Archive for November, 2015

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I’ve not read a graphic novel for a long time. As a kid I enjoyed Slaine and Rogue Trooper as well as Judge Dredd. This book is nothing like those comics. Cross + One Hundred (volume one) is a crazy, violent journey into a world evolved one hundred years after an apocalyptic event. The artwork is first rate and the story is brilliantly told, as a mystery unfolds to a frightening conclusion.

Told through the eyes of Future Taylor, an archivist for the settlement ‘Chooga’, the story focuses on a new horror befalling a world still recovering from ‘the surprise’. This apocalyptic event saw civilisation destroyed by an infectious disease, turning people rabid and beserk, driven by the most base and foul desires. Yet, that was a hundred years in the past and few infected remain. Or so Future thought. On a standard recon mission, things begin to go wrong for her and her crew. Attacks take out two of her friends whilst odd and unsettling discoveries point to a very, very frightening scenario.

I won’t spoil the surprise (no pun intended) but suffice it to say, it’s a shocking and gruesome turn of events. What I will say, is that the storytelling is superb. The twist in the tale is far from obvious but gleefully unveiled and horrifyingly concluded. Similarly, the artwork is fantastic; detail and skill on full display. The dialogue, like A Clock Work Orange serves to show how this world has evolved and restructured itself in the post-apocalyptic context of survival. It’s a brave and intelligent piece of work for a number of its ideas as it springboards from a reality close to our current one and then bifurcates into a fiction beyond terrifying. Be warned, this is adult content but it is a riveting and well conceived book.

Review copy
Published by Avatar Press

After scraping the barrel at the local charity shops and lamenting the complete lack of anything sci-fi or fantasy related, I’m very grateful to have been sent some great looking books. Take a look at the titles and blurbs below…

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Alan Moore, the man who revolutionized comics, returns to tell a horrifying tale in the world of Garth Ennis’ grueling survival horror series, Crossed! Set 100 years in the future, Alan Moore has created a whole new world and history with stunning attention to detail. Examining how civilizations rebuild and how generations grow, Moore weaves a rich tapestry of humanity evolving under extreme hardship, all of which is lushly rendered by Gabriel (Ferals) Andrade. Archivist Future Taylor leads a salvage team working to rebuild the historical record of the original Crossed outbreak. She’s seen them in videos, but never any live ones – the Crossed are part of the distant past. Until suddenly, a handful appear, and the blood begins to flow.

I’ve taken a peak at this already and it looks brutal – awesome, but brutal.

I’ve also been sent e-copies of Mike Resnick’s latest series and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into these as well.

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The Democracy is at war with the alien Traanskei Coalition. War hero Colonel Nathan Pretorius has a record of success on dangerous behind-enemy-lines missions, missions that usually leave him in the hospital. Now he’s recruited for a near-impossible assignment that may well leave him dead. At the cost of many lives, the Democracy has managed to clone and train General Michkag, one of the Traanskei’s master strategists. Colonel Pretorius and a hand-picked team must kidnap the real Michkag if they can, assassinate him if they can’t, but no matter which, put the clone in his place, where he will misdirect the enemy’s forces and funnel vital information to the Democracy. Against the odds, Pretorius, along with Cyborg Felix Ortega, computer expert Toni Levi, convict and contortionist Sally “Snake” Kowalski, the near-human empath Marlowe, the alien Gzychurlyx, and Madam Methuselah – the Dead Enders – must infiltrate the Fortress in Orion, accomplish their mission, and escape with their lives.”

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The Traanskei Coalition’s greatest weapon is the Q bomb, and after years of failure, the Democracy has come up with a defense against it. The problem is that they killed most of the team that created it. The sole survivor, Edgar Nmumba, was kidnapped by the Coalition. Only Nmumba can duplicate the work fast enough to prevent the loss of another dozen populated planets.

Nathan Pretorius and his team of Dead Enders will require all their skills and cunning to rescue him, sane and in one piece, from the Coalition’s best-hidden and best-guarded prison, somewhere in the Antares sector. But in a game of cross and double-cross, can they find him before it’s too late?

Titan Books have sent me a bunch of great looking novels – lucky me! First up is Tanya Huff’s An Ancient Peace and I have to admit I’m very tempted to start on this today..

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The centuries-long war between the Confederation and The Others, a group of violent alien species, is over. Intergalactic peace is finally restored. Torin Kerr and her crew of ex-Marine friends have gone freelance – using their military experience as guns for hire. But this calm equilibrium cannot last.

Someone is searching for the lost weapons of the H’san: powerful tools capable of destroying entire planets. Though the H’san gave up fighting long ago, the reappearance of their weapons would no doubt lead to a devastating war. It’s up to Torin Kerr and her team to fix this problem before it explodes. But the more Torin learns about the relationship between the Elder and Younger races, the more she fears war might be unavoidable…

Next up is Hallow Point by Ari Marmell. As he’s the author who introduced me to the steampunk sub genre, I’m definitely keen to see what his latest novel offers (bonus points for an awesome cover as well)..

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The Spear of Lugh, one of the four Kingly Hallows of Ireland is in Chicago. And everyone, everyone wants it, for it is said that he who carries the spear into battle cannot be defeated. Among those who seek it are an agent of the infamous Wild Hunt; a mobster who knows far more about these things than he should; and of course both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts – the last people PI Mick Oberon would want getting hold of the spear…

Then there’s a book each from two prolific writers: Adam Christopher and James Lovegrove both featuring crime, intrigue and machine intelligence..

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Raymond Electromatic is good at his job, as good as he ever was at being a true Private Investigator, the lone employee of the Electromatic Detective Agency–except for Ada, office gal and super-computer, the constant voice in Ray’s inner ear. Ray might have taken up a new line of work, but money is money, after all, and he was programmed to make a profit. Besides, with his twenty-four-hour memory-tape limits, he sure can keep a secret.

When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the agency wanting to hire Ray to find a missing movie star, he’s inclined to tell her to take a hike. But she had the cold hard cash, a demand for total anonymity, and tendency to vanish on her own.

Plunged into a glittering world of fame, fortune, and secrecy, Ray uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen–and this robot is at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

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March 1895. Hilary Term at Oxford. In the newly built extension to the University Galleries, Professor Quantock has put the finishing touches to a wondrous computational device which, he claims, is capable of analytical thought to rival that of the cleverest men alive. Indeed, his so-called Thinking Engine seems equal to Sherlock Holmes himself in its deductive powers.

To prove his point, Quantock programmes his machine to solve a murder in the Jericho area which has been baffling Oxford police. The Engine identifies a suspect who proves not to have a valid alibi for the night of the crime. The man is duly arrested and arraigned.

Sherlock Holmes cannot ignore this challenge. He and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes. As man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda. Holmes’s and Watson’s lives are on the line as a ghost from the past catches up with them…

It’s a lot of books and I’m very grateful to the kind people at Prometheus Books and the generous folks at Titan Books – my lack of a reading pile just got very populated!

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Piers Anthony completes his Battle Circle trilogy by closing the circular nature of the novels with another tale of adventure, loss and redemption. This time, the main focus lies with Neq the Sword – one of the sub-tribe chiefs of the empire. After Sos (aka The Master, aka The Nameless One) destroyed the Mountain (Helicon) the Empire fell into ruins as he set out in pursuit of Var, thinking his protege had killed his natural daughter. Neq, a warrior of the Circle, is horrified at the decline of the culture of the nomads; the failing of honour and freedoms. He works out that this is because the ‘crazies’ had stopped providing the means for the nomads to continue their way of life. In turn, he realises this is because the Mountain – where the crazies got their supplies for the nomads – was destroyed.

His mission is to remake the Mountain and thereby reinstitute the nomad culture and the honour of the Circle. In quite a weird way, we learn Neq is a virgin though a formidable warrior. His mission, given him by the crazies, is to go to the Mountain and make a report. In this he is support by a Miss Smith. The two fall in love yet tragedy befalls them. In an unlikely passage, Piers Anthony describes a horrifying gang rape of Miss Smith followed by the torture and mutilation of Neq.

He survives, though his hands have been hacked off, and finds a crazy doctor to give him his weapons back. With arms ending in a sword and a pincer he sets about his gruesome revenge. Soon he realises vengeance is empty and returns to his mission of making Helicon whole and bringing honour back to the warrior code. The circle is closed when Neq meets and kills Var before realising that Soli (now Vara) – the young daughter of Sos – is clearly not dead. After some more strange events, Neq eventually ‘pays back his debt’ to Vara by impregnating her with the child Var couldn’t give her, mirroring elements of the first Battle Circle story.

What’s frustrating is that Anthony doesn’t really get down to the bones of the book until the last few chapters. It’s these that were most interesting to me as he goes on to explain the bizarre relationship of cultures between the nomads, the crazies and Helicon. It’s here we learn that the remnants of American society created the Mountain to survive the apocalypse and that the crazies are also survivors but ones who interact, help and document the nomad culture. The Mountain wants to preserve science and technology; the crazies want to use it to give the nomads the means to live and evolve with freedom and honour and without the burden of the past. The past which caused the apocalypse.

At it’s heart Battle Circle is an interesting look at how humanity could reinvent itself using the ideas of respect, freedom and combat. Yet it is all wrapped up with stories of love, friendship, vengeance and conflict and, though it’s not as grim as more modern takes on the post-apocalypse genre, Battle Circle is definitely a decent, entertaining trilogy.

My copy
Published by Corgi Books

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I grew up with the good trilogy of Star Wars films. Then, a few decades later, came the bad set of Star Wars films. Now, a new Star Wars movie will soon be released (though I doubt I’ll see it anytime soon).

Just one day after that (the 18th December), the novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens authored by Alan Dean Foster and published by Century will come out in ebook. The hardback will drop on the 1st January. It’s pretty exciting and if you’re as keen as me to read it, I’d recommend checking here http://amzn.to/1jfENzt

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Var The Stick: Var was the chosen one – half-man, half-animal, a mutant victim of the blast – called upon to rescue the Empire in a battle he was secretly afraid of winning.

The covers continue to be far out and the blurb gives little away but Piers Anthony’s second instalment in the Battle Circle series sustains it’s entertainment factor. Taking place four years after Sos The Rope, Var The Stick sees The Nameless One (Sos) ruling his Empire with seemingly little enthusiasm. When an intruder keeps on stealing crops and none of his warriors can capture the thief, he sets off to solve the problem.

The problem turns out to be a wild, mutated boy with remarkable survival skills who lives in the badlands. The Nameless One traps the boy and sets about taking him back to the Empire. Yet after a mistake and a huge dose of radiation, the boy ends up saving the warrior’s life. Fast forward and the boy earns his name in the circle years later to become Var the stick, the hero of this story.

It turns out that, all this time, Sos has been planning to attack the Mountain – the underworld where he was turned into the terminator-esque brute he became. This society ( a secretive group descended from pre-Blast scientists) makes all the weapons and equipment the Crazies use but they also desire that the Empire be destroyed and that the nomad warriors remain ignorant. When battle commences, Sos and Bob (leader of the underworld) decide to pit champion against champion in combat to determine which society should rule the other.

Bob, ever the liar, sends Sos’s daughter against Var and though the two battle, neither can best the other. Without knowing the truth of the matter, the two fighters concoct a story to the effect that Var won. But, Bob expected this and tells Sos that his champion was Soli, his natural child that he forsake in the first book because of Bob’s underhand machinations. Consequently, the Master of the Empire vows to kill Var. The boy is then forced to go on the run with Soli in a turn of the absurd for if even one of them knew who was who it would all be solved with a mere conversation.

As it is the two youngsters go on an epic journey across the post-apocalyptic world. Encountering bizarre female tribes, strange Greek societies obsessed with human sacrifice and, in the end, China. The focus of the story centres on Soli and Var’s blossoming love, and whilst there is plenty of interesting and slightly wacky stuff to keep entertained, it’s all concluded rather quickly and neatly.

Piers Anthony does a good job of showing how weird the world has become in contrast to the honour and code of the circle. Yet it’s that same honour that has caused the absurdity which forces Var and Soli to run. That, coupled with Var’s lack of social understanding completes the tension at the heart of the book. Whilst the writing remains pacey, the conclusion is a little too brisk. But, it clearly sets up the final episode of the trilogy which may hopefully answer some of the lingering questions about the Crazies, the Underworld and their respective reasons behind supporting or opposing the nomad culture and the Empire.

My copy
Published by Corgi Books

America rising from the ashes of its final destruction – the epic story of the savage story for empire and dominance in primitive post-cataclysmic America

Sos The Rope: The kill spirits of the blast were retreating and Sos was pledged to begin an empire, to build a dream – the same dream which had been built so many times, aeons before.

My wish list of books is full of titles I’ve heard something good about but then forgotten what to expect. I knew Piers Anthony’s Battle Circle trilogy was a post-apocalypse novel but, really, it was something more, and something entirely different. Sos The Rope is set a long time after the ‘Blast’, the apocalyptic event that changed everything. One of the key elements in the novel is that this event is slowly explained, showing how this oddly nomadic society was actually spawned from modern America and it’s destruction.

Sos The Rope revolves around three main characters, each one bound to the other’s future. This first meeting between Sol of All Weapons and Sol the Sword (soon to be Sos The Rope) in the Battle Circle sets the tone for the novel. Their meeting, and disagreement, is due to their shared name which a young women bears witness to. The ensuing combat is far from barbaric or vicious (as the back cover quotes would have you believe); instead it is a test of honour and governed by a strict code of conduct. As a result Sos gives up his old name and the right to bear weapons, becoming an advisor of sorts to Sol. Meanwhile, the woman demands that Sol give her a name as well, coercing the victorious warrior into presenting her with his bracelet – a symbol of marriage.

It sets up a complicated triangle between the three: Sos and the woman (Sola as she becomes known) love each other but Sos refuses to make Sol a cuckold. All Sol wants is an empire and tasks Sos to train and instruct warriors indentured to him, forming a huge tribe. Sola, though she loves Sos and bears his child, is tied to Sol due to her desire for position and power. All this is fuel for the engine of the story, helping to explain the landscape, the Battle Circle and the societies that exist alongside each other.

What I found interesting were the ideas behind the plot. The notion that the warriors live this free, nomadic life with disputes of any degree settled by combat – itself ruled by a strict code of honour. Women are equally free to pick and chose men as they like though some of the restrictions placed on them are antiquated as they remain subservient to the warriors. It’s a fairly romantic notion of society but as the book continues it’s counterpointed by the other society – ‘the Crazies’.

The Crazies are modern society. They manufacture the weapons the warriors use, construct tents and equipment and supply foods. In short, they ensure that the warrior culture continues but to what end we don’t really discover. However, Sos is forced into helping a section of the Crazies and, in the end, made to dismantle the empire he helped create. Made into a type of human terminator, Sos is sent out to defeat Sol and end his friend’s reign over the Battle Circle.

For such a short book, so simply written it’s a complex weaving of ideas. Each of the character’s stories reflect upon the notions of honour, family, power and concepts of freedom versus rules, free will against coercion and government. Each wants to fill their own particular void, each hampers yet helps the other and in the end each loses what they treasure most. I’m intrigued with what the author does next in this series and whilst I thought this was to be more pulp fiction than anything, Piers Anthony has surprised me with quite a thoughtful take on post-cataclysm novels.

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A while back I shared a press release from Gollancz concerning the development of a game book based on Richard K Morgan’s A Land Fit For Heroes. It’s launched on mobile devices (PC comes later)…

The game sounds dark and gritty, just like Morgan’s work. Check out the blurb below..

A LAND FIT FOR HEROES is a profound story of three distinct characters falling into a sequence of bloodthirsty events full of gore and mystery. It is not your average gamebook; A LAND FIT FOR HEROES is darker, deeper and very explicit, primarily its narrative is targeted towards a mature audience. The main characters are not traditional heroes but outcasts with marred souls and questionable pasts. This is a story and character design with a truly dark twist; readers may be shocked but they will still be enthralled by Morgan’s rich and mysterious dark fantasy presented in an entirely unique format for the book series.

Based on Richard Morgan’s trilogy of dark fantasy novels, A LAND FIT FOR HEROES is the new interactive gamebook experience telling the story of three unlikely heroes with three interlocking storylines. Kirellin of House Caith is a skilled war veteran, a man with a death wish who suffers the mental trauma from years of combat. Calnar is a young Majak warrior,repeatedly raped by his father during his childhood, he channels his inner rage as one of the fiercest fighters in bloody combat. Ilaria is an accomplished thief with a tortured past filled with violence and personal anguish. Each of their paths will cross in this adventure where they are tested to the extreme – but wherein the reader decides upon their fates. Children go missing in the marshes. Ancient spirits awaken. Powerful machine-demons manipulate the fate of mankind. But all of this is just a game for even darker forces. In the first of its kind, bestselling author Richard Morgan brings his trilogy of novels to life as a three-player gamebook set in the world of Land Fit For Heroes.

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Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood is epic in every sense of the word. It’s a heroic adventure at its brilliant best but it’s also a full blown awesome fantasy. Deriving his world and building it from the idea of the Napoleonic age, McClellan has mixed ancient sorcery and emerging industry, magic and gun powder, gods and guns. Think Sharpe with magic. The concept is inspired and the story does it more than justice.

We’re introduced to Adro, one of the Nine kingdoms in this world, and Field Marshall Tamas just as he completes a bloody plot to overthrow a corrupt King and a bloated nobility. This coup is the catalyst for entire plot of the novel but it also reveals one of a number of dichotomies at work in the book. Whilst the first concerns the clash between royalty and society the second looks at the sense of loyalty between family and country which occurs for a few of the main actors, especially Tamas. He also features in the clash between magic and sorcery. Tamas is a Powder Mage; he has the power to control gun powder, use it to enhance his senses and give him superhuman strength. On the other side of this is the Privileged; sorcerers who can tap into an ancient power, cast spells and manipulate huge forces.

Prior to his execution, the King of Adro had frittered away his nation’s wealth and while the people starved, he aimed to sell his country to the neighbouring Kez. Tamas won’t stand for it but the results of his coup are far reaching. The Kez made Tamas an enemy when they beheaded his wife for spying; now that hatred is once more burning as they attempt to invade the weakened Adro. However, having killed the royal cabal of Privileged, Tamas has unleashed an ancient sorcery that will bring down the wrath of a god. A god that most people think is myth or mere religious dogma.

Entwined in all this is Adamat, a semi-retired investigator, employed by Tamas to uncover the truth behind the Privileged’s mysterious messages. He is a great foil for the author to discover the city and it’s inhabitants from the high borne to those dwelling in shadier surroundings. Whilst his integrity is compromised due to his family being kidnapped, Adamat’s involvement is intriguing and he is a brilliantly balanced character. Tamas on the other hand is hard and unforgiving, especially in the eyes of his son, Taniel, an equally gifted Powder Mage. A soldier of repute, Taniel is tasked with a mission that ends up seeing him caught in the centre of the conflict both against the Kez but also with a set of powerful sorcerers and ancient magics.

Whilst the plot is innovative and engaging, and the world building effortless, it is the cast of actors that really stand out. Tamas, Taniel and Adamat all have close allies each of whom are exceptional. But it is also the cast of villains, all pulling and plotting against each other and the book’s heroes. It’s such a vast and believable world that this was a true page turner for me. The writing and the story is fantastic whilst the ideas underpinning it all are brilliantly creative. McClellan is definitely another giant voice amongst the new breed of fantasy authors and I’m most definitely on board for the rest of this trilogy.

My copy
Published by Orbit