The latest in SciFi, Fantasy and Comic News and Reviews

Friday, 13 January 2012

New Year - New Blog!

Hello Happy Readers!

This is a quick post to say Happy New Year and to announce a change in revenue for my book reviw site. I have now moved to WordPress and started a new book review site (still covering sciifi and fantasy called Vanguard Fiction! Please check it out for my latest reviews for 2012.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Book Review: Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

I have to admit that I haven't read any of The Wicked Series - But I certainly will now. I was asked to review this book for We Love This Book. If like me, you have been to see wicked and found it fantastic you will love the books. It's Maguire's sense of humour that flies from the pages into the fitting theatrical setting that makes the show come alive. You can see my review on We Love this Book - Or simply read below.

Out of Oz is the fourth and final novel in Gregory Maguire's The Wicked Years series. Compared to the likes of Tolkien, Maguire holds high esteem with critics and high expectations with his loyal readers. Fortunately he delivers, completing his fantasy series the way it started - extraordinarily.

We return to OZ in a social upheaval as the Emerald City attacks Munchkinland. It is several years since we left its characters; Glinda is under house arrest, the Cowardly Lion is on the run, Liir is in hiding and Elphaba long dead, after a run in with Dorothy. The focus of the story now falls on a young girl called Rain - daughter of Liir and granddaughter of The Wicked Witch. Ultimately this story is Rain's - It is her legacy to Oz.

Readers of the series will know that it's Maguire's imagination, prose and delicious sense of wit that make the series so enchanting. True to form Maguire gives us an OZ far richer than F. L Braum could have dreamt. Supplying endless amusement, he frequently switches narratives, reacquainting the reader with favourite characters while introducing some new including a guest appearance from Dorothy herself. The book is slow to start, resembling its characters as they meander up the yellow brick road. However the journey is still enjoyable and picks up to deliver a wonderful adventure. A poignant and stunning end to one of the decade's most successful fantasy series.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Book Review: The Taker - Alma Katsu

Dr. Luke Findley is on the midnight shift in the emergency room when the police bring in a young woman. Few strangers come to this remote town in northernmost Maine in the winter, and this stranger is accused of a bizarre crime: killing a man and leaving his body in the Great North Woods. The young woman, Lanny, tells the doctor that she and the man in the woods lived in this town at its founding two hundred years ago, until fate sentenced them to an eternity of unhappiness until they atone for their sins.

The man in the woods is Jonathan, son of the town's founder, and the love of Lanny's life. After Lanny commits a terrible sin in the hope of claiming Jonathan for her own, she's banished from town and sent to Boston to serve her penance. In Boston, she falls in with a beguiling yet frightening man, Adair, who has otherworldly powers, including the ability to confer immortality. His world is one of unknown sensual pleasures and seemingly limitless power, but at what price?

Adair wants to add Jonathan to the collection of treacherous courtiers who do his bidding (but for unknown ends) and sends Lanny back to Maine to collect him. It seems like the answer to Lanny's deepest desire—to be with Jonathan forever—but once Jonathan has joined Adair's pack of immortals, she sees that Adair is not what he seems and his intentions toward Jonathan are far worse than she imagined. And now it is up to her to save her beloved—and herself—from a terrible fate designed to last for all eternity.

The Taker is a story of the power of love to corrupt, to drive us to do terrible things in its name, and the courage it takes to sacrifice in the name of love and ultimately be worthy of absolution.

Katsu is an accomplished writer and The Taker bridges the gap between classic and urban fantasy with its compelling tale of unrequited love, immortality and the dark art of alchemy.
Do not assume this is a paranormal romance as the Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan quotes may suggest. This is a novel well worth the attention of more traditional fantasy readers. I would highly recommend all fans of fantasy give this book a chance. Reminiscent of Anne Rice’s work (particularly Interview with a Vampire) The Taker begins in modern day Maine but soon travels back to the late 18th century as Lanore explains her tragic story.

Katsu's The Taker is not a story about romance; instead it delves into the darker side of love. The novel is hauntingly gothic and follows the genres focus on torment and terror. It is clear from the start of the novel that its characters’ have suffered for love and this emotion is constantly partnered with obsession, anguish and lust. Lanore suffers the most – making hopeless decisions and dark paths in hopes of reaching her love unrequited.

As a main character, Lanore is exquisite. Katsu has the gift of creating a character that you are compelled to embrace. Undoubtedly, she is far from innocent yet still endearing. Regardless of the mistakes she makes you cannot help but sympathise. Similarly Katsu creates a fantastic villain in Adair who is as horrifying as he is fascinating. An Alec D'Urberville type character – Adair is a ferocious energy throughout the novel who you feel afraid to approach but unable to walk away from.

There is a surprising twist in this novel and my only criticism is I found it a little too surprising. Lanore makes the discovery and I’m not sure if there were enough clues for her to manage it. Nevertheless, this is a small criticism and perhaps other readers and the characters themselves are more astute than myself!

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was engaging and harrowing and a brilliant example of how modern day literature can still create a gothic impression. I’m sure the author has great novel to come.


Friday, 26 August 2011

Book Review: Science Fiction Stories - Chosen by Edward Blishen

I picked up this book at the local second-hand store and I would highly recommend it to anyone to can a wide selection of short stories and extracts from some of the best writers in Science Fiction including H.G.Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

English Author, Edward Blishen hand selects the stories himself which range from time travel to mind control - scientific exploration to space invasion.

The best think about it, is you get it on Amazon for £0.01p (used)


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Book Review: Zoo City - Lauren Beukes

I’m off to the British Library this Saturday for another trip around the Out of This World Science-Fiction Exhibition and this time, I have got myself tickets to the ZOO CITY at the British Library. Considering Zoo City by Lauren Beurke has been my favorite read of the year (and winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award) it’s time to write a review!
"Zinzi December has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit, and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she's forced to take on her least favourite kind of job - missing persons."

Set in the gritty underbelly of a fantastical Johannesburg of the future, Zoo City would be a Sprawl if this was a SF - but it’s not, it’s an urban fantasy. Furthermore, it’s not a YA urban fantasy, it’s an adult fantasy – well written, edgy and brilliant. Thank God. Lauren Beurke has put the credibility back in a genre that has recently been tainted by too many badly written and overhyped paranormal romances.

Zinzi December is a down and out ex-druggie, ex-journalist with a Sloth on her back and a rare ability to find lost items. In Zoo City, criminals are lumbered with animals – a manifestation of their guilt to constantly and shamefully bear. The Zoo Plague, or AAF (Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism) reads like a clever rework of Pullmans daemons (His Dark Materials) and like Pullmans daemon you secretly really want one - even if it’s a cannibal penguin and particularly if it’s a Sloth.

The whole book reads like a noir thriller as Zinzi is forced to take on a dodgy job finding a missing person. Her investigation gets darker and more sordid the further she looks and ultimately she must consult her, sketchy conscious and moral code to decide whether she is going to follow through.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Book Review: Surface Detail - Ian M Banks

I went into the only book store in Jersey to grab some books. I was slightly horrified to find Ian M Bank’s Matter in the science fiction, new releases section. Matter was actually published in 2008 as the 8th novel in Bank’s Culture series. Surface Detail (released 2010) is the 9th and latest novel. This too was in Jersey’s new releases section and is still high on the current best seller list – so far enough! But reluctant to be behind the times (or at least as behind as Jersey), I thought it best to write a review now.

As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, certain Culture books can be read without much knowledge of the series – some cannot. I would consider this the latter. Banks explains in a technology intricacy the details of the functioning fighter ships and the fundamentals of new age safety suit but assumes the reader is already up to date on the Culture. I think the Culture novels, particularly Surface Detail has the complexity and traditional theatrics of a space opera that can be lost on the less hard core SF fan. Banks has the credentials’ and themes that reach into literary success but sometimes the operatic drama can damage Bank’s true potential and credibility as the serious writer that you see in Wasp Factory. Personally, I think this is one of the most entertaining Culture novels I have read. And the space opera is brilliant. But then, I’m a space opera fan.

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.
Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

Surface Detail as the blurb suggests, begins in the real. We are introduced to three great characters who we like. Each one is immediately killed. Suddenly we are placed in the reality of Bank’s new world, where it doesn’t really matter. With the use of a neural lace that is placed in your brain, minds are backed up like a computer hard drive - stored and saved. Your body can be replicated and replaced. Death is no longer irreversible.

The technology within Bank’s world is extremely advanced and his techno-galactic world building is what makes him stand out as a good SF author. Virtual realities are the main focus of the novel. Minds are poured into virtual simulations, scenarios and realities to the point where whole lives and wars are fulfilled within these fake realities.

The novel following five different plots that centre around the concept, or in this case, the reality of Hell. In Bank’s super-advanced future, virtual realities are common place. These are civilisations where minds never die and virtual realities have been created as after lives for the disembodied. Sadistically, and all too plausibly, some civilisations have decided it necessary to create not only a heaven afterlife but a hell. The result in Bank’s novel is perversion of Dante’s hell; biblical torture carried out by monstrous and alien demons that destroy their victims in countlessly atrocious ways, endless lives filled with pain.

The war that brings the novel together is the war is to decide whether to destroy or keep these hell-realities within the galaxy. Vateuil is a soldier fighting in this never ending war. Chay, is trapped in hell after attempting to expose it’s horror to influence a sympathetic vote . Special Circumstance agent Yime Nsokyi, is assigned to find Lededje who may change the conclusion of the war. And, Lededje herself, completely unaware of the consequences is embarking on a revenge mission that may be pivotal to the fighting’s end.

The Surface Detail in the title works itself throughout the novel, most notably a reference to Lededje's fractal tattoo. The main way in which Bank’s illustrates the detail is by moving from the micro view and actions of his characters to the macro movement of the whole galaxy. The story becomes the age old question of whether one person’s plights is as important as the greater good. Is Lededje's revenge worth the war against Hells failing? Is Chay’s salvation worth every other soul in hells suffering?

I really enjoyed Surface Detail It has been criticized for mixing serious SF with the more traditional and frivolous which quite frankly Bank’s does well and is entertaining. I loved the Abominator class ship called the "Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints". The names are ridiculous. But with an eternity or intelligence and time in front of you – why wouldn’t you get a little silly? Falling Out of the Normal Constraints is hilarious and has some brilliant one liners. It is the first Culture novel where I have genuinely liked the characters apart from Yime, who is pretty much pointless. Although, apparently that’s the point? So it becomes a little pedantic to complain. It’s got an interesting and well thought out concept behind it and in my opinion, well worth the read.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.

The front cover’s picture – a haunting photograph of a young girl – makes me shudder and open the cover quickly. It takes me a long time to shut it again.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is (contrary to the haunting cover) not so much a horror but a fantastical mystery and adventure. Riggs writes in a refreshing classical style that reminds me of CS Lewis or H G Wells. Similar to CS Lewis, this young adult book can be enjoyed equally by adults or children.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote
island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss
Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms
and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of
whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been
dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason.
And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.

The main character Jacob is a regular, down to earth sixteen year old who unfortunately must deal with a set of extremely irregular occurrences – the first being his Grandfathers murder. In a wonderfully adventurous decision, Jacob travels to his Grandfather’s childhood orphanage to gain some closure and dispel any of the fairytales fuelling his dreams. Little does he know, he will journey to discover the reality of his nightmares.

The book is full of adventure, monsters and msytery. Jason himself describes the monsters 'like something out of David Lynch's nightmares' showing Riggs great perception for popular culture and modern day humour. I particularly enjoyed the Welsh’s childrens use of ‘taking the piss’. A phrase which baffled American Jacob but entertained me!

You can also tell Rigg's past as a geographical journalist as he describes the little welsh island - standing strong against in the sailor's grave sea and pounding British weather. A great setting for the story.

The other notablable gleem of this book are the pictures scattered throughout the movel. Each are original vintage photos from personal collections and really add to the sense of eerie mystery.

This is a brilliantly written book and a original plot which is a breath of fresh ait in the current YA book market. The peculiar children are true characters - each and everyone of them. You are definitely left intriqued to read more about them. And considering the book is left open ended, hopefully we will.