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A Voyage to Arcturus
A Voyage to Arcturus
by David Lindsay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.45

4.0 out of 5 stars In the know, 20 Mar. 2015
This review is from: A Voyage to Arcturus (Paperback)
When I first read A Voyage to Arcturus I found it very heavy-going and while I did finish it I came away none the wiser and shrugged my shoulders.
Over the years since there has been a nagging thought to give it another go, and I finally gave in to it recently. I am glad I did.
There’s no doubt this is a strange book, more of a book about concepts rather than a traditional fantasy or science fiction book at all. I say fantasy because while it is set on the planet Tormance, the voyage there and Maskull’s adventures once there are fantastical and bizarre. Sensory organs are grown and discarded depending where he is or who he interacts with, or what philosophical system he adopts or reject.
The plot, such as it is, has Maskull being whisked off to Tormance by his companions Nightspore and Krag, and after being split up from them on arrival, goes in search of them, wandering across the world and engaging with those he meets with in his travels.
At its heart, this book is about the nature of reality, and how we can never experience true reality, limited by our own perceptions and the seductions of the flesh or the ideas we hold.
I heard some people say that this is a depressing book. I disagree. Although Maskull does some terrible things while he is on Torrance, and witnesses further terrible things done to other people, it suggests that if ‘evil’ rules the world, it can be defeated even if the struggle to do so is eternal and it is a battle we must wage in ourselves.
The ending is fitting and I thought strangely uplifting for a Gnostic saga, and if you stay the course for the journey, it’s a book that will stay with you.


Embassytown
Embassytown
by China Mieville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Speaking in Tongues, 17 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Embassytown (Paperback)
China Mieville is one of those writers where I have read a lot of his work without ever thinking of myself as a fan of his. He is undoubtedly talented, however I sometimes find his ornate use of language, and the level of detail he piles into books such as Perdito Street Station and The Scar, gets in the way of telling a good story.
It’s ironic then, that I really liked Embassytown, a book where one of the major themes is language itself.
The main character is Avice, a space pilot who has returned home to the planet of Arieka, where a colony of human live with the permission of the Hosts, a truly alien species that are only half-understood by the colonists. What follows is a tragedy of unexpected consequences, where in an effort to understand the Hosts better, ambassadors from Earth precipitate a crisis which puts the Hosts and the colonists in danger.
There are 2 main themes here. First is the Fall, where humanity is the serpent in the Garden of Eden who have unintentionally corrupted the Hosts by their ability to lie. The second is colonialism, in particular China Mieville seems to have used the Opium Wars as a template for the crisis, with some Hosts turning on humanity in the hope of wiping out the source of their corruption.
I think I liked this book because it is more of a ‘proper’ Science Fiction book than his other work, and was concise without any padding. If I was to criticise it, I didn’t find the ending particularly surprising and I wish that Avice had been a more active character.
The Hosts themselves were a fascinating creation, which reminded me in some ways of the ‘Great Old Ones’ from the Cthulhu Mythos, the hints about the Immer were intriguing. Would love to find out more about that if he ever gets round to a sequel.


Pioneers
Pioneers
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in Space, 19 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Pioneers (Kindle Edition)
This isn't a book that will appeal to everyone. There is not much in the way of `action', there are no loving descriptions of firefights, explosions or Klingons off the starboard bow. Plenty happens, but it the characters reactions to them that is more important to Phillip Mann than blow-by-blow accounts of it.

It is set in a future where mankind no longer is able to reproduce, and in a desperate attempt to save the species, genetically modified Pioneers are sent out to the old colonies to bring back viable people to Earth to help restart the human race.

The main characters of the book are Ariadne and Angelo, and the book is told from the point of view of Angelo, a Pioneer with an ape-like appearance and a claw for one hand, who writes a diary to explore his feelings for Ariadne, the mission, and what they discover.

The colonists they `rescue' are often uncooperative and their mission is not without danger. The presence of one retrieved settler disrupts the ship, and the consequences propel them on a course leading to tragedy and eventual conflict with the `normal' humans who resent the Pioneers who are still able to breed.

This could have been a depressing book, set against the slow eclipse of humanity. Instead it is strangely uplifting as Angelo asserts his identity against those who would dismiss him as less than human, and wrestles with his own feelings that are tested during the mission and on Earth.

I've only read it the once, but I can see it is a book I will be returning to again and again.


Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill'd Queen (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill'd Queen (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by Michael Moorcock
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars After the Dark, 6 Jun. 2014
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I am going to take a different look at this book. To get it out of the way, I agree with the other reviewers here that this is a great book, one of Michael Moorcock's best and as a stand alone you don't have to be well versed in all the permutations of the multiverse to enjoy it.

Now this is where my alternative take comes in. In some ways, Gloriana could be the unofficial (and superior) sequel to the original History of the Runestaff books with Hawkmoon.

Bear with me. Gloriana is the daughter of Flana. In the Hawkmoon stories, Queen Flana took over ruling Granbretan when the Dark Empire fell, and worked to tear down what was left of the old regime. In Gloriana, England is recovering from the tyranny of King Hern, and Gloriana and her supports are desperate that the dark days do not come back.

On top of that, the whole atmosphere is just how I imagined Granbretan would be - refined decadence and sudden brutality, intrigue and sensuality all bound together.

Now Gloriana is a standalone novel, and my interpretation is more a piece of fun than something that should be taken entirely seriously. But I am sure that the correspondences I have outlined were intentional. After all, history mirrors itself across the planes in the multiverse, and anything is possible, right?

It added a level of enjoyment to an already excellent book. Whether you agree with my alternative view of Gloriana or not, you won't regret reading it


Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by C.L. Moore
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Dreaming, 16 May 2014
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This is a collection that brings together most of CL Moore's most famous characters, Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.

Jirel of Joiry is a female warrior in Medieval France. However this is just a stepping point for her adventures in other worlds and dimensions touching on our own. Often credited with being the inspiration behind Robert E Howard's Red Sonya character, these stories are mainly about the darkness that is separated from our own world by a thin membrane. Most of these stories involve her being seduced by some otherworldly creature or god, but she recovers enough of herself to fight back and escape in time. My favourite of the Jirel stories was 'Hellgarde', which broke this mold and featured an intriguing band of a lord an his retinue held up in an abandoned, haunted castle, and the real reason why they were there.

The Northwest Smith books are similar to Leigh Brackett's 'Mars' stories, and roughly fall into the Sword and Planet category. Also set on Mars, they delve into weird fiction, however they are more Clark Ashton Smith than HP Lovecraft. Again, they do tend to be formulaic, in that Northwest Smith comes across a seductive woman, who is not all she seems, and who leads him into some perilous confrontation. Rather than being high on action, the Northwest Smith stories are more about invoking the feeling of weirdness or dread, and the interior struggle Northwest Smith undergoes to live another day.

Individually I think these stories in this collection are great, and they do highlight the career of one of the early pioneers of SF and Fantasy who is all but forgotten now. However tthey do get samey samey, particularly if you read one right after the other.

I would recommend you read a story, put it down, and then come back to the book a day or so later and you will appreciate them more.


The Night Land
The Night Land
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Night Terrors, 25 April 2014
This review is from: The Night Land (Kindle Edition)
Well, I have finally read this now after 2 previous attempts, and I have to say, what a strange beast of a book it is.

Put briefly, the Narrator is a man from the 18th Century how finds himself reincarnated into the far future of Earth, when the sun has died, humanity is confined to 2 gigantic pyramids, the Great and Lesser Pyramids, and weird creatures and monsters roam the darkended lands.

It is written in Olde English, which is initially off-putting, but you do get into it after a while, and in fact the archaic prose does lend the book a certain majesty. The plot itself is very simple, as he discovers that his wife is also reincarnated into this time, but they are in different pyramids and separated by the dangers of the outside. He sets out to find her, and the first half of the book detail his adventures as he travels to the Lesser Pyramid.

So far so good. While scientifically the scenario doesn't really make sense, there is an undeniable power and nightmarish quality to the journey he undertakes. But then he meets with Naani, the reincarnation of his wife - and the books takes a weird turn.

Now the Night Land turns into Fifty Shades of Night, as it combines the dark odyssey across the wastes with a sickly sweet romance between the Narrator and Naani, which is also a paen to the joys of domination and obedience.

However things do recover in the final third of the book, and the scenes where he has almost reached the Great Pyramid again are very evocative.

In my review of House on the Borderland I did wonder if it shared the same future as Night Land. Now I've read both I can see this is not the case, but there are undoubted similaries, and to me it seems like they are variations on the same theme. In House on the Borderland, the House is situated in the 'Plain of Silence' in the far future; in Night Land, there is a House of Silence guarding the approach to the Great Pyramid.

Difficult one for me to mark. The first half I would give 5 stars, but after they meet the 'romantic' elements undermined it for me, but there is still enough there for me to give it 3 stars. Overall that makes 4 stars.

I am glad I did persevere with this book. It is one of those books that definitely deserved to be read. While I might have gone with a different ending, I can see why this is regarded as a classic, and why it has inspired others to write stories in the universe William Hope Hodgson created.

A flawed classic, but not one that should be forgotten


A History of Magic (Arkana)
A History of Magic (Arkana)
by Richard Cavendish
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, 22 Mar. 2014
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This would make a good companion to Richard Cavendish's other book on the occult, The Black Arts (which I have also reviewed).

A History of Magic concentrates begins with magic in the Ancient World, from Biblical accounts, Ancient Greece and Rome, and also some fascinating information on Persian and Chaldean magic. It then covers Medieval and Early Modern European magic, including witchcraft and the witch hunts, before finishing with Modern magic, right up to the Occult Revival in the 1960s and 70s.

The sections on magic in the Ancient World is particularly good, and in the section on the witch hunts, Richard Cavendish carefully distinguishes between 'white witchcraft' (healers), black witchcraft, which could be describe as traditional witchcraft that included cursing and hexing, that is, willing to cause harm to others, and Satanic witchcraft, that is, witchcraft believed to be in the cause of Satan. Richard Cavendish departs from many historians of witchcraft by concluding that Satanic witchcraft did exist to some extent, but that it was probably a product of the witch hunts themselves, where outsiders and the disaffected consciously aligned themselves with the Powers of Darkness, adopting the idea that the Church and secular establishment had created themselves rather than it having an independent, organic existence.

There were a few sentences in the Modern Magic section that were identical to that in The Black Arts, but A History of Magic goes into more detail than the other book did.

My only criticism of A History of Magic is that it is too short for the subject it is trying to cover, and inevitably it couldn't go into as much detail as I would have liked.

But even still, this is an excellent book and I have no hesitation in recommending it.


Lovecraft Unbound
Lovecraft Unbound
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stranger Tales, 14 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Lovecraft Unbound (Paperback)
After I read Ellen Datlow's 'Poe' collection, I have been looking forward to picking up this book, and I have to say it didn't disppoint.

I see it's got a few low stars, but I do wonder if some people were expecting a more straight-forward collection of pastiches. The stories here are inspired by Lovecraft, but mostly not Mythos stories themselves. It is the themes of cosmic horror, the indifference of the universe to humanity and our beliefs and science, and intrusion of the unexplained and unknown, the "things that should not be" that we have no hope of understanding.

Even still, you will find stories that allude to ghouls, Deep Ones, Antarctic weirdness, and other familiar Lovecraftian tropes, but are not explicitly set in the universe Lovecraft created.

A full list of the contents is here:

“The Crevasse” by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud
“The Office of Doom” by Richard Bowes
“Sincerely, Petrified” by Anna Tambour
“The Din of Celestial Birds” by Brian Evenson
“The Tenderness of Jackals” by Amanda Downum
“Sight Unseen” by Joel Lane
“Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips
“Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love” by William Browning Spencer
“Houses Under the Sea” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“Machines of Concrete Light and Dark” by Michael Cisco
“Leng” by Marc Laidlaw
“In the Black Mill” by Michael Chabon
“One Day, Soon” by Lavie Tidhar
“Commencement” by Joyce Carol Oates
“Vernon, Driving” by Simon Kurt Unsworth
“The Recruiter” by Michael Shea
“Marya Nox” by Gemma Files
“Mongoose” by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear
“Catch Hell” by Laird Barron
“That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas

My favourites were probabably "The Crevasse", that is set in the Antartic, "Houses Under the Sea", about a cult linked to an undersea civilisation, and "Catch Hell", which features a forest being that reminded me of both Shub-Niggurath and Arthur Machen's Great God Pan.

There were a couple of stories I really didn't like, especially "Commencement", which is why I gave this 4 rather than 5 stars. But this really is a superior collection of weird stories, and I will be looking out for other work from some of the writers here, and other collections that Ellen Datlow has edited.

So, a great collection for those who like the Mythos or weird tales in general, especially if you are tired of simple pastiches of Lovecraft's work and want to look beyond the purple prose


The Chronicles of Corum: "The Bull and the Spear", "The Oak and the Ram" and "The Sword and the Stallion"
The Chronicles of Corum: "The Bull and the Spear", "The Oak and the Ram" and "The Sword and the Stallion"
by Michael Moorcock
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Fear the harp, a brother and beauty, 24 Feb. 2014
What happens to a hero once his task is done? This is the central theme of this trilogy and the answer does not come until the final page.

Corum was the first incarnation of the Eternal Champion that I read, and has remained my favourite after all the Michael Moorcock books that I have read. And of Corum, the Chronicles trilogy is my favourite of the two, which expands on the 'Celtic' flavour of the first trilogy by delving in Welsh, and in particular, Irish mythology.

After Rhalina finally dies of old age, Corum sinks into depression and seems destined to waste away until he hears a call in his dreams, begging him for assistance. From there he leaps forward in time to where there are few Mabden left, and those that survive are slowly being killed off by the Final Winter and the Fhoi Myore, inhabitants from Limbo that have been stranded in their world.

This is a darker trilogy to the Swords of Corum. Friendships are betrayed, hope is lost, and any victories Corum achieves are tempered by loss and the realisation that there may be no home for him among the Mabden after all. At the beginning of his new life, he is told to fear three things - the harp, a brother, and beauty. The answer to these is not as expected, and the last scene will stay with you.

Corum seems to have been lost in the shadow of Elric. The Chronicles of Corum demonstrate just how unfair that was as he in no way deserves to be forgotten. Michael Moorcock never wrote any more Corum stories after this, which is a great pity. Surely somewhere in the multiverse there is room for one last adventure?


Champion of Mars
Champion of Mars
by Guy Haley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Far Out, 13 Feb. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Champion of Mars (Paperback)
I can see this book has had mixed reviews, I veer more to the side of liking this book.

Champion of Mars is a good update on the old Sword-and-Planet tales on Mars, blending in high technology with quantum mechanics and even some hints of the Cthulhu Mythos with the Stone Kin.

I wasn't expecting the near future sections, but they were very good, and with some other excepts through the timeline of Mars, effectively showed how the society of the far future Mars was established, and how the far future reaches back to effect the near future of Mars.

The main story is about Yoechakanon Val Mora and his AI/spirit lover Kaibeli who are released from being executed to find the long-lost Librarian of Mars, who can help mankind defeat the final invasion of Stone Kin, creatures from the higher 7 dimensions intruding into our own.

There are some great ideas here. AIs have progressed so far that in the far future they are treated as spirits, and the digital world they and enhanced humans inhabit is known as the Second World.

There is also an intriguing philosophy revolving around free will and fate, which seems to be an interpretation of the Uncertain Principle and the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics.

There are 2 main criticisms about this book. I would have preferred more set in the far future, after setting up an interesting scenario Guy Haley didn't really do much with it.

And the ending felt very rushed and convenient. The Librarian of Mars was found very easily, and the resolution was dealt with all too soon.

So, not a perfect book by any means. But for those who like Sword-and-Planet stories, it's a clever update, preserving the spirit of those stories while overhauling the science and characters.

I would love to see more of this universe. Time for a jaunt to Venus perhaps?


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