Wednesday, 27 April 2011

'The Parasite' - Neal Asher

This is an old novella of Neal Asher's which has been out of print for many years, but he has recently re-edited and self published it on Amazon. I've read all his other books so The Parasite will complete my collection. I admit I was also curious to read some of his early work, Neal Asher has for a long time been one of my favorite science fiction authors.

Jack Smith is comet ice-miner, a high risk, but high reward job. He's invested a lot of his money on this final trip so when he discovers a flaw in the ice he is worried about the consequences. He examines the flaw in the ice which turns out to be a black fibrous substance, but when he touches it his fingers start to burn from the cold. Somehow the gloves of his suit has ruptured and exposed him the coldness of space. Jack bandages his hand and covers it with a plastic glove. Reporting the flaw to the TCC is not an option, they would discard it and he would lose everything. Jack ejects the part of the ice containing the flaw and prepares himself for cold sleep.

Two years later...

When Jack wakes up from his cold sleep he sees a report from the med-scan of gangrene in his fingers and hand. He peels off the bandage which comes off with a layer of dead skin only to reveal pink fresh skin underneath it. His nose feels strangely bunged up and he cannot stop sneezing as if he had an allergic reaction to something.

Back on earth Jack is cornered by two thugs when something seems to take over his body and forces him to confront them instead of fleeing. He can feel time slowing down and only observe in horror as he butchers the two men with his bare hands. Jack can feel movement within his body. There is something living inside of him.

Neal Asher paints a grim picture of earth where Mega corporations have too much money and power and they will stop at nothing to gain more. TCC was Jack's employer as a space miner and when they realise their mistake and that the cheapest option is to eliminate Jack to cover their tracks, Jack finds himself on the run from an enemy with limitless resources and enough money to ignore the rule of law.

I really liked The Parasite and any Neal Asher fan will recognise the style of his writing. It's high octane action all the way with brutal fights, golems, AIs and destruction on a massive scale. A real page turner and you just wish there were more pages to turn.

The Parasite weighs in at 40,000 words and is published by Neal Asher.

Verdict: Must read

Check out my virtual book reading pile!

My short list of books that I intend to read and review in the near future. If you have any recommendations please leave a comment and I'll have a look. Please bear in mind that I mostly read Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Crime, but really anything is welcome.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

'Johannes Cabal the Detective' - Jonathan Howard

I really enjoyed reading Jonathan Howard's first book about Johannes Cabal ('Johannes Cabal the Necromancer') and I have looked forward with great anticipation to the second novel. Without further ado I introduce you to book number two: 'Johannes Cabal the Detective'.

In the first book Johannes Cabal took on the devil himself, but in the second book he has to tangle with something even more nefarious. Politics.

A necromancer faces many challenges and this is reflected well in Johannes Cabal's skill set. He could easily do the work of a physician, a chemist or even a burglar. Its's a very dangerous work, not everything you summon from the other side will be friendly. This means that to survive as a necromancer the art of self defense is important. Johannes Cabal relies a lot on a large caliber hand gun that he keeps close at hand, a rapier disguised as a cane and switch blade for anything coming too close. His ability for sarcasm and devastating one-liners is even sharper than his blades.

As a person Johannes comes across as a megalomaniac who cares nothing for his fellow man. Only his self discipline and good understanding of how a person is supposed to behave stops him from drawing unwanted attention to himself. He has a large repertoire of facial expressions to use when the situation calls for it, even though the actual feeling associated with it is beyond his understanding.

Johannes Cabal has travelled to Mirkarvia to steal a rare book on necromancy. An overzealous guard dog results in his imprisonment. Mirkarvia is small European country with ambitious plans to avenge itself on it's neighbours. An important part of these plans is the emperor's speech, but the emperor has just died. Luckily for the scheming nobles there is a necromancer in the dungeons. Johannes Cabal is promised his freedom in return for ensuring that the emperor can hold his speech. He suspects that the nobles have no intention to keep up their side of the bargain so he carefully plans his escape. The escape brings him onboard an airship flying to Mirkarvia only ally Katamenia. The two allies are separated by the country Senza where it will be necessary to stop due to politics.
To my delight this part of the book almost turns into 'Murder on the Orient Express' as one of the passengers is murdered under to very mysterious circumstances and Johannes Cabal is the only one that can connect the clues. Hercule Poirot and Johannes Cabal have a lot in common with their high intelligence, but only one of them has the capacity for great violence. The handful of passengers onboard are all delightfully quirky which brings the story alive and makes for some fun and interesting reading. Johannes Cabal also meets an old enemy of his and they are forced into an uneasy truce to stop the murderer from striking again.

Jonathan Howard possesses a razor sharp wit and Johannes Cabal's dead pan execution works brilliantly. The author is very good at brief descriptions of what a character looks like but also of their personality. When a character is first encountered by Johannes Cabal they are described from his point of view, but Johannes Cabal not being very fond of people in general, they are rarely described in a very flattering manner. For someone who is a border line sociopath Johannes Cabal is very likeable and I cannot wait to meet him again.

Johannes Cabal the Detective weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Headline.

Verdict: Must Read

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

I will read this book: 'Carpathia'! has announced a new book from Matt Forbeck, 'Carpathia'.
The tireless team at Angry Robot have joined forces with author Matt Forbeck for an outrageous re-imagining of the events following the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912.Carpathia tells the story of the handful of the survivors of the disaster being rescued by the vessel of that name… only to discover the ship is full of vampires!
It sounds like it could be a fun book to read and it's been a while since I read anything with vampires in it. I recently reviewed Matt Forbeck's 'Vegas Knights' and did not really like it so I feel it is not more than right that I try another book of his.

March 2012, Hurry up!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

'Peace Warrior' - Steven L Hawk

I stumbled across a post on the Amazon forums where independent authors are promoting their books and Peace Warrior by Steven Hawk stood out.

Humanity has finally turned its back on war and violence and Earth is finally at peace. This is all good until earth is invaded by aliens and all of humanity is turned into slaves. The leaders of earth realise that their only hope lies in the hands of a six hundred year old soldier whose frozen corpse was recovered by miners.
I found the whole situation really funny and Peace Warrior is only £0.69 (kindle edition) at Amazon UK so I decided to give it a chance. Besides, it's not every day I read self published books.

Humanity's last hope is Sergeant Grant Justice, a North American soldier that died over 600 years ago. His frozen corpse was discovered by miners and revived by a group of scientists led by Senior Scientist Tane Rolan. When Grant was alive the first time he was leading a bad ass group of soldiers whose success was a result of the hard training and discipline that Grant demanded from his men. He comes across as a gruff man who communicates through swearing and does not suffer fools easily. Luckily his heart is in the right place and he is definitely a man who knows right from wrong. He is the kind of leader that does leads by example and does not expect anyone under his command to do something that he would not do himself. Grant is obviously an expert in unarmed combat a crack shot with a rifle.

Tane Rolan has since his childhood struggled to fit into society as he is impatient with himself and others. In his science career this had lead him to take charge and push himself much harder than his colleagues. He believes that the only way to free humanity from the Minith's chains is to use violence against them.

Avery, token hot babe whose only reason for existing is to offer herself on a plate to Grant.

The Minith are a race of 8-9' brutes who almost almost wiped themselves out until an alien race made contact with them. Instead of warring with each other they poured out into the universe. Their history does not even record who the unfortunate aliens were that accidentally gave them the gift of space flight. They consider humans to be sheep and frankly I don't blame them.

No Minith alive could tell you the name of the visitors that landed on their planet. That was of no importance. What was important was that they brought the gift of space travel. And with that gift came other planets to pillage. Other races to fight and to destroy.

Grant faces a number of challenges in his quest to free earth. The Minith does not have a large posting of soldiers on earth as you don't need that many dogs to herd sheep. There is still enough of them so that Grant will need to raise an army, but where will he find wolves in sheep's skins?

Peace Warrior is a light read weighing in at 262 pages and I found it very suitable for reading on my short tube journey into work. The plot is simple and easy to follow and completely lacks sub plots which is not necessarily a bad thing early in the morning. Apart from Grant none of the characters has much substance and they never really come alive. Luckily Grant with his swearing, gruff demeanor and what is at stake is enough to keep me turning the pages.
I cannot help thinking that a professional editor could have made this book better without too much effort. The pacing of the plot is uneven where everything starts out quite slowly to all of a sudden move along at a neck-break speed. Some of the dialog is a bit corny, but at the same time a little cute in its naivety.
"Good journey, oh brave one!" Pound called. 
I enjoyed reading it in spite of its flaws and I will pick up the second part.

Peace Warrior is the first installment in a series of three books. The second book Peace Army is already available and the last one Peace World is due in 2011.

Verdict: Read

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'Vegas Knights' - Matt Forbeck

I'm a big fan of the Urban Fantasy genre right now so Vegas Knights already ticks one box for me and I like the title as well. The blurb promises magic, gambling and it all takes place in the City of Sin and I thought that could work really well so I bought it on the release date from Amazon. I have never read anything by Matt Forbeck before so I did a bit of research. Apart from writing books Matt Forbeck also works as a games designer for several big brands which is pretty cool.

Unfortunately I don't feel that the book delivers that well. Almost immediately I start disliking the characters. Jackson Wisdom is a young man with a tragic background. He lost his mother in Hurricane Katrina and shortly after his father left him with his grand mother and has not been heard from since. They don't have a lot of money but his grand mother wants to put him through university. Jackson is supposed to be lacking in confidence, but to contradict that his tough upbringing New Orleans has supposedly made him a tough cookie.

At university Jackson has befriended Bill Teach who comes from a wealthier background which he likes to point out to Jackson. Bill seems to be everything that Jackson is not; confident, daring,  successful with women and just a hot head in general.

Together they have been studying magic under a professor at the university. Magic is not normally taught I suppose, but the professor used to be a friend of Jackson's father.

The two friends have decided to go to Las Vegas on their spring break to try and make some easy money by using magic to cheat the casinos. The professor has warned them against using magic in the public and especially in Las Vegas. Had he spent more time explaining to them WHY this is a bad idea Vegas Knights would have been a very short book. You would think that someone whose job is to teach young adults would be aware of that just barking out commands wont work, but no.

Their first night in Las Vegas goes well and they do win a lot of money. They do what any young men that have just won a lot of money would do, celebrate. If you want to celebrate something the City of Sin is a good place to be in. Jackson is feeling tired so he leaves early and leaves Bill on his own. Everything seems fine until Jackson is woken up in the middle of a night by someone knocking on their door. Bill has been brought back home by an unknown women. This is Powi who is a Italian/Hopi Indian smoking hot chick and also knows that they have been using magic. She scolds them and tells them this is really a bad idea, calls them names and then leaves with a look that promises Jackson that she fancies him.

Once again they have been warned off using magic in Las Vegas without being told why...

Magic is a central theme in Vegas Knights and it does set this book apart from other books in the genre. The magic they have is quite powerful and lets them do some pretty neat things without ever really having to stop and rest. Harry Dresden would have been left drained and barely conscious while Jackson and Bill were just starting to get warm.

It annoys me that Matt Forbeck could not find a better way to move the plot forward than having every character giving the boys obscure warnings when it would make a lot of sense to tell them why they should not do things. It certainly does not help that I never really warm to the characters and the book just does not come together properly.

Verdict: Don't Read 

Friday, 8 April 2011

'Among Thieves (Tales of the Kin)' - Douglas Hulick

The blurb for Among Thieves promises a lot; intrigue, magic and empire shattering events. That's pretty much everything I need from a book, having said that I'm usually wary of books where the protagonist is a criminal as it just does not feel gritty enough. Everything is romanticized and we are left having to pretend that criminals are nice people and they are not really doing anything wrong. My interest in magic and empire shattering events made buying this book an easy choice in spite of any misgivings about the protagonist chosen profession. Books like The Lies of Locke Lamora and Retribution Falls made me confident that Among Thieves could pull it off as well.

The story takes place in the city of Ildrecca. An immortal emperor rules with an iron fist, but the underworld is ruled by the Kin. A long time ago the Angels granted the emperor immortality by sundering his soul into three parts thus allowing him to reincarnated forever as three different persons. The Kin is the name of the criminal society and as long as they are not too much of a nuisance the emperor leaves them alone.

Drothe is a criminal that likes to keep a low profile. He is small of stature so we wont se Drothe wielding any massive hammers of war. The rapier is his weapon of choice although he confesses that he is no master swordsman so a poisoned dagger gives him the edge he needs. Nicco, one of the crime lords in the city has employed Drothe as a 'Nose'. A 'Nose' is an information broker who also has to understand the bigger picture involved.
Noses don't just gather whispers off the street - we sift and assemble them, putting together the pieces most Kin miss. We don't just find out something is happening - we find out why it's happening in the first place.
Douglas Hulick uses his own jargon for many professions and he always explains them which really helps. Books that have their own jargon but does not explain it very well loses out, The Quantum Thief is an example of a book where it works less well. In Among Thieves we encounter several types of 'Nose': Long, Wide and Narrow. The Wide Nose works the streets and sells his information to anyone. The Long Nose is a spy that infiltrates a rival organisation and a Narrow Nose is counter intelligence and identifies threats from within an organization.

When Drothe suspects his talent at swordsmanship will not be enough he brings his friend Bronze Degan who is an Arm. An Arm is the term for a very accomplished warrior. Bronze Degan belongs to a very old and respected mercenary company with some interesting and possibly impractical traditions. Bronze Degan is my favorite character, he is dapper and taking on four thugs in a dark alley does not even make him sweat. Drothe just seems to get stuck by sharp metal objects in every fight he gets into.
Drothe is relies a lot on his friend and connections throughout the book and you get the impression that without them he would not last long. His skill set is more focused around stealth and dealing with people so he always relies on someone else for muscle. I cannot help thinking that it makes him appear somewhat helpless having to be saved by a friend every five minutes. In a way Drothe makes me think of characters like John Constantine who always gets into really sticky situation but at the least moment manages to get out of it with his bag of tricks.

Apart from being a Nose Drothe also has a relic smuggling business on the side and this is where the story starts. One of his dealers has double crossed him and refuses to give over the relic so Drothe has to apply drastic measures to extract information. Meanwhile the word on the street is that Nicco wants to see Drothe about trouble brewing in Ten Ways. This is the slums of the city and also where Drothe grew up and he had to claw his way out of there. Ten Ways is an area contested by several of the cities crime lords. Someone is targeting Nicco's operations in Ten Ways and he keeps Drothe on the pay roll to prevent these things from happening and when they do he wants to know who is to blame. The solution is far from simple as it soon turns out that the Empire itself is involved along with the legendary Grey Princes who are powerful crime lords that operate from the shadows.

Among Thieves was quick and fun to read. There is a lot of scrapping going in the alleys of Ildrecca and it is all brought to life very well by Douglas Hulick. The plot moves along smoothly and does not rely on anything that feels too much of a coincidence nor anything or anyone acting in an unrealistic manner. I felt Drothe perhaps not being the most interesting character in the story, but it all comes together well.

Verdict: Read