Sunday, 31 August 2008

My Poor Blogroll...

It's got some pretty tasty sites on it already but it wallows in despondency, knowing that there are loads of other great sites out there that I haven't had the time to go out and find. This is where you come in... (hopefully)

Do you have a sci-fi/fantasy/horror type blog (all about the fiction preferably but not necessarily) that isn't on my blogroll? Do you know of some really great blogs that I don't? Leave me a comment telling me what's what and I'll get busy...

Cheers!

Your Sunday Morning Question...

Bear with me on this one as it's been ages since I've read 'The Lies of Locke Lamora'...

I was watching 'Oliver!' the other day (don't ask, sometimes you just can't stop these things happening...) and all of a sudden I realised that the songs would fit in really well with the story of 'The Lies of Locke Lamora'. Think about it, can you imagine the Gentlemen Bastards singing 'Consider Yourself at Home' or 'You've got to pick a pocket or two' to a young Locke? I certainly can! :o) I could also see Locke singing 'If I was a rich man' but that's from a different musical...

So my question to you is this, are there any musicals (either individual songs or the full film/show) that you think would fit in well with a particular sci-fi or fantasy work? Can you work a song from 'Spamalot' into 'A Song of Ice and Fire'? Is there room in 'The Wheel of Time' series for a few numbers from 'Cabaret'? (Unlikely but you never know...)

Comments please! :o)

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Lazy Saturday 'Linky Bonanza'!

It's Saturday, I haven't finished anything that I'm reading and I don't have much else to say. It's a good job then that other intrepid bloggers have been saying loads! :o)
Here's what some of them have to say for themselves...

The Book Swede may be away on holiday but his blog is ticking along merrily under 'Guest Blogger Power'! Have a click over Here and see what's up!

The Wertzone reminds anyone who hasn't picked up a copy that the rather splendid 'The Ten Thousand' is now available. Don't hang round there though, have a scroll through the rest of the Blog and read loads of stuff about Neil Gaiman's work...

Larry has a few words to say about the subject of Generation Gaps.

Liviu C. Suciu enjoys a book that I could barely get started on (and never finished) over at Fantasy Book Critic.

Aidan has a few words for us about what Paul Kearney will be up to next.

SQT has an interesting post about The Roles That Got Away.

Neth has more Links for you to browse through.

It's been a while since I visited Urban Fantasy Land but it's always well worth the trip if that's your thing. Check it out if you haven't already ;o)

Last, but not least, James has got a Richard Morgan thing going on over at Speculative Horizons. Just start at the top and scroll down the first three or four posts, it's all good!

What am I doing? Ploughing my way through Kristin Cashore's 'Graceling' which is turning into one of those books that tries to put me off reading it while having just enough to keep me going... I should hopefully have a review up in the next few days.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Rogue Trooper – ‘Eye of the Traitor’ and ‘To the Ends of Nu Earth’

Before I went away there seemed to be a bit of a military sci-fi theme developing on the blog and I thought a great way to round this off would be to look at a couple of Rogue Trooper graphic novels (you don’t get a lot more military sci-fi than that!) As things turned out, I came back from holiday and got straight into epic and urban fantasy instead. Oh well...
It’s a little late then but I guess it’s better late than never! :o)



The graphic novel collections ‘Eye of the Traitor’ and ‘To the Ends of Nu Earth’ continue, and eventually round off, the ‘Traitor General’ storyline that saw Rogue Trooper start out on his adventures in Nu Earth. Revenge for the dead and those comrades still with him (in bio-chipped form which is still very cool four books in!) is upper most on his mind which makes the end of this story arc all the more confusing. I’m not going to give too much away but Rogue passes up the ideal chance to finish things. Why? Because he couldn’t shoot a man in the back... I don’t get it and this certainly doesn’t sit well with everything that Rogue has had to go through to get to this point. There is closure to the arc though which is something at least. Rogue’s story is left open for more tales and there is still enough here for me to want to carry on reading.

I pretty much jumped straight to the end of two graphic novels, just then, so should really go back and tell you what the rest of it is like! The two books follow the same formula mentioned in one of my earlier reviews, namely that the Rogue Trooper must defeat an ‘enemy of the day’ before he can progress further towards his goal. On the one hand this gives the writers some scope to get really creative with sentient barbed wire (‘Bio Wire’) and a bio-chipped hand gun two of the ‘stand out’ obstacles that Rogue has to contend. On the other hand though it felt like the approach was used a little too much, like I’ve said before I can see it working really well in single story ‘comic format’ but it just ended up being repetitious over the course of an entire book...



That’s not to say that all the content is bad though. There is plenty of gunfire and future warfare to keep you hanging on, even if you know that Rogue will end up making it through to the next stage. The books also take a look at how the war is affecting the people fighting it and it’s good to see this area being explored (the messed up veteran, traumatised recruits and tricks that the mind plays on soldiers who are dug in for the long term etc). This only really applies to the Souther forces with the writers seemingly content to let the Norts remain in their ‘monstrous enemy’ role. I guess half the side of the story is better than nothing at all...

It’s not just the Norts that Rogue must contend with. The war offers opportunities for people to carve out a little power for themselves and elements of the Souther command (Milli-Com) are just as susceptible to this. Rogue must not only fight these elements but also the regular elements of Milli-Com that want him shot as a deserter. Gunnar’s ‘re-gening’ (being slotted back into a physical body and tasked to kill Rogue) makes for an intriguing tale and the story ‘Milli-Com Memories’ is well worth a look if you want to know more of the story behind Rogue’s creation.

One thing that did bug me, that I think would probably have gone un-noticed in a weekly comic, is the way that all of a sudden (after a long hard slog across the various war-zones of Nu Earth) the whereabouts of the traitor general literally drops out of the sky and into Rogue’s lap. It’s plausible enough (I guess) but it felt a little too sudden, almost as if a whole load of other stories had been chopped out because someone felt that it was round about time that this one ended. Maybe there should have been a little more leading up to the finale...

I’ve got two more ‘Rogue Trooper’ books to read and there’s enough in the character, and storyline, to make me want to read more. I think these books are ideal for people who want to plug the gaps in their collection but I’m genuinely not sure how much anyone else, who have never read the series before, would get out of them. Give it a go and see for yourselves I guess, maybe I’ll have a better idea when I get to the end of what I’ve got...

‘Eye of the Traitor’ – Seven out of Ten
‘To the Ends of Nu Earth’ – Six out of Ten

A Week's Worth of Competition Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered any (or all) of the competitions that I ran last week, my email inbox was looking all fat and pleased with itself by the time I got back. ;o)
Without further ado, here are all the lucky people who will be seeing books come through the post very soon...

'Return of the Crimson Guard' (Ian Cameron Esslemont)

Seth Bell, Rochester, USA
Annette Farrington, Upottery, Devon, UK
Brett Romine, Kansas, USA

'The Mercy Thompson Series' (First Three Books) - Patricia Briggs

Brian Stabler, East Yorkshire, UK
Juan Ruiz Alconero, Madrid

'The Two Pearls of Wisdom' (Alison Goodman)

Mats Pedersen, Norway
Andrew Albert J. Ty, Santa Mesa, Phillipines
Trine Dissing Paulsen, Frederiksberg, Denmark

'Zoe's Tale' (John Scalzi)

Gopakumar Sethuraman, Richmond, USA

'Jhegaala' (Steven Brust)

Leisa Wooten, Covington, USA

Thanks again to everyone who took part and extra thanks to the people at Transworld, Orbit Books and Tor Books who very kindly supplied the books! If you didn't win this time then there are always more competitions on the horizon so keep your eyes open... :o)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

‘The Ice Schooner’ – Michael Moorcock (Sphere Books)


If you were making a list of prolific sci-fi/fantasy writers then Michael Moorcock would have to be on there somewhere, maybe not right at the top but surely not that far off either. I ran a few Questions past Michael Moorcock (a while ago now) and he said that it used to take him three days to write a book working from nine until six with an hour off for lunch.
I’m not sure exactly how long it took Moorcock to write ‘The Ice Schooner’ but it was first published in 1969 which puts it firmly in the ‘two or three days to write’ category. It’s also only one hundred and fifty seven pages long which means that it took me as long to read it as it did for Moorcock to write. It’s not bad either...

A new Ice Age covers an Earth of the distant future, an earth where men pilot mighty ice schooners and hunt down the slowly dwindling race of land whales. It is a world where time is running out for its lonely inhabitants, or is it? Schooner captain Konrad Arflane’s life takes an unexpected turn when he accepts a commission to seek out the fabled and lost city of New York. His journey across the ice will show him a much wider world and him to confront the validity of his own beliefs...

For a book that is only a hundred and fifty seven pages long, Moorcock is certainly able to pack a lot in and give the reader value for money. As well as a stirring nautical tale, with swashbuckling bits and a sultry heroine, the reader also gets not only an in depth look at the philosophy of our hero but also a look at the philosophy of an entire race that is having to face up to the possibility of it’s own extinction. It is a hard life and a bleak time in which to live and this shows in the stoic and matter of fact nature of the characters involved.

When Konrad Arflane found himself without a ship to command, he left the city-crevasse of Brershill and set off on skis across the great ice plateau; he went with the intention of deciding whether he should live or die.

There are no half measures here! In a world approaching its end, choices really do boil down to either life or death. By the end of ‘The Ice Schooner’ a note of optimism is introduced and the focus shifts onto a choice between looking to the future and living in the past. It is in the nature of Moorcock’s doomed heroes that this choice is never straightforward and Arflane lives up to type. I wasn’t sure that this choice was in keeping with how Arflane had developed over the course of the book, especially when you realise how much he had changed by that point. It still made for a suitably sombre ending though with Moorcock seeming to plump for the ‘embrace the future’ option and showing the only consequence for those who cannot make this decision. The world, it seems, will always move on regardless of the choices we make about how to live our lives.

The ice and cold get into everything and leaves the reader in no doubt as to the conditions prevalent in the novel. Moorcock keeps things fairly simple in terms of scene setting with only the odd encounter with mutant barbarians, and the pay off at the end of the book, to remind us that this is science fiction. This understated approach worked for me though, probably because I’m a pretty big fan of the whole ‘post apocalyptic’ thing.

The only thing that didn’t sit so well with me was that it felt like Moorcock crammed so much into such a short space that he didn’t leave himself for a convincing pay off at the end. After all the trials that Konrad, and his crew, goes through it’s all dealt with in four or five pages and plays a definite second fiddle to what happens at the very end. It felt a bit rushed and I would almost have rather seen the characters die at the last hurdle than have them stumble through something that felt ever so slightly anti-climatic.

Despite this, ‘The Ice Schooner’ is an engaging read that kept me turning the pages. It’s certainly worth a look if you want to read something by Moorcock that doesn’t draw so heavily on his multi-verse mythos. My copy came from a second hand book shop but ‘The Ice Schooner’ can also be found as a part of Orion Books ‘Eternal Champion’ collection (I can't remember which though).

Eight out of Ten

A couple of special offers from Pan Macmillan...

Because sometimes this blog is a shop window that tells you what is in other shop windows... :o)
I received an email from Pan Macmillan letting me know about a couple of offers that they've got going on right now. There's something for everyone here I think!

From now until December 8th, Pan Macmillan have 20% off a selection of their science fiction and fantasy books. Click Here for more information and how to buy what you're after.

Don't click on this This link just yet as the page won't be up and running until the 6th of September. If you're a fan of e-books though you may want to bookmark it as this seemingly non-functional page will shortly become a page that tells you of Pan Macmillan's 3 for 2 offer on all their Sci-Fi and Fantasy e-books...

Happy Shopping ;o)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

‘The Painted Man’ – Peter V. Brett (Harper Voyager)


It wasn’t all that long ago that I got tagged to take part in this Meme and the book that sprung to hand was Peter V. Brett’s debut ‘The Painted Man’. In the one of those freak ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moments I managed to home straight in on the single most lascivious line in the entire story... then promptly put the book to one side and forgot about it for the next couple of months (you know how it goes, that damn ‘to read pile’ will always grow faster than you can keep up with it...)
The weather last week was supposed to be pretty grim (and the less said about that the better...) so I thought it would be a good chance to catch up on some stuff that I had been meaning to read but never managed to. Guess what happened to be at the top of the pile...? What do you mean you want a clue!?
‘The Painted Man’ spent the week in Cornwall with me and, for the most part, we had a great time together...

‘The Painted Man’ is set in a world where humanity has good reason to fear nightfall. When darkness falls demons rise from the earth and will feed on anyone foolish enough not to be hidden behind protective wards, they cannot be stopped and it is useless to even try. This is an accepted fact but eleven year old Arlen sees things differently, even though he is only a boy Arlen realises that it’s humanity’s fear which is holding them back from a fight that they may just be able to win. This begins an journey where Arlen, and two friends with their own stories to tell, will seek to free both humanity and themselves...

As with ‘Bitten to Death’, which I looked at yesterday, ‘The Painted Man’ is one of those books that seems to tell the same old story until you look a little bit deeper. Then you realise that there’s a little more going on than you first thought.
I’ll admit that I squirmed a bit when I realised that the hero was an eleven year old boy who was about to go on a journey. In certain fantasy novels it sometimes feels like you can’t turn round without falling over an eleven year boy who’s set off to find his fortune and destiny! Someone ought to have a word with the parents. If that wasn’t bad enough you also have a teenage girl who’s discovering that it’s hard to be a woman and a dapper rogue with a silver tongue and a talent for magical music. The estate of Robert Jordan may be calling up soon to ask for these two back...

Things weren’t looking hopeful at this point but then I suddenly realised that I was over halfway through the book and eager to find out what was going to happen next. What happened there? Brett pulls a pretty neat trick by subtly rolling the years forward, telling us everything that we need to know but also ensuring that we don’t have to spend too much time in the company of annoying brats. Before we know it, we’re reading about the trials and exploits of people that we almost feel that we’ve grown up with. A lot happens to them and I found myself really getting involved with the journeys that they were making. It also helps that Brett has the ability to stir things up by writing passages that had me on the edge of my seat (well, my sleeping bag actually as I was reading this in a tent) during a fight or waiting in anticipation as the tension racks up. Brett really got me into what was going on which, in my eyes, more than made up for things that seemed a bit ‘samey’. I guess that if a story is good then it doesn’t matter if you’ve heard it before.

The blurb on the back recommends this book for fans of Raymond Feist and David Gemmell, I haven’t read much of Feist’s stuff at all but can see where the Gemmell comparison comes from. ‘The Painted Man’ is very character based with a strong line in development of these characters and a look at where the ensuing choices can lead. We get to see Brett’s take on what makes a hero and, maybe predictably given the subject matter, the answer isn’t straightforward. There are many different ways of fighting and Brett’s characters each take a different route. Brett also asks tough questions of his characters in terms of what they are prepared to sacrifice in order to gain what they are fighting for. Should a man become like the devil he is trying to fight if he wants to win and is the price too great? We’ll have to wait until the next book to see what the answer is...

Talking of which, the ending of ‘The Painted Man’ is a pretty good mixture of certain elements being closed whilst other questions are left in the air to be answered in future books. Not only did I enjoy what I’d read but I’m left in the position of eagerly waiting to find out what’s to come...

‘The Painted Man’ is a deceptive read that looked like being just one thing but then ended up being something completely different at the same time. It may not prove to be a particularly challenging read for those who swear by the likes of Martin, Erikson, Abercrombie etc but I don’t think anyone will be able to deny that ‘The Painted Man’ is a very entertaining read indeed.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

I'm not the only person who's reviewed 'The Painted Man', click
Here for David's review.

Peter V. Brett will be signing copies of 'The Painted Man' at Forbidden Planet (London) between 6-7pm on September 4th. I'll be there :o)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

‘Bitten to Death’ – Jennifer Rardin (Orbit Books)


I don’t know what it is with me and the whole ‘sassy young woman who has loads of issues but offs loads of vampires but secretly loves one particular vampire but is always full of angst about their doomed relationship’ urban fantasy thing. On the one hand it feels like a one trick pony constantly being ridden by a different main character, each time, but on the other hand I always seem to find myself going back for just one more read... I don’t know what it is, am I just stuck in a comfortable rut or are there just enough car chases and undead punch-ups to whet my appetite for future reads? Whatever the answer is, I’ve found myself back in the zone again with the latest in Jennifer Rardin’s ‘Jaz Parks’ series.

The last two books in this fledgling series did just enough to keep me reading but if you were to ask me now what they were actually about then I’d have real trouble remembering anything other than the main points of the plot (these being the adventures of a sassy young woman with issues who is the bodyguard of the CIA’s top vampire assassin and she happens to be in love with him and... you get the picture). ‘Undead Special Ops missions’ stills sounds cool though doesn’t it? It does and it is, Rardin really hits her stride with ‘Bitten to Death’ which promises great things for future books in the series if they continue in this vein (no pun intended, honestly).

The series, so far, has been all about Jaz Parks and Vayl tracking down master criminal and vampire Edward ‘The Raptor’ Samos and ‘Bitten to Death’ sees them in with their best chance yet to take the Raptor down. Samos is trying to take over Vayl’s former Trust (this series’ collective noun for vampires) and a forthcoming meeting will prove pivotal for any number of vampires and were-creatures all looking to advance their own agendas. Nothing is as it seems and Jaz’s main objective will prove to be almost a side note when another vampire makes her move...

On the face of things ‘Bitten to Death’ will appeal to fans of the series in that it has exactly the same mixture of action and romance as the previous two books. You know what you’re getting with this series which will keep the fans happy but may prove off putting to readers who were hoping for a change. Like I said at the beginning, a hot young chick gets to wrestle with her issues while she’s wrestling with the undead and the fact that there’s a lot going on (a very good thing, ‘Bitten to Death’ is very fast paced with plenty that held my attention) doesn’t do a lot to hide a plot line that you can find in most other books of this genre. And don’t think that it’s just Jaz that I’ve got a problem with, oh no... Dracula must be spinning in his grave (a good name for the next Hammer Horror Film?) at how vampires have had their metaphorical fangs pulled out and turned into sissies who get full of angst over a woman instead of ripping her throat out and drinking some of that good old red stuff. Yes Vayl, I’m looking straight at you in this case...

At this point I’m normally gearing up to dish out a right savaging but Rardin has a few tricks up her sleeve that makes ‘Bitten to Death’ step up a gear and has me grinning ruefully, saying that I’ll be around for one more book at least.
Although the story and plot was what I’d come to expect, in terms of content and pacing, Rardin added a little spice by steering things in a different direction so that the climax to the story isn’t the one that you’ll be expecting. She’s not afraid to bring plot lines to a close so it’s almost like you get two explosive endings for the price of one book! By taking this approach, Rardin gives us a little more of a glimpse into the tortured psyche of Jaz Parks (always interesting) and carves out new and intriguing directions for future books to head in.

Rardin also paints one of her most devious scenarios yet in the Vampire Trust, a tightly bound community that is at the same time completely dysfunctional with all of it members seeking personal gain at the expense of another. No-one can be trusted and the great thing is that sometimes this includes people like Jaz and Vayl... There’s plenty to keep you guessing and it’s all drawn together in a logical way at the end. The introduction of two were-clans (wolf and bear) hints at a wider world that I hope is explored in future books.

‘Bitten to Death’ looks like another ‘same old take’ on urban fantasy but give it a chance and there’s a lot more going on under the surface that will excite fans and maybe persuade jaded readers of the series to keep on reading. I’ve certainly been persuaded but then, like I said, I always seem to keep going back for more...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 25 August 2008

A couple of things you might want to check out...


I received an email (from Leisure Books) about 'Jakes Wake', the forthcoming book from John Skipp and Cory Goodfellow. Here's the blurb...

Pastor Jake promised his followers everlasting life…he just didn’t say what kind. So when the small-town televangelist and con man climbs out of his coffin at his own wake, it becomes Judgment Day for everyone gathered to mourn—or celebrate—his death. Jake is back, in the rotting flesh, filled with anger and vengeance. And accompanied by demons even more frightening than himself. What follows is a long night of endless terror, a blood-drenched rampage by the man not even death could stop.

Horror icon John Skipp launched his career as half of the New York Times bestselling partnership Skipp and Spector in 1986. What followed was an incredible string of bestselling novels that introduced the genre of splatterpunk and changed the face of horror fiction forever. Then, in the mid-90s Skipp seemingly disappeared from the horror scene, leaving millions of fans to await the return of this horror godfather.

Now he’s teamed up with brilliant newcomer Cody Goodfellow (author of the cult Lovecraftian epics RADIANT DAWN and RAVENOUS DUSK), to map out the new frontier of fear, and instigate a whole new reign of terror for the horror-loving reader


It looks pretty cool and I'll definitely be after a copy. If you want to find out more then have a click Here where you can watch the video trailer. It's a little bit... erm... you know... so think twice before running it in front of your kids, grandparents etc!

Now for something completely different! Dave Brendon, over in South Africa, has started up his own Fantasy & Sci-Fi blog which I've been getting into since I've been back. It's over Here if you fancy a look, hopefully you'll enjoy it as well ;o)

Normal Service Resumes...

Because I'm back! :o) I hope you all had a good week, Cornwall was wet but looked absolutely gorgeous and I learned the hard way about putting a tent up properly... (that's all I'll say on the matter!)

I managed to find time to get geeky while I was there, visiting the Doctor Who exhibition at Land's End. It's well worth a look if you find yourself there with costumes from the series as well as a Dalek, an Ood and K9 (my favourite bit!)

I also managed to get back to the really cool bookshop in Bude where I made some sci-fi purchases as well as being bought an early birthday present from my wife (a rather nice looking first edition of 'The Two Towers')
Here they are in all their glory...



Now I'm back you can expect to see reviews of my holiday reading cropping up over the next few days with Peter V. Brett's 'The Painted Man' and Jennifer Rardin's 'Bitten to Death' proving to be entertaining reading. Keep an eye out for those ;o)

If you're in the UK, have a great Bank Holiday! If not, I hope you had a great weekend!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

'The Hero of Ages' (Brandon Sanderson) Cover Art


Hi!

As you can guess I'm back from holiday and there will be more about that in another post... In the meantime I just wanted to share some artwork from Brandon Sanderson's upcoming 'The Hero of Ages'! It's going to be a little while before I get round to reading this, especially seeing as I haven't read the first two books in the series, but I thought the cover looked pretty cool and wanted to share :o)

What do you think of it?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Giveaway! 'Jhegaala' (Steven Brust)

It wasn't so long ago that I reviewed 'Jhegaala' and ended up really getting into it. With this in mind I got in touch with the nice people at Tor to see if they wouldn't mind helping out with a giveaway (I love doing giveaways for books that I've enjoyed!), a few emails later and here we are!

Courtesy of Tor Books I have one copy of 'Jhegaala' to give away to one lucky winner. Do you want to be that person? If you fancy your chances then 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 take care of the rest ;o)

Due to there being other competitions on the go this week, you need to make it clear in your email that 'Jhegaala' is the book you want. I'm afraid that this competition is only open to US residents so sorry about that everyone else...

I'll be letting this one run until August the 28th and will anounce the winner on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Giveaway! 'The Two Pearls of Wisdom' (Alison Goodman)


Transworld sent me a press release regarding this book, not only did it look good enough for me to request a copy but I figured I'd give you all a chance at an early read as well!
Here's the synopsis...

Under the harsh regime of an ambitious master, candidate Eon is training to become a Dragoneye - a powerful Lord able to master wind and water to protect the land. But Eon also harbours a desperate secret...Eon is, in fact, Eona, a young woman who has endured years of disguise as a boy for the chance to practice the Dragoneye's Art. In a world where women are only hidden wives or servants, Eona's dangerous deception is punishable by death. Still in disguise, Eona's unprecedented talent thrusts her into the centre of a lethal struggle for the Imperial throne.Summoned by the Emperor to the opulent and treacherous Court, Eona must learn to trust her power and find the strength to face a vicious enemy who would seize her magic...and her life. Inspired by ancient Chinese lore and sharing the wonders of films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", this thrilling novel of deadly politics, sexual intrigue and dazzling swordplay is set in a brilliantly envisioned world where both appearances and loyalties can prove so very deceptive...

Does this sound like the kind of book that you fancy reading? Thanks to Transworld Books I have three copies to give away...
If you fancy your chances then what you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. There are other competitions going on this week so you need to make it clear in your email that this is the book you're after.
Unfortunately, in this instance Transworld are unable to send copies to the US, Australia or New Zealand so this compeition isn't open to anyone from these countries. Sorry about that... You can still send me an email though, I like getting emails! :o)

I'm going to let this one run until the 28th of August and announce the winners on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Giveaway! 'Zoe's Tale' (John Scalzi)


Every year I always seem to end up finding a new book (or series) that I wouldn't normally pick up but end up really enjoying. This year it's the turn of Hugo Award winning John Scalzi and his 'Old Man's War' series. I've finished 'The Ghost Brigades', and will probably be reading 'The Last Colony' as you're reading this post, and thought it would be a cool thing to do to have a giveaway for the latest book 'Zoe's Tale'. The nice people at Tor Books thought this was a good idea as well and so another giveaway was born... :o)
Here's the blurb that I found,

How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history?
I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old.
Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did — how I did what I had to do — not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes.
It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.


Sounds good doesn't it? Courtesy of Tor Books I have one copy of 'Zoe's Tale' to give to one lucky winner. If you want to be that person then you need to drop me an email (address in the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and your mailing address, I'll take care of the rest ;o)

There's a number of other competitions on the go right now so you need to make it clear, in your email subject header, that this is the competition you're interested in. I'm afraid that this competition is for US residents only, sorry about that!

I'll be letting this one run until August the 28th and I'll announce the winner on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Giveaway! 'Mercy Thompson' Series (Patricia Briggs)


Urban Fantasy is a real mixed bag, as far as I'm concerned, but one series I've consistently enjoyed is the 'Mercy Thompson' series that chronicles the adventures of a car mechanic that can not only change into a coyote but also has to make her away through the politics and machinations of werewolves, vampires and Fae...
I've only just started reading the books but Patricia Briggs is already one of the select few Urban Fantasy authors where I'm waiting eagerly for the next book to arrive!

Are you one of those people who's heard good things about these books but hasn't yet taken the plunge? Would you like to? Well you've come to the right place as, thanks to Orbit UK, I have two 'packs' (containing 'Moon Called', 'Blood Bound' and 'Iron Kissed') that two lucky winners are going to get the chance to get stuck into.
Do you want in? If this sounds like your kind of thing then simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do the rest! ;o)

There is more than one competition going on this week so you need to make it clear, in your email subject header, that this is the competition you're entering. Due to copyright reasons, and suchlike, this competition is only open to UK and EU residents. Sorry about that everyone else...

I'll be letting this one run until August 28th and I'll announce the winners on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Giveaway! 'Return of the Crimson Guard' (Ian Cameron Esslemont)


If you're a Malazan fan then you've been waiting for this book for about as long as I have! 'Night of Knives' was slow to get out of the starting blocks but was an entertaining read and the signs are that 'Return of the Crimson Guard' will be even better...

Thanks to Transworld Books I have three books to give away to anyone who wants a copy. If you count yourself on that list then entering is as easy as ever. My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen, drop me a line telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. The mailing address bit is particularly important as Transworld need to know where to send the books to (the only reason why I ask for an address)! There will be other competitions running this week so you need to make it clear in the email header what competition you are entering. This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

I'll be letting this one run until the 28th of August and will announce the winners on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

I got Tagged!

Actually, I got tagged ages ago, by Aidan, and never got round to spreading the meme love. Better late than never I guess, here goes...

Nightstand/Table: Or, in my case, a patch of carpet next to the bed... There you will find copies of,

The three 'Nemesis the Warlock' collections.
'The Painted Man' - Peter V. Brett
'The Man with the Iron Heart' - Harry Turtledove
'The Last Colony' - John Scalzi
'Graceling' - Kristin Cashore

All waiting to be read/reviewed...

Reading at the Moment: 'Bitten to Death' by Jennifer Rardin. The 'James Bond meets Dracula' blurb is fairly apt, nothing too demanding but great fun to read.

Can’t Put Down: Right now it has to be anything written by John Scalzi, I cannot get enough of the 'Old Man's War' universe and these books literally have to pried out of my clutches in order to get me to do everday stuff. Like sleep or eat...

Gathering Dust: Steven Erikson's 'Toll the Hounds'. One of my most anticipated books of the year and I cannot find the time to properly get stuck into it (especially as it's sheer size makes it unsuitable for commuting). What is wrong with me? Stupid work...

Secret Indulgence: Strawberry Fruitellas, although it's not exactly a secret anymore. Back on the diet I go...
As far as books go... David Eddings' 'Belgariad' is most certainly NOT a secret indulgence. No sir, not at all...

Looking Forward To: A cold beer and the sun coming out :o) Oh, you mean books? Erm... GRRM's 'A Dance with Dragons', Joe Abercrombie's 'Best Served Cold' and the next 'Wild Cards' collection. And all the stuff that I've forgotten about...

Well, that's me. Once again I'm far too late to the party to tag anyone so if you want to tell me what's by your bed, or what your secret indulgence is, then that's what the comment box is for :o)

Saturday, 16 August 2008

I'm on holiday again!

The camping went so well last time that we figured we'd try and get another trip in before the summer ended! This time round things could be different though as weather reports say there's going to be a 95% chance of rain every day that we're away. Things are going to be interesting... and very muddy!
While you're all tucked up in your warm homes and offices spare a thought for poor cold me? :o)

Things have been pretty crazy leading up to going away so I'm sorry if you've emailed me recently and I haven't replied (that goes double for anyone who I haven't replied to since comng back from camping a fortnight ago!) One of the first things I do when I get back will be to catch up on all the emails I haven't replied to yet!

Thanks to 'post scheduling' cool stuff will be popping up on the blog even though I'm not around (I'm actually writing this from my desk, at work, on Wednesday afternoon. Don't tell my boss...) This coming week will see five giveaways on the blog, they're all good so be sure to pop your head around the door and see if you fancy entering!
There should also hopefully be a couple of other bits and pieces as well, it will almost be like I'm not on holiday at all! :o)

Have a good week!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Author Interview! Steven Brust


Having read 'Jhegaala' I thought it would be a cool thing to run some questions past Steven and see what he had to say. Without further ado, here's my questions and Steven's replies...

Hi Steven, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions!

I’ve never read of the Vlad Taltos series (I know, sorry…) but found it really easy to get into what was going on, with Vlad, without the background information you normally need eleven books into a series. Is this intentional? Is there a particular book in the series that you would recommend people start with?

Yes, it was intentional; thanks for noticing. It wasn't always successful, but I hate books that have to be read in a certain order, so I did my best to make each one stand on its own. I usually suggest people start with Jhereg, because it was my first novel, and if you don't like it, I can say, “Well, hey, it was only a first novel.”

I can’t be the only person who hasn’t picked up a Vlad Taltos book (although I have a sneaking suspicion that I am…) How would you describe the series to someone who hasn’t picked it up yet?

If I were trying to sell it to Hollywood, the elevator pitch would be, “Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos.”

How did writing ‘Jhegaala’ compare to writing previous books in the series? Was it fun to write or a pain?

It was fun, and a pain, and scary (in the sense of, “can I make this work?”), and exhilarating, and frustrating. In other words, pretty much business as usual.

When you’re not writing, what are you reading? Should we be reading it too?

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, mostly anthropology, as well as continuing to read on the American Civil War. As for favourite writers, the list includes Tim Powers, Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Pamela Dean, Glen Cook, Jacqueline Carey. Writers I always enjoy re-reading include Roger Zelazny and Patrick O'Brian, Twain, Dumas.

Is Vlad the kind of guy you could see yourself having a few beers with?

Yes, but he wouldn't feel the same way about having a beer with me.

‘Jhegaala’ has a real ‘hard boiled detective novel’ feel to it, is this genre an inspiration for your writing? Are there any other books (or music) that serve as a similar inspiration?

Oh, hell yeah. The Vlad books combine Raymond Chandler, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock.

The opening of ‘Jhegaala’ sees Vlad on the run from the Jhereg organisation, is Vlad the kind of guy who will always bounce back or are we more likely to see things get worse before they get better?

That would be telling…

‘Jhegaala’ seemed (to me) to concentrate more on the characters rather than the world they live in. Do you prefer writing stuff that is more character based or have I come in at the wrong end of the series and everyone knows about the setting already?

It all depends on the story, and on how I feel that story is best told.

I enjoyed the ongoing, and slightly sarcastic, dialogue between Vlad and his familiar Loiosh. Was this relationship inspired by anything or did it just develop naturally? How do you see the introduction of Rocza affecting the dynamic?

It came about pretty naturally. The character of Loiosh sort of created itself as a foil for Vlad. I'm completely blind at this point to how Rocza has changed it, because she's been there since the second book I wrote. I can only say that when I went back and did some books without her, it seemed weird.

Finally… I’ve got some serious catching up to do, with previous books in the series, but do you have anything that you can tell fans about your next book? Is there anything on paper yet or are the ideas still coming to fruition?
The next book jumps forward from events in Dzur...

Thanks for your time with this, I really appreciate it.

Click Here for my review of 'Jhegaala'.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

‘The Ghost Brigades’ – John Scalzi (Tor Books)


I read ‘Old Man’s War’ last week and loved it for all kinds of reasons that I’m not going to go into all over again, have a look over HERE for my review if you haven’t seen it already. One of my first thoughts on finishing was that if ‘The Ghost Brigades’ was half as good as ‘Old Man’s War’ then I was in for a treat of a read but then I started to wonder whether ‘The Ghost Brigades’ could match up, ‘Old Man’s War’ was one hell of a read after all.
I made myself late for work, this morning, just so I could finish up the last twenty pages of ‘The Ghost Brigades’ and see how it all ended, that should give you a pretty good idea of how I found it. It’s not without moments that bugged me but, on the whole, ‘The Ghost Brigades’ meets the standards set by ‘Old Man’s War’ and sometimes even exceeds them…

Of all the soldiers that make up the Colonial Defence Force the Special Forces are the most feared, even by their own side. Created from the DNA of the dead (why they are known as the ‘Ghost Brigades’) these soldiers are the elite of the CDF and totally without normal human qualms.
The universe is a dangerous place for humanity at the best of times and now, with three alien races allying to turn back human expansion, things are about to get even worse. The aliens hold a trump card in defecting human scientist, Charles Boutin, who holds CDF secrets, the CDF hold a trump card of their own in that they have grown a clone (of Boutin) in an attempt to gain inside knowledge.
Jared Dirac is that clone but the CDF plan didn’t work out and he is now a member of the Ghost Brigades fighting a dirty war to advance humanity’s aims. However, Boutin’s memories are about to surface and Dirac is about to realise just what humanity’s enemies have in mind…

‘The Ghost Brigades’ is every bit the read that ‘Old Man’s War’ was, in terms of plot and the way that Scalzi gets us into the heads of each character. The book is written in the third person and this lets the reader find out about each character on their own terms instead of just from the perspective of one character. This opened up the book a lot for me and it was good to see that Scalzi treats all of his characters with the same attention to detail. Seaborg may be a jerk but Scalzi tells you exactly why that is and even though you may not like the character much at least you know where he’s coming from. General Mattson may be the worst kind of overbearing commanding officer but once you’re given an idea of what he’s facing then you understand why he behaves the way he does. Even Charles Boutin’s motives are laid bare, not just because the villain always boasts about his plans but to give the reader a chance to form their own judgements. More than anything else, ‘The Ghost Brigades’ is a book about people making choices and the reader is invited to become part of that process.

Sclazi also opens up his universe a lot more, giving readers a much better idea of the situation that the CDF is facing by putting things in context. It’s not just a few alien races to contend with, there are around six hundred species and humanity has declared five hundred and seventy seven of them hostile. That’s not good odds at all! A story that is already brimming with action, intrigue and suspense takes on a new dimension as humanity’s precarious situation is made clear. The smallest decision or action can have great consequences and it was this approach that had me turning the pages.

Scalzi also finds time to give the reader something to think about in his portrayal of the ways in which the Ghost Brigades are treated. Is it ethical to raise an infant in an adult body (with the initial consciousness nurtured by computer) and then send it into the kind of battles that ‘real born’ soldiers would refuse? Scalzi throws us both sides of the argument and then leaves us to make up our own minds. What he also does is show us how the Special Forces grow up during basic training and how their adult bodies house children with immense power. It’s touching stuff but there are also moments that made me laugh out loud.
There’s plenty to think about (especially when you see some of the missions that they have to carry out) and I’m still not sure what side of the argument I come down on…

Info-dumps, mostly at the beginning of the book, make ‘The Ghost Brigades’ a book that you can read without having read ‘Old Man’s War’ first. The problem for me was that I had read ‘Old Man’s War’ first and I was faced with a lot of stuff that I knew already, this made the beginning of the book a bit of a slog and spoiled things a bit. There was the promise of goodness to come but I had to get through some stuff that wasn’t so good first…

This is only a small niggle though. John Scalzi’s books are a reminder to me that I should be reading a lot more sci-fi than I already do and I’ll be starting ‘The Last Colony’ sooner rather than later. ‘The Ghost Brigades’ is the perfect antidote to the crappy weather/commute to work that I’ve been enduring these last few days, the more I can get my hands on the better!


Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Just to let you know...

I'm going to be on holiday next week and thought I would share the good vibes by scheduling some competitions to run while I'm away :o)
I emailed some publishers, to see if they would be up for it, and the response has been so great (thanks to all concerned) that I can now officially declare that next week is Book Giveaway Week on the Blog!

There's going to be a little bit of fantasy, some urban fantasy and I'm waiting to see if some sci-fi will get added to the mix. I'm pretty sure you'll want to enter at least one of the competitions so be sure to stop by next week and see what's on offer!

Movie! ‘Porco Rosso’


The beauty of the sci-fi/fantasy genre is its ability to be flexible and cater to everyone’s tastes. There’s something there for everyone and if there isn’t then you can bet that there’s room to squeeze something new in.
The genre caters pretty well for what I’m into but every now and then I realise that there’s something missing that I really want more of…
One of my favourite things about the ‘Muppet Show’, when I was a child, was the weekly ‘Pigs in Space’ serial which pretty much did what the title said. Pigs flying through space, it doesn’t get much cooler than that! :o) Unfortunately though I’ve never seen anything since with flying pigs and this was a real shame. Until now that is… I watched ‘Porco Rosso’ last night and the ‘flying pig shaped hole’ in my genre viewing has been filled up in the best possible way!

Marco is a former World War One fighter pilot who turned his back on the Italian air force to pursue a career as a bounty hunter fighting seaplane pirates in the Adriatic Sea. He’s also a pig, not just in the way that he treats women; a curse has been placed on him that has turned him into a pig. We don’t get to find out why he has been cursed (although he drops hints here and there); we just get to see the Red Pig fly loops around seaplane pirates, pursue a deadly rivalry with an American pirate and tread carefully around the edge of romance with at least two women…

‘Porco Rosso’ is one of those films that had me laughing out loud one minute and then feeling sad five minutes later. Marco seems to be resigned to life as a pig (sometimes preferring it to the alternative) but this doesn’t stop him from being very much the outsider and he even uses it to put a shield up between himself and those who care about him. This leads to some very poignant moments where you get a sense of what Marco could have but chooses not to.
There’s also a very strong political undercurrent to this film with the rise of Fascism in Italy making things very difficult for Marco to get by. In a sense he had brought this upon himself by deserting but the sense of oppression builds up very nicely, throughout the film, and by the end you can see clearly how it has found its way into every aspect of life.



Above all though ‘Porco Rosso’ is a very entertaining film that had me hooked right from the moment Marco leaps into his plane and rescues a group of schoolgirls from seaplane pirates (although it looked at times as if it was the pirates who needed rescuing). Not only is there plenty going on (interspersed with bursts of humour that had me chuckling) but there is plenty to see with beautifully drawn aeroplane dog-fights and face offs between Marco, various pirates and the Italian Secret Police. I didn’t think so at the time but, looking back, I can really appreciate how the ending is so understated. In a sense the ending doesn’t matter, what actually happened is what’s important.

‘Porco Rosso’ is one of those films where I found myself really glad that I took the time to give it a go. If you’re a fan of director Hayao Miyazaki then you really should give this a go if you haven’t already…

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Book Spotlight! 'Just One Bite' - Kimberly Raye (Del Rey Books)

Work is being a real pain right now, with an office move coming up in the next week, and reading time is getting more and more scarce. I don't have time to read some books, and there are also other books that I can't see myself reading at all, but one of the things I want to start doing on the blog is telling people what's out there as well as what I'm reading.
Fantasy Book Critic's 'Monthly Spotlights' are a superb resource, for those who don't know what is being released and when, while Larry's Book Porn offers an interesting look at cool books you may not have even known about...
My own 'Spotlight Thing' is going to be a little more humble than theirs, at least to begin with...



What's it all about?

Lil Marchette, vampire extraordinaire and owner of Manhattan’s hottest hook-up service, is an expert at matching up the lonely and desperate (and sometimes dead). And thanks to the popular local reality dating show Manhattan’s Most Wanted, Lil has plenty of fresh blood to add to the mix–including the biggest, baddest vampire in the Big Apple. Vinnie Balducci, Brooklyn representative for the Snipers of Otherworldly Beings, is making Lil an offer she can’t refuse: find him the perfect woman or she’s going to be swimming with the fishes.

But Lil may not be the only one taking the plunge. The three hunky demon Prince brothers are poking around Lil’s office–hot on the trail of a rogue spirit trying to escape the land down under (not Australia) by possessing some poor, clueless human soul. Then Lil makes a startling discovery: The oblivious human vessel is none other than her loyal assistant, Evie. Between saving Evie from eternal damnation and saving herself from Vinnie’s lethal ultimatum, Lil is sure to be in for the most hellish ride of her afterlife.


Who's the Author?

Kimberly Raye is the bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including Dead End Dating, Dead and Dateless, and Your Coffin or Mine? She’s been nominated for several Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards, as well as two RITA Awards. Her books have been featured in several major magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens and Glamour, and her novel Sometimes Naughty, Sometimes Nice was a Cosmopolitan magazine book club pick. She lives deep in the heart of Texas Hill Country with her husband and their young children.

Why aren't I reading this??

Not so long ago I did a themed 'Week of Love'where I read a whole load of 'Para-normal Romance' and 'Urban Fantasy'. I still have nightmares about this and can safely say that this sub-genre is not one for me. Any book where the vampire heroine is described as being "...a likeable mix of Bridget Jones, Carrie Bradshaw and Dracula" sets alarm bells ringing that I've learnt to pay close attention to!
It's just not my thing but it might be yours... :o)

Monday, 11 August 2008

‘Jhegaala’ – Steven Brust (Tor Books)


Steven Brust is one of those authors that I’ve heard lots of good things about but never got round to reading. Apparently Vlad Taltos is one of those characters that’s worth getting to know in a series that’s worth a look if you like your fantasy a little darker and your morals a little more ambiguous than normal.
This weekend I decided to do something about this and picked up ‘Jhegaala’, the latest in the ‘Vlad Taltos’ series, as it had come through the door a few days before. The only problem was that ‘Jhegaala’ is the eleventh book in the series and I haven’t read the other ten…

Luckily for me this wasn’t as big an issue as I thought it was going to be. The aftermath of events from preceding books, along with the nature of the plot itself, meant that things were fairly self contained in ‘Jhegaala’ and I didn’t feel that I was missing out by not having read the other books first. There was the odd reference, here and there, that would make more sense to a fan but on the whole I think that this is a book that anyone can pick up and get into.

Following events only hinted at in ‘Jhegaala’, Vlad Taltos’ marriage has collapsed and he is on the run from the criminal Jhereg organisation that wants him dead. Hiding out in the far away country of Fenario seems like a good idea and it gives Vlad the opportunity to find out more about his mother’s side of the family, relatives that he knows next to nothing about.
This leads him to the industrial town of Burz, not a bad place to be despite the smell coming from the paper mill. However, the longer Vlad stays in town the stranger things get. People are anxious to get Vlad out of town and are behaving very oddly around him. No-one will tell him where to find his relatives (the very mention of their name is seen as a threat) and by the time he manages to track them down they have been murdered. Now Vlad is after answers but he’s about to find that the truth is not what he expected…

My first journey into the world of Vlad Taltos was, on the whole, an enjoyable one and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself trying to track down some of the earlier books to get more of a feel for Vlad and the world he lives in. While the book requires hardly any background knowledge in order to enjoy it there were hints at a wider picture that had me interested. Who are the Jhereg and why do they want Vlad dead? What is a Dragaeran? I think I’ll be after finding out more…

The events of ‘Jhegaala’ are recounted from a first person perspective which is a great way for a newcomer like me to get into Vlad Taltos’ head and find out what he is all about. Vlad is an entertaining character to hang out with for just under three hundred pages; full of wise cracks and self deprecating humour but also with a dark edge that can either explode into violence or help him to make those decisions that a more virtuous hero just wouldn’t make. Does this make Vlad Taltos an anti-hero? I’m not sure… He ends up doing the right thing but it’s entirely for his own ends and it’s down to sheer chance that it benefits anyone else. I’m not sure that this qualifies him for anti-hero status, if anyone can help me out with this then please leave a comment…

The problem with the whole first person perspective thing, in ‘Jhegaala’, is that the story is dictated to us through what Vlad sees or what Vlad decides we should know. This meant that I was sometimes left trying to work my way through things that Vlad felt were important but just came across (to me) as filler. Does the reader really need to how much Vlad enjoyed his soup and how it compared to soup from other inns? I didn’t…
I’d also find myself getting close to something that I was interested in only to find that Vlad would say (literally), “you don’t need to know about all this.” This was infuriating at times and broke up an otherwise well paced plot that will appeal to fans of detective fiction. There is a lot going on, with plenty of twists and turns, and it’s a testament to Brust’s writing that he’s able to tie it all up satisfactorily by the end of the book.

‘Jhegaala’ can be an infuriating read sometimes but it certainly got me interested enough to seek out more books in this series. I reckon fans of Vlad Taltos will enjoy this latest installment and, if my experience was anything to go by, it’s a good place for newcomers to jump on board.

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 10 August 2008

'Night of the Living Dead Annual!' (Or why I should never wear my zombie t-shirt in Forbidden Planet...)


Checkout Guy: "I see you're wearing a zombie t-shirt my good man. Can I interest you in this fine limited edition 'Night of the Living Dead' comic?"

Me: "That is indeed a fine comic old chap. Unfortunately I'm saving my money for the purchase of alcoholic beverages tonight and... I couldn't possibly... but it's all bright and shiny... but I've got too many comics already... and..."

Checkout Guy: "It has a certificate of authenticity in the back..."

Me: "Then I'll take it!"

Checkout Guy: "A most astute purchase sir. While you're here, can I interest you in this rather splendid pack of 'Dawn of the Dead' playing cards?"

Me: "Sounds good to me! Hang on... I don't even play cards!" *Runs out of shop*

It's a great comic though that gives us an idea of the events immediately following 'Night of the Living Dead' and shows us what might have happened to some of the main characters. In the meantime; Don and Christine are trying to reach Christine's father, a newsreader at the local TV station. Add an arrogant doctor experimenting on zombies and you've got a tasty slice of zombie action!

This is the first time I've purchased a limited edition comic and it got me thinking. I'm one of five hundred people, around the world, who own this comic... who are the others? Do you know someone who also bought this comic or do you have a copy yourself? Did you see me buy my copy, in Forbidden Planet, and think "that looks cool, I'm having one of those..."? I want to know!
Comments or emails please... :o)

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Saturday 'I'm a little hung over but feeling strangely chirpy' link-up bonanza!

It's been a pretty cool couple of days what with one thing and another. Thursday night saw me get my copy of 'The Steel Remains' signed by Richard Morgan (who's a really nice guy by the way) and last night I was out on the town getting drunk, and generally making a nuisance of myself with my friends from the SFX Forum. All of this leaves me feeling more than a little fragile but buzzing at the same time!
I'm in no fit state to be telling you what I think about books, this morning, so here are some links to what other bloggers have to say... :o)

Not only has Pat had the decorators in, to spruce up his blog (looking good), but he also reviews David Louis Edelman's 'Multireal'.

The Book Swede has a bit of a 'Steel Remains' thing going on at his blog. Not only can you Win a copy of the book but there's also an Interview with Richard Morgan for you to read as well...

Fantasy Book Critic also has a 'Steel Remains' Review and Author Interview for your reading pleasure!

Adam read 'The Steel Remains' ages ago but has a review of The Briar King for you instead.

Aidan's talking about books that he knows he should like but doesn't...

Speculative Horizons has some Recommended Reading for you...

Grasping for the Wind looks at C.F. Bentley's Harmony

Last but not least... Realms of Speculative Fiction has a great review of Return of the Crimson Guard. Which reminds me, I really need to get back into 'Toll the Hounds'...

What am I up to? Trying to pick what book to read next is what I'm up to... They all look good, that's the problem...

Friday, 8 August 2008

‘Slaine: The King’ – Pat Mills (Rebellion)


When I left Slaine last time he was in another plane (a dimensional one!) waiting to do battle with an alien god from beyond the stars, guess where this graphic novel picks up from…? Er… no… The clue is in the first sentence…
Anyway, ‘Slaine: The King’ picks up where ‘Timekiller’ left off with Slaine, and his band of warriors, about to head into the temple and take on the star creature Grimnismal…

If you’ve followed Slaine’s stories in 2000AD, or even if all you know about him is what you’ve read here, then you’ll know how this one turns out. This is Slaine we’re talking about here and he’s a hero dammit! What makes it worse is that (in true D&D style) this section of the book is a ‘go into the next room, kill the monster, go into the next room…’ affair, plenty there for fans of ‘barbarian hack n’ slash’ stories but what’s there is on the repetitive side. Funnily enough, it’s the reprehensible Ukko the Dwarf who saves the day (and my experience of the book) by playing on the less noble aspects of Slaine, and his friends, and tricking/goading them into doing the right thing. Given Ukko’s track record here, this move is particularly ironic and got me interested in the story all over again.

It’s when Slaine, and his band, leave the Cythron dimension and return to the Land of the Young that things started looking up again for me. We now have the chance to get back into the main flow of the story, Slaine’s return to his tribe, which for me was what got me hooked in the first place. I’m still unsure as to how Slaine got his axe back though, having seen it destroyed in the previous collection… Maybe he just got a new one and gave it the same name, I don’t know…
The continuation of the main story arc gives the reader a chance to see the best aspects of this series all over again. The Celtic influence, apparent in ‘Warrior’s Dawn’, comes to the fore once again and gives the story a grounding that raises it above the standard ‘barbarian fare’. Slaine’s trials of kingship are a great example of this (although I’m pretty sure there was some cheating going on somewhere…) in a section that’s slow moving but, at the same time, steeped in lore and mythology. It’s also good to see Slaine develop as a character, even if it’s only a little bit. While he’s still as brash and obnoxious as ever, Slaine shows signs of some much needed maturity as he prepares to take leadership of his tribe.

We also finally get to see Slaine reunited with his tribe and the reason he was forced into exile in the first place. Not only do we get to see the one thing that can get past Slaine’s brash exterior (in a surprisingly poignant and well drawn moment) but we also see things start to move into place for the ‘Horned God’ storyline which I’m reliably informed is one of the better moments (if not the best moment) of the Slaine storyline as a whole. We also get battles, lots and lots of battles… Just the right thing to get me psyched up for the morning commute to work!

‘Slaine: The King’ is a very slow starter but I stuck with it and ended up having a great time. I think I’ll be collecting more of these!
Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 7 August 2008

‘Iron Kissed’ – Patricia Briggs (Orbit Books)


The ‘to be read’ pile is starting to look a little wobbly again so this week I’ve been picking some of the shorter books, off the top, to try and make it stable again :o) If you look down the screen you’ll see it’s worked out fairly well in terms of me enjoying what I’ve read! This week has been all about science fiction, so far, and I thought that it was time to take a little breather and go somewhere different. It’s back to ‘Urban Fantasy’ then and a series that I’ve liked the look of so far. I’m assuming that there is more to come from Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercedes Thompson’ series but ‘Iron Kissed’ rounds the events of the last two books off in a more than satisfactory manner…

Mercy Thompson just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. The events of the last book, ‘Bloodbound’, ended in her owing the Fae folk a favour and now they’re calling it in. Mercy is initially asked to help track down whoever is murdering Fae folk, on the nearby reservation, but the case takes a completely different turn when Zee (her mentor and friend, as well as Fae himself) is found at the scene of a particularly brutal killing of a human security guard. Mercy knows that Zee couldn’t have done it but the evidence is stacked against him and he won’t talk to anyone. It’s a race then to prove her friend’s innocence but it looks like Mercy has bitten off more than she can chew…

When I reviewed ‘Bloodbound’, the preceding novel in the series, I was a little concerned that this was starting to look like a series that followed the same pattern in each book which would make things repetitive to say the least. ‘Iron Kissed’ has reassured me, a little, as even though that familiar pattern is still in evidence Briggs ramps things up a notch or two by making the situations more urgent and Mercy’s adversaries even more formidable. Couple these with a ‘twisty turny plot’ and you’ve got a book that did it for me on more than one level. If you thought the vampires and werewolves were tough then the Fae are really going to surprise you! One particular pursuit and fight is worth the price of admission all on its own… As with the vampires and werewolves, Briggs gives the Fae a refreshing mixture of normality and otherworldly strangeness. I could quite easily see myself going for a drink with a Fae but, at the same time, I wouldn’t want to spill its pint!

So… more of the same but a lot more so! Is that a good thing? I think so; Briggs is obviously not afraid to push her characters just to see what they’re capable of and spice things up a bit. Mercy has to go through some really harrowing stuff, and deal with the consequences, during the course of ‘Iron Kissed’ and despite the otherworldly thing going on Briggs still manages to ground these events in the reality they deserve. I liked that she did that as there are some things that will always be brutal and wrong and shouldn’t be dressed up as something that they’re not.

One other thing that I really enjoyed seeing (and am eternally indebted to Patricia Briggs for) is that Mercy finally decides on one werewolf over the other in the ‘should I choose Adam or Samuel’ sub-plot that has been running for the last two books. It’s really cool to see an author with enough confidence in her work that she is able to bring the romance to some kind of conclusion (although I’m sure there will be twists to come) and let the story have its head. I’m not naming any names but I’m pretty sure you know who I’m talking about…

One thing that did bug me though is that, looking back over the three books, the series has been introducing us to a ‘threat of the day’ (werewolf, vampire and Fae) and now it looks like they’ve all been dealt with. Where does the series go next? (Assuming it continues, I don’t know if it does…) The ‘Mercedes Thompson’ series feels like it’s still got some legs in it but it also feels like there’s no-where for it to go unless another Briggs pulls another race out of her sleeve. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

While there’s nothing new to ‘Iron Kissed’ the fact that things step up a gear really makes up for this, if you’re already a fan then I think you’ll be pleased and I hope that there’s more to come…

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

‘Old Man’s War’ – John Scalzi (Tor Books)


When will I ever learn….? :o) Here’s another book that I initially heard nothing but good things about but never picked up. Why? Well, knowing me I was probably on a big epic fantasy kick at the time but I also get far too suspicious about books where I hear nothing but good stuff. Instead of judging a book on its own merits I’m more likely to put it to one side and try something else instead. That’s a pretty big mistake to make, especially when it means that a book like ‘Old Man’s War’ has been left to one side for such a long time. I won’t make that mistake again, promise…

‘Old Man’s War’ tells the tale of widower John Perry, seventy five years old and set to embark on a career in the Colonial Defence Force. John is about to find that it’s a big universe out there and it’s full of alien races not only competing with humans, for prime real estate to colonise, but also more than willing to view humanity as a rather sweet tasting delicacy on the menu. Things don’t look as bleak for John as they first appear; the CDF recruit the elderly for the wealth of life experience that they hold, once they get into space they’re given a brand new (younger) body far superior to what they had before. They’re also given state of the art weaponry to provide that cutting edge…
Now all John needs to do is get through the next ten years before he can retire for the second time…

‘Old Man’s War’ wasn’t a perfect read but it was one of those reads that I just had to finish it as I was enjoying it so much. If I was stood next to an annoying commuter (on the tube) it didn’t matter, I didn’t even notice as I was far too busy reading. To be fair, there was one commuter who must have eaten something foul, the night before, but his problem was one that no-one on the train could get away from! If my boss was looking the other way then it was the ideal excuse to whip the book out and read a couple more pages before he realised what I was doing… Yes, I enjoyed ‘Old Man’s War’ that much and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series as soon as possible.

‘Old Man’s War’ is told through the eyes of John Perry and we get to see this perspective widen from small town living (in Ohio) to interstellar conflict across a number of planets. Far from being at the centre of an Empire, Earth is actually in a relative backwater (tucked away from what’s happening elsewhere) and this trick with the perspective serves to emphasis this. For me this was a new slant on Earth’s relevance to galaxy wide affairs and was a possible answer to why alien forces are never shown to have any interest in Earth itself. I liked this approach as I felt that I was reading something a little fresher with evidence of more thought having gone into it’s creation, would humanity actually base all it’s operations from Earth if all the good (and strategically important) stuff was elsewhere?

The first person perspective also gives the reader a great opportunity to get into John Perry’s head and share the journey with him. And what a journey it is. Before we even get into combat situations we share John’s feelings at leaving his life, on Earth, behind. We also get to share his sense of wonder at the new world he will become a part of and I think this approach is the best way to show readers your world for the first time. If you want to convey ‘awe inspiring’ then show the reader a scene through the eyes of someone who has never seen this stuff before and is inspired. It worked for me :o)
We also get to see John take his place in the universe, becoming a seasoned and valued member of CDF forces. This is another interesting journey but one that did seem a little, I don’t know, ‘easy’ on John. This is a man with no military experience who very quickly displays the ability to adapt/improve military tactics which moves him up the ranks. His drill sergeant (one of my favourite characters, I really enjoyed his opening speech to the new recruits) spends time telling the recruits that they have no idea about what awaits them. John adapts more quickly than I expected he would, that’s all I’m saying… I guess there’s a fine line between maintaining interest by moving your hero into new situations and doing it in a way that works within the military structure you’ve created. It didn’t quite work for me but I was having too much fun with the rest of the story for that to be too much of an issue.
We only get to see other characters through John’s eyes so can’t really learn much about them other than what John sees. Luckily for us though, John seems to be a very perceptive man so this balances things out, we don’t get an in-depth look into other characters but we get the next best thing.

The story itself starts out slow (basic training and all that, it has to be done) but there was still plenty going on that kept me ticking over until John went to war and the action stepped up a gear. One of Scalzi’s finest points in the novel is the universe that he has created, a setting full of rich and varied life all of which is intent on plundering mankind’s colonies and eating the colonists. This makes for a number of fast paced and action packed battles and introductory pieces that show the reader just how full of life Scalzi’s universe is (as well as just how alone we are…) The Rraey and the Consu are more than worthy adversaries but it’s the little touches that I liked the most such as the Covandu, similar to humans in every way apart from an extreme lack of height…

War is hell but it also makes for an enjoyable read in ‘Old Man’s War’, a superior read to Buettner’s ‘Orphanage’ (reviewed yesterday) and one that any fan of military sci-fi should read if they haven’t already. I may have to dig out Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ to see how ‘Old Man’s War’ matches up to it…

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

‘Orphanage’ – Robert Buettner (Orbit Books)


Earth is under attack from a slug like alien race that are throwing rocks at us, from somewhere near Ganymede, and our hero is one of a brave band of soldiers that represent our last hope. He’s going to go through a hellish boot camp where his mistake will lead to the death of a comrade and he must ponder long on what it means to be an infantryman. The woman he loves will fall for a dashing star pilot and the next woman he loves will die in battle. Ultimately though, our hero will stand up to be counted and turn the tide of war when all else fails…
No, I’m not talking about the movie ‘Starship Troopers’ although I very easily could have been. What I have for you today is the first book in Robert Buettner’s ‘Jason Wander’ series, a ‘military sci-fi’ adventure that suffers through its similarities (to other works in the same sub-genre) but also has enough flashes of promise to make me want to see what happens next…

Like I said, if you’ve seen ‘Starship Troopers’ (or any ‘rites of passage in boot camp’ book or film) then you will know what’s going to happen in ‘Orphanage’, there’s no need for me to go into this part of the plot in any great detail.
To be fair, I guess this kind of approach is needed in order to set things up for future events as well as lend some plausibility to what the soldiers will be seen to do as the plot progresses. In this respect it’s done very well, not a lot left out that I could see, but I just couldn’t escape from the feeling that I’d seen it all before…

The rest of the story suffers from ‘déjà vu’ as well. Don’t get me wrong, I found it fun to read with plenty of gunfights (I love gunfights!) and enough attention paid to fleshing out the characters so that I found myself getting into their heads and empathising with what they had going on. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book just to see what Jason Wander has to contend with next.
Again, the problem was that I’d seen all this play out already in ‘Starship Troopers’… I could take a pretty good guess at what was going to happen next (and where Jason would be at the end of the book) and would be proved right nine times out of ten at least. Luckily there were other things that kept my interest but if this hadn’t been the case then I would have had to ask myself why I was reading a book that I found to be very predictable.

However, ‘Orphanage’ redeems itself though with flashes of originality that make the book an entity in its own right and promise good things for future books in the series.
One thing that I particularly liked was the emphasis that Buettner placed on the environmental after affects of the alien projectile attack on Earth, painting a picture of a dust covered earth slowly choking to death and running out of supplies. Even though I knew how it had to turn out, I still liked the way that this background picture lent a sense of urgency to humanity’s mission on Ganymede. The military decision only to use orphaned soldiers, on the Ganymede mission also gives things a poignant air and is another good way to get inside the heads of each character.
I also liked the way that Buettner placed the book in a real life context by looking at how Earth would really cope in terms of striking back against alien attack. This isn’t a vision of a gleaming sci-fi future, this is a world thirty years away where you have to scavenge what you need (from much older spacecraft) in order to get your ‘new’ spacecraft off the ground. There’s no laser weaponry either, just whatever can be hastily adapted to service on another planet. This ‘gritty’ approach makes things seem a little darker and I personally like that in a book!

‘Orphanage’ is a book that I found to have too many similarities, to other media, to really stand out. Having said that though, it’s an entertaining read which promises good things to come. I’m sticking around for the next book at least…

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 4 August 2008

‘Implied Spaces’ - Walter Jon Williams (Nightshade Books)


‘Hard sci-fi’ and I aren’t the best of bedfellows. I have trouble following the theory and end up getting distracted very easily by pretty flashing things, ‘hard sci-fi’ just ends up getting exasperated when realises that it will never be able to dumb down enough to make any sense to me. We’ve pretty much agreed to be civil if we meet up but generally try to avoid each other where possible.
But what about ‘hard sci-fi’ where the hero is a swordsman with a talking cat for a companion? This sounds more like my kind of thing… It’s got zombies and pod-people too? I’m in!

‘Implied Spaces’ takes place in a future where the ‘Big Belch’ has rendered Earth uninhabitable. Humanity now resides in a series of pocket universes created by AIs and our hero, Aristide, is a scholar of the ‘implied spaces’ (accidents of architecture) that lie within. Aristide’s studies uncover evidence that a madman wants to take humanity in a new direction and he’s not afraid to use pod-people and zombies to achieve his aims.
It’s all out war, with Artificial Intelligences firing pocket universes at each other (doesn’t get much more hardcore than that), but it’s the underlying intrigue that’s where it’s at. Is your friend still an ally or something else entirely? The fate of the universe rides on the answer to questions like these…

‘Implied Spaces’ is only two hundred and sixty three pages long so fits nicely into the ‘nice short read for the commute category’ that I’m into right now. Appearances can be deceptive though as there is far more to this book than its page count would suggest. Williams tackles a number of themes in ‘Implied Spaces’ that were effective, in my reading, to a greater or lesser extent.

The underlying sciences around the implied spaces, in each pocket universe, made sense although don’t ask me to explain it! I also liked the way that this theory is tied into the villain’s scheming. Without giving too much away, Williams is obviously into ‘big ideas’ and they don’t come too much bigger than what the reader encounters. Where things started to go a little awry, for me, though was when he applied science to some of the other events taking place in the story. If you’re into this sort of thing (or you know your science) then I’m sure you’ll have no problem understanding some of the technical concepts. For me however it was very much a case of, “Blah, blah, blah, blah… and then the space station blew up.” It’s no-one’s fault but there were some pretty cool pyrotechnics where the affect was spoilt by my ‘not getting’ what was going on. This is a real blind spot for me and I may either have to go and stand in the ‘stupid corner’ or go back to school and start again… :o)

Luckily for me ‘Implied Spaces’ redeems itself in other ways, not least in the way that the story itself is told. Pacing is a little suspect when certain things need to be explained, ‘Implied Spaces’ is one of those novels that needs ‘info-dumps’ but would have been a better read with a few less of them (especially in such a short book). These moments aside though, ‘Implied Spaces’ is a fast paced read with plenty of intrigue, espionage and the aforementioned pyrotechnic set pieces (with ’28 Days Later’ style zombies!) There’s plenty going on for fans of both space opera and hard sci-fi, I’m in the ‘space opera camp’ and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with what was on offer.

In a setting where mankind lives in dozens of pocket universes, one of the obvious tasks facing Williams is to convey the variety of worlds and life that is out here. He achieves this (rather cleverly I thought) through a ‘less is more’ approach of only concentrating on three worlds but making them extremely different from each other. The inhabitants also differ from world to world with Midgarth housing trolls (amongst other things), aquatically enhanced humans living on the water world of Hawaiki and just about everything living in Myriad City (on the world of Topaz). Unfortunately there just isn’t enough room in the book to fully explore these worlds which was something that I personally wanted to see more of. Where did the ‘Control – Alt – Delete War’ get its name from? And why is there more than one New Jerusalem? This was stuff that I wanted to know (amongst other things) but I guess there’s only so much that you can fit into one book…

What you do get though is a sometimes amusing look at what it means to be human in this world of the far future. The lesson seems to be that human fallibility will render all technological advances pointless. What’s the point of being able to back your personality up, and cheat death, if you don’t adjust the settings so that you are able to remember everything that happened prior to your death? This is especially true when you’ve just discovered an enemy plot just before your death! Plot twists like this can be really infuriating but actually had me engaging with the characters even more as I knew what was really going on and ended up rooting for them.
On the slightly more poignant side the resurrection issue is explored in the affect that it can have on human relationships. In particular, how many times can a relationship survive one partner having to kill the other? It’s wartime and these things happen…
One negative aspect to the whole immortality concept, however, is that some of the urgency does disappear from the story when you realise that all the cliff-hanger moments aren’t really cliff-hangers at all, how can they be when a person can be bought back from the dead to try again?

My technical ‘blind spot’ aside, ‘Implied Spaces’ is a fast and fun read that should give people a lot to chew over. Its big problem is that it feels like it’s trying to fit too much into too small a space and things can fall between the gaps. Maybe a couple of hundred more pages would sort this out but it’s still worth a look.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Sunday, 3 August 2008

‘Blue World’ – Robert R. McCammon (Grafton Books)


I first came across Robert McCammon’s work at college when a friend of mine lent me a copy of ‘They Thirst’, a chilling tale of a Los Angeles over-run by vampires and the best vampire book that I’ve come across. It took me years to find my own copy but in the meantime I worked my way through ‘Baal’ (intense but unsatisfying), ‘The Nightboat’ (Nazi zombies from beneath the sea!) and ‘Swansong’ (ok… but it felt like I was reading ‘The Stand’ all over again). A bit of a mixed bag then but when I found this collection of short horror stories, while on holiday, I couldn’t resist picking it up.
I’m glad I did, it’s another mixed bag but ‘Blue World’ sure-fire evidence of an author with the ability to write some seriously scary stuff! Come with me and I’ll show you what I mean…

‘Yellowjacket Summer’

I’m a complete wuss when it comes to bees and wasps so a tale about a boy with the power to talk to Yellowjackets (hornets?) was a dead cert to really freak me out. And it did with a slow build up, of things not seeming quite right, to an explosive finale in a swarm of Yellowjackets…
After reading about a boy being swarmed by Yellowjackets in a public toilet, it was un-nerving (to say the least) when a hornet came and hovered right over the cubicle I was in the next day… True story.

‘Makeup’

A small time criminal steals the make up case of a forties horror actor and gets a lot more than he bargained for…
This one was a real stop start affair that only had me reading to find out what mysterious power the make up box would confer next. Spooky ending though.

‘Doom City’

McCammon’s back on form again with a post apocalyptic tale with a twist in the tale that really shook me when I first read it (to be honest, it still shakes me up!) What makes this one even more un-nerving was the fact that I still can’t work out who was dreaming and who was going through it all…

‘Nightcrawlers’

A late night diner becomes a battleground as a Vietnam Vet’s nightmares come back to haunt him in the worst way…
This is another slow starter that never really got out of first gear although the shootout made for some tense moments. What was scarier was the man from the Government Agency who cam round asking questions afterwards…

‘Pin’

What I think McCammon does best is his portrayals of insanity and he really went for it in this short story of a man who’s gone over the edge and just needs to do one thing, with a pin, before he can go to the next stage. This one made me wince, especially right at the end when the pin…

‘Yellachile’s Cage’

A story of a prisoner and a canary. That’s all I can tell you as this one totally failed to engage me and I barely even started it… I think part of the problem lies in that a lot of the 'full on' tales of terror are followed by stories that seem more sedate. A definite problem with the pacing as far as I was concerned.

‘I Scream Man’

Another post-apocalyptic tale and a really touching affair of a game of scrabble that is not what it seems… It’s another examination of insanity and the chilling moments come in periods of lucidity when you start to get an idea of what’s really going on… One of my favourites in the collection.

‘He’ll come knocking at Your Door’

This is another favourite where a man discovers the true cost of living in the perfect neighbourhood, payment is made on Halloween Night…
I try not to swear on this blog but I’m sorely tempted right now by just how intense this story is, both when Dan finds out what’s going on and right at the very end when things get so bizarre that it’s truly terrifying…

‘Chico’

McCammon threw me a curveball here with this tale of a disabled child abused by his ‘stepfather’. Chico gets the second from last laugh, I had the last laugh when I realised exactly what was going on…


‘Night Calls the Green Falcon’

This is another one that I didn’t finish. What I found was that when McCammon was on form I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to waste time on anything that seemed second rate… I will go back and read this at some point.

‘The Red House’

This one was so slow that I just went straight to the end to see what happened, it didn’t inspire me to go back to the beginning and start again (although the hints at a young man's journey into adulthood seemed interesting)... Will I give this one another go? 'I don't know' is the answer right now.

‘Something Passed By’

I liked this one, a tale of daily life in the strangeness of the ‘End Times’. Seeing people treat drinking gasoline as normal (amongst other things) felt like watching an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’. Everything is normal but at the same time it most definitely isn’t. The hope of redemption at the end balances out the bleakness in the rest of the tale.


‘Blue World’

It’s the story that the collection takes it’s name from and would you believe I didn’t have the slightest interest in reading it? After being deliciously chilled by supernatural stuff I realised that I wasn’t all that bothered by a priest’s dalliance with a cocaine snorting porn star, even if she was being stalked by a psycho cowboy. I may go back and give it another go sometime in the future.

As you can see then, I found McCammon’s short stories to be just as much of a mixed bag as the novels (of his) that I’ve read. However, when he gets in the groove McCammon is very good indeed and that’s what elevates this collection into a book that any horror fan should try if they haven’t already. I think you’ll like it.

Eight out of Ten