The Zombie Autopsies by Stephen C Schlozman, MD — book review

August 15, 2011

The Zombie Autopsies by Stephen C Schlozman, MD. Bantam Press '12.99.

Reviewed by Jim Steel

Ever since Romero gene-spliced voodoo myth with the zombie Ur-text of Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids to create the modern zombie apocalypse, there has always been a reluctance to look too closely in case the whole shambling edifice falls apart beneath the hard stare of the observer. Luckily the survivors are normally too busy shooting zombies in the head to question the science behind it.

But what if a doctor were to approach the problem scientifically? And Schlozman really is a MD, so this short novel does have an air of authenticity. The core of the book consists of the recovered diary of a scientist on a research island who is trying to discover how the disease is spread. As his doomed team collapses around him, they continue with 'autopsies' on 'living' zombies (who, chillingly, are the previous team of researchers).

Doctor Blum - surely named for Michael Blumlein, the greatest of medical horror writers ' goes into delightfully clinical detail on pH and prions, bone clippers and Stryker saws, all the while advancing the plot towards the inevitable end. Blum doesn't find the answer, but his team gets very close and the disease becomes a believable horror for even the most jaded of readers. Blum's diary is followed by copious appendixes featuring UN reports and more 'found' texts, filling out the scale and cause of the disaster.

The book is slightly over-designed which probably helped to bulk out a low wordage. The diary section is reproduced in a hand-written font in weathered pages while there are copious drawings from one of Blum's team (in reality by Andrea Sparacio) which are best described as functional rather than aesthetic. Schlozman's lengthy acknowledgements are hilarious.


Ghost Story by Jim Butcher — book review

August 15, 2011

Ghost Story: A Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher. Orbit '14.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Volume 13 in the Dresden Files that follows on directly from the cliff-hanger ending we saw in Changes. (If you haven't read that one yet ' and intend to ' then stop reading this review now!).

At the end of Changes Harry Dresden was shot, so it comes as no real surprise when he finds himself to be very much dead. Far from being allowed to rest in peace he is sent back to find his killer before three of his best friends die, not to mention half of Chicago. 

I picked up Ghost Story with some trepidation ' fearing that Harry Dresden without his signature battle cries of 'Forzare' and 'Fuego' might be de-fanged. But Harry as an incorporeal being is an interesting experience. True, his ability to fight is severely restricted but that leaves Harry reliant on his legendary wits and survival instincts. He must find ways to communicate with the living and also defend himself against the dead; because a lot of bad guys that he despatched in his time want a piece of him now that he is a ghost. 

The biggest issue in Ghost Story is consequences. Harry is made aware of how his single-minded course of actions to save his daughter had a profound, and mostly devastating, affect on the lives of the people he has left behind. I say no more ' because I wouldn't want to give any spoilers. Let's just say that the ending is an odd one, thoroughly intriguing and promising many interesting events to come in the advertised volume 14: Cold Days.

An excellent read, as always and highly recommended.


Desires of the Dead by Kimberley Derting — book review

August 14, 2011

Desires of the Dead by Kimberley Derting. Headline '6.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

This is a sequel to The Body Finder, in which sixteen year old Violet Ambrose realised that the gift she had had since she was a little girl ' sensing where the undiscovered bodies of murder victims were (and also tuning into the vibration of their killers) ' was going to help her catch a serial killer who was murdering people in the small town where she lives. Sorry to give away the plot, but given that this is book number two in the series, Violet obviously triumphed in her previous quest and came to no harm. What worked in that book was the basic premise, the well-rounded characters, the pace, the romance (hey, it is a young adult book after all) and the creepy chapters told from the killers viewpoint.

Now we go from book one with the blue flower on the cover to book two with the pink flower on the cover, as a few months have passed and Violet is trying to lead as normal a life as she can, but by helping the police out again she has come to the attention of the FBI (and to be honest the involvement of the FBI here is a bit clich'd and not that original). She does her best to resist their advances as best she can, but her life takes a dark turn and they might be the only people who can help her. Desires of the Dead could almost work as a stand alone title, but again it shares the same drive, romance, twists and unexpected turns as its predecessor due to a good mixture of third and first-person narrative, which is a welcome change from the normal introspective first-person fare of the young adult novel. My only quibble is that Derting's next novel. The Pledge. is possibly the start of a new series of fantasy books so it might be a while before we can say hello to Violet again.


The Departure by Neal Asher — book review

August 14, 2011

The Departure by Neal Asher, Tor '17.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

Bring it on! Here we go, the first of a new series, the Owner trilogy from Neal Asher. Yes, or rather no, it isn't anything to do with The Polity, but rather something a bit more closer to home in terms of viewpoint and plausibility as it concerns events on twenty second century Earth and on colonised Mars, and on the Argus station from where the all-watching 'Committee' keep a brutal control. The super-rich have plenty, especially food which is in short supply for everyone else, whereas most of the poor are branded as ZA's -- Zero Assets and consigned to a ruined Earth, that is if they don't break the rules and find themselves scheduled for readjusting, or incineration, or sent to the digesters to be recycled as food. In fact, being incinerated is the fate that awaits our hero, Alan Saul, who wakes up in a crate bound for the incinerator, with holes in his memory and things implanted inside his head, and more than a burning desire for revenge against the man who interrogated him and put him in this dire position. Meanwhile, on the Mars colony, things aren't much better as the colonists have discovered that they are disposable and there is no way back for them due to cutbacks which means that they are stranded with dwindling resources and have to do something about it ' fast, if they are to survive.

The Departure picks up with the origins of the character called 'The Owner' who has featured in some Asher short stories and runs with the concept, although it might prove disappointing for some Asher devotees more used to weird creatures, major tech and dazzling and bewildering weaponry. That's not to say that Asher isn't any less inventive, but we are clearly in Saul's head (along with something else) and very much on his side. Fast, furious, violent, slightly tongue-in-cheek (I think), and a whole lot of fun that makes 1984 seem like a children's tea party, with a great cover from regular artist Jon Sullivan, adding up to the start of another promising series from Asher. Go on, dive in, you won't be disappointed.


Kitty and the Midnight Hour; … Goes to Washington; … Raises Hell — book reviews

August 14, 2011

Kitty and the Midnight Hour; Kitty Goes to Washington; Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn. Gollancz '6.99 each

Reviewed by Rhian Bowley

Kitty's a DJ on a late-night radio show. She's also a werewolf. At the start of the series she's struggling to come to terms with that, and trying to keep it secret. Before long, her two lives meet and her radio show becomes the call-in show for anyone with questions about the supernatural ... and the supernatural themselves. Think Frasier, with fangs, for the fey.

I was sent books one, two and six. A shame to have missed out on the intervening adventures, but it let me discover that, once she shakes off the traumas that shadow her in book one, Kitty shapes up as a fine main character. Struggling with her wolf side gives her the requisite conflict, and Vaughn assembles a rich cast of supporting characters. The plot arcs are unsurprising ' Kitty getting into trouble with other supernaturals, trouble it looks like she won't be able to handle, but thanks to her quick wits and trusty side-kicks she gets there in the end ' but they are always well written and fast-paced. I wish it had slowed down sometimes, actually; often the plot sped away when it could have lingered, when I would have liked to spend longer with a character or situation. But given that this is a series, and that ...Raises Hell shows clear advancement from the first two, it might be that the series gives more depth if all the instalments are read.

Something I struggled with is that these werewolves aren't very likeable ' here it is the wolf running the show, rather than a human exulting in their cool wolf powers. So, there are alpha power-plays that made me uncomfortable in ...Midnight Hour, and the breaks in action while Kitty has to placate her wolf, or her pack, can start to grate. But that is also a strength, because I like that Vaughn's set up is imaginative and different from other werewolf stories. A lot of work has clearly gone into this world.

I wish that more was made of music in these books ' each starts with a page that's a playlist, and Kitty's a DJ, so I expected that songs would be a background throughout, they way they pulse through other series, like Stacia Kane's Downside. But apart from a recurring (and inevitable) 'Bad Moon Rising' it is barely mentioned, and that feels like a missed opportunity.

Of the three, Kitty goes to Washington was much more fun than her first outing. Away from the aggression and abuse of the other werewolves, Kitty adventures alone and starts to enjoy herself. I loved the club she finds, full of hedonistic lycanthropes ' were-jackals, were-foxes and a sexy were-jaguar from Brazil. I can't say much about Kitty Raises Hell without serious spoilers, just that Kitty's still on the radio and still getting into trouble. If you enjoyed the earlier books, you'll enjoy the sixth, too.  


Moondance of Stonewylde by Kit Berry — book review

August 14, 2011

Moondance of Stonewylde by Kit Berry. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed By Carl Barker

The Stonewylde series of books are best described as a pleasant slowburner of a tale, set in a fictional modern-day community hidden deep in the heart of Dorset. Originally self-published as a trilogy, the series has now been picked up by Orion/ Gollancz, with a further two books to come in the series over the next year or so.

This second book in the original trilogy continues the journey of young Yul and Sylvie as their attraction for each other grows beneath the malevolent gaze of the community's leader, Magus, who intends to exploit Sylvie's unique magical talents for his own ends.

The characters are well-written with the whole community given chance to breath throughout the story without detracting from the main story arc. The main players, though perhaps lacking a little in complexity at times, nevertheless remain true to their particular ethos throughout and Magus in particular is a character who draws a direct sense of moral outrage from the reader via his callous regard for others within his community.

The ending leaves many questions unanswered and though able to be enjoyed as a standalone book, this evidently works better as part of a greater whole and readers would be advised to visit the first book in the series beforehand in order to gain a better understanding of Stonewylde.


Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll — book review

August 14, 2011

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll. Bantam Books '7.99

Reviewed By Ian Hunter

Nice cover, that long walk, that glance over the cover, and she should be worried, our heroine, because she didn't really want to do that. Like those old warnings: don't go off the path, don't go down into the cellar, or the attic, or the graveyard, or run away from the zombies/creatures/killers/whatever, because you are bound to fall over and twist your ankle. Just don't, DON'T do any of the above and especially don't go into that strange little shop you've never noticed before run by that odd little old man and agree to help him open that box that's shut tight, just don't, okay? Even if the box does bear some markings that are the same as on the ring and necklace you are wearing. Ach, didn't I tell you not to do that? Too late, down on her luck jeweller, Garet James, agrees to help and the box is open and everything has changed. Our world has merged slightly with the unseen world of the fey, and the demons are out of the box, so now is a handy time for Garet to learn she is one of a long line of guardians which stood guard between both worlds, and now if only she can find reborn 16th Century magician Dr. John Dee and get him to help combat those demons it will be like she never opened that box. Which sounds like a great plan in the grand scheme of things, but Garet has a whole lot of other issues to deal with to do with her financial worries and her father's failing health

Okay, I'm being more than a little unfair on a book (written by the husband and wife team of Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky) which is actually very well-written and imaginative, despite having a few familiar stock characters in the shape of vampires (oh, no, Garet, just don't fall for him ' haven't you read my 'don't' list?) and dragons, but at least Garet comes across as a more 'grounded' heroine. It's got romance, horror, a good dollop of urban fantasy, and a lot of research which doesn't slow things down too much, and all in all makes a welcome addition to the urban fantasy field.


Do Not Pass Go by Joel Lane — chapbook review

August 11, 2011

Do Not Pass Go by Joel Lane. Nine Arches Press/Hotwire '5.00.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Joel Lane writes with a passion for Birmingham's dark side, and that of the equally dismal surroundings in the Black Country. Sure, the place names may not mean much if you don't know the locations used by Lane. But to this reviewer, who spent twenty years in that city, they evoke memories and feelings (some good, some not so) of England's "Second City". Into this arena, Lane's characters attempt to deal with their weaknesses, their failings, their vices. The five stories contained in this chapbook (one original, four reprints) exemplify these superbly. They are always human, always vulnerable -- even when one might think otherwise.

Nine Arches Press's imprint, Hotwire, has produced a neat, clean-looking chapbook (40 pages). I especially like the cream-coloured paper and the black end pages. They add a touch of sophistication that contrasts with the dismal episodes described herein. Even though it's a slim publication, a contents page would've been useful. And I would've preferred some more imaginative artwork on the cover.


The Sixty: Arts of Andy Bigwood — book review

August 11, 2011

The Sixty: Arts of Andy Bigwood by Andy Bigwood. Immanion '31.99

Reviewed by Chris Morgan

As an art collector and auctioneer at conventions, I've noticed the increasingly impressive artwork that Andy Bigwood has been bringing along to cons for several years. And he's been the cover artist for quite a few recent anthologies, novels and non-fiction, notably from Immanion.

This book shows the range and versatility of Bigwood's work, with SF, fantasy, horror and some non-fantastic figure and landscape pictures. Fans of his art will be delighted to see a bookfull of his art. He's a digital artist, who works partly from his own photos: more details of him and exactly how he works would have been helpful.

There are lots of exciting images here. My own favourite is "Future Bristol" with its massive Cities in Flight architecture. In sharp contrast is the delicacy of "Alien Tea" (a BSFA award winner from 2008) and some of the figure work. In a few cases it looks as if the pictures have been over-enlarged.

The book is an anthology of 1-page stories and extracts from 43 writers, including big names like Ian Watson, Ken MacLeod and Juliet McKenna. With a maximum of 500 words, only a few of these pieces are really successful. On the whole each fits reasonably well with the accompanying illustration, though the overall result is disjointed, some of the pieces being unexplained snippets, unfair on their authors and on the reader. Even Bigwood's longer story at the end (magic and heroic fantasy among centaurs) is too brief for its concept -- though it does explain the book's title. Another problem is that the text appears not to have been edited or proofread; paragraphing and punctuation are eccentric and vary from piece to piece. But art books stand or fall on the quality of the art; this has plenty of impressive pictures.


Ghostgirl: Lovesick by Tonya Hurley — book review

August 11, 2011

Ghostgirl: Lovesick by Tonya Hurley. Headline '6.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

She's got the look, or rather the Ghostgirl series of books have. They have an unusual size ' not like your regular paperback. The first one in the series Ghostgirl had a dark cover and was very funeral-inspired with a cover that could double as a gothicy mirror and the rough outline of a coffin. The second title Ghostgirl: Homecoming continued the mirror motif, with a reflection of our dead heroine Charlotte Usher aka Ghostgirl, looking like a character out of Roman Dirge's 'Lenore' comics; while this third title Ghostgirl: Lovesick still retains that distinctive shape, but this time we get a red cover, and a heart-shaped mirror pendant, reflecting Charlotte, who is blowing a kiss'

If you haven't read any of the Ghostgirl series you will be unfamiliar with the world of the dead that Charlotte now inhabits, although to be honest, she has just as many problems as she had when she was alive with her Dead Ed classmates, Dead Ed handbook, the Dead Dorm and the Fall Ball to contend with.

Basically, it's Mean Girls or Heathers or any range of teen comedy/dramas except most of the protagonists are dead which does allow for some nice invention and wonderful characters like Piccolo Pam, Deadhead Jerry, Suzy Scissorhands, and Silent Violet. But just when things are starting to go right for Charlotte -- she's getting the hang of this being dead business and has a new boyfriend -- she had one last task to perform, back in the real world at the place where she died. Can she hold it together and get the job done? Well, no spoilers here, but what do you think? All in all, a good conclusion to the trilogy, but with a few strands left unresolved, so I wouldn't be surprised if author Hurley, lifts that creaky coffin lid once more in the future and let's us visit that Dead Ed class again.

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