Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Books (September #1)

BooksReceived-20140913

Featuring: Kelley Armstrong, Greg Bear, Sandra Brown, Steven Erikson, Liu Cixin, Sergei Lukyanenko, Alexander Maskill, Amy McCulloch, David Mitchell, Joseph O’Neill, Alice Peterson, Cherie Priest, Mike Resnick, Jamie Schultz, Adam Sternbergh, Jeff VanderMeer

Friday, September 12, 2014

Audiobook: “Small Man In A Book” by Rob Brydon (Audible/Penguin)

BrydonR-SmallManInABookJust the sort of memoir I’d imagine Brydon would write: endearing, engaging, and funny

A multi-award-winning actor, writer, comedian and presenter known for his warmth, humour and inspired impressions, Rob Brydon has quickly become one of our very favourite entertainers. But there was a time when it looked like all we’d hear of Rob was his gifted voice.

Growing up in South Wales, Rob had a passion for radio and soon the Welsh airwaves resounded to his hearty burr. However, these were followed by years of misadventure and struggle, before, in the TV series Marion and Geoff and Gavin and Stacey, Rob at last tickled the nation’s funny bone. The rest, as they say, is history. Or in his case autobiography.

Small Man in a Book is Rob Brydon’s funny, heartfelt, honest, sometimes sad, but mainly funny, memoir of how a young man from Wales very, very slowly became an overnight success.

Rob Brydon has been in, or involved with an awful lot of productions that I am familiar with. Some, of course, are more famous – Gavin & Stacey and Marion and Geoff were very popular in the UK, for example. More recently, his two excellent road-trip shows with Steve Coogan. This is a delightful audiobook, delivered perfectly, and entertaining throughout.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Franklin Ship Discovered – Time to Read “The Terror”?

TorontoStar-201409-FranklinShipThis is huge news in Canada at the moment: one of the Franklin expedition’s lost ships has been discovered under the northern ice. The ship will either be the HMS Terror or the HMS Erebus, both Royal Navy ships commanded by Sir John Franklin were lost during his doomed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage. From the Toronto Star:

“Because the wrecks of Erebus and Terror are both British property and Canadian national historic sites, the the 1997 memorandum of understanding carefully lays out each country’s claims and responsibilities. Britain retains ownership of the wrecks but has assigned ‘custody and control’ to the Government of Canada. That means Canadian archeologists get to lead the recovery mission, and Canada can keep everything taken from the wreck — with a few important exceptions.”

The Star and Globe & Mail have both published multiple stories today about the discovery, so I’d recommend heading to their websites to read more. Stand-outs include this commentary by Ken McGoogan, a short piece on the HMS Terror’s history, and also this piece about the Franklin expedition.

While nobody seems to be prepared to make a guess as to which of the two ships the discovered wreck is, the news naturally made me think of Dan Simmons’s The Terror, which was published in 2007 by Transworld Books (UK) and Little, Brown (US).

SimmonsD-TheTerror

I have yet to read the novel (like oh-so-many others), but it has been inching up my TBR mountain for some time. With this latest discovery, though, I have a feeling it will leap closer to the top. Here is the synopsis…

The men on board Her Britannic Majesty’s Ships Terror and Erebus had every expectation of triumph. They were part of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition – as scientifically advanced an enterprise as had ever set forth – and theirs were the first steam-driven vessels to go in search of the fabled North-West Passage.

But the ships have now been trapped in the Arctic ice for nearly two years. Coal and provisions are running low. Yet the real threat isn’t the constantly shifting landscape of white or the flesh-numbing temperatures, dwindling supplies or the vessels being slowly crushed by the unyielding grip of the frozen ocean.

No, the real threat is far more terrifying. There is something out there that haunts the frigid darkness, which stalks the ships, snatching one man at a time – mutilating, devouring. A nameless thing, at once nowhere and everywhere, this terror has become the expedition’s nemesis.

When Franklin meets a terrible death, it falls to Captain Francis Crozier of HMS Terror to take command and lead the remaining crew on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Eskimo woman who cannot speak. She may be the key to survival – or the harbinger of their deaths. And as scurvy, starvation and madness take their toll, as the Terror on the ice become evermore bold, Crozier and his men begin to fear there is no escape…

You can read an excerpt from The Terror on the author’s website.

Guest Post: “Writing in the devastating wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” by Jonathan Wood

JonathanWood2To the best of my recollection, the first thing I ever had published was a review of the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I was ten. I belonged to a local Youth Club that put out a small paper ’zine every month or so. You could write in and volunteer to review movies. I was devotee of the TNMT cartoon, and had been awaiting the release of the movie with growing anticipation for months. I wrote in, and to my shock and delight was selected. I even got free movie tickets. Few ten year olds have known the height s of ecstasy I reached.

This is typically the point in the story where my dreams are all crushed, and I leave the theater shaking my fist at an unrepentant Hollywood heaven. But in fact, the movie fulfilled my every pre-teen wish. I laughed, I gasped, I demanded pizza afterward. As for the review itself… it was a breathless plot summary that descended into excruciating detail. My father cut me off when I was about halfway through – a mercy killing if ever there was one. As I recall, the final immortal line was, “And the rest was great too.”

Darwyn Cooke Covers Some DC Comics

This December, 23 DC Comics will be available with Darwyn Cooke-created variant covers. Five of them in particular jumped out at me, so here they are…

Batgirl #37

Batgirl-37-Cooke

Batman/Superman #37

SupermanBatman-37-Cooke

Catwoman #37

Catwoman-37-Cooke

Detective Comics #37

DetectiveComics-37-Cooke

Superman #37

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You can find the other covers here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Audio Review: “Still Foolin’ ’Em” by Billy Chrystal (Audible / Macmillan)

CrystalB-StillFoolinEmA really good audiobook by a great comic

Billy Crystal is 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like “Buying the Plot” and “Nodding Off,” Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, and his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards.

Listeners get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever “test positive for Maalox”), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion (“the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac”); grandparenting; and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal's reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived.

I didn’t know this when I started Still Foolin’ ’Em, but this audio edition has won a number of awards (and was also nominated for a Grammy). Certainly, I can see why. This is a great audiobook, and I laughed out loud on a number of occasions. Crystal was a favourite in my household when I was growing up, so I was familiar with so many of the movies and moments Crystal mentions (his reminiscing about When Harry Met Sally is, of course, excellent and probably a stand-out).

I particularly liked that some chapters were performed and recorded live – this offered a nice change from the ‘normal’ format of just a reading from the book, and the added audience aspect of it brought to mind a live recording of a great stand up shows. If I had one quibble, it would be that some jokes and themes were rather drawn out and therefore lost impact. A minor issue, though.

All in all? I would definitely recommend this if you are a fan of the actor. Even if you are only somewhat familiar with his work, though, I think you’ll appreciate his humour and thoughts on growing older.

A fun, honest, humble, and generous memoir.

Quick Reviews: “Sigmar’s Blood” and “Bone Cage” by Phil Kelly (Black Library)

Before the End Times… Two prequels to the Warhammer event…

KellyP-SigmarsBloodSIGMAR’S BLOOD

A great darkness has fallen over the land of Sylvania, and monsters are abroad… When an artefact of unholy power and evil is stolen from the Imperial Palace itself, Grand Theogonist Volkmar leads a crusade of the faithful into the benighted realm of the vampire counts to confront and destroy the source of the darkness: Mannfred von Carstein. With the aid of an embittered witch hunter and a senile old wizard, Volkmar faces the dread forces of the undead even though he knows it means his own end…

This novella left me with mixed feelings. I liked it, and thought it was a good example of a mid-length Warhammer story. At the same time, the story was too big to be contained in a novella that doesn’t even hit 150 pages. It left me wanting more, but in both the good and less-good way…

The story is pretty interesting, but at the same time the pacing was rather inconsistent. Sometimes, the story lurched forward, not unlike one of the zombies or skeletons reanimated by the antagonists.* The author’s prose is good, though, and descriptions are neither too sparse nor excessive. The characters are pretty interesting, but the book’s not long enough to properly flesh them out – as a result, certain moments of character-building felt half-baked or clunkily inserted into the narrative. Sigmar’s Blood could have done with being longer, which would have allowed us to get to know the characters more, and smooth out the narrative issues. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and quick read, laying down a few of the elements needed for the End Times.

*

KellyP-TheBoneCageBONE CAGE

A group of holy men and women of many faiths – from the Grand Theogonist of the Empire-spanning Sigmarite church to the Fay Enchantress of Bretonnia – are being transported through the wilds of Sylvania in a sinister cage of living bone. At the head of their procession of the dead is Mannfred von Carstein, lord of that benighted realm. But where is he taking them, and to what end? As the prisoners decipher the vampire’s goal, they make a desperate attempt to escape and thwart the count’s plans – but treachery from within may see them undone.

This short story, released only a couple of weeks ago, continues the story started in Sigmar’s Blood. It starts just shortly after the events (so I’m not going to delve into the plot). It’s short and punchy, but also throws in a mini-twist at the end, and some appropriately gribbly undead action and circumstances. Sometimes it feels like a who’s-who of new and scary beasties for the undead army, but this doesn’t upset the flow of the story. Is it essential reading for the End Times? Probably not, but Bone Cage shows that Kelly has improved as an author. I’m looking forward to reading more by him.

***

The next book in the End Times series, I believe, is the newly-released The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds. I am very much looking forward to reading this – as I mentioned in the Upcoming post I wrote a little while back. It’s also encouraging that Black Library are bringing Warhammer back into the spotlight (even if it might be just a little bit), after a couple of years that have been dominated by new Warhammer 40,000 and the Horus Heresy fiction. Which reminds me, I do need to get around to Rob Sanders’s Archaon: Everchosen, and caught up on the latest Gotrek & Felix novels.

* It’s a story about the undead. Of course there was going to be a comment like this…

Monday, September 08, 2014

Guest Post: “Where Writers Get Their Groove” by Sebastien de Castell

SebastienDeCastell-AuthorPicBy far the most common question you get asked as an author is, “Where do your ideas come from?” Of course, my ideas come from the same places as yours do: the crazy parts of your brain intersecting with the crazy parts of the world around you. Human brains are hard-wired to find patterns even when there are none and those little synaptic misfires are part of what makes us creative beings.

Now, the question I never get asked is, “Where do you get your groove from?” Maybe this sounds like a silly question. After all, books don’t have a groove, do they?

deCastellS-GC1-TraitorsBladeThink about those big moments in a story when your eyes are racing across the page to find out what comes next. If the author is doing their job every line should be moving the story along at the perfect speed for the action taking place. Remember back to one of those heart-rending passages where your eyes suddenly freeze on the last three words of a sentence as the implications of an emotional turnaround hits you. That strange, almost magical timing is pacing. It’s rhythm. It’s groove. My first experiences with storytelling were as a touring musician, so I often go back to music for the inspiration in finding the right pacing for key scenes in the books I write. Here’s a few that helped put Traitor’s Blade onto the page.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Guest Post: “On Trying a Trilogy” by Tom Fletcher

FletcherT-G1-GleamUK

Gleam is the first book of The Factory Trilogy, which is my first trilogy. My first three novels – The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore, and The Ravenglass Eye, are horror novels that shared a universe, but are essentially standalone. And so writing the first book of a trilogy was an entirely new experience for me – one that I was apprehensive of, but have found thoroughly enjoyable.

I wanted to experiment with developing a particular protagonist – or, as it turned out, group of protagonists – across a series. I wanted to have a go at presenting the readers with a character who would grow and change from book to book, and whose whole past could be explored. Obviously, this required a series built around a character. So I knew from the beginning that characterisation would be central to this trilogy, and that the protagonist would need a motivation compelling enough to propel them forwards through three whole books, and a personality that would carry the readers.

Upcoming: THE SHOTGUN ARCANA by R.S. Belcher (Tor/Titan)

BelcherRS-ShotgunArcana

Two very cool, very different covers for R.S. Belcher’s follow-up to The Six-Gun Tarot. On the left, the US cover (Tor Books); and on the right, the UK cover (Titan Books). Here’s the US synopsis:

1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party… and the dawn of humanity.

Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness. But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before — and some of them will never be the same.

I really want to read this series. I have no idea why I haven’t done so yet… I shall make that a goal for the rest of 2014. Watch this space…

You can read an excerpt from The Shotgun Arcana over on Tor.com.

The first book in this series, The Six-Gun Tarot had equally interesting covers, but I must say in that case the UK cover was by far the best. Here’s the US and UK covers, side-by-side:

Belcher-SixGunTarot