Monday, 30 June 2014

Books In The Post! 'Brand New Job!' Edition

So long BskyB and hello new job with perhaps not so much money (ok, no 'perhaps' about it) but with a much nicer commute and being able to get home at a decent time. Can't complain really, especially not when the memories of being long term unemployed are still pretty fresh.
As far as the blog goes, I probably won't be able to post as much as I have been but right now I'm enjoying myself with it (even if I can't stay with a book for more than a few pages at a time...) so there will be posts as and when possible.

Books in the post then. Not as many as normal and only one book that I want to read but it's Monday so have a look at what has come through the post over the last week...

My reading is all about Fantasy at the moment so it's really only 'Sword of the Bright Lady' that I want to read. The blurb doesn't look like it's promising anything new but that's ok, I don't want anything new at the moment... ;o)

Christopher Sinclair goes out for a walk on a mild Arizona evening and never comes back. He stumbles into a freezing winter under an impossible night sky, where magic is real -- but bought at a terrible price.

A misplaced act of decency lands him in a brawl with an arrogant nobleman and puts him under a death sentence. In desperation he agrees to be drafted into an eternal war, serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, Goddess of Healing. But when Marcius, god of war, offers the only hope of a way home to his wife, Christopher pledges to him instead, plunging the church into turmoil and setting him on a path of violence and notoriety.

To win enough power to open a path home, this mild-mannered mechanical engineer must survive duelists, assassins, and the never-ending threat of monsters, with only his makeshift technology to compete with swords and magic.

But the gods and demons have other plans. Christopher's fate will save the world... or destroy it.
Sounds as generic as it comes but that's fine by me. Not a priority read then but it will be read. 
'Omens' didn't really catch my eye when it was first published and there's no real movement towards interest this time round. I might just skip to the end, to see if my suspicions about the feather on the cover are correct, but that's about it.
'My Real Children' does look intriguing but I'm just not in the mood for intriguing right now (I'm more about spectacle and wild romance, possibly dragons as well). It's being filed under 'maybe another time'... Have a look at the blurb while you're here.

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan's world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. 'Confused today' read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War - those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and.her memory splits in two.
She was Trish, a housewife and mother of four.
She was Pat, a successful travel writer and mother of three.
She remembers living her life as both women, so very clearly. Which memory is real - or are both just tricks of time and light?
What are you reading right now and should I be reading it? I can't promise anything but I'm in the mood for suggestions and recommendations :o)

Saturday, 28 June 2014

'Occasion for Revenge' or 'The Goon' just got good again...

Remember what I was saying, the other day, about 'The Goon' looking like it will only be worth reading when Eric Powell gets back to the main storyline? Well, 'Occasion for Revenge' is Powell doing just that and, all of a sudden, I'm excited again. There is nothing better in comics than 'The Goon' playing to its strengths and I just want to get stuck in now.

Dark Horse sent out a little preview of the first issue (this is a three part mini-series, I think) and said it was okay to share so I thought I would. I've been playing around with the file but can't seem to resize it so it looks good here. It's a tiddly little image then but double click on it and you should be able to see an enlarged version. It's worth the effort to enlarge, trust me.
Enjoy :o)

'Occasion for Revenge' kicks off on July 23rd.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Warhammer Week – A Couple More Short Stories

 Because the train was packed this morning and it was all I could do to hold my phone at eye level, let alone a book… I’m looking forward to a slightly less congested commute to my new job (optimism beats realism every time!)

So yeah, more Warhammer short stories are the order of the day. I already said, yesterday, why I think Warhammer short stories are great; just scroll down a little bit if you missed it. The two stories on show today are a move away from tying into established series and are more like snapshots of the war torn Old World. I have to say that in terms of the end result here it was hit and miss.

The whole thing about Warhammer is that it's all about the fighting and warfare; that's the whole point and it doesn't leave the writer a lot of scope to write about other things. That's okay though, if you're clever then you can still tell a decent story, even if you can't vary the subject matter. It's a shame then that Jonathan Green chooses not to do this with 'Sticks and Stones' .
That's not to say that 'Sticks and Stones' isn't a good read; Green writes a mean set piece with scenes of battle that stir the blood (I want to be a pistolier now). The problem though is that's all 'Stick and Stones' is, you get plenty of fighting but you don't get a sense of who the fighters are, what they are fighting for or even why. The end result then is a story that does a job but feels strangely shallow for it.

'Bernheimer's Gun' though... Here's a tale that does exactly the opposite of 'Sticks and Stones' and is all the better for it. Reynolds really takes time to get to know his characters and gives plausible motivation for their actions ('the city is in danger' is a well known trope but at least we know why they are fighting. The chases (which I loved) and the fights that follow just make more sense and that ultimately kept me going with 'Bernheimer's Gun'. I'd love to read more about Marienburg and its denizens.

So, which one would I choose as personal favourite? It's not hard and I'm now really keen to read more by Reynolds now. I'll see what I can find.
In the meantime, that's five stories down and two more to go... Keep an eye out, I'll be back with those two fairly shortly...

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Warhammer Week - The Stories So Far...

Black Library are currently running a ‘Warhammer Week’, on their site, where each day sees a new short story to download. I am all for this by the way (especially now I have a new phone with a bigger screen); not only is there is nothing better than a short story that you can download to your phone but the Warhammer setting always takes second billing to its far future counterpart. I’m a big fan of the Warhammer universe and it’s great to see it feature a little more prominently. More of that in the future please!

In the meantime, I’m already four days behind with these stories so this post is more a collection of mini-reviews just so I can get caught up a little bit.  C.L. Werner and Sarah Cawkwell are already well known for their work in the Warhammer universe and their stories here not only do a job in their own right but also serve as little thirty page stepping stones into a  much larger narrative (which is the plan of course).  It’s a good job then that ‘Harbinger’, ‘A Question of Faith’ and ‘The Last Man’ make for good reading that, if I hadn’t read the other books already, would have left me keen to explore the settings further.

There’s only so much you can do in thirty pages and that’s why short stories can be amazing when done right (and exactly the opposite when done wrong…) Both Werner and Cawkwell are clearly mindful of this and choose to forego the normal hack and slash of Warhammer in favour or more more thoughtful plotting. Cawkwell does this more with ‘Harbinger’, a story that gradually unfolds to act as a kind of metaphor for the implacable march of Chaos. You can see where the story is heading, even after it finishes, and you also get a clear feeling of where it has come from as well with a darker past hinted at.  The character of the Healer holds the plot together very well with a compelling voice that demands that you stay to hear the tale; when you see where the Healer’s choices lead her, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy…

‘A Question of Faith’ and ‘The Last Man’ are being lumped together here as they are both set during Werner’s ‘Black Plague’ storyline; readers who have already read these books will notice a few familiar places (and possibly names, I’m not sure) along the way. The other reason these two books are sharing space is that Werner likes to delve a little more deeply into the horror end of ‘Warhammer’, than other authors, and it’s something he does to good affect here.  Werner is all about painting dark landscapes and then filling them full of humanity despairing while shadows scuttle at the edge of the page. Both stories have that edge of grim foreboding and Werner leaves you in no doubt as to what the people of the Old World will do to protect themselves from the horror of the plague… before smacking you in the face with some nasty surprises (with ‘The Last Man’ in particular, I kind of saw it coming in ‘A Question of Faith’). If I had to pick a favourite, well I do now, it would be ‘The Last Man’ with its visceral depiction of the plague and one man trying to survive in the ruins.

So that’s three stories down and four more to go; I’ll let you know how they turn out over the next few days.

The Gollancz Festival.

Now this looks like it could be a viable way of me doing something 'genre-ish', this summer, without having to fork out loads of cash. And I love mooching around in Waterstones Piccadilly anyway so the deal is done! Have a look at the press release...

Gollancz, the science-fiction and fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, and Waterstones Piccadilly are delighted to announce plans to host an interactive multi-media genre fiction festival with participation from Patrick Rothfuss, Joanne M. Harris, Joe Hill and many more bestselling genre writers.

Midway between genre-fiction convention Nine Worlds GeekFest (Heathrow, 8-9th August) and The 72nd World Science-Fiction Convention (Loncon 3, ExCel London Docklands, 14-18th August), Gollancz will celebrate their galaxy of remarkable authors by presenting science-fiction and fantasy fans with an unique multi-media fiction festival. 

On Wednesday 13th August 2014, Gollancz will host a creative programme of daytime digital author events, and from 6 – 9pm on the same evening they will also offer genre fiction readers the chance to attend a selection of unique panels, readings, Q&As and signings all hosted by retail partner Waterstones Piccadilly.

Simultaneously using the two largest event spaces in the Waterstones Piccadilly store, the Gollancz Festival 2014 will include a solo talk by NAME OF THE WIND author Patrick Rothfuss, and a reading by GOSPEL OF LOKI author Joanne M. Harris. There will be the chance to meet Gollancz’s talented 2014 debut novelists (our ‘Class of 2014’) and to participate in a spectacular selection of panel discussions with a brilliant range of Gollancz authors touching on hot genre topics.

The Gollancz festival will include physical and digital participation from Ben Aaronovitch, Joe Abercrombie, James Barclay, Elizabeth Bear, Anna Caltabiano, Edward Cox, Joanne Harris, Joe Hill, Stephen Hunt, Simon Ings, John Hornor Jacobs, Tom Lloyd, Scott Lynch, Paul McAuley, Elizabeth May, Suzanne McLeod, Richard Morgan, Den Patrick, Sarah Pinborough, Adam Roberts, Alastair Reynolds, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Gavin Smith, Jon Wallace, Chris Wooding and more. 

The festival will be an excellent occasion for science-fiction and fantasy fans from around the country to meet their favourite writers travelling to the UK in August, and all for the inclusive price of £6 (£4 for Waterstones loyalty card holders)! Attendees will also receive a drink on arrival and a Gollancz Festival 2014 goody bag. A mass signing beginning at 7.30pm, immediately after the panel events, will be open to non-ticket holders and those unable to travel to London can pre-order signed stock directly from Waterstones Piccadilly.  

With their series of interactive author events across a diversity of social media channels, Gollancz hopes to attract genre fiction readers from both across the UK and around the world! Starting at 9am with author breakfast tips featured on a Pinterest board, the digital elements of the Gollancz Festival 2014 will include interactive genre panels; Vox Pops and in conversations on YouTube; live debates on Twitter and Tumblr, and much more.

I knew there was a reason for keeping hold of my Waterstones card...

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

‘The Rhesus Chart’ – Charles Stross (Orbit)

A new ‘Laundry’ novel is a thing of joy, especially for someone like me who has worked in the public sector and knows full well that while the magic is made up, the rampant bureaucracy certainly isn’t. It’s funny then, how these books seem to constantly fly under the radar and completely take me by surprise. A really nice surprise but a surprise nevertheless. It shouldn’t be like that, these books are brilliant and more people should be talking about them. There, I’ve done it. Now you know that I’m a fan and while I’ll do my utmost to be objective some of that fannishness will inevitably creep into my review. Sorry about that, just give me a little bit of a nudge if it gets too much for you.

Anyway, on to the book. Have some blurb,


Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as 'the Laundry'. When occult powers threaten the realm, they'll be there to clean up the mess - and deal with the witnesses.

There's one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that's vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you'll be laughed out of the room.

But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf's most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn't want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle.

‘The Rhesus Chart’ is being billed as a great place for newcomers to jump on board with this series. To be fair to Stross, he has always gone out of his way to make the ‘Laundry’ books accessible and he uses the same tricks here; a dash of background history (not laid on too thick) to get you started and then into the story itself. What really sets ‘The Rhesus Chart’ apart from its predecessors though is that it marks the start of a new arc in the series so yep, definitely a good place to jump in. Read the other books anyway though, you’re missing out if you don’t.

Reading ‘The Rhesus Chart’ left me in awe of Stross’ ability not only to plot his way through a devious mess of intrigue, counter intrigue and Human Resources but also to know when to rein it in a bit so he doesn’t lose the reader. The number of times I thought I’d lost my bearings, only for Stross to slow things down and give me a chance to catch up. It was very considerate of him :o) Having said that though, I got the impression that Stross likes to show off a little about how much he has thought of the theories that back up his world. There are more than a few info-dumps that break up the flow of the plot and left me impatient for things to just get going again. Or maybe I’m just feeling a little inferior because GCSE maths was a nightmare for me… Probably a bit of both.

The plot is very intense with something always happening to push things forwards. A couple of the twists are absolutely amazing in terms of where the plot goes and also how a little bit of insider knowledge can really pay dividends (in more than one respect). This isn’t a book where you find yourself thinking ‘how did I miss that?’, I’m not sure how good Stross is at hiding things in plain sight (maybe a little too good for his own good, if you know what I mean…) What I did like though was the sense that Stross pokes fun at the Civil Service in an almost affectionate way. It lends the whole scenario a very ‘British’ feel that I think a lot of people will identify with.

It’s not just about plot though, ‘The Rhesus Chart’ is also a heady mix of action and horror (when it really counts) that gets your heart all pumped up as well the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. And there’s a cat as well, what more could you ask for?

It feels like ages since I last read a ‘Laundry’ novel. Here’s hoping that Stross doesn’t leave it so long for the next book, especially with the way that it ends…

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The 'If my commute had been ten minutes longer...' Blatant Filler Post!

Seriously, if my commute had been ten minutes longer this post would have been all about what I thought of 'The Rhesus Chart'. With my commute taking the time it did though, all I can say on that score is that everything up to the final forty pages has been superb. I'll give you something a little more in-depth tomorrow.

There is the possibility of a couple of mini-reviews before the end of today but in the meantime, have a video of small dogs dressed up as characters from 'Game of Thrones'. Why? I love 'Game of Thrones' almost as much as I love cute dogs; that's all the reason I need :o)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Books In The Post! - 'Yawning, always yawning...' Edition

So, teething has hit Elana hard which, in turn, saw Hope wake me up at four this morning so she could climb into bed with me and get some sleep. I wouldn't have minded so much if Hope had gone to sleep straight away but life is never that simple is it...? I can see a whole lot of yawning in the immediate future then :o)

As far as books go though... After a couple of weeks of not many books arriving through the post, last week saw a whole load turn up and a couple of them have been eagerly anticipated. Have a look at the picture and see if you can guess which are which...

Okay, no prizes if you guessed 'The Dark Defiles', I started reading it over the weekend and it is already really hard not to put everything else to one side and just keep reading (that's what the commute is for). Looking forward to seeing if what I reckon will happen, happens. 'The Rhesus Chart' is the other 'pick up and read immediately'; I've been following the 'Laundry' series ever since I started blogging and the promise of a new book never fails to make me do a happy dance (where no-one can see me). All being well, look a review this week.
What else am I definitely going to read? Well, 'Drakenfeld' is a definite read as I seem to be attracted to fantasy detective tales these days. I'm also more than likely going to read 'A Kill In The Morning', purely because of this deliciously pulpy cover (not too sure about the blurb though),

'I don't like killing, but I'm good at it. Murder isn't so bad from a distance, just shapes popping up in my scope. Close-up work though - a garrotte around a target's neck or a knife in their heart - it's not for me. Too much empathy, that's my problem. Usually. But not today. Today is different . . . '
The year is 1955 and something is very wrong with the world. It is fourteen years since Churchill died and the Second World War ended. In occupied Europe, Britain fights a cold war against a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany.
In Berlin the Gestapo is on the trail of a beautiful young resistance fighter, and the head of the SS is plotting to dispose of an ailing Adolf Hitler and restart the war against Britain and her empire. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker hidden deep beneath the German countryside, scientists are experimenting with a force far beyond their understanding.
Into this arena steps a nameless British assassin, on the run from a sinister cabal within his own government, and planning a private war against the Nazis. And now the fate of the world rests on a single kill in the morning . . .

Samit Basu's 'Resistance' won't be read as I really didn't get on with his first book ('Turbulence') at all, couldn't finish it in fact. 'Moth and Spark' might be read, I'm kind of half and half over the whole thing and it's not like there aren't other book that I really want to read...

So what does that leave? Ah yes, J.F. Lewis' 'Grudgebearer', another book that I'm not sure about (will probably give it a go but am not in a huge hurry to get to it). A blurb crammed full of blatantly made up names always makes me wary...

Kholster is the first born of the practically immortal Aern, a race created by the Eldrennai as warrior-slaves to defend them from the magic-resistant reptilian Zaur.  Unable to break an oath without breaking their connection with each other, the Aern served the Eldrennai faithfully for thousands of years until the Sundering. Now, the Aern, Vael, and Eldrennai meet every hundred years for a Grand Conjunction to renew their tenuous peace.

While the tortures of slavery remain fresh in Kholster's mind, most of the rest of the world has moved on. Almost six hundred years after the Sundering, an Eldrennai prince carelessly breaks the truce by setting up a surprise museum exhibit containing sentient suits of Aernese armor left behind, never to be touched, lest Kholster kill every last Eldrennai. Through their still-existing connection with their ancient armor, the Aern know instantly, and Kholster must find a way to keep his oaths, even those made in haste and anger. While Kholster travels to the Grand Conjunction with his Freeborn daughter and chosen successor Rae'en, his troops travel by sea, heading for war. 

Not a bad little haul all in all :o) Have any of these books caught your eye?

What am I reading at the moment? A little bit of everything (again, I'm so flighty with my reading at the moment...) but mostly 'The Dark Defiles', 'The Rhesus Chart', 'Prince of Fools'. I've got some good reading in my very near future...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Black Library Open Up 'The Vault'...

Okay, I suspect that this is one more for Black Library fans (who probably know already) but I'm posting it anyway just in case you didn't know. I'm nice like that :o)

The Vault is where all those BL collectable editions go to live until someone buys them (Not me though, as much as I'd like to. Still trying to get Hope's new bedroom sorted...) Kind of like an animal shelter but for books and, erm... in a Vault (that's it, enough of the tenuous comparisons!)
The current line up looks like this (you might need to click on it to enlarge),

The one that caught my eye though was this,

Gorgeous looking cover and featuring stories from the likes of Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, James Swallow, Rob Sanders and Nick Kyme.

If you didn't know all this already then you do now ;o) Click Here to have a look in the Vault yourself.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

‘The Golden Barge’ – Michael Moorcock (Savoy)

The last time I had anything to say about ‘The Golden Barge’, the year was 2011 (only just though…) and my thoughts went along the lines of…

‘With certain stories in ‘The Time Dweller’ the problem for me was that whatever Moorcock was trying to say was drowned out in a mass of admittedly beautiful but overall stifling imagery. Don’t get me wrong, I love Moorcock’s use of imagery and settings but I love it far more when there’s a story happening against it all. I’m sure that there was something going on in these stories but I couldn’t see it (a re-read would probably take care of this but, in the meantime, I’ve got to go on first impressions). Take ‘The Golden Barge’ for instance, what was all that about? I liked the exploration of Jephraim Tallow’s character but why was he chasing the Golden Barge? And considering this pursuit was made out to be such a big deal, why did he stop for a break? There’s something to be said for stories that have you asking questions (and you end up re-reading them) but there is also such a thing as being too obscure and alienating the reader entirely...’

Fast forward a few years and it was time for a re-read of the strange adventure of Jephraim Tallow; a man who lost his navel and promptly went in pursuit of a strange golden barge so he could get some answers. Yep, that really is the whole premise of the book and I was hoping that a few questions of my own would be answered in a book that just had to expand on what I originally read in ‘The Time Dweller’.  While ‘The Golden Barge’ does expand on certain themes, it is still a book that poses more questions than it answers. It does this in a good way though, leaving its reader chewing on questions out of interest rather than frustration.

‘The Golden Barge’ is a ‘quest’ story perhaps unlike any you have ever read. Tallow knows full well what he is looking for, and why, but has no idea how the barge will help him if he ever catches up with it. Tallow can’t bear to be hindered in his quest and will actively go out of his way to wreck nations in order that he can continue looking for a barge that no-one else can see. As a character, Tallow comes across as fairly simple to read but he is self-aware enough to be a little more interesting than that. Tallow frequently debates his actions and this approach invites the reader to join in that debate and either side with Tallow himself or with the people who seek to hinder him (albeit with the best intentions).

For me, ‘The Golden Barge’ was all about Tallow seeking to define himself while resisting others attempts to define him (it’s what life is all about in a way). A man with no navel to contemplate has to look elsewhere, for his contemplation, and that is exactly what Tallow does. It’s interesting to note that as his quest draws to a close, the slightly weird and baroque landscape (which I loved at the beginning, especially the little nods to what would become the wider multi-verse) becomes more vague and blurry round the edges as Tallow finds his answers and comes into focus. The world is an interesting one to ponder on, hints of an apocalypse and people trying to impose their own order on what is left, but it is Tallow’s view of this world that carries the tale and it is only right that he should feature prominently.

Does the end justify everything that has gone before? Well, for Tallow it does but ‘The Golden Barge’ is clearly a book that is all about the journey rather than the destination. I liked the hint of uncertainty, at the end, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Tallow’s final decision was in keeping with his character. It’s that journey though (I kept thinking of it as a post-modern agnostic ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’) that makes the book, full of incidents that have you questioning the characters and yourself. If you saw the Golden Barge travelling down the river, would you follow it?

P.S. I don't know if 'The Golden Barge' will feature in any of the new Moorcock collections but you can get it on Kindle (via SF Gateway) and there are loads of second hand copies doing the rounds. Worth checking out.

Friday, 20 June 2014

‘The Goon’ & ‘Ghost’ (or, ‘a couple of comic books that I’ve picked up)

‘The Goon’ used to be a big part of my comic book reading and for very good reason. It was a book that could make me laugh on one page and then quickly have to pretend that there was something in my eye when I went on to the next. ‘The Goon’ had everything so I was understandably a bit sad when things were scaled back and the comics stopped coming quite so regularly (scheduling issues and so on).
It was a huge deal for me then when I found ‘One For The Road’, nestled amongst the advance reading from Dark Horse, my phone downloaded it all very quickly and I was very grateful for that.

It was a shame then that ‘One For The Road’ didn’t match up to expectations.

I’ve come to realise that Powell is a lot more suited to telling longer ‘Goon’ tales than he is with ‘one offs’ like ‘One For The Road’; the plot has room to breathe and grow and the humour is a lot more organic. Things felt quite contrived and forced here and there didn’t seem to be a lot of point to what was going on other than to rehash a few tired old laughs. The artwork is as gorgeous as ever though; Powell and Stewart combine to form a landscape and characters that are totally unique yet fit the story just right. It was the art rather than the tale that kept me going this time.
For me, ‘One For The Road’ was like visiting old friends only to realise that I don’t actually have that much in common with them anymore; my comic book reading has moved on. I’ll keep half an eye open for longer ‘Goon’ tales but I think I’ll be giving the one-shots a miss from now on.

‘Ghost’ #5 marks the beginning of Chris Sebella and Jan Duursema’s stint as the creative team on ‘Ghost’ and the early signs are that they’re not going to do a bad job at all. #5 may be all about setting the scene, for a tale to unfold, but there’s a really smooth transition from #4 that I appreciated. Things just flow and that’s the sign of a tale well told, especially when a new team is picking up the baton.
As for the story itself, it’s a well balanced mix of Elisa trying to bring order to her life and the streets of Chicago while a major new player gears up to really make his presence felt. Each theme raises enough questions to hold my interest and Duursema presents it all very well, with a hard edge to proceedings that typifies what ‘Ghost’ is all about. More of that please, now I want to read #6.

So It looks like there’s now a bit of a gap in my comic book reading that needs to be filled (sorry ‘Goon’ but I’m feeling a bit let down). Any recommendations from you guys? 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

‘Blood and Iron’ – Jon Sprunk (Pyr)

I had good fun reading ‘Shadow’s Son’ (despite a couple of issues with the book) but somehow never found the time to read the other two books in the series. It’s funny how that can happen isn’t it? So many books to read but so little time to make a serious dent in the reading pile, that’s half the fun of it sometimes but ‘book casualties’ are inevitable. Maybe I’ll catch up one day.
In the meantime, when I heard that Sprunk was writing another series I resolved to be in at the beginning, especially when I heard it was going to be a more sprawling epic affair. Epic fantasy is where my genre roots are and it’s always good to go back to your roots, or is it? That depends on the book you’re reading and ‘Blood and Iron’ didn’t quite do it for me.

It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn't even begin to understand.

Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn't last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen's court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire's caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.

I finished ‘Blood and Iron’ yesterday but couldn’t find it in myself to write about the book as it left me feeling kind of, well… cold. The book does its job well enough, serving up a tale that has all the ingredients for an epic fantasy read; warfare and politicking with far reaching consequences and a hero who is trying to work out where he fits in the scheme of things. It didn’t help that the hero’s name is Horace as that got me thinking of this,

Absolutely nothing to do with the book but I figured if it's in my head then I'd share it around a little bit. Anyway… I can’t really blame the book for this (it’s not the books fault that I played a lot of computer games back in the eighties) but where the book did fall down for me is that none of what happened felt like it had any heart in it. Part of this I think is down to Horace feeling so out of place, in this foreign land, that the reader can’t really tell what matters and what doesn’t (except when it is trying to kill Horace, then it’s pretty clear). Sprunk perhaps does too much of a good job with the ‘whole stranger in a strange land’ thing… I’m hoping that things become a little more clear in future books (which I will read, more on that in a bit).
There’s also the fact that Horace buries past traumas too deeply for the reader to truly engage with him (although that’s entirely understandable when you find out why) but all the other characters, that matter, seem to either fall for him or quickly become friends. Dammit, what can they see in Horace that I can’t? If I was a woman, would I fall for Horace that quickly? Again, I’m hoping for a little more character development in the next instalment.

And that’s the thing, I will be reading the next book; no question about it. The magic system that Horace comes into is a little too familiar for my liking but Sprunk more than makes up this when depicting the mayhem caused by magical battle (and there’s a lot of this). What really made the book for me though was Jirom, a gay gladiator/slave/dog soldier who interacts a lot more with his surroundings in one chapter than Horace does over the course of the book. Jirom is a much more open character as well and I’m looking forward to journeying with him again when the next book arrives.

Not an inspiring opening to a series then but Sprunk gets the job done, doing enough for me to want to give the next book a go and and see this world (hopefully) open up a lot more.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Cover Art: 'Sleeping Late on Judgement Day' - Tad Williams

I've just see this over at Tad's site.

I'm pretty sure this is the US cover so all I can do is hope that the UK publishers stick to their guns and don't follow a similar path...

You know when something feels so wrong that you can't actually get the words out to explain how wrong it is? I keep thinking 'oh god, the fonts...' over and over again but can't get anything else out (apart from the fact that it looks like the scales of justice are balanced on my bedroom carpet). Fortunately, I know the book will be a lot better. What do you think of this cover?

'Sleeping Late on Judgement Day' will be published in September this year.

'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’ – Neil Gaiman & Eddie Campbell (Headline)

With all the talk, just recently, being about ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ I had totally forgotten that ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’ was due to be published in this format (until it came through the door that is, a nice surprise). I say this format as ‘The Truth’ has already seen the light of day as a short story, in ‘The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 5’, and a multi-media experience where a reading of the story is set to music and it’s all played out against the imagery that you will find in this edition. I knew none of that though (living in a genre bubble as I sometimes do) so my reading was like coming to this story for the first time.

A dwarf and his guide journey to the Misty Isle where it’s said that a cave, in the mountains, holds as much gold as a man can carry. Such gold can prove useful in these troubled times but is that the only reason why the dwarf seeks the cave? The truth lies within…

The story itself looks very simple on the surface (starts off at A and heads straight to C by way of B) but Gaiman hides a lot of things in plain sight and you are not reading the story that you think you are. I mean you are, of course you are, but there’s a lot more to it and I guarantee that you will be reading the last few pages with a sense of wonder and quite a bit of awe that Gaiman not only told an enthralling tale but totally pulled the wool over your eyes at the same time. What our ‘hero’ sees in the cave just blows the story wide open and in all the right ways. If you’re anything like me, you will then go right back to the beginning and read the book all over again. A deceptively simple tale (with just enough of the Fae about it to add to the atmosphere without going into overkill) told against a stunning backdrop of bleakly beautiful Scottish countryside.

And that’s where Eddie Campbell comes in with illustrations so integrated with the plot that ‘Truth’ is as much his book as it is Gaimans. These illustrations don’t just complement the story, they are the story in places and it’s amazing to see that story jump in and out of the illustrations as things progress. Half the reason it took me so long to read ‘The Truth’ was that I found myself wanting to get as much as a I could out of the illustrations before I turned each page. The other reason? Some experiences are not meant to be rushed and ‘The Truth’ is one of those, definitely.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Books in the Post! 'Can't Seem To Settle On One Book...' Edition

I am not at all sorry for the brief blog silence over the weekend, I was having a great time doing this and that :o)

Saturday was all about going to kids birthday parties and drinking all the beer. I should probably clarify that these were parties that Hope had been invited to, we weren't just trawling the streets looking for kids birthday parties that served booze (that's next weekend) Whoever came up with the idea of dishing out beer, at these things, has my eternal thanks. Nothing wrong with the parties, I just like drinking beer.
Sunday is Father's Day in the UK and was all about me hanging out with my two amazing daughters and amazing wife. It was great; we had sand pudding and ate a vegetable skeleton (seriously, you had to be there).

And today is all about showing off the books that arrived in the post over the last week. Bit of a mixed bag here; a couple that I'm not going to read, one that I've just started and one that I finished on the train this morning...

The blurb crosses its heart and promises that 'The High Druid's Blade' is a stand-alone 'Shannara' adventure but I can't help but wonder if that's possible with a series that has almost been around for as long as I have. Probably won't be giving this book a read for that very reason.
'Skink: No Surrender' looks like it could be fun but not appealing enough for me to add it to the list of books that I've got on the go right now (or in the near future come to think of it). I'm not in the mood for YA and I've never been hugely into mainstream thrillers either. Tough luck 'Skink', I'm sure you will find a good home somewhere... Here's some blurb,

Typical Malley - to avoid being shipped off to boarding school, she takes off with some guy she met online. Poor Richard - he knows his cousin's in trouble before she does. Wild Skink - he's a ragged, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, and enough of a renegade to think he can track Malley down. With Richard riding shotgun, the unlikely pair scour the state, undaunted by blinding storms, crazed pigs, flying bullets and giant gators.

See what I mean?

K.V. Johansen's 'The Leopard' is a title that I've had my eye on for a while and I made a start on it over the weekend. I'm wishing that I'd paid a little more attention to the list of place names etc but it's looking good so far. 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' is the book that I polished off, in no short order, this morning (because it's by Neil Gaiman, self explanatory really). You can expect a review tomorrow, or maybe the day after.

And here's what I'm flipping through at the moment (I can't seem to keep my attention on one more for long...)

'A Game of Thrones' (There was no avoiding it really, not after watching the first two season of the TV show)
'Koko Takes A Holiday' (Reads like a cross between Takeshi Kovacs and whatever your favourite comic was when you were a kid)
'Prince of Fools' (Early days here, just don't want to be the last person to read it this time. Yep, I'm shallow)
'The Golden Barge' (I wasn't impressed reading this last time round, in the 'Time Dweller' collection, but am interested in seeing if this book expands on the tale I've already read)
'Range of Ghosts' (Very slow going, I'm hoping for good things soon)
'The Crimson Campaign' (As awesome as expected, just haven't had the time for a monster read like this over the last couple of days)

You can expect to see reviews for these books in the coming days/weeks then. It's just as likely though that you will see reviews for entirely different books over the coming days/weeks; I have become incredibly fickle with my reading...

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 13 June 2014

‘Doctor Who: Sting of the Zygons’ – Stephen Cole (BBC Books)

The TARDIS lands the Doctor and Martha in the Lake District in 1909, where a small village has been terrorised by a giant, scaly monster. The search is on for the elusive 'Beast of Westmorland', and explorers, naturalists and hunters from across the country are descending on the fells. King Edward VII himself is on his way to join the search, with a knighthood for whoever finds the Beast.
But there is a more sinister presence at work in the Lakes than a mere monster on the rampage, and the Doctor is soon embroiled in the plans of an old and terrifying enemy. And as the hunters become the hunted, a desperate battle of wits begins - with the future of the entire world at stake.

Do you sometimes get a feeling of déjà vu when reading a book? Like you’ve have read it before, even if you haven’t? It’s not all that surprising when this happens, especially in genre fiction. There are only so many ideas to go round after all and all you can really do is hope that the writer brings enough of themselves to the book to make it stand out. For me these that’s part and parcel of what to expect when you pick up a sci-fi/fantasy book.

Sometimes it goes a little too far though and you find yourself wondering why you bothered to read the book in the first place. That’s exactly how I felt reading ‘The Sting of the Zygons’, a book that borrowed a little too heavily from Terrance Dicks’ ‘Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster’. Don’t get me wrong, ‘The Sting of the Zygons’ (there’s a nice little play on words with the title in the book) does its job perfectly well as a book, it certainly proved a viable alternative to cleaning out the bathroom last night. Zygon shapeshifting powers are used to chilling affect and the stakes are appropriately high for a Doctor Who novel; David Tennant’s Doctor is also portrayed very well. Normally you couldn’t ask for any more than that in a Doctor Who novel; normally I wouldn’t but ‘Sting’ was just too similar to ‘The Loch Ness Monster’. I found myself wondering why I was essentially reading the same story over again. It’s not surprising that the Zygons have never really been seen in the TV show if this what happens when you try to write a new story about them.

A tale then that wears its influences a little too heavily to be anything more than an entertaining diversion (although isn’t that what Doctor Who is at the end of the day?) Its short length, two hundred and three pages, saved the book as far as I was concerned. If the book had been fifty pages longer I would probably got quite cross with it (love the cover though).

Thursday, 12 June 2014

‘The Rising’ – Brian Keene (Deadite Press)

One of the aims for this new(ish) blog is to cover more of the books that are on my shelves as well as the new stuff that comes in. There are a lot of books, on my shelves, that are begging for a re-read or (in some cases) are still to be read. And the way I see it, what is the point of keeping books if you’re not going to re-read them at least once? You may as well not keep books if you’re not going to (re)read them, it would certainly help my house to look a lot tidier…

Brian Keene’s books (some more than others) are ones that I will always re-read. They’re, mostly, excellent horror fiction that are short enough for a quick commute but have enough going on in the pages to have you thinking about them for a long time afterwards. I’ve already written about ‘The Rising’, in my old blog, but that was four years ago now and I figured the book was about due to be picked up again (also, having read ‘Entombed’ the other day I just fancied it anyway).
I’ve been reading my old Leisure edition but Deadite Press are publishing ‘The Rising’ (I’m using their cover here) these days and this edition is worth picking up as it has something like thirty thousand extra words in it that flesh out the story a lot more. I can only dream of having that edition but the one I have does the job and you can’t ask for much more than that. I think it will certainly stand a few more re-reads before I’m done.

The dead have come back to life and humanity is under severe threat from zombies that do a whole lot more than just shamble around mindlessly. These zombies will eat bits of you but only after they’ve run you down with a car or thrown grenades at you… Every time a human (or animal) dies, the ranks of the undead only swell further.
Jim Thurmond is trapped in an underground shelter with nothing left to live for, until his young son (hundreds of miles away) manages to call, begging for his Dad to come and save him. Now Jim has something to live for and nothing is going to stop him reaching his son, certainly not a blasted America teeming with the undead and the worst that humanity has to offer. Time is running out though and who knows what Jim might find if he makes it to his son…

The best zombie fiction doesn’t really concentrate on the zombies at all. Sure, they’re a threat (and you will see what they are capable of) but they’re mindless shells really so it makes a lot more sense to concentrate on the survivors and see how they cope under pressure. Keene not only does this (with Jim trying to find his son) but does an admirable job of maintaining the resulting ‘high stakes/high pressure’ tone throughout the entire book. You know what’s at stake and you have to root for Jim, even while you’re wondering if he will crack under the strain. Jim is single-minded in his approach but never becomes one dimensional as a character; there’s a real depth to him that comes out over the course of the book and he becomes a man that people can’t help but follow. Nice people that is, not like the rest of the dregs populating the books; the people that Keene uses to show us that humanity can be just as nasty as demon possessed corpses (never, ever, take a helicopter ride with Colonel Schow…)

And yes, the zombies… They do everything a regular zombie does but a lot more as well, all accompanied by dialogue that can be hit and miss but mostly makes me chuckle. Humanizing (‘demonizing’?) the zombies is a bold move that ends up doing a great job of driving the plot at a breakneck pace and giving the reader a fresh spin on what was, at the time, a tired old trope that needed shooting in the head.
The level of gore works for me (my stomach is pretty strong) but, before picking it up, other readers might want to bear in mind that Keene is pretty indiscriminate about who it all happens to. Fair enough, zombie apocalypses are pretty indiscriminate things but not everyone wants to read about zombie foetuses being blasted by shotguns or severely learning disabled people being eaten by zombie children. And babies dying, it feels like there are a lot of babies dying in this book (there probably aren’t that many, I’m not going to go back and count though) and I wasn’t too keen on all that.

And the ending… It’s a divisive thing that ultimately led to the sequel, ‘City of the Dead’, being written. I for one appreciate its bluntness and also how it leaves those vital key moments to the imagination. In my opinion it would have stood fine as it was but I’m not complaining too much as ‘City of the Dead’ isn’t exactly a bad read either. More on that another time (maybe tomorrow, depending on how my other reads go…)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

‘The Incorruptibles’ – John Hornor Jacobs (Gollancz)

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it - from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe - two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other - their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky.

And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

 I’m a sucker for a fantasy novel with mercenaries in it (the honourable kind or otherwise), even more so when it’s two mercenaries who happen to be good friends who have been through the mill together. I like ‘buddy’ cop movies and this can be something that fantasy does very well, two friends up against it armed with nothing more than a couple of swords and a ready quip. I was always going to read ‘The Incorruptibles’ then, as soon as I saw the ‘M’ word on the blurb.
It was also the hint of something a little different that piqued my interest, namely the blurb and cover art suggesting some kind of cowboy influence to the tale. I fancied something a little difference (especially at the moment, I need something to hold my attention!) so ‘The Incorruptibles’ it was.
What I ended up with was a book that initially threatened to leave me looking out of the window instead of reading. As I got further in though there was no question of my finishing the book and I’m keen to see where the plot heads next.

‘The Incorruptibles’ is a book that wears its influences very proudly with hints of frontier life in the Old West, the Roman being notable amongst others. At this point, in what is being set up as a much longer series (trilogy at least), it’s intriguing as to whether this approach means the setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth (hinted at via daemon powered technology and the rise of the Stretchers) or not. My money is on the former but either is good (it’s all beautifully drawn and very easy to get lost in). A slight negative to this is that the frontier territories are so vast that, in the early stages, the story gets swallowed up by the background and comes across as very slow moving when it is anything but. The steamboat seems to meander when it’s actually moving along at a fair rate, Fisk and Shoe never seem to make any headway into these contested territories when on patrol; they can’t as the landscape is just so big. I love that sense of over powering vastness and the hint of danger always on the horizon; it’s just not necessarily good for the story in those early chapters.

Stick with it though. Not only does Horner Jacobs give the reader some lovely scenery to mull over but it’s almost like he’s biding his time until he lets the story have its head. When he does this, things really kick off and I suddenly found myself with a book that I couldn’t put down.

Key to everything is the deep friendship between Fisk and Shoe, two taciturn men who nevertheless let on more than they say thanks to Hornor Jacobs incisive dialogue. ‘The Incorruptibles’ is full of the derring do you would expect but what Hornor Jacobs excels at is leaving you in no doubt as to why these two men will literally go through hell for each other. Fisk and Shoe share a deep bond as well as a mutual desire to do the right thing even though Hornor Jacob’s plot puts them both in a difficult position as far as that goes.

When the story takes off, that vast background I spoke about earlier is suddenly full of fire, blood and dark magic. It goes from being an empty landscape to one that is suddenly bursting with violence and potential for the plot to become even better than it is already. When I say that the plot is a very good to start off with, well…
Hornor Jacobs dishes out the violence with a hint of Sergio Leone; very cool to watch unfold but leaving you in no doubt as to the consequences. I want more and I’m already a little frustrated that I have to wait for this book to be published first (yep, lucky enough to get an ARC) before I can start thinking about the sequel.

In short, read ‘The Incorruptibles’. Just do it. Once Hornor Jacobs lets the plot have its head, the book is a joy to behold.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

‘Entombed’ – Brian Keene (Deadite Press)

Because every so often, there is a zombie novel that makes me want to carry on reading in the sub-genre.

If Stephen King got me reading horror then it’s Brian Keene who kept me reading it. Keene is superb at what he does and long may that continue.  It has been ages since I’ve read anything new by Brian Keene though, what with the whole Leisure debacle and it suddenly becoming a lot harder to find his books in paperback over here (I know, eBooks…). I finally managed to find a copy of ‘Entombed’ the other day which is a big deal for me as it’s a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time (ever since ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ was published back in 2011…). I had really enjoyed ‘Dead Sea’ and was eager for more tales in the same setting. The plan then was to savour the read but I polished ‘Entombed’ off in one sitting, it’s a very short read so it’s all too easy to keep going until you come to the end. I really enjoyed it but… First up, let’s have some blurb,

It has been several months since the disease known as Hamelin's Revenge decimated the world. Civilization has collapsed and the dead far outnumber the living. The survivors seek refuge from the roaming zombie hordes, but one-by-one, those shelters are falling.

Twenty-five survivors barricade themselves inside a former military bunker buried deep beneath a luxury hotel. They are safe from the zombies... but are they safe from one another? As supplies run low and despair sets in, each of them will find out just how far they're willing to go to survive.

‘Entombed’ is an incredibly short novel (one hundred and forty four pages) so if you’re looking for a long review then you might want to come back tomorrow, or perhaps the day after. This is a very straightforward read, linear in fact, with a clear progression from A to C by way of B. That’s not entirely a bad thing, Keene gives us an intriguing premise to  kick things off and there is an appropriate sense of urgency to the proceedings which makes for some tense moments. Without giving too much away though, it does get repetitive very quickly. This is to be expected given the nature of the plot, and the limited amount of space that Keene gives himself to work in (which doesn’t come off as claustrophobic as you would have thought), but ‘Entombed’ does settle into a groove that can lull its reader when the opposite should be happening.

It’s a brave move by Keene to write a zombie novel that doesn’t actually have zombies in it for the most part. The zombie apocalypse is happening but the real dangers lie within with people forced to make hard choices and then live by the outcomes.  As the main character, Pete has the most of this and Keene charts the consequences of Pete’s increasingly violent actions with grim vigour. When it’s your life on the line, what would you do? Keene’s honesty makes for compelling reading.

As a long term reader of Keene’s work though, it is getting a little tiresome seeing the background to the apocalypse being told in detail yet again (I make that two novels and one short story, maybe two, that give us the exact same background). I get that people might not read the books in publication order etc, it’s just starting to niggle at me a little bit. I mean, would everyone really watch the same news channels and get exactly the same picture of a zombie apocalypse or would perspectives differ slightly? Just a little tweaking here and there would make for a much rounded picture of the worlds end and make the series as a whole a lot more interesting. That’s what I think anyway.

‘Entombed’ is over a little too quickly then and treads ground that is in real danger now of becoming over familiar. It does everything else just right though, a tense tale of murderous necessity.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Books In The Post! 'Slightly Redundant' Edition...

No, I'm not talking about that kind of redundant (which makes a change). While this contract is coming to an end, I've actually just been offered another job to go to after this one ends; seriously, I got the call about fifteen minutes ago. After being long term unemployed, pretty much all of last year and most of the year before, this is great news and I'll be drinking wine tonight to celebrate :o)

But where was I? Oh yeah, redundant. What do you do if you want to make your 'Books in the Post' update a regular thing but you inadvertently already blogged about the only books that arrived over the course of the last week? If you're me, you say "the hell with it" and post them anyway.

As you can see, I still have an apple left over from my lunch. 

I actually prefer this cover to the Orbit edition although I really shouldn't (I mean, look at it!) but that's still not enough for me to pick it up and read it. Same reason as last time, I am hopelessly behind with this series (ok, I've never started on it) and there's no way I'm going to start a series with the final book. Not after last time...
You can have some blurb though if you like,

The mysterious reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with suspicion, fear, and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: evil elves linked in some way to the rebirth of magic.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, a set of ancient artifacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery’s return. Thus Dorrin embarks on a dangerous quest to return these relics of a bygone age to their all-but-mythical place of origin. What she encounters there will change her in unimaginable ways—and spell doom or salvation for the entire world.

Looking at the blurb... It's not exactly inspiring is it?

You've seen this one already (if you haven't then scroll down the page a little bit). I had a little read of 'Koko' last night and it's pretty good. I've got a couple of books to get through first but 'Koko takes a Holiday' will definitely be reviewed; sooner than you think depending on how I get on with some of the other books that I'm trying to finish.

What else am I reading? I'm about twenty pages off finishing 'The Incorruptibles' (so there will be a review this week then...) and I'm also well into Brian Keene's 'Entombed' as well as Brian McClellan's 'The Crimson Campaign'. If that wasn't enough (and it isn't, clearly) I'm re-reading 'A Game of Thrones' too; I always wanted this blog to be about more than just new books and this seemed like a good place to get started. That's about it for me, what are you reading?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Oberyn vs. The Mountain, how it should have gone...

I'm still catching up with the HBO show (need to get the Season Three box set...) but I know how the 'Oberyn vs. The Mountain' fight turned out. This is how it should have gone... :o)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Cover Art! 'Koko Takes A Holiday' - Kieran Shea

Because sometimes you don't need to write a lengthy post saying what is was about the 'shading of the fonts' or 'the way that the hero's sword was drawn just so' that attracted you to the cover art of a book. Sometimes, the cover art itself seems to say... "just post me on your blog and say nothing else, everyone will understand my awesomeness as soon as they gaze on me." That's what happened with the cover art for 'Koko Takes A Holiday' so I'm going to post the picture and let it speak for itself (ok, I will probably leave a little smiley underneath it)


I've had a little read of the blurb and have adjusted the reading pile accordingly (I doubt that I will ever finish reading 'The Godwhale' at this rate, need to give myself a bit of a talking to there), have a look for yourself...

Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an easy early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, Koko finds the most challenging part of her day might be deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.

What do you reckon? I'm definitely having a read.

Friday, 6 June 2014

‘The Holiness of Azedarac’ – Clark Ashton Smith

I’m having far too much fun with ‘The Incorruptibles’ to polish it off quickly and it has been a while since I dipped into the worlds of Clark Ashton Smith so… The end result is another brief journey into the dark woods of medieval Averoigne and a young monk’s journey to expose an evil prelate…

'By the Ram with a Thousand Ewes! By the Tail of Dagon and the Horns of Derceto!' said Azédarac, as he fingered the tiny, pot-bellied vial of vermilion liquid on the table before him. 'Something will have to be done with this pestilential Brother Ambrose. I have now learned that he was sent to Ximes by the Archbishop of Averoigne for no other purpose than to gather proof of my subterraneous connection with Azazel and the Old Ones. He has spied upon my evocations in the vaults, he has heard the hidden formulae, and beheld the veritable manifestation of Lilit, and even of Iog-Sotôt and Sodagui, those demons who are more ancient than the world; and this very morning, an hour agone, he has mounted his white ass for the return journey to Vyones. There are two ways — or, in a sense, there is one way — in which I can avoid the bother and inconvenience of a trial for sorcery: the contents of this vial must be administered to Ambrose before he has reached his journey's end — or, failing this, I myself shall be compelled to make use of a similar medicament.'

Beautiful writing (I wish I could curse like that, the world would be a much better place if everyone cursed like that) but, as an opening paragraph, it feels a little clumsier than what I’m used to from Ashton Smith. We’re being told what’s going on here, instead of being shown, and it feels forced. This issue crops up here and there, over the rest of the tale, but the language gets the reader through these tough patches and then we’re away.

‘In the oblique rays, the elongated webs of shadow wrought by the dying afternoon, the forest seemed to attend with bated breath the noisome and furtive passing of innominable things. Nevertheless, Ambrose had met no-one for miles…’

Brother Ambrose is making his way through the forest of Averoigne with as much haste as he can (if I was a Bishop entrusting someone with an important mission, the last thing I’d do is make them ride a donkey…) and I loved the way that Ashton Smith crowds the forest with phantasms brought on by what Ambrose had witnessed previously. We’ve seen in previous Averoigne stories that the forest holds dangers but Ashton Smith shows us that nothing is so dangerous as the fear we make for ourselves. This move builds things up nicely until the moment when Ambrose is finally caught by the agent of Azedarac and finds himself…

And here’s the thing, I don’t want to give anything away as Ashton Smith takes a story that was clearly going to end either one way or another and gives it an ending that comes straight out of left field. An ending that resolves absolutely nothing important in the plot but gives us a good insight into the universe Ashton Smith writes in. Good or evil, whatever you strive for can be taken from your grasp just like that and for no reason other than a passing fancy of either the gods or cosmic fate. Ambrose isn’t complaining too much by the end and you can’t blame him given what he has had to endure; at least Ashton Smith gives him that.

If you want to read ‘The Holiness of Azedarac’ yourself (and why not, it’s free) then you should be clicking right Here.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

‘A Year and a Day in Old Theradane’ – Scott Lynch

Another story that can be found in the GRRM/Dozois ‘Rogues’ collection which I am loving so far (based on the stories I’ve dipped into).

I miss being able to sit down with a big, fat epic fantasy novel and get lost in it for hours at a time. Actually, no I don’t, not really. Reading a big fat epic fantasy novel usually means that I’m doing something horribly tedious, like a long commute, that I want to escape from and my life seems to be refreshingly free of things like that at the moment; that’s always a good thing and never to be sniffed at.

Having said all that though, I do miss the feeling of being able to get lost in that world, within the pages of a book, and have no idea where the time went when I surface. It’s a good job then that are short stories out there like ‘A Year and a Day in Old Theradane’. While it’s by no means a story that will grip you for hours (it’s only forty pages long…) there is more than enough depth to the background to have the reader enthralled by life in Old Theradane. I read this story on the way to work, this morning, and there were stations that I literally didn’t notice the train stop at as I was too busy scoping out Prosperity Street with Amarelle Parathis, and her gang of rogues, or drinking in ‘The Sign of the Fallen Fire’. What an amazing pub by the way (made from the skeleton of a fallen dragon), just the description of a ‘Rise and Fall of Empires’ makes me wish that I drank in establishments like this rather than… well, the ones that I drink in (my living room, in front of the TV) This kind of detail, more than ably supplied by Lynch, is only a part of what makes ‘A Year and a Day in Old Theradane’ such an enjoyable read but it’s an incredibly important part. Lynch eases you into the story so smoothly that before you know, you’re caught up in the plot itself.

I’m not going to lie, if I was Amarelle I’d have gone for the last option first. If I was Amarelle however, ‘A Year and a Day in Old Theradane’ would have been about five pages long and incredibly dull so… It’s a good job that things worked out the way they did really :o) Amarelle and her gang are complete and utter rogues (definitely a good fit for this collection) and there’s enough humour here (in both the gang and the story itself) to get you behind the characters and rooting for a successful conclusion. It’s a foregone conclusion but that’s beside the point. The fun lies in getting there and there is a lot of fun to be had, take my word for it.

If you hadn’t guessed already, I came away from ‘A Year and a Day in Old Theradane’ with a real urge to tell everyone just how good it is and that you should all read it. I was also really glad that I chose to read it instead of  

Neil Gaiman’s ‘How the Marquis Got His Coat Back’ (one for another time perhaps). I noticed that Lynch has (or is developing) a habit of leaving his short stories open-ended so he can write more if they prove popular. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Amarelle and her friends. GRRM and Gardner Dozois – Any chance of a ‘Rogues 2’?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Action Philosophers!

It's been a frantic old day today so this is all I've got for you. There'll be a review tomorrow though (promise). In the meantime...

I don't normally post blatant adverts like this but... Can anyone tell me who these five philosophers are? Absolutely no prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing philosophers better than anyone else ;o) 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

‘The Princess and the Queen’ – George R.R. Martin

A brief update from yesterday, I didn't get the job after all. Oh well, next time is the charm :o)

‘The Princess and the Queen’ can be found in the GRRM & Gardner Dozois collection ‘Dangerous Women’ and follows on from the events of ‘The Rogue Prince’ (which was reviewed over Here). Proof then that not getting round to reading things when they are published can actually work out very well indeed. Go me :o)

While I attempt to clear the decks for a big ol’ ‘ASOIAF’ re-read (looking very unlikely right now but stranger things have happened) it’s been nice to catch up on the world of Westeros by reading some of the shorter pieces. ‘The Princess and the Queen’ is one of the longer shorter pieces, weighing in at around eighty pages long which makes it a novella according to the front of the book. It recounts a Targaryen war of succession, a couple of hundred years before 'ASOIAF' and GRRM being GRRM, the story actually feels like it’s four or five times that many pages (at least); not only is there a lot happening but it’s all carried by a cast so long that (yet again) I developed a small headache, behind my left eye, trying to keep track of who was who. They pretty much all die by the end which made the headache even less worthwhile, I should have expected it really.

Find your way past the overpoweringly large cast though and ‘The Princess and the Queen’ becomes a treat of a read for fans who are starting to get itchy feet about ‘The Winds of Winter’. It has everything to it that the main series has, just condensed into a much smaller space. This can work for and against the plot; you don’t get much in the way of character development, for example, but they all seem to do a lot more. There isn’t that constant politicking (which you may or may not appreciate) but the story itself moves along at a brisk pace which, for me, really made up for it. Basically, have a think about what you like best about ‘ASOIAF’ and then be aware that there may not be enough room in ‘The Princess and the Queen’ for GRRM to go with it like he normally would. There is still a lot to get out of it though (the sheer scale of events depicted in such a short space is astonishing), not least of which is full on dragon warfare across Westeros.

To go from a world where there are only three half grown dragons to a world where the Dragon Pit in Kings Landing is full… It’s an amazing experience, especially when the dragons on both sides go at it in the skies above Westeros. We all knew that GRRM could write a mean battle sequence but what he does with the dragon fights is something else; you really get a feel for the brute impact of battles fought with tooth, claw and fire. GRRM doesn’t treat his dragons any better than his human characters; big players die when you least expect it and by the end of the tale you’re in no doubt that the ‘Dance of Dragons’ marks the passing of an age.

Definitely one for fans then but ‘The Princess and the Queen’ also feels like a good jumping on point for anyone who just watches ‘Game of Thrones’ and wants to know what GRRMs writing is like without getting into a multi-volume epic. Of course, that would currently mean you buying a massive anthology but, you know what I mean… ;o)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Books In The Post! 'Waiting For That Phone Call...' Edition.

So I had an interview, last Wednesday, that actually went really well; certainly well enough for me to finally consign the 'Mary Poppins' interview to the dustbin of history. Seriously, I did that interview in the style of Mary Poppins being interviewed by the father (what was his name again?) but anyway... I've been promised an update sometime this afternoon and I will likely find out whether I got the job or not; staring at my phone and willing it to ring clearly doesn't work but only because I'm not staring hard enough! *Stares*

While I wait for the phone to ring then, have a look at the books that came in the post over the last few days. There are some good ones there...

Okay, 'Dark Crusade' didn't arrive in the post at all; I found this while mooching around second hand bookshops (waiting for Sue and the girls to get home from Plymouth). I used to have a really old battered copy that got lost while we were living in Gloucester; this copy looks a lot nicer (Frank Frazetta covers make everything look nicer) and officially marks the start of my trying to collect all the 'Kane' books in paperback. We'll see how that goes, I suspect it will take a lot longer to complete than my Fantasy Masterworks collection...

I'm pretty sure you will have already seen a couple of these books before, in blogs that are much better at keeping up to date with the new stuff than I will ever be. The arrival of 'Cibola Burn', last week, prompted me to try and get caught up with the 'Expanse' series and that's what will be happening with 'Caliban's War' and 'Abaddon's Gate'. I need to do an awful lot of reading to get caught up with Kevin Hearne's 'Iron Druid' chronicles as well but... I'm not going to. Nothing wrong with the books, I'm just not feeling any need to keep reading at all so 'Shattered' will be going to a new home very soon I think.

I'm really into dragons at the moment (blame 'Game of Thrones', I'm two seasons in now and am loving every second of it) so 'Splintered Gods' will be read, after I read 'Dragon Queen', as will 'The Tropic of Serpents'. I started reading 'The Incorruptibles' over the weekend and would like to get in early by saying that you really need to be reading this one too, it's looking very good so far.

So what does that leave? It's been a little while since I've read any ghost stories and Joanna Briscoe's 'Touched' looks promising (and short enough to fit in between other reads) so I'll more than likely dip into it this week. Have a look at the blurb,

Rowena Crale and her family have moved from London.
They now live in a small English village in a cottage which seems to be resisting all attempts at renovation.
Walls ooze damp, stains come through layers of wallpaper, ceilings sag.
And strange noises - voices - emanate from empty rooms.
As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife and a good mother to her young children, her life starts to disintegrate.
And then, one by one, her daughters go missing ...

Look for a review very soon.

And last but not least, 'The House of War and Witness'. Another ghost story that's had a little bit of blog time already (look down the page a bit...) and will be read/reviewed purely because Mike Carey's name is on it.

What am I reading at the moment? 'The Crimson Campaign' is already shaping up to be at least as good as 'Promise of Blood' and I've already mentioned 'The Incorruptibles' as one to look out for. I've also (finally) made a start on 'Range of Ghosts' and that doesn't look too shabby either. What are you reading?