Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Istanbul, the Queen of Cities, the bridge between east and west, in 2027 freshly-accepted into the European Union and now awash with new money and new technology. Nanotech is the future, tiny machines which can power amazing toys, keep you healthy, dig out that cancer and, whether you want them to or not, rewire your brain.

A suicide bomber destroys an Istanbul tram, but only the bomber dies. The explosion forms a crucible around which the lives of the inhabitants of an old dervish house intertwine: a boy detective with a weak heart and a robot monkey sidekick, a Greek economist burying his head in the wreckage of the past, and an art gallery owner and her trader boyfriend with the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme. For this is an important week for Turkey, as corporations fall, new technology emerges, religious visions occur and vital football games are played.

The Dervish House is one of the more eagerly-awaited SF novels of 2010, the thematic follow-up to McDonald's River of Gods (India in the 21st Century) and Brasyl (Brazil in the 21st Century). This time he tackles Turkey, a country torn between east and west, Islam and secularism, Europe and the Middle-East, and argues that this vibrant nation could become an economic and technological powerhouse in the non-too-distant future. He also makes some pretty bold predictions, setting the book a mere 17 years in the future in a world which is radically more advanced than ours in several areas. Will nanotech explode into being and transform people's lives as completely and as rapidly as he suggests in the novel? It will be interesting to see if this happens.

Beyond the technological aspects, this is a book about the people of the dervish house. Structurally we move between several POV characters who live in the different apartments of the house and follow their stories as they gradually become more intertwined with one another, building to a satisfying climax. The individual stories, centred on multi-layered characters, are compelling. They range from the attempts by Necdet to deal with sudden eruption of djinn visions to Can the Boy Detective and his nanotech-driven robot sidekick's adventures across the Istanbul rooftops to Georgios Ferentinou's melancholy attempts to put right a wrong almost fifty years in the past, and their eventual combination in various and unexpected ways is well-handled.

The book has its moments of cruelty (the dark side of life in Turkey is definitely not glossed over), but there is also a wry humour here, if less overtly joyful than Brasyl's. It is difficult not to compare The Dervish House to its predecessor and find some elements lacking: Brasyl is simultaneously tighter thematically with fewer POV characters, but also lighter, funnier and more immediately intriguing. The Dervish House definitely doesn't really get going until its second half. That said, The Dervish House is also somewhat less out-and-out insane with a more restrained, more believable and much more elegant conclusion. McDonald's prose remains as pleasing to read as ever, with rhythm and cadence changing from character to character satisfyingly.

The Dervish House (****½) is a fascinating, thought-provoking, challenging and engrossing novel. It is available on 27 July in the USA and 29 July in the UK (although some American readers have reported already seeing copies on shelves).

Cover art and extract from Ian Cameron Esslemont's STONEWIELDER

You can see the current in-progress cover art for Stonewielder and read the first chapter over on Malazanempire.

Cover art is a work in progress, copyright Transworld/Bantam UK, reproduced with permission of Malazanempire.

Bantam UK confirm that their target day for the release of Stonewielder is 25 November 2010.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A free Alastair Reynolds book for SFX readers

Readers of the UK's SFX Magazine (or, indeed, non-regular readers who want to pick up a copy anyway) have an interesting bonus in store for them this month. Issue 198 - on sale tomorrow in the UK - has a voucher which can be redeemed at any participating branch of Waterstones for a copy of Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns in mass-market paperback.

SFX has a RRP of £3.99, so even if you just get the magazine to pick up a copy of the book, you're effectively saving 50% off the cover price of the novel and getting the magazine free. Great news, particularly for me since I get SFX every month anyway, am a huge Reynolds fan, and hadn't previously gotten round to picking up House of Suns :-)

More Paul Kearney news and cover art

Excellent news. With the two Monarchies of God omnibuses due for release in a matter of weeks and the second Macht novel, Corvus, following in October, Solaris have confirmed that the third and final (for now) Macht book, The Kings of Morning, is being fast-tracked for release in July 2011. Solaris have already prepared a cover for the novel:

In addition, this is the final cover art for Century of the Soldier, the second of the two Monarchies omnibuses:

Great stuff.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

American cover art for Scott Bakker's WHITE LUCK WARRIOR

Overlook Press have, via their 2010-11 catalogue, issued their cover art for Scott Bakker's The White Luck Warrior, the second book in his Aspect-Emperor trilogy and the fifth book in his Second Apocalypse saga.

The book is due to be published in March 2011 by Overlook in the USA and Orbit in the UK.

Cover blurb and requisite marketing speak:

Widely praised by reviewers and a growing body of fans, R. Scott Bakker has already established his reputation as one of the few unique new talents in the fantasy genre. Now he returns with the long-awaited The White Luck Warrior—the second book in the Aspect-Emperor series.

As Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his Great Ordeal march ever farther into the wastes of the Ancient North, Esmenet finds herself at war with not only the Gods, but her own family as well. Achamian, meanwhile, leads his own ragtag expedition to the legendary ruins of Sauglish, and to a truth he can scarcely survive, let alone comprehend. Into this tumult walks the White-Luck Warrior, assassin and messiah both.

The White Luck Warrior is a story filled with heartstopping action, devious treachery, grand passion, and meticulous detail. It is both a classic quest tale and a high fantasy war story.
Thanks to Jussi at for the news.


Bantam UK have been a bit quiet about it, but they are issuing the first three Malazan novellas - Blood Follows, The Healthy Dead and The Lees of Laughter's End - in omnibus in August. Excellent news.

Orbit will be publishing a new space opera series called The Expanse in May 2011. The first book is called Leviathan Wakes. The author's name is James S.A. Corey, although Amazon rather pointlessly defeated the point of having a pseudonym by revealing this is really Long Price author Daniel Abraham and debut novelist Ty Franck (whose side-job is as George R.R. Martin's assistant) collaborating together. Should be interesting. Abraham's solo novel The Dragon's Path, the first volume in The Dagger and the Coin (apparently a melding of Joss Whedon, Martin and the Medicis), follows a month later.

On the GRRM front, Fantasy Flight have decided to reprint the excellent Art of Ice and Fire this autumn. This is a new edition, updated with fresh artwork from their Battles of Westeros board game, and will apparently be the first in a series.

The 2010 Locus Awards were announced yesterday. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest won Best SF Novel, The City and the City by China Mieville won Best Fantasy Novel and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi won Best First Novel. Neil Gaiman won Best Short Story for An Invocation of Incuriosity (the excellent finale to Songs of the Dying Earth, and indeed the entire Dying Earth saga). Peter S. Beagle, Gene Wolfe, Michael Whelan and Kage Baker also picked up awards. For the full list see here.

Friday, 25 June 2010


The Lunar Industries corporation has given the world cheap energy thanks to a helium-3 mining operation on the far side of the Moon. Helium-3 is mined by massive automated harvesters and freighted back to Earth. The operation is controlled by a single moonbase, Sarang. To keep costs down, the base is manned by only one man at a time, helped by the base's artificial intelligence, GERTY.

Sam Bell is nearing the end of his three-year stint on the Moon and is looking forward to returning home to his wife and daughter when he starts experiencing odd hallucinations and mood swings. Whilst driving out to repair a harvester, he is involved in an accident. Recovering back at the base, Bell is confused by the way GERTY is treating him, and the lengths the AI is taking to ensure he doesn't leave the base...

Moon is the directorial debut by Duncan Jones, an old-school SF film very much in the vein of late 1970s/early 1980s movies such as Silent Running, Alien and Outland, including a very small cast, a strong visual look and some superb model work, with very little CGI present in the film at all. An absolutely brilliant Sam Rockwell is the only actor with significant screen time, although the Kevin Spacey-voided GERTY has a reasonable amount to do as well.

Moon has a strong theme of isolation. Bell is alone on the dark side of the Moon, without even Earth on the horizon to look up to. The communications satellite is broken, meaning that communications with Earth are long, pain-staking and tedious. The fact that Bell is starting to hallucinate and see things is understandable given his sense of loneliness, but, as with all good SF movies, we are asked if there is something more to his visions than just good old insanity. Moon rewards at least two viewings, as the director expertly sets up some clues as to what is going on before the big revelation (which interestingly isn't a last-minute twist, but happens fairly early on with the rest of the story dedicated to exploring it in greater depth).

The movie poses some interesting questions on duality, our sense of self, and what defines a person. In this regard it is the best SF novel that Christopher Priest never wrote. The atmosphere is taut and claustrophobic, with occasional moments of black humour that work well. Jones uses the viewers' likely experience of previous SF films against them: is GERTY a positive and helpful AI, or is he cracking up like HAL? Jones also knows when to play a trope straight, when to invert it and when to send it up quite nicely.

The only negative that comes immediately to mind is that the end of the film is a little bit too neat (although still very satisfying) and there are one or two elements left under-developed (such as Bell's family back home). But otherwise, this is a fine, intelligent, atmospheric and at times unsettling SF movie.

Moon (****½) is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).

Jackson back in the frame for THE HOBBIT

After the rumours surrounding Neil Blomkamp earlier his week, it appears that Peter Jackson is once again back as the favourite choice to take over directorial duties on The Hobbit. The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Jackson and the studio reps are in deep discussions over the possibility. Jackson will likely only accept if guarantees are given that filming can start as soon as possible to ensure the films are released in 2012 and 2013. Jackson is developing several other projects, including working on the Tintin movie trilogy with Steven Spielberg and developing Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (possibly a television series), and doesn't want to indefinitely delay them whilst working on The Hobbit (similar to the concerns that Guillermo Del Toro expressed, leading to his departure from the project).

Despite Jackson's reluctance to compete with his prior work in Middle-earth, there are rising complications that make hiring another director difficult. Payment for the director of the movies is likely to be much lower than is usual for a top-line director, due to the complex number of studios, interests and producers involved in the project. In addition, an incoming director would likely have very little creative control over several key aspects of the project, such as the visual design and script, which have already been extensively developed by Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro. A big-name director would like balk at not being able to make their own decisions in these areas.

Apparently the next few days will be crucial to decide if Jackson will direct and, if not, what the ultimate fate of the movies will be.


Tor USA has picked up the American publication rights to Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief and two additional books in a deal struck with Gollancz/Orion, as reported by the author's agent, John Jarrold. Tor USA will publish the novel in hardcover in May 2011.

Congratulations to Hannu on this deal, very well deserved.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Casting the Grand Maester

In yet another casting announcement, George RR Martin has confirmed that veteran stage and screen actor Roy Dotrice has been cast as Grand Maester Pycelle in HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation.

Roy Dotrice is a distinguished British actor with a long career. He served with the RAF during WWII and spent three years in a German POW camp before beginning an acting career after the war. In 1968 he broke the Guinness record for largest number of solo performances by a single actor, chalking up 1,782 performances of the play Brief Lives in the UK and USA. As well as an extensive theatrical career, he developed a career in TV and film. He appeared as Edward IV in The War of the Roses, a mini-series based on the dynastic English civil war which was one of the primary inspirations for A Song of Ice and Fire in the first place, in 1965. He has chalked up a number of appearances in genre television, including a brief but memorable guest turn as the Neville Chamberlain-inspired Frederick Lantz in the Babylon 5 episode The Fall of Night and playing the father of regular character Wesley Wyndam-Pryce on Angel. Dotrice's most recent notable genre role was as the Elf King Baelor in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Dotrice met George R.R. Martin whilst working on the television series Beauty and the Beast in the late 1980s. Martin worked on the show as scriptwriter and script editor, whilst Dotrice played the role of 'Father', the leader of the underground community which takes in Ron Perlman's character. When A Game of Thrones was made into an audio book a decade later, Dotrice agreed to act as the narrator of the book, a role he continued with A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, though was unavailable to read A Feast for Crows due to work commitments. Ironically, depending on when it is finished, this means that Dotrice may also be unable to work on A Dance with Dragons because of his commitments to the TV show (although Martin reports that they hope very much he can still do it).

Dotrice is playing Grand Maester Pycelle, the 84-year-old representative of the Citadel to the Royal Court. The Grand Maester, although removed from the Citadel in Oldtown on the other side of the continent, exercises tremendous power and authority as a member of the small council and also as the King's closest advisor on scientific matters. Pycelle has a small role to play in the first book/season but will rise to greater prominence in the second.

Martin reports additional casting news is incoming, and hints that the pivotal character of Littlefinger may be one of the roles to be announced shortly.

Cover art for Iain Banks's new CULTURE novel

Orbit have released the cover art for Iain M. Banks's new Culture novel, Surface Detail.

Interestingly, last time I saw news on this book it was an early 2011 release, but seems to have been brought forward to October 2010. The cover blurb:

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture. Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

This sounds encouraging. I haven't read Matter yet, but by all accounts it is not amongst Banks' best novels. His other Culture books (I still need to re-read and review Excession as well) are much stronger works, so hopefully Surface Detail will be up to the quality of the earlier books in the series.


More casting news for Game of Thrones. Belfast-based actor and DJ Kristian Nairn has been cast in the role of Hodor.

Kristian Nairn is a well-regarded Belfast DJ and is 6 foot 10 tall. He auditioned for the role by filming a tape in his back garden, which leaked out and was well-received by fans. It appears that Game of Thrones will be his first television role.

Hodor is one of the castle handymen at Winterfell, known for his great size, gentle spirit, limited intelligence and highly limited vocabulary, which consists of just one word, "Hodor,". He is the great-grandson of 'Old Nan', the oldest servant living at Winterfell. His real name is Walder, but everyone calls him Hodor. Despite his slowness, he becomes a valued friend and ally, particularly to Bran Stark, as the events of the series progress.

One other role, that of the 'old maester' (presumably either Grand Maester Pycelle or Maester Aemon) has been cast, but it has not been confirmed yet who with, although Roy Dotrice is the front-runner based on Martin's latest round of clues. Additional images of Kristian Nairn and of Dotrice can be found on this Russian fansite.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

First official still from the new CONAN movie

Nu Boyana Film Studios has recently wrapped production on the new Conan movie, directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa as the titular Cimmerian. They released the first official still from the movie yesterday:

"Arnold who?"

Momoa is best-known to genre fans due to his four-year stint as Ronon Dex in Stargate Atlantis and is playing the role of Khal Drogo in HBO's Game of Thrones, which starts shooting in late July. Looks like Momoa's already looking the part of the Dothraki warlord.

New director for THE HOBBIT?

The One Ring website is reporting that Neill Blomkamp has already been chosen to replace Guillermo Del Toro as the director of The Hobbit, but this news has not been officially confirmed by New Line or MGM yet.

Blomkamp, the director of District 9, already has a strong relationship with Peter Jackson. They developed the Halo movie for several years before it was cancelled due to costs, and Jackson produced District 9. Blomkamp, who had previously also been linked with the new Dune movie project, was already one of the leading choices for the job, and fan response to this possibility appears to have been positive so far. However, as the One Ring says, this news is not 100% official or set in stone yet.

Update: Representatives of Blomkamp claim that he is not in the running to take over the project, and is working on a different script at the moment.

New deals for Joe Abercrombie and Ian McDonald

One of the things to come out at the Gemmell Awards (apparently previously announced, although I couldn't find online confirmation) was that Joe Abercrombie has signed a new four-book deal with Gollancz. This deal with kick-off with a new stand-alone fantasy novel set in the First Law world (the previously-mentioned 'sort-of Western') and will be followed by, "Books, containing words and pages," according to Joe at the event. Joe also confirmed that The Heroes has had its second draft turned in and is well on course for meeting its January 2011 publication date in both the UK and USA.

There was also word that the US release schedule for Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear will be matched in the UK: if he hands the book in before September, the book will be released in Spring 2011. Any later than that and it will fall back to Autumn 2011. They also hope to have a final date for Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves in the near future, but Spring 2011 remains the hoped-for (but definitely not set in stone) date for that book as well.

Meanwhile, Ian McDonald has signed to write a YA title for Pyr Books in the USA.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Wertzone Classics: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

2027. A hundred of Earth's most skilled engineers and scientists are dispatched to Mars, braving radiation exposure to land on the Red Planet and establish a permanent scientific outpost. Their goal is to establish whether Mars can ever be a viable target for settlement and colonisation, and if terraforming the planet is possible or desirable.

Earth is overcrowded and choking, with national governments and transnational supercorporations (whose annual balance sheets outstrip the GDPs of most of the world's countries) feuding for control. Soon, vast reservoirs of water are discovered in hidden aquifers deep below the Martian surface, making colonies self-sustainable. To the transnats, this means that Mars can become a dumping ground for Earth's excess population. When valuable mineral deposits that Earth is crying out for are also discovered on Mars, then its exploitation for the benefit of the people of Earth becomes inevitable. The resulting clash of wills and desires of the transnational Earth corporations and the beleaguered settlers on Mars forced to accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants they cannot cope with can only have one possible outcome: revolution, and the cry for independence.

Kim Stanley Robinson's epic Mars Trilogy chronicles humanity's colonisation of Mars, beginning in the early 21st Century and extending over a period of some two centuries. The first book, which covers a period of some forty years, sees the initial settling of Mars by the First Hundred, the welcome arrival of additional waves of colonists intent on scientific research and then the more challenging problems of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of economic migrants, refugees and outcasts on a world that is not ready for them, and the resulting tensions between the newcomers and old-timers, and between the authorities on Mars and Earth.

The success of the trilogy as a whole is debatable, but this first volume, at least, is a masterpiece. Robinson's story rotates through a number of POV characters amongst the initial settlers, the First Hundred, and it rapidly becomes clear that most of them are somewhat unreliable narrators. Maya's complaints in her own POV of her 'important problems' being ignored by the base psychiatrist are given another perspective in her friend Nadia's POV, which reveals Maya is more interested in a trivial love triangle between herself and two Americans rather than in the colonisation of Mars, whilst the psychiatrist Michel's POV reveals that he is giving Maya colossal amounts of time and attention (to the detriment of his own mental health) which is unappreciated. Robinson repeats this trick several times, showing that the ultra-laidback and inspirational John Boone (the First Man on Mars) achieves his famous demeanour through the assistance of addictive drugs, whilst self-deprecating Nadia is actually the most universally-respected of the First Hundred. Character is thus built up in layers, from both internal viewpoints and external sources, making these central characters very well-realised (although characters outside the central coterie can be a little on the thin side).

Whilst the characters are important, it is Mars itself which is the central figure of the book. Robinson brings a dead planet to vivid life, emphasising the differences in terrain and character between the frozen northern polar icecap and the water-cut channels in the depths of the Valles Marineris, with the massive mountains of Tharsis towering high into the atmosphere and colonists eagerly staking claims to future beachfront properties in Hellas, the lowest point on Mars and the first place to see the benefits of terraforming. The ideas of Mars as it is now as a pristine, beautiful but harsh landscape and the habitable world it could be are sharply contrasted, and the rights and wrongs of terraforming form a core argument of the novel. I get the impression that Robinson sides with Ann Clayborne's view that the planet should be left untouched, but he is realistic enough to know this will not happen, if Mars can be settled and exploited in a way that is economically feasible. Mars in this work becomes a success of SF worldbuilding to compete with Helliconia and Arrakis, losing only a few points for actually existing.

On the downside, Robinson hits a few bad notes. Some of these are unavoidable consequences of the book being nearly twenty years old. Even in 1992 the notion that the Chinese would not play a major role in the financing and undertaking of a Mars colonisation mission only forty years hence was somewhat fanciful, but today it is almost unthinkable. More notably, the global recession has made the possibility of a manned mission to Mars, let alone a full-scale colonisation effort, by the 2020s somewhat dubious. Of course, these are issues Robinson could not hope to predict in the optimistic, post-Soviet Union years of the early 1990s.

Other problems are more notable. Robinson goes to some lengths to make the pro-terraforming and anti-terraforming sides of the debate both understandable and intelligent, but his political sympathies are much more one-sided. The pro-Martian independence brigade have charismatic leaders and a grass-roots movement of plucky, honest-men-against-the-machine supporters to their name, whilst the pro-Earth-control movement is led by a fundamentalist conservative Christian and resorts to weapons and mass-slaughter extremely easily. Robinson, to his credit, recognises this problem in later books and tries to repair the damage somewhat (Phyllis, presented extremely negatively in Red Mars, is shown in a more sympathetic light in later volumes), but there remains a feeling of political bias in this first volume. In addition, it sometimes feels that Robinson really wants the reader to know about the years of research he put into the book, with tangents and divergences which make the book feel like half a novel and half a factual science volume on how the possible colonisation of Mars might happen. For those fascinated by the real-life plans to terraform Mars (like me) this isn't an issue, but for some it may be. It is also, by far, the biggest problem the sequels face.

Nevertheless, the sheer, massive scope and complexity of Red Mars makes up for this. There is an overwhelming feeling running through this novel unlike almost any other hard SF novel ever published, that this might actually happen. Maybe not as soon as 2027, maybe not with such a determined push towards colonisation and terraforming right from the off, but one day, barring the collapse of our civilisation, we will go to Mars, and many of the challenges and problems faced by the First Hundred in this book are issues that will need to be overcome to make that possibility a reality.

Plus, and this cannot be undervalued, the dry and more sedentary tone of the earlier parts of the book are made up for by the final 100 pages or so, which contains one sequence which ranks amongst the most memorable and stunning moments of SF imagery achieved in the history of the genre to date. Robinson may have the image of being a bit of a laidback Californian optimist, but he sets to blowing stuff up at the end of the book with a relish that makes even Greg Bear look unambitious.

Red Mars (****½) is an awe-inspiring feat of SF worldbuilding and a vital novel on the colonisation of our neighbouring world, let down by a few moments of naivete and simplistic straw-manning of political points of view not to Robinson's liking. Overcoming this, the central characters are fascinating, the sheer scope of the book is stunning and the climatic revolution sequence is dramatic and spectacular. The novel is available (with a nice new British cover) in the UK and USA.

R. Scott Bakker returns to blogging

After a lengthy absence from the Internet, R. Scott Bakker has established a new blog. Actually, as he points out, he established it several weeks ago and proceeded to tell no-one about it, hence the delay for the news to spread around the Intertubes until Graeme noted it today.

So far, Bakker has dropped some hints about his new thriller, Disciple of the Dog, and a forthcoming 'CanLit' book, Light, Time and Gravity, but I daresay some news on The White-Luck Warrior, the second Aspect-Emperor novel, will also be forthcoming.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New casting news from GAME OF THRONES

George R.R. Martin has confirmed the first piece of new casting for Game of Thrones, following on from the recasting of roles from the pilot. A young British actor named Finn Jones has been cast as Ser Loras Tyrell.

22-year-old Jones has a background in soap acting, appearing in British soaps Hollyoaks, Doctors and The Bill. He also has a role in an upcoming episode of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah-Jane Adventures.

In the books, Ser Loras Tyrell is the third son of Mace Tyrell, Lord of the Reach and one of the most powerful lords of the Seven Kingdoms. Loras is young, dashing and beloved by the common folk his good looks, chivalry and extreme valour in tourneys. Loras is close to his sister Margaery and a good friend of King Robert's brother, Lord Renly Baratheon, for whom he squired in previous years. When Game of Thrones opens Ser Loras is at the capital city of King's Landing, where he makes the acquaintance of Lord Eddard Stark and his daughters. He has a supporting role in the first book but increases in prominence in later volumes.

Martin has also confirmed that decisions have been made over a further half-dozen or so roles, but final deals have not yet been signed and finalised. Expect further news soon.

The David Gemmell Legend Award 2010

I attended the second David Gemmell Awards on Friday night. As last year, the event was held at the Magic Circle in London and there was a good attendance, if slightly down on last year for some reason (possibly related to the England-Algeria World Cup match). As with last year (when Andrzej Sapkowski won for Blood of Elves), the winner was highly unexpected.

This year there were three awards. The big one was the Legend Award for Best Novel, which went to Graham McNeill's Empire, a Warhammer fantasy novel. Graham is one of the franchise's most-respected and popular authors (arguably it's biggest author after Dan Abnett), and was taken aback by his victory. He beat out Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold, Brandon Sanderson for Warbreaker and (with the late Robert Jordan) The Gathering Storm and Pierre Pevel for The Cardinal's Blades.

However, there were consolation prizes. Pierre Pevel took home the Morningstar Award for Best Newcomer for The Cardinal's Blades, whilst Joe and the Gollancz art team accepted the Ravenheart Award for Best Cover Art for Best Served Cold.

There were 15,000 votes in total, up 50% on last year, with most votes coming from the USA and UK. People from over 90 countries voted.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Release date for the concluding EARTH'S CHILDREN novel announced

Over the past thirty years, one of the biggest-selling historical series around has been the Earth's Children sequence by Jean M. Auel. With sales of 45 million for the five existing books, it is one of the most popular series of books of recent times (slightly outselling Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time sequence in total numbers and radically outselling it in terms of sales per book, for example), although also one of the longest-gestating. The publishers have confirmed that Auel has handed in the manuscript of the final novel and are planning an ambitious multi-territory launch (which so far stands at eleven countries).

The books are set approximately 30,000 years in the prehistoric past of Europe, and chronicle the rise to supremacy of Cro-Magnon humanity over the fading Neanderthals. The previous books in the series were The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980), The Valley of Horses (1982), The Mammoth Hunters (1985), The Plains of Passage (1990) and The Shelters of Stone (2002). The final book will be entitled The Land of Painted Caves and will be released on 29 March 2011.

I haven't read any of the books, but according to reports they centre on a young woman who is raised by Neanderthals, is exiled and spends enormous amounts of time having sex, as you probably would in caveman times if you were feeling pretty bored. Reviews of them appear to be somewhat mixed, to say the least, but this will certainly be a high-profile release next year.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

The crew of the Ketty Jay are down on their luck. A year after the events at Retribution Falls, Darian Frey is reduced to robbing an orphanage to keep his craft in the air. And when he can't even pull that off, it's clear that the crew need a lucky break. Enter Captain Grist of the Storm Dog and an offer that is too good to refuse: a mission to a hostile island to retrieve valuable artifacts from a civilisation dating back to before the dawn of time. The money is good, the opportunity for fame and glory huge. What can go wrong?

Obviously, the answer is a lot. The Black Lung Captain is the second volume in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series, following on from last year's excellent, Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated Retribution Falls. Readers of that book will feel immediately at home here, as Wooding continues his Firefly-meets-steampunk story of a clapped out aircraft and its crew struggling to make ends meet in a hostile world of shady deals and, at the fringes of civilisation, hostile savages.

The Tales of the Ketty Jay series promises to be somewhat episodic, with this book seeing the crew of the Ketty Jay embarking on another adventure. However, character arcs and storylines are continued from the first book. Pleasingly, these aren't separated from the plot and in some cases are vital for the resolution of the story. Those who were left wondering about Jez's unusual heritage and abilities from the first book and the dark secrets of the tormented daemonologist Crake will find these stories continuing to unfold in this novel. In fact, there's enough references to the previous novel and the backstories of the main characters that it would be difficult to recommend readers to start with this novel. There is a particularly satisfying evolution of the character of Trinica Dracken and the recurring supporting characters of the Century Knights (who are interesting and strong enough characters to possibly warrant their own spin-off novel or series at some point in the future).

On the minus side, The Black Lung Captain does not feel as immediately fresh and vibrant as the first novel. The callbacks to the first novel are part of this, but more notable is the fact that, just as with Retribution Falls and indeed Firefly and many of the pulp books and adventures which inspired this series, there's a slight sense of predictability to events. The number of times our heroes are double-crossed, held at gunpoint, swap sides and so on is quite high, to the point where, by simply assuming that the worst possible thing will happen at every story turn, you can almost predict what will happen next, at least until the major twists in the plot start happening towards the end of the novel.

These are minor issues, however. The Black Lung Captain, like its forebear, is page-turning entertainment from start to finish, packed with aerial battles, chases, intrigue and hints of much bigger stories to come.

The Black Lung Captain (****½) will be published in the UK on 29 July. A US edition is in the works for next year, but the UK edition will be available on import much sooner.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

The world of Helliconia is moving away from the supergiant star Freyr. The Great Winter is about to descend on the planet with full, unmitigated fury. The tropical continent of Campannlat is ill-prepared to deal with the falling temperatures, and the defeat of their armies by the forces of the harsh northern landmass of Sibornal signals the beginning of the end of their period of dominance. Luterin Shokerandit, a soldier in the Sibornalese army, returns home in triumph, only to face treachery. The ruthless leader of Sibornal, the Oligarch, has decreed that the victorious army is returning home infested with plague, and cannot be allowed to reach succor.

Meanwhile, life on the Earth Observation Station Avernus, in orbit around Helliconia for almost four millennia, is drawing to an end as the inhabitants revert to savage barbarism, even as the world beneath them falls from the glories of Summer into the abyss of Winter. But some in Sibornal have vowed that humanity and civilisation will ride out the Winter no matter the cost in blood...

Helliconia Winter picks up the story of the world of Helliconia 478 local years - 669 Earth years - after the events of Helliconia Summer. As before, whilst the individual characters who starred in the previous novel are long dead the fall-out of their actions continues to have consequences in this novel, although in this case at something of a remove, since the action is now transplanted to the northern continent of Sibornal. Here, we follow a band of characters led by the betrayed Luterin as he struggles to return to his distant home in the Shivenink Chain, giving rise to what, potentially, should have been the most dynamic storyline in The Helliconia Trilogy. Instead, we get a travelogue. A fascinating, intelligent, well thought-out travelogue, but nevertheless there is the feeling of Aldiss pointing out the cool scenery at the expense of developing his themes in tandem with the plot.

This is not to say that the themes Aldiss wished to explore with the trilogy have been neglected, but they have been shunted into a somewhat unfocused subplot that ranges from the Avernus back to Earth and to one of Earth's almost-failed colony worlds. These ideas are interesting and intelligently-handled, but whilst in Spring and Summer they integrated nicely into the Helliconian story, here they are separated, to the detriment of both. That said, it is satisfying to get an answer for the mystery of why the Helliconian afterlife spirits went from angry, monstrous creatures in Helliconia Spring to peaceful, loving entities in Helliconia Summer, and these developments do a good job of tying the relevance of events in the two earlier books to the events of this one.

On the plus side, Aldiss's gift for invention remains formidable here. The landforms the characters pass through, the political machinations within the government of Sibornal and its member-states and the constant evolution of the flora and fauna of Helliconia to deal with its climatic extremes all remain stunning. His characters are similarly well-drawn and convincing, but it has to be said in this case they are mostly unpleasant and selfish characters whose ambitions and motivations are interesting on an intellectual level, but unengaging on an emotional one. In particular, his female characters receive short shrift here, which is odd especially after the first book in the series (where it is the women of Oldorando who drive forward its scientific and technological development). The ending is also rather more unsatisfying than in the first two books, where the ambiguous conclusions are alleviated by us learning what happened next in historical texts mentioned in the succeeding volume. With no succeeding volume to Helliconia Winter, the ending is too abrupt.

Helliconia Winter (****) is packed with inventive ideas, fascinating characters and some genuinely exciting and dramatic moments. However, it is the weakest book of the trilogy, with an unsatisfying ending and a cold, remote prose style that is not as engaging as the first two books in the series. Nevertheless, the ambition and achievement of the trilogy as a whole remains stunning. The novel is available now in the USA and in the UK will be reissued as part of the new Helliconia omnibus due for release on 12 August this year.

Cover art and info for Michael Moorcock's new novel

As follows:

Yes, Michael Moorcock has written a Doctor Who novel, and, more than that, a Who novel with nods to his Eternal Champion multiverse, if the blurb is anything to go by:
Miggea - a world on the very edge of reality. The cusp between this universe and the next. A point where space-time has worn thin, and is in danger of collapsing. And the venue for the grand finals of the competition to win the fabled Arrow of Law. The Doctor and Amy have joined the Terraphiles - a group obsessed with all aspects of Earth's history, and dedicated to re-enacting ancient sporting events. They are determined to win the Arrow. But just getting to Miggea proves tricky. Reality is collapsing, ships are disappearing, and Captain Cornelius and his pirates are looking for easy pickings. Even when they arrive, the Doctor and Amy's troubles won't be over. They have to find out who is so desperate to get the Arrow of Law that they will kill for it. And uncover the traitor on their own team. And win the contest fair and square. And, of course, they need to save the universe from total destruction.
Readers of Moorcock's work will of course be familiar with the name Cornelius and the concept of the Arrow of Law. Interesting to see if these are just shout-outs to his established mythos, or play into the story in a bigger way.

Moorcock comments on the reasons for writing a TV tie-in novel here.

The book will be released on 28 October in the UK and 30 November in the USA.

GAME OF THRONES teaser trailer

HBO have revealed a very brief teaser for Game of Thrones. The teaser features brief glimpses of Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy, Bronson Webb as Will and Richard Ridings as Gared, along with shots of the Dothraki wedding scene and the Stark expedition riding to Winterfell. has an excellent analysis of the trailer here.

Click for a very brief teaser trailer of the show.

HBO have also released a new official image, this one of Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, which can be downloaded in three sizes (1920x1280, 1280x720, 1024x576).

In addition, HBO have added a Game of Thrones-centric subsite and forum to their main website and confirmed that a veteran Dexter director, Brian Kirk, will be handling two episodes of the first season.

Thrones' first season starts shooting on 26 July and will air on HBO around April-May 2011. The BBC are reportedly involved in financing and will air the show in the UK, although a date has not been given as yet.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Sanderson and Erikson news

A large, three-chapter extract from Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings is now up at Tor's website and is worth a look. The book is published on 31 August in the USA and in February 2011 in the UK. Note you have to be a registered member of, but registration is free.

Elsewhere, I am informed that Steven Erikson is two and a half chapters from completing The Crippled God, the quasi-final Malazan novel. Erikson writes pretty big chapters, so that's not a trivial amount left to write, but the end is definitely within sight. The novel is currently slated for publication in January 2011 in the UK and possibly a little later in the USA.

Where to Start? - Terry Pratchett (Discworld)

Okay, Hamilton and Kay were easy. This is the big one. The question, "Which Discworld book should I read first?" strikes fear into the hearts of critics, as there are enormous numbers of variables to take into account here.

First, some statistics. Since 1983 Sir Terry Pratchett has written and published 37 novels in the Discworld setting, combining the adult and YA books into one sequence. The 38th is published at the end of this year, and he is already writing the 39th. There are also four map-books with fictional material by Pratchett in their accompanying booklets, three science books featuring Pratchett-penned fiction interspersed with real scientific observations, two editions of The Discworld Companion, six short stories found in various collections and even a children's picture book. It's quite exhausting to keep track of it all.

The Discworld books themselves comprise a number of continuing characters and ongoing story arcs, although these arcs are mostly relegated to background information (such as Ankh-Morpork gradually evolving from a stereotypical medieval fantasy city into something more Victorian, even steampunk-esque, in the most recent books) or character development (Vimes' evolution from drunken wastrel to a respected commander of the City Watch), with the individual story of each novel resolved in that novel. To add to the confusion, characters from one arc sometimes crop up in others in cameos. For example, the City Watch have their own arc or sub-series, but will generally turn up (to one degree or another) in most books set in Ankh-Morpork, such as a Wizards book, a Rincewind one or one of the Moist von Lipwig novels. There are also some grey areas, such as Monstrous Regiment where Commander Vimes (of the City Watch sub-series) is a prime mover of the plot and action, but only appears briefly.

What follows is a guide to the major sub-series, with the books listed in reading order.

The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sourcery, Eric, Interesting Times, The Last Continent, The Last Hero, Unseen Academicals.

Rincewind is a useless wizard, a student at Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork who has no skill with magic (for initially plot-related reasons, but it is later revealed that he is simply inept). Rincewind is the first major protagonist of the Discworld series and is sometimes erroneously claimed to be the main character of the series, despite appearing very infrequently (only twice in the last ten years). Rincewind's primary role is to allow Pratchett to explore remote parts of the Discworld far from the traditional stomping grounds of Ankh-Morpork and Lancre, such as the landmass of XXXX in The Last Continent and the Agatean Empire in Interesting Times. However, as Pratchett's interest in broad parodies has waned in favour of satirical elements, Rincewind, a very broad character lacking depth or much development, has become less interesting and used more infrequently.

The Witches of Lancre
Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight (rumoured).

The small village of Lancre in the Ramtop Mountains is advised and kept safe by a coven of three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and a rotating third member (originally Magrat Garlick, later Agnes Nitt, possibly now Tiffany Aching depending on the next book). Granny Weatherwax is one of Pratchett's strongest and most well-developed characters, challenged in that department only by Sam Vimes. However, recently the Witches have become less frequently used, relegated to supporting characters in the Tiffany Aching YA sub-series. With that sub-series due to close with I Shall Wear Midnight, it will be interesting to see if they return in a main series novel.

Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather, Thief of Time.

The Death of Discworld was notable for a long time as the only character to appear in every book (even if only for one line), until Pratchett forgot to put him in The Wee Free Men. He has, however, appeared in every book since then. Death is an anthropomorphic personification whose job is to allow the souls of the living to move on to their next life. He usually only manifests during notable or surprising deaths, such as the death of a wizard or witch, not every single death on the planet. Death develops a fascination with humans and their behaviour during the books, sometimes leading to trouble for Death, the Discworld and often both. Death has again become less prevalent in later books, not having his own novel for almost a decade, possibly as Pratchett has exhausted most of the possibilities in Death's character.

The City Watch
Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, The Last Hero, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, Thud!

The Ankh-Morpork City Watch sub-series is almost certainly the most popular of the various ongoing narratives in the Discworld books. It features the largest cast of them all, many of whom have cameoed in other books set in Ankh-Morpork, and features the most noticeable ongoing development of characters and ideas from book to book, particularly Commander Sam Vimes' evolution from drunkard to respected gentleman. The books featuring the Watch are also generally among the series' best and most acclaimed.

Moist von Lipwig
Going Postal, Making Money, Raising Taxes (forthcoming).

Con artist and scoundrel Moist von Lipwig is saved from certain death by Ankh-Morpork's Patrician, who decides to put him to work as a general troubleshooter to solve the city's problems and repair its institutions. In the first book he takes on the post office, in the second the banking system and in the third it will be taxation. Though a three-book arc has been suggested by Pratchett, some fans believe there is scope for more works, such as one involving the Undertaking (Ankh-Morpork's planned underground rail system) and another about politics, due to the popular fan theory that the Patrician is grooming Moist as his eventual successor. Note that many other recurring Discworld characters, including the Watch, appear in the Lipwig books to various degrees.

Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Small Gods, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.

These are books which feature no major recurring characters or elements (aside from the requisite Death cameo) and can be read independently, although it's worth noting that Moving Pictures is set in Ankh-Morpork and features a cross-over with the Unseen University Wizards (who, by some counts, have their own sub-series, but I haven't counted because their appearances cross over with way too many other characters), the City Watch and several other cameos. Small Gods is the best of these and is also the earliest-occurring Discworld novel, taking place between 100 and 200 years before the events of The Colour of Magic.


The obvious solution to the reading order dilemma is to simply start with the first book, The Colour of Magic, and go through the whole series in order. This is easily the simplest solution, but it does have a few issues. The most notable of these is that The Colour of Magic (and, to a lesser extent, the four books that follow it) is written a very different and more simplistic style than the later books and is little more than a fun travelogue and pastiche of various swords and sorcery books, complete with a cameo by characters modelled on Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and, in The Light Fantastic (the follow-up to The Colour of Magic, the only direct continuation of a primary storyline across books in the whole series), Conan the Barbarian. It doesn't give the best impression of what Pratchett is fully capable of at the very height of his powers.

After this, a solid idea might be to start with the Death sub-series. The first book in the series, Mort, is early enough that it has little to no continuity references and is cited as one of the more popular books in the series (although I only rate it as middling). The problem with this is that the second book, Reaper Man, features an extensive cross-over with the Ankh-Morpork Wizards with multiple references to the events of Moving Pictures and Sourcery, which may confuse readers. Perhaps more acceptable is to start with the City Watch sub-series, which is longer, more compelling and stands alone better.

However, my final conclusion is to go with one of the stand-alones, probably Small Gods or Pyramids, and if you like them to check out The Colour of Magic and take it from there. It's not ideal - both stand-alones are set in remote, never-visited-again parts of the Disc with none of the iconic characters or locations (apart from Death) - but they both give a much better sense of Terry Pratchett's writing style when it's on good form.

The Road

Civilisation has been destroyed, the human race reduced to a few survivors struggling to eke out a living amidst the ruins of what once was. A man and his son make their way south to the coast, hoping to find warmer weather and more plentiful supplies of food, before the world dies.

Based on the Pulitzer-winning 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a post-apocalyptic movie starring Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smith-McPhee as his son. A number of other established actors have extended cameos, with Charlize Theron playing Mortensen's wife in flashback, Robert Duvall as an old man met on the road and The Wire's Michael K. Williams as a thief, whilst Guy Pearce also appears briefly. However, the film focuses on Mortensen and Smith-McPhee almost exclusively for long stretches of its running time.

The book is notable for its pared-back, stark prose style, which is unflinching in its depiction of the brutalised, battered world and the often savage people that are encountered along the way. The film is similarly cold and stripped-back, with a heavily desaturated colour palette and a certain remoteness to the directing style which only lightens in some of the more emotional scenes between the father and his son. It's a film in which morality without the context of civilisation is questioned, with the son constantly asking, "Are we the good guys?" and the survivors finding their faith (either in God or in human nature), constantly challenged by circumstances. That it addresses this issues with a scarcity of dialogue for a modern film is all the more impressive, and is reflective of the book.

There have been some changes to accommodate the medium of film. There are a few more incidents along the road, maybe a few more characters who appear and interact with our protagonists (though still a bare handful), and there's a couple of moments where cliche rears its ugly head (notably the boy's complete inability to shut up when possible hostile people are around, which I don't recall being so pronounced in the book), though these are mercifully brief. For a post-apocalyptic movie, there's also a near-total lack of modern special effects, with only one incongruous CGI establishing shot in the whole film (although no doubt much more subtle CGI manipulation of images occurs throughout). This adds to the sense of realism. The film is also well-paced and fairly short for a modern picture at about 100 minutes in length. On the minus side, Charlize Theron's character has more screentime than in the book, which you'd expect to mean her character receives more development, but this isn't really the case, and an early scene involving a truck full of nefarious folk up to no good briefly makes you think you're watching Mad Max (for all of about five seconds though, so not a huge issue), which isn't really the tone the creators were going for.

The Road (****½) is fascinating, well-acted, impressively-directed and unflinching, whilst occasionally sounding a note of hope. The film is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

GAME OF THRONES general update

Again, a little time has passed since the last major update with news from the Game of Thrones production camp, so here's a run-down of recent events.

Due to a combination of various factors, the start date for filming of Season 1 has been moved back from late June to 26 July 2010. Interestingly, both Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean have been able to sneak in some more film roles thanks to the delay. It is unknown if this delay will impact on the previously-mooted April 2011 transmission date. Whilst the filming date has been moved back, pre-production is in full swing. New sets are being built at the Paint Hall Studios in Belfast, new locations are being looked at and various backstage crew are being assembled. Director Brian Kirk is reportedly already in Belfast preparing for the shoot, indicating he will either be directing Episode 2 or will be handling the reshoots needed for the pilot. Based on Tweets and blog posts, it also sounds like most or all of the writing for the season has been done, at least in draft, with George R.R. Martin turning in the script for the eighth episode some time ago.

That brings the news back to casting. Given that the pick-up was announced back on 2 March, it's surprising that no further casting announcements have been made beyond the replacing of Jennifer Ehle (Catelyn Stark) and Tamzin Merchant (Daenerys Targaryen) with Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke. Casting has been going on roughly in the order of appearance of each major character in the series, and with Martin reporting that casting is now underway for the role of Shae (who will appear quite late in the season, probably in Martin's own episode) and that they were down to two choices for Samwell Tarly, this suggests that roles appearing much earlier than that (possibly including Renly Baratheon, Varys and Littlefinger) have either been cast or are in the process of being finalised. Hopefully this means that casting announcements will be forthcoming before filming starts. Intriguingly, Martin has confirmed that Tywin will first appear in his episode, so if they are casting for Shae (who first appears around the same time in the book) they may be casting for Tywin as well, who I suspect would be a recognisable, known name.

It's also been confirmed that there will be no heavy Game of Thrones presence at the San Diego Comic-Con, despite the recent revelation that a trailer has been put together for internal HBO consumption and this is the last SDCC before transmission. It's simply too far ahead of transmission to start building up a strong buzz (something that is happening naturally due to regular media coverage anyway).

In summary, the series is currently 46 days from production beginning and (hopefully) ten months from transmission, with casting announcements due hopefully soon.

Doctor Who Adventures: City of the Daleks

Given that Doctor Who predates the creation of computer games by some years and has existed alongside them since way before Pong appeared, it's surprising to learn that there's been very few serious attempts to make a proper Doctor Who title. There was an 8-bit platformer called The Mines of Terror during the Colin Baker era, and a 1992 action title called Dalek Attack which was fun, if not really in keeping with the spirit of the TV series, depicting as it did Patrick Troughton and Sylvester McCoy's Doctors jumping around blowing away Daleks with plasma cannons.

The BBC have teamed up with the creators of the Broken Sword adventure game series to try to deliver something a bit more interesting. Their approach is to follow the episodic structure favoured by Telltale Games with their recent Monkey Island and Sam 'n' Max titles. The Doctor Who Adventures series will thus feature four episodes set in different locations and see the Doctor and his companion Amy battle various foes, new and old alike. City of the Daleks is the first game in this series.

The game is modelled closely after an episode of the TV series. We get a teaser which dramatically climaxes, followed by the opening title sequence (a 3D rendition of the TV title sequence), followed by roughly 90-100 minutes of adventuring and the closing title sequence. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan lend their vocal talents to the game, the TV show's composer is behind the music, and the TV producers act as advisors, whilst one of the TV scriptwriters is behind the dialogue. Steven Moffatt has also promised to treat the four games as canon, although how far that will go remains to be seen.

The game opens with the TARDIS arriving in London, 1963, the Doctor having promised to introduce Amy to the Beatles. This proves to be impossible, as Earth is in ruins and under Dalek occupation. The Doctor, realising that the Daleks have changed time on a massive scale, travels to the Dalek homeworld of Skaro to discover how they have managed this. The game is split into two sections, the first in London with the Doctor and Amy avoiding Dalek patrols and making contact with the last human survivor, and a second on Skaro as the Doctor attempts to put right the Daleks' meddling with the timestream.

The gameplay is interesting, as the Doctor can't simply whip out a laser cannon and start blowing Daleks away. His non-violent ethos basically means using lots of stealth sequences to sneak past Daleks (whose fields of vision are helpfully outlined in green) and then using the sonic screwdriver or other pieces of equipment he has picked up to solve simple puzzles and progress. These puzzles are represented as slightly tedious mini-games in which you have to connect up circuit boards or guide objects through electric mazes. The first one of these is dull, but by the time you get to the fourth or fifth you may end up losing the will to live. Graphically the game is also not exactly much to write home about, but this has the benefit that it is able to work on a wide variety of hardware. Movement controls could be more responsive (both the Doctor and Amy have a surprising amount of inertia, and take a few seconds to get moving after you press the relevant control, which is odd) but generally the interface works quite well.

Luckily, the story is decent, with some nice dialogue and some great continuity references that will keep old-school Doctor Who fans happy (particularly the reappearance of the Varga plants from the 1960s). We also get our first good look at Skaro since the 1979 adventure Destiny of the Daleks, apparently based on what the TV producers have planned the Dalek homeworld to look like if they ever visit it in the TV series itself. The gameplay has to be feasible for younger players, so the puzzles are not particularly difficult and progress is very straightforward, helped by a surprisingly excellent autosave system.

As a first try-out, this is reasonably effective. However, I hope they change the mechanics a bit for future games. If the next title sees the Doctor and Amy having to dodge Cybermen with vision cones whilst playing more maze mini-games, this could get really old really quickly.

City of the Daleks (***½) is a solid little game which doesn't outstay its welcome, is reasonably fun and, best of all for those of us in the UK, is free of charge (well, it isn't actually, but we've already paid for it as part of the licence fee). Those of a foreign persuasion have to wait until July until it becomes available for a nominal charge, the details of which remain unclear at the moment. The game is available on PC now and on Mac from 15 June.

Kate Elliott on returning to her JARAN SF universe

Kate Elliott is working on the second volume of her new Spiritwalker Trilogy, but recently blogged that an extremely long-standing plot problem which brought about an end to her Jaran science fiction series has been resolved, and she now 'knows how to' write the fifth volume in the series. No firm plans have been made to write this book, as Elliott has the remainder of the Spiritwalker series followed by additional books in her Crossroads fantasy universe planned. It would also be preferable if the existing books were reprinted before a new volume was written, which obviously depends on Elliott's publishers.

The published Jaran books are Jaran (1992), An Earthly Crown (1993), His Conquering Sword (1993) and The Law of Becoming (1994), with the second and third novels actually one very long novel called The Sword of Heaven that was split in half for length reasons. The fifth book, if it is ever written, would be called The Game of Princes.

In related news, Elliott has also disclosed that Cold Fire (the second book in the Spiritwalker trilogy; the first, Cold Magic, is out in September) features both zombies and sharks, but sadly no news on ninjas and/or pirates yet.