Tuesday, 30 September 2008

‘The Tooth Fairy’ – Graham Joyce (Gollancz)


In one of those really cool coincidences that occasionally happen to me, I’d been hearing people say how great Graham Joyce’s writing is only to have a copy of his book ‘The Tooth Fairy’ end up in the goody bag that I picked up at the Gollancz party last week. I say ‘picked up’... that should really read ‘got another book instead and ended up rooting through all the other bags until I found a book that I liked the look of...’
I had started reading John Scalzi’s ‘The Last Colony but thought I’d flick through a few pages of ‘The Tooth Fairy’ on the way home. As it happens, I still haven’t got round to ‘The Last Colony’ as (apart from a quick break for ‘World War Z’) ‘The Tooth Fairy’ wouldn’t let me put it down until I’d finished...

Seven year old Sam Southall loses a tooth and meets the Tooth Fairy that turns up to collect it. This Tooth Fairy isn’t how you would expect a Tooth Fairy to be though; it’s rank, foul mouthed, quick to anger and has no choice but to stick around throughout Sam’s childhood and teenage years. The Tooth Fairy teaches Sam tricks to play at school and holds him to ransom over some of his darkest moments. It also insists that Sam has his best friend Terry to stay over on the night when Terry’s father goes crazy with a shotgun...

‘The Tooth Fairy’ is the tale of three friends and their journey out of childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. Joyce captures these phases perfectly through the uncertainty of Sam, Terry and Clive in the face of everything that they must deal with throughout the years. Growing up is not a natural progression for these three but rather a constant onslaught of events that they must adapt to or fall by the wayside, isn’t that the same for all of us? Life happens whether we want it to or not and you have to make your way through. This is certainly the case for our three main characters and their ‘Huckleberry Finn but with a little more edge’ adventures in nineteen sixties Coventry. I never made pipe bombs in my Dad’s shed but I still identified with a lot of what Sam had to deal with.

So far, so ‘rites of passage’ but what separates this from the more mainstream version is that Sam has a supernatural companion (the Tooth Fairy) dogging his footsteps from a very early age. Joyce gives the Tooth Fairy an edge (volatile character) and an air of otherworldliness that sets it at stark contrast to the otherwise ordinary suburban background and leaves the reader in no doubt about what they’re dealing with. The Tooth Fairy also serves as an extended metaphor for the journey that Sam takes into adulthood, particularly his sexual awakening in his teenage years.

The change that the Tooth Fairy makes, while Sam is a teenager, (both physically and emotionally) left me a little confused I have to say. While there’s no doubt that the Tooth Fairy is a entity in its own right the changes that it makes streamlines with Sam’s changes to the extent that it’s identity becomes less clear cut to the extent that I wasn’t sure how much the Tooth Fairy was just Sam’s way of imposing his own order on some very confusing times. This is especially true in the psychiatry sessions that Sam has to undergo where conventional wisdom states that Sam has to be making it up for reasons of his own, doesn’t he?

I’ve got no doubt that this was very clever work, on the part of Joyce, to hook the reader through uncertainty over what was going on. It certainly worked for me; I was engrossed and had to get to the end. However, while it really got me thinking about the story it would have been good to see Joyce come down one side or the other over the role of the Tooth Fairy in the book. I found that this vagueness actually got in the way of the story at times... Having said that though, any book that keeps you thinking about it (long after you’ve finished) has to be doing something right...

‘The Tooth Fairy’ is sometimes a confusing read but that just makes me want to go back and get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all, a compelling slice of urban fantasy that really got me thinking about what I was reading.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 29 September 2008

‘World War Z’ – Max Brooks (Duckworth Publishers)


Those damn zombies eh? They’re just like rats, once you get a couple in the neighbourhood you’re looking at a full blown epidemic and the pest control guy has no idea how to stop it...
A lot of the zombie books and films, that I’ve come across, look at events around an initial zombie outbreak and depict a ‘no hope scenario’ where civilisation breaks down and scattered remnants hole up in shopping malls and underground silos to await the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff. Hordes of undead corpses outside and the most dysfunctional group of people you will ever meet on the inside, mankind’s worst enemy is himself. However, while this scenario might have been the case twenty or thirty years ago would things necessarily go along the same lines in this day and age? We’ve got the technology and the infra-structure to deal with a zombie outbreak with no problems... haven’t we?
Max Brooks would beg to differ with anyone who’s appraisal of such a situation is overly optimistic...

The author of the United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report (against the zombies) was angered when his immediate superior removed a large number of eye witness accounts from the final report. Her response was that he should consider taking all of these accounts and publishing them as a book. This advice and the end result is ‘World War Z’, an oral history of the zombie war that charts the first examination of ‘Patient Zero’ and the first outbreaks all the way through to the eventual fight back and an aftermath that is still being felt a decade later...

‘World War Z’ was a book that I picked up, off the pile, on a whim and found myself not being able to put it down. It was only the fact that I would have had to get off the train (sooner or later) to go to work that stopped me.

Zombie media is great for a fan of gore, like me, but what’s also great to see is how the survivors deal with the aftermath and I’m a big fan of that as well. ‘World War Z’ gave me the best overview of this (since the extras on the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake DVD) by showing the actions of people across the globe, not just America, and in one case what people were up to on the International Space Station. You get the full range of human emotion and not just from the military either, civilians are also interviewed and give harrowing accounts of escaping from the undead and the increasingly desperate military who were prepared to do anything to stop the zombie advance. Chemical weapons strikes, in the Ukraine, and the bombing of roads in the Himalayas’ are good examples of this and the ‘Redeker Plan’ (the withdrawing of essential resources and leaving behind armed groups to hold off the undead) serves as a chilling reminder of how bad things actually were.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. For every harrowing tale there is another that shows the reader humanity’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. US Army elements may have been overrun, at Yonkers, by over a million zombies but this was eventually offset by countless small acts of heroism across the globe. Plane crash survivors make it to safety across land swarming with the undead and people take to the seas, in their thousands, to form gigantic floating cities. International relations take on a whole new meaning and Cuba becomes a surprise economic superpower in an unexpected but wholly plausible move.
Russia’s self-inflicted decimation of its own armies was chilling but I could see it happening. What I had real trouble though was the blind Japanese gardener fighting off hordes of zombies armed with a blunt instrument and an enhanced sense of smell and hearing... I mean, come on... What is it about me that can accept the dead coming back to life and eating people but will not accept a blind man taking on the hordes by himself, and winning? I don’t know...

There are many more of these stories and, instead of going on about them all, my recommendation is to read them. Like any short story collection (which is what this book is) they weren’t all to my taste but contributed overall to a grim yet strangely uplifting picture of humanity on the brink of extinction.
If you like your military terminology, and seeing it all go into battle, then you will enjoy large chunks of ‘World War Z’ but this was where it fell down for me. Too much ‘technology speak’ that got in the way of the story...

I’ve also got to mention how Brooks gets things started in terms of the zombie plague’s origins and the way it spreads. In the best traditions of zombies in books and film, we’re never really told exactly how it started but having it spread through illegal organ and people trafficking... That’s genius as far as I’m concerned :o)

‘World War Z’ is a book that left me wondering why I didn’t pick it up a lot sooner. If you’re a fan of zombies then I’d say that this book is a ‘must have’ for your collection.

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Some Books I Could Be Reading This October...


Right now I've found myself in one of those positions where I flick through a few pages of a book, think it's cool and add to a pile of similar books. Because of this, I've got three books on the go right now ('World War Z', 'The Tooth Fairy' and 'The Last Colony'; a bit of a weird mix for me) and I should hopefully have reviews up this week...

The books in the picture (tastefully arranged on my garden steps with bonus Star Wars figure action!) are ones that I hope to get round to reading this month. This could change depending on what comes through the door. Notable absences include Erikson's 'Toll the Hounds' and Esslemont's 'Return of the Crimson Guard' purely because they've been hanging around so long that it's just getting boring talking about them now. The plan is to read at least one of them this month...

So... Looking at the picture, is there anything that you would like me to bump to the top of the pile this month? Would now be a good time to revisit David Anthony Durham's 'Acacia' to see if my opinion of this book has changed? I've heard good things about Ian Graham and Matthew Stover, should I give their books a go? Is there anything here that you think I shouldn't bother reading at all?
Comments please! :o)

I think I got round to reading pretty much everything last month, that people suggested, apart from 'Fallen' and 'A Cruel Wind'. I still intend to give 'Fallen' a go but 'A Cruel Wind' just wasn't working for me so it's on the back-burner for now.

Hope you all had a great weekend and that Monday morning is nice to you... :o)


P.S Apologies for the picture quality, stupid (stupid) camera phone...

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Graeme's got comics!

Far too many to know what to do with really (apart from read them over and over again because they're great)...
Here's a few that I'm particularly enjoying,

'Conan The Cimmerian' #3



I love this comic not only because it's full of 'sword and sorcery' goodness but also because the front cover has little, or nothing, to do with what's inside! If that wasn't enough, the bulk of the story has little to do with Conan either...
It's all good though, Conan is still on the way back to his homeland and takes a short break to defend a Cimmerian woman against an Aesir war party (it's Conan, it's what he does). We also get a flashback to one of Connacht's (Conan's grandfather) journeys through the deserts of Shem. I'm coming back next month just to see how the cover and story differ yet again... :o)


'The Walking Dead' #52



Probably my favourite comic right now (and I've got vol 7 in trade paperback waiting to be read as well), Rick and Carl are still moving forwards although they're not sure where (I remember having driving lessons like that with my Dad, there weren't any zombies though). Rick is starting to feel the pressure as well...
There are a couple of (nice) surprises in store and the next issue looks pretty intriguing. It doesn't get a lot better than this as far as I'm concerned :o)


I couldn't find a cover image, online, but I got a copy of the ongoing Wolverine/Deadpool collection for my birthday (last week) and have been having a great time reading it. The 'What if Wolverine had remained an agent of Hydra' story was excellent, especially with what Kitty Pryde was forced to do right at the end... Great stuff.

I also picked up trade paperbacks of 'Moon Knight' and 'The Goon' so expect to see reviews here at some point soon...

'Busted Flush' and 'The Temporal Void' - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered these competitions but not everyone could win a book I'm afraid (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a competition really...)

The winners are...

'The Temporal Void' (Signed Hardback) - Peter F. Hamilton

Michal Jakuszewski, Poland
Cristina Alves, Portugal
Michael Braunton, London

'Busted Flush' (Advance Reader Copy) - George R.R. Martin

Karrie Millheim, Cape Coral, Florida
Shaun Wallner, Lawrenceburg, US

Well done everyone! Your books should be on their way at the beginning of next week. Better luck next time everyone else...

Hope you're all having a great weekend! :o)

Friday, 26 September 2008

Competition Friday!

I was at the Gollancz Autumn Party last night and right now I am paying for the 'Ooh free beer, I think I'll have another one' approach that I was taking. Either there's still some anti-biotics still hanging around inside me or I'm more of a lightweight than I thought... (I'm certainly not in the same league as certain people who looked like they were warming up for some serious drinking as I was leaving...)
It was a great evening though and I'm definitely going to try and get myself in next year...

All this has left me in a position where I haven't finished reading anything for review (although Scalzi's 'The Last Colony' and Graham Joyce's 'The Tooth Fairy' are both shaping up to look very good indeed) but last night helped me come up with ideas for a couple of giveaways that I think you'll like... :o)



Peter V. Brett's debut, 'The Painted Man', is one of those books that's having a lot of good stuff said about it. I should know as I'm one of the people who said those good things, have a look at my Review.
Harper Voyager have very kindly offered to give away five hardback (signed) copies to anyone who wants a copy. Are you one of these people? If you fancy your chances then simply 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. This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live!



If you're a Star Wars fan then you know all about the infamous Order 66. What you might not know though is the affect that it had on some of the clones in the Grand Army of the Republic. Karen Traviss lays it all on the line in her novel 'Order 66'. If you're a Star Wars fan then I don't think you can afford to miss out on this! You can read my review over Here.
Thanks to Orbit Books I have three copies of 'Order 66' to give away on the blog. If you want to be in with a chance then simply drop me an email (you know where the address is) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. This giveaway is only open to people living in the UK and Europe, sorry about that!

You can enter for both competitions at the same time but it would really help me stay on top of things if you could send a seperate email for each entry. Also, please make it clear in your email header which competition you are entering.
I'll let these competitions run until next Friday (3rd October) and announce the winners on the following Saturday.

Good Luck!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

‘Every Last Drop’ – Charlie Huston (Del Rey/Orbit Books)


After being on anti-biotics for the last couple of weeks I finished up the tablets a couple of days ago and was able to have a few glasses of red wine last night. Boy, am I paying for that this morning...
My head is pounding while the rest of my body just feels like it has been pounded and my eyeballs feel like they’re resting on sand paper right now. There’s nothing I want more right now to be tucked up in bed, waiting for it to stop hurting, but the day is moving on and I have to move with it if I’m going to get any one of a number of things (that I really don’t want to do) done. In short, I’m feeling a little like my favourite freelance PI vampyre Joe Pitt must be feeling around about now...

‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ saw Joe Pitt burn all his bridges and go into exile in the Bronx. However, there’s always work in Manhattan for a vampyre like Joe and he’s got a very good reason for wanting to win back a little breathing space on the island. There’s a new Clan in town whose vow is to find a cure for the vyrus that causes the vampyre condition and the way they’re going about it could expose the whole vampyre world to mortal eyes. No-one wants this and Joe is just the kind of cog that could move things to a more agreeable conclusion.
Things never turn out that easy though do they? It’s certainly not that easy for Joe who is about to find that one job always ends up in at least three more needing to be done and must also decide how he deals with the revelation of just what keeps the truce in Manhattan so finely balanced. Where does all the blood actually come from when vampyres must be so careful about their feeding habits...?

I’ll come clean right now and say that I’ve been a big fan of the Joe Pitt books ever since I got hold of a copy of ‘Already Dead’. With this in mind, the mark this book gets will more than likely reflect my enjoyment of it a little more than the reviews here normally do. I’m just saying is all... ;o)
The bottom line is though that, despite a couple of very small niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed every single page of ‘Every Last Drop’ and I reckon if you’re a fan then you’ll feel the same.

If you haven’t already read the other books though then you may want to go back to the beginning and start on ‘Already Dead’ as ‘Every Last Drop’ continues established plot arcs and sets events up, for future books, that readers will appreciate more if they have already read the other books.
If you have read the other books then you’re in for a bit of a treat as Huston delivers a tale bristling with New York attitude and vampyre clans that will do anything to defend their turf. There are no punches pulled and Joe Pitt is just as liable to take a beating (and worse) as the next vampyre, he deserves it with some of the things he will stoop to in order to get by as his own man. If you like your urban fantasy hard-bitten and with a taste of noir then this is the book for you.

I’ve mentioned before that Huston doesn’t really bring anything new, in his writing, to the table. Why should he need to when the end result works so well? What he gives the reader instead is a seamy tale of intrigue and double crossing that can tie your brain in knots (trying to figure it out) but comes together perfectly at the end. There are signs though that his normally tight and concise writing might just be starting to unravel a bit. ‘Every Last Drop’ is only two hundred and fifty two pages long (and everything fits together well in those pages) but we’re starting to see people being a little more talkative than normal. When these characters only play a peripheral role then it becomes a question of whether this creates more atmosphere or if it’s just talking for the sake of talking. I’m not sure and will wait and see how the next book turns out before saying it’s one or the other...

The revelation, behind the source of the Coalition’s blood supply, isn’t too much of a surprise if you think about what any sensible vampire would do to keep a constant supply of blood. Just multiply that in order to feed several thousand vampyres...
Where Huston gives it a little spin is the effect it has on Joe and what he does as a result. Joe’s actions are going to have big repercussions on what happens in the following book, it looks like war is on the way... It’s also interesting trying to figure out how much Joe Pitt is a victim of circumstance (and other events beyond his control) and how much he is manipulating events for his own gain. Whatever is happening, it is clear that there is far more to Joe than he is letting on.

While there are a couple of niggles (as far as I was concerned) these didn’t detract from what turned out to be another great piece of action on the vampyre ridden streets of New York. Fans are going to get as much out of ‘Every Last Drop’ as they have done out of the previous books, fans of urban fantasy in general should give this series a go if they haven’t already...
‘Every Last Drop’ will be released on September 30th in the US, if you’re waiting on the UK release then you’ll be waiting until early next year.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

‘The Clockwork King of Orl’ – Mike Wild (Abaddon Books)


The books I’ve been reading lately have either been serious in tone or just seriously bad! Some of them have felt like a chore to get through and I realised that I needed something a little lighter to read next, something that would put a little spark and enjoyment back into my reading.
Despite the odd blip here and there, Abaddon can generally be relied upon to come up with a decent read that’s fun and full of life (or ‘un-life’ if you take their ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series into account). With this in mind I picked up ‘The Clockwork King of Orl’, second book in Abaddon’s ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ series. It wasn’t a perfect read but it did just what I wanted it to...

In any fantasy setting that you come across there are always remnants of the ancient civilisations that came before humankind. You can safely bet money on these ancient ruins teeming with adventurers looking for buried treasure and that is the premise that ‘The Clockwork King of Orl’ hangs upon.
Kali Hooper makes her living searching the ruins of Twilight for whatever she can sell as well as trying to discover what happened to the vanished Old Races. Events take a turn that’s even worse than normal when a chance encounter in the Spiral of Kos sends her in search of the keys that will unlock the legendary Clockwork King of Orl. If Kali doesn’t get to the keys first then the all consuming Final Faith will and Kali’s visions of fire and blood will become a reality...

‘The Clockwork King of Orl’ builds upon the world of Twilight, already established in ‘Shadowmage’, and opens it up with history, current affairs and a promise of a future that may be dark for it’s inhabitants but will certainly be interesting to read about. The world itself is nothing new to anyone who’s been reading fantasy for any length of time; it’s a world of Thieve’s Guilds, assassins and secretive old mentors that I’ve certainly read about on more than one occasion. Where Twilight redeems itself though is the spiky attitude of its residents. They’re doing all the things you would normally expect a ‘dweller in fantasy land’ to do but they do it with a bit of bite behind what they say to each other. ‘The Clockwork King of Orl’ isn’t up to the same standard of ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ but it’s got that same attitude which kept me interested in the characters and what they were up to.

Abaddon’s ‘Arrowhead’ intentionally borrowed from the Robin Hood mythos and ‘The Clockwork King’ employs a similar approach by modelling parts of its story on the Indiana Jones films. This is a book of hidden ruins in dangerous climes; treasures of great portent and characters that you know are only there to die in a horrible way so that hero can find their way past a trap.
‘The Clockwork King’ is just as much fun as Indiana Jones, in this respect, with plenty going on and an assortment of dead-ends and impossible situations that Kali escapes from in spectacular fashion. There’s so much of this though that sometimes it comes across as all being a little too easy for Kali, especially when we find that she’s developing special powers that will enable her to fulfil a ‘great destiny’... This works (up to a point) in terms of building up stuff for future books but comes across here as a bit of a ‘get out of jail free’ card...

What works in a film may not come across quite so well on the page and this is also an area where ‘The Clockwork King’ falls down slightly. Finding secret tunnels/entrances etc can be quite a tense affair, on the big screen, but if it’s not done properly then that sense of excitement can swiftly vanish in a book. ‘The Clockwork King’ definitely suffers in this regard as certain passages felt like they were plodding, rather than racing, which interrupted an otherwise well paced book.

Despite all this, ‘The Clockwork King’ is one of those fun reads that definitely helped me get through some of the more negative parts of my daily commute over the last couple of days. The fact that I was able to easily put it to one side, when I got to work, shouldn’t detract from the fact that it does what it sets out to do. ‘The Clockwork King’ won’t win any awards but I did have fun reading it and I would read more of the same. You can’t ask for a lot more than that, can you?

Seven and a Half out of Ten.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

‘The Night Sessions’ – Ken Macleod (Orbit Books)


Ken Macleod’s ‘The Execution Channel’ was the third book that I reviewed for the blog. As you can see from my review, it was an entertaining read but I wasn’t too keen on the way that too much was jammed into a little space with hardly any room left for the payoff. It was this impression that stopped me picking up ‘The Night Sessions’, when it came through the door, but there was enough that was good in ‘The Execution Channel’ to persuade me to pick it up and give Macleod another go. I also fancied a break from what I’ve been reading just recently (mostly fantasy and sci-fi) and trying something different for a change, ‘The Night Sessions’ seemed to be just what I was after.
Well, having finished ‘The Night Sessions’ I can certainly say that it’s a marked change from what I have been reading and (for the most part) it makes for an entertaining read. It’s a shame then that ‘The Night Sessions’ has the same detracting issues that ‘The Execution Channel’ had...

It is the near future and the time of the Second Enlightenment, not only has religion been separated from the state but it’s also no longer a part of the political system either. Millions still practice their faith but in the eyes of the law their faith does not exist, until the day a priest is killed in Edinburgh...
Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson is the man who has to solve this crime and things are going to get worse before they get better. It’s not just the faithful who are targets; everyone is at risk from something that has risen from the ashes of Armageddon itself...

I found it hard to figure out whether ‘The Night Sessions’ was science fiction or a police procedural thriller that had robots in it. The police procedural element certainly outweighed the sci-fi with plenty of time given to detective work and its ramifications. While I found the pace to be slow in this area (and the subject matter a little dry), it still made for interesting reading with clues and plot twists doled out in equal measure. It certainly kept me going until the end of the book (trying to figure out just exactly what was going on)! Fair play to Macleod for tying everything together by the end of the book, there was a sudden change of heart (in a particular character) that I wasn’t sure of but at least there were no loose ends.

That’s not to say that the sci-fi elements aren’t well represented though. There is plenty of robot gadgetry in evidence and although you’ve probably seen it all before it still looks pretty cool when put into action. The Atlantic and Pacific Space Elevators also provide a stunning backdrop that leaves the reader in no doubt that they’re reading about the future. They’re an obvious target for a terrorist attack, maybe a little too obvious given the sterling work that Macleod does in other areas...
Macleod devotes time to the theme of robot consciousness, how this could be affected by religious philosophy and the ramifications of this in a world where organised religion has been shunted to the sidelines. There’s some really thoughtful stuff surrounding this that I would have liked to have seen at the forefront rather than driving the main plot. How much was Hardcastle his own person and how much was he influencing/being influenced by the Third Covenanters? How were the robot refugees reacting to Campbell’s discourses? Maybe ‘The Night Sessions’ could have benefitted by being a few pages longer in order to fit all this in...

In the same way that ‘The Execution Channel’ suffered from a rushed ending, ‘The Night Sessions’ tries to cram a lot into it’s final pages and falls strangely flat as a result. Everything is tied up satisfactorily but I was left looking for a sense of drama that never seemed to arrive. The showdown, between two robots, almost seemed ‘throwaway’ given how easy it was to create more robots (‘good’ and ‘bad’) to carry on the fight. There was no ‘mood’ to it either as both robots’ conversation was one of logic rather than anything else. Having said that though, the final lines of the book hint at a more downbeat future as a result of what has happened. It’s a shame that this couldn’t have been worked into a sense of urgency much earlier in the book.

‘The Night Sessions’ certainly makes for an interesting read but I was left with the feeling that it could have been so much more if the sci-fi elements had been given more room to breathe. A couple of hundred pages extra, for development of certain themes, wouldn’t have done any harm either...

Six and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 22 September 2008

‘Shadowbridge’ – Gregory Frost (Del Rey)


The beginning of 2008 saw Gregory Frost’s ‘Shadowbridge’ attracting a lot of positive comments from those who had read it, something that always gets me interested in reading the book in question.
So why has it taken me so long to get around to finally reading it for myself? I don’t know but the important thing is that I got round to it in the end! :o) Having finished ‘Shadowbridge’ I find myself wishing that I’d got round to it sooner, purely because if I had then I’d have finished ‘Lord Tophet’ (the sequel) by now and would know how it all ended. I’m sure I’ll find out sooner rather than later...

‘Shadowbridge’ is a world of bridges and spans that all link above a few scattered islands in a glittering sea. It is a world that Leodora is beginning to explore for the first time as her burgeoning career as a shadow-puppeteer takes her from the island (and a violent past) where she grew up and into a new world. Managed by a drunkard and accompanied by musician touched by the Gods, Leodora hunts out and collects stories to perform. Unbeknownst to her though, Leodora’s own story ranges further than she thinks and the plot is thickening around her...

‘Shadowbridge’ weighs in at only two hundred and fifty fives pages long but took me several days on the train, last week, to get through. This is a book that is deceptively slim once you realise how many layers of story sit on top of each other and how they interlink.
The world of ‘Shadowbridge’ is a world where stories, and the art of storytelling, are highly regarded and of great importance, a point emphasised by Frost in how the book is structured. All of the background and world building is delivered through Leodora’s storytelling and puppet shows, which keeps her character right at the forefront of things. Any gaps are filled in by Soter (her manager) who knows more than he is letting on, this with-holding of information proves annoying at times (especially when Leodora can see straight through Soter’s lies and chooses not to do anything about it) but is only to be expected in terms of the plot and its eventual conclusion. Stories intertwine with each other and this gets more complicated when we see Leodora take elements of stories in order to make her own. I found that I had to be a little careful, in my reading, as separate stories will flow into each other with little or no warning. A storytelling performance becomes the story of Leodora’s early years with seamless ease, it was the ‘seamless’ bit that had me reading a couple of pages over and over again to see if I had missed something... This can be irritating but once I got into the swing of things it wasn’t so big a deal.

The ‘storytelling theme’ is a clever device that hooked me and Frost backs it up with an interesting plot that isn’t particularly fast paced but introduces elements, such as the Agents, throughout the story that contribute to an ominous tone that grows in intensity. I found the locales, and people, to be richly drawn as well and at times I felt that I was taking a walk through the spans of ‘Shadowbridge’ while the story was taking place around me. It’s a world that’s rich in history but beware of the seamier elements that can trap the unwary... There is so much going on here that it’s just not possible to fit it all into one book, I hope there’ll be more in the future.

The manner in which ‘Shadowbridge’ (the first instalment in a duology) ends is abrupt, to say the least, and makes it clear that the book is only one part of a larger tale. I thoroughly enjoyed it though and will have to do some rearranging of the ‘To Be Read’ pile so that I get to find out what’s going on... If ‘Shadowbridge’ is anything to go by then I’m hoping for great things from its sequel.

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The 'Unfair Hangover' Link Up Spectacular!

It's Sunday morning, the sun is out and the birds are singing their little songs. It looks like it's going to be a great day and it would be but for the fact that I'm hungover. There's a team of little guys in my head who are swinging sledgehammers around, breaking furniture and generally being annoying. It's no fun to be in my head at the moment...

Before anyone says anything about it being self-inflicted (or anything like that) here's the thing, I haven't had a drink since my birthday on Tuesday. I'm on anti-biotics (after having been to the dentist's) and I can't drink anything until this coming Thursday. This is where the 'Unfair Hangover' thing comes in :o(

Here's some cool links in the meantime...

Larry reviews Erikson's Toll the Hounds and also has a list of words he hates seeing in commentaries and reviews. This makes for some gritty and controversial reading... ;o)

Fantasy Book Critic has won the 2008 Book Blogger Appreciation Week award for best Spec-Fic Blog, well done Robert!

Aidan is off on his travels and is having a great time so far...

Liz looks at Peter V. Brett's The Painted Man and adds her voice to those who also enjoyed the book.

The Book Smugglers have their own take on Book Blogger Appreciation Week which is pretty cool (even though I didn't make the final cut grumblegrumble...)

Gav swipes my idea (but that's cool because I swiped it from somewhere else and stuck it on top of my wardrobe) but makes it look a lot better! He also reviews Ken Macleod's The Night Sessions which I'm reading at the moment...

Speculative Horizons gives us the British Fantasy Award 2008 winners.

Finally, Tia has a Question about book borrowing that she's after an answer for...

What am I doing? Well, I'm just over halfway through 'The Night Sessions' and I've also finished Gregory Frost's 'Shadowbridge' so keep an eye out for reviews of these in the next couple of days. Right now though? I'm off to take some painkillers...

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

‘Rogue Trooper’ – ‘Re-Gene’ and ‘Realpolitik’

My journey through the blasted landscape of Nu-Earth has been a bit of a mixed bag, at best, and I’ve been left with the feeling that I would have been better off following this in 2000AD back in the day. It’s all coming to an end though, for me at least, with the ‘Re-Gene’ and ‘Realpolitik’ collections and it’s nice to end things on a bit more of a high...



‘Re-Gene’ picks up the tale with Rogue and his friends back on the Milli-Com space station and trying to make a new life for themselves now the Traitor General has been dealt with. It’s interesting to see how Rogue copes with his new environment, after having been in the warzones for so long, and to see Gunnar, Helm and Bagman in their new bodies (although it’s hard to tell one from another as they have cloned bodies...) Things take a turn for the worse though (well, they have to really...) as a hitherto unforeseen medical condition causes the new clone bodies to disintegrate and Rogue must search for a cure on the planet of Horst where alien life re-enacts it’s own Nort/Souther war...

The ‘Horst’ storyline has a lot going on in terms of cliff-hangers, twists and all out war and makes good reading for anyone who’s into Rogue’s adventures and what he will do for his bio-chipped friends. However, it does fall into the trap, that previous volumes have suffered, where the episodic nature gives rise to a ‘villain of the week’ that has to be bigger and harder than the last one. This formulaic approach can drag after a while.
What’s more interesting though is the introduction of a ‘third party’ of aliens that have their own designs on the black hole that is the cause of the Nu-Earth War. This throws the plot off in a completely different direction which promises interesting developments to come.



After this twist it is a surprise to see ‘Realpolitik’ take Rogue’s story back in time to fill in the gaps arising from the mission to track down the Traitor General. I don’t know if this was strictly necessary, as the story seemed to work fine as it was, but the quality of the stories in the collection more than make up for it. The primary stories concern a Souther hunt to find Rogue (before a genetic condition kills him) and the political fallout around a Nort War Marshal’s obsession with revenge on the man who killed his son (you can guess who that is...) There’s lots of intrigue and action in these stories, and the rest, along with some fascinating side stories that tell us a little more about the war and the people fighting in it. The artwork shows a definite step up in quality as well.
I’d say that this is the best collection, in the series, yet.

The ‘Rogue Trooper’ books have been fun but maybe not as inspiring as I thought they would be (having remembered reading odd bits when I was a child). If you’re a fan and your old comics are falling to pieces then I’d say that they’re worth getting hold of. If you’re not a fan then see if you can borrow them off a friend first...

‘Re-Gene’ – Seven out of Ten.
‘Realpolitik’ – Nine out of Ten

Friday, 19 September 2008

Get a sneaky peek at the new 'Fast Ships, Black Sails' anthology!

Ahoy there!

In honour of it being 'International talk like a Pirate' day (you scurvy sea rats!)WIRED Magazine's 'Geekdad' blog is hosting an exclusive look at the new pirate anthology 'Fast Ships, Black Sails' (edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer and published by Nightshade Books).

It looks very cool indeed so do yourself a favour and head on over Here for a piratey video and a download of 'Boojum', a pirates-in-space meets Lovecraftian horror story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette...

Giveaway! 'Busted Flush' (Edited by George R.R. Martin)


I've got a mid-year review, for work, today so another day is going by without a book review. They will be back though, they're coming... ;o)

In the meantime this should hopefully make up for things! I've got two advance copies of George R.R. Martin's 'Busted Flush' (thanks to Tor Books in the US), a 'Wild Cards' collection featuring all the Aces that burst onto the scene in 'Inside Straight' last year. I'll be picking this one up next week and am looking forward to getting stuck in. Here's the synopsis from Amazon...

In 1946, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It killed ninety percent of those it infected. Nine percent survived to mutate into tragically deformed creatures. And one percent gained superpowers. The Wild Cards shared-universe series, created and edited since 1987 by New York Times #1 bestseller George R. R. Martin ("The American Tolkien" --Time magazine) along with Melinda Snodgrass, is the tale of the history of the world since then—and of the heroes among the one percent.

Now a new generation of heroes has taken its place on the world stage, its members crucial players in international events. At the United Nations, veteran ace John Fortune has assembled a team of young aces known as the Committee, to assist at trouble spots around the world–including a genocidal war in the Niger Delta, an invasion of zombies in hurricane ravaged New Orleans, and a freak nuclear explosion in a small Texas town.


Does this sound like your thing? Do you want a copy? Simply drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, entering is that simple :o) There's another competition going on (see below) so you need to make it clear, in your email header, that this is the book you're after.

Unfortunately this giveaway is only open to US residents, sorry! I'll let this one run until next Friday night (26th September) and announcing the winners on the following Saturday...

Good Luck!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Giveaway! 'The Temporal Void' (Peter F. Hamilton)


Post number 500 seemed like an ideal time to give away something pretty cool on the blog... :o)

I've got three signed first editions of Peter F. Hamilton's 'The Temporal Void' to give away (thanks to Tor UK, who are just great) to anyone who wants to know what happens next in Hamilton's 'Void' trilogy. Fancy your chances? Read on...

Entering is as easy as always. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and your mailing address. The mailing address bit is really important as I can't get your book sent to you if I don't know where it's going!

This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live! I'll be letting this one run until next Friday night (26th September) and announcing the winners on the following Saturday...

Good Luck!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Movie! ‘Pan's Labyrinth'


You're not going to get an awful lot out of me today, the dentist dug a piece of root out of my gum/jaw this morning and I'm feeling all sorry for myself... :o(
Normal service should hopefully resume tomorrow!

What you will get though is me going on about how great 'Pan's Labyrinth' is. I watched it this afternoon and it is great! :o)
For those of you who haven't seen it here's a quick synopsis that I swiped from elsewhere...

During the Spanish Civil War young Ofelia enters a world of unimaginable cruelty when she moves in with her new stepfather a tyrannical military officer. Armed with only her imagination Ofelia discovers a mysterious labyrinth and meets a faun who sets her on a path to saving herself and her ailing mother. But soon the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur and before Ofelia can turn back she finds herself at the center of a ferocious battle between good and evil.

I haven't got so into a film for a long time. It's dark and sinister and that's just the stuff going on in the real world, the 'otherworldly' sections have a real fairytale feel to them that also has a dark edge. 'Pan's Labyrinth' is gripping stuff that's going to need a second, or even third, viewing before I discover a single thing that I didn't like.

Like I said, this was always going to be a short one today so I'm off to put an ice pack on my jaw. Just give 'Pan's Labyrinth' a go if you haven't seen it already.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

‘The Reach’ – Nate Kenyon

Having an excerpt from the author’s ‘next book’ after the ‘main feature’ can be a cool yet frustrating experience. I very much enjoyed Nate Kenyon’s ‘Bloodstone’ and reading the excerpt from ‘The Reach’ really whetted my appetite for more of the same. However, the thing with excerpts is that’s all you get until the book itself is published. Talk about being left hanging...
Well, I’m hanging no longer having finished off ‘The Reach’ over a days commute to and from work (it’s only two hundred and seventy six pages round). Maybe I psyched myself up for this a little too much, as it’s no ‘Bloodstone’, but it’s still worth a read...

The Wasserman facility is home to children who either have developmental disabilities or are mentally ill. It’s also home to ten year old Sarah who is locked away in the basement for her own safety and that of others. Sarah has been diagnosed as schizophrenic but psychology graduate Jess Chambers is about to find out that the truth is different... and far more dangerous.
A lot of money stands to be made from Sarah’s abilities and Jess realises that she must get Sarah to safety, for Sarah’s protection and to stop her letting loose her powers in the most destructive ways imaginable...

I found ‘The Reach’ to be a very quick read, not only because of its length but also because it’s a gripping read that really had me turning the pages to see what happened next and if my questions were answered. As it happened, all my questions were answered and Kenyon still found time to spring a couple of surprises on me (including one that I never saw coming). The big plot twist did seem a little shaky though; it was plausible enough but didn’t seem to have much behind it which made it look like it was there for spectacle rather than anything to do with the story itself...

The plot itself moved quickly and smoothly with lots happening and plenty of hooks that kept me interested. ‘The Reach’ has a definite supernatural element but, unlike ‘Bloodstone’, concentrates more on the horror that people can inflict all by themselves. Grounding horror in reality, in this manner, works well for me because as well as having that empathy with the characters the reader is also forced to face up to the possibility that they have that same darkness lurking within them. I found myself asking the question of what I would stoop to for stacks of cash or if I had no choice in the matter... You just can’t get that same level of involvement in a novel about monstrous creatures!
Kenyon also has a real flair for writing scenes of out and out destruction. After you’ve read the final few pages you won’t want to get on the wrong side of Sarah!

Where ‘The Reach’ falls down slightly is the parallels that it has with other, more established, works. Does the notion of a girl with psychic powers wreaking havoc, on her tormentors, sound familiar to you? If it doesn’t then read Stephen King’s ‘Firestarter’ or ‘Carrie’ and it soon will. While ‘Bloodstone’ was set in the same locale as King’s book, ‘The Reach’ employs a similar theme to the books already mentioned and lives in their shadow as a result. I’ll be interested to see what would happen if Kenyon took his next book out from under this influence.

Despite all this, ‘The Reach’ is a worthy follow up to ‘Bloodstone’ and promises good things if you’re a fan of horror fiction. I’ll be following Nate Kenyon’s work for sure!

Eight out of Ten.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Is thirty three 'early' or 'mid thirties'? I want it to be 'early thirties' but the white hairs in my beard are suggesting otherwise. Hmmmm...

Impending mortality to one side, it's my birthday today and I've reverted to being five and all excited about my presents and stuff. The only problem is that I'm at work and having to behave myself...

If you're in the Forbidden Planet shop (in London) tonight and see a bearded guy carrying loads of toys and comics... well, that could be any one of a number of people couldn't it? It will more than likely be me though... ;o)

Have a good one!

Monday, 15 September 2008

‘Paul of Dune’ – Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (Hodder & Stoughton)


Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series is regarded as one of the best (if not the best) series in science fiction. Up until the past few years ‘Dune’ was a series left unfinished, after Herbert’s death in 1986, but Brian Herbert (his son) and Kevin J. Anderson have taken up the reigns and continued it.
I read the original ‘Dune’ books when I was a teenager and was sad to find that the final chapter had been left untold. I then got into fantasy, over science-fiction, and never picked up the Herbert/Anderson books. Having seen the newer books been questioned, in terms of how good they actually were, I thought it might be worth finally picking up one of these books and seeing for myself. As it sits between ‘Dune’ and ‘Dune Messiah’ (books that I have read) I thought that ‘Paul of Dune’ would be a good choice of book. While it was a good choice, as a place to begin reading, I’m not so sure about the book itself...

Paul’s victory over the Padishah Emperor (of House Corrino) is complete and he is now in full control of the planet Dune. Paul only has nominal control over the rest of the Imperium however and must take his jihad to the stars if he is not to fall under the combined weight of the Landsraad Houses. He is only one man though, a man drowning in his own mythical status and struggling to make sense of the intrigue as factions plot to bring him down. The decisions that he makes will earn him the enmity of the galaxy but that is the price he must pay if he is to guide humanity down a dark path...

‘Paul of Dune’ answers the question of what happened in the twelve years between ‘Dune’ and ‘Dune Messiah’ (and why Paul ended up hated and feared) but I was left wondering how much of a question there was to ask in the first place. From what I remember, the gap between ‘Dune’ and ‘Dune Messiah’ came across as planned and any questions about the ‘gap’ were answered in the course of ‘Dune Messiah’ (which also does a good job of showing how Paul came to his current status). This being the case, why did Herbert and Anderson feel the need to put their own spin on it?

If you’re going to fill in a gap, between two books in a series, then you need to be able to give the reader something new that the other books couldn’t really give them. ‘Paul of Dune’ simply does not do this in terms of its stated objective which questions the point of the book being written in the first place. What it does do though is give the reader a closer look at Princess Irulan and what led her to start writing her biographies of Paul Atreides. It’s always good to see another side to an established character and the insights that we get round her character out a little more. This approach also gives the reader a sneaky look at Paul’s biography, namely the War of Assassins that Paul found himself embroiled in when he was only twelve years old. These excerpts make for interesting intervals with lots of swashbuckling sword fights and epic space battles and also give the reader little hints about events that will shape Paul’s thinking when he is a lot older.

I know I’ve said this before but filling in the gaps of a series is problematic when you know how the story will ultimately end. Where’s the hook to keep you reading in the meantime? There is plenty of plotting going on but there’s no real edge to it, the only reason I kept reading was to see how Paul would ultimately foil everyone’s plans. Even the big scene, right at the end, where Paul is stabbed falls flat because we know that he has to be around for the next book. There is also a huge difference in tone between the original works and ‘Paul of Dune’ and this jarred things for me. Going along with the ‘filling in the gap’ analogy, shoe-horning ‘Paul of Dune’ in between the other two original books is like repairing a brick house by filling the holes with silly putty, a questionable action at best...

I think the fairest thing to say is that if you are a fan of the series (regardless of who wrote what bit) then you’ll probably get something out of this latest instalment. Not me though, if this is the standard then I’ll be getting off right here and reading something else...

Four out of Ten

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The 'Art Deco' Link-Up Spectacular!


I don't really know what 'Art Deco' actually is but apparently Eltham Palace is full of the stuff, I took my wife's word for it and (to be fair) it all looked pretty good from where I was standing...
All this means that I don't really have anything to post today so I'm going to let my fellow bloggers take up the strain instead! :o)

Adam is on a 'Wheel of Time' re-reading mission, starting with The Eye of the World. I'm going to let him finish all of the books and then ask him to summarise it for me...

Tia, over at Fantasy Debut, has a Blog Showcase for us...

Once you've gone through these links, head over to Nethspace for a few more...

Grasping for the Wind looks at Robert Buettner's Orphanage.

Realms of Speculative Fiction were away, now it looks like they're Back! I for one am glad cos' I like their blog :o)

Fantasy Book Critic is taking things in a slightly different direction (still cool though) with his Song of the Week posts.

Speculative Fiction Junkie takes a look at Ben Bova's Mars Life

Last, but by no means least, it's been a little while since I visited 'A Slight Apocalypse' so I thought I'd head over and catch up. He wasn't too keen on John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale...

What's that? What am I reading? Well... I've finished the latest Herbert/Anderson 'Dune' book ('Paul of Dune') and have to say that I wasn't too impressed. More on that tomorrow... I felt like a short sharp burst of horror, to get over it, so I'm now reading Nate Kenyon's 'The Reach'.

Hope you're all having a great weekend!

'House of the Stag' - The Winner!


Thanks to everyone who entered this competition. Unfortunately there could only be one winner but I'd still recommend picking 'The House of the Stag' up from the store if you entered, I loved it :o)

Without further ado, the lucky winner is...

Elizabeth Hill, Taunton, UK (Lizzy on the James Barclay Forum)

Well done Elizabeth! Your book is on it's way...

Better luck next time everyone else, there's always a next time here so keep your eyes open...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

‘Afro Samurai’ – Takashi Okazaki (Tor/Seven Seas)


So far my journey into Manga has been a mixed affair to say the least. For every tale of superhumans, or the undead, there’s either a Benny Hill style ‘comedy of errors sex story’ or a sex story without the comedy. It’s been a bumpy ride but I think I may just have come across something that will restore the balance, maybe even tip it over into the realms of cool. Ninjas and Samurai are cool by their very definition but an Afro Samurai on a mission of revenge....? That’s just ‘cool squared’!

In a futuristic, yet feudal, world the number one warrior has all the power. The only person who is allowed to challenge him is the number two warrior and anyone is allowed to challenge ‘number two’ (for the right to take his place and challenge ‘number one’). All fights are to the death.
Afro’s father was ‘Number One’, years ago, until Afro saw him taken down by a maniacal gunman named Justice. Justice is now ‘number one’ and Afro has spent his life rising to the position of number two so he can challenge Justice. The final battle awaits but in the meantime Afro must battle his way past countless hordes of assassins and thugs who all want a shot at ‘number two’...

The story is as simple as that and leaves Okazaki free to devote his time to throwing new dangers at Afro and seeing what happens. This can get repetitive but complements the grim tone rather nicely and also gives us little hints at Afro’s character and what he is prepared to do in his quest to reach Justice. This is a grim and violent world where survival of the fittest rules and this is no more apparent in the trail of bodies that Afro leaves behind and his using a disabled girl as a human shield against a machine gun toting assassin (well, she did want her dead brother back, Afro killed him too...) An interesting parallel is also drawn when Afro kills a man in front of his son in exactly the same way that Afro witnessed his father die. I wonder if this will come back to haunt Afro in the future...

This approach is needed as Afro doesn’t really say much (if anything), most of the dialogue falls to his side-kick Ninja Ninja who provides the light relief much needed in the midst of all the carnage and gore. There is a lot of this and if you’re not into this kind of thing (along with gratuitous swearing) then you should probably give ‘Afro Samurai’ a miss. This is just my kind of thing though so I loved it :o)

The only thing that did bug me was that the artwork in my copy, although very detailed and nice to look at, sometimes got lost in various shades of grey and it was a little difficult to make out what was going on. You can excuse this (to a point) in terms of things moving quickly (and movements being blurred as a result) but it would still have been nice to see a little more sometimes...

This is a small niggle though in a book that entertained me and had me wide eyed in awe on more than one occasion. I’m going to make sure that I’m around to see where Afro Samurai heads next, I may even have to find myself a copy of the anime DVD...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 12 September 2008

‘The Time Engine’ – Sean McMullen (Tor Books)


It was the cover that persuaded me to pick ‘The Time Engine’ up and give it a go. Was this science fiction or fantasy? Was the cover art going for an ‘ironically cool eighties retro vibe’ or was this a book that was genuinely full of huge dragons and scantily clad characters. There’s only one way to answer questions like this so I settled down for a couple of days ‘commuter reading’.
Having finished ‘The Time Engine’ I can tell you that it is a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. I’m still not sure about the cover art though; if anyone from America is reading this right now, can you tell me how many genre books in the States have artwork like this?
‘The Time Engine’ is a funny and entertaining read though...

‘On the very last day of the year 3144 I vanished out of my life, such as it was. I admit that this does sound like death, but I am also alive. The problem is that I am now immortal.’

So begins ‘The Time Engine’, the tale of Wayfarer Inspector Danolarian who goes from having a quiet pint in his local hostelry (‘The Mermaid’s Slipper’) to be being a reluctant time traveller through the past and future of his country Alberin. With only a talking cat (Constable Wallas) for company, Danolarian travels into a future where breach of etiquette is the highest crime. He also finds himself in the past and on the run from five thousand psychopathic naked horsemen and a trip even further into the past reveals an idyllic land where the inhabitants keep a secret that even they don’t know. None of this appears to matter when Danolarian faces a revelation about the nature of time travel itself that puts a new perspective on everything and leaves him with only one option as an officer of the law...

‘The Time Engine’ is the fourth book in McMullen’s ‘Moonworlds Saga’ but the nature of the story itself (as well as plenty of references to events in previous books) means that the book can be read on it’s own quite easily. You may end up wanting to go back and check the others out as well though if ‘The Time Engine’ is anything to go by. The book isn’t without its faults but I had a great time going through the story and it succeeded in its aim of making me laugh out loud on more than one occasion.

Danolarian’s city state of Alberin is very much generically fantasy based at first glance with a hard bitten (yet genially corrupt) city watch, murky inns where unlawful business is conducted and shape shifting dragons that wander the streets. Alberin has recently beaten back an alien invasion however and the introduction of a time machine helps the book straddle the boundary between fantasy and science fiction.

With this established we can get on with the story and it’s a generally fast paced tale that hops backwards and forwards through different times and dimensions. McMullen shows the reader how his world looked at various points in its history and does this with a liberal dose of action and humour. My ‘favourite era’, to read about, was the final one in the book (three million years in the past) which gives the reader an interesting spin on the Eloi and Morlocks of H.G. Well’s... Breach of etiquette, and its consequences, seems to be a theme that runs throughout every stage of the book whether in the past or future. McMullen opts to play the consequences as a comedy of errors which worked for me. The humour isn’t in your face but creeps up on you slowly until you realise what you are reading. Again, this worked well for me as someone who prefers to find things funny rather than be told that something is funny...

Danolarian and Wallas find themselves in plenty of trouble that they need to get out of and are also trying to fix history at the same time. This makes for a generally fast paced read that only gets bogged down in descriptions of military action and the revelation at the end. Talking of which, Danolarian isn’t meant to wholly understand the revelation that he faces but perhaps the nature of it could have been made a little clearer to the reader. I’m not sure that I got what was going on...

The nature of ‘The Time Engine’ is such that we spend a great deal of time in the company of Wayfarer Inspector Danolarian and Constable Wallas. They make an interesting duo with dialogue that’s easy to get into and made me want them to keep talking. Wallas in particular is great to follow on the page, he may be just another ‘oily courtier’ type but the fact that he’s a cat, at the same time, gives a refreshing spin to the character and held my interest throughout.

Funnily enough, the one thing that really bugged me about the book (as a whole) was a blurb that pretty much took you through the story and told you what was going to happen including a fairly big (although somewhat vague) spoiler about the ending. I still had fun with the book but knowing what was going to happen took the shine off a little...

‘The Time Engine’ is still worth a look though if you’re after a dose of sci-fi/fantasy mixed with a large splash of humour.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Conan! (Dark Horse Comics)

I had a tooth out last week and used this as an excuse to go down to Forbidden Planet and treat myself to goodness in comic and graphic novel form. Well, you can’t really buy yourself a big bar of chocolate after a trip to the dentists can you? :o)

I mostly read fantasy so, instead of buying something with superheroes or zombies in it, I thought I’d see if there were any graphic novels or comics in a similar vein (I’d already read some Slaine so figured there had to be more out there!) And there was! A whole shelf full of Conan graphic novels beckoned me over and issue two of Dark Horse’s new ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ looked like a good idea as well. I bought the comic and ‘Born on the Battlefield’ (Volume 0 of Dark Horse’s collected Conan series) and headed off home to do some reading...



Conan is a product of the pulp fiction era where men were men (in every sense of the word) and women were commodities there to be traded, rescued (and carried off over a shoulder), betrayed by and eventually... you get the idea.

The cover for issue two of Conan the Cimmerian lives up to this approach with a brawny looking Conan carrying a skimpily clad woman over his shoulder. Some hot coals have fallen on the floor so maybe he didn’t want her feet to get burned? No, I didn’t think so either...
What makes me laugh about this cover isn’t so much the pulp style but the fact that the picture doesn’t relate to anything within the comic at all. Yes, at no point does Conan rescue a woman from burning coals; in fact he barely features in the ensuing story at all....

This issue sees Conan sheltering, from a storm, with a kindly stranger who weaves a tale of Conan’s grandfather (Connacht) and the price that he paid for looking after two orphaned children. The trio are stalked by a ravenous beast that eats both their horse and the daughter of a farmer that they are working for. Connacht must face the beast but will encounter a truth that will turn things upside down...
Issue Two of ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ is a fast paced read with a sinister atmosphere and an air of growing tension until an explosive finale. The story itself is simple but effective but it’s the evocative artwork that really adds to the proceedings and kept the pages turning for me. I’m not sure that I’d buy ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ regularly but it’s still worth a look anyway.



‘Born on the Battlefield’ takes a leap back in the time right to the very moment of Conan’s birth (in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps left by Robert E. Howard in his original works) and takes us through selected moments right up until the Battle of Venarium and Conan’s subsequent farewell to the village where he grew up.
The manner of Conan’s birth (literally, on a battlefield) marks him out for greatness at a very early age and the book explores the affect that this has on his life as a child and a young man. The villagers are not sure whether to respect or fear him and end up doing a little bit of both. All Conan really has is his Grandfather who fills his head with tales of his youth and ultimately sets Conan on his journey into a wider world (with echoes of a similar journey made by Erikson’s Karsa Orlong, I’m not sure who inspired who in this case...)

‘Born on the Battlefield’ is very much a rites of passage tale but as Conan is such an iconic character I ended up ignoring the familiarity of the plot devices and just settling back to enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is! Life in the Cimmerian Highlands is harsh and unforgiving which means a host of dangers that Conan must face in spectacular fashion. Highlights include Conan facing down a mad cannibal, on the skull strewn remnants of Britta’s Field, and the part he plays in the battle of Venarium. Conan must also face up to loss as well and you can see, through a mixture of events, how Conan becomes the man that he is in later years.

If you’re a fan of Conan then the ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ series is worth a look at least but you really need to get yourself a copy of ‘Born on the Battlefield’ how it all began. I reckon I’ll end up collecting the graphic novels...


‘Conan the Cimmerian’ Issue Two – Eight out of Ten
‘Born on the Battlefield’ – Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

‘Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn’ – Michael Moorcock (Del Rey Books)


I don’t know an awful lot about art but I know what I like and the cover art for this latest Elric collection is gorgeous as far as I’m concerned! Detailed and intricate, this is Elric at his brooding and melancholy best with a definite ‘don’t mess me or my rune sword will eat your soul’ thing going on... There’s more of the same going on inside as well and it’s all good...

Michael Moorcock has been a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy since the nineteen sixties and this output includes tales of Elric, last Sorcerer King of Ancient Melnibone who labours under (and often rails against) his dependence on his rune sword, ‘Stormbringer’, and an unwanted destiny... Elric is by no means the original anti-hero but he’s not far off and his doom-laden quest, for meaning to his very existence, constantly forces him to battle evil wizards, dark monsters and the very Lords of Chaos themselves.

Elric’s quest as been well documented by Moorcock and therein lays the essential problem with this collection. If you’re a fan of Moorcock then it’s very likely that you will already have most (if not all) of these stories in other collections. ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’ is being marketed as one of a ‘definitive series’ of Elric collections and while it may indeed be ‘definitive’ that’s not really a lot of good if you already own a large portion of the content! I’m no great collector of Moorcock’s books (although that is starting to change) but even I had already previously read most of the stories in other editions of his work...
I guess the message here is to have a quick look over the contents page before deciding whether or not to buy... ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’ is worth a look though, for the casual reader, but more on that later on.

The mythos of the ‘Multiverse’, and the ‘Eternal Champion’ who fights to preserve balance between Law and Chaos, underpins most (if not all) of Moorcock’s sci-fi and fantasy work. Elric is the most well known incarnation of the ‘Eternal Champion’, hence the collection of his tales, but he’s not the only one and Moorcock gives the reader a taste of other incarnations including Rackhir, Erekose, Jerry Cornelius and Earl Aubec. While this makes the book appear to be slightly misleading in its aim as an Elric collection, it does give the reader a more rounded perspective of the Eternal Champion as an entity in it’s own right. There’s certainly an interesting contrast between Erekose, who is fully aware of his situation, and Elric who is the unwitting catalyst for events beyond his imagination and control.
The stories themselves are a mixed bag, both in content and how I felt about them after I’d finished reading. The straight ‘Sword and Sorcery’ tales of Elric (and the ‘Eternal Champion’ novella featuring Erekose) are glorious pulp affairs full of flashing blades, beautiful women and dark villains. The ‘pulp approach’ can be deceptive though as Moorcock displays a tendency towards thoughtfulness about the nature of true evil and constantly seeks to link each story with his wider mythology. ‘The Eternal Champion’ places Erekose in a world where humanity, as a whole, is a force for evil and Elric’s adventures constantly take him outside the world that he knows onto the ‘Moonbeam Path’ between dimensions.

The character of Jerry Cornelius is one that I’ve heard much of but never actually read anything with him in it.This changed with my reading ‘Phase 1’, a tale of Cornelius’ return to the family mansion and a feud with his brother. There’s much to like here, especially the cool ‘late sixties/early seventies alternative vibe’, but ‘Phase 1’ ultimately reads like a present day re-telling of Elric’s sacking of the ‘Dreaming City’ of Imyrr. I think this was probably the intention, as it indicates parallels between aspects of the Eternal Champion, but the parallels ran a little too close for me and I think I would have preferred to see another Jerry Cornelius story in the place of ‘Phase 1’.

The tales of ‘Rackhir the Red’ are fun but don’t seem to do an awful lot more than that. It’s the Elric stories that the reader has come for and this is where the excitement is to be had...

The selection in ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’ shows how Elric has developed from the nineteen sixties up to the present day and also how Moorcock has developed in the themes he is tackling as a writer.
‘The Last Enchantment’ is a dark and sinister pulp tale from 1962 where, even then, Moorcock was introducing elements of philosophy that added a greater depth. It’s taken me a long while to get my head around this story and I suspect that I’m due at least a couple more re-reads before I’m completely satisfied. I still wouldn’t want to meet the ‘Hungry Whisperers’ though!
Moorcock is not above a little self parody and Carthaz’ condition in ‘The Stone Thing’ is a timely reminder that the Fantasy Genre is (or maybe ‘was’ at the time) in danger of devouring itself in clich├ę if it’s not careful. My favourite story, in the collection, is ‘Elric at the End of Time’. The title pretty much tells the tale but it’s great to meet the denizens of the ‘End of Time’ and their ‘comedy of errors’ style quest for the alleviation of boredom and the entertaining of unexpected guests. The hint of a twist in the tale, right at the very end, is definite food for thought for any Moorcock fan...

‘Crimson Eyes’ and ‘Sir Milk and Blood’ can be found in the ‘Metatemporal Detective’ collection but serve a purpose here by showing another side to Elric (as Count Zenith) and also Moorcock’s return to his ‘noir roots’. You should get hold of ‘The Metatemporal Detective’ if you want more of the same...

‘To Rescue Tanelorn’ offers nothing new at all to Moorcock fans, in terms of the stories within, but does paint an interesting picture of Elric as a part of the Eternal Champion as a whole. I’d say the collection is of more use to the casual reader or someone looking to read about Elric for the first time. There’s plenty to get stuck into and, for the most part, it’s all good...

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

‘The Everlasting’ – Tim Lebbon (Allison and Busby)


Tim Lebbon is one of those authors where I know the name but have somehow never managed to get hold of (and read) one of his books. No matter how many books you read there will always be more that you haven’t. Actually that’s pretty cool, imagine if you had no more new books to read... Anyway, back to Tim Lebbon!
Horror fiction is something that I like to push, where I can, on the blog so it was good to finally get hold of something by Tim Lebbon who (from what I’ve heard) is a pretty big deal as far as horror is concerned. I finished ‘The Everlasting’ last night and... I have to say it didn’t quite do it for me, more on that as we go along. What I will say though is that it is plain to see why people say good things about him; I’m looking forward to reading ‘Fallen’ (his latest work) sooner rather than later...

Scott’s Grandfather died thirty years ago, killing his best friend before committing suicide in an attempt to keep a discovery from falling into the wrong hands. Thirty years on and the vengeful spirit of Lewis (the friend) is back and looking for the Chord of Souls, a book that will not only return him to life but grant him immortality as well. Scott is the only person who can stop Lewis and he has good cause. Accompanied by a strange woman, who claims to be immortal, Scott must seek out the book and destroy it. This is a journey that takes Scott to a place where few people have gone and even fewer have returned from, the House of Screaming Skulls...

‘The Everlasting’ being marketed as ‘Horror’ but having read the book I’d say this is a bit of a misnomer, possibly as a result of Lebbon’s reputation as a writer of horror. While there are certainly scary moments (including a couple that literally made my skin crawl) I wouldn’t say that there was anything that struck me as being something you would see in ‘horror fiction’. Maybe I’m just jaded but I’d say that ‘The Everlasting’ was a ghost story, it’s predominantly about ghosts and there’s no real horror to it. While there may not be much of a distinction I still think it’s worth pointing out, the book basically told me to expect something that it wasn’t giving me and this left me feeling a bit non-plussed to say the least.

This was a shame, in a way, as ‘The Everlasting’ worked really well for what I saw it as being. I’ve already mentioned that there were moments that made my skin crawl and Lebbon has written a genuinely scary tale, he’s a real master of creating an atmosphere of creeping terror that sucks you in and has you turning pages even though you’re scared about what might be on the other side... Scott’s first encounter with the ghosts is a good example of this and events surrounding the finale also made my heart race a little!

It’s a pity then that the rest of the book can sometimes drag with a lot of journeying to and places in order to complete the next stage of the quest (for that is what this book is all about at heart). On the one hand you get to learn more about Scott’s character and that of Nina the mysterious immortal woman. Scott’s memories of his Grandfather add a certain pathos that highlights some of the scary stuff Scott has to contend with although Scott seemed to remember stuff at suspiciously convenient times in order to get to the next stage... Nina’s character is compelling, more through what is left unsaid than what we actually find out about her. There’s an impression given of century’s worth of experience that cannot be conveyed in mere words as well as things that mortals should never find out... I also liked Tigre, the warlike immortal on an eternal quest to die in combat. Lebbon has given us a glimpse into a world (‘The Wide’) that offers scope for more exploration, I wonder if we’ll see these two again in the future...?

‘The Everlasting’ is a read that promised me one thing and ended up giving me something else, it’s also a slow read at times that left me waiting for something to happen. Once I got past that though ‘The Everlasting’ was a tale that sent shivers up my spine and kept me reading. There’s certainly enough there to give me a good feeling about ‘Fallen’, I’ll have to read it and see if there’s an improvement...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 8 September 2008

‘Order 66’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey/ Orbit Books)


Up until last year I’d pretty much stopped reading Star Wars ‘tie-in’ books for a number of reasons including finances (seriously, how many of these books are there?) and the fact that the vast majority of them weren’t anywhere near the standard set by Timothy Zahn’s ‘Heir to the Empire’ books. That all changed though when I picked up Karen Traviss’ ‘True Colours’, the third book in a series about clone commandos fighting against the Separatist forces. The bottom line is that if you’re a Star Wars fan (or a fan of military sci-fi) then you need to be reading these books.
I didn’t rush out and buy every single Star Wars book that I could find (if I didn’t like them back in the day then I’d probably dislike them for all the same reasons now) but I did promise myself that I’d pick up ‘Order 66’ when it was published. I did just that and I finished reading it yesterday morning. I think I could have a new favourite Star Wars author, it’s that good…

The Clone Wars rage on and Mandalorian Kal Skirata’s main priority in all of this is to make sure that his clone commando ‘sons’ have the opportunity to escape the war and live the rest of their lives as free men. They won’t have much of a life though if Skirata cannot find a way to halt the clone accelerated aging process so any scientist with knowledge of cloning is fair game as far as he’s concerned… While all of this is going on though, plans are being executed that will bring the war to an end in the way that we all know it goes. The infamous ‘Order 66’ is given and carried out by clone forces across the galaxy. How will the men of Omega and Delta squads react to ‘Order 66’ remains to be seen…

‘Order 66’ is a slow starter but when you see what’s involved in each of the various sub-plots you can make excuses for this. Fans of Traviss’ earlier books in the series will already know how much has gone into the build-up to this book and anyone else will appreciate that a good escape plan has a lot of detail but can always be relied upon to go awry at the most awkward moment. There is one hell of a lot going on here and the attention to detail can come across as a bit dry at times. ‘Order 66’ stands on it’s own fairly well but in order to get the most out of it you should read the other books (‘Hard Contact’, ‘Triple Zero’ and ‘True Colours’) first, especially in terms of getting your head around the relationships that have sprung up and developed over the course of earlier books.

Any ‘dryness’ in the tone of ‘Order 66’ is more than balanced out by the vivid accounts of warfare across the galaxy. It’s the Clone Wars and our Republic Commando teams are inserted into engagements from the films (Kashykk for example) in a seamless manner that maintains continuity and gives the reader a new perspective on established events that I would say is better than what you see in the films. The films are about spectacle but ‘Order 66’ gives you a better idea about why these battles actually took place which is just the kind of thing that I wanted to know about. The commandos are also dropped into combat situations not covered by the films, which gives the reader a fresh perspective on the Clone Wars as a whole. It’s not just about the space battles that you see on the screen, these men will wait in a crater for weeks at a time just to get a shot at one man or travel into the depths of Coruscant itself to carry out a mission the results of which people will never even know about. Having read Traviss’ battle scenes I’d say that either she was in the army or that she knows someone else who was. Traviss gets right into the action and gives you a view of warfare from men who are constantly on the receiving end. It’s heady stuff but strangely sobering at the same time.

For a cast that’s mostly made up of men who are clones, Traviss shows the reader that the similarity is only skin deep. Each man has his own aspirations and dreams and it’s interesting to see where each of them ends up by the end of the book in light of these. Don’t call them ‘clones’ either, seriously… just don’t! I also really enjoyed reading about the Mandalore society that Skirata holds up as a potential refuge for his clones. I’d love to read more about the culture that birthed Jango and Boba Fett, especially in light of Skirata and Vau’s realisation about the long-term nature of Jango’s revenge on the Jedi…

‘Order 66’ is a key moment in Star Wars history and this moment is what the book builds up to. Things are drawn out, almost to breaking point, and ‘Order 66’ is (for me) is a great example of leading the reader on and on, up to a point where they get smacked around the head with a powerful finale that left me gasping and wondering how things could turn out like that so quickly. It’s heavy stuff that has left me eager to find out what happens next.

Can a book be dry, and slow going, but full of action and life at the same time? ‘Order 66’ manages to walk the line between the two states with ease, only occasionally getting bogged down in the detail. It shifts gear so quickly though that you might not even notice. Roll on ‘Imperial Commando’ (which I’ve been told is out next year), I actually cannot wait to see what happens next.
Del Rey Books are publishing 'Order 66' in the US, Orbit will be releasing it in the UK.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Click Here for my review of 'True Colours'.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Giveaway! 'The House of the Stag' (Kage Baker)


After having a great time reading Kage Baker's 'The House of the Stag' I thought it would be cool if I could give someone else the opportunity to read the book as well. The kind people at Tor thought it was a good idea as well and have offered one copy of 'The House of the Stag' for one lucky winner!

Do you want to be that winner? Are you a US or UK resident (cos' they're the only people allowed to enter this competition, sorry everyone else...)? Have you answered yes to both of those questions? Then read on...

Entering this competition is as easy as it always is. Simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is (very important as Tor will need to know where to send the book to). I'll be letting this competition run until next Saturday evening (September 13th) and will announce the winner on the Sunday.

Good Luck! :o)

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Book Spotlight! 'The Man with the Iron Heart' - Harry Turtledove (Del Rey Books)


Here's a book that I've been picking up, flicking through a few pages and then putting down for some weeks now. It got to the point where I knew that I wasn't going to continue with it but I thought I'd point it out to anyone who's into the whole 'Alternative History' thing...


What's it about?


What if V-E Day didn’t end World War II in Europe? What if, instead, the Allies had to face a potent, even fanatical, postwar Nazi resistance? Such a movement, based in the fabled Alpine Redoubt, was in fact a real threat, ultimately neutralized by Germany’s flagging resources and squabbling officials. But had SS Obergruppenf├╝hrer Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious Man with the Iron Heart, not been assassinated in 1942, fate might have taken a different turn. We might likely have seen a German guerrilla war launched against the conquerors, presaging by more than half a century the protracted conflict with an unrelenting enemy that now engulfs the United States and its allies in Iraq. How might today’s clash of troops versus terrorists have played out in 1945?

In this imagined world, Nazi forces resort to unconventional warfare, using the quick and dirty tactics of terrorism–booby traps, time bombs, mortar and rocket strikes in the night, assassinations, even kamikaze-style suicide attacks–to overturn what seemed to be a decisive Allied victory. In November 1945, a truck bomb blows up the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, where high-ranking Nazi officials are about to stand trial for war crimes. None of the accused are there when the bomb goes off, but their judges, all of them present and accounted for, are annihilated. Worse acts of terrorism follow all over Europe.

Suddenly the Allies–especially the United States–must battle an invisible enemy and sacrifice countless lives in a long, seemingly pointless, unwinnable conflict. On the home front, patriotism corrodes, political fortunes are made and lost in the face of an antiwar backlash, and a once-proud country wonders how the righteous fight for freedom overseas has collapsed into a hopeless quagmire...



Who's the Author?


If you're reading a book where established history takes a sudden twist (Red Indians with Kalashnikov rifles or a World War Two suddenly interupted by an invasion of alien lizards) then the chances are that you're probably reading something written by Harry Turtledove. I don't know an awful lot about his stuff but a look in a few bookshops seems to suggest that he's pretty prolific with his writing...

So why aren't I reading this?

I did give this one a go but came away with the feeling that I needed to know a little more (ok, a lot more) about the period in question to actually appreciate how things had branched off.
The parallels with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were laid on a little thick as well and (from what I read) opinion appeared to come down very firmly in the 'war on terror is bad' camp. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't but I found myself resenting the lack of subtlety in the way Turtledove was getting his point across...
Not one that I'll be reading any further but figured it was worth a mention just in case it's your kind of thing... ;o)