Monday, 8 July 2013

Infernal Devices

http://solarbridge.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/infernal-devices-by-kw-jeter-cover.jpgK.W. Jeter
Angry Robot

He inherited a watchmaker's store - and a whole heap of trouble. But idle sometime-musician George has little talent for clockwork. And when a shadowy figure tries to steal an old device from the premises, George finds himself embroiled in a mystery of time travel, music and sexual intrigue. A genuine lost classic, a steampunk original whose time has come.


I thought it was about time I read a book by the guy who coined the whole Steampunk thingummy although once I got going I realised that I had read a couple of his other books (the Blade Runner sequels) a good few years ago. They were OK and I remember pretty much enjoying them at the time.

This one was something that I’d been keen on checking out for sometime. It tells of George the son of a genius clock making father. George has inherited the shop and his father’s tools but unfortunately none of his talent so when a visitor brings one of his father’s creations into the shop for repair George is both stumped and lured into a world of intrigue and horror.

It is a full-on romp that sends George and his assorted compatriots and enemies from one end of the country to the other but unfortunately it doesn’t really do it in a way that even remotely grabbed me. George is a very unsympathetic character. His upright, uptight nature makes him both unsavoury and unlikeable. The other characters are either preposterous or just plain daft. The storyline has little depth, the end is unsatisfying and I was very disappointed by this whole experience

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Burton & Swinburne in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

http://dyn4.media.forbiddenplanet.com/event/2012/03/07/Burton.jpg.size-230.jpgMark Hodder
Snowbooks

It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.
The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.
Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!
Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.
A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!

Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.


The third - and perhaps final - chronicle in the adventures of the explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne.  This follows on from almost immediately from the second volume where the defeat of the Russian interlopers and the acquisition of the second of the Naga diamonds has prompted / necessitated a return to Africa and the area of the source of the Nile in order to find the third diamond.

In this the two, along with their phalanx of friends are opposed by Burton's rival John Speke and the Prussians who are both supporting him and eugenicists.

The story unfolds in three different time frames; the present time of the expedition, in 1914 some 20/30 years after Burton's death in an Africa devastated by a terrible war that the British have lost to the rampaging plant and animals of the Prussians and in a 3rd time that I'm going to avoid discussing.

For me the book didn't sing as loudly or as clearly as the previous two.  It was, like the expedition, a bit of a slog in parts.  It never let up the pace and was quite fantastic for pretty much it's entirety but I adored the others and so this one even though it fell short of that level of love was still head and shoulders above most of the stuff I read to get me through the day.

I'm not sorry if this is the end of the series - even if the end was a little odd.  It's been a trip and I very much look forward to where Hodder goes next.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Grandville: Bete Noire

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347412778l/15894052.jpgBryan Talbot
Jonanthon Cape

The Badger is back! At Toad Hall, lair of multibillionaire Baron Aristotle Krapaud, a cabal of industrialists and fat cats plot the violent overthrow of the French state by the intervention of horribly beweaponed automaton soldiers.
Meanwhile, the brutal murder of a famous Parisian artist, mysteriously stabbed to death in his locked and guarded studio, is subject to the investigations of the tenacious Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, placing him and his
faithful adjunct, Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi, in pursuit of the mysterious masked assassin stalking the cut-throat commercial world of the Grandville art scene. Bete Noire signals the welcome return to anthropomorphic steampunk detective fiction of master storyteller and graphic novel pioneer
Bryan Talbot with the third stand-alone volume of the Eisner and Hugo Award nominated Grandville series. As the body count mounts and events spiral exponentially out of control, aided by his brilliant deductive abilities and innate ferocity, LeBrock battles against outrageous odds in this funny, high octane thriller, an adventure shot through with both high art and comic book references, a glorious illegitimate offspring of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming - with animals! Follow the Badger!


In the previous 2 volumes of Grandville LeBrock had dispatched the King of France an the then both his Chief Inspector and the Prime Minister.  This leaves him with a fairly large space where potential enemies could be in this 3rd volume. In actual fact we get LeBrock versus the middle class industrialists and their plot to overthrow the revolutionary government that has taken over France since the death of the king. And, we get a sneak preview of who is going to be the villain of the fourth book.

As with the first two volumes this was superb, maybe even better than the previous.

LeBrock is asked by his friend the French Chief Inspector to assist after the murder of an artist.  LeBrock is soon hot on the trail of the killer through the artistic community of Grandville (Paris) and also the abundance of machinery / robots that are suddenly all over the place.  He also revitalises his relationship with the feisty Billie who proves herself more than equal to him both intellectually and physically as she helps defend the barricades, alongside the always fantastic and very dapper Roderick Ratzi, whilst LeBrock is off tackling those at the root of the plan.

It keeps on getting better and better this.  Full of action and intrigue but with well defined characters who are becoming even more so as they reveal themselves on the page

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Grandville: Mon Amour

http://www.hypergeek.ca/wp-content/gallery/15/grandville-ma-bryan-talbot.pngBryan Talbot
Jonathan Cape

Convicted psychotic killer and extremist fanatic Edward "Mad Dog" Mastock violently escapes the guillotine's blade in the Tower of London to once again terrorise the Socialist Republic of Britain. But dogging Mastock's bloody footsteps is his longtime adversary and nemesis, Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock, at odds with Scotland Yard and intent on bringing Mastock's horrific murder spree to an end, once and for all. Aided by his friend and colleague Detective Roderick Ratzi, LeBrock follows the trail of carnage to Paris, otherwise known as Grandville, the largest city in a world dominated by the French Empire that is the prime target of Mastock's sadistic terrorism. Can LeBrock capture the Mad Dog before he can mete out his final vengeance, or will LeBrock's own quest for redemption be dragged to ground by the demons of his past?

This is the sequel to the fantastic first book in Talbot's anthropomorphosised steampunk series.  Detective Inspector LeBrock is back home after the events that led to the deaths of both Napoleon and his beloved Sarah.  He's in a bit of a slump having locked himself away and drunk himself into a stupor.  It takes his friend and partner (the frankly magnificent and dapper) Detective Ratzi to drag him from his torpor in time to investigate (unofficially) the escape of his old adversary Edward 'Mad Dog' Mastock who, having escaped from his execution in the Tower of London has headed for Grandville (Paris) and begins a murder spree against the cities prostitutes.  LeBrock and Ratzi soon discover a link between these killings, the escape and events that lead to the very top of the new British government.

As I mentioned in my write-up of the first volume I am a long time Bryan Talbot fan having read his work for pretty much as long as I've been reading comics.  This series is amongst his finest work.  It is stunning!  the characters are real, which is saying something considering the main characters are a gun wielding badger and a rat with a straw boater and a monocle.  It's unashamedly a pulp romp filled with ne'er-do-wells and heroes but that doesn't proclude it from being tightly plotted and filled with the most gorgeous eye-candy artwork.  As before it's a sumptuously realised piece of work that is as beautiful to look at as it is to read.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Casebook of Carnacki: Ghost Hunter

William Hope Hodgson
Wordsworth

Six tales of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, tales of the outre, the unexpected, and the unexplained from a reknowned master of the macabre, William Hope Hodgeson. 

A year or so ago I heard the ‘Weird Tales for Winter’ version of ‘Gateway of the Monster’ and shortly after that I read ‘The Whistling Room’ as a back-up story in one of the Doctor Who novellas – ‘Foreign Devils’ by Andrew Cartmel – these sent me looking for the full anthology.

The two I already knew are amongst the best of the 9 Carnacki stories here. ‘The Hog’ was also pretty fab as was ‘the Horse of the Invisible’ even if part of the ending was maybe a little poor.

‘The House Among the Laurels’ was a silly but fun Sherlockian short. ‘The Find’ was too brief by far and felt undeveloped. ‘The Haunted Jarvee’ had its moments but didn’t really go anywhere.

‘The Thing Invisible’ was another basic Sherlock investigation and ‘The Searcher of the End House’ had nothing to offer in the end to live up to the build-up.

At best Hodgson was a journeyman writer. There are some nice ideas in there and the fact that Carnacki doesn’t always come across supernatural causes to the crimes he investigates is very satisfying. The stories though, often feel underdeveloped and the character himself is too dry and stunted and just doesn’t have the personality to truly carry the story, he really needs a Watson. Perhaps if Hodgson had survived WWI he would have developed his style and the character. It would have been interesting to see how his experiences would have influenced his words. Alas it was not to be.

Doctor Who: All-Consuming Fire


Andy Lane
Virgin Books

Landing in Victorian London, the TARDIS crew is surprised to meet up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

And so we arrive at the single geekiest thing in the known universe. A meeting between the Seventh Doctor (along with Ace and Bernice Summerfield) teams up with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to combat the agents of H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods.

The two groups come together over a set of missing books from the Vatican’s secret library of banned books, The Library of St. John the Beheaded.

Thanks to Mycroft and the Diogenes Club (via a cameo from the Third Doctor, a mention of Kim Newman’s Charles Beauregard character and an even elder Holmes brother and an alien of his acquaintance) they find themselves travelling to India in order to stop an invasion of the alien’s world by nasty brutish humans.

If this all seems a little pat then you’d be correct and things soon take a turn for the malign as plans within plans are exposed.

Lane has a nice touch. The plot is speedy and he handles the variety and volume of principles well. The dialogue is spritely, especially between Bernice and Watson as they flirt with each other. There were things I didn’t like, primarily the addition of the elder brother, but they certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Anno Dracula vol. 2: The Bloody Red Baron


Kim Newman
Titan Books

It is 1918 and Graf von Dracula is commander-in-chief of the armies ofGermany and Austria-Hungary. The War of the Great Powers in Europeis also a war between the living and the undead. Caught up in the conflict, Charles Beauregard, an old enemy of Dracula, his protegé Edwin Winthrop,and intrepid vampire reporter Kate Reed go head-to-head with the lethal vampire flying machine that is the Bloody Red Baron... In the brand-new novella Vampire Romance, Geneviève Dieudonné,newly returned to England, infiltrates a singular vampire gathering in the service of the Diogenes Club.When I started reading this I wasn’t really in the mood for a novel (too tired) and so the first 50 or so pages were a bit of a slog as I kept stopping to read comics. Once I had time to wake and liven up a bit I started the book in earnest and boy what a ride.

This second volume of the Anno Dracula tales moves the action onto the 1914-18 war. Dracula is now one of the leaders of Germany and the motivating force behind the German War Effort.

At Schloss Adler various ‘scientific’ experiments are being undertaken on the various members of the JG1 squadron of air aces under Baron Manfred Von Richtofen.  Rallied against these are the British aces and the Diogenes Club.

As before there’s a plethora of both action and intrigue but with the focus being much more confined this volume lacks the scope of the first. It’s still a wonderful react though filled with fun and adventure and fangs.

There’s a back-up story too. A pastiche of Twilight and P, G. Wodehouse involving a meeting of elders at a drafty old English country house up North. There’re dirty deeds afoot and the Diogenes Club sends Winthrop and Genevieve to investigate. They’re soon embroiled in a murder whilst the plucky (and slightly dim) young, vampire besotted, love struck lady of the house along with the ancient (but teenaged Kill Bill style) Japanese bodyguard investigate what soon transpires to be a rather grand plot waiting to be uncovered.

It’s a great little read. Long enough to be very satisfying but short enough to ensure it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

Timeless


Gail Carriger
Orbit

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.
Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?


The fifth of the Parasol Protectorate novels sees Alexia, Maccon and the offspring heading off to Egypt at the summons of the oldest vampire queen. Whilst there they find themselves also investigating the godbreaker plague. Meanwhile back home Lyall and Biffy investigate the murder of the Kinair Beta and find out both that they have rather specific feelings for each other and that Biffy may be more than he realises.

The story romps along as usual and is full of pithy little observations and one-liners. There’s also plenty of daring-do and intrigue.

As ever it’s cracking good fun and ends with the creation of the most unlikely of vampire queens.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Ganymede


Cherie Priest
Tor Books

The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he’s happy to run alcohol guns wherever the money’s good, he doesn’t think the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side-effects. But becoming legit is easier said than done, and Cly’s first legal gig—a supply run for the Seattle Underground—will be paid for by sap money.
New Orleans is not Cly’s first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he also loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early—but that was a decade ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. Jo’s still thinking about him, though, or so he learns when he gets a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once, one he can’t refuse. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he’s in for—or what she wants him to fly.
But he won’t be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it…. If only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River… If only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it.
But it’s those “if onlys” that will decide whether Cly and his crew will end up in the history books, or at the bottom of the ocean.


This is the third of Priest’s Clockwork Century books and it’s another corker.

I’ve enjoyed all these books so far (especially the second) and I love that they truly feel like events unfolding rather than some sort of contrived arc of a trilogy.It’s also beautifully human. You almost know these characters. They use believable logic to justify their behaviour and they react in understandable ways, albeit very noble ones.

The story this time out concerns a newly invented submarine that the (black) insurgents in New Orleans are trying to hide from and slip past the occupying forces of the Confederacy and the Republic of Texas. Airship pirate Andan Cly is asked by his ex to come to New Orleans to pilot the sub. Along the way he is caught up in an Texan attack on the insurgent base, participates in the fight to recapture it and meets his first transvestite prostitute.

Truthfully it wasn’t as satisfyingly wonderful as the second book, Dreadnought, but as that was one of the best things I read all last year that’s probably not surprising. This one is still a fabulous read filled with pin sharp dialogue and great characters.

All these books (and the assorted shorts) feel like snapshots of a series of interconnected lives. It’s getting to be increasingly interesting how these lives are intertwining whilst behind everything the menace of the zombies is growing slowly.

As ever I almost cannot wait for the next volume.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Heartless


Gail Carriger
Orbit

Lady Alexia Maccon, soulless, is at it again, only this time the trouble is not her fault. When a mad ghost threatens the queen, Alexia is on the case, following a trail that leads her deep into her husband's past. Top that off with a sister who has joined the suffragette movement (shocking!), Madame Lefoux's latest mechanical invention, and a plague of zombie porcupines and Alexia barely has time to remember she happens to be eight months pregnant.
Will Alexia manage to determine who is trying to kill Queen Victoria before it is too late? Is it the vampires again or is there a traitor lurking about in wolf's clothing? And what, exactly, has taken up residence in Lord Akeldama's second best closet?


The fourth in the Parasol Protectorate novels brings the pregnancy to an end with a riotous conclusion. Alexia receives a visit from a ghost on the verge of going poltergeist telling her of a plot against the Queen. Her investigations lead her into her husband’s past with his Scottish pack and also reveals dark secrets about the current pack and her own past.

Meanwhile the plot continues and she may need to look elsewhere for answers.

The first recruit to the protectorate is recruited here as Ivy proves herself a lot less vapid than previously implied.

This one is very much the action sequel to the series - although the last had its moments – with a concluding battle between vampires, werewolves and scientists featuring a giant mechanical octopus. It is there to set everything up for the next book which is blatantly going to deal with the results of the birth at the very end that reveals that Prudence has a number of unusual traits.

Another fun episode in Alexia’s travails that opens up all manner of fun avenues for the following novel to explore.