Friday, 22 August 2014

Books 'Not in the Post' - 'Huge Spider!' Edition

Ok, maybe it wasn't such a huge spider but it scared the **** out of me when I looked up and saw it above the doorframe… Of course, Hope wanted to keep it so she could 'teach Mummy not to be scared of spiders'. No chance of that; at about half six yesterday morning Hope and I stood outside the house, waving goodbye to the spider as it was released from its pint glass prison and strolled off down the street. Seriously, it strolled; no-one was going to mess with this beast and it knew it.
 
But anyway, the books!
  
I've pretty much cleared my comic book shelf these past couple of weeks (if I'm not going to read them…) and made a few quid out of the deal. Most of that was spent yesterday as I browsed some second hand bookshops on the way to meet Sue and the girls from the station. Check em' out,
I've got most of the 'Conan' stories already so 'Conan' and 'Conan the Adventurer' were pure indulgence, bought mostly for the covers and to see how Lin Carter added to a couple of the unfinished tales. But mostly for the covers :)

I've read a few of the Vlad Taltos books (well, more like a couple) and really enjoyde them so 'Dzur' being a book that I hadn't read and only costing a pound was a good combination. It looks like it could be a good read for the bus when I'm commuting, anyone here read it?
The slightly blurred looking book, top right, is a rather well kept advance copy of Jeff Vandermeer's 'Acceptance', concluding book in the 'Southern Reach' trilogy. I haven't read 'Authority' yet, no excuse really, but it still didn't take much to persuade me to part with a little more cash. It will be a little while before you see a review here but you can expect one, definitely.

And the final book? I had just enough money left for either 'The Very Best of Tad Williams' or Erikson's 'The Wurms of Blearmouth'. The winner is obvious (clue, it wasn't 'The Wurms of Blearmouth'…) and I'll be dipping in and out of it every time full length novels feel a little too much like hard work ;o)

And that's that! Anything there catch your eye?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

'She Who Waits' - Daniel Polansky (Hodder)

Low Town: the worst ghetto in the worst city in the Thirteen Lands.

Good only for depravity and death. And Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Low Town denizen of them all.

As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds, and never as many as when he worked for the Black House. But Warden's growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, faster than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn't get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A hospital full of lunatics, a conspiracy against the corrupt new king and a ghetto full of thieves and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden never expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. 

The one woman he ever loved.
She who waits behind all things.
 
Reading is a journey and nowhere more so than in speculative fiction where if you're not following the progress of an actual journey (thanks for that Mr. Tolkien…) then you're watching the main character make a mental journey towards a complete change in character. Once upon a time, this second kind of journey was the sole preserve of kitchen boys 'with a destiny' who would find destiny/nobility thrust upon them and have to adapt accordingly. These days aren't those days though and thank goodness for that. We now have characters seeking redemption from the pits of immorality, we have others who are happy to sink yet further; the most interesting characters though are the ones where you can see that change but have to question their motives and direction. Did X commit the vilest crimes for ultimate good or were they just scraping the bottom of the moral barrel for their own ends? These are the kind of characters that really get you thinking and invested in a story, genre fiction can't have enough of them as far as I'm concerned.

For my money, Daniel Polansky's Warden is the greatest of these; a character who will happily spread chaos in the pursuit of aims and leave you wondering whether he's a good man forced to do bad things or… the other way round. 'The Straight Razor Cure' (a much better title than 'Lowtown') and 'Tomorrow The Killing' have posed these questions already and to excellent affect. 'She Who Waits'… Well, the best way to sign off a series is to leave the reader with a few tantalising questions and Polansky somehow manages to do this while at the same time giving said reader an appropriate sense of closure at the same time. The story ends here and I for one wish it hadn't.

For those of you familiar with the series, 'She Who Waits' follows a path well travelled by the Warden. Lowtown is starting to fall to pieces under the pressure of a mystery that apparently only Warden can solve. While he is doing this, Warden must watch not only his back but those of his closest friends. And while he is doing this... Warden is also putting the pieces into place that will give him the revenge that he been searching for all these years.

And that's what sets 'She Who Waits' apart from any number of 'trilogy concluders' (I've said it so now it's a word) that follow the safe path through to the end. Not only has Polansky been playing an incredibly long game (seriously, there are things in 'The Straight Razor Cure' that make a lot of sense now) but he's not afraid to torch the whole thing once he has finished playing. Imagine that slow, patient build up; imagine the pieces finally falling into place... And then gasp as Polansky elects not to play it safe after all, sending everything and everyone straight to a hell of Wardens own making. You've got to admire the way that Polansky holds his nerve here when the safe option would have been so much easier. Lowtown is a brutal place at the best of times, by the time 'She Who Waits' comes to an end you will have seen a Lowtown only hinted at previously. Not only does it open your eyes to what Warden has to live with, it makes the story fly by and will have you almost forgetting the inevitability of the ending.

I'm not going to give too much away but it's clear to anyone that there is only one way for a man like Warden to leave a tale like this. Polansky deals with it very matter of factly and you get the impression that's just how Warden would have wanted it. I really appreciated the respect that Polansky has for his characters that he comes across as more than happy to let characters like Warden show him the way to the finale, not the other way round. That is why I will be reading more books by Polansky while other authors will fall by the wayside, 

Does 'She Who Waits' tread an awfully familiar path then? I'm afraid it does. Does it matter though? Not to me it didn't, not when the plot flowed the way it did. Should I read it then? Damn right you should, just as soon as you've read 'The Straight Razor Cure' and 'Tomorrow The Killing'. 'She Who Waits' is a worthy finale to what has turned out to be quite the superb trilogy (almost without anyone noticing, shame on you all). Read it.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

More New Fantasy Masterworks On The Horizon.

Way back in November last year (and wow that seems such a long time ago now...) I wrote a post about all the new Fantasy Masterworks that Gollancz were publishing. Seriously, I did, it's over here.
Several months down the line and I haven't finished any of them yet; new baby in the house, three new jobs and two new guinea pigs, something had to give somewhere... I'll get round to them at some point :o)

A little mooching around on Amazon, yesterday, revealed that a whole load more Masterworks are on their way and I'm pretty excited about one in particular. Have a look at this list (which kind of picks up where the last list left off)...

'Mythago Wood' - Robert Holdstock (November 2014)
'Little, Big' - John Crowley (February 2015)
'The Forgotten Beasts of Eld' - Patricia McKillip (March 2015)
'The Book of the New Sun Volume 1: Shadow & Claw' - Gene Wolfe (April 2015)
'Expiration Date' - Tim Powers (May 2015)
'Lavondyss' - Robert Holdstock (June 2015)
'Grendel' - John Gardener (July 2015)
'Thomas the Rhymer' - Ellen Kushner (July 2015)
'The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox' - Barry Hughart (July 2015)
'The Book of the New Sun Volume 2: Sword & Citadel' - Gene Wolfe (August 2015)
'The Riddle Masters Game' - Patricia McKillip (August 2015)
'The Anvil of Ice' - Michael Scott Rohan (September 2015)
'Something Wicked This Way Comes' - Ray Bradbury (October 2015)
'Elleander Morning' - Jerry Yulsman (October 2015)
'Earthquake Weather' - Tim Powers (November 2015)
'Ash: A Secret History' - Mary Gentle (January 2016)

And here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind when I saw this list...

1) 'The Anvil of Ice' is going to be a Fantasy Masterwork! Yes! I always thought it was great and it turns out that Gollancz agreed with me :o)
2) But what about the sequels...?
3) Still, yay! Childhood favourite becomes a Masterwork, time for a little dance.
4) Alright, calm down Graeme. Have a look at what else is on the list.
5) Is Tim Powers really that good? It feels like he can't write a book without it becoming a Fantasy Masterwork.
6) And does 'The Book of the New Sun' really need a new cover seeing as the old Fantasy Masterwork edition has been handily kept in print all these years? Either pick a new title or one of the old titles that hasn't fared so well, it's not hard people!
7) There are some intriguing looking new titles though and ones that I've never heard of. A nice mixture of old and new books overall.
8) Going on titles alone, I'd pick 'Thomas the Rhymer' and 'Elleander Morning' as ones to read.
9) And have I mentioned how pleased I am to see 'The Anvil of Ice' on the list...? I have? Oh...
10) And why wasn't 'Mythago Wood' a Fantasy Masterwork long before now? It really should have been.

Any titles here catch your eye?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

'Judge Dredd, Day of Chaos: Fallout' - Various (Rebellion)

Over the years, I've become used to Mega City One being trampled all over and millions of citizens dying. It's like an extra season in a way; 'Spring', 'Summer', 'Autumn', 'Winter' and 'Mega City One being beaten to within an inch of its crime-ridden life'. It's always fun to be a spectator when 'Catastrophe Season' rolls round and 2000AD outdid themselves with the 'Day of Chaos' storyline; the Mega City skyline in flames, 350 million dead citizens and Justice Department struggling to mount any kind of resistance to the anarchy that the city is sliding into. 'The Fourth Faction' and 'Endgame' were awesome reads but where do you go from there? How can you top such a powerful story?

The answer is that you can't really top it but there is still a wealth of stories to be told in the shattered remains of the city. And that's what 'Fallout' is all about, an exploration of the aftermath of 'Chaos Day' and, I suspect, seeds being sown for future tales.

Dredd's actions, thirty years ago, led to the viral attack on Mega City One so it's only fitting that the bulk of this volume concentrates on how he is bearing up under the strain. Dredd is a fairly one dimensional character, from what I've seen, so it is interesting to see cracks starting to show in the fa├žade at the same time as he is busting perps. Stories like 'Wolves' and 'Save Him' force Dredd to face up to his actions in really intense ways (some incredible artwork from Currie backs this up) and the fact that you know Dredd will pull through is besides the point; it's all about internal conflict and in more ways than one, *COUGH*'Save Him'*COUGH!* Dredd knows where the responsibility for Chaos Day ultimately lies but he still has a job to do and he's going to get it done. It's an interesting dynamic that I wouldn't mind following further. Would it go to the logical conclusion or would the writers decide that Dredd is made of sterner stuff? Like I said, just the fact that you can see those cracks at all is really telling… 

There's fifty million other people, than Dredd, in the Big Meg though and 'Fallout' also chronicles the attempts of the 'Chaos Day' survivors to make something of themselves, generally involving varying degrees of illegal activity from breaking and entering ('Sealed', a moving tale that had me getting a piece of dust out of my eye, ahem…) to grave robbing ('The Pits') to seceding from Mega City One entirely ('Debris', superb artwork from PJ Holden and a story to match). The theme just about stays on the right side of being too repetitive, built only just, luckily for the writers there are a million different ways to break the law in the Big Meg. The only stories that didn't work for me were 'Wastelands' and 'Power Struggle'; the switch to the machinations of the rich/big corporations came at the expense of the raw emotion of the survivors at ground level and these stories felt a little detached as a result.The art was a little bit lacklustre too...

'Fallout' is one of those books that you're only really likely to read if you've already read the preceding volumes but, as far as I'm concerned, it's still a worthy follow up (albeit with a couple of misses amongst all the hits) to possibly one of the biggest events in the history of Mega City One. Nothing will ever be the same again and 'Fallout' leaves you in no doubt as to just why that is.

Monday, 11 August 2014

'Doctor Who And The Leisure Hive' - David Fisher (Target)

The Doctor and Romana arrive on Argolis in search of a peaceful holiday at the famed Leisure Hive. Instead they become embroiled in both a takeover scheme by the Argolins' historic enemy the Foamasi and the machinations of Pangol,the child of the Generator. If the Doctor can overcome a murder charge and a lethal encounter with the Tachyon Recreation Generator, him and Romana might just make it back to the TARDIS in one piece…

'The Leisure Hive' was one of those Doctor Who shows that I first saw as a kid and missed large chunks of due to being four (almost five!) and possibly being scared of the Foamasi. Or having to go to bed early, could have been either one really.

The DVD has been on my shelf for a little while, might get round to watching it over the weekend, and it was always far more likely that I would get round to reading the book first (even though I've had the DVD far longer), especially now I'm commuting a lot and am in need of some
seriously easy reading that doesn't tax me too much. What? The style of most Doctor Who books (well, the old Target novelizations) is to recount exactly what happened in the show, with minimal padding, and that is what I'm after at the moment.

It was kind of a pleasant/unpleasant surprise then to find that 'The Leisure Hive' delivered a little bit more than the regular 'run of the mill' Doctor Who novelisation. 'Pleasant' because I ended up with a little more to chew on but 'unpleasant' in that anything that means some kind of independent thought gives me a splitting headache. I suffer for my reading sometimes :o)

On the whole though, it's always nice to read a Doctor Who novelisation where the author steps out of the comfort zone and tries to add a little something new to the setting. Here, David Fisher gives us a little extra history of the Argolin, the Foamasi and how cultural similarities can lead to conflict. This is all done with a refreshing comedic tone that's reminiscent of Douglas Adams ('The Leisure Hive' was published four years after the 'Hitchhikers' radio series, roughly the same time as the book itself so I don't think there's any coincidence in the tone). I like it when a Doctor Who writer fleshes out background detail and even more so when the writer injects a little of their own tone into it.

The plot itself… Well, I've still to watch the DVD so can't really comment on how well the book compares to the source material. The plot does hold up well though; it's a little more linear than it at first appears but raises enough interesting questions to keep the readers interest (it did for me
anyway). I'm still not 100% sure how the Doctor got out of that final spot but sometimes you have to suspend a little disbelief when he's concerned and just accept that stuff can happen. I'm not blaming this on woolly writing; no, not at all…

I picked up my copy for a pound in town and the most likely way of coming across a copy of 'The Leisure Hive' is getting it second hand somewhere. Probably only worth the hunt then if you are a fan but a surprisingly enjoyable read if you do get yourself a copy.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Books in the Post! 'Anticipated' Edition

Its been a quiet week for books coming through the post; its been a quiet week in general actually with settling down into a new work routine (minutes, lots and lots of minutes...) and not an awful lot of reading getting done. It's not all bad though, I'm halfway through 'She Who Waits' (it has only taken me a year to get this far) and it's an excellent read. Bit gutted that I skipped to the end, to see what happened, but if I will insist on spoiling books for myself... I also managed to get Amazon to pay my bank charges but that's another story altogether :o)

A couple of good looking books have found their way home though and it seems to be all about adding to collections this week. Check em' out...



Ever since Gollancz announced their new Fantasy Masterworks series, I've been waiting to get my hands on a copy of 'Votan', the only book on the list that I'd never heard of. Also, look at the lovely cover; isn't it glorious?

In the second century AD, a Greek nobleman is travelling and living abroad in Germany while carrying on an affair with a military man's wife. When discovered, he takes an emergency business trip to save his life and packs amongst his belongings certain items that lead the people he encounters to think him a Norse God, a fortuitous point of view which he does little to dispel. Forced to keep up the pretence of being a god while staying one step ahead of his lover's jealous husband, Photinus must juggle the severity of his situation with the enjoyment of being a god.

On the strength of that blurb, 'Votan' doesn't look like it has any right to be in a series of 'Fantasy Masterworks' but I'm going to give it a go anyway and see what happens.

'The Drawing of the Dark' was a surprise find whilst on the way home from dropping Sue and the kids off at the station. I'd pretty much stopped collecting the old Fantasy Masterworks ('collection burnout') but the instinct is still there and when I saw 'The Drawing of the Dark' on the shelf I was handing over money for it before I even realised what was happening. I still haven't read anything by Tim Powers, really need to do something about that.

One question before I go, have any of you read 'The Drawing of the Dark'? The only reason I'm asking is because the tagline on the back of this edition reads, 'Myth, Magic and Mystery as East meets West in Mortal Combat'. Is that a fair summary of the book or did the blurb guy get a little carried away...?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Catching up with some comics, 'Attention span of a Goldfish' Edition!

Even my eight month old daughter has a greater attention span than I do at the moment. Seriously, once she sees something on the floor it will be hers (especially if we don't want her to have it) no matter what distractions we put in her way. Me on the other hand… I'm still trying to read 'She Who Waits', a book that came through the door over a year ago. This would be the time to make an amusing attention span comparison but I can't even focus enough to do that… :o)

Thank the reading gods for comics then! And thank the gods of technology for a phone that I can read comics on! And thank the comic book writers… Well, my comic book reading was a tiny bit hit and miss, this time round, so maybe the thanks need to be a little more specific…


'X' #16 - Swierczynski/Nguyen (Dark Horse)
 
It looks like I missed an issue somewhere along the line but that's never a huge deal with X; a comic where the story is increasingly sidelined by huge amounts of violence and people dying messily. Issue 16 is no different with Nguyen (welcome back!) really conveying the gritty noir of Arcadia and lending the violence the impact that it needs to make you wince. And it does… More Nguyen in future please!

As far as the story goes… Well, there isn't really much of one; just a steady progression of fights and explosions. Just what I needed to keep me occupied but a little too lightweight for those who want some plot with their action (even if there is a nice little twist at the end). What does concern me a little bit, about the series, is how the villains are being repeatedly ramped up in terms of what they can dish out. I just wonder if Swierczynski has peaked too early with Archon, a man who can shrug off a burst of acid to the face and a shotgun blast to the chest. Where do you go after that? Can you go anywhere after that? I'll be around to see what happens next but I can't help but feel a little worried about the direction 'X' is going in…


'Ghost' #7 - Sebela, Duursema (Dark Horse)
 
I never thought I'd find myself non-plussed by an issue of 'Ghost' but this issue was the one that had me feeling, well… Meh. Jan Duursema does some great work in the larger frames (really captures Elisa's internal conflict) but the smaller frames suffer in that they merely recount events rather than capturing a sense of, well… anything really.

The story itself seems to suffer from a slight malaise as well with a little too much attention paid to the aforementioned internal conflict. Things are set up in the background but it all seems a little too vague to actually mean anything. The plot drifts when it really needs to be more forceful and direct… I've followed 'Ghost' too long now to give up but I'm not eagerly awaiting the next issue like I have in the past. Hopefully next month will see a return to form.