Saturday, October 18, 2014

Civilian Reader has… Moved!

Due to my recent shift from PC to Mac, and after seven years of using Blogger, I have decided to switch over to WordPress. I’m sad to be doing so, in some ways, because I’ve become so familiar and comfortable using Windows Live Writer for my reviews, etc. Sadly, that programme is not available for Macs, and no comparable software exists (yet).

The first post I wrote for CR was on April 6th, 2006 – a rather short (hyperbolic) review for David Twining’s The Black Sun. Makes me cringe just a little bit, how badly I wrote back then. But, everything’s a journey, we learn and improve as we go along. It’s going to be really strange, not posting here anymore.

Everything that has featured here will remain – I’m not deleting this blog! (If nothing else, just in case I get fed up with WP and decide to come back – I’m fickle, like that). The first few years’ content will only be found here (everything pre-2013), because for some reason it didn’t transfer everything. However, all new content will only appear on the WordPress version of the site:

Things are starting to take proper shape over there – there have been some formatting issues in the transfer, so some of the blog posts, reviews, and so forth look a little untidy. Many of the links (for example, on the Reviews and Interviews pages) are still to the reviews on this site – over time, I’ll switch out the links to the finished/reformatted versions on WP.

Hope to see you all over on the all-new Civilian Reader!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books/Crown Publishing)

BennettRJ-CityOfStairsUKAnother superb novel from RJB

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself — first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it — stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem — and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

City of Stairs is a superb novel, offering imaginative new takes on classic fantasy ideas and themes, populated by diverse and well-realised characters, and presented in excellent prose. This was one of my most-anticipated novels of 2014, and it exceeded by expectations.

Cover: THOSE ABOVE by Daniel Polansky (Hodder)


Wow. This is a beautiful cover for Daniel Polansky’s next novel. Colour me very excited and incredibly impatient.

THOSE ABOVE is the first novel in Polansky’s next two-part series, The Empty Throne. It is due to be published on February 26th, 2015. Can. Not. Wait.

Polansky is the extremely talented fellow who wrote The Straight Razor Cure (or Low Town in the US), Tomorrow the Killing and She Who Wakes. The first two are amongst the best novels I’ve read. I have shamefully not yet read the third novel in the series (only partly because Daniel signed my book at WFC in Brighton, which automatically made me want to protect the book more than usual…). Hm. Maybe I will read it next…

Also on CR: Interview with Daniel Polansky

Monday, October 13, 2014

Audio Review: TRAVELLING TO WORK – DIARIES 1988-98 by Michael Palin (Audible/Orion)

PalinM-Diaries3-TravellingToWorkThe third volume in Michael Palin’s bestselling diaries

After the Python years and a decade of filming, writing, and acting, Palin’s career takes an unexpected direction into travel, which will shape his working life for the next 25 years. Yet, as the diaries reveal, he remained ferociously busy on a host of other projects throughout this whirlwind period.

Travelling to Work opens in September 1988 with Michael travelling down the Adriatic on the first leg of a modern-day Around the World in 80 Days. He was not the BBC’s first choice for the series, but after its success and that of the accompanying book, the public naturally wanted more. Palin, though, has other plans.

Following the tumultuous success of A Fish Called Wanda, he is in demand as an actor. His next film, American Friends, is based on his great-grandfather’s diaries. Next he takes on his most demanding role as the head teacher in Alan Bleasdale’s award-winning drama series GBH. There is also his West End play, The Weekend; a first novel, Hemingway’s Chair; and a lead role in Fierce Creatures, the much-delayed follow-up to Wanda.

Michael describes himself as “drawn to risk like a moth to a flame. Someone grounded and safe who can be tempted into almost anything.” He duly finds time for two more travel series – Pole to Pole, in 1991, and Full Circle, in 1996 – and two more best-selling books to accompany them.

These latest Diaries show a man grasping every opportunity that came his way, and they deal candidly with the doubts and setbacks that accompany this prodigious word-rate. As ever, his family life, with three children growing up fast, is there to anchor him.

Travelling to Work is a roller-coaster ride driven by the Palin hallmarks of curiosity and sense of adventure. These 10 years in different directions offer riches on every page to his ever-growing army of fans.

This is yet another excellent instalment in Michael Palin’s series of diaries. Unlike the first two audio editions, this one is unabridged. This series is a real must for fans of any of Palin’s work: Palin is genial in his delivery, and there is plenty of gentle comedy. It was a welcome ‘more of the same’.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest Post: “Influences & Inspirations” by Jamie Schultz

SchultzJ-AuthorPicMy taste in books, of whatever genre, can be summed up as follows: I like to turn literary rocks over and see if something nasty crawls out. I can’t help it. For this, I thank my mother, who got me hooked on that stuff at a young age. I remember being about eleven or twelve when she came home with a box of used books, one of which was a battered copy of Stephen King’s Christine, old even then. The cover was black with a white or silver striped design with a skull on it, best I can recall, and I thought it looked pretty cool. Plus, I had read some of IT over her shoulder at some point, and, with a twelve-year-old’s typical fascination with the morbid, this seemed like a pretty good author to tackle. My parents’ attitude toward my reading material was, “Whatever you think you can handle, kid,” so I dug in.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Short Story: SARCOPHAGUS by David Annandale (Black Library)

Annandale-Yarrik-SarcophagusAnother excellent Yarrick tale

Trapped in an overturned tank after being caught in a bombing run on Armageddon, Commissar Sebastian Yarrick fights to escape and return to his forces, but as he emerges, he finds himself surrounded by greenskin foes. Can the Old Man of Armageddon survive the onslaught with power claw and Evil Eye, or will he finally fall to the servants of the Great Beast Ghazghkull Thraka?

I’m really enjoying Annandale’s stories about Commissar Yarrick. The author is doing a great job of fleshing out the character’s backstory (and his “present”). This short story manages to give us a look at Yarrick’s tenacity for survival, his faith in the Emperor and Imperium, while also giving us just a hint of the character’s ongoing battle (physical and psychological) with Thraka. Given it’s length, it’s tricky to go into much more detail than that. But, if you’re looking for a quick WH40k read, then this will absolutely suit your needs: it’s very well written, interesting, and adds to the character’s growing mythology. Very highly recommended.

New Books (September/October)


Featuring: Mitch Albom, Gillian Anderson, Kelly Armstrong, Lauren Beukes, Adam Brookes, Christopher Buehlman, Blake Butler, W. Bruce Cameron, Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, Tana French, Peter F. Hamilton, Michael Harvey, Lee Henderson, Steffen Jacobsen, Rajan Khanna, James Luceno, Todd Moss, Claire North, Pierre Pevel, John Sandford, Graeme Simsion, Matthew Smith, Peter Watts, Alec Worley

Monday, October 06, 2014

BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland)

Beukes-BrokenMonstersUSA superb, surreal crime novel

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe — and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

Broken Monsters is in many ways a novel of decline: of society, the city, sanity… But not, thankfully, of the author’s talent. Beukes is on top-form here once again, delivering a superb, surreal follow-up to The Shining Girls. It’s really very good.

Audio Review: MORE FOOL ME by Stephen Fry (Audible)

FryS-MoreFoolMeUKA third excellent memoir from Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry invites readers to take a glimpse at his life story in the unputdownable More Fool Me.

It is a heady tale of the late Eighties and early Nineties, in which Stephen – ever more driven to create, perform and entertain – burned bright and partied hard with a host of famous and infamous friends, regardless of the consequences.

This electric and extraordinary book reveals a new side to Mr. Fry.

Stephen Fry is an award-winning comedian, actor, presenter and director. He rose to fame alongside Hugh Laurie in A Bit of Fry and Laurie (which he co-wrote with Laurie) and Jeeves and Wooster, and was unforgettable as Captain Melchett in Blackadder. He also presented Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, his groundbreaking documentary on bipolar disorder, to huge critical acclaim. His legions of fans tune in to watch him host the popular quiz show QI each week.

I listened to the Audible edition of this biography. And, much like The Fry Chronicles, it is both entertaining and excellently produced. Fry’s performance is, as can be expected, superb – welcoming, honest, and rather whimsical. This is another excellent memoir, and superb audiobook.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Guest Post: “City of Stairs and the Super Tropey Fantasy Checklist” by Robert Jackson Bennett

RobertJacksonBennett-AuthorPicCity of Stairs is definitely a fantasy novel. It’s got dead gods, magic, monsters, political skullduggery, and a healthy serving of mayhem. (I actually think all my novels are fantasy, but that’s beside the point.)

However, despite the popular aphorism, the clothes don’t make the man: if I put on a policeman’s uniform, for example, that doesn’t make me a cop.

So despite City of Stairs having a huge amount of fantasy elements, I sometimes find myself wondering – does it act like a fantasy? Content does not dictate behavior, in other words.

This made me compile what I felt was the Super Tropey Fantasy Checklist, the sort of story components that are immediately familiar, whether you’re opening a book or sitting down to play an RPG. Such fantasy stories often feature:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Quick Reviews: Graphic Novels Catch-Up


Featuring: Alex + Ada, The Last of Us, Superman/Wonder Woman

Review: THE LAST MAGAZINE by Michael Hastings (Blue Rider Press)

9780399169946_LastMagazineThe_JK_r2.inddA dual-personality novel from the late journalist

The year is 2002. Weekly newsmagazines dominate the political agenda in New York and Washington. A young journalist named Michael M. Hastings is a twenty-two-year-old intern at The Magazine, wet behind the ears, the only one in the office who’s actually read his coworker’s books. He will stop at nothing to turn his internship into a full-time position, and he’s figured out just whom to impress: Nishant Patel, the international editor, and Sanders Berman, managing editor, both vying for the job of editor in chief.

While Berman and Nishant try to one-up each other pontificating on cable news, A.E. Peoria — the one reporter seemingly doing any work — is having a career crisis. He’s just returned from Chad, where, instead of the genocide, he was told by his editors to focus on mobile phone outsourcing, which they think is more relevant. And then, suddenly, the United States invades Iraq — and all hell breaks loose. As Hastings loses his naïveté about the journalism game, he must choose where his loyalties lie — with the men at The Magazine who can advance his career or with his friend in the field who is reporting the truth.

Michael Hastings was one of the best young journalists in America before his death last year. Best known, perhaps, for his Rolling Stone piece that got General Stanley McChrystal fired (a media and political furore that was overblown in the extreme, in my opinion). He wrote excellent books (including The Operators, a much-expanded account of his time with McChrystal) and excellent feature articles for multiple publications. He also, as it turned out, wrote The Last Magazine, a fictional account of his time at Newsweek. Published posthumously, it took me a while to get my hands on the book, and I have very mixed feelings about what I found.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Quick Review: THINKING ABOUT IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE by David Mitchell (Faber)

MitchellD-ThinkingAboutItOnlyMakesItWorseA superb collection of Mitchell’s Observer columns

Why is my jumper depreciating? What’s wrong with calling a burglar brave? Why are people so f***ing hung up about swearing? Why do the asterisks in that sentence make it okay? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? Why is every film and TV programme a sequel or a remake? Why are we so reliant on perpetual diversion that someone has created chocolate toothpaste? Is there anything to be done about the Internet?

These and many other questions trouble David Mitchell as he delights us with a tour of the absurdities of modern life – from Ryanair to Downton Abbey, sports day to smoking, nuclear weapons to phone etiquette, UKIP to hotdogs made of cats. Funny, provocative and shot through with refreshing amounts of common sense, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse celebrates and commiserates on the state of things in our not entirely glorious nation.

David Mitchell is a comedian, actor, writer and the polysyllabic member of Mitchell and Webb. He won BAFTAs for Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and has also starred in Jam and Jerusalem, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff and Ambassadors. He writes for the Observer, chairs TheUnbelievable Truth, is a team captain on Would I Lie To You? and has been in two films, neither of which made a profit.

I have long been a fan of David Mitchell’s television work – That Mitchell & Webb Look, Peep Show (which I was actually didn’t love at first), the all-too-short Ambassadors mini-series, and his frequent guest spots on QI and Have I Got News For You being my favourites. After I listened to the audio edition of his superb memoir, Back Story, my respect for him grew even more (it’s among my top ten ‘reads’ of the year, easily). I didn’t know how frequently he had been writing for the Observer, however, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy of Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse. This is a great read.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Story Reviews: A SPELL OF VENGEANCE and THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS by D.B. Jackson (Tor)

Two THIEFTAKER prequel short stories


Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker in Colonial Boston, scratching out a living by restoring stolen property to its rightful owners. But unlike others in his profession, Ethan relies on magical spells as well as his wits to track down thieves. Being a conjurer doesn’t make him popular with the law in Boston, so Ethan is taken aback when the sheriff seeks his help in settling a dispute between a pair of wealthy merchants and a ship’s captain who has threatened their lives. Ethan knows the captain can back up his threats with magic of his own. But there is more to this matter than the merchants have let on, and Ethan soon discovers that what he doesn’t know might actually kill him.


Ethan Kaille is a Thieftaker in Boston in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Having suffered losses and reversals in his life, he is neither naive nor without considerable personal resources. He isn’t just a detective; he’s also a conjurer, which makes him someone who lives on the margins of polite society. Some people fear his powers; others merely find him a distasteful rogue who should simply go away… but still, he is useful to the powers-that-be when problems arise requiring his unusual skill-set.

This story is one from Kaille’s early days as a thieftaker in Boston. In it, he must face a formidable foe, one of a most unexpected sort, whose own powers, very different from his own, prove the equal of Ethan’s.

Both of these stories are decent introductions to Ethan Kaille and Jackson’s urban fantasy take on early-America Boston. My interest in the novels in the series (now up to three), has grown considerably since reading A Spell of Vengeance and The Price of Doing Business.

Yet Another Fantastic CONSTANTINE Cover (DC Comics)


It’s a series I’ve barely read, but damn does it get some great covers… The image above, by Juan Ferreyra, will be the cover for Constantine #20. The issue, due out on December 10th, is written by Ray Fawkes and art by Jeremy Haun. Here’s the mini-synopsis:

It’s hate at first sight when John Constantine meets his Earth 2 counterpart!

(Got to love a to-the-point synopsis…)

Benjamin Percy Writes Two-Part DETECTIVE COMICS Story (DC Comics)

DetectiveComics-35AI am a huge fan of Benjamin Percy’s novel RED MOON – published in the UK by Hodder and North America by Grand Central. It’s the only book of his that I’ve read, but it will by no means be the last.

I also shared a few days ago information about THE DEAD LANDS, his next novel, which is one of my most anticipated novels. Today, though, I discovered that Percy has also written a two-part story for Detective Comics, one of DC Comics’ various Batman series! This is great news, in my opinion – some of my favourite comic story-arcs have been written by some of my favourite writers (Lauren Beukes’s run on Fairest, Gregg Hurwitz’s run on The Dark Knight, to name but two).

Percy has written the story “Terminus”, which will run over Detective Comics #35-36, to be published October 1st and 8th, respectively. Art for the issues is by John Paul Leon (The Massive, DMZ, American Vampire, Scalped), colours by Dave Stewart (Fray, Lex Luthor, Hellboy), letters by Jared K. Fletcher.

Here’s the synopsis for #35:

In the first chapter of a two-part tale by the guest team of writer Ben Percy and artist John Paul Leon, a civilian appearance at Gotham Airport turns into a horror show for Batman when a plane full of dead passengers arrives on the runway! What happened – and what can Bruce Wayne do about it?

There are also two variant covers, by Cliff Chiang (left) and Becky Cloonan:


If ever there was an excuse for me to catch up on this series, this was it. I’m very eager to read this. Finally, here’s the artwork that will grace the cover of #36:


Also on CR: Interview with Benjamin Percy

CITY OF STAIRS Competition from Jo Fletcher Books!

BennettRJ-CityOfStairsUKRobert Jackson Bennett’s CITY OF STAIRS is absolutely one of my Most Anticipated novels of 2014. I have a copy of the book, now, so it will mostly likely be my next or next-but-one read. To celebrate the upcoming release in the UK, Jo Fletcher Books have five copies of the book to give away, plus one lucky winner will receive a £100 Red Letter Day experience. Here are the instructions:

All people have to do for a chance to win is let us know on our blog, Facebook page or Twitter – with #CityOfStairs – what tangible miraculous object they would create if you were a god of Bulikov.  A door which takes you to the past and a knotted cord that brings rain when untied are just some of the miracles the gods brought to Bulikov, but we want to know what other people would add to them. The competition is open until October 30th for your chance to win.

CITY OF STAIRS is published in the UK on Thursday (October 2nd). It is published in the US by Crown Publishing. Here’s the synopsis:

You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.

The murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners. Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth - but it is likely to cost her everything.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mini-Review: BLACK SCIENCE, Vol.1 – “How To Fall” (Image)

BlackScience-Vol.01A fascinating, strange, and engaging science fiction series

Writer: Rick Remender | Artists: Matteo Scalera & Dean White

Grant McKay has done the impossible! Using the Pillar, he has punched a hole through the barriers between dimensions, allowing travel to all possible universes. But now Grant and his team are trapped in the folds of infinity, the Pillar sending them careening through a million universes of unimaginable adventure, sanity-flaying danger and no way home…

Collects: Black Science #1-6

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Black Science. It received a healthy amount of pre-publication buzz – not surprising, given that it’s written by Remender (Deadly Class, Low, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers). Things move pretty quickly in this book, as readers are thrown straight into the action, which never lets up. The series includes everything you might want from a multi-dimensional action/adventure: strange and dangerous situations, back-stabbing, a larger conspiracy, weird and wonderful fauna, interesting technology. It also has everything we have come to expect from Remender: excellent story-telling and well-rounded, diverse characters. The story builds quite excellently over the course of the book, and I felt myself sink in as it took hold completely.

I want to avoid going into too much detail, as things move very fast. Grant is an interesting character, and readers will become invested in his quest and fate, just as they will for the fates of his companions. (Spoiler: not everyone’s going to get out of this one alive…)

Scalera’s artwork is a little strange, quite angular, but by no means unattractive. He does a great job of giving Remender’s story life, merging the weird and scientific excellently. It’s an eye-catching book, certainly.

Overall, then, a highly recommended new series for every fan of science fiction, sci-fi comics, and interdimensional story-telling. This was a lot of fun. I really can’t wait for volume two!

EXTINCTION GAME by Gary Gibson (Tor)

GibsonG-ExtinctionGameSolid parallel-universe disaster science fiction

Jerry Beche should be dead. But instead of dying alone, he’s been rescued from a desolated earth where he was the last man alive. He’s then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists.  Each one also a survivor, as each one survived the violent ending of their own versions of earth. And their specialism – to retrieve weapons and data in missions to other dying worlds. But who is the shadowy organization that rescued them? How do they access other timelines and why do they need these instruments of death?

As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he starts distrusting his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects that organisation is lying to them, and team members are spying on him.  As a dangerous situation spirals into fatal, who is an enemy and who can he really trust?

This is the first novel of Gary Gibson’s that I’ve read. I’d been meaning to try out his work for years, but for some reason always got distracted. Luckily, Extinction Game arrived in the mail, and I happily dove right in. I was not disappointed. This is a good novel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mini-Review: THE MESSENGER by Mark Charan Newton (Tor)

NewtonMC-MessengerGreat introduction to a new character

As an Officer of the Sun Chamber, Lucan Drakenfeld must uphold the two-hundred-year-old laws of the Vispasian Royal Union, whatever the cost.

While stationed in the ancient city of Venyn, a metropolis notorious for its lawless nature, Drakenfeld receives a series of mysterious letters, written in blood, that warn of an imminent assassination attempt on the life of the city’s young Prince Bassim.

Supported by his fiery colleague Leana, Drakenfeld’s investigation leads him down the city’s corridors of power. But nothing is as it seems. Who is behind the conspiracy that threatens the young prince, and will the duo be able to unearth the perpetrator before the prince’s time is up?

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I’m a big fan of Newton’s first series, Legends of the Red Sun. This 9,000~ word novella features the main character of the author’s new series, Lucan Drakenfeld, and is set before the first novel Drakenfeld. It’s a very good short story, and certainly served to whet my appetite for the full-length novels (which I’ve been inexplicable slow about getting around to). There’s a mystery, a rebel group, the possibility of an inside agent, some brutal killing, and the potential for a spot of regicide. Everything that makes a great fantasy crime story. We get to know the main two characters, too, who are two of the more interesting protagonists I’ve read in a while.

A great prequel, and a great way to quickly and cheaply try out Newton’s writing and his new series. Absolutely recommended.

Review: THE WAKE (Vertigo)


Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Sean Murphy | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help with a new threat, she declines, but quickly realizes they won’t take no for an answer. Soon she is plunging to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oilrig filled with roughnecks and scientists on the brink of an incredible discovery. But when things go horribly wrong, this scientific safe haven will turn into a house of horrors at the bottom of the ocean!

Collects: The Wake #1-10

This is a tricky one to review. This is the whole ten-issue run of the series, which means a lot happens. The multiple timelines, the expansive scope of the story… There’s a lot crammed into this book. It’s the most ambitious of Snyder’s stories that I’ve read, and while I found it excellent on a number of levels, the second half really let the book down.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Slipknot Continue to Release Great Songs with Messed Up Videos…

I’ve liked Slipknot’s music since the beginning, really. I was going through my angry teen phase when their eponymous album was released (although, without the “angry” side – I was always more curmudgeonly than angry). Their musical aggression and interesting interviews always kept them on my playlists. As new albums were released, and the band evolved, they remained there. Side-projects emerged – Stone Sour the best by miles. But always Slipknot remained waiting in the wings to drop a new album just when fans were starting to get impatient.

Their fifth album, The Gray Chapter will be released on October 21st by Roadrunner Records. Two singles have already been released: “The Devil In I” and “The Negative One”. Both, naturally, have really messed-up, horror-influenced music videos. And may even one-up Marilyn Manson, this time around. Here they are:

THE DEVIL IN I (the better of the two, in my opinion)


I must confess, also, to still not really understanding the value that Clown adds to the songs. Every so often, he hits a bit drum. In previous songs, it was with a baseball bat. He never seems to add much to the groove or overall quality of the song. It seems he is just an angry dude in a clown mask, who sometimes helps out with the artwork and “artistic direction”.

New Asking Alexandria Music Video…

… shows the band’s ‘softer’ side. Unlike “The Death of Me”, which is one of the best hard rock/metal songs ever written, “Moving On” has a bit more of an ’80s ballad vibe, with an added modern sheen. The song is also from From Death to Destiny, and is one of my favourites from the album. Here’s the video:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Upcoming: THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS by Peter F. Hamilton (Del Rey/Tor)


I haven’t read anything by Peter F. Hamilton, but I know a lot of people who love his work. This novel, as the start of a new series (the Commonwealth) looks really interesting, so I hope it will be the first of Hamilton’s books that I read. Here’s the synopsis:

When images of a lost civilisation are “dreamed” by a self-proclaimed prophet of the age, Nigel Sheldon, inventor of wormhole technology and creator of the Commonwealth society is suspicious. Especially as the dreams seem to be coming from the Void – an area of living space monitored and controlled because of its hugely destructive capabilities. With it being the greatest threat to the known universe, Nigel is determined to find out if human life really does exist beyond its boundaries and if so, what the hell they're doing there.

But when he crash lands on a planet beyond the Void he didn't even know existed he finds so much more than he imagined. Bienvenido, a world populated from the survivors of Commonwealth colony ships which disappeared over three thousand years ago. Since then they’ve been fighting an ever-increasingly desperate battle against a space-born predator invading their landscape. The Fallers looks innocuous to begin with and their lure is enticing to any that stray within their path – but they are by far the greatest threat to the continuance of humanity on this planet.

But Nigel soon realises that the Fallers also hold the key to something he’d never hoped to find – the destruction of the Void itself. If only he can survive long enough to work out how to use it…

Above are the US and UK covers. Not sure which I prefer, but the UK cover (left) certainly has a space operatic movie-poster feel to it. Which do you prefer?

Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams is published by Del Rey in the US and Tor/Macmillan in the UK. If you’re a reviewer with a NetGalley account, both publishers have it posted (US/UK). The novel is due to be published in October 2014.

Upcoming: THE DEAD LANDS by Benjamin Percy (Grand Central)

PercyB-TheDeadLandsI thoroughly enjoyed Benjamin Percy’s previous novel, Red Moon, and have been eagerly awaiting his next book ever since. Now (via SF Signal), here are the details of that novel, a re-imagining of the Lewis & Clark saga in a post-apocalyptic setting:

A super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know. A few humans carry on, living in outposts such as the Sanctuary – the remains of St. Louis – a shielded community that owes its survival to its militant defense and fear-mongering leaders.

Then a rider comes from the wasteland beyond its walls. She reports on the outside world: west of the Cascades, rain falls, crops grow, civilization thrives. But there is danger too: the rising power of an army that pillages and enslaves every community they happen upon.

Against the wishes of the Sanctuary, a small group sets out in secrecy. Led by Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, they hope to expand their infant nation, and to reunite the States. But the Sanctuary will not allow them to escape without a fight.

Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands is due to be published in the US by Grand Central Publishing, in April 2015. Red Moon was published in the UK by Hodder, and they will be publishing The Deadlands as well, in May 2015.

Also on CR: Interview with Benjamin Percy

Rocket Girl, Vol.1 – “Times Squared” (Image)

RocketGirl-Vol.01Writer: Brandon Montclare | Artist: Amy Reeder

A teenage cop from a hightech future is sent back in time to 1986 New York City. Dayoung Johansson is investigating the Quintum Mechanics megacorporation for crimes against time. As she pieces together the clues, she discovers the “future” she calls home — an alternate reality version of 2014 — shouldn’t exist at all!

Collects: Rocket Girl #1-5

There is a lot to like about this series: it’s fun, quirky, action-packed, and contains some good light humour. And, of course, the artwork is great (Amy Reeder’s one of the best artists working today). The characters are interesting and varied, their interactions can be pretty fun.


However, one thing that really niggled at me was the fact that cops in this future are teenagers. It’s probably completely unreasonable to be slightly annoyed by this, but there seems to be a real lack of attention to future-world-building. Sure, this is the first volume of an ongoing series, and therefore isn’t meant to present a complete story. It’s an origin tale, but one that lacks much depth. Part of the problem, I think, is that the creative team are trying to cram in a lot of information and action in a relatively short period of time.

I had really hoped for more from this series. It had huge potential, but sadly didn’t quite deliver. Despite this, I’m still interested in seeing where this goes in the future. The fish-out-of-water element of the future teen (and, uh, police officer) thrust back into the 1980s, and how she’ll adjust to the lower-tech, now-altered past could be really fun and interesting. Also, there are still some mysteries that have been seeded in the “future” parts that need illuminating.

A cautious recommendation, then. An imperfect beginning, but one that still has a good deal of promise for the future.

Three Upcoming Gollancz Titles…

Culled from Amazon UK (I was searching for something else, found these), here are a few upcoming titles from Gollancz that I think look really interesting. No idea if the covers have been finalised, mind – I’m sure I’ll share the final ones if/when they change.

Lachlan-ValkyriesSongM.D. Lachlan, Valkyrie’s Song (March 2015)

The Harrowing has come to the North and a wolf that will kill a god is on the road…

That’s not the most enlightening of synopses, but I really enjoyed the first two novels in the series – I have somehow managed to bypass the third altogether (Lord of Slaughter). With this only out in March 2015, though, I have time to catch up.

If you like Norse mythology, supernatural twists on history, and excellent writing, then you really do need to try out Lachlan’s series. (Incidentally, Lachlan also writes as Marc Adler, whose Son of the Morning was published earlier this year.)


Lloyd-2-OldMansGhostsUKTom Lloyd, Old Man’s Ghosts (March 2015)

Some men can never outrun their ghosts.

Enchei thought he’d found a home at last – a life of quiet obscurity far removed from the horror of his military days. After a decade in the Imperial City his mistakes have been few, but one has now returned to haunt him.

As Narin’s pregnant lover comes to term, life has never been so perilous. There couldn’t be a worse time for a nightmare to be unleashed on the Imperial City, but luck’s rarely been on Narin’s side.

Once, Enchei swore he’d take his own life rather than let his past catch up with him, but now it’s not just his own in the balance. Demons, rogue mages and vengeful noblemen haunt the city – and a man’s ghosts are always watching and waiting…

The sequel to Moon’s Artifice.


Pinborough-StayWithMeSarah Pinborough, Stay With Me (February 2015)

The Death House is a home where, in a world where people are safe against illness, children and teenagers who are susceptible to terminal conditions are sent to die.

Their fates are certain. Their lives are in their hands. The question is: what will they choose to do with them?

Really enjoyed The Language of Dying, looking forward to reading more by the author. And I really like the understated design for the cover.


Any of these catch your eye? Any others you’re looking forward to?

Excerpt: THE REVOLUTIONS by Felix Gilman (Corsair)



It was the evening of what would later be called the Great Storm of ’93, and Arthur Archibald Shaw sat at his usual desk in the Reading Room of the British Museum, yawning and toying with his pen. Soft rain pattered on the dome. Lamps overhead shone through a haze of golden dust. Arthur yawned. There was a snorer at the desk opposite, head back and mouth open. Two women nearby whispered to each other in French. Carts creaked down the aisle, the faint tremors of their passing threatening to topple the tower of books on Arthur’s desk, which concerned explosives, and poisons, and exotic methods of murder.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Audio Reviews: MICHAEL PALIN’S DIARIES, 1969-1988 (Orion/Audible)


A fantastic pair of memoirs, covering some of the best of British comedy

Michael Palin has kept a diary since being newly married in the late 1960s, when he was beginning to make a name for himself as a TV scriptwriter (for David Frost, the Two Ronnies, etc). Monty Python was just around the corner. In this first volume of his diaries, he tells for the first time how Python emerged and triumphed. Perceptive and funny, it chronicles not only his struggle to find a niche in the world of television comedy, but also the extraordinary goings on of the many powerful personalities who coalesced to form the Monty Python team.

The second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries covers the 1980s, a decade in which the ties that bound the Pythons loosened as they forged their separate careers. After a live performance at the Hollywood Bowl, they made their last performance together in 1983, in the hugely successful Monty Python’s Meaning of Life…

Continuing my consumption of comedian memoirs, I turned to Michael Palin’s excellent Diaries. These first two volumes (I’m listening to the third at the moment), details much of Palin’s most famous work with the Pythons – as part of that group and also the projects that involved just one or two of them. They’re abridged, which sometimes made me wish for more. At the same time, though, they kept the story moving, and I was never bored (in fact, I blitzed through them in three days). If you’re looking for an excellent comedian/celebrity memoir, then I would absolutely recommend these two: The Python Years and Halfway to Hollywood.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mini-Review: THE BROKEN ROAD by Teresa Frohock

FrohockT-TheBrokenRoadA superb, dark new novella

The world of Lehbet is under siege. The threads that divide Lehbet from the mirror world of Heled are fraying, opening the way for an invasion by an alien enemy that feeds on human flesh.

Travys, the youngest of the queen’s twin sons, was born mute. He is a prince of the Chanteuse, nobles who channel their magic through their voices. Their purpose is to monitor the threads and close the paths between the worlds, but the Chanteuse have given themselves over to decadence. They disregard their responsibilities to the people they protect — all but Travys, who fears he’ll fail to wake the Chanteuse to Heled’s threat in time to prevent the destruction of Lehbet.

Within the palace, intrigue creates illusions of love where there is none, and whenTravys’ own brother turns against him, he is forced to flee all that he has known and enter the mirror world of Heled where the enemy has already won. In Heled, he must find his true voice and close the threads, or lose everyone that he loves.

The Broken Road is the first in a new series from Teresa Frohock. It exhibits all of the strengths of her previous work (the excellent Miserere and a number of short stories): excellent prose, brisk-yet-unhurried pacing, a dark and gothic atmosphere, and a wonderfully horror-tinged fantasy approach. All of this makes for an excellent read.

Upcoming: FIREFIGHT by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

Sanderson-R2-FirefightUKI rather enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheartthe first in the Reckoners series and also the first of the author’s novels that I’ve read. I stumbled across the UK cover for Firefight, the sequel, while researching something else. It’s a rather excellent cover, I think, and will sit very nicely alongside Steelheart and the novella Mitosis. Here’s the synopsis:

They told David it was impossible – that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart – invincible, immortal, unconquerable – is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realise he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic – Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Firefight is due to be published in the UK by Gollancz in January 2015. Here are the other two covers:


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post: “Writes & Wrongs” by Edward Cox

CoxE-AuthorPicIt’s time for me to admit that I might have taken the longest route possible to getting an agent. I’m something of a blunderer by nature, and learning the hard way is the theme of my life. So much so that I sometimes wonder how I managed to get an agent at all.

The original version of The Relic Guild is very different from the version that was signed by Gollancz. It was written for a Master’s degree that I concluded in in 2009. When I was coming to the end of that degree, I had been wondering if my work could hold its own with the bigger names in the publishing industry. I sent the first three chapters and a synopsis of the novel to the man who is now my agent. It impressed him enough to request the remainder of the book. However, although that early version of The Relic Guild gained me an MA, it didn’t quite make the grade with my agent.

For the sake of avoiding long and boring explanations, let’s just say that the original version was something akin to an academic exercise. The result fell somewhere between a fantasy adventure and a pseudo-intellectual dystopian wannabe. It was right for academic purposes, but wrong for the publishing industry. It had potential, but lacked focus and commercial value. Make it the fantasy adventure it wants to be, my agent said, and then we’ll do business.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Upcoming: MOCKINGJAY, Part 1 (Movie, Lionsgate)

The third (of four) Hunger Games movies. The trailer was unveiled today:

I rather enjoyed the first two movies, having not read Suzanne Collins’s novels. I intend to read Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, but I still haven’t decided if I want to do it before or after I’ve seen all the movies.

The Hunger Games trilogy is published by Scholastic.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Willow Shields.

Director: Francis Lawrence | Screenplay: Danny Strong, Peter Craig.


Upcoming Orbit Titles (Spring/Summer 2015)

Orbit unveiled the covers for their Spring/Summer 2015 releases today (US/UK – although, they’re mostly the same), and I thought I’d share some of the ones that caught my eye, here. I present them without commentary, but I will say the Peeler cover is rather eye-catching not only because of its bold colouring, but because it’s rather amusing.

Daniel Abraham, The Spider’s War (Dagger & Coin #5)



James S.A. Corey, Nemesis Games (Expanse #5)



N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season


This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze – the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years – collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.


Nicole Peeler, Jinn & Juice


Cursed to be a jinni for a thousand years, Leila nears the end of her servitude – only to be bound once again against her will. Will she risk all to be human?

Born in ancient Persia, Leila turned to her house Jinni, Kouros, for help escaping an arranged marriage. Kouros did make it impossible for her to marry – by cursing Leila to live a thousand years as a Jinni herself.

If she can remain unBound, Leila's curse will soon be over. But Ozan Sawyer, a Magi with the ability to See, Call, and Bind jinn has other plans.

Oz needs Leila to help him penetrate Pittsburgh’s steel-soaked magic, a juice potent but poisonous to supernatural creatures, in order to find a missing girl with her own mysterious connection to Kouros. Unfortunately for Leila, becoming Bound to Oz may risk more than just her chance to be human once more – it could risk her very soul…

Jinn and Juice is the first in a new series by fantasy writer, Nicole Peeler, set in a world of immortal curses, powerful jinni and belly dancing.


Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora



Angus Watson, Clash of Iron (Iron Age #2)



Iron Age warriors Dug and Lowa captured Maidun castle and freed its slaves. But now they must defend it.

A Roman invasion is coming from Gaul, but rather than uniting to defend their home, the British tribes go to battle with each other – and see Maidun as an easy target.

Meanwhile, Lowa’s spies infiltrate Gaul, discovering the Romans have recruited British druids. And Maidunite Ragnall finds his loyalties torn when he meets Rome's charismatic general, Julius Caesar.

War is coming. Who will pay its price?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Books (September #1)


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.