Sunday, 31 October 2010
Saturday, 30 October 2010
I’ve made it my mission to have as much zombie content on the blog as I can fit in, so that you will all have the best idea of what to expect, and I haven’t done a bad job so far. A week or so ago though, it was pointed out to me that I’d somehow missed out the most important zombie text of all; perhaps the one book you all need to make room for in your survival kit on that long trek through zombie infested territory. Suitably chastised for my almost criminal negligence, I’m bringing it to you now.
If you’re smart then you already have a plan mapped out that will deal with any manner of zombie infestations. If you’re even smarter then your zombie survival plan will be based around Max Brooks’ ‘Zombie Survival Guide’. Here is a book that covers absolutely everything that you will need to take into account when the dead start walking and it’s all covered in the stern authoritative tones of a man who knows exactly what he is talking about. While I might have issues with the way in which all the information is laid out (I’d say that home defence should be a lot nearer the front of the book for a start) and the attention paid to certain subjects over others (too much information on what zombies are when all you really need to know is not to let them get anywhere near you...), you can’t deny that it’s all relevant and Brooks certainly covers all bases. If you have a question about what to do when faced with zombies you can bet that Brooks has answered it. I particularly liked the section on how to spot media cover ups of zombie outbreaks, makes you wonder what’s really happening close to home...
The density of information makes ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ a difficult book to pick up and read straight from the first page to the last. If you treat as the reference book that it is though then just opening the book on a random page is like opening a treasure chest. What’s inside is not only invaluable but could save your life...
‘Recorded Attacks’ arose from the ‘Zombie Survival Guides’ section of the same name that details recorded zombie attacks from the dawn of history to the present day. In this graphic novel, you may not be treated to the same kind of timeline but what you do get is collection of recollections (taken directly from the ‘Zombie Survival Guide’ nicely illustrated by Ibraim Roberson. I wouldn’t have minded seeing some different stories, for some added variety, but the overall presentation is good. Zombies have been with us throughout history and Brooks gives us a selection of ‘historical zombie events’ and events that may have actually happened for different reasons than those given to us by history. I liked Brooks’ explanation as to why Hadrian’s Wall was really built...
If you’re a fan then ‘Recorded Attacks’ will round off your Brooks collection nicely; if not then you’re probably best sticking with ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’. Both books can teach us a thing or two about zombies though and they are lessons worth learning...
‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ 9.5/10
‘Recorded Attacks’ 7.75/10 (Liked the presentation but marked down for basically retelling the same story...)
Friday, 29 October 2010
Mark Twain once said “The rumors of my death were greatly exaggerat—BRAINS!!!!!”
Pulled from the grip of Mark Twain’s rotting zombie hands, is Tom Sawyer like you’ve never seen him before, in a swashbuckling, treasure-seeking adventure, spiked with blood, gore, and zombie madness.
In this expanded and illustrated edition of Mark Twain’s beloved tale of boyhood adventures, Tom’s usual mishaps are filled with the macabre and take place in a world overrun by a zombie virus that turns people into something folks call “Zum.” The United States is infected with a plague of rotting, yet spry, Zum, searching for fresh meat.
In this world, there’s no need to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence. Instead, Tom cons his friends into sharpening fence posts to lethal points to repel a Zum attack. To escape the boredom of civilized life, Tom and his pal Huckleberry Finn don’t have to fake their deaths, just pretend to be Zum. And instead of playing cowboys and Indians, Tom hones his fighting skills in a bloodthirsty game of “Us and Zum.” He always wins . . . until he bumps into the real thing.
When vicious, self-aware zombies evolve and threaten the town . . . what will Tom and Huck do to protect their loved ones, and will they live to tell the tale?
I’ve often found myself wondering if the whole craze for shoehorning something genre based into a work of classical literature (or around a historical figure, ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter’ anyone?) has run its course. ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ did something new but everything else since then has just felt like a variation on the same theme. It is ‘Zombie Week’ here though so I put my misgivings to one side and resolved to give the book a go...
I think my issue with the book was that I never really enjoyed the original text that it was adapted from. I can’t deny its classic status but, for me (when I read it way back in the day), ‘Tom Sawyer’ was a book that just didn't grab me at all and I was pleased to put it down for something else.
The bad news, for me, this time round was that Don Borchert doesn’t stray far from the original text at all, to the point where I felt like I was just reading the original version. Zombies did feature, of course, but almost as an afterthought; like Borchert had forgotten to include the zombies on the first draft and had to quickly zip through and add the ‘Z word’ on the second time round. The end result for me was a book that I hadn’t really enjoyed the first time I read it coupled with a gimmick that never looked like it was ever going to gel with the text. I gave it a good shot but decided to put it down; I knew how the story was going to end and the zombies weren’t giving it the ‘spark’ that the book needed.
Ultimately, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ wasn’t for me but I could see you enjoying it if you either liked the original book or you’re a lot more into the ‘zombie classic’ thing than I am. Like I said though, not for me...
Thursday, 28 October 2010
‘Hungry for your love (An anthology of Zombie Romance)’ – Edited by Lori Perkins (St. Martin’s Press)
One thing that can grab me is the concept that a book is based on; I’ve got more than a few books on the pile that I’ve looked at and thought, ‘sounds like a cool idea, wouldn’t mind seeing where they run with this one...’ Every so often though, I find a book with a concept so outlandish that I’m left thinking that I just have to read the book to see where the concept ends up. ‘Hungry for your love’ is that book...
Urban Fantasy is brimming over with various supernatural creatures getting it on either with each other or with the feisty heroine (who’s also vulnerable with lots of issues) that always seems to make an appearance. What you don’t see a lot of though (if at all) are zombies finding true love, or even just sex, in these books. It’s not surprising really, given that the one thing zombies are after is a quick meal and anything more strenuous than that is liable to make various rotting body parts fall off.
Are writers being a little unfair on zombies though? Does a zombie not have physical needs (other than all the brain eating)? Does a zombie not look at a young couple and wish for the same intimacy with a rotting partner of his own? These were the kind of questions facing Lori Perkins and the only way to answer them was to come up with this anthology. Your questions will be answered; mine certainly were although perhaps not in the manner that I was expecting...
I guess that the big problem anyone is going to be faced with, putting together a collection like this, is how to present it so that it doesn’t just come across as an attempt to commercialise necrophilia. I mean, that was my first thought when I saw the book and I’ll bet that you were wondering as well...
Perkins sidesteps this issue by broadening the remit so that pretty much any scenario goes, just as long as zombies are involved in some way. The end result is a wide range of interpretations on the theme. Most of which seem to end up coming back to the same thing...
I know I’m old fashioned about this but romance and sex, they’re two different things right? One can lead into the other but one shouldn’t be mistaken for the other, surely? Unfortunately a number of the stories here make that mistake, at least as far as I was concerned.
Stories such as Jaime Saare’s ‘I Heart Brains’, Elizabeth Coldwell’s ‘Everyone I love is Dead’ and Francesca Lia Block’s ‘Revenants Anonymous’ seem to want to get the zombie theme out of the way as quickly as possible and just get straight onto the sex (which all comes across as staged and contrived, I’m looking at you ‘Last times at Ridgmont High’ although I did love the sheer energy of this tale). Fair enough if that’s what you’re into (and you can’t deny the energy in these tales) but it did leave me wondering what these stories were doing in the collection, there was very little romance (although I’ll concede that this may mean different things to different people) and the zombies didn’t get much of a mention either. I can’t remember which story I saw this phrase in but if we’re talking about zombies, surely we should be using phrases like ‘cold and virulent’ instead of ‘hot and virile’ and that’s really the point I’m trying to make. At the other end of the scale Mercy Loomis’ ‘White Night, Black Horse’ kept the focus entirely on a growing relationship, between two zombies, and was all the more coherent for it.
It’s a shame then that you have to go through stories like these to get to stories where the authors have perhaps paid a little more attention to the remit and come up with some genuinely thought provoking stuff. Top of the list for me was Brian Keene’s ‘Captive Hearts’, not surprisingly as I’m a big fan of his work. Romance is about the little things as well as the grand gestures and Keene’s tale of a woman staying true to her love, in the face of a worldwide zombie apocalypse, captures this to a tee. Being a Brian Keene story, ‘Captive Hearts’ also captures the vital essence of the zombie apocalypse and delivers a couple of moments that will make you jump...
The stories that seem to resonate the most, in this collection, are the ones where a loved one’s death is survived by a partner who must somehow make sense of things when their spouse returns. These moments are when the romance in any relationship is put to its sternest test, offering writers plenty to explore. Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Later’ takes this task on to great affect, offering its readers a poignant vision of love after death. Jeremy Wagner’s ‘Romance ain’t Dead’ adopts the same approach but loses the sense of tenderness, prevalent in ‘Later’ by focussing on the conclusion to the detriment of the character’s feelings for his wife.
Another thing that I particularly enjoyed, in ‘Hungry for your love’, was the approach that some writers took in terms of what ‘romance’ actually means. Romance is all about the gestures but these gestures don’t have to mean flowers and chocolates all the time and this is something that’s highlighted more and more as the book progresses. A romantic gesture can be anything from going back to save your girlfriend from a zombie siege (Gina McQueen’s ‘Apocalypse as Foreplay’, a story very cleverly based around a throwaway line from ‘Dawn of the Dead’) to using the relative immortality of being a zombie to make sure that a wrong goes some way towards being righted (Regina Riley’s ‘Undying Love’, I saw the ending coming way before the main character but that didn’t make it any the less bittersweet). Zombies may be the same the world over but romance can take many different forms and that is what makes these particular tales so memorable.
Your definition of what romance is what will ultimately determine how much you get out of ‘Hungry for your love’. Despite some stories missing the point (as far as I was concerned), there was still plenty there that touched a nerve. If romance can get into a zombies rotting heart then it will find its way into yours as well. Give this book a go if you fancy seeing zombies behave a little differently.
Eight and a Half out of Ten
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
At least that was my reaction before I received the ‘End of the Line’ anthology from Solaris; a collection that sets out to show its readers just how horrifying underground travel can be. Jonathan Oliver was kind enough to write a short piece, for the blog, showing that underground travel was perhaps scarier than I thought; I didn’t need much selling after that to give the book a go. It has zombies in it as well so counts towards this week’s theme (Natasha Rhodes’ ‘Crazy Train’, I don’t think a title has ever suited it’s subject matter so well…) ;o)
When I reviewed the ‘Pan Book of Horror’ a couple of weeks ago, there was a real bittersweet feeling about it when I realised that I’d moved on and the things that scared me as a child left me feeling more than a little bemused these days. Well, the good news (or bad news, depends how you look at it...) is that I’ve found something to take its place. I’m talking about ‘The End of the Line’ of course, the contents of which had me feeling more disturbed than normal at the prospect of taking the train to work in the morning.
The beauty of a large number of these stories is that, as a London commuter, I can see only too well those exact moments where the commute goes off at a right angle to reality and an otherwise normal journey turns into something that can be found inside the covers of this book. That blend of the normal and outright weird provides some particularly chilling moments as certain authors tell the most outlandish tales in the most matter of fact manner. I’m thinking of James Lovegrove’s ‘Siding 13’ in particular, a tale that takes the everyday phenomenon of overcrowding on the tube and ramps it up to a shockingly blunt conclusion that made my skin crawl. I felt even more claustrophobic than normal on the tube yesterday (because of this), thanks very much Mr Lovegrove!
For the most part, ‘The End of the Line’ holds true to this standard throughout with stories that consistently chill the marrow. Things start off well with Paul Meloy’s ‘Bullroarer’, a tale of redemption and revenge where you think things headed are certain way right until the end when you realise that the conclusion has been pointed at a different person all along. It’s a twist in the tale that is worth the read.
Things also end on a high note with Christopher Fowler’s ‘Down’; a ghost story that grows on you slowly and hits you with an ending that I never saw coming. It’s not a horror story at all but there was something about that ending that still makes me shiver a bit...
I haven’t yet come across an anthology where every story has hit the nail on the head for me and ‘The End of the Line’ was no exception in this regard. While this did have the happy affect of emphasising the fear in other stories, it also resulted in lulls that did let me catch my breath but also left me feeling a little non-plussed. Nicholas Royle’s ‘The Lure’ was an excellent psychological thriller that unfortunately suffered from a complete lack of terror. The ending was a good one, and I loved the way that it all fitted together, but the context of the overall anthology left me wondering if there was something that I’d missed.
It was the same kind of thing with Joel Lane’s ‘All Dead Years’ and Pat Cadigan’s 'Funny Things’. ‘All Dead Years’ was a beautifully atmospheric piece that didn’t quite capture the sense of horror that the anthology promised. ‘All Funny Things’ worked very well but came across as more of a sci-fi piece than horror. Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Missed Connection’ did the same job a lot better, really building on the sense of paranoia before hitting the reader with the realisation that there is a very good reason for the main character to be so afraid...
Once these ‘lulls’ were negotiated, I was left with a set of tales that never failed to strike a chord. If you’re after some scary Halloween reading then you could do a lot worse than pick up ‘The End of the Line’.
Jonathan Oliver bends the rules a little bit so that underground travel doesn’t necessarily have to mean by public transport. It’s a move that pays off handsomely with a few writers rising to the challenge and giving us tales that are nothing less than chilling. Mark Morris’ ‘Falling Boys’ is my favourite story in this group with Morris using the absolute darkness in a Cornish tin mine to hide his terrors until the exact moment when maximum terror can be achieved.
Gary McMahon’s ‘Diving Deep’ takes a similar approach but this time the darkness is under the ice of the Antarctic and the destination somewhere no-one has ever been. ‘Diving Deep’ had me right there with the main character and I wanted to keep travelling with him once the story ended, even though I knew the destination was somewhere I didn’t want to go to.
For me, ‘The End of the Line’ was a book crammed full of grotesque highlights as the writers all took the opportunity to run free with their initial idea, no matter what dark corners it took them into. I had my own personal highlights though including Rebecca Levene’s ‘23:45 Morden (Via Bank)’ (just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse, Levene leaves you feeling naively optimistic), Stephen Volk’s ‘In the Colosseum’ (for showing that the capacity for horror, in us, dwarfs anything a fictional monster can achieve) and Adam Nevill’s ‘On All London Underground Lines’. If you’ve ever thought that travelling on the tube was hell, Nevill agrees with you and gives us a vision of hell that will stay with you for a long time.
I could go on but I got the most out of ‘The End of the Line’ by coming to it fresh and, as much as I want to recommend it, I don’t want to spoil things. Suffice it to say that, despite the stories that didn’t work for me, I’ve only scratched the surface of the horrors that ‘The End of the Line’ has for unwary readers. There was plenty there to scare me and I guarantee that there will be something in those pages that makes your spine crawl. Read it and tell me I’m wrong.
Nine and a Half out of Ten
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Andy Warner died in a car crash almost two years ago but was up and walking (well, shambling) again not long after the fateful day. However, Andy has been‘re-born’ into a world where zombies aren’t necessarily destroyed on sight but a lack of basic human rights brings new meaning to the term ‘living death’. Having food thrown at you all day is the least of your worries if you’re a zombie, stray zombies stand a very good chance of becoming practice dummies for trainee plastic surgeons...
Andy is understandably having a few difficulties adjusting to his new ‘life’ but he has the support of his friends at the local branch of ‘Undead Anonymous’ to help him through the day. All this is about to change though when a rogue zombie offers Andy and his friends the chance to sample human flesh. All of a sudden, Andy has something to live for and he’s not going to give it all up without a fight.
As much as there’s something appealing about a full blown zombie apocalypse you have to wonder if it would happen these days; I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that we’d be ready for it and stamp it down pretty damn quick. The question then is what to do with all the zombies left over (as well as all the new ones appearing on the scene)? S.G. Browne gives us his vision of this particular scenario and marries it nicely to his main character’s search for meaning.
The bottom line is this, if you don’t want zombies to eat human flesh then you make sure that there’s no way they get to find out just how tasty it is. Zombies the world over are not only downtrodden but kept very firmly in their place by the fact that life always swings in favour of regular humans (‘Breathers’). When zombies have thoughts and feelings (instead of being mindless eating machines), this method of control is beautiful in its simplicity. Browne uses this approach to expand his scenario into something that works across the board and is plausible. You can believe that this is how it could all turn out although I’m still wondering how you would keep zombies off the internet...
Having set the scene, Browne then goes on not only to show us that it works but also to explore his characters in terms of how they react to their environment; I’m talking both the living and the undead here. While the end result can come across as being deliberately forced into the message that Browne wants to give his reader (things maybe don’t flow as naturally, in the overall picture, as you would expect); there are still some touching moments of zombie characters trying to deal with prejudice and make their own way in the world, despite the ‘disability’ that restricts them.
Some zombies take to the streets in order to take back their freedom while others make adjustments in order to live their lives without fear of attack from Breathers. Others just act the way they’ve always acted and to hell with the consequences! What we see though is a level of humanity that is thrown into sharp relief by the rotting flesh it is forced to wear. Andy, Rita and the rest all have their dreams and Browne forces us to question whether the fact that they are zombies should be reason enough for them not to pursue these dreams. You may not meet a zombie in real life but you will find yourself questioning how you see other people after reading this book.
In the early stages of the book, Andy cannot talk and this naturally limits his interactions with his friends. What Browne does do though is to use Andy’s enforced introspection to progress him along to certain conclusions a lot more quickly and the story itself moves a lot faster as a result. He’s a fun character to follow in this respect as being a zombie hasn’t blunted his natural sense of humour (although the internal monologues can drag a little at times). We also get the chance to have closer look at certain other characters, there’s only so much Andy can do and the rest of the space has to be filled somehow. Browne paints a really poignant picture of a group of people all trying to do what they think is the right thing; the tragedy is that their views all differ on this... Because of this, you can see the ending coming but it’s no less powerful when it arrives. There’s only one way for a zombie to really achieve empowerment and it’s the one thing that Breathers fear the most. There’s only way this tale can end and there’s no way it can be a happy ending.
One part humorous, one part tragic but overall a novel that makes you think about what it means to be human. ‘Breathers’ isn’t without it’s flaws but it’s still a novel that you’d do well to pick up if you want to know what zombies with brains are really capable of, as oppose to zombies that just want to eat brains...
Nine and Quarter out of Ten
If you've already read 'Prador Moon' then you'll know straight away that this cover totally captures what the book is all about. Mad space opera with giant carnivorous space crabs!
If you haven't read the book then you really should, I highly recommend it. It's a quick read and a whole lot of fun. Check out my review here.
Monday, 25 October 2010
It's a real shame then that the competition was only to win one of five copies of 'Zombie Apocalypse'. Five books, five winners. Those lucky winners were,
Andrey Panevin, Tasmania
Michael Carter, British Columbia, Canada
Milan Zacek, Czech Republic
Very cool, there's a 'sixties' vibe to the colouring and layout here that's got me interested straight away. Here's some details from the press release...
Writer Nathan Edmondson made people afraid to look into the light with THE LIGHT, a sell-out five-issue miniseries drawn by Brett Weldele (The Surrogates). Now, he brings new life to the spy genre with WHO IS JAKE ELLIS?, an all-new series from Image Comics.
For the latest updates, follow Nathan Edmondson on Twitter, www.twitter.com/nhedmondson, and check out the Jake Ellis website at www.whoisjakeellis.com.
I never read 'The Light' but I enjoyed reading 'Olympus' last year, I'll be giving this one a go...
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Saturday, 23 October 2010
Friday, 22 October 2010
What better time (and way) to get back into the Doctor Who universe than to pick up what is quite possibly the most eagerly awaited Doctor Who book for a long time? Michael Moorcock is an undoubted heavyweight in the realms of speculative fiction and his announcement that he was to write a Doctor Who novel created a lot of buzz (some of which was on this blog, I’m a fan of Moorcock as well). Alongside my excitement were questions about how well writer and setting would fit together; we’re looking at two giants of sci-fi that have been around for decades and are very much used to doing things their own way. Could the two work together or would one have to make way for the other? As it turned out, someone was about to take centre stage...
Reality is collapsing and the fate of far more than just our universe is at stake. Salvation lies in the system of Miggea where the grand finals of the competition to win the fabled Arrow of Law are about to be played out; if the Doctor is going to save the universe he needs that arrow and will play any game to get his hands on it. There are dangers to overcome though before the Doctor and Amy can get anywhere near Miggea. Captain Cornelius and his pirates prowl the space lanes looking for prey and the Antimatter men are also on the prowl for reasons of their own. It seems that everyone has their eye on the Arrow but if this is the case, why is everyone after Lady Banning-Cannon’s hat? And will Hari Agincourt ever gain the hand of his beloved? The whole of creation coming to a premature end is bad enough but it’s only one of the problems that the Doctor must solve...
When I picked up ‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ I knew that this fusion of author and subject matter wasn’t going to be a smooth ride and that one would have to make way for the other. The good news for me was that this lack of balance didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all, I loved it. It might not work for other fans of Doctor Who though.
‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ is a fine example of an author playing to his own strengths rather than those of the setting. I’m not saying that Moorcock hasn’t written a Doctor Who novel at all; not only are the Doctor and Amy in the book but Moorcock addresses their characters and relationship very well. Their characters are such that they will be recognised instantly and their interactions reflect those shown on the small screen (those that I have seen). The structure of the plot will be familiar as well with a high stakes problem that needs solving and lots of actions scenes that progress things to a well deserved end. I had a great time with the book on those terms and couldn’t stop reading until I was done. Scenes of high adventure coupled with searching moments of introspection on the part of the Doctor made for some compelling reading.
Where the issue, for some, might arise is in the fact that Moorcock lifts the Doctor Who mythos out of its familiar surroundings and places it in the universe of his own devising. Daleks and Judoon do feature (even if it’s just a mention on the page) but this is very much Moorcock’s Multiverse where the latest incarnation of Jerry Cornelius battles with Captain Quelch and answers to pressing questions can be found in the mysterious Second Ether.
At the same time as he stays true to the basic plot format of a Doctor Who story, Moorcock also brings his own influences to the table and gives his readers something that they wouldn’t expect to come across in a Doctor Who story. Moorcock isn’t afraid to style his stories along the mannerisms of others and this time round it’s the turn of P.G. Wodehouse to come to the fore. The result is an enjoyable comedy of manners along the lines of Bertie Wooster and co; something that sometimes doesn’t quite gel with the science fiction elements of the plot but is nevertheless fun to follow.
Again, I had a great time with the book on these terms. As a fairly well established fan, it’s always good to travel back into the myriad ways of the Multiverse and ponder its conundrums (some of the descriptive pieces around this blew my mind) while spotting the familiar characters and references that Moorcock throws up. Moorcock ties events here into his own wider mythos so fans of that setting will get a lot out of this tale, I did.
As much as I enjoyed the book though, I couldn’t help but wonder if Doctor Who fans (who aren’t Moorcock fans) would enjoy it as much as I did. I was lucky enough to be able to approach the story from two positive perspectives but others might not be able to do that. ‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ is very much a ‘Michael Moorcock Doctor Who book’ as oppose to a ‘Doctor Who book written by Michael Moorcock’, if you know what I mean.
I guess the bottom line is that if you’re thinking of buying this book for your nine year old son (who has only ever seen the new Doctor Who on TV) then you might want to reconsider. If you’re a fan of either setting and you’re after a slice of exceedingly well written science fiction then this is very definitely the book for you. I’ll leave it to you to decide which category you fall into.
Nine and a Half out of Ten
Thursday, 21 October 2010
This is where Abaddon come in with their mission to publish books that do just that. These books may not be deep but they are full of energy and things exploding in the best possible way; something that has kept me coming back ever since I read their first book (‘The Culled’). Whether it’s Paul Kane or Scott Andrews’ work, the post apocalyptic world of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ supplies a liberal dose of pyrotechnics and action and has become a series where I know that I’m guaranteed a fun read. Would that be the case with Andrews’ latest though? Not only did ‘Children’s Crusade’ keep its side of the bargain but it also supplied a few shocks when I was least expecting them.
In a world devastated by the Cull, it has always been the children who are most at risk from the various gangs and cults that have sprung up in the wastelands. Things are different now; organised teams are patrolling the countryside and taking children to a fate far worse than any they would have encountered on home soil. If the location of St. Mark’s school for Boys and Girls hasn’t been found already, it soon will be.
School Matron Jane Crowther not only wants to protect her charges but she also wants to rescue the children who have been taken. If Jane is to do this however she must face the one thing in this new world that she fears the most, the horrors of her own past. One thing is certain; the bullets are going to fly like never before...
‘Children’s Crusade’ not only ties up the loose ends from the previous two books but brings ‘The Culled’ and Paul Kane’s two books into the mix as well. What you get for your money then is pretty much the definitive conclusion to the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ (at least this arc, I don’t know if there are more books planned). You might want to bear this in mind if there are other books in the series that you haven’t already read. My copy of ‘Arrowland’ arrived after I’d read ‘Children’s Crusade’ and I now know how the story there ends. You may also feel like you’re revisiting books in the series that you’ve already read as old ground is covered. I wasn’t too concerned though as I was having a great time reading the book itself.
Like I said, ‘Children’s Crusade’ is a ‘work of conclusions’ and Andrews doesn’t hang around in getting things rolling. The pace rockets along at the speed of the bullets, arrows and grenades that punctuate the narrative with moments of high tension and action. Andrews is also keen to conclude things in that most final of ways for a large number of his cast, both supporting members and the main leads. A couple of deaths came completely out of the blue for me and emphasised just how well Andrews has been quietly going about the business of creating characters that grow on you but are still only mortal. The harsh realities of post-apocalyptic living are never more apparent than in the way that the cruellest of curve balls are thrown at two of the leads. Another main character also dies but, given Andrews’ character study of this particular person, you can very much see this coming in an ‘only one way to achieve redemption’ kind of way. No surprises here but still a powerful ending that’s handled well.
Given that the nature of the book seems to be tie up loose ends from other books, and bring everything together, there isn’t a lot of room for ‘Children’s Crusade’ to have a plot in its own right. There’s a rescue attempt where Jane Crowther must face a nemesis from her past (complete with twist that I saw coming)... and that’s about it. Is it enough though? While there were bits that I wish had been explored in a little more detail (including a real missed opportunity for an explosive confrontation between two characters) there was enough going on that I couldn’t really complain whilst reading. The sound of gunfire, explosions and the screeching of tyres can fill in a lot of gaps and keeps things moving very smoothly in this instant.
‘Children’s Crusade’ does come across as being a little on the ‘light’ side as it sacrifices a more in depth plot to concentrate on tying up the series as a whole. What I found though was that the book makes up for this by really playing to its strengths, resulting in pages that I found I had to turn. ‘Children’s Crusade’ is a fine ending to this section of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’. I’m hoping for more to come from Scott Andrews in this series.
Eight and a Half out of Ten
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
My reading round this series hasn’t been brilliant at all (excuses, excuses etc) but I have read Richard Williams’ ‘Reiksguard’, a book well worth the read and one that clearly sets a standard for future books to follow. Not only did this give me a good idea of what to expect from ‘Warrior Priest’ but Hinks’ short story ‘The Miracle at Berlau’ (from the ‘Death & Dishonour’ collection) had already given me an entry point into the mind of the main character. Two excellent tales meant that ‘Warrior Priest’ had a lot to live up to if it was to be in the same league. Luckily for us, Darius Hinks is on top of his game here...
From the massed ranks of the Empire’s armies, few stand out more than the warrior priests of Sigmar; crushing all who stand before them with the righteous fury of their god and a dirty great big warhammer in mailed fist. When all else fails, these brave men will be the last to fall against the heretics, monsters and daemons that threaten mankind.
Jakob Wolff is one such warrior and his latest quest will prove to be the darkest road that he has trodden. His own brother has been tainted by the Ruinous Powers and Jakob must track him down before the raw power of Chaos itself can be unleashed once again on an Empire still reeling from its last major war. Can Jakob kill his own brother though? His faith in Sigmar is about to be tested like never before...
‘Warrior Priest’ isn’t without its faults but is nevertheless a book that demands to be read. If you’re a long time fan of the setting or a fan of epic fantasy looking for something new to read, I think you’re pretty much guaranteed a good read here. Yet to begin with, it really didn’t look like it was going to be that way...
Jakob Wolff may not be a major player in this world (unlike men such as Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg) but it’s clear from the outset that Hinks has a character on his hands that men are wary of (having heard tales of his piety and fury on the battlefield). Why then, did Hinks feel the need to keep making the point about how tough Wolff is? The first few chapters basically involve Wolff facing down various foes in ways that may show us what a tough guy he is but don’t actually do a lot for the story itself. It’s more like a number of short stories tacked together and the end effect is like a video game where the character has to defeat the ‘end of level boss’ before he can continue. There’s no denying that there are some powerful moments to be had here, some of what Wolff has to face down is pretty intense, but I just didn’t quite get the connection to the story itself. This approach led me to feel that the story wasn’t advancing at all and this led to my having issues with its pace...
I’m glad I stuck with it though as things picked up immeasurably.
Once Hinks gets into his stride, the reader has a story on his hands that delivers on all fronts in a manner that’s nothing short of superb. If Jakob Wolff is called upon to defend the Empire in future books then I’ll be picking them up.
I’m still not entirely au fait with all things Warhammer but even I couldn’t escape from the feeling that Darius Hinks comes across like he knows the Old World inside out and has been writing in it forever.
War is an integral part of the Old World and a facet upon which the whole identity of the setting hinges. If it was any less unrelenting then the setting just wouldn’t work! Hinks knows this deep down and ‘Warrior Priest’ is all the more bleak for this knowledge. Yes, Hinks does write an amazing battle sequence (he really does, you should check it out) but he also knows that the influence of war spreads far beyond the battlefield and he uses this approach to give us a vision of war that is all encompassing rather than confined to the clash of armies.
Villagers and townspeople are faced with starvation as they dare not venture beyond their walls. Blind Lords sit and wait for death in ruined castles after the battle has left them behind. The land itself is blighted and not likely to recover. Even in cities far from the battlefields of the north, life is geared towards war in one way or another and Hinks nails the associated mixture of world weariness and war fuelled adrenaline with an intensity that’s bang on target.
Not only does the reader get such a gorgeously rendered vision but there’s also a story (early stutters aside) running alongside it that complements it almost perfectly. Central to all of this is the character of Jakob Wolff, a man torn between his faith and his family. Hinks delves deep into Wolff’s psyche and spares no detail into the mental torture that Wolff’s past mistakes inflict on him on a daily basis. When Wolff lets fly in the heat of battle, you can almost feel his relief at being able to get away from his other problems and take it out on someone else.
Wolff’s mission is by no means straight forward and there are plenty of twists to keep things fresh and interesting. I loved the way it all came together right at the very end with everything thrown into sharp new relief once the villain’s plans are finally made clear. It was a burst of impetus, at just the right time, which kept me reading right through to the gripping conclusion.
‘Warrior Priest’ starts off on the wrong foot but persistence on the part of the reader will be greatly rewarded with a tale that stirs the blood. I’m looking forward to reading more from Darius Hinks.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
The thing is though; you can’t help but judge a book by its cover. Unless you know a little bit about the story in advance, the first thing you’re going to see is that artwork on the bookshelf and your initial impressions can’t help but be influenced by it. Take Rachel Aaron’s ‘The Spirit Thief’ for example. When my copy arrived I was immediately reminded of the cover art for K.E. Mills’ ‘Wizard Squared’; cover art that really put me off reading that particular book (although the blurb did its part there as well). You see what a book is up against here? Cover art is more important than you think!
Despite this though, I ended up giving ‘The Spirit Thief’ a go as the blurb suggested a quick read and this happened to be just what I was after. I’m glad that I did. ‘The Spirit Thief’ may not be a number of things (and may be a little too much like some other things) but one thing it definitely is, is a lot of fun.
Eli Monpress is a man with a plan which involves him not only being a wizard but also the greatest thief of the age. The plan is to get rich very quickly and with the help of his two companions (a master swordsman and a deadly demonseed) he’s ready to kick things off. Step one is to increase the size of the bounty on his head by stealing the King of a small country. Easy enough you would have thought... Eli would have thought so as well, it’s just typical that others have designs on both King and country at the same time...
The first thing that occurred to me, when I read the blurb, was how much the concept of ‘The Spirit Thief’ reminded me of ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ and this feeling stayed with me throughout the book. It’s hard not to make comparisons when the plot is centred around a wise cracking master thief (plus long suffering companions) who is after that elusive big score... While Aaron is very much telling her own story here, you can’t get away from the fact that Lynch got there first a few years ago and set a standard. The big question then is how Aaron makes her tale distinctive from Lynch’s. The answer? Well, she doesn’t really...
‘The Spirit Thief’ is the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ storyline where the improbably good looking anti-hero has to somehow make good without being caught by the law or killed by the even bigger villain lurking in the wings. That’s all it is though. We’re looking at a book that’s only three hundred and ten pages long here so you could say that there isn’t a lot of room for it to be anything else. There certainly isn’t the room to give anyone, other than the leading characters, the kind of depth that would make the book a lot more engaging. Same deal with the country that the book is set in. There is only really time to get the vaguest sense of the background but nowhere near enough time to actually get to engage with it. If you’re like me and like your imaginary worlds fully realised then you might want to bear that in mind here.
There is a very good reason for the relative shortness of the book (I’ll be coming onto that in a second) but the flip side of this is that ‘the Spirit Thief’ doesn’t have time to breathe and become fully immersive. Maybe I’m being a little too hard and we’ll see more of the world building elements come to the fore in future instalments?
Despite all of this though, I actually had a great time reading ‘The Spirit Thief’ and am looking forward to picking up it’s sequel (‘The Spirit Rebellion’) as soon as I can. ‘The Spirit Thief’ is one mad roller coaster ride of a book that flies along almost faster than you can read it. I’d say that Aaron stripped things down a little too much but the end result is still a lean read of a book that flows along more than nicely, certainly smoothly enough to keep the pages turning for me. The book flows so smoothly in fact that Aarons evident ability to write a gripping action sequence is emphasised by how well the main narrative flows into these passages. One minute you’re skipping through the plot quite happily, next minute... bang! Aaron throws you into some monumental battles, all based around a magic system that is easy to get to grips with and (at the same time) offers some intriguing possibilities for both this book and future instalments. Aaron also throws enough curveballs into the plot that, although it has been done before, you want to keep reading just to see how it all pans out.
While the supporting characters do come across as more than a little two dimensional, Aaron does take time to flesh out her main characters a little more; infusing certain of them with a wit that made me chuckle more than once. When Aaron decides to go to work on a character, she’s more than able to make them engaging characters that you want to follow. Having finished ‘The Spirit Thief’ and got a feel for Eli Monpress, I want to be around for the next book and see if I’m right about his motivations. Whether I’m right or wrong, he’s still going to be a great character to follow in the meantime.
‘The Spirit Thief’ may not do anything new but is a lot of fun and a guaranteed page turner. I’m looking forward to the next book...
Eight and a Half out of Ten
It's a long time to wait but you can bet I'll be first in the queue in November 2012 :o)
Monday, 18 October 2010
The Monday Morning 'I don't think I'm a zombie but I sure feel like one...' Competition Winner's Post!
Oh well, this Monday will be starting off pretty darn nicely for the people who won last week's competition. If you didn't win this time round then I'd recommend you grab a copy of 'Pariah' anyway, it's more than worth your time and money.
The lucky winners were...
Jessica Lay, Dallas, US
Carrie Conley, Elm City, US
Your books are on their way! Better luck next time everyone else. You might want to consider entering the competition for 'Zombie Apocalypse', another great read. Scroll down the page a bit and have a look...
If only sci-fi/fantasy cover art had been like this when I was a kid, I would have probably kept a lot more of my books from way back then. I seem to be seeing a lot more of Swanland's work around but it never loses it's impact, for me mostly because of the impression he gives of that moment just when mere movement is about to become an awesome display of power (magical or otherwise).
'Surrender to the Will of the Night' is due to be released in November this year which gives me time to finally get round to reading 'Lord of the Silent Kingdom' first (fingers crossed). Here's the blurb to be going on with...
Piper Hecht’s secrets make him dangerous, but his skill and his reputation put him in danger—from his enemies, who fear what he might do, or who want revenge for what he has already done; and from his friends, who want to use his military gifts for their own purposes. His sister Heris and his living ancestor Cloven Februaren, the Ninth Unknown, have made Hecht part of their fight against the return of the dark god Kharoulke the Windwalker. At the same time, the half-mad Empress Katrin wants him to lead the armies of the Grail Empire eastward on a crusade against his old coreligionists the Praman.
Meanwhile, all around them, the world is changing. The winters are growing longer and harder every year, and the seas are getting shallower. The far north and the high mountain ranges are going under the ice, and fast. The Wells of Power, everywhere, keep getting weaker. And the old evils, the Instrumentalities from the Time Before Time, have begun to ooze back into the world...
Sunday, 17 October 2010
FANTASYCON 2011 will be held over the weekend of 30th September to 2nd October 2011 at the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton; venue for the highly successful 2010 World Horror Convention.
The first two GUESTS OF HONOUR TO BE ANNOUNCED are: World Fantasy Award-winning author and critic GWYNETH JONES, also known as Ann Halam, and Swedish horror writer JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST, author of the best-selling LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which was adapted into a movie first in his native Sweden and more recently remade in the U.S. as LET ME IN, starring Chloe Moretz from KICK ASS.
MISTRESS OF CEREMONIES is SARAH PINBOROUGH, British Fantasy Award-winning Author of The Language of Dying and A Matter of Blood.
Other writers, artists, editors and publishers already registered as attending FantasyCon 2011 include: Guy Adams, Ramsey Campbell, Vincent Chong, Peter Crowther, Les Edwards, David J. Howe, Gwyneth Jones, Stephen Jones, Paul Kane, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Gary McMahon, Adam LG Nevill, Sarah Pinborough, PS PUBLISHING, Nicholas Royle, amongst many more…
Current cost of registration stands at £45 (£40 to BFS members), costs will increase incrementally between now and the convention. To book your ticket, and for more information about the Guests or MC, please visit the website: www.fantasycon2011.org.
Brighton isn't too far away from me, hmmmm...
Saturday, 16 October 2010
If you were around a couple of days ago then you’ll already know how much I enjoyed this one and that I think all zombie fans should be giving it a go. Well, thanks to the nice folk at Robinson there’s a chance for zombie fans to do just that.
Thanks to those aforementioned nice people, I have five copies of ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ to give away to readers of this blog. The good news here (especially for disgruntled types from Canada who have been feeling left out) is that this competition is open to anyone, it doesn’t matter where you live!
Entering is as simple as ever. All you need 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 mailing address is. Your subject header will be ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. That’s all you need to do, I’ll do the rest.
I’ll be leaving this competition open until the 24th of October and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.
Friday, 15 October 2010
I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case today but when I was a child at primary school, the shelves were covered with books that I’m sure a teacher today wouldn’t let an eight or nine year old anywhere near. Maybe it was just my school, I don’t know, but I’m not complaining though; I had a lot of fun trawling my way through some great reads.
This time round, I’m talking specifically about the ‘Pan’ and ‘Fontana’ horror series; books with the most lurid covers and stories to match inside. I only had myself to blame but at least three quarters of the nightmares that I had as a child came from reading these books and staring at covers festooned with rotting corpses, evil looking ghosts and monsters peering out from pools of raw slime. I couldn’t stop reading these books, wouldn’t stop in fact. As a particularly bloodthirsty child, I just couldn’t get enough of these books!
Fast forward far too many years to about a fortnight ago when the reissued edition of the very first ‘Pan Book of Horror Stories’ came through the door. Once again, I was nine years old and eager to get my hands on a book crammed full of fear! My adult self was a little more cautious though. Would what I found scary, as a child, stand the test of time? There was only one way to find out...
For me, ‘The Pan Book of Horror Stories’ is a testament to the fact that not everything can stand the test of time. It’s not the book’s fault; it’s simply that the things that used to freak me out as a kid don’t have the same affect anymore. That’s not to say that those same stories won’t freak you out though, there’s a little something here for everyone.
Take the opening story for example. Joan Aiken’s ‘Jugged Hare’ is a tale of a wronged husband that totally left me cold, no matter the fact that he was completely insane. While it may have had an impact back in the day, I felt that this was lessened by the fact that I’ve seen this kind of drama play out in any number of mediums. It’s not horrifying anymore, it’s almost commonplace. It was the same kind of deal with A.L. Barker’s ‘Submerged’. The drama that plays out here can be seen as horrifying in the eyes of the youthful lead but not as far as I was concerned. He might not have been able to see it coming but I certainly did and that pretty much killed it for me.
Bram Stoker’s ‘The Squaw’ also left me feeling cold. As powerful as the ending was (and it did make me jump) I couldn’t help feeling that it came about through a matter of circumstance rather than through the obsession of the protagonist as Stoker wanted us to believe. While the vagaries of fate can be horrifying at times, the shift of focus led to a story that came across as a little confused and it was that impression that stayed with me after I had finished reading.
These stories (along with a couple of others) would have scared the life out of me as a child not really conversant with the notion of death, let alone violent death. These days, death isn’t so much a horror as it is a certainty and so stories like these lose a little of their weight...
That’s not to say that all of the stories in the book failed to hit the mark, far from it. Ghost and horror stories still have that capacity to scare me when they fully embrace the notion that there is evil lurking just beyond the corner of your eye, ready to drag you straight to Hell... Any tale that really captures the essence of insanity is a sure fire winner as well. ‘The Pan Book of Horror Stories’ has plenty of these kind of tales if that’s what you’re after.
Hazel Heald’s ‘The Horror in the Museum’ makes no bones whatsoever about its debt to H.P. Lovecraft but totally succeeds in capturing that creeping dread behind the knowledge that life outside our dimension has its avaricious eye on us. This story in particular was a real stand out read for me. Anthony Vercoe’s ‘Flies’ was more of the same. We don’t know why the lead character has found himself in this situation and that makes what he has to face even more horrifying, especially when he must face the consequences of seemingly innocent choices... Same deal with Noel Langley’s ‘Serenade for Baboons’, we’re asked to accept the inexplicable on its own terms and this heightens the eventual horror of its ending.
What the ‘Pan Book of Horror Stories’ does do very well, in most of its entries, is to highlight the utter horror of insanity by placing it in direct contrast to placid suburbs and gentle rural landscapes. ‘Raspberry Jam’ isn’t so much horrifying in its climatic scenes as it is in the treatment of two old ladies driven to despair by the other villagers. Seabury Quinn’s ‘The House of Horror’ and Flavia Richardson’s ‘Behind the Yellow Door’ do very much the same thing; hiding obsessive mania because a mask of normality, drawing the reader in before shocking them with what has been hidden away...
‘The Pan Book of Horror Stories’ was rather a bittersweet experience for me. On the one hand, it was a timely reminder that life moves on and some of the things what scared me in my youth left me feeling little more than non-plussed now. On the other hand, there were more than enough chills left over to make me pause for a split second before turning off the bedroom light... There’s enough variety here to make this an almost essential read for Halloween.
Eight and a Half out of Ten
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that H.G. Wells had written ‘The Food of the Gods’, let alone that it was one of the latest entries in Gollancz’s ‘SF Masterworks’ series. The arrival of the book, on my doorstep, changed all of that though and I think I can probably be excused for not knowing the name of every single book that Wells wrote. Seriously, have you seen the number of books that he churned out?
I often find that my reaction to a book being proclaimed an ‘SF Masterwork’ runs along the lines of, “Really? Says who?” With this in mind, I was interested to see how ‘The Food of the Gods’ (published in 1904) matched up to it’s newly given status...
Professor Redwood and Mr Bensington are two scientists whose work has kept them out of the public eye and in the realms of academia where they feel most comfortable. However, their latest discovery is about to propel them right into the midst of public opinion and could have serious implications for the future of the Earth itself...
Herakleophorbia is a substance proved to cut out all the lulls in physical growth and give whatever it is administered to a period of sustained growth, both physically and mentally. What does this mean for regular sized people though when what is fast becoming the next stage in human evolution might well render the rest of humanity obsolete...?
With a reputation of being one of the founding fathers of science-fiction (and a few books already in the ‘SF Masterworks’ series), H.G. Wells’ ‘The Food of the Gods’ must have felt like a safe bet for the publishers to include in this series. When held up against his more well known titles though, I did find myself wondering whether this was a book that really deserved to sit on this list.
While H.G. Wells does pre-empt the discussion over genetically modified food (by almost a hundred years), and takes it to a logical conclusion, ‘The Food of the Gods’ doesn’t feel like a book that I’ll remember in the same breath as his more famous work. It doesn’t come across as being as ‘epic’ as ‘The War of the Worlds’, the social commentary isn’t as hard edged as it was in ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ and the psyche of various characters isn’t probed as deeply as I felt it was in ‘The Invisible Man’. While you do get a little of each, none of these approaches are expanded upon enough (there’s only so much room in a 206 page book!) for them to stand out as a defining feature.
That’s not to say ‘The Food of the Gods’ isn’t worth the read though, far from it. Wells’ prose frequently errs towards the ‘flowery’ which can become more than a little off-putting when you all you want to do is get straight to the point (although his narrator recounts the story with a witty turn of phrase that is worth sticking around for). Once you get past this though, Wells clearly has a lot to say and I for one enjoyed the experience.
Wells champions the course of science with its goal of making life better for the common man. What he appears to have a big problem with though are the people involved in the advance of science itself. Concepts may be pure but the people who adopt them are inherently flawed as humans, whether it’s Redwood feeding the ‘Food of the Gods’ to his own baby son (without a thought to what the consequences might be) or the hypocrisy of people protesting against the newly arrived ‘giants’ while happy to reap the benefits of their endeavours. Maybe the message is laid on a bit thick (and pushed in certain directions) but it’s still a valid one in this story, man is just not meant to play God.
Where does this leave the characters in our story? In scenes that could have been written especially for me, our ‘heroes’ are left fighting wildlife that has inadvertently ingested the Food of the Gods and grown as a result. Giant rats, earwigs and pond life are all out to make their mark on an evolving food chain and these scenes provide the reader with moments of action that wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen.
It’s the humans, reared on the food, that are the main focus of the story with their attempts to fit into a world where their growth has become a political issue and their segregation demanded. Along with their size (and proportionate intelligence) proving an obstacle to acceptance, Wells also delivers a more subtle commentary suggesting that social class will prove a barrier to all (no matter how large they may be). This is displayed all too clearly in the tragic story of Caddles whose attempts to educate himself, by seeing more of the world, ultimately end in his death.
While there is only one possible outcome to this tale, H.G. Wells does well to render it as vague as possible and not a foregone conclusion for either side. Both sides are far too entrenched for there ever to be a happy ending to this sad tale but the book ends with the impression that things really could go either way in the future. I think this was a great way for the book to end personally as that feeling of uncertainty really sat with me, it still is actually. You don’t know what’s going to happen next but you know it won’t be good.
While I wouldn’t say that ‘The Food of the Gods’ is an ‘SF Masterwork’ it is still a thoroughly absorbing read that I’m glad I took the time to pick up. I really should check out more of the books in this series.
Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten