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