Tuesday 28 April 2009

One to watch in 2009: The Silver Skull

I stole this unashamedly from Aidan's blog, but I had to post it as I've been anticipating this novel from Mark Chadbourn for a while.

Here's the blurb:

A devilish plot to assassinate the Queen, a Cold War enemy hell-bent on destroying the nation, incredible gadgets, a race against time around the world to stop the ultimate doomsday device…and Elizabethan England’s greatest spy!

Meet Will Swyfte – adventurer, swordsman, rake, swashbuckler, wit, scholar and the greatest of Walsingham’s new band of spies. His exploits against the forces of Philip of Spain have made him a national hero, lauded from Carlisle to Kent. Yet his associates can barely disguise their incredulity – what is the point of a spy whose face and name is known across Europe?

But Swyfte’s public image is a carefully-crafted façade to give the people of England something to believe in, and to allow them to sleep peacefully at night. It deflects attention from his real work – and the true reason why Walsingham’s spy network was established.

A Cold War seethes, and England remains under a state of threat. The forces of Faerie have been preying on humanity for millennia. Responsible for our myths and legends, of gods and fairies, dragons, griffins, devils, imps and every other supernatural menace that has haunted our dreams, this power in the darkness has seen humans as playthings to be tormented, hunted or eradicated.

But now England is fighting back!

As Aidan points out, we first got a taste of Will Swyfte in Chadbourn's short story Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast that appeared in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy. Here's what I said at the time:

"The anthology gets off to a strong start, with Mark Chadbourn's Who Slays The Gyant, Wounds the Beast, which is set in an alternative Elizabethan England that is at war with the Faerie Realm. An enjoyable tale that examines the problem of love and duty, it's over too quickly but is an excellent taster of Chadbourn's work and a solid start to the anthology."

I thought there was real potential for a novel (or a few) and so I'm glad to see that Pyr have signed up Chadbourn for three books in the Swords of Albion series. The UK release date for The Silver Skull is 27 October 2009.

On a separate note, I wonder whether Mark Chadbourn is a robot or whether he just doesn't sleep - he's so prolific that I wouldn't be surprised if he writes a book before breakfast every day (The Silver Skull is just one of several novels he's penned in the last year or so, along with The Burning Man and The Lord of Silence).

Sunday 26 April 2009

Should authors comment on reviews of their books?

This is the latest interesting debate to surface in the genre blogging community.

The article basically asks whether authors that engage in discussion of their books are at risk of (among other things) scaring potential contributors away, and therefore killing the debate. The article cites the example of Peter V. Brett, who recently commented on a review of his novel The Painted Man over at The Book Smugglers as he felt the need to explain the reasoning behind a particular sexual scene in the book. After Peter left the comment, the conversation died a bit of a death - something he admits on his blog.

Now, maybe this was because the conversation had run its course. But maybe it was because readers felt reluctant to get involved once the author had posted a comment of his own. So, do authors kill debate by getting involved in online discussion, or does it depend on the nature of their contribution?

One thing is for sure - this is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2004 Anne Rice took exception to some critical reviews on Amazon of her novel Blood Canticle (you'd think she'd know better - Amazon reviews are usually of little critical value. Harriet Klausner anyone?). The result, inevitably, was a classic interweb shit-storm. Rice was forced to back down and eventually released a statement on her website in an attempt to set the record straight. The whole thing reeked of a hasty PR job, with Rice trying to cast a positive glow on it by saying "The whole experience has been amazing." Four words - stable, door, horse, bolted.

There are more recent examples of where things have got a bit fruity after an author entered the debate surrounding their own work. Paul Kearney took exception to Aidan's 'review' of The Ten Thousand and subsequently attracted some criticism with his reaction, though Paul showed his quality by later making a sincere apology.

The exchange that really springs to mind though is the tasty bit of friction that resulted from Simon Spanton (Gollancz editor) calling out Pat about his review of Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains and requesting that Pat make their email exchange, about the nature of hype, public. Cue a load of anti-Spanton vitriol from angry readers that took exception to the tone of his emails.

The debate then intensified when Richard Morgan himself posted a comment, which included the line "I think you failed to enjoy my book because you just didn’t like it – and I think you’re being too diplomatic, or possibly just too nice, to come out and say that. Or you’re fooling yourself." It's at about this point when you have to step back and just ask, "Hang on, is this going a bit too far?" After the considerable debate engendered by Pat's review, Spanton's request that his emails be made public and Morgan's contribution didn't really achieve much at all; the general reaction was more negative than positive and I don't think either of them emerged from the whole incident with much credit. Then again, Morgan seems to have a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, nicely illustrated by his recent article about Tolkien and his comments in the ongoing threads about The Steel Remains on Westeros.

Anyway, this is old news. Back to the issue at hand: should authors (or editors for that matter) get involved in debate/post comments on reviews of their novels?

For me, it depends on the tone of their comment/contribution. Brett and Morgan, in their posts, both addressed issues that they felt had been misunderstood and subsequently had cast their respective novels in a negative light. Nothing wrong with that. But whereas Brett's post was dignified and polite, Morgan's was a bit of a rant that included a personal criticism of the reviewer (and as we all know, personal criticism is just not the done thing). It's unsurprising therefore that the reaction to Brett's post was received more favourably.

Generally though, I think it's best for authors to just keep out of it. In this day and age, anyone who has a book published has to accept that it will most likely be discussed online, and that plenty of people will dislike it. Some criticism might be fair, some might not. Some readers might be getting totally the wrong end of the stick. But authors should be thick-skinned enough to deal with it, and to not let it upset them. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that much anyway - the vast majority of readers don't venture online, so online book reviews don't really have much impact on a book's success or failure.

As for the other question - does an author's contribution to a debate run the risk of ruining the discussion? - I think that is much more difficult to answer, as it depends on a number of factors - which blog it is on, how many people have already contributed, the type of people contributing, etc. I don't see any intrinsic reason why an author's contribution would kill discussion. Again, it's largely down to the tone of the comment. Personally, I wouldn't be put off by an author getting involved.

As a blogger, I like authors to interact with readers. It's fun and it's one of the best things about the online community. But it should be through the correct channels; ie, a guest post or a Q&A session. The comments section of a book review probably isn't the best place - especially if the author in question is looking to vent steam at a negative review. Then again, there's nothing like the smell of flamewars in the morning...

Tia has also given her thoughts on her the issue. Feel free to add your own, I'm interested to see how other folk feel about this issue.

Friday 24 April 2009

Hunt for Gollum - new trailer online

The crew behind LOTR fan-film The Hunt for Gollum have released a new trailer, which you can check out here. I was very impressed by the original trailer, but this one blows the first out of the water. For a small, semi-professional team with a very tight budget, this is seriously impressive (not to mention surprisingly epic!).

The Hunt for Gollum will be released online on 3 May 2009.

Friday funny + linky links

Some links to interesting stuff around the blogosphere for you...

But first, a funny:

jonathan davis totally looks like uruk hai

Now, linky links :)

Jeff has reviewed The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick. He liked it a bit more than I did, though he too found that the last third of the book was a bit of a letdown.

Graeme has reviewed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Sounds quite interesting, this one - like what The Village should have been, but wasn't. He's also run the rule on Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur. He liked it. A lot.

Trin from Realms of Spec Fic has reviewed Midwinter by Matthew Sturges. Her review contrasts quite markedly with Graeme's own review.

Ken has reviewed Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule: World's End. This is one that I ought to pick up at some point.

Aidan has reviewed Storm Front by Jim Butcher.

Adam has also been getting a bit of Butcher action, having reviewed Fool Moon.

Darkwolf has a review of Dan Dobos' The Abbey.

Pat has got a secksy giveaway: a proof of China Mieville's new novel The City and the City, and also points us in the direction of an interesting article about how Peter V. Brett wrote his debut novel The Painted Man on his daily commute into work.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Book review: The Ninth Circle

The Ninth Circle

By Alex Bell

(Gollancz, 17 April 2008)

I'd had my eye on this book for a while - the blurb on the back appealed to me instantly - but I was reluctant to part with £12.99 for what is a pretty short book (266 pages). I eventually ended up buying it as a birthday present for my other half (yeah, it was what I call a 'guilty present' - something that is a suitable present for someone else, but also something I want for myself) and so once she'd read it I figured I'd give it a go.

Firstly, the cover - I'm still not sure whether I like it or not. I do like the colours and the mood of it, but at the same time it's hard to escape the fact that it looks like someones vomited all over it.

Anyway, moving on...

Since my teenage years I've always had an interest in the occult (demons, magic, secret societies and ceremonies, etc) and subsequently I tend to enjoy films and literature that involve this sort of thing (which I guess is why I'm one of the few people who actually likes the similarly-titled Polanski film The Ninth Gate).

The premise of this novel, as I said, appealed to me from the start. Gabriel Antaeus wakes up in an apartment in Budapest with amnesia. He's covered in his own blood, there's a stack of cash on the kitchen table and a rather large number of books about demonology on his shelves. Aside from knowing his own name, he hasn't got a clue who he really is or what he's doing in Budapest. After coming to terms with his awful predicament, Gabriel starts to try and uncover his own past...and quickly becomes immersed in a startling series of events that could trigger the apocalypse. Sometimes, as they say, the past is better left buried.

There's a lot to recommend The Ninth Gate. Gabriel Antaeus makes for an interesting protagonist, and Bell does a commendable job of revealing his thoughts and feelings (which, given the amnesia he suffers from, range from despair to hope with a healthy dose of paranoia). The novel is presented in a diary format, written in the first person, and the personal nature of this style works very well - it's very enjoyable seeing how Antaeus deals with each nugget of information that he uncovers - as well as how he handles the unsettling visions and nightmares he suffers from.

Bell's prose flows well and background information is deftly provided without affecting the drive of the story. The plot is well-structured, allowing for a number of exciting twists, while the well-researched theological aspects provide an absorbing foundation for the unfolding story. The backdrop of Budapest is an inspired choice, and perfectly fits the tone of the novel.

So why didn't The Ninth Gate quite work for me?

Well, for a variety of reasons. Most are small, niggly problems, but problems none the less. Antaeus - while generally a good protagonist - can also be pretty annoying at times (yeah, it's wrong to speak ill of God. I get it. I got it after the fifth time he made a point about it). As engaging as the other characters are, there's not enough of them. In fact, there's only six significant characters in the whole novel, of which only three are really involved for the most part. The problem with this is that it's fairly easy to spot the antagonist, which drains some of the tension created by a later revelation.

The plot loses momentum at one point and sags for a while (can't quite remember where - third quarter perhaps?) and becomes rather monotonous, until picking up again as the climax approaches. Furthermore, it doesn't really stand up to close inspection - it's possible to pick holes in it if you bother to think carefully enough. The reason given for one particular character's lack of earlier intervention seemed particularly weak. I wasn't totally convinced by the origin of the various clues to Antaeus's former identity that kept popping up throughout the story, though the overall reason for his amnesia was admittedly pretty interesting (as were the revelations about his former life).

Many reviews I've read of The Ninth Gate are complimentary about the way Bell brings Budapest to life. I have to disagree - I didn't think this aspect was particularly impressive. In fact, I was rather disappointed. Having been to Budapest very recently (and having visited several of the locations that appear in the novel) I was looking forward to seeing how Bell presented the city in her book, but I didn't take much from her representation. I didn't really get a feeling for the unique identity of the city from her writing - for me, it felt like she could have been writing about any generic city and was just dropping place names here and there.

Bell's prose - while good for the most part - suffers from her tendency to use italics more often than required. A minor point, sure - and perhaps one that will not bother many readers - but it rankled with me a little. The dialogue should be good enough for me to work out for myself when a character is putting emphasis on a word, rather than the author having to rely on italics (although for the most part Bell's dialogue is pretty good).

Verdict: Alex Bell shows plenty of encouraging signs in what is - for the most part - an entertaining, absorbing read. It's just a shame that a series of minor niggles tarnish what could have otherwise been a very impressive debut novel. Still, Bell's got time on her side and there's enough here to suggest that she's got plenty more to offer.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Linky links

But first, a funny:

Now, linky links :)

Aidan has posted up a good interview with Mark Charan Newton.

Jeff has conducted an interview with Tom Lloyd, and has finally convinced me that I should probably give Stormcaller another go.

Graeme has reviewed Matthew Sturges' Midwinter.

The folks at Realms of Speculative Fiction have posted the final instalment in their Best of 2008 list.

Pat has reviewed one of 2009's big releases - The City and the City by China Miéville.

Adam has posted a balanced review of the fairly recent Transformers movie, which I had previously trashed in my Transformers rant.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Book review: Dragonfly Falling

Dragonfly Falling

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

(Tor, 2009)

After reading and enjoying Adrian Tchaikovsky's debut novel Empire in Black and Gold last year, I was looking forward to Dragonfly Falling, the second instalment in the Shadows of the Apt series. While Empire did have its drawbacks, I saw enough promise there to believe that Tchaikovsky could deliver a really good series: the world was fascinating, the storyline had the potential to become suitably epic, and there was some good characterisation. All I wanted from Dragonfly Falling was more of the same, but on a more dynamic, epic scale.

Boy, did I get it - and then some.

Possibly the most pleasing aspect of this novel is the plot. While the storyline of Empire was solid, it took a while to get going and generally you had a feeling as to where it was going. Dragonfly, by contrast, explodes into life from the first page with an epic siege (one of two - yes, two - sieges in the novel) as the Wasp Empire clashes with the ant-kinden city-state of Tark. Around this brutal storyline Tchaikovsky skilfully weaves a number of sub-plots that carry on the stories of characters from the first novel, as well as introducing a number of new faces. Make no mistake, this is a truly epic story that combines hard-edged action with subtle webs-within-webs of politics, and Tchaikovsky deserves serious credit for the way he manages to juggle the respective story lines. The pacing is pleasingly fast throughout, with not a dull moment to be had.

Characterisation (which arguably was a little hit and miss in Empire) is cranked up several notches in Dragonfly. The novel continues the stories of the main protagonists from the first book, and it's good to see them develop more fully this time around. Stenwold's struggle with the responsibility piled on him is intriguing to watch unfold, but I was most impressed with Totho's development. He really does undergo some serious changes, and the struggle he faces as his old and new worlds collide is excellently handled. Cheerwell - one of my least favourite characters from the first novel - is thankfully largely sidelined this time around, though no doubt we'll see more of her in the next book, Blood of the Mantis.

There's plenty of new faces as well: Drephos the Imperial auxiliary-artificer is superbly creepy and unpredictable, as is Uctebri. As usual, new characters means new insect kinden, and as always it's exciting when new races make an appearance (there are a couple of very cool new ones, but I won't spoil the surprise!). The leader of the spider contingent (can't recall his name!) is also nicely drawn, as are the spiders as a whole - hopefully we'll see a lot more of them, as their society (and the inherent politics) appear very interesting indeed. Once again - with both old and new characters - Tchaikovsky develops complex, believable relationships that evolve over the course of the novel (the relationship between Stenwold and Arianna is a very good example). The strong military aspect of Dragonfly means that we get to see the true impact and horror of war on various people, and this is a theme that Tchaikovsky uses to maximum effect.

Having looked at my criticisms of Empire, I'm pleased to see that all have been rectified in Dragonfly. The prose is a more dynamic and visceral, and the novel itself - due to the skillful plotting - is more cohesive as a whole.

Verdict: With Dragonfly Falling, Adrian Tchaikovsky has basically taken everything that made Empire in Black and Gold so enjoyable, added some new characters and story lines to the mix, and then turned it all up to eleven. The result is a gripping novel that is easily one of the best epic fantasies I've read in some time, and I'm now feverishly anticipating the third instalment, Blood of the Mantis. Highly recommended.

Monday 13 April 2009

Shortlist announced for Gemmell award

Must admit I'm slightly surprised by the final shortlist, which is:

ABERCROMBIE, Joe – Last Argument of Kings (Gollancz)
MARILLIER, Juliet – Heir to Sevenwaters (Tor UK)
SANDERSON, Brandon - The Hero of Ages (Tor US)
SAPOWSKI, Andrzej - Blood of Elves (Gollancz)
WEEKS, Brent - The Way of Shadows (Orbit)

Firstly, I'm obviously disappointed Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand hasn't made it to the shortlist. I know I'm not alone in thinking that would have been a very suitable winner for the award's first year, so it's a real shame that it's not made an appearance here. 

I'm not surprised by the appearance of Abercrombie, Weeks and Sanderson - all of these are big authors with big internet presences. I very much enjoyed Last Argument of Kings, haven't read The Hero of Ages and thought The Way of Shadows was distinctly mediocre. 

The appearance on the list of Sapowski and Marillier is more surprising. Given the Legend Award is a purely online award, it would make sense that the novels on the shortlist would have generated a fair amount of buzz online (this is certainly true of the Abercrombie, Weeks and Sanderson novels). But I've seen very little online reaction to Sapowski's Blood of Elves and none at all to Heir to Sevenwaters

The one major notable omission for me (except for The Ten Thousand) is Peter V. Brett's The Painted Man. This book has done terrifically well and generated a very positive online buzz. Plus Brett has a strong online presence, so for me its non-appearance is a strange one. I find it very hard to believe that more people voted for Sapowski than Brett. 

Anyway, I hope either Sanderson or Abercrombie win the award. Expect a rant of epic proportions if Weeks wins, as in my opinion that would be a bit of a joke (and would also blow the organisers' claim that fans are 'well-informed about the genre' out of the water).

Full details of the next voting process are due to follow shortly...

Friday 10 April 2009

Does the David Gemmell 'Legend Award' lack integrity?

With the shortlist for the new David Gemmell 'Legend Award' due to be announced (after a rather lengthy wait), I find myself starting to question the point/integrity of this award. 

As a huge fan of Gemmell, I thought the idea of an award in his name was a terrific idea. The fact that some of the folks involved in organising the award were friends of Gemmell lent it credibility, as did the logical voting system - a longlist of novels whittled down to a shortlist via online voting by fans, followed by a panel of judges assessing the shortlist and picking a winner based on a distinct criteria: the winner being the novel that most encapsulated the 'spirit' of Gemmell's own books. 

Great - no problems there. The fans get to vote, and the panel of judges get to add quality control and ensure the winner is worthy of the title. Sounds good. 

So why the judging panel was scrapped, is anyone's guess. Clearly there was some behind-the-scenes dialogue, and a decent explanation never materialised. Instead, we were just given some vague comments about how it was better for the fans and that Gemmell would have approved. 
"We are confident that Fantasy readers are passionate and well-informed about the genre" read the official statement - as if that justified making online votes the sole way of determining the winner.

Passionate, yes. Well-informed? Hard to believe that when a flawed, derivative novel like The Way of Shadows garners so much acclaim. Perhaps making online votes solely responsible for determining the victor makes the award more 'democratic' (whatever that means). Maybe Gemmell would indeed have approved. But I can't help but feel this change in the voting system has seriously undermined the integrity and worth of this award - it makes it nothing more than a glorified internet poll.

I'll put my neck on the block here - I think that Joe Abercrombie is a shoo-in for the award. Why? Not so much because Last Argument of Kings is a very good novel (which it is), but because over the last few years he's built up a huge internet presence. Hundreds of people read his blog - I know, because I get a large surge in traffic when he links to my own blog. This, to my mind, gives him a big advantage. Just by announcing that he was in the running for the award on his blog probably gained him at least a hundred votes. The same is probably true of Peter Brett, who surely is another strong contender (and who also has a very good internet presence).

Paul Kearney, by contrast, has a much more muted online presence. His novel, The Ten Thousand, would be a worthy winner of the award, but I can't help but feel his lack of online presence will hinder him - and that to me undermines the integrity of the award. The award is meant to be given to the book most written in the spirit of Gemmell, not to the author with the biggest internet presence (which is not at all indicative of quality). 

Sure, maybe an author's online presence isn't the crucial, deciding factor. But surely it's going to have an influence on proceedings. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I hope I'm proved wrong, but doubt it somehow. I'm pretty critical of awards in general; there's always going to be some sort of bias involved. But I feel that the original voting system for the DGLA was far better than the one now in place.

As for having a formal, black-tie award ceremony (with rather pricey tickets) - that just seems totally over the top for an online award which has no quality control and is hopelessly open to abuse (nothing stopping the same person (or, dare I say it, author) from voting for themselves on different computers).

I hate to be critical, as the award is a super idea and I'm sure the organizers have worked really hard to get it all off the ground - kudos to them. But I'm just wondering whether there is any real integrity in this award.  

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Can Andy Remic replace David Gemmell?

Andy Remic - author of the military SF novels Spiral, Quake, Warhead, War Machine and Biohell - has confirmed on his blog that he's signed a deal with Angry Robot (the new HarperCollins genre imprint) for a trilogy of "hardcore vampire(ish) heroic fantasy novels."

Remic elaborates: "Kell's Legend is already finished, and just undergoing editing - it's a kick ass new angle on heroic fantasy which should appeal to readers of David Gemmell and Raymond Feist."

Sounds promising. The official word from Angry Robot is as follows: "We’re delighted and just a little scared to welcome ANDY REMIC to our ravening horde. His reputation as the hard man of British SF is well-deserved. Now he’s taking the tough guy stylings of Quake, Spiral and his recent Combat-K novels into fantasy, for a brand new trilogy that sees him, in one mighty bound, become the natural successor to the much-missed David Gemmell.

KELL’S LEGEND, due September 2009 in mass-market paperback, introduces Kell, grizzled veteran warrior much at odds with a civilised world where humanity has become soft. When a new foe arises to threaten the city of Jalder, only Kell remembers that to live, you have to fight, and fight dirty. But how can one man hold off against the Vachine, the terrifying clockwork vampires of legend?"

Natural successor to David Gemmell? Fighting talk from Angry Robot, not to mention bold - David Gemmell's passing has left a gulf in British heroic fantasy that is yet to be filled, and to do so will be no easy task. However, Remic seems undaunted by the expectation placed on his shoulders by the comparison, stating, "I was very proud of the David Gemmell bit, as Dave was the man who started me off writing when I first read Legend in 1987. I corresponded with David many times, which culminated in a drinking session after a book signing in Manchester. So, I am proud to say, I got drunk with David Gemmell."

I'm looking forward to seeing how Kell's Legend turns out, not to mention seeing how Remic handles fantasy after making his name as a writer of SF. It certainly sounds like it has echoes of Gemmell, and if it does then it should be right up my street...

Monday 6 April 2009

Your chance to ask Stephen Hunt some questions!

I'm really pleased to confirm that I'm taking part in the launch of Voyager's brand new website. The main feature that I'll be running is an exclusive interview with Stephen Hunt, author of The Court of the Air, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, and The Rise of the Iron Moon. However, the interview is a little different to normal...as this time you guys get to ask the questions!

So, if you have a question you'd like Stephen to answer, please either post it in the comments section or alternatively send it to me in an email at speculativehorizons AT googlemail DOT com.

Here's the official line from Voyager on the launch of their new website:

"To help celebrate the launch of the brand new www.voyagerbooks.co.uk website, Harper Collins have teamed up with six of the best SF, Fantasy and book blogs/ websites from around the world to run a series of exclusive interviews with a selection of Voyager’s top authors.

Across early April each of these partner websites/ blogs will run an exclusive interview with one of the following Voyager authors: Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, D. B. Shan, Raymond Feist, Robin Hobb and Stephen Hunt. And this won’t be your standard interview stock either. Each partner site will be encouraging their readership to submit questions to be put forward to their allotted author.

Questions will be requested from the partner site’s respective readerships in early April and each of these interviews will go live on a specific day during the week-commencing 20th April 2009. Each web-ring partner site will promote each individual interview to their respective communities with a view to building ties between each of these partner sites.

By giving such unprecedented access to 6 of Voyager’s most recognized authors, Harper Collins is underlining its commitment to the digital medium and emphasizing the new online opportunities available through the launch of www.voyagerbooks.co.uk .

The partner blogs/sites include….Futurismic, Big Dumb Object, SFF Chronicles, SFF World, Speculative Horizons and Book Geeks."

So, if you ever had a burning question that you always wanted to ask Stephen (or even a more ordinary, not so burning one), now's your chance!

Friday 3 April 2009

Crap fantasy book covers #18

Believe it or not, this cover is so vomit-tastic that Graeme actually refused to post it on his blog. Fortunately, I have a strong stomach (and plenty of sickbags) so decided to take the risk.

Can't blame Graeme though. Just staring at this cover makes my stomach churn. I can practically feel my eyeballs melting. I wouldn't be surprised if the publisher receives a flood of compensation claims from enraged readers over loss of vision, after their eyeballs rebelled and imploded from being forced to gaze upon its sheer crapness.

I'll be honest - I find it hard to take urban fantasy seriously anyway, but it's even harder when the genre's novels have covers like this.

Whatever you do, don't laugh at the woman on the cover - she's Death's daughter. No, seriously. Aside from the title, you can tell by the secksy skull pendant she's wearing and by her laughably bad surname: Reaper-Jones (you at the back, I said no laughing!)

What the hell that cute dog in the ridiculous collar is doing is anyone's guess. For a laugh, I was actually going to post the blurb, but it's even worse than the cover.

Crap-o-meter rating: 9.5/10

Transformers rant

I'm a transformers fanboy, and I make no apologies for it. I grew up watching it on TV (along with other classic animated series of the time, like Ghostbusters). I had dozens upon dozens of the toys. I have an original VHS version of the 1986 animated movie, which I must have watched well over a hundred times. Until recently, I even had the soundtrack from said movie on my ipod. I even exchanged emails with Scott Lynch on the subject, and from the sounds of it he's an even bigger geek than me.

So, yeah: I'm a transformers fanboy.

Which is why I'm so pissed off at the recent films. The 2007 film was - in my humble opinion - distinctly mediocre. Just big-ass robots lumping the shit out of each other, with a really poor excuse for a storyline barely holding the whole thing together. For the average person, it was probably a decent film. But for die-hards like myself, it was a massive disappointment.

The reason that the film riled me so much (pointless re-design of some of the robots aside) was the fact that the script writers had such a huge wealth of background material to draw upon. The transformers universe is massive; there's reams and reams of history and background material. Not only did they not even scratch the surface of this in the film, but they didn't even try. It's unbelievable that the best they could do was think up a pissy storyline involving some cube and the yawn-inducing struggle to retrieve it. One-dimensional barely covers it. Now, sure - I know that there are certain considerations when making a film. There's far too much material here for a trilogy of films, let alone one, to fully explore. But they could have made far more extensive use of it than they did.

Look at the 1986 animated film. Now that is Transformers the way they are meant to be done. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's animated - this is a brilliant film. The animation is superb and even holds up well today, 23 years on. The script is packed with brilliant one-liners (such as Prime's "One shall stand, one shall fall" line) and sharp dialogue (the exchange between Prime and Megatron just before their smack-down is a classic example). The soundtrack is pure win: big-hair 80s rock by the mulleted Stan Bush, that complements the movie perfectly. The characterisation is excellent, with some impressive development (such as Hotrod's rise to prominence). The plot (Decepticons and Autobots having to unite against a monster planet that devours everything in its path) is inspired, and allows for some seriously epic sequences.

But the main reason the animated film is a triumph is because it fully embraces the transformers millieu, it makes extensive use of the possibilities and material. The result is a film that enthrals and excites, and even though I've seen it countless times I still enjoy every second when I'm watching it (the sight of Unicron devouring another planet still excites me, as do countless other memorable moments in the film - of which there are many).

But we got none of this in 2007 'proper' film. To my mind, it wasn't even Transformers. You see, the point of the transformers is that they are robots that are fully sentient. They have feelings. The robots in the movie, by and large, were just dumb machines kicking the shit out of each other (you can almost imagine the studio execs in their flashy suits - "Whoah, now hang on - robots with feelings? No, you misunderstand. We want explosions...lots of them."

So that's what we got. Explosions. Lots of them. It was boring. Possibly the worst moment was when a woman with a large bust screamed as two robots duked it out above her - memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I had a small hope (I needed a magnifying glass to find it) that maybe - just maybe - Michael Bay had got all the explosions out of his system and thought "Hang on, there's a lot more to transformers than this." Or that maybe Steven Spielberg would simply realise the first film was pretty crap and that they could do a lot more with the second.

Having seen the latest trailer, any hope I had of potential redemption vanished. Based on this trailer, we can expect more of the same. In other words, more robots trashing things...and little else. Yawn.

Unless I see any evidence to the contrary (I'm not holding my breath), then I won't be wasting my hard-earned pennies on a viewing of the new film. Instead, I'll watch the animated movie for the umpteenth time and think about what might have been.

*I originally posted a nice pic of the animated movie, but had to remove it due to it screwing up the formatting...seriously google, sort it out these formatting issues...blogger is such an epic fail at times. (Is it just me, or does everything google take over just turn to shit?)

Thursday 2 April 2009

Book review: Starfinder


By John Marco

(Daw, 5 May 2009)

I've been a fan of John Marco ever since I picked up his epic fantasy debut The Jackal of Nar about five years ago (to this day, it remains one my best book-related impulse buys). To my mind, John is a writer whose name doesn't pop up as much as it should do in online debate about epic fantasy - his Tyrants and Kings trilogy is up there with some of the best.

It had been a while since I'd read any of his novels (I'd looked into the Lukian trilogy, but found it hard to get in the UK and never got around to ordering them online). I was pretty excited therefore when John asked whether I'd like to receive a proof of his latest novel, Starfinder - a novel that treads new ground for John, in that it is his first novel aimed at a younger demographic.

The story focuses on the young protagonists of Moth and Fiona, two orphans from very different backgrounds. Moth dreams of becoming a skyknight while holding down a menial job at the aerodrome, while Fiona is the grandaughter of the brusque governor of Calio. Both of them long to escape their monotonous lives...until suddenly their wish is granted. The death of Moth's ward, Leroux, leaves him in possession of a stunning secret and a very special artifact. Bound by his promise to Leroux, and desperate to escape the clutches of Fiona's grandfather - who desires the artifact for his own purposes - Moth and Fiona escape into the Reach, said to be the gateway to another world ruled by the proud skylords. Little do they realise that the item they carry will bring a new era of war to the new world they find themselves in...

Something I've always liked about Marco's work is his tendency to mix things up a little, and Starfinder is no different: mythical beasts, magic and steampunk technology all come together in a very satisfying mix that embraces some classical elements of the genre and combines them with a more modern approach.

What really struck me about Starfinder is that it demonstrates what a good storyteller John Marco is. Let's be straight about this - being a good writer and a good storyteller are not the same thing. Take the classic example of David Gemmell: his prose was solid but generally unspectacular, but he excelled as a storyteller - he understood how to tell a tale. Marco is the same - he takes all these ingredients and skilfully spins a ripping yarn (and his prose - while understandably different to his other work, due to his target audience - flows very well indeed).

Starfinder is a classic adventure story, it's about two kids getting into trouble and learning about life in the process. But there's a lot more there too, plenty of other themes such as the futility of war and the possibility of redemption. In fact, the novel is something of a tour de force: the plot is tight and well-constructed (with a surprisingly epic climax), the characterisation is strong with good depth and development and the world that Marco has created is vibrant and comes across really well through the prose (I was reminded very much of Narnia, minus the more ridiculous aspects such as Santa making an appearance).

One of the best things about Starfinder is that you get the impression that Marco was seriously enjoying himself as he wrote it; the novel really crackles with his enthusiasm for aviation, for fantasy, for storytelling. While the novel is aimed at younger readers, there's plenty here for older readers to enjoy - I particularly liked the skylords and their society, which I thought was portrayed very well, while the relationship between Moth and his skylord antagonist was excellently handled.

Verdict: If, for the beach this summer, you want a fun, accessible novel packed with action, imagination and engaging characters, then look no further. Starfinder is a really enjoyable read that oozes Marco's love of storytelling and fantasy. Don't be put off by the YA tag. I look forward to the next novel in the series.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Lynch's 'Republic of Thieves' slips to 2010...

No real surprise there, to be honest. The news first seemed to break on amazon.de which indicated that the publication date was 6 March 2010. This by no means meant that the UK/US release was being similarly changed - and amazon.co.uk still has a release date of 19 November 2009 for the trade paperback - however, Pat has been in touch with Lynch's editor, who confirmed that we're now looking at a Spring 2010 release at the earliest. Depending on when the manuscript is handed in, it could fall to summer or even later.

So, another one of 2009's 'big' releases slips into 2010. Still, at least we've finally got some UK artwork:

As Aidan's already pointed out, this is the exact same artwork that was being used for Lynch's novella The Bastards and the Knives, which I originally posted waaay back in January last year. Given that the novella doesn't look like it will be surfacing any time soon (if at all), Gollancz have clearly decided to do a quick cut and paste job. I always did quite like this cover, though I think I actually prefer the US cover:

The US cover received something of a mixed reaction a few months back when it first appeared, but I like it: I like the colour tones, I like the atmosphere. And in commercial terms, I think it's far more suitable than the UK version (and to be honest, I think that can be applied to the UK covers for the previous two novels in their trade paperback formats - they're nice to look at, but I get the impression they didn't really help to sell the books). Maybe that's why Gollancz slapped a totally different cover on the mass market version of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Come to think of it, they did the same for the MMPB version of Red Seas as well.

So, any opinions? UK cover or US cover?

I'm also wondering when we'll find out the reason for the delay. Various rumours have been floating around for a while about 'personal issues' that Lynch is having, but hopefully we'll get clarification at some point.