Archive for January, 2017

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I haven’t done a ‘books in the post’ entry for some time (usually because I’m too busy reading or destroying my body by “staying fit” and grappling). But, I’ve been sent a bunch of really interesting books lately and I wanted to showcase just how many cool titles I have in the review pipeline.

Rougue One has clearly been popular in the cinema, though I doubt my wife and I will get the opportunity to watch it there. This novelisation is high on my list not only because of the movie but as I really enjoy shared world books and Star Wars immensely.

Similarly, The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter is drawing my attention. A sequel to War of the Worlds that is set 14 years after the first book, this is the story of the next invasion.

James Barclay’s latest fantasy offering, Heart of Granite has been tucked away for a while but it’s definitely peaked my fantasy interest of late. Equally, Miles Cameron’s sequel to The Red Knight is making a good argument to jump to the top of the list.

Abaddon books have been kind enough to send my The El Sombra Trilogy, a weird pulp offering from Al Ewing. The cover alone has me excited and the blurb speaks of superheroes, nazi hunting and frightening monsters…sounds awesome!

On the flip side is the evocative and enigmatic sounding Invisible Planets by Hannu Rajaniemi. A collection of exploratory short stories and different types of writing, this anthology of work has all the potential to be great.

Alex Lamb’s Roboteer had me from the first press release. A debut novel, the ideas propounded in the blurb create an enthralling premise for a sci-fi book, one I’m eager to read. And, on a similar level is Escapology by Ren Waram. A cyberpunk thriller that paints a picture of a terrifying future – it’s been on my shelf too long and definitely deserves reviewing soon.

So, now to decide which book to read first. Where do you think I should start?

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I picked up this omnibus a while back and, though I’ve seen it recommended many times, it’s lingered in the ‘to be read’ pile too long. The Black Company gets bandied around a lot for being a precursor to the recent ‘grimdark’ movement in fantasy and it’s easy to make comparisons. Written in the 1980’s this isn’t your average tale of heroes and damsels in distress; it’s a morally ambiguous story of mercenaries told from the perspective of the boots on the ground.

Though there are still plot points regarding portents and sorcery, a chosen one and the battle of good versus evil, much of these tropes are flipped on their head. The main point being that the eponymous Black Company, a troop of sellswords, are potentially fighting for ‘evil’ in a conflict that has both huge consequences and, seemingly, no ‘good’ side.

Told by Croaker, the doctor and historian, and written as entries in the company’s Annals, we are introduced to an assortment of characters, giving flesh to the wider world as well as the battalion. After being forced to break a contract to a corrupt Lord, the company find themselves hired by a mysterious, leatherclad sorcerer called Soulcatcher, who, in turn, is one of the Taken, a group of powerful magical warriors controlled by the Lady (herself a kind of immortal wizard).

Battle after battle ensues; retreat after retreat eats away at the men of the Black Company. In all the slog and grunt the soldiers endure, Croaker is the perfect voice as he records and questions everyone, including the Taken. Written in clipped, terse tones, the scale of the plot becomes clearer as the war between the Lady and the Rebel escalates. Each chapter reads like a mini diorama in the larger campaign, drawing towards an inevitable and intense showdowns between the armies.

It’s an interesting format, created as a potted history of the Black Company, and (for the time it was written) a fresh perspective, taking the view of the soldier. Though the style is a little stilted, perhaps due to the voice of Croaker, this is a great introduction to a gang of mercenaries, each with a hidden past, all with nowhere else to go. As the start of the larger epic, it serves to set up a number of conflicts that I’ll explore very soon.

My copy
Published by Gollancz

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My wife and I had to take a break in the middle of season 6 for reasons I’ll lay out a bit later, so it took us until a week before the start of chapter seven to catch up. Being slightly obsessed with the show, I felt a proper, continuous rerun was in order for me to fully deal with the fallout from that most shocking openining episode.

Season 6 frustrated me for a number of reasons. Rick and his group came into Alexandria as wild, hardened survivors. The meek residents of the compound knew nothing of the outside world and it’s horrors and Rick was determined to show them that he and his crew were the top dogs. However, a number of mistakes were made, essentially weakening Alexandria and allowing it to come under attack.

Whilst I recognise that many of these ‘mistakes’ are plot devices, in the logic of The Walking Dead world, these errors display a persistent softness in the group. In season 5, Daryl gets caught up in a trap set by the truly feral ‘Wolves’ thereby (accidentally) revealing the location of the compound. Later, he again gets caught by another desperate group on the run from the ‘Saviours’ (who we subsequently meet). Both times he has allowed himself to be tricked and both times it has resulted in dire consequences. As the group’s tracker and most rugged survivor, letting his guard down this often begs the question. Similarly, Ricks weird obsession with Jessie, which ultimately puts his own family in huge danger, displays a serious lack of consideration. As a final example, there is Glenn’s choice to cover for Nicholas and protect him; again this failure to eliminate an issue has seriously bad results (and this is where my wife and I stopped watching as we thought Glenn had been killed, and in such a pointless and frustrating manner).

I could go on. The point is, at the core of Rick and his group is a tendency to help, to try to retain their humanity, to perceive themselves as the good guys and, therefore, able to defeat evil. And I think this is the crux of the matter.

The group has overcome the Governer; they escaped and eliminated Terminus. They are good people who’ve had to do bad things but that’s the problem. They are still holding on to the things that make them vulnerable or that make them hesitate when they should act.

It’s the reason why Carol broke so badly that she felt the need to leave the safety of the group. It’s the reason Morgan sees all life as precious but incessantly puts people in danger due to his personal ethos. The reason Glenn and Daryl hesitate and then pay the consequences. They aren’t as bad or as tough or as hardened as they think they are. It leads to stupid decisions, especially the idea that they can take on the Saviours.

What is so frustrating is the fact that they should be smarter because of everything they’ve done. They should recognise that there are no good guys left; everyone has done necessary evils to stay alive, especially Rick’s group. But they haven’t learned to let go of the things that make them weak. A great example of this is when Carol and Maggie were captured. I thought Carol was faking her fear as a ruse to lure the Saviours into a trap (my wife thought otherwise and she was right). Carol didn’t want to kill anymore because of her own guilt and remorse but she also couldn’t bear to see Maggie hurt – she broke in the worst way because it all became too much. Her tormentor, on the other hand, had given in to the logic of the apocalypse and this counterpoint highlighted a fundamental flaw in our protagonists.

It’s exactly this flaw that continues to see Rick and his group dominated by other survivors. Whilst the idea of the family unit is what makes the group so strong and capable of overcoming hardships, it is also what makes them so vulnerable. Caring for people means that it can be used against you. Similarly, holding on to old ideas mean that you’ve yet to accept the reality of the situation – one which is absolutely brutal.

And, this is none more so portrayed in the gruesomely terrifying opening episode of season 7. I’ve yet to watch the rest of the series but if that was a starter of things to come, it’s going to be rough for our protagonists.

Season 6 is an odd one, basically it sets up the introduction of the Saviours and its impact by allowing us to think that Alexandria is, perhaps, the end of the journey. That, though the apocalypse rages on, the group had survived and found a place to fortify and settle. Yet, much like the prison, threats abound. Once again, it let’s hope in, only to have it smashed to pieces with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat.

Now, all I need to do is find the time to watch season 7…