Thursday, 30 September 2010

Melanie Rawn's SPELLBINDER series cancelled

It has been announced that the third and concluding volume of Melanie Rawn's Spellbinder trilogy has been cancelled due to lacklustre sales of the first two books in the series, Spellbinder and Fire Raiser. Rawn and Tor have decided to move onto a new trilogy, with the working title Glass Thorns, with the first book due in 2012.


This move appears to have been received badly by Rawn's fanbase. Rawn had left a previous series, The Exiles Trilogy, incomplete after suffering a family bereavement and a lengthy period of depression. Upon returning to writing several years later, she asked for fans' patience as she wished to work on a new project to help ease her back into the field before she tackled The Captal's Tower. The cancellation of Spellbinder appears to have left a window for her to complete the earlier trilogy, but instead she has moved onto this new project.

To put it mildly, this does not appear to be a wise move. With two trilogies left incomplete whilst she moves on to completely new pastures, Rawn is in danger of acquiring a reputation as an author who cannot complete the works she has started, thus eroding any faith her fans have in being able to complete future series and thus damaging future sales. Whilst there is nothing she can do about Spellbinder in the short term (Tor will have exclusive rights on the series for a number of years, preventing other publishers from picking it up or completing it), certainly there should be no rights or publication issues after all this time about The Captal's Tower, and it remaining incomplete at this time does not bode well for the prospects of it ever being finished.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

First review of TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT

Not by me, sadly. Jason at Dragonmount has read a later draft of the book (but not the final copy) and posted his impressions here. Obviously, Jason has a vested interest in the book and gives a lengthy disclaimer warning that he is biased (he did give Crossroads of Twilight a good review as well on release). However, his assessment that the book builds on the success of The Gathering Storm and remedies the biggest problems of that book (such as Mat's problematic characterisation) is nevertheless encouraging.

The book is published in just over a month's time.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

In the heart of the North, two great armies are converging on a small valley to hit one another with bits of sharpened metal. The war chiefs and carls under Black Dow prepare to face the might of the Union under Marshal Kroy, tens of thousands of men (and a few women too) ready to kill for, well, for reasons that seemed good at the time but now escape them.


In this war, heroes are needed. Unfortunately, the only heroes around are a bunch of old weathered stones at the top of a hill. Over the course of three blood-drenched days these stones will form the centre of the battle, and the centre of a storm of machinations, conspiracies and hopes for generals, soldiers, murderers and even a crotchety old wizard who has a new invention to test...

The Heroes is the fifth novel by British fantasist Joe Abercrombie, following on from the epic First Law Trilogy and the stand-alone Best Served Cold. The Heroes is another stand-alone, but certainly those who have read the previous books will get a lot more out of it, with minor, almost disposable moments from those earlier books assuming much greater importance here (especially through the successful device of a major POV and a very minor character in Best Served Cold swapping places in The Heroes). Abercrombie seems to be using these stand-alones to set up a new, bigger story further down the road and it will be intriguing to see if this indeed the case.

Back to the present, The Heroes is the first major fantasy release of 2011, and it looks like the new year is already off to a cracking start. The Heroes chronicles a huge battle, one of the largest in history, between the Northmen and the Union, and unfolds in a tight timeline of less than a week (the three days of the battle, plus a few before and a few after). The titular 'Heroes' are a bunch of stones atop a hill in the centre of the battlefield, but there is a lot of wordplay and some interesting commentary on what it means to be a hero, especially given many of the characters' cynicism. Abercrombie has no truck with 'sides' here, and in fact the exact reasons for the war are never entirely spelled out, aside from some hints it might be about territory and others that it might be part of the ongoing cold war between Bayaz and his Gurkish enemies and their respective allies. On both sides there are 'good' (or at least not-as-bad-as-the-rest) guys and bad guys, and the good guys are shown to sometimes do bad things and vice versa (even Black Dow gets a couple of semi-sympathetic moments).


There are several central POV characters. Prince Calder, son of King Bethod whom Black Dow deposed (via Ninefingers) in the trilogy, is a military coward but a born conspirator and strategist (at least in his own mind) who is keen to get his father's throne back. Curnden Craw is a trusted War Chief, a 'straight edge' known for his honesty and his honour, neither of which is doing him much good on the battlefield. Beck is a fresh recruit, the son of a famous Named Man, eager to make his own name on the battlefield. Corporal Tunny is a Union soldier who is the last into the breach and the first into the loot, who has completely perfected the art of making a rout look like a tactical withdrawal. Finree dan Brock, the daughter of Marshal Kroy, is eager to regain her husband's honour and fortune after his father betrayed the Union in war. Finally, Bremer dan Gorst, the former bodyguard of the King disgraced after failing to protect the royal personage during an incident in Styria, is keen for revenge and redemption.

These stories entwine around one another, with other characters popping into the story (Bayaz, First of the Magi, is bemusingly interested in the battle, whilst Caul Shivers and the Dogman have their parts to play) as it unfolds. This is a book less about the over-arching plot, which is somewhat vague and will possibly become clearer in future books, than it is about the characters and the changes they go through as a result of the battle and the politics surrounding it.

So this is a character-focused epic war story, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. The battle and mayhem are depicted with all the blood, swearing, cynicism and involuntary bowel movements we have come to expect from Abercrombie. Despite the author's scepticism over maps, we get a nice series of illustrations depicting the battlefield as it changes from day to day, which helps visualise the various locations and their relationships to one another. The worldbuilding also steps up a notch, with a sense of time passing (it's nearly a decade since the start of the trilogy at this point) and even some technological (and culinary) evolution and innovation. There's also the continued sense of a stormcloud over the horizon as Bayaz and his enemies continue to skirmish with one another, using proxies to fight on their behalf until some future conflagration is unleashed in full force.

Criticisms? Well, Abercrombie is evolving as a writer, developing a more varied prose style with some nice descriptive touches (even if they are being applied to a soldier's first encounter with the horror of field latrines), but he isn't exactly turning into China Mieville here. If you didn't like the previous four books, there's nothing in The Heroes that will change your mind. However, the improvements and the tighter focus may sway those more on the fence about the earlier books. Fans of the earlier books keen for more information about certain characters from earlier volumes may also be disappointed by the lack of overt information given here on their fates (although there is a whisper of an interesting clue of a possibility that is tantalising). Oh, and disappointingly/thankfully (delete as appropriate) Abercrombie has failed to include one of his trademark terrible sex scenes.

The Heroes (*****) is Joe Abercrombie doing what he does best but better than ever before: gritty, violent, morally ambiguous and darkly funny fantasy with a streak of intelligent cynicism. The book will be published on 20 January 2011 in the UK and 7 February 2011 in the USA.

Monday, 27 September 2010

New GAME OF THRONES featurette

HBO have put up a new behind-the-scenes featurette about Game of Thrones. This short clip shows veteran set director Gemma Jackson (whose previous work includes Finding Neverland and HBO's epic John Adams mini-series) discussing the visual look of the series and their attention to detail, and there are glimpses of sets and props we haven't seen before (including a glimpse of the seven-pointed star of the Faith of the Seven).



Great stuff. It now looks like HBO will be steadily drip-feeding content until the show airs in the spring.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Warhammer 40,000 & Gaunt's Ghosts overview

Due to the interest engendered by my recent reviews of the Gaunt's Ghosts series of novels by Dan Abnett, I thought it might be valuable to provide an overview of the wider setting of the books and the context which they exist in.

Just another day in the 41st Millennium.

Overview of the Warhammer 40,000 universe

The Gaunt's Ghosts novels are set in the long-established Warhammer 40,000 universe, although they require no foreknowledge of the rest of the setting. Developed by a team at Games Workshop led by Rick Priestly, the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame was launched in 1987 as a SF companion to the older Warhammer Fantasy Battle game. WH40K (as it is popularly known) was a major success, spawning a number of spin-off boardgames (the best-known of which are Space Crusade and Space Hulk) and a glut of computer game adaptations, the most popular of which is the Dawn of War real-time strategy game series from Relic and THQ. It also spawned a line of original fiction, initially edited by hard SF author Stephen Baxter and featuring work by 'proper' SF author Ian Watson, whilst noted SF critic David Langford worked on the related White Dwarf magazine for a time. The setting was heavily inspired by Frank Herbert's Dune universe and Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, with additional influences from the works of Michael Moorcock (the order/chaos conflict) and films such as Aliens (even if the Space Marines of WH40K are nothing like the marines of the Cameron movie), but is most notable for its almost nihilistic tone.

The WH40K setting is the Milky Way Galaxy, almost 39,000 years into the future (the 'current' year in the setting is AD 40,999). Humanity has expanded into space and colonised millions of planets across the Galaxy by travelling through the extradimensional Warp. At one time humanity achieved a state of monumental technological achievement, existing alongside powerful robots and AI (for undisclosed reasons AI was later outlawed and robots - 'iron men' - held to be anathema, possibly for religious reasons). Unfortunately, a sudden rise in Warp Storms saw many worlds, including Terra (Earth) cut off from the rest of the colonies. Many worlds, dependent on trade for food and supplies, starved to death. Others fell into anarchy and civil war. The Warp Storms were the result of the activities of a hubristic alien race known as the Eldar (space elves) who had become corrupted by the dark, extradimensional beings living within the Warp (known as the Chaos Gods). The Eldar all but destroyed themselves in a titanic eruption of Chaos, allowing the birth of a new Chaos God and tearing open a hole in the fabric of reality known as the Eye of Terror and allowing the forces of Chaos easier access to our universe. On the plus side (not much consolation to the trillions of humans and Eldar who had died during the preceding centuries of anarchy), the Warp Storms did now abate.

Contains 100% less sandworm than rival God-Emperors of Humanity.

The end of the Warp Storms allowed the human worlds (now much depleted) to reestablish contact with one another, but their weakened state made them easy prey for raids, invasions and attacks by other alien races, such as the Orks. On Terra, a local warlord had risen to take control of the entire planet, followed by the rest of the Solar system. Proclaimed the Emperor of Mankind, he launched a Great Crusade to reunite humanity under one flag. Over the course of two centuries the Emperor led this task, aided by the genetically-engineered, towering super-humans known as the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, whose twenty legions exterminated almost all resistance to the Emperor's will. At the moment of triumph, however, just as it appeared that the new Imperium of Mankind would regain the glories of earlier epochs, the Emperor's most valued servant fell to the forces of Chaos. Horus, the Primarch of the Luna Wolves legion, was corrupted and led almost half of the Marine legions in rebellion against the Emperor in a lengthy civil war known as the Horus Heresy.

Horus and the Emperor confront one another at the end of the Heresy. They sat down and over a cup of tea sorted the whole thing out peacefully.

At the end of the Heresy, Horus's forces launched a full-scale assault on Terra itself, but were defeated. The Emperor and Horus faced one another in combat and the Emperor prevailed, but only at the cost of many terrible wounds. To save his life, his servants installed him in a life-support machine to which he is now permanently bonded and cannot leave, and is now part of the Golden Throne itself. The Emperor, now often called the God-Emperor of Mankind, has spent ten millennia within the Golden Throne, his immense psychic powers being used to help protect the Imperium from the depredations of Chaos and maintain psychic beacons making travel through the Warp safer.

These events took place approximately ten thousand years before the 'present' of the WH40K setting. The Traitor Legions, also called the Chaos Space Marines, withdrew to the Eye of Terror and the surrounding regions, occasionally launching devastating counter-attacks against the Imperium. The Imperium developed a number of institutions (most notably the Inquisition and its own psykers) to guard against the corruptions of Chaos and prevent a repeat of the Heresy, as well as raising new Space Marine chapters and employing tens of billions of 'normal' humans in a military force known as the Imperial Guard. Unfortunately, the Imperium's desire to utterly annihilate the forces of Chaos was thwarted by a near-continuous series of wars with various alien races (including the Orks, the arrogant Eldar, the disturbing Necrons, the rapacious Tyranid swarms and the technologically-advanced Tau) and the sheer complexities of running and defending a empire consisting of millions of worlds and quadrillions of inhabitants.

Warhammer 40,000 is notable for its extreme bleakness and sense of inevitable doom, characterised by fans as being 'grimdark'. There are no real 'good guys', with all of the races (aside from the Tau, who like other races as long as they do what they are told) noted as being extremely xenophobic and living in a state of near-permanent warfare. Humanity is enthralled by a theocracy which commands insurmountable resources, with little chance of overthrowing the God-Emperor. Indeed, despite the appalling conditions much of humanity lives under in the 41st Millennium, the Imperium is nevertheless presented as being the best of several bad choices. Also, whilst conditions are pretty bad on the industrial hive worlds (where billions toil in city-sized factories to build weapons and vehicles for the Imperium's military), there are agrarian worlds where a slower, more peaceful form of life can be found (such as on Tanith). It's a dark universe where chaos and bloodshed are rife, and people survive the best they can.

Space Marines of the Ultramarines chapter. Stealth is not their speciality.


The Sabbat Worlds Crusade

In the 35th Millennium the forces of Chaos threatened a cluster of 100 inhabited worlds near the outskirts of Imperial space. A simple shepherd's daughter, Sabbat of Hagia, elected to join the fight against the forces of Chaos after experiencing a holy vision of the Emperor. Sabbat's vision and tactical abilities saw her rise to lead a huge offensive against the Chaos forces which eventually succeeded in driving them from the sector. Sabbat was killed in an epic battle on Harkalon at the end of the war, was beatified and the entire star cluster was named in her honour when it was integrated into the Imperium as a secure territory. Sabbat was held in particularly high honour by the White Scars Space Marine chapter, who gave her the unprecedented honour of forging a suit of Astartes power armour for her (almost unheard of for normal humans, let alone women, since the Astartes are all male).

Three thousand years later, the forces of Chaos began to infiltrate the Sabbat Worlds cluster to weaken it from within. A series of wars, civil wars and various conflicts began which the Imperium managed to restrain, but never entirely eliminate. By 740.M41 (the 740th year of the 41st Millennium, or 40,740 AD by the old Terran calendar) many of the Sabbat Worlds had been overrun by Chaos insurgents, bolstered by enemy forces arriving from outside the sector, and the Imperium of Mankind officially abandoned the cluster, withdrawing to more heavily-defended systems. The forces of Chaos had appeared to have triumphed.

Of course, the abandonment of over a hundred imperial worlds and trillions of imperial citizens to the Ruinous Powers could not be countenanced. An influential imperial general, Warmaster Slaydo, heavily campaigned for a military effort to be made to retake the sector in the name of Saint Sabbat and the God-Emperor. The High Lords of Terra, speaking for the Emperor, agreed that Chaos could not be allowed to take root in these worlds and authorised a massive counter-offensive known as the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, one of the largest military operations since the Horus Heresy.

Warmaster Slaydo assembled a force of approximately one billion Imperial Guard, consisting of around four hundred thousand regiments (of which the Tanith First and Only, Gaunt's Ghosts, is precisely one). Slaydo also received assistance from six Adeptus Astartes Chapters, including the White Scars, and a number of Imperial Titans (gargantuan Imperial war machines capable of levelling entire cities). In support was a significant detachment of the Imperial Navy, consisting of (at the very least) thousands of capital ships and millions of transports. Slaydo launched the Crusade on the 266th day of 755.M41 with a massive assault against outlying worlds in the cluster. The initial shock of the attack won the Crusade several worlds very quickly, but the forces of Chaos mounted a significant counter-offensive, reducing the Crusade to a hard grind over the next decade. Frustrated with the slower-than-anticipated progress, Slaydo sought to regain the initiative with a surprise attack on Balhaut, the sector headquarters for the Chaos Archon overseeing the war, Nadzybar. The attack was successful, with Balhaut falling in several weeks of exceptionally heavy fighting. Nadzybar was killed, but so was Slaydo. On his deathbed, he appointed a junior but extremely promising general, Macaroth, to take his place.

Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, smiling and joking as always.


Enter the Ghosts

Following the devastating assault on Balhaut, there was an urgent need for reinforcements. The agricultural world of Tanith, located close to the Sabbat Worlds, was ordered to raise three regiments for the Imperial Guard, and Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, who had distinguished himself on Balhaut, was dispatched to take command of them. Unfortunately, a small Chaos fleet escaping from the Balhaut system, burning everything in its path, attacked Tanith shortly after the Tanith 1st had begun embarking on its transports. Gaunt, realising the hopelessness of the tactical position, ordered the Tanith 1st to abandon the planet and flee, only hours ahead of the total destruction of the planet. The officers and soldiers of the 1st were divided by this move, some agreeing it to be tactically sound (whilst regretting they could not stand and protect their homeworld, even unto death) whilst others believed it to be cowardly and dishonourable. These latter troops took some considerable time to forgive Gaunt and fully accept his authority.

The Tanith 1st, now dubbed the Tanith First and Only, for there would never be another regiment raised from that world, was nicknamed the Ghosts, for being the last survivors of a dead world and people, and also for their elite camouflage abilities and camo-cloaks that rendered them almost invisible in the right lighting conditions. Over the course of the Crusade they would achieve many significant and impressive military victories. However, whilst the Tanith 1st's achievements are notable, they are not presented as being central to the Crusade, with the Ghosts often achieving victories on the flanks or sidelines whilst the central, major thrusts of the war take place elsewhere. Their defence of the Saint on Herodor in Sabbat Martyr is arguably their most notable victory (in tactical terms) to date, although their tenacious defence of Vervunhive in Necropolis is probably their largest single military achievement.


Reading Order

There are currently twelve Gaunt's Ghosts novels in print, along with several spin-offs. A thirteenth book is due next year. For ease of collection, the first eleven books have been collected in three omnibus volumes, corresponding to the story arcs the series is divided into. The twelfth through fifteenth volumes will form a fourth omnibus and arc, and it is unknown if the series will continue beyond that point. I would hope not, however, as fifteen books is enough for any series, and beyond that Abnett could risk turning into Bernard Cornwell, churning out Sharpe books for the money despite increasingly ludicrous scenarios (so Sharpe was at Waterloo and Trafalgar? Really?).

Omnibus I: The Founding

1. First and Only
2. Ghostmaker
3. Necropolis

Omnibus II: The Saint

4. Honour Guard
5. The Guns of Tanith
6. Straight Silver
7. Sabbat Martyr

Omnibus III: The Lost

8. Traitor General
9. His Last Command
10. The Armour of Contempt
11. Only in Death

Omnibus IV: The Victory

12. Blood Pact
13. Salvation Reach (forthcoming)

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The attempts by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, Abraham Setrakian and their various allies to stop the vampires from spreading across New York City have failed, and the city is now falling into darkness. The plans of the evil 'Master' and his pawn Eldritch Palmer are becoming clearer, spelling doom not just for humanity but for those vampire clans opposed to the Master's will. With little choice, Setrakian forges an alliance of convenience with his ancient enemies to bring down their mutual foe.


The Fall is the sequel to last year's well-received The Strain and the middle volume of a trilogy (the finale, Eternal Night, is due late next year). Conceived and developed for television by Guillermo del Toro (the director of Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy series) before he decided to retask it is a literary project, the book mixes his trademark action sequences and visual imagery with co-writer Chuck Hogan's thriller sensibilities, resulting in another tight and fast-moving novel.


This is not high literature, but The Fall remains a well-paced and action-packed read. This is much more of an undemanding airport novel than say Justin Cronin's more weighty The Passage, but there are some nice horror flourishes in the book, most notably the twisted relationship between the newly-turned vampires and their 'Dear Ones', their loved ones in life whom they are driven to turn above all others. There are other, deeper moments of characterisation (particularly revelations about Setrakian's history) but this is a book more about the action than deep and meaningful characters and themes. It succeeds in its aims, but as such risks being a fun but forgettable book, particularly when the corn starts kicking in (the feuding criminal gangs of NYC joining forces to become elite vampire-killers is ridiculous but also fun to read). There is a strong cliffhanger ending, however, where the stakes and scale of the story are ramped up to new and more impressive levels.

The Fall (***½) lacks the growing sense of horror of the first volume in the trilogy, with much more emphasis on action. It's a fast-moving story, but I can't help feeling that del Toro would have made much more of this story if he was in Pan's Labyrinth mode rather than Hellboy. As such it's fun, but lacks depth. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

New covers and book info

From Gollancz's new catalogue, some interesting news about next year's releases.

In February and March 2011 Gollancz are reissuing the first two novels in Sophia McDougall's alt-history Romanitas Trilogy, Romanitas and Rome Burning. Previously released by Gollancz's parent company, Orion, these books have now moved to the SFF imprint and have some new cover art. In May 2011 they are also being joined by the final volume in the trilogy, The Savage City:


In March and June 2011 Gollancz are releasing the British editions of Connie Willis's duology of Blackout and All Clear:


In May, Stephen Deas's Order of Scales is released, the conclusion to his opening Memory of Flames trilogy:


An interesting new novel, out in February, is Rivers of London, the start of a new urban fantasy series called The Last Apprentice Wizard. This book intrigues as it is written by Ben Aaronovitch, who started out writing scripts for Doctor Who towards the end of its original run. He was responsible for the well-received Season 25 serial Remembrance of the Daleks (and its spectacularly good novel adaptation, a fine novel in its own right) and the, erm, somewhat less-well-received (but lots of cheesy fun) Battlefield of a year later.


In June Brandon Sanderson's Elantris gets its first UK release as well. No sign of cover art yet, but I imagine it will be in a similar vein to the minimalist white covers for the Mistborn trilogy and The Way of Kings.

New US cover art for Scott Lynch's THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES

Both the UK and US publishers are now listing Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves for a February 2011 release (the US specific 22 February). In addition, the US publishers appear to have switched to using the newer UK cover art revealed earlier this year:


An interesting move. The previous US cover was a bit unexciting but the UK one is more atmospheric.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

GAME OF THRONES news round-up

A round-up of some recent activity on the Game of Thrones TV series. First up, this image from the promo is apparently a work-in-progress idea from HBO for the series logo.


Nice, although the sword forming the 'T' of 'Thrones' is a little bit cheesy. But it's a striking enough image, although I can't help but think that some of the previous fan-made logos and posters were a little bit stronger.

From the recent behind-the-scenes footage, here's a behind-the-scenes shot of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister.


Tyrion is probably the most popular character from the Song of Ice and Fire novels and Dinklage is such a great actor he will do wonders with the role.

The Westeros.org team have also gone through the second teaser trailer, the behind-the-scenes featurette and even the general HBO 'coming soon' trailer to produce a ton of images and in-depth analysis of them, with particular focus on the details of the costumes, sets, armour and their fidelity to the books. Check that out here.

Some interesting tidbits from the last month and a half or so of shooting:

They are filming out of order, with the first month of shooting concentrating on Episodes 3-5, including the Hand's Tourney scene (which had over 200 extras present) and several meetings of the King's small council. Some additional footage set at the Wall, featuring Jon Snow's integration into the Night's Watch, has also been filmed, along with several scenes involving Daenerys Targaryen and her adventures on the eastern continent.

Contrary to earlier reports, which suggested that only Dany's scenes would be filmed in Malta and everything else in Northern Ireland, it appears that there will be a mixture of scenes spread across the two locations. More of Dany's material will be filmed in Northern Ireland (particularly her scenes crossing the Dothraki Sea and in Vaes Dothrak) whilst some of the Maltese locations will stand in for exterior filming of the city of King's Landing.

A great deal of attention is being paid to fine detail. A shot of Grand Maester Pycelle's desk reveals scrolls bearing the names of previous Targaryen kings, whilst King Robert's crown has a stag motif to reflect the Baratheon heraldic symbol. Eddard's small council seat has the symbol of a hand imprinted on it, whilst Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish wears a small clasp in the shape of a mockingbird.

Actress Tricia Helfer (Six from Battlestar Galactica), meanwhile, has revealed that she auditioned for the role of Cersei in the series. Although she failed to get the role, she did become hooked on the books and is now a big fan. Maybe they could get her back for another role late on? Melisandre immediately comes to mind.

GoT writer and associate producer Bryan Cogman has been doing some behind-the-scenes blogging about the show, and has released a flurry of post-dated entries covering filming so far. There's some great tidbits in there (such as the fact that the massive, horse-like gates to Vaes Dothrak described in the books will be present and correct on TV). You can find those on the official GoT production blog.

True Blood: Season 3

Following the hedonistic reign of terror of the redoubtable Maryann, the residents of Bon Temps are once again trying to pull their lives back together. For Sookie Stackhouse, events are complicated by the disappearance of her vampire lover Bill Compton, the emergence of a bunch of werewolves on the scene and the machinations of the vampire King of Mississippi. Meanwhile, Sookie's brother Jason pursues a new career in law-enforcement, Sam Merlott tracks down his real parents and Jessica, now broken up with Hoyt, embraces her vampire side more freely. Meanwhile (again), Lafayette gets a boyfriend called Jesus (True Blood? Controversial? Never!) and there are some meth-dealing hicks around causing mischief. And there's this werewolf called Alcide who fancies Sookie and spends a fair bit of time with his shirt off. And Tara gets emotionally abused (yet again) by Thomas Cromwell from The Tudors. And a whole ton of other stuff happened which I'm forgetting right now.


True Blood has always been a nutty, camp, somewhat trashy but always resolutely entertaining show, but its third season is nothing less than a sustained, full-scale assault on the viewer's senses and sanity. Learning from the pacing problems in Season 2 (where the latter part of the season degenerated into a tiresome parade of filler orgy scenes for no discernible plot reason), Alan Ball has massively overcompensated, packing every single instant of this season with surprising plot revelations, new characters, surprise reappearances of old characters (including dead ones), new ideas, new races, new concepts and, indeed, the kitchen sink. It's certainly not a dull season, but it is one that is overloaded to the point of near-incoherence.

If it's possible to pick out a central thread from this anarchic and demented tapestry of pure chaos, it's the attempt by the vampire King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, to reverse the policy of appeasement by vampires towards humans and have vampires seize control of the world. Edgington is as barmy as a box of frogs on ecstasy (but still a long way from being the craziest character on the show this season) but is extraordinarily entertaining, played with scene-chewing relish by Denis O'Hare. His lover Talbot, played by Theo Alexander, is almost as amusing. This storyline, where Eric and Bill pretend (or do they?) to defect from the Queen of Lousiana's side to Edgington's and political machinations unfold at his stately home, is the definite highlight of the year, despite the presence of a number of extremely cheesy actors playing 'evil' werewolves who are allied to Edgington.

The werewolf storyline otherwise doesn't really go anywhere, despite the pre-season hype touting this as 'the werewolf season'. We do get a promising new regular character in the form of 'good' werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello) who manages to remain likable despite inexplicably being attracted to Sookie, who is at her most annoying this year. Hopefully he gets more to do next year.

Other storylines range from the mind-bogglingly inane (the meth-dealing hillbilly plot is almost breathtaking in its utter lack of enjoyability) to the compelling (Jessica and Hoyt continue to have the most believable relationship and best chemistry of any pairing on the show). Tara gets emotionally and physically abused and manipulated again to the point where the viewer is in severe danger of losing the last vestiges of sympathy and respect for the character. This story is somewhat saved by James Frain's completely bonkers performance as mentally unstable vampire Franklin Mott (who makes the King of Mississippi look like a stable and reliable fellow), but the writers need to stop using Tara as their emotional punch-bag, especially since they relent with her cousin Lafayette and give him a reasonably happy storyline, complete with a new love interest (which was great up until the hippy-trippy voodoo vision stuff kicked in).

There's also a series of plot revelations that hark back to the beginning of Season 1 and earlier, particularly retconning the backstories and motivations for Sam and Bill. In the former case this is laughably unbelievable, whilst the latter works better. Whilst Sookie is rather unlikable this year, Stephen Moyer's performance seems to improve once Bill is given more layers and made into a more duplicitous character than we first thought he was.

Overall, this season of True Blood is watchable, but also often headache-inducingly overwrought. The 'Arlene's baby' storyline is unnecessary and tedious, as is the story about Jason's latest romance. The less said about the introduction of the Fae (supernatural beings who apparently dwell within the mystical realm of a Timotei advert) the better. However, we also get a lot more screen-time for Eric and Pam, which is great, and we also get one of the most demented TV cliffhangers of all time:



True Blood's third season (***) is a cataclysmic explosion of sleaze, storylines and characters, some of which are compelling and some of which are barely watchable tedium. Sorting the good from the bad is hard work this year, but the show is never less than watchable, if also frequently achieving far less than its potential. The series will be available in the USA (DVD, Blu-Ray) and in the UK (DVD) in 2011.

Doctor Who Adventures: TARDIS

Whilst travelling through the space/time vortex, the TARDIS becomes trapped in a temporal 'riptide'. With the TARDIS in danger and the Doctor and Amy separated by temporal anomalies, they must attempt to escape from the danger. Unfortunately the TARDIS also has a new threat growing from within...


TARDIS is the third of four games in the Doctor Who Adventures series. Like its two predecessors, City of the Daleks and Blood of the Cybermen, TARDIS is a family-friendly adventure game where the player controls the Doctor and Amy in an attempt to resolve a crisis through solving puzzles.

In my earlier reviews, I pointed out that Blood of the Cybermen showed real improvements over City of the Daleks, indicating that the creators had listened to the negative feedback over that game and solved some of the more galling issues. TARDIS, rather cheerfully, reinstates all of the things that made City of the Daleks infuriating and, just for good measure, introduces some new problems as well.

First up is the return of the minigames from hell, with the solution to several puzzles relying on the use of painstakingly tedious maze-games where one single mistake (or, due to dubious collision detection, the whim of the game) resets the whole thing and makes the player begin again. The game shows signs of some intelligence with the use of a Q&A mini-game where the player must use his or her knowledge of Doctor Who (or their ability to alt-tab and have Wikipedia on in the background) to solve a security puzzle, but again they manage to foul it up by making you repeat the entire quiz if you make one mistake, and also by having some rather obscure questions in there that will tax seasoned Doctor Who fans of many decades' standing, let alone young children who've only come aboard with the Matt Smith era.

Outside of the minigames, the game is hamstrung by one rather large problem: its extremely short length. Both of the prior episodes spanned several different locations with multiple characters, dialogue and numerous puzzles to solve, taking about two hours each to complete. TARDIS takes place in exactly two rooms (the TARDIS console room and the Doctor's study) and lasted this player about one hour, about twenty minutes of which were spent threatening the computer with physical violence when yet another minigame maze puzzle reared its ugly head. Even by the standards of the previous titles, this is an extremely short game.

On the plus side, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan continue to do good voice-work and there is some reasonably good dialogue. Old-school Who fans will appreciate the nods to various older stories (mementos of which dot the Doctor's study), and there is confirmation that the Time Lord President played by Timothy Dalton in last year's TV movies was indeed Rassilon, the founder of Time Lord society (how and why he was resurrected is not revealed). However, whatever good-feeling is generated by these fan-pleasing nods evaporates when you reach the end of the game and discover that you have to memorise every single control on the TARDIS console and activate them in a certain order within a tight time limit (fighting the uncooperative camera every step of the way) to finish the game.

TARDIS (*½) has occasional flashes of competence, but overall this is a disappointing, bland and immensely frustrating title that undoes all of the good work of Blood of the Cybermen. The game is available now for free in the UK from the BBC website, whilst a paid-for international version will follow in a few months (however cheap it is, it's probably not worth it). The final game in this first sequence will appear before the end of the year, with a second set of games currently being planned for next year.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Did George R.R. Martin create wookies?

The answer to the question is, "No, of course not, that would be too random for words." However, it does transpire that he did inspire the visual look of Chewbacca in the original Star Wars movie through an interesting chain of events.


How it works is thusly: in July 1975 Martin's short story 'And Seven Times Never Kill Man!' was published in Analog. Artist John Shoenherr created some artwork for the story which is clearly very Wookie-esque. In itself not entirely damning, until it is revealed that Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie was handed a copy of this very picture by George Lucas (who apparently had claimed it was from the 1930s, not just a few months earlier) in late 1976 as part of his ideas for what Chewbacca would look like. McQuarrie then developed this image into the final look for the Chewbacca character. A rather telling point that the original Shoenherr picture was inspirational is that it has the alien using a weapon that looks very similar to Chewbacca's trademark bowcaster weapon, a detail missing from McQuarrie's rendition, indicating the original was used as a reference by the prop department.

This isn't the first time that GRRM has inadvertently contributed to the creation of an iconic race without realising it. Fellow SF writer Charles Stross 'borrowed' the name 'githyanki' from GRRM's 'Thousand Worlds' SF setting for a race of monsters he was creating for an official Dungeons and Dragons product in the late 1970s. The name and the race caught on, becoming an iconic D&D race still present in the latest iteration of the game. Martin was unaware of this until he was asked about it by a fan during the early 2000s.

Ran at Westeros has hinted that since the ursine alien race in Return of the Jedi who help bring down the Empire was supposed to be the Wookies but was replaced with something cuter and more marketable, we could possibly blame GRRM for the chain of events that led to the creation of the Ewoks (!!!). Although Martin would probably prefer it if we didn't.

Welcoming the Iceberg Ink Blog

New SFF blogs are ten-a-penny these days, but Iceberg Ink is worth a look as it's been launched by Scott 'QuickTidal', a stalwart contributor over at Malazanempire. The blog looks set to cover a variety of books and comics and, intriguingly, the organisers are willing to accept submissions from people who fancy the idea of writing reviews but not running a blog full-time. Contact details are available via the blog or the thread linked at Malazanempire.

Good luck to Chris, Scott and their future collaborators!

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

Jack is off to the city to make his fortune, which he has heard is the thing to do for a clever young chap in search of adventure. The city in question is Toy City, formerly Toy Town, but all is not well there. Someone is knocking off the city's rich elite. Humpty Dumpty has been boiled alive in his own swimming pool and Little Boy Blue has had a fatally intimate encounter with his own shepherd's crook. With the city's finest detective, Bill Winkie, missing, it falls to Jack and Bill's sidekick, Eddie Bear, to solve the case and find the serial killer, whose calling card is a hollow chocolate bunny...


Robert Rankin is the UK's second-biggest-selling writer of comic fantasy (after Terry Pratchett) but is a rather different humourist to his knighted colleague. Whilst Pratchett deals with satire, Rankin is much more of an absurdist and surrealist (or, indeed, an absurd surrealist) who comes across as a mix of Jack Vance and Spike Milligan after they've gotten spectacularly drunk and torn up the town. His books have a reputation as being somewhat impenetrable for the newcomer, consisting as they do of myriad references and running gags spanning dozens of novels (The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse is Rankin's 24th novel, of 32 published to date), although in practise there are several viable entry-points, with this novel - set in its own reality unrelated to the 'Brentfordverse' of most of his other books - being one of them.

The premise is both barmy and logical, clever and slightly derivative. The idea of there being a place where all the fictional toys and nursery rhyme characters live together isn't exactly new, but the depiction here of Toy City being dirty, run down and slightly seedy (Old Mother Goose is the madame of a high-class brothel) is well-handled. It's a little bit of a shame that Rankin doesn't wander further from his comfort zone by maybe treating the premise more seriously, more like a real noir thriller which just happens to be set in Toy City, but the result is nevertheless still entertaining. Rankin cleverly uses the classic nursery rhymes to build up a cast of interesting characters and riffs off the standard detective fiction tropes in an appealing (and sometimes metafictional) manner. For newcomers, this is also (despite the premise and title) Rankin at his more restrained, with a notable lack of sentient time-travelling vegetables providing the impetus for the action.

There is one major issue. If you are familiar with Rankin's other books, this one, despite its unique setting, will be very familiar. Several recurring gags reappear, with Jack, like every single other Rankin protagonist of note, coming into possession of a minigun at one point in the narrative for the purposes of causing havoc (although, possibly in deference to the setting's lack of modern cultural references, it is not described as being "like the one Blaine had in Predator,"). The presence of two protagonists, one tall and handsome and the other short and slightly seedy, is also a recurring Rankinism, seen in his other double-acts such as Cornelius Murphy and Tuppe of the splendid Book of Ultimate Truths. In short, seasoned Rankin fans may feel disappointed at the over-familiarity of events, whilst newcomers will likely enjoy it more.

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (***½) is an amusing, occasionally hilarious slice of comic fantasy which makes a perfect entry-point for newcomers to Rankin's work, whilst more seasoned readers may find the experience enjoyable but also a little predictable. The book is available now (with new artwork) in the UK and on import in the USA.

Gaunt's Ghosts: Only in Death by Dan Abnett

The war in the Sabbat Worlds wages on. The Ghosts have been deployed to Jago with orders to hold the remote mountain fortress of Hinzerhaus against a possible enemy flanking maneuver. Arriving at the massive redoubt, the Ghosts find a vast house hiding ancient secrets and inhabited by some old friends. As the forces of Chaos mount an assault on Hinzerhaus, the Ghosts discover that a far greater threat than the exterior enemy may lurk in the bowels of the fortress.


Only in Death brings the 'Lost' arc of the Gaunt's Ghosts series to a conclusion, and the series almost up to date (one further novel, Blood Pact, beginning the 'Victory' arc, has since been published). Abnett's policy in the last few books in the series has been to shake up the format and introduce some weirder and more oddball elements, and this continues in Only in Death. In short, this book overlays a horror narrative over the more familiar scenes of military action, employing both supernatural and psychological elements to really get under the characters' skins.

At the same time Abnett continues his policy of using each book to flesh out characters, bringing new Junior Commissar Ludd and Commissar Hark under the spotlight and dropping Gaunt into the background. The novel's supernatural overtones also allow for some clever moments for character exploration and growth (Larkin hallucinating about the long-dead Bragg and Cuu battling over his soul features some nice call-backs to previous books and explores more of Larkin's post-Gereon personality).

Of course, the action is not neglected, but this time around it's a lot more brutal. Previous novels have seen the Ghosts achieve their objectives with minimal-to-acceptable losses, but Only in Death is nasty, wiping out entire platoons without breaking stride. The end of the novel is ambiguous, with the Ghosts surviving (probably not too devastating a spoiler) but badly broken and bloodied. How they recover from this devastating battle remains to be seen, and will hopefully be explored further in the succeeding 'Victory' arc.

Unfortunately, the book does suffer a little from cheesiness (this series, being military SF set in an ongoing franchise, does occasionally bump into the cheese but generally does a good job of steering around it) as two Ghosts go off on a badass solo mission where they eliminate vast swathes of the enemy single-handed. Abnett sells it as well as he can, but it's somewhat corny, especially when you realise he has retreated from the tantalising possibility of doing something truly shocking in the series.

That said, the novel's ending repairs some of the damage as we get a well-foreshadowed explanation for the weirdness (well, some of it, anyway) and a scene which is genuinely powerful, bringing the novel, the arc and the Lost omnibus to a fine conclusion.

Only in Death (****) is a dark, bloody, weird and satisfying entry to the series, despite the tonally dubious 'two soldiers against the world' subplot in its latter part. The novel is available now as part of The Lost omnibus in the UK and USA.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Inceptionauts

An enterprising video editor has combined the trailer for Tim Schafer's classic platformer Psychonauts with dialogue from the Christopher Nolan movie Inception. The result is something quite entertaining:



Both the game and film involve people manipulating and invading dreams, making the match work well.

Via Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Final UK cover art for THE WHITE LUCK WARRIOR

R. Scott Bakker has posted the final UK cover art for The White Luck Warrior, the second novel in his Aspect-Emperor trilogy:


Interesting to see if Overlook follow suit for the North American release. The book is currently planned for March 2011 publication.

Gaunt's Ghosts: The Armour of Contempt by Dan Abnett

The Crusade armies have identified their next target: the Chaos-held world of Gereon. Ibram Gaunt and a dozen of his best troops spent a year and a half on Gereon fighting the archenemy, and the Ghosts are in the vanguard of the liberation effort. Unfortunately, as the battle for Gereon rages on an apocalyptic scale, Gaunt gradually learns there are extenuating reasons for this invasion, reasons that are related to his prior mission to the planet...


The Armour of Contempt is the tenth Gaunt's Ghosts novel (of the twelve currently available) and the third book in the 'Lost' arc. The novel initially appears to have been written as a fan-pleasing move: having been through hell and back during the previous small-scale, stealth mission to Gereon, Gaunt gets to return with several hundred thousand troops of the Imperial Guard, vast numbers of tanks and aircraft and several Titans (skyscraper-sized battlemechs with enough firepower to level a city with a single salvo) to dish out some much-needed retribution to the occupiers. Of course, that would be far too obvious and much too boring to make for an interesting book. Instead, the novel is divided into two mostly-separate narratives which have different objectives.

In the first, Dalin Criid undergoes Imperial Guard training. Rescued from Vervunhive as a ten-year-old back in the third novel, Necropolis, Dalin is now eighteen and spoiling to join the ranks of the Ghosts. Unfortunately, as a trainee he is serving as part of the military reserve and when the assault on Gereon begins, he finds his reserve status activated and himself fighting as part of an ad-hoc-assembled military unit stuffed full of rookies, rather than with the Ghosts. This gives Abnett a chance to show us what it's like as part of a full-scale, combined-arms offensive in the WH40K universe rather than the standard Gaunt's Ghosts narrative about smaller-scaled conflicts with stealth and infiltration elements, as well as a chance to dish out more information and background on Guard training. This narrative unfolds fairly concisely with a focus on how Dalin handles the ridiculous pressures put on his shoulders and those of his unit. It's entertaining, but perhaps a little too straightforward after some of the more intriguing curve-balls thrown our way in the last few novels.

In the second narrative, Gaunt has to reacquaint himself with the Gereon resistance and the troops he left behind last time around. This storyline is more of a gut-punch, as Gaunt discovers just how badly he's been used by both his supposed friends and by his enemies, with the people of Gereon left to pay the price. This is a pretty grim story which doesn't have much of a happy ending, especially as it emphasises Gaunt's flaws (an Imperial commissar really should have seen the ending coming) instead of his virtues, something that is always welcome as it would be extremely easy for Abnett to allow Gaunt to become a flawless hero.

The two narratives unfold reasonably well together, although the linking device is a little bit corny. This book features the death of another prominent Ghost, but it is foreshadowed so much that it lacks any kind of real impact, which is a shame given the story points Abnett had set up in previous novels to support it.

Despite this minor weakness, The Armour of Contempt (****) is another strong entry in the series, with an different (but effective) structure to the rest of the novels. The book is available now in the UK and USA as part of The Lost omnibus.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

And now for something different: Battle of Britain Day

Today is the official Battle of Britain Day in the UK. Most years it passes without much fanfare, but as this year is the 70th anniversary of the campaign there has been a much greater focus on it through television programming, newspaper and online coverage.


The Battle of Britain was fought in the summer of 1940 and, at the time and still in the British popular imagination, marked the defeat of the most serious threat to the continued existence of the UK in nine centuries. Seven decades of historical research and access to the German archives have shown that the danger was considerably less than imagined at the time. The ability of the Germans to mount an invasion of Britain in the summer or autumn of 1940 can best be described as 'risible', something that Hitler was well aware of, and the preparations for invasion were effectively a smoke-and-mirrors campaign designed to shock the British into coming to terms before the Germans turned their attention eastwards. The German navy had been mauled in the Norway campaign and it had absolutely no landing craft to speak of, certainly nothing to compare to the array of specialised, multi-purpose machines fielded by the British and American forces on D-Day. The prospect of the Wehrmacht storming ashore at Eastbourne from pleasure yachts and canal barges (basically an offensive version of the retreat from Dunkirk), with little to no support from Panzers or mobile artillery, seems rather farcical, a notion shared by Hitler and most of his commanders.

Of course, Hermann Goering, in typically understated style, declared that the Luftwaffe could do the job of artillery, tanks and ships all one go, knocking out the RAF, sinking the Royal Navy and providing effective air cover for the invasion force (despite the slight problem that the Luftwaffe's best fighters only had enough fuel to stay over south-eastern Britain for 15 minutes at a time, and couldn't reach the north of the country at all). The RAF disabused him of this notion over the course of three months of fierce combat, during which time the Luftwaffe lost a startling five times as many pilots and aircrew as the British and their allies (French, Czech and Polish pilots also played major roles in the battle, as did many from the Commonwealth countries and a single squadron of Americans, notably not including Ben Affleck).

Eventually, admitting that the Luftwaffe could not do this job (causing a loss of face for Goering that he never entirely recovered from), Hitler ordered his air forces to switch their focus to bombing London and other cities in a terror-bombing campaign, which was not particularly successful either. Even this campaign was drastically reduced the following year when the frustrated Germans launched their invasion of the Soviet Union instead, beginning the two-front war Hitler had once vowed never to launch and which led to his eventual demise.

Whilst the UK was not in as great a danger of invasion as envisaged at the time, the Battle of Britain was still strategically important. It demonstrated to the rest of the world that Britain was still in the fight, and the defeat of the perceived serious threat of invasion was regarded as Hitler's first major military upset during the Second World War, denting his aura of invulnerability (in fact, it was arguably the first time Hitler had not taken a gamble and won since the Munich Putsch of 1923). American popular and political support, which was somewhat lukewarm whilst it appeared that Britain's defeat was imminent, was rallied and helped convince the American government to increase its material support of Britain over the following year. In addition, the demonstration of the effectiveness of British airpower led to aerial offensives against military and industrial targets in Germany and occupied France continuing with cessation until the end of the war, hampering German military adventures elsewhere. British technology, particularly in the fields of radar and aircraft design, was also improved immensely by experiences during the battle (the Spitfire, whose contribution to the battle is sometimes overstated to the detriment of its cousin the Hurricane, went on to become a very fine aircraft in later stages of the war). Finally, the simple fact that Britain was still in the fight tied down roughly a million German troops in France and Norway that were not available to reinforce the Eastern Front, troops whose absence the Germans would come to rue in December 1941 outside the suburbs of Moscow.

The battle also impacted on my family. One of grandfathers was an ARP warden working in London during the battle and the Blitz that followed, whilst the other worked as RAF ground-crew on several airfields in the south-east. My home town of Colchester was not directly attacked, but dozens of airfields were located all around it which took part in the battle, whilst my older aunts and uncles watched the battle as children from their back gardens. I grew up with stories of this time, which informed my later interest in this period.

One thing that cannot be disputed is that thousands of pilots and aircrew (many still in their teens), and thousands more civilians, were killed during this period. The heroism and sacrifice of these people should not be forgotten.

Gaunt's Ghosts: His Last Command by Dan Abnett

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade has moved on to the world of Ancreon Sextus, where Chaos forces have dug in and fortified the planet's vast, ancient steppe-cities. Returning from his horrific mission to Gereon, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt discovers that his beloved regiment, the Tanith 1st, has been reassigned to another officer and he is to return to commissariat duties. However, Gaunt discovers his new task is especially difficult and thankless, not helped by zealous members of the Inquisition who believe that Gaunt may have been tainted during his time on Gereon...


His Last Command continues the 'Lost' arc of the Gaunt's Ghosts series and shows that Abnett is now paying greater attention to continuity than ever before. During the events of Traitor General Gaunt and his team were infiltrated onto a Chaos-held world and had to carry out a very difficult mission. Whilst that was accomplished, the hoped-for extraction never took place and Gaunt and his crew were abandoned on the planet for sixteen months before they could escape under their own power. The result is a rift sewn deep into the ranks of the Ghosts, with the Gereon survivors suffering from various post-traumatic battle stresses, not to mention a form of elitism that comes from their experience that their fellows haven't also shared in. This is an obvious, but still very effective, way of shaking up the Ghosts and severely denting the familial and sentimental feelings that have been building up over the previous eight books. Returning Gaunt to commissar duties and giving the regiment to another commander is also a solid way of introducing fresh conflict to the series, although Abnett carefully avoids cliche by ensuring the new commander is actually an effective and reasonable officer.

The result is a book seething with tension, as the Ghosts are divided by their differing experiences, as Gaunt is at odds with the Inquisition and superior officers over their lack of support during their previous mission, and as the various units differ on how to tackle the unique geography of the planet's steppe-cities. These cities are immense mesas divided into 'compartments' by vast walls, with each compartment featuring radically different terrain and weather to its neighbours. Because the steppe-cities were apparently raised as religious monuments to the God-Emperor of Mankind ten thousand years previously, the Crusade can't simply level them from orbit, meaning they have to be taken the old-fashioned way.

The steppe-cities are an interesting creation, as good a Big Dumb Object concept as anything in a Greg Bear novel, even if the revelation of their eventual purpose is a little ordinary (although the Imperial reaction to it is hilariously over-the-top). The battle scenes are still robustly-handled, but this novel continues the path from the previous one of focusing more on the internal tribulations of the Ghosts as a team and as individuals, and this added depth continues to be very welcome.

With His Last Command (****) Abnett continues to test and play with the limitations of what can be done with tie-in fiction in a manner that is both entertaining and refreshing. The novel lacks the compelling focus and weirdness of Traitor General, but is otherwise a fine addition to the series. It is available as part of The Lost omnibus in the UK and USA.

Monday, 13 September 2010

New interview with Brandon Sanderson


Myself, Neth, Larry and Pat have joined forces to interview Brandon Sanderson about his new novel, The Way of Kings, and the upcoming penultimate Wheel of Time novel, Towers of Midnight, due for release in November 2010. Sanderson gives detailed and insightful answers to some interesting questions, making this one of the best interviews I've been involved with. Thanks to Pat for setting it up.

New GoT footage

A brief new 30-second teaser has aired for Game of Thrones:


Followed by a longer behind-the-scenes featurette:


As well as a new production still featuring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen:


And in addition HBO have set up a new behind-the-scenes blog where production staff will be posting updates on how the series is progressing. Writer-producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have already given updates, as has scriptwriter Bryan Cogman. Expect more updates on a regular basis.

Good stuff.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

New GAME OF THRONES footage to air tonight


HBO will be airing some new Game of Thrones material tonight (in the USA). Just before the Season 3 finale of True Blood airs, there will be a 20-minute preview of HBO's new and returning shows over the next few months. As well as footage of Boardwalk Empire (Martin Scorsese's 1920s prohibition gangster drama) and the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, there will be both behind-the-scenes and some new filmed material for Game of Thrones. This will be the first material to air that will definitely be in the series (the previous teaser was made up of material from the initial pilot that will now mostly not be used).

For those not in the USA, HBO have promised to put the footage on their GoT sub-site ASAP after it airs. I also imagine it will be available on YouTube soon afterwards.

Game of Thrones is currently filming its first season in Northern Ireland and Malta. It is currently tentatively scheduled to begin airing in Spring 2011, possibly March.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

R. Scott Bakker update

On his blog R. Scott Bakker has given an update on his current and future projects.


Disciple of the Dog, the first in a recurring series featuring the character of Disciple Manning, is now out in Canada with US publication to follow in November, whilst the UK edition will be published next week. Bakker expresses surprise at the lack of reviews so far, which is unsurprising as review copies have apparently not been sent out for the book. Bakker describes the book as his most accessible to date with his biggest popular break-out potential. He also reports he has the next two books in the series planned.

Back with the Second Apocalypse series, Bakker has completed the revisions and editing for The White-Luck Warrior, which should hold firm for a March 2011 release. He is also 20,000 words into the next book, The Unholy Consult, which he hopes he can complete in time for an early 2012 release.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

CAPRICA returns early

In the USA, SyFy have confirmed that Season 1.5 of Caprica will start airing on 5 October 2010, three months earlier than their previous estimate. According to their marketing speak, they freed up some space in their schedule to show it to appease the impatient fans, but the real story appears to be that SyFy have a late November deadline on their decision to renew the show for a second season and they needed to get some fresh ratings before then to help them make that decision.


The first half of Caprica's first season aired in January-March this year and got initially mixed reviews, although there also seemed to be a broad consensus that the show was getting stronger in its later few episodes, particularly the unexpected VR 'New Cap City' storyline which took the show in a fresh and interesting steampunk-styled direction. Ratings were pretty low, but it has to be said that amongst the things SyFy could have done to improve them, taking the show off the air for seven months just as it was getting good was probably not among the cleverest. Now it would appear that Caprica needs to come back strong from the break to stand a reasonable chance of being renewed.

Wertzone Classics: Century of the Soldier by Paul Kearney

A great clash of civilisations is underway. From the east and north come the Merduks of Ostrabar, having overthrown the Holy City of Aekir and now prosecuting the invasion of Torunna. Stymied before the guns of Ormann Dyke, the Merduks have now outflanked the fortress through a seaborne invasion and threaten to destroy its defenders from the rear. From the west an army of the Fimbrian Republic marches to Torunna's relief, but the ultimate fate of the kingdom rests in the hands of a lowly cavalry colonel and his ragtag troops.


The heretic kings Abeleyn of Hebrion and Mark of Astarac have regained their thrones and thrown back the forces of the Himerian Church, but a greater danger is now unveiled as a single ragged ship flees out of the Great Western Ocean, bearing stories of madness and death in a new and untamed land.

Century of the Soldier collects together the latter three volumes of Paul Kearney's Monarchies of God series: The Iron Wars (1999), The Second Empire (2000) and Ships From the West (2002), and concludes the series in a strong, if not flawless, manner.

The structure of this omnibus is different to that of the first. The Iron Wars and The Second Empire form one long narrative as the Ramusian and Merduk armies clash for dominance of eastern Normannia, civil conflict breaks out within the Ramusian Church over certain revelations about its origins and as Abeleyn battles to hold his throne, whilst Ships From the West is effectively a sequel to the rest of the series, set seventeen years further down the line when the threat glimpsed during Richard Hawkwood's adventures is finally unleashed in full fury. The success of this structure has been hotly debated over the years, with a general feeling that Ships From the West is not as strong a conclusion as may be wished.


Before reaching that point, the third and fourth books are a triumph. Whilst writing them Kearney took part in massive American Civil War re-enactments in the USA and this informs the writing of the several huge battle sequences in these volumes, among the most impressively-described ever achieved in the epic fantasy subgenre (the Battle of the North More, the King's Battle and the conflagration at Armagedir vastly outstrip any of the battles in A Song of Ice and Fire or the Malazan series in their vividness). Yet Kearney is implacable in his refusal to glorify warfare. It is depicted as brutal and horrific, particularly a jaw-dropping sequence in the fourth volume when Kearney nails the problems faced by commanders when a small Torunnan force has to stand by outside a town being sacked by a large enemy formation whilst awaiting reinforcements. It's a horrible and disturbing scene, dropped in as an ugly reality check amongst the impressive cavalry charges and roaring artillery exchanges, and works very well.

His character-building is also impressive, with Corfe becoming a particularly well-realised figure. His extremely rapid rise from ensign to colonel and to higher rank is on the fast side (although, that said, Napoleon's rise from artilleryman to general was fairly meteoric as well) but in the context of the story it is plausible. The notion of a man stripped of all the things that connects him to the world save his abilities in war becoming a great general is a familiar one, backed up here by a tragedy which the reader is aware of long before the characters, leading to a powerful conclusion that should feel contrived, but doesn't thanks to the circumstances that leads the characters to that point.

A bigger problem in these two volumes is that events in the west take not so much of a back seat as an extended vacation, with Hawkwood and Murad's appearances reduced to mere cameos despite the gravity of the new threat from the west. However, this does resolutely focus the narrative on Corfe's story, to its benefit.

The final volume of the series has been criticised over the years for a number of reasons (most stringently by the author himself), and Kearney has addressed some of these issues through around 5,000 words of new material and rewrites. The fates of several characters left unresolved in the original book are now made clearer (most notably Avila and Abeleyn) and there are some tweaks here and there which clarify certain points. However, the biggest problem with the book, namely the extreme rapidity of the passage of events and the rushed feeling of the book (despite their short lengths by epic fantasy standards, the previous four books never felt rushed, whilst the fifth does), remains an issue, as does a potential plot hole regarding the fact that the enemy's Achilles heel as been extremely well-known since the first volume but is not militarily exploited until quite late in the day here, despite the seventeen years of preperation for the conflict.

That said, whilst the fifth book does not fulfil its true potential, it is also hardly a disaster of the same magnitude as Greg Keyes' The Born Queen (which wrecked the series almost beyond redemption) or Alan Campbell's God of Clocks (which rendered the entire trilogy pointless). The character and story arcs are brought to satisfying, if exceptionally bloody, conclusions and there is a dark irony in the conclusion which is still grimly amusing.

Century of the Soldier (****½) is an epic fantasy book about war, the reasons for it, what it costs people and the fact that its resolution is rarely just or dramatic. The final volume remains a little undercooked, although Kearney's rewrites do alleviate some of the issues, but overall this is a worthy conclusion to the story begun in the first omnibus. The book is available now in the UK and USA.