Tuesday, 31 August 2010


At the Discworld Convention, which just concluded in Birmingham, Sir Terry Pratchett confirmed that the next Discworld TV adaptation by Sky One would be Unseen Academicals, the most recent Discworld novel (at least until I Shall Wear Midnight is released on Friday). This follows the popular and successful adaptations of Going Postal, The Colour of Magic/The Light Fantastic and Hogfather.

This news is slightly surprising. Given David Jason's role in getting the Discworld adaptations off the ground and the news that Going Postal was adapted because he wasn't available, the expectation was that Sourcery would be the next book up to be adapted, with Jason reprising his role as Rincewind, with Making Money (the sequel to Going Postal) coming up if Jason was unavailable. Going for Unseen Academicals seems to be a rather random choice, it has to be said. The new adaptation will air in 2012.

No word on if the fez will return next season.

Meanwhile, Season 32/6/2 of Doctor Who (delete according to preference) is going to be split into two half-seasons. The first seven episodes will air in the traditional pre-Easter slot in 2011 with the concluding six episodes following in the autumn. According to producer Steven Moffat, this is because the season will feature a huge mid-season cliffhanger which the BBC wants to capitalise on and to build up fresh enthusiasm for the autumn. Other commentators have more cynically suggested that the BBC want to move the show to a more beneficial autumn timeslot ratings-wise (although whether this affects Merlin, the BBC's autumnal Doctor Who stopgap, remains to be seen).

Before we get to the new season, there will be a Christmas special airing later this year.

New interview with Peter F. Hamilton

Myself, Pat from his titular Fantasy Hotlist and Mark from Walker of Worlds joined forces to interview Peter F. Hamilton recently. You can check the results on Pat's blog.

Hamilton's new novel, The Evolutionary Void, should be in all good UK and US bookshops now.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

WH40K ULTRAMARINES movie trailer

The first 'proper' trailer for the Warhammer 40,000 CGI movie Ultramarines has been released.

Hopefully this is early test footage because the CGI is seriously below-par for the expectations of a modern audience. In fact, the CGI is considerably less impressive than the CGI mini-movie which opened Dawn of War, and that is now more than six years old (not to mention Dawn of War II's from last year). The voice acting from John Hurt and Donald Sumpter sounds fine, but the visuals definitely need a polish.

The movie will be released on DVD, apparently before the end of this year.

Patrick Rothfuss in LOCUS

Patrick Rothfuss has been interviewed by the American Locus magazine, getting a cover promo as well as a bemusing but also awesome interior pic:

Rothfuss discusses the origins of the series and the problems that he faced in bringing The Wise Man's Fear to a close. The interview is in issue 595 and Rothfuss blogs about the interview here.

Nova War by Gary Gibson

Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso have recovered an alien spacecraft belonging to the enigmatic and long-extinct Magi. Possessing a functional FTL drive, the ship holds the key to freeing humanity from its dependency on the Shoal, hitherto believed to be the only race to possess the secret of superluminal travel. Unfortunately, Dakota and Luca are now 'guests' of the Bandati, another Shoal vassal species equally anxious to gain the secrets of the drive. As different factions of Bandati battle one another for access to the alien ship and the two humans who can pilot it, it becomes clear that the Shoal have been lying to their vassals for centuries about their abilities, for another race whose power rivals that of the Shoal are making their own play for the Magi vessel...

In the second volume of The Shoal Sequence, the ante is upped as various alien races and factions within those races (and within the human Consortium) attempt to seize control of the Magi ship, whilst Merrick and Corso, aware of the ship's ability to unleash devastation on a vast scale, struggle to stop it falling into the wrong hands. The result is a complex, many-sided struggle with our heroes caught in the middle, unsure of which faction to ally with.

Nova War is very much in the same vein as Stealing Light, with impressive action sequences bridging scenes featuring complex ethical dilemmas and some nicely-judged character-building moments, most notably as Dakota considers whether her unmatched ability to pilot the alien vessel could turn her into some kind of tyrant. The messy relationship between Dakota and Corso, who are on the same side but distrust one another's motives, is nicely developed and the story moves at a cracking pace, but some weaknesses remain. The new alien races, the airborne Bandati and the Emissaries of God (a race of psychotic space-elephants), are again not really that alien, whilst recurring bad guy Hugh Moss is starting to get a little annoying (although we finally learn why he is apparently indestructible). Dakota and Lucas again spend most of the book imprisoned in one form or another, which is frustrating, but made up for by the impressive (if rather rushed) climax.

Nova War (****) continues the Shoal Sequence trilogy in a readable and entertaining manner. It is available now in the UK and on import in the USA.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

News and Updates

The first omnibus of Paul Kearney's superlative Monarchies of God series, Hawkwood and the Kings, should be hitting bookshelves in the UK and US around now. Supporting the move is a smart full-page advert which should also be appearing in British SF publications around this time:


In other news, Alastair Reynolds has settled on a title for his next project. Previously described as the '11K Trilogy', the working title for the new trilogy is Poseidon's Children, with the first novel likely to be called Blue Remembered Earth. The book is set to appear sometime in 2011.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Stealing Light by Gary Gibson

The 26th Century. Humanity has gained access to the stars thanks to the Shoal, the only race in the Galaxy to have developed a transluminal drive. Humanity leases space on the great Shoal coreships as they make a circuit of inhabited systems in the Orion Spiral Arm. The Shoal guard the secrets of FTL jealously and even murderously, so when a human colony discovers an ancient alien derelict in the Nova Arctis system, apparently with a still-functional FTL drive, the colonists make the decision to secretly extract and replicate the drive for themselves.

However, the alien ship is guarded by ancient software protocols and defence systems that ordinary humans cannot overcome. To this end, Dakota Merrick (a 'machine-head' with illegal brain implants) and Lucas Corso (an expert in computer language) are drafted in to help with the retrieval operation. Needless to say, the operation does not go as planned, for both the Shoal and their enemies are one step ahead of the game...

Stealing Light is the opening novel in The Shoal Sequence, a space opera trilogy which is - hooray! - now complete (the later volumes are Nova War and Empire of Light). It is a fast-paced, fiendishly readable SF novel built on an intriguing premise (one alien race in the Galaxy controls FTL and rations it to its vassal species very grudgingly) which is then expanded and explored in a very logical fashion (the FTL drive has some intriguing side-effects which the Shoal don't want other races to find out about) and delivered through some effective action set-pieces and some solid character-building, with Dakota Merrick being a fine SF heroine, albeit a hugely flawed one. Dakota is haunted by events in her past, some of which she is using to excuse her dubious actions in the present through some questionable rationalisations, which makes her a sympathetic character only up to the point you realise she's avoiding taking full responsibility for her actions, at which point she becomes more interesting.

One thing that Stealing Light is not is original. In fact, the book is positively magpie-like in its picking of concepts and ideas from other works. The Shoal-vassal relationship recalls David Brin's Uplift books, whilst the recovery of an alien derelict harbouring major plot revelations has been done to death. The subversion of cybernetic technology via virulent computer viruses that can snatch away a person's violition has also been handled to some degree by Alastair Reynolds in his Revelation Space books, whilst the book's central doomsday macguffin is something that will be very familiar to Peter F. Hamilton fans. To those well-versed in space opera, this might be slightly irritating, but generally I found the book's pace, verve and page-turning energy (not to mention a fine line in dark humour) to more than make up for these originality shortcomings.

One area which could have been handled better is the depiction of the alien races. The Shoal (an aquatic species of sentient fish who float around is giant, suspended fields of water) are pretty human in thought and deed and rather unconvincing as alien beings, although the splendidly-named Trader-in-Faecal-Matter-of-Animals is a complex and intriguing antagonist. In terms of structure the book is also a little repetitive, with Dakota and Corso spending most of the book being captured, escaping, making desperate deals, being captured, escaping again and so on like a mid-1970s Doctor Who serial. Gibson just about manages to avoid it being a major issue, but the characters lacking the ability to affect the plot themselves and being at the mercy of various outside forces until the endgame of the book gets a little wearying after a while.

Stealing Light (****) is a well-paced, fun space opera novel and a solid opening to a promising trilogy. The novel is available now in the UK and on import in the USA.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

1939. In the closing weeks of the Spanish Civil War, British intelligence agent Raybould Marsh is dispatched to meet an informant who claims to have vital information about some of Nazi Germany's top-secret weapons being field-tested in the conflict. The informant explodes in front of Marsh with no apparent cause. As the clock ticks down to war between Britain and Germany, it is discovered that Germany has developed technology that can turn certain, gifted individuals into super-beings, people who can turn invisible, manipulate fire or even predict the future.

Britain's fortunes in the war turn sour as the Germans seem to be constantly one step ahead of them, destroying the transports carrying out the evacuation of Dunkirk and striking down the radar towers that will be needed to protect the country from Luftwaffe bombing. But Britain is not completely unprotected, and the newly-formed Milkweed organisation has resources to call upon which dwarf even the powers of the German ubermensch. But these powers are not to be summoned lightly...

Bitter Seeds is Ian Tregillis' debut novel and is a brash, refreshing alt-history which sees Nazi superhumans and British warlocks battling to the death during WWII. It's a cool premise, generally well-handled with a large and complex story being effectively told through a small number of POV characters on both sides. However, if the story sounds too big to be contained within a single volume, you would be right. In an increasingly annoying trend in modern SFF publishing, Bitter Seeds is the first novel in a trilogy (dubbed The Milkweed Triptych) despite this fact not being mentioned anywhere on the cover or inside the book. The story doesn't come to an end or really any kind of conclusion, just screeches to a halt 350 pages in with a number of stories broken off mid-flow. The follow-up volumes will be entitled The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

That out the way, Bitter Seeds works successfully on a number of levels. Characters are drawn pretty well, with British secret agent Raybould Marsh being an effective central character, driven by passion and rage, whilst his amateur magician friend, Will Beauclerk, makes a good foil for him. Will's story assumes greater importance as the novel proceeds, culminating in some shocking moments near the end of the book that hint that his role in the sequels will be very interesting indeed. The opposing characters, such as Klaus and his River Tam-like sister Gretel, are also intriguing characters, although the way Tregillis handles Gretel's potentially tension-destroying prescience (by making her a whimsical fruitcake who sometimes lets the Nazis lose battles due to the callings of A Higher Plan) seems to be dramatically unsatisfying, with Gretel working as a constant deus ex machina-in-residence, who may or may not defeat our heroes' plans at the whim of the author.

Elsewhere, Tregillis has done his homework, with WWII Britain described in convincing detail and atmosphere, even if the book's (relatively) slim page count means that some elements need to be skipped or drawn only in broad strokes. His alteration of history is well-conceived but is a little inconsistent: at first it appears that the Nazi superhumans will be providing explanations for real oddities in the war (like the ease with which the German armoured columns passed through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes Forest), but later the outcome and course of the war shifts very dramatically away from the historical, and in fact becomes credence-stretching by the time we get to the end of the novel. This is fair in that it reflects the tone and plot of the novel, as supernatural forces become increasingly prevalent in their impact on the world, but those who prefer their alt-history to be more closely tied to real events may be underwhelmed as the book deviates radically from established history by the end.

Tregillis has a nice way with words, particularly in descriptive prose, but this is inconsistent. Nice, flowing prose is replaced by a more prosaic, infodump-heavy mode with little forewarning, increasingly favouring the latter as the novel progresses. This is disappointing as Tregellis' writing is what lifts the book above more plot-driven WWII alt-histories by the likes of Harry Turtledove and John Birmingham, but as the book continues to unfold his prose becomes more ordinary and less engaging.

All of that said, the book is short, fast-paced and, for all its faults, remains something of a page-turner. It is the finely-judged character interrelationships, particularly the increasingly tense friendship between Raybould and Will and the fraught sibling relationship of Klaus and Gretel, which defines the novel and leaves the reader eager to read on into the next novel.

Bitter Seeds (***½) fails to live up to its full potential, but remains an effective and readable debut novel. It is available now in the USA and on import in the UK.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Alchemist in the Shadows by Pierre Pevel

France, 1633. A secretive female agent, known as La Donna, is wanted for crimes across Europe. When she stumbles across a draconic conspiracy aimed at the French throne, she asks for a pardon from Cardinal Richelieu in return for the disclosure of her intelligence. Whilst Richelieu's agents and La Donna engage in a verbal battle of wills, the Cardinal's Blades are assigned to uncovering the extent and nature of the conspiracy before it can be set into motion, only to learn that the formidable Black Claw agent known as 'The Alchemist' is involved.

The opening novel in the Cardinal's Blades series was a fun, swashbuckling adventure which combined elements of Dumas with dragons to great effect. This second novel is a somewhat different beast. The first book seemed to establish a potential formula, with the Cardinal's Blades being made aware of a threat and moving to counter it, a formula which could generate quite a few novels before feeling tired. Interestingly, the second novel ups the ante and moves events onto a larger and more apocalyptic scale before ending on a cruel cliffhanger just as the plot starts to really get going. The result is a book which is, at least compared to its predecessor, somewhat disappointing for much of its length and then abruptly ends just as it catches fire.

Part of the problem is that the book lacks the clear structure of the first one. In the first novel the Blades were gradually re-recruited by Captain La Fargue, assembled and then unleashed against a formidable enemy. In this volume the Blades seem to be more at the whims of fate and luck than working effectively as a team (the book sees the Blades off on their own missions for much of its length, with a corresponding lack of the banter and camaraderie of the first novel). Some character arcs are continued from the first novel, although bafflingly the major cliffhanger of the first book is only briefly referred to and then dismissed, which makes me wonder why it was included in the first place. Held back until later, it would have been more powerful and effective. Characterisation is also uneven, with Leprat, Laincourt and Saint-Lucq being satisfyingly developed whilst Marciac simply doesn't have much to do. The character of La Donna is introduced, becomes fascinating, and then vacates the storyline with little forewarning, with even her much-referred-to verbal fencing skills being reported rather than shown directly, which is a disappointment.

This lack of depth is frustrating, given the evident skill Pevel has in other areas. 17th Century Paris is again vividly described and Pevel has some skill depicting political intrigue, whilst there are more swashbuckling swordfights, rooftop chases (amusingly slightly subverted here) and dastardly carriage escapes by moonlight, all mightily enjoyable, but generally they arrive fairly late in the day after many pages of fairly workmanlike plotting. The Alchemist in the Shadows simply lacks the je'nai sais quoi that made the first volume so much fun, only showing signs of its predecessor's verve and energy towards the (well-realised) conclusion and the cruel cliffhanger.

The Alchemist in the Shadows (***) will be released on 16 September 2010 in the UK.

Gaunt's Ghosts: Sabbat Martyr by Dan Abnett

AD 40,773. The Crusade hangs by a thread. Warmaster Macaroth's main forces are bogged down in a devastating conflict on the fortress world of Morlond, exposing the Khan system on his flank to a decisive Chaos counter-offensive. If successful, this offensive will destroy Macaroth's line of supply and surround him. Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only are hastily redeployed to Herodor, second world of the Khan system, to meet the renewed Chaos thrust. On Herodor Gaunt is confronted by nothing less than a miracle, a turn of fate which could save the Crusade from disaster: the apparent reincarnation of Saint Sabbat herself. But this turn of events is timely and convenient, maybe too convenient...

In Sabbat Martyr a number of storylines that Abnett set in motion as far back as Honour Guard climax. In that earlier novel we learned a lot more about the religious basis of the Crusade and Gaunt's own spirituality and religious conviction, something that comes full circle here when Gaunt's faith is by turns battered and reinforced. That book also marked the beginning of various sub-plots involving Ghosts such as Larkin, Cuu, Milo, Kolea and Soric which reach their conclusions in this volume, giving the book a more epic and decisive feel than some of the more recent volumes. If Gaunt's Ghosts ever became a TV series, this would be the big season finale.

Abnett mostly does a good job of juggling various long-standing plotlines with the book's own internal story, the battle for the city of Civitas Beati. In keeping with the recent trend to give each battle its own distinctive shape and atmosphere, Abnett deliberately makes Civitas Beati a wide-open, near-indefensible position to contrast to the earlier city fighting in Necropolis, which took place in a formidable and near-impregnable fortress-city. Here the fighting is believably chaotic and confused.

This book is also notable for giving us a deeper look at the inner ranks of the enemy. Whilst previous books have briefly featured the various Chaos warlords, their minions and their reactions to the Ghosts' activities, this is the first one where they have a reasonable amount of page-time, with particular attention focused on the nine assassins and their various battles with members of the Ghosts. Whilst a nice idea, it is a little bit undersold in this book. There's simply way too much going on to properly introduce nine badass assassins, give them all a decent level of description and background and then set them against the Ghosts in various engagements in the 250-odd page count. As such this storyline is unfortunately rushed.

More satisfying are the resolutions to long-standing storylines. The enemy within the Ghosts is finally flushed out, other characters reach their destinies and we have the biggest and most shocking death in the series to date. This book feels like the end of an era in the series, with the book's ending setting up an apparent new and bloodier phase of the war.

Sabbat Martyr (****) brings the 'Saint' arc to an enjoyable conclusion and ensures that things will never be the same again for Gaunt and his troops. The book is available now as part of The Saint omnibus in both the UK and USA.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Karl Urban is Judge Dredd

The producers of the forthcoming new Judge Dredd movie have confirmed that they have cast Karl Urban in the title role. Urban is best-known for his roles as Eomer in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and as Dr. McCoy in the recent Star Trek movie.

The new film is due to start shooting in Johannesburg 'soon' and is being directed by Pete Travis, whose previous credits were the so-so Vantage Point and Endgame. This marks the second attempt to bring the lawman to the big screen, following a 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone which had a very mixed reception. The producers have stated that, unlike in the previous film, Dredd will not remove his helmet for the duration of the film, following the precedent established in the comic. The film will be in 3D and the script was written by Alex Garland.

Gaunt's Ghosts: Straight Silver by Dan Abnett

Decades ago the forces of Chaos overran and conquered the Sabbat Worlds, a star cluster of over one hundred inhabited planets which had been won for the Imperium six millennia previously by Saint Sabbat, a formidable general. One of the few worlds not to fall outright was Aexe Cardinal, too marginal for even the endless legions of the Warp to waste time attacking. Instead, a local, ambitious nation was reinforced and induced to attack its neighbours, unleashing a horrendous trench war the likes of which humanity has not seen in thousands of years.

With the Crusade forces now trying to push back a determined Chaos counter-assault, several detachments of Imperial Guard have been dispatched to secure Aexe Cardinal and its resources. Gaunt and the Tanith 1st are sent in to break the stalemate. Unfortunately for Gaunt, he remains unaware that his unit is harbouring a traitor and murderer...

The Gaunt's Ghosts series reaches its sixth volume and shows little sign of running out of speed. Just as we were getting used to the 'rules' of this series, Abnett decided to shake them up in the last two books by introducing some bad apples to the Ghosts and killing off one reasonably major character, as well as varying the war scenes by switching to an airborne drop in The Guns of Tanith and a running road battle in Honour Guard. In Straight Silver he switches to a gruelling trench war reminiscent of WWI with the two sides happy to lob shells at one another and occasionally try a futile trench-rush. By invoking images of the Somme and Passchendaele Abnett does a good job of getting across the horrendous futility of pointless war, with even the battle-weary Ghosts shocked by the state of the conflict and determined to help break the deadlock.

This leads to a two-pronged storyline, as one detachment of Ghosts scouts a forest for signs of enemy infiltration and ends up besieged in a farmhouse whilst another goes on a Dirty Dozen-style trip behind enemy lines to locate and destroy an artillery detachment. It has to be said that compared to the epic, conflict-ending struggles the Tanith has been involved with previously, these feel like sideshows, but this is deliberate. The Tanith aren't always the unit that turns the tide of a war, and after forty years of conflict such an outcome would have been particularly unrealistic here. Instead, Abnett focuses on the characterisation, particularly of the increasingly loathsome Cuu and his feud with the Ghosts' ace sniper Larkin. Whilst also developing the newer Varghast troops he also switches the spotlight on some older Ghosts who have not featured centrally in the past, such as Feygor and Mkvenner, to good effect.

The end of the book is a surprise. The Ghosts are abruptly summoned on a new mission and we are left on a minor cliffhanger, for the first time in the series. The Ghosts have a new mission, one potentially that could win them the entire Crusade, on Herodor...

Straight Silver (****) is another solidly entertaining instalment in a reliably entertaining series. It is available now in the UK and USA as part of The Saint omnibus.

Brandon Sanderson completes TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT

According to Brandon Sanderson (via Facebook), Towers of Midnight's final revisions have been completed and the book is off to Tor. Sanderson reports that the book has come in at 328,000 words, 57 chapters, plus an epilogue and prologue.

Towers of Midnight's release date remains set for 2 November 2010 in the USA and UK.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

An assassin in white murders the King of Alethkar, an act commissioned by the enigmatic Parshendi tribesmen of the east. In response the Alethi armies meet those of the Parshendi in battle on the Shattered Plains, a vast landscape of plateaus separated by dark chasms. Progress is slow and gruelling, and Dalinar, the murdered king's brother, adopts a siege strategy to wear down the enemy through attrition.

Meanwhile, Kaladin, a former soldier disgraced and sold into slavery, arrives on the Shattered Plains as a bridgeman, a role designed to help carry and place the immense mobile bridges which carry the Alethi army into battle. Mistreated by his masters, Kaladin begins to burn with the need for freedom and vengeance, and finds like-minded men amongst his fellows.

In distant Kharbranth a woman named Shallan seeks a missing princess, hoping to become her protege and study under the most famous heretic on all of Roshar. But Shallan's quest disguises another, less honourable cause.

These three stories become entwined with the ancient legends of the Knights Radiant and the Voidbringers they fought against. The world of Roshar and the wider cosmere beyond lie in danger from an ancient force, and the key to understanding the nature of that threat lies with a man who can walk amongst the worlds...

There's no faulting the ambition of this novel. The publisher and the author have set out their stall quite clearly: they want the ten-volume Stormlight Archive series to be the next dominant epic fantasy series, replacing the soon-to-finish Wheel of Time sequence. The publishing marketing spiel has cranked up to support this effort, drawing comparisons with Tolkien and Frank Herbert which are more than slightly hyperbolic. Yet The Way of Kings manages to weather these pronouncements to stand on its own merits as one of the best epic fantasy releases of this year.

The Way of Kings is Brandon Sanderson's finest novel to date, showing a remarkable and satisfying maturing and evolution of his craft. Sanderson is a student of epic fantasy who's made it his business to test the limits of the subgenre and take a mass audience with him, and The Way of Kings raises this skill to new heights. Roshar isn't another generic fantasyland, but a dangerous and alien world wracked by devastating tempests which the normal business of humanity takes place in the lulls between the storms. In his previous books Sanderson has used his worlds as effective background locations, but in The Way of Kings the world itself comes to life satisfyingly, becoming a vivid location which the reader ends up wanting to know more about.

Characterisation is an area where Sanderson takes a significant step forward in quality. His characters in The Way of Kings are considerably more flawed and more real than those in Mistborn or Elantris, but he also avoids turning them into grim, grey ciphers. These characters are given motivations and rationales for what they do which make sense, and then evolve satisfyingly over the course of the book. It has to be said that of the three major protagonists Shallan is the one who is not developed very satisfyingly in this way until the very end of the book, when her last three or four chapters transform the reader's understanding of her character and motives in a very impressive manner.

Sanderson has a strong reputation as the creator of impressive magic systems, so it's rather surprising that The Way of Kings pulls back on the magical side of things. There's an excellent opening sequence depicting the assassination which is slightly reminiscent of Nightcrawler's attack on the White House in X2 and is as impressive, but otherwise actual feats of magic are somewhat few and far between in the book (although there is a fair amount of use of magical artifacts such as fabrials and Shardblades), although with plenty of hints that these will form a bigger part of the story in subsequent volumes.

Another surprise is that Sanderson makes a bold move in this volume by putting some of the common mythology of his universe into the centre of the plot: Hoid, the Shards of Adonalsium, the Shadesmar and other elements which have been hinted at in Elantris, Warbreaker and the Mistborn series are here brought into somewhat sharper relief (although foreknowledge of those earlier novels is not required) and followers of this shared-universe element of Sanderson's work will have plenty more to chew on as a result of this book.

On the downside, Sanderson does adopt an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach with the book, and uses some side-plots purely to establish elements which will have no resolution until much later, and as a result there are a few side-stories which simply have no apparent reason for being in this novel (most notably the scenes set on the Purelake). In addition, to achieve greater resonance and carry out more impressive worldbuilding, Sanderson has had to sacrifice the thunderous pace that made the first Mistborn novel very enjoyable, the result being a book which is a good 150-200 pages longer than it strictly needs to be with some repetition of ideas and some action sequences (the chasm battles, whilst very impressive and atmospheric, do start blurring together after a while).

The Way of Kings (****½) has some minor issues, but overall is a deeper, darker and more satisfying novel than anything Sanderson has produced to date. The book will be published on 31 August 2010 in the USA and on 30 December in the UK.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Voice cast announced for NEW VEGAS

Bethesda and Obsidian have announced their voice cast for the forthcoming Fallout: New Vegas and some familiar names are present.

The list is as follows:

  • Ron Perlman returns in his familiar role as the narrator.
  • Danny Trejo (Spy Kids, Machete) plays Raul the Ghoul, a mechanic.
  • Zach Levi (Chuck) plays Arcade, a member of the Followers of the Apocalypse.
  • Felicia Day (The Guild, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is one of the Brotherhood of Steel.
  • Matthew Perry (Friends) plays Benny, a fast-talking gangster.
  • Kris Kristofferson (Blade, Convoy) is Chief Hanlon, a veteran soldier.
  • Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) is the enigmatic Mr. House.

The game is due for release on PS3, X-Box 360 and PC on 19 October.

Friday, 6 August 2010

An American Werewolf in London is being remade.

Classic 1981 horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London is being developed as a remake.

The LA Times article about the project is positive about the idea, pointing out the current craze for werewolves and other supernatural creatures should make this a hit and citing the popularity of the horror-comedy subgenre (although the fact they can't think of another successful entry in the field other than the six-year-old Shaun of the Dead is telling). A quick trawl of the Internet reveals that the reaction of most people to the news has been 'negative' to put it mildly.

Part of the problem is that the original American Werewolf achieved its success through its ground-breaking prosthetics and effects work, particularly the werewolf transformation sequence which remains disturbing and impressive thirty years on. For the new film you just know they're going to throw in some CGI and be done with it (although if they did adopt a strict no-CGI approach, I'd be more interested in it). With a witty and impressive script it might be worth a look, but given the quality of recent remakes I'm not holding my breath on this one.

Gaunt's Ghosts: The Guns of Tanith by Dan Abnett

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade's proud advance into enemy territory has overreached itself and is now under a vicious and determined counter-offensive. Gaunt and his troops are redeployed to the industrial world of Phantine, where the surface has been lost under a seething fog of chemical poison, leaving the remaining cities and vapour mills clinging to the tops of tall mesas and mountains. The survival of the Crusade now depends on Phantine and several other fuelling worlds being liberated to open new supply lines to the fleet.

The lack of usable surface area on the planet rules out a conventional mechanised assault, leaving only one option to take the vital settlements of Cirenholm and Ouranberg: a massive airborne assault, something the Ghosts have never done before. As they prepare for battle, the murder of a civilian, apparently by a Ghost, unleashes a storm of suspicion and dissent within their ranks which Gaunt must quickly resolve before it damages their morale.

The Guns of Tanith is where the Gaunt's Ghosts series takes a much darker turn. Whilst we've lost a few minor characters along the way, this is where major, fan-favourite characters start biting the dust and an insidious presence makes itself known amongst their ranks. The Ghosts now have an enemy within and the twists and turns the plot goes through before revealing who it is are impressive. The final few pages of the book are a truly heinous gut-punch of a twist that will leave the reader fuming and shocked.

However, that is the subplot. The main story is about the two airborne assaults. The first is a full-on, all-out attack whilst the second is an infiltration making use of the Tanith's specialised stealth capabilities (the first time they've actually been used properly). Whilst Abnett makes a good job of differentiating the two battles as much as possible, there remains a feeling of repetitiveness. The secondary guest characters are less memorable this time around as well, with the sole exception of the eccentric Van Voytz, Gaunt's new commanding officer who manages to be an effective general and appreciates the Ghosts' abilities despite being also somewhat bonkers.

The book's weaknesses are more than made up for by the excellent twist that the new internal threat to the unit presents and also some crowd-pleasing moments in the book's finale (such as one where a character is invited to look under a table).

The Guns of Tanith (****) is where we start to say goodbye to some of the series' longest-established characters and where events take a darker and more interesting turn. The book is available now as part of The Saint omnibus in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sky One cancel BLAKE'S 7 remake

Sky have pulled out of its planned remake/reboot of classic 1970s SF show Blake's 7. Sky had been developing the project with the rights-holders B7 Productions for several years, but recently ended their involvement. The reasons for their departure are unknown. B7 Productions' statement is a morass of marketing-speak (featuring the splendidly nonsensical term '360 degree exploitation opportunities', which no sane human would ever utter out loud) but essentially they are claiming that even without Sky's involvement they already have 60% of the needed budget in place (whether that's for a full series or just a pilot is unknown).

Blake's 7 ran for four seasons and 52 episodes between 1978 and 1981 and was one of the top-rated TV shows of its time, attracting ratings on a par with Doctor Who and even besting Britain's top-rated soap Coronation Street in one showdown. The series, set roughly a thousand years in the future, depicted a totalitarian Federation (amusingly, their symbol is the Star Trek Federation's symbol turned to the extreme right) keeping its citizens in-line with drugs. A band of rebels led by the titular Blake manage to acquire a powerful alien starship and use it to oppose the Federation, but over time Blake's clean-cut, Robin Hood-in-space image is compromised as he and his band have to make harder and harder decisions that lead to many civilian deaths. Blake's idealism is kept in check by the harsh cynicism and capitalism of his nemesis (and the show's antihero) Avon. In a supremely well-done twist, after Blake disappears (after the end of Season 2) a thoroughly unwilling Avon is thrust into the role of the new figurehead to bring down the Federation, much to his own disgust and bemusement. The series is famous for ending on an insanely bleak note. It was more new BSG than new BSG ever was, remarkable as it originally aired at the same time as the old BSG.

B7 was an influence on, among other things, Firefly and Babylon 5, and the recent DVD re-releases have done very well. Whilst Sky pulling out of the reboot (one of the few such projects I can see a very compelling argument for) is a shame, it does sound like the producers are pressing on. Let's hope they succeed and, more importantly, the results live up to the original show's heritage.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Gaunt's Ghosts: Honour Guard by Dan Abnett

Following the epic Battle of Vervunhive and his impressive achievements during it, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt's star has risen and he and his unit, the Tanith First and Only, are tasked with a glorious mission, liberating the shrineworld of Haiga, homeworld of the Saint Sabbat in whose name the entire Sabbat Worlds Crusade is being fought. Unfortunately, the final assault on the planet's major city goes awry and Gaunt finds himself disgraced and out of favour once more.

Gaunt now has only one chance to redeem himself: to travel through enemy-infested countryside and mountains to the Shrinehold of Saint Sabbat and evacuate her relics and remains safely from the planet. For the Ghosts and their allies, the Pardu tank regiment, this will turn out to be one of their most dangerous and desperate missions...

Honour Guard is the fourth novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series and the first in its second 'story arc'. The action picks up a few months after Necropolis and sees the Tanith First and Only bolstered by new recruits from the scratch companies who defended Vervunhive so bravely during the battle there. This leads to a minor storyline where the fresh Vervunhive troops find themselves trying to integrate with the older, more established Tanith troops with mixed results. The main focus is on the road trip mission, however, with Abnett deciding to base each novel in this arc around a different kind of military mission (the book following this one, The Guns of Tanith, is an airborne drop, for example) to keep things fresh. Another of Abnett's decisions is to focus on large-scaled armoured action, with massive tank battles the order of the day here, although the Ghosts are still right in the thick of the action.

What sets the Gaunt's Ghosts books apart from most military SF is the characterisation, with a number of well-drawn central characters and many supporting ones whom Abnett is only able to paint briefly, but still come across as fully-rounded figures. With this fourth book Abnett is also showing increasing proficiency at inverting or dismissing cliches, with Commissar Hark a notable new character whose motivations and goals are not quite as clear-cut as they first appear. Most startling, however, is this book's focus on spirituality. The Warhammer 40,000 setting's religion - which sees the immortal Emperor venerated as a god and his greatest generals and tacticians as saints - is pretty ludicrous, but here Abnett makes it work. For the first time the reasons for the colossal scale of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade become clear, and we get a better appreciation of Gaunt and his own sense of faith.

Honour Guard (****) is well-written, briskly-paced, well-characterised and brings some new tricks to the Gaunt's Ghosts series, showing that Abnett is not resting on his laurels. The book is perhaps not quite as gripping as Necropolis, but is still a solidly entertaining slice of military SF. The book is available as part of The Saint omnibus, in the UK and USA.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax

In February 1942, the city of Singapore, defended by 80,000 British and Commonwealth troops, surrenders to the Japanese. The loss of Singapore, coupled with the preceding loss of the British warships Repulse and Prince of Wales, is described by Churchill as the darkest British moments of the Second World War, whilst the capitulation of Singapore becomes the British Army's greatest defeat.

Amongst the tens of thousands of British soldiers rounded up and taken into captivity is Lt. Eric Lomax, a Royal Signals officer. Initially, the vast mass of British POWs hugely outnumbers their Japanese captors, leading to a relaxed atmosphere where the British prisoners mostly police themselves. Overconfident, many of the British prisoners began building home-made radios to keep a closer eye on the course of the war. However, as time passes the POWs begin to be dispersed, many being sent to be worked to death on the River Kwae railway as it slowly makes its way across Thailand and into Burma. In these smaller camps, much more aggressively policed by Japanese guards, the prisoners find their confidence and expectation of good treatment rapidly disabused. Lomax's involvement in the construction of clandestine radios leads him to being imprisoned, humiliated, tortured and condemned to a number of horrific prisons in and around Bangkok.

Eventually the war ends and Lomax returns home, but finds that his torture continues. His experiences lead to the breakdown of his first marriage, an estrangement from his father and decades of nightmares and broken sleep patterns. Only in the early 1990s does Lomax finally receive the counselling and psychiatric help he has needed, a process which eventually leads him back to Thailand and a meeting with one of his Japanese tormentors, an interpreter who rejected his nation's barbarous methods of torture and militarism and has spent the decades since working to ensure that the Japanese do not forget what they did in the war. In this meeting Lomax eventually finds a kind of peace, fifty years after the war ends.

The Railway Man is a memoir of one man's experiences in the Second World War. It opens with a summary of Lomax's childhood and background, his experiences as a railway and engineering enthusiast, his decision to enlist before WWII even starts and his eventual involvement in the debacle of Singapore's fall (the city's monstrous defences were oriented seaward, allowing the Japanese to simply walk in from the rear and take it almost completely unopposed). This is followed by the largest part of the book, as Lomax recalls his experiences in various POW camps and later prisons, in which he recounts his treatment at the hands of the Japanese. These sections are definitely not for those with weak stomachs. The cruelty of the Japanese to those who surrendered to them is well-documented, but even so the sheer, inhuman horror they inflicted on Lomax is shocking. However, even more startling is the lack of counselling or treatment Lomax received upon his eventual release, and the mild mistreatment inflicted on the former POWs by their liberators (such as former POWs, in many cases malnourished and weakened by four years of captivity, being expected to do the work of fully-healthy, fresh recruits on the return voyage to Britain).

The book ends with Lomax's experiences as a much older man, meeting one of his former tormentors face-to-face in Thailand, revisiting his old prison camp and then visiting Japan. This section of the book is the most powerful, as Lomax's utter hatred and loathing of the Japanese comes through the text vividly. He has no interest in forgiveness or reconciliation until he meets his former adversary and discovers the extreme lengths he has gone to to make amends for his actions in the war, including directly challenging Japan's culture of denial and disinterest in the war crimes committed by its soldiers during the war.

The Railway Man is one of the most powerful experiences of life in wartime I have ever read. Lomax illuminates the so-called 'forgotten war' by showing the rank foolishness that led to Singapore's capture, the overconfidence of the British POWs whose initial freedoms led them into a false sense of security, and the horrors of torture, in which no punches are pulled. Lomax describes his own mistreatment in a somewhat dispassionate tone for the most part, but occasionally his fury and anger at his mistreatment comes through, undimmed by fifty years of peace (the book was originally published in 1995). Lomax refuses to consider himself a hero, citing many of his fellow soldiers whose feats were more impressive (such as the Scottish officer who grabbed a rifle off a startled Japanese guard to put a bullet through one of his own men dying from cholera after the Japanese proved unable to shoot him accurately), but, as with many old soldiers, Lomax dismisses his own achievements too easily. Lomax refuses to give out any names or compromise the network that led to the construction of the radios, despite being put through treatments almost too horrendous to contemplate (including the Japanese practice of repeated waterboarding), saving the lives of his colleagues. The final section, dealing with the reconciliation, is quietly hopeful, with the reader left hoping that the author has indeed exorcised his demons through the process of the meeting and the writing of this book.

The Railway Man (*****) is a remarkable story, powerful, moving and intense, and again confirming that people can endure incredible hardships under extraordinary circumstances when the need is greatest. It is a book that everyone with an interest in the Second World War should read. It is available now in the UK and USA.

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Jake and Zoe have been married for a decade and decide to take a celebratory skiing holiday in the Pyrenees (not the Alps, as some advance cover blurbs are saying). They are caught in a monstrous avalanche, barely survive, and make their way back to their hotel only to find that the entire village has been evacuated. Cut off from the outside world, with every attempt to leave the village blocked by weather or strange twists in geography, the two of them gradually realise that something strange has happened, but is it a curse or a blessing?

The Silent Land is the latest novel by Graham Joyce, the author of the excellent Tooth Fairy. Last year he achieved great success with the acclaimed Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney, and The Silent Land looks set to continue that success. It has already been optioned as a film months ahead of publication, a medium its short length and deeply haunting atmosphere (occasionally reminiscent of McCarthy's The Road) should be a perfect match for.

The Silent Land is atmospheric, compulsively readable and emotionally intense, ranging from being utterly terrifying at one moment to (but never tritely) romantic the next. Jake and Zoe are well-drawn central characters, flawed and convincing in their ordinariness and their reactions at being plunged into a strange place. Joyce also keeps up a gradually increasing tension as increasingly odd events take place, and the reader is invited to put the pieces of the puzzle together before the final answer is revealed in the closing pages.

Complaints are few and paltry. Those who prefer more ambiguity may be disappointed that we are given a final answer at the end (although hardly every mystery is answered) and viewers of a certain British SF TV series may work out what is going on long before the characters do. Otherwise this is a terrific novel.

The Silent Land (*****) is a quiet, intimate portrait of people, relationships and how they are tested by extraordinary circumstances. This could be one of the sleeper hits of the year. The novel is published in the UK on 18 November 2010 and in the USA on 22 March 2011.