Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Another Big Fat End of the Year Post...

Where did the year go? One minute it was there, I turn my back for a few seconds... and it's gone! And why doesn't a day spent at work go as quickly? Seriously, if anyone could tell me I'd be very grateful...

It's been a great year for the blog in terms of some of the stuff I got to have a look at as well as meeting new people (author interviews and readers who left comments next to the posts). Thanks to everyone who stopped by over the course of the year, I hope you liked what you saw and I'll do my level best to give you more of the same (and stuff that's even better hopefully!) in 2009.

Highlights? I love reading so in one sense the whole of 2008 has been a highlight as I've read so many cool books that I've really enjoyed. More on that in a bit... In terms of the blog itself though, I was very surprised (to say the least) when my review of 'Paul of Dune'(don't pick it up if you have any love at all for the original books) racked up an impressive 4,420 hits... That's almost enough to make me waver in my decision not to pick up another of these books! :o)

Anyway, back to those really cool books that I read. People have been posting their 'Best of 2008' lists and I've got in on the act over at The Book Smugglers and on the forums at SFFWorld. All of these books were great, as far as I was concerned, but I held a few back for inclusion here instead; mostly because these were the ones I enjoyed the most and wanted to gush about them here! :o)
Ready? Here goes...

I was hard pressed to choose a favourite read for 2008, R. Scott Bakker's The Judging Eye (look out for it next month) and Matthew Stover's Caine Black Knife came close but, in the end, it was this book that really did it for me...



Joe Abercrombie's Last Argument of Kings was nothing less than a superb ending to a superb trilogy, if you haven't read any of these books then that should be your first New Year's resolution for 2009 ;o) I'm looking forward to seeing what Joe comes up with next in 'Best Served Cold'.

As for the rest of them...

'Ravensoul' (James Barclay) - I didn't think I'd ever see the Raven again, after 'Demonstorm', but James brings them back in style. I couldn't put this one down.

'Shadowbridge' (Gregory Frost) - A gorgeously realised world of stories within stories within... you get the idea. This one had me gasping for the sequel 'Lord Tophet' before I had even finished it.

'The Tower of Fear' (Glen Cook) - A slightly older book than the rest but clear evidence of Cook writing at the top of his game.

'Bloodheir' (Brian Ruckley) - A worthy sequel to 'Winterbirth' that promises good things for the concluding volume 'Fall of Thanes'.

'Sly Mongoose' (Tobias Buckell) - It only needs three words to tell you why this particular book caught my eye (and is damn cool)... Zombies in Space! ;o)

'Iron Angel' (Alan Campbell) - I wasn't too keen on the first book, 'Scar Night', but 'Iron Angel' made me look at things in a completely new way. I'm looking forward to 'God of Clocks'.

'Order 66' (Karen Traviss) - If only George Lucas had got Karen Traviss involved when he was filming the prequels, that's all I'm saying...

'Agent to the Stars' (John Scalzi) - I don't think I read a bad book by Scalzi, this year, but this was the one that made me laugh the most.

That's all from me this year, work will be finishing soon and then I'll be off for dinner, drinks and fireworks with friends. Whatever you do, have a great one too :o)

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Christmas Comic Book Reading!

I was lucky enough to receive quite the pile of graphic novels over Christmas. Even luckier still, I got to read them in front of a blazing log fire while the weather was being absolutely foul outside. And there was beer involved as well :o)
Here’s what I thought of a couple of them...



‘Fables: Legends in Exile’ – Bill Willingham

I’ve been hearing lots of great things about this series and, thanks to my Secret Santa, I got the chance to start right at the very beginning. ‘Legends in Exile’ introduces us to a group of fairy tale characters hiding out in New York after having been driven from their homes by the mysterious Adversary. Times are tough and everyone is out to make a few dollars on the side just to get by. Things are about to get even more desperate though with the murder of Rose Red casting suspicion on a number of people. Only Bigby Wolf’s detective instincts can save the day...
‘Legends in Exile’ is a gorgeous read that will not only have me going back for re-reads but will also more than likely see me searching out the rest of the series. Willingham really hooked me with his depiction of how (ultimately selfish) the fairy tale characters that I grew up with are forced to interact in the real world and what this means for them; the little aside where Pinnochio is forced to come to terms with his unique predicament made me laugh out loud! Even the Big Bad Wolf isn’t quite as bad as you would think and the ‘mini-adventures’ of one the Three Little Pigs are an unexpected highlight...
The ‘Murder/Mystery’ plot works really well by taking things one step at a time in a very methodical manner. Everything happens for a reason and it all fits together nicely right at the end.
If you’re a regular visitor to the blog then I reckon you’ll be hearing more about ‘Fables’... :o)

Ten out of Ten



‘The Goon: Heaps of Ruination’ – Eric Powell

This instalment of ‘The Goon’ has left me rather puzzled in that although it’s my least favourite book so far it’s also the one that I’ve gone back to (for a re-read) the most... While there’s very little here to advance the main plot (which I was hoping for) there’s still plenty to amuse and entertain. The characters are part of what keeps me coming back with Doctor Hieronymous Alloy putting in an appearance along with the Psychic Seal, a seal with strange powers and a mouth that he really needs to keep a better grip on! The story ‘The Vampire Dame Had to Die’ is an intriguing blend of pathos (we get a tantalising glimpse behind the Goon’s hard exterior) and Anne Rice style vampires getting just what they deserve for being all pretentious and covered in lace.
I wasn’t too keen on the ‘Goon vs The Fire Lizard’ tale, visually entertaining but very lightweight in actual content, but this was more than made up for by Buzzard’s rescue and the Goon/Hellboy crossover which is a real joy to read. The contrasting artwork really lets the reader know that Hellboy has ended up somewhere completely different and, if that wasn’t enough, just wait until you meet the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia...

‘Heaps of Ruination’ represents a slight downturn (as far as I was concerned) in the trade paperback editions but there is still plenty there to have me coming back for another fix! :o)

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 29 December 2008

‘Fools’ Experiments’ – Edward M. Lerner (Tor)


Ever since the Master Control Program started getting ideas above its station and usurping its real world operators (see the film ‘Tron’ if you don’t know what I’m on about) I’ve always thought that the concept of artificial intelligence running riot was pretty cool. The realisation that Skynet was in on the act as well just made things all the better as far as I was concerned!
When a copy of Edward Lerner’s ‘Fools’ Experiments’ came through the door, just before Christmas, I was looking forward to more MCP and Skynet goodness and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard. In other areas though I found that ‘Fools’ Experiments’ came up short...

In a near future world (that feels like it’s only a couple of years away from the present day) computer viruses are more of a threat than ever, especially with the advent of neural interfacing directly with computers... A particularly nasty virus is doing the rounds at the same time as a university professor conducts experiments into the development of artificial life. You can guess what happens next... All of a sudden the entire internet is under attack and the world’s first artificial life form must be stopped before the damage spreads into the real world...

Like I said, I love stories of artificial intelligence running rampant and ‘Fools’ Experiments’ certainly delivers this with a hefty side helping of moralising about how mankind shouldn’t play God (and if it absolutely has to then it should really treat it’s creations with a little more consideration). Personally, I found the latter aspect of the book a little heavy-handed, if the reader is shown the catastrophic results of mankind’s meddling then surely he doesn’t need to be told (again) whose fault it is... Does he? Once I got past my annoyance with this though, the story itself is an entertaining one (up to a point) with plenty going on and high stakes involved. To Lerner’s credit, he can make a battle that takes place across various servers (between two combatants) as enthralling as a real life battle involving a cast of thousands and this makes one of the highlights of the story particularly intense.

It’s a shame then that the story drags up to this point.

Lerner decides to take the approach of describing the birth of the artificial intelligence in great detail, perhaps too great for a story that feels like it needs to rattle along a lot faster than it does under the weight of what felt to me like needless detail. While it’s always good to know just how something has come about, how much of this do we actually need to know? As someone who is not really computer literate at all, I also found myself struggling when Lerner got technical regarding the movements of various viruses and artificial intelligence. I can understand that there needs to be an element of technical grounding, for the story to be plausible, but most of it went straight over my head... If this is your kind of thing though then you might get more out of it than I did.

The bit that really irked me though was that I was left with the impression that the concept behind the novel, good though it was, wasn’t enough to fill an entire book. If it had been enough then surely you wouldn’t have seen a finale halfway through the book and then have the plot repeated (by characters that you thought would have known better by now) for the second half...

‘Fools’ Experiments’ has flashes of brilliance, and characters that I really got into, but these were bogged down by what I felt was a morass of technical detail and a plot that was too repetitive for it’s own good. I’ll be sticking with the Master Control Program and Skynet for a while longer...

Five and a Half out of Ten

What did I watch over Christmas?

Not a lot actually, this holiday was more about what I read but more on that another day...

My Christmas TV watching began with my Mother In Law's copy of 'Mama Mia' on DVD, not my normal cup of tea but I do like to watch different stuff every now and again (I'm not just all about sci-fi and fantasy you know!) Five minutes in and I found myself secretly hoping for an invasion of aliens sworn to seek out and destroy all puny human life forms who insist on butchering Abba songs. Ten minutes in, and with no aliens in sight, I decided to read one of my zombie comics instead (which turned out to be a very good choice indeed!)

Next up was 'Stardust', a film that I later remembered that I had already reviewed over Here. For that reason I won't go into too much detail suffice it to say that I thought that the film was even better second time round. Even Ricky Gervais' appearance was tolerable this time...



For the last few years, Christmas Day has been all about watching the latest Dr. Who Christmas Special and this Christmas was no different with the Doctor meeting Cybermen and his possible future self in Victorian London... Doctor Who is always great fun to watch and the Christmas Special was no exception with twists and turns to the plot along with a gigantic Cyberman trampling London. I couldn't help thinking though that the producers missed a trick when they opted to go one way, rather than another, with their revelation over the identity of the 'other Doctor'. Instead of lots of interesting foreshadowing etc, we got... well, I don't want to spoil it for anyone but I think there was potential for this concept to have been spread out over the forthcoming 'one hour specials' that the BBC are going to show next year... Never mind eh?

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The 'I'm Back!' Link-Up Spectacular!

I'm back (and I'm pleased to be back!) Hope you all had a great Christmas. I did, I was the only person in the house who didn't come down with a foul and debilitating illness over the last week :o) Once I managed to get everyone else to stop coughing I was able to get some peace and quiet for some quality reading time! :o)
I'm back to work tomorrow (oh joy) and need to sort myself out for that hence the extremely lazy links to what everyone else has been posting just recently. It's all good though so get clicking on the links...

Who's that talking about some of his favourite books of 2008 over at The Book Smugglers? He sounds like he knows what he's talking about... ;o)

Adam reminds us that voting is now open for the David Gemmell Awards. Don't just stop there though, have a look at his two part Wertzone Awards as well.

Larry's review of Graphic Novels Read in 2008 makes for interesting reading and he also got round to reading/reviewing Kristin Cashore's 'Graceling'.

James has an end of year review and his top five reads of 2008.

Tia and Mulluane get together for a Debut Showcase.

Fantasy Book Critic invites Jaine Fenn over for a 2008-09 Review/Preview amongst other things, this guy doesn't stop! :o)

Mark Chitty looks at Eric Brown's Kethani.

Ken gives us a A Few Links for the Holidays.

Last of all (but by no means least), John shows us the best use for origami, ever...

What am I doing (other than trying to decide what shirt to wear tomorrow, *sigh*...)? The next few days will see a little bit of everything with at least one book review, me talking about what I watched over Christmas and how 'The Goon' is still a series that I think everyone should have a look at...

Have a great weekend! :o)

P.S Thanks to everyone who dropped me a line to wish me a Happy Christmas :o) I didn't get round to replying but I hope you all had a great one too!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Giveaway! 'The Secret War' and 'The Horde of Mhorrer' (M.F.W. Curran)

Hi!

Hope you're all having a great Christmas Break so far, by the time you read this I'll be driving back up from Plymouth with the depressing knowledge that I'll be back at work on Monday, stupid holidays not lasting forever...

In the meantime, how would you like to win more books? For my final Christmas Competition Pan Macmillan have very kindly agreed to offer up one set of M.F.W Curran's 'The Secret War' and 'The Horde of Mhorrer' (which I plan to get round to in the New Year) to one lucky winner (UK and European entries though, sorry about that...)...



If you want to be that lucky winner then all you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and where you live. I'll do the rest! :o)
This competition will run until January 4th 2009 and I'll annouce the winner the next day...

Good Luck!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Giveaway! 'Dragonfly Falling' - Adrian Tchaikovsky


Happy Boxing Day! :o)

'Empire in Black and Gold' was one of my favourite fantasy reads, this year, and as such I'm looking forward to reading 'Dragonfly Falling', are you? Would you like to win a copy (only if you live in the UK/Europe though I'm afraid...)? Then read on...

Thanks to Tor UK I have three copies of 'Dragonfly Falling' to give to three lucky winners. If you want to count yourself among that illustrious band then simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do the hard part of picking a winner... :o)

I'll let this one run until January 4th 2009 and announce the winners on the 5th...

Good Luck!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Giveaway! 'The Winter of the World' Trilogy - Michael Scott Rohan


I'm very excited about this giveaway as this is one of the series that originally got me into reading fantasy. I love it (must be due for a re-read soon...) and thanks to Orbit I have copies of 'The Anvil of Ice', 'The Forge in the Forest' and 'The Hammer of the Sun' to give to one lucky winner. Hopefully they'll love it too!

If you want to enter then all you need to do is drop me an email (making it clear that this is the competition you want to enter) telling me who you are and where you live. I'll do the hard part and pick a winner...

This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live! I'll let it run until the 4th of January 2009 and announce the winner on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Happy Christmas Everyone!



Because this blog hasn't been visited by the LOLCats until now... Credit where credit is due, someone cleverer than I made the picture :o)

I hope you all have a great day and that Santa forgets all your misdemeanours (mine as well!) and gives you loads of cool stuff instead! :o)

Have a good one!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Giveaway! 'Raven: Bloodeye' (Signed) - Giles Kristian


I reviewed 'Raven' not so long ago and knew that this would be a book worth setting up a giveaway for :o)

Thanks to Transworld, I have three signed advance copies of 'Raven' to give to three lucky winners. If you fancy your chances at being a lucky winner (and this competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!) then simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Remember to make it clear, in the subject header, that this is the competition you are entering. I'll pick the winners...

I'll let this giveaway run until the 4th of January 2009 and will announce the winners on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Giveaway! 'The Ancient' - R.A. Salvatore


I've never read an R.A. Salvatore novel (only got a page into one of them, I'll tell you about it some other time...) but I'm sure that some of you guys are fans! How would you like to win a copy of 'The Ancient'?

Thanks to Tor UK, I have three copies of 'The Ancient' to give to three lucky winners (UK and European entries only though I'm afraid...). To enter, just drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, it's that simple (although please rememberto make it clear that this is the book you're after)! I'll pick the winners...

As with all the competitions running this week, I'll be leaving it open until January 4th 2009 and announcing the winners on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Giveaway! 'Twisted Metal' - Tony Ballantyne


Tor UK are giving this tale of a planet of sentient robots battling for supremacy a pretty big push and I for one am interested to see how it turns out. You are as well? As luck would have it I have an advance copy to give to one lucky winner...

To enter this competition simply drop me an email (making it clear that this is the book you are after) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll pick the winner...

This giveaway is only open to UK and European entries I'm afraid... It'll run until January 4th 2009 and I'll announce the winner on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Free Reading! Excerpt from Justin Gustainis' 'Evil Ways'


Fantasy Bookspot is always a great place to go if you fancy reading excerpts from forthcoming novels and seeing if you want to go the whole hog and buy the book.
Up at the moment is an excerpt from Justin Gustainis' forthcoming novel 'Evil Ways', the follow up to 'Black Magic Woman' in the 'Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations' series. If you fancy a look then have a click right Here.

Giveaway! 'Twelve' (Signed) - Jasper Kent


Jasper Kent's forthcoming novel of vampires, in the Napoleonic Wars, has been garnering favourable reviews so far. How would you like to win a signed copy? You would? Then you've come to the right place...

Thanks to Transworld Books I have three signed copies of 'Twelve' to give away to three lucky blog readers, do you want in? Entering is as easy as ever, simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is (this competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live!), I'll pick the winners...

There's going to be a lot of competitions running this week so please make it clear that this is the competition you want to enter. You can enter as many competitions as you are eligible for but it will make it a lot easier for me if you send one email per entry. None of this 'One email covers all' business if you please!

This competition will be open until January 4th 2009 and I'll be announcing the winners on the 5th...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Coming up in the next week...

Last year saw me do the 'Twelve Books of Christmas' giveaways, that's not going to happen this year (postage costs are a killer right now...) but I've come up with something that I think is just as good... :o)

While I'm away (drinking and eating to massive excess, I'm going to look like a beach ball by New Year) various publishers have kindly agreed to offer up books for a 'Christmas Week of Giveaways'! That's right, if you find yourself getting bored of playing monopoly with family members then log on here instead to find out what's on offer... There's some really cool stuff (if I do say so myself) to be had and I've managed to open a couple of the competitions up worldwide so anyone can enter :o)

The first competition will be up tomorrow, good luck! :o)

Friday, 19 December 2008

‘Lone Wolf and Cub, Volume Two: The Gateless Barrier’ – Kazuko Koike & Goseki Kojima (Dark Horse Manga)


Back in November I read the first volume of Koike and Kojima’s ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ series. To say that I was impressed was an understatement, I seem to remember saying that this was a series I’d be diving straight into but it’s now the middle of December and I’ve only just got round to picking up volume two... What can I say?
Anyway, once I remembered that I had ‘The Gateless Barrier’ waiting to be read I picked it up and got into it straight away...

The repetitive nature of ‘The Assassin’s Road’ continues, for the most part, in ‘The Gateless Barrier’ with our assassin hero (and his son) walking the land and taking on jobs that will get them one step closer to whatever the mission is that Lone Wolf talks of. It is very much a case of ‘dispense justice, move on to next town and dispense justice...’ but this is balanced out by the nature of each contract and the ways in which Lone Wolf achieves his goals. Some of the planning that went into what ultimately transpires at the prison has to be seen to be believed and adds to the mystique of Lone Wolf’s ‘unstoppable killer’ reputation.
Kojima’s artwork is now a little easier on the eye (as far as I’m concerned) and is testament to black and white artwork being just as effective, maybe even more so, than art done in colour. The fight scenes certainly don’t suffer for being black and white (and isn’t any good fight sequence a black and white issue?) and the shading on some of the scenery is stunning.

Although we still don’t find out much about Lone Wolf’s mission (other than that he is on one...), during the course of ‘The Gateless Barrier’, we do get to find out a lot about the man himself and not only what he is capable of but some of the things that influence his decisions. He offered his child, Daigoro, the opportunity to join his mother in death (and would have killed Daigoro himself) but is very much a father who looks out for the safety of his son and will stop at nothing to protect him. Except where Daigoro chooses his own path, and must reap the consequences, that is...
Ogami (Lone Wolf) also undergoes a spiritual journey, at one point, which again demonstrates his commitment to his cause as well as decorating the background with a taste of Japanese mysticism, adding a new flavour to the tale.

My ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ journey ends here for now, at least until I can pick more of these books up. That should, hopefully, be very soon as this is a series that is demanding I continue...

Nine out of Ten

Thursday, 18 December 2008

‘The Vampire Agent’ – Patricia Rosemoor & Marc Paoletti (Del Rey)


I read Patricia Rosemoor and Marc Paoletti’s ‘The Last Vampire’, back in June, and felt that although it didn’t really bring anything new to the ‘urban fantasy table’ it was still an entertaining and fun read that was a good way to while away time on the daily commute to and from work. Their latest instalment, ‘The Vampire Agent’, is another book that has been sat on the ‘to read’ pile for a while but was promoted to ‘commuter read’ as it was a nice short read that didn’t look that it would require too much effort to get into. As it turned out, ‘The Vampire Agent’ did take some getting into...

‘The Vampire Agent’ kicks off a matter of days after the events of ‘The Last Vampire’ come to a close. Captain Scott Boulder and Leah Maguire are still in New Orleans, searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, but other matters are about to demand their immediate attention. A Department of Defense experiment has gone wrong and the traumatized (and genetically altered) subjects have escaped. Amongst them is Rachel Ackart, dangerous enough by herself but even more dangerous now she is under the influence of a malign spirit that Scott and Leah thought they had dealt with.
The race is on to track Ackart down before a plot, that even she is unaware of, can come to fruition...

‘The Vampire Agent’ operates along the same lines as it’s predecessor, a mixture of action and the complicated stuff that always seems to happen when two leading characters are in love but have good reasons for not wanting to take things any further (although they usually manage to...) We’re allowed to see a little bit more of what’s going on in Scott and Leah’s minds in a move that’s clearly designed to show character development and set things up for a third book in the series (the plot does this as well with things arising, at the end, that need resolving urgently). The problem I found was that while this approach does flesh the characters out (not just the main ones either) it also had the effect of slowing things right down to a crawl which annoyed the hell out of me. Scott loves Leah but is afraid his vampire nature will prove too strong to resist, Leah loves Scott but can’t stand his attitude (and she’s got issues as well...), Rachel loves someone who died in World War Two and can’t stop thinking about him... There is a lot of this thoughtful meandering in the book and it gets overly repetitive very quickly. We know that various characters have issues but the point of the plot was something else entirely as far as I could see. Slowing things down, and concentrating on something that didn’t advance the main plot an awful lot, didn’t help the story flow. Quite the opposite in fact... And I’m not even going to go into the endless dilemmas that Leah has every time she has to use her magic...
To be fair though, if this is shaping up to be a series then getting into character’s heads now could pay dividends in the long term, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

The issue with pacing is a real shame because when things actually get going ‘The Vampire Agent’ becomes an exciting read with plenty happening. Rosemoor and Paoletti are good at building up the tension (for example, Leah’s journey through an installation teeming with vampires) and then finishing things with an explosive payoff. However, while these passages were fun to get into I was left feeling a bit cheated by the book as a whole. If things had been tightened up then the whole book could have been like this...

‘The Vampire Agent’ is one of those infuriating reads where glimpses of potential hooked me but the rest of the book dragged along really slowly. If you like excessive angst in your urban fantasy then ‘The Vampire Agent’ may be one for you but it wasn’t for me...

Five and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

‘Getting To Know You’ – David Marusek (Del Rey)


When Sue rang me up, to let me know that a book called ‘Getting To Know You’ had arrived in the post, my first thought was, “I can’t remember ordering a self help book...” I did wonder if I’d had a drunken episode on Amazon but some quick googling revealed that this was in fact a collection of science fiction so that was ok! I’ve got nothing against self help books but this blog isn’t the place for them...
Not only is ‘Getting To Know You’ a sci-fi short story collection but, weighing in at a very slender two hundred and sixty seven pages, it was just the right length for me to bump it into the reading schedule for what is becoming ‘Quick Read Week’ on the blog. I’m very glad that I did, ‘Getting To Know You’ was a superb read...

Marusek’s worlds of the future are brimming with technology designed to make things more comfortable, and enjoyable, for their human inhabitants. Occasionally this can be a good thing as the events of ‘My Morning Glory’ show, there’s nothing better at keeping those positive thoughts flowing than technology designed for that very purpose! ‘My Morning Glory’ is a very upbeat tale with advice that I’ll certainly be following,

“Forget all about focussing on this afternoon Sir, and focus on making it till ten. That’s all you have to do. Now get out there and show them what you’re made of.”

More often than not however, Marusek finds that we will inevitably react against the machinery that shapes our lives and then (because humans seem to be contrary like this) we will react against this reaction. It’s almost like we’re given utopia but won’t be satisfied until we’ve found something wrong with it (it’s either that or there’s something in us all that’s inherently uncomfortable with technology that’s advancing faster than we are)... The short stories ‘Getting To Know You’, ‘The Wedding Album’ and ‘A Boy in Cathyland’ chart the course of these reactions to rather downbeat conclusions that highlight our reliance (albeit reluctant) on the technology that sustains our society.

‘Getting To Know You’ is a collection that is ultimately about certain aspects of the human condition and Marusek explores these themes, speculating upon what it might mean to be human in the (far) future. The best example of this is the story ‘The Wedding Album’ where holographic simulations experience the passing of time and react to what this throws at them. As humanity regresses, holographic ‘life’ develops even further and Marusek uses this to show that humanity isn’t necessarily restricted to humankind. The nature of humankind itself remains as diverse as ever though and Marusek acknowledges this by taking opposing views, on solitude, in the stories ‘The Earth is on the Mend’ and ‘Listen to Me’. Nothing is ever ‘black and white’ and Marusek ably demonstrates how one man’s need can be another man’s complete aversion...

‘Getting To Know You’ is a strong collection of stories that only personal taste stops being a perfect collection (‘Cabbages and Kale, or how we downsized North America’ seemed to set itself about one thing but focussed on another aspect of the plot and this mixture didn’t work for me). The tale that really stood out for me though was ‘Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz’, a haunting yet compelling (and strangely logical) tale of Alzheimer’s, cryonic storage and the protecting of Yurek Rutz’s immortal soul. Having finished the tale of Yurek Rutz I was left in awe of how well everything fitted together and I found myself hoping that it all turned out well for Yurek Rutz. Once you finish the tale you’ll understand why I’ve mentioned Yurek Rutz’ name more than once, you may even end up slipping it into conversation yourself :o) The fact that a Yurek Rutz pops up again in the next story surely cannot be coincidence.

Short story collections don’t often work for me but ‘Getting To Know You’ was a more than delightful exception. Well worth a look if you get a chance.

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’ – Mark Henry (Kensington Books)


In a complete change of plan to what I had originally intended I decided, the other day, to concentrate on trying to get some shorter books read and reviewed before I head off to see the in-laws for Christmas. ‘The Hero of Ages’ is proving to be tough to get into (as well as falling into the ‘awkward to read on the tube’ trap) and I wanted to keep things moving on here... Looking over the ‘to be read’ pile I noticed an advance copy of Mark Henry’s forthcoming sequel to ‘Happy Hour of the Dammed’ that looked just the right size for me to be tackling right now. If this wasn’t enough to get me to pick it up I’d also enjoyed reading the first book so I thought I’d be in for a bit of a treat. As it turned out, ‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’ wasn’t quite the treat I’d been expecting but it still went down very well indeed...

When zombie socialite Amanda Feral gets the news that her elderly mother is in the last stages of a terminal illness her first reaction to head over to the hospital and see if she can help nature take its course. Her second reaction is to pretend she never got the message and carry on being a well known face on the undead Seattle scene. Fate has a nasty habit of following its own course however and before Amanda knows it she’s off on a (very reluctant) trek across three states to get closure with her mother and also to stay one step ahead of the very angry vampire on the trail of Amanda and her friends. That’s not all she will have to contend with however...

‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’ is everything that ‘Happy Hour of the Dammed’ was with the added bonus of the word ‘bitch’ not being thrown about like it was in the first book (which got boring very quickly). All of my favourite characters were back and being generally... erm... bitchy about everyone else, and everyone else’s clothes, in a manner that never failed to hit my funny bone. The main cause of this is Amanda herself who appears to have a superhuman ability to put people down in the cruellest (yet most sarcastically funny) way possible and does so for the entire book. Her asides to the reader made me laugh as well, particularly the following quote (in terms of zombies use of the homeless/trailer trash as the most viable source of food)...

“Who could resist trash TV? Certainly not zombies – daytime talk shows are like an inside look at our food industries...”

Henry also keeps things fresh by throwing new elements into Amanda’s life so that she doesn’t become a one dimensional ‘put down’ thrower. By giving us an insight into Amanda’s life as a child, Henry elicits a measure of sympathy for the person that she is now and adds pathos to some of the decisions that she has to make.

The plot is basically a non-stop ride where events in each town conspire to throw Amanda and friends through some of the seamier elements of America .This approach turns out to be a good way to pan the camera back and show the reader that there is an undead world outside Seattle but structurally it does get a bit repetitive at times. I guess this is a trap that any book would fall into given the ‘chase’ nature of the story and some of the witticisms (and how events are dealt with) do draw attention away from what I think is a minor shortcoming.

While the ending of ‘Road Trip’ sets things up nicely for future instalments (introducing new characters and sending the group dynamic off in a new direction) I was left a little non-plussed at the finale itself. ‘Road Trip’ has an ongoing ‘murder mystery’ plot line that gradually builds up in intensity but fizzled out for me right at the climax. It was suitably grim but just didn’t seem to match up to some of the other things that had happened over the course of the book...

Despite this though, ‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’ is a worthy successor to ‘Happy Hour of the Dammed’ that I reckon fans (of the series and ‘Urban Fantasy’ in general) will get a lot out of. I’m now looking forward to ‘Battle of the Network Zombies’...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

P.S. I’m still not a fan of the cover art though...

P.P.S Look out for 'Road Trip of the Living Dead' in March 2009...

Monday, 15 December 2008

A Quick Update...

It’s getting round to that time of year where the time I normally spend reading is taken up by other things like visiting people, wrapping presents, getting drunk and mending the car (that bloody car...) The combination of all this means that while I’ve got loads of things that I will be posting about at some point I haven’t got anything to post about today... The best way round this (I thought) would be to let you all know some of the stuff coming up on the blog between now and the end of the year. It’s all good!

Reading.

I’m trying to get into Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Hero of Ages’ but it’s just not working for me right now. I’ve read the first two books though so I’m going to stick with it and hope that it clicks into gear soon... In the meantime, I’m also reading Mark Henry’s ‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’ and Patricia Rosemoor & Marc Paoletti’s ‘The Vampire Agent’ as short (and fun) reads that should keep things ticking over here until I can get some of the bigger books read. Which reminds me, George R. R. Martin’s ‘Busted Flush’ is also near the top of the pile and Ian Cameron Esslemont’s ‘The Return of the Crimson Guard’ is the book I’ll be taking to Devon to read over Christmas...

Interviews.

I’ve sent questions to James Barclay (‘The Raven’) and Robert Kirkman (‘The Walking Dead’) and hopefully they should be back soon. Looking a little further into the future I’m hoping to run some questions past Richard Morgan to coincide with the US release of ‘The Steel Remains’. I haven’t actually asked him yet but he seems like a really nice guy so I reckon he’ll say yes! :o)

Watching.

I’m not watching any TV right now but expect that to change on Christmas Day when I will threaten to throw a huge tantrum if I cannot watch Doctor Who in the evening (What? I’ll be drunk, it’s ok if you’re drunk...) I’ll probably post something about that and also post something on any DVDs that I pick up over Christmas...

Giveaways.

I’m working on filling the blog with some really cool giveaways for Christmas Week. There should be something there for everyone so stay tuned... :o)

Normal book reviewing service should (hopefully) resume tomorrow...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

'All the Windwracked Stars' and 'The Mystery of Grace' Competitions - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered these competitions (and made me feel really popular when I looked at my email inbox!) but, at the end of the day, there could only be two winners and they were...

'All the Windwracked Stars'

Amber Perreca, Vancouver, Canada

'The Mystery of Grace'

Aaron Cane, Fareham, UK

Well done guys, your books will be on their way very soon! Better luck next time everyone else...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The 'Off to see my folks and get my presents!' Link-Up Spectacular!

By the time you read this I'll be driving off to Ipswich to see my family and hand over/receive loads of Christmas presents! I'll also be hoping that the front passenger window stays in place, as it should, and not fall into the innards of the car door (like it did last week)...
In the meantime, here's some of the stuff that has caught my eye over the last few days...

Adam puts the finishing touches to his 'Wheel of Time' re-read with a review of New Spring.

Fantasy Book Critic sheds the 'Indie Spotlight' on Greg Hamerton's The Riddler's Gift.

Larry has another go at trying to grasp a poor review with a lot of useful discussion arising in the comments section.

Fantasy Debut gives us the continuing adventures of an upcoming debut author...

Gav has a pretty cool looking competition for UK readers of his blog (and he managed to get a picture as well, I couldn't find one...)

Aidan's back (I missed him while he was away) with a review of Pamela Freeman's Blood Ties...

James points us in the direction of a preview chapter for John Marco's forthcoming book 'Starfinder'...

I haven't visited The Souless Machine for a while and I really should, you should as well!

'Realms of Speculative Fiction' has a review of Gile's Kristian's Raven: Blood Eye that is worth a read (the book is worth a read as well!)

And finally, John (over at 'Grasping for the Wind') reminds us that Books Are Great Gifts. There's no denying it, they are! :o)

I'll see you all tomorrow where I'll let you know who won the 'All the Windwracked Stars' and 'The Mystery of Grace' competitions...

Have a great Saturday!

Friday, 12 December 2008

‘Fool Moon’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit Books)


I’ve been more than a little haphazard in my approach to the ‘Harry Dresden’ series, starting at book one and then leaping straight into books nine and ten... Luckily the books that I’ve read, in the series, have all appeared to be fairly readable on their own but there’s still that sense of an all encompassing storyline that I’m missing out on...
I’ve been trying to get into a particular book, for most of this week, but it just hasn’t happened yet so I thought I would take a little time out and try something a little different. As luck would have it, ‘Fool Moon’ (the second book in the ‘Dresden Files’) had managed to find its way into the ‘To Be Read’ pile and now seemed like a good time to rectify my approach to the series and get back in on the ground floor so to speak...

After the explosive events of ‘Storm Front’ (namely one hell of a fight with an insane sorcerer) Harry Dresden has found paid work very hard to come by, no-one seems to want the services of Chicago’s only practicing wizard... Then he gets a call from his contact in the Chicago PD, interesting in itself as she hasn’t spoken to him in monthes. There have been a series of brutal murders in town and a strange set of paw prints have been found at the scene of the latest one. And it’s a full moon as well... The answer is clear to Harry, there’s a werewolf in town. The question is though, which one of a range of suspects is ultimately responsible for the murders? Finding out is going to be a killer...

Having read a few of the ‘Harry Dresden’ books I had a fair idea of what to expect, namely a slice of detective noir with plenty of urban fantasy thrown into the mix. In this respect ‘Fool Moon’ didn’t disappoint with it’s tale of a ‘Private Eye Wizard’ going up against the Chicago Mob as well as werewolves. There are moments where Harry’s introspection derails the pace of the plot but, apart from these moments, things flow fairly smoothly with a plot that has a clear sense of direction and loads of plot twists that you only realise were signposted (the whole time) after they’ve actually happened. Detective work, for Harry, generally seems to consist of trudging from place to place and looking for information but there are also plenty of moments where the action really heats up. A werewolf taking out a police station is one of the highlights but the finale also has a real sense of urgency about it that makes it well worth the time reading.

It was also good to go back to the beginning of the series and see how Harry starts to develop into the character I met in ‘White Night’ and ‘Small Favour’. Having given us a mysterious, downbeat wizard (in ‘Storm Front’) Butcher now starts to slowly fill in some of the gaps in his history. We know that some bad things have happened in Harry’s life but we don’t yet know the details... This approach works for me and I’m sure that I’ll pick up book three (at some point) to see if any more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

A problem that I’ve begun to find (having read a few of these books now) is that the formula in each book seems to be very similar. Something along the lines of ‘Dresden gets called in to solver a crime, Dresden looks for clues, Dresden gets beaten up, Dresden finds a clue, Dresden has more questions’ and so on... Although I couldn’t guess the ending from this (or what the twists were going to be) I did start to get a feel for when things were about to happen and this robbed the story of much of its tension.
To be fair though, these are the rules of this particular sub-genre and there was still some enjoyment to be had in reading ‘Fool Moon’ in this way. While some of the tension did go out of the story it was also good to be able to know that certain events (such as a fight or a moment of revelation) were due to come round. In this sense I guess ‘Fool Moon’ was a comfort read for me (even though I’d never read it before) but it was still a comfort read that was entertaining and had me gripped throughout.

Like I’ve just said, ‘Fool Moon’ is a comfort read but that just happened to be what I was after at a time of year when everything seems to be getting colder and a little more bleak everyday (I went out barefoot this morning, to take the rubbish out, and almost lost skin off my feet!). It wasn’t a book that made me think too hard but it was one that I enjoyed. As soon as I can find myself a copy of book three, ‘Grave Peril’ I think, I’ll be straight into that one too.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 11 December 2008

‘Crawlspace Volume 1: XXXombies’ – Rick Remender, Tony Moore & Kieron Dwyer (Image Comics)


Zombie stories aren’t so much about the zombies themselves, more about how the living deal with the imminent prospect of having their brains eaten. It has to be like this because, to be fair, there’s only so much interesting story that you can give a walking corpse whose sole purpose is to eat! The trick then is to come up with fresh and original situations for the living characters to find themselves in while fighting off the zombie hordes. I wouldn’t say that I’ve reads loads of zombie books but I’ve read a fair few and I’ve never come across an idea quite like the one Remender, Moore and Dwyer give us.
Like the blurb says, it’s ‘Boogie Nights’ meets ‘Dawn of the Dead’...

It’s Los Angeles in 1977 and porn producer Wong Hung Lau sets up shop for a frantic weekend of... er... filming so he can pay the Mob the money that he owes them. While the action is taking place on the film set, no-one realises that action of a far different sort is taking place outside. A plane crash has led to zombies invading L.A and the city has been quarantined... Not only do our lusty crew have to escape being eaten alive but they must also stay one step ahead of gangsters who really want the money they’re owed. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a gun toting stranger in town whose mission is to rescue his daughter from Hung Lau’s porn film business...

‘XXXombies’ is a very quick read, not only because it’s only 96 pages long but also because it’s a fun and entertaining book that’s incredibly easy to get into. It’s incredibly gory though (as all the best zombie books are) with the writers leaving you in no doubt as what it must look like being stuck in the middle of a city that’s locked down and full of zombies. Some of the gore is tongue in cheek and made me laugh, some of it made me think, “what the...” and decide not to post pictures of any of the artwork!

The story itself has a real ‘Pulp Fiction’ vibe going on, both in its attitude and the way that the several plot strands all seem to come seamlessly together right at the end. There’s very little room for the plot to expand (or for us to get to know any of the characters) so what we get instead is a plot that’s very tight and direct. There’s also plenty of ‘zombie moments’ that are either genuinely scary or play off the whole tongue in cheek exploitative nature of the book. The only thing I wasn’t too sure about was the complete change in direction in the very last panels of the book...

Despite this though, ‘XXXombies’ is an entertaining read that zombie fans should get a lot out of. It also bodes well for the ‘Crawlspace’ horror series that Image Comics are developing...

Eight and a Half out of Ten.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

‘Raven: Blood Eye’ – Giles Kristian (Bantam Press)


Everything starts to slow down the closer it gets to Christmas (not long now!) and this is definitely the case with my reading. I just can’t seem to get into anything right now so I thought I’d give myself a little kick start by reading something that I wouldn’t normally go for. The only problem was that I wanted to read something with all the elements of heroic fantasy, just without the fantasy...
Luckily for me, I had a copy of Gile Kristian’s debut ‘Raven: Bloodeye’ (out next February) waiting on the ‘to be read’ pile. This piece of historical fiction looked like it would have enough sword fights and derring do to keep me happy and the total lack of fantasy would satisfy my need for something different...

Osric cannot remember anything further back than the last two years he has spent in a village, apprenticed to a mute carpenter and shunned by the other villagers on account of his blood red eye. He doesn’t find out anything about his past either but ‘Raven’ is the beginning book in a trilogy so you can probably expect to find more out at a later date...
It’s the present that matters right now for Osric and this involves him being taken away by marauding Norsemen as their leader, Sigurd the Lucky, believes that their fates are intertwined. This remains to be seen but what we get in the meantime is an abortive attempt at returning home, by the Norsemen, which results in a dangerous mission (which must be undertaken) to steal a holy relic. This would be hard enough at the best of times but this is a small group of Norsemen stuck in the middle of a country that where all the inhabitants would happily see them dead...

Kristian doesn’t waste any time in kicking off ‘Raven’ with a bang, giving Osric the bare minimum of introductions before getting on with the serious business of rape, pillage and plundering as well as the sideline business of chopping the hell out of everyone who gets in your way. The glossing over of Osric’s past is very obviously there to set things up for a big revelation, later on in the series, but in the meantime it serves to fuel an interesting sub-plot where Osric must choose between the life he is leaving behind and loyalty to his new lord. The main plot itself is also a page turner with plenty of twists to keep things interesting.

There is plenty of action in ‘Raven’ which is only to be expected given the subject matter. Not only do the Norse Fellowship fight almost everyone that they meet but volatile tempers mean that they are also liable to start on each other as well! If you’ve come to this book looking for a fight then that’s what you’ll get! Kristian stops things from getting repetitive though by taking the time to get into the team dynamic that the Norsemen enjoy. While they’re all warriors in their own right, and won’t step back from a fight, they’re all (for the most part) happy to soldier under the leadership of Sigurd, mainly to get rich but also because there is something about this character that inspires loyalty.

While I enjoyed reading ‘Raven’, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had read it before. Obviously I hadn’t, what with the book not being out until February next year, but there were elements that seemed overly familiar i.e. the archetypal ‘boy with a mysterious past who turns out to be amazing with a sword’, a quest (another one?) and ‘the hero falling in love with a girl whose station is above him and she hates him but starts to warm towards him eventually’. There’s enough going on in ‘Raven’ to make me want to see where the story goes next but I’ve been left hoping for a change in direction. Having said that though, there is something worthwhile to be said for a book/series where you know exactly what you are going to get. There’s nothing wrong with a comfort read...

My knowledge of history is decidedly rusty (it’s the present and the future that mostly concern me!) but I got the general impression that Kristian was writing with the air of someone who knew what he was talking about. There was one occasion though where I felt that he took a step out of context and placed twenty first century morals on an eighth century character in an attempt to get the reader to identify with him more...
I don’t need to tell you that rape is wrong, whatever period of history it takes place in, but it felt a little odd to me that Osric went through with the act but had an attack of guilt about it the whole way through. Either he should have done it (and be damned) or not done it and been more able to live with himself. The end result came across like Kristian wanted to include the scene but didn’t want to glorify rape and this made the passage feel awkward and stand out even more...

Despite this, ‘Raven: Blood Eye’ is an entertaining read that promises a sequel at least as good (hopefully better). The book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I for one am interested to see what happens next...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

‘Bone: Out from Boneville’ – Jeff Smith


One of the great things about comic books and graphic novels is that the old ‘never judge a book by its cover’ saying doesn’t really apply here. The artwork is such a fundamental part of the medium that you’ll have a fair idea of how much you’ll enjoy the story just by what’s on the cover (although, obviously, the story matters as well!)
The cover for ‘Out of Boneville’ looked like a real cross between something that doesn’t take itself too seriously and something that takes itself very seriously indeed. This was an intriguing mixture to me so I thought I’d give the book a go. There’s also the fact that ‘Bone’ is one of those series that inevitably crops up whenever there’s a ‘What’s a really good comic book series?’ so I knew that I’d be checking this one out sooner or later! As luck would have it, I found the first three books cheap in Forbidden Planet and polished off ‘Out of Boneville’ last night, it was brilliant...

Things kick off with three cousins (regular guy Fone Bone, scam artist Phoney Bone and slightly dopey Smiley Bone) having been run out of town and who are now lost in the desert. A swarm of locusts separates the trio and Fone Bone finds himself in a mysterious valley where bugs talk and rat creatures lurk in the shadows. The first thing Fone Bone needs to do is find his cousins, the second thing is to get out of the valley (and home) before winter sets in. Both are easier said than done (especially given the speed that winter sets in, that bit really made me laugh!)

Given that I’ve only read the first book so far, it’s hard to tell what the series is going to be about. As far as ‘Out of Boneville’ itself goes, what we have is a ‘three friends from the modern world suddenly find themselves in Fantasy Land’ tale with a great many introductions and foreshadowing’s that set things up for the future. What we also get is a plot line that moves things forwards while all the introductions and foreshadowing’s are going on. There is a definite point to the plot and our hero cannot afford to sit around and do nothing in the meantime.

The plot had plenty of hooks that kept me reading and will probably keep me reading for the rest of the series. What really got me though was the humour of the story (both visual and plot related) which led my wife to ask me what was so funny as I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the book. The more whimsical nature of the story also really got me. While there is a ‘Dark Lord’ lurking in the background Jeff Smith places equal importance on Bone babysitting the Possum kids and it’s this kind of approach that really kept my interest. It feels like anything could happen...



The artwork is absolutely gorgeous as well with plenty of detail to get lost in and some beautiful colouring. I heard that the series used to be ‘black and white’ and if this is the case then I’m glad that they’ve decided to reissue these books in colour! :o)

2008 has been the year of me discovering very cool comic books and it looks like I may be rounding things off with the best comic book yet. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this story takes me next...

Ten out of Ten

Night Shade Books Announces New Partnership with Electric Velocipede.

I've just had the following press release, from Nightshade Books, which I thought US readers might find interesting :o)

Night Shade Books has joined forces with World Fantasy Award-nominated magazine Electric Velocipede, and, like a pair of steam-powered metal titans joined together to form a mighty behemoth, the pair plans to march forward in unison, changing the genre fiction battlefield for the better.

Electric Velocipede is a critically acclaimed science fiction/fantasy/cross-genre magazine published twice a year. Issues of Electric Velocipede have included works by award-winning authors such as Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, Alex Irvine, Liz Williams, Hal Duncan, Charles Coleman Finlay, and others. Many stories appearing in Electric Velocipede have appeared in the recommended reading lists for both the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror and Year's Best Science Fiction for several years running. Electric Velocipede editor John Klima will remain at the helm of the magazine, relying on Night Shade Books' expertise and deep market penetration to help shepherd the magazine to the next level.

In celebration of this momentous alliance, Night Shade Books and Electric Velocipede are proud to announce a subscription drive: sign up for a one year subscription or renewal, and we'll send you your choice of any two in-print Night Shade paperbacks or trade hardcovers! Just list your selections in the comments field when placing your order. Sorry, this offer applies only to United States subscribers only. Books must be in-print and available from Night Shade Books at the time the order is placed, and will be shipped concurrently with Electric Velocipede double issue #15/16. Night Shade Books reserves the right to make substitutions.

Subscriptions are for four issues, starting with the current issue. New subscriptions will begin with double issue #15/16. Double issues will be counted as two issues. Renewals are also four issues, starting with the next issue after your current subscription ends. Offer expires January 8, 2009.

For more information, visit www.nightshadebooks.com/velocipede

Monday, 8 December 2008

‘All the Windwracked Stars’ – Elizabeth Bear (Tor Books)


After an abortive attempt at reading L.E. Modesitt Jr’s ‘The Lord Protector’s Daughter’ (the copy that I was sent turned out to have a large number of pages missing...) I was after a book that looked like a similarly quick read to get me through a weekend that turned out to be a lot busier than normal. Stupid Christmas...
Elizabeth Bear’s latest book looked like just the thing, not only did it look a fairly quick read (three hundred and sixty eight pages) but the blurb promised an intriguing mixture of Norse myth and ‘end of the world apocalyptic sci-fi’ that piqued my interest. It was a shame then that the story inside only did half the job it promised as far as I was concerned...

Two thousand years ago, the actions of the last Valkyrie and her Valraven (steed of the Valkyrie) meant that Ragnarok did not destroy the world of Valdyrgard, condemning it instead to a slow and drawn out death but also allowing magic and technology to work together in the meantime. Two thousand years on, Muire (the last Valkyrie) lives in the last surviving city, ruled by the mysterious Technomancer, on a dying planet. Life as an immortal doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises for Muire until the day that a vow of vengeance leads her to realise that she is no longer the only Child of Light in the city. Mingan the Wolf has arrived and he is hunting....

Ever since I watched the Doctor Who ‘Utopia’ episode I’ve had a little soft spot for tales that are set on dying worlds. Everything must come to an end sometime and if you’re stuck on a dying world in its last few years then what do you do? If any endeavour is ultimately pointless then do you do anything at all? The higher ranking populace of Valdyrgard haven’t given up yet and they have plans to try and claim back something from the night. Everyone else, in the undercity, is simply trying to survive from day to day.
Bear is light on the details but still manages to paint a bleak yet compelling picture of a world teetering on the edge of death. The stoicism of its people keep things interesting, they haven’t given up so I didn’t give up either (despite, well... more on that in a bit).

The story itself is part detective mystery with elements of fantasy and sci-fi which swirl around, bouncing off each other and almost having me believe that this is how things could turn out if the Ragnarok (of Norse myth) never happened. The twist, which the whole story hangs upon, is worth sticking around for as well as it does turn things on their head and sends certain characters in new and interesting directions.

The biggest problem I had with ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ however was that despite the concept, setting and plot being interesting the pace of the story itself was incredibly slow. This was really infuriating as I’d invested enough of myself in the story only to find it took its own sweet time getting to where it needed to go... There is a lot of introspection going on which serves to build up the background of each character but characters that spend too much time thinking aren’t actually doing anything. I could understand this approach if this book was going to be the beginning of a series but it reads very much as a stand alone affair. At some points the book was so slow that I found myself getting sucked into a slow and plodding rhythm and then having to go back and re-read a couple of pages where something pivotal happened and I didn’t notice!

I was also left wondering at times just what sort of a book ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ was setting itself up as. I’ve got nothing against sex in books provided it does something for the plot, there was a fair bit of sex here but all of it arose from introspection and didn’t seem to advance the plot in any way. Consequently, I was left wondering what the point of it was...

‘All the Windwracked Stars’ looks like a short read but it’s pacing makes it feel longer than it actually is and this was a big problem as far as I was concerned. There is a good story hiding in there though which is worth a look...

Seven out of Ten

PS Scroll down the page, a little bit, for a chance to win a copy of 'All the Windwracked Stars' and see if you agree with what I thought of the book...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

'The Stupidest Angel' & 'Tales from the Perilous Realm' - Winners!

Hi everyone!

I've just got back from a night out on the other side of town and the plan is to go to bed and see if I can finish 'All the Windwracked Stars' before I go to work tomorrow. Before I do that though, I really ought to let you know who won the two competitions that I ran last week so without further ado...

'The Stupidest Angel'

Claudia Fernandes, Portugal
Gaspar Garcao, Portugal
Matjaz Markus, Slovenia

'Tales from the Perilous Realm'

Louise Hub, North Thoresby, UK

Well done guys! Your books will be on their way soon :o) Better luck next time everyone else...

Right, I'm off to bed. Have a great weekend everyone!

What should they read next...?


Ana and Thea, of The Book Smugglers fame, have thrown a little dare my way to read something that I wouldn't normally pick up and then post a review on their blog. To this end, I'll be reading/reviewing Neil Gaiman's 'Preludes and Nocturnes' (I can't believe I haven't picked this up before now...) for a review sometime in January.

I don't just accept challenges though, I give them out as well! If someone dares me then I dare them right back and seeing as there isn't an awful lot of fantasy being read over at the Book Smuggler's blog I thought this would be the dare for them...
What should they read though? I've come up with a few ideas below,

'Legend' - David Gemmell (Because not only is it a fun read, it's 'standalone' as well)
'Tailchaser's Song' - Tad Williams (As above, plus the fact that Tad Williams is a favourite of mine and I think everyone should give him a go)
'The Black Company' - Glen Cook (A relatively self contained book that's also the gateway into a great series)
'The Briar King' - Greg Keyes (The beginning of one of my favourite fantasy series of recent years, another one that I think everyone should check out)

What do you think? Is there a title there that you think should be the one that Thea and Ana read? Have you got a better idea for a book for them to read? Comments please... ;o)

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Giveaway! 'All the Windwracked Stars' (Elizabeth Bear)


I'm reading this at the moment and it's a slow starter that is shaping up to be a very interesting read. How would you like a free copy to try yourself and see if you think the same thing? You would? Then read on...

Thanks to Tor Books I have one copy of Elizabeth Bear's 'All the Windwracked Stars' to give away to one lucky winner (US, UK and Canadian entries only though)
Here's the synopsis from Amazon...

It all began with Ragnarok, with the Children of the Light and the Tarnished Ones battling to the death in the ice and the dark. At the end of the long battle, one Valkyrie survived, and one Valraven - the steeds of the Valkyrie.Because they lived, Valdyrgard was not wholly destroyed. Because the Valraven was transformed in the last miracle offered to a Child of the Light, Valdyrgard was changed to a world where magic and technology worked hand in hand.More than two thousand years later, Muire is in the last city on the dying planet, where the Technomancer rules what's left of humanity. She's caught sight of someone she has not seen since the Last Battle: Mingan the Wolf is hunting in her city.

If this sounds like your kind of book then all you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the hard bit of picking a winner :o) Because I've got a few competitions running right now, please make it really clear in your email header that this is the book you're entering for.
As with the 'Mystery of Grace' competition, I'll let this one run until Saturday December 13th and announce the winner on the 14th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Gremlins’


It’s been a funny sort of week with all sorts of other stuff getting in the way of the reviews that I had planned to do. Take last night for example, the plan was to read L.E. Modesitt Jr’s ‘The Lord Protector’s Daughter and then have a review ready for today. The fact that the copy I had been sent was missing the first thirty two pages put paid to that idea...
I was at a bit of a loss for what to post today until I realised that it had been a while since I posted a ‘Retro Classic’ and that I had just the film for the festive season...

I didn’t get to see ‘Gremlins’ when it first came out but it was another one of those films that you couldn’t escape from with posters and adverts everywhere as well as pretty much everyone at school having either Gremlin or Mogwai toys (or both). I had neither and still don’t, if anyone fancies getting me a Mogwai for Christmas I promise to look after it (I won’t let it get caught in the light, I won’t get it wet and I certainly won’t be feeding it after midnight!)



I managed to see ‘Gremlins’ a few years later and totally loved it. I’ve always been a sucker for all sorts of animation and to see these little guys getting up to mischief had me falling around laughing and not being able to stop. ‘Gremlins’ is a film that’s full of little incidental bits and pieces that add to the detail and result in a film where if you blink you’re bound to miss a little green monster up to no good. That’s ok though as ‘Gremlins’ is a film that can be watched again and again :o)

Watching ‘Gremlins’ gave me a real nostalgic feeling but watching it now, as someone a lot older, also made me realise what a dark and sinister film this can be.
While there’s a lot of slapstick stuff going on there’s also an edge to it that makes you realise that these creatures (that you thought were funny when you were a kid) are actually out to kill people, the science teacher is the first one to cop it and what do you think happened to the woman whose stair lift went flying out of the window? (She completely deserved it though but that’s not the point...) The gremlins themselves also take on a sinister new tone with their aping of human ways. The scene in the cinema is strangely cute but there is something definitely unnerving about opening the door to a bunch of these creatures singing Christmas carols...



Which reminds me, how did they all manage to get kitted out with gremlin sized clothing...? Whatever, ‘Gremlins’ is (and always will be) a film that holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who grew up during the eighties. I still want a Mogwai for a pet...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

‘Plague of Spells’ – Bruce R. Cordell (Wizards of the Coast)


The past few weeks has seen me take a dip into the ‘shared D&D worlds’ of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms with mixed results. While Paul S. Kemp turned out another decent story with ‘Shadowrealm’, Keith Baker’s ‘The Queen of Stone’ completely left me cold...
Bruce Cordell’s ‘Plague of Spells’ was the last ‘Wizards of the Coast’ book on the pile and, as such, found itself in the position where (with things evenly tied) it could swing things one way or the other regarding my ‘shared world tie-in’ reading experience so far. As luck would have it, ‘Plague of Spells’ ended up somewhere in the middle...

The Spellplague ravages the land, altering everything it touches. Raidon Kane is one of the luckier victims, having escaped with only a sapphire on his chest and eleven missing years to his name; his daughter died and his home was destroyed though so maybe he wasn’t so lucky after all...
Kane is left without purpose in a world that’s both familiar and completely different at the same time. Fate will always find work for a man like Raidon Kane however and it’s a task of the utmost importance that comes calling...

I did a little digging and found out that Bruce Cordell has written a great many novels for the ‘Forgotten Realms’ setting and it shows here in that the reader is expected to come to the book with a lot of prior knowledge of ‘Forgotten Realms’ history etc. A lot of references are made to people, places, Gods and history but the first time reader won’t get much more than a sense that events took place; the book is just over three hundred pages long so I guess there isn’t much room for detail! If you’re a veteran of the setting then I don’t think you’ll have any problems but if you’re a newcomer then you may want to pick another book to start off on... What makes this all the more odd is that the Spellplague was clearly designed to be a ‘clean slate’ approach that would level the playing field and push the ‘Forgotten Realms’ off in a new direction. I guess that you just can’t escape the past sometimes...

The story itself has plenty going for it with a clearly defined threat to be negated, characters that are generally good fun to hang out with (although the focus seems to fall away from the main character...) and a cliff hanger that will lead things nicely into the second book in the series. There also seems to be a good balance between the moments of action and moments where various characters interact in (slightly) calmer times. No matter what’s happening at any given moment, you’re always left with the feeling that something important is going on which will have clear consequences for the next important thing on the horizon. This urgent, yet controlled, pace really helps the story move along nicely.

There was a rather linear, and repetitive, feel to the plot which I wasn’t too keen on however. Reading ‘Plague of Spells’ is very much a case of ‘travel to a city, find a person, find out what to do next, travel somewhere else and get the magical artefact (and repeat)’ with moments that necessitate action but don’t do much to stir the plot itself. The only time that the plot is sent off in a different direction is right at the end and this is so things can be left hanging for book two...
I also got the feeling that elements of the adventure would be better suited for a D&D game rather than a book. All powerful swords and a golem that can transport our hero pretty much wherever he needs to go don’t work for me in a book, coming across as crutches to carry the story through difficult spots rather than add anything else to it.

‘Plague of Spells’ turned out to be a fun read for the commute to work but it’s structure meant that it would never be more than that. However, there was enough going on to make me want to pick the next book up and I’d be interested to see where the story goes from here...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Giveaway! 'The Mystery of Grace' - Charles de Lint

So there I was, this morning, all ready to write my review of Charles de Lint's forthcoming novel 'The Mystery of Grace' when the publisher asked if I wouldn't mind holding off on this one for a little while longer (which is fair enough seeing as the book won't be published until March next year I think...)
All I'll say for now is that I enjoyed 'The Mystery of Grace' very much and I reckon that any fan of Charles de Lint's work will get a lot out of it as well...

Although I can't give you a review, what I can do is give one lucky person a chance for an early read. Thanks to Tor Books I have one advance copy of 'The Mystery of Grace' to give away. Do you fancy your chances? You do? Cool...

All you need to do, to be in with a chance, is just drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. UK, US and Canadian entries only though I'm afraid...
I'll let this one run until Saturday December 13th and announce the winner on the 14th...

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

‘Monument’ – Ian Graham (Orbit Books)


Ian Graham’s debut novel was one of those books that I meant to pick up way back in 2002 (it was getting some rave reviews from what I remember) but somehow never did. ‘Monument’ then proceeded to fall right off the radar, as far as I was concerned, as I got round to reading the stuff that I had actually picked up. This was the case up until February this year when I saw this post on James’ ‘Speculative Horizons’ blog. Not only is James a big fan of ‘Monument’, he’s also a guy who knows what he’s talking about and this left me thinking that maybe I should stir myself and finally give the book a go.
It took me a while to bag myself a copy, and even longer to get round to reading it, but I finally managed to finish it this morning. Was it worth it though? Well, kinda...

Ballas is as foul a character as you are likely to meet in fantasy literature. He’s a bitter drunk and vagrant who will stoop to any depths in order to get his next drink and/or whore, even if it means taking the odd beating here and there. Such a beating leads to an act of kindness that Ballas repays by stealing a valuable looking artefact that looks as if it will keep him in wine and women for a long time to come.
Ballas is no scholar so he would never have recognised the artefact for what it really was. He certainly would never have seen that this one act would lead to an entire army chasing him to the very ends of the earth...

‘Monument’ is ‘The Fugitive’ in a fantasy setting albeit without the main character being an innocent party wrongly accused of murder, Ballas is guilty of just about everything he is accused of but more on that later. The end result is one big chase across the land of Druine, culminating in a mountaintop finale, which didn’t sit well with me I’m afraid (although I did like the twist right at the end, had me fooled!)

The ‘set piece’ moments (combat, frantic pursuit etc) made for some exciting reading and Graham is also very good at drawing out the tension in longer passages, the episode where Ballas and his travelling companions are trapped in a city had a real claustrophobic feel to it that demanded my full attention. It was the bits in between that threatened to kill it for me...
Ballas manages to cover a lot of ground, between various incidents, but I never really got a sense of the land that he was travelling through. This time was instead spent on examining what Ballas was thinking and his plans for the future. This constant introspection, combined with a sketchy approach to setting the background scenery up (you know it’s there but there’s not a lot to it) had the effect of slowing things down rather too abruptly and making the pacing of the book too uneven for my liking.

Considering the amount of time the reader spends inside Ballas’ head it’s a good thing that Graham gives us such an interesting character to spend time with. Although Ballas does verge on becoming one dimensional (he really doesn’t have a single redeeming feature) it’s still refreshing to see ‘the quest’ undertaken by someone containing all the opposite qualities to those you would normally expect. At the same time though, it’s also interesting to note that Ballas has more in common with a hero than you would think at first. If the end result is that the right thing is done, who are we to question the motivations behind the acts?

Uneven pacing and sketchy world building made ‘Monument’ a chore to read at first but there’s enough other stuff going on to at least balance out the faults (although not cover them up entirely). I’m glad I finally gave this book a shot and would certainly give Ian Graham another go if he ever has anything else published.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 1 December 2008

‘Watchmen’ – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (Titan Books)


I first read ‘Watchmen’ far too many years ago when all it took for me to pick up a comic book was a picture of a yellow smiley face. Being someone who was sure that the world of comics began and ended with superheroes kicking the stuffing out of each other I wasn’t impressed with ‘Watchmen’, nothing seemed to actually happen (at least, as far as I could see)...
There’s always plenty of other stuff to read so I got on with that instead, forgetting about ‘Watchmen’ and its loud claims of being the best graphic novel ever. Just recently though there have been a few bloggers posting trailers for the ‘Watchmen’ film, due to be released next year, and wondered if now might be a good time to pick up the book and give it another go. I’m not a big comic book reader but I know now that there is a lot more to the genre than I thought.
I read ‘Watchmen’ over the weekend and it took me that long purely because there is so much to take in, this isn’t a comic that you can buy and have read by the time you get home! Having finished it, I can safely say that I was blown away by what Moore and Gibbons have done...

There is so much going on in ‘Watchmen’ that it is difficult to say exactly what the story is about. While there is an over-riding ‘murder mystery’ plot arc that hangs everything together, a lot of other things happen which can be seen to be of equal importance. The events of ‘Watchmen’ play out in a world where costumed adventurers fighting crime have been rendered obsolete by the advent of the world’s first genuine superhero.

‘We all live in the shadow of Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan.’

The advent of Doctor Manhattan is examined on a number of levels (from what he means to the prospects of older heroes to the influence he has on world affairs) and the resulting conclusions are worked back into the plot and drawn out to an ultimate ending. In the meantime, what the reader also gets is a look at a world where costumed crime fighting is a reality and what this means, right down to the level where Moore and Gibbons ask, ‘If crime fighting heroes are commonplace then what’s the point of having them in comics? What would we have instead?’ As an aside, the answer to this is particularly interesting, both in its content and the way in which it is also woven back into the story as a comparison piece to certain of the main players.
While Superman only saw his job as protecting the world, Dr. Manhattan seeks to advance the world at the same time as protect it. Others have similar notions that are not limited to advances in technology etc. Through these, and other, examples the authors take a real close look at the motivations behind aspiring to ‘hero-hood’ and the responsibilities that this eventually entails. These motivations are as varied as the people they are coming from and perhaps the only common factor is humanity in all its many and varied forms.

I could go on about this book all day as I’m aware that a six hundred (or so) word review doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what ‘Watchmen’ is all about. The thing is though, not only do I have to go home at some point (I’m so hungry...) but ‘Watchmen’ is a book that needs at least a couple of re-reads before it all begins to sink in (and that's why I'm not giving this one a mark out of ten just yet). Maybe we can get something going on in the comments section...?
The bottom line is that this is a book that any fan of graphic novels should pick up if they haven’t done so already. I’m not sure how the film will stand up in comparison but I just know that I’ll be there to check it out.

What shall I read next? (The Big Fat Hardback Edition Part Two...)

Last week I ran a poll to see which of the more hefty looking books I would make it my business to have finished by the end of the year (not long to go now...)
Having counted the votes up the end result was a tie between Peter F. Hamilton's 'The Dreaming Void' and Ian Cameron Esslemont's 'Return of the Crimson Guard'. I never thought of what to do in the event of a tie-breaker...

Okay, here's what I'll do. The next person to leave a comment here (choosing one of the two books) will swing this thing one way or the other...