Tuesday 21 September 2010

Book Reviews

Zero History
William Gibson
Penguin Books/Viking

Available Now - £9.99 (Kindle), £18.99 (Hardback), £30.31 (Unabridged Audio CD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Former rock singer Hollis Henry has lost a lot of money in the crash, which means she can't turn down the offer of a job from Hubertus Bigend, sinister Belgian proprietor of mysterious advertising agency Blue Ant.

Milgrim is working for Bigend too. Bigend admires the ex-addict's linguistic skills and street knowledge so much that he's even paid for his costly rehab. So together Hollis and Milgrim are at the front line of Bigend's attempts to get a slice of the military budget, and they gradually realize he has some very dangerous competitors. Which is not a great thought when you don't much trust your boss either.

William Gibson is probably the only hard sci-fi author that I’ve ever “loved” (maybe Heinlein). There’s something about his dark sarcasm and poetic turns of phrase that are very singular: you can tell what you’re reading is William Gibson without needing to be told. Zero History is a great example of this. His characters are great, and have just the right amount of quirks and eccentricities to make them “larger than life”, without crossing the invisible line into caricature land.

Unfortunately, it’s the meat of Zero History – the plot – that is so unsatisfying. For starters, the hook is investigating high fashion jeans. Hardly the most auspicious start for a novel from the Godfather of Cyberpunk. What follows is a pretty tawdry and crass Dan Brown-ish summer-blockbuster novel – underpinned by the aforementioned dark sarcasm and poetic turns of phrase.

So, is this merely a double-bluff and a parody of the “summer blockbuster” novel? If it isn’t, then this is a real waste, as Gibson is capable of so much more that this. If it is some sort of genius, subversive parody, then it has also failed in that respect because it’s just not a very entertaining one. If you’re not sure whether or not something is a parody...that’s not a good thing, whatever the truth may be.

And give it up with the product placement. We don’t need the word “iPhone” every two pages.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some, mild.
Summary: From any other writer this would be “quite good”, but this is just a bland and uninteresting techno-thriller from a writer who is capable of so much better. Let’s hope that this is just an off-day. 5/10

Waking the Witch
Kelley Armstrong
Little, Brown/Orbit

Available Now - £15.99 (Hardback)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

Columbus is a small, fading town, untouched by the twenty-first century. But when three young women are found dead - victims of what appear to be ritual murders - things start to get very dark, and very dangerous...

Private investigator Savannah Levine can handle 'dark and dangerous'. As the daughter of a black witch, she has a lot of power running through her veins, and she's not afraid to use it. But her arrival in Columbus has not gone unnoticed. Savannah may think she's tracking down a murderer, but could she be the killer's next target? Of course, she could always ask her old friend (and half-demon) Adam Vasic for back up. But Savannah has her own - very personal - reasons for keeping Adam well away from Columbus.

In any case, she can rely on her own powers. Can't she...?

I have a major (metaphorical) hard-on for Kelly Armstrong, so when Brad said I had the chance to review her latest novel I nearly wet myself! The first novel of hers that I read was Frostbitten, the predecessor for this book, but focusing on the life of Elena Michaels the werewolf rather than the magical witch side of things. It was because of Frostbitten I immediately got the first four books in the series. I have to say, though, that I think that Waking the Witch is the weakest in the Other World series. It is a good read, but it has the disadvantage that you need to have read the other books in the series to get an understanding of the characters and their relationships. It is less of a standalone book that the others are.

Armstrong always seems to write the werewolf stories with more conviction than the sorcery novels; I think that this is because they are much more animalistic by nature. However, she does seem to try and make the witches come across as powerful and independent. This did not come across so strongly in this novel; I would have liked a bit more development within Savannah’s character, she is an amazing half-witch half-daemon, she should be much stronger! Where is the passion and the sex that I have come to expect from this series?! That being said although this is not Armstrong’s best example, it is still a solid Other World series novel.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of spell casting and some death.
Sex/Nudity: Small amount.
Swearing: None of note.
Summary: This is still a good book, it is just not what I have come to expect from my favourite author. 6/10

Judge Dredd - The Restricted Files: 02
Brett Ewins, Alan Grant, John Wagner, et al.
2000AD Graphic Novels

Available Now - £19.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Blake Harmer

Featuring stories from 2000 AD Annuals and Specials originally published in the 80’s, this compendium of Judge Dredd offers a lot of one-shot stories for Dredd fans to enjoy. There is also a wide variety of comic book talent on show here, as this volume includes artwork from Bryan Talbot, Ian Gibson, Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra and many more.

This is a highly enjoyable collection for several reasons. Firstly, as the stories are one off adventures that were originally published in 2000 AD annuals and specials, they can be easily read by anyone rather than just big Judge Dredd fans, who are keeping up with a particular story. This compendium is also easily accessible for newcomers as there is no use of any of Judge Dredd’s main bad guys so you don’t really need a huge knowledge of his previous encounters to enjoy any of the stories here. Dredd Fan’s will also enjoy this are some highly enjoyable stories here, not to mention plenty of explosive action and some comical one liners.

The only downside to this compendium is that there are a couple of weaker stories, which let down the otherwise high quality collection. Sure there may not be a lot here that is different from other Judge Dredd stories. But if you love Judge Dredd, and want a collection of stories without requiring any back-story or knowledge of his previous adventures, you can do far worse than this.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
This collection is has lots of people shot, blown up, crushed etc. Just as you would expect from Judge Dredd really.
Sex/Nudity: None, but there is so much violence and good one-liners that you’d be too busy enjoying those to notice.
Swearing: All the swearing is fictional and used in the setting such as "Drokk". There are still loads of that though.
Summary: A strong compendium of Judge Dredd stories that can be enjoyed by newcomers and hardcore Dredd fans. A few weaker stories stop this from coming essential, but a worthy addition to anyone’s comic book collection nonetheless. 8/10


Ansel is a mute boy whose master is a dragon-slayer. Brock has shining armour, and the scars that prove his heroic stories. Ansel suspects that there are no such things as dragons.

So what is the man-eating monster that haunts the crags of Dragon Mountain?

Thanks to our friends at Scholastic, we've got five copies of Philip Reeve's No Such Thing As Dragons to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to nosuchthingasdragonsgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk The first five names out of the electronic hat, will win a free copy each!

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