Madame Xanadu: Extra-Sensory by Matt Wagner. Graphic novel review

September 6, 2011

Madame Xanadu: Extra-Sensory by Matt Wagner. Vertigo $17.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is the third and final volume in Matt Wagner's Madame Xanadu sequence (collecting issues 24-29). The six chapters are all set in New York of the 1960s, that time of change (actually, there were many times of change, but'). The first five deal with the senses: sight, hearing, taste, etc, each with different characters ' and with brief cameos by the seer; the exception is 'Don't Touch Me There', in which she does more than just offer supernatural advice. The episodes tend to be slight tales, perhaps they are a little moralising.

But 'Don't Touch Me'' is the strongest by far. Neon is a supermodel and rock diva, one of Randy Warsau's entourage, part of The Foundry, where also reside the avant garde musicians Subterranean Suede. Then there's The Portals from California ' you get the idea? Neon isn't just a model, though; she's something much older ' and very evil. It's up to Xanadu to stop her trail of death.

Extra-Sensory lists eight artists, and all do justice to their tasks. It's astonishing, the range of artists working in the comics field, on a single title ' I recall the days when the only artists were Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (or so it seemed). I prefer the variety of today.



Superheroes V Supervillains A-Z by Sarah Oliver. Book review

September 6, 2011

Superheroes v Supervillains A-Z by Sarah Oliver. John Blake Publishing '7.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

This book is split in two ' Superheroes at the front, Supervillains at the back ' but at just over 250 pages (ten of them on Spider-Man alone), it's rather a stretch claiming to be 'The Ultimate Guide to the Greatest Superheroes/Supervillains of All Time'. The main criterion seems to be whether or not said heroes or villains have appeared in films or TV (first appearance in a comic is way down the list) ' but even here Oliver is inconsistent.

There's Captain America ' but no Captain Marvel. Because he never made it to either screen? Well no ' the Big Red was in the Justice League Unlimited TV series. Aquaman is credited with 'various cartoon series' but no Smallville ' although Supergirl gets a Smallville credit. Under 'G' we have Green Lantern and Green Hornet (for the 2011 film only ' no 1960s TV series) but no Green Arrow (a regular in Smallville).

Neither Ant Man/Giant Man or Wasp are mentioned ' despite being in The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes TV series and both Ultimate Avengers DVDs. Oliver claims that Barbara Gordon's Oracle has never been in film or TV; so what about the Birds of Prey series'?

Frothy, irrelevant, poorly-researched; from the author of Justin Beiber A-Z and Robert Pattinson A-Z ' so draw your own conclusions. There's nothing here for any real film or comics fan.


Debris by Jo Anderton — book review

August 28, 2011

Debris: The Veiled Worlds Book 1 by Jo Anderton. Angry Robot (October 2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Eleanor Hopkins


Tanyana is wealthy, educated and respected. She is a talented pion architect and head of her own critical circle. The most ambitious and prestigious of her works, the statue Grandeur, is nearing completion, and Tanyana is at the head of her game. But something goes wrong, something flings her from her place in society; an accident perhaps, but she can't shake the feeling that the veche inspector and the strange puppet men are connected.


Now, fallen and outcast, her life, her purpose, and her very self changed forever, Tanyana must find a new place in Movoc-under-Keeper and work out whether anyone can be relied upon or trusted anymore. Her quest to discover why she fell will lead to more questions, yet the answers seem always out of reach. The end of this book leaves us with just enough of a sense of the bigger picture to want to read book two. Anderton has created a world based on an entirely new magic system in this engrossing debut. The story of a fallen heroine struggling to cope with her new place in the world is a classic narrative, but set in a grimy and dangerous world where threats lurk around every corner and the mystery unravels with complexity.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969 — graphic novel review

August 28, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Knockabout Comics '7.99 /Top Shelf Productions $9.95

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

Moore brings his saga of a re-imagined 20th century into the Swinging Sixties. Mina, Allan and Orlando (now going by the much hipper Lando) are dropped off at Dover by the Nautilus and arrive in a psychedelic London populated by more 60s icons than you can shake a bong at. The Saint, James Bond, Thunderbirds, Adam Adamant, Callan, Steptoe & Son' The Deep Fix is playing at the very club where The Rutles had their first gig; just round the corner there's a certain Jerry Cornelius (The Cure for Cancer incarnation: white hair, black skin and teeth, panda skin coat); in Hyde Park there's going to be a free open air concert fronted by the Purple Orchestra. The plot's pretty slight, once again centering on the pursuit of a certain Crowleyesque magician who has gone by many names over the decades ' Carswell, Mocato, Haddo ' but it's the ride that matters. O'Neill's artwork is complex but stark, filled with cameos and jokes ' this is one comic where each panel rewards close scrutiny. Even before Mina goes off on a bad trip there's a vaguely nightmarish aspect that the garish, neon-lit capital can't outshine.

Role on the next instalment.


Book reviews now online

August 27, 2011

Book reviews recently posted on the BFS website:

Absorption by John Meaney. Gollancz

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Headline

Bloodshot: Cheshire Red Reports Book1 by Cherie Priest. Titan Books

Downpour: A Greywalker Novel by Kat Richardson. Piatkus

Elves Once Walked With Gods. Elves Book 1(Raven Series prequel) by James Barclay. Gollancz

Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn. Gollancz

Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. HarperVoyager

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Gollancz

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts edited by Stephen Jones. Ulysses Press


Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn — book review

August 26, 2011

Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

'Mankind consisted of 128 people.' How about that for a hook? I remember it grabbing me when I first read Of Men and Monsters in the 1970s ' and it has the same effect now. 

In fact, it turns out that there are a lot more than 128 people. They all live in the shadows ' and in the walls ' of the Monsters' dwellings; the Monsters are gigantic aliens that, ages ago, conquered the Earth. The human beings live like rats --  and as people everywhere facing a superior enemy, become fractionalised, living in their own little tribes, each the enemy of the other ' more so than the Monsters, who are all but untouchable.

Eric is a warrior of the tribe Mankind. To live, the warriors must enter Monster territory and steal food, avoiding the creatures (who are likely to stamp the humans flat) and the other tribes living in the tunnels. But Eric falls foul of his tribe's leader and becomes an Outlaw; teaming up with Strangers, he seeks alien technology in order to take the fight to the Monsters. Long story cut short: he's captured, escapes, finds a mate ' and many die along the way by human hands and Monster tentacles. And in the process he learns about Earth history, science and technology.

Of Men and Monsters is, of course, satire. Indeed, in his introduction Graham Sleight compares this book with Gulliver's Travels. Looking at the current and the previous century, it is all too clear that Tenn captured the disorganised, untrusting nature of people with slight differences. Other comparisons will be obvious, such as The Borrowers ' and any house infested with (heaven forbid) intelligent mice.

The book starts at a rollicking pace. Then Tenn begins to explain too much, to repeat facts. In this day, this is quite irritating. But his original audience might not have noticed. And that's the best way to read this book: saviour the absurdity of the situation; marvel at the concepts; ignore the weaknesses; and enjoy one of Gollancz's essential SF Masterworks. It's well worth it.


Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — book review

August 26, 2011

Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. HarperVoyager '14.99

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Prince Jorg, heir to the throne of Ancrath, lost a brother and a mother in the worst way. Estranged from his father's kingdom as a child, he now has new brothers under his command, not of blood ' but he commands loyalty nonetheless. With his rabble of dangerous and often hard-to-control killers, Jorg journeys back though his past to reap revenge on the people who took away his family.

He is not yet a man grown but Jorg knows exactly what he wants, or at least he thinks he does. Count Renar, the man who killed his mother and brother, is the main target, and Jorg will do whatever it takes to get to him. But darker forces are stacking up against the boy. Faith, betrayal and powerful magic weave more challenges into his quest and there is more than just revenge at stake.

Hailed as the British answer to Game of Thrones, Prince of Thorns is certainly bloody enough and its protagonist cruel and interesting enough to draw comparison. There is something powerfully disturbing about a bloodthirsty 14 year old hell-bent on revenge, and I had to read on; this is a page-turner for sure. The gore is interspersed with well-controlled prose and literary references that drive an intelligent and compulsive narrative. No doubt a series to be followed closely.


Downpour by Kat Richardson — book review

August 26, 2011

Downpour: A Greywalker Novel by Kat Richardson. Piatkus '7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Downpour is the sixth novel set in the Greywalker universe. Our heroine, the PI Harper Blaine, lost her powers at the end of Labyrinth: Greywalker 5, and as a result she is reluctant to get involved in any supernatural investigations. But as ever a routine search for a missing witness at Sunset Lakes brings far more than she expected or wanted.

Harper is led by ghostly re-enactments behind a deserted cabin, to a burned out truck risen from the lake with the help of a Chinese demon. Working closely (if reluctantly) with the local Park Ranger and Law Enforcement she gradually unpicks a convoluted skein of warring mages, each working toward claiming the considerable Magical energy that resides beneath the lake's icy surface.

Plenty of action and laconic humour (often provided by Harper's pet ferret) in what is basically a supernatural whodunnit, as the clues point toward each suspect in turn before ending in the chaos of supernatural justice being served. And yes, for anyone who has read previous books in the series, Downpour is more detective than the supernatural fiction of Labyrinth, being more grounded in the now (as was the first volume), but non the worse for that. A good holiday read.


Elves Once Walked With Gods by James Barclay — book review

August 26, 2011

Elves Once Walked With Gods. Elves Book 1(Raven Series prequel) by James Barclay. Gollancz '8.99

Reviewed by Lorna Smithers

Elves live by a caste system based on the longevity of life and social function created and defended by Takaar, the elf who once walked with gods. Following Takaar's flight from battle ten years previously, that harmonious society, like the mind of its leader, is falling apart.

This book forms a harrowing portrayal of their descent into a vortex of violence, hatred and betrayal. From the moment the pages open a striking dissonance is played out between their reverence for the rain forest, traditions and gods and the brutalities they inflict upon one another and are imposed on them by men. 

Being unfamiliar with the Raven Series, I found Elves slightly confusing due to the lack of exposition and explanation. From the outset the reader is pitched full throttle into the relentless throes of the action giving little time to catch up. The plot is swift moving and permeated by intrigue, shifting rapidly from conflicts and crises, and undoing the reader's expectations throughout. The imagery and choreography of the battle scenes excels in forming a vivid depiction of the swift savagery of the distinctive elvish fighting style.

Overall this book forms a unique and powerful re-imagining of the Elven race.


Visitants edited by Stephen Jones — book review

August 26, 2011

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts edited by Stephen Jones. Ulysses Press $14.95

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I hate angels (got that out of the system). Of course, by this I mean all those cutesy 'beings' that act as personal guardians that make sure everything is hunky dory. Fortunately you don't get that sort of angel in this anthology of 28 stories. Stephen Jones ' one of the best horror anthologists working in the field ' makes sure that these deal with God's messengers as they (probably) were (or are or will be). I was hoping for creatures similar to those Mike Carey described in his masterful Lucifer comics. I wasn't disappointed.

It's a rule of thumb that the first story in an anthology should be the strongest. It acts as appetiser to the meal. Here, Neil Gaiman's 'Murder Mysteries' does the first job perfectly. It has to be perfect since the story takes place in the Silver City ' which God created ' perfectly. But obviously not perfect enough: there's been a murder. The last story is 'Going Bad' by Jay Lake, in which there's another crime ' this time involving 'fallen' angels. Although Lake's is a good, albeit brief, tale, the penultimate story by Christopher Fowler shines brighter. 'Beautiful Men' deals with the End, where a human is visited by angels, is tempted. It's easy to see why this story was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards.

Lake's story is set at/after the End. See the thread? Stephen Jones's selection charts the rise, decline and fall of these angelic beings ' humanity, too. Many of the stories are original to this anthology: Lake, Fowler, Ian R MacLeod, Yvonne Navarro, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Robert Shearman (a weird tale), Ramsey Campbell' Reprints come from Gaiman, Arthur Machen ('The Bowman'), Sarah Pinborough, Lisa Tuttle and Michael Marshall Smith among others. Do yourself a favour: become a bit new dark-agey for a while and buy this book.

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