28 October 2010

Just Received: 4 books from Tor (and a snapshot of my 'to read shelf')

I had a huge parcel arrived for me yesterday, and inside was not one, but four books from Tor and Pan MacMillan! Quadruple thanks to these guys for making my to read shelf look even more impressive. I've received China Miéville's Kraken, R.J. Frith's The Nemesis List, Alan Campbell's Sea of Ghosts and Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood.

Kraken by China Miéville
A dark urban fantasy thriller from one of the all-time masters of the genre.
Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?
For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a God. A God that someone is hoping will end the world. 

The Nemesis List by R.J. Frith
Humanity has expanded into the stars but at the price of its freedom. An autocratic and overbearing Government now rigidly controls every technical and scientific advancement. Deviation is punishable by death.
Out on the edges of space, criminals thwart the law, making money out of illegal tech, their ships jumping from galaxy to galaxy to avoid detection. Ex-soldier Frank Pak doesn’t care about politics or breaking the law, he just wants to keep his ship running. When he’s offered a contract to escort a runaway back home to his loving family – he doesn’t ask questions.
But his cargo is more dangerous than he realizes. Jeven Jones is no ordinary passenger. A result of illegal human experimentation, he’s a fast-tracked evolutionary leap into future. Thanks to his ability for perfect recall and a series of mental skills that he has no control over, Jones is a wanted man. The Government wants him dead. A fledgling revolution want to use him to unlock every advancement the Government has ever denied them.
If Jones lives he’ll start a war. If he dies the entire future of humanity dies with him…

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell
When the last of the Gravediggers, an elite imperial infiltration unit, are disbanded and hunted down by the emperor they once served, munitions expert Colonel Thomas Granger takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places. He becomes a jailer in Ethugra – a prison city of poison-flooded streets and gaols in which a million enemies of the empire are held captive. But when Granger takes possession of two new prisoners, he realises that he can’t escape his past so readily.
Ianthe is a young girl with an extraordinary psychic talent. A gift that makes her unique in a world held to ransom by the powerful Haurstaf – the sisterhood of telepaths who are all that stand between the Empire and the threat of the Unmer, the powerful civilization of entropic sorcerers and dragon-mounted warriors. In this war-torn land, she promises to make Granger an extremely wealthy man, if he can only keep her safe from harm.
This is what Granger is best at. But when other factions learn about Ianthe's unique ability, even Granger's skills of warfare are tested to their limits. While, Ianthe struggles to control the powers that are growing in ways no-one thought were possible. Another threat is surfacing: out there, beyond the bitter seas, an old and familiar enemy is rising – one who, if not stopped, will drown the world and all of humanity with it . .

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious, wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.

For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free.

Miéville's books have been getting a ton of praise recently, so I'm particularly looking forward to reading Kraken. I'd not heard about Sea of Ghosts, but the cover and the blurb are quite interesting, so that'll likely a top contender on the to read list. Speaking of to read lists...

There's quite a lot I still haven't been able to read! I'm not sure how long this lot is going to take to get through, but damn it I'm gonna do it! Stay tuned for the Book Spine Experiment!

22 October 2010

Fantasy movie news: 'Spiderman' and 'The Hobbit' reveal new cast members

This is some pretty exciting casting news by my reckoning. The new Spiderman movie, directed by Mark Webb (500 Days of Summer) and starring Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas) has cast Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Twin Town, Little Nicky) as Dr. Curt Conners a.k.a. The Lizard. Ifans has the kind of eccentricity that could pull off the Jekyll and Hyde persona of Conners, so I'm looking forward to seeing how he plays the role (plus he's a fellow Welshman, so support is mandatory). More on this at tor.com

Also, the much awaited news of The Hobbit, which has recently been given the greenlight was released today. After several rumours to the contrary, Martin Freeman (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, BBC's Sherlock) has been confirmed for the role of Bilbo Baggins. Also, Richard Armitage (BBC's Robin Hood) and Aiden Turner (BBC's Being Human) are confirmed as two of the dwarfs that accompany Bilbo. 

Unconfirmed for the movie are Stephen Fry, Bill Nighy and David Tennant, but since the cast already includes Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis reprising their roles as Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Gollum, The Hobbit has a solid cast already. I can only hope that Stephen Fry is cast as the voice of the dragon, now that would be awesome. More on this on blastr.com.

What do you think about these choices? Do you think they'll do justice to the roles?

20 October 2010

Sintel - Incredible CG fantasy short film

This has been making the rounds on Facebook for a little while, and it's taken a little while for me to get it up on here. Sintel is a short film that tells the story of a young girl who rescues and befriends a young dragon. When it is taken  away from her, she begins an epic journey to find her friend, taking her into the very lair of the enemy.

The film has incredible visuals, made all the more incredible because the entire thing is made using Blender technology (Blender is an open source program for 3D creation, often criticized by the animation community as being unable to create truly beautiful 3D animation) and the entire thing relied on donations to bring the project to fruition.

The movie in its entirety and some stills are below. Considering the lack of financing and the apparent rudimentary nature of the software, the film looks fantastic.  What do you think?

19 October 2010

Review - Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (Orbit)

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Published by Orbit
Paperback - 528 pages
Published September 2010
Review copy given by Little Brown Books

Cold Magic is the first in a new trilogy by Kate Elliott, and it focuses around Cat, a nineteen year old girl living in an alternate Victorian England, who is forced to leave her home with Andevai, a Cold Mage. As she escapes the clutches of the mage, Cat learns that her life up until now has been a lie, but also that she must protect her kin at any cost.

Elliott really excels in not only her world building but her culture building. The alternative history set out in Cold Magic is the result of centuries of changed historical events, leading to cultural norms that are entirely different to our own. Every gesture, pattern of speech and though process is the result of centuries of history bearing down on the characters. It is this that makes the world familiar enough for the reader to recognise as their own, but different enough to lend a sense of uncertainty and surprise. It is so effective that events such as 'the salt plague' seem like real happenings.

I really enjoyed the characters and their relationships, which were again the products of the culture (though I did get annoyed with the constant cat metaphors when talking about the protagonist). The romantic element was well played and he changing relationship between Cat and Andevai is believable. You're able to sympathise with the antagonist without actually having to like him, which is a plus.

The pacing of the novel was done very well, especially at the climax. Any drops in the pacing of the story were quickly brought back to full speed, so there was a nice ebb and flow of action and suspense. There was only one scene that stayed in this 'low gear' in the middle of the story, but this focus on character development and didn't detract too much from the overall flow of the novel.

I was disappointed that there was a lack of steampunk in this novel, especially seeing as steapunk was the main selling point of the story. With the exception of an airship at the beginning and some factories at the end, industrial elements do not feature at all. Since the magic of the Cold Mages is weakened when faced with such technology, it would have been useful to have more confrontation this way. As it stood, a lot of the plot focussed on traditional fantasy tropes.

In short, Cold Magic has an excellent story that is set in an incredible world. Elliott knows her alternate world inside and out, and every nuance adds to the story. I'm hoping that the second installment sees more in the steampunk department, but as it stands it is a great fantasy novel set within this well crafted alternate universe.

Showcase: Cassastar by Alex J. Cavanaugh -- Released TODAY!

Today sees the release of Cassastar by Alex J. Cavanaugh - sci-fi author and blogger extraordinaire. This book has been getting some awesome buzz around the interwebs so you should definitely check it out. Alex is also doing a Blog Book Tour to promote Cassastar, so keep an eye out for him on the Blog-o-Sphere!

CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
October 19, 2010 Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN 9780981621067 Dancing Lemur Press LLC

About the Book
To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

Where to Purchase
AMAZON - http://www.amazon.com/CassaStar-Alex-J-Cavanaugh/dp/0981621066

BAM - http://www.booksamillion.com/product/9780981621067?id=4581185563381#overview
Also available in eBook format for Kindle, iPad, Nook, and others

About the Author
Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He’s experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Currently he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

18 October 2010

Finally back to normal!

Well, it's certainly been a crazy 2 weeks. I've now moved back home from Swansea, I've finished my Egyptology Master's dissertation (the picture on the left is the cover page for my thesis) and I'm now officially unemployed. I've still to give a lecture on my research in January for the local Egyptian Museum, so I'm not totally done yet! Until then, I've got a lot more time on my hands to catch up with the Blog-o-Sphere and get back into the swing of things!

One benefit of the daily commute from home to my job in Swansea (about 90 minutes of travel) was that I got a ton of reading done. I've now finished Cold Magic (Kate Elliot), The Reapers Are the Angels (Alden Bell) and Jingo (Terry Pratchett)! Wowza! That means a backlog of reviews coming at you guys in the next few weeks.

Now I'm devoid of employment or any academic commitments I'm hoping to make my blog posts more regular and more consistent, I'm aiming for the minimum three blog posts a week.

Tune in tomorrow for a showcase celebrating the release of Cassastar from blog-buddy Alex J. Cavanaugh!

11 October 2010

Blog Hop: The First Novel That Moved Me

This is a blog hop hosted by Brad Jaeger, and it's one that I've had to think about for some time. There are a number of different ways that you could approach this topic. How a book 'moves' someone is going to be different in each of us, as the same book will have a different effect on different people. I decided to go for the book that really got me interested in the fantasy genre, and one that made me want to write fantasy as well as read any that I could get my hands on. That book is Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind.

Goodkind gets a lot of bad press from the fantasy community because of his political views and how they tend to dominate his writing, as well his 'breakaway' thriller Law of Nines that became an extension of the fantasy series he wrote. Despite all this, Wizard's First Rule had a massive impact on me because it was the catalyst that sent me down the awesome path that has led me here today.

Wizard's Firs Rule is the first in The Sword of Truth series and follows Richard Cypher, a woods guide from the magic-free Westland, who must journey into the strange magical land of the Midlands to defeat the tyrannical Darken Rahl before he can unleash total destruction on the world.

I received this book as a Christmas present about 10 years ago, probably because I was a bookworm anyways and this looked pretty good (books and covers, you know how it works). I read through the first 50 pages and didn't like it, then left it for 6 months. Then I decided to pick it up again and had a damn hard time putting it down again. I was hooked.

What drew me to the book was the culture of the different people within the story. Each character was shaped by their life experiences and this showed throughout the story. From the close-knit communities of the Westlands to the oppressed peoples of D'Hara, each of them had a life story that came out in their actions and their expressions. Also, there was an interesting magic system that allowed a host of different but very specific abilities; the Seeker, the Confessor, the Mord Sith etc. Magic operated, in principle, in a fairly simple way, but it was shaped to serve a single purpose for each of these characters.

I really need to reread this book, since after 10 years of reading fantasy, my views on it may be somewhat different now. However, this will always be the starting point for me; the reason I took any interest in the genre at all. Goodkind has his fans and his haters out there, I know, so what's your honest opinion of Wizard's First Rule?

Be sure to check out the other blog-hoppers today over at Brad's page too!

2 October 2010

A little downtime and some news from around the blogs

My apologies for not keeping up with updates this past week. I'm just finishing up moving back home from Swansea since my Masters course is almost over (I'm ever so close to finishing up on my dissertation!). This'll mean everything will be chaotic until I finish unpacking and getting the 20,000 word monstrosity submitted in time. I still have a part time job in Swansea (an hour away on the bus from where I'm going to be staying) so the next 2 weeks will be insane for me. At least my reward at the end of it is a power metal gig in London on the October 14th (whoo!) Bear with me on this, though, I'll be back to normal in no time at all!

And now for some news around the blog-o-sphere:

All the talk of book covers over the blogs recently led to the Book Cover Challenge over at Hairnets and Hopes. 3 book covers were posted (courtesy of Dez from Hollywood Spy) and we were challenged to guess what the stories were about based on those covers alone......

And I won! Go me! *does a victory dance*

Also, good luck to all of you participating in NaBloWriMo this year. I'd love to have a shot at it, but the timing couldn't be worse, sadly. But I'll be doing my best to keep up with what you're all doing and give support :)

Finally, I've been given a copy of Fires of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel as an eBook from LibraryThing. It's a sci-fi, so not normally to my tastes, but I'll give it a go.

See you all again soon, hopefully!!

1 October 2010

Azarrii by Jamie D. Stacey [book review]

Azarrii by Jamie D. Stacey
Published by Author House
Paperback - 332 pages
Review copy purchased from author

Azarrii follows two characters - Major John Carter and Neriah - in the wake of an invasion by the dreaded race known as the Azarrii; deadly warriors who will stop at nothing to reduce all that they come across to ashes. After an initial attack, John leads a team of survivors to sanctuary in the city of Salaq. At the same time, the mysterious woman Neriah is led to the Imperial Palace, where she uncovers a plot that threatens to swallow the city from both sides.

The majority of the story is written from John Carter's perspective, and although Neriah is meant to be an important protagonist in the story, there is very little time dedicated to her by comparison. Her 'mystery' stems mainly from the fact that the reader isn't given any information about her because the story is so focused on Carter and the survivors. Neriah seemed to have more to offer in terms of character development, which makes her lack of presence even more of a shame. The character of Carter is well written, though possibly a little wooden when it comes to revealing any emotion other than pragmatism. The Azarrii suffer from the same problem as Neriah; they are a mysterious race only because so little information is given about them.

One thing that Stacey excels in with Azarrii are the scenes of conflict and political intrigue. From the first attack on the city to the siege of Salaq itself, the battles are well paced and exciting to read. It was also interesting to see the corruption of the inner circles of the city's government and the way that factions had formed within the inner circles in order to deal with it. This was the highlight of the novel for me.

The first person narrative was confusing at times, since it seemed to flick occasionally from first person to third person and back again. Also, during some of the battle scenes, there was a distinct element of fantasy within this sci-fi world (which is fine) but it sometimes jarred with the world itself. For example, the Azarrii harness powerful guns, but in the battles many Azarri take arms with a bow and arrow. This confused me and made me begin to lose interest.

The city of Salaq and the world around it is well thought out and you get a real sense of the cramped street fighting within the city walls when the Azarrii invade. There isn't much in the way of atmosphere, but there is a build up of expectation within the novel that Salaq will be the last beacon of hope for the citizens. Whether or not it lives up to this hope does instil a sense of excitement.

Azarrii is a novel with a potential, and you can see that it is very much a labour of love (read my interview with Jamie D. Stacey). However, it suffers from the pitfalls of self publishing in that it needs the kind of tightening that a literary editor can provide. A second edition that irons out the creases would improve it a lot, but as it stands the little discrepancies add up to make it a less enjoyable read than it otherwise could be.