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

JacksonDB-ASpellOfVengeanceA SPELL OF VENGEANCE

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.

JacksonDB-PriceOfDoingBusinessTHE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS

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)

Constantine-20-Art

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:

DetectiveComics-35Variants

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:

DetectiveComics-36-Art

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)

TheWake-Complete

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)

THE NEGATIVE ONE

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”.