26 September 2010

Two trailers for Bioshock: Infinite. Steampunk magic goodness!

Steampunk is definitely on the rise. Kate Elliot's Cold Magic is getting some really good reviews; Sarah over at Bookworm Blues has just reviewed Alex Keller's Haywired (plus and interview with the author) and now Irrational Games is about to bring us Bioshock: Infinite.

Set in late 19th Century USA (predating the events in Bioshock and Bioshock 2), this latest installment sees an entire city set up high in the sky. Think zepplins, zip wires, grammar-phones and large mustaches and you've got the general feel that the game has to offer. Irrational Games has released a cinematic trailer for the game, as well as a gameplay trailer (you can watch these at the end of the post).

I am really excited about this. It's got the fast paced action that the first two games had, as well as the mixing of traditional first person shooter and 'magic' elements in the form of plasmids. I'm really liking the design for the city of Columbia. The Victorian-era steampunk city is excellently crafted, and it's going to be a blast to watch as well as to play.

What are your thoughts on the rise of steampunk in speculative fiction? What do you think of Bioshock: Infinite?

25 September 2010

Kari Sperring wins Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Society Awards

The British Fantasy Society Awards for this year are now over, and some awesome news is that Kari Sperring's Living with Ghosts (read my review here) has won the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Congratulations, Kari! Send

Other winners at the BFS Awards were Conrad Williams' One for Best Novel, Vincent Chong for Best Artist, Doctor Who for Best Television and Let the Right One In for Best Movie. Also, the winner of the Best Short Story Competition was Robert Tompkins with Omar the Teller of Tales. Congratulations to all the winners this year!

You can view the full list of winners on the BFS Awards Page.

24 September 2010

Just received: a trio of tales from Tor

When it rains, it pours, eh? I've just received not one, but three books from the good folks at Tor and PanMacmillan. They've sent me The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell, The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton, and The Pan Book of Horror Stories, compiled by Herbert van Thal. Many thanks to Tor and PanMacmillan for sending them on!
The Reapers are the Angels (Amazon US | UK)
     God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...
     Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.
     This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves.
     When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right, if she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she’s made enemies.
     Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense…
The Evolutionary Void (Amazon US | UK)
Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by government agent Paula Myo and the psychopath known as the Cat, along with others equally determined to prevent—or facilitate—the pilgrimage of the Living Dream cult into the heart of the Void. An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, as the cultists believe, but it is also a deadly threat. For the miraculous reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy—energy drawn from everything outside those boundaries: from planets, stars, galaxies . . . from everything that lives.
     Meanwhile, the parallel story of Edeard, the Waterwalker—as told through a series of addictive dreams communicated to the gaiasphere via Inigo, the First Dreamer—continues to unfold. But now the inspirational tale of this idealistic young man takes a darker and more troubling turn as he finds himself faced with powerful new enemies—and temptations more powerful still.
     With time running out, a repentant Inigo must decide whether to release Edeard's final dream: a dream whose message is scarcely less dangerous than the pilgrimage promises to be. And Araminta must choose whether to run from her unwanted responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival. But all these choices may be for naught if the monomaniacal Ilanthe, leader of the breakaway Accelerator Faction, is able to enter the Void. For it is not paradise she seeks there, but dominion.

The Pan Book of Horror Stories (Amazon US | UK)

Fifty years ago Pan launched a series of books that were to delight and disgust - sometimes even on the same page – readers for thirty years. From classics in the genre to scraping-the-barrel nastiness, the Pan Books of Horror had them all and they continue to be a major influence in published anthologies to the present day.

     We're delighted, therefore, to announce the reissue of the very first Pan Book of Horror. Specially selected for Pan, here are 22 terrifying tales of horror by such famous authors as Peter Fleming, C. S. Forester, Bram Stoker, Angus Wilson, Noel Langley, Jack Finney and L. P. Hartley.

     Stories of the uncanny jostle with tales of the macabre. Stories of subtle beastliness---like Rasberry Jam; of sickening horror---like The Fly or His Beautiful Hands; and of utter chilling terror---like The Horror of the Museum!

     The perfect bedside book---for those with nerves of steel!

My thanks again to Tor and PanMacmillan for the books. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into these, particularly The Reapers Are the Angels.

20 September 2010

Top 10 TV Shows Blogfest!

It's here! The Top 10 TV Shows blogfest, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Here are my top 10 choices of TV shows (I'll try my best to keep them fantasy choices) in no particular order. Be warned, many of these are from my childhood, and some are cartoons...

Blade the Series
Despite being fronted by rapper Kurt 'Sticky Fingaz' Jones, this was a pretty cool series that delved a little more into the mythology of the vampires in the Blade universe, and the interplay behind each of the Vampire Houses. A shame it didn't run past the first season.

An awesome British TV show from the late 80's and early 90's. One kid wore a helmet that meant he couldn't see and had to be guided around a series of dungeons by three others. There's a big campaign to get it back on TV, and rightly so. On their quest to locate a hidden magical item, the helmeted hero had to recite spells to ward off monsters and collect magical artefacts to aid them.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Who didn't like this? Apart from committing the sin of beginning the visual trend of humans and vampires getting all loved up, this little slice of awesome from the Whedon camp brought with it an intense mythological setup, with a host of demons, werewolves and everything else in between.  .

The latest offering from BBC, and an awesome one at that. The story tells the beginnings of the Merlin/Arthur story, where magic has been outlawed by Arthur's father, Uther. Merlin must hide his gifts while at the same time protect his master from harm from witches, sorcerers, dragons and trolls (and much more).

Dungeons and Dragons
A great cartoon from when I was a kid, and before I really got into fantasy. A bunch of kids get trapped in the Dungeons and Dragons 'theme park ride' (what happened to playing the RPG, huh?) and have to complete a series of quests in order to find their way home. I loved the magic weapons and how they reflected their personalities.

Being Human
A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a house together in Bristol (soon to be Cardiff in season 3, also a US adaptation is in the works). They all struggle to live normal lives despite their 'conditions'. There is a distinct good vs. evil vibe to this, but it takes a while to choose what side is which (and often it can change). Plus they have interesting ways of dealing with 'the other side'.  Highly recommended.

Doctor Who (2005+)
The reboot of Doctor Who brought sci-fi and fantasy back to mainstream British TV, and it did an amazing job with it too. Despite being vastly in the majority of sci-fi, it deals with many elements of fantasy and mythology within it that enhance the overall experience. An astounding TV show that everyone who is interested in the speculative fiction genre should watch.

Pushing Daisies
I love that the whole crux of the show is built on a single fantastical premise - the protagonist can bring people back from the dead. Whilst this may sound like a standard supernatural show, there is within it a strict and well thought out magic system. It's also a great comedy/detective show that's light hearted and great fun to watch.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch
This is a total guilty pleasure, and one that does what it says on the tin. Sabrina is a witch. She's a teenager. Put the two together and you have a whole host of problems. You can tell that the creators had a load of fun coming up with insanely different creatures to harass Sabrina and her aunts in each episode. A classic of kids' TV.

Are You Afraid of the Dark
This used to scare me as a kid, and it still gives me the creeps a little when I see the title sequence now. Each episode is a new story, filled with monsters, demons and things that go bump in the night. Particularly scary was the tale of the Water Demons - an old sailor salvaged treasure from a sunken ship, and whenever he goes to sleep the dead who drowned on that ship rise from the water to claim him. Absolutely terrifying.

So there we have it, my top 10 TV Shows. Thanks to Alex for hosting this shindig, and I look forward to reading your choices too!!

18 September 2010

Judging a book by its ... spine?

I got thinking about this after a discussion over at Hannah Mariska's blog, where the big question was asked - do you (and should you) judge a book by it's cover? The answer is, of course, yes. The reason cover's exist is to give the potential reader and enticing taster of the novel within, so judgements need to be made. This can't be avoided. (NOTE: It's insanely difficult to get any photos of fantasy book spines, so you'll have to make do with the covers, hehe).

That being said, if you're perusing your local library or bookstore, you won't get much chance to see the covers of many of the books since they're all tucked away in neat little rows. Only the highlighted and recommended books are displayed facing the front to show you the cover in all its glory. In the nanoseconds it takes for us to process all of the books before us before making a decision on which one to pick up and look at first, what draws our eye and makes that decision for us. The spine design (that last line was kind of poetic; consider that my weekly quote of culture filled).

I might be the only one here, but my initial judgements are made based on the book spine. There's a few things that usually catch my eye when scanning the shelves that will grab my attention:

  • Author/Title - these are obviously no brainers, and necessary for the book spine, but there needs to be a balance. A well established author (e.g. George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan) with a host of best sellers under their belt will need their name to be printed larger and in a much bolder fashion than the title, since I'm more likely to recognise it. A lesser known author may rely on a really catchy title, since at this stage in the game they're selling their story, not themselves.
Artwork - this can be both a blessing and a curse. I've seen books where the cover art of a book is simply repeated on the spine in minuscule format. If I have to get nose-to-book in order to see what I'm looking at, you've lost me. The cover art may be amazing, but at a few centimetres high everything looks like the same blurry selection of colours. Good artwork on the spine uses the shape well and makes it look like a natural addition. The best examples of this are Karen Miller's The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage. The cover art is repeated on the spine, yes, but is uses the tall, narrow space available and makes it eye catching. I've not read the books (yet) but I'm always drawn to those books.

Design - unless the author is well known to me, this will be my first point of call. A good spine design can make all the difference between me picking it up and not realising that it's there in the first place. Joe Abercrombie's novels are great at this. They stand out from other novels on the shelf because they look like something other than a normal book. Pratchett's novels are also very good at this because his cover art encompasses the front, back and spine, so you have to pick it up to kind out what the hell is going on in that small section in front of you

Click the picture to see it full size
Running series - It's satifying to see an author's complete works running along your bookshelf, especially if the books are united by a single theme/design. This also applies when you're looking for books. A series with an interesting theme to tie them altogether will catch your eye and make you want to check it out. Right now the best example of that is David Farland's Runelords series, where the covers of the eight books line up to form a complete panorama, as do the book spines (to a certain extent - and I've checked this, so you can be assured it's true). You can tell where that author's body of work in a given storyline begins and ends; you can gauge the kind of commitment you may have to make if you start reading it.

Does anyone else do this? Have you even thought about this kind of thing? I would love it if you all could email me a photo of your bookshelf, and for the next post I'd like to go over them and pick out what I'd be most likely to read based on the spines alone. 

17 September 2010

Just received: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

I just received Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (Amazon UK | US), the first novel of her new Spiritwalker trilogy, courtesy of Orbit and Little Brown Books. I've been looking forward to this one for a while, since it combines some interesting fantastical elements that I've not seen before.

'As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood and old feuds, Cat is betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage. As she is carried away to live a new life, fresh dangers threaten her every move and secrets form a language she cannot read. At least, not yet.'
With a mix of a traditional magic system and steampunk elements, this looks pretty interesting, and I can't wait to read it. Thanks again to Orbit and Little Brown!

13 September 2010

Review - Merlin Season 3 Episode 1 "The Tears of Uther Pendragon Part 1" (BBC)

Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) in the grip of madness.
Merlin's third season premièred last Saturday (11 September), ready to fill the Doctor Who shaped void in our lives. Season 2 left us with a sense that things were going to take a much darker and more sinister turn, and the team behind the show certainly did not disappoint.

A year has passed, and Lady Morgana is still missing after being taken under the wing of the sorceress Morgause (Emily Fox). A series of frantic and suicidal missions have been ordered by Uther Pendragon. When all hope seems lost, Morgana is found and things begin to return to normal in Camelot. However, Morgana is a changed woman with vengeance in her heart and murder on her mind.

Without giving too much plot away, this is one of the darkest episodes of Merlin to date. The magic that has been done against Uther sets up two quite chilling scenes that reveal more of his character and personal demons that the other seasons have so far. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur has become a little more relaxed than before - there is more banter between them, and the bond between them is getting noticeably stronger. I think that at this stage there needs to be more respect of Merlin by Arthur, however. In the second season it could be subtly seen beneath the insults and commands, but there didn't seem to be any development in this episode.

Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath) plots against Uther.
This was an episode for Lady Morgana, and she performs brilliantly throughout. Where Morgause's character has become a straight villainous one, Morgana is still in a bit of flux. After her battle with her own magic and feelings of hatred towards Uther, you still feel that there is an internal struggle going on. The only drawback was that there were one too many shots that lingered at the end of each scene that showed her smirking or looking doubtful to provide that 'oo, is she really evil?' feeling.

As usual, the locations and sets of Merlin were beautiful, and the visual effects were pretty impressive. I was just a little bit disappointed to see the return of the Dragon this soon into the season after being dismissed at the end of the last season, but this was overshadowed by the awesome look (and voice) of the Dragon.

A solid beginning to what will be a very macabre season, with Morgana's turn to evil as the overriding plot piece. With next week's promise of a Morgana/Merlin showdown, Merlin riding the Dragon into battle and an army of the dead, it looks like Merlin has remained on form. If you haven't watched Merlin yet, I suggest that you start. Now.

Merlin on the BBC website

9 September 2010

Mark Millar's CLiNT - The British comic for the 21st Century

It can be safely said that the UK hasn't exactly been leading the way in terms of the comic industry. Back in the 1950's, post-war British children read The Eagle - a comic about war heroes and the virtues of glory in battle. Then in the 1970's, 2000AD burst onto the scene, bringing science fiction to the forefront and paving the way for the likes of Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, Stardust). The tales of space exploration, strange worlds and dystopian futures were all a part of the mindset of the time, brought to life in comic form.

40 years have passed since then, and the UK has let itself down in terms of comics (or 'comic anthology' as opposed to 'comic book'). The same stuff was being reproduced year in, year out, and us Brits were relying on the massive US comic industry to provide for us. But there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

CLiNT is the brainchild of British comic creator Mark Millar, the creator of Kick-Ass. Launched only a week ago (Issue #1 went on sale September 2nd), CLiNT hopes to bring back what once was. Millar has enlisted the help of British celebrities Jonathan Ross (TV/radio host) and Frankie Boyle (comedian) to write guest comics for the launch issue, and it also includes interviews with comedian Jimmy Carr and Christopher Minz-Plasse (Red Mist in Kick-Ass). It's an awesome concept and, like the its predecessors, combines much the elements are prevalent in our social mindset and presents them in comic form. Here's a run-down of issue #1's comics:
  • Kick-Ass 2 - Mark Millar. Sequel to the popular Kick-Ass comic.
  • Turf - Jonathan Ross. Prohibition-era New York meets Bram Stoker-era vampires.
  • Rex Royd - Frankie Boyle. Corporate corruption and super soldiers similar to Total Recall.
  • Nemesis  - Mark Millar. Japanese master criminal goes up against Washinton's best police chief.
If you're in the UK, I strongly urge you to go and take a look at CLiNT. I think it's a fantastic idea, and I hope enough people get behind it to make it as big as it deserves to be.

CLiNT magazine official site
CLiNT magazine Facebook page

7 September 2010

Natalie Portman - Fantasy's next golden girl

Natalie Portman headshot

It's no secret - Natalie Portman is my big celebrity crush, and it's pretty obvious why (any of you doubters just have to look at the picture above and you will see the light).

Portman has done a wide range of movie genres, but she is no stranger to the world of sci-fi and fantasy. She played Padme Amidala in the Star Wars  prequels (little bit of trivia here: in The Phantom Menace, the role was shared between her and Keira Knightley. They looked so alike that when they were both in costume their own mothers were unable to tell them apart), she played Evey in the movie adaptation of V For Vendetta and she was also in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. So far so good.

This year, Portman is Nina Sayers in Black Swan, a psychological thriller about a ballet dancer with a dark fantasy edge to it. Not only that, Dez from Hollywood Spy has released some stills from her upcoming movie Your Highness, a fantasy comedy where she plays a warrior princess alongside Zooey Deschenal and James Franco.

Not only that, but next year she will play Jane Foster in the adaptation of Thor with Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins (I'm really looking forward to this one) and she will also play the lead in the movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, directed by David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees).

Also, Dark Horizons has reported that she has been offered the lead role in the upcoming 3D sci-fi thriller Gravity, about a woman who has to survive on an orbital shuttle after a satellite explodes and kills the rest of the crew.

All of these movies are happening within the next year or so, and most of her current choices are fantasy or sci-fi. By the sounds of it, Natalie Portman is going to be a mainstay in the genre, and I certainly hope so. She's an excellent actress who's capable of playing a multitude of characters, so I hope she'll stay with us fantasy fans for a while.

[Headshot image source]

What do you think of her? Would there be anyone you think would be more fitting for these kinds of roles? Is there anyone else who you think seem to be on the rise in terms of fantasy and sci-fi movies?

4 September 2010

Book Trailer - Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (Tor)

This trailer was just released from tor.com, for Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson's Towers of Midnight, Book 13 in the Wheel of Time series. This is by far the best book trailer I've seen in terms of production values, and hints at the epic scale of the novel. The acoustic guitar in the background is a little jarring, in my opinion, but it looks stunning.

What do you think? Is this the kind of thing you expect from a book trailer? What is it that you think every book trailer needs? You can view the video below:

Wheel of Time official site
Brandon Sanderson's official site

Review - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

A geek's dream that is both faithful to the source material and visually stunning, as well as so full of pop/geek culture references that you'll want to watch it again.

From the moment I saw the teaser tagline, 'An epic of epic epicness' I knew that I would love Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the movie adaptation of the comic books created by Bryan Lee O'Malley. The movie is directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and stars Michael Cera (Superbad, Year One) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, Die Hard 4.0).

Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a twenty-something year old slacker who plays bass for his band Sex Bob-Omb. He has a high school girlfriend, Knives Chou (Ellen Wong) and life seems pretty sweet. That is until he meets Ramona Flowers (Winstead). He starts dating her, but then soon finds out that he has to defeat her seven evil ex's (including Superman Returns' Brandon Routh and Fantastic Four's Chris Evans) in order to win her heart. Just your basic love story, really.

The effort that was made to keep the movie as close to the source material as possible is astounding. Watching it is like watching a comic book come to life. The audience is treated with a visual feast of POW!'s and WHOOSH's, as well as comic-style action lines and segments of back story presented in a panel by panel format in the style of the comic itself. There can be no doubt that you are watching a comic book movie here, and it is one of the most successful adaptations to do so.

The performances of the characters are difficult to judge. Since it's every inch a comic book,l performances need to be over the top. Michael Cera is the most underwhelming character of the cast in playing the exact same character that he plays in every movie. The parts of the evil ex's were very well cast, especially Chris Evans and Brandon Routh. They were very over the top and cartoon-like, fitting in with their comic counterparts. A surprise came in Kieran Culkin as Scott's room mate, which was a very well played character.

What may be a make or break for some people with this movie is the sheer amount of pop and geek culture references that are put into the movie. As is Edgar Wright's style (those of you who have watched his two other feature films, or watched his TV series SPACED will know what I'm talking about), little background objects, small sound effects and items of clothing are a reference to some semi-obscure pop culture item. Whilst I adore this about Wright's film making, it may be an annoyance for many who aren't fully integrated into the culture and won't understand what is going on. A particular favourite of mine is when Scott goes to the bathroom, and once he opens the door, the fairy fountain music from The Legend of Zelda starts playing. Fantastic.

Scott Pilgrom vs. the World won't be for everyone's taste. However, if you consider yourself in any way geeky, this is a movie you have to watch. At least twice. Stunning visuals, great characters and a comedic style that has become Edgar Wright's signature mark. Go see it now!

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Official Site
Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley official site

1 September 2010

Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier [book review]

Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier
Lord of the Changing Winds
Written by Rachel Neumeier
Published by Orbit
Paperback - 400 pages
Published June 2010
Review copy provided by publisher
Lord of the Changing Winds is the first of the Griffin Mage Trilogy. In this installment a young healer, Kes, is summoned to aid a powerful griffin mage, Kairaithin. Him and his people have made their homes in the mountains and pastures of Kes' land, turning the lush green into barren desert. Kes must abandon all she knows in order to become a fire mage and aid the griffins in their struggle against the sinister ambition of the people of Casmantium.

The main pull of this story is the griffins themselves. They are well thought out, and are full of character. There is a definite clan  feel to the way the griffins behave, and each member of the group has their own distinct personality. Neumeier has done a fantastic job in crafting a new mythos surrounding griffins, especially with regards to their elemental sympathies and antipathies. As creatures borne of fire, griffins are able to literally recreate the desert beneath them as they fly, which is a very nice touch.

As a consequence, the focus on the griffins means that there is little substance to the human element. Whereas the griffins are well developed (especially the character of Kairaithin), the non griffin characters seem a bit standard and lack much to enhance the story. Kes' dissatisfaction at life in general and the quiet surprise at finding out she has magical abilities is a tried and tested plot device, and so it seems a bit formulaic.

The story was fairly well paced, though since large amounts of time were spent in the massive expanse of the desert, things seemed to drag on a little. Neumeier gives the reader frequent breaks from this in showing the human king, Iaor, attempting to deal with the threats of both the griffins and the Casmantium army. It also felt that the pace was hurried along towards the end, especially with regards to action and character development. The battle scenes felt a bit underwhelming and a little rushed, and though there was a very satisfying conclusion, Kes' change of character seemed to have happened too suddenly.

The world that Neumeier has created is vast and filled with culture, and leaves open a lot of potential for the second and third novels. With three distinct cultures, each with their own forms of magical prowess, there is a wealth of story to be had in this world. However, since the majority of Lord of the Changing Winds was set in the desert surrounding Kes' village, there wasn't much in the way of exploring this world. The segments that were set outside the desert seemed a little self contained, but you still got a feel for them as part of the overall world and the expanse and complexity of the culture that Neumeier has created.

In conclusion, Lord of the Changing Winds is an enjoyable read, though the pacing is a bit jarred. Neuemier has opened up a new sub-genre of fantasy in her dealing of the griffin mythos, which is no mean feat. There is also massive potential for the second and third novels. A commendable beginning to the series.