Recent book reviews

September 11, 2011

Recently posted book reviews:

Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Orbit

The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell. PS Publishing

The Braided Path by Chris Wooding. Gollancz

The Magician King by Lev Grossman. William Heinemann

The Warlord's Legacy by Ari Marmell. Gollancz

Zendegi by Greg Egan. Gollancz


The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants — book review

September 11, 2011

The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell. Illustrations by Randy Broecker. PS Publishing '19.99,

Reviewed by John Howard

This is a new and greatly enhanced edition of Ramsey Campbell's first collection, published by Arkham House in 1964 as The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (the title had to be altered due to a mix-up, and the opportunity to restore it has been taken here).

As well as the original ten stories and 'A Word from the Author' we get lots of extras. Several stories are also given in the versions as first submitted. Campbell describes how he discovered H P Lovecraft and started to write his own Cthulhu Mythos stories, contacting August Derleth to ask if he would be willing to criticise them. It was 1961, and Campbell was fifteen. Derleth's response was welcoming, and the rest is history. Several of Derleth's letters to Campbell ' including that first one ' are reproduced. They show the pro's readiness to spend time working with a new and completely unknown writer, and to give plenty of constructive criticism (often bluntly stated). Derleth urged Campbell to forget Massachusetts and to create his own places in contemporary England, and above all provided the encouragement to make him revise, rewrite, and try and try again. Campbell made his first sale to Derleth the following year; that story, 'The Church in High Street,' is also included along with its first version 'The Tomb-Herd'.

Reading an author's earliest published work inevitably leads to comparisons with what followed. The stories in The Inhabitant of the Lake are for the most part rather painful and obvious pastiches barely redeemed by their vivid settings. But they also show Campbell's ability to learn quickly: as the stories go on the characters at least start talking to each other in a much more believable way. It only took a couple more years for Ramsey Campbell to leave behind the false notion that 'the style makes the stories' and to journey into his own unique voice.


Zendegi by Greg Egan — book review

September 11, 2011

Zendegi by Greg Egan. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed by R A Bardy  [@mangozoid]

This is a tale split into two halves ' the first covers a present-day Iran (2012) experiencing severe political upheaval eerily similar to this year's troubles in Egypt and Libya, serving to introduce Martin Seymour as the journalist sent to cover the Iranian elections, and Nasim as a brilliant computer scientist pushing the boundaries of virtual world-building.

The second part takes place 15 years later and Martin has now settled in Iran, is widowed and trying to raise his only son (Javeed) after contracting a terminal illness. Here too we also find Nasim's earlier research has put her at the head of Zendegi, a virtual world used regularly by millions for business and entertainment purposes. Cue the efforts of Martin and Nasim to build a virtual father figure intending to guide Javeed to adulthood by mapping Martin's reactions to varying stimuli in the virtual world.

I really struggled with this book and found the author's tendency for info-dumping extremely jarring ' it got so bad I chose to put the book down initially, resolving to try again at a later date. I am glad I did, but only to the extent that I can categorically assure others that this story is slight at best, and at least 150 pages too long. I'm not a regular reader of Greg Egan but if this is an example of his recent writing then I'm happy to pass and consider trying his earlier work instead.


The Braided Path by Chris Wooding — book review

September 11, 2011

The Braided Path by Chris Wooding. Gollancz '16.99

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Kaiku's family is slaughtered yet she is saved, granted life by a strange companion and awakened to the truth of what lives inside her. Now, bereft of her old life and with only her father's mask to keep the burning desire for vengeance alive, she journeys to the heart of Saramyr politics to seek answers.

Through their masks, Weavers harness the ancient magic of the Witchstones, enhancing the capacity to create and destroy. The immense power has granted them access into the heart of the empire's control, and now they plot from within threatening the very land itself. The Braided Path takes Kaiku and the allies she meets on a journey to the centre of the Weavers secrets, but more will be discovered there than she would ever wish to see or experience.

Bringing together his trilogy in one volume, Wooding's intricate and exotic world plays landscape to a fantasy that is as dark and disturbing as it is enlightening and compelling. The addiction of the Weave and the lure of the magics in Saramyr are handled with a deft control over visual imagery, and the threads of the story play out in a narrative that is rich in detail and complexity.

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