Monday, 21 July 2014

Pax Britannia: Evolution Expects

Jonathan Green
(Abaddon Books)

In the closing years of the 20th century the British Empire's rule is still going strong. Queen Victoria is about to celebrate her 160th birthday, kept alive by advanced steam technology. London is a fantastical sprawling metropolis where dirigibles roam the skies, robot bobbies enforce the law and dinosaurs are on display in London zoo. Welcome to Magna Britannia, a steam driven world full of fantastical creations and shady villains. Here dashing dandies and mustachioed villains battle for supremacy while below the city strange things stir in the flooded tunnels of the old London Underground. When a deadly legacy returns, Ulysses Quicksilver finds himself drawn into that pit of despair known as Bedlam. With a dangerous masked vigalante stalking the streets of London, a monster from Jewish myth on the loose in the East End and rival gangs fighting for control of the city's underworld there may be nothing Ulysses can do to prevent a catastrophic metamorphosis!

It has been ages since I read one of these Pax Britannia books and it was a nice surprise just how much I enjoyed it. I looked the others, they were fluffy and silly but generally solid pulp fun. This new one continues on from the breakdown of the government in previous book (Human Nature) as the Prime Minister went postal.

The new PM and the new head of the secret service are trying to reclaim the polluted city and therefore reinvigorate the country. Meanwhile Ulysses is investigating both the appearance of a golem in the east end and the worrying number of people changer into insects hidden away in Bedlam. At the same time there's a new vigilante hero in town with distinct Batman tendencies.

Big, silly and fun. Looking forward to the next one.

Mainspring

Jay Lake
(Tor Books)

Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.
Mainspring is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfill the commandment of his God.

Mainspring tells of a young man's quest to rewind the eponymous spring at the heart of his clockwork world - yeah, I know. His mission takes him from his home and across the US via hobos and captivity into the air on a dirigible down to the equatorial wall. Across the wall via a giant cog -yeah, I know - after having been kidnapped by flying demon things and meeting an immortal guru not wise enough to know that the guide he gave him was a bit of a dick. Across southern Africa in the company of horny, hairy Neanderthals. Africa, where the only people he encounters are the aforementioned happy go lucky little shaggers and a city of super tall and aloof homicidal magicians. Then, down across the ocean to the south pole on a super dirigible he happens across before restarting the world via the power of love. Yeah, I know.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

Sixteen years ago, notorious science-brigand Janni Nemo journeyed into the frozen reaches of Antarctica to resolve her father's weighty legacy in a storm of madness and loss, barely escaping with her Nautilus and her life.
Now it is 1941, and with her daughter strategically married into the family of aerial warlord Jean Robur, Janni's raiders have only limited contact with the military might of the clownish German-Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel. But when the pirate queen learns that her loved ones are held hostage in the nightmarish Berlin, she has no choice save to intervene directly, travelling with her ageing lover Broad Arrow Jack into the belly of the beastly metropolis. Within that alienated city await monsters, criminals and legends, including the remaining vestiges of Germany’s notorious ‘Twilight Heroes’, a dark Teutonic counterpart to Mina Murray’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And waiting at the far end of this gauntlet of alarming adversaries there is something much, much worse.
Continuing in the thrilling tradition of Heart of Ice, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill rampage through twentieth-century culture in a blazing new adventure, set in a city of totalitarian shadows and mechanical nightmares. Cultures clash and lives are lost in the explosive collision of four unforgettable women, lost in the black and bloody alleyways where thrive THE ROSES OF BERLIN.


This is the second League of Extraordinary Gentleman spinoff books to feature the exploits of everyone's favourite sub aquatic pirate goes off to Germany to rescue her daughter and her son in law, the air pirate Robur.

The book mixes in The Great Dictator, Metropolis, Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari, She and more to great effect. I've got to say though that if it wasn't for the majesty of Jess Nevins and his explanatory website - http://jessnevins.com/annotations/rosesofberlin.html - much of it would have been incomprehensible to me as it was written in German and I don't currently have a friendly German to hand..

It's a quest book (of sorts) and as such is a little thin on plot but what there is is typical Moore and there is plenty of distraction in the always beautiful art from O'Neill who as ever brings the most absurd worlds to life in stunning, awe inspiring and eye popping glory.

Not the best of them but still wonderful.

Nemo: Heart of Ice

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

It's 1925, fifteen long years since Janni Dakkar first tried to escape the legacy of her dying science-pirate father, only to accept her destiny as the new Nemo, captain of the legendary Nautilus. Now, tired of her unending spree of plunder and destruction, Janni launches a grand expedition to surpass her father's greatest failure: the exploration of Antarctica. Hot on her frozen trail are a trio of genius inventors, hired by the megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane to retrieve the plundered valuables of an African queen. It's a deadly race to the bottom of the world - an uncharted land of wonder and horror where time is broken and the mountains bring madness.


A very unexpected surprise when this appeared. I'd heard that they were going to do these spin-offs but I wasn't expecting one to turn up this soon.

What we have is a missing tale of the second Captain Nemo and her attempt to traverse Antarctica in the footsteps of her father. In pursuit of her and her crew is a trio of American adventurers in the employ of Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha (the Queen from 'She'). On their disastrous journey they discover various Lovecraftian locations and creatures.

It's a fairly slight (by Moore's terms) little romp but one that adds layers to the character of Janni (Nemo) and very nicely bridges the gap between the vengeful Janni of the first volume of 'Century' and the mellower mature one that turned up later.

I've loved all the League stories and this one was no exception.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Doctor Who: Imperial Moon

Christopher Bulis
BBC Books

The TARDIS materializes on the far side of the moon and the time safe alarm goes off. Inside is a diary kept by a Captain Richard Halliwell, describing his mission from Earth to the Moon -- in the year 1878. The TARDIS returns to 1878 where the Doctor meets up with the expeditions and the remains of the massacred team member are discovered. The Doctor must find the alien creature responsible for the murder and solve why there is no record of Victorian space travel.

The phrase ‘British Imperial Spacefleet’ on the back of a book is always going to catch my eye. This is the first of the PDA books that I’ve read and I chose it because of that phrase. That the book is set in 1878 certainly didn’t hurt its chances of being pulled off the shelf.

The Doctor (travelling with Turlough & Kamelion) find a diary in the TARDIS safe that tells the story of the mission to the moon and makes mention of the Doctor & Turlough. They head back for a look-see and are soon part of a rescue attempt across a strange oasis on the moon filled with strange and deadly creatures and beautiful ladies in scant clothing. There’s a mutiny and a warder to deal with before things get really nasty and the Doctor resorts to gun-play to eliminate the marauding Vralls who were there in hiding.

It was a typically Doctor type book with no real suspense but lots of running around a fairly unorthodox setting. It was fun but not essential.

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

Mark 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

Bryan 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.