Thursday, 31 July 2014

'Plague World' - Dana Fredsti (Titan Books)

Having been ambushed in San Francisco, which is now fully engulfed in the zombie plague, Ashley and the wild cards must pursue the enemy to San Diego. There they will discover a splinter of their own organization, the Dolofónoi tou Zontanoús Nekroús, which seeks to weaponize the plague. But that isn’t the worst news. The plague has gone airborne, making it transferable without physical contract. It cannot be controlled by anyone, so reports of the zombie swarm are coming in from across the United Statesand across the world.

Yep, when I said there were only a couple more zombie series that I was waiting to finish reading, before quitting the genre for good, Dana Fredsti's series is one of them. Despite their veering into Urban Fantasy territory at times (nothing wrong with that, just not something that I'm interested in), the 'Ashley Parker' books have been a lot of fun to read and there was never any doubt that I would be around to see the conclusion. I'm assuming that 'Plague World' is the final book by the way although I could be wrong. With the way that the titles have gone ('Plague Town' and 'Plague Nation') it's hard to see where the series could go after 'Plague World'. 'Plague Moon' might be a possibility (although I wouldn't have thought so) but I can't see it going any further than that. And that's fine. Everything has to end and it's always best to end on the best note that you can. Like 'Plague World'; a book where, if it is the last in the series, rounds things off in the best that it can.

I seem to find myself saying this a lot just recently but 'Plague World' doesn't really do anything new when set against the preceding two books. Various relationships are played out against an increasingly violent zombie apocalypse and Ashley finds herself having to make tough (even heart wrenching decisions) just to survive each day. People who have read the first two books will see instantly that nothing has really changed in the delivery and, in fairness, we shouldn't really expect it to. This is how the series has built itself up and, three books in, you shouldn't really expect any massive changes.
I'm not a hundred percent sure how I feel about this though. I shouldn't expect a big change (and especially not when Fredsti has far more important matters on her hand in terms of tying everything together) but I couldn't help but feel like a change in pace perhaps, or some real surprises (more on that in a bit) could have really made the difference.

Like I said though, Fredsti has a series to conclude (or plot-arc, I still can't decide whether there are any more books to come) and she does it pretty damn well, tying up loose ends amidst a backdrop of zombies and secret government organisations gone rogue. It's an explosive finale even if some of the revelations weren't exactly revelatory, at least not to me. Things were signposted a little too clearly for me and that robbed certain scenes of the intensity that Fredsti clearly had planned. By the end of the book though, all plot strands are neatly tied off and that added a sense of closure that I really appreciated.    

It's not all bad though, far from it. 'Plague World' has all the action and excitement of the first two books with an unsettling feeling that no-one is truly safe, even if they are a Wild Card with immunity to the zombie plague. Fredsti strikes a good balance between showing the apocalypse through the eyes of Ashley and how it is spreading across the world at the same time. I liked that approach as it really added some depth to the narrative.

I've been moaning about the constant zombie media references, in the preceding books, but with 'Plague World' came to find it all a little endearing in a geeky way (the book, not me). I've realised that what we have here is essentially 'Ready Player One' with zombies and I loved 'Ready Player One' (so can't really complain if  someone else adds their own spin on that approach).

I said yesterday that I'm done with zombie books and unless there's an excellent series out that there that I've forgotten that's still the case. I've heard it all now and nothing new is being said. This being the case, 'Plague World' is a good novel to sign out on. It may have its issues but it rounds off the zombie apocalypse whilst offering some hope for an uncertain future. Kind of how I feel actually :o)
Fans will get a lot out of the ending; newcomers should do themselves a favour and give 'Plague Town' a shot.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Books in the Post! 'Not so much 'in the post...' Edition...

I'm just over a week into the new job (seems to be going well, thanks for asking), right in the middle of a town centre full of book shops that I'd never been in before. That soon changed very quickly and seeing as I have had the mother of all book/DVD culls the other day, I felt a little justified in bringing a few books home with me. If you ever find yourself in Bromley (it could happen) have a look in 'Time Trek', a tiny little comic shop just up the road from Bromley South station. It doesn't just sell comics; if there's a gap on the shelves then the owner seems to have a great habit of filling it with books. You can't argue with that, especially when you come home with books like these...

I can't help but pick up old 'Conan' books, even if I already have all the original tales. Partly it's because of the covers, partly it's because every so often you will find tales from other contributors and I'm very interested in reading these where I can. Mostly it's because I'm really into old books, at the moment, in a strange nostalgic way. Old books are great. They've already been around longer than I have and it's likely that they will still be around when I'm not. I want to be a stop on their journey.
I already have 'Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive' on DVD but couldn't resist picking up a copy of the book for a pound (again, nostalgic memories of marmite on toast and watching 'Doctor Who' as a kid). Don't ask me why I picked up 'The Time Trap of Ming XIII' though. Seriously, I have no idea. I hope it's a good read...

'The Rituals of Infinity' was the final 'Bromley buy', turning up during a speculative peek inside Oxfam. I've more or less read/have all the 'Eternal Champion' books that I want so it's time for a look at some of Moorcock's other sci-fi writing. We'll see how it goes with 'The Rituals of Infinity'. On a side note, it's always really nice to see an old book in as good a condition as 'The Rituals of Infinity'. My edition was published in 1971 but, apart from a slightly faded cover, wouldn't look out of place in a bookshop today given how well it has been looked after. I like that :o)
'Time Bomb' was a lucky win on Twitter but I've read enough of Scott Andrews to know that I'm more than likely in for a bit of a treat here.
I'm at the end of the line with zombie novels, there is nothing new to be said and I find myself wondering if writers are covering the basics well enough for reading zombie fiction to be worth my time. There are a couple of series that I want to finish off though, Dana Fredsti's 'Plague' books being one of them. I am well into 'Plague World' at the moment; you might even see a review this week all being well.

Any of these books catch your eye. Have you read 'The Time Trap of Ming XIII'? If so, can you tell me if my £2.50 was well spent...? All comments welcome ;o)

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

'Archaon: Everchosen' - Rob Sanders (Black Library)

In the north of the world the forces of Chaos gather, awaiting their moment to strike. At their head is the Everchosen, the warrior who will lead the final, cataclysmic assault that will usher in the End Times and the reign of the Ruinous Powers. But he was not always thus - he was once a man, a devout servant of the warrior-god Sigmar. What could cause such a soul to fall to the worship of the Dark Gods? What dark events could have put a knight of the Empire on the path to becoming the harbinger of the world's end? And just who was the man who will become known to all as Archaon?

Games Workshop's 'Warhammer' setting has always sat in the shadow of its far future sibling, rather unfairly I think as the Old World is just as rich and detailed a setting as that of the Imperium of Mankind. I always thought that the Old World would benefit from having someone like Horus to be a huge threat and push the narrative in new directions (otherwise it really is just one battle after another) and, a few years ago now, it got one in the form of Archaon, Everchosen of Chaos and the man to bring in the End Times.

It never happened of course. How could it when Games Workshop's strategy is to keep its settings in a state of 'on the precipice but gamely hanging on'? For me though, the introduction of Archaon was a real sign that some effort was being made to make 'Warhammer' as dynamic and interesting as Warhammer 40,000.

So, you have a character like Archaon and the immediate questions are who is he and where did he come from? Rob Sanders is the man tasked with answering these questions and he does so with some aplomb, despite the character already being part of established canon (meaning that everyone knows Archaon will make it through the events of this book and that his destiny is certain). With this book it's very much about the journey, rather than the destination, and Sanders shows us key moments in the life of Archaon where demonic influences war against fate itself to ensure that destiny is fulfilled. There's almost a hint of the meta-fictional about it with Sanders effectively writing about something that is effectively 'writing' the life of Archaon; ripping out whole chapters and starting again if the narrative doesn't flow satisfactorily. It's a really thoughtful approach that breaks up the 'hack and slash' elements of the plot and really gets you thinking about what you are reading.

Central to all this is the man Archaon himself and Sanders charts his life with a certain grim relish. At least that was the feeling that I got when Archaon accepted his destiny in several dramatic pages of blood, fire and falling masonry. Yep, while Sanders may not make it the overall focus of the plot, he still proves himself to be more than capable of writing the 'blood and thunder' moments that typify Warhammer novels. Large buildings are destroyed, mythical beasts wipe out armies and Archaon bestrides it all like the avatar of Chaos that he is. There is no doubt now that Sanders can write stirring scenes with the best of them. And while the destination is assured, Sanders puts enough obstacles in Archaon's way to keep things interesting (intrigue and double crosses abound) and develop his character further, especially his feelings for Giselle and her quest to save him from a path that he has no intention of leaving.

One of the issues that I've had with Sanders' writing, in the past, is that he takes the detail of military structure to ridiculous lengths, overshadowing the actual plot with talk of which regiment is subordinate to which commander and so on. Sanders falls victim to this indulgence again in that he doesn't leave a lot of room in the Chaos Wastes for anything but war bands, all of whom carry their own allegiances, feuds etc. This time it really works though; the Chaos Wastes are all about conflict and champions trying to carve out power for themselves. How else would you show this than by sticking at least one different war band in each paragraph? It still comes across as convoluted at times but that's just how it should be.

By my reckoning, Archaon still needs to complete a few more trials (to be worthy of the Chaos Gods) which means more books in the series You can sign me up for all of them if 'Archaon' is anything to go by, a book that overcomes inherent issues with ease and is exactly what good Warhammer fiction is all about. If you like fantasy then you really need to give 'Archaon' a go, sooner rather than later.

Monday, 28 July 2014

'Impact' - Adam Baker (Hodder)

The world is overrun by an unimaginable horror. The few surviving humans are scattered in tiny outposts across the world, hoping for reprieve - or death. Waiting on the runway of the abandoned Las Vegas airport sits the B-52 bomber Liberty Bell, revving up for its last, desperate mission. On board - six crew members and one 10-kiloton nuclear payload. The target is a secret compound in the middle of the world's most inhospitable desert.

All the crew have to do is drop the bomb and head to safety.
But when the Liberty Bell crashes, the surviving crew are stranded in the most remote corner of Death Valley. They're alone in an alien environment, their only shelter the wreckage of their giant aircraft, with no hope of rescue. And death is creeping towards them from the place they sought to destroy - and may already reside beneath their feet in the burning desert sands.

Despite a couple of small dips along the way, I'm looking at you 'Juggernaut' don't pretend that I'm not, I've been a big fan of Adam Baker's post-apocalyptic thrillers (does the series have a name?) which are easily the most bleak and apocalyptic books I've read. This is a world where the only hope is false hope, even death won't save you once the virus takes hold. Looking at those last few words, I think what also appeals to me about these books is that they have gone far beyond your regular run of the mill zombie novel and into some strange area of SF that comes complete with its own intriguing possibilities. Have you ever read a book where the alien virus has ideas other than infecting the populace? Welcome to 'Impact'…

We're four books into the sequence now and in some respects, Baker doesn't really do a lot that is new. A group of survivors are stranded in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world as the world dies around them; at first just in the background and then right up close and personal. You could take that sentence and apply it to any one of the preceding books. There is a sense of 'if it isn't broke…' here; Baker has got the mixture of danger, high stakes and tension pretty well refined and the end result works even if it is becoming a little formulaic now. Good news then for fans of the first three books who might not want anything to change; you know what you are getting and that leaves more time to chill out by the pool while on holiday. 

Not such good news for someone like me though who has enjoyed the preceding books but did have issues with 'Juggernaut' in particular. As with that book, I just found there to be too much desert in 'Impact' which rather focuses the attention on the fact that, for large chunks of the book, nothing actually happens. To be fair, the characters can't do anything apart from wait to see whether they are rescued before they die (and are conserving energy etc), they're stuck in Death Valley! It does make for (the wrong kind of) slow reading at times though and that's not what you want when you have been promised bigger and better things.

Baker does ultimately deliver though. Those creeping moments beneath the sands of Death Valley are cleverly drawn and shed a little light on what direction Baker is taking the virus in. Action may be sporadic but it's brutal when it happens and clearly illustrates a world that has gone past the tipping point and is heading into oblivion (the events of 'Impact' take place just before/during those of 'Terminus').

It's those moments of revelation that really make the book though. Are we dealing with a virus or something far more complex that may have ideas of its own? All I'll say is that there had better be another book, just one more, so we can have a little closure with that. And when you find out the reasons behind the doomed mission it just casts the whole book in an entirely new light. Human failures led to the apocalypse and human selfishness will ensure that there is no way back. Seriously, you have a nuclear bomb to use against a rampaging techno-virus and that's the first thing you think of doing with it? Baker makes his point crystal clear and leaves you wondering whether we will actually deserve the end when it happens. Okay, so maybe not a book to read by the pool after all (I finished the book and wanted to find a puppy to cuddle…)

These books can be read in any order (from what I can see) so newcomers should be able to pick up 'Impact' and just get going with it (although I'd say start with 'Outpost', my personal favourite). They'll have a great time with it as well, 'Impact' overcomes its issues to deliver a tale that is worth staying with right until the very end. It really does go out with a bang...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Most Awesome 'Upcoming' Post You Will Ever See...

Whatever book you are thinking of right now, this is a hundred times more awesome than that. Yep, even that one...
Check this out,

Made in close cooperation with Mattel and He-Man® historians, The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe collects over 30 years of behind-the-scenes material, lore, and classic imagery!
In 1982, the world was introduced to He-Man® and Masters of the Universe®. What followed was a cultural sensation that changed the landscape of children’s entertainment forever! Join Mattel and Dark Horse in this comprehensive retrospective chronicling the decades-long epic journey of He-Man® from toy, to television, to film, to a true pop culture phenomenon!
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe includes rarely seen images of concept sketches, prototypes, and more from Mattel’s archives. Featuring beautifully restored art from master illustrator Earl Norem—celebrated artist of the most memorable He-Man® images!

I don't know about you but I love the title 'He-Man historian'; I love living in a world where a person might call themselves a 'He-Man historian'. Why didn't they teach this history when I was at school...?
Anyway, pretty damn awesome isn't it? :o) Look out for 'The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe' in April next year. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Laura Lam's 'False Hearts' picked up by Tor UK

I'll admit that I could have written that title a little differently but, right now, I like it just the way it is :o) From the press release,

Julie Crisp, at Tor UK has pre-empted World English Language rights for False Hearts and an untitled novel by Laura Lam from Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group in a six figure deal.

Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan said: ‘I was completely hooked from the first page by Laura’s writing. To me it was like reading Hunger Games meets Blade Runner meets The Shining Girls. Thrilling, addictive and completely page-turning. Laura’s an amazing storyteller and I’m thrilled to be working with her and Juliet on this exciting novel’

Raised in Mana’s Hearth, a retreat that’s closed off from the rest of society; denied access to technology or modern medicine, twin sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When their lives are threatened they finally manage escape to San Francisco and a life that’s beyond anything they could have imagined.

Ten years later, Tila returns to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the Police arrive and arrest her for murder - the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. For the police believe that Tila was involved with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate. But during her investigation she discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

Juliet Mushens from The Agency Group said 'False Hearts is an adrenaline-fuelled thriller, packed full of twists and turns with a compelling heroine at its heart. Laura is very talented and I am thrilled that Pan Macmillan will be her publisher.'

Laura said ‘This year has been a roller coaster, and this is definitely one of the highest highs. I loved writing False Hearts so much and I think Macmillan will do such a wonderful job introducing the world to Taema and Tila. This is a dream come true.’

I somehow never got round to reading Laura Lam's 'Pantomime' (but then I never get round to reading a lot of books) but heard enough good things said about it to be very interested in reading 'False Hearts' when it is published (at the beginning of 2016). I know it's a way off yet but will you be reading 'False Hearts'? And what have I been missing with 'Pantomime'?

Friday, 25 July 2014

Catching Up With Some Comics.

And the week of 'hardly any sleep' begins to draw to a close with a faint hope that things might improve now the weather is starting to cool off a little bit (or maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part) I've run out of films to watch on Youtube (well I haven't but you know what I mean…) so I thought I'd catch up on some of the comics that I have waiting patiently on my phone.

Me and comics have been going through a bit of a sticky patch just recently; it's either a case of nothing new catching my eye or old favourites feeling like they are running out of steam. It was really good then to see Eric Powell returning to the form we all know he is capable of with 'Goon: Occasion of Revenge #1' (Dark Horse). While the Zombie Priest may no longer be a threat, his brethren want to take over the town and the Goon and his friends may be the only people who can stop them.That is, of course, if past secrets don't come to the surface and destroy them first… 'Occasion of Revenge' is a real return to what Powell does best, coarse humour with an edge of horror, to unsettle readers, and moments of pure pathos. If that wasn't enough, Powell's artwork offers up a bleak dreamscape where it's all too easy to see where the nightmares might lurk (the first sight we get of Mudd in particular, this is what Powell is all about). I read this issue on my phone but I can see myself buying the comic as well, just so I can really appreciate the full affect of what Powell has done. I feel like I've come home with 'Occasion of Revenge', it's glorious.

I've read a few back issues of 'Groo', enough to know that teaming him and Conan up has the potential to be very funny indeed, if not quite classic comic book fare. 'Groo Vs Conan #1' (Dark Horse) is all about setting the scene but already we can see how that inevitable confrontation is going to pan out and I will be there if the humour in #1 is anything to go by, loads of wry chuckles from me while reading :o)

What I really liked about this book was how well each of the artists work dovetailed together; really well handled when you consider how different each artists work is.

I've been going off Conan a little just recently (too much of the same thing I think) but 'Groo Vs Conan' looks like it could be just different enough to prove a refreshing diversion from Conan's normal fare. Like I said, not quite classic comic book reading but I'll see how the next issue goes and then take it from there.

I'm always looking for new comics to try (especially right now when nothing really stands out and begs to be read) so… Any recommendations? Comments please :o)