Monday, September 01, 2014

“Vengeful Spirit” by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

McNeill-HH-VengefulSpiritThe Traitor Horus returns…

Once the brightest star in the Imperium and always first among his primarch brothers, Horus has dragged the Space Marine Legions into the bloodiest conflict that the galaxy has ever seen. While their allies wage war on a thousand different fronts, the XVIth Legion descend upon the Knight world of Molech – home to the ruling House Devine, and a principal stronghold of the Imperial Army. The forces loyal to the Emperor stand ready to defy the Warmaster, but just what could have drawn Horus to attack such a well defended planet, and what might he be willing to sacrifice to fulfill his own dark destiny?

With its 29th instalment, the Horus Heresy series continues to entertain and impress. McNeill is probably the most skilled of the ‘old hands’ still working on the series, and with Vengeful Spirit he brings Horus himself back into the spotlight. It’s an epic, engaging novel, with just a couple of minor niggles, but also a few welcome surprises.

Friday, August 29, 2014

“Created: The Destroyer” by Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir (Sphere)

MurphyW-D01-CreatedTheDestroyerUKLong-running, mega-selling pulp thriller series makes it over to the UK

One legendary hero. One epic series.

Sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, ex-cop Remo Williams is rescued from the electric chair at the eleventh hour and recruited by a secret government organisation named CURE. From this moment, he ceases to officially exist.

From now on, he will be an assassin, targeting criminals who are beyond the law. Remo’s trainer is a grouchy old Korean named Chiun, whose mastery of the terrifyingly powerful martial art of Sinanju makes him the deadliest man alive.

Together Remo and Chiun set forth on their epic, impossible mission to vanquish every enemy of democracy – every bad guy who thinks they can escape justice.

This is a new era in man’s fight against the forces of evil.

This is the time of the Destroyer.

According to the press release, this series (which clocks in at 50 books!) has sold more than 50 million copies. That’s pretty impressive. First published in 1971, Created: The Destroyer is an interesting first book in an early government assassin thriller series. A literary ancestor of Vince Flynn et al, the novel was interesting and, sadly, disappointing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mini-Review: “Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher (/Friday Project)

SchumacherJ-DearCommitteeMembersUSAn amusing, epistolary novel of academia, modern life and literature

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work “Accountant in a Bordello”, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.

A very quick review, here. I’d heard about this novel a fair bit in the lead-up to publication, and as someone who has spent an awful lot of time at academic institutions, I was intrigued by the premise: a story told through a series of Letters of Recommendation. I was not disappointed.

SchumacherJ-DearCommitteeMembersUKI read Dear Committee Members very quickly, blitzing through the chapters. Each one is excellent – the letters are curmudgeonly, acerbic, pleading, petty, and even moving at times (especially at the end). One letter contained quite the gut-punch, after a series of more-amusing, lighthearted letters. The protagonist is a difficult bastard, and doesn’t come across as the nicest or easiest person to know or work with. He’s belittling, but also observant. He skewers his colleagues, his exes, and also the modern trends of academia (from teaching to bureaucracy). Certainly, for the latter, I agreed with him almost wholeheartedly.

The novel is filled with great comments and quotable moments, but I won’t include any here – just do yourself a favour and go read the book.

I laughed a lot, reading this. I was also somewhat moved at times. If you’re looking for something a little different, something intelligent and funny, then I would strongly recommend Dear Committee Members.

***

Dear Committee Members is published by Doubleday in the US, and the Friday Project in the UK.

Batman, Vols. 4-5: Zero Year “Secret City” & “Dark City” (DC Comics)

Batman-Vol.04&05

Writer: Scott Snyder | Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Pascencia, Rafael Albuquerque

The New 52 origin of The Dark Knight delves into Bruce Wayne’s past with the Red Hood Gang and his run-ins with aspiring District Attorney Harvey Dent!

Before the Batcave and Robin, The Joker and the Batmobile, there was ZERO YEAR. The Riddler has plunged Gotham City into darkness. How will a young Dark Knight bring his beloved hometown from the brink of chaos and madness and back into the light?

Collects: Batman #21-24 (Vol.4); #25-27, 29-33 (Vol.5)

I’ve always had a soft-spot for origin stories, as I’m sure many fans do. In Zero Year, Snyder et al, have created a very good, more extensive and explanatory take on the origins of Gotham’s Dark Knight. Other stories and collections have touched up this period of Bruce’s development from spoiled rich kid to crime-fighting genius, but none have done it this well. If you haven’t been reading the New 52 Batman, then I’d strongly recommend you start – either here or at the beginning of Snyder’s run. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two New In Flames Music Videos

In Flames have long been one of my favourite metal bands (ever since Reroute to Remain came out), and I’ve been enjoying the band’s evolution over the years. For the most part, anyway – there have been some albums that past me by without leaving much of a footprint (Sounds of a Playground Fading, for example – an album that I have found utterly forgettable). In September, the band will release their latest album, Siren Charms. Two music videos have already surfaced for the first two singles: “Rusted Nail” and “Through Oblivion”. They’re both good songs, as well as being surprising. They’re more rock than metal, and are more melodic offerings than I’ve come to expect from early-for-an-album In Flames singles. Check them out…

RUSTED NAIL

THROUGH OBLIVION

Monday, August 25, 2014

Upcoming: THE RETURN OF NAGASH by Joshua Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-TheReturnOfNagashAnnounced rather quietly (well, more like suddenly) and coinciding with the tabletop game’s related releases, Josh Reynolds’s THE RETURN OF NAGASH details the story of the baddest-of-the-undead-bad in the Warhammer world. Here’s the synopsis:

The End Times are coming. As the forces of Chaos threaten to drown the world in madness, Mannfred von Carstein and Arkhan the Black put aside their difference and plot to resurrect the one being with the power to stand against the servants of the Ruinous Powers and restore order to the world – the Great Necromancer himself. As they set about gathering artefacts to use in their dark ritual, armies converge on Sylvania, intent on stopping them. But Arkhan and Mannfred are determined to complete their task. No matter the cost, Nagash must rise again.

I haven’t read any of the Undead novels published by Black Library (yet), and I’m not sure how this will connect with Mike Lee’s and Josh Reynold’s other undead/vampire novels. This one, though, I am most interested in. Partly because I do like good vampire/undead fiction. But also, and perhaps more keenly, because the cover story for the first issue of White Dwarf magazine I ever bought was all about the first version of the Nagash model. The magazine included a background section for the character, a short piece of fiction, as well as rules, etc. The background was, I thought at the time, very well-written and gripping – I became hooked on reading the background sections of the Warhammer Armies and Codex books. However, Nagash’s story stuck in my mind. And so, I am very interested in reading this novel. I’ll see what I can do about getting it read and reviewed A.S.A.P.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trailer: AUTOMATA

Automata-Poster4-Crop

This movie looks really interesting – an examination of what it means to be alive, human. I haven’t looked into it too much (I don’t want to spoil the movie for when I inevitably go and see it), but with the mentions of the “laws” of robotics, I wonder if it’s based on Asimov’s fiction, or if it’s just offering an homage to the author’s pioneering writing? Anyway, here’s the trailer (shared from IGN’s YouTube channel)*…

Automata-Posters

* Millennium Films’ own “share” option on their website is… Not generous…

Friday, August 22, 2014

Upcoming: Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman…

… this time, without gratuitous, ridiculous butt-graphics on the cover. In Edge of Spider-Verse #2, an alternative Marvel universe’s Gwen Stacy is New York’s spider-bitten protector. I don’t have a huge amount of interest in what is becoming an ever-more-complex web of Spider-Man-related series,* but the artwork by Robbi Rodriguez caught my eye. First, here’s the cover…

EdgeOfSpiderVerse-02

And second, a pair of interior pages. I rather like the hoody-outfit Stacy wears, and Rodriguez’s overall aesthetic and style is really interesting and eye-catching (I have no idea if there’s a proper term for this approach, so I won’t attempt to make one up)…

EdgeOfSpiderVerse-02-Preview3

Edge of Spider-Verse #2 is due to be published September 17th, 2014.

* Seriously, Marvel – not everything has to be cross-pollinated and crossed-over. It’s really damned annoying. Not to mention expensive. (OH! Of course! That’s why you do it…)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Upcoming: BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

WolitzerM-BelzharUSI’ve only read a little bit of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. While I thought it was very well written, it just wasn’t for me. Then I spotted this novel, which I thought sounded interesting. Here’s the synopsis:

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

Belzhar is due to be published in the US by Dutton (Penguin), on September 30th, 2014; and in the UK by Simon & Schuster, on October 9th (for some reason, I could not find a UK cover for the novel – given how close it is to publication, this is rather baffling).

US Cover: THE SKULL THRONE by Peter V. Brett (Del Rey)

Brett-TheSkullThroneUS

Holy crap I’m excited about this novel’s release! Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle novels are easily among my all-time favourites, and knowing that the release of THE SKULL THRONE is inching ever-closer has me positively giddy with excitement and anticipation.* I found the cover over on SF Signal, but there does not appear to be a detailed synopsis available just yet. The novel will be published in the US by Del Rey, and in the UK by Voyager. No doubt, it will not take long for it to appear in translation in so very many countries.

Brett-MessengersLegacyOh, and let’s not forget Brett’s latest novella, Messenger’s Legacy, will also be out soon! Here’s the cover and synopsis…

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons — bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting the surface for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

Briar Damaj is a boy of six in the small village of Bogton. Half Krasian, the village children call him Mudboy for his dark skin. When tragedy strikes, Briar decides the town is better off without him, fleeing into the bog with nothing but his wits and a bit of herb lore to protect him.

After twenty years, Ragen Messenger has agreed to retire and pass on his route to his protégé, Arlen Bales. But for all that he’s earned the rest, he has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. When he learns Briar, the son of an old friend, is missing, Ragen is willing to risk any danger to bring him safely home.

I wonder what the UK cover is going to look like – or if they’re going to use the same one. Larry Rostant has done a great job again.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold, The Daylight War

* Was that too much excitement? Perhaps… But, seriously: I can’t wait.

Brett-DC4-TheSkullThroneUS-Wrap