Reviews

For The Win by Cory Doctorow. Book review

March 25, 2011

For The Win by Cory Doctorow. Harper/Voyager (2011) '14.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

For most kids of today, having a job where you would be paid to play computer games all day would be some kind of heaven. In this near future world, they can do just that. On-line games are big business and experienced players are needed ' but game-playing is not always fun.

Leonard is a sixteen-year-old American. As Wei-Dong he hangs out in cyberspace with a gang of Chinese players. His father tries to send him to a military school but Leonard runs away and gets a poorly paid job playing games. Mala and her army earn enough to get a better deal in the slums of Mumbai. One of their tasks is to help paying customers get their avatars up to higher levels where the in-game rewards are greater. They and Matthew's gang in China are also gold-farmers. There are players who will pay real money to have virtual items credited to their in-game characters. The gold-farmers get them, their bosses sell them. It is a commodity market. Real fortunes can be made or lost. The players like Mala and Matthew work in sweat-shop conditions. Big Sister Nor, who plays out of Hong Kong, wants better pay and conditions for the workers. She proposes a Trade Union, the IWWWW.

Much of the story is the struggle to unionise the workers and get recognition. This is a realistic, gritty and at times, bloody novel. Just as the original workers' unions had to fight for survival, so do these characters. Although this may look like a young adult book, For The Win contains deeply disturbing passages involving brutality and exploitation. These things are probably going on right now, in the places Doctorow describes. He has changed the parameters but the message is the same: act now.

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The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden. Book review

March 25, 2011

The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden. Simon & Schuster '7.99

Reviewed by Jim Mcleod

The Gathering Dark is the fourth part of Christopher Golden's Vampire Saga. Set ten years after the events of, Of Masques and Martyrs, we find Peter Octavian, having relinquished his vampirism, facing the biggest challenge to date. With the Book of Shadows destroyed, the boundaries between our world and that of the shadows are weakened allowing demons to walk freely on our plane of existence. It's up to the once former Shadow, who alone possesses the knowledge to fight the demons, along with an earth witch, a vampire and a priest, to fight the oncoming apocalypse. 

The Vampire Saga as a whole is one of the best urban fantasy series out there.  Golden has created a world that while familiar to fans of the genre is still fresh and highly entertaining. He gives a new spin on vampires, and their origins. This is a well written, fast paced and enjoyable read. Fans of Buffy might find some parallels to that series here ' not surprising considering Golden cut his teeth writing the tie ins.  While this is a good book that stands alone, I would highly recommend going back and reading the other three in the series, mainly because you will be missing out on a great saga.

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Outpost by Adam Baker. Book review

March 25, 2011

Outpost by Adam Baker. Hodder & Stoughton (2011) '12.99

Reviewed by Colin Leslie

Does the world need yet another post-apocalyptic zombie thriller? Adam Baker thinks so, and has delivered one, with his first novel Outpost. The Crew of the Kasker Rampart refinery are stuck in the arctic waiting for supplies when they realise things may not be going well back home. It becomes apparent that there has been an event (a global pandemic) and it's clear they are on their own. They set about planning their escape by exploring the surrounding snowy wastes. Then, when they come into contact with other refugees from the catastrophe, it becomes a fight for survival.

Okay, this isn't a zombie novel but those remaining act like zombies, so let's not be pedantic. This is a post apocalyptic novel, even though the true nature of the event is never revealed, and the oil platform, and sense of confusion, is reminiscent of the start of Conrad William's One.

While ramping up the tension and confusion, Adam Baker also ramps up the action and despite the limited canvas of the Arctic landscape, manages to devise an impressive variety of situations for the characters. The characters are perhaps the strongest feature of the book. From Jane, the faithless and suicidal vicar, to Punch, the laid back and heroic chef, there is a wide range of conflicting personalities.

There are some interesting themes lurking in the background with Jane's loss of faith, the contrast between the castle-like oil refinery and the sweeping panorama of the Arctic, as well as an ecological undercurrent. These backdrops are all kept low key allowing the pace to be maintained with plenty of short snappy action scenes. Outpost manages to satisfy with its mix of well drawn characters and action to deliver an interesting take on an overused genre.

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The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod. Book review

March 25, 2011

The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod. Gollancz. '12.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Magical PI Genevieve (Genny) Taylor ' the half Sidhe/half vampire hero of previous volumes ' is tipped into fresh controversy as the Fae community fall over themselves to alternately court and/or kidnap her. Why? Because Genny, as the only Sidhe female in London, may lift the curse that has condemned London's Fae community to a childless decline. How? By bearing a child by one of the London Fae.

In this book dead faelings (half breed faes) are found floating face-down in the Thames. Is somebody is trying to break the curse without her by sacrificing these girls? Genny, and her boss at Spellcracker.com, are set to investigate.

Plenty of scope for rampant sex, one would have thought. Though sex is discussed in great depth, and implied at every turn, there is surprisingly little in the way of 'getting down and dirty'.

The plots and counter plots are mind bogglingly intricate as Genny, for very obvious reasons, finds herself navigating her way through all of this to find a method of lifting the curse. Genny begins to disinter some of the dark secrets in her family tree and the reasons why she is so valuable to her friends and foes alike.

I liked this book immensely. Complex plots are something I love, though I found the explanatory narration was occasionally so convoluted it brought 'the vessel with the pestle' to mind. I did feel some of the sexual tension scenes in the last quarter, though evocative and well written, could have been shorter, as they did slow the action at a rather crucial point. Never the less, these things are minor.

The Bitter Seed of Magic is a real page-turner with good characterisations and expertly drawn senses of time and place. I read this in one sitting which has to be a good sign. Recommended for all the urban and para-rom fantasy crew.

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The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. Book review

March 23, 2011

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. Gollancz (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Colin Leslie

The Dragon Factor is everything a good techno thriller should be ' clever, imaginative and above all thrilling. This is the second in a series featuring the 'worlds oldest adolescent' Joe Ledger, following the best-selling Patient Zero.

In a tightly constructed plot which manages to keep many of it's secrets till the end, we follow Joe Ledger and the D.M.S (Department of Military Sciences) as they attempt to stop the evil Cyrus Jakoby and Otto Wirths from starting the Extinction Clock, a genetically engineered apocalypse. Of course things are complicated by politics and by Hecate and Paris Jackoby, the 'albino freaks' who are Cyrus' twin children.

What follows is a staircase of escalating evil with roots in Nazi propaganda and eugenics. The antagonists vie with each other to push the boundaries of nastiness involving racial disease, genetically engineered soldiers and the odd unicorn. To say the Cryrus's are a dysfunctional family is like saying that the sun is a bit hot, indeed it's the internal struggle between the twins and with their father that provides much of the conflict and most of the action.

At its heart though, this book is a thrilling adventure with Joe Ledger providing most of the interest and a fair few pints of blood as he battles internal demons, and external ones, in some furious action scenes. Think Jack Bauer on the Island of Dr Moreau with a healthy dose of Jurassic Park and you will be close to understanding this book. There's not much subtlety on display here but the cover image should probably have given you a clue about that and anyway, when you've got big guns, big personalities and unicorns, who needs subtlety?

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Book review

March 23, 2011

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Hodder and Stoughton (2011) '16.99

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

The cover of One of Our Thursdays is Missing bears a quote stating that this book is 'true literary comic genius' and describes the author as 'madcap', so I opened the book with some trepidation dreading another dismal Terry Pratchett knockoff. I couldn't have been further from the truth ' this cleverly written, intelligent and witty book had me captivated from the first line. Despite being the fifth book in the series, I was able to read and enjoy this on its own merits with no prior knowledge.

The Thursday that is missing is the renowned detective Thursday Next. Her exploits are legendary, and immortalised in fiction. In the Book World, where literary characters live and re-enact the tales that they live in for readers, the written Thursday Next starts to investigate the disappearance of her illustrious namesake.

Travelling through the various lands of Book World (each a separate genre: fiction, thriller, non-fiction, etc.) and even making a trip into the Real World, the written Thursday pieces together the clues in her search for the real Thursday Next, interacting with characters such as 'Loser Gatsby', sister to 'Mediocre Gatsby', and their elder brother 'The Great Gatsby'.

The author is clearly highly intelligent, well-educated and very well read. The book is peppered with clever literary jokes, puns and references to other works. It feels at times as though the author is channelling the spirit of the late, great Douglas Adams throughout the novel. If Eoin Colfer ever gives up working on the Douglas Adams sequels, Jasper Fforde would be a fine replacement.

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The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. Book review

March 22, 2011

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. Gollancz (2011)

Reviewed by Jim Mcleod

2011 kicked of in spectacular fashion, with the release of Abercrombie's The Heroes.  This was, for me anyway, one of the most anticipated fantasy releases of the year.  Set in the same world as his First Law novels, the basic premise of the story is simple: there is going to be a battle at some standing stones known as The Heroes, the battle takes place and we see the aftermath.

Pretty simple plot, yes? But this is where Abercrombie's masterful, and intelligent story telling comes into play. The Heroes, in the hands of a less talented author could easily have slipped into seriously B movie realms, all action with zero substance. However, Abercrombie infuses the novel with humour, wit, action and blood loss, yes lots of blood loss. The battle scenes are so intense and well realised that we can almost hear the roar of the battle and smell the rivers of blood flowing throw the battlefield. By creating very believable characters, Abercrombie manages to touch on themes like the futility of war, and what is a hero? Without ever sounding preachy or clich'd.

An extremely well written, thought provoking blockbuster of a novel. This is an excellent book; I highly recommend it.

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Conan’s Brethren by Robert E Howard. Book review

March 5, 2011

Conan's Brethren by Robert E Howard. Gollancz (2011) '20.00

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

If you own Gollancz's previous Howard collection ' The Complete Chronicles of Conan ' (and if you don't, shame) you'll want this companion volume. Both are handsome productions, a credit to a mainstream publisher. And both are edited by Stephen Jones.

Conan's Brethren is a massive 700 page tome full of stories that flowed from Howard's typewriter. Here are the tales of King Kull, Bran Mak Morn and, of course, Solomon Kane. At FantasyCon 2010 a panel discussion came to an unanimous agreement: Kane was everyone's favourite REH character.

Howard's writing may seem dated to the modern reader. It's flowery and melodramatic. At times you wish he'd just get on with it. Howard's characters are reflections of each other, bringing a similarity to the stories. And yet it does not matter because, in the main, the stories swirl along at a blistering pace. Howard has been described as a natural-born story teller. You can imagine him strutting around a room regaling an audience with his outrageous yarns, the audience lapping up every word. Reading this book I was fondly reminded of tales first read 30 years ago, such as 'Worms of the Earth', 'Skulls in the Stars' and 'The Frost King's Daughter' (later rewritten as a Conan yarn ' swapping Giant for  King).

In the Lancer editions published in the 1970s, many REH's stories were completed by the likes of Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp. Here, all you get is Howard ' except for the detailed afterword by Stephen Jones that charts the publishing history of many of these stories. Howard was prolific! In his brief life he produced a huge canon of work that influenced many fantasy writers over the decades. To discover more about Howard's life and relationships check out One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price [filmed as The Whole Wide World].

If you have any interest in the roots of modern fantasy and horror (for Howard's stories were steeped in both) get this book. (Note: although the copyright page says ' 2009 the book has just appeared in 2011 ' something to do with trademarks.)

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