Wednesday, July 30, 2008

He's back

Sebastian Faulks does not spring to mind as the perfect author for a new James Bond novel but Devil May Care is a cracking read.

Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) takes up the story of Bond in the sixties and this is a tired Bond. Time is catching up with him and he is starting to question his place in the scheme of things. But once the bad guys start to threaten Bond is more than up to the task of dealing with them. A plot involving heroin, the USSR, the Middle East and a treacherous doctor enables Bond to travel to various hot-spots and do what he does best.

If you like this sort of thing then you will enjoy this fun read.

A life in music

There are certain books that just grab you from the beginning, and then commence punching you in the gut. Last night I picked up Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett and could not put it down until I had finished it. Everett, lead singer and musician in The Eels, has had a life touched with tragedy and sorrow, and yet throughout the book as Everett writes about his life there is a feeling that he has come to terms with what has happened and is moving on.
To say Everett's life has been touched with tragedy is an understatement. At 19 Everett discovered the body of his father who had died of a heart attack, 14 years later his sister committed suicide and finally his mother died from lung cancer a few years later. Then in 2001 his cousin was a flight attendant on the plane that flew into the Pentagon and was killed.

These events inform who Everett is, and this memoir is amazingly written with honesty, and an almost visible desire to be up front with his readers. Everett writes about his struggles to be recorded and the single minded drive that kept him trying, and not being afraid to do his own thing. The chapter where Everett talks about his mother dieing in his arms is simply moving and stops you in your tracks.

As the blurb states 'Inside the crazy, tragic and beautiful world of a man on a mission.' Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let the games begin

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist by Kazuki Takahashi has been taking up my reading time lately. Telling the story of Yugi who has solved the Millenium Puzzle and become Yu-Gi-Oh the King of Games.
The stories revolve around the Collectible Card Game (CCG) of the same name, which involves two duelists summoning monsters as they battle each other.

In this series of stories their is a big tournament that Yugi takes part in, and we follow him through various trials and tribulations as he fights many duels to try and win.

A basic understanding of CCGs can be an asset when reading these stories, but the story does explain the rules and tactics so newcomers can follow as well.

Probably not one for everyone but for those who enjoy CCGs it is a lot of fun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

By any other name ...

Iain M Banks writes great Science Fiction, but he also gives the space ships in his novels amazing names. I thought I would share some of these with you, all of the following are names of warships and one is the name of a pirate ship. See if you can guess which one it is.

  • Honest Mistake

  • Grey Area

  • Fate Amenable to Change

  • Ethics Gradient

  • Xenophobe

  • What Are The Civilian Applications?

  • The Very Little Gravitas Indeed

  • Clean Air Turbulence

  • Wisdom Like Silence

  • Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival

  • Tactical Grace

  • Steely Glint

  • Serious Callers Only

Each name gives the ship a character all of its own. By the way, Clean Air Turbulence is the pirate ship.

What were they thinking?

Sturgeon's Law is a very handy reminder when thinking about genre fiction, and can be applied to graphic novels, as well as most things in life.
Science Fiction author Theodore Sturgeon was sick of defending his chosen art form from people who stated that 90% of Science Fiction was crap. Sturgeon replied that 90% of everything is crap.

Unfortunately reading The Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2 reminded me of this. Despite the best efforts of the creators this volume clearly falls into the 90% of crap. The idea behind the comics was that two Marvel heroes would join together and fight crime for an issue or two. Usually one of the characters was Spider-man as he was probably the most bankable hero Marvel had at this time. Spidey sold comics.

Sounds like a good idea, and it could be, but sadly this isn't it. Even the talents of Len Wein and Sal Buscema can't save it.

Heroes meet, heroes fight, heroes realise they are on the same side, heroes talk, heroes chase after bad guys. On an on in a mind numbing circle, issue after issue. I feel sorry for Wein and Buscema both hugely talented being forced to produce this crap.

One to avoid.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Glory of Rome

If you like historical fiction and enjoy reading about the Roman Empire then I have the series for you. Simon Scarrow's Eagle series is currently eight books long and deals with the Roman Empire from about 42AD.
The two main characters are Quintus Licinius Cato and Lucius Cornelius Marco. Marco is a centurion who has been a member of the Roman Army for years and is good at his job, killing people. He is illiterate, follows orders and is dependable, Cato on the other hand is a freed slave, who likes literature, is physically weak, and a fish out of water. Due to political reasons Cato is made Optio and is therefore Marco's second in command. No one treats him with any respect and they resent his quick rise to officer ranks when he hasn't proven himself capable of anything.

The series follows their adventures through Britain and into Judea as Marco and Cato fight with the Legions and get involved in political struggles within the Empire.

There is no danger of accusing Scarrow of originality in these novels, but they fly along at a cracking pace and don't let the reader down for a second. Scarrow's research and love for this period shine through, and help to make the series so easy to read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Future World

Hiromoto-Sin-Ichi's manga Stone is a story that flies by at a million miles an hour.
After the world surface water has become thin quicksand people live on small islands in this sand sea, or sakai. These pockets of humanity try to survive by hunting Leviathans (mutated whales), while avoiding Devourers (mutated sharks).

Leviathans are now the dominant species on the planet and viciously attack humans if able.

Some of the fun of this manga and recognising things from science fiction movies and shows appearing in the background, as the author has admitted that this is a tribute to the world of science fiction.

Good for a distraction, reading this won't take long.

The legacy continues

The final book in the Star Wars Legacy of the Force series has come out and I must say I have enjoyed them all.
The last book is by Troy Denning and called Invincible. Jaina, now fully trained by Boba Fett is hunting down her brother Jacen, or Darth Caedus as he prefers to be known. The Galaxy is split in a massive civil war, and Luke has decided to unleash the Jedi on Darth Caedus and kill him for his crimes.

Darth Caedus though is probably the most powerful Sith Lord that has ever existed so Jaina's job will not be easy.

Overall the series has been good, though I must admit that I have enjoyed the books by Denning more than the other two authors. I'm not sure if this is because Denning got to explore all the interesting stuff or not, maybe his writing suits Star Wars better.

As I've said before enjoyable, but be warned this is a nine book series.

Not the Cincinnati you know (if you know Cincinnati)

Kim Harrison's series of novels featuring Rachel Morgan are lots of fun. Sure they can be cliched, and a little light on in the plot department, but there is still lots to enjoy.
According to the back story of this series 40 years ago a genetically engineered virus was released which kills half of the worlds population and exposes to the world the creatures that had been living in the shadows alongside humanity, vampires, werewolves, witches, demons etc.

Our hero Rachel Morgan is a witch who works for an agency who hunt down this night creatures when they break the law.
Morgan hates this job and sets out to make her own way by running her own business as a freelancer, using her skills to make a living, and staying alive as various supernatural nasties chase after her.

This is really chick lit with monsters, but Harrison has a light touch that makes it work, and fun to read. Sure sassy females using their wits and a little luck to survive are not uncommon in fiction, but Morgan is a good addition to their ranks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Undying Swordsman

Hiroaki Samura has written and drawn one of the great graphic novels. Blade of the Immortal tells the story of the immortal samurai Manji and his quest to kill one thousand bad men. Set in Edo-era Japan this series has won many prestigious awards and is full of amazing artwork and a very engaging storyline.
I lost myself for hours reading this multi volume series, and recommend that fans of graphic novels do themselves a favour and read this. Blade of the Immortal also shows that not all manga is perky teenagers with spiky hair and weird powers.

In the army

Death's Head by David Gunn is a fun, adventure filled, brain-in-neutral kind of book. There is always an action scene around the next page, and the hero is the hard-as-nails bastard you expect in a science fiction military novel.
Sven, our hero, is so tough that he survives being whipped as punishment, and witnesses the slaughter of the garrison he is stationed at. After being held captive by aliens he is rescued by the galaxy's elite special ops force the Death's Head. He joins them and is sent on a special mission.

Don't stop reading if you've read all this before in a million other books. I never said it was original. What it is is a fun read, that won't make you think too hard, and sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Death Star

I should declare this month Star Wars month as I find myself reading and reviewing another Star Wars book.
Anyway, this book by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry is about the construction and manning of the Death Star. As you can guess by the title, Death Star, the super space station is the main character. We are given glimpses into the lives of other people involved in the Death Star like pilots who fly TIEs to protect the construction, slaves who are doing the actual building, Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin the brains behind it.
The story itself is fine, but there are still some problems. Darth Vader seems to do nothing but loom menacingly in the background, while Tarkin schemes manically. You expect him to start rubbing his hands together while cackling. If only the authors had fleshed out these two main characters more, yes they are well known due to the films they appear in, but there is no attempt to take them any further than what we are used to.
An OK read, but even fans who miss it will not be any worse off.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Star Wars Infinities

Star Wars Infinities are a series of graphic novels based on each of the original films. In each book an event from the film is changed and the graphic novels deal with how this would have changed the outcome of the story.
For example in A New Hope Luke's torpedoes only cripple the Death Star and don't destroy it, in The Empire Strikes Back Luke dies of exposure before Han can save him, and in The Return of the Jedi Leia's attempt to rescue Han goes wrong.

These little twists allow the writers to explore different aspects of the Star Wars story and universe. They are by no means canon, but they are fun thought exercises that allow the writers to let their hair down.

Fans of Star Wars will enjoy these graphic novels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Political Humour

I think this wonderful Mad poster speaks for itself.

Master and Apprentice

Darth Bane: The Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn charts how the great Sith Lord Darth Bane creates the Rule of Two to save the Sith. Bane despairs and the Sith and the way they were developing, as he tells his apprentice;
'Several apprentices would band together to take down a powerful Master, hoping to elevate their own position among the Sith. Then they would turn on one another, making and breaking alliances until only one remained - a new Master, but one weaker than the original. This survivor would then be taken down by another band of lesser Sith, further weakening our Order.'

No more, Bane institutes the Rule of Two. There will only be a Master and an Apprentice, one to embody the power the other to crave it.

As a Star Wars fan I have always found the Sith to be more interesting, and Karpyshyn makes Bane an interesting character who has a clearly defined morality, and reasoning, for becoming a Sith and walking down the path he has taken.

This book is for Star Wars fans, and I enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Poor Bloody Infantry

Glen Cook's Black Company series tells of life in the Black Company Mercenaries. A once great company, they have fallen on hard times and are now working as glorified bodyguards. The series is narrated by Croaker the Company's medic and archivist.
Other characters include the Company magicians/sorcerers One-Eye and Tom-Tom, and the many other individuals who make up this rag-tag group of mercenaries. Cook has a fun ear for dialogue, as his characters never take each other too seriously.
These books are a fun read about a group of losers who make good despite themselves, and somehow come out on top.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Hellsing by Kohta Hirano is a great manga that doesn't take itself to seriously. The English government has a secret organisation, the Hellsing Organisation, that protects them from supernatural threats.
As the blurb states this manga 'jumps the fence of normalcy and runs of laughing into the dark.'
The main character is a hugely powerful vampire, Alucard, who does the bidding of the Hellsing Organisation and his side kick Seras Victoria.
Starring vampires, Nazis, ghouls, werewolves, the secret Vatican group called The Iscariot Organisation and lots and lots of over the top action this is a lot of fun.
(And yes Alucard is Dracula spelt backwards.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Don't make him angry

I've just finished reading House of M: Incredible Hulk, I won't go into the complex backstory but will say that Bruce Banner has found peace of mind with an Aboriginal tribe but after the tribe is attacked the Hulk starts smashing and ends up leader of Australia.

Peter David knows the Hulk and his writing is usually good, and it is here as well with some brief psychological discussions of what the Hulk represents to Bruce.
Funniest moment is when Bruce starts using Aussie slang and says to a policeman who is threatening him, "I'll end up spewin', and you wouldn't like me when I'm spewin'."
Not a bad read, though the whole House of M shermozzle is a waste of good paper.