Posts Tagged ‘Titan books’

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Ren Warom’s Escapology is an amazing stylistic amalgamation of cyberpunk and anime, told at breakneck speed. As debut novels go, this is a extremely polished, hugely inventive and seriously intense rollercoaster ride for the imagination. Starting off at full throttle, there’s a lot going on in Escapology including an intriguing plot, stunning worldbuilding and a cast of complex, individual characters.

In a future where most of humanity resides in orbiting hubs above the Earth, where the ocean has overrun the land and where humanity coexists in real life and in the ‘slip’, a virtuality just as important as reality, the Gung is of central importance to the planet. It’s populated by a mix of shady underworld gangsters and Fails, and the rich and those termed Pass, useful members of society with a clean psychological evaluation. Escapology follows Shock, a Haunt and one of the best at hacking the Slip for information, and Amiga, a Cleaner for one of the more powerful gangsters ruling the Gung.

It’s here that things intersect so brilliantly; the action is all-out anime violence, both physical and virtual whilst the worldbuilding has strong roots in the cyberpunk genre. Shock is a well considered and very complicated character whose history shapes so much of the story. Through him we get to understand what the Slip is and how it runs, what a Haunt is capable of along along with the myriad hustlers, hackers and collectives that work in the virtual ocean of information, but, most importantly, the importance of each person’s avatar. Amiga, on the other hand, offers us a different look at the underworld, the physical one where gangsters and criminals run operations without mercy. Life is cheap and the Gung is a city of mile high skyscrapers, synthetic food, and a scrabbling, desperate population.

So much of Escapology is about power and control and, in the end, it boils down to Shock. The most beaten down, drug addled, cowardly victim imaginable but the toughest, hardiest and almost noble character out there; forced into a mission to break that which contains the Slip his courage and guile are impressive. Both he and Amiga are the downtrodden, each reacting differently to the adversity which respectively shaped them into introverted hacker and unstoppable killer. As their stories intertwine both must open themselves up to those things they’d turned their backs on; power and control, then, is not wielded over others but is about finding the keys to a true self.

Atmospheric writing, brutal action and the stunning imaginative visualisations of a broken world all wrapped up in an innovative and intriguing future history. Escapology has so much to offer as the characters develop under the pressure of the plot. I’ve hardly scratched the surface with this review but, believe me, if you are a fan of cyberpunk or just impressive sci-fi, this is a definite winner.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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This is quite a difficult book to review, mainly for fear of giving away what makes it so brutal. By that, I mean psychologically brutal because, whilst there is some physical shock value, it’s the emotional terror pervading the novel that makes it so horrifying. Yet, it’s also a complex piece of work, full of dual meanings and self-aware references all told by an unreliable narrator. Her unreliability is cleverly revealed to be more of a factor as the book goes on…and this is where things get complicated.

If you’re a fan of horror, you should read this novel. In my limited experience, Paul Tremblay is a great exponent of the genre but, beyond that, he’s also a clearly talented writer. This is a very smart book for a number of reasons (many of which deserve discussion but – spoilers!).

A Head Full of Ghosts refers both to the idea of supernatural possession central to the plot but also to our narrator, Merry, and how pop culture affects her perspective. Within the book there are numerous references to horror fiction and film and A Head Full of Ghosts takes on the sense of a meta-fiction.

The book explores how Merry and her family deal with the ‘apparent’ possession of her elder sister Marjorie. Dad had lost his job and begins to rely heavily on his Catholic faith; Mum seems at a loss, seeking solace in wine and cigarettes. Merry is relating all of this fifteen years after the fact (the first sense of unreliability) and was only 8-years old at the time (the second). Somehow, and for financial reasons, a reality show producer makes an unrefusable offer to the floundering parents and so begins a shocking TV series.

Questions of exploitation aside, there is also the larger problem of whether 14-year old Marjorie is ‘possessed’ or just descending into schizophrenic madness. The interplay within the narration between memory and re-remembered fact from the TV show (the third idea of unreliability) begins to break to the surface as Merry relates her story to a writer tasked with producing a book on what actually happened. Fact and fiction blur, mingled with cultural references and other creative works.

The tension at play is palpable throughout the novel as each family member is seen slowly unraveling under the pressure of the cameras, their own position toward Marjorie and to how it is affecting each in turn. It’s a bizarre and scary feedback loop where the truth has no solid ground on which to stand.

The conclusion of A Head Full of Ghosts is shocking. It’s there all the time, creeping around in the narrative and you know something is going to happen. There’s so many unsettling properties to the characters and such clever storytelling that this is truly a great horror novel. That fact that Paul Tremblay has added bonus essays and reading list addendum only makes him a better author in my opinion.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

Author of the action packed Into The Guns William C Dietz, has kindly written a guest blog explaining how his latest novel came to be.

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William C. Dietz
October 24, 2016

Birth Of A New Series

Where do my stories come from? In my case a new series is usually inspired by something I observe in the world around me. And the America Rising series was no different. While reading an article I noticed that all of America’s strategic petroleum reserves were located in the south. That was sufficient to remind me of the American civil war, and the fact that the south not only continues to be a bastion of conservative thought, but home to many libertarians. And according to the Libertarian Party Platform, “…we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.”

The first part of that sentence sounds okay, to me at least, but the last five words are troubling. They could be interpreted to mean that individuals are in no way responsible for helping others if they don’t want to especially via the mechanism of government. To my mind that suggests a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” attitude toward society in which every man and woman’s first obligation is to take care of themselves, and to hell with the elderly, the sick and the poor.

What if something terrible happened? I wondered. What if a swarm of meteors devastated much of the Earth’s surface, and threw so much particulate matter up into the air, that the amount of sunlight reaching the planet’s surface was severely reduced? Crops would fail, people would starve, and a great deal of civil unrest would result.

Libertarians have never been able to compete effectively with the two major parties in the United States, but if society fell apart perhaps they could I decided, especially in the south. And that, as I mentioned earlier, is where all of the country’s petroleum reserves are located. Things came together in my mind, and boom! I was off and running. Into The Guns is the first novel in the America Rising trilogy.

Having created a dystopian scenario the next step was to populate it with characters both good and bad. Samuel T. Sloan is the Secretary of Energy when the meteors strike—and is on an official trip to Mexico. Due to the chaos it takes weeks for Sloan to make it back to the U.S. where forces working for the libertarian oligarchs intercept Sloan and lock him up.

Meanwhile army lieutenant Robin Macintyre is escorting a column of civilian refugees across a mountain pass, when a secondary disaster cuts her unit off from the military chain of command, and forces “Mac” to fend for herself.

Eventually both characters will play important roles in the fight to reestablish the America that was—and will meet during a desperate battle deep inside of enemy territory.
Into The Guns is available online and in bookstores now.

For more about me and my fiction please visit williamcdietz.com. You can find me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/williamcdietz and you can follow me on Twitter: William C. Dietz @wcdietz

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I’ve just noticed that the last few books I’ve reviewed have all been in the post-apocalypse genre. Each and every one has been vastly different explorations of how humanity deals with disaster and Into The Guns is another, distinct take on the theme. The beginning stanza in a new series, titled America Rising, William C Dietz has produced an action packed, barnburner of a novel.

Into The Guns doesn’t dally. A mass meteor strike sets off a series a catastrophes, from tsunamis and earthquakes to missle attacks from China. America is in disarray and within weeks armed gangs and drug lords are creating fiefdoms. The government is shattered and its armed forces left without a chain of command. Everyone is fighting for themselves.

Including each of the characters in this ensemble cast. Sam T Sloan, Secretary of Energy, was in Mexico when the meteors struck and in the middle of escaping a kidnap attempt. Alone and far from home soil, Sloan quickly proves how resourceful and resilient he is, appropriating a canoe before undertaking a 300 mile journey. Yet just as he reaches the USA, he is captured though by different people with a totally different purpose.

Meanwhile, First Lieutenant Robin ‘Mac’ Macintyre is tasked with leading a group of refugees out of the disaster zone. However, though she and her squad survive a landslide, her caravan of citizens are buried under a mass of rock. Cut off from her base and with no commanding officer, Mac sets about making sure her team survive.

In the intervening weeks, post- catalyst America becomes divided. Mac and her team become mercenaries whilst Sloan makes good on a daring escape. Civil war looms large as a group of enterprising entrepreneurs in the South form a new government based on pure capitalism.

As this is the set up in a trilogy, a number of pieces are put in place; namely Sloan’s promotion to President and the plot line conflict between Mac and her sister (an Army Major) and father (a General). Both have sided with the South in this new Civil War against Slone and the North. This is a blockbuster, big budget novel and the action is relentless – a President fighting on the front lines, a country torn apart and divided and a family at war, echoing the greater battle.

into The Guns is hard military sci-fi in a post-catalyst American wasteland at its explosive best. Here’s looking forward to the next in the series.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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Based upon Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II play, Elizabeth Bear’s No Decent Patrimony is an intriguing slice of sci-fi. Transporting Marlowe’s essence into a future where ‘Elites’ have discovered the path to immortality, this is a story that considers patriarchy and all it’s complications.

After the death of his father, the protagonist is left to ruminate on his place as an Elite, his feelings as a son (but also as a cloned son) and the possibility that this death has greater implications. Sumptuously detailed and wonderfully written, No Decent Patrimony is fascinating.

The Big Whale by Allen M. Steele is a reinterpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with the added twist of a 1940s pulp novel. Here, Ishmael is a hard boiled detective who totes a harpoon, plying his trade in Massachusetts. Asked to investigate Captain Ahab’s obsession with a mysterious ‘Moby’ after his wife becomes suspicious, Ishmael is soon right in the eye of the storm.

It’s a fun take on the classic novel, full of clever nods to the original and references to the tropes and style of pulp stories from the 40s. A meta-fiction mash up and a very cool read.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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This isn’t my usual type of read but The Silent Dead (known as Strawberry Night in Japan), proved to be an engaging and interesting book. It came highly recommended by the good people at Titan Books and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Tetsuya Honda is a popular writer in Japan and this is her first title to be published in English.

It was really interesting to read a popular Japanese thriller and though some of the dialogue reminded me a little of Anime/Manga (forgive me as I’m no expert), it wasn’t too jarring so as to disturb the flow of the book. The insight it gave into Tokyo culture was definitely part of the intrigue but the story itself was gritty, sensational and cleverly plotted.

Focusing on the protagonist Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa, supported by an ensemble cast of fellow Homicide detectives, as well as the voice of the killer, The Silent Dead digs deep into the thoughts and minds of all involved. A discarded, brutalised body begins an investigation which slowly reveals a disturbing and bizarre series of murders.

Reiko, an enigma herself, has a talent for intuitive detection and is soon piecing together disparate facts. Yet, the politics within the police force are also a central part of this story. Her rivals are underhand and many are overtly sexist towards her and the disparity between public, social politeness and private crudeness and insult is eye opening (for this westerner at least).

In the end, the serial killer at large is something quite different. The murders are part of something very disturbing and the person behind it all comes as a real shock twist; I didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t want to give it all away, so I won’t. What I will say, is that The Silent Dead is a smart, well paced, crime thriller. The dynamics between the cop characters is intriguing, revealing a side of Japanese culture I was not aware of. However, the conclusion is a perfectly grim ending for a serial killer story. Honda has penned a series of Reiko Himekawa novels so, if tough, female cops and ghastly crime books are your thing, check The Silent Deadout, you won’t be disappointed.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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After a Saturday filled with DIY and an obscene amount of burpees, today felt like the right time to delve back into Dead Letters: An Anthology of The Undelivered, The Missing, The Returned.

Joanne Harris’ In Memoriam seemingly starts off as a very literal interpretation of the brief for this collection, detailing the work of one man within the National Returns Centre (aka Dead Letter Office). However, by turns, each pinpointed by a slight yet significant memory, the story becomes increasingly weirder and creepier. The man in question finds a long lost letter addressed to him, containing a data stick. The consequences are unsettling as his memories unravel to reveal a frightening truth.

Ausland by Alison Moore is an odd, short piece of writing. It’s suggestive and speculative, told from the perspective of an elderly lady meeting her childhood friend after so many decades apart. Ausland touches on a fun idea yet does so from afar, from the point of view of someone who just glimpses a moment of a much larger picture. Quirky and clever, it’s an enjoyable and bite sized piece of work.

Wonders to Come by Christopher Fowler is a bizarre story that twists the notion of an alien invasion with a brilliant flourish. Unlike the other pieces I’ve read from this anthology, Fowler gives a mere sideways glance to the Royal Mail, eschewing it in favour of an encroaching and ultimately apocalyptic tale of an arrogation from outer space. An excellent piece of writing that evolves quietly from thriller to alien killer seamlessly, Wonders to Come is a masterful short story. Turning the idea of ‘visitors from space landing in a field’ to ‘weird entities infiltrate a state-of-the-art super hotel and kill everyone’ was inspired yet it is the writer’s ability to hook the interest from the outset that deserves attention.

This compilation of stories continues to entertain and I’ll be back to read more soon. Definitely worth checking out if you like creepy, strange and scary stories.

Review Copy
Published by Titan Books

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Recently, I decided to look around for some horror-esque stories to read and a quick look in the book pile revealed Nod by Adrian Barnes. The back cover blurb sounded promising but it didn’t prepare me for the psychologically terrifying concept nor for the wonderful prose this novel offers.

Nod, much like the rest of the book, is woven with double meanings. Not only is it about sleep and the lack of, it also implies the same place that Cain was sent after being exiled from Adam’s garden in the bible. It’s about the layered meanings of words, sometimes polar opposites; about how words shape reality, and about how quickly meaning and structure, that which anchors are existence in the real, disintegrates so quickly once the thread of language begins to unravel.

I’ve heard Nod referred to as ‘creepy’ but it’s so much more than that. The idea is that one morning the world awakes to find that nearly everyone hasn’t slept whilst those few that did shared a collective dream. This isn’t the insomnia of snatched naps; it’s is the complete lack of sleep – the inability to reboot the brain and flush out all the madness of the day. Soon, the sleepless begin to panic, knowing that within a mere week they will descend into an inescapable psychosis.

It is a descent perfectly portrayed by the author and it is here that the horror sets in. Paul, the protagonist and author behind the journal we are reading, is forced to witness his long term girlfriend’s inevitable end – from the first few days of frustration, panic and resignation into bitterness, hate and finally insanity. It’s a terrifying thing having to watch as your loved one begins to lose themselves bit by bit, day by day as memory and personality and emotion and being are relentlessly stripped away whilst you remain relatively unscathed.

Yet are you? As the world around Paul sinks into a fog of lunacy and dementia, he is equally cast adrift from reality. It is here that the author, Adrian Barnes, considers some very powerful ideas about human nature, social structures and the idea of self. Because Paul is an etymologist, the journal is full of wonderful prose and insightful examinations of words and meanings, imbuing the novel with such frightening realisations.

It’s a personal apocalypse, played out on a small stage ( as I suppose all apocalyptic events are). But, it is the terror of losing all that anchors us to the world; of being witness to the mental and physical decay that is so powerfully written by Barnes. Inevitably though, as the mania abounds, Paul is caught up in a number of people’s psychotic games as he tries to hold on to what was. It is here, in the small details, that the hardest punches are thrown; it is here that Nod struck me so harshly for both it’s beautiful language and for it’s dreadful depictions.

Nod is a fantastic novel (I actually swore out loud in shock and respect as I finished it). It’s a must read for anyone interested in psychological horror, speculative writing, post-apocalypse fiction or just brilliant writing.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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In the second book of his series, Randy Henderson has once again produced an 80’s tinged, barn burner of a novel. His debut, reviewed here, was one of my favourite reads last year. Bigfoot Loose and Finn Fancy Free builds on everything of that first book and continues the momentum like Kevin Bacon punch-dancing his way through a forest of stonewash denim.

Though the pop culture references to the 80’s add a certain coolness (especially for those of us who remember that decade), they really serve as an anchor-point for the eponymous hero, Finn; having been exiled to the Other Realm for 25 years as a teenager, his whole point of contact with socio-cultural norms stops at the 1980s. It’s the greater story at large that is the real attention grabber and, with the feel of a Goonies type tale of fantasy and adventure, it rocks along at a serious pace with excellent results. Set a mere three months after Finn’s first adventures, Bigfoot Loose and Finn Fancy Free delves a little deeper into the world Henderson has created whilst setting his protagonist on another quest of solving problems because he’s at the wrong place at the wrong time trying to do the right thing.

With Henderson, it is definitely the journey and not the destination that is the most fun. The scrapes and trouble that Finn seems to attract are all enjoyable to read and though the villain behind it all isn’t surprising, the path to the concluding chapters is. There’s so many brilliant little details peppering this book (my favourite being the gnomes) and a lot more than just a magical fantasy plot at its heart. The emphasis on Finn’s relationship with Dawn is thoughtfully and poetically drawn whilst his family dynamics are exceptionally handled, from the witty banter to the heartfelt emotions at play.

Bigfoot Loose and Finn Fancy Free shows off Henderson’s comic talent but also his ability to go that little deeper and to touch on subjects a little tougher to take. Like it’s awesome cover, the book is fun and super enjoyable to read but in it’s heart it’s touching and clever. I can’t wait for more.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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I’m going to preface this review with a “why haven’t I heard of this author before?” I regularly compile lists of books I want to read or see recommended yet I’m confused as to why I haven’t heard of Tanya Huff before, because, she really is very good.

An Ancient Peace is all about robust dialogue, well defined characters and a rock solid plot that drives the story onward. I’m going to assume that Huff has been writing about these characters for a while and it shows. The dynamic between the main cast is brilliantly illuminated with choppy banter packed full of half said jokes and references. Equally, the structure of the universe Huff has built feels exceptionally well explored. As an example, the alien races we encounter are fascinating and far from any clichéd humanoid that are so often shoehorned into sci-fi. This is intelligent, well written, character driven science fiction falling into that sweet spot between hard sci-fi and pulp action.

A mix of races, the main cast is an intriguing bunch but none more so than the lead actor, Torin Kerr, ex Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines. With war being ‘officially’ over (because it was a social experiment constructed by a weird, hive mind alien race), Kerr and her crew take on jobs that few others can do. Tasked by the military to undertake a secret mission, Kerr is sent out to stop the possibility of another deadly and wide reaching conflict; someone is robbing the graves of an ancient alien world searching for weapons of mass destruction.

The novel parcels out information about the nature of the past conflict and the wider universe effortlessly, avoiding info-dumps whilst filling in the blanks. As the narrative switches between Kerr and her quarry, the tension ratchets up a notch as the ex-Marines close in on the robbers. But, cleverly, Huff manages to cast a decent amount of grey over the proceedings and whilst Kerr and her team are obviously the ‘good guys’, the chain of command above isn’t so clearly de-marked. It’s part of what makes the book so interesting; not only are we exposed to all manner of detail regarding alien races and the political landscape at large, we also get to see how all this trickles down to affect each of the characters.

An Ancient Peace is subtitled Peacekeeper Book 1 so here’s hoping there’s more to come; the novel finishes with a nice concluding episode indicating that there is. Huff is a great writer and this is a great piece of science fiction. Using an assemble cast, it can be difficult to really nail the group dynamic but this author does. Similarly, there’s a lot of information revealed but the pace never slows and the action, when it kicks off, is deftly handled. In short, An Ancient Peace is an engrossing and engaging read.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books