Friday, June 29, 2007

James Barclay

James Barclay has been described as the Sergio Leone of Fantasy.
Well I can finish now, I think that just about says it all.
What the ...!
OK, I'll keep going, even if I can not match the brevity of the comparison mentioned above.
Barclay has written a couple of series about a mercenary group called the Raven, led by a mysterious giant of a man called The Unknown Warrior. Set on the continent of Balaia the adventures of the Raven are set out in two series called Chronicles of the Raven, and Legends of the Raven. These tales are pacy with lots going on and the fate of the world hanging in the balance, they make good page turners.
And like Leone the action is brutal, and people get hurt. Usually the people getting hurt are the Ravens enemies, but tragedy also strikes the group as well and characters die.
So if you're looking for a quick read in the heroic fantasy genre try something by Barclay, but make sure you carry a towel to dry the blood of with.

Hell of a Time

John Constantine is the anti-hero's anti-hero. Never afraid to sacrifice a friend for the greater good, or con his way out of trouble, Constantine constantly battles against the dark forces in the world. If this means doing a deal with the Devil, then Constantine will, and he will not use a long spoon. In fact the Devil cured him of his lung cancer in what was one of Constantine's greatest cons, he starts the graphic novel Dangerous Habits finding out he has massive tumours in his lungs and by the end he not only commits suicide but convinces one of the rulers of hell to keep him alive and to cure his cancer. As the graphic novel ends Constantine lights up a Silk Cut (his favourite cigarette brand) and walks off into the night.
The Hellblazer series featuring Constantine are a great read, and some of the great writers have worked on them including, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis (also smokes Silk Cut), Mike Carey, and Brian Azzarello.
Now you may be mistaken for thinking of Constantine as a wooden American as played by Keanu Reeves, but in reality Constantine comes from the backstreets of Liverpool and is a real scouser. He may not be much use in a fight but once he starts talking then he weaves his own type of magic.
Pick up a Constantine graphic novel and you will be amazed by this interesting and complex character.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Smells Like Steampunk

China Mieville is an author to watch. He writes a very imaginative style of fantasy, that is like watching another person's dream. Most of his books are set in the same world, though they are all independent of each other, and are populated by the most interesting cast of characters imaginable.
Called a mythmaker Mieville's novels resemble Mervyn Peake's and contain that gothic, broodiness that Peake made famous. Mieville has also won the Arthur C Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award.
So if you like dark, brooding fantasy then give Mieville a try, but don't get lost, you may not come back.

The Hardest Working Man in Comics

The genius of Warren Ellis is undeniable, not the musician, I mean the writer responsible for such gems as Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency, StormWatch, Strange Killings, and Nextwave : agents of H.A.T.E. This is only a small sampling of his works but all of them contain elements that make Ellis so great.
An acerbic wit, matched with a genuine way with words and a unique view of the world all combine to make Ellis a writer worth following.
But beyond his work in comics he has many other strings to his bow. As Ellis states on his Myspace page he writes "comics, novels, journalism, videogames, screenplays and television". It is well worth visiting his page and having a look at all the things Ellis does. I have provided a link so that you can do just that. On there you will find Ellis's blog, and this is always worth reading. You can also visit as well, and see more things he does.
Ellis also writes a regular column for SFX magazine and various other organisations. The man is very busy.
Go out and read something by Ellis and discover someone in this poll-driven world who is not afraid to speak his mind.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fantasy Gem

Unfortunately earlier this year the great fantasy author David Gemmell passed away. Gemmell is famous for creating Druss the Legend, and creating a hero who was past his prime. Gemmell always managed to invest his stories with a sense of gravity, and even when the heroes win they do so at a cost. People die and no one escapes one of his stories unscathed.
Gemmell passed away having published two volumes of his retelling the story of Troy. I'm not sure I want the last volume published unless Gemmell had already written it. I'm keeping my finger's crossed and hopefully Gemmell did finish it.
So do yourself a favour and read some of the amazing and touching stories composed by this great author. Hopefully you will keep coming back for more.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Music to my Eyes

As I sit listening to a Neil Young CD I feel compelled to write about some of the books written about my two favourite musicians.
First off I will look at Shakey by Jim McDonough about Neil Young. This book describes itself as the definitive work on Young. McDonough was given unprecedented access to Young and was given a number of interviews with Young and those close to him. Just before the book was published Young tried to have it stopped but failed and McDonough's work saw the light of day. Well written and interesting Shakey has a lot to say about Young, and not all of it is complimentary. I found that I had a better understanding of this complex singer/songwriter than I did before. This book is a must for fans of Young.
The other book I want to look at is Chronicles by Bob Dylan. It was big news that Dylan was going to sit down, and in his own words write about his life. But as always anything Dylan says about himself has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Dylan is famous for reinventing his past to suit his present and this gives his autobiography an air of unreality, as it is never clear what is real and what is Dylan playing games with his audience. Chronicles is still an entertaining read that lets you see some of the amazing things Dylan has done and seen, and what it means to be the voice of a generation.
For fans of Young and Dylan these two books are well worth the time to read.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No one suspects the Spanish Inquisition!

I have recently been reading Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by James Reston Jr and enjoying it immensely. Reston tells the story of the late 1400s in Spain and how crucial this period was in so many ways.
While the Spanish empire was expanding around the world, internally it was turning on itself as the Inquisition increased its persecution of heretics and Jews. Reston has a very readable style and is not afraid to use comedy at times as he talks about how a very cosmopolitan empire could become so inward looking.
An interesting book that people should look out for and read about this important time in the history of Europe.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Once upon a time ...

I saw Shrek the Third yesterday and must say I was disappointed by its lack of inventiveness and plot. The first two movies were quite good, but the team seems to be running out of ideas.
This leads me to the point of this post, funny fairy stories. The best comedy book based on fairy stories would have to be The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
Famously made into a very funny and successful movie, Goldman's book takes a lot of the tropes of fairy tales and weaves them into a story all his own. With memorable characters and jokes Goldman's book is fun to read, or read aloud, it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
So instead of going to see a film that is only funny in places, borrow The Princess Bride and enjoy a really funny book. Trust me you will not be disappointed.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Political Life

I am fascinated by American politics as it is so different to the way things work in Australia. Due to this fascination I have always enjoyed reading political biographies and autobiographies and I want to talk about two examples that I have enjoyed reading.
The first is Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life, which is a long and detailed look at the life of one of the great President's of the 20th Century. Clinton is engaging and very readable which is important in a book of this length. (957 p.) It is good to see a politician talking about their thinking for undertaking certain courses of action. Sure it contains its fair share of blame shifting and rewriting of history, but so does any biography or autobiography.
The other book I wanted to mention is more of a series by Robert A Caro. Caro is writing a definitive history of LBJ and so far in three large volumes has managed to tell the story up until LBJ is made president. This series is a insightful and detailed look at one of the tragic figures in American politics. The rise of a hugely successful Senator to the fall of a President caught in a war that was not his to begin with.
Reading these books are a serious investment in time but if you do you will not be disappointed, and will come away with a different understanding of the American political process.

Dream with Me

I can not urge people enough to read the work of Neil Gaiman. Famous for his long running comic series The Sandman, now equally famous for his novels, Gaiman is one of the best writers going around.
The Sandman concerns Dream also known as Morpheus, one of the seven Endless. The endless are comprised of Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction, and Dream.
Gaiman has stated that the series is about the Lord of Dreams learning that one must change or die and then making a decision. There is not enough space to discuss this amazing series and its impact but it is enough to say that it changed the face of graphic storytelling, and cemented Gaiman as one of the leading lights of the comic world.
Gaiman's fiction is also inventive and bears the mark of someone who is full of ideas just waiting to burst out. American Gods, Neverwhere and Anansi Boys all show this trademark and are well worth reading.
Do yourself a favour and read some of Gaiman's work, especially The Sandman, and discover the work of a genre changing writer.

A Chip of the Old Block

It's fun to read new authors, and one who I recently discovered is Joe Hill. Hill has written short fiction in the past but it is his first novel Heart-Shaped Box that has brought him to people's attention.
If you turn to the back of the book you will notice the author photo, and yes Hill looks like a lot like his father. Hill's full name is Joe Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King. Don't let this put you of though, as Hill has his own style and writes in a very engaging manner.
Heart-Shaped Box is about a rock star who buys a ghost, and what happens to said rock star after this event.
This book is a great read and will keep you entertained until the end, all the while with a mounting feeling of dread.
Hill has stated that when he wrote short-stories he snail mailed them to his agent and publisher so the question of his parentage never arose. Now though he has to do book signings and promotional stuff and it became quite obvious that he looked like a young Stephen King. This usually leads people to ask what part of the book did King write, and the answer is none of it. Hill wrote this book at about the same time King wrote Cell and they swapped drafts but neither one wrote sections for the other.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's Clobberin' Time

The world of Marvel superheroes has been rocked lately by a series of events that have a mirror in the real world. The issue that has provoked the most interest is whether superheroes need to register with the US government. Supporters of this course of action were led by Iron Man and found themselves squared off against opponents of registration led by Captain America.
Increased security versus the freedom to act independently. These themes are being played out as we speak around the world as governments struggle to make their citizens feel safe in a uncertain world.
In the world of Marvel Iron Man and his followers have succeeded in defeating Captain America and now heroes need to register if the want to legally use their abilities. This has led to the interesting situation where supervillians who have registered with the government are forming teams to do government work. The ends justify the means. Many superheroes are uncomfortable with this and are on the run trying to form a resistance. This has become more pressing now that Captain America has been killed.
These story lines will have plenty of ramifications for the world of Marvel and will play out for years to come, and show the level of sophistication that comics can encompass. Just because the comics deal with superheroes, does not mean the stories are simplistic.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Sharp End

I have found myself re-reading the Sharpe series of novels, and remembering how much I enjoy them. I have always been interested in the Napoleonic period of history, and these books wonderfully evoke that period.
As we follow Richard Sharpe through the ranks of the British Army with his faithful companion Sergeant Patrick Harper we get to visit many of the battlefields of Spain and Western Europe.
This series is a great way to travel back in time a enjoy an interesting period in European history. Trust me you will be able to smell the gunpowder and hear the screams of the men fighting for their lives.
In fact I think I'll take a trip back in time myself.

Friday, June 8, 2007

LA Noir

I love noir fiction, there's something about the setting that is very evocative. This explains why I like reading Raymond Chandler, but I also like modern versions of this genre and Michael Connelly is a great example of this. A former Pulitzer Prize winning crime journalist Connelly turned to fiction and created one of the most memorable characters in Detective Hieronymus Bosch.
If you are familiar with the paintings of Dutch painter Bosch, Harry's namesake, you will realise that Bosch's visions of heaven and hell perfectly suit a noir novel set in modern day LA. Bosch the character has an intensity that would suit the painter, and Connelly's stories are always tightly paced and interesting.
Curl up on a winter's night and enjoy the ride that Connelly is sure to send you on.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

What The ...

I just picked up what must be the most interestingly laid out book I have ever seen. I will attempt to describe it but words may fail me.
The book in question is Only Revolutions. The Democracy of Two Set Out and Chronologically Arranged by Mark Z. Danielewski. The story is about Hillary and Sam two teenagers who claim to have been around forever, and who are always sixteen. So far so good, now comes the interesting parts.
The book begins with Sam's story, or you can turn the book upside down and go to the back and begin Hillary's story. Each page is split in two between Sam and Hillary. Sam's story begins in 1863 and Hillary's begins where Sam's ends in 1963 and finishes in 2063.
All the letter o's in Sam's story are printed green, and all Hillary's are printed gold. This helps the reader remember who they are reading about.
The publishers recommend that readers read eight pages of one story and then eight pages of the other, and continue like this until they finish the book.
The writing is a series of short sentences that attempt to approximate spoken word and thought balloons. Any more than this is too hard to describe. One to look out for, just don't expect an easy read.


As you have no doubt noticed I have a link to a page called LibraryThing in the top left hand corner of my page. I suppose it is about time I told everyone about this wonderful site.
LibraryThing allows people to catalogue the books they own, or are reading or like. It's free to use and has some wonderful features. When you have entered your books, LIbraryThing will then show you the other members who have any of the same books you have. You can then look at their catalogues and this is a great way of finding new reading ideas.
You can write reviews for your books and/or rate them out of five.
So have a look at the site play around, visit the zeitgeist page or search for my catalogue. You can find it by searching for petegs. It is a list of some of the books I'm reading, or have read recently and some of my favourites.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Don't Talk About Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk is a great author who is very well known for having penned Fight Club. But let me tell you his other novels are just as good. Palahniuk is good at creating interesting characters who are never quite what they seem. It is well worth seeking him out and reading some of his fiction. Of course the novel Fight Club is better than the film, though the film is very good.
I can easily say that the following novels are well worth reading; Invisible Monsters, Choke, Fight Club and Lullaby.
Instead of reading this blog go out and read Palahniuk, and have your mind blown. It's worth it!

Monday, June 4, 2007

In a Galaxy Far Far Away...

The Star Wars Universe has been given new life in the myriad novels that have been published. Set during the films, before the films and after the films a lot of has happened to the familiar cast of characters since Return of the Jedi finished the movie saga.
Controversy has been courted by these books when they killed Chewbacca, and Leia and Han's youngest son Anakin. Luke married a Sith assassin who was trying to kill him, and various members of the Solo family have turned to the dark side and come back.
But any fan of the movies will enjoy the books. It is good that Lucas is happy to allow the universe he created to grow and evolve. This is not to say that he hasn't got a firm hand guiding the ship, but with publishing these novels the adventures continue and it is fun to revisit a group of characters who feel like old friends.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Personal Favourite

My all time favourite book is Dune by Frank Herbert. I suppose this says a lot about what I like to read, but don't judge me just yet. I have a university degree in English Literature yet here I am advocating a science fiction novel. All I can ask is that you hear me out.
So what is it I enjoy about Dune? I marvel at the setting, and the universe that Herbert has constructed. The planet spanning civilisation, that at its heart is just as nasty as our own world. Hobbes would be proud of the picture that Herbert describes with life being nasty, brutish and short.
I also love the political machinations described in the novel, everyone has their own best interests at heart, and is not afraid to use or crush others to get what they want.
I enjoy the characters and how they interact with each other. The dialogue and motives are believable if you accept that the universe Herbert has described actually exists.
But most of all I enjoy the pace and flow of the story. Herbert's writing has a spark that is difficult to describe but is very effective. The recent prologues written by Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert are good but still lack something that only Frank Herbert's writing could convey.
So in the end I urge people to dip their toe into this wonderful book, and if they do they may find that they want to dive straight in.