Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Cowboy Angels by Paul J. McAuley

In the late 1960s the United States of America successfully created the first Turing Gate, a wormhole that links parallel universes together. In the decade and a half since then the version of the USA that calls itself 'The Real' has linked itself to two dozen other worlds, worlds where the USA is an impoverished wreck, crippled by paying war reparations to Britain and Russia after failing to help them in WWII, to a particularly crazy world where Richard Nixon became president...

The election of Jimmy Carter brings an end to the Real's preferred method of military intervention to bring other Americas around to its vision of peace and democracy. But some in the Real have other ideas about how to expand the USA's influence across the multiverse...

Cowboy Angels is the fifteenth novel by British science fiction writer Paul J. McAuley, best known for Fairyland and The Confluence Trilogy. Gollancz's marketing department has cannily given the book the blurb, "Stargate meets 24," which is more or less accurate (I'd throw Sliders into the mix as well). It's a fast-paced SF thriller encompassing several parallel worlds, temporal paradoxes and against-the-clock races against time. The previous McAuley novels I'd sampled had been more sedate hard SF tales, so this more action-packed story was a bit surprising.

McAuley keeps the story moving along briskly. The science is handled pretty well (although the parallel universes versus temporal paradox conundrums at the end of the book do get a bit head-scratching) and the characters are developed nicely, although Adam Stone is a bit of a stoic protagonist. Whilst the story is complete in itself, there are enough questions left unanswered that McAuley could make a decent sequel for the book.

Cowboy Angels (****) is an enjoyable SF thriller whose vision of a USA planning to spread American cultural imperialism across the entire multiverse is mildly disturbing, but nicely handled in the text. The field of quantum SF used to be a pretty baffling place, but Cowboy Angels is a worthy successor to Brasyl in making that type of story more accessible and interesting to a general audience. Angels doesn't have the superlative prose of the McDonald book, though, but it's certainly a lot easier to read and get into.

The book is available from Gollancz in the UK.

While it doesn't have a US publisher at the moment, copies of the UK edition seem freely available at Amazon.com.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Books Update

Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind is now available in the UK from Gollancz. I recommend checking it out. My original review is here.

JV Jones' A Sword From Red Ice, the eagerly and very long-awaited sequel to A Fortress of Grey Ice, is due for release by Orbit Books in the next few weeks.

Also out soon from Orbit is Daniel Abraham's Long Price: Shadow and Betrayal (the UK omnibus edition of the first two books in the very well-received Long Price Quartet).

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Heroes: Season 1

The big TV success story of last year was Heroes. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, it became a major success both critically and with the viewers, winning NBC big audience figures and making its forthcoming second season (which begins in the USA on Monday) one of the most eagerly-awaited shows of the new season. The BBC recently begun airing Heroes in the UK, where it has won even more plaudits and fans.

With superhero movies generating big business at the box office and Smallville an established television success, it was only a matter of time before a specifically made-for-TV superhero series aired. Tim Kring's creation is a resounding triumph, successfully encapsulating the things that make superhero comics so much fun and mixing it with modern television and storytelling devices whilst at the same time learning from some of the mistakes made by other shows (most notably Lost, the troubled slow pacing of which is explicitly rejected by Heroes). Whilst not flawless, the first season of Heroes is a highly enjoyable work.

The series opens with Indian geneticist Mohinder Suresh hearing about his father's death in New York City whilst trying to track down people with 'special powers', whose existence he had postulated after looking into the results of the Human Genome Project. Mohinder is drawn to New York City and is soon following in his father's footsteps. But a shadowy organisation is also interested in Suresh's research, and a sinister man in horn-rimmed glasses named Bennett is on the trail of these 'special' people as well.

Elsewhere, health care worker Peter Petrelli is divided between following his own ambitions and desires and supporting his brother Nathan's campaign to be elected to congress. At the same time Peter has started having vivid dreams that he can fly. In Tokyo an office worker named Hiro Nakamura believes he can freeze time and teleport, to his friend Ando's disbelief. In Las Vegas a young mother named Nikki is struggling to give her son a good education. In Los Angeles a cop named Parkman discovers he has a special skill and is drawn into the FBI's pursuit of a serial killer named 'Sylar'. In Odessa, Texas teenage cheerleader Clare has discovered her own power.

As the series unfolds we are introduced to more and more 'heroes' and meet a radioactive man, a woman who can access the Internet with her brain, a boy who can tell computers to do anything, a man who can pass through walls and an artist whose pictures always come true...and his latest picture shows the obliteration of New York City in a nuclear firestorm.

The first season of Heroes is an impressive piece of work. The regular cast is enormous, the secondary recurring cast even more so, but the writers fluidly move from character to character and plotline to plotline, keeping this huge rollercoaster moving. The series adroitly employs cliffhangers, with the first five episodes seeking to outdo one another for jaw-dropping finales. Be warned that you may sit down to watch one episode and end up watching five in a row. Most - but not all - of the plotlines culminate in the explosive season finale, but enough loose ends are left to hook the viewer into watching Season 2. Although one huge story, Season 1 is divided into four acts which loosely can be identified as 'Genesis' (episodes 1-5), 'Save the Cheerleader, Save the World' (5-9), 'The List' (10-18) and 'How to Stop an Exploding Man' (19-23).

The problem with such a plot-heavy emphasis is that the series occasionally fails to delve into characters' motives very well, particularly with the secondary cast. Ted Sprague's motivations seemingly shift from episode to episode depending on what the writers want him to do. The series is also very heavily serialised, even more so than Lost or Battlestar Galactica. There are few respites from the ongoing storyline and it's often difficult to remember which events happened in which episodes. That said, the writers deliberatly insert 'special' episodes at regular intervals to break up this pace. The special episodes - 110: Six Months Ago, 117: Company Man and 120: Five Years Gone - are usually set in a different time period or focus solely on one situation rather than encompassing all the myriad plot strands simultaneously. The special episodes are also notably the best episodes of the series.

Another problem is the lack of full-on fight sequences. Whilst there are several gun battles and an impressive sword training montage, there isn't much in the way of pyrotechnic combat between the heroes. This can be put down to either a lack of budget (something surely to be rectified in Season 2 following the first season's success) or perhaps a deliberate move to undercut the audience's expectations of what it expects from a superhero show. Either way, it is a minor factor. Slightly more irritating is that each episode starts with a recap of what happened before, sometimes in an original way (by showing the same events from a different character's POV, for example) but more often than not taking up valuable screen time. More bizarre is that sometimes the recaps feature different events and dialogue than the end of the preceding episode, like a 1960s episode of Doctor Who. It is a measure of how good this series is that these minor annoyances are the worst sins it commits.

Heroes: Season 1 (****½) is a superb and impressive piece of work. With great acting from regular and recurring cast alike (expect to see a lot of Zachary Quinto and Masi Oka in coming years), excellent directing and a superbly planned and realised story arc, Heroes is now the hottest show around and it will be very interesting to see where it goes in Season 2.

Heroes is currently available in the United States with the entire first season in one box set plus some impressive extras (including the uncut version of the pilot), both in standard DVD and in HD-DVD.

A Heroes graphic novel, collecting the 34 online comics produced for Season 1 plus various artwork from the series itself, is also available.

The UK version of the box set will be released on 10 December, although it's unclear if it will have the same special features. The box set is also being split in half with Part 1 released on 1 October, but the full box set is better value for money.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Very Sad News

James Oliver Rigney, Jr., better known to millions of readers as Robert Jordan, passed away yesterday at 2.45pm EST. He was 58 years old. He had been battling cardiac amyloidosis since being diagnosed with the disease eighteen months ago, and many of his fans had donated money to the Mayo Clinic at Rochester, Minnesota (where he was being treated), in his name.

James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was born on 17 October 1948 in Charleston, South Carolina. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the US Army and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with "V" and bronze oak leaf cluster and two Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with palm. He later attended the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, where he received a degree in physics. He was then employed by the US Navy as a nuclear engineer.

He began writing in 1977, but decided early on to use his real name only on the 'definitive' novel of the Vietnam War he one day planned to write (he later chose not to pursue this project after other books about the conflict had emerged). Using the pen-name Reagan O'Neal, his first published work was The Fallon Trilogy, consisting of The Fallon Blood (1980), The Fallon Pride (1981) and The Fallon Legacy (1982), originally published by Ace Books but later reissued by Tor under the Forge imprint. This was a historical series set in South Carolina and southern states in the 18th Century and charted the life story of an Irish immigrant, Michael Fallon, and his family.

Rigney switched to the pen-name Robert Jordan to pen a series of fantasy novels set in Robert E. Howard's Hyborean Age and revolving around Howard's signature character, Conan the Barbarian. He wrote six original novels and a novelisation of the second Conan movie. These were: Conan the Invincible (1982), Conan the Defender (1982), Conan the Unconquered (1983), Conan the Triumphant (1983), Conan the Magnificent (1984), Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Conan the Victorious (1984). These books were later compiled as The Conan Chronicles and Further Chronicles of Conan. He also compiled a chronology of the Conan stories in 1987.

Whilst working on these books, Jordan was also creating his own fantasy story and world to set it in. He conceived of some of the ideas as early as the late 1970s, but didn't begin writing the book that eventually became The Eye of the World until 1985. It was a very tough book to write and the entire world, plot and protagonists shifted several times in the writing process. It was published in February 1990 by Tor Books, preceded by an impressive publicity campaign. Despite the delays on the first book, Jordan very quickly delivered the successive five novels in The Wheel of Time series before dropping back to a more sedate pace of one book every two to three years.

The Wheel of Time became an international bestseller, with every volume from the seventh onwards debuting at Number One on the New York Times bestseller list.. At this time only works by JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Stephen King, CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett have outsold the series in the fantasy genre. Despite his enormous commercial success, Jordan found critical acclaim harder to come by, and the series has never won any of the major SF or Fantasy awards. Critical reception to the seventh through tenth volumes was mixed, but that for the eleventh volume in the series, Knife of Dreams, was highly positive as the series moved towards its conclusion. John Clute's Encyclopedia of Fantasy also gave the series a warm review, stating that "a sense of an intelligent creative enterprise is sustained throughout the sequence," and, "when complete, the sequence will almost certainly constitute one of the major epic narratives of modern fantasy".

Jordan was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis in early 2006, and announced it to his fans in May of that year. Despite often highly uncomfortable and painful treatment, he continued working on the twelfth and final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, until he passed away. Aware of his condition, he prepared more detailed notes than usual for the novel and discussed its plot with his wife Harriet and cousin Wilson, who posted to the Dragonmount.com website with updates and messages when Jordan was too ill to do so. The fate of the final novel is unclear at this time, but it is likely it will see print in some shape or form.

Jordan was a keen fan of literature in many different genres, but was more than happy to use his popularity to give other fantasy writers he enjoyed a good boost in sales through endorsements and blurbs. George RR Martin, author of the series A Song of Ice and Fire, has stated that he believes Jordan's endorsement of the first novel contributed to its sales. Jordan also approved of the works of Mike Ford (who himself passed away last year) and J.V. Jones.

The success of Jordan's series is widely believed to have opened the doors for subsequent fantasy series that were longer than the traditional trilogy. It is arguable that writers such as George RR Martin, Scott Lynch and Steven Erikson would have found a willing publisher to handle their lengthy series if Jordan had not blazed a trail there first. For that, his influence on the field of fantasy must be acknowledged.

Condolences to his family and friends.

The news of his passing was announced on Dragonmount.com here.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books has commented on Robert Jordan's passing here.

As has George RR Martin here.

A brief comment by Diane Duane.

Scott Lynch, Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson have also commented on Robert Jordan's passing.

John Clute, arguably SF&F's most famous critic and editor of three editions of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and one of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, speaks very positively of RJ's contribution to epic fantasy here:

Robert Jordan's wife Harriet speaks here.

Robert Jordan's stepson Will pays tribute to his stepfather here.

And the local press.

The Wheel of Time Series
1: The Eye of the World (1990)
2: The Great Hunt (1990)
3: The Dragon Reborn (1991)
4: The Shadow Rising (1992)
5: The Fires of Heaven (1993)
6: Lord of Chaos (1994)
7: A Crown of Swords (1996)
8: The Path of Daggers (1998)
9: Winter's Heart (2000)
10: Crossroads of Twilight (2002)
11: Knife of Dreams (2005)
12: A Memory of Light (forthcoming)

The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time (1997, with Teresa Patterson)
New Spring: A Wheel of Time Novel (2004)
The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia (a planned collaboration with his wife, Harriet MacDougal)

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Cry of the Newborn by James Barclay

The mighty city of Estorr has expanded its power and influence over the surrounding kingdoms, forging over the course of 850 years a vast empire known as the Conquord. The supreme ruler of the Conquord, the Advocate, believes that the Empire must expand and conquer to survive. With the empire barely recovered from the subjugation of Atreska, and with bushfire wars along the northern border with the small kingdom of Omari continuing to rage, the Advocate ill-advisedly orders the Conquord's forces to march north-east into the vast neighbouring kingdom of Tsard.

Meanwhile, in the sleepy, isolated village of Westfallen on the Conquord's south coast, four infants are born, the product of five centuries of careful, selective breeding by the Echelon. As the years pass and they grow into adults, the full extent of their remarkable powers becomes clear. But some who learn of their existence consider them affronts to God, and religious fanaticism threatens them as much as the looming threat outside the Conquord's borders...

Cry of the Newborn is the first book of The Ascendents of Estorea, a duology which concluded with the recently-released Shout for the Dead. Although several plot strands are left dangling at the end of this opening volume, the novel is more or less self-contained.

James Barclay is best-known for his two trilogies concerning the mercenary band known as the Raven, which regrettably I haven't gotten around to reading. However, upon discovering a chunky trade paperback of Cry of the Newborn going for 99p in The Works, I decided to give it a go, and was pleasently surprised by it. This huge (850 pages in trade) volume depicts colossal battles (at least five I counted, as well as several huge naval engagements, an under-explored arena of fantasy combat), impressive sorcery and intricate politics. Barclay employs a mild revisionist streak in the novel. Instead of a medieval setting, the world is closely based on the Roman Empire. Magic is non-existent until the advent of the four Ascendents, and the reaction to its arrival is fairly realistic. One of the central characters is the Imperial tax collector (how the empire is funded is a major theme of the book). The Advocate, though not without flaws, is hardly the incompetent tyrant more traditional writers might reduce her to. Enormous armies traverse vast distances and, surprisingly, do have to deal with problems of supply lines, reinforcements, keeping their horses fed, equipment shortages etc.

The prose is pretty straightforward, though with flourishes of humour and tragedy at key points (the bodycount in this novel approaches Steven Erikson proportions at times). Barclay's rule seems to be when in doubt, throw in a massive battle sequence. However, the first few such battles seem a bit lacklustre. After about the halfway point they step up a gear and the final engagements are nailbitingly tense. Characterisation is interesting in what archetypes are applied to which positions (as mentioned before, the tax collector Paul Jhered emerges as the most sympathetic character in the book), but character development can be somewhat predictable. One major 'twist' is signposted from pretty much the second the character involved appears. The politics are also somewhat lacking in true depth and are rather unsatisfying in places, particularly in regard to the triangle of intrigue developing between the Advocate, the Marshal Defender of Caraduk and the Chancellor of the Order which had real promise but didn't really go anyway. I suspect this picks up a lot in the second novel though.

To some degree, the reservations are all moot. This book is a huge battle-filled, fast-paced blockbuster and on that level it succeeds admirably, enough to make me want to pick up the sequel at some point. The major complaint is the lack of a map. The military movements in the book are pretty intricate and geography and distance are quite important, but it's impossible to follow given the lack of a guide. Luckily, both the mass market paperback and the sequel do have one (buried in the back of the novel, Tolkien-style).

Cry of the Newborn (***½) is an enjoyable, page-turning and action-packed novel. It is published by Gollancz in the United Kingdom and is available here.

The book does not have a US publisher at this time. The sequel, Shout for the Dead, is available now in trade paperback, also from Gollancz.

Monday, 10 September 2007


Gollancz have reissued eight of their SF novels as their 'Future Classics Range'. My thoughts:

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Morgan's debut novel, a cyberpunk noir ultraviolent thriller starring Takeshi Kovacs. Co-stars a sentient hotel. Brilliant. *****

Blood Music by Greg Bear
Scientist inadvertantly dooms the Earth and the human race to utter annihilation. Or does he? Basically Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End rewritten for a later generation (Bear does this a lot). It doesn't stop it being utterly superb. Bear's best novel by light years. *****

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
The opening salvo in the very good Revelation Space Trilogy, and the first novel in a wider universe now encompassing five novels and two collections. Chasm City - a standalone in the same universe - is Reynolds' best book and a better candidate for the range, but Revelation Space is still relentlessly readable and entertaining, despite echoes of Fred Saberhagen's Beserker novels coming through towards the end. ****

The Separation by Christopher Priest
Jaw-droppingly clever. Original. Startling. Difficult to describe, almost impossible to review, with a series of plot twists at the end which may cause the reader's brain to implode, but it all hangs together and makes sense. One of the very best SF&F novels released this century from the author of The Prestige. *****

I haven't read the other books in the range:

Evolution by Stephen Baxter
Fairyland by Paul J. McAuley
Hyperion by Dan Simmons (yeah, I know)
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan

There is an interview with Gollancz editor Simon Spanton here on the range.

The Deckled Edge has posted a brief review of Paul Kearney's superb series, The Monarchies of God, here.

The series will be reissued next summer from Solaris in one huge volume, alongside Kearney's new single-volume fantasy, The Ten Thousand.

I am currently reading James Barclay's Cry of the Newborn, and should be following that up with Paul J. McAuley's Cowboy Angels, Steph Swainston's The Year of Our War and Robert Harris' Imperium. Should Cry of the Newborn work out though, I'll probably try to get hold of the sequel and concluding half, Shout For the Dead, first.

Monday, 3 September 2007

TV Update

Doctor Who will take a break in 2009. Season 4 will air from March to June 2008, to be followed by a Christmas Special. However, there will be no regular series in 2009, only three more specials (one of which will presumably be at Christmas). Season 5 will then air in Spring 2010.

The move, which is somewhat unorthodox, is believed to be due to the BBC's keeness to keep both Russell T. Davies as producer/head writer and David Tennant as the Doctor. Davies had been heavily rumoured to step down at the end of Season 4, possibly in favour of Stephen Moffat or perhaps Paul Cornell, but will now stay on and write the TV specials plus work on Season 4. Although Tennant is also believed to be staying on, the BBC press release failed to confirm this. Tennant will spend his 'gap year' touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company in a production of Hamlet alongside Patrick Stewart (the Doctor and Picard on stage together = lots of SF fans in the audience). It is also speculated that the BBC will use the time to prepare the show for filming in HD. The BBC wants to get its entire output in HD by 2010.

More info here:

The Internet briefly exploded last week after Jamie Bamber (Apollo) claimed that the fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica had been split into two ten-episode halves which would be shown a year apart starting in March 2008 and March 2009 respectively. According to Ronald D. Moore's wife on the Sci-Fi Channel Forum, this was a joke that was taken out of context. However, it's interesting that the fans so readily believed that the SFC would take such a crazy step.

Season 4 was previously said to be set to air in January 2008, although some vague rumours have suggested this may be put back to March. The season will air straight through, possibly with a brief mid-season break. Before Season 4 airs a special two-hour TV movie called Razor will air on the SFC on 24 November 2007. This TV movie takes place in late Season 2 but features extensive flashbacks to the history of the battlestar Pegasus. Michelle Forbes has resumed her role as Admiral Cain and the movie apparently features the most extensive CGI sequences done for the show yet. Some characters and storylines will play a role in Season 4 of the series. An extended version of the movie (15-20 minutes longer than on TV) will be released on Region 1 DVD on 4 December. UK release and broadcasting details are not known at this time. The movie will be preceded by 'webisodes' depicting the First Cylon War. The webisodes will be included on the DVD release.

At this time Lost Season 4 does not have a specific airdate, only that it will start in February 2008 on ABC and run for 16 episodes. Heroes Season 2 will commence airing on NBC on 24 September 2007. The new version of The Bionic Woman will commence airing on 26 September 2007 (after the pilot episod was leaked onto the Internet two months earlier; the broadcast version will be very different to the leaked version, apparently to the extent of substituting one of the lead actors).

Update and Hugo Musings

Joe Abercrombie's much-praised debut novel, The Blade Itself, is now available in the USA from Pyr Books. My original review here:


The 2007 Hugo Awards were held over the weekend in Japan and as usual the results have provided fodder for numerous blogs over the past few days, with the normal arguments about the award's validity (you wanna vote, you have to pay), Americo-centric nature (the Best Novel recipient, Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge, was only first published in the UK ten days before the results were announced) and voting process (which is highly reminiscent of how the Conservative Party elects its leaders) competing for time against more personal arguments about who won and why.

Full results here:

The results are a mixed bag. Best Novel up first. Rainbow's End, the winner, I haven't read as it didn't have a UK release until very recently. I've also failed to read Blindsight by Peter Watts, which was remiss of me considering the huge amount of praise it's picked up (it was also seen as the favourite to win by more than a few critics). Glasshouse by Charles Stross I chose not to read on the grounds my brain hasn't recovered from the battering previous Stross books gave it. Eifelheim by Michael Flynn I hadn't even heard of, given it's made as big an impact on the blogosphere and SF press as a gnat farting in a snowstorm. I'm assured it's quite good, however. Temeraire (American title: His Majesty's Dragon) by Naomi Novik is the only book I had read, and I was thus bewildered that it made the shortlist, certainly ahead of Scott Lynch's excellent The Lies of Locke Lamora. Temeraire is light, fluffy, disposable popcorn which lingers in the memory for about as long as it takes to turn the final page. To me a Hugo winner should be interesting, insightful, fun and original. Temeraire, which reads like a confluence of Chris Bunch's Seer King Trilogy (fantasised version of the Napoleonic Wars, although Bunch changed the names and geography a bit) and the same writer's Dragonmaster Trilogy (dragons used in war), cannot really be said to fall into this category.

Obviously Novik then had to go and win the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. However, this was more predictable. Novik released three novels and I believe a short story in the same time period most of the other nominees released just one book or one story (Sarah Monette had two though, I'm informed), which probably told heavily in her favour.

Ian McDonald's win for Best Novelette (The Djinn's Wife in Asimov's) was very encouraging. River of Gods was defeated in the 2005 ballot (probably the strongest of the last decade) but nothing short of Richard Morgan's Black Man should keep McDonald's Brasyl from a well-deserved victory next year.

2006 was, in retrospect, a very strong year for SF&F films. Pan's Labyrinth, which I missed by, err, falling asleep, seems to be a well-regarded movie by all and Guillermo del Toro has rarely put a foot wrong as writer or director. I plan to catch up with this one ASAP. The Prestige was a very strong adaption of the classic Christopher Priest novel whilst Children of Men is simply an amazing movie combining the most intense combat sequences since Saving Private Ryan with really interesting ideas on life and fate. A Scanner Darkly I haven't seen, but the only bad link on the shortlist I can see was V For Vendetta. Based on Alan Moore's excellent graphic novel, the movie felt very badly edited and suffered a weak central performance from Natalie Portman.

TV was a curious shortlist, with Battlestar Galactica's Exodus, Part II, predicted by virtually everybody as the winner, failing to get onto the ballot. This has since been blamed on the vote being split by those who wanted to vote for the episode by itself or as part of a two-part story. This confusion meant that BSG was instead represented by the good-but-unspectacular Downloaded, which unsurprisingly did not perform well. The 200th episode of Stargate: SG1 brought up the rear but the day belonged for a second year running to Doctor Who, with three stories nominated (Girl in the Fireplace, which won; the Army of Ghosts/Doomsday two-parter; and School Reunion). With Heroes Season 1 apparently being counted in the Long Form category next year and the second half of BSG Season 3 not representing the show at its best (although the forthcoming TV movie Razor could still count), look out for Doctor Who to do the hat trick next year, probably for Blink.

I wasn't too interested in the other categories (although noting sadly that Simon Spanton from Gollancz was nowhere to be seen on the Best Editor shortlist, although he was nominated outside the final five) but Best Fan Writer was an interesting one. David Langford wins this every year, more or less, and he pretty much deserves it. Ansible, SF's Private Eye, remains a vital component in any SF&F fan's weblinks. John Scalzi, although a very interesting commentator on the genre, lacks Langford's wry humour and good-natured view of the genre (Scalzi was beated by just one vote) . What did intrigue me was a closer look at the full nominees list, which revealed the presence of bloggers William Lexner and Jay Tomio. Perhaps a sign of things to come for the future of this category?

Overall, the Hugos have pointed me at some more books to read (I must confess to having never read Vinge, not even his classics) and some more films to check out so I suppose the exercise was worthwhile. And hopefully - budget willing - I'll be there in Denver in person to check out the awards next year!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín

A tribe of humans lives in a vast, crumbling city in the midst of a forested land. No-one knows who built the city or why. The Tribe survives by hunting hostile species for food, or trading flesh with more neutrally-aligned races. When a hunter becomes too wounded or too elderly to endure, they are expected to Volunteer for the flesh-trade. It is a harsh world of kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, where the strong survive and the weak perish.

Stopmouth is a hunter low in confidence due to his constant stutter, overshadowed by his more heroic, intelligent brother. But the Tribe needs them both to survive, when their rival species form an unprecedented alliance and a strange force falls from the skies which will drastically change Stopmouth's life forever...

The Inferior, Book One of The Bone World Trilogy, is a refreshingly different type of speculative fiction, channelling many of tropes of fantasy but gradually subverting them with SF ideas as the storyline continues to develop. The world of the Tribe is an intriguing one, a savage landscape where different races battle for survival and for flesh and the good of the many comes before the good of the individual. It is also a world where nothing is as it first appears, and later chapters introduce new races, new locations, new ideas and characters which add to the tapestry of the storyline.

The Inferior is being marketed as a Young Adult series, but it's a fairly harsh book, not skimping on the details of cannibalism or the visceral nature of the hunt and combat. I imagine the author had a great time inventing different monsters and species, with the vile Longtongues and Diggers being particularly unpleasent. The characters are likewise an interesting bunch, from our main protagonist Stopmouth through his two-faced brother Wallbreaker, the courageous Rockface and the enigmatic Indrani. However, outside of this main group it could be argued that some of the other characters are only lightly sketched, and the rather late introduction of a villain and foil for Stopmouth doesn't quite work as well as it should. The other key criticisms are that nowhere on the spine, the cover or indeed inside the book is it revealed that this is a trilogy, so some may find the abrupt ending a bit startling. Finally, a major plot revelation is given away by the book's cover blurb, so be very careful about reading it. Note that the last two issues are faults of the publisher, not the author.

The Inferior (****) is an enjoyable debut novel from a clearly talented author. An intriguingly harsh Darwinian story of life struggling to survive in the face of the environment, this book is different enough from a lot of recent SF&F to make a vivid impression on the reader and leave them wanting more.

The book is availble from David Fickling Books, a subsidiary of Random House, in the UK:

A North American publisher has picked up the series. Random House USA will publish the book in May 2008.

The author has a website at this location:
He can also occasionally be found ruminating on the SF&F scene at the Westeros.org forum.

The Book Swede has a review here:

The Bookbag has another review here:

This month's issues of Death Ray and SFX magazines both have reviews for the book, Death Ray awarding it five stars and stating it wil remind readers of why they got into speculative fiction in the first place. SFX is more restrained, awarding it two-and-a-half stars and stating that the exceptional first half is let down by a more predictable plot route in the second half. I disagree with the latter, mainly as the finale subverts that expected plot development quite nicely and also that the target audience will probably not be familiar enough with the tropes of the genre to find it a problem. However, I am confident that more experienced readers of the genre will likewise enjoy the novel.

An official launch for the book is also being held in Borders Bookstore, Blanchardstown, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland at 7pm on Thursday 13 September.