Tuesday 10 November 2009

Book Reviews

Nightlight: A Parody of Twilight
The Harvard Lampoon
Constable and Robinson

Available Now - £6.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Belle Goose falls in love with the mysterious and sparkly Edwart Mullen in this send-up of Twilight. Pale and klutzy, Belle arrives in Switchblade, Oregon looking for adventure, or at least an undead classmate. She soon discovers Edwart, a super-hot computer nerd with zero interest in girls. After witnessing a number of strange events Edwart leaves his hash browns untouched at lunch! - he saves her from a flying snowball and Belle has a dramatic revelation: Edwart is a vampire.

But how can she convince Edwart to bite her and transform her into his eternal bride, especially when he seems to find girls so repulsive? Complete with romance, danger, insufficient parental guardianship, creepy stalker-like behaviour, and a vampire prom, Nightlight is the tale of a vampire-obsessed girl, looking for love in all the wrong places.

The Harvard/National Lampoon spoofs of literature are often surprisingly good – Doon and Bored of the Rings, to name two. What seems like a retarded idea actually ends up being genuinely funny, and for the most part Nightlight succeeds. It presents a fairly original take on the parody, and the slapstick humour is some of the funniest I’ve read – and slapstick is pretty hard to do written down.

It is the post-modern intrusion of the Twilight Saga, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart into the story, however, that elevates this otherwise trash parody to genius levels, and several parts are laugh out loud funny.

The main problem lies with this being the proverbial book of two halves. The first half is a tight, fast-moving piss-take – but the second half diverges from its source material a little too far, and whilst still amusing at times, ceases to truly be a parody of Twilight, and is just a funny vampire story.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some vampire on vampire combat, and slapstick horseplay.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: No noticeable occurrences.
Summary: A book of two halves – hilarious to start with, but falls apart at the end. Still, we all know someone we want to buy this for. 7/10

Covet - Volume One: A Novel of the Fallen Angels
J.R. Ward
Piatkus Books

Available Now - £6.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Redemption isn't a word Jim Heron knows much about - his specialty is revenge and, to him, sin is all relative. But everything changes when he becomes a fallen angel and is charged with saving the souls of seven people from the seven deadly sins. And failure is not an option.

Vin Di Pietro long ago gave himself up to his business - until fate intervenes in the form of a tough-talking, Harley-riding, self-professed saviour, and a woman who makes him question his destiny. With an ancient evil ready to claim him, Vin has to work with a fallen angel not only to win his beloved over...but to redeem his very soul.

If Clive Barker was a girl, this would be the kind of stuff she’d write. There’s magic, angels, redemption, romance, violence and a load of explicit sex scenes. It’s a combination that seems borderline retarded written down like that (hey, retarded is what we specialise in, here), but in actuality works pretty damn well. This is partly because not a single one of those elements truly dominates for any length of time. The romance is realistic, as is the violence. The supernatural elements are given just as much focus as the realistic elements. Obviously, this could have resulted in a book without any real sense of identity, but what it has actually achieved is surprisingly well rounded and balanced.

The characters all develop, and the revelations about some of them are most unexpected – especially Heron’s friends – human and canine. The conclusion arrives swiftly without feeling forced, and the whole thing is most satisfying.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scenes of both physical and magical combat, some explosions, and gunplay.
Swearing: A realistic amount.
Sex/Nudity: Frequent and explicit.
Summary: A fun, supernatural, action novel. The romance is constant, but never overwhelming. Recommended. 8/10
It is the week before Christmas. The effects of the credit crunch have prompted Dr Kay Scarpetta to offer her services pro bono to New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But in no time at all, her increased visibility seems to precipitate a string of dramatic and unsettling events. She is asked live on the air about the sensational case of Hannah Starr, who has vanished and is presumed dead. Moments later during the same broadcast, she receives a startling call-in from a former psychiatric patient of Benton Wesley's.

When she returns after the show to the apartment where she and Benton live, she finds a suspicious package waiting for her at the front desk. Soon the apparent threat on Scarpetta's life finds her embroiled in a deadly plot that includes a famous actor accused of an unthinkable sex crime and the disappearance of a beautiful millionairess with whom Lucy seems to have shared a secret past...

Thanks to our friends at Little, Brown Book Group , we've got a a copy of Patricia Cornwell's The Scarpetta Factor to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to scarpettagiveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Tuesday 17th November (UK time). The first name drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this awesome book!

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 22

Constable Robinson, Edited by Gardner Dozois
Available now, RRP £9.99
Review by Rob Wade

Back in August, I reviewed a Mammoth compilation of science-fiction here. Ultimately, my feeling on the collection was that it was a very good example of science-fiction done right, but noted that there was sometimes a reliance on technical jargon that occasionally served to confuse and would ultimately alienate new readers.

You'll be pleased to know that this compilation is of the exact same quality as the previous compilation. That comes, incidentally, with similar shortfalls.

Let's get what I like about this out of the way right away. The stories are similar in scope to previous editions, something I really enjoyed about these particular compilations, as well as good science-fiction in general. Also, this volume seems to deal with a few stories that deal more with how people react to new technology than fantastical circumstances. Common themes are technological achievement, the preservation of technology, and even religion and theology enter into the equation on occasion. There's definitely a good range of subject matter here, perfect amounts really for the size of the volume (at over 700 pages, you wouldn't want to be reading the same sort of themes over and over again, that's for sure).

However, as I said above, this edition comes with a lot of the problems associated with the previous edition. There is an AWFUL lot of science-fiction here, and while of course that's obviously a good thing for fans of the genre, this will not be the kind of book that will bring in new fans, as it is simply too large. That, and yet again there is a reliance on over-complicated technical jargon in certain instances.

That being said, there are some interesting and enjoyable stories in here, including "The Six Directions of Space", in which a civilisation has to come to terms with the fact that they are not alone in existence, "The Gambler", which deals with a futuristic society dependent on scandal to brighten up their day, and "His Master's Voice" which serves to illustrate that man's best friend is that much better when armed.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Bucketloads, both on foot and ship combat. Awesome.
Sex/Nudity : The odd bit of implication, otherwise pretty tame.
Swearing : A considerable amount.
Summary: A good selection of science-fiction, to the standard you'd expect from these compilations. However, the same sort of format comes with the same perils, and the volume will really only bring in enthusiasts. 7/10

The Complete Hammer's Slammers: Volume One
David Drake
Baen Books

Available Now - £8.99
Review by Brad Harmer

With a veterans eye for the harsh and gritty details of war, David Drake depicts a futuristic analog of tank combat in his Hammer’s Slammers fiction. The Slammers are neither cartoon heroes nor propaganda villains; rather they are competent professionals engaged in a deadly business. The inevitable conflicts between policy, necessity, and human nature make Drake’s Slammers fiction instantly identifiable and utterly compelling.

This is the first of a three volume set presenting for the first time the entire Hammer's Slammers series in a uniform trade paperback set, with introductions, afterwords, and supplemental pieces of fiction.

Without getting bogged down in the mystique and legend surrounding Drake and Hammer’s Slammers, let’s concentrate on what this is – good, old-fashioned pulp-sci-fi. And the influences that it has had on everything from Dominion Tank Police, Rogue Trooper and up to Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40,000 fiction is undeniable. This is because the cast of Hammer’s Slammers aren’t paper thin cannon-fodder, but they’re well-rounded characters. An peculiarity in military fiction – where everyone is either a hero, a coward, or a Mary-Sue.

The presentation of this collection is pretty impressive, the stories are presented in order of publication, so whilst it’s nice to follow the stories as they were written, it does also suffer from all less-good writing being at the start of the book, which may put off some newcomers – but this is a dilemma most short-story compilations face. What is a very nice feature is the specially written “documentary” sections, written by Drake, that crop up inbetween each story, either detailing a tank, a weapon, a conflict, or sometimes just a general world overview. This is a nice touch, and makes the universe instantly more accessible to those who may be new to it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Frequent and graphic. Gore and explosions make an appearance on almost every page.
Sex/Nudity: Some references.
Swearing: Some mild swear words.
Summary: A fun pulp anthology that will please fans, and hopefully attract some more. 8/10
Click here for your chance to win a free copy!

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