Sunday, 28 February 2010

Giveaway! 'Salute the Dark' (Adrian Tchaikovsky)


The 'Shadows of the Apt' series has been an 'up and down' one for me but one that I've enjoyed overall. I'm looking forward to reading 'Salute the Dark' very soon...

In the meantime, Tor UK have very kindly offered me three copies of 'Salute the Dark' to give away to UK and European readers on the blog (they're the only people who can enter!) Read on if you fancy your chances...

To enter, simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. That's all you need to do, I'll do everything else.

Due to the impending house move (decorating etc) I'm letting this one run a little longer than normal. All emails need to be in by Wednesday 10th of March, I'll announce the winners on the 11th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Giveaway! 'A Thousand Sons' (Graham McNeill)


You've read my review of 'A Thousand Sons' (What do you mean you haven't? Click Here right now!); now here's your chance to win a copy for yourself!

Thanks to the Black Library, I have five copies of 'A Thousand Sons' to give away to five lucky readers of this very blog. It's worth mentioning at this point that this competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else... ;o)

Due to the whole house moving thing I'll be letting this one run a little longer than normal. All emails need to be in by Wednesday 10th of March, I'll announce the winners on the 11th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 26 February 2010

First Impressions and some Questions for you…


Because first impressions are important aren’t they? They certainly are with books, first impressions can have me picking a book up straight away or deciding not to bother at all. What’s the first thing that grabs you about a book? Cover art? The blurb? For me it could be either or a mixture of the two, with this book it was the blurb on the back. Check it out,

SHINE is a collection of near-future, optimistic SF stories where some of the genres brightest stars and some of its most exciting new talents portray the possible roads to a better tomorrow. Definitely not a plethora of Pollyannas (but neither a barrage of dystopias), SHINE will show that positive change is far from being a foregone conclusion, but needs to be hardfought, innovative, robust and imaginative. Let’s make our tomorrows shine.

Now, I’m pretty sure I don’t read enough sci-fi but what I have read comes across as very negative in terms of the worlds it portrays. If we’re not being beaten down by rampaging machines then an evil genius has got us all downtrodden in his sinister utopia. This technology was supposed to make things better for us, wasn’t it?
I didn’t even know I was in need of some optimistic sci-fi until I saw this blurb and now I’m wondering how I could have ever not known. ‘Shine’ has been bumped right up the pile and will be read in the next week or so, all on the strength of a few lines of blurb.

What? Oh yeah, questions! I’m sure there must be other ‘optimistic sci-fi’ out there that I’m missing, what is it? And are there any genres that you feel are a little too negative and could do with being more optimistic?

All comments welcome!

Patricia Briggs - On Tour in April


If you're a fan of Patricia Briggs' 'Mercy Thompson' series (I enjoy them), and you live in the US (I don't...), then you might want to take note of the dates below when Briggs will be touring and signing loads of copies of her latest book 'Silver Borne'...

March 30th in SEATTLE
UNIVERSITY BOOKSTORE@ 7 PM
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

March 31st in PORTLAND
POWELL'S BOOKS @ 7 PM
Cedar Hills Crossing
3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd
Beaverton, OR 97005

April 6th in LOS ANGELES
BARNES AND NOBLE #2743 @ 7 PM
7881 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

April 7th in SAN DIEGO
MYSTERIOUS GALAXY @ 7 PM
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd: Ste 302
San Diego, CA 92111

April 9th in HOUSTON
MURDER BY THE BOOK @ 6:30 PM
2342 Bissonnet St
Houston, TX 77005

April 10th in MINNEAPOLIS
UNCLE HUGO'S SCIENCE FICTION BOOKSTORE 1-2PM
2864 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Thursday, 25 February 2010

‘Farlander’ – Col Buchanan (Tor UK)


As I’ve mentioned before, this year is going to be the year where I’m in at the start on all these debut series that people are saying will be the next big thing. You know what it’s like, being the only person who can’t join in the conversation because you haven’t read the book? Well, no more of that for me!
Col Buchanan’s ‘Farlander’ won a hotly contested battle to be the next ‘thick’ book picked off the pile for a read, Sam Sykes’ ominous comments (next to that post) mean that I’ll be getting to his book very soon! Given some of the advance blurbs etc that I’d read, I was more than cool with the outcome here. Assassins and ravenous empires worked well for me with the ‘Malazan’ books and I saw no reason why this shouldn’t continue with ‘Farlander’.
As things turned out... ‘Farlander’ isn’t quite on the same level as Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ series but what you do get for your money is something very solid with the potential to be very special indeed.

For fifty years now, the Holy Empire of Mann has conquered nation after nation in it’s quest to spread it’s religion across the face of the world. Only the Mercian Free Ports still stand free and once the city of Bar-Khos finally falls there will be no hope left at all. Against this backdrop of incessant war and politicking, the Roshun assassin cult offer protection through the threat of vendetta but this isn’t enough to deter the most foolhardy of murders; like the son of the Holy Matriarch of the Empire of Mann.
Vendetta is vendetta and the resulting quest for this will lead a sickly assassin and his apprentice into the heart of the Empire itself. With the hand of everyone turned against them, the only thing they can be sure of is that there will be much bloodshed and death before the job is done...

Buchanan sets up a world that is perhaps a little too similar to the Malazan world (certainly ‘Gardens of the Moon’) for comfort, at least for a while. A predatory empire ruled by a scheming Empress with her own cult of assassins. One last city that still stands against the invaders. The parallels are plain to see.
As Buchanan progresses with his tale though, it becomes clear that he has not set out to emulate Erikson and Esslemont’s work. Maybe such similarities can be found in fantasy based empires and there will always be one last city standing in the way of total domination...

‘Farlander’ is a manic romp that takes in politics affecting nations at war as well as bringing the people who shape these nations into sharp focus. There’s a little something here for everyone and Buchanan shows that he’s not afraid to throw everything up on the air and see how it all lands. This uncertainty not only propels the plot forward at a ferocious rate but also results in one of the biggest surprises (for me anyway) in fantasy since a certain Lord got his head chopped off in a major fantasy series that we’ve all read. I’m trying desperately to avoid spoilers here! :o) I never saw this one coming and spent pages sure that things would work out. They didn’t and it’s all credit to Buchanan that he was able to keep me so rapt with the way that he gradually drew things out...
It’s not just the characters either. The fortunes of war have never seemed so random and capricious as they do here. Anything can happen and the mighty can be brought low far more easily than their stature would suggest...
By doing what he does, Buchanan not only tells his readers that he’s here for the long term (this isn’t a series about just one character) but he also tells us just what we can expect if we stick around. I’m sticking around.

You’re always starting off up against it if you’re writing a fantasy novel with assassins in it. Assassins are pretty much everywhere in fantasy and you’re going to need to come up with something pretty special if your assassins are going to stand out from the pack. The notion of vendetta immediately sets the Roshun apart from the rest and adds an interesting spin to the assassin’s work. The history of the Roshun also casts this group in an interesting new light. This is no offspring of a death cult or mercenary unit; the Roshun do what they have to because they really had no other choice. The characters of Ash and Nico also add fresh impetus to this concept. We get to see the Roshun for the first time through Nico’s eyes while, at the same time, Ash’s perspective gives the Roshun a sense of history that the reader is looking for. The mixture means that the reader gets the best of both worlds with a very well rounded picture of a group of men feared throughout the world.

Buchanan’s depiction of the relationship between Ash and Nico is very poignant and adds a layer of humanity to the ‘assassin mystique’. Both men are wary to trust and the way that they gradually interact and connect is touching, especially when you reach the climax of the book. Notions of honour and revenge are explored with a hand that is somehow deft and brutal all at the same time. Buchanan is sometimes guilty of using more words than is perhaps necessary but when you finally see the picture that he’s painting, well... you don’t mind so much.

If you’re going to be writing about assassins then you need to make the fight sequences go with a bang. Buchanan does this in style, aided in no small way by the discovery of gunpowder in this world. The resulting pyrotechnics are suitably explosive and the acrobatics, as well as the cold blooded fury, of the Roshun make for some spectacular scenes. The Roshun are ones for the shadows but they’re also not afraid of a full frontal assault in broad daylight, this sequence is more than worth the price of entry!

Despite some early issues that I had with the book, ‘Farlander’ kicks off Col Buchanan’s debut series in some style and promises great things for the future. If you’re a fan of blood drenched epic fantasy then this is a series that you should keep an eye on.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

‘Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead’ – Edited by Christopher Golden (Piatkus/St. Martin’s Press)


In his foreword to this anthology (titled ‘The New Dead’ if you’re in the US), Christopher Golden asks his reader what the big deal about zombies is these days. That’s quite a brave move to make considering that the foreword comes just before a whole load of zombie tales! For me personally, zombie tales have never really been about the zombies themselves; it’s more a case of just what the surviving humans will do to carry on living in this brave new world. The walking dead throw up a lot of new challenges and people end up discovering so much more about themselves in these situations. That’s why, for my money, Robert Kirkman’s ‘Walking Dead’ series is pretty much the best zombie fiction out there right now.

Golden makes a very good attempt at compiling a collection of great zombie fiction and for the most part he succeeds (I’ll go into that a lot more in a bit). Where things fell down slightly for me were a couple of the definitions of our current fascination with zombies that Golden bought to the mix here. Golden talks about a fascination with the concept of death and resurrection that I can understand but doesn’t click with me. Like I said, for me, a zombie tale is a survival tale that just happens to have zombies in it. With this in mind, John Connolly’s ‘Lazarus’ didn’t hit the spot for me (as well written as it was); not so good when you take into account that this was the opening tale. It had nothing in it that marked it out as a zombie tale in my eyes. It also requires you to look at a particular tale in a way that was at odds with my own personal beliefs. I just couldn’t engage with what it was trying to say. Like I said though, ‘Lazarus’ was a very well written story. Derek Nikitas’ end of times tale, ‘My Dolly’, handles the whole issue of resurrection a lot more smoothly with a hefty dose of the kind of surreal intensity that only the last days would bring.

Having said all that though, I’ve still got a lot of time for the zombies of Voodoo lore and Holly Newstein’s ‘Delice’ is a deliciously dark tale of revenge from beyond the grave. As with all the best horror stories, the real evil is in the living humans themselves and it does get pretty nasty...

I had similar issues with Mike Carey’s ‘Second Wind’, Kelley Armstrong’s ‘Life Sentence’ and Tad Williams’ The Storm Door’ although my familiarity with these authors (two of them are favourites of mine) meant that I got a lot more out of what they were saying. Cheating death is the name of the game in these stories and this search takes many different forms. ‘Second Wind’ is a look at the past of one of Carey’s more memorable characters from his ‘Felix Castor’ series and does a fine job of filling in the gaps for the long term ‘Castor’ fan as well as telling a poignant story, about leaving life behind, that anyone can get into. ‘The Storm Door’ is a chilling tale of possession that ran icy fingers down my spine but would have perhaps been better suited to another collection, it wasn’t a zombie story...
Armstrong’s easy going prose makes ‘Life Sentence’, a morality tale about the quest for resurrection, very readable indeed but when an evil businessman with no scruples is looking for eternal life... you know how it all has to end. ‘Life Sentence’ has a powerful ending but one that doesn’t come as much of a surprise...
David Liss’ ‘What Maisie Knew’ takes a similarly moral approach but adds it’s own spin. Crime doesn’t pay and the difference here (as oppose to ‘Life Sentence’) is that while you may know how the story has to end, there’s enough uncertainty around the ending that it still comes as a surprise. This was a tale that kept me hooked!

Up until now, the only really effective piece of social commentary I’ve ever seen in the zombie genre is Romero’s glazed eyed zombies wandering up and down a shopping mall. That was until I read Stephen R. Bissette’s ‘Copper’ in this collection. While it still may not be the kind of zombie tale I’m after the power of the scathing commentary on a country that does not look after it’s servicemen, and women, cannot be denied. That on it’s own made ‘Copper’ one of the stand out stories in this collection and hearkens back to the poem ‘The March of the Dead’ that Golden refers to in his foreword.
Aimee Bender’s ‘Among Us’ looks to do something similar only using the entire human race instead of just its military. This tale really didn’t work for me though as I’ve always found that it works better for zombies to be used as a metaphor for humanity rather than the other way round. What you get here is a tale that emphasises how utterly inane we can be sometimes but didn’t quite make the connection with zombies that it wanted to. I wasn’t sure if Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘Shooting Pool’ was trying to do something similar but what I do know was that there were no zombies in the story at all! Can zombies live on in our memories of the dead? Are zombies our memories of the dead? That’s the closest connection I could make with this story but I wouldn’t have minded seeing at least one zombie in the meantime...

It’s not all bad though. Not only might the tales mentioned already be just the ones you’re looking for but there are plenty of others that were just what I was after.
Jonathan Maberry has already written a bloody good zombie novel in ‘Patient Zero’ and proves that he can write just as good a short story with ‘Family Business’; a tale that lays it on the line as to what living in a post apocalyptic zombie world actually means. You can tell that Maberry has put a lot of time into building a world that would actually work under these circumstances. The same thing goes for Max Brooks’ ‘Closure, Limited’, a very interesting tale (with a real kick at the end) that offers an insight into a very specific new industry that would only arise out of a zombie apocalypse. There’s some real imagination going on in both these stories and that’s what made them stand out for me.

I’ll read pretty much anything by Tim Lebbon and his tale ‘In the Dust’ is another stand out effort that doesn’t disappoint. ‘In the Dust’ places you right at the heart of the aftermath of a zombie uprising along with the other people scrabbling for survival. It’s bleak and full of the stupidity that humanity always seems to exhibit in these situations but, in the best traditions of zombie fiction, there’s also some hope for the future. Brian Keene’s ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ offers more of the same and is an interesting offshoot from his novel ‘Dead Sea’. M.B. Homler’s ‘The Zombie Who Fell from the Sky’ is a little more surreal (and I’m still not sure that I get the ending...) but is fast paced and frantic with enough zombies to keep me happy.

One of the big questions in any zombie book is what would you do if you were bitten? Rick Hautala’s ‘Ghost Trap’ is the anthology’s answer to this question and Jeff Stewart’s realisation of his fate, and what he must do, brings a real lump to the throat. ‘Ghost Trap’ is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
James A. Moore’s ‘Kids and their toys’ is another story that will stick in the mind but for entirely different reasons. Children can be cruel and if there’s a zombie involved then they can be even more so. Childhood is about the loss of innocence and so is ‘Kids’...

The anthology started off with a bit of a whimper but definitely goes out with a bang with David Wellington’s ‘Weaponized’ and Joe Hill’s ‘Twittering from the Circus of the Dead’. Wellington’s vision for the future of warfare is terrifyingly plausible and hints at a logical conclusion of a new kind of arms race (no pun intended...) while Hill uses Twitter to slowly build up the tension in a tale that had my stomach lurching in dread...

My definition of a zombie tale is somewhat at odds with Golden’s and that made this anthology an uneven read for me. There was still more than enough there to sate my appetite though and if you’re a zombie fan then I reckon there’s plenty enough for you too...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

‘The Extra’ – Michael Shea (Tor)


Reality television is one of the reasons that I stopped paying for a TV licence; it got to a point where that there was so much of it on television that there just wasn’t room for any of the stuff that I actually wanted to watch. There’s something compelling about it though isn’t there? There’s something about watching a dysfunctional bunch of misfits locked up in a house, and going at each others throats, to make you want them to stop posturing and start throwing the furniture around. I don’t know about you but the best episodes of ‘Big Brother’ that I ever saw were the ones where you found out that the police were called in shortly after filming...
Is this thirst for blood a harkening back to the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome or just a way to make ourselves feel all superior that we weren’t dumb enough to volunteer for yet another televised ‘social experiment’? Probably a bit of both I’d say. Perhaps a more pertinent question is where a slightly jaded looking genre should go next to deliver the thrills that hooked the viewing public in the first place. Michael Shea has a possible answer for us, it couldn’t possibly happen but what if it did...?

The LA of the not too distant future is a place where the only alternative to crushing poverty is the daily struggle to survive it. There is a way to escape this but the stakes have never been higher. Director Val Margolian has hit upon a way whereby the film industry has been given a massive shot in the arm through the peddling of a seemingly impossible dream. Extras in a Margolian film have the opportunity to earn enough money to buy their way out of LA for good; all they have to do is survive to the end of the shoot in order to be able to spend it...
Any Margolian set is a killing field and the set for his latest film, ‘Alien Hunger’, is set to be his most lethal yet. Extras are going to have enough on their hands just surviving, let alone collecting the bonus tags to earn extra cash. Curtis, Japh and Jool are up for the challenge though; will mere courage be enough?

‘The Extra’ treads ground already well covered by films such as ‘The Running Man’ and, to an extent, ‘Battle Royale’ amongst others. I’m clutching at straws looking for examples of the same kind of thing in books but I know I’ve read tales of people fighting for their lives for the entertainment of the viewing public. I’ve got a funny feeling that’s where Peadar O’Guilin’s ‘The Inferior’ is heading (although I might be wrong)... The point is that it’s not a new concept that we’re looking at here... so why did I enjoy this book so much and feel like it was a breath of fresh air?

That is what ‘The Extra’ felt like, a real breath of fresh air although I should probably upgrade that to ‘hurricane’; when ‘The Extra’ gets going you’re swept off your feet and carried along at a rate of knots the likes of which you’ve never seen before. I’m not going to say ‘blink and you’ll miss something’; not only are you carried along too quickly to blink but you wouldn’t want to even if you had the chance. Shea presents his reader with a downtrodden future LA where the vibrancy of the people matches the level of poverty that they face. As you can imagine, they are pretty vibrant; there’s no time to stand still in this city, not if you want to make a living and survive!

Shea doesn’t give you time to settle in though, the book is only two hundred and eighty one pages long and there is a lot more story to tell. The action inside the set is everything that it promised it would be and then a little bit more. It’s almost as if Shea set himself a small number pages to tell his story deliberately so that the impact would be all the more powerful for being crammed into such a tiny space.

Once the camera starts rolling all hell breaks loose and it’s all credit to Shea that he keeps his story on a tight leash, both in the streets and in the sky above the set. There are layers upon layers of plot to be teased out here and they all fit together to tell a story that had me gripped the whole way through.
The extras on set may be the ones being chased by giant mechanical spiders (which were very cool and scary all at the same time…) but their counterparts behind the cameras also face battles that could result in a loss of life. Shea may not be saying anything new about the film industry but what he does do is add a whole new layer of raw energy that lends fresh impetus to what he is saying; that’s what keeps the reader reading. There is more than one way to lose a life and Shea makes it his business to tease these out into the open and see how they relate to the characters on and around the set. No matter what someone’s motivations are (and they’re not always pure), Shea has a way of getting inside his character’s head and laying it all on the line as to how important their aspirations are. Everyone has something that they would do anything for; Shea taps into this in his characters and gives the reader something to connect to. You may not like Margolian but you’ll probably end up understanding him and why he does what he does.

At it’s heart, ‘The Extra’ is one part high octane action and one part commentary on a jaded viewing public that is happy to sit there and swallow up anything in the name of entertainment. It’s here that ‘The Extra’ fell down slightly, for me anyway. I’m all for subtle commentary and the tone of the book meant that this was never going to happen.

‘Even you miss the same point that Val, for all his greatness, has always missed. Disclosures, revelations, make no difference. People don’t give a shit about what they know, or don’t know! As long as it’s new, they’ll watch anything! They’ve got nothing else to do!’

Dialogue like this was a little too heavy handed for me I’m afraid. I’ll either get it or I won’t but I don’t like being spoon fed…

This was a minor niggle though. ‘The Extra’ was a storming read that had me thinking about what I’d read and eager to get back and read some more. If this becomes a film then I’ll be there watching it…

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 22 February 2010

The 'Ooh, it's finally going to happen!' Competition Winner's Post!

After what seems like a lifetime (or at the very least, a few months more than it should have been) we're finally looking at getting the keys to our new place and moving in over the next couple of weeks. I'm not sure what this is going to do to the blog in the meantime. Stick around and we'll all find out together! :o)

In the meantime, run your eyes over this lucky bunch of people who won themselves books in last week's competitions...

‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’

Paul Gibbons, London, UK
Antonios Matakos, Serres, Greece
Joshua Meeklah, Rutland, UK


‘Shadowrise’

Helena Jones, Bedford, UK
Andrew Woods, Ilkley, UK
Kim Webster, Ipswich, UK

Well done guys, your books are on their way! (Hopefully a lot quicker than I said in my email, stupid 'Cut & Paste'...)

Better luck next time everyone else!

I’ve never read anything by…

(This post has been brought to you by a hectic weekend where I got very little reading done as well as a desire to try out something a little different on a Monday morning…)

As well as sharing all the good stuff that I love about the genre with you, one of the reasons that I started the blog up was to check out books by authors that I’d never read before to see what I thought. Another reason that doesn’t get talked about so often (but is no less important) is to find out what you guys are into, especially if it’s books that I’ve never read before. I don’t want this blog to be just me talking to myself!



And so the very occasional series of ‘I’ve never read anything by…’ posts were born. There are loads of sci-fi, fantasy and horror books out there that I haven’t read. I’m hoping that some of you have… ;o)

Friday saw a package from Solaris come through the door that included the second and third ‘Falconfar’ books ('Arch Wizard' and 'Falconfar') by Ed Greenwood, an author that I’ve never read before. Not only have I never read any of his books but I’d never heard of him before now, which is surprising seeing how many books he’s written (a whole load of 'Forgotten Realms' stuff).



I’m going to give the two ‘Falconfar’ books a go but in the meantime I was wondering… Have any of you folks read either the ‘Falconfar’ books or any of his other books? What did you think? What am I letting myself in for?
All comments are welcome, they aren’t going to stop me reading the books but I’m interested to know what you all think…

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Giveaway! 'Farlander' (Col Buchanan)


I've been reading this over the last couple of days and it's definitely my cup of tea; look for a review very soon...
In the meantime, how do you like the sound of winning a copy for yourself? You do? Are you living in the UK (because that's who the competition is open to)? Then read on...

Thanks to Tor UK, I have three copies of 'Farlander' to give away to UK readers of the blog. Entering is as easy as ever; simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else!

I'm leaving this one open until the 28th of February and will announce the winners on the 1st of March.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Giveaway! 'The Extra' (Michael Shea)


This book came through the post yesterday morning and all I've been thinking ever since is... 'giant mechanical spiders!' :o)
I'll be honest and say that the spiders along sold me on this book but the blurb looks pretty cool too. Here it is...

In the not-too-distant future, humanity is so decimated by poverty that people will do anything for money.

An innovative producer gives the poor hope by offering them work as extras in a series of “live death” films where they’ll be stalked by giant, blood-thirsty mechanical monsters.

The job is easy – survive.


Ok, it sounds like 'The Running Man' but 'The Running Man' never had giant mechanical spiders did it? Did it? I rest my case... ;o) 'The Extra' will be read and reviewed here very soon. In the meantime how do you fancy winning a copy for yourself?

Thanks to Tor, I have three copies of 'The Extra' to give away to readers in the US and Canada (they're the only people who can enter this one). To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do the rest.

I'll let this one run until the 28th of February and will announce the winners on the 1st of March.

Good Luck!

Friday, 19 February 2010

‘A Thousand Sons’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)


Once upon a time, the galaxy spanning anarchy of the Horus Heresy was little more than the occasional battle report in ‘White Dwarf’ magazine decorated with a couple of paragraphs of story here and there to spice things up. At least that’s how it looked to me at the time and I was left wondering just what had happened in all the gaps in between. It took a few years but it was almost as if the Black Library had somehow heard my unspoken cry and decided to set things straight once and for all...
The ‘Horus Heresy’ series has set out to tell the definitive tale of just how the Imperium of Man turned on itself all those millennia ago (or ‘all those millennia still to come in the future’, depends how you look at it really). On the whole, it’s done a remarkable job and is now pretty much the Black Library’s flagship series. My reading of the series has been fragmented to say the least, I’m getting there though! Out of all the books I’ve read though, it’s Graham McNeill’s work that has stood out here (although Dan Abnett edges him in terms of books written for the Black Library overall) so when I got a chance to read ‘A Thousand Sons’ I had a feeling I’d be in for a bit of a treat.
I got that treat although this is a book that I think will be more of a treat to the long term fan...

The Great Crusade is at it’s height and the ‘Thousand Sons’ Space Marine Legion are amongst it’s most loyal advocates; their quest for knowledge tempered only by their loyalty to the Emperor. This quest for knowledge has led them into the realms of the arcane and as such, they are viewed with suspicion not only by the other legions but also by the general populace. The ‘Thousand Sons’ Primarch, Magnus the Red, is summoned to the planet of Nikaea to answer charges of sorcery and is forbidden to dabble in these arts anymore. However, a vision of the future warns Magnus of Horus’ growing treachery, what is he to do?
Magnus’ choice will lay waste to a planet, his legion will be doomed by choices that he made a long time ago...

Graham McNeill has written a beautifully detailed account of the ‘Thousand Sons’ Legion before the Heresy took place. Nothing is missing here; the Legion’s home world, structure and beliefs are dealt with at great length, providing a world that the reader can immerse themselves in at every level.
While McNeill certainly does well in this regard, the fact that this world building is so very specific (which of course it would be, given the nature of the book) makes this more of a book for gamers using a ‘Thousand Sons’ force who want to add a little more authenticity to their play. If I’m anything to go by, fans of the Warhammer 40K setting will also get a lot out of a book that adds another rich layer to a universe already brimming with rich detail. ‘A Thousand Sons’ is however perhaps not the most accessible of books for the casual fan who may feel that they’re getting a little too much information thrown at them all at once...

Give it a chance though. As the book progresses, McNeill does move away from the world building/scene setting to give his reader a tale of tragedy that should move a few hearts. Imagine giving your all for the cause only to be hunted down for something that was totally not of your making? That’s the scenario McNeill lays out for the Thousand Sons in a long and inexorable slide towards a finale that is as poignant as it is explosive.

One of the things that I’ve found interesting about this series is the way that different authors approach the question of making the books a compelling read when the eventual outcomes are never in doubt (which they aren’t, all fans will know how the story ends). McNeill solves this problem by making ‘A Thousand Sons’ a tale of stark contrasts that grip the reader as well as springing genuine surprises on the reader at all the right moments. The way it all becomes clear at the very end (as to what is going on) is quite superb.

McNeill takes a good long look at the relationship between the Marines of the Thousand Sons and the human ‘Remembrancers’ that follow them and record their deeds. While some of the differences are obvious (the marines are physically and mentally tougher) it’s interesting to see that in some respect, ‘weak’ humans can still have a lot to teach their superhuman counterparts. McNeill sets the Thousand Sons up as new in the universe and unsure of their purpose other than to fight for the Emperor and gain knowledge at the same time. There’s something very childlike about this, especially when you look at the Remembrancers and the more adult way that they conduct themselves.

If the Thousand Sons marines come across as childlike then Magnus, the Primarch, is even more so, especially when you see him wield his considerable powers with precious little thought for the consequences. Here is a man with godlike powers but no sense of how to use them appropriately in an unforgiving universe. All he has is the same need for approval from the Emperor that all the other Primarchs have; this makes his ultimate fate all the more tragic as he did all the wrong things for all the right reasons.

The biggest contrast of all is the one between the Thousand Sons and Space Wolves legions; one side the manifestation of the Emperor’s wisdom and the other the manifestation of his unbridled rage in battle. This contrast will be further explored in Dan Abnett’s ‘Prospero Burns’ but McNeill gives us much to be going on with in the meantime with two legions that are unable to resolve their fundamental differences but must still fight together... for now. It’s a master class in how two such differing legions can fight together but it’s also a melting pot of tension that you know will boil over sooner rather than later.

When the end finally comes, McNeill defines ‘apocalyptic’ on a scale not seen since Ben Counter razed Istvaan III. When Space Marines turn on each other you know there can only be one conclusion; McNeill gives us this conclusion in the most earth shattering manner possible and it’s well worth the price of entry!
The ending is appropriately sombre and hints at a future that long term fans will appreciate more than the casual reader. All is not dust yet... but it soon will be.

Like I said, ‘A Thousand Sons’ is certainly one of the less accessible books in the series. Fans will love it but the casual reader might get bogged down in the detail. Once I found my way through the minutiae though, ‘A Thousand Sons’ personified all that is good about the ‘Horus Heresy’ books. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 18 February 2010

‘The Eternal Prison’ – Jeff Somers (Orbit)


This week seems to have become a week where I’ve unwittingly found myself reading the kind of books that don’t demand too much of your time while you’re reading them. To be fair, a house purchase that has become more and more drawn out and petty (not from me though!) has been at the forefront of pretty much everything these past few days. There hasn’t been a lot left of me to concentrate on the good stuff...
I’ve been reading Jeff Somers’ ‘Avery Cates’ books since, well... since this blog sprang into life! The two preceding books demanded nothing more than my sitting back and watching hit men look very cool, while the bullets fly and stuff gets blown up, and it was this kind of mindless action that pretty much sealed the deal when I was looking for my next book to read.
‘The Eternal Prison’ certainly gave me what I was looking for, and in style! I couldn’t help wondering if something was missing though...

After surviving the worst bioengineered disaster in history (check out ‘The Digital Plague’) you would have thought that things would have to start looking up for gunner Avery Cates. You would have thought, wouldn’t you?
Not so; all Avery gets for his troubles is a one way ticket to Chengara Penitentiary, a prison where the survival rate is exactly zero. Avery wants out and he’ll get his wish, only at a price he might not be willing to pay.
Now Avery is back on the street doing what he does best and looking for a little revenge along the way. What he’s up against this time just might prove the end of him though, it’s only the biggest assassination of his career...

‘The Eternal Prison’ is one of those books where you open the first page and you find yourself being carried along effortlessly by the dialogue and the speed of the bullets flying past people’s ears. I found myself glued to the page simply because there is so much going on. If you blink then you will find yourself missing two or three things happening all at once. There’s also a mystery to be solved and the way that it gradually unfolds heightens the tension and keeps the pages turning.
Somers proves that the eye for spectacle that he’s cultivated, over the course of the last two novels, hasn’t left him in ‘The Eternal Prison’. If something can be blown up, crashed, shot or graphically maimed then you can bet anything you like that Somers will be doing just that and in great style. I think these books have been optioned for film (it might just be ‘The Electric Church’) and I’m looking forward to seeing how Somers’ prose makes the leap to the big screen.

Somers’ world is as brutally dystopian as ever, even more so following on fro mthe events of the last two books. This world is starkly painted in bleak colours, this is a place that you’ll love to visit but you’d never ever want to live there! It makes you wonder how anyone could survive this and that’s part of the point of the novel. Sometimes it all boils down to survival and ‘The Eternal Prison’ really lays it on the line as to what that can involve. When the alternative is death, humanity has the capacity to surprise itself with just what it will do to survive; Somers’ characters really capture this and in ways that will make you jump with their sheer brutality.
By the end though, you’ll see that there is still some hope for the future. Maybe Jeff Somers isn’t as tough as he likes to make out? ;o)

Avery Cates stalks through all this destruction and mayhem like a cyber punk god of death with a sharp line in wry inner dialogue. Here’s a guy who has all the moves but is starting to lose his edge through age. Not only that, Cates also has no idea whatsoever what is going on (at least to start off with). This air of vulnerability offsets Cates’ seeming invincibility and makes him a character worth sticking around with. You may know that he’ll make it through to the end but you don’t know what shape he’ll be in when he gets to the finish line. Talking of which, Somers has some surprises in store for Cates and the reader; these are worth the wait!

The only real problem I had was that while the separate plots came together in a crash of noise and blood there seemed to be very little cohesion about the affair as a whole. Why did Cates let petty revenge side-track him from the job that he was hired to do? How did the revenge sub plot link in with the rest of the tale? It felt like Cates was switching between one sub-plot and the other with very little rhyme or reason. There was nothing to hang onto; you just took the punches as they came.
Now I know that sometimes life just happens like that but in a book I generally tend to look for something a little more structure. If everything’s coming at me all at once then I find that I’m wasting time trying to filter stuff when I could be reading. That’s what happened here. Maybe I should have re-read the other two books first?

What I found in the end was that if I stopped trying to follow the plot and concentrated on the high body count instead… I had a whale of a time. ‘The Eternal Prison’ is a kick ass read in that respect and I don’t regret taking the time to read it at all. I can’t help thinking though that it could have been a whole lot better had Somers decided just what story he was trying to tell…

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ – Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)


Everyone has a guilty pleasure on their bookshelf and I’m not just talking about that bar of chocolate that you’re trying to hide from your partner (which, for the record, doesn’t work)! You know what I’m talking about. You’ve spent days slogging your way through a convoluted plot with a cast of hundreds that’s spread over a thousand or so pages; you want your next read to be a book that requires no mental effort whatsoever to enjoy. This probably means that you’re also after a book that you’ve read many times in the past and that’s where the guilty pleasure book comes in. I’ll quite happily admit to having my copies of the ‘Belgariad’ series on my shelf and picking them up every now and then. What’s your guilty pleasure read?
Certain types of Urban Fantasy are also a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine; once you get over the fact that one book can be very similar to another then what you’re left with is the simple business of various supernatural creatures laying the smack down on each other. It never gets old!
I’d never read any of Carrie Vaughn’s ‘Kitty Norville’ books but Pat likes them and that was recommendation enough for me to give ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ a go. I got what I came for but I found the similarities to another book a little too much to get my head round...

Kitty Norville is a werewolf with her very own radio talk show, something that can come in real handy when you’re trying to promote good relations between the human and supernatural community. With this in mind, when Kitty is asked to take part in a reality show about the supernatural she is sceptical but agrees to take part.
The show is in a remote location and everything is going well up until the morning they all wake up to find that the phone is dead, the power is out and the crew that aren’t dead have vanished. Then someone starts picking off the cast one by one.
Can Kitty marshal a dysfunctional set of starving vampires, psychics and were creatures (not forgetting the sceptic who doesn’t believe any of this) or will they all be killed by whoever is hiding in the woods...?

Apart from what I’ve heard about the books I’m completely new to this series and couldn’t even tell you how many books precede this one. That’s ok though, ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ stands perfectly well on it’s own and, if you’re anything like me, you won’t have to read the preceding books to get the most out of it. Vaughn doesn’t give herself a lot of room to play in (the book weighs in a slightly underweight two hundred and ninety two pages) but she uses what she has to good effect. Enough background information is sprinkled over the plot to ensure that the casual reader has enough to be going on with and won’t get lost in a sea of minutiae. At the same time, it’s all delivered in such a way that it doesn’t get in the way of the actual story (although maybe a little more meat on the bones would have been nice but that’s just me). Plot is important to Carrie Vaughn and that’s what she delivers.

‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ is a tightly written tale that doesn’t hang around in it’s mission to get from A to B as quickly as possible. While I never got the impression that Kitty was in any real danger herself (which kind of took the sting out of things) Vaughn makes up for this by making the rest of the cast fair game for what’s lurking in the woods. Vaughn’s not afraid to draw a well rounded likeable character, have them get friendly with Kitty and then kill them off in any manner of ways. Like I said, I knew Kitty was going to make it through but I was surprised by the people who didn’t. There are a couple of shocks in store.

Kitty is also an interesting character to hang out with for the course of a book. Vaughn really captures what it’s like not only to be a werewolf but also what it’s like to experience that ongoing conflict between the werewolf and human parts of a person. If that wasn’t enough for you, Kitty is an engaging character in her own right; a person who’s not afraid to have an opinion and will mix it up with the best of them. She may not want to stand in the way of a vampire but if that’s what’s needed then that’s what you’ll find her doing; this not only makes for some interesting moments but also makes Kitty a character that I wanted to find out more about. I stuck around to do just that!

The only thing that blighted my enjoyment of the book was the fact that Kitty’s character kept reminding me of Kelley Armstrong’s Elena Michaels, another reluctant werewolf trying to make the best of a bad deal. In terms of the two characters, I could let this go (to an extent) as I guess there’s only so much you can write about a strong female werewolf before she becomes similar to strong female werewolves in other books. There’s bound to be some crossover.
What did stop me fully engaging with the book was when I realised it was very similar to Armstrong’s ‘Stolen’, a novel where Elena Michaels must rally a group of supernatural beings together to combat someone hunting them through the woods. Does that sound similar to you? It did to me and those similarities stopped me getting a feel for this book as a story in it’s own right.

Despite this though, ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ was a very entertaining read that was well worth an evening of my time. I’d certainly give the next one a go but I’d be looking for it to follow it’s own path, we’ll see if that happens...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

News!

From the first press release that I found in my inbox...

BLACK LIBRARY ARE DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE THE RETURN OF BEST-SELLING FANTASY WRITER, WILLIAM KING.

William King has signed a major new deal with the Black Library, for a trilogy based on the high elf characters Tyrion and Teclis. Twin brothers Tyrion and Teclis are the greatest heroes of an age, and their like will never be seen again. Prince Tyrion's skill with a blade unmatched by any living swordsmen, whilst Teclis is the most powerful mage of his generation. Set over two hundred years before the current Warhammer timeline, the new trilogy tells an origin story of these two phenomenal champions.

Head of Black Library, George Mann, said of the deal: “I’m overjoyed to be welcoming Bill King back to the Black Library, particularly with such an exciting and auspicious series. Bill has a real flair for a good story and his writing really brings the Warhammer world to life. I know people are going to adore these books.”
William King was born in Stranraer, Scotland, and is one of Black Library's best-selling authors, with sales in excess of half a million books. He started writing for Games Workshop in 1988, and later he worked in the design studio. His swords and sorcery series Gotrek & Felix and his Space Wolf novels have become a staple in the Black Library range. His short fiction has appeared in Interzone, Zenith, and a Year’s Best SF collection. He currently lives in Prague.
The deal was conducted with agent John Jarrold, and the first novel in the trilogy will be published in 2011.


I wasn't too keen on Bill King's first 'Gotrek & Felix' book but I haven't read a lot of Warhammer fantasy and this does look interesting. I'll be keeping an eye open for this one.

From the second press release I found in my inbox,

PS Publishing to Release the New Ian R. MacLeod Novel...

Following their wonderful success with Ian R. MacLeod's 2009 Campbell and Arthur C. Clarke award winning novel SONG OF TIME, Peter Crowther at PS Publishing has acquired limited edition rights from John Berlyne at the Zeno Agency for MacLeod's brand new novel WAKE UP AND DREAM and will publish in the latter part of 2010. The PS edition will feature cover art by Dirk Berger.

"Hollywood, 1940. It’s the Golden Age of the Feelies. All one-time actor and unlicensed matrimonial private eye Clark Gable has to do is impersonate a wealthy scriptwriter for a few hours, and sign the contract for the biopic of the inventor of a device which has changed entertainment forever. What could go wrong? Already, he’s seeing ghosts — but that’s nothing unusual. Europe is devastated by war and America is sleep-walking into Fascism — but what’s that got to do with him? By turns wry and romantic, but always gripping, multi-award winning writer Ian R MacLeod’s latest novel is a dazzling collision of science, fantasy and history. Like the feelies themselves, WAKE UP AND DREAM is film noir with Technicolor wraiths."

Peter Crowther says 'After the wonderful smorgasbord of emotion that was the multiple-award-winning SONG OF TIME, Ian Macleod could have gone two ways: the familiar and workmanlike approach of not taking any chances, or the bold sweeping-clean of the planning table in order to come up with something set to blow readers totally out of the water. Well, WAKE UP AND DREAM is that latter... in spades. It's alternate reality Hollywood steeped in film noir, Dick meets Hammett... a truly mesmerising word-trip that melds science, history and fantasy in equal parts -- and you know, you just can't see the joins. We're thrilled that Ian has allowed us to publish it -- it's a book that will take the genre's readers by storm.'


I've only read the one short story by Macleod and, to be honest, probably can't afford to spring for a limited edition from P.S Publishing. My wife would probably kill me and I wouldn't blame her! If 'The Camping Wainrights' is anything to go by though, 'Wake Up and Dream' could be worth a look...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

‘The Call of Kerberos’ – Jonathan Oliver (Abaddon Books)


Abaddon’s ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ books have been one those series that I find myself going back to although it doesn’t really work for me. It’s very much been a case of the books not really giving me anything that I haven’t read before; when it got to the point where ‘Crucible of the Dragon God’ pinched a villainous name from ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ I found myself wondering if now was the time to jump ship...
I can’t help myself though. There’s something about being in there right at the start, watching a world slowly take shape, that really appeals to me. I may be indifferent to what I’ve seen so far but it’s the sense of potential that has me coming back. Anything could happen and I want to be there when it does!
When ‘The Call of Kerberos’ came through the door then... I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about picking it up (given the others I’d read) but I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave it alone for long. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. Not massively surprised (more on that in a bit) but pleasantly surprised...

They’re coming from beneath the waves… Silus Morlader is a fisherman with a feel for the ocean that goes far beyond loving his job. When a fugitive from the Final Faith offers Silus a chance at the journey of a lifetime Silus will find out what that love really means, if he makes it back alive…
Forbidding oceans hide far greater dangers, two warring races fighting for nothing less than the fate of the world. Silus will discover his importance to both of these races and his decision alone will determine the future of his world. What will he choose?

One of the features that sets Abaddon books apart from the rest is the way that they get straight down to business with the story and leave the background to fill itself in. This can work well in a stand-alone tale but with something that’s meant to form part of a larger picture…? Well, it doesn’t work well at all and that’s part of the problem with ‘The Call of Kerberos’.

We’re four books into this series now and although ‘Call of Kerberos’ is fine on the story front (although not without it’s problems, more on that in a bit) I’m still not really getting a sense of the backdrop that this is all taking place against. You could argue that the creators are playing a long game and letting things build up slowly; this may be the case but surely they could fill in the gaps a little more in the meantime? You have an all-consuming religious crusade, some wizards and sea monsters but where’s everything else? Do you need anything else? I’d say yes, definitely. There’s no sense of history other than a war that happened a few years ago and the revelation of the Chadassa (the sea monsters) and what they did thousands of years ago. There’s nothing of any substance in the middle and no matter how good a story is you need something to hang it off. ‘The Call of Kerberos’ doesn’t have that backdrop.

This is a shame as the story itself isn’t bad at all. Oliver sets a fast pace and maintains it with plenty of action throughout. Pitched battles (above and below the water) and plenty of stormy weather is the way to go! Oliver uses this to good effect, keeping the tension tight and me reading. He also has an eye for some good characterisation as well. Although you can kind of guess the outcome to his tale, Silus Morlader is a conflicted character that is fun to spend time with. Although he is very much ‘the humble fisherman who discovers he has magic powers’, Oliver makes sure that he remains human and very susceptible to persuasion. The ending is sign posted but the intervening cliff-hangers are fun to read in the meantime.

Like I said though, Silus is very much the hero from a humble background and this not only meant that I could see things coming but I also found myself feeling that I’d read all this before in many other books. The sense of wonder that you really need to find in a fantasy world wasn’t here because I’d discovered it in another book that was exactly the same as ‘Call’ and one that I’d read years ago. This is partly due to tired tropes being used but also the fact that the story had nothing to parade against (like I said earlier). How can you discover a world on the page when there’s very little there?

‘The Call of Kerberos’ is an entertaining tale that is an improvement on the last couple of books I’ve read from this series. That’s certainly enough to have me reading the next book to see where things go next. However, where it does falter is in the fact that there isn’t a lot to mark it out from a very similar looking pack…

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 15 February 2010

The 'Early Afternoon' Competition Winner's Post!

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's competition for the signed copy of 'Bones of the Dragon'. There could only be one winner though and that lucky person was...

Crispina Chong, Chicago, USA

Well done Crispina! Your book is on its way to your door :o)
Better luck next time everyone else...

What Should I Read Next?

I’ve managed to read enough books recently to free up some reading time for one of those ‘more weighty tomes’ that lurk at the bottom of the reading pile and defy all my attempts to fit them onto the train when I go to work. Funnily enough, it’s the ‘doorstopper’ books that I enjoy reading the most but these days I never have the time to read them… :o(

So, which one should I read? I thought I’d enlist the help of you guys in picking my next read, as I can’t actually decide. What do you reckon out of the choices below…?



‘Dust of Dreams’ – Steven Erikson

As much as I love the Malazan books, they are the kind of read where I need to take a week off work (take the phone of the hook etc) in order to really get the most out of them. I keep saying that I’ll read the latest one before the next one comes out but… it never happens. I’m not even going to mention ‘Return of the Crimson Guard’…
Should this week be the week where I finally go for it?

Or…



‘Tome of the Undergates’ – Sam Sykes

If Gollancz are to be believed, this is the debut you should all be looking out for this year. The blurb does look pretty tasty so it made the shortlist. Also (being such a huge book) removing ‘Tome’ from the bookshelf made room for four smaller books, making more room on the floor and appeasing my wife!
Should it be the book I tackle next though…?

Or…



‘Farlander’ – Col Buchanan

If Tor UK is to be believed, this is the debut you should all be looking out for this year. There’s a hooded man on the front cover but try not to hold that against him, he’s probably got a cold head or something ;o)
Airships and assassins, what’s not to like? This book isn’t as big as the other two but it’s one that I’ve been looking forward to so it made the list as well!

So, do I go for a book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages or do I get on with one of the books that people are promising good things for in 2010? Leave a comment and let me know. The book with the most votes by the end of the day will be the book that I start reading on the way to work tomorrow…

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Giveaway! 'Shadowrise' (Tad Williams)


Every year there's a book that you'll find me looking forward to more than any other. Tad Williams' 'Shadowrise' is that book, no question about it! Tad's latest fantasy series isn't quite up to the standards that he set with 'Memory, Sorrow & Thorn' (can you tell I'm a fan?) but it's still worth the read. Check out the blurb...

As shadows threaten to consume the kingdom of Southmarch, Barrick Eddon, heir to March throne, battles his way across the sinister Shadowlands. He must journey through this dangerous, inhuman realm to fulfil a pact ? as this may be all that can prevent the atrocities of a full-scale war with the Twilight people of Qul-na-Qar. Princess Briony, Barrick's twin sister, finds herself in no less danger at the court of Tessis in Syan. When those close to her fall dead from poisoning, she is to learn the true extent of the betrayal surrounding her. Her only option is to flee, as all those in Tessis turn against her ? all, that is, except for one important ally. Meanwhile, the assault upon Southmarch has truly begun. Yasammez, the formidable head of the Qar army, has ordered the attack, believing that the pact between humans and Qar has been broken. Unless Ferras Vansen, Captain of the Southmarch Royal Guard, can convince her otherwise, the humans are sure to meet the dark end that has been promised to them ...

Looks good doesn't it? Thanks to Orbit UK, I have three copies of 'Shadowrise' to give to three readers of this very blog. Having said that, those three readers will be from the UK as this competition is for UK readers only...

To enter, 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. You also need to make it clear, in the header, that this is the competition you wish to enter.

I'll be letting this one run until the 21st of February and will announce the winners on the 22nd.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Giveaway! 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' (N.K. Jemisin)


I loved 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms'! Don't believe me? Scroll down the page a little and then see what you think... Thanks to Orbit UK, I have three copies of 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' to give away to three lucky readers of the blog. Here's the thing though, this competition is only open to readers from the UK and Europe, that's just the way it is...

If you're still here then you'll know what to do next. If you don't know what to do next then I'll tell you :o) Simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do everything else...

I'll let this one run until the 21st of February and will announce the winners on the 22nd.

Good Luck!

Friday, 12 February 2010

‘Starship: Flagship’ – Mike Resnick (Pyr)


When I first read ‘Starship: Mercenary’, back in January 2008, I have to admit that I’d never heard of Mike Resnick (not being into sci-fi as much as fantasy). These days, not only do I know who Mike Resnick is (the guy is prolific to say the least and is well loaded with awards) but I can’t imagine the genre without his ‘pulp Golden Age’ sci-fi sat firmly in the middle of it. For those of us who prefer space opera over hard sci-fi Resnick’s work is the perfect tonic, the ‘Starship’ series in particular.
I came in midway through the series but didn’t let this put me off and have enjoyed the two books I’ve read so far. It took me a while to get round to the final book in the series (so many books, so little time unfortunately...) but I knew that when I did it would be worth the wait.
As it turned out, I wasn’t all that far off the mark. There were a couple of things that didn’t quite convince me but, on the whole, ‘Starship: Flagship’ was an entertaining end to a very entertaining set of books.

Wilson Cole has successfully fought off elements of the Republic Navy, at Singapore Station, in his first full scale confrontation with them. It’s by no means over yet though as the Republic Navy numbers some three million ships, many thousands of times the number that Cole commands. Cat and mouse tactics will only last so long when you’re up against an enemy that builds spacecraft faster than you can destroy them; the only option is an risky assault on the capital world of the Republic, a final throw of the dice where everything is at stake.
And just when you thought that everything had finally settled down, a new player in the game makes their move...

Mike Resnick writes the kind of science fiction that you used to act out with Star Wars figures in your back garden. Or was that just me? No, I’m sure you know what I mean! ‘Starship: Flagship’ is a gloriously pulpy mix of deep space combat, stand offs with laser pistols, daring rescues and cunning plans meticulously executed. All of this is injected with a hefty dose of adrenaline, shaken vigorously and then thrown at the page. What you get as a result is a story that rockets along, as fast as the spacecraft that it’s describing, with plenty going on and lots of spectacles to catch the eye.

Unfortunately though, and in the best traditions of those aforementioned Star Wars games, what you also get are moments that leave you thinking... why did that just happen? Having read the last two books I already knew that certain main characters are never really in any danger and will make it to the end of the book. The plot can sometimes feel like it’s designed specifically to ease Cole through sticky situations with nary a fuss which can leave the reader wondering what the point of the plot is if the outcome is assured. I can let this one go because the plot is pretty much secondary to the whole point of the book (and series). What ‘Starship: Flagship’ is all about is not only the hero winning through but winning through in style. That’s what the book sets out to deliver and, to be fair, it delivers this in style. I like the way that Cole’s plans come together in the way they do, even if they’re a little contrived now and then.

Resnick can push this approach to an extreme though and that’s what eventually got me. Without giving too much away, just as things are coming to a conclusion Resnick conjures an alien race out of thin air to create an emergency that will give Cole command of the Republic Navy. Things were in the process of ending naturally and had been handled very well up until that point. What the reader then gets is an ending that comes across as horribly contrived and drags the ending out much further than it needed to go. The pacing is shot to pieces and I was left wondering just what the point of it all was.

The thing is though, I had such a great time reading ‘Starship: Flagship’ that it more than balanced out the ending (although it was a definite issue). Like I said, there is plenty going on (albeit linear) and the cast of characters are fun to spend time with as always. There’s plenty of time for humour between battles and Resnick supplies this through the interactions between Cole, Val and David Copperfield. I wasn’t laughing out loud but it was all worthy of a chuckle at the very least.
Resnick also finds time to get serious as well with his examination of the use of torture to gain intelligence in wartime. I’m not sure that I’d agree with the outcome but what I did have a lot of time for was the way that Resnick set the argument out, paying equal attention to both sides and considering his subject carefully.

‘Starship: Flagship’ isn’t a book that will get you thinking about how the universe is put together. What it is though is a book where you will have a lot of fun watching bits of the universe get blown up! It’s contrived but it’s contrived to be entertaining, I can live with that! :o)

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 11 February 2010

‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ – N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)


One of the characteristics of this blog has been my unfailing ability to be the last person to read a ‘hot new debut’ or ‘next big thing’. I don’t know how I manage to do it, I certainly have every intention of reading these books as soon as humanly possible. No matter how good my intentions are though I will invariably read these books months after the rest of the blogosphere have polished them off and moved on to other fare.
No more though! The plan is to be there right from the start in future, no more turning up late to the party for me! N.K. Jemisin’s ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ is a book that several blogs have highlighted as ‘one to look out for’ and the reviews I’ve seen so far have all been positive to a degree. Where better a place to start then for my new found resolution? Where better indeed... ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ isn’t without it’s flaws but was an enthralling read nevertheless. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.

Yeine Darr’s life is a consequence of her mother’s self exile; she lives in the barbarian north, not really a part of her adoptive people and with no idea of her roots. All this is about to change though... Yeine is summoned to the majestic city of Sky and is named as one of the heirs to the throne by the ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It’s not as simple as it sounds though. The other two heirs (Yeine’s cousins) will do anything to gain the throne and Yeine must find her place in the labyrinthine corridors of Sky before she can even begin to fight that battle. In a city where the lives of the Gods intertwine with mortals Yeine will also find that her every move is being manipulated in ways that she never even imagined. The only thing that Yeine can be sure of is that she will find out the truth behind her mother’s death and the bloody history of her family that has led to this point.

As much as I didn’t want to hang around before reading ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ I’ll admit that I came to this one with no expectations other than the positive reviews of a couple of blogs that I trust. Books are hyped for more than one reason and it would be a poor publicity department that didn’t put their weight behind a book when it hits the shelves. Cynicism aside though, books are also hyped because they’re very good and worthy of praise; ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ not only falls into this category but sits there very comfortably indeed, you wouldn’t have thought this was a debut effort from Jemisin.

That’s not to say the book is without faults though. Starting the story from just before its end and then going backwards and forwards, filling in the gaps, is a novel way of building up the big picture but I never really got a sense of things coming together in that manner until a lot closer to the end. What I got instead was a feeling that the narrative was being doled out in a piecemeal manner when a little more cohesion could have made all the difference in terms of things flowing more smoothly.
In a similar vein Yeine’s story is told from a first person viewpoint (hers) and this does prove detrimental to the smooth running of the plot, especially when she realises that she has forgotten something and brings the main thrust of the story to a halt while she goes back and recounts what she missed. While this approach makes a sense when you finally see what she is going through at the end, it also has the effect of occasionally derailing the plot when it starts to get interesting. Cliff hangers pop up when there’s really no need just because Yeine forgot to mention something earlier. I found myself wanting these ‘forgotten bits’ to hurry up and finish just so I could get back to the main plot.

Once you get past these issues (or get used to them?) things pick up and you find yourself with a story that demands your attention and rewards you appropriately. Given the ending, where a sequel will come from but one thing I am sure of is that I will be around to see what happens next.

The city of Sky is a place where mystery is piled on top of more mystery. Some of these mysteries are integral to the plot whilst others must be solved merely Yeine can maintain her already fragile position in the court. There is very much a sense of Yeine having to run quickly just so she can stay standing still but that is not to say that plot that the plot itself remains stationary. Things are constantly moving forwards and it’s all credit to Jemisin that you find yourself wanting to make the effort to keep up. Whether a question posed is integral to the plot or not, Jemisin makes it clear how important it all is to Yeine’s future in the city. When you’re faced with what’s at stake then you find yourself having to read on in order to find out how it all ends.
A plot such as this means that there’s a lot of politicking by necessity but, again, Nemisin saves her reader from becoming mired in machination by successfully conveying the urgency in Yeine’s need to get up to speed as soon as possible. Again, once you know what’s at stake you find yourself having to keep reading in order to see how it all comes out in the end.

The setting is lush and glorious with supporting characters displaying a refined sensuality that is conveyed in such a manner whereby it never strays into the realms of pornography. You are left in no doubt as to the intensity of Yeine’s meetings with the Nightlord but Jemisin never has to spell it out for you. I liked that, sometimes less really is more. I also enjoyed the way that the Gods were portrayed over the course of the book; both the characters themselves (Sieh was a personal favourite) and the way that they fit, albeit reluctantly, into the way that Sky runs. You can feel their resentment coming off the page, promising great things for the rest of the book...

Jemisin does well to bring all the plot strands together by the end of the book, just in time for a finale that rounds off the book in style. Like I said earlier, despite it’s early faults you wouldn’t have thought that ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ was Jemisin’s debut. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

‘The World House’ – Guy Adams (Angry Robot Books)


Being useless enough at keeping hold of money as it is (seriously) the closest I come to taking a gamble these days is grabbing a book at random off the pile and having a read. If I’m up for a little more of a gamble then I’ll grab a book by an author I’ve never even heard off let alone read before. This is the best kind of gamble of all; holding a brand new book (by an author that you’ve never heard of) that could take you anywhere...
Sometimes the gamble pays off and I find myself reading a book like ‘Pandemonium’ or ‘Mr. Hands’. Sometimes the gamble totally backfires and I find myself reading a book like ‘Vampire Maker’ (scroll down the page a little way and see what I mean)... I grabbed ‘The World House’, more or less, at random and the blurb promised good things for what lay inside. Having read the book, I can say that the blurb lived up to that promise. It’s still early in the year but if I was to start making a ‘Best Reads of 2010’ list then ‘The World House’ would be featuring very highly...

If you find the box then you’re only a step away from the house that lies inside. It’s not a place you want to visit though. There are cannibals in the greenhouse, the toy room is deadly, the broom cupboards are not to be opened and whatever you do don’t go for a swim in the bathroom... This isn’t the worst of it though. At the top of the house lives the being whom the house was built to contain and if he was ever to escape then the world will end.
A group of people are about to find out that once you’re in the house then there’s only one way out. It’s at the top of the house...

It’s not often that I find myself tearing through a book, desperate to find out how it all ends but at the same time trying to hold back and drag out such an enjoyable reading experience for as long as possible. It’s even less often that I find myself doing this with a book that can be so unrelentingly dark and sinister. This was my experience of the ‘World House’; a book that reeled me in and had me hooked before I even realised that I’d taken the bait. I didn’t mind in the slightest.

That’s not to say it’s all easy going though. Adams opts to throw his readers in at the deep end right from the start; dropping them into the strange confines of the house and then going backwards and forwards in time, drawing threads together and showing us how the main players arrive. Adams certainly weaves an interesting tale in this respect and drops several clues as to how things will eventually play out. The only problem is though that this approach can make for some choppy reading at times and the pacing does suffer as a result. Stick with it though, everything settles down eventually and that’s when the fun starts.

You come to the World House for the mystery but end up staying for the scenery. The blurb draws comparisons with Tad Williams’ ‘Otherland’ and I can see the parallels in a world full of beautifully strange rooms where danger can lurk in the most innocuous things. Adams is treading his own path though and I had great fun watching him draw all the threads of the plot together and laying them against such a dark background.
When Miles, Penelope and co find themselves in the House, their first thought is to somehow escape but they are also keen to find out what led them here in the first place. Here is the best kind of mystery, the one where people are just dumped somewhere (with no idea why) and left to fend for themselves. The fact that it’s in a place as wonderfully strange as the House makes the mystery even more delicious and compelling. You may have seen similar conclusions before, in other works, but the point is that you won’t see it coming in this one. When it does come you’ll realise that it was there the whole time but it had been hidden by the House itself. Sometimes things happen... because they just have to. It’s all dealt with very well and poses questions that the sequel (‘Restoration’) will answer. I’ll definitely be there to see how it all turns out.

As I said earlier, there are parallels to be drawn with other ‘multiple worlds’ novels (there’s even a reference to Narnia inside) but ‘The World House’ is brimming over with it’s very own character and characters whose humanity throws the weirdness of the house into sharp contrast and makes it even more strange. This is a house full of shadows that have teeth and nothing is as innocent as it first seems. If there was ever a writer who could write in Technicolor it’s Guy Adams; his creations leap off the page at you and make you jump back in shock (I’m thinking about the Chef in the cupboard here), I could feel the wraiths circling outside the House...

‘The World House’ overcomes a shaky start in style and becomes a book that lives on in your head long after you’ve finished it. At least that’s what will happen to you if my experience was anything to go by. This is the kind of book that ‘Best of Lists’ were made for.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

‘ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume Two’ – Pat Mills and Clint Langley (Rebellion)


I reviewed Volume One of ‘The Volgan Wars’ back in August last year; both the artwork and story were superb although I found that the artwork had a habit of taking over and not really allowing the story to find its own feet…
There was enough there though to whet my appetite for more of the same. After all, is there anything cooler in a comic than robots pounding the artificial life out of other robots? Okay… Is there anything cooler in a comic than robots pounding the artificial life out of other robots… and zombies? :o)
As it turned out, I found I had similar issues with Volume Two but there was a lot more to recommend it this time round…

The ABC Warriors are still on their way across Mars to rescue the infiltration robot Zippo from Mekana City. En route, it is now the turn of Blackblood and Deadlock to regale the team with tales of their time in the Volgan War. Things aren’t as idyllic as they sound though… Tensions are starting to appear in the group with certain robots eager to fan the flames. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a breakout at Broadband Asylum. Things are about to get messy…

Clint Langley’s art is as gorgeous as it was in Volume One; whether it’s full-scale robot warfare, robots on downtime or seamy alien cityscapes. Langley uses the same digital art approach and this totally captures the mechanical edge to the story. I can’t really say an awful lot more about this without repeating myself from the last review! Langley’s work is very good, just right for this story in fact.
What I will say is that once again, the artwork can get in the way of the story (especially with the two page spreads of various robots) but it wasn’t so bad this time round. Not only did Mills’ story come to the fore a lot more but also I guess I knew what to expect this time round and was prepared.
Funnily enough, while the robots were beautifully detailed and realistic the same couldn’t really be said for the few humans who graced these pages. Their faces were almost photographs but not quite and the resulting ‘jarring’ effect made it difficult for me to really appreciate what was going on here…

That was ok though (to a point) as Pat Mills’ story really gave me a lot to sink my teeth into. Humanity’s callous treatment of these robot fighters is coldly logical to the point where you really end up empathising with the robots themselves. These are the beings that will lay their lives on the line and the way they do it is poignant to say the least. Mills really shows you the horror of future warfare and at the same time is manipulating events in the present day so that you can be assured of a mind-blowing finale to the series. This plot is a little more simplistic but is no less powerful.

‘The Volgan Wars Volume Two’ is something pretty special although maybe more for people who have a little background knowledge of the 2000AD universe. I’ve got enough of this knowledge to get by and I’m eagerly awaiting Volume Three…

Nine and a Half out of Ten

‘Vampire Maker’ – Michael Schiefelbein (St. Martin’s Press)


One of the unwritten laws on this blog is to try and finish everything I pick up or, at the very least, give it a fair chance. I was aiming for the former when I picked up Schiefelbein’s ‘Vampire Maker’ but, in the end, had to settle for some of the latter instead. Sometimes life is just too short to keep reading out of sheer bloody-mindedness, just put the book down and try something else instead! That’s what I did. Here’s the blurb,

The fourth Victor Decimus vampire tale picks up four years after 2005's Vampire Transgression. In post-Katrina New Orleans, troubled new priest Charles Boisvert tries to purge his homosexual feelings with the help of therapist Dr. Beauchamp. The appearance of distressed yet beguiling young stranger Kyle at Charles's church jeopardizes the success of the treatment. Charles's family and even his immortal soul are endangered when vampire Victor begins a tug of war for Kyle's attentions while the Dark Kingdom, the vampire government, tries to keep Victor from becoming a rogue vampire maker and upsetting the natural balance forever...

I’ve read a fair few books in my time but ‘gay vampire erotica’ is a sub-genre that I’ve never really tried (although Laurell K. Hamilton hints at it a few times whenever she feels that Anita Blake has had a little too much ‘action’). In the interests of featuring different sub-genres on the blog I thought I’d give this one a go only to find out that Schiefelbein’s ‘gay vampire erotica’ is actually a big old dose of ‘gay vampire angst’... Forget the story, we’ve got three gay guys constantly deliberating over their sexuality (and who to hook up with) instead. Introspection is good, introspection at the cost of the story is not so good. It doesn’t matter whether characters are gay or not, if nothing is actually happening then you’ll find me rapidly running out of reasons to keep reading.

The following quote also made me stop and think, “what the f...?”

‘He needed a more hidden dwelling, one safe from the eyes of tourists who roamed the Garden District with their cameras, often led by guides with ghost stories to tell and vampire sightings to report – thanks to the author who had made her career on ridiculous stories about the undead.’

There is something deliciously ironic about a vampire living in New Orleans, spending his time walking its sultry streets whilst either feeding on its citizens or corrupting priests... and then complaining that he has been parodied by Anne Rice. The only problem is, given the rest of the book, I don’t think this was meant to be ironic at all. Schiefelbein was serious when he had Victor think this and that made the passage laughable, not in a good way either...

I got about a hundred and fifty pages in and then realised I didn’t actually care about any of the characters or the course they were set on, now was the time to stop. Given that the book is only two hundred and twenty eight pages long, the fact that I really couldn’t stir myself to finish the book says it all.

If you’re after a Gothic vampire fantasy where feelings are examined in depth, but not a lot actually happens, then ‘Vampire Maker’ could very well be just the book you’re looking for. It’s the latest in a series but has enough flashbacks to make jumping on board at this point easy enough. I’m after a little extra from my books though, ‘Vampire Maker’ just wasn’t for me in the end...

Monday, 8 February 2010

The 'Monday Lunchtime' Competition Winner's Post!

I'm taking a quick break from my chicken & veg soup to let you all know who won last week's competitions! The two lucky winners were...

'Warriors' Anthology (GRRM & Gardner Dozois

Jeff Timmers, Colorado, USA

'The Edge of Ruin' (Melinda Snodgrass)

Ammon Anderson, Ohio, USA

Nice one guys! Your books are on their way to you even as we speak :o)

Right, back to my soup...

Which Cover Would You Go For? ‘The Rats and the Ruling Sea’ – Robert V.S. Redick

Publishing being the way it is, I’ll sometimes be given the same book from two different publishers. The thing is, I’m only going to read one of them but I do like to give a nod to the other so… the US versus UK cover art posts were born. These only happen when the same book comes through the door twice mind you, only these books get the treatment!

Stepping up to the plate today is Robert V.S. Redick’s ‘The Rats and the Ruling Sea’, sequel to ‘The Red Wolf Conspiracy’ (published by Gollancz in the UK and Del Rey in the US). I still haven’t got round to reading ‘The Red Wolf Conspiracy’ and really need to. Has anyone here read it? If so, what did you think?

Anyway, back to the covers.

Here’s the UK version,



And here’s the US version,



First up, you’ll notice that this isn’t just a post about cover art, it’s also a post about book titles as well. The UK edition wins this round hands down with the more fantasy sounding ‘The Rats and the Ruling Sea’. Who are these rats? And why didn’t I finish the first book earlier so I could find out who they are much more quickly? There’s a lesson for me! Del Rey’s ‘The Ruling Sea’ sounds like, well… pretty much any run of the mill naval novel with nothing there to suggest a fantasy adventure.

As far as the cover art itself goes, I pronounce this another resounding victory for UK cover art with a cover that sets its stall out and does it’s business very well. I’m assuming that the rats are on the ship…? My tip for the Del Rey Cover? If you’ve got the word ‘sea’ in the title then it might be best if the cover art has a boat in it at the very least. Fair enough, this is a compass but what’s with the spear? Better luck next time…

What about you guys though? UK or US cover, what do you think? Comments please!