Thursday, 21 January 2010

Book Reviews

Retromancer
Robert Rankin
Gollancz

Available Now - £14.99 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

There is big and evil magic abroad upon the face of the Earth. History has been changed. The Germans have won WWII. America is a nuclear wasteland. And worst of all, the breakfast menu at The Wife's Legs Cafe in Brentford is serving Bratwurst rather than the proper big boys' British banger. Something is Not Right. And when the world's all wrong and it needs setting right, who're you gonna call? Hugo Rune, that's who. A man who offers the world his genius, and asks only, in return, that the world cover his expenses.

And so, with the aid of his faithful acolyte and companion Rizla, the guru's guru, also known as the hokus bloke, the Lad Himself and the Retromancer (a time-travelling magus), sets out to rewrite history the way it should be. Together they return to war-torn London, to solve the twelve cosmic conundra based on Hugo Rune's personal tarot deck, each one leading them closer to a final terrifying confrontation. They must match their wits against beautiful spies, advanced alien technology, killer robots and death rays, do battle with an ancient god, and come face to face once more with Hugo Rune's arch-enemy, the sinister Count Otto Black, all the while finding time to drink ale, talk the toot and dine out in some of London's swankiest eateries. Without ever paying the bill.

Taking place in the shared universe of much of Rankin’s work, references abound, but they don’t put off readers who are new to the franchise. Retromancer is a perfectly acceptable “jumping on” point as it were – and for the most part, it’s a pretty good introduction. Rankin’s trademark surrealist humour and wry observation are here, along with some fairly tight plotting that never feels like it’s strangling the narrative.

Surrealist humour is a hard thing to do, and it’s all too easy to stumble into the “wacky for the sake of wacky” trap. Retromancer finds itself getting close to this trap a little too often, but never falls into it. It reads like a Boys Own adventure, albeit a bizarre and convoluted one. IT makes good headway from adventure to adventure, and keeps the momentum going.

Full of fun and laughs, this is one that’s worth picking up.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several blows to the head, scuffles, gunfights, and pirates.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: A fun book that passes the time and has some excellent imagery. Recommended to fans of the genre. 8/10

Mr Shivers
Robert Jackson Bennett
Orbit

Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

It is the time of the Great Depression. The dustbowl has turned the western skies red and thousands leave their homes seeking a better life. Marcus Connelly seeks not a new life, but a death - a death for the mysterious scarred man who murdered his daughter. And soon he learns that he is not alone. Countless others have lost someone to the scarred man.

They band together to track him, but as they get closer, Connelly begins to suspect that the man they are hunting is more than human. As the pursuit becomes increasingly desperate, Connelly must decide just how much he is willing to sacrifice to get his revenge.

I want you, in your head, to imagine a movie. This movie is colour toned sepia and burnt sienna. It’s based upon a story by Neil Gaiman, with the screenplay by Robert E. Howard and Stephen King. It’s directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The soundtrack is by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. That little “And” credit they give in the cast before a major actor in a minor role is Clint Eastwood.

If this movie was a book, it would be Robert Jackson Bennett’s Mr Shivers.

A genuinely haunting atmosphere pervades the novel, blowing through the paragraphs like the red dust on the wind, and the dialogue can either creep forward like the scarred man, or pound down like a bucket of iron and blood in a thunderstorm.

With a book this good, I don’t mind stumbling blindly into the world of clich├ęd endorsements: If you only read one book this month, make it Mr Shivers.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent, bloody and realistic.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: A powerful, haunting, Gothic western that is the best new thing published for a long time. Unmissable. 10/10

Jack the Ripper's Secret Confession
David Monaghan and Nigel Cawthorne
Constable

Available From 28th January - £8.99
Review by Brad Harmer

While Jack the Ripper spread fear throughout the East End of London in 1888, another man stalked the streets hunting flesh. He called himself “Walter”. He was a rapist, voyeur and fetishist obsessed with prostitutes. In the same year as the Ripper Killings, Walter first published his vast memoir of sex and perversion: My Secret Life. Long banned for its obscenity, one of the few complete sets not destroyed by the authorities was securely housed in the British Library’s private case. However, in 2005, full access to the uncensored Walter memoirs revealed aa clue which has since convinced authors David Monaghan and Nigel Cawthorne that these pornographic memoirs held the key to unlock the secrets of the Ripper murders.

The authors believe that this notorious work of Victorian pornography reveals how its author had the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit Jack the Ripper’s perverse crimes.

Holmes would be disappointed with this rather badly theorised book, as the authors have rather plainly twisted facts to suit theories, rather than theories to suit facts. What we have here is a compilation of stories of rape, masturbation and child abuse, that bears absolutely no connection to Jack the Ripper whatsoever. In fact, another suitable title would have been Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Underage Rapes – as sensationalism is clearly the order of the day.

It is not until almost three-quarters of the way in that any real tenuous connection between Walter and Jack the Ripper is attempted. Crucial arguments include that “he had sex with prostitutes” and “none of the prostitutes he encounters mention Jack the Ripper”. Jolly good. So, no real connection at all then? There’s no evidence anywhere that Walter is a killer, and none that Jack was a sex offender – so on what basis do the authors think that they have solved anything?

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of scuffles, throttling...but no ripping. Alarm bells should be going off by this point.
Sex/Nudity: Lots of detailed depictions of masturbations, sex, sodomy, rape, paedophilia, sex-trafficking, shown through the eyes of a sex maniac.
Swearing: A surprising amount.
Summary: As an exercise in who “Walter” was, this is relatively scientific. As an essay on who Jack the Ripper was, it fails. 2/10

Dan Dare: Safari In Space
Hampson & Bellamy
Published by Titan Books

Available now, RRP £16.99
Review by Rob Wade

Dan Dare: Safari in Space sees Dan Dare and his crew take a much-needed break only to be kidnapped by a scientist with a curious wish, to reach a far away land named Terra Nova. There, Dan Dare and his crew discover more than they were expecting to, as well as finding out some surprising news about Dare's supposedly dead father...

Dan Dare is one of those comic series that I've always been informed of as one of the true classics, but never got into myself. As a result, it was interesting for me to approach this comic as a complete outsider to the series. My general impression is that I can certainly see why this comic was so popular in the 1950s when it was first printed (in this case 1959).

The colours are bright and vivid, and the artwork for the time period is top-notch. The storytelling is excellent, and you can certainly see an unapologetic approach in terms of a quite spectacular narrative. The makers of this series were certainly not afraid to let their imaginations run wild, and you can see the fruits of their labours in this particular volume.

That being said, I didn't really find myself getting engrossed in this comic, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was never of course invested in the characters, which meant that although I had no trouble following the story (another plus in their favour, I'd say), I found it difficult to know much about the characters beyond some two-dimensional basic personality traits.

Secondly, and I fully accept that this isn't a failing on the part of the comic, I think I have been spoilt on modern comics in the sense that the subject matter has become somewhat more adult in its storytelling, and has adjusted with the times and become substantially more unapologetic in its depiction of adult themes and more complex subjects. Again, I'm not saying that's a failing on the comic, but I did find it difficult to really get into this as a result.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence
: Some very short battles 'twixt man and giant ant.
Sex/Nudity: For a mainstream 1950s comic it would be bizarre to see such things, and sure enough, none to be found.
Swearing: Unsurprisingly, none.
Summary: Ultimately an enjoyable comic, and I can certainly see why it was so popular. However, by today's standards it seems pretty dated. Recommended only for Dare enthusiasts.6/10
More than three centuries ago, Nicholas Winters irrevocably altered his genetic make-up in an obsession fuelled competition with alchemist and Arcane Society founder Sylvester Jones. Driven to control their psychic abilities, each man's decision has reverberated throughout the family line, rewarding some with powers beyond their wildest dreams, and cursing others to a life filled with madness and hallucinations.

Jack Winters, descendant of Nicholas, has been experiencing nightmares and blackouts - just the beginning, he believes, of the manifestation of the Winters family curse. The legend says that he must find the Burning Lamp or risk turning into a monster. But he can't do it alone; he needs the help of a woman with the gift to read the lamp's dreamlight. Jack is convinced that private investigator Chloe Harper is that woman. It doesn't take long for Chloe to pick up the trail of the missing lamp. And as they draw closer to the lamp, the raw power that dwells within it threatens to sweep them into a hurricane of psychic force.

Thanks to our friends at Piatkus Books, we've got five copies of Fired Up to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to firedupgiveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 28th January (UK time). The first five names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a copy of this highly anticipated book!

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