Friday, April 18, 2014

Short Review: “The Humans” by Matt Haig (Canongate)

Haig-TheHumansAn excellent examination of what it means to be human

It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home... One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

The standfirst says it all, really: The Humans is an excellent examination of what it means to be human – everything from the horror and ugliness, to the beauty and wonder of life on Earth. It is a novel that is filled with insight, depth, affection, and humour. From the beginning, we are introduced to an imposter on earth – an alien who has taken the place of one of Cambridge University’s most respected mathematicians, who has just solved one of the great mysteries of mathematics. The race from which this being hails believes the solution will bring great upheaval to the universe: it could, after all, allow humans to leave Earth, and venture out into the universe. This would, of course, bring all their baggage with them. After all, from the outside, human can come across as miserable, money-obsessed, violent assholes.

As the new Andrew Martin navigates his new life, quashing all knowledge of the real Martin’s discovery, he finds himself confronted with everything that is good about life as a human. His obliviousness to what the real Andrew did before he was replaced, gives him a childlike innocence and fresh slate – something that has a real impact on his family life, in both positive and negative ways. He starts to go native, despite the frequent warnings of his superiors – the Hosts.

It doesn’t take long to read The Humans – the novel is very focused, the pacing is brisk, and Haig’s prose is pretty sparse. It is also superb – elegant in its focus, nuanced, affectionate yet not uncritical, and often very funny. His characters are well-rounded and expertly brought to life on the page. The book will also make you want to read more Emily Dickinson…

Haig is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, and I’ve only read two of his novels. The Humans is a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and can’t recommend it enough.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Books Received (Easter Week & a Bit)

BooksReceived-201404-17

Featuring: Mark Alder, Charles Cumming, Stella Gemmell, Terry Hayes, Sarah Pinborough, Justin Richards, Marcus Sakey, Tom Rob Smith

“The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” by Joel Dicker (MacLehose Press)

DickerJ-TruthAboutTheHarryQuebertAffairUKA gripping and absorbing, slightly flawed thriller

August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day a small New Hampshire town lost its innocence.

That summer Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard along with a manuscript copy of his career-defining novel. Quebert is the only suspect.

Marcus Goldman – Quebert’s most gifted protégé – throws off his writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon blur together. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of ‘The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America’. But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

This is not an easy book to review. It has been on my radar for a while, and I’ve been eager to read it ever since I saw it mention on (I think) The Bookseller. I would say it mostly lived up to my expectations. It is expansive, brilliant, absorbing, briskly-paced, but also flawed and at times frustrating, even aggravating. A confounding novel to review. Despite the issues I had with certain elements of the novel and story, it was utterly gripping, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cover Reveal: DREAM STALKERS by Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot)

This is a deliciously creepy image: an evil, Joker-esque clown wielding a sledgehammer? Less sleep… Here is the cover for Tim Waggoner’s upcoming Dream Stalkers, the second in the author’s Shadow Watch series:

Waggoner-2-DreamStalkers

The cover is by amazing15. Here is the novel’s synopsis

A new drug – Shut-Eye – has been developed in the dreamland, and smuggled into our world. It’s addictive, and dangerous, and Shadow Watch agents Audra and Mr Jinx are on the case, preparing new recruits to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, a wave of ancient, bodiless Incubi are entering the dreams of humans in an attempt to possess them and live new lives. Only the criminally insane would ever risk a confrontation with them.

Thank goodness, then, for Mr Jinx: clown, Shadow Watch agent, psychopath.

The novel is due to be published by Angry Robot Books in October 2014. It is the sequel to Night Terrors. Be sure to check out Tim’s website and follow him on Twitter for news about his writing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Horus Heresy Short Reviews: “Wolf of Ash and Fire” & “Censure” (Black Library)

Just wanted to flag up two Horus Heresy short stories I’ve read recently, as they were both very good, and well worth an enthusiast’s time.

Kyme-HH-CensureCENSURE by Nick Kyme

In the depths of Calth’s arcology network, the Underworld War has raged for years. Aeonid Thiel, previously an honoured sergeant of the Ultramarines, once again finds himself in trouble – pitted against the daemonic forces of the Word Bearers, he has no choice but to venture back to the ravaged surface and brave the deadly solar flares that have scoured all life from this world. With a lowly Imperial Army trooper as his only companion, it falls to him to drive the maniacal Dark Apostle Kurtha Sedd and his warband from the overrun XIIIth Legion stronghold.

This was originally released as an audio-drama. When it was released as an eBook, however, I picked it up right away. Kyme is really growing as an author – each new story of his that I read, I can see that he’s just getting better and better. This story is set (once again) on Calth, the planet at which the Heresy and the extent of the betrayal truly exploded out into the open. After the battle of Calth, there could be no denying that the galaxy had indeed been set on fire. Censure is set some years after the events of Mark of Calth and Know No Fear, and Aeonid Thiel has returned to the ravaged world to fight against the Word Bearers and support the remnant loyalists. It focuses on a specific mission and conflict, and is fast-paced, nuanced, and expertly paced. Quite excellent, and very highly recommended.

*

McNeill-HH-WolfOfAshAndFireTHE WOLF OF ASH AND FIRE by Graham McNeill

The Wolf of Ash and Fire is a Horus Heresy short story that takes place during the Great Crusade, before the outbreak of the Horus Heresy. The Wolf of Ash and Fire follows Horus Lupercal, fighting alongside the Emperor Himself, as the Luna Wolves fight for control of the Ork-held planetoid of Gorro. The Wolf of Ash and Fire was released as a free e-book with every copy of Macragge's Honour.

This short story was released free through the Black Library website some time ago. It’s a quick, battle-filled tale of Horus’s strategic expertise, battlefield fury, and pre-Heresy devotion to the Emperor. It is also one of the few stories that features both the Emperor and Horus on the battlefield together – and it is epic. The battle scenes are great, swirling and furious. I’d really like McNeill (or any of the Heresy writers, actually) to revisit this campaign, or just write some more stories like this. As with Censure, this is highly recommended for all fans of the series. I can’t wait for McNeill’s next Heresy novel, The Vengeful Spirit (out later this year).

Monday, April 14, 2014

“Midnight Crossroad” by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz)

HarrisC-MT1-MidnightCrossroadUKA great start to a new series

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It's a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth…

This is the first novel of Harris’s that I’ve read, and I must say I rather enjoyed it. A gently-paced mystery, with a supernatural slant, and populated by endearing, varied and well-constructed characters.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Upcoming: THE HELLSBLOOD PRIDE by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)

Wendig-MP2-TheHellsbloodBrideI still haven’t read as much of Chuck Wendig’s work as I would like. Not only have I enjoyed what I have read, but Angry Robot have been commissioning some truly amazing covers for his books (see, for example, the Miriam Black books – stunning jackets). In January 2015, Angry Robot will be publishing the second novel in Wendig’s Mookie Pearl urban fantasy series, The Hellsblood Pride. The cover – by the uber-talented Joey Hi-Fi – is to the right, and the synopsis is below:

Father, barkeep, former Mafioso, ruler of his subterranean crime-kingdom. The Organization is back, and they’ll do anything to get Mookie on board, but Mookie has gone legit, and it’s taking every ounce of effort for him to keep his new bar from crashing and burning.

To top it all, his daughter is missing, and when Nora’s not in plain sight, that’s usually a sign of bad things to come! On one hand, the Organization. On the other, Nora.

Why can’t Family ever be easy…?

The first in the series, The Blue Blazes was published in May 2013. You can find out more about Wendig’s various writing projects by visiting his website and following him on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Interview with MARK SMYLIE

SmylieM-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Mark Smylie?

Let’s see. I was born in Florida; my mother was Japanese, she had come to the States to study piano at Julliard, and my father is a Presbyterian minister who worked for the Church’s national body as their liaison to the United Nations (now long retired). I grew up in New Jersey and have lived there on and off for most of my adult life (with stints in New York and California). I’ve worked mostly in comics publishing, both as a writer/artist and as a publisher (I founded a company called Archaia that is now an imprint at BOOM! Studios).

Your debut novel, The Barrow, was published by Pyr Books last month in the US and this week in the UK. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it the first in a series?

The novel was written as a stand-alone but Pyr has agreed to publish two sequels so, yes, for better or for worse I’m afraid it’s yet another fantasy trilogy. The novel is part epic fantasy, part horror story, and I guess what could be termed part undercover detective story. At first glance it’s about a group of criminals and adventurers of few if any scruples that are following a map to find a fabled lost sword, but nothing is quite as it seems.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Guest Post: “Influences & Inspirations” by Duncan Jepson

JepsonDuncan-AuthorPic1During the last 150 years, China and the West have collided many times, virtually always on Chinese soil, and their relationship is heavily coloured by this history. Many in Asia are choosing and building their futures motivated by their own and their family’s experiences, ambitions and histories, much of it unclear and unknown to most in the West. The relationship between China and West is set to become more intense and complicated and we have to hope these two sides will work together rather than tear the world apart.

The story of Emperors Once More is about the collision of these different motivations and forces in China and among Chinese people, set against their position on the world stage. On a national level, the government is tasked with maintaining a union of a billion plus people so it does not crumble into chaos again, fighting the very human feeling of humiliation from centuries of defeat, both personal and national, the need to re-establish respect on the world stage, the clashes that will arise from the very practical need to obtain vital resources for the future and China’s new role in the global order. The story is also about those very personal experiences such as migration, subservience, colonialism, aspiration, ideology, revolution and tradition.