Thursday, 18 February 2010

Book Reviews

Dark Origins - Level 26: Book One
Anthony E. Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski
Penguin

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

If the world knew anything about Sqweegel, we’d never leave the house. Not that staying inside would make us safe. He is a psychopath who has murdered and tortured more than thirty-five people over a span of twenty-three years.

The one person who has ever come close to catching him is Steve Dark, and he’s left the business. After what happened to Dark’s family, few blame him.

Sqweegel strikes again, and this time the victim has connections to the very highest corridors of power. The special agents in the highly secret Level 26 unit have their jobs – and their lives – on the line. They must find Steve Dark and bring him back into the fold. It’s the only hope they’ve got...

In case you aren’t already aware, the big selling points of this novel are that a) it’s written by Anthony E. Zuiker, who created the highly popular and pretty damn good television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and b) every now and again, the novel tells you to go online, and watch an intermission video clip that ties in with the story, calling itself a “digi-novel”.

This idea will either immediately strike you as “awesome” or “dumb” depending on whether you like to do your reading at home, with your computer in easy reach; or on the train, with no way of accessing the Internet. With that hurdle mentioned (and with doubtless hundreds of other bloggers and writers harping on about it one way or the other), this review is going to focus on what should be the most important aspect – the story.

This is probably a good thing, as the film sequences often feel like a gimmick, rather than an enhancement. They often just badly act out scenes that are later described in the book, our turn out to be irrelevancies or dream sequences. Don’t go thinking you can dismiss them entirely, however. There are two or three that are integral to the plot. The footage itself is low-budget and pretty badly acted (even from Michael Ironside), and appears to have been produced by Garth Marenghi.

What’s more, am I really the only one who’s getting sick to death of these mysterious killers who leave cryptic clues for the police to follow? This is has been going on for too long now. First few times it was a nice twist – these days it just reads like “the author didn’t know how else to introduce these clues”.

A lot of these criticisms are a little harsh; taken at face value, Dark Origins has some creepy scenes and some good action scenes. There’s no denying that it’s a fun ride, but you can’t shake the feeling it’s a ride you’ve been on many times before.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several scenes shooting, bludgeoning and fisticuffs. Some explicit torture scenes.
Sex/Nudity: One soft-core sex scene as a video clip which I happened to be watching when my girlfriend entered the room. Cheers, Zuiker.
Swearing: Frequent, and strong.
Summary: The gimmick is interesting, and one that I’m not opposed to, in theory. However, work is needed on the execution. Stripped of its little clips, this is crime-fiction by the numbers. 5/10

The Chronicles of Solomon Kane
Brett Blevins, Jon Bogdanove, Howard Chaykin, Steve Corr, Robert E. Howard, Ralph Macchio, Mike Mignola, Sandy Plunkett, John Ridgway, Ray Thomas and Al Williamson
Dark Horse Comics

Available Now - £13.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Continuing in the vein of the successful Chronicles of Conan collection series, Dark Horse has expanded its Robert E. Howard reprint line by presenting all of the original 1970s and 1980s Marvel color comic books featuring Solomon Kane in one volume.

Solomon Kane is probably my favourite Howard character. For those of you who don’t know, he’s basically an Elizabethan version of The Punisher, hunting down evil doers with his sword and a steely glare.

Robert E. Howard’s stuff transposes to comics very well. Howard’s abilities as a writer were never as strong as his imagination, and so he often struggled to make clear what he was seeing in his minds eye. With so many good illustrators here, that’s no longer a problem, and you’re able to picture them as Howard himself did.

There’s a nice scope here, from the original adapatations of Howard’s stories, to the full run of The Sword of Solomon Kane, and generally speaking, it’s really good stuff. Kane feels like proper hero, even when he’s being his douchebag self, and the artwork is very good, always managing to capture the mood of the stories and location.

And unlike most compilations, it finishes with a proper ending. Stellar stuff.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent scenes of armed and unarmed combat.
Sex/Nudity: Some scanty clothing.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An excellent pulp fantasy compilation featuring my favourite Howard character. A pleasure to read, and worth anyone’s time. 9/10

Star Trek - Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire
David Mack
Pocket Books

Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

'In every revolution, there is one man with a vision.' Those prophetic words were spoken by Captain James T. Kirk to Commander Spock of the Terran Empire, hoping to inspire change -- but he could not have imagined the impact his words would have. Armed with a weapon of terrifying power and a vision of a noble Federation within the mirror universe, Spock seizes control of the Terran Empire and institutes the process of democratic reform.

Rivals within the Empire try to stop him while enemies outside it unite to destroy it. Few suspect the shocking truth: that Spock is purposely engineering the downfall of his dominion. Have the burdens of imperial rule undermined his sanity? Or is this the logical plan of a man who understands that freedom must always be paid for in blood? But Spock alone knows that the fall of the Terran Empire will be the start of a political chain reaction -- one that will alter the fate of the universe forever.

Star Trek novels are a funny beast. Unlike their less-Trekky-more-Warsy bretheren, there’s no canon or continuity of any kind. Fair enough, right? So long as it’s all in good fun, or at least feels like a Star Trek story. The trouble with The Sorrows of Empire, is that it’s set in Star Trek’s Mirror Universe. So...we have a non-canon Star Trek story, set in a parallel universe featuring characters who act nothing like their more famous doppelgangers. At this point, you have to wonder what point there is in calling it Star Trek at all.

The story, in and of itself, is a pretty cool one, about how a second in command of a starship slowly claws his way to the top through deals, assassinations and bribery. It’s an okay story, in theory. However, the execution is nothing short of terrible.

The story skips from year to year, sometimes describing a year in four pages – and not even as an overview. I mean, one year gets one scene. I know a year is a long time in politics, but come on...it feels like an overview for a role-playing game sourcebook, not a novel. It’s like it’s a short story inflated to full length book, and feels hollow for it.

What’s more, Mack obviously has a serious hard-on for Spock, and it just reads like some terrible Mary-Sue fan-fiction. None of the characters act like they should, even bearing in mind it’s the Mirror Universe. This is one for completists only.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some Star Trek style ship-to-ship and person-to-person combat. Some murders.
Sex/Nudity: Some “curtains blowing in the wind” moments.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A pretty bad slice of fan-fiction that barely resembles any aspect of Star Trek, Mirror Universe or otherwise. Star Trek can be so much better than this. 1/10

This time it’s spreading… A high-school prom is under threat after a deadly, flesh-eating virus spreads amongst the students. A popular brand of bottled water is contaminated by a virus that results in the most disgusting and bloody of complaints! Following directly on from the first film and featuring original cast members Rider Strong and Giuseppe Andrews from the popular Cabin Fever (directed by Eli Roth), Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is available to buy now.

You’ll need a strong stomach to drink this one down! As students thirst for the latest trendy water they have no idea that a flesh-eating bug has contaminated the supply and is going to ravage their bodies. A revolting and humourous body-shock bloodbath follows as they experience bleeding eyes, pus-filled fingernails and rotting bodyparts! Set against the backdrop of unrequited teenage love and an investigation of the water company this is a stomach-turning movie full of gore and off-beat humour.

Thanks to our friends at Lionsgate UK, we've got three copies of Cabin Fever 2 to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to cabinfever2giveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 25th February (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

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