Category Archives: book reviews

Postings and podcasts elsewhere

borrowedmanI’ve been remiss with the blog lately, but busy(ish) elsewhere. So I thought I might share some of the stuff I’ve been doing with, and for, other people.

First, a couple of things for Adventures in Scifi Publishing. Most recently I reviewed Gene Wolfe’s latest novel, A Borrowed Man. I had mixed feelings about it, but I was also intrigued by the novel and it has seriously made me consider a re-read at some stage, which is not something I do much of as a ruifthen-144dpile. I suppose that tells you something about the book.

Second, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Matthew de Abaitua following my review of his amazing novel, If Then. It was my first time as a solo podcaster for AISFP, and Matthew was an absolutely fascinating guest. I hope you will consider taking time to check out the interview and/or read my review of his novel…and indeed, rushing out to buy If Then.

Finally, my review of the best anthology I’ve read in ages, The Monstrous, edited by Ellen Datlow. If you’re not scared already…you will be.

monstrous

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The Mechanikals – a major review

The Mechanikals coverI was truly thrilled by this great review of my YA novel, The Mechanikals on Amazing Stories. I used to read the paperback version of Amazing Stories as a teenager, jumped at the chance to blog for the new version, which is a website. 

Now, don’t misunderstand, the bossman, Steve Davidson would be opposed to any form of sycophancy. The deal was the reader could read and decide not to read if whoever it was didn’t enjoy the first few pages.

The review duly appeared and I was, as some standup comedian once said, incandescent.

The Mechanikals on Kindle – some customer reviews

The Mechanikals coverMy YA steampunk superheroes novel, The Mechanikals, came out recently for Kindle. Some excellent customer reviews have come in so far, so thanks to those who’ve taken the time to give feedback. Incidentally, some readers picked up errors, but these have now been fixed.

4/5 stars from Ms. J.M. Pryke: “An excellent book, enjoyable, fast moving, very vivid situation. Well-developed characters who are caught up in a kind of parallel universe. The hero goes through a great turmoil of emotions linked to his experiences. I’d recommend anyone to read it. I only gave it 4 stars as it was an unusual genre for me to read but for science fiction readers …Go for it!”

5/5 stars from Andy Kitchener: “Very clever and enjoyable read, loved the approach, reminded me of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and reading H.G. Wells, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books I loved from the past. Great read thanks.”

5/5 stars from Capot: “This is basically a story of good vs evil and the discovery by a poor orphan boy of his special powers and those of his friends. There is a good twist in the plot towards the end of the book that most will not see coming. The plot and characters were well thought out and the ending would seem to lead to a follow on book. I’d recommend this book to readers of all ages.”

Free review copies are available on request – just use the comment box below.

News of the week

Books and Blogs

Some news for the week, a couple of things about what I’ve been up to and some noteworthy stuff from others.

First, my latest blog on Amazing Stories is called Cyberpunk’d and is up now.

Second, my YA steampunk superhero novel, The Mechanikals, is being released episodically , for free, over at Wattpad. I plan to put all the chapters in as fast as I can, time permitting. I hope you’d consider giving it a read, leaving comments or voting.

Podcasts of Note

Writing Excuses is an excellent podcast show  for aspiring authors. It’s presented in useful, bite-sized chunks of around 15 minutes an episode. The show hosts  leading lights in science fiction, fantasy and horror in  both  narrative and comic book format, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler  and Dan Wells.

Tales to Terrify – the horror podcast on which I have had stories and for whom I have narrated work by others a couple of times – has been named 2013 Podcast of the Year by This Is Horror. Very well done, chaps and chapesses!

Crux jacketNeuromancer jacketBook jacket for The Mechanikals

Science fiction and fantasy blogs

Art of the Big O cover

My own blog has fallen by the wayside for the moment, it seems. In my defence, I am hard at work writing my new novel, teaching and doing blogs for other people. I thought it would be useful, therefore, to give you links to some of the work I’ve been doing for Adventures in SciFi Publishing and Amazing Stories Magazine. I was especially pleased that my post, Clinging to the Wreckage: How to Save Science Fiction, got more feedback than any in the podcast and website’s history.

Here are some recent postings, which I hope you will find interesting:

Book reviews

Johnny Alucard coverThis River Awakens by Steven Erikson. The master fantasist’s first novel, which is not fantasy at all.

Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman. A very smart vampire tale.

Articles

The Art of the Big ‘O‘. Yeah, yeah, I know what it sounds like, but it’s actually an art book.

Clinging to the Wreckage: How to Save Science Fiction Pitch in to the debate – let’s see if we can’t get the feedback up to 100.

A Sentimental (Science Fiction) Education Flaubert would be proud – not!

My First Amazing Stories Blog

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately, principally because I’ve been so busy with other matters – a new gig teaching creative writing, writing my latest novel, and blogging and book reviewing. In all of this I forgot to mention that I am now blogging for Amazing Stories. Which brings out my inner geek. I was a fan of the magazine as a teenager, alongside Analog, Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction. So, my first blog posting is, understandably, all about how my love for science fiction developed. I hope you will check it out, comment on the magazine’s page, and maybe give Amazing Stories your support – register with the site, and think about subscribing!

 

My Adventures in Scifi Publishing

51fynhI8-BL._SL220_Not really…this is simply to announce that I am delighted to have been chosen to be a book reviewer for one of my favourite podcast’s website, Adventures in Scifi Publishing. Shortly I will be reviewing some forthcoming titles from Tor, but for now, here’s my first review, of Connie Willis’s wonderful Blackout/All Clear.   Hope you will support the podcast, and the site. Please consider leaving comments on the various articles on the website, too.

Review: “The Man on the Ceiling” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

Cover artGenre fiction, fantasy and horror in particular, is often hidebound and stifled by its own conventions. We seem to want the more obvious monsters and demons, in as colourful and thrilling ways we can meet them. Yet, in the end, the most popular forms are the literature and media of reassurance: we need the baddies to die in the end. But life isn’t like that, which Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem’s brilliant book, The Man on the Ceiling so ably demonstrates.

I use the term “fiction” loosely, however, since this work is not fiction, but rather an imaginative joint autobiography with fictional elements – and everything told within its pages, as the authors state repeatedly, is true. It started life as a chapbook, and I first read it in its short form in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, so was delighted to discover that it had become a full length book.

So what’s it about? Interesting question. On the surface it’s about Steve and Melanie (writers both of genre fiction and highly respected as such) and their family of five adopted children. It’s about their journey through life, the joys, and griefs, the ordinariness and the strangeness of it all. It’s about how story makes us who we are. How we make stories to try to understand and cope with the challenges of living day to day. And it’s about the man on the ceiling, the real shadow presence in their family’s life: demon and angel both; and neither one of those things. It’s also about how, sometimes, story and words, are simply not enough: Steve overwhelmed by the death of one of their children, retreating to his attic room or driving without paying attention; Melanie trying to keep everything together, for the sake of the other children, and her husband as much as anything. It’s about how they try to make new stories after the appalling catastrophe.

By the time I’d reached the third chapter I had wept several times. It’s not often a book can make me cry, and this one did…last time that happened was with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Everything in this book is true. It’s the human condition, and anyone who reads this can empathise or relate to what is within these pages, just as we know (if we’re paying attention) the man on our own ceiling.

The Man on the Ceiling is filled with true terror – enough to make the reader’s mind chill with how real it is. But it also contains humour, drama, joy and sorrow. Most of all it is full of love. The way all great stories are. And, believe me, this is a great story. And it’s all true, of course.

The Man on the Ceiling smashes through the confining walls of genre, with originality, boldness, wit and, as much as anything, superb writing. By any measure a masterpiece and if there was justice it would have won a few mainstream literary prizes. But it didn’t because, in the end, it’s just a horror story – isn’t it?

Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem website: http://www.m-s-tem.com/tems/blog1.php/home

Review: “Isis Unbound” by Allyson Bird

Isis Unbound coverWith a nod to Frankenstein, and Shelley’s poem, Prometheus Unbound, as well as references to pulp adventure stories, Isis Unbound by Allyson Bird is a hugely entertaining and staggeringly original first novel which combines steampunk with dark fantasy and horror. It’s easy to understand why it won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

Set in an alternate 19th century Britain, the tale unfolds in a Manceastre rules by a governor general related to a descendant of Anthony and Cleopatra. A new Cleopatra (a direct descendant of the original) makes an appearance, too – and the image of the queen on her royal barge in the city’s shipping canals is truly memorable.

But the tale really begins with Chief Embalmer Ptolemy Child’s two daughters, Ella and Loli, aged eighteen and ten, who are being instructed in the secrets of the mummification process when the dead begin to rise and roam the streets as zombies. The cause is infighting between the Egyptian Gods, who are busy trying to kill each other and Isis, the goddess who takes the dead to the other world, has been murdered by her sister, Nepythys.

The undead are not, however, your typical brain-eaters of current popular fiction. Instead they are creatures of pathos. We feel deeply sorry for these people, who are neither dead nor alive, yet long to be fully in one state or the other. The true villain of the novel  is the Governor, with his horrific political machinations, tortures and murders. The Gods themselves are not much better, though their motivations are somewhat different from the governor’s, and politics – albeit celestial politics – play a role in their shenanigans, too.

There are no heroes here, but complex and flawed human beings, such as Ella herself, an opium addict, and often rather selfish.

In the fantasy genre in general, I find many novels far longer than they need to be. With this one, it’s the opposite – if anything, Isis Unbound is on the short side. In other words, I wanted more! The reason I say this is that there is so much going on. Isis Unbound is fine example of world-building on a compressed scale. Indeed, had the author written one volume just from Ella’s point of view, another from the point of view of the Gods, and a third from the evil governor’s, it could have worked as a trilogy. Which touches on a small aspect of the novel that did not appeal so much – multiple character points of view in individual chapters, which can be confusing at times. I would rather have a single point of view, if not for the entire novel, at least chapter by chapter. Having said that, plenty of big name writers sometimes do the same thing, so it may just be my personal preference.

The other very minor carp was that I felt the prologue was unnecessary. Prologues are a trope of many fantasy novels, and often read like info-dumps. Personally, I would have rather seen these details folded into the story rather than loaded at the front, although I also question whether the prologue was necessary in the first place. It’s such a fantastic story as it is that being dropped straight into the action would have done the job perfectly well, sans prologue.

Isis Unbound is by turns creepy, startling, and riveting. The mix of steampunk and fantasy and horror is unique, as far as I am aware. A truly wonderful novel, full of adventure and emotional depth, as well as terrific writing. I can’t wait to read what Allyson has in store for us next.

On a side note: I could easily imagine Isis Unbound as an HBO series, given the success of Game of Thrones at the moment.

Allyson Bird’s website is: http://www.birdsnest.me.uk/