Wednesday 30 December 2009

Cover art for Tchaikovsky's 'The Scarab Path'

Here's the UK artwork for book 5 in the Shadows of the Apt Series:

Interesting to see that it's got more in common with the cover for book four rather than the previous three covers, in the sense that there's more going on around the figure both in the background and foreground - I quite like the flames beneath the author's name. Overall, while it does feature the much-maligned 'hooded figure', I think the image is a good one and that this is - from a commercial point of view - a strong cover.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Cover art and blurb for 'The Sorcerer's House'

Gene Wolfe's new novel is to be released by Tor on 16 March 2010. Here's the artwork...

And here's the blurb (or at least the one that I could find, since there's not one on Amazon yet):

"In a contemporary town in the American midwest where he has no connections, an educated man recently released from prison is staying in a motel. He writes letters to his brother and to others, including a friend still in jail. When he meets a real estate agent who tells him he is the heir to a huge old house, long empty, he moves in, though he is too broke even to buy furniture. He is immediately confronted by supernatural and fantastic creatures and events."

I'm not particularly taken with the artwork, though it's ok. The premise does come across as a bit standard, however from what I understand the story is told through a series of letters, so it may be interesting to see how effectively Wolfe can reveal the setting and characters through this method. 

Potentially one to watch next year.

Monday 28 December 2009

Gemmell Award 2009 - Nominees for 'best debut' category

Voting for the 2009 David Gemmell Legend Award is now open, so if you fancy getting involved then head over to the website and cast your vote. As mentioned already in other quarters, there are two new categories this year - awards for best fantasy debut and best fantasy artist, alongside the original award for best novel. 

The longlist for the 'best novel' category is, as usual, ridiculously long and I can't be arsed posting it here. There's no point debating this list anyway, since the nominations mean nothing - it's only when the shortlist is created that the debate can begin. You can check out the nominees here

It's worth listing the nominees for the 'best debut' category, since there's only a few (making analysis much easier). Here they are: 

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
Lamentation - Ken Scholes (Tor US)
The Dwarves - Markus Heitz (Orbit)
The Adamantine Palace - Stephen Deas (Gollancz)
Blood of Ambrose - James Enge (PYR)
The Drowning City - Amanda Downum (Orbit)
The Cardinals’ Blades - Pierre Pevel (Gollancz)
Servant of a Dark God - John Brown (Tor US)
Midwinter - Matthew Sturges (PYR)

My money is on either The Adamantine Palace, The Dwarves or The Cardinal's Blades to win this award. The Adamantine Palace has apparently sold pretty well and received some decent coverage online, so I expect a strong showing from Stephen Deas' debut novel. As for The Cardinal's Blades and The Dwarves, it's worth noting that their respective authors, Pierre Pevel and Markus Heitz, are both established continental authors who are eligible for this award as both books represent their first English translations, so they count as debuts. Sapkowski was largely propelled to victory last year on the back of votes from overseas readers, and I just wonder whether the same thing might happen this year in Pevel's or Heitz's favour. Time will tell...

As for the others: Servant of a Dark God and The Drowning City haven't been out that long, so I doubt whether they've got a big enough following, while Blood of Ambrose and Midwinter didn't seem to cause much of a stir (from the reviews I've read, both seem mediocre offerings). The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is an odd one; from what I've read it apparently has minimal fantastical elements, but I don't know much else about it. Lamentation might be an outside bet, but I'm not sure whether it will receive much backing from UK readers (then again, with most votes coming from outside the UK this might not matter).

If you're wondering where Nights of Villjamur is, it's not eligible for inclusion since it's not Mark Charan Newton's debut novel. It is instead in the mix for the main award for 'best novel'.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Some filthy festive book pr0n and an early resolution

Santa obviously decided I'd been a good blogger this year, as he brought me this tasty haul of books:

I thought Mieville's The Scar was superb, so am looking forward to checking out Perdido Street Station. I think I read A Wizard of Earthsea way back in my younger years, but have always wanted to re-read it since it's a classic of the genre.  M. John Harrison is a name I've heard mentioned here and there, and not often in a positive way (though I rather suspect that this negativity has more to do with his infamous "worldbuilding is for geeks" argument). Anyway, I'll get the chance to check him out with Viriconium. Ricardo Pinto's The Chosen didn't appeal to me when it surfaced at the start of the decade, but my tastes have developed since then and now I'm intrigued enough to give it a go. I've been meaning to read some Fritz Leiber for a long time now, so Santa's kind delivery of The First Book of Lankhmar gives me the chance. Ditto for Guy Gavriel Kay - heard many good things about him, so am expecting decent things of The Summer Tree (sounds quite traditional but I'm kinda in the mood for something like that).

You might have noticed that all these books are pretty old - I think the most recent is Perdido Street Station, and that was published in 2001. The reason for this is because my blogging resolution for 2010 is to read more genre classics. I still consider myself inadequately read in terms of older books in the genre, so really want to rectify this next year. In 2009 I caught up with many of the more recent big releases (The Name of the Wind, The Painted Man, etc) but I feel now it's time to check out some of the older big guns. 

Anyway, that's for next year. Right this minute, I'm going to go off and see if I can find some more chocolate and beer. Hope you're all enjoying your holiday season! :)

Things I've learned about blogging

With Speculative Horizons gradually growing more popular, I've started to receive more and more emails asking for advice about blogging. I therefore thought that I'd share some of the lessons I've learned about blogging in the two years since I started this blog.

Before I start, let me just point out that I'm no expert and that there is no secret formula to blogging success - blogging is not an exact science. Following the below points will not guarantee success or popularity, while ignoring them will not necessarily result in failure. So just take this advice for what it is - a series of tips that hopefully will help out aspiring bloggers (this advice is aimed primarily at book review blogs, though many of the basic principles will apply to other types of blog as well).

With the above in mind, here we go. 

1) Do your homework

Don't just plunge straight in. Take time to study the more popular blogs in your chosen genre/area of interest and try and figure out what makes them a hit with readers. Look at them from an aesthetic point of view - what colours and template style do they use? (you'll probably notice that most blogs use a light background with dark text - this is generally considered to be easier to read). What sort of posts seem the most popular? What sort of style does the blogger write in? How often do they post entries? Try and figure out what these successful blogs have in common, as there will always be certain things they do that are similar. 

2) Make your blog striking and distinctive

I'm talking in aesthetic terms here. Basically, try and make your blog as eye-catching as possible - try to avoid using a bog-standard template. Develop a strong colour scheme and, if you can, develop a personalised banner to go at the top of your blog. Don't go over the top, as too many bells and whistles can make a blog unwieldy, but do what you can to make your blog stand out from the crowd. Appearance will never be as important as quality content, but it can certainly help if done well.

3) Blog regularly

This is absolutely crucial for new blogs. It's imperative when starting out that you blog as often as you can, as you need to give people a reason to come back. For example, I've visited new blogs before and when I've checked back a week later, there's been no new content. I've then deleted them from my bookmarks. Readers want regular content, and that is a rule that can be applied to all blogs out there regardless of how long they've been around. Once you've established your blog you can afford to ease off the pace a little - you've built your core readership, and they aren't going to abandon you if you don't blog for a week. The same is not true of new blogs - if readers don't think you're blogging often enough, they probably won't stick around. So blog as much as possible to show readers you're serious, and that it's worth them coming back. In my first year of blogging I aimed for a new post every two days at the minimum, and that's still my basic target today.  

That said, don't go overboard. You're better off publishing one post a day for four days than publishing four posts in one day and then nothing for the following days. It's all about momentum.

4) Be honest

A crucial factor if you want to be taken seriously as a reviewer. Contrary to the opinion of some, publishers will not put you in their Black Book of Doom for giving one of their books a bad review. They know perfectly well that everyone has different tastes and that not everyone will like their book. More importantly, they expect to get some bad reviews for any book they release. So don't be afraid to be totally honest when giving your opinion, as publishers will appreciate it and will respect you more in the long run. Avoid at all costs a situation where you give false impressions of books to avoid upsetting people - this helps no one. Honesty is a key component towards building a solid reputation. 

5) Be fair

While honesty is hugely important, it's vital that you remain fair at the same time. If you hated a book, that's no problem - as long as you explain why. Always explain the rationale behind your opinions when reviewing a book. Saying "I thought this book was crap" without qualifying and explaining that statement is both unhelpful to the author and the sign of a poor reviewer. If you give your honest opinion and clearly state why you hold that opinion, you shouldn't encounter too many problems. In addition, review the book and not the author, and remember that personal attacks are a big no-no (unless the author is Terry Goodkind). 

6) Develop your own voice

Easier said than done. This is the advice that was given to me by other bloggers when I first joined their ranks, and it's good advice. Basically, try and inject some personality into your blogging. Behind every blog is a person, and the best blogs are usually the ones where that person's style and personality are allowed to infuse the writing. Don't hold back - dreary writing is a turn-off. Let your emotions and passions break free and give your writing a life of its own. Furthermore, be accessible. By that I mean try and promote debate and respond to comments posted on your blog. If readers like your blog, it's likely that they'd like to interact with you as well. Have a visible email address as well, so readers can email you (from a blogger's perspective, this is a great way of obtaining feedback). 

7) Don't be afraid to be controversial

Readers like a bit of controversy. I've published my fair share of rants, and most of them attracted a fair amount of publicity and generated some interesting debate. So don't be afraid to get up on your soap-box from time to time. That said, don't be controversial for the sake of it - readers can see through that.

8) Promote debate and discussion

This is the lifeblood of the online genre community, so as a genre blogger you should try and tap into this. Write posts that promote discussion, that challenge conventions. Not only does this get people talking (which let's face it, is what we do best!) but it brings the added bonus of other websites and blogs linking to your own posts. If someone else has written a post that you have a strong opinion on, then write your own take on it and in your post link to the original argument. This facilitates the flow of information, helps the debate to grow and also does everyone a favour in terms of user traffic. 

9) Avoid regurgitation

One of my pet hates. Try to avoid having an endless succession of posts that have a similar nature or purpose - it makes for dull reading. You also run the risk of your blog becoming a conveyor belt. Try to mix things up a little. Even better, try to come up with ideas for posts that no one else has done. 

10) Introduce yourself to other bloggers

Sending a quick, polite email to established bloggers that introduces you and your blog is important. There is a definite blogging community within the online genre community, and it's a very good idea to say hello before you get down to serious business. This can help in a variety of ways - for example, your blog may get added to the blogrolls of more established blogs, which will drive traffic your way. It's also just basically a polite thing to do. I did it when I started out, and received a very warm response which made me feel very welcome (as well as some useful advice and so on). So go on, we don't bite!

11) Politeness is king

Be polite and professional in all your dealings with authors and industry folk. Authors and publishers tend to be very approachable and accommodating - so make sure you are polite in your correspondence. It takes a long time to build a reputation, but seconds to ruin one. 

12) Enjoy it!

If you're not enjoying blogging, then why bother? It's massively important to enjoy what you do, otherwise it's just like work - and who wants to do work outside of working hours? That said, sometimes blogging can be a bit of a grind. Stick with it though, as the rewards can be most satisfying. 

Right, hope those tips are of use! Feel more than welcome to add your own in the comments section.  Oh, and while I think of it - author Mark Charan Newton wrote a good piece about what he thinks makes a good genre blogger. Well worth a read, some good points there. 

Thursday 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

Just a quick post to wish all readers of Speculative Horizons, my fellow bloggers and all my associates from the publishing industry and online genre fandom a fantastic festive period and a prosperous 2010! 

Sunday 20 December 2009

End of year review + top 5 reads of 2009

Once again, it's that time of year when we look back over the last twelve months and speculate on what sort of year it's been for the genre and what books we did/didn't enjoy (I can scarcely believe it's come around again so quickly). Before I talk about my favourite books (and other things) of the year, a few words about the blog. 2009 has been a great year for Speculative Horizons, and this is reflected in the stats for the last twelve months. All are at time of writing, with last year's in brackets. 

Total cumulative hits: 120, 603 (26, 714)
Total cumulative page views: 170, 945 (39, 244)
Most visits in a single day: 1124 (278)
Average visits per day: 305 (122)
Average page views per day: 400 (160)
Books reviewed: 25 (30)
Interviews conducted: 1 (4)

These figures relating to hits and so on are not totally representative and do tend to fluctuate on a daily basis, but they do offer a basic picture of the blog, and that picture is one of rude health. Daily visits, on average, have trebled, while monthly hits passed 10k for the first time. Total cumulative hits broke the 100k barrier some time ago. Page views have more than doubled. In other words, the blog has witnessed some serious growth this year, building on 
a solid debut year in 2008. I'm more concerned with providing quality content, but it is still great to see the blog's readership growing, as it's proof that I'm doing something worthwhile that people enjoy reading. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for taking the time to read the blog, and for your comments and banter over the last 12 months - it's been great fun! 

Looking at the amount of books reviewed, I know it's not as many as some other blogs. If I had my way, I'd read and review more. But I don't have my way. I read whenever I can, and write reviews when I can. I think a book review every couple of weeks is pretty decent going, considering my limited reading time. As for the interviews, I've become aware in the last couple of months that I've only done one interview this year - it's something I intend to remedy next year. I've also got some other stuff planned...

While it was a great year for the blog, it wasn't such a great year for me personally - and I mean in relation to the genre. Truth to tell, I didn't read anything that truly blew me away. Last year I read some total crackers; Altered Carbon, The Scar, and The Terror to name but a few. This year was disappointing in comparison. I read some decent books, sure. Three or four really good ones, one or two excellent ones. But nothing truly mind-blowingly brilliant, which was disappointing. Not even the three truly big ones that I read this year - The Name of the Wind, The Painted Man and Best Served Cold - really did it for me. On top of that, of the ten novels that I was anticipating this year, three were never released and three fell short of my expectations. I'm hoping 2010 will be a better year (given that I think we'll finally see the new GRRM and Lynch books, I reckon it will be).

Before I reveal my top five reads of the year, 2009's highlights included: 
  • My pro-GRRM rant, which attracted a fair few comments, including some amusing ones from GRRM's detractors (to use the polite term for them). 
  • My 'I'm a coward rant', which helped to fuel quite an intense debate about the merits of scoring systems in genre book reviewing. 
  • My appreciation of David Gemmell's classic Drenai novel Legend, which was very well received.
  • The Gollancz Autumn Party, which was a blast. 
  • As always though, the highlight was meeting and interacting with such a great bunch of folks - no other genre has the passion and enthusiasm that fantasy fans bring to ours. Long may it continue. 
Alright, time for the main event: here's my top 5 reads of the year, in no particular order.

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

(Tor, 6 February 2009)

What I said:

"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."

The best epic fantasy I read this year, no contest. This book takes everything that makes epic fantasy epic - battles, political intrigue and adventure - and just delivers it in such a masterful fashion that you just want to applaud. A big improvement on what was a decent debut, although the latest instalment didn't deliver. Still, I'm confidant that book four will hit the spot. With Tchaikovsky getting a US deal, and with two books coming out next year, I think we'll be hearing a lot more about him in 2010.

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

(Gollancz, 18 June 2009)

What I said:

"Retribution Falls is a superb, ripping yarn. Great characters, tight plot, relentless pace, and a fascinating world full of promise for future instalments. Prepare to be entertained."

Fun, fun, fun. Sometimes all you want from a book is to be entertained, so if that's the kind of mood you're in then you really can't go wrong with this one. Yet don't mistake Retribution Falls for a pulpy, shallow novel - there's some truly excellent characterisation and world-building at work here. I still think the way the demons are controlled is a superb idea and really inventive. Seriously looking forward to the next instalment in 2010, titled The Black Lung Captain. 

Twelve by Jasper Kent

(Bantam Press, 1 January 2009)

What I said:
"Flaws aside, Twelve is a solid, engaging novel and a promising start to the quintet that Kent has promised. There's plenty of good action, solid character development and a decent plot that manages to surprise on more than one occasion. I'm already looking forward to the next novel, Thirteen Years Later, both to see how the story progresses and to see if Kent can improve on the areas that I think could be done better."

A book with vampires in that is actually worth reading. Forget the brooding bubblegum vampires of Twilight and its ilk, Kent's vampires are terrifying monsters that are influenced by traditional folklore rather than the overplayed stroppy-immortal-with-frilly-cuffs nonsense. Sure, the novel has its flaws, but for some reason even though I read this book in January it's stuck with me - I can still recall certain scenes with vivid clarity. Looking forward very much to Thirteen Years Later.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

(Tor, 5 June 2009)

What I said:

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

This was easily one of the most hyped books of the year, which as we all know is not always a good thing - whether or not that is the case depends on whether the book can meet readers' heightened expectations. For me, Nights of Villjamur does. It's not a perfect book by any means - certain relationships needed more development, the murder-mystery plot didn't really go anywhere, and certain events seemed a little contrived - but overall it's a very strong debut. The prose is slick and stylish, which is great to see (far too many fantasy authors write in a dull, pedestrian manner), and it evoked a wonderfully dark, brooding atmosphere. Newton's world is intriguing too, with hints of Mieville and Wolfe. All in all, a very satisfying debut. The good news? I think the second book, City of Ruin, will be even better.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

(Viking, 11 August 2009)

What I said:

"Flaws aside, The Magicians is a very entertaining book. Grossman has delivered a creative, thought-provoking fantasy that is all the more powerful for its links to our own reality and the issues it raises (as I've said before on this blog, this is when the fantasy genre is at its most potent). Despite the obvious debt it owes to various genre classics, it still somehow manages to feel fresh. The Magicians is by turns exciting, shocking, amusing and heart-wrenching. Easily one of my favourite books I've read this year - highly recommended."

Another flawed novel that nonetheless made enough of an impression on me to still linger in my thoughts some months after I finished it. It's a curious combination of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and yet somehow Grossman not only makes it work, but he makes it relevant too. This is a novel that takes all the fluffy aspects from the likes of Harry Potter, then turns them on their head and says, "Right, ok...but what do you do when this happens?" The resulting story is a gripping read that explores a number of themes (wish-fulfilment, escapism, responsibility, and so on). A sequel is in the works, and I'll certainly be checking it out.

So, those were my top five reads of the year. No prizes for guessing which book goes down as my worst read of the year. 

Jasmyn by Alex Bell

(Gollancz, 18 June 2009)

What I said:

"I hoped for good things from Jasmyn, but was sorely disappointed and sadly this is easily the worst book I've read this year. Somewhere in this unconvincing mishmash is a decent story - I don't doubt that Bell has got some interesting ideas. But there was just far too much wrong with this novel for me to enjoy it - weak and unconvincing characters, a plot that is simply unbelievable (for the wrong reasons) and constant dull monologues. Put simply, it's a few hours of my life I won't get back."

I think I've slated this book enough, so further comment isn't really necessary - the above paragraph amply describes by thoughts.  

Right, here's some various other best and worst miscellenia.

Best film I saw in 2009:

District 9

I didn't see that many films this year, and saw even fewer that left any lasting impression on me. District 9 is therefore my choice for best film I watched this year. For some reason I forgot to give my thoughts on it on this blog. In essence, I thought it was a really good film that took a tired formula and did something totally different with it. 

The effects and all that jazz were excellent, but it was the gritty realism and thought-provoking storyline that really made the film work. There was a certain sense of "Whoah, this is what it would be like if this actually happened" about it all, and that just added a real veneer of realism to the whole thing. 

Worst film I saw in 2009:

Alien Vs Predator: Requiem

What I said:

"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."

I saw some awful films this year (I am Legend, Pirates of the Caribbean 3) but there's no contest here. This isn't just the worst film I saw this year, it's possibly the worst film I ever seen in my life. The acting is awful, the script is abysmal, the plot is hopelessly weak and linear, while the resulting mess is filmed almost entirely in the dark, meaning that most of the time you can't tell what's happening. It's an absolute shambles and an utter waste of 90-odd minutes of my life that I won't get back. If you gave me the choice between watching this joke of a film again, or spending an hour and a half watching paint dry, I'd take the latter option and thank you kindly for it. Taking a sheet of sandpaper to your balls would be be preferable to watching this nonsensical garbage. Consider yourself warned.

Best music record I bought this year:

Daydream Anonymous by InMe

I wasn't a fan of InMe when they burst onto the alternative music scene back in 2003, mainly because I thought vocalist Dave McPherson's vocals were terrible. Their second album, White Butterfly, changed my mind - while I certainly wasn't a complete convert, I did quite like a handful of songs off that album. 

Their third album, Daydream Anonymous (2007) would have probably passed me by, though fortunately my brother checked it out and raved about how good it was. I didn't think much of the snippets I heard, but I decided to check it out anyway. I'm very glad I did, because it is quite simply a superb album. 

A lot happened to InMe between 2005 and 2007, and none of it good: their bass player left, the band were dropped by their record label, and singer/songwriter Dave McPherson developed alopecia. Many bands would have folded under the weight of such troubles, but InMe showed real character and came out fighting. The result was Daydream Anonymous, an absolute belter of an album. 

Musically, InMe have evolved from a post-grunge outfit to a far more innovative style, which includes elements of progressive rock, metal, and electronica. Huge riffs are offset by tender acoustic ballads, to form a deeply satisfying musical tapestry. But what really makes this album so good is the sheer emotion and energy that InMe put into it. Dave McPherson clearly had a tough time in the two years before this album was released, and he pours his anger and sorrow into every track. The result is hugely powerful and evocative; I've never heard a vocalist put so much passion and emotion into their songs. It's just so inspiring. DayDream Anonymous is one of those rare albums that you can listen to from start to finish, there's not a bad track on it. It really is a brilliant record, and while InMe have since released their fourth album Herald Moth (also very good) Daydream Anonymous remains their defining work, and rightfully so. 

Right, I think that's about it...all that's left to say is that I hope you all have a fantastic festive season and a prosperous 2010! 

Oh, and feel more than welcome to list your own top 5 reads if you feel so inclined!

Saturday 19 December 2009

Artwork and new blurb for Mieville's 'Kraken'

Before we go any further, Kraken is not a Bas-Lag novel. Still, it sounds really cool and the artwork is hot

Here's the UK cover:

And here's the new blurb:

"Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?

For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a god.

A god that someone is hoping will end the world."

I love the cover - I really like the design and the colour scheme; that frayed, purplish tinge is bang on the money (presumably the white edge is not part of the cover). Incidentally, the US cover can be found here. It's not nearly as good. 

As for the novel not being set in Bas-Lag...I don't really care, since the story sounds so cool, and a welcome return to pure weirdness after the disappointment that was The City and the City.

Really looking forward to this one - roll on 7 May 2010 (29 June 2010 in the US)!

Comment: The Stormcaller

I don't tend to buy many books these days, since I'm in the fortunate position of mostly having them sent to me by publishers for review. So when I do buy a book, it is for one of two reasons - because I've heard very good things about it, or because the blurb appeals to me. 

The Stormcaller is an anomaly in that I didn't purchase it for either of the above reasons. Instead, I bought it pretty much entirely because it was published by Gollancz. This wasn't anything to do with some sort of brand loyalty, but rather because in the year The Stormcaller was published (2006) Gollancz had published two very successful debuts in the shape of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself (what a vintage year 2006 was for fantasy debuts!).  

Since I'd loved Lynch's debut and enjoyed Abercrombie's, I figured (perhaps rather naively) that Tom Lloyd's debut would be of a similar sort of quality. It was with some serious disappointment, then, that I only made it about 100 pages into The Stormcaller before abandoning it. 

I always had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that perhaps I'd been a little hasty - that possibly it was a case of 'right book, wrong time' (I don't know about anyone else, but I go through different reading 'moods' that sometimes means I end up putting a book down not because I don't like it, but because it's not what I want to read at that moment in time). As the months and then years passed, I gradually decided that maybe The Stormcaller deserved another attempt. My mind was then made up when Jeff wrote a review in which he admitted he'd also put the book down at first, but then gave it a second go and found that it really worked for him. 

So I did the same, wondering whether I'd have a similar experience to Jeff. 

At first, I did. As I zipped through the first few chapters, the overriding thought in my mind was "Why the hell didn't this work for me last time?" The same issues that forced me to abandon my initial attempt were still present and correct, but they didn't bother me nearly as much. I found myself investing in the story more. I liked the prose - definitely one of the novel's strong points. With one or two misgivings, I liked the world and the sense of history that pervaded it (sure, not evoked as well as, say, Erikson does it, but then who really does it like him?). So for a while I was pleased to be enjoying a novel I almost missed out on. 

Then it all went - as we say in the UK - Pete Tong

Since I didn't finish the novel (still had just over 100 pages to go) I can't write a proper review as such, but I can give my thoughts on why the book didn't work for me (then again...isn't that still a review? Ah well. Just remember when reading my thoughts that they're based purely on the first 3/4 of the book).

Sorry, this is totally off-topic for a moment...but what a brilliant album Finelines is, by My Vitriol. I bought it years ago when it was released, but only recently have I really come to appreciate how fantastic it is. Check out the video for the single Always Your Way here. What a stonking riff...

Right, back on topic. So yeah, The Stormcaller... I had a couple of  issues with this book that unfortunately made me put it down.

i) The protagonist, Isak. To put it bluntly, I couldn't give a toss about him. I'm guessing the angle Lloyd was coming from was the 'young man struggling with the burden of both his new found power and responsibility', but in reality said young man (Isak) coped rather too easily with this for the most part, which struck me as unrealistic. I also found him to be rather shallow emotionally - his emotional response (or rather, total lack thereof) to killing a man for the first time was utterly unconvincing. I felt Isak's own storyline lacked tension - he's basically a rock-hard killing machine in magic armour, so the chance of anything so much as laying a finger on him always seemed slim (can't speak for the last 100 pages, since I didn't read them, but he never seemed in that much danger for the larger portion of the novel). I guess as a White-Eye, killing and the I-don't-give-a-shit attitude are perfectly normal character traits, but for me it just made Isak both unlikable and uninteresting.

ii) The politics and history of the world, which in my opinion were well developed but poorly executed. Time and time again Lloyd made casual remarks to complex political relationships involving factions that hadn't previously been mentioned. I had to re-read certain paragraphs several times before I felt that I understood who the different factions were and why they were fighting each other. Similarly, Lloyd frequently made references to various figures from the world's history, and I'd find myself thinking "Um, I recognise the name...but can't remember who the hell they are or what they did." Perhaps this is just me and subsequently other readers might not struggle like I did, but personally I felt Lloyd could have handled all this exposition better. A glossary/cast list would have been invaluable (all we have is a map that only makes things even more confusing).

Those were the two aspects that killed the book for me, though there were other minor issues (the odd bit of suspect characterisation, for example - I found Tila to be unconvincing and illogical). It's a shame really, because I really liked the prose, thought some of the characters were done well, and overall quite liked Lloyd's world.

Unfortunately though, this book just didn't work for me. I would encourage readers to try it though, as I suspect it's one of these novels that completely divides opinion. It's not a bad book by any means, just one that perhaps is tailored (probably unintentionally) to specific tastes. 

Friday 18 December 2009

US artwork for Tchaikovsky's 'Blood of the Mantis'

Really quite liking what Pyr are doing with the covers for Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series. Here's the latest, for Blood of the Mantis, from the Pyr blog.

Yay or nay? And while we're on the subject...better or worse than the UK version (below)?

While the UK version looks better when you see it first hand rather than on a screen, I'm thinking that I actually like the US cover more...

Thursday 17 December 2009

Alan Campbell on life as a writer

Alan Campbell, author of the Deepgate Codex, doesn't blog that often. When he does, his posts are usually entertaining. Take his latest post for example - 'Life as a Writer.' This isn't a post about his daily routine or the writing process or whatever, but rather a series of amusing little revelations about his experiences as an author. 

Here's a snippet: 

"The day after the book launch, I drove Hal Duncan, my editor Peter Lavery, and my agent Simon Kavanagh back to my place, which is out in the country. The sun was shining and Hal and Simon sang "Road to Amarillo" in ridiculously loud voices. 

Whenever I hear that song now, it makes me smile."

I love reading little quirky insights into writer's lives - far more interesting than the usual stuff like "So, I got some fan mail today...then I wrote 2k words..." 

Really need to try and read Scar Night. Two attempts so far, and both abandoned though I can't say for sure why. I still think the prologue is a brilliant opening, and there's some great stuff in there, but for some reason it just doesn't work for me. However, I'm thinking it might be a case of "right book, wrong time" which does happen now and again. We'll see...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Assorted author news

As the title suggests, some assorted author news culled from the dangerous, nefarious reaches of the intarwebs.

Although Adrian Tchaikovsky's next book, Salute the Dark, is not released until February 2010, the author of the Shadows of the Apt series has already announced that the fifth book in the series - due for release in August 2010 - will be called The Scarab Path, and that he's currently working on book seven (I half-expect that if I go to and type in 'workaholic' it will pop up with a picture of Tchaikovsky). He's also revealed a full 'dramatis personae' has been posted online, due to requests from fans - be warned, if you've not read the first three books then it may contain spoilers.

Andy Remic, author of the highly enjoyable Kell's Legend, has revealed that he has finally received his first hatemail, which accused him of being a "dick-less ladyboy fagot" [sic]. Remic's posted the entire (highly amusing) message on his blog. Here's an entertaining snippet:


Ah, God bless the interwebs - allowing anonymous, illiterate dickheads to vent their anger since 1989. In this particular case, I wonder whether the abuser actually knows anything about Andy Remic. I mean, calling a man who climbs mountains in extreme weather conditions a "dick-less ladyboy fagot" is really the height of stupidity.

In other news...

Alan Campbell, author of The Deepgate Codex, has a few choice words for the 'literary Taliban' (literary snobs, in other words):

"Of all the genres, fantasy seems to me to represent the greatest departure from reality. Yes, it requires the reader to suspend disbelief and use his imagination. And, yes, there's a lot of crap out there, just as there is in any other corner of the bookshop. But to dismiss fantasy outright is narrow minded and snobbish. What do we gain by restricting our literature to what we can perceive, rather than what we can imagine? Impossible worlds? Monsters and magic? Milton, Homer, and Shakespeare did not find them too ridiculous to write about. The Literary Taliban might look down on Fantasy with a vague air of contempt, but I think our culture would be so much poorer without Beowulf, without dragons, Titans, Oberon and Puck, vampires, hellfire and Quidditch."

And lastly...

Peter V. Brett, author of the hugely successful The Painted Man, is running a competition for ARCs of his highly anticipated sequel, The Desert Spear.

Monday 14 December 2009

Hawk the Slayer sequel

This news surfaced earlier this year, though I didn't see much mention of it in the blogosphere and so decided it warranted a post.

If you're unfamiliar with Hawk the Slayer, all you really need to know is that it is one of the worst fantasy films ever made - it's one of those films that is so terrible that it's funny. A laughable mishmash of bad fantasy clichés, the film follows Hawk (who has less charisma than a corpse) on his quest to defeat the Evil Dark Lord™ Voltan (comedy bad guy name 4tw!) who - wait for it - just happens to be his brother.

The script is awful, there are glaring continuity issues (watch the 'magic gate' scene) the plot is hopelessly pedestrian, the acting is wooden, the soundtrack is abysmal, and the 'special effects' are dire even by 1980s standards. One of the film's few redeeming qualities is the inclusion of an elf that can fire arrows at a rate that would - in the words of Shadows of the Apt author Adrian Tchaikovsky - "impress an AK47."

In short, it's a diabolical mess of a film and subsequently very, very fun to watch while drunk. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Hawk the Slayer has become something of a cult classic. Nonetheless, the news that a sequel is in the works still came as something of a surprise (to put it mildly).

Tentatively titled Hawk the Hunter, the sequel is allegedly being directed by Terry Marcel, who wrote and directed the original film. On the basis that the slated budget - £10 million - is tiny, and the fact that the first film is total and utter dogshit, I don't hold out very high hopes for the sequel.

That's if the project even gets off the ground - for some reason I have serious doubts this sequel will ever see the light of day, and that's probably a good thing. Then again it would be interesting to see whether Marcel can deliver a film that is as mind-numbingly crap as the first one.

Still, on the positive side it's been 29 years since the first film was released, so if the sequel does materialise then at least Hawk has had plenty of time to cultivate a personality. And we can but hope that in the intervening decades Gort the giant has grown a few feet (he's barely over six foot tall in Hawk the Slayer), that Crow the elf has managed to hang on to his AK47, sorry, longbow, and that Baldin the dwarf has found a way to transcend death in order to join his chums on their quest (well, someone has to make the crap puns, and besides, having a whip-wielding dwarf was one of the very, very few moments of originality in the original film).

Sunday 13 December 2009

The Last Page - a more interesting debut for 2010?

I've been rather underwhelmed so far with the slated fantasy debuts for 2010; nothing's really grabbed me so far. Some of the books sound moderately interesting, but there's a depressing air of familiarity about them. However, The Last Page by Anthony Huso sounds a little more interesting. Here's one cover (not sure if it's UK or US, but a different, coloured cover can be found on Huso's website).

And here's the blurb:

"After graduating from a prestigious college, Caliph Howl reluctantly returns to the Duchy of Stonehold and assumes his role as the country’s last living heir. But when the curtains are drawn back on the dark mechanisms of the Duchy’s capital, Caliph is appalled. Isca City flickers with blood-soaked mathematicians, underworld witches and lolling gas-lit slums. As he struggles with civil war, energy crisis and occult creatures he is initially elated when his college obsession — Sena Iilool — arrives.

What he doesn’t know is that Sena has found and brought with her the Cịsrym Tạ, a book fabled to contain omnipotent numbers: the veritable academese of gods. It is her agenda to unlock the book’s secrets at any cost, even if it means betraying Caliph’s trust.

As the new power couple at the center of the Duchy’s greatest political storm, both Caliph and Sena are forced to grapple not only with relentless forces in the city that would see each of them dead, but with the complexities of their own relationship and the primordial peril unleashed by Sena’s obsession with the Cịsrym Tạ."

This blurb grabbed me more than those for other debuts I've read recently. Granted, it doesn't sound amazingly original (what does, these days?) but for some reason I'm more intrigued by this debut than many of the others due for release next year. While fabled, forbidden books are an old staple of fantasy, it's a trope that could be used in some interesting ways, so I'm curious to see what Huso does with it. Very possibly one to watch next year, The Last Page will be published by Tor in the UK and US on 17 August 2010.

Thoughts? Does the blurb grab you?

Poptwats Jedward 'invited to audition' for Hobbit movie

This is the sort of news that makes you vomit your Sunday morning breakfast all over the kitchen table: X Factor rejects John and Edward Grimes (known collectively as 'Jedward') have apparently been invited by The Hobbit producer Peter Jackson to audition for the roles of dwarf brothers Fili and Kili. 

For those of you who remain blissfully unaware of this duo's mindnumbing lack of talent (I envy you), then you can sample their so-crap-it's-amusing rendition of the Ghostbusters theme-tune here. It's safe to say that they have about as much aptitude for the performing arts as I have for rocket science. 

If those involved with the movie want publicity, then Jedward are the perfect choice - they attract publicity like a dogshit attracts flies. However, if these two talentless pop clowns landed the roles, then it would blow the film's credibility apart. Hopefully this is all a joke that has got out of hand...

Thursday 10 December 2009

Cover art and blurb for 'Soul Stealers'

I hugely enjoyed Andy Remic's Kell's Legend a few weeks ago, so naturally am looking forward to the sequel, Soul Stealers, which is due for release from Angry Robot in May 2010 (June in North America). Here's the artwork:

The only blurb I can find so far gives little away:

"The sequel to Kell’s Legend – more blood-soaked, action-packed, vampire-laced dark epic fantasy. Kell is being hunted. The vampires are fighting back against him, and the mighty hero finds himself the prey of two beautiful but deadly vampire assassins.

Their bronze fangs are coming for him.

He will strike back."

Have to say the cover doesn't do much for me - I like the continuity in terms of style, but the image itself doesn't strike me as having the power or presence of the cover for the first book. Still, I don't much care since this is a series that has already well and truly hooked me. If Soul Stealers is as good as its predecessor, then we're in for some serious entertainment...bring on the carnage!

Tuesday 8 December 2009


I know this has been mentioned here and there around the blogosphere already, but since it's a good cause I thought I'd post it here too.

Last year, Pat Rothfuss raised an impressive amount of cash for his favourite charity, Heifer International, and he's now looking to do it all over again. There's several ways of donating cash, with a plethora of awesome prizes up for grabs, so head over to Pat's blog for the full details.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Now, this is the sort of book cover I like...

Saw this yesterday and instantly loved it. Evocative colours, very atmospheric and moody scene. It attracts and holds my attention far more effectively than any of these 'bloke-in-a-cloak' covers do. I immediately feel attracted to the book, I feel inclined to pick it up and read the blurb. Overall, I think it's a terrific cover and very effective. 

The cover for Sullivan's first book, The Crown Conspiracy, is good as well. On a side note, has anyone read either of these novels and, if so, what did you think? 

Friday 4 December 2009

Friday linky links

Plenty of note happening around the blogosphere, so here's some tasty links for you all to gobble up.

Mark Charan Newton has posted about what he perceives as the death of science fiction and why fantasy is the future.

2010 debut author Sam Sykes has blogged about his upcoming release from Gollancz, Tome of the Undergates, and very kindly mentions that Speculative Horizons - among some notable others - is the "gold standard for all opinions and reviews of fantasy fiction in the UK." Hmm, I think I'm liking this guy already! :) As it happens, I've got an ARC of this book (it's a monster) and I'm hoping to get around to it early next year.

Dark Wolf has reviewed The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel. I've also got an ARC of this one, will hopefully get around to it at some point. Incidentally, this might just be a serious contender for the 'best debut novel' award at the Gemmell awards next year (while it's not his first book, it is his first book to be published in English). Pevel is a well-known French author with plenty of books under his belt, so we might see a similar situation to last year's awards where the overseas readers vote in full force...

Aidan's got the full news about Pat Rothfuss's charity fundraiser. He's also got the cover art for the e-book edition of Robert Jordan's The Dragon Reborn (which is very nice) and a review of Lev Grossman's The Magicians (as usual, Aidan's thoughts mirror my own very closely). In fact, Aidan's got tons of recent content at A Dribble of Ink that's worth checking out, far too much to link to. So just go have a look. Oh, and congrats on finishing your novel, Aidan - great achievement. Fingers crossed that it finds a publisher.

The Wert-meister has got news of a recent response to Michael Moorcock's famous anti-Tolkien essay Epic Pooh, which allegedly provides a more in-depth and sophisticated response than many others written over the years.

Gav's conducted an interview with author Neal Asher and also has five copies of Asher's short story collection The Gabble to give away. This is yet another book that I've got on my frightfully large to-read pile...

Pat's got a guest post from genre artist Vincent Chong (who I seem to recall won 'best artist' at the British Fantasy Awards recently).

Graeme's got a review of Dan Abnett's Titanicus.

There's plenty of other interesting stuff out there, but that's all I've got time to link to at the minute. Check out my blog roll at the side for further tasty morsels. :)

Thursday 3 December 2009

I'm full of contradictions and know nothing about the genre!

So says a mysterious figure known only by the ominous name of 'Michael', who posted this amusing semi-rant in the comments section of my last post on the Jim Butcher cover.
"James your full of contradictions.On a recent post you praised the cover to Mark Newtons pb cover which had a static figure onfront doing not much with a background that could have been picked from anywhere then in this post you slag off those sorts of covers.This is typical of these online "critics" lots of talk and not much consistency.I have read many a crits blog and have to say lost and lost of words ..verbose to the point where you all are biting your own tails .It is quite funny to read the comments on covers you come up with.To have a section entitled "crap covers" just shows you havent anything to offer that is positive and so shows you to be very uneducated in the genre you are reviewing.But you along with a handful of other self proclaimed judges( online book critics) of what looks good and bad will alwayz give me a giggle.Please keep it going."


I thought I'd just raise a few points in response to this rather odd (and flawed) post (partly because it amused me, and partly because I've got nothing better to write about at this moment in time).
1) "On a recent post you praised the cover to Mark Newtons pb cover" - no I didn't. Rule number one - if you're going to argue a point, get your facts right first. I did not 'praise' the new cover for Nights of Villjamur. I said, and I quote myself here, that I "quite like this cover" but that "the hardback version is far superior." Now, that's hardly praising it, is it?
2) "This is typical of these online "critics" lots of talk and not much consistency." This is such a pointlessly vague statement that I can't even respond to it properly - what sort of consistency are you talking about? With regards to what? Which critics are you referring to?

3) "I have read many a crits blog and have to say lost and lost of words..." This makes no sense - you could at least have the decency to read over your post before posting it, to save your crap grammar and spelling from giving me a headache. I take it you actually mean 'lots and lots of words'? If English isn't your first language, then fair enough. If it is, you need to go back to school.

5) "It is quite funny to read the comments on covers you come up with." That's the idea, Michael - they're meant to entertain people. Oh, silly me - you're being sarcastic! Well, if you don't find them funny, don't read 'em! Plenty of folk do find them entertaining (not least the chap who runs the Guardian books blog, who linked to one of my features in one of his articles).

6) "To have a section entitled "crap covers" just shows you havent anything to offer that is positive..." Yeah, you're right - I offer absolutely nothing positive to the genre whatsoever. I mean, I only spend hours of my spare time writing features and reviews, in order to help readers discover new books and authors - nothing positive there, is there? And since you've clearly missed the point with the crap covers feature, Michael, let me make it clear to you: IT'S ONLY A BIT OF FUN. Us Brits love to take the piss out of things, it's part of our culture - and most of the time it's meant in good humour, as these features (mostly) are. And the ones that I tear a strip off without any humour involved, quite frankly deserve it because they're shit and reflect badly on the genre.
7)  "...and so shows you to be very uneducated in the genre you are reviewing." If I didn't know anything about fantasy, then I wouldn't have been able to create and run this blog successfully for two years, accruing over 100k hits in the process. If I didn't know anything abut fantasy, people would quickly notice and ignore this blog. If I didn't know anything about fantasy, publishers and editors wouldn't send me free books to review. If I didn't know anything about fantasy, I wouldn't have been invited to the Gollancz party a few months ago. Shall I go on, or have I made my point? I don't claim to be seriously well-read in the genre (I'm not) but I do know what I'm talking about (or maybe I just imagined all those emails I've received from readers, thanking me for helping them discover new books). 

8) "But you along with a handful of other self proclaimed judges( online book critics)..." Self-proclaimed judges?! I've never said anything of the sort, and I don't recall any of my blogging comrades saying anything like that either. We're just fans that read books and write reviews - period. Anyone that views me otherwise is seriously missing the point - I don't take myself anywhere near seriously enough to think of myself as a 'self-proclaimed judge.' Any blogger that does has clearly lost control of their ego.

9) "...will alwayz give me a giggle.Please keep it going." Oh, I'll keep it going alright - no worries on that count. Speculative Horizons is only just getting started. And I'm glad I entertain you, one way or another - that's the point of the blog. For what it's worth, your post seriously entertained me as well, so cheers. :)

On a more serious note, Michael, I don't at all understand your reasoning. If you think all us bloggers are pompous asses that endlessly chew our own tails (and contribute nothing positive to the genre), why bother reading our blogs? No one's forcing you

Still, no pleasing everyone I guess! ;)