Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Book Reviews

Going Postal
Terry Pratchett
Transworld Publishers

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Moist von Lipwig is a con artist, a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork's ailing postal service back on its feet. It was a tough decision. But he's got to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers Friendly and Benevolent Society, the evil chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, and a midnight killer. Getting a date with Adora Bell Dearheart would be nice, too.

Maybe it'll take a criminal to succeed where honest men have failed, or maybe it's a death sentence either way. Or perhaps there's a shot at redemption in the mad world of the mail, waiting for a man who's prepared to push the envelope...

Going Postal is, in both good and bad ways, everything you’ve come to expect from a Discworld novel. There are the wonderfully endearing characters. There are the surrealist moments of pop culture reference. There are the great, well-paced pieces of dialogue. There even cameos from a certain horseman of the apocalypse, and a certain Orang-utan.

Unfortunately, Going Postal is also everything you’ve come to expect from a Discworld novel. If you’ve read a few of them before, then you know where it’s heading before you’ve reached the half-way mark, and sometimes you can even see the jokes themselves coming a mile off. There’s a strange sense of “Discworld By Numbers” with this one. It’s not terrible – not by a long, long stretch – but it does feel rather lazy, and that’s one thing we haven't come to expect from Pratchett.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Executions, golem thumping, punching – usually with a strong surrealist comedy bent.
Sex/Nudity: Some mild references.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: A fun, feel-good, comedy fantasy story. Far from one of Pratchett’s best, but well worth a read. 8/10

The Lost
Dan Abnett
Black Library

Available Now - £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Ibram Gaunt returns in this latest omnibus edition of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels. The Tanith First-And-Only are among the most legendary regiments of Imperial Guard and at their head stands Commissar Ibram Gaunt, unflinching in duty and unrelenting in combat. The Lost sees the very future of the regiment in jeopardy as Gaunt battles the forces of Chaos across the Sabbat Worlds, from rescue missions to the horrors of the battlefield, the Tanith First-And-Only must survive extreme dangers or be forever lost.

Traitor General
The first novel in the compilation doesn’t get things off to a flying start. Feeling more like a Hammer’s Slammers short-story stretched to unnecessary length, this is pretty thin. The highlight – some lightly armed and armoured Imperial Guard forced into combat with some Chaos Space Marines – is fantastic. The low points, several sequences of standing around in the mud being dour, are not. The action sequences, when they arrive, are great but they are pretty much the only thing holding this together, and there simply aren’t enough of them. 5/10

His Last Command

Taking the series in an unexpected direction, this starts off with the Ghosts being accused of suffering the Chaos Taint, as a result of their adventures in Traitor General. The action sequences are as good as the previous novel, but this time the down time actually works, rather than feeling like an unnecessary break. There’s also some fantastic tank battles and Lovecraftian horror thrown into the mix. A great piece of dark military sci-fi, with a good sense of humour. One of the better Warhammer 40,000 novels. 8/10

The Armour of Contempt

The most complex of the novels, The Armour of Contempt contains many interweaving plot threads that impact on each other. Drawing influences from Full Metal Jacket, and throwing in Titan warfare, this is balls-out military sci-fi with a dark commentary running through it, and a twist ending that you kick yourself for not spotting. A fun, but forgettable dollop of military action. Suitably wraps up the Gereon story arc, though. 7/10

Only In Death

The final novel in this compilation takes things in a rather unexpected direction. Ditching his military sci-fi leanings, Abnett now draws on M.R. James for his influence, as the Ghosts are forced to hold a house that appears to be haunted. The atmosphere is eerie, and sometimes downright terrifying – this is a genre I’d like to see Abnett tackle more often as he does it well! Strange, then, that the action sequences don’t really seem to gel in this one, feeling like an afterthought lest Abnett’s more regular readers grow bored with the lack of dakka-dakka.

A great idea that, rather unfortunately, never quite manages to become the sum of its parts. A great take on the genre(s), however, and still well worth reading. 8/10

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Constant. Gunfire, explosions, field surgery with a sword, tank warfare, titan warfare, bludgeoning, stabbing, slicing, murder and scuffling.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: The occasional “fuck”, “shit” or “bastard”, and several uses of “Feth” – the Warhammer 40,000 equivalent of “Drokk” or “Kriff”.
Summary: Established fans of Abnett and Warhammer 40,000 are advised to pick this up, as it’s a bargain price for four well-written and enjoyable (for the most part) novels. Newcomers, however, may want to come back to this later, when they’ve seen more of what the franchise has to offer. 7/10

Button Man: The Hitman's Daughter
John Wagner & Frazer Irving
Rebellion/2000AD

Available Now - £14.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Harry Exton was a Button Man, a player in the lethal killing game, where moder-day gladiators fought for the pleasure of rich backers, long-since corrupted by wealth and power. But Harry quit, leaving the country and the slaughter behind him, only to find that no-one walks away from the game and lives.

2000AD is one of the few comic titles out there that holds the flag up for non-superhero and non-licensed franchise comics. They’ve been responsible for the greatest British comics of all time, and some of the greatest worldwide. Unfortunately, they can’t be on to a winner all the time.

Button Man: The Hitman’s Daughter is something of a disappointment. Written by a truly great writer, and part of a successful series, it should have been good – but this is punching way below its weight. This is a bog-standard revenge story that contains no surprises, and walks slowly the whole way there. If this was a movie, it would be straight to video and star Steven Seagal. Or a wrestler.

The artwork is okay, but not as good as other examples of Irving’s work. His style just doesn’t seem to fit with the subject matter, and whilst it’s far from bad, a casual reader will find it pretty unmemorable.

Fans of the series will enjoy it, for sure, but I don’t think it’s going to be winning any new fans with this slice of cheesecake.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several shootings, bludgeonings and explosions. Normal for Wagner, really.
Sex/Nudity: Some references, but nothing explicit.
Swearing: Normal for the genre.
Summary: An okay-ish revenge thriller that we’ve seen a hundred times before. With better artwork. 4/10

The Devil's Diaries: The Complete Works
Nicholas D. Satan
The Ivy Press

Available Now - £6.66 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Narrating the Devil's random musings on key dates through history, The Devil's Diaries reveals Satan's part in such things as the Fall; musical moments at the crossroads; the invention of the tetrapak, making work for idle hands; small print; Faust; decorating hell circle by circle; the joy of getting all the best tunes; and, lawyers. The Dark One reveals his disquiet at the way some of this finest ideas have been hijacked and credited elsewhere; and confesses his frustration that much of his best work goes unappreciated.

This book looks fantastic. The artwork looks like a real old book. The production values are staggeringly high. The binding great. There’s a little ribbon bookmark in the spine. A pull out contract at the start!

If you never actually read this book, you’ll think it’s brilliant.

Unfortunately what lies within is cripplingly unfunny, hammering good natured elbows into your ribs at every opportunity. It thinks it's “edgy” by posing as the diary of The Devil, but then goes to the other extreme in a desperate attempt not to offend anyone. There’s half a page given over to World War II? You crack jokes about Jack the Ripper, and The Spanish Inquisition – but balk at World War II?

This is a collection of the most insipid “jokes” you could ever expect to meet, and the secret lies in its production. You see, there’s no author. As far as I can piece together from the credits, this was created as a collaborative effort by the people who work at the publishers – seemingly without any input from a writer, or comedian. This is a lunch-time conversation that went too far, chaps.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some veiled, second-hand references.
Sex/Nudity: Some veiled, second-hand references.
Swearing: None. Satan don’t do that.
Summary: The dictionary definition of “style over substance”. A waste of paper that may well actually be the work of the devil, this has less humour than a greeting card. 2/10

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