Thursday, 30 December 2010

Continuing bad news for STARGATE fans

Following the news of Stargate Universe's cancellation, executive producer Joseph Mallozzi has further bad news for fans of the franchise. He has ruled out a fourth live-action television series at this time, saying it's not even being considered. In addition, the long-gestating Stargate Atlantis TV/DVD movie has been indefinitely shelved.

However, he did hold out a sliver of hope with the news that SyFy have been talking to other networks to see if anyone else is interested in continuing the franchise. Since the series originally began on Showtime and jumped to SyFy, this wouldn't be the first time it's changed networks. It does seem to be a long shot, though.

The remaining ten episodes of Stargate Universe's run will air in early 2011 on SyFy in the USA.

A GAME OF THRONES new ebook edition now available

A few weeks ago Voyager pulled their UK ebook editions of A Game of Thrones from Amazon, citing dissatisfaction with the formatting and spellchecking of the existing version. A new, properly-edited ebook version went up on just before Christmas and should now be available to download for the Kindle. The other three books should soon follow.

I have no information on whether new American editions are on the way for customers on the other side of the pond.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Shape of Things to Come: Books for 2011

Here are some of the books to watch out for in 2011. As usual with these things, all release dates are highly speculative and the cover art is not necessarily final (especially for those lower down on the list).

Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett
Black Library (UK & USA): 6 January

The Horus Heresy series reaches its fifteenth novel. This volume, delayed by illness, is the flipside of the earlier A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill. In this book the Space Wolf and Thousand Sons legions of the Astartes are manipulated into fighting one another on Prospero by the forces of Chaos. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this conflict will not be solved by a nice chat over a cup of tea and some peanut butter sandwiches.

The Hammer by K.J. Parker
Orbit (UK & USA): 20 January

Factions clash for control of a remote island in the latest stand-alone from the perennially enigmatic and always bleak Parker.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
Gollancz (UK): 27 January
Orbit (USA): 7 February

Already reviewed here. Northlanders and Union soldiers clash in a three-day battle for control of a valley in the arse-end of nowhere.

License to Ensorcell by Katherine Kerr
DAW (USA): 1 February

Having completed her monumental Deverry series, Kerr moves into urban fantasy with a new sequence about a psychic agent and her Israeli sidekick tracking down a werewolf-murdering serial killer in San Francisco. Hopefully as bonkers as it sounds.

Deep State by Walter Jon Williams
Orbit (UK & USA): 7 February

The sequel to This is Not a Game, about where alternate reality games and real life cross and meet.

Son of Heaven by David Wingrove
Corvus Atlantic (UK): 1 February (special edition), 3 March (standard)

Already reviewed here. A former city broker ekes out a rural existence in a post-economic collapse Devon before encountering an expanding Chinese techno-empire. The first in the twenty-volume re-release of Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series.

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Orbit (UK & USA): 3 February

Vampires in Venice in this alt-history/horror offering from respected SF author Jon Courtenay Grimwood, the first in The Vampire Assassin Trilogy.

The Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor UK: 4 February

The sixth volume of Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series once again sees Collegium under threat from outside forces, but this time the Wasps are not the enemy. Major betrayals and shocks are promised as the series moves into its second half.

The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
Bantam Books (UK): 21 February
Tor US: 1 March

The Malazan Book of the Fallen reaches its conclusion (more or less – six more books in two trilogies are on their way) in its tenth volume. The Bonehunters confront the Forkrul Assail in distant Kolanse with the fate of the Crippled God and the world itself at stake. Expect a divisive ending of Lost proportions.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Gollancz (UK): 1 March
DAW (USA): 1 March

The first the ‘Big Missing Three’ SFF books of the last few years to make it to print, the bookshelf-destroying sequel to the giga-selling Name of the Wind is picking up some mixed advanced reviews (great writing, glacial pace, pretty much the same as the first one) but will no doubt be a great success.

A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist
Voyager (UK): 3 March
Eos (USA): 31 March

Feist’s huge, 30-volume Midkemian epic begins drawing to a close with the beginning of the Chaoswar Trilogy, the final act in this mammoth series, more than thirty years in the writing. Feist’s decline in quality over the last thirteen years or so has been sad to watch, but hopefully (though I wouldn't put money on it) the impending grand finale of his saga will fire up the enthusiasm that recent novels have so sadly lacked.

A Game of Thrones (new edition) by George R.R. Martin
Bantam (USA): 22 March
Voyager (UK): 22 March

A new edition of the first Song of Ice and Fire novel, due to tie in with the launch of the HBO series in early April and also the launch of new, properly-edited and checked UK ebook editions. This new edition features a new typeset (meant to replace the slightly grubby old one) and marks the transfer of the series to the ‘B’-size paperback size being adapted as the new standard format in the UK.

Black Halo by Sam Sykes
Gollancz (UK): 16 June
Pyr: 22 March

The sequel to Tome of the Undergates sees Lenk and his crew attempting to escape the island they were shipwrecked on in the previous volume whilst other forces track down the missing Tome.

Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon
Orbit (UK): 24 March
Del Rey (USA): 22 March

The seventh Paksenarrion novel and the second in the current Paladin’s Legacy series.

Embedded by Dan Abnett
Angry Robot (UK & USA): 29 March

A stand-alone from Abnett, featuring a new type of war correspondent who lives in a chip embedded in a soldier’s head during a war. When the soldier is killed, the correspondent has to steer his body back to base through hostile territory.

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
Hodder & Stoughton (UK): 29 March
Crown (US): 29 March

Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series reaches its sixth and final volume, nine years after the publication of the previous book and thirty after the series began.

Tiassa by Steven Brust
Tor US: 29 March

The latest Vlad Taltos novel, apparently featuring the titular character fighting a snow tiger with bat wings or something, going by the cover art.

The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker
Orbit (UK): 5 May
Overlook (US): 31 March

The fifth volume in The Second Apocalypse and the second in The Aspect-Emperor sub-trilogy sees the stakes raised as the army known as the Great Ordeal draws closer to Golgotterath, headquarters of the Consult. Meanwhile, Achamian’s quest into the heart of darkness continues whilst new threats continue to gather at the Imperial Court.

The Inheritance by Robin Hobb
Voyager (UK): 31 March
Eos (US): 3 May

A new short story collection featuring stories written as both Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm, including some new material set in the Five Duchies/Cursed Shores setting. And also cats, it appears.

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell
Tor UK: 1 April 2011

After a disappointing finale to his Deepgate Codex trilogy, Alan Campbell returns with a new series, The Gravedigger Chronicles. The Gravediggers, an elite military unit, are disbanded by order of the Emperor and their commander finds a new job working in an undersea prison. The arrival of two new prisoners triggers a series of unexpected events as factions fight for control of them and an old enemy rises from the sea.

The River of Shadows by Robert V.S. Redick
Gollancz (UK): 21 April 2011
Del Rey (USA): 19 April 2011

The third and penultimate novel in Robert Redick’s Chathrand Voyage series, continuing the story begun in The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The Rats and the Ruling Sea.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham
Orbit (UK & USA): 21 April

The first volume in Abraham’s new fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin. War is threatening between the free cities as mercantile, political and military interests collide. The new work from the author of the excellent Long Price Quartet. I suspect Tor are going to regret letting him go to another publisher...

The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman
Penguin (UK): 28 April
Dutton Adult (USA): 4 August

The highly mixed reaction to The Left Hand of God (the weakest genre release of 2010 by some considerable margin) hasn’t stopped it being something of a sales success due to Penguin’s slightly ludicrous marketing for the first book. The second volume will no doubt repeat that success. Hopefully Hoffman’s writing skills have improved in the interim.

Titus Awakes by Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore
Vintage (UK): 7 July
Overlook (USA): 28 April

Mervyn Peake impressively produces a fourth novel in his Gormenghast series forty-three years after his death. Begun by Peake whilst working on the third book and finished by his wife a decade later, this manuscript had lain undiscovered in an attic (as is usually the case) for a long time before it was discovered. Potentially intriguing.

The Deserter by Peadar Ó Guilín
David Fickling Books (UK): 5 May

The Inferior was one of the best lower-profile genre novels of 2008, a gruesome but intelligent story about cannibals living in an unusual environment packed with hostile creatures. The much-delayed sequel and second volume in The Bone World Trilogy takes Stopmouth into the more overtly SF world of the Roof.

Embassytown by China Mieville
Macmillan (UK): 6 May
Del Rey (US): 17 May

China Mieville’s first SF novel, although the focus on a strange city at the end of the universe populated by weird beings shows he’s not moving too far from his familiar stomping grounds.

The Order of the Scales by Stephen Deas
Gollancz (UK): 19 May

The concluding volume to the Memory of Flames sequence by Stephen Deas, featuring the conclusion of the dragon-riders’ civil war.

Fenrir by M.D. Lachlan
Gollancz (UK): 19 May

The follow-up to last year’s Wolfsangel, focusing on a Viking siege of Paris and a clash of cultures and faith.

The Warlock’s Shadow by Stephen Deas
Gollancz (UK): 2 June

The sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck)
Orbit (UK & USA): 2 June

The first novel in The Expanse series, an old-school space opera where humanity has colonised and settled the Solar system. The discovery of a derelict spacecraft threatens open war between the outer colonies and the powerful Earth-Mars bloc.

The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton
Tor UK: 3 June 2011

The third and penultimate volume in Newton’s Legends of the Red Sun series sees the action return to Villjamur where the new Emperor is trying to keep resistance to his rule in check whilst simultaneously holding off the growing external threat to his kingdom.

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz (UK): 16 June 2011

The first novel in Reynolds’s new Poseidon’s Children trilogy. In the mid-22nd Century, a resurgent and industrialised Africa is fuelling the colonisation of the Solar system. A discovery on the Moon sparks a change in the direction of humanity.

The Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney
Solaris (UK & USA): 28 June

The third and final novel in Kearney’s Macht series sees the armies of the Macht invading the Asurian Empire to avenge the betrayal of the Ten Thousand thirty years earlier.

Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson
Tor US: 5 July

The third and final book in the brilliantly-named Spin Cycle featuring humanity expanding to other worlds through wormholes after the Earth has been sealed away from the rest of the universe and sent billions of years into the future.

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts
Gollancz (UK): 21 July 2011

In a world where humans can photosynethise sunlight, no-one goes hungry. A young woman is kidnapped but, years later, is returned to her family, sparking a mystery.

Shadow’s Lure by Jon Sprunk
Gollancz (UK): 21 July
Pyr (US): 21 July

The sequel to Shadow’s Son, furthering the adventures of the reformed assassin Caim.

The Diviner by Melanie Rawn
DAW (US): 2 August

It may not be The Captal’s Tower, but Rawn finally delivers a sequel to one of her older books, The Golden Key.

The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley
Orbit (UK & USA): 4 August

An alt-history Edinburgh in 1827, home to mad professors and crazed alchemists. The newly-formed Edinburgh Police Force has to investigate a series of murders and suspicious deaths. An interesting change in direction from the author of the brutal Godless World trilogy.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Voyager (UK): 4 August
Ace (US): 2 August

The first volume in The Broken Empire trilogy is picking up some strong advance notices. The main character is a ruthless and amoral outlaw who discovers a new threat to the remnants of the empire.

Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan
Tor UK: 5 August

The sequel to Farlander, one of 2010’s more enjoyable fantasy debuts, sees the Empire of Mann’s assault on Bar-Khos intensify whilst the Roshun target the Empress herself for retribution after the death of one of their own.

Heirs of the Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor UK: 5 August 2011

The seventh volume in The Shadows of the Apt series (and the conclusion of the second story arc in the overall series) sees the story move to the Dragonfly Commonweal, whilst the Wasp Empire begins its resurgent expansion. I heavily recommend avoiding the Amazon plot synopsis, since it appears to massively spoil the events of the preceding novel The Sea Watch, itself not out yet.

The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding
Gollancz (UK): 18 August

The third volume in The Tales of the Ketty Jay series sees the crew run afoul of the titular Iron Jackal whilst the political tensions from the first two volumes in the series continue to rise.

Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton
Macmillan (UK): Summer

Hamilton’s next novel, Great North Road, is not due until 2012, but in the meantime we have a collection of short fiction to be going on with. This volume collects Hamilton’s short fiction together from the last decade or so, including some stories set in the Commonwealth setting.

War in Heaven by Gavin Smith
Gollancz: 15 September 2011

The sequel to last year’s strong debut novel, Veteran.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Gollancz (UK): 15 September

The third book in Cashore’s fantasy world focuses on the character of Bitterblue six years after the events of Graceling.

Salvation Reach by Dan Abnett
Black Library (UK & USA): 3 October

The thirteenth Gaunt's Ghosts novel (and the second in 'The Victory' arc) sees the Tanith First-and-Only assault an Imperial submersible vessel infiltrated by Chaos cultists.

The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
Orbit (UK): 6 October 2011

The third and concluding volume of the Inheritance Trilogy, following the well-received Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms.

The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan
Gollancz (UK): 20 October
Del Rey (US): 11 October

The much-delayed second novel in Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes trilogy and the sequel to The Steel Remains.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest
Gollancz (UK): 20 October

Priest’s first novel in almost a decade. This novel returns to the Dream Archipelago, the setting of the titular short story collection and The Affirmation, one of his finest novels. The Islanders is now my top tip for 2011 since even if it's just half as good as its predecessor, The Separation, this should easily be the best book of the year.

Initiate’s Trial by Janny Wurts
Voyager (UK): 27 October

The ninth volume in Wurts’s immense Wars of Light and Shadow series (and the first of three that will conclude the overall huge epic).

Black Opera by Mary Gentle
Gollancz (UK): 17 November

An intriguing new fantasy in which music has power, to the point where a hymn sung by a church choir can heal the sick. An atheist composer unleshes his new new opera upon the world...only to see the opera house destroyed by a lightning bolt. Gentle is the author of the brain-melting Ash: A Secret History as well as the entertaining Grunts!, and this sounds like an intriguing new novel from her.

Legacy of Kings by Celia Friedman
Orbit (UK): 1 December 2011

Celia Friedman’s Magister Trilogy comes to an end.

His Father’s Fists by Matt Stover
Del Rey: Autumn

The fourth novel featuring Matt Stover’s popular character Caine.

Requiem by Ken Scholes
Tor US: Autumn

The fourth and penultimate volume in Scholes’s Psalms of Isaak series.

Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove
Corvus (UK): Autumn

The sequel to Son of Heaven and the second volume in the new edition of Chung Kuo. This book picks up the story of Jake Reed and his family, now citizens of the City, adjusting to life under Chinese rule as the ruling elite systematically starts destroying real history in favour of their own design.

Triumff: The Double Falsehood by Dan Abnett
Angry Robot (UK): Autumn

The sequel to Abnett’s Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero sees the return of the swashbuckling hero as he performs more deeds of derring-do in an alt-history steampunk England where Elizabethan society has survived to the present day.

Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Tor US: Autumn

The long-awaited sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, set ten years after the events of that novel.

The Coldest War by Ian Tregellis
Tor US: Autumn

The second volume in The Milkweed Triptych sees the Cold War start several years early, after the warlock-assisted Soviet Union has destroyed the superhuman-armed Nazi Germany and overrun most of Europe. This novel picks up the story with Britain trying to find out what happened to the superhumans captured by the USSR during the invasion.

Orb, Sceptre, Throne by Ian Cameron Esslemont
Bantam (UK): Autumn

Esselmont’s fourth novel set in the Malazan world returns us to the gaslit streets of Darujhistan shortly after the events of Erikson’s Toll the Hounds. A demigod has died on the streets and portents reveal that a Tyrant is returning to claim his city. Against this fate stands a motley crew of citizens, led by the redoubtable Kruppe...

Mistborn: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
Tor (US): Autumn

Between all of his other writing projects, Sanderson has somehow found the time to write a fourth Mistborn novel, albeit a quite short one. This new book is set several centuries after the first trilogy and sees allomancy being used in a more technologically-advanced environment.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Doubleday (UK): Autumn

Pratchett's new Discworld novel sees the return of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and Commander Vimes as a new threat to the city arises.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Bantam (US): Some time.
Voyager (UK): Eventually.

With the much-delayed [/understatement] fifth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire about to exceed the already-bookshelf-destroying A Storm of Swords in length, it looks like the novel will either be completed soon and published in 2011, or split for length and then at least partially released in 2011. Either way, the long wait looks like it is finally coming to a close. Although checking the temperature in hell may be a more reliable indicator ;-)

Hey, what about...
I have no further information on whether The Republic of Thieves will make it out in 2011, or David Gerrold's much, much-delayed new Chtorr novel, although apparently there is still hope on both scores. Also, the list itelf is not exhaustive, since a full listing of every genre release of note in 2011 would be about five times this length. I can recommend checking out the various SFF publishers' websites, many of whom now have their catalogues for at least the first half of 2011 available for download.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Wertzone Award for Best Novel in 2010

I read 33 new releases (out of 83 book reviews overall) this year, a distinct improvement on last year (when I read 20 new releases). The cream of the crop this year:

1. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
This is a short, quiet novel that focuses on two characters who find themselves alone in a strange environment. Haunting and unsettling, those with a passing familiarity with genre fiction should work out what's going on pretty quickly, but watching the characters do the same is fascinating, culminating in an emotionally powerful conclusion.

2. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay's best novel for a decade and a half, a tale of Imperial China and different factions whose rivalries are exposed by the gift of two hundred beautiful horses to a young nobleman.

3. Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
A high-quality collection, lacking a single duff tale. Robin Hobb, Robert Silverberg and Tad Williams return to their best form, whilst Martin delivers his first original ASoIaF fiction in half a decade. An impressive collection.

4. Corvus by Paul Kearney
Kearney's delivers his sequel to my top book of 2008, The Ten Thousand. Corvus is an even stronger novel, better-paced with more of a tight focus and less slavish following of the historical inspiration (here Alexander the Great compared to the Anabasis).

5. Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
One of my favourite Reynolds books, an intoxicating mash-up of hard SF, planetary romance, steampunk and the New Weird, with an underlying mystery that is constantly developed and then left for the reader to answer.

6. The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
The SF debut of the year, a hard SF heist tale told with energy, vigour and intelligence.

7. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Cronin manages to wring the last dregs of interest out of the vampire well with this huge story of the end of the world and how humanity survives centuries in the future. It's overlong, there are pacing problems and the total shift in cast a third of the way into the book is jarring, but Cronin's writing skills are impressive here as he delivers the finest piece of apocalyptic horror since The Stand.

8. The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Hamilton concludes both The Void Trilogy and the larger story begun back in The Commonwealth Saga with aplomb and delivers possibly his best long-series ending to date. The novel's musings on chaos theory and the unpredictable consequences of time travel are fascinating.

9. The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding
Wooding's follow-up to Retribution Falls is a likewise breezy steampunk romp through a world of duelling societies and airship combat. Relentlessly entertaining.

10. Stonewielder by Ian Cameron Esslemont
Esslemont continues his novel-by-novel improvement as he plays catch-up to his friend Steven Erikson. With Stonewielder Esslemont delivers the most engaging Malazan novel in some years, resolving long-standing questions and mysteries and helping set up Erikson's forthcoming grand finale to the series.

Honourable Mentions

City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton narrowly missed out on a Top 10 position. This novel represents a significant improvement over his previous book, Nights of Villjamur, melding a traditional epic fantasy war narrative with a strong dose of the Weird, with improved characterisation. Likewise King of the Crags by Stephen Deas is a notable improvement over The Adamantine Palace.

Veteran by Gavin Smith, Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan and Farlander by Col Buchanan are very promising debut novels from talented new writers. All three have their sophomore books out in 2011 (War in Heaven, Fenrir and Stands a Shadow respectively) and it'll be interesting to see how they develop.

Adam Roberts and Ian McDonald delivered fine new novels, New Model Army and The Dervish House, although arguably both lacked some of the sparkle of their previous novels. Still, both raised interesting ideas and online discussion about their work (the plausability of the military force as described for the former and the realism of the depiction of 21st Century Turkey in the lattter).

Major Omissions

Annoyingly, I missed out on a lot of female writers this year. I read some older works (Helen Oyeyemi's White is For Witching, a 2009 release, was haunting and fascinating, whilst my first encounter with C.J. Cherryh, via Downbelow Station, didn't work out as well) but otherwise I received few review copies from female writers this year and only got round to reading one 2010 release from a female author, Carrie Ryan's decent The Dead-Tossed Waves (though I did receive a couple more which I didn't get round to). This appears to be a recurring problem and something I should take up with publishers as well as re-prioritising my to-read list.

Biggest Disappointments

Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God was a very weak novel, displaying an impressive lack of originality, pacing or convincing characterisation. Sam Sykes's Tome of the Undergates displayed a lot of potential but was unable to overcome uneven pacing and constant repetition of redundant information. The Japanese Devil Fish Girl shows glimmers of originality but Robert Rankin falls back on stock gags (some of them two decades old) and characters way too easily, making for an oddly dull read. Peter Brett's The Desert Spear was a come-down after the entertaining opening of The Painted Man. Considerably longer, considerably duller and featuring some very questionable use of rape, this was a disappointment given Brett's evident writing ability elsewhere. China Mieville's Kraken was also unusually uneven given his normal high standards.


This was quite a good year by recent standards, with a number of high-quality releases. SF definitely saw a bit of a resurgence this year, whilst epic fantasy seemed to have a bit of a rough time (though Kearney and Esslemont delivered good books and, just below the Top 10, Sanderson's Way of Kings was promising).

Sunday, 26 December 2010

New cover art for 2011

Some new cover art, unearthed by the cover-watchers at

The Mandel Files is a US omnibus of Peter F. Hamilton's excellent Greg Mandel Trilogy: Mindstar Rising (1993), A Quantum Murder (1994) and The Nanoflower (1995). These were Hamilton's first novels, set in a southern England in the late 21st Century devastated by civil war and climate change, and followed the adventures of detective Greg Mandel as he investigates various high-tech mysteries. The omnibus launches on 26 July 2011.

City of Ruin is the second novel in Mark Charan Newton's Legends of the Red Sun series. Already available in the UK, this American edition hits on 28 June 2011.

The American edition of China Mieville's new novel, Embassytown, arrives on 17 May 2011. This is Mieville's first SF novel.

The seventh book in Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series, Heirs of the Blade, arrives in the UK on 17 August. I am currently reading the second novel in the series, Dragonfly Falling, and hope to have a review soon.

Launching on the same day is Col Buchanan's Stands a Shadow, the sequel to the intriguing Farlander.

Voting for the 2011 David Gemmell Legend Award is now open.

The third annual David Gemmell Legend Award for epic fantasy will be held in the summer of 2011. The winners of the first two awards were Andrzej Sapkowski for Blood of the Elves and Graham McNeill for Empire.

Voting for the third awards are now open. This is for the books that will make it onto the shortlist. The frontrunner for me on this list is easily Paul Kearney's Corvus, though I suspect it will lose out to some of the big-hitters (such as The Way of Kings, Towers of Midnight and Stonewielder). The final shortlist and the last round of voting for the winner will be announced in the Spring.

Son of Heaven by David Wingrove

London, 2043. Jake Reed is a young futures broker, trading stock on the datascape, the high-tech virtual stock market, one of the best in his field. When the datascape comes under attack from hackers, Reed is called in to investigate who could be responsible. However, the virtual attack is but the opening move in a struggle years in the planning. Cities burn, riots erupt and armies are neutralised as the long-feared collapse of modern civilisation begins.

Twenty-two years later, Reed lives in a rural community in Dorset. Millions have died in the post-Collapse years and the UK is now a patchwork of farming communities. Supplies of advanced medicines and high technology are running low, with no infrastructure available to replace them. But strange things are happening. Waves of refugees are appearing out of the east, strange craft with dragons painted on the wings have been seen in the sky and, on the horizon, a vast structure has appeared and is getting closer. The age of Western dominance has ended and the future belongs to the East.

Son of Heaven is the first novel in the new version of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a science fiction epic spanning 200 years of future history. In Wingrove's series, the entire world has come to be dominated by China, which has constructed vast, continent-spanning cities packed with billions of people and begun to expand into space. Wingrove previously attempted to tell this story in the late 1980s and through the 1990s in eight large volumes, but the series was not completed properly. Now Corvus are republishing the saga in twenty volumes, with a new beginning and ending and a thorough revising of the previously-published material.

Son of Heaven starts the story much earlier than the original first volume, depicting exactly how Western civilisation and modern economic system were destroyed and how China survived the aftershocks to rise to dominance. This is an interesting move: the original first book started with China's supremacy firmly established and the reasons for its rise consigned to backstory. Here we see it in progress. It also means we are introduced to the world through the eyes of outsiders (Jake and his neighbours and family who are 'incorporated' into the World of Levels) rather than from inside, which is perhaps a little more forgiving to new readers to the series.

On the downside, this means that the methods by which China's dominance was established have to be depicted in a lot of detail, and these methods are somewhat fanciful, requiring a catastrophic and colossal failure of tens of thousands of Western intelligence, military and economic experts across many years whilst still requiring China to have acquired technology far in advance of the rest of the world (particularly the AI and nanotech required start building its massive continent-spanning cities in the space of a few years). Lots of SF is based on far more ludicrous premises, of course, but generally these work by taking place in the distant future with the transition from modern society being a vague or mythological event. Here it's more central to the story and therefore more open to scrutiny. This isn't helped by Wingrove having to take into account twenty years of additional real history (such as China's economic explosion) and then weld it onto the front of his original narrative. Ironically, China's real-life economic success provides a much more reasonable grounding for it becoming the dominant world culture over the course of decades, but using this as the grounding of the story would have presumably required a much more thorough rewriting of the entire series.

Moving beyond this, Wingrove's actual writing is pretty solid, depicting both the high-tech world of 21st Century London and the post-Collapse, almost post-apocalyptic agrarian society quite well. The conflict presented by the latter is handled intriguingly: the 21st Century, money-fixated world of haves and have-nots is shown to be comfortable but also shallow. The post-apocalyptic world initially lauds the absence of pointless materialism but then exposes the ugliness of living in a world where people die of cold exposure in the winter or from very minor wounds a modern hospital would sort out in a few minutes, or where girls are encouraged to get pregnant before the age of twenty to increase the chances of propagating the species. This sort of duality was one of the key themes of the original series, with the conflicts between progress and stasis and the state and the individual being key, but with the various options being presented as having their own benefits and disadvantages.

In the latter part of the book the Chinese finally show up and we meet a raft of new characters. General Jiang Lei is leading the subjugation of England and is presented as an effective soldier but also one with a sense of history and a conscience. He is contrasted against Wang Yu-Lai, a savage and ruthless intelligence agent who is all for rape, plunder and genocide. Jiang is an interesting character whose attitudes mirror many of the conflicts inherent in the series in microcosm. Wang is a caricature and a cartoon villain at best, however, lacking convincing motivation or characterisation.

The contrast between these two characters is symptomatic of much of the book: some excellent worldbuilding stands contrasted against some highly unconvincing developments needed to make China top dog. Jake and Jiang's solid depictions stand against some under-developed characters (particularly women) elsewhere. Respect and admiration for Chinese culture is contrasted against stereotypical elements elsewhere (the 'cold, brutal' Chinese stereotype is played up a bit, even when characters like Jiang are shown to be nothing like this). Overall though, the book is readable and sets up a world intriguing enough to make even the modest wait for the second book, Daylight on Iron Mountain (due in late 2011), feel somewhat disappointing. Whether it's enough to sustain twenty novels released across five years is another question, but we'll see.

Son of Heaven (***½) is a solid opening to a very long epic SF series, overcoming its weaknesses to deliver an unsettling (if implausible) depiction of the future. The novel will be published in the UK on 3 February 2011 as a limited-edition hardcover and ebook and on 1 March as a regular hardcover. American imports of the latter should be available via Amazon and the Book Depository.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody! Time for lots of food, the Doctor Who Christmas special (and, in the spirit of international brotherhood or something, American viewers get to see it today as well, thanks to BBC America) and seeing what presents are under the tree.

Best wishes, everyone :-)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Trailer for PAUL

The duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, plus the classic TV series Spaced) have teamed up again for Paul, the story of two British UFO nuts on a pilgrimage to Area 51 who encounter an alien named, er, Paul. The movie hits on Valentine's Day 2011.

This looks decently enjoyable, with Arrested Development's Jason Bateman in a supporting role. However, this isn't the third movie in the 'Cornetto' trilogy, as director Edgar Wright was busy with Scott Pilgrim when this was being made (Superbad's Greg Mottola helmed Paul). The planned third movie in that trilogy - with the very early working title The World Ends - is apparently still a few years away.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Thousands of years ago, the tribes of humanity were menaced by the giant insects that inhabited their world. Through means long forgotten, humanity bonded itself to the insects, taking on some of their attributes and abilities, becoming the kinden. They mastered the insects and then came to dominate the world.

Now it is a time of invention and progress. The industrious Beetle-kinden have forged impressive vehicles and tools to drive their world into the industrial age, but they have no fear of war, for the city-states of the Lowlands thrive on their peaceful competition with one another. But, unknown to the Beetle-kinden, another people outside the Lowlands have no such restriction. The Wasp Empire, an empire painted in black-and-gold, is beginning its expansion into the Lowlands and only one Lowlander of influence, Stenwold Maker, artificer-turned-agent, is ready to stand against them. With only a small band of followers to assist him, Stenwold sets out to prevent the Wasps' latest conquest from proceeding.

Empire in Black and Gold is the first volume in Adrian Tchaikovsky's epic Shadows of the Apt sequence, a series currently projected to run to ten volumes (Book 6 is out in February 2011, followed by the seventh later in 2011). However, the series is divided into distinct acts which provide some sense of closure, with four volumes in the first act. I must admit that I was cautious over beginning another huge series, but I'm glad I took the plunge with this one. Empire in Black and Gold is a winner.

Tchaikovsky succeeds here in creating a world unlike most in secondary world fantasy. The mix of steampunk, traditional epic fantasy tropes, the echoes of real history (particularly the Lowlands resembling the Greek city-states of antiquity) and the use of the insect-kinden idea to make the races unique is very effective. These elements raise some interesting questions about slavery and racism (since in this world the different races, although all human, are differentiated from one another by their insect totems and have notably different traits). Tchaikovsky can't be faulted here on his worldbuilding, which is impressive, convincing and original.

On the character front, Tchaikovsky is also successful. Although the Wasp Empire is presented as the antagonists, individual Wasps are characterised as anything from indolent and corrupt rulers to efficient and loyal servants of their cause and ideology. Extremely well-realised is Thalric, an agent of the Empire's secret service, who is presented as 'the villain' but has his own, understandable motivation and driving force. His opposite number, Stenwold, also comes across well. Tchaikovsky captures the frustration of an old man past his prime who has been waiting for a long time for this conflict and now finds himself unable to fully confront it without the use of allies.

The primary POV characters are Stenwold's students, whom he has recruited into the fight: the engineer Totho, the industrious-but-unfortunately-named Cheerwell, the aristocratic swordsman Salma and the Spider-kinden swordswoman Tynisa. These are reasonably familiar character archetypes, but Tchaikovsky brings them to life convincingly, although Totho perhaps could have been developed a little more.

Prose-wise, Tchaikovsky goes for accessibility here, with an approachable and easy-to-read prose style reminiscent of say Brandon Sanderson. Despite the book's length (about 600 pages in paperback) it is a fast read.

On the negative side of things, some elements could have been explored in greater depth, such as the role of women within the Wasp Empire and more about the intriguing 'lightning engines', but then this is but the first volume in a long series and there's plenty of time for such elements to be brought into play later on.

Empire in Black and Gold (****) is a fast-paced, page-turning read set in a vivid, interesting and different type of fantasy world. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Alastair Reynolds delivers new novel

Alastair Reynolds has delivered Blue Remembered Earth, the first volume in his Poseidon's Children Trilogy (formerly known as the '11K Trilogy'), to Gollancz. The book is currently listed for publication in June 2011, although that isn't final and may slip into the autumn.

The book is set in the 22nd Century and sees humanity beginning to expand into space, with much of the action taking place on Earth, Mars and the Moon. The second and third volumes will cover humanity's colonisation of the Solar system and beyond over a period of eleven thousand years.

Cover art for Mervyn Peake's TITUS AWAKES

The ability of authors to publish new books long after their deaths (in this case, forty-two years later) continues unabated in 2011, when the fourth Gormenghast novel is published. Courtesy of the usually-reliable Jussi at, here is the American cover:

Titus Awakes is the book that Peake had started work on just before his death. However, his worsening illness prevented much progress being made on on this book (or on the rewrites or editing for the third volume, Titus Alone), although the few extant pages have surfaced over the years as 'bonus material' in various editions of the existing trilogy. Last year it was revealed that Peake's widow had used the completed material for Titus Awakes and her own discussions with him as a springboard for writing her own conclusion to the series (apparently envisaged at one point as lasting as many as ten volumes) in the 1970s, but had chosen not to publish it. This is the book that is appearing in April 2011 from Overlook Press in the United States and July in the UK from Vintage.