Sunday 28 February 2010

New cover art for Peter F. Hamilton's COMMONWEALTH SAGA

Continuing the theme from the last post, Pan Macmillan have also decided to rejacket The Commonwealth Saga, Peter F. Hamilton's duology which preceded his current Void Trilogy. Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, with their new covers by Steve Stone, will be reissued later this year. Entertainingly, the two covers form one big picture when lined up next to one another (shades of HarperCollins Voyager's mid-1990s covers for Asimov's Foundation books, which form one big picture when the first six books are lined up next to one another).

Whilst the artwork is good, I can't hep but feel the artwork is misleading. Whilst there is military action in the duology, it is a fairly small part of the story. In addition, the artwork looks more near-future military SF than galaxy-spanning space opera in the late 24th Century, and might have been a better fit for Hamilton's near-future Greg Mandel trilogy.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Cover and blurb for Peter F. Hamilton's THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID

Courtesy of Walker of Worlds, here's the UK cover art for the third and final volume in Peter F. Hamilton's The Void Trilogy, The Evolutionary Void, due for publication in the UK and USA in September. The new cover art is by Steve Stone, artist for the Malazan books in the UK, taking over from Jim Burns.

Visit Walker of Worlds for the full wraparound cover and the immensely long cover blurb.

Thursday 25 February 2010


What I'm Reading
Whilst the Gaunt's Ghosts novels are splendid fun, these sort of series can burn you out if you read nothing but them for weeks on end. For this reason I am taking a break to check out Dan Simmons' Drood and will probably follow that up with a full read-through of Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet (rereading the first two before finishing off the series). This may change if my review copy of Warriors shows up in the meantime.

Game of Thrones on HBO
News has been very thin for the last month or so, as HBO have viewed the pilot and been debating about whether to pick up the series or not behind resolutely closed doors. A final decision is expected sooner rather than later in March 2010 and it's still not clear which way they are going to jump, although the overall vibe has been very positive.

What I'm Watching
The final season of Lost, naturally, and the second season of Being Human.

General Status
As mentioned at the start of January, my blogging and read time has become more limited due to various (mostly positive) factors, such as a ramping up of job applications and interviews. As such a slower rate of posting is expected to continue in the meantime. Obviously keep an eye on my fellow bloggers (listed in the sidebar on the right of the screen) for the latest SF&F developments if I'm slow to catch up on them.

Gaunt's Ghosts: Necropolis by Dan Abnett

Supplying the vast armies of the Imperium with their weapons of war are the hive worlds, industrialised planets consisting of huge city-states called hives which churn out the hundreds of thousands of vehicles, millions of weapons and billions of munitions required for the Imperium to wage war on its foes. The individual hives on any one world are very competitive with one another, sometimes even to the point of open conflict.

On Verghast, the hive-states of Vervunhive and Ferrazoica, vital supply posts for the Sabbat Worlds Liberation Crusade forces, have long been bitter rivals, fighting a brief but bloody conflict called the Trade War ninety years earlier before settling down into an uneasy peace. When the Zoicans launch a surprise assault on Vervunhive, destroying its offensive army in the field and besieging the city, the hive's proud leaders are forced to call for aid from the Crusade fleet. As elements of the Imperial Guard arrive to reinforce the city, it becomes clear that this is more than just a small-scale planetary feud, and the Siege of Vervunhive will become one of the greatest and most legendary battles of the entire Crusade, especially for the Tanith First-and-Only and their commander, Gaunt.

Necropolis is the third novel in the Gaunt's Ghost sequence and, according to Abnett's introduction to the omnibus edition, is where he 'got it' in terms of what he could do with the Warhammer 40,000 universe and his characters. He's not kidding. The book opens in a rather unusual manner, with the first 50 pages (almost a full sixth of the book) taking place in Vervunhive as the war begins. We meet numerous characters, from city administrators to nobles to industry-workers to gang members, and see how their lives are thrown into tumult by the attack, and how the outnumbered defenders manage to hold off the enemy long enough for a few Imperial Guard regiments to reach them. This gives us a battery of different POV characters, including children, women and civilians (people not well-catered for by the first two books), who give us a very different viewpoint on the setting and world to that of the Guard or Space Marines who are the normal focus for WH40K fiction.

Needless to say, things kick off big time and Abnett unleashes what can only be called the closest science fiction has ever come to its own version of the Battle of Stalingrad. Vast armoured engagements and ferocious artillery bombardments precede a desperate battle for the city and its millions of inhabitants, with Gaunt and his Ghosts, but also numerous other, new characters, in the thick of the action.

Necropolis is, hands down, one of the best purely military SF novels I've ever read. Between the moments of carnage Abnett also delivers some solid character development for the likes of Gaunt, Rawne, Milo, Bragg and erstwhile antagonists like Gilbear and the other Bluebloods. The battles are violent and vivid, and those who have studied Stalingrad will find some interesting points of comparison in the desperate battles between men armed with just grenades and mines and heavily-armoured main battle tanks in industrial wastelands, tightly-packed streets and bombed-out commercial buildings. Abnett also makes some interesting points here about the sheer wastefulness of war, particularly in the maudlin ending, which is unusual in a military SF novel. The book manages to be based around an epic and violent battle without glorifying it, which is an impressive balancing act to achieve.

Necropolis (****½) is a thunderously readable, page-turning and smart military SF novel, available now in the UK and USA as part of the omnibus volume, The Founding.

Brandon Sanderson update

It's turning into one of those days when lots of news all comes along at once, isn't it?

Brandon Sanderson has posted an update about Towers of Midnight, the thirteenth and penultimate Wheel of Time novel. Sanderson reports that the writing of new material on the book has paused in favour of rewrites and editing, something which he seemed to get a bit down about around Christmas, at one point hinting that book might even slip to a Spring 2011 release.

However, this new update is much more upbeat and positive, with Sanderson stating that the plan is to still release the book in late 2010, and this is still eminently achievable at the moment. He also confirms that the book will be about 20,000 words longer than The Gathering Storm.

Sanderson also promises additional updates in the next few months ahead of the summer publication of his own new novel, The Way of Kings, the first book in The Stormlight Archive. This new novel will feature covert art from Michael Whelan, an interesting coup given that Whelan is not as prolific as he used to be.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

News on Tad Williams' SHADOWHEART

As reported a while back, the final book in Tad Williams' Shadowmarch Trilogy, Shadowrise, had become too big to publish as one book, so was split in two volumes. Shadowrise, the first half, will be published in the UK and USA next month, but the fate of the second half was less clear.

According to a Tweet from Tad Williams' wife, Deborah Beale,the second volume, Shadowheart, will now be published in November alongside the paperback of Shadowrise. It's unclear if that is in both territories, but I imagine it will be the case.

Scott Lynch update

I have heard back from Gollancz that they are planning to publish Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves in Spring 2011 at the same time as the US edition of the book. They confirm the book has been delivered and is now being revised and edited to this end.

Good news!

Gaunt's Ghosts: Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett

The Liberation Crusade continues its push into the Sabbat Worlds, pushing the forces of Chaos back on every front. The Tanith First-and-Only are deployed to Monthax, a jungle world which reminds the Tanith forces of their lost homeworld. As the battles there degenerate into a long, drawn-out stalemate the troopers known as Gaunt's Ghosts find themselves recalling the battles of the past even as a mysterious presence in the deep jungles decides to use the human forces for their own ends...

Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, is an interesting book with a slightly odd structure. The first two-thirds or so of the book consist of short stories flashing back to key moments in the histories of individual soldiers within the Tanith First and also the unit as a whole, from Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt downwards in the rank structure. These short stories are varied in nature and tone, but are all pretty good in quality, mixing humour, tragedy and action with some interesting character-development. Several key Ghost characters were developed in the first book but here Abnett is able to portray several more in detail, explaining some interesting backstory moments which illuminate their action in this and the subsequent book. Abnett also makes greater use of the greater Warhammer 40,000 universe (again, no foreknowledge of the setting is required to enjoy this novel), throwing in some appearances by the orks and eldar to spice things up a bit.

The final third is a more traditional war story as the Tanith First engages the forces of Chaos in earnest on Monthax. It's a solid story with some good writing, but the book's odd structure does mean Abnett struggles a little here and there. In particular, he chooses to have the Imperial Guard join forces with an alien battle group to fend off a greater foe, a trope which various Warhammer 40,000 fiction writers tend to use when needed (rather a lot in the Dawn of War computer games) despite the fact that consorting with any aliens in the WH40K universe is pretty much considered a heresy under any circumstances in the game material. Abnett tries to justify it with the use of a new Inquisitor character trained for this very circumstance, but it's a little bit thin as a piece of story rationale.

Whilst not as strong as First and Only or its much more engrossing successor, the thunderous Necropolis (which is basically the Battle of Stalingrad of WH40K engagements), Ghostmaker (***½) shows ambition with the author trying something new rather than just another adventure for Gaunt and the boys, and for the most part pulls it off. The novel is out of print as a solo title, but is available as part of the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, The Founding, in the UK and USA.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Third RIDDICK movie on the way

Universal have signed a deal with star Vin Diesel and director David Twohy to release a third movie based on the character of Riddick, following on from the excellent Pitch Black and the promising-but-overblown Chronicles of Riddick. The third film, with the working title of just Riddick, will apparently retreat from the (expensive) complexities of the second movie see a return to the smaller-scale action of the first movie.

This could be promising. I didn't hate Chronicles of Riddick and found it somewhat enjoyable, if a much less successful film than the original. However, Pitch Black and the two spin-off computer games from the series, Escape from Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena (all made with Twohy and Diesel's involvement), are all superb, so colour me cautiously optimistic that this could be an interesting flick.

Peter F. Hamilton update

Peter F. Hamilton has signed a new deal with Macmillan in the UK, since The Evolutionary Void (the third and final book in The Void Trilogy, due this September) marks the end of his previous contract. Hamilton is now scheduled to deliver a collection of short stories for publication in 2011, followed by a new stand-alone novel provisionally called Great North Road, which will not be connected to any of his existing series or books.

A new trilogy, set entirely within the Void but on a different planet to the one featured in the trilogy, is also planned.

Monday 15 February 2010

Gaunt's Ghosts: First and Only by Dan Abnett

The peaceful, arboreal world of Tanith is commanded to raise a legion of troops to serve in the Imperial Guard, the billions-strong regular army of the Imperium of Man. On the day the Tanith1st is commissioned and depart for deep space, their homeworld is annihilated from orbit. Thus, they are the Tanith First and Last. The Tanith First and Only.

Many years later, the Tanith 1st has a new name: Gaunt's Ghosts. Under the command of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Ghosts have become a respected unit, skilled in battle and reliable under fire. But Gaunt, a political officer filling a military role, has made some very dangerous enemies in the High Command of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. The Ghosts are now part of the attempt to liberate the Sabbat Worlds from the forces of Chaos, but Gaunt discovers corruption and heresy may be taking root in the High Command, and he cannot trust anyone but his men in an effort to find a weapon of unimaginable power on the dark world of Menazoid Epsilon before his enemies do the same.

Over the past decade, Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series of military SF novels and several related series have sold more than a million copies for the Black Library, a remarkable feat that has made Abnett one of the UK's biggest-selling SF authors with sales on a par with the likes of Peter F. Hamilton, Iain Banks and Alastair Reynolds. Many of these readers have gone on to become fans of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe of which Abnett's series is part (although self-contained; the Ghosts books can be read with no pre-existing knowledge of the setting), boosting sales of the related computer games and the miniatures line.

First and Only is where the story began. For a first novel - although Abnett had previously done successful work in comics - this is a remarkably polished effort, with a superbly-executed structure as the main story thunders forward, interspersed with brief flashback interludes to key moments in the history of Gaunt and his unit. As a slice of military SF, this is top-notch stuff, with Abnett providing a reason for the carnage and using deft but not overdone characterisation to differentiate the various officers and grunts from one another and make the stakes in the battles clear. Military SF is a subgenre where it is remarkably easy to fall into cliche quite easily, but Abnett manages to avoid most of these issues and makes the few uses of standard military tropes - such as the unit's doctor who treats soldiers injured in battle willingly enough but refuses to fight himself - almost a welcome nod to a classic trope rather than anything too corny.

With a firm grasp of character and a superior ability to convey action (you can almost hear the bullets roaring overhead and feel the apprehension of troops stuck in foxholes), Abnett delivers a great, readable SF novel here and earns his comparisons to an SF Bernard Cornwell.

First and Only (****) is a fast-paced, SF military thriller. It is not generally available by itself anymore, but is readily available as the first part of the omnibus volume The Founding (together with its two immediate successors, Ghostmaker and Necropolis), available now in the UK and USA. There are currently twelve novels in the Gaunt's Ghosts series with several more planned, along with three spin-off works and several related Warhammer 40,000 game accessories.

Roland Emmerich to film FOUNDATION trilogy

Originally published as a series of eight short stories in Astounding Magazine in the late 1940s, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series became best-known as a trilogy of fixup novels, published between 1951 and 1953 by Gnome Press in the USA. Asimov had developed the concept along with infamous SF uber-editor John W. Campbell and was inspired by Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. The initial stories chronicled the fall of the ancient Galactic Empire and the galaxy's descent into chaos, with the twin 'Foundations' established by psycho-historian Hari Seldon to guide humanity to the rise of a new empire a thousand years later. The trilogy only covered four centuries of this period before Asimov ran out of inspiration for future stories and decided to turn his attentions elsewhere.

The trilogy went on to become one of SF's most popular and well-known sagas, arguably outstripped only by Frank Herbert's Dune series, and won the one and only 'Best Series' Hugo Award in 1966 (an award that Asimov believed had purely been invented to retroactively honour The Lord of the Rings and was flabbergasted when he won instead). Asimov eventually returned to the series in the 1980s, penning the fourth and fifth books, Foundation's Edge in 1981 and Foundation and Earth in 1986, before writing two sequels, Prelude to Foundation (1989) and Forward the Foundation, the latter finished just before his death in 1992. Asimov also, perhaps ill-advisedly given the resulting continuity issues, combined the Foundation universe with his Robots books to create one enormous future history spanning some 20,000 years.

The Foundation books are noted for being heavy on sociological musings, stern-faced characters discussing matters of import, historical ponderings, awkward romances and occasional, long-distance space battles. Obviously this makes them the ideal source material to be turned into a trilogy of CGI-drenched 3D space opera extravaganzas featuring slow-motion explosions and (probably) cute dogs by the understated and subtle film-maker Roland Emmerich, the director of such arty flicks as Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and the recent 2012.

Okay, it could be worse. It could have been Uwe Boll. In every other respect, this is the most inappropriate matching-up of director and source material I have ever come across. This is a disaster in the making, and it only remains to be seen just how bad the end result is. Maybe Emmerich will surprise us with a film that is halfway-watchable, but I seriously doubt it. What next? Tony Scott's Book of the New Sun? Michael Bay's The Stars My Destination?

Friday 12 February 2010

Red Eagle team with Obsidian to make WHEEL OF TIME game

Red Eagle, the Wheel of Time rights-holding company, has announced it is partnering with Obsidian Entertainment to make the long-awaited new Wheel of Time computer game. Red Eagle has been developing a film project with Universal for the past two years with no real progress announced, so it sounds like the planned game will be set in a different time period to the books/movies with additional movie tie-in games released when that project finally starts moving again. Obsidian Entertainment are the modern incarnation of Black Isle. As Black Isle they created several of the most influential and critically-acclaimed computer roleplaying games of all time, including the original Fallout and Fallout 2, the Icewind Dale series and possibly the greatest single CRPG ever made, Planescape: Torment. They also partnered with BioWare to work on the classic Baldur's Gate series. As Obsidian they created the brilliantly-conceived but (under publisher pressure) incomplete and bugged Knights of the Old Republic II for LucasArts, and the better-received Neverwinter Nights II and its expansions. Obsidian are prepping to release their first original IP under their current name, Alpha Protocol and are also working on Fallout: New Vegas for release this autumn from Bethesda. This is excellent news. Obsidian have great form and should be able to deliver a great gaming experience in the Wheel of Time world. Interesting to see how this turns out.

Thursday 11 February 2010

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a harsh, cold and unforgiving place where young boys are raised in a lifetime of cruelty and never-ending martial training, being moulded into fanatical servants of the One True Faith. One student, Thomas Cale, and two of his friends escape from a life of unremitting bleakness in the Sanctuary to the great city of Memphis, capital of the Materazzi Empire, where their formidable skills soon attract the attention of the Chancellor. When the Redeemers launch a suicidal attack on the far larger and more powerful Empire, Cale's skills are called upon to help divine the Redeemers' strategy, and some of Cale's darkest secrets are revealed...

The Left Hand of God is the third novel by Paul Hoffman, although his first genre work. It's being given a massive push by Penguin, with one of their biggest-ever marketing spends, and the book has already attracted acclaim from a number of (notably non-genre) authors who have provided cover quotes of varying coherence.

After finishing the book I am hard-pressed to answer why Penguin have done this. The book isn't totally awful. It is competently-executed, making up for workmanlike and occasionally terrible prose and simplistic characterisation with some occasional (but usually pretty brief) bursts of ingenuity and inspiration. It's also extremely familiar, with different parts of the book being very similar in parts to R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing Trilogy (the fanatical and martial training of the protagonist and the overall religious theme), Peter Brett's The Painted Man (the dubious and redoubtable nature of the badass protagonist), and Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind (the slightly tiresome Gary Stu nature of the protagonist, without the likability), without coming close to any of those works in overall quality.

On the downside, the book is riddled with notable flaws. Characterisation is all over the place, with the protagonist Cale being a supremely cold and confident badass, apart from one particular fight where he quakes in terror for no apparent reason. The characters completely fail to change, grow or develop in any particularly notable ways, with Cale being a dreary and unengaging protagonist at best and his love interest Arbell Swan-Neck (so-called because she is as beautiful as a swan, which is about as much description as we get, leading to an image of a woman with a two-foot-long neck) being cliched and insipid, as indeed all the female characters are (in fairness, the males are not much better). Some other characters, such as Chancellor Vipond and the punctuation-challenged IdrisPukke, are more interesting with doses of decent humour and intelligence, but are not at the centre of the action. In addition, the story is somewhat obvious and predictable, with our runaway heroes fleeing from their terrible childhoods to find sanctuary and a place of acceptance only for their enemies to catch up with them later on. And, of course, it turns out a prophecy is to blame for all that is going on.

The worldbuilding is bizarre. Hoffman uses a lot of real-life names in the book for places and historical figures, including Poland, Norway, Hungary, Jerusalem, Memphis (a city in Egypt), York, the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth (who in this story was swallowed by a whale, apparently taking the place of Jonah) and so on. There is no map (in the review copy anyway), but the descriptions of geography in the book bear no resemblance to Europe, eliminating the possibility of this being an alt-history. Whilst it's possible there is some intriguing metaphysical reason for all the real-life names in the book, based on Hoffman's limitations as a writer in other departments, I'm going to go with a lack of sufficient inspiration and imagination being responsible. This also explains why the climactic major battle in the book is a simple blow-by-blow retelling of the Battle of Agincourt rather than being anything original either.

It is also hard to discern who the book's target audience is, since the limited writing style and simplistic characterisation suggests it might be aimed at children, but then the sequences of torture, rape (not depicted, but frequently mentioned) and bloody nature combat suggest otherwise.

On the plus side, the book is readable in a sort of dull, David Eddings-slightly-past-his-best kind of way. It plods along, and there's the odd burst of reasonably well-described action to keep up the interest whenever it flags (which is often). But overall, The Left Hand of God feels like a novel that was designed and assembled out of a kit pack, with the Ominous Prophecy bolted onto the Dubious Protagonist, with the Hamfisted Religious Satire slotted in as well. It's all very perfunctory and totally lacking in passion or urgency. Indeed, to borrow one of the more nonsensical cover quotes, the book feels like it was written after something had died in the author's soul. Interestingly, the novel also recalls Lev Grossman's The Magicians (although that was a much better book, despite its enormous flaws) in feeling like a genre novel written by a non-genre writer to appeal to non-genre fans. Fantasy readers used to the rich prose of Bakker and Martin, the infectious enthusiasm of Lynch, the bloody-mindedness of Abercrombie or the sheer awe-inspiring scope of Erikson will rightly feel that is a mediocre work of limited merit, although not completely without the promise of later improvements by the author.

The Left Hand of God (**) is a work of impressive drabness and unoriginality. There are flashes and glimmers of inspiration here and there which suggest that Hoffman may have a far stronger work in him, but this is certainly not it. The book is available now in the UK and will be published on 15 June 2010 in the USA.

New trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's THE LAST AIRBENDER

The Last Airbender is the live-action movie based on the award-winning, hit animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (the name was changed for James Cameron-related reasons), which for my money is one of the better SF&F series of the last decade. The film is being directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and is being regarded by some movie fans as his 'last chance' to make a good impression after a string of high-profile flops. The film's development has attracted a great deal of criticism, mainly down to the decision to change the ethnicity of the races from the TV series in favour of white actors.

That said, this is the first trailer which actually features dialogue and more of a feel for how the film will actually work. On the plus side, the action sequences seem competently handled (a key question, as Shyamalan has not really done effects-heavy action work before), the element-bending effects seem reasonably faithful to the TV series and there's an undeniable thrill to seeing some images from the cartoon series realised in live-action, such as Aang using his glider, Sokka and Katara finding him entombed in the ice and the battle for the northern water tribe's city. The actor they found for Aang doesn't say anything in the trailer, but looks the part and seems able to carry out his action sequences with aplomb.

On the downside, the actress they found for Katara seems a bit mediocre and for the non-cartoon-series fans the whole thing looks a bit too generic with none of the sparkle or humour of the animated series coming through, at least in this clip.

However, they do seem to have achieved a major success by finding a really good actor to play Iroh (a key and very complex character from the series) and Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel has got Zuko's smouldering frustrated rage down nicely.

Overall, I am left slightly hopeful that this movie - due in July 2010 - will be better then what some people feared. Hopefully, it will raise the profile of the animated series further and take it on to greater success as well.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

The Seven Kingdoms lie bleeding and battered. The War of the Five Kings has ravaged the countryside, many tens of thousands are dead, and a years-long winter is finally descending on the continent of Westeros with unmitigated fury. The war is petering out, with the Tyrell-Lannister alliance apparently victorious, but in far-off Dorne, on the remote Iron Islands and in the isolated Vale of Arryn plans are being laid that may mean the current peace will be short-lived indeed. In King's Landing, Cersei Lannister rules as Queen Regent, but without the moderating influence of good counsellors, she is ill-equipped to handle the Tyrells' jockeying for power. Her brother Jaime has his own battles to fight, whilst Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, embarks on an impossible quest into the heart of the warzone to find a single lost girl. From the Wall comes Samwell Tarly, bearing an urgent message to the Archmaesters of the Citadel, whilst beyond the Narrow Sea in Braavos, Arya Stark must learn to survive amidst a mysterious organisation with ancient secrets to protect.

A Feast for Crows is the fourth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, and at the time of publication was the most troubled book in the series to write. George R.R. Martin had planned to have a five-year narrative gap between the events of A Storm of Swords and the following book, A Dance with Dragons, with the readership rejoining the action after the various characters had had a chance to regroup and learn new skills and get a bit older. In the event, this plan proved unworkable, with Martin unable to come up with a reason why the Others would wait five years before making their next move or why events in the Iron Islands or Dorne would not play out for another half-decade. There were also issues about major factions (such as the Faith Militant) appearing out of nowhere. With the writing not cooperating and the book being weighed down by flashbacks, Martin scrapped eighteen months' work on the fourth volume and decided to write A Feast for Crows instead to fill in the gaps in the story.

Of course, as is now widely known, this also proved tricky, and the published novel eventually only contained the stories of a number of the series' major characters, such as Sansa and Arya Stark, Sam Tarly, Brienne of Tarth, and Cersei and Jaime Lannister. A number of the series' other POVs, including the arguably central trinity of Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, were shunted into A Dance with Dragons (now the fifth volume), and it appears a whole host of new timeline problems were introduced (which ADWD will hopefully resolve). The result is a book that is somewhat problematic and has a number of issues, although in general terms it is as well-written (possibly even moreso) as the rest of the series.

On the plus side, Martin's skills with character, description and worldbuilding remain strong and indeed growing. A Feast for Crows introduces a number of new POVs, either 'proper' ones like Cersei and Brienne or 'temporary' POVs like Arianne Martell or various members of the Greyjoy family, and Martin gets us into these characters' heads and worldviews as ably as ever. His skills with political intrigue remain strong, with Littlefinger's machinations in the Vale, the complex political situation in Dorne (impressively depicted, as we only get a few chapters to convey this part of the story) and the jockeying for the crown in the Iron Islands all handled well. A Feast for Crows is also the most thematically tight novel in the sequence. This book is about the aftermath of the grand conflict in the first three books, and shows how the game of thrones has left tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless and millions at the mercy of the coming winter. For a series often criticised for only showing the nobles' point-of-view, A Feast for Crows redresses the balance by showing the impact on the common folk and how they respond (turning to, as historically was and remains often the case, religion to help them).

However, whilst writing what is almost a side-novel to the main series showing the impact of characters' apparently minor decisions in previous books on the masses or the aftermath of events is certainly a valid thing to do (as with what Erikson did with Toll the Hounds, for example), it is fair to say that doing so in a series where the books take many years to be written and published does lead to a fair degree of frustration, particularly for those readers who came off A Storm of Swords expecting the next book to be as incident-packed and furious-paced as the previous ones, and instead found a much more sedately-paced novel focusing on 'quieter' events. At the same time, it is hard to say there is much in A Feast for Crows that is unnecessary. An enormous amount of pipe-laying is going on here, characters are being maneuvered into position, whilst schemes and intrigues are being set in motion that are designed to either re-ignite the war, or ensure Daenerys returns to Westeros as soon as possible, or to shatter the alliance between the Tyrells and Lannisters once and for all.

The only story that feels like it could have been told in less detail was Brienne's grand tour of the shattered riverlands, which, despite providing some interesting alternate perspectives on events and hinting at the fate of a major character from the previous book, feels a little overdone and if the end of the sequence is as it first appears (as unlikely as that is with a Martin novel), even a little pointless. I suspect that the relevance of Brienne's wanderings will become clearer in The Winds of Winter, if not sooner. The only other complaint I had was that the rationale for Cersei's character - yet another prophecy in a series whose first volume I once lauded for not having any hard-and-fast prophecies - felt somewhat unconvincing on a first read. On the series re-read I was surprised to see some elements in A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords setting up the revelation involving Cersei's childhood, but overall given the existing reasons for Cersei to loathe Tyrion, it seemed a bit over-the-top to include supernatural reasons as well, although some sort of additional reasoning for Cersei's hatred of Margaery Tyrell - a major driving force of this book's storyline - was indeed required.

A Feast for Crows (****) is well-written and engaging, but also slower-paced and more thoughtful and reflective than the previous three books in the series, something that has divided a lot of readers. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Gollancz bringing more Sanderson to the UK

Gollancz have signed a new deal with Brandon Sanderson to bring his stand-alone novels Elantris and Warbreaker to the UK market, as well as the first two novels in the ten-volume Stormlight Archive series (The Way of Kings and the as-yet-untitled and unwritten second volume). Gollancz have previously published Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, and seem to be happy enough with its success to continue their relationship with the author.

Excellent news. After the 'different' covers for the Mistborn series, I'll be intrigued to see what they come up with for the other books.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Interesting map for Robin Hobb fans

A very nice combined map of the Six Duchies and Cursed Shores regions from Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders, Tawny Man and Rain Wild Chronicles series can be seen here. A mega-resolution version for download and printing can also be found here. The same artist has some other Hobb-inspired artwork here.

Interesting stuff for the fantasy cartography fans out there.

Thursday 4 February 2010

FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS to be released in Fall 2010

A teaser trailer, logo, release date and blurb for Fallout: New Vegas have been released by publishers Bethesda. The new game, a stand-alone title using the same engine as Fallout 3 and set in the same world but halfway across the continent in Nevada, is being developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the successor company to Black Isle who originally created the Fallout franchise. Several key writers from Fallout and Fallout 2, including Chris Avellone (who also created the greatest CRPG of all time, Planescape: Torment), are working on New Vegas, hopefully meaning it will have a better script then Fallout 3 (which was great fun to play despite some atrocious writing and very weak characterisation).

The game will be released in the Autumn of 2010 and will again feature Ron Perlman telling us that war never changes, despite the fact it quite blatantly does in the games.

"War, war never changes. Apart from the fact that we don’t have any natural resources to fight over, everything’s been pretty much destroyed, and we didn’t have two-headed cows and giant albino radscorpions before. Also, my gun fires railway sleepers into people’s faces, what the hell is up with that? But, apart from those minor elements, war never changes. Much."
Looking forwards to it!