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Mr Kibbles "Reader, writer, imaginator" (South Yorkshire)

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The Race For Space
The Race For Space
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't fault this album at all. It succeeds ..., 21 Jun. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Race For Space (Audio CD)
I can't fault this album at all. It succeeds on all levels - as a primer to history, as a tribute to the space programmes of both the US and USSR, as a cohesive whole, as individual tracks, and as an album for music fans and SF fans alike. It really is a public service. :)


Gallow: The Crimson Shield
Gallow: The Crimson Shield
by Nathan Hawke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a much wider audience, 21 Jun. 2016
It's no secret that Nathan Hawke is Stephen Deas is Nathan Hawke. No secret either that this, the first in a trilogy, owes as great a debt to David Gemmell as it does to our modern image of Vikings. But Gallow does seem to be a name mostly unspoken in fantasy circles, and that's a damned shame - here's a hero who deserves a much wider audience.

Grim and gritty, but not grimdark, The Crimson Shield skates between all-out battles, skirmishes, door-to-door fighting, and siege-and-plunder as it tells the story of our protagonist Gallow's attempts to save a comrade, save his village, and save a whole city. An invader who has gone native, Gallow treads a fine line, distrusted by both sides. He's not looking for a happy ending; he just wants to get through this day and see another.

There's a heck of a lot going on in a relatively small number of pages. Despite spending the majority of time in Gallow's head, taking time to relive old battles, backstory, and arguments with his partner Arda, the story rushes along helped by short chapters and very blunt, concise writing that I suspect early Moorcock would also have been proud of. That's not to say that there isn't detail here - there's plenty of that, the world seeps in through the writing, through the attitudes of Gallow and his fellow forkbeards to it and each other.

There's a hint of magic, laid on as superstition as much as anything else, and some epic rivalries and antagonisms. Oh, and the dialogue - Hawke's characters can't say much to each other without some kind of insult. It works far better here than in, say, The Blade Itself, which does take itself a little less seriously. (On the other hand, it also serves to lighten the mood, which might otherwise never lift itself from Bakker-style cynicism).

A few reviewers have pointed out that there's only one named female character in this book, and that she spends most of her time speaking from Gallow's thoughts. That is a fault, true, especially in the more modern age of fantasy fiction. Arda is still a strong presence however, and even if The Crimson Shield does seem like a step back into the past in its absolute masculinity I don't think Hawke is portraying that masculinity uncritically. I'm certainly going to be continuing with the series, not least because I reckon Arda will have a lot more to say in future volumes.

A strong, under-rated "debut" from Hawke then - not flawless, but certainly a polished and highly entertaining read.


Bloodrush (The Scarlet Star Trilogy Book 1)
Bloodrush (The Scarlet Star Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £2.69

3.0 out of 5 stars Murderous Goldhunting Fairies!, 10 Jun. 2016
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Weird West is a Thing. Though possibly not my Thing. To my eye the West doesn't get much more weird than Sergio Leone, and most westerns are jousts and mythic adventures dressed up in plaid shirts and buckskins, knights riding to save a damsel in distress from a fate worse than refried beans and a spitoon.

Or so the story goes. Which means that Ben Galley's mash-up of coming-of-age adventure, Brave New World voyages, and murderous goldhunting fairies in a vaguely parallel hybridised world where the guns are larger than life, ought to fit in nicely just over to the left of Deadwood. Unfortunately life is rarely that simple.

The protagonist Tonmerion Hark can't quite make up his mind whether he wants to be a YA hero or not. There's an awful lot of pouting and poor communication, even allowing for the fact that he's 13 years old, all done to advance the plot. His pocket companion (one of the aforementioned murderous fey, bound to him by an oath, is by far the more interesting of the two, with a real drive to keep clear of his kinsmen back in Blighty.

It gets a little more confused when Merion pitches up at his long-lost Aunt's house and discovers that she - and obviously himself too - can assume the powers and aspects of certain animals by drinking their blood. The slight steampunk aspects of the story fade back to nothing as Galley explores this magic system instead, topping it off with an antagonistic family of blood drinkers who - of course - don't just stop at animals...

There are some good visuals - the rail wraiths bending the tracks and derailing trains, the steamboat burning in the night and Galley writes the set pieces and denouement with real energy. But the pace gets dragged back by Merion's near-constant moodiness - he's not the most sympathetic protagonist, even in his mourning phases.

Perhaps there are too many ideas in the pot, but it's well worth reading through to the very end of the glossary where Galley has hidden a few laugh-inducing "blood" aspects.


Mythago Wood
Mythago Wood
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Deep into the Wildwood..., 10 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Mythago Wood (Kindle Edition)
It's difficult to objectively criticise a book that, like the mythagos within it, has become such a strong foundation text of the fantasy genre. Mythago Wood deliberately harks back to an older manner of storytelling, a drawn-out, unhurried first-person recital that sets the stage with absolute precision before thrusting the narrator - and the reader with him - into uncharted territory.

As the layers of the wood are peeled back, and the layers of the world and the story wrapped around it are revealed one by one, Mythago Wood does become difficult to put down. At its heart, it is an archetypal quest, a dream of fulfillment and a loss of innocence, echoing every story from the Fall of Eden onwards. The logic and explanation of the mythos ties up a large portion of the middle of the book, before our heroes actually begin their quest, and that's the one part that might make the reader close the book and look elsewhere for a faster paced adventure, but that reader would be a fool to do so.

Mythago Wood deserves its reputation, even if its structure actively fights those who seek to enter it...


Northern Storm (The Aldabreshin Compass Book 2)
Northern Storm (The Aldabreshin Compass Book 2)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Here be Dragons, 10 Jun. 2016
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Southern Fire was an outstanding start to the Aldabreshin Compass series. Juliet E McKenna now has to up the ante and give Kheda and his allies a bigger, badder danger to deal with. And yes, that means dragons.

These aren't Smaug-level dragons, however. They're far more dangerous than that. And though he has already tainted himself with magic, Kheda will have to call on the wizards of Hadrumal again to help cleanse his domain.

If there's a sense of deja-vu in the first couple of chapters, that's because the structure is essentially the same as the first book: Kheda discovers a new threat to his domain, seeks outside help, conceals the nature of that help, and (not a spoiler, honestly!) suffers changes to his life as a result. The scale is larger (dragons, yep larger scales, pun intended) but the similarity in structure should help ease the reader back into the series - which, remember, is not your average white medieval society. The Archipelago is very much *other* in that respect, complete with its reliance on foretelling and omens and the total distrust of wizardry.

Which in some respects makes Velindre's journey to search for dragon lore a little unsatisfying (for me at least) because I wanted to spend much more time immersed in the Archipelago itself. The addition of Velindre to the team does add a new dynamic however, and the interplay between her and fellow wizard Dev helps the reader to see the Archipelago from an insider's point of view, as we already know what's going on.

Juliet has said elsewhere that her villains are never evil for the sake of being evil - there's a full logic behind the wild men and the dragons, even if at this point she hasn't revealed it all to the reader. We're still in the dark as much as Kheda and Dev are, which makes their business all that much more risky. The changes in the dramatic landscape at the end of Northern Storm aren't so much surprising as they are logical - for all that Kheda has relied on magic to defeat the dragon, there's a hell of a price to be paid.


Oracle
Oracle
by Susan Boulton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Tickety-Boo debut, 10 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Oracle (Paperback)
I have to admit I struggled a little with Oracle, but it's taken a while to work out why. The set-up, the opening chase, the definite sense of foreboding that comes with Oracle's prophecies - all of that led into the promise of a tightrope walk between political and social revolution and catastrophe, and then seemed to lose its focus as soon as Oracle left the derailed train. The biggest problem is that (for me at least) the sides of the debate that is central to the plot aren't clearly defined. That means when the characters are arguing over the potential consequences, there's not much for the reader to grab & follow.

But Oracle does have a very well constructed sense of place and time. The characters are restricted by societal mores, and Susan Boulton writes these perils just as well as she does the subtly included fantastical ones. She brings to mind the drawing-room adventures of Sherlock Holmes more than the whiz-bang approaches of modern steampunk adventures (if that phrase isn't an oxymoron in itself).

A good debut, and I look forward to seeing Hand of Glory released too.


Fluency (Confluence Book 1)
Fluency (Confluence Book 1)
Price: £3.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good adventure story, 11 April 2016
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Fluency seems to be one of those books that polarises people. Either they love it, or they hate it. There's not too much middle ground. The criticism revolves mostly around the fact that the most active, problem-solving, point-of-view is a woman. It's not realistic! She's a special snowflake! It's all romance! The men are emasculated! Wah! Kick, scream, throw rattle!

Right, sure. Like it would be any more realistic if the main POV was male. Nobody would be complaining about a male hero's ability to communicate with alien intelligences or climb into battle armour and blow hell out of acidic space slugs. Get over it, fellas. Go back to your basements.

Fluency is a good First Contact adventure story. Not a brilliant one, but neither is it so terrible as to deserve all those brickbats. Wells has dressed her team of explorers with the trappings of a near-future hard SF tale, with references to PLSS and uncomfortable zero-g lifestyles. It's not always as successful as it ought to be, but the real objective here is to show how out on a limb they are, how isolated and up against it. The main focus of the exploration is on the problem-solving and the world-building, effectively setting up a massive interstellar conflict to be explored in future volumes.

Holloway is a decent lead character. She isn't the absolute Mary-Sue some of the reviewers have made her out to be, having realistic limitations and learning curves. Her opposite number, Alan Bergen, also the tentative love interest, on the other hand, is a contrary, moody bugger. There's an effective role reversal here and the gripers might well be complaining about that. My main issue is that the whole team itself, having spent the best part of a year in a tight space travelling to the artifact, just don't gel together at all. If I was Mission Control, I'd never have put those five in space together.

It's not entirely satisfying, but it's certainly a good adventure story, and I'm interested to see where it goes from here.


Twisted Power
Twisted Power
by David R. Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully prescient thriller!, 9 April 2016
This review is from: Twisted Power (Paperback)
Don't be misled by the cover - despite the brilliantly chaotic pagan imagery, this is a defiantly modern and future-reaching thriller, as close to today's world as it is to tomorrow's. David R Lee hits the ground running with decaying societies, rising tides of religious fundamentalism, presidential assassinations, and a world gradually being starved of wealth and power.

No change there, then!

The three main viewpoint characters are all damaged by the world around them. The novel leaps between tenses as it dives deeper into their thoughts and actions, a real breathless urgency and impatient drive in Lee's narrative. At its peak, as Jemima Tyson reaches her apotheosis, there's an exultant horror in the text. Perhaps that cover image isn't quite so inappropriate after all...

From Sheffield to Kazakhstan, from the US war zones to Svalbard and beyond, Lee keeps the reader engaged with his characters, always close to their thoughts. Even if the quantum magic of the QChip and the Becters take a little while to become fully natural for the reader, the plot itself never falls below being thoroughly compelling.


Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World
Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and brilliant, 29 Mar. 2016
I'm surprised nobody has really done this before (as far as I've been aware) - taking Shakespeare's Mediterranean-set comedies, tragedies and fantasies and spinning them into a coherent whole, letting their key characters live and breathe beyond the curtain calls of the original plays. David Thomas Moore, as editor on this project, has set himself a hard target to hit.

And how else to begin such an ambitious project than with Ariel and Miranda and Puck? Foz Meadows writes a strong tale of fairies, identity and courage, and it only gets better from there. Kate Heartfield draws a picture of witchcraft that ends with a truly Shakespearean denouement and proclamation of love; while Emma Newman's heroine finds herself disappointed by the blade of fate - and if you've read any of her Split Worlds series then you'll know how sharp that blade will be!

The last two stories are the most interesting of all from my point of view, playing with narrative forms as much as the characters. Adrian Tchaikovsky's Even In the Cannon's Mouth keeps a five-act structure, as do most of the others, but he also introduces stage directions and deliberately breaks the fourth wall as he blends All's Well That Ends Well and Twelfth Night with a rogue Scottish monarch. Jonathan Barnes manages to overcome my natural distrust of the second person narrative ("you open the door...") with a climactic tale that takes that fourth wall down a dark alley never to return, makes Anne Hathaway the hero, and almost turns the Bard into a version of the Eternal Champion while he's at it. It's quite different and more than worth the admission price.

By my count, that's five novellas ripe for award nominations, and a stand-out early contender for anthology of the year. Take a bow.


Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe
Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe
by Michael Moorcock
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a good place to start if you're considering exploring Moorcock's worlds, 29 Mar. 2016
The trouble with dipping into Moorcock's vast interlinked oeuvre is not knowing where the hell to begin. I did try to read one of the Jerry Cornelius short story collections many years ago, but going into that straight from Eddings & Feist wasn't such a good idea - Moorcock bounced straight off me.

Now, I like my epic fantasies, and from what I could gather this particular volume, the first of two Corum collections, seemed to be a good place to try again. And it works both as an introduction to Moorcock's simultaneously blunt and poetic style, Corum as a character and as a facet of the Eternal Champion, and to the concept of Moorcock's multiverse itself.

Corum himself is a bit of an archetypal questing hero, just as the stories themselves are archetypal quests replete with increasingly powerful "end-of-level" bosses which must be defeated for him to achieve some degree of peace (the final boss is defeated by a literal deus ex machina, albeit one flagged up as early as the grafting-on of Corum's new hand). He dooms and glooms across the unpronounceable lands of the world in search of his plot coupons as all heroes must, but the quests themselves are secondary to Corum's internal struggles and - from the second book in - the construction and introduction of the multiverse.

The conflicts become ever more existential and philosophical after the arrival of "Jhary a-Conel", flying across dimensions and ages, and Moorcock even introduces Elric and Erekose for cameos, but his literary style - here at least - is blunt enough to absorb all this without bogging down the pace of the story.

Definitely a good place to start if you're considering exploring Moorcock's worlds - and these Gollancz editions are very handsome indeed.


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