Sunday, July 28, 2013

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell

Due this week: Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell (Tor £7.99):

“At the end of days, what price salvation? In a world where the undead outnumber the living, Moses Todd roams the post-apocalyptic plains of America. His reprobate brother, Abraham – his only companion – has known little else. Together, they journey because they have to; because they have nowhere to go, and no one to answer to other than themselves.

Travelling the bloody wastelands of this ruined world, Moses is looking for a kernel of truth, and a reason to keep going. And a chance encounter presents him with the Vestal Amata, a beguiling and mysterious woman who may hold the key to salvation. But he is not the only one seeking the Vestal. For the Vestal has a gift: a gift that might help save what is left of humanity. And it may take everything he has to free her from the clutches of those who most desire her.”

Phoenicia’s Worlds by Ben Jeapes

Phoenicia’s Worlds by Ben Jeapes is published by Solaris (£7.99):

“La Nueva Temporada is earth’s only extrasolar colony – an earth-type planet caught in the grip of a very earth-type Ice age.

Alex Mateo wants nothing more than to stay and contribute to the terraforming of his homeworld. But tragedy strikes the colony, and to save it from starvation and collapse, Alex must reluctantly entrust himself to the Phoenicia, the only starship in existence, to make the long slower-than light journey back to earth.

But it is his brother Quin, who loathes La Nueva Temporada and all the people on it, who must watch his world collapse around him and become its saviour ... while everyone watches the skies for the return of the Phoenicia.”

Deep Space by Ian Douglas

Deep Space by Ian Douglas is published this coming week from Harper Voyager (£8.99).

“In the vein of the hit television show Battlestar Galactica comes the fourth book in this action-packed, New York Times bestselling, science fiction series in which humankind is in a vast power struggle to bring down an evil empire.

20 years after the fragile truce with the Sh’daar, Koenig is now President of the USNA, and Gray is skipper of the CVS America … soon to be promoted to commander of the entire battle group, Koenig’s old position, and one which he might not be ready for.

The truce with the alien Sh’daar is unravelling as many predicted, and Humankind still knows little about them, or what they are.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey is out next week (Harper Voyager £12.99):

“James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has managed to get out of Hell, renounce his title as the new Lucifer, and settle back into life in LA. But he also lost the Qomrama Om Ya, an all-powerful weapon from the banished older gods. Older gods who are returning and searching for their lost power.

The hunt leads Stark to an abandoned shopping mall — a global shopping paradise infested with Lurkers and wretched bottom-feeding Sub Rosa families, squatters who have formed tight tribes to guard their tiny patches of retail wasteland. Somewhere in this kill zone is a dead man with the answers Stark needs. All Stark has to do is find the dead man, recover the artefact, and outwit and outrun the angry old gods — and natural-born killers — on his tail.

But not even Sandman Slim is infallible, and any mistakes will cost him dearly.”

Age of Godpunk by James Lovegrove

James Lovegrove’s Age of Godpunk (Solaris £7.99) includes three novellas with three different gods. They were originally published as ebooks and this is their first time in print:

Age of Anansi: “Dion Yeboah leads an orderly, disciplined life... until the day the spider appears. What looks like an ordinary arachnid turns out to be Anansi, the trickster god of African legend, and its arrival throws Dion’s existence into chaos.”

Age of Satan: “A young man invokes something he shouldn’t have. A politician ushers in a new age that promises enlightenment and tolerance...”

Age of Gaia: “A billionaire businessmen is about to find out his future is very different from the plans he has laid.”

Sea Change by S M Wheeler

Already available: Sea Change by S M Wheeler (Tor $24.99):

“The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.

Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.”

The Thousand Emperors by Gary Gibson

The Thousand Emperors by Gary Gibson is out shortly (Tor £8.99):

“Must he die to know the truth?

Archivist Luc Gabion is dying, slowly, victim of a forced technology implant while on assignment. He brought down a powerful terrorist, but at great cost, and this new tech brings unexpected dangers.

Luc must investigate the Thousand Emperors, rulers of the Tian Di's stellar empire. One of their number has been murdered and he needs to find the killer. But the technology he now carries supersedes anything he's encountered, and Luc sees things he knows are forbidden. As the truth emerges, he's in trouble. Any of these leaders could be guilty -- and could execute him on a whim. Worse, the murder victim was brokering the coming Reunification. Two great warring civilisations, separated for centuries, due to unite in a new age of peace. But it becomes clear that someone will do anything to ensure that day never comes.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Alchemy Press website

The Alchemy Press (something I do when wearing one of my other hats) has a new website. It's still being built but please do visit and let me know your thoughts. I want to get it looking good!

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch – the latest in his fantasy/crime series that began with Rivers of London – is out now (Gollancz £14.99):

“A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load. So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on an housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.  Is there a connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human

“Neil Gaiman meets Tarantino in this madcap, wildly entertaining journey into Cape Town's supernatural underworld.”

Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human is out next month from Century (£12.99):

“Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.

But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.

Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.”

Or as the tag line goes: “I love the smell of parallel dimensions in the morning”.

Evening’s Empire by Paul McAuley

Evening’s Empire by award-winning Paul McAuley is now available (Gollancz £14.99):

“In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future. He's going to get it back.

McAuley's latest novel is set in the same far-flung future as his last few novels, but this time he takes on a much more personal story. This is a tale of revenge, of murder and morality, of growing up and discovering the world around you. Throughout the novel we follow Hari's viewpoint, and as he unravels the mysteries that led to his stranding, we discover them alongside him. But throughout his journeys, Hari must always bear one thing in mind. Nobody is to be trusted.”

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock is the sequel to The City’s Son (due from Jo Fletcher Books on 1 August):

“Pen’s life is all about secrets: the secret of the city’s spirits, deities and monsters her best friend Beth discovered, living just beyond the notice of modern Londoners; the secret of how she got the intricate scars that disfigure her so cruelly – and the most closely guarded secret of all: Parva, her mirror-sister, forged from her reflections in a school bathroom mirror. Pen’s reflected twin is the only girl who really understands her.

Then Parva is abducted and Pen makes a terrible bargain for the means to track her down. In London-Under-Glass, looks are currency, and Pen’s scars make her a rare and valuable commodity. But some in the reflected city will do anything to keep Pen from the secret of what happened to the sister who shared her face.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Charm by Sarah Pinborough: reviewed

Charm by Sarah Pinborough. Gollancz £9.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Charm is the second in Pinborough’s reworked fairy tale cycle, being with Poison and to be concluded later this year with Beauty. Although there are recurring characters and story-ties to the previous volume, I don’t think it’s necessary to read them in order and so new readers can start with this volume – as long as you do read all three.

We all (almost all, at least) are familiar with the tropes of the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, et al, stories and Charm sticks fairly close to those tales to begin with. But luckily the story does go off at little tangents, when a character from another tale makes an appearance, or when a discovery is made, that jolts one’s expectations. And I rather enjoyed these moments.

Charm is about Cinderella and her desire to attend the Ball, to meet Prince Charming, to fall in love with him and live happily ever after. She has two step-sisters and a step-mother who seem not to care for her; a father who is attempting to write a novel (that’s a novel idea, isn’t it, in a fairy story?); Buttons, the thief who provides food and coal for warmth in an unending winter; and the fairy godmother who grants Cinderella’s wishes. And then there are the mouse and the huntsman...wait! I don’t remember them. One of those plot twists. Unlike the familiar fairy stories we know, despite Cinderella’s best intentions, things don’t work to our heroine’s plan. But do things turn out happily ever after? Maybe, maybe not...

Fairy stories are metaphors for their young audience, about duty and honour and honesty and hard work all being good; laziness, deceit, lust, avarice all being bad. These remain germane to Charm but I would have preferred to see less absolutes. There are some grey areas: sex, for example. It’s there in Charm (and in Poison) and it’s dealt with in an even-handed manner – sex is natural, after all. I suspect you’ve heard that Pinborough’s fairy stories are written for adults and that there’s rampant sex between the covers. Well, not really. It features but it doesn’t occur often and when it does it’s modestly described.

Charm is a quick, amusing read and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s FUN. Read the book and allow it to evoke memories of those times when your parents told you stories of Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. And one other thing: there are loads of lovely line drawings by Les Edwards.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Earth Star by Janet Edwards

Earth Star by Janet Edwards is out on 15 August (Harper Voyager £7.99):

“18-year-old Jarra has a lot to prove. After being awarded one of the military’s highest honours for her role in a daring rescue attempt, Jarra finds herself – and her Ape status – in the spotlight. Jarra is one of the unlucky few born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Derided as an ‘ape’ – a ‘throwback’ – by the rest of the universe, Jarra is on a mission to prove that Earth Girls are just as good as anyone else.

Except now the planet she loves is under threat by what could be humanity’s first ever alien contact. Jarra’s bravery – and specialist knowledge – will once again be at the centre of the maelstrom, but will the rest of the universe consider Earth worth fighting for?”

Plastic by Christopher Fowler

Due on 1 August: Plastic by Christopher Fowler (Solaris £7.99):

“June Cryer is a shopaholic suburban housewife trapped in a lousy marriage. Discovering her husband’s infidelity with her flight attendant neighbour loses her her home, her husband and her credit rating, but she has been offered a solution: a friend needs someone reliable to act as caretaker in a spectacular London high-rise apartment. It’s just for the weekend, but there’s good money in it…

Seizing the opportunity to escape, June moves into the penthouse only to find that there’s no electricity and no phone. She must flat-sit until the security system comes back on. When a terrified girl breaks into the flat and June makes the mistake of asking the neighbours for help, she finds herself embroiled in an escalating nightmare, trying to prove that a murderer exists. For the next 24 hours, she must survive on the streets without friends or money, solve an impossible crime, and fight off the urge to buy a new wardrobe.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Award-winning Jonathan Strahan and Night Shade Books have released volume seven of their Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year ($19.99). In this hefty tome you’ll find 32 stories selected from 2012. Here are the contents – surely enough to whet your appetite:

  • “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe
  • “The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times” by Eleanor Arnason
  • “Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan
  • “Great Grandmother in the Cellar" by Peter S. Beagle
  • “The Easthound” by Nalo Hopkinson
  • “Goggles (c 1910)″ by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
  • “Bricks, Sticks, Straw” by Gwyneth Jones
  • “A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones” by Genevieve Valentine
  • “The Grinnell Method” by Molly Gloss
  • “Beautiful Boys” by Theodora Goss
  • “The Education of a Witch” by Ellen Klages
  • “Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione" by Paul McAuley
  • “What Did Tessimond Tell You?” by Adam Roberts
  • “Adventure Story” by Neil Gaiman
  • “Katabasis” by Robert Reed
  • “Troll Blood” by Peter Dickinson
  • “The Color Least Used by Nature" by Ted Kosmatka
  • “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls" by Rachel Pollack
  • “Two Houses” by Kelly Link
  • “Blood Drive” by Jeffrey Ford
  • “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson
  • “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “About Fairies” by Pat Murphy
  • “Let Maps to Others” by K.J. Parker
  • “Joke in Four Panels” by Robert Shearman
  • “Reindeer Mountain” by Karin Tidbeck
  • “Domestic Magic" by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem
  • “Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Megan McCarron
  • “Nahiku West” by Linda Nagata
  • “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • “Significant Dust” by Margo Lanagan
  • “Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore - reviewed

The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Ian Gibson. Rebellion £13.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

Halo Jones made her first appearance in 2000AD’s “Prog 376” way back in 1984 and continued over a two year period in three “books”. Her final adventures ended in 1986 after writer Alan Moore and Fleetway – the comic’s publishers – had a major disagreement over ownership rights. As things stand, those adventures won’t be continuing anytime soon (originally nine books had been planned). So we’ll have to enjoy what there is of the girl’s adventures.

Our first sight of Halo is as an eighteen year old, living in the Hoop – an enclosed, floating torus off the coast of Manhattan where America’s long-term unemployed are dumped. She’s sharing an apartment with Rodice (something of a stereotypical teenaged girl), Brinna, and a robot dog (a Ripper, model Iliac Six Hundred) named Toby. There’s also Ludy, a talented musician with the band Ice Ten: nervous and lacking in self-belief. The action takes place over a single day. Rodice finds out that they’ve run out of food – which means they’re going to have to risk a shopping expedition. Ludy has to practise so Halo goes out with Rodice – along with a reluctant Toby – armed with sputstiks and zenades as defence against other Hoop inhabitants. It’s a disaster from the start, with circumstances conspiring to ruin Rodice’s carefully-planned timetable. Rodice also manages to blow herself up with a zenade (which at least gives Halo the chance to make up time by taking a short cut outside; although the blissfully tripping Rodice comes round before they get back inside), and squirt a nausea-inducing sputstik into her own face. When they finally get back to their apartment, Brinna is dead – cut to shreds in what looks like a robbery gone wrong. Whilst Halo is struggling to absorb that, Ludy comes in: she’s become a member of a youth cult – the Different Drummers – whose implanted brains have a constant rhythm pounding out real life. Something snaps in Halo and she decides to sign on the E.S.S. Clara Pansy. She and Rodice agree to meet on Charlemagne: last one to arrive buys the drinks.

Book two documents Halo’s life as a hostess on board the Clara Pandy. There’s a framing device revealing that Halo is the study (and obsession) of an academician of the far future, which also cleverly serves as a re-introduction to the character after half a year’s absence from the comic. Now she shares a cabin with Toy – another hostess, who’s seven-foot tall and afraid of nothing – and a character so self-effacing and lacking in self-esteem that she almost literally fades into the background. Halo is besotted with the ship’s cyberneticist (it’s unreciprocated, of course), still has Toby (though that turns out to be a very mixed blessing) and has long conversations with the ship’s steersman: a dolphin named Kititirik Tikrikitit (Kit for short) – she learned to speak cetacean back in the Hoop when she was a member of the Ritit Rikti fan club. She also helps a Rat King that is on board – helping to find a replacement rat when one of the five tail-knotted rodents falls terminally ill and the creature’s linked mind starts to come apart. That simple act of kindness has implications that will echo down the years to come. And on the last night before they reach Charlemagne, at a Chop Party (named for mega-rich Lux Roth Chop who owns the Clary Pandy), even though Halo is spurned by the cyberneticist for a media celebrity, she shares a dance with a an unassuming guy she bumped into earlier: none other than Lux Roth Chop himself (though she discovers that a little belatedly). Quitting the ship, Halo finally contacts Rodice from a run-down bar – only to find her old friend is still back in the Hoop, with no real intention of leaving it.

The third and final book finds Halo marooned on Pwuc: not only down on her luck but about as far down as she can get. Even the Hoop compares favourably. When a military recruitment ship touches down, and Halo finds that her old cabin-mate Toy is already signed on, she – maybe not so eagerly – joins up. After all, they were just a peacekeeping force; there practically no chance she’d get sent to the Tarantula warzone. But part of the peacekeeping mission is on a backward planet called Lobis Loyo, fighting a guerrilla war against terrorists. Somehow she survives – though the experiences leave her emotionally scarred and embittered. From there she’s shipped to Moab: a vast planet within the warzone that has a gravitational pull so powerful it not only leaves anyone unprotected as a puddle, it actually slows time. Halo and her squad plod out onto the surface, exchange shots with the enemy, and return to their gravity-shielded base to finds days have elapsed inside. In a final irony, whilst they are out on one sortie, the Earth’s economy collapses and the cetaceans negotiate a cease-fire – weeks before Halo returns. Peace settles, and Halo even finds a love in the huge shape of General Luiz Cannibal – but then she finds out exactly what role the King Rat she saved back on the Clary Pandy has had in the war against Tarantula. Disillusioned again, she takes a spacecraft and once more, goes out.

Even though it’s some thirty years old, The Ballad of Halo Jones is refreshingly undated – possibly timeless. Alan Moore crams in satire, sly references, puns (is the name Clary Pandy a play on Para Handy: the “hero” of Neil Munro’s Vital Spark short stories for instance?), and crazy slang (“come on” becomes “come off” – the fictional origins of which we can speculate on some other time…). It’s likely he had Vietnam in mind when scripting the guerrilla fighting on Lobis Loyo, but it’s no less relevant today: a despised occupying force fighting against locals they loathe with equal vigour. Many of the “terrorists” turn out to be children (sound familiar?). The section on Moab – with its time-distortion – reminded me strongly of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. And although the Hoop is a dystopia of a type quite popular within 2000AD’s pages, the mind-set of its rejected inhabitants still resonates.

Ian Gibson’s artwork clearly improves over the three books – becoming more subtle; his line work finer – but there is still a great vitality: busy without being overcrowded. His females are shapely without being sexual caricatures. And he can even portray a dolphin’s amusement at its own joke. I don’t know if Moore chose his illustrator or if Fleetway simply assigned Gibson, but it’s a pairing that works effortlessly.

In addition to the reprinted strips, the book comes with a Foreword by writer and journalist Lauren Beukes, a gallery of Halo Jones covers (with pin-up of Halo, Rodice and Brinna), and an example of an original Alan Moore script – so everyone can appreciate just how detailed they are. It’s a pity Moore never had the chance to finish the saga – apparently there were plans to take her into old age – but as the man once said: never say never.

Charm by Sarah Pinborough

Charm by Sarah Pinborough hits the shelves next week (Gollancz £9.99):

“It's Cinderella, but not as you know her... Charm is a re-telling of the Cinderella story, which takes all the much-loved elements of the classic fairytale (the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the enchanted mouse, the beautiful girl and, of course, the iconic balls) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires.” 

Charm is the follow-up to Poison, which re-examined the Snow White myth, and is the middle volume of a trilogy that concludes with Beauty (due in October this year). Although part of a cycle, I understand that you should be able to read the books in any order.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blood and Feathers: Rebellion by Lou Morgan - reviewed

Blood and Feathers: Rebellion by Lou Morgan. Solaris £7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

For those who read Blood and Feathers, this is a welcome return to an Alice of a very different kind. And to those who missed it: where the Hell were you? Rebellion is a direct continuation of Blood and Feathers, and there is enough exposition for a new reader to catch up. But as with any new series, reading the first volume will be a distinct advantage. 

And Hell is the operative word because Hell has quite literally broken loose. Hordes of the Fallen, evicted from Lucifer’s realm, are dealing out death and mayhem at every turn as they a wage open warfare with angels all across the earth.

It would be unfair to potential readers, not to say impossible, to describe too much of the complex plot. Simply put, it is Heaven versus Hell. But there are more twists and turns, broken deals and chicanery told in this story than you’d get from a bunch of Mafia dons at a tall-story bake-off. Yet all come together in a skilful interweaving of breadcrumb trails. Archangel Michael is determined to destroy Lucifer and will do whatever it takes to achieve his goal, with no one beyond sacrifice. That is one of the chair-gripping aspects of Rebellion. Nobody is safe. This is a story where immortals die – often – and thus makes for a tension and excitement so often missing from series. Not even Archangels are sacred under the red pen of Lou Morgan.

There have not been that many books of late that I have read cover to cover in a day, forsaking all of the things I should be doing; Rebellion is such a one-sitting book. The style is crisp, even brisk, but always satisfying in the pictures it conveys. That’s not to say that you feel in anyway rushed or that there is a lack of place or people. Far from it.  Rebellion is a funny, breath-taking, action-packed novel, without frills or angst, and peopled with achingly real personalities. No purpleness of prose but a lot of red blood and blackness of intent from the main protagonists.

Rebellion took this reader along routes that hadn’t before occurred to me. It is a must-read book and is thoroughly recommended.

Terra by Mitch Benn

Terra is the debut novel by the stand-up comedian Mitch Benn (Gollancz £ 12.99 – available next week):

“No-one trusts humanity. No-one can quite understand why we're intent on destroying the only place we have to live in the Universe. No-one thinks we're worth a second thought. And certainly no-one is about to let us get off Rrth. That would be a complete disaster. But one alien thinks Rrth is worth looking at. Not humanity, obviously, we're appalling, but until we manage to kill every other living thing on the planet there are some truly wonderful places on Rrth and some wonderful creatures living in them. Best take a look while they're still there.

But on one trip to Rrth our alien biologist causes a horrendous accident. The occupants of a car travelling down a lonely road spot his ship (the sort of massive lemon coloured, lemon shaped starship that really shouldn't be hanging in the sky over a road). Understandably the Bradbury's crash (interrupting the latest in a constant procession of bitter rows). And in the wreckage of their car our alien discovers a baby girl. She needs rescuing. From the car. From Rrth. From her humanity. And now eleven years later a girl called Terra is about to go to school for the first time. It's a very alien experience...”

With “words” such as Lbbp, Hrrng, Fnrrns and Ymns I can see this appealing to the younger, text-speak generation. Personally, I like a few vowels...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce: book review

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce. Gollancz £12.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Graham Joyce’s latest is subtitled “A Ghost Story”, but with that certain uncertainty we’ve come to expect from many of the author’s novels. Are they really ghosts or are they memories from long ago, of a terrible deed? Is Rose really clairvoyant or is she a first-rate reader of people’s mannerisms? These and similar questions will remain unanswered in this review; you’ll just have to read the book and decide for yourselves.

Whatever your conclusions, there is no doubt that this is an excellent novel. The chief reason is that the characters are real. You really do engage with David, the narrator, as he experiences life as a holiday camp worker in Skegness during the summer heat-wave (and drought) of 1976, the year Britain was invaded by swarms of ladybirds. There are no cataclysmic events that threaten the world. But there are events that impinge upon David: his relationships with Terri and Nikki; his “friendship” with Colin (who may be a bit of a psychopath); his engagement with the far right and their fascists’ ideas; the hidden memories of his childhood and his father.

David is a student in the 1970s (when university graduates didn’t leave with massive tuition debts, when tertiary education was more egalitarian) and takes a summer job wearing a green-striped blazer, organising events and competitions for the holiday makers. This was a time before the masses flocked to the Costa de Sol and the like, when such camps were in a lingering decline. Apparently Graham Joyce did such work as a student and his experiences add verisimilitude to the novel. He adds in the acknowledgements that the characters he created are, indeed, fictional.

This is the second novel I’ve read recently which is set in a holiday destination – the other was Joyland by Stephen King.  And as with King, The Year of the Ladybird begins slowly and yet within a dozen pages the narrator has completely drawn you into this engaging story. Along with Some Kind of Fairy Story and The Tooth Fairy, this is one of Joyce’s best novels. And at £12.99 for the hardcover, it’s a steal: get the Ladybird bug and read this book.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hellblazer: Death and Cigarettes – graphic novel review

Death and Cigarettes is the final volume in Vertigo’s Hellblazer series. What a shame. I gather that John Constantine – the dubious hero of these stories – will return but in a more family-friendly incarnation. So I imagine out goes his smoking and drinking and womanising... Not that Constantine womanise much, now that he’s married – that happened a graphic novel or two ago.

Anyway, Death and Cigarettes contains four stories – “Suicide Bridge”, “The House of Wolves”, “The Curse of the Constantines” and “Death and Cigarettes” – collected from the Hellblazer annual 1 and issues 292-300. All are penned by Peter Milligan with artwork coming from Simon Bisley, Guiseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini. All the pictures perfectly complement the stories – dark and grim and, when needed, suitably graphic.

 As is usual, Constantine often finds himself enmeshed in a sequence of supernatural events, usually drawn into them by others asking favours or calling in debts. Constantine embarks on the quest to find so-and-so in order to keep a promise – not that he’s adverse to breaking promises when it suits him. In “Suicide Bridge” he searches for a boy-hood friend who went missing decades ago, and in the process other lost souls are discovered.

“The House of Wolves” fills in some of the Constantine-Epiphany back-story, and is bleakly humorous.  In “The Curse of the Constantines” our hero seeks the long-lost son of his dead sister (although she’s in Hell she asked him to do just that). It seems that Contantine’s nephew is in Ireland and may be a serial killer...

And finally we come to “Death and Cigarettes”. Here, Constantine knows that within a week he will be dead. All the signs and portents can’t possibly be wrong. Do the Fates get their way and does he die? Does the Devil (or one of the devils) claim Constantine’s soul, as they have tried to do so over the years? Or is there another outcome? I’m not saying...

As I mentioned, this sees the last of the present John Constantine incarnation. It’s been a good run. Can it possibly be equalled? Let’s hope so.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Broken Isles by Mark Charan Newton

Book four of the Red Sun, The Broken Isles by Mark Charan Newton is out on 18 July from Tor Books (£7.99):

“War spills into the Boreal Archipelago, as two rival cultures bring their eternal battle into this adjacent realm.

Fresh from a military victory, Commander Brynd Lathraea plans to rebuild the city of Villiren, where he is confronted with a dilemma. There are friendly forces which have no other choice but to live alongside his own people, and their numbers will be required to fight in the looming conflict. The commander turns politician as he seeks to build bridges and embrace mysterious new technologies to further his ambitions. However, many in Villiren are sceptical of aliens coming to their city, tensions run high, and even the dream of a peaceful future brings with it inevitable clashes of beliefs.

Meanwhile, Villjamur has been destroyed. A vast swathe of refugees from the legendary city is now on the run from an immense alien presence in the sky. Villages are being cleared and people are dying en masse. And Inquisitor Fulcrom finds himself at the helm of an operation to aid the refugee exodus to the coast, but it's a race against time before this threatened genocide is complete. Ancient civilisations line up on the field of battle. Exotic creatures and a possible god walk alongside citizens of the Empire. As the Legends of the Red Sun series draws to a close, there will be one final and immense conflict to decide the fate of multiple cultures forever.”

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler is book one of The Shadow Campaign, out next month from Del Rey (£16.99):

“Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder-smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men, and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

But the fates of both of these soldiers, and all the men they lead, depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning.

But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural — a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.”

This is termed “Flintlock Fantasy” I gather...

Doctor Who books

The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter is set during Jamie and Zoe-era Doctor Who (BBC Books £7.99 – out on 1 August):

“The Wheel: A ring of ice and steel turning around a moon of Saturn, and home to a mining colony supplying a resource-hungry Earth. It’s a bad place to grow up.

The colony has been plagued by problems. Maybe it’s just gremlins, just bad luck. But the equipment failures and thefts of resources have been increasing, and there have been stories among the children of mysterious creatures glimpsed aboard the Wheel. Many of the younger workers refuse to go down the warren-like mines anymore. And then sixteen-year-old Phee Laws, surfing Saturn’s rings, saves an enigmatic blue box from destruction.

Aboard the Wheel, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find a critical situation – and they are suspected by some as the source of the sabotage. They soon find themselves caught in a mystery that goes right back to the creation of the solar system. A mystery that could kill them all."

Meanwhile, Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan features the Matt Smith Doctor (BBC Books £7.99 – available this week):

"On a windswept northern shore, the islanders believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack. Then the burning comes. Water will not stop it. It consumes everything in its path - yet the burned still speak.The Doctor encounters a people under attack from a power they cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy and no protection against a fire sent to engulf them all. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; but at least they have the Doctor on their side... Don't they?”

The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc

The Days of the Deer, part of the Saga of the Borderlands, by Liliana Bodoc comes out on Atlantic Books next month at £12.99.

“It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming.

In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself?

From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.”

Fiend by Peter Stenson

Fiend by Peter Stenson hits the shelves this week – out from William Heinemann (£14.99):

“When Chase Daniels first sees the little girl in umbrella socks tearing open the Rottweiler, he's not too concerned. As a long-time meth addict, he’s no stranger to horrifying, drug-fueled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived.

The funny thing is, Chase’s life was over long before the apocalypse got here, his existence already reduced to a stinking basement apartment and a filthy mattress and an endless grind of buying and selling and using. He’s lied and cheated and stolen and broken his parents’ hearts a thousand times. And he threw away his only shot at sobriety a long time ago, when he chose the embrace of the drug over the woman he still loves.

And if your life’s already shattered beyond any normal hopes of redemption … well, maybe the end of the world is an opportunity. Maybe it’s a last chance for Chase to hit restart and become the man he once dreamed of being. Soon he’s fighting to reconnect with his lost love and dreaming of becoming her hero among civilization’s ruins. But is salvation just another pipe dream?”