re going to do some ‘history reimagining’ though, there isn’t a much better place to do it than the Second World War. A time of great upheaval where events were finely balanced and could go either way; there’s a lot of potential there for history to branch out in all sorts of directions. From a genre point of view, there’s also a lot of potential there to see how the rumoured Nazi occultism and experiments could have affected the outcome of the war.
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for ‘super soldiers’ (from reading ‘Zenith’ as a kid) so had half an eye on ‘Uber’ anyway (amongst everything else I look out for in Forbidden Planet) but this was the first chance I’d actually had to really get to grips with the plot. I say ‘get to grips’, this first volume of ‘Uber’ ended up getting to grips with me and left me in a traumatised huddle. ‘Brutal’ is a word that I like to use to describe some of the books that I read but ‘Uber’ is the first book I’ve read that actually deserves the title…

Kieron Gillen is clearly of the school that says a Second World War fought by super soldiers will involve buildings falling down almost unnoticed amidst all the super powered violence perpetuated by the Ubers and their Allied counterparts. Gillen doesn’t pull a single punch and is very lucky to have someone like Caanan White along for artwork duties as he doesn’t pull any punches either (and is it any co-incidence that O’Connor looks like Captain America…?) The end result takes your breath away as Gillen and White combine to raise the intensity of super powered combat and leave it covered in the viscera that we’re all expecting. It’s gripping stuff and if you’re anything like me then you won’t be able to take your eyes off the page. ‘Hard hitting’ doesn’t even begin to cover what ‘Uber’ does to the reader.
Reading this far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Uber’ is just one big ‘super-soldier smack down’ (and to be fair, that’s the bulk of it) but there’s more to it than that. Gillen explores the resonations caused by what the Ubers do (atrocities and lots of them) and you get a real feeling of an alternate history starting to branch out from the stuff that really happened. Questions are raised and they’re good ones; that’s enough for me to make a note to come back and see what happens next. I mean, I know what’s mostly going to happen (bucket loads of wince inducing violence) but I do want to see where the plot goes at the same time.

I know it’s only March but I think I’ve found the best comic book I’m likely to read this year and I cannot wait to see where Gillen takes the plot next. If you were a fan of Ian Tregillis’ ‘Milkweed Triptych’ then you really need to be reading ‘Uber’ as well; that’s all there is to it.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Cover Art & Blurb, 'Smiler's Fair' - Rebecca Levene (Hodder)

I’ve pinched this from Hodderscape by way of No Cloaks Allowed (Gav – There are cloaks in ‘Smiler’s Fair’ mate. I know, I’ve seen them)

I read ‘Smiler’s Fair’ when it was on submission at Hodder and thoroughly enjoyed it; I’m really looking forward to seeing what it looks like post editing, hence this post. Having experienced the more thoughtful air to this book (not just any old fantasy), I find myself really appreciating the thoughtful tone of the cover. All the ingredients of the book are there but nothing is given away other than an eye catching design (which I think will look amazing on the hardback edition if Hodder do one). I like that.

Yron the moon god died, but now he’s reborn in the false king’s son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He’ll return one day to claim his birthright. He’ll change your life.
He’ll change everything.
Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.
Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. Eric, who follows his heart only to learn that love can exact a terrible price. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept.
In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, these people must discover how they fit into the world – and how to shape the world to suit themselves.

‘Smiler’s Fair’ will be published at the end of July and if I were you I’d read it. It’s worth your time (you can thank me afterwards).

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

‘Home’ – Poul Anderson

Is home where the hearth is or where government spending allocates it?

Yep, it’s time for another short story from Poul Anderson’s ‘The Queen of Air and Darkness’ collection. I’m not one for ‘full on’ reading resolutions this year but I do want to read older fiction as well as stuff that I wouldn’t normally pick up. ‘Home’ fulfils both of these criteria being a science fiction tale first published in 1966 (‘Orbit’ magazine, originally called ‘The Disinherited’) so here we go…

What happens when it becomes economically unfeasible to explore and colonise space? When there’s no money left, you really need to focus on what you have and make that work instead; that’s the concept underpinning ‘Home’ where Earth authorities have decided that the age of exploration is done (there’s nothing much out there anyway) and it’s time to bring everyone home. And that was the first thing that got me about this story; if resources are that stretched then why bring people home at all? More mouths to feed and all that, why not leave them out there? Especially if they’re actually happy where they are in the first place.

And that’s the real focus of this tale, what does ‘home’ mean when you’re making it on another planet entirely? Does anyone have that right? Obvious parallels are drawn with what happened to the American Indians; a little too obvious for me and a line that detracted from further exploration into the character of Yazkov Khan, the man sent to bring the scientific expedition (more like colonists now) home. Here’s a man whose job has essentially made him homeless and obeys the orders of the Earth Directorate even though he violently disagrees with their new mandate. There’s real conflict here but it’s only really hinted at in the final paragraph and that’s a bit of a shame. Khan is a really interesting character and deeper exploration of this could have lent ‘Home’ a lot more impact than it had (although, in fairness, I wasn’t expecting ‘Home’ to end the way it did, not at all).

What Anderson does do well is paint a picture of an idyllic existence that no-one would want to leave; a planet where the natives only real aspiration is to enjoy life, an aspiration that the human colonists are only just starting to understand and aspire to themselves. In that context then, the reader has to wonder whether the colonists are being brought home because of financial constraints or so that this Directorate doesn’t have to stretch quite so far in order to consolidate its power… Sinister undertones to a downbeat ending then.
‘Home’ gives its readers much to consider then and I certainly don’t regret the time spent reading it. I just couldn’t help but wonder if a little extra time spent fleshing out Khan, as a character, would have made this story even more thought provoking than it already is. Writing for magazines inevitably means word count but still, just a thought…

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

'Monster Massacre Vol.2' - Dave Elliott (Titan)

It takes a lot for me to cover up what I’m reading on the train; you’re talking to a passionate fan of all things genre related who thinks that the morning commute would be a lot more eye catching if people were honest about what they like to read. I know there are people out there who like reading ‘Roman Gladiator’ books but I’m pretty sure that most of the middle aged guys I see reading them want to read about men with swords but don’t want a dragon on the cover… I’m not like that and will happily read whatever the hell I want on the train, until today.

It wasn’t just the front cover either, when the stern looking elderly lady sat next to me I found myself automatically hiding the pages involving the scantily clad bounty hunter facing off against the even more scantily clad Yakuza lady (‘Queen’s Pet’, a very funny tale where things build up to a violent climax and then you can’t help but laugh at what comes next…). Maybe I’m just not as brazen about my ‘train reading’ as I thought I was. It’s safe to say that ‘Monster Massacre 2’ is a book that you should think twice about opening on a crowded train ;o)

As was the case with its predecessor though, ‘Monster Massacre 2’ is a lot of fun to read; basically a whole bunch of comic book creators going ‘no holds barred’ nuts on the page. This time round there is more of an emphasis on ‘gallery work’ over stories and visually stunning though it all was, I couldn’t help but wish that they’d used the space for more stories instead. There is some good stuff going on here and the collection as a whole could have really benefitted from more stories along the same lines. Well, that’s what I thought anyway; somewhere, another reviewer is probably bemoaning the number of stories crowding out all the really cool gallery stuff ;o) There’s probably enough of each to suit all tastes.

In terms of the stories on offer; when they work it’s incredible but when they don’t it swiftly becomes a bit of a mess. ‘Amplified’ looked promising but needed a couple more pages (that it didn’t have) so that we could actually see what the point of it was. ‘Bounty Journal’ spent a lot of the time looking good but with no discernible plot whatsoever.
When ‘Monster Massacre’ was good though, it was amazing. Highlights for me included Jennyson Robero’s ‘Turn Me On’ was chilling and very effectively drawn at the same time. ‘The Weirding Willows’ was clearly one for longer term fans (who would get a lot more out of it) but had enough of the surreal about it (a dinosaur that loves honey!) to engage me and I wouldn’t mind reading more. Reza Ilyasa’s ‘Hell-O-Kitty’ looked amazing with a hint of tragedy that nicely balanced out the action (as well as making the concept of gun toting cats taking down mechanoids seem totally plausible). The real highlight for me though was Basri and Gho’s ‘Rule My World’, absolutely beautifully drawn and a real lesson that you don’t need a lot of words to tell a story. The look on the lady’s face, right at the very end, meant there was no need for any words. Glorious stuff.

‘Monster Massacre 2’ is very definitely a mixed bag then but, for me, the good in it outweighed the bad. I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories next time though; there’s clearly a lot of good shorter work out there so why not include it?