Saga, Vol. 1

By Brian K. Vaughan

Rating: 5 stars

Two soldiers from a galaxy-spanning war meet, fall in love and have a child. This is their story, and that of the child as they struggle to survive, being hunted by all sides for just trying to live.

The story in this graphic novel doesn’t hang around. It grabs you hard right from the opening panels. You sort of fall in love with these two people, and their obvious love for each other. The fact that one of them has wings and is from a technological civilisation, while the other has ram’s horns and can do magic is neither here nor there.

The backstory is intriguing, some of the secondary characters grotesque and intriguing (what’s with the Robot kingdom, for a start?) and I really like Izabel, the ghost child. The main plot is also really interesting and certainly makes me want to read more. Great cliffhanger too.

Book details

ISBN: 9781607066019
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2012

Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 stars

Book four of Peter Grant’s ongoing adventures see him, fellow PC (and apprentice) Lesley May and their guv’nor Nightingale try and put together clues linking an apparent suicide of a town planner, the crowning glory of a somewhat mad German architect, a stolen grimoire and a rather grisly murder. Somewhere in there he has to provide protection for a spring celebration given by the God and Goddess of the Thames, try and figure out his feelings for Beverly Brook and continue his work in bringing science to the craft of magic.

Phew, that’s a lot to fit in to a book that’s just over 350 pages long, but it does it admirably. I don’t often sit and read books cover to cover in a single afternoon these days, but I did it for this one. The prose is light and easy to read, the characters likeable and PC Grant is still the everyman science geek who wants to know the ‘why’ of magic as much as the ‘how’. Throwing in pop culture references like hand grenades, making the book fizzle with energy.

It’s nice to see the gods and goddesses of the river make an appearance again in this book, although they’re mostly an extended cameo (although I suspect that the scenes with Beverly Brook are setting more up for the future). We learn a little more about the magical background of the world in this volume as well, including the fact that there are possibly equivalents to the Folly in other countries. The Faceless Man makes another appearance, retaining all his charm and menace. He remains a formidable opponent, one you you get the feeling may actually be a match for Nightingale.

The edition I read also had a short story set in the world of the Folly at the end called ‘The Cockpit’. This must take place sometime before the events of the main book and sees Peter and Lesley staking out a bookshop where weird things have been happening. Fairly slight but fun.

Roll on the next book!

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2013

Conan the Barbarian

By Robert E. Howard

Rating: 3 stars

I picked up this ‘primer’ collection of Conan stories for free at the 2014 Eastercon mostly because I’ve never read any Howard before and felt that it was a missing part of genre education.

The stories are a mixed bunch of shorts, novelettes and novellas, along with a poem and a background article on the Hyborian age (the mythical age of the world in which the stories are set). Due to the archetypical nature of Conan and his world, the stories actually felt quite familiar, given everything that has come afterwards. They’re fun enough to read, if you don’t mind the purple prose but the treatment of women and the casual racism do raise a sour note.

These are pretty much to be expected in the context of the time, and at least some of the women get to be pretty hard as well (the two I’m thinking of are both pirates, now that I come to think about it), although the gratuitous, lingering descriptions of their bodies and their general purpose as ‘damsels in distress’ or something for our hero to lust over feels a bit icky.

Still, as I say, they’re fun stories and pretty foundational to the sword’n’sorcery genre. I sort of wish I’d encountered and read them when I was younger. They’re made for teenage boys.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575113497
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 1934

London Falling (Shadow Police, #1)

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 stars

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete an undercover operation that’s been running for several years when his chief suspect, Rob Toshack, is killed whilst in custody. His Superintendent then puts him in charge of a small team consisting of an intelligence analyst and two undercover detectives to try and find out what happened. As they do so, they find their eyes opened to a strange sideways London that sits alongside the one they knew. The team must work out their own differences, use their new Sight to solve Toshack’s murder and nick the Witch of West Ham.

This book took a bit of time to get going. It wasn’t really until Toshack’s murder in custody and the events that follow that it really gets into gear. I liked Quill and the driven intelligence analyst Lisa Ross. The two other protagonists were more ‘complex’. DS Costain is possibly a bit bent, and is convinced he’s going to hell, and trying to make up for it, while DC Sefton is trying his best to understand the Sight, live up to expectations of a gay, black man in the Met and live down his childhood issues.

Superficially, this book is similar to Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Peter Grant’ novels, but while those are easy to read and quite light, this is dark. The magic in Cornell’s world is driven by sacrifice, which can only make for a fairly dark novel. I found that grimness a little much, if I’m honest. This is probably a 3.5 star book for me, but I’ll round up because the metastory of what’s going on with the Sight and how Quill and his team ended up Sighted is an intriguing one. The feel of the story was quite one-sided though, as there is lots of play from the powers of evil, but only our small team, stumbling about in the dark trying to put things right (although this does lead to quite a funny scene where they get a priest, a rabbi and an imam to try and bless several objects in the hope that it might prove effective against their opponents). It’s the intriguing hint of back story towards the end regarding this that has piqued my interest.

I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel, but it does make me want to read Broken Homes (the latest Peter Grant novel) for something similar but (hopefully) with less pain and death.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330528092
Publisher: Tor
Year of publication: 2012


By Stephen Baxter

Rating: 4 stars

I really rather enjoyed this novella, set in a future where Humanity has colonised nearby star systems and formed an empire under which the colonies are now chaffing. The novella tells the story of the first interstellar war, not just over imperial might, but something that the Empress has that could threaten the whole of Humanity.

Although I don’t always get on that well with Baxter’s work, he can definitely tell a good story, and this slower-than-light interstellar war is a great example. There’s a lot of hard science in amongst the wormholes and quasi-sentient viruses and it’s a lot of fun to read.

I get the impression that this is set in a wider universe (certainly the Xeelee were mentioned in passing) and would possibly like to read more of it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781906301590
Publisher: PS Publishing
Year of publication: 2009

The Ritual of Illusion

By Richard Christian Matheson

Rating: 3 stars

This novella has an unusual format, being in the form of fragmented interviews about a film star who has recently disappeared in mysterious circumstances, following a brief, but stellar career.

The story certainly makes the reader work to tease out the truth behind the disappearance (and presumed death) of Sephanie Vamore, as you try and untangle the distorted and sometimes contradictory evidence provided by Hollywood people, all with their own axe to grind. And how does Vamore’s life tie in to a mysterious book from Jewish legend?

Frankly, I still don’t have much in the way of answers to these questions. I enjoyed the book more than I was expecting, but a combination of a warm day, drowsiness and a headache means that I probably didn’t put in the effort required to get maximum benefit from this short book. Still, it’s short enough that it’d be quick enough to read again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848633193
Publisher: PS Publishing
Year of publication: 2013


By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

Gaby McAslan is a journalist, with special interest in the ‘Chaga’, an alien ecosystem spreading in the heart of Africa, amongst other places, after meteorites crash on Earth, following an earlier event in the Saturn system. Whilst being a hard-nosed journalist, she is irresistibly drawn to the Chaga (named for the first tribe in Kenya displaced by the spread).

I’m not really sure how to describe this book further. The first half of the book is very much about Africa, and Kenya in particular. Gaby finally gets posted to East Africa and the book is about her relationships there. The Chaga is a background, but Africa itself is very much to the fore. McDonald has form in this, with books such as River of Gods and The Dervish House being set in India and Turkey respectively, and where the setting is as much a character as any of the humans. Even when a man walks out of the Chaga (a feat believed to be impossible) with a message, it never really comes to the fore.

It’s only when Gaby finally makes a trek into the Chaga, does it finally come alive and we start to gain a feel for it, although one of the issues that I had with the book, is that that feeling seems vague, and you never really get much sense of what sort of potential threat that it could be, apart from the very human one of it expanding across Africa, and the UN attempting to evacuate people, towns, cities and eventually whole countries. The Chaga is eventually described as a sort of melting pot for evolution, with it changing the populations, but also learning from them and adapting itself to meet their needs.

The book very much felt like one of two halves, with the first being about Africa and the second more about the Chaga, and I’m not really sure how well the two meshed. After making a big fuss about the disappearance and re-emergence of the moon Hyperion as an object coming into Earth orbit, that sort of trails off. I’m not sure if it’s being left for the sequel, or if it just fizzled out, but I found the end quite unsatisfactory.

However, the descriptions of Kenya and its people and land were marvellous, and one of the major reasons that I read McDonald.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575060524
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1995

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