26 January 2011

News: Marvel kills off one of the Fantastic 4!

Marvel is no stranger to killing off its brightest stars. In 2007, Captain America was assassinated by a sniper on the steps of a courthouse, only to be resurrected again in 2009 in a five part mini series. However, the world over mourns the death of one of the Fantastic Four. Issue #586 saw each member of the group placed in mortal peril, with the mother-of-all-cliffhangers over the New Year. Now, #587 sees the Four become Three as they come to terms with the death of one of their closest friends.

If you want to know who it is that shuffles off their mortal coil, click the spoilers button below:

RIP Johnny Storm (Human Torch)

What do you think about these superhero deaths? Poignant plot device or a way to cash in from a decrease in popularity? 

In other news, I'm moving cities tomorrow, and I won't be getting any Internet access for a while *inner voice cries 'Noooooo!'* so I'm likely to be off the radar for a week or so. Posts may slow down, but I'll try to comment on as many of your blogs as possible when I can sneak some free Wi-Fi, hehe.

24 January 2011

Top Ten Countdown Music Blogfest!

So here it is! My top 10 favourite songs, distilled from a monumental playlist down to these few gems of aural awesomeness. Head on over to Alex J Cavanaugh, who is hosting this awesome blogfest, and you can see everyone else's entries too. So without further ado, here we go! For the sake of fairness amongst the genres, I've got 5 power/progressive metal songs (my genre of choice - perfect for fantasy) and 5 from other genres that are equally as awesome.

Power/Progressive Metal

5. Magic Taborea - Van Canto (Tribe of Force)
What's not to love about a metal band that use their voices for all of the instruments (minus the drums - a beat-boxing metal band would be silly). Magic Taborea contains magic, prophecy and a face melting vocal/guitar solo.

4. Lord of the Blacksmiths - Falconer (Falconer)
Fantasy metal at its best - A god like, ancient figure who forges magic weapons and armour for the heroes of olde. Falconer are one of the best folk metal bands on the scene (and they show you don't need to have a growling vocalist to be metal), and this track from their first album shows their strength.

3. White Pearl, Black Oceans - Sonata Arctica (Reckoning Night)
A 9 minute epic concept song that tells the tale of a lighthouse keeper who leaves his post, falls in love, gets assaulted and inadvertently murders a ship full of people. His descent into despair and eventual suicide is haunting, and the story is excellently told.

2. Brave New World - Iron Maiden (Brave New World)
Iron Maiden are usually placed in the classic Heavy Metal category, but their Brave New World album took them in a different direction, just a little. The imagery conjured in songs like Brave New World fit perfectly with the speculative genre (Brave New World is my go-to album when I read fantasy and sci-fi).

1. Nothing Ever Dies - Kamelot (The Black Halo)
Kamelot is my all time favourite power metal band, and Nothing Ever Dies pretty much shows why. Fantastic imagery, an awesome vocalist (Roy Khan) and an excellent mix of both hard metal and softer melodic pieces. Plus, as part of a concept album retelling the story of Faust, it gets extra awesome points.

Other genres
5. Where the Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Murder Ballands)
Also covered by Kamelot (though it's nowhere near as a good as this original), who doesn't love a concept song of love and murder? Nick Cave's voice is haunting, and the addition of Kylie Minogue as a guest vocalist was an excellent choice.

4. The Downeaster 'Alexa' - Billy Joel (Stormfront)
Trying to pick a song from Joel's back catalogue is tough, but I'm always drawn to this one. Not for the imagery (I've not a clue about sailing or fishing) but the song itself is brilliant.

3. Someday - No More Kings (No More Kings)
A song that includes references to the Beastie Boys, MC Hammer and Darth Vader is great in my books. A great, light hearted, uplifting song.

2. Unforgiven II - Metallica (Re-Load)
This one is my favourite Metallica song, and one of the first that got me interested in heavy metal. Unforgiven II has a kickass music video too, and, like a lot of the slower Metallica songs, contains a lot of the storylike qualities that I like in power metal.

1. Coming Back to Life - Pink Floyd (The Division Bell)
My all time favourite track. Coming Back To Life will without fail send me to sleep. Like many of Pink Floyd's songs, this one feels like a journey (why is it I feel like a hippy whenever I say 'journey' with reference to Pink Floyd, hehe). Nevertheless, it's an incredibly mellow track and one I can listen to repeatedly.

So there's my top ten! Not exactly a list of the usual suspects, I admit, but I hope it'll tempt some of you towards the awesomeness of power metal. Join us...

23 January 2011

Winners of the 100 Followers giveaway!

The lots have been cast, and the numbers have been crunched. The time has come. The winners of the 100 followers giveaway!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin goes to Nicole from Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight
The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks goes to Lynda from W.I.P. It
Empress by Karen Miller goes to Brad from Brad Jaeger - Aspiring Author

Congratulations to the three of you! I'll send these out as soon as possible. I hope you enjoy them!

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway, and thanks to everyone who blogged and retweeted about it too. You're all awesome! Watch this space for more giveaways!

20 January 2011

16,000 books emptied from UK library; US publisher Black Ocean offering books for tattoos

First of all, my apologies for the lateness of this post. I was meant to post this yesterday, but I was giving a lecture at my University (Ancient Egyptian vampires seemed to go down well, hehe). Here's a couple of news articles I came across that I thought were fairly awesome.

A library in Buckinghamshire had the entire of its 16,000 volume stock of books checked out after threats to close it down saw locals taking out as many books as they could. It was calculated that 378 books every hour were checked out. This is an awesome show of strength and support for local libraries - let's hope they keep this kind of support up if the local council decided to save the place.
Legacy of Kain shoulder tattoo

Also, US publisher Black Ocean is offering a lifetime subscription for a selection of people who show themselves getting a tattoo of something from one of their books. You can see the details of the competition here.

This seems a little insane; I have yet to get a tattoo based on a book I've read, since I've not come across something I find so inspirational that I could ink on my body permanently (though I have a tattoo on my neck from the movie Blade and one on my shoulder from the video game series Legacy of Kain, so it's only a matter of time before I get a literary one. I'm more likely to get a tattoo of Mjolnir on my arm soon).

Would you consider getting a tattoo of something you'd read in a book? Have you already done so? 

17 January 2011

Review - Misfits Season 2

Misfits is a comedy/drama about a group of young offenders who are forced to perform community service when they are granted superpowers after a freak electrical storm.

By the end of Season 1, the five super-antiheroes settle their personal differences and form a bond close enough to be confused with friendship, forged through fighting against others who use their new found powers for their own dark ends.

Season 2 picks up more or less straight after Season 1, and each episode introduces a "super mystery benefactor called Super Hoodie, and how each character manages to overcome the limitations of their powers. The identity of Super Hoodie is revealed with a 'Bwah?!' moment that is both awesome and unexpected.

The characters are very well developed, and you can see their progression as the series goes on. Particularly with regards to Alisha and Simon, their changing relationships with people and their overcoming of their personal demons is well presented. Nathan, Curtis and Kelly remain pretty much the same as they were in Season 1, with the exception of one episode a piece that gives them some revelation (which they promptly seem to forget and go back to their old selves). The main strength of Misfits is that all of the characters are flawed. There is no real sense of good and evil, nor of justice. The main characters need to survive with each other as well as against the rest of the world, and so there is no time for morality.

The superpowers of the main characters as well as the villains are varied and unconventional since they all tend to focus on some character flaw with the character e.g. a man who was addicted to a Grand Theft Auto style video game is given the ability to enact scenarios within the game and gains powers associated with that game (no need for sleep or food, large amount of weapon ammo etc.) The entire mythos surrounding the show is very British and so, with the exception of the visual spectacle of seeing these superpowers in action, a lot of it may be lost on non-UK viewers. This is also one of those shows that I don't think would translate well were the US to remake it, even with a new set of characters and image. It is deeply ingrained in a British subculture and so it may not be to everyone's tastes. With an abundance of cursing, drug use, violence and sex, Misfits may be a little extreme for some, although it correctly satirizes the the stereotype of British youth culture today.

There is one plot hole at the finale (but, since it involves time travel, it can be forgiven - just), but aside from that, season 2 of Misfits surpasses the first and goes from strength to strength. I can't recommend it highly enough for UK viewers, or those familiar with British culture and television. Everyone else, well, give it a shot and you might be pleasantly surprised. Season 2 is available to purchase on DVD now [UK Only].

Also, I received the 'Welsh Star' award at the HollywoodSpy Awards (a.k.a. The Dezzies) yesterday! Whoo! Thanks to Dezmond for the awards, and for a great ceremony too!

16 January 2011

Roll out the red carpet! The Annual Hollywood Spy Awards are here!

Get the tux pressed and summon the entourage; it's glitz and glamour time today with the Hollywood Spy Awards (which should be lovingly referred to as The Dezzies, where the winners get a little Dez trophy, but that's just me, hehe).

Anyone who isn't already a follower of Hollywood Spy, go do so now. It's the go-to place for all movie and TV news and gossip. My guess is Dez has perfected time travel so he can keep us up to date on the latest and greatest that Hollywood has to offer.

In preparation for the ceremony, I've managed to score myself a mishmash of formal attire from across the ages:
You won't believe how hard it is to get a bow tie around a helmet.

Good luck to all those in the running for the awards, and I'll see you at the after party (where there needs to be a hot tub and a free bar, otherwise I'm out).

15 January 2011

The Great Spine Experiment

This post is a few months in the making. Back in September I posted the idea of judging a book based on the spine, since when we browse through shelves in book shops and libraries, the spine is often what we see first, and a quick glance at the bookshelves will mean that the most interesting and enticing book spines will be what makes us pick them up and look at the cover or read the blurb.

Based on the criteria I listed back then, here's what my 'to read shelf' back then looked like and what titles I'd be likely to pick.

Click the image to see the full size version
My eye is drawn straight to China Miéville's Kraken. Though there isn't anything that immediately stands out about the spine, the textured look of makes it look like something other than your standard book. This is what always makes me look at Joe Abercrombie's books. The same can be said for Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic. the symbolism in the artwork intrigues me, and effort has been made to tie in the look and layout of the cover with the theme of the story.

The books by Terry Brooks and Stephen Lawhead are usually ignored by me. I know of the authors and their popularity is what gets my attention. Brooks' spines are uninteresting since they use an unidentifiable part of the cover art as a background. Lawhead goes in the opposite direction and uses a shrunken down version of the cover art. In both cases, this has a negative effect, and the appeal of the books here would be due to the popularity of the author.

Both Karen Miller's Empress and Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows have a more simplistic cover art (one figure/ partial figure respectively) and so repeating the cover art works on the spine since it works well with the shape.

Vic of Hairnets and Hopes very kindly sent me a photo of some of her books to compare. Thanks Vic, and sorry for the major delay!

Again, click for full size
Immediately I'm drawn to Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars. I recognise the playing card symbols, but the arrangement and layout interests me.

Kristin Cashore's Graceling is another one I would pick up. Both artwork and texture are used very well with this spine.

Both John Connelly's The Book of Lost Things and Alex J. Cavanaugh's CassaStar draw my eye because text and artwork are combined so you can't notice one without the other. In the case of Connelly, the artwork is with the title, and in the case of Cavanaugh, the artwork is the title. Interesting additions done to the title will highlight it more and lessen the need for intricate artwork.

This is where Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot and Courtney Summer's Cracked Up to Be lose my attention completely, since nothing at all stands out in the spine. I doubt in a book shop or a library I'd even register that they were there.

I hope this all makes sense to some of you. If anyone has any similar pictures of their book piles that they want to share, please send them over. If I get enough I'll write a part 2 (with a little less delay this time!).

What first attracts you too a particular book when you're browsing through a shelf at the library or a book shop?

12 January 2011

The Stylish Blogger Award, blogfests and an awesome book from Dez!

Well, when it rains it pours. After spending the day looking at new apartments (one looks like a certainty, if all goes well I'll be moving at the end of the month) I come home to find a parcel from Wiley Publishing, which was the Name That Movie! book I won from Dez in his Hollywood Spy giveaway. Thanks again Dez!

I'm also participating in two blogfests. The first one is Alex's Top Ten Countdown Music Blogfest on January 24th. Sign up and list your ten favourite songs on the 24th. It's going to be epic! I'm also participating in The Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge hosted at Floor To Ceiling Books. Rules are simple; read at least 1 speculative fiction book every month this year. Take a look at the blogfest and sign up!
One last thing. I've been lucky enough to have been awarded The Stylish Blogger Award by Adriana and Tara. Huge thanks to both of you! The rules of this award are:

Write seven things about yourself, and nominate 10 other bloggers you've recently discovered for the award. So, without further ado:

1. I have a quirk where the TV volume has to be set in multiples of 5.

2. Pink Floyd's The Division Bell album will send me to sleep within minutes.

3. I'm a Grade 4 saxophone player (Alto Sax) and a grade 1 Tenor Sax.

4. I plan on having an authentic medieval style wedding, complete with wenches and mead.

5. I've always wanted to visit New Orleans. What with jazz and blues, Cajun cuisine, Gambit from X-Men and vampire fiction, it's a place I need to see.

6. I proposed to my fiancée on a gondola in Venice (that one incites jealous rage in one half of most couples I tell, hehe).

7. As a kid, cheese and chocolate (at the same time) was a favourite snack of mine.

I'm going to pass this on to these ten lovelies who have fantastically awesome blogs:
Talli Roland
My Book Journey
Floor to Ceiling Books
Monkee's Spot
Nerdville Rhapsody
Not Worth Mentioning!
The Movie 411
Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight
A Bibliophile's Reverie

Also, don't forget to enter my Giveaway for the chance to win one of three books!

10 January 2011

Review - Druids: The Ogham Sacrifice (Dalen Books)

Druids: The Ogham Sacrifice by Jean-Luc Istin, Thierry Jigourel and Jacques Lamontagne
Published by Dalen Books
Graphic Novel - 96 pages
Published September 2009
Copy loaned from library

There is turmoil in the 5th century Celtic periphery of Europe - an age of change at the end of the Roman Empire and an age of conflict between peoples and religions. Oppressed by Saxons to the east, many of the Celts of Britain have colonised Armorica in Gaul. Gwynlan, the last of the Druids, is caught in a mysterious battle for survival against the monks of the church. Accusations of depravity, murder, sacrifice and sorcery are rife, but the old gods are at hand to assist the righteous. 

The Ogham Sacrifice shows the waning of Druidic culture in favour of the gradual Christianisation of Roman Britain, and it effectively ties in a murder mystery with an overcoat of mythology and folklore. When a number of Christian monks are found decapitated and with a spike of wood through their heart, the Druids are blamed.  Druid Gwynlan and his assistant Taran are called upon to uncover the murderer, but they soon find themselves played as pawns in someone else's game.

The illustration by Lamontagne throughout the graphic novel is superb, with only a few panels looking sub par (when this happens, it happens to background characters). Action is clearly rendered and it is easy to follow the flow of the plot through the layout. The distinctive Celtic look, both in the characters and in the environment, are illustrated very well.

It is clear from the start who the antagonist is, which is a little detracting considering the murder mystery side of the story. However, this person is also a pawn, so the overall mystery is kept alive. The characterisation of Gwynlan is well put, since through his eyes you can see the pain of the recession of the Druid faith along with the xenophobia and prejudice that came with it. Istin also does a great job of peppering the story with Celtic mythology (with opposing views from the Christian monks who travel with them).

The Ogham Sacrifice is a great start to the Druids series, and it is a perfect fit for anyone interested in Celtic life and mythology, or anyone who enjoys historical graphic novels. This was one I had my eye on for a long while, but only recently I found a version in English (the original, rightly so, is written entirely in Welsh, which I can't help but think would add a little something extra when reading the story). Highly recommended if you can find it.

8 January 2011

The 100 followers giveaway!

I've reached 100 followers! WHOO! It's been a slow, steady climb but I'm there at long last. In celebration, I'm hosting my first giveaway. Here's what some lucky person could get through their postbox:

That's Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows, N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Karen Miller's Empress up for grabs. To make things more fair, there'll be 3 winners so you will get a book each.

If you want to get your hands on these goodies, here's what to do:

Send an email to me at mithrilwisdomATgmailDOTcom with "GIVEAWAY 100" as the subject. Throw in your name and postal address in the body and you're entered! I'm opening this giveaway to everyone, so go nuts! You also get:

+1 entry for writing a blogpost on the giveaway
+1 entry for mentioning the giveaway on Twitter
Bonus points for snarky, humourous and creative comments and posts.

I'll use the magic of the random number generator to pick the winners. The contest will run until Friday 21st January, and I'll announce the winner on the Saturday. What are you waiting for? Get entering! Be sure to link back to this post or let me know you've mentioned the giveaway! Good luck to everyone who enters!

5 January 2011

Trailers for Doctor Who and Being Human; BBC to release new sci-fi series [TV news]

Being Human - Season 3
2011 is set to be a great year for British geeks. BBC have released trailers for the new seasons of Doctor Who and Being Human, which are both incredibly awesome (if a little short - trailers below).

The new season of Doctor Who shows more of what we've come to love about the series. What I'm most looking forward to in that trailer is The Doctor all bedraggled and being in chains, as well as the strange symbols written on Amy Pond's face (a reference to The Beast Below from one of the David Tennant episodes).

Being Human's trailer is more of a teaser, and I'm really looking forward to this. The US has made their own version of the series (which doesn't look all that good) so I'm glad BBC are continuing with their own series. The combination of a vampire, werewolves and a ghost (and, in this season, a zombie too) promises to be awesome.

Also, BBC has released information for their new sci-fi series Outcasts, which follows a group of colonists on the planet Carpathia. They attempt to build a new civilization after Earth becomes uninhabitable. They soon realise that there is something else on Carpathia that threatens their fragile society.

What do you think of the trailers? Any other shows you're looking forward to in 2011?

2 January 2011

Review - CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh (Dancing Lemur Press)

Cassasar by Alex J Cavanaugh
Published by Dancing Lemur Press
Paperback - 246 pages
Published October 2010
Personal copy of book

Byron is sent to train as a pilot with one of the best ships in the Cassan fleet – the cosbolt. His headstrong attitude puts him under scrutiny of officer Bassa, who eventually becomes his navigator. Under the shadow of war, both Byron and Bassa have to learn to trust each other in order to work together, and they soon find a friendship that neither of them thought possible. 

The strength of CassaStar is most definitely in the characters the Cavanaugh has created. At first, I found Byron to be rather generic in his attitude and personality (as a very gifted but very cocky person, his personality matched Chris Pine's rendition of James Kirk in the new Star Trek movie). His relationship with Bassa, however, gives him his own voice that works very well. Cavanaugh has invested a lot in giving the reader characters that you care about and root for above all else, and he has succeeded in doing so. Despite Byron's cockiness, I found myself wanting him to succeed at every turn, and the relationship he develops with Bassa is one in which the reader becomes fully immersed, making the emotional payoff at the climax all the more poignant.

As a 'space opera', CassaStar is relentless in its pacing. It's fast and exciting at every turn, and even the lulls in the story are filled with the frustration of the characters to be back into the action. With such emotional attachment to the characters the reader feels this also, though the pace quickly picks up again. The scenes of space combat are very well written, and every turn of the ship and blast of the laser quickens the blood. This is space opera at its very best; all of the wow's and none of the how's.

CassaStar is not a hard science fiction novel. This makes it a perfect entry point for the casual sci-fi reader such as myself, though I understand this isn't beneficial to all readers of the genre. Very little attention is paid to the ins and outs of Cassan space travel or the technological advancements in the story. This was a major plus to me, since I wasn't bogged down by terminology or info dumps on the intricacies of life aboard a space shuttle and I could enjoy the story and the characters instead.

The only thing I would have liked to have seen is a greater understanding of the antagonists of the novel, the Vindicarn. The motivations and history behind the Cassan/Vindican war is not covered at all, which ultimately makes the battles between them a little pointless.

In short, CassaStar is a fast paced, fun read with superb characters that the reader connects with and cares about. The fun of space travel and combat are brilliantly illustrated, as well as the emotional disturbances that come with it. Highly recommended for all sci-fi fans, though the more casual sci-fi readers will get an extra kick out of it.