Monday, December 23, 2013

An Interview with ALMA KATSU

KatsuA-I3-DescentUK

A few days ago, a copy of Alma Katsu’s third novel, The Descent dropped through the mailbox. It is the third novel in the author’s The Immortal trilogy, but I didn’t (at the time) know too much about the series or the author, so I took the opportunity to send her some questions.

Christmas Fiction Review Catch-Up: Jonathan Dee, A.S.A. Harrison & John Niven

I am falling terribly behind on my reviews. So, in order to get caught up a bit more on the backlog, I’ll be combining some reviews into thematic posts (of sorts). This one takes a look at three non-SFF novels I’ve read recently.

***

DeeJ-AThousandPardonsJonathan Dee, A Thousand Pardons (Corsair)

Ben and Helen Armstead have reached breaking point and it takes one afternoon – and a single act of recklessness – for Ben to deal the final blow to their marriage, spectacularly demolishing everything they built together.

Helen and her teenage daughter Sara leave for Manhattan where Helen takes a job in PR – her first in many years – and discovers she has a gift for spinning crises into second chances. But can she apply her professional talent to her personal life?

I rather enjoyed this. It was a quick read, but not perfect. The novel starts out with the sudden, spectacular dissolution of Helen’s marriage to Ben, who is quite the narcissist experiencing quite the midlife crisis and breakdown. The first part of the novel follows Helen as she makes her way to New York, and stumbles into a PR job. She has a knack for coaxing out appropriate, believable apologies out of her clients. For a short time, she is able to enjoy this success. Then the novel brings Ben back into the narrative, and we get a more even-handed impression of the two characters – while I had enjoyed reading about Helen, and it did take a little while before reorienting myself for Ben’s side of the story, the novel benefited from them both being central. Dee’s prose is fluid, and I rattled through this novel at quite the pace. At times, though, things moved perhaps a little too fast – Helen’s advancement in the PR business jumps ahead slightly, and Dee doesn’t give much time over to Helen and Sara’s new lives in the big city. I think the author could have spent some more time exploring what each of the characters was going through.

Nevertheless, A Thousand Pardons is an enjoyable novel about a marriage in ruins and a family in crisis; about the limits and joys of self-invention; and about the peculiar seduction of self-destruction. It is also the tale of redemption and forgiveness, of sorts, and the enduring connection families can feel with each other, despite some of the most difficult of circumstances. It’s not a bad introduction to Dee’s fiction, and I enjoyed it enough to convince me to pick up The Privileges at some point in the not-too-distant future.

*

HarrisonASA-TheSilentWifeUKPBA.S.A. Harrison, The Silent Wife (Headline)

Todd Gilbert and Jodie Brett are in a bad place in their relationship. They’ve been together for twenty-eight years, and with no children to worry about there has been little to disrupt their affluent Chicago lifestyle. But there has also been little to hold it together, and beneath the surface lie ever-widening cracks. HE is a committed cheater. SHE lives and breathes denial. HE exists in dual worlds. SHE likes to settle scores. HE decides to play for keeps. SHE has nothing left to lose. When it becomes clear that their precarious world could disintegrate at any moment, Jodie knows she stands to lose everything. It’s only now she will discover just how much she’s truly capable of...

Oh, how I wanted to love this book. For months, it seems, I’ve seen so much praise and a constant trickle of links for great and gushing reviews on Twitter. The book itself is covered in eye-catching blurbs from prominent authors, reviewers, and so forth. So how was it? Well… Politely? It wasn’t for me. Bluntly honest? I was bored. Throughout. I didn’t like either of the main characters. He is a douche, a lecherous cheater, who seems to only appreciate what his wife does for him and the fact that she’s attractive. She is fastidious to a fault, ordered and lacking any impulsiveness and rather bland:

“Meticulous planning has its merits. Life at its best proceeds in a stately manner, with events scheduled and engagements in place weeks if not months ahead. Scrambling for a last-minute date is something she rarely has to do, and she finds it demeaning.”

Now, I understand that both of the characters were probably meant to come across as either a complete ass (him) or quietly in denial about everything (her), but damn it doesn’t make for interesting reading. The synopsis above is not the whole synopsis. I cut the following:

“A chilling psychological thriller portraying the disintegration of a relationship down to the deadliest point when murdering your husband suddenly makes perfect sense.”

I found this as chilling as tepid tap water. That being said, in terms of prose and construction, The Silent Wife is very competent. The author’s prose are very well constructed, which is really the only reason I kept reading. That bit about the novel being a “chilling psychological thriller”? I was waiting for that to happen right up until I turned the final page. Maddeningly bland. This was the biggest let down of the year, I was left wondering if what I bought and read was the same book everyone else had been talking about…

*

NivenJ-StraightWhiteMaleJohn Niven, Straight White Male (William Heinemann)

Kennedy Marr is a novelist from the old school. Irish, acerbic, and a borderline alcoholic and sex-addict, his mantra is drink hard, write hard and try to screw every woman you meet.

He’s writing film scripts in LA, fucking, drinking and insulting his way through Californian society, but also suffering from writers block and unpaid taxes. Then a solution presents itself – Marr is to be the unlikely recipient of the W.F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature, an award worth half a million pounds. But it does not come without a price: he must spend a year teaching at the English university where his ex-wife and estranged daughter now reside.

As Kennedy acclimatises to the sleepy campus, inspiring revulsion and worship in equal measure, he’s forced to reconsider his precarious lifestyle. Incredible as it may seem, there might actually be a father and a teacher lurking inside this “preening, narcissistic, priapic, sociopath”. Or is there.

This was a very pleasant surprise. There was a bit of a rocky start – the first couple of chapters painted an awful picture of the protagonist, and I worried that I’d always struggle to engage with him. However, Niven very quickly surprised. Straight White Male ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year.

Kennedy, our protagonist, starts off as one ugliest protagonists I’ve read about. He’s kind of awful: spoiled, wasteful, a drunkard, lewd, a sex addict with an unhealthy disrespect for women (sleeping with someone in the cloak room at his wedding, juggling multiple porn platforms at once)… He’s a complete narcissist. He’s not a pleasant guide for a lot of the opening chapters, which did make me wonder if I wanted to continue reading. Everyone else Kennedy interacts with is as well-written as this asshole, which made me stick with it, and eventually we learn why Kennedy is the way he is, and see his character develop. Niven can definitely write, and write very well, which kept me coming back. So, if you aren’t a fan of anti-hero protagonists, I’d recommend still sticking with the book, as it gets very good.

I really liked the way Kennedy gets to say and do all the things I bet many people living and working in or with Hollywood would love to say to all the self-important, pompous “artistes” with inflated senses of their own genius... He doesn’t shy away from opining on their flaws (or shouting  them at prima donna, uneducated actors). His internal and external commentary is often very funny. He’s also honest about why he does certain things. Kennedy is also not sparing on his frustrations with the publishing industry, either.

“Busy jumping from rewrite to polish to dialogue pass because, of course, all this was easier (and much more remunerative) than spreading his intestines across the page for two fucking years writing a novel. Because the only things he wanted to write about he couldn’t. He wasn't blocked so much as... finished. The novel? That was a man’s business. He was done with it. Not that anyone knew that yet of course.”

What was most interesting, however, is how Niven slowly unveiled the tragic story of Kennedy’s sister, and how that has effected his behaviour. A lot of what he does, in the end, seems like avoidance and alcohol-fuelled coping and distraction. After the story shifts to the UK, things move quite a bit faster, too, which was a little disappointing. I would have liked some more… well, everything, really. Rather than reading that as an indictment of the novel, consider it my way of saying I wish it had been longer, because it was so good. Which it was.

Straight White Male is a very good novel on some of the many neuroses and coping mechanisms to which men can turn. Funny, irreverent, touching, and well-written, this is definitely recommended.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Interview with PAT CADIGAN

CadiganP-Chalk

A few days ago, I got an email from an editor at This Is Horror, a UK indie publisher. I haven’t been the biggest of horror readers, but the email was about Pat Cadigan’s latest chapbook, Chalk. I was intrigued, and will hopefully have it read and reviewed in the near future. I’ve been aware of the multi-award-winning Cadigan for years, though, and so I took this opportunity to interview the author. So, here we chat about her work, the chapbook, writing, and more…

Monday, December 16, 2013

Artwork: “Gotrek & Felix: The Serpent Queen” by Joshua Reynolds (Black Library)

I must have said it a hundred times on the blog, now, but I really must get around to reading Josh Reynold’s Road of Skulls, his first full-length novel featuring my favourite Dwarf Slayer and human companion… In advance of that, though, I spotted the artwork for Reynolds’s next novel in the series, The Serpent Queen:

ReynoldsJ-G&F-SerpentQueen

Sorry for the low-quality image, but I wanted to share the cover anyway. It’s one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, so I’m always excited for news and more fiction (even if it does take me altogether too long to get around to reading them…). Here’s the synopsis:

Gotrek and Felix: unsung heroes of the Empire, or nothing more than common thieves and murderers? The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between, and depends entirely upon whom you ask... Travelling to the mysterious south in search of a mighty death, the Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion, Felix Jaeger, find themselves caught up in a battle between warring kingdoms. Captured by the sinister Queen Khalida and forced to do her bidding, the adventurers must brave the horrors of the sun-soaked Land of the Dead, where the dead do not rest easy.

Serpent Queen is due to be published in March/April 2014. Road of Skulls and David Guymer’s City of the Damned are available now from Black Library. In addition, the first in the series, William King’s Trollslayer, has recently been re-released as part of the Black Library Classics series – it is, in my humble opinion, a must-read.

Gotrek&Felix-AlsoAvailableNew

Uncanny X-Men, Vol.1 – “Revolution” (Marvel NOW)

UncannyXMen-Vol.01A so-so ‘start’ to a new Uncanny X-Men series…

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis | Artist: Chris Bachalo (1-4), Frazier Irving (#5) | Inks: Jaime Mendoza, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Victor Olazaba & Frazier Irving | Colours: Chris Bachalo & Frazier Irving

The true flagship X-Men series returns... NOW! In the wake of the Phoenix event, the world has changed and is torn on exactly what Cyclops and his team of outlaw X-Men are – visionary revolutionaries or dangerous terrorists? Whatever the truth, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magneto, and Magik are out in the world gathering new mutants and redefining the name Uncanny X-Men. But the challenges that they must overcome are fierce: once again, robotic Sentinels hunt the team and the mutants they protect... but when you find out who’s doing the hunting, your jaw will drop! And if that's not enough, there’s a mole on Cyclops’s team – but who is it?

Collects: Uncanny X-Men #1-5

This is not a bad start to one of the Marvel NOW re-launch titles. Nevertheless, I had some issues with it, but they are more related to the overall direction of the Marvel NOW titles than this series per se. So: some good, some middling.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Keeping Elfy at Christmas…

WarhammerArmies-HighElves4thOver a decade-and-a-half ago(ish), I was rather addicted to reading the background sections, stories, and special character histories from the Warhammer Armies range of books published for Games Workshop’s tabletop game. They used to be considerable books, actually, before a decision was made to strip out much of the background information, army and character histories, etc. [Boo!] Because of my peripatetic upbringing, I never actually had anyone to play the game(s) with, though, despite my obvious interest in and affection for the fantasy and science fiction systems GW produced – understandably, there was only so much patience my over-worked father could have for them. So, I made up for this by devouring the books and writing Extremely Bad fan-fiction. Like, really, really bad…

Anyway, while selecting my Christmas reading for my trip to Canada, I realised something: an Elf trend. True, it’s a trend that has been broken with a massive time-gap in the middle, but one Christmas, I found Warhammer Armies: High Elves waiting for me under the tree [pictured, above]. Including this year, for the last three Christmases, I will have read William King’s Tyrion & Teclis trilogy. These two characters feature heavily in the (very well-read, now-fallen-apart) edition of WA: HE that I had, which is perhaps partly why I have enjoyed the trilogy so much.

So, I guess, this is how I keep Elfy over Christmas…

*

William King’s Blood of Aenarion, Sword of Caledor and Bane of Malekith are all available now, published by Black Library. I would also strongly recommend the Gotrek & Felix series, which he created.

KingW-Tyrion&TeclisTrilogy

I apologise (only a little) for the fact that this post was, basically, all about getting to use that pun…

Books Received (December)

BooksReceived-201312

A nice selection again, this month – and a mixed bag, to boot. Two publishers have four books each – Headline and Arrow/Random House – but it’s a testament to their varied lists that they aren’t all the same (saving two Star Wars novels). Headline, actually, has been really impressing me this year: they buy and publish a great range of titles, and as far as I can tell are often pushing the boat out, too. It’s been a (thankfully) slower month, too, so I have some chance of actually being able to catch up on some/most of this. It certainly helps that a couple of these have been on my Must-Read list for a long while (here’s looking at Breach Zone, Razor’s Edge and Scoundrels), but the unexpected arrivals look interesting, too.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fairest, Helheim, Numbercruncher, Peter Panzerfaust, Sex, The Walking Dead (Graphic Novel Catch-Up)

ComicsRoundUp-20131213

Another round-up of recent reads. I’ve actually been reading a lot more comics/graphic novels than I’ve been reviewing, but I’ve decided to review only the ones I feel really ‘need’ a review. That is, those that inspire particularly strong opinions, or from series that I am particularly fond of already. Others, for example The Walking Dead, have been reviewed plentifully already and my positive reviews wouldn’t really add much to the discussion. But this didn’t stop me from writing something here anyway.

Reviewed: Fairest Vol.3, Helheim Vol.1, Numbercruncher, Peter Panzerfaust Vol.1, Sex Vol.1, The Walking Dead Vols.1-6

Thursday, December 12, 2013

President Obama in Comics: An Interesting and Peculiar Selection from the Sub-Sub-Genre…

President Obama has already featured in a number of comic books: be they comic/graphic adaptations of his life story, campaign-biography style one-shots, or cameos in established series comic series (such as Marc Guggenheim’s Avenging Spider-Man, below). Few presidents have excited the imaginations of such a broad segment of the American public and creative industries as has the 44th president. As someone who is interested in the cross-over areas of politics, media and pop culture, these past five years have been a fertile time for alternative presidential coverage.

BarackObama-01

Boom Studios’ Barack Obama 2012 Election Issue

ObamaComicCovers

Barack Obama: The Comic Book Biography (IDW, 2012); Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man: Election Day Cover, 2008 (above) and interior pages (below)

AmazingSpiderMan-ElectionDay-Interior0

Most recently, IDW Comics published The Other Dead (currently at issue #4), which is elevator-pitched as “Zombie Animals Devour the World”. The longer-form description sounds like a familiar, fauna-twist on The Walking Dead:

“As a weary community braces for the onslaught of an incoming superstorm, an even more insidious force grows right under their noses! When a sudden outbreak turns every animal in sight into raging, flesh-craving monsters, a colorful cast of characters will have no choice but to contend with THE OTHER DEAD!”

But, as the series unfolds, and the infection spreads across America, a diverse cast of characters – “ranging from a demon-obsessed death metal band to a paranoid survivalist to the President of the United States himself” – will try to contend with and combat “the most unpredictable zombie outbreak in history.” I don’t have any interior page previews featuring the president, but of the 11 cover variants that have thus-far been revealed for the first four issues, there are two (#1 and #4) that feature President Obama prominently, toting some serious firepower:

OtherDead-ObamaCovers

The Other Dead issues #1-4 are out now, published by IDW Comics. The series is written by Joshua Ortega and Digger T. Mesch, cover artwork is by Kevin Eastman, interior artwork is by Qing Ping Mui, and colouring by Blond.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Interview with TOBY VENABLES

Venables-HOS1-KnightOfShadows

Today, an interview with horror author Toby Venables, whose latest novel Knight of Shadows was recently published by Abaddon Books. We chatted about the changing nature of genre fiction, writing, undead vikings, and a 12th Century James Bond…

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mini-Review: “The Language of Dying” by Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books)

Pinborough-LanguageOfDyingAn affecting, slim tale of loss, family and never-forgotten pain

Tonight is a special, terrible night. A woman sits at her father’s bedside watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters – all traumatised in their own ways, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone. And that’s always when it comes. As the clock ticks in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her...

Clocking in at only about 125 pages, The Language of Dying nevertheless packs an emotional wallop. A daughter watches over her dying father, as her brothers and sister visit their childhood home. Each is dealing with their own issues and difficulties – be it drug abuse, general unhappiness with their lives, and also their difficulty in dealing with the imminent death of their father. The narrator recounts a number of fond memories and also some extremely painful ones (which, if I recall correctly from a blog-post the author wrote not too long ago, may be at least inspired by certain real events). The book is filled with a great many small, intimate details – it’s quite British, too, in that respect. The family is clearly a broken family, in many ways, and their dealings with each other can be difficult and cause friction. But then, at other times, they reminisce together over happier times. There is perhaps, also, a history of mental instability. This gives a certain dreamlike and questionable quality to a possibly-supernatural slant to the story that is alluded to at the start, and appears again at the end (one I really liked – and I enjoyed the ambiguity).

“… I still look. Forty next birthday and I’m looking out of the window for something that may be imaginary, that I haven’t seen in fifteen years, if ever I saw it at all…”

This is, as I say right at the top, is a powerful, elegant tale of loss and family, and some of the different manifestations of grief. The story is incredibly moving, and I will admit to shedding at least a couple of tears (ahem, ok, more than that). A remarkable, short piece of fiction. Very highly recommended.

Short Story Reviews: “Riven” & “Hand of Dust” by John French (Black Library)

Two short stories by one of Black Library’s up-and-comers

FrenchJ-Riven(HH)RIVEN (Horus Heresy)

As one of the vaunted Crusader Host, Brother Crius stood as the representative of the X Legion upon the soil of Holy Terra, but when he learns of the death of his beloved primarch Ferrus Manus at the hands of the traitors, his stoic, mechanical grief imbues him with the strength and resolve to undertake a special mission on behalf of Rogal Dorn himself. Striking out into the stars, he searches for any signs of his lost Iron Hands brethren, hoping to bring them back to Terra to aid in the final defence of the Palace. The question remains – just who has survived the slaughter on Isstvan V, and what yet remains of them?

I’m always happy when a new piece of Horus Heresy fiction is released, and this one is by an author I have not read much by, before. The story follows Brother Crius, a member of the Iron Hands, struggling with the loss of his Primarch, Ferrus Manus. He is tasked by Sigismund, the First Captain of the Imperial Fists to seek out any other survivors of the Isstvan V massacre, and bring them back to Terra to bolster the defence against the eventual attack by Horus’s forces. Heading out, with the support of an Imperial Fists captain, what Crius and his companions discover is not at all what they were expecting – nor, actually, what I was expecting.

I like what French has done with this story. While I wasn’t entirely clear as to why Crius was incarcerated at the start of the story, the author nevertheless has written a pretty great story. We see a little bit more of what makes the Iron Hands tick, and also a little bit of the psychological damage that the death of Ferrus has caused. True, it’s still a relatively short story, so there isn’t too much of this, but I would certainly like to read more about the Legion pre- and post-Ferrus’s death. The final battle is pretty intense, and not over-described (which was certainly welcome to me). Overall, this is a recommended addition to the growing Heresy story.

*

French-AhrimanHandOfDustAHRIMAN: HAND OF DUST

On Prospero, a solitary living soul walks across the shattered world. Beneath the ruined spires, Ahriman, exiled son of Magnus the Red and destroyer of his Legion, contemplates what once was, what is, and what may yet be. And amidst the dust of the long-lost paradise world, the sorcerer faces his mistakes and decides his destiny.

This (very) short story is part of Black Library’s Advent Calendar series of eBooks. It is also the second by French featuring the Thousand Sons (All is Dust, another micro-story, was released early last year). Hand of Dust follows one of the greatest sorcerers of the Thousand Sons traitor legion – Ahriam, the architect of the Rubric that ‘froze’ his fellow legionaries, in an attempt to rescue them from the fate that has plagued the sons of Magnus for centuries.

Hand of Dust is perhaps too short to really have much to write about it. The premise is interesting, and I think it could (and, perhaps, should) have been extended. It’s like a teaser for French’s writing and also his Ahriman fiction. It’s a good one, too. As with Riven, above, French’s writing is pretty solid and well-crafted. It is perhaps not as streamlined and fluid as some of the other, more-established Black Library authors, but it’s still very good. It will certainly be interesting to see how he develops over time.

French also wrote the first Ahriman novel, Ahriman: Exile (below), which is out now, and has now been bumped up my tottering TBR mountain. Ahriman also features in Rob Sanders’s Atlas Infernal and Graham McNeill’s superb A Thousand Sons (and a handful of other Horus Heresy novels). French will also be writing a follow-up to Exile, Sorcerer, which is due for publication in 2014.

French-AhrimanExile

Sunday, December 01, 2013

“The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud (Knopf)

Messud-TheEmperorsChildrenAn interesting tale of privilege in New York, in the lead-up to 9/11

A novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way — and not — in New York City. There is beautiful, sophisticated Marina Thwaite — an “It” girl finishing her first book; the daughter of Murray Thwaite, celebrated intellectual and journalist — and her two closest friends from Brown, Danielle, a quietly appealing television producer, and Julius, a cash-strapped freelance critic.

The delicious complications that arise among them become dangerous when Murray’s nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, an idealistic college dropout determined to make his mark, comes to town.

As the skies darken, it is Bootie’s unexpected decisions — and their stunning, heartbreaking outcome — that will change each of their lives forever.

This novel came very highly recommended, but for some reason it took me quite a long time to get around to reading it. I have a weak-spot for novels set in New York City. This is the first one I’ve read that takes a look (near the end) at the impact of 9/11 on inhabitants of the city – not in terms of politics or the War on Terror, but rather as an event that would turn the lives of these protagonists upside down, in both large and small ways. I certainly enjoyed reading the novel, but it’s not perfect. It offers some shrewd, pointed commentary on the foibles and anxieties that face or characterise the lives of privileged (and some not-so-privileged) white youth in New York City.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gift Guide #2: Headline

Headline-publishing-group

The second publisher-specific gift guide for the holidays. Here is a small selection of some great, recent books to come from Headline, and also a few upcoming titles that you should really all mark your calendars for…

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Q&A with Meg Howrey, one half of MAGNUS FLYTE

FlyteM-2-CityOfLostDreams

Meg Howrey is one half of the writing team that goes by the name “Magnus Flyte” – Christina Lynch forms the other half. Their second novel, City of Lost Dreams, was released in the US yesterday by Penguin (it is also available in the UK). Penguin US organised a Q&A, which is reproduced below, in which Howrey discusses writing as a partnership, cake (such good cake…), and the two novels (of course).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gift Guide #1: Jo Fletcher Books

JoFletcherBooks-Logo

The first of this year’s round-ups of bookish things you and your bibliophile and SFF friends that should make your Christmas and/or holiday season all the better. I’ll be breaking these down by publisher, and maybe a smorgasbord post at the end. And, because I am always looking forward, I’ll include some recommendations for the new year, too. As much as I would like to include all the books published by my favourite publishers, it would take far too long, and so I’m just picking out a selection.

First up, books you should check out from Jo Fletcher Books…

Giveaway! THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS by Marie Brennan (UK Only)

BrennanM-NaturalHistoryOfDragonsUSA quick and cheerful post. I have one copy of The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan to give away to some lucky reader in the UK. It’s the US Hardcover edition (published by Tor Books), but you should also know that it is going to be published soon in the UK by Titan Books, so if you don’t win, you will be able to get hold of the book easily in the near future.

Here’s what it’s about…

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart — no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments — even at the risk of one’s life — is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten...

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Leave a comment or email if you’re interested in winning the book. That’s really all you need to do. I’ll select someone at random in one week (December 3rd, at midnight).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Books Received (November 2013)

BooksReceived-201311

Another impressive book-haul, this month. Also rather varied, too, which is always nice. As per usual, I can’t read them all instantaneously, so here is an initial, first-look at the books that are coming soon to the blog and to bookstores/-shelves near you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Well…

TBBT-ThrowingPapers

New Horus Heresy Artwork: “Vengeful Spirit” by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

I nabbed this piece from the Black Library blog. It is going to grace Vengeful Spirit, the next Heresy novel by Graham McNeill. Haven’t the faintest idea what it is about, specifically, but there’s an Amazon UK listing, now. The cover text states: “The Battle of Moloch” (no idea), and “The Sons of Horus reclaim their place at forefront of the galactic civil war.” It’ll certainly be nice to see the Sons of Horus back at the centre of the story – the last time was the original three novels, no?

VengefulSpirit-Art

That is one angry-looking Warmaster on the left. With a very big stick… [And what looks like a Star Destroyer up above.] Amazon also had the finished cover:

McNeill-HH-VengefulSpirit

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Catching up with TOM LLOYD

Lloyd-MoonsArtifice

Tom Lloyd is the author of the Twilight Reign epic fantasy series, which was completed earlier this year. Today, Gollancz publish the first in his new series, Moon’s Artifice. To mark the occasion, I caught up with Tom to get an update since my first interview with the author…

Your first fantasy series, The Twilight Reign, came to an end this year. How does it feel to have it finished?

Weird – damn good, but still weird. I started on the project when I was 18, so it’s been the major constant of 12-14 years of my life! Even when I was signed up by Gollancz I don’t think I appreciated just how much of my life was going to be devoted to one set of characters, one plot. It was just always there, so to suddenly realise you’ve written the last words puts you into mourning.

Of course, the very last words of Dusk Watchman are the inscription on a memorial stone – I can’t remember if I’d finished all the stories of God Tattoo by then, but most of them. Certainly in my mind, that final part of the epilogue was what really brought it home to me. When I wrote the last words and typed the inscription, I think I might have needed a few moments to myself... And again when I did the second draft of it and finally got the tone of those last couple pages as I really wanted it.

So yeah, years of my life and the voices in my head that had become my friends, all gone. I think that’s one reason why I didn’t want to go straight into an epic again. I didn’t want to have a project that I’d compare so directly with Twilight Reign. Plus I was knackered and the idea of planning a series-spanning plot was exhausting. I wanted a stand-alone book and handily had the bones of one already sketched out. I have an epic (or maybe two) idea at the back of my mind, but there’s the Empire of a Hundred Houses series and then another both ahead of them in the queue.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mini-Review: “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham (Arrow)

GrishamJ-ATimeToKillGrisham’s debut novel didn’t really work for me, sadly…

When Carl Lee Hailey guns down the monsters who have raped his ten-year-old child, the people of Clanton see it as a crime of blood and call for his acquittal.

But when extremists outside Clanton hear that a black man has killed two white men, they invade the town, determined to destroy anything and anyone that opposes their sense of justice.

Jake Brigance has been hired to defend Hailey. It's the kind of case that can make or break a young lawyer. But in the maelstrom of Clanton, it is also the kind of case that could get a young lawyer killed.

The story of Grisham giving away millions of dollars’ worth of A Time to Kill first editions is pretty well-known, now. After his first publisher went bankrupt, Grisham had to buy 1,000 copies of the 5,000 print run. Here’s what he told Newsweek:

“I took all the books down to the local library and we had a big book party. When the party was over, I still owned 882 copies… so I started giving books away. We took them back to my office and packed them in the reception area. The boxes were everywhere, and I would just give them away. If one of my clients wanted a book, I’d try to sell it. If not, I’d give it away. I’d sell them for 10 bucks, five bucks. I used them for doorstops. I couldn’t get rid of these books… These 5,000 books were the only first editions of A Time to Kill. That book today is worth about $4,000. I had 1,500 of them in my law office at one time. So that’s my big mistake — that’s about $6 million, the way I do the math.”

When I re-read A Time To Kill recently, I found it rather tricky. I’m a huge fan of Grisham’s novels, and have read them all – only two haven’t hit the mark for me (The Street Lawyer and, sadly, this one). But this one just didn’t have the skill and addictive quality of his later work. Mainly, that boils down to the way in which it was written, rather than the story itself, which is pretty great.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Upcoming: “Half Bad” by Sally Green (Viking YA/Penguin)

GreenS-HalfBadI just spotted this via an advert on Goodreads (well-played, Google Ad Algorithm, well-played…). The cover really caught my eye, and I thought I’d share it on here. It’s pretty cool, no? I particularly like the way the blood in the water has been shaped (in a surprisingly realistic way) into a face, in an otherwise minimalist image.

The premise is pretty interesting, but I have a suspicion that it’s perhaps a little reminiscent of something else… If only I could remember what it reminds me of… Anyway. Here’s the synopsis:

One boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy.

Half Bad will be published by Penguin UK in March 2014. Penguin are also publishing in the US and Canada. It is Sally Green’s debut novel, and the first in a projected trilogy. The author is also on Twitter. Described as “supernatural thriller set in a modern world inhabited by covert witches”, I am pretty sure there are going to be a lot of people interested in reading this. Despite the obvious Harry Potter parallels (justified or not, as they may end up being). There’s a slightly different synopsis on the book’s website:

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled like a dog, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world's most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers — before it's too late. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

I did some Googling, and it turns out that the rights to this novel have already been sold in 25 foreign rights deals. Within 13 weeks of Penguin’s first acquisition. Holy crap, that’s impressive. The Bookseller rightly (perhaps rather tamely) referred to the deal as “unprecedented”. No idea how much it went for in the first place – in secret-publishing-deal-speak, the deal was only referred to as “substantial”. This sort of deal is pretty unusual, so yeah. I’m a bit more intrigued…

An interview with DAN NEWMAN

Today’s interview is with Dan Newman, the author of The Clearing (published today by Exhibit A, the crime/thriller imprint of Angry Robot Books). To mark the release of his book, he was kind enough to answer a few questions…

NewmanD-TheClearingLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Dan Newman?

Stefan, thank you for the opportunity to stop by... with a new novel in the market I really do appreciate the chance to be part of your blog.

As for who I am, that’s probably best defined through my experiences growing up in-transit around the globe. My father worked in international development, so we moved a lot, and lived in some wonderful places. I was born in England, and currently live in Canada, but in between there’s been a tidy little list of places in Africa and the Caribbean. I was at a friend’s party a few days ago and a childhood pal of his spoke about how they had known each other and remained friends since they were four or five years old. That seems incredible to me, and something I can’t say of anyone, given how I grew up. Still, life’s a constant trade-off, and I what I missed in long-held childhood friends, I made up for in places around the world where I can stop in for a free meal and a night on the couch.

I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, The Clearing, was published by Exhibit A in October 2013. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The Clearing is really a book about our past, and how, if left unaddressed, it can inform every part of our future lives. It’s about being a parent, about being an adult, and about recognising youth as a root system that feeds the lives we grow into.

The Clearing was written such that it could stand alone as a complete story, but there are a number of things I’ve set in there for a sequel – which I’m just completing now. It follows Nate Mason at three key periods in his life, and traces the path he’s compelled to take back to his childhood to deal with a formative tragedy that happened there. It dabbles a little in the occult, a little in psychological thriller territory, and a little in crime.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Recent Acquisitions – WFC 2013. Or, “That’s a lot of swag…”

BooksReceived-20131102-WFC

I was in Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention a couple of weekends ago (I arrived bleary-eyed and caffeine-starved on Friday morning), and after a good amount of time telling myself to go easy on purchases and books for signing… I failed miserably. I was there for work, rather than as the writer of this blog (though it was great to finally meet a number of my fellow bloggers for the first time, too). It was a lot of fun, but even only being there for two days, it was pretty tiring – anyone who was there for all four days, burning the candle at both ends: I salute you, and especially for the volunteers who did a fantastic job. As you can see from the photo above, it was a very good weekend. However, only the left and middle pile were from WFC, and the pile on the right is made up of review copies that arrived while I was away. So, in advance of reviews, here is some information on what I have recently acquired… [More has arrived since this photo was taken, but I’ll put those in a monthly post or something in the near future.]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guest Post: “Confessions of a Four-Color, Benday-Dot, Super-Deformed, Ultra-Compressed Science Fiction Writer” by Paul di Filippo

DiFilippo-WikiWorld

Paul Di Filippo is the author of Wikiworld, a great science fiction short story collection, which was recently published by (now award-winning) ChiZine. To celebrate the release of his new book, he has written the following piece about comics and their relationship with literature, and his own experiences as a reader and writer…

***

My first reading, beyond the typical picture books of my era, such as Harry the Dirty Dog and Hop on Pop, consisted of comic books. Lots and lots of comics. I recall the very first comic I ever read, in 1961, in the summer between first and second grades. It was Mighty Mouse in Outer Space, and it blew my primitive juvenile brain to flinders. (I recently tracked down a copy on eBay, and had lots of fun revisiting it.) I’ve never been the same since. You might very well say that this comic was my first introduction to the literature of fantastika, and set me on the course to becoming a writer of same.

DiFilippo-EarlyComics

After this soon came the hard stuff. Batman, Superman, and the strange new antiheroes from Marvel. Alas, though I read them fresh off the drugstore stands, I retain no issues of Fantastic Four #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15, or similar lucrative titles. I concentrated on buying DC, while my pal Stephen covered the Marvel stuff, and we shared issues for mutual reading pleasure. Stephen, wherever he may be these days, got rich, and I got Lois Lane #53.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt Responds to a Lampooning Review. Or, “This Probably Couldn’t Happen Today, on the Internet”

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUKAnyone who knows me, or perhaps anyone who reads my other blog, Politics Reader (yeah, I know, there’s a theme to the blog names), will undoubtedly have come across my interest in Theodore Roosevelt, his presidency and time. I am fascinated by the period of American history between (approx.) 1880 and the start of World War I. Given this interest, I devour pretty much any book I can get my hands on that focuses on that time and the people who shaped American history and politics then. At the moment, I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent, exhaustively-researched The Bully Pulpit. The book is about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the media. Today, I came across an amusing passage, which I thought I would share, here.

First, some context. Theodore Roosevelt was US president from 1901-08, first ascending to the Presidency after the assassination of William McKinley. Alongside his storied career in public service, he was a prolific author – between 1882-1919, he had 45 books and collections (of essays and letters) published. Finley Peter Dunne was a writer and humourist from Chicago, who wrote the nationally syndicated “Mr. Dooley” satires and lampoons.

In the fall of 1899, a copy of The Rough Riders, Roosevelt’s wartime memoir, came across Dunne’s desk. “Mr. Dooley’s” book review in Harper’s Weekly mocked Roosevelt’s propensity for placing himself at the center of all action: “Tis Th’ Biography iv a Hero by Wan who Knows. Tis Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man be an Actual Eye Witness,” Mr. Dooley observed. “If I was him, I’d call th’ book, ‘Alone in Cubia.’” Three days after this satirical assessment amused readers across the country, Roosevelt wrote to Dunne: “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall exact that when you next come east to pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.” (pp.257-8)

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUSThe full review is the first in Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy (which is available as a PDF online – pp.13-18). collected Dunne was clearly touched by Roosevelt’s letter, and in his reply to Roosevelt, accepting the invitation, he also said:

“... the way you took Mr. Dooley is a little discouraging. The number of persons who are worthwhile firing at is so small that as a matter of business I must regret the loss of one of them. Still if in losing a target I have, perhaps, gained a friend I am in after all.” (p.258)

Dunne never had to regret the loss of TR as a target, however. The reviewer continued to poke fun at TR (“the nation’s premiere target” as Goodwin calls him) for years to come, and the two remained friends throughout.

Today, when an author responds to a negative or critical review – especially on the internet – it never seems to go well for the author (see, for example, who-knows-how-many self-published authors lashing out at bloggers; or even the more recent, bizarre-and-quite-pathetic reaction to Ben Aaronovitch’s polite pointing out of a review’s factual misunderstanding). The above response and exchange between Dunne and Roosevelt… It could never happen today. Which is a real shame.

[I am currently reading The Bully Pulpit for review on Politics Reader. The book was provided by Goodwin’s UK publisher, Viking/Penguin. In the US, the book is published by Simon & Schuster.]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Upcoming: THE REMAINING series, by D.J. Molles (Orbit)

Molles-R1-TheRemainingI caught the announcement of D.J. Molles’s The Remaining series via a Twitter conversation between Justin and Rob (both are among the best SFF bloggers, in my opinion, so be sure to check out their sites and reviews). Naturally, I invited myself to join in the discussion, and decided to put together this post (I was on a role – it’s the third tonight).

Seeing as I’ve just blitzed through the first four The Walking Dead collected volumes, I must admit to being rather intrigued by this – certainly enough to read the first book at least. I have a weakness for the Zombie Apocalypse sub-genre. I’ve been pretty good at resisting reading everything, though, as I know I could quickly get sick of it. Thus-far, alongside The Walking Dead, I think my favourite has been V.M. Zito’s The Return Man (also published by Orbit, but only in the US – and it’s excellent, so you should all go out and buy it). The four books follow “Captain Lee Harden and a group of survivors as they fight to rebuild a devastated America.” Hm. Barrington’s After America but with added zombies? Here’s the synopsis for the first novel:

In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 20 feet below the basement level of his house, a Special Forces soldier waits for his final orders. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace.

The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed.

Soon the soldier will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his duty: SURVIVE, RESCUE, REBUILD.

The eBooks of all four books will be made available in January 2014, with print editions coming out in successive months from May (not sure why there will be such a gap, though). It would appear, though, that the series was self-published before Orbit snapped up rights (I remain skeptical of the hunger for re-publishing self-published work, but it does seem to be something a handful of publishers are embracing…). Here are the publishing & purchasing details, followed by the covers for books 2-4:

THE REMAINING  (US | UK) – Paperback – May 2014, eBook January 2014

AFTERMATH (US | UK) – Paperback – June 2014, eBook January 2014

REFUGEES  (US | UK) – Paperback – July 2014, eBook January 2014

FRACTURED (US | UK)– Paperback – August 2014, eBook January 2014

Molles-Remaining-2to4.jpeg

Upcoming: “Traitor’s Blade” by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)

deCastellS-GC1-TraitorsBladeWhile stumbling about on the internet, looking for information on upcoming new books by authors I like, I found the synopsis for this novel. Another from Jo Fletcher Books (a publisher who seems to be publishing some of the most interesting SFF novels at the moment, which I have been singularly inept at keeping up with), it looks rather promising. Traitor’s Blade is the first in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series. Here’s the synopsis…

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

deCastellS-SpellslingerTraitor’s Blade is due to be published in early March 2014. Penguin will be publishing the novel in Canada, and Piper will be bringing it to shelves in Germany. I’m rather looking forward to it. Although, I do wonder if the Dragon Age-esque aesthetic of the cover is leading…? Be sure to check out de Castell’s website and Twitter for more news. Including, as it turns out, some preliminary information on the second Greatcoats novel, Greatcoat’s Lament (which looked a bit spoilery to me, so I haven’t included it here), and also Spellslinger, the author’s “heroic fantasy with a western flavour” (synopsis below). There is also a free mini-audiodrama, set in the Spellslinger world, “Card Trick”.

A Tale of Magic, Intrigue & Talking Raccoons

Kellen Argos is cursed with the Shadowblack and on the run from his own family when the mysterious young queen of Darome promises him a cure in exchange for his protection. Kellen soon discovers that someone inside the nobility is plotting to take over the country. Now he has to find a way to outsmart the conspirators before they get to the queen over Kellen's dead body.

Upcoming: “Fortune’s Blight” by Evie Manieri (Jo Fletcher Books)

ManieriE-SK2-FortunesBlightLast year, Evie Manieri’s Blood’s Pride was one of the pleasant surprises of the speculative genres. The first in the author’s Shattered Kingdoms series, it arrived unannounced one day in the mail. I had known nothing about it, I dove in and enjoyed what I read. Today, I spotted some information about the anticipated sequel, Fortune’s Blight

Victory for the Shadari rebels has come at a terrible price. Hardship, superstition and a murderous cabal poison King Daryan’s young regime, but help is nowhere to be found: the mercenary who led their rebellion has vanished, their Nomas allies have troubles of their own, and the Norlanders who returned home to plead – or fight – for the Shadari’s independence have found themselves embroiled in the court politics of an empire about to implode.

As the foundations of the two far-flung countries begin to crack, an enigmatic figure watches from a tower room in Ravindal Castle. She is old, and a prisoner, but her reach is long, and her patience is about to be rewarded…

Fortune’s Blight is due to be published in February 2015, by Jo Fletcher Books. So, it’s quite a way off, still, but that means there’s plenty of time for you to hunt down Blood’s Pride in time. (It is also currently for sale in the UK Amazon Kindle store.) Manieri’s series is published in the US by Tor Books.

Also on CR: Interview with Evie Manieri, Guest Post (“Why I Write Fantasy”)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Marvel Graphic Novel Catch-Up: Fearless Defenders, Avengers, and Thor

GraphicNovelsRead-201311-1

Three new Marvel NOW collections that I’ve read and enjoyed recently. I had my doubts about the new re-launch/re-boot, but I have actually rather enjoyed the stories themselves (despite, sometimes, only have movie knowledge to get me situated…).

Reviewed: Avengers, Fearless Defenders, Thor: God of Thunder

Friday, November 08, 2013

“The Crystal Cave” by Mary Stewart (Hodder)

StewartM-M1-CrystalCaveOne of the best-loved interpretations of the Merlin Myth

Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. This is the world of young Merlin, the illegitimate child of a South Wales princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity. Yet Merlin is an extraordinary child, aware at the earliest age that he possesses a great natural gift – the Sight.

Against a background of invasion and imprisonment, wars and conquest, Merlin emerges into manhood, and accepts his dramatic role in the New Beginning – the coming of King Arthur.

Hm. How to review a book that is well-written, well-conceived, but didn’t fire one’s imagination? In brief, I suppose, is the best answer. I received this as part of the Hodderscape Review Project, which has been a great way to try out some classics of genre fiction. True, only one has truly wormed its way into my mind (Stephen King’s The Shining), but I am very happy that I’ve had the opportunity to read these books (this is the third so far). I’m especially looking forward to the next title in the project (by none other than Ursula le Guin…). The Crystal Cave, however, must also be put on the Shelf of Classics That Disappointed.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Jonathan Franzen on Writers and Social Media

JonathanFranzen-AuthorPicIn the October 6th issue of the Atlantic Weekly, author Jonathan Franzen had an article called, “Why Novelists Should Stay Off Facebook”. [Before I continue, I must say I’ve been enjoying the Atlantic Weekly a great deal – it’s a brilliant read for anyone who can’t wait the month between each issue of the main magazine – and I’ve particularly enjoyed the articles on books and literature.]

The author is no shrinking violet when it comes to his opinions on technology, and especially any advancements that have an impact on publishing. He is not, for example, a big fan of eBooks, and has warned that they are “corroding values” and “damaging [to] society”. Anyway, the article was interesting, so I thought I’d offer some comments here, and see what other people think. The article carries a pretty restrictive prescription, especially in this day and age, but if you stand back and take a look at it, there may be some truth in what he writes (subjective and individual truth, of course, as there is no One Way to Write a Novel).

Let’s begin with this comment:

“... the internet in general – and social media in particular – fosters the notion that everything should be shared, everything should be communal. Where that becomes especially dangerous, I think, is in the realm of cultural production – and particularly literary production. Good novels aren’t written by committee. Good novels are produced by people who voluntarily isolate themselves, go deep, and report from the depths on what they find. The result is communally accessible, but not the process itself.”