Sunday, 30 September 2012

'The Emperor's Might' - Compiled by John Blanche (Black Library)

This could end up being one of my shorter reviews (if not the shortest) as 'The Emperor's Might' doesn't actually have a single word reviewable word to its name. Apart from some blurb and an author bio, what we're looking at here is a collction of images from Games Workshop's 'Warhammer 40,000' line; namely Space Marines, space craft and cityscapes. Just pictures then, no words at all...

Now don't get me wrong, 'The Emperor's Might' looks absolutely gorgeous. It is absolutely crammed full of stunning artwork that really captures the feel of the setting. Power armoured post-humans defending humanity against a backdrop of slavering demons and bombed out cities, that pretty much sums up the Warhammer 40K experience really :o) Unless you're a maasive fan though... Well, if you've seen one Space Marine then you've seen them all haven't you? I'm a fan and all the art still managed to blur into one 'uber marine' after a few pages. A little bit of information about each character, or event, would have perhaps made each piece stand out a little bit more (although I’d imagine that the fans this book is aimed at would probably know). If that wasn't possible then maybe some notes from each artist on the process of creating the artwork? Funnily enough, very few of these pieces are signed by the artists who created them (or if they were then it was lost in the detail). Langley’s work stood out for me but only for reasons that I will talk about in a minute; I couldn’t tell you who drew each of the others… The impression I was left with then was that while the artwork was very nice to look at, the same level of care hadn't gone into creating the book itself. Just throw some pictures together, slap a cover on them and let the book take care of itself after that...

It's also worth pointing out that a lot of these images already grace the covers of books, games and so on, that fans will own. If you're after the art, without a book title all over it, then you'll certainly get that here. If you want some nostalgia then there's plenty of that on offer too (I’ve got a soft spot for the original ‘Rogue Trader’ art). If you're after a collection of original artwork though, maybe think twice before picking this one up.

‘The Emperor’s Might’ is a bit of an odd book then. On the surface it looks like it does its job very well, showcasing humanity’s finest doing what they have been genetically engineered to do. The lack of any accompanying text (and the cynical feeling inclusion of artwork from recent publications) gives the book a really hollow feel though. Not the kind of feeling that you would want from a universal setting that promises such great depth…

Six out of Ten

Saturday, 29 September 2012

One for 2013? 'Nexus' (Ramez Naam)

It's getting to that time again where advance copies start turning up for next year. If you're not pre-ordering this stuff already then what I'll be doing here is just giving you a little heads up (every now and then) on what's coming your way. Ramez Naam's 'Nexus' is due for release in January, from Angry Robot, but an advance copy came through the door about an hour ago. Check it out...

 
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it. When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.

The blurb, on the back of my copy, bills 'Nexus' as a 'hard SF thriller' and I've got to say that's a bit of a turn off for me (I'm not afraid to admit that I never have much of a clue what goes on in any Hard SF book...) I'm also in two minds about the plot. I mean, are there enough 'mankind gets an upgrade' novels out there already? Angry Robot are on the ball enough for 'Nexus' to probably surprise us all, on that score, but I'm not sure...

That's what I think anyway. Does 'Nexus' sound like a book that you'd pick up? Is it on your list of books to read in 2013? I don't think it will be on mine.

Friday, 28 September 2012

So, we got back from Majorca at two o'clock this morning...

It's never nice to come back from a holiday but it's even less nice to come back to a cold house at two in the morning... Getting my hoodie caught in the taxi door (and almost getting smacked in the head by said door when the driver tried to get it out) pretty much paled into insignificance against the rest of it!

Anyway, that's why I scheduled a whole load of competitions over the last few days; it was way past time I had a break and that included a break from the blog. I'm back now though :o) I won't bore you with all the holiday details, lets just say it was really sunny and all the mosquitoes wanted to be friends... In terms of reading though... Frederick Pohl's 'Man Plus' was an amazing read (definitely an 'SF Masterwork') but I'm not sure quite how I feel about James Enge's 'A Guile of Dragons' though. There will be reviews of both next week. I ended up leaving S.L. Grey's 'The Ward' at home so I'm looking forward to getting back into that over the weekend.

For now, have a look at some of the books that were waiting for me when I got back :o)

The 'Definitely will read at some point...' Books

I asked for a copy of 'The Daughter of the Sword' (part of my mission to find Urban Fantasy that isn't like all the rest) so it would be rude not to read it ;o) 'Stray Souls' looks like it could be a good place to get back into Kate Griffin's London after I somehow managed to miss reading her last three books... I'm still not sure how I did that, not when 'A Madness of Angels' was so good. 'The Christmas Spirits' looks like it could be interesting but will be saved until mid December (at the earliest). The same deal with 'Scoundrels' I think, I've got a few other 'Star Wars' books that I want to read first.

The 'They turned up but I won't be reading them...' Books

I know I was moaning about there being too many zombie books but I refuse to replace them with a book about a 'special forces angel' falling in love with a mortal woman. That's 'A Touch of Crimson' out of the window then... :o) I never got round to reading 'Fire and Thorns' so it's doubtful that I'll pick up 'The Crown of Embers' to be honest. As far as 'The Soddit' goes... Just the title makes the book sound like it's trying too hard to be funny so I won't be reading that one either. Have any of you read 'The Soddit'?

The 'Black Library Rescue Package'

I'm after books that I can throw myself into right away, and enjoy, so the arrival of this package was timely to say the least :o) I've already reviewed 'Salvation's Reach' so won't be reading that again but the rest is fair game. All apart from 'The Ascension of Balthasar' that is, Hope broke the CD tray on our computer so transferring it to my iPod is going to be tricky...

Any of these books take your fancy?

Cover Art! 'Throne of the Crescent Moon' (UK Edition)

I already reviewed 'Throne', a few months ago, but I also received an advance copy of the UK edition (and I've only just managed to find a picture of the cover, thanks Pat) and I thought it was worth posting. Here goes...


On the whole, I do like this cover. It's understated but very much what the book is about at the same time. Unfortunately, the sparing use of blood means that every time I catch the cover out of the corner of my eye I keep thinking that there's a new 'Twilight' book in the house. It's not the books fault at all but is still very disconcerting when it happens...

Whatever is on the cover though, I'd recommend you give 'Throne' a go. It's definitely worth the read :o)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Giveaway! 'Black Bottle' (Anthony Huso)

And we come to the final competition of the week. Thanks for sticking with me; this is (of course) a scheduled post but I'm assuming that, by now, I should have a good pile of books ready and waiting to be reviewed. Expect normal service to resume shortly :o)

Until then, how about winning a copy of Anthony Huso's 'Black Bottle'. Erm... I mean the book, not a 'lucky dip' into his drinks cabinet :o) Sorry, couldn't help myself... Here's the blurb,

Tabloids sold in the Duchy of Stonehold claim that the High King, Caliph Howl, has been raised from the dead. His consort, Sena Iilool, both blamed and celebrated for this act, finds that a macabre cult has sprung up around her.

As this news spreads, Stonehold—long considered unimportant—comes to the attention of the emperors in the southern countries. They have learned that the seed of Sena’s immense power lies in an occult book, and they are eager to claim it for their own.

Desperate to protect his people from the southern threat, Caliph is drawn into a summit of the world’s leaders despite the knowledge that it is a trap. As Sena’s bizarre actions threaten to unravel the summit, Caliph watches her slip through his fingers into madness.

But is it really madness? Sena is playing a dangerous game of strategy and deceit as she attempts to outwit a force that has spent millennia preparing for this day. Caliph is the only connection left to her former life, but it’s his blood that Sena needs to see her plans through to their explosive finish.

For the record, I still need to read 'The Last Page' but this does look interesting... This competition is only open to US residents, sorry about that.

If you're still here then you know how it goes. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Black Bottle'. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until the 30th of September (so you might want to get that entry in quickly...) and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Giveaway! 'Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice' (Stephen Baxter)

I like 'Doctor Who', do you? If not then no worries, come back tomorrow ;o) If you do then keep reading...

The Wheel. A ring of ice and steel turning around a moon of Saturn, and home to a mining colony supplying a resource-hungry Earth. It's a bad place to grow up. The colony has been plagued by problems. Maybe it's just gremlins, just bad luck. But the equipment failures and thefts of resources have been increasing, and there have been stories among the children of mysterious creatures glimpsed aboard the Wheel.

Many of the younger workers refuse to go down the warren-like mines anymore. And then sixteen-year-old Phee Laws, surfing Saturn's rings, saves an enigmatic blue box from destruction. Aboard the Wheel, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find a critical situation - and they are suspected by some as the source of the sabotage. They soon find themselves caught in a mystery that goes right back to the creation of the solar system. A mystery that could kill them all.

Thanks to BBC Books, I have three copies of 'The Wheel of Ice' to give away to three readers here (make that 'three readers from the UK', UK entrants only...) You know what to do next :o)

If you're still here then you know how it goes. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Wheel of Ice'. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until the 30th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Giveaway! 'Existence' (David Brin)

Thanks to the nice people at Tor, I have one copy of David Brin's 'Existence' to give away. Here's the blurb if you haven't already read it,


Gerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. For a hundred years, people have been abandoning things in space, and someone has to clean it up. But there’s something spinning a little bit higher than he expects, something that isn’t on the decades’ old orbital maps. An hour after he grabs it and brings it in, rumors fill Earth’s infomesh about an “alien artifact.”

Thrown into the maelstrom of worldwide shared experience, the Artifact is a game-changer. A message in a bottle; an alien capsule that wants to communicate. The world reacts as humans always do: with fear and hope and selfishness and love and violence. And insatiable curiosity.


Does 'Existence' sound like your kind of thing? Do you live in the US? (Yep, this one is for US residents only) Keep reading then :o)

If you answered 'yes' to both questions then you know what to do next. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Existence'. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until the 30th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Giveaway! The 'No Man's World' Trilogy (Pat Kelleher)

To kick off this 'week of competitions' I thought I'd start with a personal favourite of mine. If you follow the blog then you'll know that I've enjoyed 'Black Hand Gang' and 'The Ironclad Prophecy'; I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into 'The Alleyman'...

To mark the release of 'The Alleyman', I have two sets of the 'No Man's World' trilogy to give away on the blog. Two people are going to have some great reading ahead of them :o) Would you like to be one of them?

Before we start, I do need to make it clear that this competition is only open to people living in the UK. Sorry about that everyone else...

If you're still here then you know how it goes. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Alleyman'. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until the 30th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Slightly Bemusing Cover Art... 'Under the Dome' (Stephen King)

This was originally going to be a post about the worst cover art on my shelves until I realised that I'd shown you all the old Moorcock covers already... ;o)

Whilst browsing my shelves, I saw the cover for 'Under the Dome' (a book that I still need to read) and it got me thinking. Check it out and see what you think,

The little girl can't be on the outside, staring at the dome, because that would be pointless (in terms of the cover) wouldn't it? That means the little girl is stood 'Under the Dome' staring, well... out. This is all well and good until you realise that the dome is invisible and you can't see it behind her... What you have then is a cover that is hamstrung by the whole point of the plot. I mean, there's nothing interesting about a person staring blankly at something we can't see... Is there?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

One to look out for next year? 'Saxon's Bane' (Geoffrey Gudgion)

Because I quite liked doing these posts last year and now seemed like the time to start doing them again.

From the press release,

Solaris is proud to announce a 2013 debut novel that brings the Dark Ages crashing into the 21st Century.

Geoffrey Gudgion’s historical supernatural thriller, Saxon’s Bane, will be published in September 2013.

A contemporary novel with a thrilling historical heart, Gudgion’s first novel is set in the 21st century but grounded in the Dark Ages, with a Saxon legend at its heart.

The past invades the present in this beautiful, lyrical and frightening tale, inspired by Gudgion’s love of ancient, ethereal places, and his eye for signs of the distant past in the English landscape of today.

Fergus Sheppard’s world changes forever the day his car crashes near the remote village of Allingley. Traumatised by his near-death experience, he returns to thank the villagers who rescued him, and stays to work at the local stables as he recovers from his injuries. He will discover a gentler pace of life, fall in love and be targeted for human sacrifice.

Clare Harvey’s life will never be the same either. The young archaeologist’s dream find ¬ the peat-preserved body of a Saxon warrior is giving her nightmares. She can tell that the warrior had been ritually murdered, and that the partial skeleton lying nearby is that of a young woman. And their tragic story is unfolding in her head every time she goes to sleep.

Fergus discovers that his crash is uncannily linked to the excavation, and that the smiling and beautiful countryside harbours some very dark secrets.

As the pagan festival of Beltane approaches, and Clare’s investigation reveals the full horror of a Dark Age war crime, Fergus and Clare seem destined to share the Saxon couple’s bloody fate.

Have you ever read a blurb where you find yourself thinking, 'I know how this one is going to go'? 'Saxon's Bane' feels like one of those books to me... Solaris have done alright by me, more often than not, though so I will give this one a shot when it arrives next year. There's nothing quite like planning your reading a whole year in advance is there...? ;o)

Friday, 21 September 2012

Too many zombies?

I used to love reading 'The Daily Mash' on my lunch break (well, a little bit more than just my lunch break actually...) and I've been trawling through it, again just recently, as I could do with a bit of a laugh to be honest...

Anyway, this article made me laugh but it also reminded about how I've been feeling about the whole 'zombie thing' at the moment. I used to jump right onto anything with zombies in it but these days I'm finding that I'll only pick up a zombie book if it's by a writer that I know, and trust, already. The odds are that by the time you read this I will have picked up a copy of Joe McKinney's 'Mutated' (and I'm waiting to put Brian Keene's 'Entombed' on my phone) but that's about it really. I couldn't really care less about the rest.

There are just too many zombie books out there now and it feels like people will do anything to jump on a bandwagon that's already groaning under the weight of an overloaded genre (I mean, 'My Life as a White Trash Zombie', seriously?) Even established writers are having to do more and more now just to stay afloat; I stopped reading 'The Walking Dead' when spectacle became more important than plot. I don't think it's any coincidence that I haven't seen a 'Tomes of the Dead' book from Abaddon in a while; I reckon the more savvy publishers are staying ahead of the game and quietly looking for what could be the next big thing. The quality is still there but it's being drowned under the weight of the rest; just like those plucky survivors in the mall with thousands of zombies trying to get in...

What will that be though? Vampires were quietly moved to one side for zombies, there are already a few books about angels and werewolves have been around for what seems like forever. Are there any monsters left that would sell books in the same way as the big hitters? I don't know...

I guess then that my questions are...

1) Do you think the whole zombie thing has been done to (un)death?
2) If it has, what monster would you like to see take its place as the 'next big scary thing'?
3) I'm clearly having a little rant as I've run out of good zombie fiction to read (I'm big enough to admit it), any recommendations?

Comments in the usual place please :o)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

What the Birthday Fairy bought me...

Today was meant to be all about a review (more than likely S.L. Grey's 'The Ward') until it became all about preparing for a job interview that I need to be at for 9am. Wish me luck! :o)

What today will be about instead then is a quick look at what I spent my ill-gotten birthday money on (in an hour at Forbidden Planet that was mostly spent trying to stop Hope eating chicken nuggets in front of the security cameras). Check it out...

It's going to be a long time before I get to see 'Dredd' (probably when it comes out on DVD knowing me...) so I thought I'd stock up with some 2000AD comic books in the meantime. Forbidden Planet didn't actually have a great selection but I did come away with the following...


'Insurrection' was recommended by a friend of mine (and Dan Abnett is the writer so that bodes well too) and 'The Complete Case Files 09' has Chopper, 'The Midnight Surfer', in it so that makes it officially cool before I've even started reading :o) I'm looking forward to spending some time with both of these books.

My mission to collect the complete(ish) 'Fantasy Masterworks' series has somehow grown to encompass the 'Sci-Fi Masterworks' series as well; I don't know how that happened but I'm going with it anyway. I'm bending my own rules slightly here (second hand purchases only, no exceptions) but it was my birthday so...

Ill luck made Roger Torraway the subject of the Man Plus Programe, but it was deliberate biological engineering which turned him into a monster -- a machine perfectly adapted to survive on Mars. For according to computer predictions, Mars is humankind's only alternative to extinction. But beneath his monstrous exterior, Torraway still carries a man's capacity for suffering.

The blurb has intrigued me for a long time and I thought it was long past time I gave it a go. Anyone here read this book?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

'Grendel' - John Gardner (Gollancz)

'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' to one side, the books I've been reading have been getting shorter and shorter in length. This is down to it feeling like there isn't enough time in the day to read books and review them as well, part of the reason why I'm taking that break I was talking about yesterday.

John Gardner's 'Grendel' seemed like a real boon then in that respect, weighing in at only a hundred and twenty three pages long (about the same length as one of the old 'Doctor Who' books). I'd been meaning to start on the pile of unread 'Fantasy Masterworks' books, sat on the shelf, and 'Grendel' looked like the ideal place to kick things off. A nice quick read to get me going. Well, that's what I thought...
What I didn't realise, at the time, is that Gardner has a way with words that means 'Grendel' is packed with the kind of ideas and emotion that you would expect to find in a book five times the length. What I thought would be an afternoon's read then was more like two or three days worth. I didn't care though, it ended up being the best two or three days reading that I've had in a long time.

The original story of 'Beowulf' is one that everyone knows, even if (like me) they have never read it. It is a story whose influence you will find in any number of fantasy books; you know, the whole ‘hero saves a helpless village from the monster that preys on it’ kind of thing. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a story that attempts to retell the ‘Beowulf’ tale from Grendels perspective though. This is possibly because Gardner has already done it so well but also because it would be too easy to lend an air of sympathy to Grendel that ultimately wouldn’t quite gel with the savagery that he is capable of.

Gardner seems to opt for a different path entirely, eliciting a feeling of sympathy for Grendel in the reader even though the beast initially seems to do very little (if anything at all) to deserve it. Well, that seems to be the case at first but, as the book goes on you can’t help but wonder if that’s really true.

Grendel’s initial overtures to Hrothgar’s people are rejected, quite violently, and that on it’s own would be enough for the reader to understand why Grendel reacts in the way that he does. You might even feel a little bit sorry for him at the same time. Gardner takes things a little deeper than that though and I for one really felt for Grendel, especially as I knew how his story would end.

Man’s attempts to assert order, on his surroundings, seem to inspire real rage in Grendel as this is something he has never been able to do (his mother cannot help him and everything else either fears him or is too stupid). The only other creature that Grendel has a conversation with (the Dragon) has its own issues with communication and the resulting frustration means that Grendel is lucky to escape alive. Grendel cannot find meaning then and don’t we all feel a little bit like that sometimes? When nothing makes sense you can’t help but feel jealous of those who have made sense of their lives. I feel like that sometimes and I’ll bet that you do too. While I can’t condone what Grendel does I can’t help but sympathize with his predicament; we might not lash out like he does (I hope not anyway!) but we’ve all felt like that. Gardner conducts a searing character study that comes with a poignant note, as we all know what Grendel’s railing against humanity will ultimately lead to. He also gives us a reason for Grendel’s violent reaction to the music from the mead hall; one that resonates a lot more powerfully than a mere ‘it was too noisy’ (something I’d always thought was the case).

Having never read ‘Beowulf’ (well, I did read the film tie-in years ago but I really should read the original one day) I was surprised at how easy ‘Grendel’ was to get into. Gardner caters for the first time reader by taking the focus off the established story and putting it entirely onto Grendel. At the same time, I got the feeling he was also catering for people who have read the original. His further delving into characters such as Unferth and Hrothulf offers an alternative spin on the original text as well as providing all readers with a fully fleshed out tale that everyone can get behind. The only bit where that didn’t quite work for me was the conversation between Hrothulf and his advisor, if I’d read the original I reckon I would have got more out of it.

‘Grendel’ is a masterful read, on more than one level, and is fully deserving of its ‘Masterwork’ status. You’ll be hard pressed to find a copy (outside second hand bookshops) though so if you do, pick it up straight away. You won’t regret it.

Ten out of Ten

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The 'Is that really the time...?' Competition Winner's Post!

Sorry about that... In my defence, we've been cleaning the house today and I used the spare time to finally finish off 'Grendel'. There will be a review tomorrow but lets just say that it was superb in the meantime :o)

So, competition winners. Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Cold Commands' competition last week, always nice to see :o) There could only be the three winners though and they were...

Chris Miller, Maryland, USA
Emma Engel, Oregon, USA
Patrick Petzall, Ontario, Canada

Well done guys, your books should be on their way shortly (if not sooner) 

So, what else can you expect from the blog over the next week and a bit? I've already mentioned the 'Grendel' review and I want to have another review up on Thursday; not sure what that will be though. After that? Well, I'm taking a little break to get caught up with my reading (because there's a whole pile of half finished books in the house) and generally just chill out a little. That's not to say that the blog will stop though, I've got a couple of little posts all scheduled, for the weekend, and some competitions to take us through to next Thursday. Yep, competitions :o) It's not original at all but I need a break and... free books?

See you tomorrow ;o)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Evie Manieri Blog Tour - Favourite Characters.

I'm really pleased to be the first stop on Eve Manieri's blog tour this week; even more so as I'm getting deeper into 'Blood's Pride' and enjoying it immensely. Before I let Evie take over, here's the cover art and blurb for those who haven't already seen it...

A generation has passed since the Norlanders' great ships bore down on Shadar, and the Dead Ones slashed and burned the city into submission, enslaving the Shadari people. Now the Norlander governor is dying and, as his three alienated children struggle against the crushing isolation of their lives, the Shadari rebels spot their opening and summon the Mongrel, a mysterious mercenary warrior who has never yet lost a battle. But her terms are unsettling: she will name her price only after the Norlanders have been defeated. A single question is left for the Shadari: is there any price too high for freedom?

I'll let you know what I think just as soon as I've finished the book. In the meantime, here's Evie and some of the fictional characters that have had the greatest impact on her...


Not Pretty Women.

As readers, we all crave the discovery of the characters that instantly become a part of us. When I decided to pull together a list of the ones that have had the greatest impact on me, I was a bit surprised to find that all of them are female, and that none of them are pretty.

Sara Crewe, from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS – Sara Crewe is a clever and caring child, but not a beautiful one. That such a person could be the subject of a story was startling to me, an equally not–beautiful child in a world where princesses sang with sparkly eyes and seemed to have a lot of time on their hands. Sara lived not in a castle but in a severe London school, and I always picture her alone in her freezing garret, naming the rats that come to share her meager crumbs. Her unshakeable integrity in the face of cruelty and injustice never ceases to inspire me.

Meg Murry, from Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME – Meg is angry, sullen and awkward, yet she’s the one who saves her little brother. She succeeds by coming to accept that she’s lovable just as she is, with all of her flaws. She also gets the cute boy in the end. I would love to liquefy this and vaccinate every fourteen–year–old girl with it.

Harriet D. Vane, first introduced in the Dorothy L. Sayers STRONG POISON – We meet Harriet in 1930, on trial for the murder of her former live-in lover. She broke off the relationship when he eventually asked her to marry him, something the public seizes on as evidence of her depravity. Few except urbane sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey see it as a sign of integrity and courage; Harriet could love a man who genuinely didn’t believe in marriage, but could only despise one who pretended to do so in order to test her devotion. When rich and fascinating Lord Peter throws himself at her feet after saving her from the gallows, she rejects him. She sees the very fact that she owes him her life as an insurmountable obstacle to an equitable relationship. Oh, Harriet – I adore you.

Thank you for allowing me to share these amazing characters with you. If you’ve missed out on any of these wonderful books, I can’t recommend them enough.

Thank you Evie :o) If you want to stick around for the rest of the tour (I will be) then here are the places you need to visit over the rest of this week...


Thursday ("The Other Shoe") http://steve-emmett.com/

Sunday, 16 September 2012

It's that time of year again :o)

I'm taking the day off so it can slowly sink in that I'm not too far away from turning forty. Oh yes, and to eat lots of cake and generally be made a big fuss of :o) I might even do some reading if there's time.

Have a good one today. Come back tomorrow when I'm part of Evie Manieri's blog tour for 'Blood's Pride' :o)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A 'Blatant Filler' Update Post...

Sorry about that by the way, today has been lovely but I've only just managed to get to a computer...

Well, today should have seen a review of John Gardner's 'Grendel' but it's pretty clear by now that's not going to happen. It's a great book (certainly deserving of 'Fantasy Masterwork' status from what I've read so far) but a very dense read considering it's only a hundred and twenty three pages long. There’s so much to take in and I really want to take my time here. Give me a couple more days on this one...

What do you get in the meantime? Well, how about some books that turned up in the post and caught my eye for one reason or another...


In an alternate world without global terrorism, a private detective is hired by a mysterious woman to track down the obscure creator of the fictional vigilante, Osama Bin Laden...

Joe’s identity slowly fragments as his quest takes him across the world, from the backwaters of Asia to the European capitals of Paris and London. He discovers the shadowy world of the Refugees, ghostly entities haunting the world in which he lives. Where do they come from? What do they want? Joe knows how the story should end, but is he ready for the truths he will uncover... or the choice he will have to make?

I've heard good things about 'Osama' but never paid an awful lot of attention as it didn't seem like the kind of book I'd normally go for. Now I'm looking for books that I wouldn't normally pick up and 'Osama' fits the bill perfectly. I reckon I might even start reading it tonight.

Four months after the Pennine Fusiliers vanished from the Somme, they are still stranded on the alien world. Lieutenant Everson tries to discover the true intentions of their alien prisoner even as he must quell the unrest within his own ranks.

Beyond the trenches, Lance Corporal Atkins and his Black Hand Gang are on the trail of Jeffries, the diabolist responsible for their predicament, they must face the horrors that lie within the Croatoan Crater, a place tied to the history of the alien chatts and natives alike.

Above it all, Lieutenant Tulliver of the Royal Flying Corps soars free of the confines of alien gravity, where the true scale of the planet’s mystery is revealed. To uncover the truth, however, he must join forces with an unexpected ally.

This one's simple, I really enjoyed the first two books and want to know what happens next. Sometimes that's all it takes :o) 


Once he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House. Now he is the criminal linchpin of Low Town.  His name is Warden.

He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery's daughter is missing somewhere in Low Town, searching for clues about her brother's murder. The General wants her found, before the stinking streets can lay claim to her, too.


I was going to read this one anyway (once again, really enjoyed the last book) but the reason 'Tomorrow the Killing' caught my eye, when it came in the post today, is that the hardback is the third copy of the book that I've received. I've already received two advance copies in the last few months, I know Hodder want the book read (naturally) but... seriously? Oh well ;o)

I guess 'Osama' is the one that has caught my eye the most, enough to mess around with the reading pile again. Have any of you guys already read it?
 

Friday, 14 September 2012

‘Ghost: Resurrection Mary’ – Kelly Sue Deconnick & Phil Noto (Dark Horse Comics)

I’m always a little wary of reboots; on the one hand you have a chance to jump in right at the beginning but I can never quite get away from the feeling that the original story (I’d really got into) has been cast aside and doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I was never going to be able to stay away from the new ‘Ghost’ storyline (read my reviews Here, Here and Here to see why) but I still couldn’t help but feel a little, well… unsure about the whole thing.

I picked up the three issues of ‘Dark Horse Presents’ though (#13, #14 and #15 in case you were wondering); there was no way that I wouldn’t. You know, big fan of the original and all that. With the promise of more stories to come in the future, I wanted to be in right at the start and see what ‘Resurrection Mary’ had to offer. Quite a bit as it happens…

Vaughn is one half of a spook hunting team trying to make it big by investigating the legend of ‘Resurrection Mary’; thereby proving that ghosts exist. A ghost does appear in the graveyard but now she’s in Vaughn’s house and has just killed a man by pulling his heart out of his chest. Who is this ghostly lady and what are Vaughn and Tommy going to do with the dead body…?

This new incarnation of ‘Ghost’ is nothing like the original yet really similar at the same time, seriously. What you have then is the perfect blend of the familiar and the new, enough to attract old readers and new alike. I will definitely be checking out any more ‘Ghost’ comics that turn up on the shelves.

The same mystery is there, who is the ghost and why is she here? What is it that she’s meant to be doing? You don’t get the answer and considering the nature of this three-parter (setting the scene) you shouldn’t really expect one either. What ‘Resurrection Mary’ is all about is someone who has found herself back in the world of the living; struggling to deal with half remembered feelings of pain. This is covered superbly in #14 where Vaughn has to get to know a ghost who cannot (will not?) talk and reacts violently to being touched. Check out Noto’s work on the facial expressions at these moments, nothing short of brilliant. The ghost’s face doesn’t change but the eyes do and there’s a whole world of expression here that hints at what’s going on underneath the surface. The quality of Noto’s work drops off when it moves away from the ghost, and Vaughn, and onto the other things going on in the background. I’m trying to work out if this is a deliberate move designed to keep the focus where it should be…

The big difference for me wasn’t so much the change in setting; the switch from Arcadia to Chicago is an obvious one but both story lines appear to place more importance on plot rather than setting. No, the difference for me lies in the switch of perspective; it’s the ghost’s story but Vaughn is telling it. This is a clever move that not only highlights the ghost’s sense of being lost (how can she tell a story that she doesn’t know?) but gives us a little insight into Vaughn at the same time, a washed up man who suddenly has a chance to redeem himself.

There isn’t a lot of plot to write about (being more about questions than anything else) but the questions that ‘Resurrection Mary’ raises have more than piqued my interest. I’m looking forward to finding out the answers in future volumes, especially if Noto stays on board for art duty. I might be wrong but I think 'Resurrection Mary' might be reprinted when 'Ghost' goes monthly, check it out then if you've missed it here.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' - Tad Williams (DAW/Hodder & Stoughton)

I ought to kick things off by saying that I'm a big fan of Tad Williams' work and have been ever since I first read 'The Dragonbone Chair' way back in nineteen eighty wheneveritwas. There are still a couple of books, of his, that I need to read but that won't stop me being first in line when the next one comes out (yes, even if it was a collection of Tad's 'to do' lists, I clearly need help).

So a new book, from Tad, is a huge deal for me then; especially since he seems to be the kind of guy who keeps things fresh by writing in a slightly different genre each time. This time round we're looking at urban fantasy with 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven'; a departure from the high fantasy of the 'Shadowmarch' series but a sub-genre that Williams has visited before in 'The War of the Flowers'. I thoroughly enjoyed that book (you ought to check it out if you haven't already) so was hoping for more of the same here.
While it wasn't the same book (and how could it be?), 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' did more than enough to convince me that Tad Williams can pretty much take whatever genre he wants and make it his own. It's one hell of a read (pun possibly intended) and a  book that I think any fan of Urban Fantasy will get a lot out of.

Bobby Dollar is an angel, one of many tasked with advocacy for the souls caught between Heaven and Hell. It's not a great job but it does leave Bobby time for drinking, at his favourite hangout, as well as pondering the kind of questions about heaven that no angel should really be thinking. There are a whole load of other questions headed Bobby's way though, questions that Bobby really needs to answer if he wants to keep his head firmly attached to his shoulders. Why are the souls of the recently departed suddenly disappearing without trace? Just what is it that everyone thinks Bobby is carrying and why are they prepared to kill for it. And just what is the Countess of Cold Hands up to in all of this? If Bobby ever wants to enjoy a quiet drink again he needs answers and fast.

If you'd mentioned angels and Urban Fantasy to me, just a few weeks ago, I've got to say that I would probably have rolled my eyes and said something about the need for a 'next big thing' now that 'Twilight' was all over and done with. Lou Morgan has already proved me wrong with 'Blood and Feathers' and now it is Tad Williams' turn to prove me wrong (again) with 'Dirty Streets'. Urban Fantasy doesn't just have to be about improbable relationships between humans and vampires; it can be as mean and nasty as the streets that it's set against. That's very much the case here.

Having said that though, you don't get to see an awful lot of these streets, not the heavenly ones anyway. There's an awful lot of 'you wouldn't get it so I'm not going to explain it to you, that's just the way heaven is' that leaves a large chunk of the book feeling very vague and just a little flimsy (like if you blew on it then it would fall down). Not great then if you like your worldbuilding and a book with solid foundations. This is a deliberate move though and when you think about why this could be then it does start to make some sense here (especially as there are two more books where any questions will more likely be answered).

The bottom line for me is that 'Dirty Streets' is all about the story, not drawing people's attention to the background scenery. How much do we really need to know about that anyway? It's not like we don't already know that Heaven is lovely and Hell is pretty grim (and Dollar does make that much clear if nothing else). Strip the unnecessary background away and there’s a lot more room for the story to breathe and generally do its thing. It’s a move that really pays off as Tad fills the book with all the intrigue, double crossing, back stabbing and relentless investigation that you would expect to find in a detective novel. There’s plenty room for the action as well with Dollar going up against not only his counterparts, from the ‘opposition’ and closer to home, but an ancient Sumerian demon that absolutely will not stop until he is dead (just like the Terminator but much uglier and does a lot more damage to cars). There are some great sequences in this vein and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tad was writing ‘Dirty Streets’ with one eye on a TV show being made (at the very least).

The air of vagueness, around the plot, also serves to highlight perhaps the most important thing of all in terms of keeping the story running. As a detective of sorts, Dollar doesn’t have a clue what he is doing or what is happening to him. In noir fiction  none of the best detectives know what’s going on, stuff just happens to them until it all falls into place right at the end. That’s exactly what happens to Bobby Dollar (caught up in something that he never saw coming) and his attempts to make sense of it all, and stay alive, are what makes the plot move in the way it does. Full of surprises, bullets and an ending that I wasn’t prepared for. Some of the ways that Dollar gets out of trouble are a little bit ‘convenient’, to say the least, but it’s all so entertaining (and fraught with all the right stuff) that I didn’t care too much.

The love interest is in the best traditions of detective noir as well, although Philip Marlowe never got it on with the dames quite like that I have to say. I don’t think there’s anything, in those passages, which you wouldn’t find in any other adult Urban Fantasy novel though. The main thing is that it works. A sultry dame ready to screw Dollar over but hurting the whole time she does it; you can’t get a lot more noir than that and I’m hoping for more from the Countess of Cold Hands over the next two books.

‘The Dirty Streets of Heaven’ is a book that makes the lack of background really work for it; giving the reader a novel that storms along with plenty to get your teeth into. After walking these dirty streets I’m definitely up for walking them a bit more; just need to wait for the next book to arrive…

Nine and a Half out of Ten

First Impressions and all that... 'Tears in Rain' (Rosa Montero)

I'm not talking about those impressions that start to form after you've read five pages of a book (or even just the first page). I'm talking about a book that you see on the shelf (or in my case, one that turns up on the doorstep) that you know nothing about about at all. In those first few seconds all you see is the cover and the blurb, maybe a quote if you're lucky. You can't get a lot more 'first impressions' than that :o)

That's what happened to me, yesterday, when a copy of Montero's 'Tears in rain' arrived. To be fair, I'd asked for a copy (having skimmed the blurb in an email about something else entirely) but I'd forgotten about it until the book turned up. And there's something a little more real about having a book in your hands that really concentrates the mind and gets you thinking about what you're holding.

So, you're going to get exactly what I got. The cover, the blurb and a little quote. I'll give you my first impressions and I'd be interested to see what yours are. The plan is then for me to read it and see just how much (if at all) my impressions change. Here goes,

I have to say the cover left me feeling pretty cold. If you've seen one alien cityscape you've seen them all (that's how I feel anyway) and the lady's eye aren't nearly as striking as the artist wanted them to be.

When a growing number of replicants die suspiciously before their ten year expiration dates, detective Bruna Husky answers the call to investigate. Built for grueling jobs and given false memories to help them interact with humans, replicants have long been engaged in a bitter struggle over the rules that govern their existence. Probing this minefield of of political and moral intrigue, Bruna - a combat replicant - soon realizes she can no longer tell her allies from her enemies. Yet she must somehow survive the most terrifying fight of her life and stop an insidious plot that could rewrite history itself.

So far so 'Bladerunner' (they're even using the word 'replicant') but what had me intrigued was the promise of the examination of 'replicant rights', something I haven't come across much in my reading (apart from Joel Shepherd's 'Cassandra Kresnov' books, I really don't read enough sci-fi). This has actually got me more interested, in reading the book, than the promise of the 'insidious plot'.

'It was called Blade Runner. It was a strange, well meaning film as far as the reps were concerned, although Bruna found it somewhat irritating. The androids bore little resemblance to real ones... Even so, there was something profoundly moving about the film.'

What do you do when you've clearly been inspired by some classic sci-fi but also want to make it clear that you're doing your own thing? You tell everyone right there on the page, it's a risky step to take (could be interpreted in other ways) but fair play to Montero for coming out and saying it. At least, that's how I read it.

Those were my first impressions then, what were yours? Like I said, I'll be reading 'Tears in Rain' (there's a little time before the publication date) and I'm interested to see how I feel afterwards.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

‘Doctor Who: The Dalek Project’ – Justin Richards, Mike Collins (BBC Books)

There are some TV shows, films and so on that you take one look at and just know that they would be perfect for a comic book adaptation. There are also shows etc that must never be allowed anywhere near a comic adaptation but that’s a post for another day I think…

‘Doctor Who’ is very much a show that is not only ripe for adaptation (action, adventure and some weird looking aliens) but has already been adapted on more than one occasion; IDW currently being one of the publishers to visit if you’re after a story and can’t wait for Saturday night. BBC Books also turn out the occasional graphic novel themselves. I still need to get hold of a copy of ‘The Only Good Dalek’ but this was offset, the other day, by the arrival of ‘The Dalek Project’ for review.

Daleks are a pretty big deal in our house at the moment, for reasons that I went into the other day, so I’ve had to fight pretty hard to get ‘The Dalek Project’ out of Hope’s hands for enough time for me to actually read it! As always though, I got there in the end but (as much as I enjoyed it) I had more reservations than I thought I would…

Blurb copied and pasted as I am so behind with, well… everything.

1917. It's the height of the Great War and Hellcombe Hall is a house full of mystery: locked doors, forbidden rooms, dustsheets covering guilty secrets, and ghostly noises frightening the servants.

Most mysterious of all, the drawing-room seems to open directly onto a muddy, corpse-filled trench on the Western Front . . .

Arriving at this stately home, the Doctor meets Lord Hellcombe, an armaments manufacturer who has a new secret weapon he believes will win the war: he calls it ‘the Dalek’.

Soon, the Doctor and his new friends are in a race against time to prevent the entire Western Front from becoming part of the Dalek Project!


Before I get going I’ve got to say that I’m a ‘Doctor Who’ fan and no matter how bad a book or TV episode is, I will sit through it and come away having enjoyed the experience. I do notice the bits that don’t seem to work though and ‘The Dalek Project’ has a few of these. Basically, I had fun reading the book but I don’t think it would come anywhere near a ‘Top Ten Favourite Stories’ list if I had one (now there’s an idea…)

One thing that you can always rely on a ‘Doctor Who’ story to do is tell you just what the villains are up to but, more importantly, why they are doing it. There is always a reason (be it ‘villain gloating’ or whatever) that tightens the plot, giving it urgency and direction. That isn’t the case here.
We get to find out what the Daleks are doing (casting moments of history in a new light) but the one thing we never find out is just why they are doing it. Given that Daleks always love to explain why they are plotting, the change in tack left the plot feeling directionless and with no urgency whatsoever. The Doctor usually fights the Daleks to stop something really bad happening; in this case it was more about him fighting them because they are Daleks and that didn’t feel right to me. If I’ve missed something please let me know.

Luckily, the rest of the plot is driven by the Daleks doing what they do best (Exterminate!) and this means confrontation and escape along with bits of landscape, and people, being blown up. That in itself makes for some exciting moments that speed the plot along nicely. The ‘haunted house’ side plot doesn’t work nearly as well though as the Dalek presence is revealed far too early for any spooky stuff to actually happen.
Starting the story at the end though... I liked that as it really forces it home that the Doctor travels through time (if you didn’t know already…) His adventures don’t have to start at the beginning while the ending can be years later but feel as if only seconds have passed in the meantime.
The Doctor himself comes across well on the page with just enough quirks to satisfy first time readers, looking for a memorable lead, as well as fans who want something the same as Matt Smith’s portrayal on TV.

I’m really half and half on Mike Collins’ artwork which can come across as rushed at times (almost scribbled) which works in terms of showing how urgent the situation is but also just ends up looking, well… rushed really. Hidden here and there in the plot though are some lovely detailed moments like the ‘First World War Daleks’ and the nightmare of the trenches. It’s worth really having a look at each page for moments like these.

‘The Dalek Project’ has a bit of a hollow feel to it then but is a fun read while it lasts. I’d say that if you’re prepared to just go with the flow here then you’ll get a lot out of this book but I don’t think it stands up to more scrutiny than that.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

'Slightly Dull Cover Art!' - 'Black Bottle' (Anthony Huso)

I never read Anthony Huso's 'The Last Page' (couldn't get into it for reasons that escape me now) so wasn't really sure whether to read 'Black Bottle' or not. That still doesn't stop me thinking that the cover art for 'Black Bottle' is ever so slightly, well... look at it,

Wow... A rusty looking cityscape obscured by, I'm not sure... An attempt at sunbeams? An attempt at highlighting the title? This sort of thing never did my primary school work any favours either... But hey, there are airships in the corner so that makes everything steampunk and that's ok isn't it? Not really, no...

The blurb looks intriguing though,

Tabloids sold in the Duchy of Stonehold claim that the High King, Caliph Howl, has been raised from the dead. His consort, Sena Iilool, both blamed and celebrated for this act, finds that a macabre cult has sprung up around her.

As this news spreads, Stonehold—long considered unimportant—comes to the attention of the emperors in the southern countries. They have learned that the seed of Sena’s immense power lies in an occult book, and they are eager to claim it for their own.

Desperate to protect his people from the southern threat, Caliph is drawn into a summit of the world’s leaders despite the knowledge that it is a trap. As Sena’s bizarre actions threaten to unravel the summit, Caliph watches her slip through his fingers into madness.

But is it really madness? Sena is playing a dangerous game of strategy and deceit as she attempts to outwit a force that has spent millennia preparing for this day. Caliph is the only connection left to her former life, but it’s his blood that Sena needs to see her plans through to their explosive finish.

Like I said, really not sure about this one? Did anyone here read 'The Last Page'?

Monday, 10 September 2012

The 'Disappointing but Informative Afternoon...' Competition Winner's Post!

What an afternoon... This was an afternoon where we got into London literally minutes after the Olympic victory parade finished. An afternoon containing a surprising bank statement (not a good one either). An afternoon where my two year old daughter managed to sneak two large boxes of M&M's out of the M&M store without anyone noticing (boy was my face red when I had to take them back). An afternoon where I realised that my taste buds have grown up and moved away from KFC (that really hurt)... I have learned a few things though, not least of which is to keep an eye on Hope (when she's in chocolate shops) and to stick with McDonalds in future :o)

Anyway, winners! I'm talking about the winners of last week's 'Stormdancer' competition in particular, thanks to everyone who entered by the way. There could only be a certain number of winners though and they were,

 Daphne Lao, London, UK
Kelly Hooper, St Ives, UK
Ina Martin, Corby, UK
Stewart Feasey-Edwards, Shoeburyness, UK
Melissa Symonds, Carshalton, UK

Well done guys! Your books should hopefully be on their way to you very soon. Better luck next time everyone else, which reminds me...

Just so people don't think that I only do these things for UK/US readers (and I know that some commenters here aren't happy about that)... I really don't. As much as I'd love to run more worldwide competitions, I'm at the mercy of the publishers who (for a whole load of reasons, like copyright issues for example) are only able to send these books to certain countries.Sorry about that.

Anyway, enough of that. The rest of this week will see me finally finish 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' and review it here. I'm getting to some good bits so this will happen :o) As for the rest of it? Not sure right now, I did pick up a copy of 'Flowers for Algernon' today so I might read that. It does look good. Lets see how it goes...

See you tomorrow :o)


Black Library Expo in Canada - A Guest Post...

This post should have gone up yesterday but... erm... better late than never I guess :o)

There's a Black Library Expo in Canada, fairly imminently, and I was asked if I'd like to host a guest post (from a BL author) talking about the event. Of course I said yes and totally lucked out with who was writing 'my post'; Chris Wraight is no stranger to this blog and now he's back to tell us a little bit about what you can expect to find in Chestermere at the beginning of October...

Being a writer is a privilege. It’s easy to forget that sometimes when the deadlines are looming like banked thunderheads, but it’s incredibly fortunate to be allowed to write stories for a living. It’s even more fortunate when people want to buy those stories, and then talk about them, and then turn them into new stories in turn. And of all the ways to do it, working in a shared universe is surely the most sociable and the most satisfying way to write. It feels at times like being part of one huge narrative, constructed over decades and drawing in the talents and energy of dozens of creative minds.



Taking part in events like the Black Library Expo in Chestermere is like going back to the wellspring, having a chance to chat to the readers, the enthusiasts, authors and editors, the people who ultimately drive the whole thing and keep it going. I’ve always come away from such events with more energy, more ideas and a renewed sense of direction. That’s very useful, as otherwise we spend most of our time working alone. The Internet generates a lot of feedback, of course, but that’s a double-edged sword: people behave differently online; it’s far more rewarding to speak to readers face to face.



It helps when the places we go to are exciting and unfamiliar, as Canada is to me. I’ve never been before, and plan to make the most of it during the short time we’re there. The utterly marvellous Gemma Noon, who’s been organising the event with zest and flair, has been merrily sending out pictures of Alberta for weeks, and it looks stunning. Really stunning. A bit like Fenris, I suppose, without all the murderous fauna lurking around every corner (I hope).



And there’ll be plenty of stuff to talk about. The ink is barely dry on the huge Fear to Tread, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of feverish anticipation over Pariah too. I’m hoping to get a look at Orion: the Vaults of Winter, as well as have a good chat with Nick Kyme about The Great Betrayal and its sequels. As for my own stuff, I’ll be looking forward to discussing recently completed things, like the unremittingly dour Wrath of Iron and the slightly less unremittingly dour Swords of the Emperor omnibus. By the time the doors open there’ll be other projects I’ll be itching to talk about but will probably have to be careful with: more Space Wolves, some dragon-riding High Elves, and in all probability some jetbike-riding White Scars.



It promises to be amazing. Having been lurking on the horizon for a while, it finally feels very close, and I can’t wait. So if you’re in the neighbourhood, or can find a way of getting there, come along. Events like this one don’t come along very often, and you’re not going to want to miss it.

 
Chris will be hanging out in Chestermere, Alberta, on 6 & 7 October, at the BlackLibrary Expo –the first event of its type in Canada. Tickets and further details can be found at www.ChestermereExpo.caand at www.facebook.com/ChestermereExpo

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Giveaway! 'The Cold Commands' (Richard Morgan)

To mark the US paperback release of 'The Cold Commands' I have three copies to give away here on the blog. Instead of copying and pasting some blurb I'll just point you Here for my review. Before you go clicking on that link though, now would be a good time for me to tell you that this competition is only open to those living in the US or Canada. Sorry about that everyone else...

If you're still here... Well, I'll tell you what to do next. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the page) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'The Cold Commands'. That's it, I'll do the rest.

I'll let this one run until the 16th of September and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

I bought a book on 'Buy a Book Day', did you?

A slightly later post than normal for a Saturday; it's actually sunny here (for a change) so we had to make the most of it. You understand... :o)  Anyway...

I actually ended up buying two books yesterday; partly because I thought I'd take up the slack, for those who weren't book buying, but mostly because it's me and I saw more than one book that I liked the look of. I made my purchases in Any Amount of Books, a second hand book shop that you absolutely have to go in the next time you're on the Charing Cross Road. It's a rare time indeed that I leave without at least one new (old) book tucked under my arm.

Enough of me though, the books themselves can have a word or two...

In the Matrix of cyberspace, angels and voodoo zaibatsus fight it out for world domination and computer cowboys like Turner and Count Zero risk their minds for fat crumbs.

Turner woke up in a new body with a beautiful woman beside him. They let him recuperate for a while in Mexico, then Hosaka reactivated his memory for a mission more dangerous than the one that nearly killed him.

The head designer from Maas-Biolabs is defecting to Hosaka, or so he says. Turner has to deliver him safely, and the biochips he invented – which are of supreme interest to other parties, some of whom are not human. Count Zero is human. Indeed, he’s just a kid from Barrytown, and totally unprepared for the heavy duty data coming his way when he’s caught up in the cyberspace war triggered by the defection. With voodoo on the Net and angels in the software, he can only hope that the megacorps and the superrich have their virtual hands full already.

This was a bit of a no-brainer. I enjoyed this book years ago, and then somehow let it go to a charity shop, so when I saw it on the shelf I knew that I had to read it again. I love the covers as well. I still need to re-read 'Neuromancer' but 'Count Zero' won't be too far behind after I do.

Rudyard Kipling was a major figure of English literature, who used the full power and intensity of his imagination and his writing ability in his excursions into fantasy. Kipling, one of England's greatest writers, was born in Bombay. He was educated in England, but returned to India in 1882. He began writing fantasy and supernatural stories set in his native continent, such as 'The Phantom Rickshaw' and 'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes', and his most famous weird story is 'The Mark of the Beast' (1890), about a man cursed to transform into a were-leopard. This Masterwork, edited by Stephen Jones, Britain's most accomplished and acclaimed anthologist, collects all Kipling's weird fiction for the first time; the stories range from traditional ghostly tales to psychological horror.

I didn't even know that Kipling had been a writer of weird fiction but there you go. I'm collecting the Fantasy Masterworks series the old fashioned way (i.e. go into a second hand book shop and see if there's anything there) so this was another no brainer really. The odd thing though was that as my eyes scanned the shelf the book wasn't there first time round. The second time my eyes went over the shelf (like, a couple of seconds later) there it was, shoved in the space between the top of the books and the shelf above. I'll swear it wasn't there before and I didn't move so no-one else could have put it there. It was almost like the book wanted me to pick it up... So I did :o) Couldn't resist it.

That's me then, did you buy a book on 'Buy a Book Day'? Leave a comment if you did.

Friday, 7 September 2012

‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ – Edited by Annie Wilder (Tor)

Do you believe in ghosts and things like that? I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this blog does; if we didn’t why would we read the books that we do? We all want to believe that this kind of thing really does happen, outside of books, so when I saw ‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ I jumped on it like a shot.
Having read it though… I think I might stick with the fiction in future as real life isn’t anywhere near as scary (not if this book is anything to go by). I'd normally post some kind of blurb here but the premise of the collection is really simple, 'true tales of ghostly encounters on the highways and byways of America'.

‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ is only a very slight two hundred and forty six pages long but I have to say that my journey through it felt like I was reading a book three times the length. More of a chore than a pleasure then, not a great state of affairs…

The biggest issue, I thought, was in the subject matter itself and how it (probably quite unwittingly) forms a pattern that gives the book a repetitive feel that verges on the wrong side of hypnotic. Think about it, trucker ghost stories… Collect them all together and what you have here are dozens of stories that all begin with a variation of ‘I was driving one night’ and end on a variation of ‘I was really scared by the ghostly woman/car that drives itself, I never drove down that road again’. It’s really hard not to feel like you’re reading the same story over and over again.

I also found myself wondering whether Wilder had enough material, to fill the book, when she opened things up to include UFO and alien sightings along with the ghostly trucker stuff. Is the book aimed at more than one audience or are there just not that many ghosts haunting the highways and byways of America? I don’t know.
What I do know though is that stories like ‘Alien Encounter at Deacon’s Corner Truck Stop’ come across as being more about someone’s chance to expound upon their theories (to a captive audience) rather than tell a genuinely unsettling tale. If you explain things in too much detail, where’s the mystery and (ultimately) the chill in the tale? Moments like these cast an awfully big shadow over the rest of the book.

I’ve also got to wonder how Wilder determined the truth of these tales before they went in the collection. After all, you only have someone else’s word for it… In this instant, I’m thinking of ‘Hat Man on the Montreal Avenue Bridge’ in particular. Here’s a tale that’s a little too descriptive for my liking (‘fallen leaves scattered like insects…’ anyone?); this really takes away from the ‘matter of fact’ air that generally comes with true stories. If this were the only problem though I wouldn’t have minded too much. No, the ‘ghost’ of the piece is almost a spitting image of the ‘Walking Dude’ from Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. Coincidence or something… less original? I will let you decide (I was just waiting for the narrator to come down with the flu)…

Another one of the problems I found with the book can be best summed up by the words of one of the contributors,

‘This may not sound very scary, and that may be due to my lack of writing skills’ (‘Skinwalker in Arizona’, Lee Honawu)

You have people in this collection that have obviously been scared by something but lack the language to get this across on the page. A little too ‘matter of fact’ maybe… You can read about things that must have been really scary but if the writer cannot make you feel that then it’s a bit of a damp squib really… Moments like this also cast a shadow on the book as a whole; a book that’s meant to be scaring its readers.

I must say that there are some really unsettling tales that do leave an impression on the reader. I’m thinking of ‘The Bloody Bride Bridge’ in particular, a real lesson in timing the chills to perfection. I don’t often jump at a book but I did here! Unfortunately this doesn’t really balance out the underlying issues of ‘Trucker Ghost Stories’, a book that really isn’t it for the long haul in terms of unnerving its readers…

Six out of Ten

Today is 'Buy a Book Day'!

I didn't realise it until I read this post and found myself directed to this site, now I know :o) By 'National', the site owners are talking about America but I'm sure they won't mind if the rest of us join in... ;o)

Books and buying books are two of my favourite things so I will of course be doing my bit later today. To be honest, I would probably have bought a book anyway :o) Are you with me? Of course you are! Go and buy that book, right now! It's a cause worth supporting.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

'Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks' (1979)

So, last night Hope and I settled down and watched 'Destiny of the Daleks' together. This isn't such a big deal as it sounds, as we've just come out of a phase where every mealtime had to be accompanied by this particular DVD, but I will always take repeated viewings of Dr Who over repeated viewings of Thumbelina so...
Watching Dr Who with Hope is always great as she provides her own running commentary. Last nights commentary included the gem, "woman pulled the man's arm off..." There's a little extra resonance, to watching this particular story with Hope, though as 'Destiny of the Daleks' was the first ever Dr Who story I saw, just over thirty years ago. I get to share it with my daughter and I also get to see how the story itself holds up after all this time. Quite well as it happens...

The Doctor and Romana have returned, quite by chance, to the Dalek home planet of Skaro; now a radioactive ruin. That hasn't stopped others visiting though. Who are the Movellans and why are the Daleks so intent on burrowing deep into their old city? The answer lies deep underground and when it wakes up... The Doctor is going to have to make a hard decision all over again.

The thing about old Dr Who (and I'm talking thirty three years old in this instant) is that when it inevitably starts to look dated... Well, it really starts to look dated... You have a Davros who can't control where he is going (I had to laugh when he rebounded off the wall...), Daleks with wobbly heads and it all taking place in that same quarry where all 'alien' adventures seemed to take place. Seriously; what was it with that quarry? Even the Doctor remarks that it all seems familiar (I'm putting that quip down to Douglas Adams being at the helm of the story). In this respect, I watched 'Destiny of the Daleks' and couldn't help but wince at the reality of a story that had taken on a different form, in my head, over the years.

Luckily though, there is still plenty to recommend this tale including a lot of stuff that I would never have picked up on the last time I saw 'Destiny'. Well, I was four years old at the time ;o)

The plot itself is interesting enough but ultimately limited. After all, when you have two races trapped in a logical impasse there's only so far you can take that (although the Daleks are intuitive enough to come to Skaro in the first place)... Having said that though, I did enjoy watching Doctor play 'Stone, Paper, Scissors' with the Movellans. I think this incarnation of the Doctor is a poor winner :o)

There are also some really dark elements to 'Destiny' that help you get past the dated production. The Daleks are as evil as ever, of course, but take things up a notch by exterminating prisoners during a standoff with the Doctor. The introduction of Dalek suicide bombers also gives you a real insight into their mindset as well as their creator Davros. The Daleks hate the rest of the galaxy so much that they are prepared to destroy themselves to give their comrades an edge. Davros is more than prepared to give the orders.

The Doctor also has his dark side either, more than prepared to kill his enemies (perhaps in order to make up for past decisions?) This is a side that you don't normally see (the Doctor being more of a pacifist usually) and this adds another edge to a tale that is edgier than it at first appears.

'Destiny of the Daleks' isn't the story that I first saw back in 1979; it's both more and less than that and all at the same time. I've had my say so I'll sign off with Hope's summing up of the story - "Daleks say exterminate, then they blow up!"

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

‘The Dead of Winter’ – Lee Collins (Angry Robot)

It was a bit of a fight (what with other stuff happening, like Hope wanting me to play ‘Daleks’ all the time…) but I managed to read ‘The Dead of Winter’ in time for a review this week. Go me :o) To be honest, it wasn’t long after I started reading that I knew I’d be jealously guarding every spare minute I had just to get a few more pages read. That approach, and at least one late night, did the trick. For the first time in a long while I’ve actually finished a book that I promised I’d read, it’s a good feeling.

I’ve been going on about getting out of a ‘reading rut’ and ‘The Dead of Winter’ seemed like a good place to do just that. The concept is well worn but the setting intrigued me enough to pick the book up and give it a go. What the book did after that kept me reading until I was done. ‘The Dead of Winter’ isn’t a perfect read by any means but it did more than enough to have me looking forward to the sequel, ‘She Returns From War’, whenever that it is published.

Cora Oglesby and her husband, Ben, hunt a different kind of bounty to what you would normally expect to find haunting the plains of the Old West. Their prey are the dark creatures of legend; creatures that shouldn’t exist but still delight in taking the blood of the innocent.
When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious bloody deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible, but if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present.

We’ve all read Urban Fantasy tales of bounty hunters searching out vampires and so on. Some of us have probably read similar stories set in the Old West; I haven’t so it made for a refreshing change in setting for me. That was a chunk of the reason why I kept reading but the main reason was the hints I got at a tragic past for Cora. I thought I knew what this would be so kept reading, if only to say ‘oh no, not again…’ The twist in the tale turned out to be a real surprise though; mostly because Collins tells you what it is right from the start but keeps it so low key that you’ve got no real idea until it creeps up onto your shoulder and taps you on the head…

The moment where it all clicks is masterfully handled by Collins. One minute I was reading the book, the next minute I was flicking back through the pages thinking things like ‘how did I miss that?’ and ‘bloody hell…’ Cora’s character is cast in a whole new light (you now know where she got her nickname from) and this revelation provides fresh impetus just when the plot needs it. I was also left wondering if there is a question yet to be answered in the sequel… You can’t ask for a lot more than that and it’s all brilliantly handled.

The rest of the plot settles into the more familiar territory of unworldly creatures being hunted down before they can hunt down others. Collins does a fine job here with the whole ‘thrill of the hunt’ theme. There were several moments where I found myself holding my breath as Cora made her way through a mine tunnel and she could hear footsteps coming towards her. My favourite bit though had to be where Cora is sat by the trapdoor, waiting for something to come out… Collins really draws out the tension in these passages and I couldn’t help but carry on reading, even as I was yelling at the book for Cora to get the hell out. The only moments that top this are when various monsters find their way onto the streets of Leadville. Collins clearly knows that the best way to tell this kind of story is to make all your characters expendable, no matter how much you’ve already built them up. No-one is safe here and that just adds more adrenaline to the mix.

The only thing I’d quibble about is how much attention Collins pays to the landscape that the story is set against. On the whole, a bleak and hard picture of Colorado really complements the plot but, every now and then, Collins feels the need to really go to town with his descriptive prose. Unfortunately, I found that these moments sometimes clash with key moments in the plot and the flow is derailed abruptly (albeit briefly) as a result. I’d say that the background really needs to remain as background if the plot is going to shine in the way that it deserves.

On the whole though, I got a lot out of this brooding supernatural Western tale that turns in your grasp and bites you like a rattlesnake when you’re least expecting it. ‘The Dead of Winter’ (a title you’ll appreciate more once you’ve read the book) is a gripping read that has left me eager for the sequel.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

P.S. 'The Dead of Winter' gets its UK release on the 1st of November, US and Canadian readers will get it the day before.