Saturday 31 January 2009

A Dance With Delusion

I almost called this post 'A Dance With Dickheads' because that's how I view some of the 'fans' that constantly berate George R. R. Martin for the delay in delivering A Dance With Dragons, but then that would just be stooping to their level. 

I have posted on this subject before, and I'll now post on it again since the issue of the delay with Dance has once more reared its ugly head. Shawn Speakman proved the spark this time, with an interesting article about how whether any of the criticism of George is justified. Since then, other bloggers have given their views on the whole business:

Wert has written an excellent piece that explains the reason for the discussion in the first place, before giving his own reaction to the various accusations of the 'antifans' (I like that term, it has a nice ring to it...). 

Aidan has given his thoughts here (look for the well-considered comment by blogger Thrinidir).

Graeme has also waded into the debate, including an amusing story about the time he met GRRM himself...

I'm a huge fan of GRRM, and naturally I've got my own feelings on the matter. Whereas my fellow bloggers have written carefully considered articles, I'm going to just have a good rant. Apologies in advance if it's a little incoherent...

George R. R. Martin is an amazingly talented writer, and A Song of Ice and Fire is a brilliant fantasy series. We should be grateful that we have had the chance to read his work, and we should appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that he has put into it. Let's be honest here - the guy's given his readers an unsurpassed reading experience and countless hours of enjoyment (and by that I mean not just by reading the books, but debating their many mysteries online). GRRM's work is something to be celebrated and cherished. 

Yet sadly we have 'fans' who spend their time berating GRRM's apparent tardiness, demanding fresh news on the long-awaited next novel, and whining about how he's being 'disrespectful' by refusing to reveal how close the book is to completion. These deluded antifans think GRRM should be writing 24/7 to deliver Dance, that he shouldn't watch another second of NFL until the manuscript is turned in, and that when he's not writing he should be updating us all on his progress. GRRM, they squeal, 'owes' us.

What absolute bullshit. GRRM owes us nothing, and anyone who says he's being disrespectful to his fans is deluded. The guy's a human for fuck's sake, not a bloody machine (can you tell I'm getting angry now?). He can't write for 24 hours a day. More than that, just like anyone else, he's entitled to his free time. He needs his free time. So what if he blogs about NFL? So what if he blogs about politics? It's his blog - he can blog about whatever the hell he wants (Aidan, I'm afraid I completely disagree that he should only blog about ASOIAF!).

Oh, but it's distracting him from his writing, they say. He's wasting time that he could spend writing ASOIAF. More bullshit - check out Wert's post for the reason why that argument is a load of hot air. 

Look, I'm as big a fan as the next person. ASOIAF is my all-time favourite fantasy series. I am looking forward massively to Dance. But I'm not being a tosser and whining about how long it's taking, and I just don't see why some people feel the need to. There's loads of excellent books by other authors out there, so go and read something else while you wait! 

What many readers don't understand is that writing is an organic process. It ebbs and flows. It's not like a factory conveyor belt, churning out the same product every time. You have good days and bad days. Sometimes you hit a brick wall and can't get past it. Other times, you feel unstoppable. You just can't rush it. You have to take your time. Writing isn't easy, as some people think. It's bloody hard at times - as someone who's had work published before, I know this from personal experience. We just have to accept that Dance will be done when it's done, and only GRRM knows when that will be (or maybe not even he knows). 

Look, I don't deny that GRRM made a mistake saying Dance would follow closely on the heels of Feast. With hindsight, that was the spark that led to all these pointless flame wars and I think GRRM would be the first to admit that he's learned a lesson. However, I wouldn't go as far to call him unprofessional, which is the stance that Speakman takes. Go ask his publisher and see if they give you the same answer - I doubt it somehow. 

I admit the odd update on his progress would be appreciated. But even when he did give us updates, people complained about their lack of frequency. So he's criticised if he does give updates and criticised if he doesn't. No wonder it drove him nuts and he gave up on updates altogether. I think some people would only be satisfied if he updated us every day, and that is just never going to happen. 

You know what riles me the most? The antifans that claim GRRM is rude/discourteous to his fans. That is a total crock of shit. I've met GRRM, and as I've said before, he's a true gent. Great sense of humour, very humble and really down-to-earth. When I told him I dabbled in short fiction, he asked me what I'd had published. He then gave me a few words of advice. Discourteous? Disrespectful? Hardly.

In fact, it's the antifans that are being disrespectful. Hurling abuse at a man that has given them so much enjoyment is childish, petulant and downright stupid. We should show GRRM the respect he deserves, and wait patiently while he makes Dance as good as it can be. If it takes another five years, then so be it. I'll still be here. 

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Book review: Ravenheart


David Gemmell

(Corgi, 2002)

I wasn't totally sure what to expect with Ravenheart, the third novel in David Gemmell's Rigante series. The first book, Sword in the Storm, was something of a disappointment, while the second, Midnight Falcon, is a superb novel that ranks alongside Gemmell classics like Legend and Waylander. I was therefore intrigued to see how Ravenheart turned out.

The action kicks off some 800 years after the events of Midnight Falcon. The Rigante are now a conquered people, living under the yoke of their cruel Varlish conquerors, led by the black-hearted Moidart. The story centres on Kaelin Ring, a young Rigante descended from the legendary King Connovar. Along with his mentor, the huge highlander Jaim Grymauch, Kaelin rises up against the Varlish and becomes a figurehead for the Rigante rebellion.

With Sword in the Storm, Gemmell had to introduce a new world and new characters, as well as laying the foundations for the events in Midnight Falcon. The same is largely true of Ravenheart; the world has changed much since the events of the previous novel, and Gemmell is forced to spend some time illustrating this (although all four Rigante books can be read on their own, they technically form two separate duologies that are only tenuously linked). Fortunately, he manages to do this without hindering the pacing of the novel (which I felt was one of the problems with Sword in the Storm).

The world itself is roughly equivalent to early eighteenth century Europe, and as the novel progresses it becomes clear that the English Civil War was a strong influence in the novel's development. This new level of technology means that we have guns and cannons, and this adds a fresh dynamic to the mix. Gemmell was always good at traditional battle scenes, and here he proves equally adept at describing black powder warfare. The strong mystical element of the previous novels remains intact, so the end result is an appealing combination of magic and technology which works extremely well.

Anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Gemmell's work knows the sort of characters he always created - heroes with a touch of evil in them, villains with a touch of good, courageous men that commit cowardly acts and cowardly men that commit brave acts. Gemmell's most enduring quality is his characterisation, and this is again evident in Ravenheart. Kaelin Ring at first is perhaps a little similar to his ancestors Connovar and Bane, but he eventually develops his own personality and soul. Jaim Grymauch is a vintage Gemmell hero. Physically strong, brave and kind-hearted, he's a lovable rogue that always does what is right rather than what is easy, and the sacrifice he is forced to make lends tremendous emotional weight to the novel's climax.

Yet interestingly for a Gemmell novel, one of the most interesting characters is not one that wields a weapon. The Varlish schoolmaster, Alterith Shaddler, goes on to play a crucial role in the story. The subsequent character development and progression of Shaddler is extremely satisfying to watch unfold, not to mention inspirational (in fact, the sacrifice he makes - and the strength it takes him to do so - is comparable to that of Grymauch). As always, the villain of the piece - the Moidart - is not all he's cracked up to be, and the flaws of his character (of which there are many) are convincingly explained.

The plot of Midnight Falcon was more expansive and unpredictable than many of Gemmell's other work, and Ravenheart continues in this vein. The result is a number of sub-plots that weave skilfully around the main plot and all reach satisfying conclusions. Interestingly, rather than ending with a huge battle (the staple Gemmell ending) the novel's climax is much smaller scale, but packed with action and emotion. Interestingly, it involves a court case - and Gemmell shows he could handle this sort of scene just as well as battle scenes.

Thematically, the usual Gemmell themes abound: loyalty, courage, justice and so on. But this time around Gemmell explores something that he's not really touched on before - discrimination, and the negative affect on society this causes when widespread (and encouraged). Like most of Gemmell's major themes, this aspect is explored deftly without the novel ever becoming preachy, and it adds another layer of depth to the proceedings.

Verdict: Like most of his novels, Ravenheart packs a real emotional punch, is filled with well-drawn, believable characters, and has some excellent combat sequences. But more than this, the exploration of discrimination and the focus on less martial characters show how Gemmell really matured as a writer in the last few years of his life. Ravenheart doesn't scale the lofty heights of his best work, but it's a damned fine read all the same.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

My 10 most anticipated 2009 fantasy books - part 1!

There's no doubt that 2009 is going to be a huge year for fantasy, all the more so given that last year was perhaps a little quiet. With so many big releases lined up for the next eleven months, I thought I'd share with you the ones that have got me rubbing my hands (and, uh, drooling) with barely-contained glee...

A Dance With Dragons

George R. R. Martin

(Bantam Spectra, 27 October 2009)

For many fantasy fans this is the most exciting novel slated for release this year. Originally expected to follow hot on the heels of 2005's A Feast For Crows, it's been four long years of waiting (and having to put up with idiots squealing about how Martin is being disrespectful to his fans, how he doesn't care any more, how dare he have a life outside of writing, and other such nonsense).

I was disappointed by A Feast For Crows, but I fully expect GRRM to return to the top of his game with this one. I just hope it doesn't slip back to 2010.

The Republic of Thieves

Scott Lynch

(Gollancz, 19 November 2009)

I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora. I've read it twice and I'd happily read it again. In fact, it would easily make my top 10 list of all-time favourite fantasy novels, perhaps even my top 5. Yet the follow-up, Red Seas Under Red Skies, didn't really work for me - it felt flat and clunky in comparison (though admittedly it had a very tough act to follow).

So, what to expect from the third instalment in the Gentlemen Bastards sequence? I'm looking forward to finding out, but again am worried that this novel might slip off the radar and into 2010. I don't think Lynch has turned the manuscript in yet, fueling one or two rumours as to the reason why. Only time will tell.

Best Served Cold

Joe Abercrombie

(Gollancz, 18 June 2009)

With his First Law trilogy, Abercrombie proved that it is possible to tell an epic story in three volumes (a lesson that some other authors could do with learning...). Plenty of praise was heaped upon this trilogy, and rightly so because it had some great characters, a solid plot and strong dialogue. All in all, it was great entertainment.

The question now, is can Abercrombie's new standalone effort match the quality of his first three novels? Some pretty big characters will probably be absent from this novel, so I'm looking forward to seeing whether the new protagonists are as engaging and entertaining.


Jasper Kent

(Bantam Press, 1 January 2009)

I tried to wangle a review copy of this one, but got only a resounding silence in response from the publisher, so I obtained it the old-fashioned way. Boo! Still, the nerve-wracking experience of having to queue up in a bookshop has not dulled my enthusiasm for what sounds like a very cool novel indeed. The premise - like most good novels - is simple: Napoleonic wars plus vampires. Early reviews have been very promising, so this one is very high up my reading list.

The City and the City

China Miéville

(Pan Macmillan, 15 May 2009)

Miéville's The Scar was one of my top five reads of 2008, and I'm looking forward to checking out more of his work. I was intending to read Perdido Street Station, however the sheer size of that novel scared me away (the MMPB version is a monster), so I may wait for this new novel (although at 500 pages in hardback, it's also a bit of a behemoth). Still, it sounds very interesting indeed - even though it's not set in Bas Lag - and promises to be an exciting read.

Right, that's it for part 1 - look out for part 2 in the near future!

Monday 26 January 2009

Minas Tirith cake!

Saw the link to this on Westeros and just had to post the pics here. Quite possibly the coolest cake in the world.

For more LOTR-inspired cakes (and some amusing cake disasters), check out this link.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Brisingr review and commentary

A nice fellow by the name of Rob Oakes has, over at his blog, written a very thought-provoking review of Christopher Paolini's much-derided (and sadly hugely popular) Brisingr. For the sake of those of us who wouldn't read a Paolini novel if our lives depended on it, Rob explains exactly why we're not missing out: 

"To understand the great weaknesses in Paolini’s work, it’s first necessary to understand the small ones. Let’s start with the minor sins before looking at their heavier brethren. As I alluded to above, there isn’t much to enjoy in this novel; not at a technical, literary, or philosophical level. While some of the linguistic errors might be resolved with a good editor, many of the other errors are stylistic or structural and are much more intractable. Paolini devotes pages to unimportant minutiae, drowning the narrative in lengthy and ponderous description. At one point he spends twenty-two pages to describe the forging of his sword from space metal. Twenty-two pages!"

You can find the rest of Rob's excellent review here. Rob has also written quite a scholarly article about how the character Eragon, far from being a hero, is actually a sociopath: 

"Eragon has little mercy or understanding for anyone around him (either friend or foe). This trend only gets worse as the novel progresses. Steadily, we proceed from actions which are merely foolish to those which are profoundly disturbing. Consider how Eragon acts in the first few hundred pages of Brisingr. In the opening chapters, Eragon commits genocide. He later circumvents justice in order to condemn and abandon a man in the desert. Last, he kills a child in cold blood while the boy is begging for mercy. In this essay, we will look at these three scenarios in detail and show that Eragon has lost his way, his conscience and his soul."

Chew on that, Paolini! ;)

Saturday 24 January 2009

Comment: Demons episodes 2 and 3

I wrote a few weeks ago about how, despite one or two clichés, the first episode of Demons was reasonably decent entertainment. I kept meaning to give my thoughts on the following episodes but could never quite manage to find the enthusiasm...but here we finally go.

The second installment was an improvement. It was darker and a bit more atmospheric, and I liked Richard Wilson's irritable-but-wise old priest character very much indeed (in fact, Wilson's very presence managed to lend some respectability to the whole thing). The episode was only ruined by the final showdown between Luke and the 'powerful' demon - the confrontation was over way too quickly, and Luke's easy dispatching of the demon made a mockery of any tension the previous 55 minutes had managed to generate. But still, you felt that Demons was going in the right direction. 

Then came episode three, which managed to single-handedly destroy any credibility the series had built so far. Now, I know that Demons is not meant to be taken too seriously. It's meant as light entertainment. Even so, there's a limit to how ridiculous the plot can get before it becomes unwatchable...and the plot of episode three was so ludicrous and filled with holes that it was just laughable. 

Seriously - if 'Mr Tibbs' (some sort of demonic mutant rat) wanted to kill our intrepid bunch of demon-smiters, why didn't he just blow their brains out like he did with his human lackey? But no, instead he decided to take the classic 'James Bond bad guy' route, by trapping Luke and Galvin in a drain and not waiting around to see them drown (when will these antagonists ever learn?). But even more stupid was the fact that he left an unconscious Mina next to a ticking bomb...that was not set to go off for 45 minutes. Hmmm. But it got worse. What would you do if you walked into a room and saw a ticking bomb and an unconscious person? Well, the one thing you wouldn't do is think, "Omg, I need to find a book about how to defuse a bomb" and then sit there trying to find the relevant part (which is exactly what Ruby did). Even if you did do that, what would you do if you couldn't defuse it? You'd run, right? You wouldn't sit there and wait for it to blow you up...which is again what Ruby did (though sadly it didn't blow her to pieces - that would have redeemed the episode entirely). 

The series has already got enough problems (Galvin's American 'accent', Ruby's increasingly emo declarations of love for Luke, and the fact that Zoe Tapper is still being totally wasted) and paper-thin plots don't help at all. The only positive thing is that the series can't get any worse. Hell, I don't even know why I'm still watching it. Still, at least tonight's episode has got vampires in it. You can't go wrong with vampires. Then again, if you look at Twilight...

Friday 23 January 2009

Artwork and blurb for Nights of Villjamur

I've been waiting to post this for a while, as some of the earlier versions that appeared were a bit rough around the edges. But here, finally, is the cover for Mark Charan Newton's noir fantasy novel Nights of Villjamur:

Nice. Very nice. Not particularly commercial perhaps (in that it doesn't have a figure on it, which is the trend right now) but wonderfully dark and brooding. It certainly stands out from the crowd.

Can't remember if I've posted the blurb before, but here it is again:

Political intrigue and dark violence converge in a superb new action series of enthralling fantasy. An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda. When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.

I've read the first few chapters and I think this could well be the debut novel of 2009. Release date is June I think. I'm expecting a proof copy in the near future though, so will let you all know my thoughts as soon as possible.

You'll probably be seeing a fair bit of Mark around these parts in the upcoming months, as he's kindly agreed to do a guest post, an interview, and have a blind date with one lucky reader (one of those is a joke).

Thursday 22 January 2009

Change to rating system (again!)

After finding out that for some of you guys the 'shield' symbols I use for ratings were in fact appearing as the letter 'd', I thought I better change the rating system. I was going to just keep the five-star system but use numbers rather than 'shields', but I'm thinking now of going back to the 1 to 10 scale I used originally (though this time without the use of decimal ratings, which just made the whole thing hopelessly subjective - what the heck is the difference between 7.5 and 7.75 anyway?).

So, I'll think I'll go with a standard 1 to 10 scoring system.

What do you guys think? Any preferences? Ultimately I don't suppose it really matters...

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Dread Empire artwork...

Saw these beauties over at SFFworld (thanks to Rob for the heads up) and just had to post them here. I've already posted an extremely cool Black Company front cover previously, but here are three more awesome covers for some of Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Dread Empire books.

I think these three covers are fantastic - great colours, great textures, and they just look plain cool. Fantasy book covers the way they should be done.

Scott Lynch isn't dead!

After Scott Lynch's disappearance from the intarwebs, there was much speculation as to the reason for his absence (World of Warcraft addiction seemed to be the most popular).

However, yesterday Scott proved that he is alive and well by posting his first journal entry in over a year.

Looks like we might be getting The Republic of Thieves this year after all! ;)

Monday 19 January 2009

Bestselling US SFF debut of 2008 - 'Across the Face of the World'

I wasn't overly surprised that The Way of Shadows was the UK's bestselling UK SFF debut of 2008, but the US equivalent was something of a surprise.

Russell Kirkpatrick's debut novel Across the Face of the World was previously released in the UK to seemingly little online fanfare, and the final overall conclusion was lukewarm at best. Possibly the most striking aspect of the novel was the truly cringe-worthy comment from Trudi Canavan that adorns the front cover - "Not since Tolkien have I been so awed." Talk about putting pressure on a debut novel...

Still, online critical reaction matters very little in commercial terms so maybe we shouldn't be that surprised by the success of Across the Face of the World in the US. I think the main attraction was the plot, which - depending on your perspective - is either horribly derivative or wonderfully traditional:

For 2000 years Kannwar, the immortal Destroyer, Lord of Bhrudwo, has been planning revenge on those who cast him out from the mortal world and his plans are now nearing fruition. When the trader Mahnum escapes the Destroyer's prison and flees, the Lords of Fear are sent in pursuit. He makes his way home to Loulea, but there Mahnum and his wife are captured. His sons, Leith and Hal, together with a small group of villagers, set off in pursuit to free Mahnum and Indrett - and warn their world of the coming war. From a tiny snowbound village, six men and women will begin a dangerous quest to challenge an ancient evil, fulfil a prophecy and change the course of their world's history.

In any case, congrats to Orbit for publishing the bestselling debuts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sunday 18 January 2009

What makes a novel gritty and dark?

I ask this question, because some of the comments on the Brent Weeks thread on SFFworld got me thinking.

More than once I've seen The Way of Shadows described as being a 'dark' and 'gritty' book. Personally, I didn't think it was either. I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism, more a comment based on my own experience. Ok, the gritty bit I can understand. There are some violent moments and plenty of blood gets spilled. To my mind, gritty is more than that. But I guess I can just about see where the gritty tag comes from. 

But dark? I don't get that at all. Some readers have said that, basically, Weeks' debut novel is dark because it's about assassins and relationships that get screwed as a result. I disagree. Similar events happen in The Lies of Locke Lamora (people die - brutally - and budding relationships are cut short), but I don't think anyone thinks of that as a dark novel. Likewise, the Jason Bourne trilogy of films are about an assassin, and plenty of people suffer, get hurt or even killed. But they're not 'dark' films. 

So, what am I driving at here? Well, I feel that whether a book is 'dark' or 'gritty' or 'romantic' or whatever, is not so much to do with the events in the book, but more about how the author portrays them and handles them. For example, you can write a sex scene in different ways. You could focus on the physical side - the sweat, the rhythm, whatever - or you could write it from an emotional point of view - the elation, the passion, and so on. Same act, two very different ways of presenting it. 

My favourite George R.R Martin short story is The Pear-shaped Man. ***Before I continue, I ought to warn there is a very minor spoiler coming up*** Apart from being a fantastic horror story, there's one scene that really, really worked for me - the scene where the protagonist finds a 'cheese doozy' (some sort of potato chip - for UK readers, I think the equivalent is a cheesy wotsit) in her underwear drawer. Now, there's nothing scary about a potato chip, right?

Well, it depends how you depict it. Martin manages to actually make it feel as if the cheese doozy is alive, and somehow threatening. Not just fantastic writing, but a great example of how the fear and tension is generated by the author's handling of the scene, not the actual event itself. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the fact you might have an assassin killing loads of people in your novel doesn't necessarily make your novel dark or gritty - it's more in the way the events are handled and portrayed, rather than the events themselves. 

Well, I think so anyway. It's the only way I can explain why I didn't find Weeks' book dark or gritty. I hope that makes some sort of sense, apologies if it's a bit of a ramble. I had trouble sleeping so I thought I'd get up and pound out my feelings on the matter. I think it worked, because I feel tired now. :)

Feel free to voice your own opinions! I'm simply giving my personal take on the issue, I'm not for one minute claiming to be correct (I'm sure there are times when the opposite of what I've said might be true). 

In case anyone is wondering - yes, I know I've talked a lot about Brent Weeks recently. I promise not to mention him again for a while. :)

Right, bed...

Saturday 17 January 2009

David Gemmell 'Legend award' update + comment

Over 3000 votes now cast, from over 40 different countries - excellent going for a new award. 

The award got some good exposure recently, via an article on the Guardian newspaper's website.

In the article, organiser Deborah J Miller explains the reasoning behind the award:

"Most importantly, we wanted to commemorate our friend and colleague, but as we discussed the idea, the realisation of how under-lauded our genre truly is began to hit home," said Miller. "I'm talking about adult Fantasy with a big 'F' here: commercial, loved and bought by millions of readers worldwide. Magic, swords, monsters and heroism – good enough for Shakespeare, good enough for the Odyssey and Beowulf and certainly good enough for JRR Tolkien."

Damn right and good on her for saying so. However, the award won't make any difference to how the genre is perceived by outsiders - regardless of what novel wins - but that shouldn't bother anyone. Personally I couldn't care less what the literati or the mainstream thinks of our genre. They have their tastes, we have ours. Each to his own. 

I'm not so enthused about the article writer's summary of David Gemmell's novels: 

"His writing typically features a warrior, racked with doubt, who with an eclectic group of companions eventually manages to see off the forces of evil."

That just makes me wince. Feels demeaning, even if it was not meant that way. Plus it's a gross over-simplification of Gemmell's work. Still, no doubt they had a word-limit to work to and probably little working knowledge of Gemmell's novels. The very fact that Gemmell (and the award) are being mentioned on the website of a prominent UK newspaper is good news. 

Friday 16 January 2009

Film review: Alien Vs Predator: Requiem

Alien Vs Predator: Requiem


I'm going to just cut straight to the chase here: this is the worst film I've seen in a very long time. The last really bad movie I saw was the crap-tastic Pirates of the Caribbean 3, but that at least had one or two redeeming moments.

I'm a bit of a Predator/Alien geek, so I normally enjoy these sort of films. I actually saw the first AVP film in the cinema, and thought it was decent. Having watched it again on DVD (the UK recession has been good for one thing: dirt-cheap DVDs) I came to the same conclusion - it's not big or clever, but it was decent entertainment.

There was some sort of plot, some attempt at characterisation, and plenty of 'geek' moments (I still love the shots of the ancient tribes worshipping the predators as they stand atop pyramids). All things considered, it was good fun. Nowhere near as good as the Alien films (well, the first two at least) and probably not even as good as either Predator movie, but still a decent addition to the franchise.

AVP: Requiem, by contrast, is just a total mess and the problems are legion. For a start, most of the movie is filmed in the dark. Why? No idea. Perhaps the directors thought it would make it scarier. It doesn't. It makes it pointless, because you can't see what the hell is happening most of the time. Subsequently any decent action (if there actually was any) is wasted.

As for the plot, there isn't one. Aliens and a predator invade a small town, and everyone runs around screaming and panicking. That's about it. Characterisation is equally non-existent: the main leads are wooden and utterly lacking in depth. The script is horribly stiff and packed with crap one-liners. My favourite was the token pretty blonde squealing "We're not going to make it, are we?" in an attempt to generate some emotion. I just wish one of the other 'characters' had replied, "No, you're not going to make it. You see those nice aliens outside? They're going to forcibly remove you from the gene-pool so that the rest of humanity doesn't have to listen to your constant hysterics."

There aren't even any decent 'geek' moments for us geeks to enjoy. The main attraction was the fact that the 'boss' alien had predator characteristics (having burst forth from a predator) but this admittedly cool aspect was sadly lost in the darkness. The disappointing confrontation between the pred-alien and the predator (I think there was a fight, though I could be wrong) was a bit like watching two people have rampant sex in the dark. In fancy dress.

Overall, a shocking film and a total waste of the potential of the franchise.

Rating: d

Thursday 15 January 2009

'The Way of Shadows' is the UK's bestselling SFF debut of 2008

From the Orbit website:

"In the UK, the bestselling SFF debut of 2008 was The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks. The first book in the Night Angel Trilogy, we published it in October, and with the second and third volumes following in subsequent months it quickly became clear that fans everywhere were talking about Brent and THE WAY OF SHADOWS. This year has also got off to a great start for Brent: this week, the three books in the Night Angel Trilogy are the first, second, and third bestselling mass-market paperbacks in the UK SFF market."

I can't help but feel slightly irritated by this. I have nothing at all against Brent Weeks - he seems like a cool guy - but if you've read my review, you'll know I don't rate his debut novel that highly. I guess maybe I just find it a little frustrating that a fantasy novel with such a total lack of innovation or decent world-building manages to outsell other debuts that do make an attempt at innovation (such as Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold).

Still, innovation is not everything. Clearly Weeks managed to make a big connection with readers over here. I guess he also deserves credit for not only having the number one debut of last year in the UK (number two in the US), but also for having all three of his novels occupying the top three places on the bestsellers list for SFF novels in the UK as well (releasing all three novels in as many months was a masterstroke by Orbit, if ever there was one).

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Do you want to appear in A Memory of Light?

From Brandon Sanderson's journal:

"It has become a tradition for me to auction off naming rights to one of the characters in each of my novels.

When I started working on the Wheel of Time novel, it was my assumption that I would forego the tradition for this particular book. I wasn't planning on doing anything.

But then the awesome Pat Rothfuss started up a charity drive this Christmas. This was a particularly bad year for charities, as a lot of people were tightening their belts and cutting their spending. I read several articles talking about how difficult a year it was going to be for a lot of people in underdeveloped areas of the world, where the economy doesn't just mean fewer trips to the movies--it means children starve because there isn't enough food to be had.

At that moment, I realized that we had something very special in the Wheel of Time book - an opportunity that shouldn't be passed up. I asked Harriet if she'd mind me auctioning off a character in A Memory of Light. She was behind that 100%.

You can appear in A Memory of Light in two ways:

1) Bid on the naming rights through the auction.

2) Make a donation and join those fighting in the Last Battle. (With a $20 minimum donation getting you a shot at appearing in the book.)"

Kudos to Sanderson for supporting a good cause (and to Pat Rothfuss for starting it!). If you fancy a chance at 'appearing' in A Memory of Light, then check out the finer details here.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Book review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks

(Crown, September 2006)

As I think I mentioned previously, my first encounter with a zombie came from watching some cheap horror programme - called Creepshow or something? - where one of the short episodes focused on an old man in a wheelchair who kept demanding his birthday cake. Eventually his irate wife(?) tossed him down the stairs and killed him (as you do).

Sometime later, she's sitting by his grave and enjoying the serenity of the cemetery, when a decaying hand thrusts up through the earth. Naturally, rather than fleeing for her life, she sits there and screams as the zombie drags itself out of the earth, all the while screeching "I want my cake! I WANT MY CAKE!"

I've had a soft spot for zombies ever since. After I saw a few positive reviews for World War Z, I thought I'd give it a go. It was the premise of the book that really attracted me - rather than being a conventional novel, World War Z is presented as an oral history of a zombie outbreak, told from the recollections of various survivors - soldiers, civilians, politicians, and so on. Each tells a different story, often with an emphasis on completely different aspects of mankind's war and the struggle for survival...and eventual victory over 'Zack', the 'Zed heads', or whatever else you want to call the zombies (the survivors use different terms).

There are plenty of harrowing accounts from the survivors: the US helicopter pilot forced to traverse miles of zombie-infested swamp, the civilian trapped at the top of a block of flats teeming with the undead, the soldier that witnessed the military disaster at Yonkers (as a million zombies overran the US army barricade). There are moments of sheer terror and disaster, offset by incidents of individual heroism and humanity. It makes for horrifying, addictive reading.

It's the realism that makes the novel what it is. Brooks has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how the modern world would really react to a zombie outbreak, and his vision is hellish to say the least - and almost totally believable. Governments lie about the seriousness of the threat and ignore it until it is too late, scammers make a fortune from flogging their miracle 'cure', the Russian military resorts to barbaric measures to maintain discipline in its own ranks, Iran and Pakistan launch nukes at each other, and civilians the world over panic as society collapses into a ticking time-bomb of madness and terror. Brooks proves adept at exploring a variety of political and social themes through the accounts of his survivors.

Brooks also riffs effectively on several aspects of modern life: one survivor recalls how a group of celebrities and journalists barricaded themselves in a mansion and - whilst broadcasting their 'survival' to the rest of the world - sat around discussing fashion as the dead swarmed outside. Perhaps an extreme example of our materialistic, limelight-addicted culture, but this is exactly the kind of idiocy I'd expect from some people if there was a zombie outbreak. This materialistic streak is illustrated again as some of the refugees take to the road with the most ludicrous items (the bloke with the computer monitor takes my vote for the most stupid).

Survivalism is another strong theme, and I particularly liked the idea that suddenly white-collar workers are almost totally useless (they can't contribute much to the war effort) while blue-collar workers find themselves in high demand for their practical skills. The animosity and class prejudice that results is highly convincing (not to mention amusing, as a Hollywood casting director freaks out at having to take survival lessons from her former cleaner). 

Brooks clearly realised the US-centric focus of many popular zombie books/films was illogical, and counters this by making the zombie outbreak a global issue. Subsequently we have recollections from people of many nationalities - Americans, Russians, Japanese, Indians, South-Africans and many more. The global focus adds real depth to the book, and allows Brooks to show how different countries responded to the threat...if they responded at all. The explanation for how the infection spread - via human trafficking and the organ trade - is also convincing.

Sometimes Brooks stretches credibility a little too far. The blind Japanese guy that managed to keep swarms of zombies at bay is one example, the other one being the potential sighting of REM's Michael Stipe as a volunteer infantry soldier. I mean, come on...Michael Stipe, grappling with zombies?! Still, it's never confirmed that it was Stipe, so I'll give Brooks the benefit of the doubt. ;)

Some other reviewers have criticised World War Z for getting bogged down in detail about changing political views and infrastructure, but this was not a problem for me. As I said, this is what makes the novel so believable.

All in all, World War Z is a terrifyingly real account of how mankind was forced to its knees by the living dead...and how it managed to recover. Horrific, fascinating and intelligent, it's compulsory reading for anyone that wonders just what would happen if the dead started rising from their graves...

Rating: dddd

Monday 12 January 2009

Win an ARC of John Marco's Starfinder!

Um, not here...but over at his blog, John is offering up three ARCs of Starfinder, his new novel.

Full details here.

Starfinder is already high on my reading list, and fortunately I don't have to rely on the luck of the draw, as John has kindly offered to send me a copy for review! :)

A guide to 2009's genre book releases

Adam over at the Wertzone has written a terrific guide to what we can look forward to book-wise in 2009.

I'm almost tempted to print it off and stick it to my wall...

You can check it out here.

Sunday 11 January 2009

David Gemmell 'Legend award' update

Over 2000 votes have been received for the 2009 David Gemmell Legend award, which is excellent going for a new award! 

Unfortunately voting was postponed last Friday, due to some dickhead registering hundreds of votes for one author...there's always someone that has to spoil things for everyone else. It's not a problem, as the fraudulent votes have been identified and will be removed from the final count. Still, the organisers have warned that if there are repeats of this behaviour, the author accruing these votes may have to be removed from the award. This of course would be a final measure, and hopefully it won't come to that. 

To be honest though, I'm sure everyone probably expected something like this to happen. If you've not yet registered your vote, you can still do so here

Saturday 10 January 2009

Jasper Kent's Twelve already in second print run...

From agent John Jarrold's blog:

"I've just heard from Bantam UK that they are already reprinting TWELVE by Jasper Kent, only five days after its publication! Great news."

I've only seen positive reviews of this novel so far - do we have an early contender for 2009's debut of the year?

In any case, it just jumped a few places up my reading list...though I need to get a copy first! ;)

Friday 9 January 2009

SF Site - register your vote for 'Best read of 2008'

SF Site has now opened the voting for its annual readers 'Best of' list. As always the ten top books - as voted for by readers - will be showcased. Fans in 2007 voted The Name of the Wind as their best read. Given that 2008 is generally regarded as being a quieter year for fantasy, it'll be interesting to see which books get the nod this time around.

I expect there will be, as usual, an 'Editor's choice' list as well, to accompany the fan list. 2007's 'editor's choice' was Brasyl.

If you fancy joining in the fun, check out the rules and regulations here.

I wonder if human editors are as bad? ;)

Thursday 8 January 2009

Bitesize book review: The first three Raven novels

With Brit author James Barclay signing a deal that will finally see his Raven series of fantasy novels published in the USA, I thought I'd help spread the word by compiling brief reviews of the first three novels - Dawnthief, Noonshade and Nightchild.


(Originally published by Gollancz, 2000)

Blurb: The Raven have fought together for years, six men carving out a living as swords for hire in the war that have torn Balaia apart, loyal only to themselves and their code. But when they agree to escort a Xesteskian mage on a secret mission they are pulled into a world of politics and ancients secrets. For the first time the Raven cannot even trust their own strength and prowess, for the first time their code is in doubt. How is it that they are fighting for one of the most evil colleges of magic known? Searching for the secret location of Dawnthief; a spell that could end the world? Aiming not to destroy it but to cast it.

Dawnthief is basically a fast-paced fantasy adventure with plenty of high-octane action. Barclay strikes a good balance between humour and seriousness, and while the plot is nothing original it hardly matters as the story rips along at a frenetic pace. There is some decent character development, but probably the best element of the novel (and the series as a whole) is the well-developed magic system, which adds a real edge to the battle scenes and depth to the world as a whole. Barclay also manages to throw in some plot twists, which adds to the fun.

The novel does have its drawbacks. The characterisation is lacking in some respects, particularly with the character of Richmond and the relationships between certain characters (can't be more specific in case of spoilers!). The main plot is too pedestrian and would have benefited from some attempt at innovation (rather than the 'quest' formula of 'pick up item X, travel to location Y and defeat enemy Z.'

Still, what you have is a fun, action-packed romp that is worth picking up if you like adventure fantasy with plenty of magic and battles.

Rating: ddd


(Originally published by Gollancz, 2001)

Can't post the blurb for Noonshade, as it contains spoilers from Dawnthief. It will suffice to say that Noonshade follows the implications of the actions taken by the Raven in the first novel...actions that have dire consequences.

With Noonshade, Barclay moves everything up a notch. The writing is more confident, the plot tighter and more dynamic. There are some exciting sequences, and with the action happening simultaneously in more than one dimension, it gives the novel a bit more of an epic feel that was lacking in Dawnthief. Issues with character development are addressed in this novel, and the relationships are handled better than they were previously. Barclay also manages to avoid the 'middle book' feeling, managing to tie up the storylines nicely.

Rating: dddd


(Originally published by Gollancz, 2003)

Again, the blurb contains spoilers for the previous books, so I won't post it. Nightchild basically starts a new storyline, where a young girl is revealed to be the conduit of a magical power, which could prove dangerously destructive unless it is controlled...or neutralised. Can the Raven bring themselves to kill a young girl, if her death will save the world from destruction?

The thing that struck me the most about Nightchild was how Barclay's prose seemed more mature this time around. I feel that this novel is a little darker in tone to the previous two, and this is reflected in the characters' relationships and the choices they are forced to make. The premise of the story is interesting and makes for an engaging novel. I didn't like it as much as Noonshade, but that is simply my personal reaction. As a novel, Nightchild stands alongside Noonshade in terms of quality.

Rating: dddd

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Jeff Bridges as Tywin Lannister?

While watching Ironman the other day, I suddenly thought that Jeff Bridges would make an excellent Tywin Lannister in the TV adaptation of GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire. Not only does he look like the leader of the Lannister clan, but he can also handle the gruff, serious persona.

Check out the pics below and see if you agree!

Tywin Lannister

Jeff Bridges

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Book review: Elantris


By Brandon Sanderson

(Tor, 1 May 2005)

When it was announced that Robert Jordan's wife had chosen him to write the final volume of The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson became something of a household name in the fantasy scene almost overnight. That's not to discredit the novels that Sanderson had written before this somewhat surprising piece of news, or the fledgling reputation that he'd built, but Sanderson would be the first to acknowledge the boost to his career that the Jordan gig gave him.

I'd read some of the samples of Sanderson's work on his livejournal, and have to say that - in terms of writing - they didn't do a lot for me. Nonetheless, Elantris - his first novel to be published - had a premise that appealed to me. When I saw a hardback copy in a bookshop at a reduced price (due to slight damage to the cover), I snapped it up.

The premise that intrigued me goes as follows: Elantris was a glowing beacon of civilisation, home to beings that were regarded as semi-divine by ordinary humans. Elantrians were highly skilled in the ways of magic, and were semi-immortal. Anyone could become an Elantrian - but only by chance. The transformation was called the Shaod, and it struck seemingly at random, changing the lucky person's life overnight.

When without warning the magic of Elantris failed, the Shaod turned from blessing to curse - it turned its victims into shadows of their former selves, imprisoning them in bodies that would not heal and were horrible to look upon. These unfortunate souls were cast into Elantris - once a city of beauty and wonder, now a decaying nightmare of insanity and despair.

The novel begins with Raoden, Prince of the kingdom of Arelon, waking one morning to find the Shaod has taken him. His royalty doesn't save him - he's cast into Elantris like other Shaod victims, not long before Sarene - Princess of Teod and his betrothed - arrives in the country for their wedding. As Raoden struggles to survive in Elantris and Sarene tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, Hrathen - a high priest of Jaddeth - arrives with the intention of converting Arelon and making it part of Fjordell's growing empire...

With Elantris, Sanderson has managed to conjure up a novel that feels fresh. The premise is clearly based on the legend of Atlantis, but it manages to avoid many of the more tiresome clichés that litter the genre. Sanderson does an impressive job of juggling the various strands of the plot, and manages to deftly explore several political and religious themes. The political intrigue of the subplot adds considerable depth to the novel, and helps to keep things interesting (to the extent where I felt it was actually more interesting than what Raoden was up to in Elantris).

Sanderson displays some solid world-building skills, with the symbolic magic system a particular triumph. The cast list is also impressive; Sanderson manages to imbue each main character (and many of the minor characters) with depth and emotion. Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen are strong, engaging POV characters, though for me Hrathen is head and shoulders above the others. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his feelings and opinions change over the course of the novel, and seeing the problems that this caused to both him and his mission. I feared that Sarene would turn out to be a bit of a 'headstrong young woman' cliché, but she was much more than that.

I liked Sanderson's prose - clean, smooth and accessible. The short chapters as well were welcome, and gave the novel a good feel of pace. For a debut novel, Elantris is remarkably well written - by that I don't just mean the prose itself, but the way the plot is constructed and the fine balance Sanderson has struck between the POVs. Elantris may be Sanderson's first published novel, but it's not the first novel he ever wrote, and it shows: you feel that the skills Sanderson displays in Elantris have been honed over a dozen previous projects.

The best thing about Elantris is the electric climax to the novel. My intention to have an early night was blown out of the water by the excellence of the book's last fifty or so pages. Truths are uncovered, plot twists are revealed, the body count grows...and it all made for a highly enjoyable reading experience.

Flaws are few and far between. My only real complaint is that Raoden is too perfect. I mean, the guy barely makes a single mistake the entire time. He seems to have everything - leadership qualities, intelligence, wit, resourcefulness, and so on. I would have liked his story to have been a bit more of a struggle, like Sarene's and Hrathen's. After the Shaod took him and his life turned inside out, Raoden shows little emotional response and I found that a bit hard to take. The fact that his father (the king) had made no attempt to help him didn't seem to bother him, and he seemed to take to Elantris like a fish to water - it should have been far harder than that. A little vulnerability wouldn't have gone amiss.

I found the explanation of why the Elantrians' magic stopped working to be clever and original, but couldn't believe the Elantrians didn't figure this out, given their high intelligence. Still, a relatively minor quibble.

All things considered, Elantris is a fresh, promising debut novel and I look forward to checking out more of Sanderson's work.

Verdict: dddd

On a different note, I think Sanderson has set a fantastic example for aspiring writers. He proved that if you work hard enough and have the ability, you can achieve great things. For his determination alone, he deserves special credit.

Monday 5 January 2009

Speculative Horizons' first birthday :)

I can hardly believe it was a year to the day when I sat down and wrote my first blog entry. Still, time flies when you're having fun...and I guess that's why the year went so damned fast!

I think it's been a pretty successful debut year for Speculative Horizons. The main aim was really to just create an entertaining blog that allowed me to transmit my passion and enthusiasm for the genre onto the interwebs. This I feel I've managed to do. I was also keen to write in-depth book reviews that were both honest and articulate, so hopefully this has been the case (I'll leave you guys to be the judges of that!).

While writing the blog has been a lot of fun, and getting free books an experience that never grows old, the best thing has been getting to know so many terrific people. Speculative fiction fans tend to be both passionate and intelligent, so it's been a real pleasure and I hope to get to know more cool people in 2009.

This is going to be a massive year for fantasy and probably for most genre blogs too. I'm not planning any changes to the blog other than the odd minor cosmetic alteration, though this year I am hoping to do more author interviews (always good fun) and also perhaps explore the possibility of having more guest posts from authors and other industry folk. So, if any authors/editors/agents reading this would like to do a guest post, feel free to drop me a line!

Ultimately, it's the readers that make a blog, so I thank all of you for stopping by and sharing your opinions. Whether you read the blog regularly or just pop back every once in a while, thanks so much for bothering to read what I write here. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :)

In terms of upcoming content in the next week or so, look out for a review of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris and reviews of 30 Days of Night and Ironman.


Sunday 4 January 2009

Comment: Demons

ITV have been pushing their new fantasy drama Demons in recent weeks, no doubt in an attempt to steal back some of the audience that have been gorging on the gamut of family-friendly dramas (the woeful Robin Hood adaption, and the recent Merlin series) that the BBC have been churning out.  

From the trailer I got the impression that Demons was going to be a brain-free action romp with clichés galore and bad dialogue. The first episode last night pretty much confirmed my suspicions. 

The drama is clearly (some would say cleverly) aimed partly at the teens that are into Twilight and other similar books. Christian Cooke (playing the role of protagonist Luke Rutherford/Van Helsing) has been firmly installed as eye candy, and spends an unnecessary amount of time wandering around topless. Philip Glenister takes on the role of Rupert Galvin, a demon hunter and Luke's Godfather, but doesn't really convince in the role and his American accent grates. Zoe Tapper (excellent in the BBC's post-apocalyptic drama Survivors) is barely able to make her mark as a blind Mina Harker, though hopefully her character will be developed in later episodes. The same goes for Holliday Grainger as Ruby. Mackenzie Crook manages to get under the skin of his character, the vampire Gladiolus Thrip, but his screen-time is also pretty limited. 

As I suspected, the first episode of Demons was loaded with clichés: young guy finds out he is the last in line of legendary vampire hunters, and is aided throughout by his Godfather who acts as a mysterious, wise mentor™. Like all good family-friendly dramas, the evil guys have ample chances to kill our intrepid young hero, but of course don't take them. There was no real plot to the first episode, our hero showed very little emotion at discovering his true heritage, and some of the dialogue was terrible - "Beware, demon! I will smite thee!" And the use of the song Ruby by crap Indie band The Kaiser Chiefs as Luke was racing to Ruby's aid was, to be frank, hilariously bad.

Still, all things considered, Demons wasn't a bad romp. Harmless fun really, and sometimes that's a good thing. I'll check out the next episode. It was certainly better than the aforementioned BBC adaption of Robin Hood (utter shit) and the ridiculous Bonekickers (which received a universal mauling in the press and has been dropped by the BBC after one series). 

Comment: David Gemmell Legend Award

I mentioned earlier that I'd cast my vote for this new award. While I'm fully supportive of the award itself, I have to admit to some concern with the voting process. 

The original idea was that readers would vote for their choice of novel from the original longlist, in order to produce a shortlist. A panel of judges would then assess the shortlist and pick a winner. This seemed like a good balance to me - the readers get the chance to vote (and thus make a significant impact), while some quality control would be in place in that the judges can pick the winner (and thus ensure that the winning novel fits the criteria of the competition in the first place - ie, a novel written in the spirit of Gemmell). 

The switch to a winner being decided entirely by public vote, in my view, leads to two problems. Firstly, it makes it possible for a book to win that doesn't really fulfill the criteria and this would undermine the integrity of the award. Secondly, it also opens up the possibility for foul play - online voting systems are pretty easy to take advantage of. For example, it's possible for a single person to register multiple votes from different computers in different locations. I guess there's not much that can be done about the second problem, but having a panel making a final decision would probably - to some extent at least - guard against the first point. 

I don't doubt that Gemmell would have approved of the democratic nature of the award, but it does leave me feeling a little uneasy - I just hope that whatever novel wins is worthy of the award, as there are one or two novels on that list that do not deserve it. If, by some cruel quirk of fate, Mercedes Lackey wins, I'll probably projectile vomit. :(