Thursday, 31 July 2008

Writing a Movie or Game Adaptation, a question I had...

Reading 'The Clone Wars' and 'The Force Unleashed' got me thinking about what it must be like, as a writer, to write an adaptation where someone else has already determined how the story will end. Is it just a paying gig or is it still possible to utilise those creative urges that made you want to write in the first place?
I figured the best people to ask were those whose books I had just read, Karen Traviss is a really busy lady right now (overseas signing tour) but I caught Sean Williams at just the right time and here's what he had to say...

'As a writer, how does it feel writing an adaptation, for a computer game, where everything plot related has already been determined by someone else? Is it possible to still get your creative kicks fleshing out someone else's vision?'

The short answer is: yes, absolutely. But there are qualifications. The Force Unleashed was my 25th novel and my fourth for Star Wars. I worked just as hard on it is as I would any of my originals, and enjoyed it just as much. A book like this might be based on someone else's vision, but it's my vision too, or needs to be in order for me to give it my all. If our visions hadn't matched, then it would be a disaster both for the original creator and me as a writer. This was a good fit, and that's one reason I accepted the offer, with relish. I only ever write books I feel passionate about, in genres or worlds I have a deep engagement with. Star Wars is one of those worlds. It may belong to someone else, but I love playing with it when I can.

I had other reasons for wanting to write The Force Unleashed. Before last year, I'd never written a novelisation of any kind of pre-existing story, but that wasn't for lack of wanting to. I grew up on books by the legendary Alan Dean Foster plus a ton of Doctor Who novels, so in a very real sense this kind of book was what got me into reading SF in the first place. I didn't take on TFU for the money (in fact, I delayed a much higher-paying novel in order to squeeze it in). I took it on because the story looked wonderful, and I knew I could add something to it, and because it would enable me to realise that long-held dream of translating something visual and kinetic onto the printed page.

Another factor I found interesting, specific to The Force Unleashed, is that it's based on a computer game. Not only does this allow for alternate endings, but each player can take a unique path through each level. There are certain milestones that have to be passed, of course, but there's a lot of room for individual creativity. That's how I approached this book: the story I produced would be the canonical one, but it was one of many *potential* versions of the story arising naturally out of the game. There was room for variation, in other words, and in those flexible spaces, in the cracks between the existing lines, was where I found the spark that engaged me as an artist.


Shows how much I know about computer games, the multiple ending thing never even occurred to me... (whoops!) Thanks go to Sean for his thoughts on this. If you want to find out more about Sean Williams, and his work, there is now a link in the 'Author/Agent Websites and Blogs' section (to the right).

‘The Force Unleashed’ – Sean Williams (Del Rey)


I have no patience at all when it comes to playing computer games. I’ll start playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ with aspirations of becoming the crime boss of Liberty City but within ten minutes you can guarantee that I’ll be seeing how many pedestrians I can run over before the police start chasing me all over town. A novelisation of a computer game is a completely different deal though. Especially if it’s a novelisation of a Star Wars computer game…

I couldn’t tell you whether ‘The Force Unleashed’ game is available yet or what consoles it’s available for. What I can do though is tell you what the book is all about.
The Clone Wars are long gone and the Jedi all but extinct. Darth Vader has been tasked by the Emperor to root out and destroy the remaining Jedi but what the Emperor doesn’t know is that Vader has trained an apprentice of his own both for this task and for nefarious purposes of his own…
The Apprentice, we don’t find out his name until much later, must travel through a troubled galaxy killing on the command of his master. Although he is confident in his mastery of the Dark Side of the Force; the apprentice is going to find that the galaxy is still capable of throwing surprises at him, especially surprises that hint at his own hidden origins…

I wonder what I’d be writing now if I hadn’t known, prior to reading the book, that ‘The Force Unleashed’ was based on a computer game? It’s a redundant point now but the fact is that this knowledge led me into the book with a certain mindset and I was able to spot parallels between the book and the game straight away. The first few chapters in particular read like a computer game; make your way through to the end of the level/chapter, defeat the ‘end of level boss’ (renegade Jedi Masters) and then go onto the next stage. It was fun while I was reading it, as with ‘The Clone Wars’ ‘The Force Unleashed’ has everything that a Star Wars fan would expect out of a Star Wars book. It just felt a little contrived to start off with, like the hero had to get through to the next levels otherwise the reader would never get to see what the game was like (as well as it being a much shorter book with a radically different ending!) However, I guess if you’re going to base a book on a computer game then you need to be able to show the reader the game in it’s entirety. I think this is one area where gamers are going to get a lot more out of the book than I did.

Reading ‘The Force Unleashed’ also made me realise how much goes into a fight scene (for example) on the screen. When a scene like this is broken down and described on the page there’s much more going on than you would think, this is certainly true in ‘The Force Unleashed’ where fights etc are described in great detail. A little bit too much detail for me I’m afraid. One thing I’ve found out about myself is that a minute’s worth of lightsaber fight goes down a lot smoother for me when it’s on the screen as oppose to on the page. I found myself skimming pages on occasion when things felt like they were being dragged out a little too far…

That’s not to say that I found ‘The Force Unleashed’ to be a bad read though, far from it! I’ve already mentioned that the book has everything that a Star Wars fan is looking for and, funnily enough, I’m a Star Wars fan! :o)
Swashbuckling lightsaber fights, space battles and weird aliens are all yours for the taking and they all blend together in a tale that is generally fast paced and full of intrigue and double crosses… The finale is suitably explosive and the book, as a whole, thing seems to fit fairly well into the overall Star Wars continuity.
Sean’s masterstroke (at least as far as I was concerned after reading ‘The Clone Wars’…) is to concentrate on telling the tale through characters that you won’t meet anywhere else in the Star Wars universe. Maybe the constraints of writing about a video game left him with no choice. I don’t care because what I got were characters that I knew nothing about, certainly not whether continuity would be placing them in future episodes that I had already come across. This meant that cliff-hangers were suddenly cliff-hangers once again and the Star Wars universe felt a little fresher as I was discovering something new after what seemed like far too long.

‘The Force Unleashed’ is very obviously a computer game novelisation, perhaps a little too obviously for someone like me. Give it a chance though and it’s as fun a read as any of the other Star Wars books you’ll come across. Not a brilliant read, but fun…

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

'Acacia' to get the movie treatment! (And how is the sequel going?)

It looks like Aidan has beaten me to it but David Anthony Durham is a really nice guy, and I got a lot out of 'Acacia' when I read it last year, so I reckon it's worth mentioning again :o)

If you're a fan of 'Acacia: The War with the Mein' then you'll be pleased to know that it's been optioned by Relativity Media who have hired a screenwriter to work on the screenplay.
I know next to nothing about the movie business but am sure that there's plenty more steps to go, in the process, before we can see 'Acacia' on the big screen. Still good to hear though, I'll be keeping an eye out for more about this one.

Edited to add: I've been emailing David and asked him how things were going with the sequel to 'Acacia'. Here's his reply...

The Other Lands (working title) is coming along. I've had a tough writing year in that I've been doing so damn many other things - lots of teaching related stuff, family things, and cons (which have been great fun, really). Anyway, though...

I'm pleased to say that I did reach a milestone of sorts a few days a go - the point at which I realize that I know everything that needs to happen before I can call the book done. There are plenty of details to be made up, but there aren't really any missing pieces anymore. I'm writing for the end, and I can see the highway (or the highways considering the multiple story lines) ahead of me.

Doubleday has me penciled in for a Fall 2009 publication (maybe even late summer). I'm gunning to deliver the manuscript in time to make that happen. Hopefully you won't have forgotten all about me by then!


I'll be penciling that in my diary too!

‘The Clone Wars’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey)


I’m really bad about keeping up to date with at least 99% percent of new films coming out so didn’t even realise there was a new Star Wars film on the horizon until I saw the trailer in the cinema (we were watching ‘Kung Fu Panda’, go and see it!). It looks quite impressive and I didn’t even have to bribe my wife with popcorn before she’d agree to go with me! :o)
It was pretty cool then to get home yesterday and find Karen Traviss’ novelisation of the film waiting for me on the doorstep, not only do I get to see the film but I also get to find out what happens in advance! And therein lies the problem with this book, it’s fun to read but it turns out that I already knew what was going to happen (even if I didn’t realise it at first)…

The plot is simple (I’m guessing so that more room could be made for all the space battles and fights between clones and droids). Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped and whichever faction can get him back safely will be rewarded with access to Hutt controlled hyperspace lanes, a handy thing to have in time of war. Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are assigned to get the child back but this is easier said than done when they are up against the labyrinthine schemes of Count Dooku and his master assassin Asajj Ventress. There’s a lot more at stake than the two Jedi realise…

‘The Clone Wars’ is a fairly short book (two hundred and fifty six pages) and I finished it over the course of a day. There was plenty going on, more than enough to keep me occupied and reading. The book has all the spectacle that the Star Wars franchise is famous for; brimming with pyrotechnics, swashbuckling lightsaber fights and deep space combat. Karen Traviss also carries on looking at the clones and how they function in Republic society. It’s not as in-depth as her ‘Republic Commando’ series, mainly because the clone troopers are too busy fighting against overwhelming odds to get all introspective about their lot, but she still manages to convey that sense of feeling lost and out of place in the universe. All the clones have is each other and Traviss also does a great job of portraying that camaraderie. ‘The Clone Wars’ is military sci-fi in all but name (‘Star Wars’ sometimes feels, to me, like a genre all of it’s own even though it’s sci-fi) with little flashes of humour that foreshadow events to come, i.e. Anakin reassuring R2-D2 about Jawas, and it’s a perfectly serviceable book in this regard.

The thing is though, despite all of this Star Wars goodness before me I felt a little bit flat about the whole thing. Like… what was the point? I thought about this a bit more and realised that, through no fault of her own, Traviss was writing a story where the fate of principal characters had been determined and played out a long time ago. Is Anakin going to make it through to the end of the book? What about Ben Kenobi and Count Dooku? I’m not going to tell you because you already know the answer (hint, look at the credits for all the films). If you know what the eventual outcome has to be then is there really any point in carrying on with the book? There are still bits and pieces that maintain a level of interest (the kidnap plot for example) but like I said, there’s no real urgency or sense of anticpation. I guess this is a pitfall of filling in the gaps between various films and books in the franchise, maybe they should look at films etc with none of the main characters at all?

I also got the impression that Traviss’ writing was hindered by having to work to the plot, already written for the film, instead of take her own directions. I’ve only read ‘True Colours’ but in that book it felt like she had more scope to do her own thing, unlike ‘The Clone Wars’ where she was just fleshing out what will be happening on the film…

I’ll still be going to watch ‘The Clone Wars’ on the big screen but it just felt like things didn’t quite work in the book. I guess, in this instant, that bright lights on the big screen can cover up a lot more than words in a book…


Six and a Half out of Ten

'Empire in Black and Gold' - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered, 'Empire in Black and Gold' has been getting a lot of good press lately and it seems that loads of people took note and entered this competition!
I'm afraid there could only be three winners though and those lucky people are...

Jenna Vance, USA
Jon Johannesen, Faroe Islands
Jim Rion, Yamaguchi, Japan

Well done guys! Your books are on their way...

Everyone else - Better luck next time, there's always a next time ;o)

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

‘I, Zombie’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)


The nature of my job is such that I can afford to spend a large part of the day pondering, well… all sorts of stuff really. For example, is Superman left or right handed? Think about it… (And saying that he is ambidextrous is just a cop out!) The other thing I’ve been thinking about recently is just how leeway a zombie should have in terms of what it can do. I’m not too happy with them being able to run but when I watch the 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ I can let that one go. One thing I’m not having any of though is zombies being able to scamper across ceilings, what the hell is all that about? (I’m looking at you ‘Day of the Dead’ remake…)
However, having just finished reading ‘I, Zombie’ I may have to rethink all of this. You see, our ‘hero’ is a zombie who can do a lot of this as well as so much more…

John Doe looks just like you and me but that’s where the similarity ends. The thing is that John has been dead for the last ten years but still manages to perform his duties as a private detective, assassin and burglar. John can slow down his perception of time (just like in ‘The Matrix’) and has a detachable hand that performs independently of the rest of his body, useful skills to have when you’re facing down large looking men with guns!
John is pretty special but has no idea of just how special he actually is. He’s about to find out though in a series of events that will see him usher in the end of the world and then have to save it…

I stayed up until two in the morning reading ‘I, Zombie’. I didn’t have any choice in the matter as I had to finish it before I went to bed, I couldn’t wait until the morning to find out what happened. Right from the bullet soaked opening, up until the downbeat ending, Ewing keeps things moving so fast that I literally couldn’t stop and get off, there was no time. ‘I, Zombie’ is only two hundred and eighty nine pages long but every one of those pages has something going on. You want to read about a zombie’s quest for humanity? Keep reading, it’s all in there and is strangely touching. You want a top secret military organisation where packs of werewolves are controlled by a mutant from the Victorian age? There’s plenty of that as well. You want to see London taken apart by an invasion of insects from another dimension…?
Everything ties together very neatly with flashes of humour both in the situations and the writing itself. I laughed out loud when I realised that the Earth had been invaded purely on the basis of the wrong brain being eaten!
Some of John’s asides are good for a chuckle as well…

Here’s a lesson for you – it’s okay to commit a massive act of cannibalism if you’re saving the world. That said, that wasn’t really cannibalism and I did actually end the world first, but try not to point that out. Let me feel good about myself for a minute or two, hey?

As is the case with all Abaddon books (the ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series in particular), Ewing goes straight for the jugular in portraying just exactly what it means to see your home city torn down, around you, by flesh eating insects. There are no punches pulled and Ewing makes it all the more tragic and hard hitting by introducing characters in great detail and then pulling the rug right out from underneath them. If you’re a fan of the series then you’ll know what to expect but if you’re squeamish at all then you may want to think twice before picking this one up. Some of what happens is pretty near the knuckle and does tread a fine line between adding to the atmosphere of the book and simply being there for shock value.

I’m not too bothered about swearing in books, no matter how much there is. So long as there’s a point to it being there then that’s fine by me. It’s worth pointing out though that ‘I, Zombie’ has a particularly high ‘swear word’ count including some particularly nasty words that make reading the book out loud, in public, an awkward task. If that’s not your thing then you may want to give ‘I, Zombie’ a miss!

If I were you though I wouldn’t let these two points put you off as ‘I, Zombie’ is a very entertaining read that tears along at a fair old rate, all in the best traditions of Abaddon Books. It’s not one to discuss at your book club but it’s definitely one for a quick train ride to work and would definitely go well with a couple of beers while you’re in the garden…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Return of the Mystery Book Giveaway - The Winners...

The time has come where I announce the (possibly) lucky winners of my latest Mystery Book Giveaway and, without further ado, they are...

Alessandra Peron, Italy
Rob Weber (Valashain on FantasyBookSpot), Netherlands

Well done guys, expect a mystery book package very soon...

Everyone else - thanks for entering, there will be more mystery book giveaways (when you least expect them...) so keep your eyes open!
Oh yes, you've still got time to enter the 'Empire in Black and Gold' competition (open to one and all) and the 'Kushiel's Scion' competition (UK only) if you haven't already...

Monday, 28 July 2008

‘Empire in Black and Gold’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK)


One of the great things about going on holiday is being able to take along a book, which you really want to get into, safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to put it down to do boring stuff like work etc. I spent a large part of last week either getting chewed up by mosquitoes or finding out (the hard way) about some particularly boggy land on Dartmoor but I also spent a lot of time reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s debut fantasy ‘Empire in Black and Gold’. It’s pretty damn good as far as I’m concerned…

The city states of the Lowlands have their occasional differences but, on the whole, generally get on together through a system of trade and various treaties. Sounds like a regular ‘off the shelf’ fantasy world? Maybe… but the thing that makes this particular world stand out from the rest is the fact that the human inhabitants are split into various races that each take their general demeanour (and a special power, the ‘Art’) from a ‘totem insect’. Beetles are an industrious people while Spiders spin complicated webs of politics and intrigue. It’s the Wasps that everyone needs to be watching out for however, a warlike people with a killing ‘Art’ and dreams of empire that are close to being recognised…
It seems that the only person who is aware of what is going on is one Stenwold Maker (a Beetle artificer) who fights to make the Lowlands aware of the Wasp threat whilst running a spy-ring that seeks to slow the Wasp advance. But while the Lowlands seem oblivious to what is happening, agents of the Wasp Empire are only too aware of Stenwold and have their own plans for him…

If I’d been reading ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ at work then I would have been deliberately missing trains and reading behind my monitor while the boss wasn’t looking, I thought it was that good. The first few pages show you just exactly what the Wasp Empire is capable of and although the action slows down from there the pace doesn’t let up for the rest of the book (well, almost the rest of the book… more on that in a bit). Tchaikovsky handles both the fights and the intrigue in the same manner, full of tension and surprises that kept me reading to find out what happened next. Tchaikovsky obviously has an interest in sword-fighting which lends particular scenes plausibility and emphasises just how awesome the fighting skills of Tisamon (the Mantis Kinden) actually are. He doesn’t overload us with that knowledge though which keeps the story fresh and moving along nicely.

It doesn’t always work though. The main issue I had with the book was that it felt like the resolution of two plot strands were slightly skewed in terms of how urgent they were. The prison break (just over halfway through) had plenty of build up to an explosive finale which I really enjoyed but was left wondering ‘what happens now?’ when that was done and there was still plenty of book to go. In contrast, the ‘main, Lowland threatening’ plot strand felt like it was wrapped up a little too quickly, Stenwold works out what the Wasps have planned and thwarts them (just like that). I’d have liked a little more build up here as this was the whole point of the book, can’t really complain too much though as ‘Empire’ redeems itself in many other ways.
Once you get past the potential obstacle of taking ‘Beetle’, ‘Wasp’, ‘Moth’ etc to mean insects, rather than ‘race names’, (I kept getting trapped by this) then ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ is a great example of the perfect marriage between intricate world building and engaging characters, neither takes precedence and what I was left with was a read where I got to learn about the world of the Lowlands through the journey that the characters made.
You get some history but not loads and it only really serves to flesh out the characters or certain situations, for example you don’t really find out much about the Moth Kinden until one of them becomes a part of the plot. I also liked the way that history is hinted at but not expanded upon which gives a greater sense of depth to the world. The Lowlands are in a transitory period between the age of magic and that of science and, given certain events in the book, it will be interesting to see if that transition keeps going in the same direction.

I’ve already said that the characters are all engaging although you may get the feeling that you’ve seen them before in other books. Having said that though, the underlying insect cultures do add freshness to the proceedings which I appreciated. They’ve all got plenty of baggage but also have endearing features that made me want to find out more about them and invest the time needed to see where their journey would end. None of them are in for an easy ride and I’m already impatient to see where events take them next.

Although by no means perfect, ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ has enough going for it to make it one of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read so far this year. I want more and there’s nothing I can do but sit it out and wait…

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Links, Links and more Links...

While I was sat in a tent, all of last week, bloggers around the world were valiantly posting some damn cool stuff. I've just been browsing a few blogs and this is what I think you should be looking at if you haven't already...

Gabe Chouinard... A name that inspires awe wherever two or more bloggers meet over a hot mug of... erm... blogjuice? Seriously, I've been reading Mysterious Outposts and I'm definitely a fan. Have a click Here and then have a click Here as well, I'll leave you to find the other links yourself ;o)

While I was reading 'Empire in Black and Gold' last week, and coming up with some questions for an interview, Pat got there first and interviewed Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Chris has reviewed Feast of Souls, one of those books I meant to get round to last year but never quite managed. He can't wait for the sequel...

Before I went on holiday I received an ARC of Kristin Cashore's 'Graceling'. Adam also received a copy and has posted his review over Here.

Fantasy Book Critic is firmly on my 'list of blogs to visit daily' and the good work continues with a Review of Mike Carey's 'Vicious Circle' that comes with a bonus Q & A session at the end...

I haven't really looked at Blood of the Muse until now but it's all good, you should take a look if you haven't already...

Tia has a Links post with some pretty cool stuff on it.

Neth didn't like Mirrored Heavens as much as I did although I can see where he's coming from...

Rob tells us what he thought of the new Batman Film. As is now traditional, I'll say that I'm going to watch it but will never quite get round to actually going...

Aidan gives us some news on the upcoming Sword of Truth TV show and shares his thoughts on why Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand wasn't for him...

What am I up to? Well, the plan is to finish 'Toll the Hounds' this week as well as some other (much shorter) books. Oh yeah... and I'm back to work tomorrow... :o(

Saturday, 26 July 2008

I'm Back!

And thanks to the power of 'post scheduling' it's like I've never been away... :o)
For what must be the first time (ever!) we actually managed to go on a camping trip where the tent didn't blow down and we didn't get washed out by torrential showers, how cool is that? Just lots and lots of sun, beautiful Dartmoor countryside and a swarm of midges that chewed the living daylights out of my arms and legs... (well, you can't have it all I guess...)

It wasn't just Dartmoor that we looked around, we also went around the North Devon coast which was really nice as well.
Chris - If you're reading this then then you need to go to Bude as there's a really cool second hand bookshop ('The Bookshop by the Sea' I think it's called) with loads of sci-fi and fantasy stuff including first edition Tolkien books.
Here's what I picked up...



'Blue World' scared the life out of me (more on that when I review it) and I've never read any Edgar Rice Burroughs so I'm looking forward to giving them a go very soon. The jewel in the collection though is the 1973 edition of Michael Moorcock's 'The Jade Man's Eyes' (written in green ink!) which will be taking pride of place on the bookshelf very soon...

Things are a bit mad right now, what with unpacking etc, but the blog will be back in full flow before you know it with reviews of Robert McCammon's 'Blue World' and Adrian Tchaikovsky's 'Empire in Black and Gold' (which is brilliant, you should check it out) in the next couple of days.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Giveaway! 'Kushiel's Scion' (Jacqueline Carey)


To mark the UK release of 'Kushiel's Scion' I thought it would be a cool thing to run a competition to give away some copies :o)
Here's the synopsis from Amazon...

'I was afraid of the dark tide that stirred in me. I did not want any part of my mother's blood. And yet it called to me.' Imriel de la Courcel, third in line to the throne, was enslaved and tortured as a boy, leaving him scarred and wary of his future. Son of a traitor, Imriel fears the dangerous passions of his bloodline - and his potential for destruction. His beloved stepmother, exotic and lovely, has trained him in the arts of covertcy - espionage skills that will either serve his country well, or draw him into a web of corruption and treachery. Imriel will need all of these resources as he travels, incognito, to escape the demands of court and family ...What he discovers is not freedom, but a city at war, and a political game so deep that he may never escape its net.

Sounds good doesn't it? Do you fancy a copy? Here's the thing, due to copyright stuff this competition is open to UK residents only, sorry...
Still here? Still fancy a free book? Drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is.
I'll let this one run until August 1st and announce the winners on the 2nd...

Good Luck!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Science Fiction and Fantasy that makes you laugh…

I used to be a big fan of Terry Pratchett when I was a teenager, not only was he writing fantasy (all he needed to be doing to become a favourite author of mine) but he was writing fantasy that made me laugh out loud because it was so funny. He was poking fun at the fantasy genre but in a way that made me think, “You know what? He’s right and it’s really funny at the same time.”
Christmas was the time of year when I would get the new Terry Pratchett ‘Discworld’ paperback and you wouldn’t see me (you’d hear me laughing though) until Christmas Dinner was on the table!

But then it all changed. While Terry was poking fun at fantasy tropes I was really enjoying the ride but when his eye started to focus on the real world the Discworld evolved to fit in with it. It was still a fantasy setting but there was enough of the real world there to take that sense of escapism, that I lived for, out and leave me with a book where (horror of horrors!) the jokes weren’t making me laugh any more…
I bowed out of the series (although you’ll still see me picking up ‘Guards! Guards!’ occasionally) but that was ok as I had just discovered Robert Rankin’s ‘Brentford Trilogy’…

Here’s a set of books (along with some of his others) where I think you need to have been born and bred in Britain to really get the humour. Having said that though, I think anyone will get a lot out of other books such as ‘Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse’. Matters of life and death begin and end in the pub and will often take second billing to compiling that winning ‘accumulator’ on the horses or trying to cheat Neville (the part time barman) out of a pint. John Omally and Jim Pooley don’t really want to save the world but when it’s a choice between that and looking for full time employment…

These days Rankin is my drug of choice when I’m after a read that will make me laugh. Christopher Moore is another good one; ‘The Stupidest Angel’ is a book that I think I’ll be reading every Christmas from now on! :o)
It’s also refreshing to see comedy moments popping up where you least expect it, Steven Erikson is a great example here with his epic fantasy series veering off into comedy every now and then with characters such as Kruppe and Iskaral Pust (not forgetting the mighty Bauchelain and Korbal Broach!)

I don’t read an awful lot of humorous genre stuff though and I’m after you to help me fill in the gaps. What am I missing out on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any humorous sci-fi stuff, anyone care to enlighten me on what’s out there?
Comments in the usual place please! :o)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

From my bookshelf… ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ (Tad Williams)


‘The Dragonbone Chair’
‘The Stone of Farewell’
‘To Green Angel Tower: Siege’
‘To Green Angel Tower: Storm’

I’ve gone on about this series so much, in other posts, that I think it now deserves a thread all to itself!

It was way back in 1989 that I found a copy of ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ while trying to find something decent to spend my book token on; I’d heard some good things about it so figured I’d give it a go… The first hundred pages, or so, were really hard going with detailed description about life in a castle and introductions to a plethora of characters, I stuck with it though and the payoff came much sooner than I had expected.
Betrayal! Strange creatures carrying out human sacrifices! More strange creatures swarming out of the ground to attack unsuspecting soldiers! Giants! A castle destroyed by magic! A dragon! This was more like it. I was totally gripped by the story that was playing out and, as I mentioned a few posts ago, ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ was the first fantasy book to show me that things don’t always go the way they’re expected to.
But then came the downer… Not only did I finish the book but I then found out that the sequel was still being written. For the first time ever I had to cope with the fact that I was into a series that was still ‘in progress’ and hadn’t been completed.

Two years later…

It’s Christmas Day and I’ve finally got my hands on ‘The Stone of Farewell’, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter what’s on the television as I’m just glad to get back into the world of Osten Ard and find out what has been happening to Simon Snowlock and his friends. It’s just as good as the first time round but I’m finding that the more of the world I get to see the more questions there are that need answering. I’ve also got used to the fact that ‘The Stone of Farewell’ will end on another cliffhanger and I’ll have to wait another couple of years to see how it ends. I was right on both counts; a character comes back from the dead (that still gets me whenever I read it) and that’s how it ends. Time to settle down for another long wait. Having said that though, these days I’m able to wait twice as long (at least) for the latest from GRRM!

If waiting for ‘To Green Angel Tower’ wasn’t bad enough I then found that, due to the publishers ‘wanting to put a good product on the shelves’ (so, nothing to do with making more money then…), I was going to have to wait even longer for a book that was being published in two parts! Damn them…
I got there in the end though, a slightly off key ending (a series that questioned certain fantasy tropes fully adopted one of the biggest ones of all) but overall a great series that has certainly inspired George RR Martin in his own fantasy series.

‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ looks just a little bit dated when placed against some of the edgier works of today but is a series that will always have some charm as far as I’m concerned. It’s a series that will always occupy one of the more prominent spots on my bookshelves and gets a re-read at least every couple of years. If you’re a fan of epic/high fantasy, and you haven’t tried this series out, then you could do a lot worse than give it a go…

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Giveaway! 'Empire in Black and Gold' (Signed!) - Adrian Tchaikovsky


While you're reading this post, I should be well into Adrian Tchaikovsky's debut 'Empire in Black and Gold' and hoping that it is as good as I've heard. It sounds just like my kind of thing so I've got a good feeling about this one...

Here's the synopsis from Amazon...

Seventeen years ago Stenwold witnessed the Wasp Empire storming the city of Myna in a brutal war of conquest. Since then he has preached vainly against this threat in his home city of Collegium, but now the Empire is on the march, with its spies and its armies everywhere, and the Lowlands lie directly in its path. All the while, Stenwold has been training youthful agents to fight the Wasp advance, and the latest recruits include his niece, Che, and his mysterious ward, Tynisa. When his home is violently attacked, he is forced to send them ahead of him and, hotly pursued, they fly by airship to Helleron, the first city in line for the latest Wasp invasion.Stenwold and Che are Beetle-kinden, one of many human races that take their powers and inspiration each from a totem insect, but he also has allies of many breeds: Mantis, Spider, Ant, with their own particular skills. Foremost is the deadly Mantis-kinden warrior, Tisamon, but other very unlikely allies also join the cause.
As things go from bad to worse amid escalating dangers, Stenwold learns that the Wasps intend to use the newly completed railroad between Helleron and Collegium to launch a lightning strike into the heart of the Lowlands. Then he gathers all of his agents to force a final showdown in the engine yard ...


Sounds good doesn't it, how do you fancy winning a copy? Even better than that, how do you fancy winning a signed copy? Thanks to Tor UK, I have three signed copies to give away to readers of the blog. Anyone can enter this one, it doesn't matter where you live!
If you fancy your chances then you need to send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. There are other competitions taking place this week so you will need to be clear in your email as to which competition you are entering. I'll leave this one to run until the 29th of July and announce the winners on the 30th.

Good Luck!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Giveaway! 'Return of the Mystery Book Giveaway...'


I've got a whole load of books waiting to go the charity shop, some have been read and reviewed whilst others (for whatever reason) haven't. How would you like a couple? You would? Here's the thing, I'm not going to tell you what they are...

Yep, it's that time of year again where I run a competition for books where you're not going to know what you've won until they come through the door... Cool isn't it? :o)
This time round two lucky (or unlucky, depends whether you like what you get!) people will have mystery book packages turn up on their doorstep, would you like to be one of them?

If you fancy your chances, drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me your name and mailing address. You will need to make it clear in your subject header as to which competition you are entering. Anyone can enter, it doesn't matter where you're from!
I'll let this one run until the 28th of July and announce the winners on the 29th.

Good Luck...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

‘The Walking Dead’ – Volumes Five and Six (Robert Kirkman)

After picking up the last three issues I knew that I needed to get back into this series and the best way to do this is by picking up the trade paperbacks. One trip to Forbidden Planet and I was ready to go!
It’s a little bit weird reading these books knowing what is going to happen to certain characters but it’s still been fun watching Rick and his band slowly start to turn the prison into a proper home. There are still some surprises in store though including a couple of scenes that made me wince more than just a little bit…



‘The Best Defense’ (Volume Five)

Things are looking good for the prison dwellers now that they’ve managed to clear out all the zombies but things are about to change in a way that will have massive repercussions for a long time to come…
A helicopter in the sky is the first sign of life seen in a long time but following it leads Rick, Glenn and Michonne into even worse danger. Zombies are bad enough but humans are still the most dangerous animal (with the greatest capacity for evil) on the planet... Or are they? Kirkman keeps hopping backward and forward between the dark side of human nature and people doing what they have to do in order to survive in this post apocalyptic landscape. Rick’s group seem to be in the ‘do what you have to do camp’ while the new community, in Woodbury, are full of the ‘darkness of human nature’ and this seems a little bit too polarised to be realistic. Having said that though, the ‘Governor’ of Woodbury does have some nasty tricks up his sleeve and these will make you wince at the very least. ‘The Best Defense’ is not a comic book for kids!
It’s a little bit too polarised in places, like I said, but ‘The Best Defense’ is a read that carries on the story in the best traditions of this series

Eight out of Ten.




‘This Sorrowful Life’ (Volume Six)

The ‘Woodbury Arc’ comes to an end in a swarm of zombies and a torture scene that left me gasping but unable to look the other way. Did the Governor deserve what he got? In light of his crimes he definitely had it coming to him but Michonne has already been shown to be a law unto herself in this new world which makes me wonder how much the guy really deserved to get. Michonne is so far off the scale that even she questions her own actions in a conversation between her two personalities; I want to find out what’s going on here and am looking forward to learning more in future issues.
Rick and his group return to the prison to find it in a somewhat worse state than when they left it, easily fixed though!
The rest of the book is spent on relationships being re-established and Rick having to accept a new role in the group because of his newly acquired disability. This doesn’t stop him from taking care of a situation where the location of the prison is in danger of being revealed. Once again, Rick has carte blanche to do whatever is needed while the other guy is just there to be stopped. To be fair though, Kirkman does acknowledge that there are two sides to the argument by allowing Martinez to put his case across (doesn’t really make much difference though…)
‘This Sorrowful Life’ is a book that sets up events that are only now coming to fruition and it’s cool to see Kirkman thinking of the ‘long game’ here. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more of these books.

Eight out of Ten

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Not on the bookshelves anymore...

If you want to buy a book these days then you’re not just limited to what’s on the shelves at your local bookstore. Shopping online is where it’s at right now with any number of internet stores that will find whatever you’re after. I’ve never shopped there but apparently the Book Depository is supposed to be pretty good and I’ll always be grateful to Abe Books for having a cheap copy of Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’ in stock (seriously hard to find over here in the UK, at least where I was looking anyway…)

All in all we’re looking at a time where we’ll never be without that book we really want, good isn’t it?
I don’t know about you though but despite how easy it is to buy books I still find it a little bit sad to go into a bookshop and find that my old favourites are no longer on the shelves. There are loads of sound business reasons for this, I’m sure, and you can still buy them online but I think it’s a real shame to see the actual books themselves drop off the radar, especially when trends these days could easily fit in some of the old series…

The series that’s on my mind, regarding this post, is Michael Scott Rohan’s ‘Winter of the World’ series. It’s been a while since I last read it but I’ve still got the impressions of complex worldbuilding and plots that could go anywhere with a cast of Gods who were just as human as their subjects. Couple all that with a real gritty and vicious attitude towards the characters and you’ve got a series that I reckon would appeal to anyone who’s into Brian Ruckley’s work or Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ series. Don’t go looking for it, during your lunch break, though as you won’t find it in your high street book store…
Like I said, it’s a shame but I guess priority has to go to all the new books that are being published and that’s not exactly a bad thing either :o)

How about you? Are there any books/series that you miss when you can’t see them on the shelves? Is this purely a nostalgic thing or do you think that genre fans are missing out by this stuff not being so readily accessible? Do you even go into book shops anymore? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think…

Friday, 18 July 2008

I'm going on holiday!

Actually, by the time you read this post I'll be on holiday (driving down to Plymouth for a week in a tent in the middle of Dartmoor). Not to worry though, I've loaded up the blog with some pretty cool stuff that should keep you going until I get back (I love the 'post scheduling thing' on this!). It's all about the competitions next week with the chance to win copies of Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel's Scion' and signed copies of Adrian Tchaikovsky's 'Empire in Black and Gold'. As well as these, I've also got another 'Mystery Book Giveaway' coming up...

Just because I'm away it doesn't mean that you should stop emailing me, I love getting emails! I've got pretty much no internet access for the next week though so you'll have to wait a little while for a reply (I will get back to you though, promise).

I'll see you the week after next with a review of Peter Brett's 'The Painted Man', a whole load of stuff by John Scalzi and whatever else I can jam into the car to take away with me...

‘The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy’ – Ellen Datlow (Editor)


This is one that I’ve been dipping in and out of over the last few weeks. Short story collections are great for that aren’t they? You can just pick and choose what you read, none of this ‘start at the beginning and work through to the end’ nonsense… :o)
Because of their very nature, I always find anthologies to be a bit hit and miss in terms of what I get out of them. ‘The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy’ is no exception with stories where my interest either gradually faded or never got started in the first place (I’m looking at you ‘AKA St. Mark’s Place’…)
There were a couple of real standout efforts though and it’s these that I want to draw your attention to…

‘The Goosle’ – Margo Lanagan

This one has stirred up a little controversy on the net with a perceived image of child abuse running throughout the tale. Having read it all I can really say is that if people are intent on looking for trouble then they’ll make sure they’ll find it. This is a dark fantasy tale of plague, abuse and a possible outcome to the tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ but it’s also a tale of survival against the odds and the strength needed to come through some really nasty stuff. It’s a coming of age tale as well with bleakness evident both in the scenery and the thoughts going through the main character’s head. ‘The Goosle’ would probably have been my favourite tale if it wasn’t for…

‘Daltharee’ – Jeffrey Ford

A city in a bottle, within a city in a bottle, within a city in a bottle… ad infintium… This tale really messed with my head with it’s talk of shrinking rays being reflected off mirrors and the lengths that people will go to in order to cover up their mistakes. ‘Daltharee’ is part science fiction, part horror and the horror element really comes to the fore in the final paragraphs. Scary as hell but compelling at the same time, ‘Daltharee’ has stayed in my head, ever since I finished reading it, and I don’t see it leaving anytime soon…

Honourable mentions go to Pat Cadigan’s ‘Jimmy’ (an intriguing build up but the payoff felt tacked on) and Nathan Ballingrud’s ‘North American Lake Monsters’ (spooky with a chilling ending, it just didn’t get me in the same way that ‘The Goosle’ and ‘Daltharee’ did).
I’m not giving this one a mark, right now, as I haven’t read the whole book. I may come back at a later date and award a mark then…

Thursday, 17 July 2008

‘Deadstock’ – Jeffrey Thomas (Solaris Books)


When I’m not reading sci-fi, fantasy etc (which, to be fair, isn’t all that often) I like to read detective novels, in particular the works of Raymond Chandler. I love that slightly hard-boiled, pulp noir thing he has going on and I enjoy reading about Philip Marlowe and the cases he takes on that always end up being more than they seemed…
Bearing this in mind I love it when sci-fi adopts the same kind of approach with books like Richard Morgan’s ‘Altered Carbon’ and William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, two of my favourite genres in one book!
Looking at the blurb on the back of Jeffrey Thomas’ ‘Deadstock’ I thought I was in for more of the same, I was but it didn’t quite go the way I’d been expecting…

Punktown is a colony town on the planet of Oasis. It’s also a crime ridden melting pot of human and alien life, just the right kind of place for a private investigator to make a decent living. Jeremy Stake is one such private eye, former war veteran and owner of chameleon-like abilities he does not want and cannot control. There’s nothing less threatening than a missing doll (even a genetically engineered ‘living’ doll) but the client wants it found and Stake has bills to pay. Soon enough though, the case takes on a life of its own and Stake is up against more than he bargained for…

If you’re after some sci-fi that features a ‘low tech’, grimy cityscape with danger around every corner then you won’t go too far wrong with ‘Deadstock’. Punktown is a truly nasty place to live, especially the poorer area of SubTown where the law is just another dirty word. Anything can happen in Punktown up to and including insect invasions from another dimension, not so fun to be stuck in the middle of but definitely fun to read!

I mentioned that this scenario is the ideal place for a private eye to do his thing and Jeremy Stake blends into the picture really well. Stake is your archetypal private eye with a dodgy past and an ex-lover that he cannot forget. What sets him apart from the rest of the pack is his ability to take on the face of anyone he looks at for too long. This makes for some innovative ways of getting information but Thomas also takes time to examine what this ability actually means for Stake’s day to day life. Here is a man who cannot look at anyone for too long, lest he end up looking like them, so spends his time looking at the floor instead. Stake’s love life is also complicated as a result of his ‘gift’, especially when his current lover prefers him to take on the faces of popular celebrities. Questions of identity, coupled with the typical ‘gumshoe’ persona, definitely make Stake an interesting character to read about.

It’s a shame then that the story doesn’t quite match up to the work that Thomas has done on the world building and characterisation. On its own the plot works very well with clues and revelations gradually added to the mix to keep up the interest. There is also a couple of gunfights which are handled very smoothly and everything ties together right at the end to form one of those pictures which leave you thinking, “So that’s what was going on…”
The problem though is that I felt the world building aspect crowded out the story itself. This led to a lack of urgency in proceedings, certainly in Stake at various points, with only the sub-plot of the gangsters trapped by the ‘blank men’ lending a sense of adrenalin to what was going on. There was also a lot of talk between characters which sometimes made it difficult to spot the pivotal events which would sway the story…

If you can get past some of the more heavy going elements then I think there’s a lot to recommend ‘Deadstock’ to anyone who’s into ‘sci-fi noir’. There was certainly enough there to get me to check out the sequel…

Seven out of Ten

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

‘The Goon, Rough Stuff’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)


A couple of weeks ago I picked the latest issue of ‘The Goon’ (number twenty five, I think) just to give it a go and see what it’s all about. Talk about a great read! There was plenty enough there to make me want to give the series a go in graphic novel format, and seeing as the best place to start is always at the beginning, I picked up a copy of ‘Rough Stuff’ (Volume 0 ) and started reading. If there was ever a book to show you that comic books are not just about superheroes then ‘The Goon’ is probably it. I’ll probably be picking up more of these in the future…

The Goon is a crime boss in a Depression Era city where his main rivals are zombies (under the rule of the Zombie Priest), the G-Men are corrupt, chainsaws can talk and the rats in ‘Rat Alley’ are the size of St. Bernards. ‘Rough Stuff’ collects the early adventures of The Goon, with his fight against the Zombie Priest, and gives us a little look at his childhood in a circus freakshow…

‘Rough Stuff’ basically sets the scene for stories to come and if it’s all like this then I’m certainly up for more. It’s pretty much one long fight all the way through but what raises it from becoming repetitive is Powell’s willingness to take the plot in unexpected directions all the time. Anything can happen and it usually does up to and including the talking chainsaw and a fight with a giant fish. The violence is suitably cartoonish but doesn’t pull any punches (‘knife to the eye!’) and is definitely not one for younger readers…
What really makes it for me is the humour on display, most of which comes from the psychotic midget Franky. Another word of warning though; tying a vampire to a car bumper, setting fire to him and then going for a drive appealed to my ‘non-PC’ side but might not be for everyone…

The artwork on display doesn’t match up to what I saw in Issue Twenty Five but the story makes up for it and I guess I’ve got all that good stuff to come in the future! :o)

‘Rough Stuff’ is a good slice of pulp action filled to the brim with mindless (but very funny) violence. I reckon I’m going to get a lot out of this series, if you like the sound of what you’ve read then head on down to your local comic store and get reading…

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

‘In Silent Graves’ – Gary Braunbeck

It’s just gone three in the morning and I cannot get to sleep. I don’t know what’s up with that so figured I’d have a little read of whatever was close to hand. ‘Whatever was close to hand’ ended up being my last stop (until I find more books) on my little trip through Gary Braunbeck’s Cedar Hill locale.
Without even realising, it turns out that I’d saved the best until last…

Robert Londrigan has it all; a news casting career that is on the up, a beautiful wife and a baby on the way. All this is turned on its head in the course of one catastrophic night but the worst is yet to come as a strange disfigured man steals Robert’s daughter’s body from the local morgue…
This heralds the onset of hallucinations, visitations and things that just cannot be. Is Robert losing his mind or is he about to learn some of the truths that lurk beneath the surface of the world? Either way, he may not survive with his sanity intact…

I hadn’t read a lot of horror until the last year or so, bookstores in the UK aren’t much good for horror once you’ve had your fill of Stephen King and the other best sellers! Brian Keene’s ‘The Rising’ changed all that though (it was about zombies, I had to buy it!) and I eventually found my way to Gary Braunbeck. I have to say that I’m glad I did, as I haven’t enjoyed horror fiction so much in a long time. ‘In Silent Graves’ is no exception.

As with his other works, Braunbeck delights in pointing the reader down one path only to switch the signposts around when no one is looking. Before you know it you’re completely lost and at the mercy of your guide… The story you finish is not the story you began and, looking back, you will wonder how you ever thought it could have been that story in the first place. There’s some masterful stuff going on here when you look at how everything fits together at the end… (Especially in a book that comes in at just under four hundred pages)
Braunbeck’s approach to horror isn’t specific to any one theme; he goes for as much as he can fit into one book and the result is a story that punches you in the gut at the same time as it’s smacking you round the back of the head. There’s the creeping fear of the dark nestled right next to all out ‘in your face’ violence. There’s the sense of things being horribly wrong for an ordinary man having to deal with stuff straight out of the ‘Twilight Zone’; there’s also the horror that is a part of everyday life and this is perhaps the most horrifying of all the things that happen in the book. All in all a really heady mixture of horror that sent shivers up my spine before ripping it out and feeding it to me.

‘In Silent Graves’ isn’t just a horror story though. Without giving too much away it’s also a love story that bounces off the horror elements (and vice versa) to resonate with poignancy and a sense of the bitter sweet. They weren’t tears in my eyes, I’m just really tired and my eyes are watering (ahem!).

It’s not all perfect though but I got the feeling that these issues would improve on a re-read. Not being of a particularly scientific nature I did find some of the talk about the nature of time confusing and this sometimes dragged on for a little too long, disrupting the otherwise smooth pace of the tale.

Those small niggles aside, ‘In Silent Graves’ is now officially my favourite book by Gary Braunbeck. Read it if you’re into intelligently written horror that makes you think as well as shiver.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 14 July 2008

‘The Age of the Conglomerates’ – Thomas Nevins (Del Rey)


The themes of Utopia and Dystopia are staples in speculative fiction and appear under many guises, perhaps the two most famous examples are Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. The line between the two states is a blurry one at best, depending on where you fit in. One man’s Utopia is another man’s… you get the idea.
I sometimes wonder just how much control we have over our future and whether the resulting insecurity manifests itself in visions of a nightmarish future under some totalitarian jackboot. Then I get myself another beer and turn the Playstation on :o)

Thomas Nevins has taken his musings one step further and gives us his vision of a world (forty years in the future) where a breakdown in the American economy has led to the rise of the Conglomerates, a party whose Chairman has transformed national law. Do you have a problem child or just a child that you don’t want any more? The State will remove it from your home and you will then be eligible (subject to status) to have another child bred to order to become an efficient and productive member of society. Are you eighty or over? Bad news I’m afraid, the Family Relief Act means that all your property reverts to your children and you will be shipped off to a government run community in Arizona. All laws are liable to be enforced at gunpoint and cameras record everything. Life will find a way though and four relatives from very different backgrounds will struggle to make their way in this world of the future…

As a vision of the future; Nevins’ ‘Age of the Conglomerates’ is backed up by enough things (happening right now) to make it plausible enough to give the reader more than a slight chill. The ongoing ‘credit crunch’, for starters, foreshadows possible events to come while ongoing research into genetics has raised debate over the kind of abuses that we see in the book. As far as the treatment of the elderly goes; we’re sticking them in homes and retirement villages now (out of sight…) is it that much of a leap to see this kind of approach on a much larger scale in the near future?
It’s all speculation, of course, but there’s just enough plausibility in it to make the reader stop and think for a bit. Well that’s what it made me do.

It’s a shame then that the execution of the story itself doesn’t do the scenario justice. My main issue with the book was the over-abundance of info-dumping in a book that’s only two hundred and ninety four pages long. I can understand it as a scene setting device in the prologue but for it to continue throughout the book is surely unnecessary as there are many other ways to show the reader (notice I said ‘show’ and not ‘tell’…) what is going on. The bit that really bugged me was when Nevins used his characters as ‘info-dump receptacles’ to cram even more information into the book. To have the guy who delivered the water, in the retirement village’, suddenly wax lyrical about the state of the ‘State’ just didn’t feel right to me and really jarred.

The story itself felt stifled under the weight of everything Nevins was trying to get across which resulted in what felt to me like a disjointed tale that left me bemused and frustrated in places. Certain characters would do things and I had no idea why, they certainly hadn’t given much indication that this was how they were going to behave. This was particularly true of Christine Salter, the geneticist, who seemed quite happy to go along under Conglomerate rule but then all of a sudden found herself fighting the good fight on the strength of a man who she wasn’t even sure how she felt about…
It’s a real shame as there were moments when I really got a feel for the landscape this was all happening in and wanted to know more about the characters who lived in it.

‘The Rise of the Conglomerates’ is a novel with a great concept that unfortunately fails in its execution. Maybe it would have benefited from being a little longer and having more room to explore everything it needed to instead of the uneven distribution that it presents.

Five and a Half out of Ten.

'Gypsy Morph' Competition - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered but I'm afraid there could only be one winner. That lucky person is...

Steve Mason, Peterlee, UK

Well done Steve, your book will be on it's way to you once I can get to the post office...
Better luck next time everyone else!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

‘The Walking Dead’, Issues 48-50

The bottom line is this, if you like comics and zombies then ‘The Walking Dead’ should be on your list of ‘comics to get from the store’ if it isn’t already. There seems to be more and more zombie stuff out there but ‘The Walking Dead’ is the clear leader in the pack, it’s like watching a George Romero zombie film when they used to be good!

I’ve got the first four graphic novel collections so kind of assumed that this was the way my collection would be going. Apparently not as, just recently, I’ve found myself in Forbidden Planet when a new issue has been on the shelves. I couldn’t resist it! I’ve picked up issues forty-eight to fifty and all I can say is, wow…



Issue forty-eight.

A prison is a great place to shelter but the daily routine of a handful of people isn’t going to make for a great story. Kirkman has been building up to this for a while but this is the issue where the comfort zone well and truly disappears! If you haven’t read this yet then I won’t give too much away save that Kirkman has never shied away from being hard hitting, in the past, and really goes for it this time! No-one is safe and one particular panel (you’ll know which one) had me gasping, I never in a million years saw that one coming!
Brutal stuff but Kirkman is not afraid to take risks and that puts him on top of his game.



Issue forty-nine.

The safety of the prison is a thing of the past; get used to it, that’s what our survivors are having to do. People have been split up and I’m hoping that they find their way back to each other soon… This is a more poignant issue where the ramifications of what happened at the prison are just starting to sink in and surviving on the outside is proving to be a whole different ball game. Not as much happens in this issue but it’s no less effective for it.



Issue fifty.

Carl’s on his own, albeit very briefly, and we get a little glimpse of a young boy suddenly cut adrift from everything that’s safe and left to fend for himself in a world of zombies. It’s really powerful stuff, especially seeing Carl have it sink in that he’s on his own (and the conflicting thoughts this inspires). This issue is also a great example of less dialogue being more effective with some great work on display from Charlie Adlard.

I’m looking forward to the next fifty issues and beyond. I know I’ve already said it but this is a series that’s more than just worth a look, check it out if you haven't already...

Saturday, 12 July 2008

What the ??!!?”*&* just happened there?

You know what I’m talking about, those moments in film or literature where you think you know exactly what’s going to happen right up until the moment when the director/author throws you a wicked curveball and all of a sudden you see everything in a brand new light.

The first time this happened to me was when my Dad took me to see a ‘Star Wars’/’Empire Strikes Back’ double bill at the cinema. I was about six at the time and after having seen Darth Vader keep trying to kill off Luke Skywalker for several hours I couldn’t believe it when Vader turns round (right at the end of ‘Empire Strikes Back’) and says… well, you know what he says! Part of me still wonders how the film would have turned out if Vader had told Luke much earlier on instead of just after Luke having had his hand chopped off…

Luke: “But why didn’t you just tell me to start off with? I’d have been cool with it and I’d still have both my hands! Nice one Dad!”

Vader: “Well, you were using my lightsaber and I certainly don’t remember giving you permission. You won’t be doing that again in a hurry, have we learnt our lesson?”

Luke: “Yes Dad…”

The unexpected twist that really got me though came years later (around nineteen eighty eight) when I was reading Tad Williams’ ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ for the first time. Now bear in mind that I’d been reading a lot of David Eddings around that time as well as a lot of generic sword and sorcery where the good guys always win no matter what… If you haven’t read the ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ (and are planning to) then you may want to skip the next paragraph)

So I’m happily reading away safe in the knowledge that even though things are looking grim it’s all going to turn out ok. Prince Josua and his subjects are holed up in the castle of Naglimund, under siege from the mad Prince Elias.
It’s going to be all right though. Look, there’s Duke Leobardis and his army, marching to crush Elias and raise the siege. Wait a moment, why is the Duke’s son drawing his sword? He’s not going to… he did! Benigaris has just killed his father, taken control of the army and retreated (he then goes on to ally himself with Elias). But, but… what’s going to happen now?

Not only was this a twist in the plot where I least expected it but it completely blew my expectations, of fantasy literature, right out of the water. The story wasn’t meant to go like this… but it did and all of a sudden a whole load of new possibilities opened themselves up to me. These days I almost expect at least three wicked twists in any story but back then it was brand new to me and had me thinking that maybe the genre wasn’t running off just the one plot after all…

So, it’s over to you now. What’s your ‘WTF?’ moment (sci-fi, fantasy or horror) that sprung to mind while you’ve been reading this? It can be something that you never saw coming or something that made you realise the potential of the genre all over again.
You know where to leave your comments :o)

Friday, 11 July 2008

‘Midnight Never Come’ – Marie Brennan (Orbit Books)


I’m not sure whether to call this book ‘historical fantasy’ or ‘urban fantasy’. The story takes place in an urban setting but it’s historical context sets it apart from the contemporary theme normally found in Urban Fantasy.
Hmmm… *Tosses Coin* Ok, I’m calling this one ‘historical fantasy’ but if anyone has a convincing argument otherwise just leave a comment ;o)

England flourishes under the rule of Elizabeth, last of the Tudor monarchs, but only a few people realise that England owes it fortune to more than just the efforts of its Queen… In the thirty years since Elizabeth struck a bargain with the ruler of faerie England, Invidiana, mortal and fey politics have become inextricably entwined as each ruler seeks to better both themselves and each other. Two courtiers, from the mortal and fey courts, are about to find out how closely the two thrones are linked as their separate tasks bring them together. Michael Deven seeks to discover who the mysterious power behind Elizabeth’s reign really is while the Lady Lune seeks to curry favour with various factions, of the faerie court, by spying on Elizabeth’s own spymaster. Both of them will find that their machinations are only scratching the tip of something much larger…

Over the last couple of days I have raced through ‘Midnight Never Come’ for reasons that have varied almost from page to page. ‘Midnight Never Come’ is an enthralling read but one that I also found more than a little infuriating at the same time…
I’m in awe of Marie Brennan; not only has she created an intricately realised world of faerie but she has also joined it seamlessly to the world of sixteenth century England, both in terms of history (we get to find out what really happened to the Spanish Armada) and the way in which characters and story are able move from one setting to another. While Brennan’s faerie characters are familiar to anyone who’s ever heard a fairy tale they have a real alien streak at the same time, acting in completely different ways (to their human counterparts) for reasons entirely their own. It’s this kind of behaviour that really marks them out as different to the reader and adds a little bit of emphasis to the magic that is employed.

Sixteenth century England is also skilfully drawn and Brennan shows that she has obviously done a lot of research around the subject with a blend of everyday life and historical events. However, this was also the main area where things fell down a little bit for me. It sometimes felt like the book had been so heavily researched that the story didn’t have a chance to breathe. Everything was authentic to the time but the overabundance of information slowed things down the point where I sometimes found myself skipping pages and then having to go back when I realised that I’d missed something important.

This was a real shame because when the story got going (which it did, in fits and starts) it was good fun to read and really made me think about what was going on. The transition from ‘we’re dealing with this…’ to ‘actually no, we need to deal with this instead’ was smoothly done and made a lot of sense. In the tradition of all the best fairy stories ‘Midnight Never Come’ is a love story at heart and perhaps not the one that you will be expecting…

There’s room at the end for a sequel and I’m sure there’s one in the works, if the pacing improves then this could become a series worth keeping an eye on.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 10 July 2008

‘The Gypsy Morph’ – Terry Brooks (Del Rey/Orbit)


Terry Brooks’ ‘Genesis of Shannara’ series has been one of my surprise finds since starting up the blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I could never get into the ‘Sword of Shannara’ series but enjoyed ‘The Word and the Void’ books. For me the ‘Genesis of Shannara’ books combined the best bits of the other two series, wrapping it all up in a story that I couldn’t help but follow and want more of. For someone who had real issues with ‘Sword of Shannara’ I was really excited when my copy of ‘The Gypsy Morph’ came through the door, at last I was going to find out how it all ended.
It was then that I realised I already knew how the trilogy was going to end. ‘The Gypsy Morph’ is a very entertaining read but that realisation killed it for me…

‘The Gypsy Morph’ isn’t going to hit the shelves for another month so I don’t want to give away too much about the plot and what happens. Suffice it to say that ‘The Gypsy Morph’ very neatly wraps up everything that has been going on in the previous two books. This is actually part of the problem that I had with it but more on that later… The two remaining Knights of the Word must protect the Elf Kirisin and Hawk who carries the magic of the Gypsy Morph. Both children are vital to the continued existence of their races but are only just beginning to learn to control their powers let alone face up to the responsibilities that come with them. While refugees flee towards a vague promise of safety, the demon Findo Gask prepares to deal them all a mortal blow…

Before I have my little rant I just want to say that I did enjoy reading ‘The Gypsy Morph’ as it had almost all the elements that made ‘Armageddon’s Children’ and ‘The Elves of Cintra’ books that really drew me into what was going on. As far as I’m concerned, Terry Brooks can write a story that speeds along with set pieces and cliffhangers in all the right places and ‘The Gypsy Morph’ is no exception to this rule. There are some pretty tense ‘face offs’ with demons (I thought the Klee was pretty cool) and Simralin’s recollection of the Home Guard’s stand against the ‘once men’ was both epic and poignant at the same time. Without going into two much detail there are particular cliffhangers that had me wanting to flick through subsequent pages to see what happened…

If this isn’t good enough for you then Brooks hangs it all on a pretty grim, yet compelling, post apocalyptic landscape. He also takes real time and effort to get into the heads of the people who live there (and lizard people as well in one particularly sad scene), bouncing the two off each other so both elements resonate with emotion.

I found ‘The Gypsy Morph’ to be a mostly captivating read, especially with certain characters that I had invested a lot in and wanted to see how their stories ended. So where was the problem? Well…
The first two books, in the trilogy, introduce the main characters and the dangers that they face. With cliffhanger endings things got really interesting and I genuinely couldn’t tell what would happen next which made me eager for the next book. While the characters face similar danger in ‘The Gypsy Morph’ I felt that the urgency was lessened significantly by the fact that we know how the story ultimately turns out (hint: look at all the Shannara books on the shelves). While it was just about the characters it worked really well for me but when it became about the fate of Shannara it suddenly became “what fate? We know how this one has to end.” I personally felt that the certainty surrounding the ending lessened the impact of certain characters dying, leaving etc… I also found it a little too convenient that the refugees kept managing to find supplies just as they were starting to starve. Considering the whole post apocalyptic thing it felt like there was an awful lot of food and equipment just left lying around…

If you’re a ‘Shannara’ fan then I think you’re going to love the continuity that this trilogy serves you with. You’ll probably also notice a lot of in-jokes and recognise a lot of names that I missed (having not read an awful lot of Terry Brooks) which I think would add to anyone’s enjoyment of an already decent book.
I didn’t have this advantage though and was left with a story that ultimately felt like it was the victim of where it fell in the timeline. A very good read but one that felt like it could have been so much more.

Seven out of Ten

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Giveaway! 'The Gypsy Morph' (Terry Brooks)


So I've just finished reading 'The Gypsy Morph', the finale to Terry Brooks' 'Genesis of Shannara' series. I want to get my thoughts in order before posting my review (look for it tomorrow) but I'm veering towards 'good but not great' territory at the moment...

This means I have an Advance Copy of 'The Gypsy Morph' that I probably won't pick up again (loads of other books to read) and I know that there's more than a few Terry Brooks fans frequenting these parts so... do you want it? It's a little teeny bit dog-eared (from the commute to work) but still perfectly readable and whoever wins will get to find out how it all goes down before everyone else :o)

Still here? Cool. To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is drop me an email telling me that you want the book (it's that simple). My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen ;o) Remember to include your mailing address otherwise you don't get entered! I'm going on holiday in a week and a bit so don't want to hang around too long with this one.
I'll be mailing the book myself which means that anyone can enter, it doesn't matter where you live!
I'll let this one run until this Sunday (13th July) and announce the winner on the following Monday.

Good Luck!

'Briar King' Competition - The Winners!


Thanks to everyone who entered, thanks also to Tor UK for supplying the books! It wouldn't have been much of a competition otherwise...
There could only be three winners though and these lucky people are,

Stefan Ancuta, Austria
Ben Doran, County Down, Northern Ireland
Jennifer Kingsbury, Calgary, Canada

Well done! Your books will be heading towards you in the next couple of days :o)
Everyone else, there will be more chances to win free books so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Movie! ‘Diary of the Dead’


As far as I’m concerned if there’s anything better than a ‘zombie film’ then it’s a ‘George Romero zombie film’. It’s fairly safe to say that if it wasn’t for this guy then zombie films would not be around in the shape that they are….
Having said that though, George’s foray back into the genre with ‘Land of the Dead’ didn’t do as well as expected. The blame was placed on poor distribution of the film but it could just as easily be blamed on a film that asked its viewers to suspend disbelief just that little bit too much (don’t get me started)…

Romero is still full of ideas though and one of these was to take the franchise right back to the beginning and tell the story through the eyes of a bunch of film students on location. They’re making a horror film, for their college course, but the director sees a chance to do some good with their film-making equipment when the dead start turning up to eat the living. Jason, our director, wants to film a documentary (for uploading to YouTube) that viewers can take survival tips from, he’s also got one eye on the exposure this will get his work. Everyone else just wants to get home and what we get is Jason’s footage of this journey spliced with further footage of events around the world.

I’m a big fan of George Romero’s zombie films and I really wanted to enjoy this one after the disappointing ‘Land of the Dead’. I did enjoy it but only up to a point…

The biggest issue I had was that of the characters making up our intrepid band of film students. It’s very telling that I watched the film last night and I can only remember one of their names (Jason the director)… They seem to be there only to make up numbers and fill in stereo-typical roles (drunken tutor, the nerd, the hero, blonde woman who screams lots, you get the picture…) and it just felt like perhaps a little more could have been done with them. I know things were pretty traumatic but I’m sure that people do more than just stand there and scream lots…
Funnily enough, the character whose name that I can remember is the one that annoys me the most. Despite everything that is going on, Jason will not let go of his damn camera! I know that he’s meant to be filming all of this (and it would be frustrating for us if he had to keep putting the camera down) but there were times when shooting the film took precedence over his friends and even over his own personal safety. I couldn’t work out whether Romero was trapped by the constraints of how he’d decided to shoot the film or if Jason was just really bloody annoying… Either way, it took some of the enjoyment out of things.

George Romero usually has a point to make in his zombie films, whether it’s a comment about consumerism (‘Dawn of the Dead’) or the class divide and capitalism (‘Land of the Dead’). The nature of ‘Diary’ suggests that he had his eye on the YouTube generation but I wasn’t quite sure what the point was that he was trying to make (not surprising considering the standard of acting in some instances). Is it that we rely too much on technology these days? Is he saying that even the apocalypse won’t stop us from getting our fill of internet fads? Hopefully this will be answered the next time that I watch the DVD…




This all sounds like I hated the film and will be taking the DVD back to the shop with a flimsy excuse about how it didn’t work in the player, not the case at all. There is still plenty in this film for a Romero fan including yet more inventive ways of killing a zombie through gratuitous inflicting of trauma to the head. My favourites for this film included use of hydrochloric acid and those electric resuscitator things you get in hospitals!
Romero also does his usual great job of racking up the tension and making me yell things like, “stay away from the door!” and “put the damn camera down, the zombie is trying to eat you!” There were even a couple of minutes where I had to pause the DVD and pretend that I had forgotten to do something that really needed doing (I know but I was on my own so I only really had to fool myself!)
What I really love about Romero’s zombie films though is the way that he depicts the world’s slow and inexorable slide into chaos as civilization breaks down. Law and order is shown to be useless in the face of mankind’s baser instincts but there is still always hope when you see that everyday people will do the most heroic things.

I thought that ‘Diary of the Dead’ was a marked improvement on its predecessor but it has a long way to go before it can match up to the first three films. I’m looking forward to seeing what George Romero comes up with next.

Monday, 7 July 2008

‘Victory of Eagles’ – Naomi Novik (Del Rey)


Ever since I picked up a copy of ‘His Majesty’s Dragon’ (pretty much on a whim, the best way to pick up books sometimes) I’ve been a big fan of Naomi Novik’s ‘Temeraire’ series and get all excited whenever it starts to get close to a new book being published.
However, upon finishing ‘Empire of Ivory’ I was a little concerned that there was the danger of things getting a little stale. I felt the storyline was becoming formulaic and, as such, you could tell what was going to happen next. The cliff-hanger (at the end of ‘Empire of Ivory’) was enough, however, to persuade me to keep on with the tale and I have to say that I’m glad that I did. It’s not without it’s faults but, for me, ‘Victory of Eagles’ was a real departure from what I had come to expect from this series and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever comes next…

At the end of ‘Empire of Ivory’, Captain William Laurence was jailed for treason and Temeraire sent into captivity in the breeding grounds of Wales. However, Napoleon’s long planned invasion of England finally takes place and fate conspires to set the two friends on their way towards a reunion and a chance to take the fight back to the French. Napoleon’s tactics mean that the British army (and the Dragon Corps) must adopt an entirely new approach to warfare if they are to keep the Royal Family out of French clutches and regain control of England…

‘Victory of Eagles’ is a tale of occupation and guerrilla warfare which means that Novik is unable to pursue the usual course of taking Temeraire and Laurence to a ‘country of the day’ and have them introduced to a new breed of dragon. What the reader gets instead is quite a dark tale where desperate times call for desperate measures and everyone has to question their conscience and honour. As such; ‘Victory of Eagles’ becomes a character study of various people (mostly Laurence and Temeraire) through their reactions and deeds which throws up some interesting points… Temeraire uses the outbreak of war to advance his own plans for the equal recognition of dragons in English society. He has some success but his naivety becomes apparent in the cost that Laurence has to bear. This makes for some really touching scenes where Temeraire realises that he has hurt Laurence but doesn’t know how he did it or what he can do to make things right again.
Laurence, on the other hand, must make decisions knowing that he is already damned as a traitor but still wants to do his duty for his country. The book really hammers home the fact that Laurence is vilified by everyone and it is a credit to Novik how she uses this to make Laurence and Temeraire’s friendship stronger than ever.
The supporting cast get their fair share of page time as well with my favourites being Laurence’s former second in command Granby and his dragon Iskierka.
Iskierka really got on my nerves with her constant disregard for orders but this did make for some entertaining passages…

‘Victory of Eagles’ isn’t just about its characters though. There are plenty of exciting plot elements that will keep fans (like me!) entertained ranging from pitched aerial combat to daring covert rescue missions. The climatic battle is worth the admission price as far as I’m concerned with the Chinese dragon Lien showing another use for the awesome power of the Celestial dragon…

That’s not to say everything is all rosy in the garden though. It’s not really spoiling anything to say that Laurence and Temeraire are reunited so I’ll have a bit of a moan about how this happens. In a nutshell I thought this happened far too early on in the book when there was plenty of scope for this to be stretched to incorporate situations that would ramp up the tension and make for an even more exciting read. Instead it felt like everyone knew a reunion was going to happen so it was dealt with as quickly as possible.
I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it but the nature of it has me a little concerned that things are about to go back to the regular formula… I hope not and, to be fair, there’s every chance that this won’t be the case. We’ll have to wait and see…

‘Victory of Eagles’ should be a welcome arrival for fans of the series, it certainly was for me. I’m now settling down to wait for Book Six…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Click Here for my review of 'Empire of Ivory'.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

‘FutureWorld’ – Professor Mark L. Brake & Reverend Neil Hook (Boxtree)


These days most (if not all) of my reading is purely for entertainment and escapism. There’s still a lot to be learned from such books but I’ll quite happily admit to steering well clear of anything that’s more factual and likely to make me ‘learn’ something, nothing wrong with these books but that’s just not what I’m about at the moment.
I felt a little strange then to see a copy of ‘FutureWorld’ come through the door, a book that sets out to tell its reader how much of Science Fiction is now ‘Science Fact’ (as well as all the little sci-fi snippets that will become possible in the near future). Dammit; I want my sci-fi reading to help me escape from the real world, not tie me into it even more!
Having read it though my mind has been changed to an extent. Although I feel like the book has crept into my head and killed tiny parts of my imagination it does make for a fascinating and entertaining read…

‘FutureWorld’ is divided up into four themes (space, time, machine and monster) which examine various sci-fi staples and tell the reader how close these are to becoming reality, if they haven’t already. Do you want to know when you will be able to buy a real functioning light-saber? It’s not going to happen anytime soon I’m afraid. How about an instantaneous translator? There’s one in development but it doesn’t look anything like C3-P0… ‘FutureWorld’ is crammed full of things like this and I found it fun to get into because of the way that everything was tied back to things like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Doctor Who’ etc as well as the light-hearted manner in which the authors speak about their subject. For example the entry for ‘The End of the World’ ends with the sentence “Still, if we do mess up this planet we can always travel into space, find another one and start again.’ Any reference book where the entry for ‘entropy’ ends with the phrase ‘Happy Days…’ isn’t taking it’s presentation too seriously and, as a result, becomes just that little bit more accessible to the casual reader.

It’s not just the subject matter that’s interesting but also the little asides that show the work that has gone into the book as well as showing the reader that science-fiction, as a genre, has been around for a lot longer than we think.
For example, ‘FutureWorld’ tells us that it was H.G. Wells that first came up with the concept of the Atomic Bomb in his novel ‘The World Set Free’ (although different entries in ‘FutureWorld’ give different publication dates for this work). If you didn’t know it already (some of which I didn’t) it’s also interesting to see that Mary Shelley was writing science-fiction in the nineteenth century and that legend speaks of the first ‘laser weapon’ being used by Archimedes to attack a Roman fleet invading Syracuse…

As I’ve said, I felt that a little bit of the magic has gone out of my sci-fi reading now I’ve had it reinforced that a lot of the concepts are now becoming reality. Despite this, ‘FutureWorld’ is one of those books where you can have great fun flicking to random pages and finding out just how far the human race has come in terms of things like time travel, optical camouflage and space tourism…

Nine out of Ten