Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

Happy New Year everyone!

It's time to look back and try and choose the best of what I've read and reviewed in 2011. As always the objective is to narrow it down to five books, but I never managed to choose just five before, so don't expect too much.  To me 2011 was a very good reading year. I came across so many good books and new authors. I also discovered a wonderful blogging/writing community on Twitter. Only books reviewed on my site will be on this list. Hopefully they were all published in 2011, but I wont look too closely at that.

And a big thanks to all my readers!

Reality 36 - Guy Haley
I absolutely loved Reality 36. Two different main characters who complement each other really well with different skills and personalities. It was a really good action adventure with some fancy gadgets, I mean weapons, and despicable villains. Nothing will stop be from reading the sequel, Omega Point, or Guy Haley's Champion of March. Both are scheduled for release in the first half of 2012.

Viking Dead - Toby Venables
Viking Dead was just awesome. It managed to be a scary, head bashing adventure into the unknown, and at the same time a more thoughtful story of a young man becoming a man. I'd love to read a sequel to this bad boy.

The World House - Restoration - Guy Adams
I was gobsmacked after reading the first book, and Restoration was a very good conclusion. Guy Adams really shines when it comes to characters. They are all full of life, feel very real, and deliver punchy dialogue. A book (or two) which managed to both delight and frighten me. I should find out if he is writing another book.

Johannes Cabal - The Detective - Jonathan L Howard
Jonathan Howard is the master of the macabre and bizzarre, or is it perhaps his creation, Johannes Cabal who is the real master of the above. Either way, The Detective was a great read. Just like the first book it was ful of dry humour and a clever plot. A must read.

Roil - Trent Jamieson
Roil wins the Best Blurb of 2011 award. I really did not have a choice after reading the blurb on the Angry Robot website. Trent Jamieson treats us to good world building with a really sinister world populated with creepy crawlies. A lot of suspense in Roil. I am ashamed to say I have not managed to read any of Trent's other books so far. Maybe a promise for 2012? At least I shall read part two, Night's Engines, out in June 2012.

A Serpent Uncoiled - Simon Spurrier
A Serpent Uncoiled is a great thriller with a hint of the occult. A dark trip into the damaged mind of our protagonist, where he fights his own demons as well as the thugs of the London underworld. I seriously could not put it down. Best read over a weekend to avoid interruptions really.

The Kings of Eternity - Eric Brown
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown receives an honorary mention. It should be on this list by rights of how good it is, but I have never published a review of it. Blogger had a malfunction and my review was lost, and I never got around to rewriting it. It's terrific book about self discovery and love, but also manages to include aliens and ray guns.

Reading Challenge for 2012

I read a lot of books, but very rarely do I read graphic novels. When fellow blogger @MomGamerWriter announced her Manga/GraphicNovel/ challenge I thought it would be a good opportunity to try and read some more graphic novels and review them. Luckily, you are allowed to mix what you read so if I don't manage to read many graphic novels I just have to read Warhammer books, which I do anyway. I'm so clever.

Anyway, I'll try the Level 1 challenge which means a total of 12 books/graphic novels.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

'The Gildar Rift' - Sarah Cawkwell

The Gildar Rift is a new novel in the Space Marines Battles series. This series is dedicated to retelling the most famous front-line battles of the Adeptus Astartes. I love the cover, look at that bad boy. When I grow up I wanted to be an evil chaos marine with a huge power claw. Not sure how I would write my reviews with that thing though. Anyway, The Gildar Rift seemed like the perfect way to make my trip home to Sweden pass quicker. Cannot go wrong with space marines beating the crap out of each other. Thank you Black Library for providing me with this review copy.

The Silver Skulls have taken it upon themselves to patrol the Gildar Rift to repel the ever present xeno threat. Personally, I suspect it is because a lot of promethium is produced there, and they want to make sure they have enough for their flamers. The Silver Skulls differ from the other chapters by being very superstitious. Powerful psykers, Prognosticators, are consulted before important decisions to try and divine the outcome. 

Captain Daerys Arrun is in charge of the fleet assigned to protecting the Gildar Drift, and has moved from his flagship to the Dread Argent to oversee a bold and controversial experiment. The Dread Argent might not be a flagship, but it is still a formidable engine of destruction, which is why when they receive a distress call from The Wolf of Fenris Daerys Arrun feels confident they can assist the Space Wolves. A small team is assembled to board the friendly spaceship to determine what is going on, but it's assumed the situation is hostile. Nothing can prepare them for what they find on board. 

The arch-enemy have launched an attack on the system with the Wolf of Fenris being the bait which springs the trap. The Silver Skulls find themselves in dire straits both in space and down on the planet. Every move they make has been foreseen by the insane, but brilliant traitor, Huron Blackheart. Fury grips Daerys Arrun as he watches his brothers fall to the traitorous Red Corsairs. The Silver Skulls ranks are thin enough already and they cannot afford to lose more, but more importantly they cannot let the system fall to the arch enemy. 

Before things can get better they have to become worse, is something all readers will be familiar with. Being able to spot the upcoming inevitable disaster is something of a pet peeve of mine. Sarah Cawkwell certainly delivers on disasters, but it does feel forced, accompanied by explanations of why the space marines are helpless to act. Like I said this is something I like ranting about so your mileage may wary. 
Sarah Cawkwell does a very good job in raising the stakes and building up suspense. I do share captain Daerys Arrun's pain every time one of his men die. The Gildar Rift is, from start to finish, an intense read with a lot of fighting. I quite liked the ship to ship battles as their immobility makes those battles very different from ground fighting. It pretty much boils down to how much punishment your ship can take, like Rocky Balboa! It might sound boring but it's actually pretty exciting, and you can feel the ship tremble from the impact of the enemy's missiles. Down on the planet the fighting is more brutal and personal. The Silver Skulls are facing a horde of cultists and Red Corsairs. They literally tear into the cultists with little effort; they are not much more than a nuisance, but can sometimes be a fatal distraction from the real threat. Sarah Cawkwell does a good job describing the mayhem and it feels convincing with a quick pace. 

The characters in The Gildar Rift are both good and bad. They definitely feel like proper space marines, with suitable dialog and a gruff attitude. I often find space marines to be flat and lacking in personality, and unfortunately this is also the case here. It's probably not easy making one fanatic killing machine much different from others cut from the same cloth. Sarah Cawkwell also falls into the trap of telling us how intelligent and tactically brilliant captain Daerys Arrun is, but then his actions and decisions fail to live up to his reputation. I'm always reminded of David Weber's Honour Harrington when it happens.
The Gildar Drift was a solid delivery from Sarah Cawkwell, packed full of the right ingredients, and kept me entertained during my flight. The secret experiment made things interesting and felt like a fresh idea, which might have ramifications for other books in the Warhammer 40k universe. If, like me, you expect a grim read, non stop action, and religious zealots you have found the right book. I think it's fair to say The Gildar Rift felt like it was setting the stage for a second novel. The Silver Skulls suffer from a bloodied nose, and I would like to see them take the war to the Red Corsairs, giving them the initiative and the first strike. 

If your life is given in service to the Emperor, your death shall not be in vain.

The Gildar Rift weighs in at 416 pages and is published by the Black Library.

Recommendation: read

Thursday, 15 December 2011

'The Edinburgh Dead' - Brian Ruckley

The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley is a book I bought simply because I liked the writer's previous book, The Godless World. A series which I thought was under appreciated. It's a very grim fantasy setting, much like Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin. In The Edinburgh Dead Brian Ruckley takes a different approach to world building. Instead of making up a new world he chooses a historical approach with Edinburgh as the setting. He researched the city and also the history of its police force. I do like crime novels and I recently made a promise to read some books which were not set in London or New York. This book was bought and paid for by myself. Thank you me!

The setting might be new to me, but there are no surprises with our protagonist, Adam Quire. Like many other fictional coppers he has a troubled past, and a weakness to alcohol. He likes to do things his own way, which might be why the top brass are not too fond of him, in spite of his excellent results.  He does have a benefactor who is able to shield him from his worst critics. Unfortunately for Adam Quire his benefactor is not without enemies of his own, and they are all waiting for a small misstep. Adam Quire even has physical disability to remind him of his time in the army, and the horrors he saw there. As it turns out there are more horrors to come for Adam Quire.

An unusually brutal murder has taken place in Edinburgh. The victim, a young man, was left for dead with savage injuries. He looked more like the victim of a beast than a man, but this course of action is ruled out as wild beasts simply don't feature in civilised Edinburgh. Adam Quire suspects there is more to the murder than what it seems and requests permission to show the body to a professor who has previously been able to help them with their investigations.

Adam Quire's enemies are quick to call this a waste of resources and when the good professor is unable to come to any conclusions his stock sink even lower. There is however some light at the end of the tunnel, no man could have inflicted those wounds. Only an animal like a dog or wolf could have been responsible.

I admit I was completely oblivious to the supernatural traits of this book, so I was somewhat surprised an animal would be involved. Thinking about it, the tag line written across the cover should have alerted me to this. It was however a pleasant surprise. I know from previous experience that Brian Ruckley does a good job of creating a very menacing atmosphere and I was already thinking of The Hound of Baskerville.

The dead man is so far unidentified so some good honest police work is now required by Adam Quire. This is the part where Edinburgh really comes alive from Brian Ruckley's writing and I think we get a realistic view of life in Edinburgh at that time. Not surprisingly, Adam Quire starts out with some arm twisting in the seedier districts, and to his surprise he finds himself in the finer parts of Edinburgh. He is forced to adopt a much gentler approach with the fine folk than with the poor. Unfortunately, the rich have a lot of influential friends, and Adam Quire finds himself in trouble with his superiors.

You quite quickly get a sense of Adam Quire being on an inevitable path to self-destruction like so many fictional coppers before him. No one ever seems to appreciate it when the nobs are investigated. Power and influence has often worked as a shield against the law, and there is a price to be paid for justice. Is Adam Quire willing to pay it?

The Edinburgh Dead is more about mystery, menace and dread than good honest police work. It was not what I expected, but it did work out well in the end. I felt Adam Quire was perhaps a little too plain and predictable to make a truly great character, but having said that I would still read the next book if there is one. He did grow on me, and did develop as a character. He learned a lot about himself, and what's important in life.

If you are into supernatural frights without sparkly vampires The Edinburgh Dead might just be the book for you. It's a well written and entertaining book.

The Edinburgh Dead wighs in at 416 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Recommendation: read  

Monday, 12 December 2011

'The Emperor's Finest' - Sandy Mitchell

When The Emperor's Finest landed on my doormat I admit to bouncing from joy. Sandy Mitchell's books about commissar Ciaphas Cain are considered a must read in my house. So far they have proven to be an excellent blend of fun and action. Thank you Black Library for sending me a copy to review.

Commissar Cain is assigned to liaise between the Reclamator space marines and the Imperial Guard. Having left both the Imperial Guards and his trusted aide Jurgen behind he is travelling with the space marines towards a planet suffering from a rebel uprising. Commissar Cain is not expecting much trouble. Mere humans are no match for the Adeptus Astartes super soldiers,  and for once he should be safe from danger. So why are his palms itching so terribly?

Just in case you have not read a Ciaphas Cain novel, I'll dedicate a few sentences to this most awesome character. He really wants nothing more than to serve for the rest of his career in a quiet backwater far away from danger, enjoying drinks and women. This is usually the opposite of what the Emperor has planned for one of his most effective servants. Instead he ends up in the thick of it all. Often, because he is very unlucky, but his mouth gets him into trouble as well. He is a very astute observer of people, and always knows what people want to hear, which along with his own desire to come across as brave and capable, he talks himself into dangerous situations before he can stop himself. He is simply an anti-hero, and a very good one. I've seen comparisons between him and Flashman, which I strongly disagree with. Flashman is a real nob, and Ciaphas Cain is, deep down, a good man. However, they do have the same knack for ending up in troublesome spots.

Once down on the planet the space marines get started on routing the rebels and Ciaphas Cain gets acquainted with the governor and his buxom daughter. She is hard to miss in her cake-like military uniform and eye catching cleavage. Apparently she holds an honorary military title and to Ciaphas Cain's horror she insists on taking it seriously. It's immediately clear the two do not see eye to eye, and it gets worse when she insits on leading a scouting mission. Ciaphas Cain really does not want to baby sit a spoilt aristocrat, and his only comfort is he is now allowed to shoot her for insubordination, should the need arise, or she annoys him enough.

The Emperor's Finest, just as all other books about Ciaphas Cain, are pieced together from the memoirs he left behind by Inquisitor Amberly Vail. It is written in first person so we get a really good insight into him as a person, which is a lot of fun. It's a very honest, almost too honest, recollection of events and his opinions on things.  He often thinks one thing, but acts in the opposite way to make himself look better, just in case someone is watching. In editing his memoirs Inquisitor Amberly Vail also leaves a lot of footnotes to further explain the story and they range from merely informational to very sarcastic and funny. At times even a little emotional. Whenever I put down a Ciaphas Cain novel I find myself looking for these footnotes in the next book. They are great!

It turns out there is more to it than a simple rebellion. It's all engineered by genestealers, which makes it a lot more dangerous. Suddenly, Ciaphas Cain is not certain of his safety even with the ceramite encased warriors between him and the aliens. Things take a turn for the worse when the Adaptus Astartes wants to chase down the source of the genestealer infection. Ciaphas Cains finds himself back in space, hunting an old space hulk. Nothing can prepare him for a much greater, and closer danger. A woman with an ulterior motive!

By now you have probably figured out that I'm a big Ciaphas Cain fanboy, and hopefully picked up on how much I enjoy the series. The Emperor's Finest does not have best plot in the series, but the humour and action more than makes up for it. The book is riddled with awesome one liners and great dialogue between the characters. Not only is it fun to read, it's also plenty of action in a claustrophobic environment packed full of monsters with more claws and teeth than brains. There is plenty of close encounters of the very deadliest kind. As usual Ciaphas Cain does not have more than his wits and trust chainsword to save himself, and the rest of the world. I declare this whole series a must read. Go on and treat yourself to the adventures of one of the very best characters in the Warhammer 40k universe.

The Emperor's Finest weighs in at 416 pages and is published by the Black Library

Recommendation: must read

Monday, 5 December 2011

'Faith and Fire' - James Swallow

Faith and Fire was an obvious choice from the box of goodies Black Library sent me to review. The cover is pretty damn cool. I wouldn't mess with her. When I turned the book around things got even better. I never heard of the Sisters of Battle before, but some googling revealed they are a elite warriors consisting of only women. This was all to get around a law, which declared the church was not allowed to have 'men at arms'. Unlike the astartes the Battle Sisters are 'ordinary' women trained to the very limits of what is humanly possible. They wear adapted power armour and their piousness and belief in the emperor may even protect them against the powers of the warp. KICK ASS!

Miriya is the and her sisters are tasked with escorting a captured renegade psyker back to the planet of his birth. The order was given by a high ranking church member, so although she would rather execute the witch on the spot she has little choice but to obey. While still out in space, part of the crew frees the witch, and Miriya has to return in disgrace. The members of the crew that are part of the mutiny shows no regard for their own safety, and many walk willingly into certain death. To cause the commotion needed for distraction they jump into the part of the machinery, which crushes them into a pulp. Their blood and gristle causes a break down, granting them the time to break out the witch and make their escape.

I'm always a little worried when reading about a strong female character when written by a man. James Swallow avoids a few traps only to stumble into another pitfall. Miriya is a highly skilled soldier, both with firearms and close quarter combat. In spite of this a common thug manages to pin her down without much of a effort, and the only reason we are given is that he is a big guy. Surely a super soldier like Miriya should be able to deal with a brute without much of a problem. She is a Celestian, a veteran of many battles, not a cherry. Anyway, at least James Swallow does not waste any time describing how beautiful and sexy the Battle Sisters are.

Back to the plot. There is obviously a price to pay for failure. It always terrifies me how little regard there is for a human life in the Warhammer 40k universe. Even a highly trained soldier like a Battle Sister is not safe, and the church demands a sacrifice for their failure. Still, the renegade witch is still at large and he needs to be captured. The church's own soldier failed for many years to capture him, so the Battle Sisters are still the best women for the job. Miriya gets a chance to redeem herself. By now I pretty much expect nothing fancy from Faith and Fire. The psyker will lead the Battle Sisters on a merry cat and mouse dance . It turns out there is a lot more at stake here. Someone in a high position with a lot of money is up to no good. The question is, how high up does the corruption reach. Luckily cutting out corruption is what the Battle Sisters does best.

Once it was made clear how much more Faith and Fire has to offer plot-wise it got really exciting. The lore in Warhammer 40k is mind boggling, giving James Swallow a lot of room to awe and impress the reader. He does put some juicy tidbits on a plate before us. Faith and Fire is packed to the brim with action, both on a small and large scale. I much prefer the small woman to man, or woman to fire breathing psyker, than the more full blown battles. It's a little impersonal and it feels more like watching my bigger number reduce your smaller number into nothing. He does a much better job with smaller groups, and it gets the pulse going.

Faith and Fire is a very entertaining book and action packed book. It was refreshing to read about the Battle Sisters, which until now I never heard of. Any problems I had with Faith and Fire are easy to overlook, and it's well worth reading. It's a very intense read and whereas I never felt I connected much with the characters, I sure did connect with the story. My high goose-bumps count of three will attest to that. I will certainly read the next installment in the series, Hammer and Anvil.

Faith and Fire weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library.

Recommendation: read

Who Won?: Reality 36

And we have a winner!

Merry Christmas to Diayll Sales of North Carolina.

That's it for this year, but there will be more book giveaways next year!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

'No Hero' - Jonathan Wood

No Hero is the debut novel by Jonathan Wood. I first saw it while browsing Night Shade's website and the catch phrase caught my eye. "What would Kurt Russel do?". As a kid I watched a lot of Kurt Russel movies, so it brought back a flood of childhood memories. I want to know what Kurt Russel would do! Night Shade Books were kind enough to provide me with a review copy of No Hero.

No Hero is off to a promising start, with a cop who witnesses something really odd, Men in Black odd. Arthur Wallace is the cop who is unfortunate enough to see the brutal murder of a suspect. After a chasing the man he ends up on a roof top, but before he can apprehend him the suspect has a fatal encounter with a sword. The really odd bit is what happens afterwards...

White beads burst from the wound, like translucent pearls, like giant fish eggs, each one half an inch across or more. They shimmer and shine, lit by some inner luminescence. They spray out like the seeds blown from a dandelion. And in the center, trashing in what is left of the man's head...

Let's just say Arthur Wallace is also unfortunate enough to come up close and personal to the same sword and he ends up in hospital. While recovering in the hospital he is approached by a serious, but still attractive, looking woman. This is agent Shaw of MI37, an agency protecting us all from the threat of super powerful godlike aliens existing in a alternative reality. They also deal with other minor magical incidents and occult riff raff, but their primary purpose is to be the last line of defence, like the Men in Black or The Laundry Service in Charles Stross excellent series about Bob Howard.

So far so good, No Hero reminds me of only good things. Let's just ignore the fact of a government agent stabbing a cop and we are good to go. Arthur Wallace is now recruited into MI37 to bring the leadership the group needs. He dropped straight into a field operation without really knowing what his teammates brings to the table. Hell, he barely knows what he brings to the table. Turns out a student has got his hands on a powerful grimoire, and is causing problems. MI37 suspects the involvement of the evil alien gods and their minions. They must be stopped.

Arthur Wallace is a strange one. We get a lot of insight into his mind as the book is told from first person. On one hand it looks like he suffers from a really bad case of lack of self confidence, but often his actions contradicts this. He starts of with having a little whine about how dangerous something is, and how it is not for him. Where is an action hero when you need one. Then he actually does something really rash and daring. Unfortunately, it never ends well for Arthur Wallace. To me, Arthur Wallace is the weakest part of the book. I am not sure if he is supposed to be a reluctant anti-hero, or the right guy at the wrong place. He seems more like the wrong guy at the wrong place, and a little too whiny.

It's a shame about Arthur really as the other characters are quite interesting. They all seem to bring some unique talents to the team. Clyde the nerdy and shy battery devouring magician is the most fun member of the group. The sword wielding, superhuman Kayla is the most dangerous one. She is also quite mad. Not a terrific combination for those around her, as Arthur Wallace can testify to. I quite liked her melee scenes. Jonathan Wood does a good job describing her sword fights. I could clearly see it in front of me, almost animesque. Everything is slowed down, except her, body parts flying in all directions.

The world building is interesting as well. Got a little bit of everything, multiple realities, magic and alien gods accompanied by mind controlling slugs. The magic is all electricity driven, which is why Clyde is always sucking on a battery. Quite comic really. We end up with something interesting enough to keep me reading.

Jonathan Wood struggles to move the plot forward at times, and it does not always agree with me. It's a tricky balance when you are dealing with super human abilities and gods, sometimes he needs to 'disable' things, be it an ability or an individual, to make it more challenging, and it does not always feel realistic. Jonathan Wood deserves credits for taking the kid gloves off, things really do take a turn for the worse before they can improve. The turn was so sharp I thought for a while they would never get back on the road again. I was not even sure there was a road anymore.

I wish I could like every book I read, but No Hero does not do enough to stand out. I quite happily finished the book, and it was never tempting to stop reading it. It just does not leave much of an impression, and it would be better to start reading Charles Stross', The Laundry. If you have read it and liked it, maybe No Hero works better for you.

No Hero weighs in at 318 pages and is published by Night Shade Books.

Recommendation: don't read

Friday, 25 November 2011

Book Giveaway: Reality 36

Meet Richards and Klein – the Holmes and Watson of the 22nd century.
Except that Richards is a highly advanced artificial intelligence, and Klein his German ex-military cyborg partner. Their first case takes them into the renegade digital realm known as Reality 36 and through the Great Firewall of China, in search of a missing Artificial Intelligence Rights activist. What they find there will threaten every reality.

Apologies for not posting much lately. I am still alive, just busy playing Skyrim. I have a good pile of really promising books waiting for me so keep watching this space.

It's time for another giveaway here at I Will Read Books. I'm really pleased to announce that I have a spare copy of Reality 36 to give away. Many thanks to Angry Robot for providing me with one.

I loved Reality 36 and I really recommend reading it. For more about it, take a look at my review.

This giveaway is open to anyone who lives where Royal Mail can deliver a parcel. I only do one a month so the postage certainly wont kill me, but having said that I do encourage more UK peeps to participate :)

Follow these steps to win a copy of Reality 36:

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email Reality 36
3) Don't forget to include your address, or I wont be able to send you the book
4) Do this before Friday the 2nd of December 2011

Good luck everyone

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Interview with Jo Anderton

It's time for another interview! Today we are joined by fantasy author Jo Anderton, who recently published her first book, Debris. You can read my review of Debris here.

For more information about Jo Anderton, visit her website or follow her on Twitter (@joanneanderton)

Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. To kick things off, could you tell me a little about yourself and your work, and why you chose fantasy as your genre?
You're very welcome! Let's see, I live in Sydney, Australia with my long-suffering husband, two cats (one rules our household with an iron paw) and a dog. When I'm not writing I work in marketing for an Aussie book distributor. Why fantasy? You know, it's a little hard to say. My writing just turns out that way -- even if I try to write something set in "real life" weird things find their way into the story. Maybe because I grew up on a diet of Tolkien? Or maybe I'm just wired that way?

When did you start writing? Is it something you have always been doing? Were there any books you read as a child that inspired you to take up writing?
I've been writing since I was a kid, and even then I wrote weird stuff. I think I was the only person in my class who wrote post-apocalyptic stories for their creative writing assignments. I just loved being completely absorbed into the worlds in my head and on the page, and still do. I have a very clear memory of asking a teacher, when I was 13, if he thought "I could publish a book one day". He totally said yes, if I worked hard enough. And that was pretty damned inspiring.

What did it feel like reading your first review?
Absolutely, stomach churningly, nervous! Don't get me wrong, it's so exciting when people enjoy the book, but it still freaks me out every time.

Any advice you would like to share to anyone thinking of writing their first book? Did you receive any advice?
The best advice I can give is to write. Then write more. Revise what you've written. Join a writing group, get some feedback, give some feedback. But most of all, write. And write some more.

Over the years I've received wonderful support from the Australian and world wide speculative fiction community, including advice. That's something else I would recommend -- connect with others who love what you love and do what you do.

Debris is your first book. I’d love to hear more about those early days. Did you have to pitch it to many publishers? How did you come into contact with Angry Robot Books?
Debris took an unusual path to publication. A few years ago I attended a manuscript development program, but with a completely different book. The program was so helpful, it involved discussing our books and careers with a publisher, agent and a professional writer -- in this case the wonderful Marianne de Pierres. While talking to Marianne I happened to mention I was working on Debris. Through her mentorship I met an agent who subsequently approached Angry Robot. I guess the lesson is to seek out opportunities (like applying for things like the manuscript development program) and take advantage of them. I very nearly didn't mention Debris, because I was at the program with a different manuscript. But I'm glad I did!

I know you have recently had a really long holiday in Sri Lanka and I loved all the elephant pictures you posted. Will we perhaps see any elephants in your coming books? Or is there something in Debris which was inspired by an earlier holiday?
Oh I loved Sri Lanka (and the elephants!) and hope I can go back again one day! I've got a couple of short stories playing around in my brain that have been inspired by the trip, but neither of them involve elephants. Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be elephants later on. I never know what my brain's going to come up with. Can't say Debris was inspired by a holiday. But I think I should go on more of them, you know. For inspiration...

I really liked how you turned physics into magic by using pions. Where did you get that idea from? Also, are you a rocket scientist?
Haha! Rocket scientist? No. Thanks for asking though!

Pions came from a desire to write about an industrialised form of magic. Basically, I wanted to know what the industrial revolution would look like in a world where magic was common place. In the world of Debris almost everyone can see and manipulate pions to rearrange matter, but not to the same degree. You can't just say "build that giant statue for me" you have to know how to create cement and steel, how to design it so it doesn't collapse (under normal circumstances, of course!). The better educated you are, the better you are at manipulating pions and the more money you can earn. So you have factories where circles of low paid, low skilled pion-binders generate light for the city, and heat, and regulate sewerage, that kind of thing. Meanwhile you have architects like Tanyana, the main character, who do highly specialised jobs for a lot of money.

What books are you currently reading and are there any must reads you would like to recommend?
At the moment I'm reading Future Babble: Why expert predictions are wrong and why we believe them anyway by Dan Gardner. Non fiction, and absolutely fascinating. I try to mix up my reading with fiction, non fiction, fiction, non fiction. I have a giant TBR pile full of amazing looking books. No idea what I'll chose next!

Most importantly, are you working on something at the moment?
Well I've been working on Suited, book two of the Veiled Worlds, which is due out in 2012. So that's pretty exciting. I'm also playing with a completely new book. It's a post-apocalyptic romantic comedy, set in Sydney in the not too distant future, with ghosts. And aliens. Heaps of fun. And, as always, I'm trying to keep control of all the new ideas that pop into my brain, demanding books, until I have time to write them!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

'Goblin Tales' - Jim C Hines

I was reading Mr Hines' blog when I stumbled upon Goblin Tales. It's a collection of short stories about, you guessed it, goblins. Jim Hines' three previous books about Jig and his adventures are all very good, so I was chuffed to bits and immediately bought Goblin Tales.

Goblins are not the most nursing of creatures, and it is very much a case of survival of the fittest. From the previous books about Jig we know he is not big or strong. He has always survived by using his mind, and his ability to hide and sneak. The first story tells us how Jig survived as an infant. It does a good job of filling a gap in the story and explaining how such a puny little thing managed to reach adulthood.

Smudge is one of my favorite spiders, err characters, in the Jim Hines' Goblin saga. How the two first met is explored in the second short story. This is a funny one. Maybe it's no surprise, but a spider able to set things aflame gives a lot of room for comedy and mischief.

The third story does not feature Jig at all, but brings back a familiar figure. Veka, the goblin girl with a talent for magic has left the goblin cave and joined a school for wizard. This is a lovely little clash of cultures, who would have thought humans burned their dead on pyres to send them on their way, instead of for cooking! Jim Hines' is one for making fun of tropes and conventions in fantasy, and this time it's Hogwarts which is the target. Very cute :)

The fourth story is a nice little surprise treat for the reader. He has started working on a new series called Magic Ex Libris, with the first installment, Libriomancer, being close to completion. Turns out some people have the ability to make their writing real, way too real. They can breach the barrier between the real and the written world. Luckily there is a council for keeping things in order. It reads very much like a urban fantasy, with the libriomancer using different books to pull out what he needs. Look forward to the first novel.

What I really want to read is a another novel starring Jig and Smudge, but Goblin Tales is the next best thing. Jim Hines is a very funny guy and so are his books. We get the same dry wit you expect from his previous books, along with a slightly mocking tone. He seems to enjoy making fun out of fantasy conventions and tropes. The more I read, the more he reminds me of Terry Pratchett. I strongly recommend you read his other books about Jig, Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero and Goblin War. That's it, only if you enjoy reading something very funny, a story about the underdog, or have an interest in goblins and how adventurers keep bothering them!

Goblin Tales weighs in at 132 pages and is self published by Jim C Hines.

Recommendation: read

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Interview with Toby Venables

Time for another interview! The Viking Dead is one of my favorite books so far this year, so I was chuffed to bits when Toby Venables agreed to an interview. The Viking Dead was Toby's first book, but writing has been his profession for many years. Read on for some great tips on surviving the zombie apocalypse, and more about Toby and his writing.

Don't miss my review of The Viking Dead.

Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. To kick things off, could you tell me a little about yourself and your work, and why you chose fantasy/horror as your genre?
I’ve always been into horror, though much more horror cinema than literature. I’m a screenwriter, too, and tend to think in those terms (as a kid I used to watch Universal horror double bills late on Saturday nights when I was supposed to be asleep). As I was writing The Viking Dead I was picturing it on a screen, figuring out how (and if) it would physically work – directing it in my head, in effect. For me, that’s necessary to give the sense of physical reality. In film (and therefore in a script) you can’t be vague. You have to put things in front of the audience – to show them – so you have to work out all the details, even of those details don’t make the final cut. I dislike fiction that glosses over logistical problems by simply leaving them out of the text. Appropriately enough, perhaps, most of the horror writers I really like are dead, and probably a bit obvious – M R James, H P Lovecraft, Mary Shelley. As for fantasy... It’s not really my bag - and I have a serious allergy to fantasy novels about dragons. You know the sort of thing – books in which they are really noble, magical creatures for the ridiculously-named main character to bond with. Big, scaly, My Little Pony horses, essentially. I have a book in mind which features a more traditional dragon – a huge, merciless, destructive monster. My agent also represents Anne McCaffrey, though, so I have to be slightly careful what I say.

When did you start writing? Is it something you have always been doing? Were there any books you read as a child that inspired you to take up writing?
I always wrote stories of some kind or another, and they usually had some kind of horror theme, often with a terribly obvious twist. I remember writing a couple of ghost stories at primary school. We had a great English teacher who treated our attempts as proper pieces of writing and read them out in class. I don’t think I understood until years later how significant this was; it was the first time I realised I could potentially write something that had an effect one people like all the stories I’d read had on me. As far as reading matter goes, a few things stand out. My mum and dad had a series of books containing illustrated stories from mythology. One was mostly classical Greek and Roman, with pictures of idealised heroes like the figures from a Greek urn. They didn’t interest me at all, but near the back there were also Norse myths, with some quite grim pictures of dwarves and giants that I loved. I also remember having the story of Beowulf and Grendel read out at school. I think that was the first time I was aware of a story being ‘horror’ (it was the ripping off of the monsters arm that really got to me). I’ve kind of been obsessed with Beowulf ever since. Another big thing was 200AD, which I read avidly throughout my childhood – and quite a bit beyond it. Now here I am, writing about a Norse world with a character named Bjolf (the Norse version of the name ‘Beowulf’) published by Abaddon, whose parent company publishes 2000AD... Funny, that. I wasn’t a particularly avid reader of contemporary horror, but I lapped up science fiction: H G Wells, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke – all the classic stuff. And I watched late-night horror double bills when my parents thought I was asleep – Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney...

As a first time writer, what are the good and bad things so far with being a writer?

I’d been writing and having stuff published for some time as a journalist before I started tackling fiction seriously, so I was in some ways used to the process, and to seeing my name in print. But finally having a book in your hand – the long fought-over text turned into a real, physical object – is a real thrill. I hope it always is. One of the things I love about people like Spielberg and Peter Jackson is that when they talk about films, they’re like kids; they still have exactly the same excitement about it that they always had – a kind of boundless, youthful enthusiasm. Ray Harryhausen (who I met once, and whose work I love) has that too. You need it, I think. There’s nothing worse than being jaded, even though some seem to adopt it as a cool pose. It’s actually deeply unattractive – and if you really do become jaded, it’s the death of your art.

Bad things? I don’t know! Sometimes it just is a slog – lots of unglamorous hard work with long hours, like any other job. But the hardest part for me is spotting glaring errors or jarring bits of syntax once it’s in print. To some extent, you have to get past that urge to perfect everything and just do what you can. Like anything else, you’re working to a deadline, and you have to draw a line under it when the deadline hits.

How do you juggle working and writing?
Well, writing is my work – but there’s a lot of it, and many different plates to keep spinning... I do copywriting and editing – ads, websites and so on – bits of journalism and PR, and also teach film and journalism at Anglia Ruskin University in addition to the scripts and books. It can get a bit manic at times, but to be honest, I’m happier when there’s a lot going on.

Any advice you would like to share to anyone thinking of writing their first book? Did you receive any advice?
Write what you love. Write a lot (like anything, it takes practice). Understand that nothing is wasted - even if a particular thing doesn’t get published, it’s helping you develop. Read a lot and see how others do it. Develop patience on a geological scale – some people give up after a couple of years because they haven’t got anywhere; give it ten. Just keep sowing the seeds and move on – sometimes something from years ago can sprout and flourish when you’d given up on it. Be open to feedback (from editors, agents, critics), but firm about the core idea; suggested changes can improve your work, but hold fast to the key concept that made you want to write it. Find people to give you that feedback, if you can; parents and friends are good but mostly they are predisposed to love what you do – and they’ll spare your feelings when it doesn’t quite work. You need the harsh truth! Also – and I think this is in some ways the most crucial lesson of all – understand that you need to give people reasons to be interested in what you write. No one is interested in you just because you write – you need to have something to say that touches them. Then they’ll be interested. They’ll go with you. But you have to earn that. I did get some very sound advice from my first editor when I started writing journalistic features, the most imprtant of which was ‘show, don’t tell’. You don’t explain a story. It isn’t just information. You have to bring it to life (very Frankensteinian...). If you create world that feels real, people will easily accept what happens in it.

Viking Dead is your first book. I’d love to hear more about those early days. Did you have to pitch it to many publishers? How did you come into contact with Abaddon Books?

I can’t remember exactly how I heard of them – online or in an email from someone I think, when they put out a call for submissions. I initially put in a slightly crazy proposal for a novel in their steampunk series, which ultimately didn’t get accepted (rejection actualy spurred me to try again). This is one of the book series that has connecting storylines, and a massive ‘bible’ for writers describing the universe and timelines within which the stories are to take place. It can be quite tricky slotting into an already established world like that. With the zombie series, however, they decided to make each novel standalone, which offered complete creative freedom, and I’d been doing a lot of research on the viking age for another project, and it suddenly struck me that putting zombies and vikings together would be pretty good... The outline was written very quickly, though originally it ended differently, with Bjolf and the remaining crew simply sailing away after the final battle, feeling the salt spray on their faces... But I started to to ask myself why the zombies existed in this time, how they came about and how come we hadn’t heard about it. I also realised that zombies (Romero zombies, not voodoo ones) were kind of a modern phenomenon. Then I understood what the ending had to be. Initially, they loved the idea – except the ending. It was rejected, in fact, on that basis (at this point, the novel did not exist; it was just a proposal, though they’d already seen examples of my writing and liked it). Then, almost a year later, Jon Oliver of Abaddon phoned me up out of the blue. The conversation went like this:

‘You remember that viking zombie proposal you sent us a while ago?’
‘Errr... Yes...’
‘Are you still OK to do it?’
‘Errr... Yes...’
‘Great! I’ll get a contract in the post tomorrow...’

And that was that.

While being Swedish does not necessarily make me an expert on vikings I did think that Viking Dead was very convincing. Did you do a lot of research? Any favorite viking rites or customs?

Yes, I did do a lot of research. Or rather, as I mentioned, I had already done a lot of research for another unrealised project (I was always interested in the viking period anyway) and that led me to the idea of setting a zombie story in that period. It seemed such an obviously good combination that for a while I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before (maybe it has, but I couldn’t find anything). In some ways, it was hard to establish exactly how ordinary people of that time lived their day to day lives. There are lots of books of history, or that deal with major customs, but very little on the ordinary, trivial things. How did they light fires? What did they eat and when? How did they tell the time? How were things organised aboard a ship? Some of these have fascinating answers – others we don’t fully know the answers to, but re-enactment groups have often come up with practical solutions based on the resources available. Also, I was very aware that whatever archaeologists and historians may tell us, there was no viking rule book. They were every bit as intelligent, imaginative and eccentric as us, and would very likely have done many things entirely their own way, just as we would. Most writing on the subject will tell you that a viking crew would never, under any circumstances, leave their ship unguarded. But I liked the idea that Bjolf and crew would completely flout this – partly for practical reasons, because they wanted all hands for the raid, but also because under certain circumstance they were completely confident that the fear they would inspire in the local population was enough. It doesn’t matter whether it was the viking way. It’s Bjolf’s way. Like Grimmsson having iron spikes on the prow of his ship, and a red-painted sail. They’re personal affectations. I figured if you were that kind of person, with that kind of independent lifestyle, no one was going to dictate to you what to do.

Having said this, the viking mindset is hard to fully get to grips with. In the sagas, it’s immediately apparent that they are very much like us in so many ways – all the same needs, loves, fears, ambitions, humour, weaknesses and so on. But it’s also a warrior society, and killing comes easily. That’s a shock. Sometimes things seem quite contradictory. The ‘hero’ of Egil’s saga can ruthlessly kill a couple of men, and then, moments later, compose some poignant, thoughtful poetry about the vicissitudes of life. If someone did this these days, they would be considered completely insane – but Egil clearly is not that. Also, from the writings of Ibn Fadlan, an arab traveller among the Rus (Swedish vikings in Russia) we have an account of a funeral involving human sacrifice. It’s likely that this was an ancient and somewhat anachronistic practice even then amongst Scandinavians, but still is hard for a modern mind to accommodate. Like many ancient peoples, they combined pragmatism with a huge capacity for superstition. One great discovery was that in their world a ‘ghost’ (draugr) was not a spirit, but a restless corpse that had risen up to threaten the living (see Grettir’s Saga for a good example of). In other words, they had zombies.

I often hear that characters have their own will and sometimes even surprise the author. Is this something that you have experienced?
Not exactly. For me, it’s not that the characters have their own will, but that they – and in fact the entire story – have needs and a logic that you need to discover along the way. If there’s one thing the human brain is brilliant at doing, it’s telling a story. But often, too much concious thought can get in the way. You have to listen to the story as you go (and, I suppose, the storyteller in your unconscious mind) and see where it seems to want to go. It’s always right. Usually, all the elements you need, all the answers to plot problems, are all in there somewhere right from the start. It’s like sailing a ship. You steer, but you go with the prevailing wind.

So which character is more like you, Atli or Bjolf?
I think we’re all a little bit like both of them, and as you read it I think you also realise that they are very like each other. That’s the idea, anyway. Bjolf wasn’t born a viking – in the true sense of that word, i.e. a ‘pirate’ - he became one. In some sense he is also perhaps somewhat anachronistic. His attitudes are pretty fair, even ‘moral’ - perhaps more so than the sagas suggest would be the case. But, like I said, there was no rule book on how to be a viking. Many were fiercely independent. The colonisation of Iceland was largely due to large numbers of Scandinavians leaving home because they did not wish to live under a king. Bjolf also has no truck with superstition or religion, which makes him seem more modern (and more like me). I feel pretty sure there were people like that, though – and in horror, the main character always starts out as a sceptic! He does have his slightly psychotic side, of course. When he fights, it’s total. Hopefully, that’s where he’s less like me.

Not to give anything away, but Bjolf and his crew have a very tough jorney ahead of them and there will be casualties. How hard is it to kill off a character, do you ever worry that you are being too nice or too harsh with them?
It is hard, killing off a favourite character. But you have to do it once in a while. It would be easy to just kill off characters who don’t matter, but if you do that, then the story ceases to matter. The threat to all your characters has to feel real – all the more so in horror – and you cannot achieve that if readers sense a kind of protective bubble around them. I think it’s also important sometimes that you don’t see it coming. Bjolf’s world – crazy as it may be – is based on a real viking world, where death could come in a number of ways and without warning. I wanted death to strike at some who we really did not want to see go, and for there to be a sense of tragedy in that. There are also times when Bjolf kills and hopefully it is a bit of a shock (I have one particularly gruesome example in mind); again, it’s true to his character, and reminds the reader that they cannot afford to get too comfortable in this world. One reader wrote to me making comparison with James Clavell – enormous flattery, really – but what made them say this was that he, too, kills off characters and doesn’t look back. That’s a shock when it happens. I didn’t want readers to become used to the violence and horror – quite the opposite.

What books are you currently reading and are there any must reads you would like to recommend?
Funnily enough, I’m reading a book about zombies! I don’t actually do this very often – honestly – but I am giving a paper at an academic conference on zombies at Winchester University on 28 October, so wanted to do a bit of homework... It’s called Book of the Dead by Jamie Russell – an excellent history of the zombie movie. I’m also re-reading Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland, who’s a friend of mine. It’s a massive scale space opera – the only SF novel to win all three major British SF awards – completely mad, packed with big cinematic moments, but very very smart. And funny.

Any advice on how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse?
Learn to live without relying on electricity, petrol and piped water. Learn to live off the land. Become better tuned to your environment. Carry a machete. Guns attract unwanted attention, so don’t rely on those either. Plan for the long haul – but be ready to move on at short notice. Don’t fight if you can avoid it. If you can’t, go all out. Basically, be a viking! They are the ultimate survivors, zombies or no zombies. They’re self-reliant, tough, resourceful, ready to fight and skilled in getting or making what they need – the kind of people who could get into a ship, sail to a completely unknown land and establish a community from nothing. We’ve lost a lot of those basic abilities because modern life takes things out of our hands, but they’re exactly what we’re going to need...

Most importantly, are you working on something at the moment?
I’m always working on something – several somethings, usually. I’ve just finished doing the press and PR for Cambrudge Film Festival, which was great (I got to chat with John Hurt and Gary Oldman!) and am now putting the finishing touches to a screenplay which we hope will be made next year. It’s called The Hill and isn’t horror at all – kind of a Western in a contemporary setting with a massive heist at the beginning. Then there are a couple of new proposals for Abaddon – both zombie ideas – one contemporary, one set in 1880s London. We’ll see how those go. Meanwhile, if anyone is interested in my services, they can find out about them here:

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Salvation's Reach - Dan Abnett

Salvation's Reach, a Gaunt's Ghosts novel, is a book I was looking forward to reading ever since it arrived in my post box. It's written by Dan Abnett, one the best writers in the Black Library stable. Many of his books gets rave reviews, and praise for his bad ass military writing. I was nervous about boarding the Gaunt's Ghosts train at such a late stage in its journey, but I was assured Salvation's Reach would be a good place to start. Thank you Black Library for giving me a ticket to this, hopefully, exciting journey.

Gaunt and his men are stationed on Menazoid Sigma, waiting for reinforcements, before they can start their mission. It's been quite a while since The Tanith First saw any real action, leaving them dull, like an unused and forgotten blade. This might even be the reason they have been entrusted with the mission. A dull blade is of little use, and if it broke, no one would miss it. A defector is their only source of intelligence for their target, carefully scraped from his memories. False information leading them into a trap is a big risk, but command has deemed the risk acceptable. Their mission could swing the balance of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade campaign. Gaunt manages to call in a favour, which might even give them the edge they need to pull this off. Assuming their intel is real.

Since Salvation's Reach is my first Gaunt's Ghost novel, none of the names are familiar, and there are a lot of them. The story is told from the point of view of quite a few characters. I'm impressed with Dan Abnett's ability to create such likeable characters in such a short space. They have the spark of life, which makes a character feel realistic. I'm much reminded of Guy Adams, another writer with a talent for juggling several engaging characters at once. I did not come away from Salvation's Reach with a greater understanding of the characters, but Dan still manages to pull of character development for a few of them.

I'm also reminded of Steven Erikson, who writes military fantasy of epic proportions. Both writers are very good at creating the right atmosphere, sense of kinship and camraderie. Each time there is a battle Dan Abnett zooms in on small groups of people. This works really well, you get to know more about the characters, and the fight feels a lot more intimate. The actual engagement are well written and really pulls you in, almost hard enough you loose your breath. It's a great mix of melee, gun fights and suspense inducing moments.

Gaunt is clearly a born leader of men, and one thing I learned about him is how much he cares about his men. He might be the one who has to make difficult decisions and order his men into certain death, but it's evident he feels every death. He leads from the front at least, so he is not asking anyone to do anything he wouldn't do himself.

Once again I find myself reading a book with great atmosphere. There are certain things you expect from a Warhammer 40k novel. One feeling is one of insignificance, how small a individual is in comparison to the empire of mankind. The glory days are past, technology lost, lives lost, surrounded on all sides by enemies. A more important one is hope. The emperor still fights to keep the warp at bay, and no matter who you are, you are still a cog in the machinery with a role to fulfil.

Salvation's Reach is a terrific read. Dan Abnett ticks all the boxes, action, explosions, awe, space marines and xenos. It was a real page turner with engaging characters, gory combat and moments of great suspense. I did not like putting it down at all. I pity the fool, who does not read Salvation's Reach.

Salvation's Reach weighs in at 320 pages, and is published by The Black Library.

Recommendation: must read

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

'Kultus' - Richard Ford

Kultus is one of the few books I found while browsing the Solaris Books web site. The cover is very eye catching, and seems to make a lot of promises. A bald man looking through a key, and his eye appears very demonic. The man is heavily muscled and covered in arcane tattoos. To me that says demons and violence. The screaming demonic faces in the background is also a hint. Turn the book around and the blurb says the same thing. Solaris Books very kindly provided me with a review copy of Kultus.

I like it when a book just drops me straight into the plot without giving me any background information at all. This is exactly what Richard Ford has done with Kultus. A man, in a dingy apartment, is struggling to keep his last meal down and himself on his feet. He has just completed a summoning of a demon. The demon has given him instructions. Find the key. After the first couple of pages all we know is the name of this man, Thaddeus Blaklok. It seems like, the less I know, the more I want to know. Not knowing is a very compelling reason for turning the page, and in Kultus there is a lot I don't know yet.

 Quite quickly we learn that Thaddeus is a tough guy, who gets what he wants. Usually by force. I suspect he is part bulldog. Once he sets his mind to something, there is no stopping him. In order to find the key he quite happily knocks on doors and heads. He really is as fearless as he is a mystery, and the more I find out about him, the more I like him. Thaddeus Blaklok reminds me a lot of Hellboy, but without the tail and horns. Hellboy might have his demonic strength, but Thaddeus is just too bullheaded to know defeat, and he is not exactly a sissy either. Both are dirty fighters, but they fight for the right reasons.

Thaddeus is not the only one interested in the key though. Several other even more ruthless parties are after it, and together with Thaddeus they leave a mess. Amelia is the Indigator, a constable in The Manufactory, assigned to the murder of a Nobleman, known for his depraved interests and possible cult connections. She is a more by the books person than Thaddeus, but she is at least as ruthless as him. It's not clear what drives Thaddeus, another mystery, but Amelia is easier to figure out. A perfectionist, who is working ten times as hard as everyone else just because she is a woman. She is also a damn good investigator, and has some good help in her two henchmen, who do the cracking of heads for her.

Richard Ford lets his characters keep a lot of secrets, and the same goes for his world. We are again, given a minimum of information about the place and its history. He just lets the characters and the plot drive the access of information. When we really need to know something, it is delivered to us in a non-intrusive way.

In Kultus we are treated to some good world building. It's mostly a fantasy/steampunk setting, with the existence of magic and demons. The only part of the world we see is a city, The Manufactory, where the entire story takes place. It's interesting place, so I have no problem with that. It's a lovely mixture of seedy underworld and rich, corrupt nobles. My favorite element was the Repository of Unnatural History, which I thought was a very fun and clever idea.

Richard Ford unfortunately stabs himself in the foot with his quill. Thaddeus Blaklok is explained as a dangerous man, who one should not mess with. His actions does not quite live up to his reputation, which probably makes the book more interesting. No fun reading about a superman who easily overcomes everything without effort. It did nag me however how he repeatedly got captured and overmanned by his foes. There is only so many times a plot mechanism works without losing its effectiveness. It's a mere flesh wound though, and Kultus is still a good book.

I'm happy to recommend Kultus to anyone who enjoys a good action book. The chapters are short, efficient and always ends with a reason to keep reading. It really was a very entertaining, action packed and fun read. Thaddeus Blaklok is good character. He is not just a ham-fisted brute, he is also surprisingly funny and easy to sympathise with. A get things done man! I will certainly pick up any future books about him.

Kultus weighs in at 285 pages, and is published by Solaris Books.

Recommendation: read

Sunday, 30 October 2011

'Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute' - Jonathan L Howard

It's time for the third book about Johannes Cabal - necromancer, detective supreme - and I'm very excited about The Fear Institute. The first two books were very clever and witty. Not really much of a choice here. I did not need to read the blurb, I already knew The Fear Institute was a must read. Let's see if I still think so at the end of my review. If you have not read the first two, I suggest you do so. Take a look at my review of Johannes Cabal: The Detective. Thank you Headline for providing me with this review copy.

Johannes Cabal is approached by three men, who introduce themselves as members of a secret society called The Fear Institute. They have dedicated their resources to fighting humankind's greatest enemy, fear. Fear holds us back as a species, and stands in the way of progress and innovation. It must be destroyed. They now have identified where the manifestation of fear can be found, but they need a reliable guide to lead them to their goal. Who else would be better than the infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal.

Jonathan L Howard pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft with his world building. The avatar of fear can be found in The Dreamlands, an alternative dimension, which can only be entered via dreams. The Dream Cycle is a series of stories by H.P. Lovecraft in which he wrote about The Dreamlands. The members of The Fear Institute have found an alternative way in, but logical caution (fear really) is behind the decision to bring a guide with experience of the occult.

The Dreamlands is a great setting for a Johannes Cabal story. It's a place where the science and the laws of physics have to take a step back and give way for superstition and myths. The Johannes Cabal we have  come to know so far is far more a scientist than a sorcerer, but in The Dreamlands magic is real and science less so. Will it prove a challenge for our super logical hero, or will he take it all in his stride and start flinging fireballs to the left and right?

Not having read much H.P. Lovecraft I canot say how much modifications Jonathan L Howard has made in his version of The Dreamlands, but it is a well presented setting. It's equal parts quirky and unsettling. I'm guessing that fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognise a lot more than me.

I've said it before and I'm not afraid of saying it again; Johannes Cabal is a fantastic character. A lot of credit to Jonathan L Howard for striking such a perfect balance with his main character. It's funny how such a cold, selfish and ruthless man as Cabal can be so likeable. He has a lot of charm to him, which comes from his great wit and naivety. Johannes Cabal might know a lot about science and the occult, but when it comes to simple things like people and emotions he is sometimes at a loss. Supporting characters have plenty of life in them, but at the end of the day they are mere puppets dancing at the deft fingers of Johannes Cabal.

The plot of The Fear Institute starts out as a simple quest, find the manifestation of fear and slay it. When Jonathan L Howard is holding the pen, nothing is as simple as it seems though, and more than once it takes a surprising turn. One on occasion a very surprising turn. He never has to result to dirty tricks to keep things moving forward, and as always it's both exciting and funny.

Johannes Cabal is a (slightly) evil version of Sherlock Holmes. They both have the same superior intellect, which lets them be several steps ahead of their opponents. My favorite sleuth however lacks the wit of my favorite necromancer. Cabal's knack for unexpected violence with a humorous outcome is outstanding. The Fear Institute is a fastidiously well written book. It's an absolute blast to read. My only regret is I finished it way too quickly.

Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Headline.

Recommendation: must read

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

'The Recollection' - Gareth L Powell

It was the cover that did it for me. I immediately thought of the Millennium Falcon when I saw it, and I really hoped I would like the blurb. Mysterious gateways appear all over London, and Ed's brother disappears into one of them. Together with his brother's wife, they set out to find him. Four hundred years into the future, a lone trader is on a mission to redeem herself to her family. I'd say it sounds interesting, and I can't only read Neal Asher and Alastair Reynolds. Many thanks to Solaris Books for sending me a review copy.

In The Recollection we start off with two different story lines separated by 400 years. The first one kicks off in present day London with Ed, a failed painter. He is just about to get his hand chopped off for not being able to pay off his gambling debts. His older and more responsible brother - Verne, a successful war correspondent - has to bail him out. There is a lot of tension between the two. Things have always gone well for Verne, and less so for Ed. Verne even married Ed's girl.

After having more or less saved Ed, the brothers have a fight as Verne realises what Ed has done behind his back. In anger he storms off down the escalators of a tube, and does not notice when a portal opens. Verne is sucked into the portal, and Ed is left on his own.

Together with Verne's wife, Alice, Ed goes through another portal to try and find his brother. It gets really exciting here as the two steps into the unknown. They have prepared, but nothing can quite prepare them for appearing on a different planet. Each new portal brings them to a new place, and new dangers.

I really like the world building in The Recollection. It's always interesting to read novels where faster than light (FTL) speeds are not possible. This has some interesting consequences for the those who travel at the speed of light. While years pass for those not traveling, mere moments might pass for the travelers. It raises a lot of questions for anyone investing in, or piloting a space craft. As a pilot it's likely a lot of things have changed. For an investor, you won't see any returns for any trades for years, or even decades.
Many writers introduce the extension of the human life span as a solution for this, but not so Gareth L Powell. His universe is a lot more low tech, and the actual technology for spaceships is reverse engineered from the gateways.

The idea of a lone pilot, acting as a merchant on the fringe of the law is compelling. I think it's safe to blame Han Solo and his Millennium Falcon for that feeling. Gareth L Powell pays homage to the lone pilot concept with his character, Katherine. A feisty and headstrong woman, who practically grew up on a spaceship. She comes from a family of successful traders, but she made a mistake and has fallen out of grace. Katherine is not quite as capable as Han Solo, and more than once she gets into to trouble for overestimating her own abilities.

My biggest problem is however the plot itself. There are several good ideas in the world building, but too many ingredients in all to make a balanced dish. The concept of a Chosen One is the worst sin, it just does not fit naturally into Sci-Fi. It just works a lot better when there is magic involved, giving the Chosen One some kind of special power or ability. I would have preferred it to be a story about ordinary people, instead of a saving the universe one. Gareth L Powell is trying to do too many things at once with his story. This is also a problem with the characters. There is too many of them in such a short book, and the result is somewhat flat and lifeless characters. Ed is the more interesting of the two, and he feels more realistic than Katherine.

The Recollection is still worth a read for a few reasons. It's a interesting world building with some great ideas. It also ticks a lot of boxes: cheeky AIs, mysterious alien benefactors, action and a gorgeous cover. It also reads well. The chapters are short and have pace, often ending with a small cliff hanger, which really pulls you in to the story. It was difficult to put down, and it is really a well written book, which unfortunately does not quite meet my expectations.

The Recollection weighs in at 400 pages and is published by Solaris Books.

Recommendation: read

Friday, 14 October 2011

Interview with Pornokitsch

After my interview with Luca Veste I was keen to find out more about other fellow book reviewers, and how reviewing books have affected their reading habits. Joining me today are two reviewers I have a lot of respect for, please welcome Anne and Jared from the Pornokitsch blog. Not only do they review books, tv shows, movies and comic books, but they also have a number of other exciting projects cooking.

To find out more about their harmless dirtiness, visit their blog and follow them on Twitter (@pornokitsch and @thefingersofgod)

So who are Jared and Anne?

A: Jared prefers his burger medium-rare, please.

J: Anne is a 5th level Mind Flayer Paladin with Vorpal Grammar +3.

Why did you start reviewing books?

J: We used to work together on a different blog - where we wrote (this is a bit weird) about meat. Restaurant reviews, BBQ accessories, etc. We occasionally threw in a few book reviews - the food & drink choices of our favorite private eyes, that sort of thing. We discovered that we enjoyed writing about books more than restaurants and set up a separate site. Pretty soon, that became the blog and the meat blog was put out to pasture.

A: People still occasionally ask about it, though. I think my mom’s secretly a little disappointed we don’t still run the meat blog.

J: Mine too.

Would you say that becoming a book reviewer is something which has changed what you read and how you think about books?

J: No and yes. No - it hasn’t changed what I read. I blog and review entirely for fun. If I ever felt like blogging was making me read things, it would suddenly be work and I’d probably quit. That sounded awfully melodramatic. Also, yes - I think I think about thinking about books a lot more than I used to. I think.

A: Yes and no. I’m an academic by day, and my fields rely heavily on textual analysis - which means I approach pretty much everything I read critically (to Jared’s occasional exasperation). But whereas non-fiction is, for me, a tool, fiction is fundamentally a pleasure. In reading and thinking about fiction for the sake of a review, I have to add in that final, baseline layer of analysis. It’s not just what I thought about the book: it’s also how it made me feel. And I definitely read a lot more genre than I used to.

Pornokitsch is easily the best and funniest name of a blog. Is there a story behind the name or was it just a very good brainstorming session down at the pub?

A: Years ago we were watching the Sean Connery sci fi film Outland, and wound up spending hours (...and hours) dissecting the meaning of the movie’s set-design. We worked up some grand theory about 1980s sci fi, and how Hollywood represented technology in terms of reactionary liberal politics, and feminism as a function of blahblah and, you know, important stuffs. And we decided to start a geek-culture blog, to talk about all the important stuffs. And the important stuffs wound up being, in practice, reviews of long-out-of-print pulps and monster movies.

What does it take to write a great review of a fiction novel?

J: Anne.

A: Poo. A good review is a coherent opinion, convincingly delivered. But a great review - I think that’s a review that fundamentally alters your relationship with the book. A great review should give you some real insight into something about the book - like the author’s motivations, or the book’s historical context, or its critical importance, or its perpetual popularity. Something so that, the next time you read that book, or even just think about it, you respond to it in a new way. A great review isn’t just about whether or not you liked the book; it’s about why that book matters. Why you care.

You are currently editing an anthology. Care to tell us more about it?

A: We’re incredibly proud of this. We’ve commissioned eighteen stories about the end of the world, as inspired by the work of the artist John Martin. Our twist is that these stories are genre-inspired 21st century responses to these massive early 19th century paintings of Biblical rack and ruin, all volcanoes and lightening and crumbling cities and exploding hell-scapes.

Martin’s work really galvanized our authors; they’ve presented us with everything from deeply personal ghost stories to super-hard deep-future sci fi outer-spacey ruminations on the meaning of humanity. And everything in-between, of course. We envisioned the project as an ebook, but the Tate, which is currently curating a major John Martin exhibit, has asked us to produce a limited-edition print run, as well.

Apart from reviewing & editing anthologies, the Kitschies are kicking off their own award. I was really gobsmacked when I heard that. Sponsorship from a cool brand like The Kraken Rum, how did you guys manage all that, and why?

J: I think we’re a little gobsmacked ourselves. We spent all year sneaking around, converting our two year old ‘blog award’ into a new ‘literary prize’. We added great judges like Lauren Beukes and Rebecca Levene, expanded to more categories, and then found the best sponsor possible with The Kraken Rum.

We’re huge fans of the drink, so we approached The Kraken and sort of squeaked out, “Hello! You are smart, progressive, fun and tentacular. We look for smart, progressive, fun books - and then we give them tentacles. We should hang out!”. Their support has really been the icing on the cake (the suckers on the squid?).

The whole publishing community has been really generous. Everyone seems to share our desire to have a prize in this particular space - something that celebrates the books that elevate the tone of science fiction and fantasy and bridge that (phantom) gap between ‘genre’ and ‘literature’.

Could you recommend a kick ass novel one simply must read? Also, what’s the best book you read so far in 2011?

J: Phonogram: The Singles Club is about as kick ass as anything I’ve ever read. The Gillen/McKelvie team is right up there with legendary duos like Ellis/Templesmith, Gaiman/McKean and Moore/Campbell. The Singles Club may be 160 pages of comics perfection.  And best in 2011? This goes back to January, but I finally read David Goodis’s noir masterpiece, Cassidy’s Girl. I’m still recovering.

A: Speaking of noir masterpieces, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is one of my perpetual favorites - utterly horrifying, utterly bleak, utterly controlled, and a master-class in extraordinary writing. As for the best book I’ve read this year? Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South. For serious! Forget all the romantic period-film nonsense the name might conjure. North & South is a novel about industrial technologies and their social effects, class warfare, religious doubt, and, uh, problematic mothers. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

'The Outcast Dead' - Graham McNeill

The blurb of The Outcast Dead immediately caught my eye. Most Warhammer 40k books on my read pile featured space marines as the main characters. This one is different. Kai Zulane is an astropath, a psyker strong enough to transmit and receive messages light years away, and he carries a terrible truth. I know little about the astropaths and the best way to find out more is to read a book about one. Thank you Black Library for sending me a review copy.

When it comes to world building The Outcast Dead excels. Everything is done on a grand scale, with just the right sense of gothic doom and gloom you expect. The lore of the Warhammer 40k universe is absolutely stunning. I can't even imagine how intimidating it must be to write a novel, when you know what you have to live up to. Graham McNeill takes the bull by the horns, but then he is not exactly a spring chicken. He has around twenty books under his belt for Warhammer 40k and Warhammer.

The Outcast Dead is part of the Horus Herasy series, which aims to shed light on the events which was the pivot point for the empire. Horus, one of the Primarchs, has betrayed the Emperor, and started a civil-war. News of the betrayal has just spread, and we are back on Terra awaiting news from the fleet dispatched to crush Horus and his fellow conspirers.

Kai Zulane was an astropath on a ship, which suffered a terrible accident while navigating through the warp. The shields were breached and the creatures from the warp entered the ship and turned lose on the crew. Tens of thousands died in torment, while Kai Zulane was safe in a secure compartment. Safe from the creatures, but forced to listen to the mental screams of his friends as they died. Since then he is unable to send messages and is sent back to the City of Sight for therapy.

I really like the chapters where Kai Zulane is treated. We get a lot of insight into how psykers work, and their role within the empire, but also a lot of facts about The City of Sight itself. As with anything in the empire there is a surprising amount of politics involved. Due to their constant contact with the warp psykers need to be guarded in case they become possessed or let something out. This role falls to the Black Sentinels, elite soldiers with helmets protecting them from psychic attacks.

During such an incident Kai Zulane is the unfortunate recipient of a terrible gift. The gift of truth. The truth of the outcome of the betrayal, which is implanted deep within Kai Zulane's mind. Not even Kai Zulane himself knows what it is, or he would have told his superiors. He is instead sent to the highest security risk prison on Terra to have the information forcefully extracted. He is not expected to survive.

It's a complex plot with a lot of characters involved, and Graham McNeill allows all of them at least 15 minutes of fame each. Even the characters who don't get much time in the limelight feel convincing. It's far from certain to whom the characters will give their allegiance to. This makes The Outcast Dead different from other books, as Space Mariones are normally fanatics. This was a very different time, and full of uncertainty. Graham McNeill juggles both plot and characters with great skill, and it all comes together in the end.

The stakes are very high, and it is very much a story about choosing sides, loyalty and dedication. This not only applies to Kai Zulane, but also his fellows prisoners. The other prisoners have not themselves done anything wrong. Their Primarchs betrayed the Emperor, while they were on the other side of the galaxy. The Outcast Dead, and other Horus Herasy books, paints every event in shades of grey instead of black and white.

It's a very intense read, packed with action, but also with difficult choices. One minute people are being torn limb from limb, and the next scene is a wise and insightful conversation. Every battle is a fluid chain of moves, almost like a dance, and always gripping. The awe you expect from such a momentous event is delivered by Graham McNeill. If you only ever read one Warhammer 40k novel, it might as well be The Outcast Dead.

The Outcast Dead weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library. It is scheduled for release on the 10th of November 2011.

Recommendation: must read

Monday, 10 October 2011

Interview with Luca Veste

Today I'm joined by Luca Veste, fellow blogger and now also writer, who has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. Luca Veste runs the Guilty Conscience web site, where he reviews crime novels, but also publishes short stories. I know reviewing books changed quite a lot for me as a reader so I'm curious to find out if it had an effect on other reviewers as well.

To find out more about Luca Vest look up his blog and/or follow him on Twitter (@LucaVeste).

So who is Luca? 
Who am I? I'm 24601. (Shiny penny for anyone who gets that reference!) I'm a Half Italian, Half Scouser, Husband, Father and Mature Student, who reads a lot, talks about books incessantly, and now writes in his spare (HA!) time.

Why did you start reviewing books?
I always wanted to be a part of that 'world' of books. Reviewing them was, in one way, a path into the writing world. Also, I wanted to show appreciation to some authors, that perhaps they weren't getting elsewhere as much as I thought they should.

Would you say that becoming a book reviewer is something which has changed what you read and how you read?
Definitely. Once you have a review thing going, you get all sorts of offers. One book I would never have heard of if I wasn't reviewing was 'The Office of Lost and Found'. It's now in my Top Five favourite books. It hasn't really changed how I read really, although I do read more PDF and Kindle books on my laptop than I used to!

What’s your proudest moment as a book reviewer so far?
I have a few favourites. Interviewing Steve Mosby was something I always wanted to do. I've been a huge fan of his for a few years, so to get the chance to ask him questions, was a real thrill. I had Lawrence Block write a guest post which was very cool, and interviewing someone of the calibre of Linwood Barclay was fantastic. Also Sean Cregan week was great fun. Far too many really!

You are currently editing a anthology. Care to tell us more about it?
OFF THE RECORD is a collection of 37 short stories, featuring some of the best writers around. It's all based on classic song titles, so we have Ray Banks with God Only Knows, Thomas Pluck with Freebird, Les Edgerton with Small Change, and Helen Fitzgerald went for the Rolf Harris classic Two Little Boys, and so on...It's all for charity, and it should be available in time for Christmas. Short stories are a format that is often overlooked, but there is some exciting stuff going on out there in the online world, which is a great thing.

I also heard that you have your own little book deal. I’d love to know more about it. Is writing something you have always wanted to do, or did it come from chatting with all the writers? What do you write?
Yes, Trestle Press are going to be publishing a collection of Five Short Stories by me, entitled 'LIVERPOOL 5'. My Dad was the writer in the family really, more film than novel though, so it wasn't something I ever thought about. But, one day I was chatting to a writer Charlie Williams, who in an inadvertent way, kind of dared me to write a joke story entitled 'Jeff, The Uninspired Vampire'. So I did. Sent it to Charlie who thought it was good, so that kind of put me in the mind of giving it a go. I then wrote a story for the excellent 'Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers website, which surprisingly got accepted and received great feedback. And it's snowballed from there. I write about characters mainly, not genre so much. I like dialogue and atmosphere and try and show that in my stories. LIVERPOOL 5 contains 5 stories set in Liverpool, trying to show the city has much more than just The Beatles and the Football team (there's only one team in Liverpool, and they play in red) going for it. It's incredible to think, only four months ago, I hadn't even started the review website and now I'm releasing an Ebook!

Could you recommend a kick ass crime novel one simply must read? Also, what’s the best book you read so far in 2011?
The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby. An absolute must read. If anyone wants to know how to create tension, write plot and character superbly, mix horror with crime, and how a screwdriver still gives me nightmares, you must read this book. Best read of 2011 is a tie between Black Flowers by Steve Mosby (I'm such a damn FanBoy when it comes to him) and The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald. The Donor contains the best opening 100 pages of a novel, I've ever read.

Thank you Luca for taking the time to answer my questions.