Sunday, 31 October 2010

Don't You Wish....?

...that this film would be made?!

It's Murder!

Way back in January I was offered my very first review copy, and this novel was Lex Trent Versus the Gods by Alex Bell. I loved the book and Lex Trent 2 is one of my highly anticipated 2011 reads. Over the year Alex and I have met more than a few times - she can tell you the "we were black listed from a casino" story! - but I was still delighted beyond words to be invited to the Lex Trent launch party.

Alex and her family invited a number of guests to take part in a murder mystery weekend held in Stratford-upon-Avon, run by a company called It's Murder! Fantastically, the theme was the 20s so we all got to dress up in delightful flapper outfits (feathers included!) *grins*

Here is a picture of Alex and her dad!

A cast of talented actors took on the roles of the various murder suspects, and we were allowed to interrogate them over the course of a delicious meal on the Friday and Saturday evenings, trying to find out clues so that we could work out whodunnit...

Here is a picture of the cast in their full regalia!

I was useless at trying to decipher the clues, and still had no real idea by the time we reached Sunday lunchtime and had to make our accusation. Even some time soaking up the culture on Saturday afternoon - visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon - didn't do the trick!

Of course, the late nights and the alcohol probably didn't help - singing the theme song of Team America: World Police to Alex drunkenly was a particular low point....

I was a little unsure about a Murder Mystery weekend to start with, but the It's Murder! team produced something special. They allow the audience to take as much or as little a role as they want - if you don't want to ask questions, then you can just sit back and enjoy the food and the performance. Of course, the alcohol does flow freely and it becomes all too easy to get caught up in the mystery!

I had the most tremendous fun - it was *exactly* what I needed after the week I've had - and it just leaves me to thank Alex very much for inviting me to such an exciting and unusual weekend, and to thank her lovely parents - Shirley and Trevor - for being the best hosts.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dark Fiction Magazine

I had the following press release bounce into my inbox today and I'm thoroughly excited by the idea. Check it out!

Dark Fiction Magazine ( is pleased to announce the launch of a new service for fans of genre fiction. Beginning Oct 31st (Halloween), Dark Fiction Magazine will be launching a monthly magazine of audio short stories. This is a free service designed to promote genre short fiction to an audience of podcast and radio listeners. A cross between an audio book, an anthology and a podcast, Dark Fiction Magazine is designed to take the enjoyment of short genre fiction in a new and exciting direction.

Dark Fiction Magazine publishes at least four short stories a month: a mix of award-winning shorts and brand new stories from both established genre authors and emerging writers. Each episode will have a monthly theme and feature complementary tales from the three main genres – science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Co-founder Del Lakin-Smith said: "I love reading short stories, and with the increased uptake of mobile and portable devices this really is a growth area. But like many I find I don't have as much time as I would like to read, so I tend to listen to many podcasts on the go. The idea of replacing my podcasts with high quality, well performed audio short stories is something I find highly appealing, so Sharon and I set about making that a reality."

Sharon Ring, co-founder of Dark Fiction Magazine, said: “From technophobe to technophile in less than two years; I spend a great deal of time working online. To while away those hours, I like to listen to podcasts and drink copious amounts of strong coffee. Now, while I don’t recommend you drink as much coffee as I, I do recommend you check out what Del and I have created. We love podcasts; we love genre fiction; we built a site to bring the two together.”

The theme of Dark Fiction Magazine’s first episode is The Darkness Descends and will feature four fantastical stories:

* ‘Maybe Then I’ll Fade Away’ by Joseph D’Lacey (exclusive to Dark Fiction Magazine)
* ‘Pumpkin Night’ by Gary McMahon
* ‘Do You See?’ by Sarah Pinborough (awarded the 2009 British Fantasy Society Short Story Award)
* ‘Perhaps The Last’ by Conrad Williams

Lined up for future episodes are Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jon Courtenay, Grimwood, Ramsey Campbell, Rob Shearman, Kim Lakin-Smith, Ian Whates, Lauren Beukes, Mark Morris, Adam Nevill, Gareth L Powell, Jeremy C Shipp, Adam Christopher, and Jennifer Williams, among others.

With a team of dedicated and passionate narrators, a central recording facility and a love of genre, Dark Fiction Magazine delivers a truly outstanding aural experience.

Dark Fiction Magazine will also be producing special editions with seasonal stories and topical issues, competitions, flash fiction episodes and novel excerpts. Each episode aims to shock and delight, to horrify and confound as Dark Fiction Magazine takes its listeners on an aural tour through the world of genre fiction.

Dark Fiction Magazine is a collaborative project, created and developed by Del Lakin-Smith and Sharon Ring. For further information, contact Del or Sharon at

Good, huh? I wish Sharon and Del all the best in their new endeavour!

Comfort Reading

Following on from my post yesterday, a lot of people have been suggesting to me that I pick up a comfort read - something familiar and beloved, that I am able to read and yet not read at the same time.

My main comfort read is David Eddings - fun, with little comedic flourishes, and a happy ending. Not a single challenge to be found within the pages. The good guys are good and the bad guys can be recognised by their black hats.

My question is: what are your comfort reads and why? Those books you return to in times of heartache?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Not Reading

Those who know me in a more personal capacity will have realised by now that I've been left pretty devastated by some news from the weekend.

I'm going through the usual not eating, not sleeping routine. What is more disturbing to me is I'm also struggling to read.

It is almost amusing that there have been times in recent weeks when I would have given anything for more time to myself to read - and now I don't want to.

Over the years reading has always been a massive source of comfort to me. It is what I turn to when I want to just forget the world and escape elsewhere. To not be able to do that leaves me feeling a little lost.

What I want to ask you, my readers, is: have there been times when you have lost the reading mojo? If it isn't too private, what caused it? How did you get it back?

P.S. I hope you can all understand that the blog might suffer for a few weeks. I hope to keep up posting, but, if there is less to read, I do hope you'll stick around and be back when I feel more capable.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

We start the book following Mikael Blomkvist as he is tried in court thanks to a libelous case he brought against an industry giant with a murky past. His name is brought to the attention of Henrik Vanger, the head of the Vanger Corporation - a man who is plagued by a possible murder that occurred forty years previously. Vanger offers Blomkvist the job of investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. Gradually Blomkvist is drawn into what he believes is an impossible case - with the help of the enigmatic and delinquent Lisbeth Salander, he starts to believe he might bring light to the events.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been a phenomenal success, hyped by many, and I was interested to see what Stieg Larsson actually achieved with the Millennium trilogy. We all know those books which receive hype, and are subsequently disappointing. I'm happy to report that in this case the hype is deserved.

That is not to say this is an easy read. The first 200 pages or so were a struggle to get through at times, and I found it all too easy to put the book down. In the second half of the book the pace accelerates to a driving rhythm which whips you through the rest of the tale. It becomes an absolute page turner (which is a horrible cliche - in the words of Michael McIntyre, that is really the least you should expect from a book, surely? *grins)

I found the prose stilted at times, but I don't know how much of this is to do with the translation of Larsson's original work. Give great credit to the translator, in the most part this felt like a very natural read with very little confusion. I would just say that I didn't appreciate the odd occasion where Larsson appeared to quote word for word the catalogue entry for various pieces of technological equipment.

Lisbeth Salander is a truly startling character - not someone I ever expected to love come the end of the novel. She is spiky, sassy, fiercely intelligent - but also annoyingly private and tolerating of virtually no one. Her upbringing is hinted at, and is made out to be fairly horrific. I wanted to read about Salander - she was totally fascinating and owned the book. I also liked Blomkvist a great deal - with these two leads the book had a strong central core.

At times the rest of the cast of characters could, at times, be mixed up. The Vanger clan was rather large, and led to some moments of 'who was that again?' There was a family tree at the beginning, but I wonder whether a detailed dramatis personae would have worked better?

The plot was intricate and detailed, with a fabulous jigsaw puzzle style - slotting each piece of information into place just at the right time to keep you reading and intrigued. I loved trying to work out ahead of time who might have committed the crime, but I totally failed to put the clues together! It came as a complete surprise, which I'm also pleased about - the book felt clever and not at all by the numbers.

I do want to mention some of the rather harrowing and graphic scenes within this novel. We are dealing with some rather nasty individuals and their behaviour at times was sickening. There is one truly horrible rape scene, which helped to show Salander's attitude and delved a little into her past, but I really didn't appreciate the dark quality of it. There was also a pretty horrendous event involving a cat, and this made me feel physically sick. I deemed this to be a strength of Larsson's writing - his prose made me feel nervous and sickened and as though I was genuinely involved.

Startling, dark and tremendously skilled prose - this novel is an incredible read. Not always easy, but well worth the effort. Recommended.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Chainsaw Gang

What is The Chainsaw Gang?

A chainsaw-wielding, gore-loving gang of brand new YA horror writers who've had enough of vegan vampires, cute'n cuddly werewolves and romantic zombies. New wave writers, old school horror. Ladies and gentlemen, start your chainsaws...

Who is involved in The Chainsaw Gang?

(as snitched from Alex Bell's website)

First up, Sarwat Chadda (unofficial leader of the gang – and the one with the Templar warrior heroine):

Stephen Deas (the dragon man of Gollancz):

Sam Enthoven (writer of fantastical action thrillers):

David Gatward (lots and lots of DEMONS!):

Steve Feasey (writer of ferocious werewolves):

William Hussey (who writes about ancient horrors):

Jon Mayhew (demons plus fog-drenched Victorian London = a double win in my book):

Alex Milway (he writes about yetis! And I agree with Sarwat on this – there just aren’t enough yeti books out there):

Sarah Pinborough (aka Sarah Silverwood – writer of murder, madness and the Knights of Nowhere):

Alexander Gordon Smith (yes, there are three Alex’s in the gang. At a future date I may stage a mutiny and attempt to rename the group The Alex Gang . . .) He writes about an underground prison run by demons! What more do you need to know? :

And Alex herself, as introduced by Sarwat: an escaped law student, and a collector of big dogs, neurotic cats, and crazy hats. She dislikes the heroic, selfless, goody-two-shoes heroes of recent YA fiction, and far prefers anti-heroes who lie, cheat, swindle and steal all the way to the top. Her young adult Lex Trent books are about a teenage thief, conman and adventurer; battling monsters, chasing treasure, breaking all the rules – and getting away with it.

Where can you get more information on The Chainsaw Gang?

Each of the members is web-savvy and has a website, where they are currently posting reviews on each other's novels and detailing where you can go and see them in real life. Check it out. The Chainsaw Gang is also on Facebook.

These are some incredibly talented authors, writing excellent old-school horror and adventure - go and make friends!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


On 2nd November one of the most hotly-anticipated fantasy books of the year is being released. The 13th book in the Wheel of Time - Towers of Midnight - is causing a frenzy of excitement as fans wait the last couple of weeks before getting their hands on what will be the penultimate novel in this long-running series started by Robert Jordan and continued by Brandon Sanderson due to RJ's untimely death.

For many fantasy readers, this release is beyond exciting - they just want to get their hands on the book and devour the new events, without having anything spoiled for them.

Hence, the limited amount of pre-release ARCs that went out to bloggers were embargoed. As in, bloggers were not supposed to release reviews of Towers of Midnight until 2nd November, so that everyone had the same chance to read the novel without risk of spoilers.

Embargo = a restraint or hindrance; prohibition

However, one particular blogger thinks that he is not restricted in the same manner as other bloggers. Most people have been respectful but there has been a certain amount of boasting about events/scenes in the book by one blogger - and I find this enormously distasteful.

Rules are rules, and there for a reason. Bloggers were asked to keep the lid on reviews til 2nd November - to go against this (even under the heading of "not a review - thoughts so far") is rude to the publishers who provided the early book and rude to the other bloggers who have managed to abide by the rule.

When Mockingjay came out, it was embargoed for EVERYONE until release day. Again, some people couldn't resist boasting about having secret copies, and spoilers were put on Goodreads that ruined it for many people.

Bloggers have a privilege of early copies. I have a copy of The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. I have been asked to sit on my review until much closer to the release date, and it is not in my nature to spoil anyone else's reading experience of this novel. I am abiding by the rules.

If one blogger breaks this rules, there is a chance that publishers will become more chary about allowing this privilege of early copies for *ANYBODY*.

My opinion is that embargoes are only given on few books - and bloggers should follow the rulings given. If a person breaks embargo, they should have their privilege stripped. It is a matter of ethics - the same as when people sell ARCs, even when asked not to by the publishers. I am angry that this is likely to go unpunished.

What do you think? Major over-reaction?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Winner! Book Video Awards 2010

I invited you to vote on your favourite of the four trailers for the Book Video Awards, before the award was given last Friday (15th October).

A few of you stepped up and duly voted - in your majority you picked Hypothermia as your favourite trailer. The winner on the night was the trailer for The Snowman!

And now I have picked my winner for the four books that were being voted on. There were a lovely seven people who voted and left me a comment - thank you to all of you (I know that crime fiction is not the usual to feature on my blog!)

In order you were:


I ran this through Randomiser and received the following result:

If you peer very closely, you can see that #1 came out as the winner so:


You are my winner! Congratulations to you and commiserations to everyone else!

China Miéville is not on Facebook and wants you all to know!

China Miéville has discovered that people are impersonating him on Twitter - and he's not happy about it. Here is a letter that he sent to Facebook, after receiving no prior response, appealing to them to SORT IT OUT!

Here is a copy of his most eloquent letter:

1601 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto
CA 94304
6 October 2010

Dear Facebook People,


1) The short version:

At least one person, if not more, is/are impersonating me on Facebook, with (a) fake profile(s) claiming my identity. Despite me repeatedly bringing this to your attention, you have taken no action to remedy the situation. And I’m getting very annoyed.

2) The full version:

This thing you hold is called a letter. This is the third time I’ve contacted you, and I’m doing so by this antiquated method because, and I realise this may shock you so brace yourself, I have no Facebook account. Which means it is nigh-on impossible for me to get in touch with you. Kudos for your Ninja avoidance strategies.

Back when you had a button allowing me to alert you to a fake profile despite not having an account myself, I contacted you that way. I was answered with a resonant silence. Subsequently, when the problem persisted, I hunted lengthily for, found and left a message on the phone number you go out of your way to hide. Absolutely nothing happened. So here we go again: third time’s a charm.

I am being imitated on Facebook. I believe the only reason anyone is bothering to do this is because I’m a novelist (published by Macmillan and Random House), a writer and broadcaster, with a minor public profile. I think there are one or two community pages about my stuff on Facebook – that of course is very flattering and nice of people to bother. The problem is that there is or are also pages by someone(s) purporting to be me. This is weird and creepy. What’s worse is I know for a fact that some readers, friends and colleagues are friending ‘China Miéville’ under the impression that it is me, and that others are wondering why ‘China Miéville’ refuses to respond to them. And I have no idea what dreadful things or ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ are being claimed as mine, nor what ‘I’ am saying.

I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:

• Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).
• Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.
• And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer.

I appeal to you to honour your commitments to security and integrity. Of course as a multi-gajillion-dollar company I have absolutely no meaningful leverage over you at all. If David Fincher’s film doesn’t embarrass you, you’re hardly going to notice the plaintive whining of a geek like me. All I can do is go public. Which is my next plan.

I’m allowing a week for this letter to reach you by airmail, then three days for you to respond to me by phone or the email address provided. Then, if I’ve heard nothing, on 16 October 2010, I’ll send copies of this message to all the literary organizations and publications with which I have connections

some of the many books bloggers I know; and anyone else I can think of. I’ll encourage them all to publicise the matter. I’m tired of being impersonated, and I’m sick of you refusing to answer me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
China Miéville

His letter certainly prompted me to wonder at some of the people I have "friended" on Facebook - are they who they purport to be?

Anyway, don't "friend" China Miéville on Facebook - if you already friend him, then defriend - because it IS NOT HIM.


Monday, 18 October 2010

Is it not time to kiss and make up?

Okay, I'm fed up. In the last few days (actually, weeks, months and years) there have been discussions like this and statements like: Proposition: We read SF to show how clever we are. We read litfic to show how clever we *think* we are. I've seen people ask: Are we, as SFF readers, our own worst enemy in marginalising our own genre?

At the same time, I've also been looked down on for participating in X Factor discussions on Twitter. People sneer at the fact I like entertainment shows. They've also said (not the same people) that I feature far too much literary fiction on my blog (which is odd considering my blog is called Floor to Ceiling Books!)

I think it is time for us to kiss and make up! I recently wrote this post, declaring my love for all books, and struck a chord with a few people. I also did a review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - a literary book rather than SF but one that absolutely should be read as widely as possible.

There are awesome literary books. There are fabulous SF books. In my opinion X Factor has as much merit as Newsnight in entertainment terms. I want us to join collectively and declare our love for BOOKS. (You don't need to declare your love for X Factor - I just want you to accept that everyone likes different things!)

All books are literary - they are literature. I am tired of having my book choices analysed and criticised. I am tired of all these barriers. Some authors such as Michael Marshall Smith are writing fabulous novels that cross all genres and enrich the lives of anyone who reads them. They might never win an award (although I think MMS has?) but who cares? I recognise them for being excellent, thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Okay, it seems as though it is my turn to rant! But I reiterate: can't we all kiss and make up?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Entangled by Cat Clarke

It isn't often that I remark on book covers during book reviews (since I believe it is the contents of the book that are important) but in this case I really have to! The cover to Entangled is simply beautiful and I'm sure will have people reaching for the book from the shelf.

And this is the story that they will read when they do: Grace is a rather bolshy teenager with her fair share of problems. However, they seem to have faded into significance rather when she wakes up in a featureless white room, kidnapped by a mysterious individual called Ethan. While she is kept captive, she is provided paper and pen and starts to write her recent history as a way to pass the time, telling the reader about her best friend Sal and her gorgeous boyfriend Nat. As the story reaches its conclusion, we learn the truth about Grace and her relationships in heartbreaking fashion.

This is not an easy book to read. It has funny moments, and the voice of Grace is strong and snarky, but it is more in the vein of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma than anything more light-hearted - dealing in delicate matters with great sensitivity.

Cat Clarke writes the voice of a teenage girl perfectly, with all of the paranoia, and sulks, and constant feelings of being misunderstood, as well as the attitude and cheek and fun. Grace is a hard character to like in the beginning - she is spiky and rebellious, enjoys fun with boys a little too much, and cuts herself... It takes the course of the book to understand Grace and her motivations, and the ending, when it comes, is truly harrowing - as well as somewhat hopeful.

To start with I wasn't at all sure about the sequences involving Ethan - I didn't know why he would have kidnapped Grace. As the mystery unfolds, I found myself gripped and then I admired Clarke's method of delivering the rest of Grace's tale via flashbacks as she writes down what had happened. By the end, Ethan is a very integral part of the novel and I couldn't see how Clarke could have achieved the same without him.

The one part of the novel I struggled with was Grace's friendship with Sal - I know that Sal was going through tough times during the course of the novel, but I honestly couldn't see why Grace would really like Sal. Of course, I might be forgetting the way that I made friends as a teenage age - simply orientating myself with those who liked the same things I did - but I do wish we'd seen more of Grace's and Sal's friendship beginning and then growing before the events of the book happened.

Also, as mentioned, I did find myself wanting to shake Grace at times - I guess I can attribute this to the skill of Clarke's writing, but it does make it hard to care about a character when they are so stubborn and bitchy.

The prose was delivered in first person, which ended up driving the plot forward at a sharp pace. I read the book in just one sitting, and found myself compelled to discover the mystery of Ethan and just what had happened to put Grace in her position. Clarke has delivered a very current, fresh debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her output.

The Dreaded TBR Pile

So, recently I revealed how many series I was currently reading and asked y'all to do the same, which you did in droves (well, there were a few blog posts *grin)

The reason I was poking around in my stacks was to find out the definitive number of my TBR pile. And I finally have it. The number of books waiting to be read and reviewed for the blog is *drumroll*


Crazy, non? I hasten to add that the bulk of these books are those I owned before I started this blogging lark - I've always been a bookworm!

What scares me is I have books in there that I can remember buying over ten years ago that I was absolutely bound and determined to read - and then they got put to one side in favour of my latest shiny...

Anyway, that's my naughty number - dare you share?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

I can't imagine there are many of you who don't know the story within One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (I must be one of the few to have never watched the film or read the book), but here is a brief summary: Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict routine. Her regime is unopposed until the arrival of McMurphy, a swaggering rogue of a character, who takes it upon himself to defy her at every turn on behalf of his fellow inmates.

I've been sitting on this review for a couple of days, and those who follow me on Twitter know that I have been having trouble marshalling my thoughts - how best to provide commentary on a book that completely devastated me?

I was told to read this - I've always been ever so reluctant to pick up those books deemed to be classics. I don't know why. Maybe because I feel I'll be made to look stupid when I fail to understand why everyone loves the book. With One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I completely understand why people talk it up so much - in fact, I plan to become one of those unutterably boring people who constantly recommend the same book to everyone.

I loved this book. It took me over a week to read and it is only 281 pages. For comparison purposes, over the last day and a half I have breezed through a book that had almost 400 pages. I just did not want One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to end - partly because I knew it was not going to end well, and partly because I couldn't bear to leave the characters.

Argh, I'm struggling, I knew I would! I want to talk about the darkness in this book which is chilling in the extreme. I want to tell you about the moments of hilarity that come out of nowhere and made me laugh out loud. I think you should know about the chilling social commentary that this book provides - showing the fine line between sanity and madness. But I honestly don't think I can do any of it justice.

McMurphy's struggle is seen through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a half-Indian who sympathises and understands McMurphy's desire to try and beat the system. Bromden's voice has moments of sanity and then will plunge into fog and disorientation which gives some indication of the pain and frustration that mental illness must force onto people who suffer it.

In the past I have made jokes about being an accountant, by saying that, although I do deal in numbers, I haven't had my personality lobotomy yet. Having read this book, those words will never again pass my lips. The treatments suffered by the inmates, including electroshock therapy and, in the worst cases, lobotomy, are described with harrowing honesty. I wanted to cry when I saw how many of the inmates were treated - what they had to go through for the sake of trying to cure them seemed absolutely unreal. (And can I say that it is positively barbaric the procedure of lobotomy has taken place in the UK as recently as 2001?!)

Okay, I'm starting to ramble so I'll close here. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a sensational read - honest, funny, harrowing. The characters and their fates are bitter-sweet in the most part, but you leave the book feeling a strange sense of hope. I desperately want you all to read this. It is easily the best book I've read in years - and it is one of the few books to move me to tears. Excellent.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Last Blog Post

Okay, it's not actually my last blog post - and I do apologise for the rather sensationalist title.

In actual fact, I want to write about the slightly gloomy and defeatist nature of fantasy!

Let me clarify...

Over the last few evenings I have been having fun cataloguing my books (and, for all those who have asked, I am using a good old Excel spreadsheet, sorting by genre, publication date and whether it is a review copy or not!) I've been thrilled to discover some gems I forgot that I brought, and I have spent a great deal of time saying things to myself such as "Why have I not read that yet?!"

One thing that jumped out at me immediately while sorting through my wonderful, wonderful books is just how many fantasy novels concern themselves with the last of something:

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle
The Last Dragonlord by Joanne Bertin
The Last Guardian by David Gemmell
Last Sword of Power by David Gemmell
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Last Page by Anthony Huso

What is it about fantasy that attracts all these tales about the last of something?

The End of the World is nigh and all that? I mean, many traditional fantasies do genuinely tell us about the potential ending of the world, the universe and everything in it if the protagonist does not get his ass in gear and save it!

I can't think of another genre that gives us so many instances of an Ending. Why fantasy? I'd be interested in any of your thoughts! And do let me know of other fantasy novels I've missed with 'Last' in the title. And, just for kicks, tell me how I'm wrong and point out novels from other genres that tackle 'Last' *grin*

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

An Ode to Books

Today has been a tough day.

The day job is uninspiring, mundane and a trial to get through. I struggle to engage with any aspect of it. I cannot even suffer through the days with colleagues, since I work in a quiet office with just one other person who is often absent.

I am an accountant and I a) can't imagine how I tripped and fell into something such as this and b) can't comprehend how utterly different it is from my true love in life. Which would be books.

I adore books. I love every part of them - from the browsing and choosing of them; to the deciding which one to read next; to the cracking open of the first page and not knowing quite what is ahead of you. I love being transported to different worlds. I love being so frustrated with a book that I throw it down in disgust. I enjoy the use of words, the formation of sentences, the lushness of truly great prose.

Books are my sanctuary. They are my hiding place. They shield me from a world that is often too terrible to contemplate. They provide me with inspiration, regret, humble appreciation and melancholy.

Every time I come into work and struggle through my eight hours I have the knowledge that a book is always waiting for me.

To those authors who read this: you made this. I am eternally thankful.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Ever-Changing Personality of the Bad Guy

What do you think about when you hear the term ‘bad guy’ in literature? And why are they all ‘Dark Lords’? And, while we’re asking questions, why are they mostly men? Where are all the ‘Dark Ladies’?

Evolutionary Phase 1: The Cardboard Cut-Out Villain

Let’s go back to the beginning, back to the Grand-daddy of fantasy fiction – yep, the Lord of the Rings! I understand I am courting controversy here, and no doubt people will be queuing up to tell me where I’m wrong, but I believe Sauron to be one of the most one-dimensional Bad Guys around.

If I may talk bluntly – his main motivation for coveting the One Ring is to “cover Middle Earth in a second darkness”; he is a glorified minion trying to emulate his master; and comes across as being evil purely for the sake of it. In addition to this, when does he ever actually feature on the pages of the Lord of the Rings – we hear about his actions “off-screen”, as it were; his voice and blazing eye are seen on the briefest of occasions through the filter of the Palantir; but we never get to know anything about the man behind the Dark Lord visage!

And Sauron is not alone… In the Dragonlance Chronicles, we have one of the rare female ‘Bad Guys’, Takhisis, the main goddess of evil and head of the Dark Pantheon. And I swear I just had to look up all of that information – I couldn’t remember a single thing about this character! None of her actions or characteristics stayed with me at all, despite the fact I remember other characters, such as Tanis Half-Elven and Raistlin, with great affection.

Finally, in a slightly more modern series (although only slightly, given the first book was published in 1990, which seems a painfully long time ago now!) we have Shai’tan, clearly a Dark Lord thanks to the redundant apostrophe present in the middle of his name!

Evolutionary Phase 2: The Three-Dimensional Bad Guy

This is the Bad Guy with the personality! I believe that there are two prominent examples of epic fantasy authors who have managed to achieve the seemingly impossible art of writing bad guys that you actually sympathise with and understand. One of these is David Gemmell – he is well-known for the ambiguous characters, drawn in shades of grey, who inhabit his books. The bad guys can sure be nasty – torturing, killing, beheading, maiming – but usually they are capable of acts of incredible kindness as well. A lot of the bad guys will go out to war, but then go home and be caring husbands to wives and devoted fathers to children (who usually happen to be adorable little poppets who love their daddy).

The other author is George R R Martin. We have two excellent examples of three dimensional bad guys in his A Song of Ice and Fire sequence: the Lannister brothers, Tyrion and Jaime. Tyrion is shown to be capable of great callousness, and yet great compassion as well – his treatment of Sansa Stark showed the potential of Tyrion actually being a good guy. In some ways, Tyrion is only a Bad Guy by dint of being a Lannister, and therefore set against the Starks, who are the protagonists of the series. Jaime was shown in the earlier books of the series to be reckless and arrogant, demonstrating malice and amoral tendencies. In later books, he has become greatly conflicted and a more powerful character due to this.

The main feature of all these characters over the Cardboard Cut-Out Villain is an ability to feel and show personality: they are larger than life in the pages of the novels they come from. They stand out as independent characters rather than just being created as someone that the Good Guy has to defeat.

Evolutionary Phase 3: The Hot Bad Guys!

Recently, in the urban fantasy genre particularly, there has been an increase in the number of Bad Guys that end up in bed with the protagonist. I’m thinking in particular of characters such as Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake series – here is a Machiavellian vampire, who is not above sacrificing people for the sake of his own power struggles, who has gone beyond mortal cares. On the face of it he is most definitely a Bad Guy (certainly in the earlier novels; in later novels in the series he was de-fanged to a great extent), and yet we are sympathetic to him because he is both hot and melancholic.

This evolutionary stage can probably be laid squarely at the foot of Anne Rice, and the bad boy vampire Lestat – since then we have lapped up the moody, poster boy Bad Guys that us girls believe we are able to redeem.

Evolutionary Phase ?: The Dark Ladies…

I can’t give this phase a number, since the Ladies have been present throughout all epic fantasy (right from where Grendel’s mother is a bit nasty), but all too rarely.

I’ve already made mention of Takhesis being one of the rare Bad Girls to bestride the pages of our epic fantasy. Can you think of many other examples?

I would probably list in their number Jadis, the White Witch of the Narnia books (although being a ‘White’ witch probably precludes her from also being a Dark Lady!) This is a cruel, bitter tyrant of a lady who wishes to cover Narnia in continual winter. Why? So that it never becomes Christmas – not exactly a great motivation for turning people and creatures to stone, and ruling with an iron fist!

As you can see from this all-too-brief glance at the ever-changing personality of the Bad Guy, it is easy to see why epic fantasy needs these Dark Lords, these petty princes, these manipulative vampires, these Kings and Gods who wish to rule the world. Even the most one-dimensional of villains imbue epic fantasy with a sense of menace and a desire from the reader for Good to defeat Evil – and as such they should be as important and as memorable as the Good Guys.

This article was originally posted to the Voyager blog

Friday, 8 October 2010

WALL-E - A Film Review

Approximately seven hundred years in the future, earth is over-run by garbage and devoid of human life. The only robot left is a little cleaning bot called WALL-E. He spends his days compacting rubbish into blocks and building immense structures with them, occasionally collecting interesting artifacts which he shares with a cockroach - his only friend. At night he watches 'Hello Dolly', and dreams of dancing and having a hand to hold. His quiet existence is turned upside down by the arrival of another robot, EVE, who he is immediately smitten by. Their story, as they realise the presence of growing life on earth, and return to the human spaceship Axiom, provides the entertaining climax to the film.

I unashamedly love all the Pixar films - but some more than others. I've never really managed to get on board with Cars or Finding Nemo, and my favourite has ALWAYS been Monsters, Inc. Until now. In my opinion, WALL-E blows Monsters, Inc. out of the water. I've seen complaints that the robot interaction and the lack of humans makes WALL-E a little clinical. Some people dislike the 'silent movie' aspect of it. And others resent the slightly heavy-handed environmentalism message.

I guess all of those complaints could be considered valid. However, I say that WALL-E himself is one of the most adorable and human creations from the Pixar stable, while his burgeoning relationship with EVE is both cute and romantic. For me, the 'silent movie' was done in stunning fashion - the quirk of WALL-E's eyes conveying so many emotions; the beautiful soundtrack that never dominated the viewing; the tiny little details that might have been missed had there been dialogue shouting all across the film. The messages about exercising, about avoiding complete computer immersion, about treating our planet with more respect - all are done sensitively and with real compassion.

I felt that WALL-E was a triumph, a masterpiece of subtlety that is both provocative and fun. And I'm a sucker for a love story - the tender relationship between WALL-E and EVE gave real heart to the movie; for clunks of metal they were surprisingly expressive! WALL-E is easily the best film I've watched this year - and will survive many rewatches. Excellent.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

How many series are you currently reading?

I was browsing my over-loaded Google Reader earlier, and saw this intriguing post on Bibliopunkk. Krys is currently reading 89 series!

It got me wondering just how many series I am reading. So, for your pleasure (or disinterest) I decided to find out. Here are some in all their glory - the full series and the number of books I have read from them. Towards the end you will just see the series, the number of books in it and the number I need to read (because no doubt you'll get bored of seeing an eternal list of books!)

1) Commonwealth Saga by Peter F Hamilton

1) Misspent Youth
2) Pandora's Star (read)
3) Judas Unchained (read)
4) The Dreaming Void
5) The Temporal Void
6) The Evolutionary Void

I have read two from this series, which leaves me four to read. I had been waiting for the whole of the Void series to be completed before I embarked on this full epic - now that this has happened, I will be gearing up for it!

2) Takeshi Kovacs by Richard Morgan

1) Altered Carbon (read)
2) Broken Angels
3) Woken Furies

I have read only the first of these books, which leaves me two to read. After having enjoyed Altered Carbon so very much, I am unsure as to why I haven't moved straight onto the other two... Possibly because I don't currently own them?

3) A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard Morgan

1) The Steel Remains (read)
2) The Cold Commands (forthcoming)

I am up to date with Richard Morgan's fantasy series! Well, up until he releases The Cold Commands...

4) Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde

1) The Eyre Affair (read)
2) Lost in a Good Book (read)
3) The Well of Lost Plots (read)
4) Something Rotten (read)
5) First Among Sequels
6) One of our Thursdays is Missing (forthcoming)

I have one book to read to catch myself up with Thursday Next before the latest book is released. Again, I adored the Thursday Next series and I'm a little surprised at myself for not continuing to read these books.

5) Horus Heresy - various authors

1) Horus Rising - Dan Abnett (read)
2) False Gods - Graham McNeill (read)
3) Galaxy in Flames - Ben Counter (read)
4) The Flight of the Eisenstein - James Swallow
5) Fulgrim - Graham McNeill
6) Descent of Angels - Mitchel Scanlon
7) Legion - Dan Abnett
8) Battle for the Abyss - Ben Counter
9) Mechanicum - Graham McNeill
10) Tales of Heresy - Various
11) Fallen Angels - Mike Lee
12) A Thousand Sons - Graham McNeill
13) Nemesis - James Swallow
14) The First Heretic - Aaron Dembski-Bowden
15) Prospero Burns - Dan Abnett (forthcoming)

Huh, this series is really starting to stretch out now... What I like about it is that various authors have completed novels in the series; it gives different flavours to the grim future of war. What I don't like is that I now have twelve books to read to get myself up to date!

6) Kyralia by Trudi Canavan1) The Magician's Apprentice
2) The Magician's Guild (read)
3) The Novice (read)
4) The High Lord (read)
5) The Ambassador's Mission
6) The Rogue (forthcoming)

I read the original trilogy some time ago and found it inoffensively fun to read. I've since received a couple of books for review and so intend to do a full re-read of the series to review on my blog. Leaving that aside, I have two books here to catch myself up.

7) Outlander Series

1) Cross Stitch (read)
2) Dragonfly in Amber (read)
3) Voyager (read)
4) Drums of Autumn (read)
5) The Fiery Cross (read)
6) A Breath of Snow and Ashes
7) An Echo in the Bone

My mum was also reading this series and I lent A Breath of Snow and Ashes to her, since I was reading something else when it came out. She still has it, some five years later! I need to read the full series again, since a lot of the details from the early books are hazy - but I did love this series. Two to read to catch up.

Other series I am reading include the following:

8) Avery Cates by Jeff Somers

Four books currently released; one forthcoming; I have three to read to catch up.

9) Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Six books released; one to read to catch up.

10)Lodes Chronicles by Fiona Walker

Four released; one to read to catch up.

Overall I discovered that I am currently reading 61 series. I have to read a whopping 246 books just to catch myself up with all of these series... Wow, I don't know whether to see that as depressing or a challenge *grin* How about you? Fancy counting up all the series you're currently reading?

A Different Sort of Review - Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

As regular readers of my blog will know, a chap called Bill Capossere and I are re-reading the Malazan works at a slow pace on the blog, a few chapters at a time. Last week we completed Gardens of the Moon and, rather than do one of my regular reviews here on the blog, I have decided instead to show you my recap of the book:

Well, Book 1 of a long, long journey completed and time to reflect on this opening chapter...

I don’t think, when I took on this project, that I knew how all-consuming it would become, or how it would force me to look differently at my reading habits. Over the last two months or so, I have come to deeply enjoy my time spent in Erikson’s world—loving the dissection of words, the wondering about foreshadowing, the commentary that accompanies every post Bill and I put up. When I haven’t been reading Gardens of the Moon directly, my mind has often wandered to it, which rarely happens with books I read. Part of that is the density and challenge provided by GotM, but mostly it is because I am reading it so slowly—enjoying every chapter, and not skipping past essential parts of the plot because I am skim reading. It makes it far easier to remember plot points as well, which I hope will stand me in good stead over the next few books!

Anyway, Gardens of the Moon...I started the novel with confusion and no little frustration as people I didn’t know had conversations I didn’t understand. But then gradually my understanding expanded, my desire to know more about the world grew and I immersed myself more fully in GotM. By the time the big finale came, I was a little bit in love with virtually all the characters, and I definitely don’t want to get off this ride!

One thing I have been enjoying most about the novel are the different levels of interest it provides—for someone like myself, whose attention is captured by human relationships and great dialogue accompanied by big ass fights and lots of magic, it does the job. For someone who likes their fantasy grim and grimy, it delivers. But GotM also delivers for those readers who appreciate a philosophical slant, and discussion points galore. Erikson writes comfortably on the theme of war, the fact that there is no easy right or wrong. He shows us moral dilemmas and doesn’t let his characters take the easy way out. In the commentary each week, I have seen some people take the easy ride like me, and just read this thumping good story, enjoying the characters and not looking much past the surface detail. And I have watched with awe as some of you dissect key passages, provide essays on points that interest you and argue philosophy. Good job! And what a great thing that we can get all that from one book and (hopefully) one series!

So, final wrap-up:

Favourite moment of the book? Probably when Rake transformed into his dragon form—I had waited so long to see it and it didn’t disappoint at all!

Favourite character? Hmm, I’m going to get tiresome and say Anomander Rake here! I think everyone who reads my commentary has been able to see which way that was going. Right now I have an almighty fiction-crush on the guy and I can’t wait to see more of him.

Would love to hear yours! And, y’know, least favourite on both counts if you have them...

So, onto Night of Knives— and I have to confess I’m a little nervous. Mostly because I am wondering how I will adjust to Esslemont’s writing style versus that of Erikson, and whether I will find characters that are as enduring as in this first novel of the Malazan. One good thing! I took a sneaky peek and there is no poetry in sight! *grins*

If you are contemplating Gardens of the Moon, I absolutely urge you to read it - push back the confusion of the first few chapters and you will be gripped. In different places, I have equated reading those first chapters to walking into the middle of a conversation or starting at a new job and not knowing the back history of all your colleagues instantly. Erikson's writing rewards those who persevere - with moments of humour, tenderness and real emotion in amongst the mystifying foreshadowing.

I absolutely adored this book, by the end of the two and a half month stint reading it - and so many parts of it have remained with me: Paran falling into the sword; the duel between Rake and the demon king; and then all the very human moments, such as Whiskeyjack talking with the rest of the Bridgeburners.

I am ready for step two of my journey - Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont. Head on over to and join us!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Book Video Awards 2010 (plus giveaway!)

The Book Video Awards is a joint initiative run by Random House and The Bookseller Magazine. Now in its third year, the objective of the Awards is to enable talented young film directors to make high quality video trailers for great books. Students from the National Film and Television School are invited to submit proposals to create a 90 second trailer for a book from a selection presented by Random House. The winners each receive £5,000 to create their videos which are then used to promote the books online for example on author and fan sites, YouTube and retailers. Videos from previous years have also been used in adverts, on TV news and as enhancements for ebooks.

The 2010 Book Video Awards celebrate four outstanding new Crime and Thriller books:

Blood's A Rover - James Ellory
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
Blood Harvest by S J Bolton
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

YOU now get to decide the overall winner by viewing the trailers and voting for your favourite. The winner will be announced at an Awards ceremony on October 15th.

I have an exciting giveaway connected the the Book Video Awards 2010 - I have copies of the four titles above, and ONE person will win ALL FOUR by simply going to the site to vote and then leaving me a comment below telling me which trailer you picked and why (giving me some way of getting in touch with you)!

So what are you waiting for? I will announce the winner on October 15th.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Children's Books Week

This week we celebrate Children's Books Week, and I thought I would show you five of the children's books that had a massive impact on my reading as a child. I've previously mentioned Roald Dahl on this blog, and also The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell, so here are five new books!

1) Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton

This is one of the lesser-known Enid Blyton stories, and follows a small sheepdog puppy as he grows into life on a farm. It is told in an anecdotal manner, and from the point of view of Shadow, showing the values of honesty and family coming first. When I was seven, I loved this book to death and begged my parents for my own Shadow. The book doesn't shy away from showing hardship, loneliness and bullying, but gives the usual Blyton happy ending.

2) The Borrowers by Mary Norton

This is a most beloved children's book, concerning the tale of Pod and Homily Clock, and their daughter Arrietty - tiny creatures known as Borrowers, who live amongst "human beans" and 'borrow' items such as needles, thimbles, crumbs of food and fibres from doormats. Arrietty is encouraged to go borrowing with her father and ends up meeting and making friends with a human boy. This is a wonderful story, with just incredible details and a warm heart at its core. I read this and the others in the series umpteen times as a child, and always desperately longed to make a Borrower friend of my own!

3) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

The story follows the Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger), who sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow, and the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), who sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers are staying at a farm near a lake during the school holidays and want to camp on an island in the lake; the Blacketts live in a house nearby. The children meet on the island which they call Wild Cat Island, and have a series of adventures, involving sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy.I loved the idea of children being left to camp alone on Wild Cat Island, and the food was definitely in the mould of Enid Blyton - tinned meat and lashings of ginger beer and lemonade!

4) Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh

The plot concerns a girl named Rosemary who buys a broom and a cat from an untidy woman in the marketplace. When the cat starts talking to her she learns that she has encountered a witch, selling up to start a new career. Moreover, the cat, Carbonel, just happens to be King of the Cats, presumed missing by his subjects ever since the witch Mrs. Cantrip abducted him. Unfortunately he can't return to his throne until the enslavement spell Mrs. Cantrip cast on him is undone, so Rosemary, together with her friend John, have to learn a little witchcraft and to track down Mrs. Cantrip for her at best ambivalent help. Well! The idea of any animal being able to talk to me was something I imagined constantly as a child - and Carbonel is just a fabulous character, haughty and affectionate by turn, just like a cat. Rosemary and John are likeable children, and there is adventure galore.

5) So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane

Nita Callahan, taking refuge in the library from bullies, checks out a book found in the children's section with the provocative title So You Want To Be a Wizard. On the way home, the bullies corner her, beat her up, and take a space pen given to her by her uncle. Before Nita goes to sleep, she takes the Wizard's Oath. The next morning she looks at her manual and sees her name in the wizards list. This book flirts with being a Young Adult title, concerning, as it does, teenagers learning who they could become, but I decided to put it on my list because it was one I read as a child and enjoyed thoroughly. The concept, for me, was everything - imagine learning that wizardry exists through a book from the library! Personally, I haunted the library for a while hoping that it would really happen to me - the things we do as children *blush*

Anyway, those are five of the books that had a huge impact on me, and kept me reading - how about you? Tell me your most beloved books from childhood!