Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Tor's 'explanation' for splitting 'A Memory of Light' into three volumes = EPIC FAIL

Tor's official announcement about the last novel in The Wheel of Time series - A Memory of Light - has caused a huge amount of vitriol across the interwebs.

As noted by many of my fellow bloggers, Tor have confirmed that the last WOT novel will indeed be split into three volumes (more on that later) which will be released over a two-year period.

In the face of growing fan unrest, Brandon Sanderson has written a very lengthy post in which he explains why the decision was made to split the novel into three volumes.

Now, I respect Sanderson very much. I think he's doing an amazing job, and deserves far more credit than he's being given. Sure, maybe at the end of all this he'll walk away a very wealthy man indeed, but let's put things into perspective - he's taken on the task of writing the final novel (and thus the most important) of a series that has been going for almost twenty years and has sold 30 million copies worldwide. To put it bluntly, it doesn't get bigger - or riskier - than this.

It's a hugely tough job Sanderson's got, and I really admire the way he's tackled it and the way he's trying to make things as transparent as possible. It's clear that the decision to split the novel into three was not his own preference, and he certainly should not be criticised for this decision. He clearly just wants the book to be as good as it can be, and I don't think WOT fans can ask for more than that from him.

However, the reasons he's given - which have been fed to him from Tor - are pretty ludicrous.

"By this point, I'd already warned Tom and Harriet that I saw the length being very large, but I hadn't told Tom the 700-800k number. When I'd mentioned 400k to him once, he'd been wary. He explained to me that he felt 400k was unprintably large in today's publishing market. Things have changed since the 90's, and booksellers are increasingly frustrated with the fantasy genre, which tends to take up a lot of shelf space with very few books."

Come on, booksellers surely aren't going to give a toss how big A Memory of Light is, as it'll sell by the absolute bucketful anyway. 400 pages, 800 pages, 1000 pages - it doesn't matter. The book will fly off the shelves regardless of size.

Jordan's widow, Harriet, has also offered a flimsy excuse:

"The material that Jim left was very capacious, and Brandon saw after working with it for a while that he could not complete it in less than a total of 750,000 words. This is probably an impossible thing to bind - unless we sold it with a magnifying glass. 250,000 words is in fact a fat, or Rubensesque, novel. You will notice that 3 x 250,000 equals 750,000. So... part of the decision was based on making a book within the scope of binding technology. The major part of the decision was to get ALL the story that Jim left out there for us all."

A 750,000 word novel could easily be published in two volumes. Look at Jordan's earlier WOT novels - The Shadow Rising is 393,000 words*, Lord of Chaos is 389,000 words*. So why could A Memory of Light not be published in two books of 375,000 words?

The claim that the books couldn't physically be published in two volumes is just bullshit. The primary motivation behind the decision seems to be money - the more volumes, the more profit Tor will rake in. While I don't like to see fans getting fleeced, at the same time we have to understand that publishing is a business and with a global recession on, this decision makes perfect business sense for Tor.

It's just a shame they've tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by making noises about binding problems. In fact, it's pretty disgraceful.

EDIT: Check out Adam's latest post on Tor's explanation - excellent article, well worth reading.

*Please note that I've taken these word counts from the murky depths of the intarwebs, so I cannot gurantee their accuracy! Please correct me if they're wrong.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Sanderson sets the record straight on AMOL and the hideous artwork...

Brandon Sanderson has responded to the growing intarweb shit-storm with a statement regarding the truly crap-tastic artwork for the first volume of A Memory of Light.

Here it is in full:

"I've had some emails from Harriet and company and can give you some more solid facts here. First, an email Harriet said I could post:

Dear Brandon,
Whatever the "art" is that was posted on Dragonmount, I have not seen it, and from what I hear I would certainly not approve it.
Rest assured, no art will go on the cover until I have seen it and approved it.

Best, Harriet

This was before Harriet saw the link on Dragonmount itself, showing the thumbnail of the artwork. The fact that she hadn't yet seen cover art makes this all seem even more fishy to me. Looking closely, that posted art really lacks detail. After getting some internal emails from Tor, I'm really thinking that my conclusion last night was true. This is not the cover, but a rough mock-up done quickly by production to have something to show at meetings. It was never supposed to go outside of Tor, and is NOT the final cover, not even close to it. I'll bet this is just a sketch Mr. Sweet did showing potential cover ideas. It might not even be him doing the art--it's too small to tell.

Tor is planning a press release about AMoL talking about the title, the number of volumes, and that sort of thing. We won't see it until early next week, however, because of issues of timing with the major news sources. They moved it up from late in the week to early in the week, but that's the best they could do. Until then, don't panic. There is truth to some of the rumors, but there is also a lot of bad information going around."

Cue a collective sigh of relief from Jordan fans all over the interwebs (in response to Harriet's quote about the 'artwork'). I'm interested to see how Tor - if they publish in three volumes - are going to explain it away without looking like they're milking the last instalment for all it's worth.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Just when you thought the WOT book covers couldn't get any worse....

...along comes this monstrosity. I've had more than one dig at some of the awful Wheel of Time covers in the past, but this one doesn't just take the biscuit - it wolfs it down and shits it back out.

Brandon Sanderson has attempted to allay fears by stating that this cover is only a 'mock up' - let's hope so, because it blows a huge hole in the credibility of Sanderson's novel before it's even been released.

"It certainly looks like Mr Sweet's work," Sanderson opines on his blog (through gritted teeth, presumably). He's right too, because Sweet's artwork is highly distinctive - for all the wrong reasons (ie, being crap).

The only reason I've not featured this as one of my 'crap fantasy book covers' is simply because it's not yet been confirmed as the proper artwork (it does look rather rough, admittedly). But if I did feature it, then I'd give it the full 10/10 on the crap-o-meter because it's simply the worst fantasy book cover I think I've ever seen.

Seriously, what are they thinking? Maybe they've just decided that WOT is so popular that it doesn't matter what goes on the front (which is probably true, to be honest). If I was Sanderson though, I'd be fuming if that was the cover that was going on the book I'd put so much effort and risk into (which he has).

Cover aside, a veritable shit-storm is brewing over the news that the novel may be split into three, rather than two, volumes (recessions - don't you just love 'em?) and that they may be published up to a year apart (talk about beating WOT fans over the head with a shitty stick). Not only that, but rumour suggests that the first editions may be published in trade paperback rather than hardcover (though that would seem like an unbelievably dumb decision).

For the full news, check out Adam's feature over at The Wertzone.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

I shouldn't like this book cover...

...but for some reason I do. Reminds me of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks I read/played when I was younger, and also reminds me of the Thief computer games. I could do without the protagonist posing dramatically in the foreground (which detracts from the cover a little bit) but it doesn't spoil what is a visual guilty pleasure. Misty cityscape + full moon + tower + bats = WIN.

The novel itself doesn't sound too bad either:

Centuries after the death of Uthar the Great, the throne of the Ontilian Empire lies vacant. The late Emperor's brother-in-law and murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew, young King Lathmar VII and sets out to kill anyone who stands between himself and mastery of the Empire, including (if he can manage it) the King himself and his ancient but still formidable ancestress, Ambrosia Viviana.

When Ambrosia is accused of witchcraft and put to trial by combat, she is forced to play her trump card and call on her brother, Morlock Ambrosius--stateless person, master of all magical makers, deadly swordsman, and hopeless drunk.

As ministers of the king, they carry on the battle, magical and mundane, against the Protector and his shadowy patron. But all their struggles will be wasted unless the young king finds the strength to rule in his own right and his own name.

I'm quite partial to a bit of political backstabbing in a murky urban environment, so I might check this out.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Guest post: Mark Charan Newton

There's a healthy buzz growing around Mark Charan Newton. His major-label debut Nights of Villjamur is already being touted as the debut of 2009, despite not even having been released yet. Only time will tell as to whether it deserves that moniker, but one thing I can safely say - having already read and reviewed Nights of Villjamur - is that Newton is one of the most talented and promising authors to emerge from the UK in recent years.

Mark very kindly agreed to write a guest post for Speculative Horizons, so here it is.

Enjoy!

- - - - -

Resurrecting the Dying Earth

Nights of Villjamur will sit on the shelf as an epic fantasy, but the series is called Legends of the Red Sun: with that, it’s a conscious contribution to the Dying Earth subgenre.

Many a young whippersnapper may ask, “So what the hell is the Dying Earth genre about?” And they’d be quite right to bring it up – there have not really been many novels steeped in this tradition for some time. I don’t want to discuss individual works too heavily, so I decided to use James’s kind invitation for a guest blog post to give only a brief outline and history for those people who have never heard of it.

Dying Earth fiction is science fantasy set, quite obviously perhaps, when the Earth is dying. But in what way? There is a plethora of post-apocalyptic fiction these days, when the Earth has been gutted, but the Dying Earth is something a little different.

Although I’m concerned with the business of genre taxonomy here, there are a few things worth noting that sets it apart from other sections of the genre. For one, the setting is consciously towards the end of time, not merely after any particular major event (possibly after several dozen events in fact). The genre is more fantastical, I suspect. It is very much a secondary world creation, and by that I mean there is less of a reliance on current realities for the infrastructure of the world. There is certainly a melancholy associated with the setting, a conscious reflection at how great things once were. A sense of fatality. There’s a mix of technology, too – the fantasy isn’t merely limited to magic, and the magic is intended to have more of a justification, often through science.

People point towards H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as one of the origin novels. Later, Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories, set on Earth’s last continent, began crystallizing the genre. Published in the 1930s, they were some of the first works to explore the cycles of cultures moving forward into a deeply unrecognizable fantasy future.

But we most likely didn’t start recognising the genre as such until a certain Jack Vance (influenced by Smith) wrote his Tales of the Dying Earth.

Finally we had a name for this thing. Some of these earliest stories were first published in the 1950s, and upon first reading are a surreal and heady collection of images. Cugel’s Saga is often seen as the most popular of the later works, first published in 1983, but Vance’s wit and dynamic style proved intoxicating, and the stories became iconic. For more detail, check out The Wertzone’s review. (There is also an anthology released later this year called Songs of the Dying Earth, edited George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, which is a tribute to Vance’s novels.)

Gene Wolfe, influenced by Vance, wrote what is commonly thought to be one of the high points of Twentieth Century science fiction and fantasy – fuck that, of any literature. His original quartet was called The Book of the New Sun, and was laced with mythical and biblical imagery, and more symbols than you can shake at Aleister Crowley. The tales of Severian the torturer and his journey are established classics, and cannot be done any justice in a pithy paragraph.

Larry’s collection of in-depth postings on the series is one of the best studies of the books online.

Out of the Dying Earth subgenre, one of my favourites is M John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence. In fact, I made a conscious nod of the respect in my title to one of the books, Viriconium Nights / Nights of Villjamur. These stories are almost anti-fantasies. The city of Viriconium changes consciously (even its name to Uriconium), deliberately avoiding the ability to be mapped. The world possesses the technological litter from thousands of cultures previously. It is a bleak vision, but spellbindingly surreal and with a beautiful and complex prose, and there’s something very English underneath it all, which sets it apart. This is not a literature of comfort, and it requires more than a couple of readings to discover the treats within. These stories have been divisive amongst the SFF community, people either love them or loathe them. See the Westeros forum.

There are many other books and series that will fall under this category, and if anyone wants to add to my reading list, please feel free in the comments section. I merely wanted to outline a few of the major works. And maybe in writing this, a few readers might go and order some of these wonderful books.

Specifying what it is about these books that appeal to me as a writer proves rather difficult. Perhaps it’s their melancholy fatalism: these settings all possess a vastly different psychogeography from other fantasies. Perhaps it’s the fact that the setting opens up more options – that the literature has more freedoms, more potential for meaning than a setting that reflects backwards.

It’s worth adding that none of these books would likely be published as new novels in the modern era by conglomerates. Publishing tastes and sensibilities change by the year, of course, and commercial pressures are vastly different now than they were then – for better or worse.

This fan boy recognises this, probably wouldn’t have been published unless he did, but I’ve made scattered references to these stories throughout Villjamur, in a few structure names, or the colour of a cloak, all out of respect for what’s gone before.

In trying to help resurrect the Dying Earth subgenre, and put a distinctly modern spin on things, I may well be standing on the shoulders of giants, and that may well be ambitiously stupid. However it’s difficult to resist the allure, because the view at the end of time is amazing.

- - - - -

Many thanks to Mark for his excellent article. I've read precious few novels of this fascinating genre (the most recent of course, being Mark's Nights of Villjamur). I'm hoping to rectify this gap in my genre reading, and have ordered the first book in Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun sequence...

For more info on Mark and Nights of Villjamur, check out his website and blog.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Comment: Watchmen

Finally got around to seeing Watchmen yesterday, so thought I'd just post my thoughts on it while they're still fresh in my mind.

All things considered, I found Watchmen to be a bit of a mixed bag; I really liked certain scenes/aspects/characters, but disliked others. For example, I thought Rorschach and The Comedian were brilliant and that all of their scenes were gripping and well-handled, while I found Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl to be pretty dull and monotonous in comparison. The worst moment of the movie for me was the sex scene - awful choice of music, made even worse by the flame thrower as a sexual metaphor. Bad.

While I think Snyder has done a commendable job with this film (in the sense that it must have been really hard to translate the novel onto the screen), I think the end result proves that the novel is more or less unfilmable. The movie is a rather disjointed bunch of narratives that never really sit comfortably alongside each other and lack cohesion.

There are some excellent scenes and ultimately I did enjoy it (despite its cumbersome nature), but I did leave the cinema feeling a little underwhelmed.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Nights of Villjamur giveaway - winner!

The time has come...

Before I announce the winner of a signed proof of Nights of Villjamur, I'd like to thank everyone who entered. I received 65 entries, which is really terrific response for a giveaway, especially for that of a debut author. So cheers for your interest!

Right, to business. I've already done the draw - completely randomly, I assure you - and the winner is...

*drum roll*

Peter Fugazzotto!

Congratulations, sir! And commiserations to the rest of you. If I could, I'd give you all a copy...but I don't think the nice ladies at Pan Mac would give me that many proofs!

Still, all is not lost - you can pre-order Nights of Villjamur in hardback from Amazon UK for a reduced price of £9.34 ($13.47).

On another note, Mark has kindly written a really interesting guest blog post, which I'll be posting up in the near future.

Thanks again for all your entries!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Thoughts on some films...

Been meaning for a while to give my thoughts on some films I've watched recently, so rather than doing full reviews I figured I'd just lump them together and give my general opinion on each movie.

I am Legend

Alternative titles for this film: I am Mediocrity; I am Missed Opportunity; I am Total Waste of 90 Minutes of Your Life.

I'd heard that this film was bad, but I didn't realise how bad. I am Legend bears so little resemblance to the classic SF/horror hybrid novel by Richard Matheson that you almost wonder why they bothered to give it the same title. Aside from the fact that the protagonists in book and film both have the same name, there's not a lot in common between the two mediums.

What makes the book so brilliant is the tense, claustrophobic feel as Neville cowers in his barricaded house, listening to the vampires howling his name as he prays for the dawn. This aspect just doesn't appear in the film at all, which is one of two fundamental flaws that undermine it.

The other flaw is the use of CGI for the monsters. The mutants just look like cheap cast-offs from the Mummy films - they just don't inspire fear at all. This really killed the film for me - why the hell didn't they just use actors? Sure, this would mean less flexibility, but a far better degree of realism.

Will Smith does his best with a rather dull script as he wanders about a ruined cityscape that just looks like a movie set, but the whole film just falls totally flat. There are flashes of what could have been, namely the sequence early on when Neville ventures into a dark building to find his dog, but overall it's a bland, unexciting mess with a really weak ending bolted on. If you want a post-apocalyptic film with ruined cityscapes and survivors struggling for survival against a mutated population, then watch 28 Days Later instead.

30 Days of Night

Now this is a rarity - a good vampire film. In terms of atmosphere, this film is bang on the money - it's tense, it's unnerving, it's visceral. Josh Hartnett is perhaps a surprising name to take the lead role, but he does pretty well. The script is good, building believable relationships between the characters and setting up some cool sequences.

The vampires are really well done, bearing more similarities to the terrifying creatures of European folktales than the melancholic types floating around in frilly cuffs. Unlike the monsters in I am Legend, real actors are used instead of dodgy CGI, and it makes all the difference.

In all, a really strong horror movie with a surprisingly moving ending.


Franklyn

Bit of an odd one, this. One of those movies which you quite enjoy, but don't really quite understand the point of.

I loved the scenes set in Meanwhile City; really liked the Victorian/Steampunk setting, and the really odd happenings going on here. These sequences were really evocative and atmospheric.

The storylines set in the real world were engaging as well though, with some surprisingly noir-ish prose and characters. The script cleverly links all the stories of the separate characters together, resulting in an intense climax to the film.

And yet, despite this, I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the meaning of at all was. Still, clocking in at just over 90 minutes it's well worth a watch, and a good opportunity to show some support for an upcoming British director. And it's certainly better than much of the drivel coming out of Hollywood these days (Pirates of the Caribbean 4? Yawn).

Iron Man

Bit underwhelmed by this one. Robert Downey Jr. is admittedly terrific, bringing real charisma and dynamism to the role, while the effects - as you expect these days - are excellent, and the actual Iron Man suit is just unbelievably cool.

But the plot is rather thin on the ground; the film starts well enough, though a lot more could have been made of Stark's imprisonment. But once he escapes, the whole thing goes downhill a bit. Main problem is a lack of a decent villain; Obadiah Stane just didn't cut it for me. The eventual mash-up between Stane and Stark was rather disappointing.

Feel like this was a bit of a missed opportunity, it's all just a bit lightweight. Hopefully the planned sequel will have a meatier plot and better bad guy, as that was all that was really missing from this first instalment.

Cronos

I loved Pan's Labyrinth, which single-handedly proved that Guillermo del Toro is a massively talented film director. I was intrigued by the premise of Cronos (which involves a parasite contained in a mechanical critter, giving eternal life to anyone who uses it) and the many accolades the film received seemed to indicate that it would be well worth a watch.

Wrong. Cronos left me totally cold, it just didn't do anything for me at all. There's no tension or atmosphere, and the painfully one-dimensional plot offers little of interest. So much more could have been done with the relationship between Gris and his wife, after he becomes a vampire (there are hints but it's emotionally muted), and also with Dieter de la Guardia, the dying man who is desperate for the parasite's gift. Ron Pearlman's villain, Angel, is one-dimensional to the point of embarrassment.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Massive sea monster 4tw!

Saw the link to this article on Mark Chadbourn's blog:

"A giant fossil sea monster found in the Arctic and known as "Predator X" had a bite that would make T-Rex look feeble, scientists said Monday.

The 50 ft (15 metre) long Jurassic era marine reptile had a crushing 33,000 lbs (15 tonnes) per square inch bite force, the Natural History Museum of Oslo University said of the new find on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard."

Awesome. I've always loved stuff like this - the prehistoric seas were full of totally screwed-up creatures.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

If you thought you'd been waiting a long time for A Dance With Dragons...

...then spare a thought for fans of Ricardo Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy. The first novel, The Chosen, was published way back in 1999. The second book, The Standing Dead, was released in 2001.

8 years later, the concluding novel, The Third God, is finally nearing publication. Apparently the delay was partly due to the author's house being severely damaged by fire.

Anyway, the point is...having to wait 4 years for A Dance with Dragons is small change compared to the delays fans of other authors have had to suffer! ;)

As for The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, I might have to give it a go. I recall looking at the first novel on the shelf in my local bookstore way back in 1999 when it was released, and remember being put off by the fact that it had a quote on the inside cover (from some author...can't remember who) that said something like "There's no magic swords or enchanted forests...this is the sort of direction fantasy needs to take in order to thrive."

I was totally put off by that blurb, as magic swords and enchanted forests were exactly what I wanted...and now, ten years later, I want to pick it up because it's not got them in it!

It's funny what age does to you... ;)

By the way, head over to Graeme's blog if you fancy winning the whole The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy, as he's got some sets up for grabs!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Owned by Vellum...

After reading - and really liking, despite not really understanding - Hal Duncan's short story The Prince of End Times in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy, I figured I'd give his debut novel Vellum a go.

After just under 200 pages, I've finally thrown in the towel. Vellum was just too much for me, I couldn't handle it. Normally I'll put a book down because it's boring, badly written, or just failing to grab me for whatever reason. This wasn't the case with Vellum.

I loved the premise of the novel. I loved the prose. And I liked the segments of the story where I had some rough idea of what was happening. But I just couldn't keep up with the narrative, which leaps backwards and forwards in time, and weaves between different worlds. A character will die in one chapter, then they'll be alive in the next one because it's set earlier in the timeline. Then they'll be dead again but in a different world, and you're not sure whether it's the same character (but in a different world and in an earlier/later time) or whether it's a different incarnation of that character, whose fate is not linked to the other incarnations...man, does that even make sense? Maybe now you can see why I couldn't keep up with this novel. OMG BRAIN MELTDOWN.

Seriously though, I just couldn't handle it. I'm quite happy to go with the flow for a while when I'm not quite understanding what's happening, but eventually I get to a point where I just can't go on.

Funnily enough, I was annoyed at having to put Vellum down: I really didn't want to. Perhaps I'll give it another go sometime, as there's some terrific (and crazy) stuff in there, not to mention some excellent writing.

For the moment though, Vellum > me :(

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Win a SIGNED proof of Nights of Villjamur!

That's right. Not only do I have a shiny proof of what could be the hottest debut of 2009 to give away, but the author - Mark Charan Newton - has kindly agreed to scribble all over it as well.

So, if you'd like to get your greasy mitts on this novel - a good couple of months before it's released - and have Mark write a personalised message inside, now's your chance.

It's simple to enter. Just drop me an email at speculativehorizons AT googlemail DOT com, with the subject of 'NOV giveaway,' and your full name in the body of the email. No need to confirm your address, as I'll contact the winner and obtain that later.

This giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere. Deadline for entries is Thursday 19 March - any entries received after this day will not be included in the draw. I will select the winner by random.

Best of luck...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My blog is fabulous...

...so says Gav from NextRead, who kindly nominated Speculative Horizons as one of five blogs that he thinks are teh secks. W00t. Cheers Gav!

So, as per the rules, I have to reveal five things I can't live without. I thought I'd focus on the smaller, more unusual ones than the standard things (air, food, ipod, books, etc).

Right, let's see...

1) Orange tictacs. Mint tictacs are fine, lime ones are ok, cherry ones should be made illegal and destroyed on sight. Orange tictacs are surely the kings of the tictac world (but why the hell are pure orange packs so damned hard to find?! You can only ever seem to get them in the mixed packs with the friggin' lime ones, and there's always more lime ones than orange! It's a darned conspiracy, I tell you...).

2) Converse sneakers. Not just any converse sneakers, but the black-and-white Chuck Taylor ones. They're just cool. The other night I accidentally ripped a hole in one, and squealed like a pig in distress. I then promptly went and bought an identical replacement pair, although I did try on every colour the shop had, and managed to piss the attendant off in the process. I came dangerously close to buying a purple pair but fortunately saw sense at the last moment. Black converse are the daddies.

3) Bourbon biscuits. I'm addicted to biscuits, and the humble bourbon is my biscuit of choice. Great on its own, or with a drink to dunk it in. Mmmm.

4) Coffee. I am a coffee whore, and a coffee poseur to boot. I don't drink any of that Nescafe shit, it's fresh coffee all the way. Not only does it taste far better, but for some sad reason I enjoy using my little cafetiere thingy. It makes you feel cultured and civilised. Although I must admit I do have some instant coffee hidden away in the cupboard. But it's Carte Noire, so it's allowed.

5) Curry. Food of the Gods. Not the weak stuff like Korma, but the hot stuff. Need I say more?

Right, on to the five blogs that I think are fabulous...some have probably already been nominated, but they're just gonna have to accept being nominated again. I'm sure they won't mind.

1) A Dribble of Ink
2) Realms of Speculative Fiction
3) Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
4) Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
5) The Wertzone

Monday, 9 March 2009

Some cool bookcovers

I've spent most of today being owned by a nasty cold, so no real energy for any serious blogging. Thought I'd just post a few covers that I've seen recently and quite liked.

Check 'em out, yo.


Sunday, 8 March 2009

Raymond E. Feist UK tour announced

A UK tour by Ray Feist to support his latest novel Rides a Dread Legion has been announced. Here's the full details:

Monday 8 March
6.30–8.00pm: Nottingham Waterstones
TALK AND SIGNING
1–5 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham, NG1 2GR

Tuesday 10 March
1.00–2.00pm Birmingham Forbidden Planet
SIGNING
38 Priory Queensway, Birmingham, B4 7LA
7.00pm: Waterstones, Manchester Deansgate
TALK AND SIGNING
91 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BW

Wednesday 11 March
6.30pm: Waterstones Edinburgh East End
TALK AND SIGNING
13–14 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AN

Thursday 12 March
1.00pm – Forbidden Planet Bristol
2.00pm: SIGNING
Clifton Heights, Triangle West, Bristol BS8 1EJ
6.30pm: Forbidden Planet London
SIGNING
179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR

Saturday 14 March
1.00pm: Easons, Dublin
SIGNING
O’Connell Street

I met Feist a few years back on his last UK tour, and it was a good signing. Big turn out and a decent atmosphere. Well worth going to. Not sure if I'll go along this time, as I've not read a Feist novel in years, but we'll see. 

Friday, 6 March 2009

Crap fantasy book covers #17

I was planning on just doing some linkies (see previous entry), but then I saw this dreadful cover and almost spewed up my lunch all over my desk.

It's difficult to determine what the worst aspect of this cover is.

Perhaps it's the bowl/mullet haircut sported by the protagonist, last seen adorning the head of He-Man, back in the 1980s.

Or maybe it's the fact that he's got his groin thrust out.

Then again, you could make a case for the exterior background. What's up with those squashed towers?

Seriously though, this sort of bland, generic cover really irks me. Fantasy gets a bad enough press a lot of the time, so why do we kick ourselves in the balls by having crap like this on the covers of our books? Sure, I get it - it's commercial. It sells books (for some reason). But can't we have something a little more sophisticated than some dandy staring lovingly at a sword in front of a poorly-realised background?

Crap-o-meter rating: 8.5/10

The "OMG YES IT'S FRIDAY" linky links

Some linkage from around the blogosphere. Because it's Friday, and my brain will melt if I engage it in strenuous activity...

Wert has posted what I think is the first review of Best Served Cold on the intarwebs. He liked it. Lots. More than the first three with chocolate, no less.

Realms of Speculative Fiction tears Stephenie Meyer a new one, with their amusing review of Breaking Dawn. By all accounts, it sounds like a truly shit novel. The cover is total crap as well - talk about mutton dressed as lamb.

Speculative Fiction Junkie has reviewed Ken Scholes's Lamentation, tipped by some as the debut of 2009.

Graeme has posted a pic of his reading pile of shame. It's big. And scary.

Gav has reviewed The Ninth Circle, which I ought to read since I've just got back from Budapest...

Dark Wolf has read and reviewed The Crown Conspiracy.

John has reviewed The Blood of Ambrose.

Jeff has interviewed Karen Miller.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Book review: Nights of Villjamur

Nights of Villjamur

Mark Charan Newton

(Tor, 5 June 2009)

In recent years Tor, in the UK at least, have developed something of a reputation for publishing more serious, innovative fantasy. China MiĆ©ville has been around for a while, but new, exciting authors have emerged from the Tor stable: Alan Campbell, Hal Duncan, Adrian Tchaikovsky. Something all these authors have in common is that they've delivered novels that deviate from the norm, that are a cut above much of the bubblegum fantasy being peddled around at the minute. Their novels actually try to do something a little different

Mark Charan Newton is the latest new talent to emerge, and with his debut effort Nights of Villjamur, it's safe to say that he continues this innovative, more serious tradition. He's joined their ranks - and he fits in very comfortably indeed. 

An ice age is looming. In its wake, thousands of refugees descend upon the 'Sanctuary City' of Villjamur, hoping for shelter from the impending ice. But there's trouble at the top - the emperor is growing increasingly paranoid about his position, and his suicide leaves a vacuum in government at the worst possible time. Brynd Lathraea, Commander of the elite Nightguard, heads out into the Boreal Archipelago to escort the emperor's daughter, Rika, home to take the throne. Yet other political factions are waiting to play their hands...

At the same time: Investigator Jeryd of the city's Inquisition finds himself investigating the mysterious murder of a councillor, while trying to patch together his own failed personal life; a young womaniser arrives in the city with his own hidden agenda; and reports come in of some sort of massacre on the northern islands of the empire. In this land under a red, dying sun, events are about to come to a head...

Several things become apparent after reading just a few chapters of Nights of Villjamur. The first is that Newton writes very fluidly, with a stylistic and - dare I say it - more literary flourish than you often find in fantasy. His prose is often refreshingly noir, and is pleasingly evocative and visceral. Furthermore, he strikes a fine balance between description and action, deftly avoiding clumsy info-dumps. The pacing is very good; at no point does the narrative get bogged down.

What also quickly shines through is Newton's worldbuilding, which is both innovative and beguiling. To my mind, the real star of the novel is the city of Villjamur itself: a hulking, brooding mass of humanity laced in snow. Newton imbibes the city with real life and vitality, from the glittering spires to the most rancid hovels. The city has a pulse, a heartbeat - it's a living entity. This is clearly something that Newton wanted to get across, and he achieves this with aplomb. The wider setting - the Boreal Archipelago - is hauntingly beautiful; I could clearly envisage these wintry lands beneath a bleeding, dying sun. 

There's a lot of cool stuff in Newton's world, and I won't remark much on this to avoid spoiling anything. Suffice to say that I think the whole idea of the cultists and their ancient technology is a very fine one indeed, an idea with almost limitless possibilities. I really like the whole idea of men and women devoting their lives to these ancient technologies, and in some cases becoming obsessed with the results of their studies. 

Newton proves just as adept at characterisation as he does with his worldbuilding and prose, if not more so. There are some strong characters here, from the lonesome, melancholy Tuya, to the albino commander Brynd (whose personal life is almost as dangerous as his professional one), to the noir-ish Jeryd, who knows he's screwed his life up and doesn't know how to fix it. Newton's strength is that he understands how human emotions work, and subsequently his characters feel like fully fleshed-out individuals. He creates relationships that are both believable and, in Jeryd's case, touching. These are people you can find sympathy and anger for, depending on who they are and what they do.

Nights of Villjamur isn't your usual by-the-numbers fantasy story. This is a tale about humanitarian issues, about politics, about relationships, about surviving. Newton manages to deal with a number of themes and issues, exploring them without bludgeoning the reader over the head with them. We see heroism, we see the dangers and vileness of right-wing politics, we see love in its different guises. Against the moody backdrop of the city, it's a heady, enthralling mix. 

Some aspects did niggle a little. I never really got a physical feel for the rumel race, couldn't quite picture them properly, so I think a little more description would have helped. One or two events seemed a little contrived, and I would have liked to have seen some aspects - the anarchist group, the power struggle between Rika and Chancellor Urtica - developed more. I would also have liked a little more resolution at the end of the novel, but then it is clearly labelled as the first book in a series, so perhaps that particular criticism isn't fair. 

Verdict: All things considered, Nights of Villjamur is a very strong debut epic fantasy novel. Liquid prose with noir stylings evoke a brooding city in all its glory and despair, filled with believable characters and dozens of small innovations that make the world that bit more intriguing. This is a grown-up fantasy that touches on real-life concerns, and this is where fantasy is at its most potent and relevant. Newton is certainly a new talent to watch, and I look forward to the next in the Legends of the Red Sun series...

I've got a couple of things with Mark lined up for this blog - look out for them in the near future. In the meantime, check out his website.

SF Site - readers' choice for 2008

The SF Site has now posted the top ten books of 2008, as chosen by their readers.

As on the editors' list, Anathem by Neal Stephenson takes the top spot. Other notable authors that make the cut include Joe Abercrombie for Last Argument of Kings (2), Steven Erikson for Toll the Hounds (5) and Richard Morgan for The Steel Remains (7).

Solaris statement

Here's the official statement from Games Workshop about the potential sale of Solaris:

ANNOUNCEMENT

GAMES WORKSHOP PUTS SOLARIS BOOKS IMPRINT UP FOR SALE

Games Workshop PLC today announced its intention to make its Solaris Books publishing imprint available for sale.

BL Publishing, the publishing division of Games Workshop, has two imprints, Black Library and Solaris. Its core business is the Black Library, an imprint which publishes fiction set in the dark fantasy worlds of Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings. It has seen consistent double
digit like-for-like growth over the last 3 years.


Solaris is an original fiction imprint of BL Publishing and releases around 20 science fiction, fantasy and horror titles a year. Renowned for its back-to-basics approach and innovative marketing, this imprint was started in 2006 and has very quickly become established as a global brand in midlist, mass market fiction.

Both the Black Library and Solaris are distributed in the UK and US by Simon & Schuster.

Games Workshop’s Head of Publishing, George Mann, said in a statement: “In recent years our Black Library imprint has more than doubled in size and scope and we have decided that we should focus all our attention in growing this core part of our business. Whilst we see plenty of growth potential with
Solaris, we are looking for a buyer who is interested in developing this global brand.”


So you see, it's not - as some folk have suggested - a reaction to some sort of poor performance by Solaris. Instead, it's simply GW deciding that they're better off concentrating their efforts on the increasingly successful Black Library imprint, which is more relevant to their overall market.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Comment: Solaris 'up for sale'

Rumours have been flying around the interwebs after it was revealed that UK genre publisher Solaris is being put up for sale by its owner, Games Workshop.

Naturally, this has led to the assumption that Games Workshop is looking to offload a failing business, but we can nip that in the bud right now. Solaris is far from a failing business, and that is totally not the reason why they're being put up for sale. A statement should appear shortly on their website which will clear things up.

I for one hope that Solaris continue to operate, as they've been a breath of fresh air and have released some good novels.

Monday, 2 March 2009

European adventures: Budapest

Fantasy books and writing is just one of my passions - traveling and exploring new places and cultures is another. I just got back from a fun weekend in Budapest last night, and thought I'd just post a few pics that I took while I was there.

Budapest is an interesting city, with plenty of exquisite sights and architecture. While I did feel that in some respects it's clinging to former glories and is a little frayed around the edges, there's nonetheless a definitive charm about the place. I particularly liked the parliament building and the wonderful fairytale-esque Fisherman's Bastion. The best thing though was the Rudas bath house - a fantastic Turkish bathhouse dating from the time of the Ottoman occupation (so around 16th century). Such an atmospheric place, with awesome architecture...and the spa baths weren't bad either! Most enjoyable...

Anyway, I hope you like the pics below (apologies if the formatting is a bit screwed - trying to move pics around on blogger using a Macbook is not very easy, and a royal pain in the rear to boot). 

Normal blogging service should hopefully resume this week, once I get back into the swing of things...