Friday 27 August 2010

Friday links...

...because you can almost taste the weekend, right? I know I can. And it's a three-day weekend, since it's a bank holiday in the UK. Whoop.

So here's some tasty linkage for you.

What, you want a funny? Go on then...

Billy Corgan is one of my idols. His music defined my teenage years; few people have written songs that have spoken to me like his. Yeah, maybe he's got a massive ego - who gives a shit? Melloncollie and the Infinite Sadness is an amazing album. He's a great musician, but a hugely underrated lyricist. Some of his lyrics are more like poetry: elegant, evocative, mournful...

But he sure does look like Lord Voldemort. Well, here at least. Sorry Billy, but you do. Love you lots, though.

Anyway, to business.

The interwebs have been a fairly vitriolic place this week, with a fair few shitstorms raging here and there. Here's the latest - and most intense - in which the Speculative Scotsman suggests that the best 'literary' novels are superior to the best that the fantasy genre has to offer. Naturally, it's pissed a lot of people off.

Hell hath no fury like a genre fan who's just been told their genre sucks.

As for what I think...I just think the article is weird. I have a lot of respect for Niall, I think he's a good blogger and has done a terrific job since he started his blog. But this article just seems so poorly conceived, it seems strangely out of character. The argument is hopelessly subjective, and while Niall is at pains to point out he's not saying fantasy is inferior to 'literature', I'm afraid that's what his article appears to be suggesting. It's not angered me like it has many others, but I must admit it has shades of the infamous Bilsborough interview, in which the much-slated debutant said something vaguely similar (and ominously was never heard of again). Hopefully Niall will still be here once the dust has settled...

Anyway, more links.

The Wertmeister has been a busy little bee as usual, and among the many books he's reviewed is The Alchemist in the Shadows, by French author Pierre Pevel who - if you're bothered - won the Gemmell award for best debut novel (for The Cardinal's Blades). Gorgeous cover.

Aidan's got a thorough, exhaustive interview with Jeff Vandermeer. I've not had time to read it - come on, it's huge! - but I'm sure it's good. Moher always delivers. That's why, in our highly secretive blogger circles, we call him 'The Milkman.' True story. Maybe.

Amanda's reviewed The Lies of Locke Lamora. Better late than never. :)

The Mad Hatter has reviewed Brent Weeks' The Black Prism. 

Graeme's conducted an interview with Black Library author Chris Wraight. I'm always interested to hear the opinions of authors that work with tie-in fiction.

Paul, over at Empty Your Heart of its Mortal Dream (good blog, check it out) has reviewed Margaret Atwood's The Hand Maiden's Tale.

There's an interesting discussion about the finer details of cover art over at MarkCN's blog (where else, that's where the action always seems to be these days). Some very interesting input from Tor editor Julie Crisp.

And finally, a great post from a writer that - after 15 years of struggle to 'make it' as a writer, just can't face writing anymore. Strangely moving.

Have a great weekend, you crazy cats. See you next week for more genre-tastic action.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Cover art for MMPB of City of Ruin

As you'd expect with a MMPB cover it's pretty commercial, but there's no doubt the art is very nice indeed. Brynd is suitably rugged (I never really pictured him like this, but it somehow seems right). I like it a lot more than the paperback cover for Nights of Villjamur, which I wasn't a big fan of.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Artwork and a (very rough!) blurb for 'Sea of Ghosts'

Courtesy of the lovely ladies at Tor UK, here's the artwork for Alan Campbell's upcoming novel Sea of Ghosts, book one of The Gravedigger Chronicles. 

And here's a very rough blurb (well, more of a description really, but you get the idea).

"Sea of Ghosts is the terrific new novel from Deepgate Codex author Alan Campbell. Set in a world of entropic sorcerers, poisoned seas, the Drowned, drug-addicted dragons, Deadships and a powerful sisterhood of telepaths, and featuring ex-soldier Colonel Thomas Granger, this is an incredible novel of imaginative fantasy with strong characters, non-stop action and tremendous descriptive world-building. I've just finished editing it and have had to go back and read it again just for the sheer pleasure of it! We've got a terrific jacket design from artist Larry Rostant and this will be a lead fantasy hardback for Tor in 2011."

Sounds pretty cool. For some reason that I still can't fathom, I couldn't get into Scar Night. I'm hoping I'll get on better with Sea of Ghosts though, because it sounds really interesting - you can always rely on Alan Campbell to create an intriguing, vivid world.

Sea of Ghosts is due for release in April 2011.

Oh, and here's a tiny snippet:

"Granger hit the brine and plunged under it, and for a moment the world became a haze of brown and gold: sunlight rippling across the rooftops of the old Unmer dwellings down below; the Excelsior's anchor chain; a shoal of marionette fish hanging in the deep like harvest festival baubles. His ears resounded with gloop and clang of sudden pressure change. And then the pain hit him."

One to watch.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Brief thoughts on Inception

Yeah, so I finally got around to checking out the film that everyone's been raving about.

I thought it was very good; not the spectacular film some have suggested, but certainly one of the best films released in quite a while. At a time when Hollywood seems content to churn out remakes, reboots, and just depressingly bland films in general, it's great to see a film that completely goes against the grain and rises above this tide of mediocrity.

Inception feels both fresh and sharp. The underlying premise - of stealing information from people by entering their dreams - is wonderfully developed, and offers all kinds of possibilities, many of which are subsequently explored. It's pleasing to watch a film that demands you actually think carefully about what is happening, rather than just throwing mindless action at you (Transformers, anyone?).

That's not to say there's no action and violence in Inception, as there is. It's just not the driving force of the film, although it must be said that it is handled very well indeed (there's some wonderfull editing and cinematography involved). No, the driving force of the film - gratifyingly - are the characters; specifically Leonardo DiCaprio's protagonist, Dom Cobb, who struggles to deal with some shocking memories that he just can't escape. There's a very strong emotional aspect that adds genuine depth; despite the original premise and often blistering action sequences, this is very much a film about human emotions and the power of the mind.

I've never been fully convinced by DiCaprio; in some films he's brilliant (Blood Diamond) and in others he's, well, not (The Beach). But I thought he was good in Shutter Island earlier this year, and the same is true here: he turns in a very solid, believable performance. Ellen Page complements him neatly in her role, while Tom Hardy also impresses. The soundtrack is also worthy of mention; Hans Zimmer has developed a reputation for great movie scores, and he's on form again here. The music fits the atmosphere of the film perfectly.

Overall, a very good, original film that's definitely worth checking out.

Monday 23 August 2010

Book review: Veteran


By Gavin Smith

(Gollancz, 17 June 2010)

SF is dying, apparently. Yet it's difficult to agree with this statement when publishers like Gollancz are clearly committed to publishing debut novels from new talent in the genre. Especially when they're as good as Gavin Smith's Veteran. 

The novel is written in first-person, from the perspective of ex-special forces veteran Jakob Douglas. He's seen a lot of terrible things in his time. Done a lot of terrible things as well. And he's spent years fighting Them; the alien threat to humanity. Yet that's in the past now; these days he's his own man, and is only interested in drinking and smoking his life away, ensconced in his shack in what passes for Dundee in this bleak future-Earth.

Except that other people have plans for him. Recalled to service by his former commander - forced might be a better word - Douglas is given the task of tracking down and eliminating an alien infiltrator that has somehow slipped past Earth's defences. Yet what starts out as a relatively straightforward - if highly dangerous - job suddenly turns into something very different. For the infiltrator isn't quite what Douglas expects, and almost without realising it he's suddenly disobeying his orders - bringing down the considerable wrath of his superiors. He becomes a hunted man, on the run with a bunch of assorted misfits that all share the same goal: to reveal a terrible truth that may end the war with Them...or start a new human conflict that may be the final nail in humanity's coffin.

Veteran doesn't read like a debut novel; Smith's prose is accomplished and possesses a very cinematic quality; I could very clearly picture the characters and environments described in his writing. His prose is evocative without being overwhelming, and he strikes a fine balance between description and action - not something that first-time authors always get right in their debut novels. The pacing is also worthy of praise; the story unfolds swiftly, and there's no unnecessary flab; this is a lean novel, with a tight and relentless focus on its story. Exposition is handled very well - again, not something debutants often get right - and flashbacks serve to fill in the gaps in Douglas's background and add some depth to the conflict that provides the backdrop - and mitigating factor - for the story. Despite the bleakness of Smith's vision of a future Earth, and the brutality of the war against Them, Veteran is shot through with a wry, black humour that acts as a counterweight against the fear and anxiety that blights the lives of most of Smith's characters.

Much of that humour stems from Douglas himself, who makes for a strong POV - just as well, since as mentioned above the novel is entirely written from his perspective. He's a person that is easy to sympathise with, since he just wants to be left alone and instead is forced into action against his wishes. He's an intriguing character, since his physical prowess contrasts strongly with his emotional uncertainty. Fighting isn't a problem for him; he's a veteran, he knows how to handle himself. He's at home when he's surrounded by gunfire. Yet as his relationship develops with Morag - the prostitute-turned-hacker that he finds himself protecting - he struggles to understand his own emotions or deal with them effectively, meaning that he often finds himself out of his depth in this regard. It's an interesting contrast that lends his character depth and resonance.

Douglas's allies (and enemies) are also well-defined and developed. Morag in particular has an interesting progression arc; despite her increasing power and authority she remains a vulnerable figure. Her relationship with Douglas is believably handled by Smith, and aids the development and exploration of both characters. Mudge is memorable for his distinct humour, though on occasion it grates (I suspect this might be deliberate, given how Douglas often comments on this very point). Pagan, Gregor and Balor bring their own distinctive characters and complexities to the mix. Similarly, Rolleston makes for a cold, intimidating antagonist, as does the Grey Lady. In all, Smith's grasp of characterisation is impressive; he's created a dynamic bunch of personalities that really drive the story, and interact convincingly with each other.

Smith employs a good method of keeping the story feeling fresh: he ensures the action takes place in a variety of very different locations, from the bleak slums of Dundee to outer space, via a submerged New York and what once passed for the eastern states of the USA. Douglas's band never outstay their welcome in any of these locations, and this rapid transition from place to place assists the pace of the story as well as providing some evocative settings. The submerged New York is particularly striking, as is the roof-top commune that was once Hull. Smith's vision of a future Earth is grim, and life is cheap. Yet mankind - despite the advanced technology that means some humans have more in common with machines than other people - has not yet lost its humanity; that's a very important point that becomes apparent towards the end of the story. Yes, the world is dark - but there's real hope of a better future.

There's some intriguing ideas here too, many centering around the regulation of the global information network and political structure. Perhaps the most poignant question is what sacrifices are worth making for freedom. And is that freedom - from manipulative governments - truly desirable, or will it only promote chaos? Smith uses both his characters and their circumstances to explore these ideas, adding further depth to the story. It's far from just being an action-packed romp, though there's plenty of gunfights too.

Drawbacks are very minor. I felt the novel perhaps started a little too quickly for its own good, and that I'd have liked to have got a little more feel for both Douglas and the setting of Dundee before being launched into the action. Still, on the other hand this is better than being faced with a dull, drawn-out opening. On occasions some conversations between the characters do drag on a little, and perhaps could have been shortened. The ending is also a little abrupt; not a true cliffhanger, but still slightly dissatisfying as it doesn't bring the story to a true close. Presumably the next book will pick up exactly from where this one ends. Finally, I didn't feel the Grey Lady was enough of a threat; she's clearly a terrifying opponent, but her fleeting appearances don't lend her the aura of fear she ought to have.

Verdict: Veteran is an impressive debut, marking Gavin Smith as a talent worth watching in the SF field. It mixes action, intrigue and black humour very well indeed, resulting in an enjoyable read that - like the best SF - manages to be thought-provoking as well. Believable characters, vivid settings, prose that possesses a cinematic-esque quality, and plenty of frantic gunfights: you can't really ask for much more. As for SF supposedly being a dying genre; that's hard to accept when SF debuts of this quality are being published. Highly recommended.

Friday 20 August 2010

10 reasons why Transformers: the Movie is PURE AWESOME

Firstly, I'm not talking about the embarrassingly dire recent films; I've already berated them enough. No, I'm talking about the 1986 animated movie. The real deal. The proper shit. Transformers as they are meant to be, as all kids of the eighties will tell you (speaking of the eighties, it may have been the decade that fashion forgot...but by God they had some amazing cartoons back then).

If you've never seen the animated movie, then repent at once for this unacceptable gap in your genre education. You can start by watching the trailer.

This film is one of my all time favourites, and I'm going to give you 10 reasons as to why this is. And don't worry, there's no major spoilers.

So, let's do this.

The film starts with a planet being eaten

Yes, you read that right. In the opening scenes, the planet of Lithone is devoured by Unicron, a robotic monster planet. Now come on, how cool is that? How many other films open with a planet being eaten?

As openings go, it's brutal and utterly enthralling. It's almost a little mocking as well, as if the film is saying "You all thought this movie was about silly little toys, didn't you? Wrong, bitches. Wrong." Yet the best moment is after Unicron has finished his breakfast, and he continues on his way through the depths of space, all aglow. It's just eerie - the empty sense of desolation is so unnerving.

Optimus Prime and Megatron have the duel to end all duels 

Optimus Prime and Megatron spent most of the original TV series attempting to thwart each other's plans, and occasionally they had a bit of a one-on-one scuffle. Yet in the animated movie, they have an epic smack-down that makes their previous encounters look like a bit of polite slapping.

The duel is prefaced by the classic verbal exchange between the two leaders, one of the most quoted parts of the film amongst fans:

Optimus Prime: "One shall stand, one shall fall."
Megatron: "Why throw away your life so recklessly?"
OP: "That's a question you should ask yourself, Megatron."
M: "No! I'll crush you with my bare hands!"

What follows is a gripping duel, during which Prime and Megatron kick seven shades of shit out of each other. It's got everything: drama, treachery, stupidity - the lot. I wish I'd got to watch this film upon its release in the cinema; it would have been a joy to behold a couple of hundred kids squealing as their hero duked it out with his arch nemesis on the big screen. Brilliant. And even better, the duel isn't just there to cause a bit of excitement: the outcome is crucial to the development of the story.

Transformers die during the movie

One of the main ways in which the animated film differs from the original cartoon series is that transformers actually die in the film. In the cartoon series, this just didn't happen. There were plenty of fights, sure, and sometimes transformers would get hurt. But they didn't die. If they took a laser blast, they just fell over with no discernible signs of damage.

Not so in the movie. In the movie, transformers that get hit by a laser blast display the appropriate symptoms: their smashed frames collapse with smoke pumping from their wounds. This is demonstrated early on in the film, in a memorable sequence when the Decepticons attack an Autobot shuttle in space. The resulting battle, when compared to those in the TV series, is positively graphic. Put it this way: no one ever took a bazooka-blast to the face from close range in the cartoon. This is hardcore, dude. Hardcore.

Optimus Prime kicks heroic amounts of ass

Let's face it: many of us boys have pretended to be the heroic Optimus Prime at some stage in our lives. And with good reason: he's the ultimate role model. He's a natural leader, displaying courage and compassion. He oozes charisma. And he transforms into a frickin' HUGE TRUCK.

As if all that wasn't enough, Prime kicks some serious ass in the animated movie. Leading by example, he turns the tide against the marauding decepticons by embarking on a one-robot rampage, in which he takes down at least seven decepticons single-handedly (it's almost certain he downs a few more off-screen). Backed by an inspired choice of soundtrack (more on that later), this is easily one of the best moments in the movie. The entire sequence, including the above-mentioned duel with Megatron, can be viewed here (seriously though, do yourself a favour and watch the entire film instead).

Kicking ass never looked so heroic. Even now, this sequence sends a tingle down my spine.

It has an awesome rock 'n roll soundtrack

The signature tracks of which were supplied by Stan Bush, whose mullet haircut was perhaps even more famous than he was.

Seriously though, it's a great, catchy soundtrack that complements the film perfectly. Perhaps the best example is the musical accompaniment to the aforementioned rampage by Optimus Prime - "You've got the've got the POWER!" Hell, yeah. Check the amusingly cheesy music video for The Touch. The other notable track, Dare, can be found here with a mishmash of footage from the movie. Great stuff.

The script has some great dialogue

I've already mentioned the classic "one shall stand" exchange between Prime and Megatron, but there's plenty of other memorable lines from the film. Here's some of my favourites:

Unicron: I have summoned you here for a purpose.
Megatron : Nobody summons Megatron!
Unicron: Then it pleases me to be the first.

Hot Rod: They're closing on us!
Kup: Yep, like the Shrikebats of Dromedon.
Hot Rod: How'd you beat them?
Kup: I'm trying to remember. There were an awful lot of casualties that day.

Unicron: For a time, I considered sparing your wretched little planet, Cybertron. But now, you shall witness... its dismemberment.

Kup: Reminds me of the Nitith slave mines on Galganas 7.
Hot Rod: Every place reminds you of some place else.
Kup: Experience, lad. You should learn to appreciate it.
Hot Rod: A lot of good it's done us so far.

Unicron: Your bargaining posture is highly dubious; but very well. I will provide you with a new body, and new troops to command.
Megatron: And?
Unicron: And nothing. You belong to me, now.
Megatron: I belong to nobody!
Unicron: Perhaps I misjudged you. Proceed - on your way to oblivion.

Kup: Yep, I remember the dust was so thick on Beta 4, you had to use windshield wipers on your optic sensors.
Grimlock: Me Grimlock know all about wipers! Want to hear good part of story!
Swoop: Good part, Kup! Tell Swoop good part!
Kup: Ok, ok. Well, the dust was really thick, and this gigantic icthyac came tromping down the mountain, flames spewing out of its nostrils, and I thought for sure...
Hot Rod: Hey, Kup, don't you think we have better things to do now than tell old stories?
Kup: Like what?
Hot Rod: Like maybe figure out how we're gonna rescue our friends and then save Cybertron.
Grimlock: No! Tell story!

Endlessly quotable.

It has a giant squid in it

As if having a moon-munching planet wasn't cool enough, they managed to squeeze a giant squid into the mix as well. Not only that, but the beast tears a certain character apart. Awesome.

The script makes full use of the extensive Transformers universe

One of my biggest gripes with the recent live-action films is that they barely scratch the surface of the Transformers milieu. While I can understand that there are limitations, I still think they could have made far better use of the exhaustive amount of background material.

The animated movie certainly does. In the space of a couple of hours, the action takes place in a variety of locations: Cybertron's moons, Earth, space, Quintessa, Junk, and even inside Unicron. We see a number of exotic characters from the transformers universe, including the Quintessons, Junkions, and the Lithonians. And then there's Unicron, of course. The result is a far more immersive experience; you really feel like you're delving deep into the transformers mythology and history, rather than just watching dumb robots kick each other's asses (as you do in the recent films).

The voice-acting is superb

There's some serious talent on display here. Peter Cullen is wonderfully authoritative as Optimus Prime, while Frank Welker is utterly menacing as Megatron - as is Leonard Nimoy who voices Galvatron.

Best of the bunch though, is Orson Welles's portrayal of Unicron: the sense of doom he managed to get across in his limited amount of dialogue is simply wonderful. Welles was amusingly dismissive of the film when asked about it - "I play a planet in a film in which toys do horrible things to each other" - so it's a shame he never got to see the huge cult following the film eventually attracted. He died before the film was released; apparently his voice was so weak when he recorded his lines that the technicians had to beef the sound up.

It's a classic tale of good versus evil

Which is the best kind of story for young kids. It's inspiring to see the autobots taking a beating and yet still rising to the challenge.

There's plenty of underlying themes extolling the virtues of courage and loyalty, but the most prevalent is the theme of redemption: one character in particular has a very satisfying development arc, and their personal journey has wonderful redemptive qualities. It's not just a dumb load of violence; there's a real message here.

So, there you have it: ten reasons why Transformers the movie is awesome. Ten reasons why you should check it out.

For those of you about to watch it for the first time...I envy you.

A conversation with Alden Bell

The Reapers are the Angels is one of the best books I've read this year (review), and soon you'll be able to see why, as it's released in the UK next month. For those of you in the US, it's already out, so go go go! Wonderful book. I've seen one or two reviewers call it a generic zombie novel, but I have to completely disagree. But whatever, it's excellent. Check it out.

Anyway, author Alden Bell - pen name of Joshua Gaylord - is a newcomer to the genre, and by way of welcome fellow Tor author Mark Charan Newton has conducted a substantial online chat with him:

Mark: You get no sympathies from me living in Orange County, dude. But that’s an interesting disconnection between yourself and the American Dream. Whereas so many of the Great American Novels that I’ve read almost celebrate the iconic, Reapers almost came across as if you were writing the anti-American Novel – a literal and assiduous destruction of its landscape and humanity. Noting the psychology there, was that a conscious decision? Or does it come down to the simple fact that you just dig zombies?
Alden: Okay – I’m gonna to have to go all English teacher on you. There’s a great passage at the end of Gatsby where the narrator imagines the first settlers coming to the New World and finding themselves “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to [their] capacity for wonder.” What he’s talking about, I think, is the dangerous diminishment of the American Dream. It used to be about building societies up from scratch, recreating your identity out of nothing, inventing whole new worlds. Now that those new worlds are built, the only things left to strive for are vacations to Aruba and memberships to the right country clubs. Fitzgerald knew it: we still have the instinct to dream but not much left to dream for – which creates a dangerous disconnect. So the apocalypse in Reapers does destroy America, but it also resets it to its original promise. It becomes, once again, a landscape where you can build things from scratch. So it’s anti- and pro-American Dream at the same time. And the zombies? To me, they’re like cilantro – if I can figure out a way to add them into the mix, I’ll do it.

It's a really interesting conversation, with a refreshingly natural feel, so do check it out.

Thursday 19 August 2010

And the winner of the awesome-tastic giveaway...

...will be revealed in just a moment.

First, I just wanted to thank you all for the amazing response to the giveaway - I received over 150 entries, which makes it by far the most popular giveaway I've ever run (not that I've done many of 'em, but seeing the wonderful response to this one, I may run them more regularly). It really was a global event, with entries received from all over the world. And thanks for all the kind words about the blog; they were much appreciated. Even if you were only saying them to get free books.

I jest of course ;)

As much as I'd like to give a book to everyone that entered, there can only be one winner.

And that winner - picked by a totally random number generator - is the 21st entry from...

Charlie Trainum

Congratulations sir, you are now the proud owner of a pile of awesome books. Commiserations to the rest of you, but don't worry - you'll probably have another chance soon.

The book beast has been cowed, but it'll be back - and then I'll need your help again...

Excerpts from Locus magazine's interview with N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin's debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has been well-received, and Locus magazine have conducted an interview with the author herself, extracts of which can be found on the Locus website.

“The way we write traditional epic fantasy now is making the whole genre look bad. I’ve heard so many people who read my book say, ‘I stopped reading epic fantasy years ago, but I liked this. It doesn’t feel like those epic fantasies.’ I think what they’re saying is that the genre has become so formulaic that it’s almost stagnant. I’m tired of fantasy medieval Europes in general, but what really bugs me are bad medieval Europes. … There’s no reason for medieval Europe-based fantasies to be as boring as they are. It’s time to shake things up.”

Refreshing to hear such views, especially from a newcomer to the genre (many debut authors seem reluctant to rock the boat too much, which admittedly is understandable). It's important that authors speak up about issues like this, rather than just leaving it to the fans to debate.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Marco praised, Stanek slapped (again)

Just thought I'd draw your attention to a couple of articles by some of my fellow bloggers.

Firstly, just a quick reminder that the EPIC GIVEAWAY will be closing tonight at midnight, GMT. So this is your last chance to enter if you haven't already.

Now, links.

John Marco is an author I greatly admire, and whose name deserves to be mentioned a lot more than it is (as I've said before, his Tyrants and Kings trilogy is excellent). Subsequently I was pleased to stumble across this article, which basically echoes my own thoughts:

"I was first introduced to John Marco a number of years ago by a good friend of mine through the first book in his Tyrants and Kings Trilogy, The Jackal of Nar. After that I was hooked. To this day, years later, I can vividly see the cathedral of Nar being frescoed, hear the din of each battle, but most of all I can still feel every bit of pathos written into his books.

And that’s what draws me back to John Marco; his characters are so real you can practically reach out and touch them. They could be any one of us and their struggles are monumental. Marco takes you to highs and brings you down low with a manageable amount of characters with whom you grow unbelievably attached. Their motivations are understandable and their suffering can be heart-wrenching at times, not to mention their exhilarating triumphs."

Couldn't agree more.

Moving on, I was tweeting recently about how I was feeling an alarming urge to test my book-blogger mettle by reading and reviewing Terry Goodkind's craptacular Wizard's First Rule. Larry, however, has taken on one of the most hardcore reading challenges to be found in the genre: he's read and reviewed Robert Stanek's infamous Keeper Martin's Tale (a self-published book so bad that one unfortunate reader - in one of the best-titled forums threads I've ever seen - said after reading it, and I quote, "Robert Stanek shat directly into my soul."

Unsurprisingly, Larry rips the book a new one:

"By cynically manipulating the social media (knowing perhaps all along that his ham-fisted attempts at self-promotion would backfire), he has created a reading dissonance that allows the most cynical and distrusting readers to get a sort of schadenfreude joy out of beholding almost pure, unadulterated crap. If this is actually the case and that Stanek is not actually serious about believing that this story is worth reading as a straight-up text, then perhaps Stanek did succeed brilliantly in creating a work that perhaps could serve as an early 21st century spiritual successor to Jim Theis' Eye of Argon. However, it is much more likely that he is just self-delusional about his talents as a writer and that this work is just shit on a level that makes elephant turds shrink to a scale of that of squirrel turds."

No doubt Larry will soon receive an email from a hotmail address, pertaining to be from a NYC lawyer and demanding the immediate removal of the review.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

I was right about the artwork for 'The Heroes'...

It does look better with blood.

Here's a reminder of the earlier artwork:

At the time, I said, "it does seem a little bare compared to its predecessor (I always liked the coins and blood on the BSC cover; lovely little detail)."


See? How much cooler does it look with a bit of blood splashed across it? By the way, this updated artwork comes courtesy of the Mad Hatter's Bookshelf (who magically always seems to be the first to unearth new artwork).

While we're at it, here's the recent blurb:

They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.
Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he's far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it's his own.
Prince Calder isn't interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself.
Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?
Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail.
Three men. One battle. No Heroes.

Sounds pretty cool - the northern sequences in The First Law trilogy were easily my favourites, so I'm hopeful of liking The Heroes a lot more than I liked Best Served Cold.

In case you've not seen it, there's a generous sneak preview available on the Gollancz blog.

The Heroes is slated for release on 20 January 2011.

'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain' for iPhone

I've blogged before about how Fighting Fantasy had a huge impact on me when I was younger, and have also highlighted a few of my favourite titles. Given that I own every single gamebook in the series, not to mention the three spin-off novels, the Sorcery sub-series, and a few of the source material books, it's fair to say I'm a bit of an FF geek.

I was therefore pretty excited to find an iPhone app in the Apple store for the first book in the series - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I was a tad skeptical at first, suspecting it might be a cheap, rushed adaptation of the original book.

I needn't have worried.

Put simply, this app is a hardcore fan's dream. It's essentially the gamebook in digital form, but with various little touches and flourishes that make the purchase worthwhile.

All of the interior illustrations are included, though for the first time they're in colour - a really nice touch that helps to build the atmosphere (I don't mind admitting that I squealed like a pig when I saw this). Dice rolls can be done automatically or with a simple shake of your iPhone, and naturally the app adds up all the scores during battles and keeps track of attribute scores. The adventure sheet is presented well, and picking up/dropping equipment is easy. There's some nice little musical effects as well, such as a triumphant trumpet ditty when you win a battle. Perhaps this all sounds a little gimmicky, and maybe it is...but it works extremely well, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Of course, it's not quite the same as playing the original gamebooks - there was something intrinsically enjoyable about rolling dice and pencilling in your attribute scores. Yet this is Fighting Fantasy for the 21st century, and let's face it: being able to adventure through the depths of Firetop Mountain while you're sitting on the bus is pretty damn cool. And I never could find any damned dice when I needed them...

As well as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there's also an app for Deathtrap Dungeon. Hopefully there'll be more; many of my favourite gamebooks came much later in the series, and it would be great to see them in digital form.

And for those of you that have never experienced the fun of pen and pencil dungeoneering, then what are you waiting for? Here's your chance (and you don't even need a pencil!).

Sunday 15 August 2010

European adventures - Spain

I got back on Saturday from two very enjoyable weeks in Spain; a jaunt that took in Barcelona, Seville, Madrid and Valencia (the sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that's not the Spanish flag to the left, but the Valencian one instead - most suitable photo I had!). The Spaniards are very proud of their regional identities.

My sole visit to Spain prior to this trip had been a very brief visit to Seville over a decade ago, so when it came to planning a summer holiday this year I figured it was high time I spent some time exploring Spain.

I won't bore you with all the details; it will suffice to say that I had a great time in this wonderful country. The weather was amazing, the people were warm and friendly, and the tapas was sublime. The cities themselves were wonderful as well; I saw some terrific sights over the two weeks.

I thought I'd share a few of my photos with you all.

First up, Barcelona - an intoxicating city that is both vibrant and elegant. I loved the twisting old medieval quarter.

Orange trees in a hidden courtyard, deep in Barcelona's medieval quarter

The impressive centre-piece of Barcelona's lovely park

My favourite plaza, can't remember the name but a great place to go for tapas

An archway in the winding, medieval quarter

The lush, cloistered courtyard of the cathedral

View from the cathedral roof

Barcelona's impressive triumphal arch

Next up, Seville. Beautiful place, though the heat was brutal while I was there - most days it was hitting 40 degrees. Some wonderful sights though - the old medieval streets are fantastic, as is the cathedral and the royal palace. Definitely worth a visit. 

A section of the old wall inside Real Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville

Interior courtyard at Real Alcazar - note the gorgeous Moorish arches

Some of the scenic palace gardens

The stunning main tower on Seville cathedral...

...and the equally stunning main entrance

The grand tomb of Christopher Colombus, though only a small part of his remains are stored inside

The view from the top of the cathedral

Part of the ancient city walls

The imposing Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold), built to protect the river entrance. A similar tower once stood on the river's other side, and a huge chain would be raised between them to prevent entry upstream - remind anyone of an event from GRRM's A Clash of Kings? The tower's name is thought to derive from the hoards of gold that were brought back from the Americas and stored here, though the tower has served many purposes over the years...

Next up, Madrid. I liked the city's buzz and verve, though did feel it lacks the historical charm and interest of the likes of Seville and Valencia, and it's not quite as picturesque as Barcelona - hence only two photos here (though of course I took more). But it's still a fun place to visit. 

Madrid's famous Gran Via

The equally famous statue of Cybele, Phrygian goddess of fertility

And finally Valencia, which turned out to be my favourite of the four cities I visited. I almost crossed it off my itinerary as I didn't think I could fit it in, but I'm so glad I made it there - it's a wonderful city, with a gorgeous old centre and tons of history. 

The old centre, with the cathedral on the left. Wonderful place at all times of the day, but especially at night.

Another view of the cathedral

The cathedral's marvellous entrance

A wonderfully-preserved medieval fortification that once guarded an entrance into the city; only two remain (the other has taken a bit of a battering), though I think there were 12 at one time. I climbed right to the top, taking care to avoid the murder holes that were covered with dubious-looking plastic...

Detail from the above fortification's interior

The stunning entrance hall to La Llonja, the medieval silk exchange

The impressive, futuristic 'City of Arts and Sciences', which includes a large aquarium. Naturally I spent plenty of time gawping at the sharks.

No, that's not my bag. This little chap is Paul - he's a cuddly toy version of the psychic octopus that predicted Spain would win the football world cup. Now a national hero, there are cuddly versions of Paul everywhere. I picked my Paul up in Madrid. He's a cheeky little fellow, as you can see. He'll also offer psychic predictions...

...but only if you bribe him first with ice cream.

So anyway, that was the whistle-stop tour of my trip around Spain. I've not even been back 48 hours, yet am already thinking about my next trip...

Thursday 12 August 2010

Assorted cover art

First up, a lovely new cover for the Sub Press version of Mieville's Kraken (thanks to Aidan for this one - CHEERS MOHER).

Pretty cool, but I still like the purple-tastic UK cover the most. 

Up next, the UK cover for Ari Marmell's The Conqueror's Shadow:

And here's the US artwork for Stephen Deas's The King of the Crags:

And lastly, the US cover for Robert Redick's The River of Shadows:

Quite like that last one, it's a little bit different.