Stan Sakai - Usagi Yojimbo vol 24: Return of the Black Soul
Obviously volume 24 of a series was always going to be a problematic jumping on point. I'd known abut Usagi Yojimbo for years but the opportunity to read anything had never materialised until now when this volume turned up in the library.
Usagi is a roaming samurai rabbit who through these volumes is stalking the demon Jei. There's an obvious Lone Wolf & Cub vibe going on but UY is a much lighter affair. The art is nice, clean and b&W with a lovely fluidity of movement between panels. Too many of the books characters look alike though and the brutal jump cuts between, especially perspective but also, to a lesser extent, between characters is disconcerting and kicks you out of the narrative.
I'm glad I finally got the chance to check some of this stuff out. It wasn't really my cup of tea but I'm intrigued enough to rent another should one appear.
James Sallis - Death Will Have Your Eyes
(No Exit Press)
I can probably count the number of spy novels I've ever read on the fingers of one hand. In fact, I can probably count the number of spy novels I've read on the index finger of one hand. I know nothing about them except exploding pens, ejector seats and butlers with killer-frisbee bowler hats. To be fair, to both myself and the genre, the tagline of this book is, 'A novel about spies', not '...about spying' you notice. This is a very important distinction. Sallis' book is primarily about the people not the situations they find themselves in. The protagonist, David, is a re-activated sleeper agent fighting against the comfort of his current life and the demands and duties his former life is now making of him. James Bond this isn't. David is an utterly human character. Sure, he can do 'spy' type things but that really isn't the point here, the point is what's happening inside his head more than outside it. Sallis cut his teeth writing science fiction in the 1960's for 'New Worlds' magazine but is deservedly noted for his 4 (to my knowledge) Lew Griffin pulp-noir novels.. Evidence of both of these can be found here. His theories on spying (given voice here by David's memories of his training) are pure sci fi (so much so they're probably true) whereas his noir roots show in a writing style that is slow and meandering through a plot that is airtight and beautifully paced, peopled with characters that you become genuinely fond of.
Tara Samms – Doctor Who Novellas: Hanged
This pseudonymous novella was massive amounts of fun.
The story seems to be the first meeting between the First Doctor and Susan with humans. It also gives a possible, if maybe slightly unsatisfying, origin of the pairs names.
Beingn then First though he is yet to become the genial fixer that the name implies and is moiré inclined to sod off than to help.
The staff of a remote re-education facility for children whose genes indicate they may grow up with hostile tendencies. The facility is under siege from fox like creatures. Also one of the patients has developed psychic abilities and is reaching out to the only member of the staff that was nice and creating a fake world in order to entice him.
It was a quick and easy read but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable it was.
Dave Stone – Doctor Who Novellas: Citadel of Dreams
Dave Stone is a 2000AD writer and novelist. I’m sure I’ve read a few things by him but as I rarely used to look at the credits on comics I can’t know for sure. The one thing I definitely remember was a Judge Dredd novel called ‘Deathmasques’. It was a fun and slightly risqué read for a Dredd story.
This is the first of his Doctor Who novels I’ve read. I must admit to being slightly disappointed. It’s a 7th Doctor & Ace story and he’s one of the Doctors I know least so I’m kinda dark on his character.
The storyline here is more than a little confused. For the most part it felt like style over substance. There is hardly any character development and the resolution is garbled and deeply unsatisfying. The only thing in its favour is that Stone is an personable writer but truthfully not enough to raise this out of the doldrums.
J. Michael Stracznski & others - Rising Stars: Born in Fire
Straczynski is the creator and (almost) sole writer of Babylon 5 which wasn't a show I ever got into. The few episodes I saw were uninteresting and I think the best thing to come out of it was the line in Spaced.
This comic is his attempt at superheroes. He's going for the big concept aspect here and while Rising Stars certainly doesn't suck it falls way short of what he was aiming for.
The basic plot revolves around a group of 113 people affected by some cosmic energy or other whilst in utero. Focusing on their subsequent travails when one of the costumed meatheads amongst them realises that they all get more powerful whenever one of them dies and so goes on a killing spree.
It was horribly cliched for the most part and some of the plot development was just utterly ridiculous - I'm thinking here of the sudden team up between costumed meathead #1, his so-called arch-enemy (who we'd had next to no previous introduction to) and the god-bothering closeted gay lightbulb and his dad where they immediately convinced the government that the other powery types were eeviillll - bwah-ha-ha!
From that point on things just degenerated into a non-stop plunge into violent absurdity. There was little nuance and even less plot development. Instead it was full steam ahead to the intermission and it's big reveal. The only hint to this came a couple of pages before which left it feeling a lot like an afterthought.
I read this lying in bed, half drunk on cheap lager and even cheaper (but surprisingly tasty) brandy. It passed an hour and that was good. If the second volume turns up in the library I'll borrow it because I'm a completist saddo but on the whole this was pretty damn weak.
Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives
These are the first two stories in the series of books about The Laundry; the UK governments anti (Lovecraftian style) demon organisation and in particular the exploits of one of it's operatives, Bob Howard.
In the Atrocity Archives we arte introduced to all the principal character and are faced with a battery of explanations regarding how every little thing in the Laundry works. The story has Howard chasing both love and the nameless horror that's trying to get into our world via the remnants of some long dead SS necromancers.
The second story, The Concrete Jungle, tells the story of 'look to kill' weapons in the security cameras and an attempted inter-departmental coup against Bob's very scary boss, Angleton.
The over-description of the procedures of the Laundry does gat a little tiresome but both of these stories were thoroughly enjoyable.
Charles Stross – Jennifer Morgue / Pimpf
A second set of Laundry books with a full length novel followed by a short, just like the last book. This one is a lot less Lovecraftian than the last with bags of James Bond style globetrotting over a John Wyndham creature feature.
The basic plot revolves around an attempt to steal from the creatures who live in the seas depths. The Bond-ness is deliberate as there is a spell cast that means the evil business magnate can only be stopped by someone conforming with a Bond stereotype. Bob is embroiled in this and stumbles through the case until the end when things get very interesting and twisty. It’s fairly silly but it is pretty fun.
The short is an innocuous thing about computer games and ghosts which didn’t grab my attention at all.
Charles Stross - Down on the Farm
This is the first of two Laundry shorts that I had a listen to before tackling the next full novel - The Fuller Memorandum.
Bob is sent north to visit a sanatorium, for agents suffering from Krantzberg's Syndrome, from which a message has been received warning of nefarious activities.
Once there he finds a selection of top level researchers ensconced in work associated with battling Case Nightmare Green. Also there he finds a psychotic, possessed computer 'Matron' that has set up a trap for Bob that'll help her escape confinement.
A really nifty little tale that offered an extra little insight into the Laundry's plans to combat the end of the world.
Charles Stross - Overtime
A very silly little short Laundry tale setting Bob against Santa, or at least a demonic version thereof.
Bob is stuck doing overtime at Xmas where he discovers that someone has opened the doors of the Laundry building, or more precisely, the Laundry buildings chimneys.
He sets a trap at the bottom of the chimney, outside of the building's furnace, of left over mince pies for the creature to feed on (as opposed to it feeding on him).
It's all very daft but good fun and as I accidentally played this over Xmas without realising the context it was especially so.
Charles Stross - Equoid
Bob is landed with an investigation into possible strange goings on at a farm outside of London. The local DEFRA vet and part time crytozoologist has spotted tell tale signs of an equoid, or 'unicorn' as they're more commonly known, outbreak.
In Bob's world - and also in that of H.P.Lovecraft whose letters regarding his own dealings with them are interspersed through the narrative - unicorns are thoroughly malignant and murderous creatures that need taking care of with extreme prejudice...and fire...preferably napalm.
It's only a little short but it crackles with intent. Often these little freebie reads can be a little weak but this feels like it belongs in the canon and wasn't just hacked out as a begrudged contract obligation. Well worth your time especially as it's free at the link below.
read it here - http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/09/equoid
Charles Stross - The Fuller Memorandum
I used the previous two shorts to get me in the mood for this next novel in the series. I'm glad I did cause he makes several references to the guys sequestered away in the asylum featured in 'Down on the Farm'.
This book is a lot less adventury than the others. It gives a stronger view of the Laundry prepping for Case Nightmare Green.
Angleton suspects a traitor in the Laundry and in order to draw the traitor out he sets Bob up as bait along with a report that would allow the cultists to summon up the 'Eater of Souls'. The problem for them is that even though they catch, torture and try to possess Bob it turns out the 'Eater of Souls' is already incarnate and Bob's boss.
I really enjoyed this one (I've pretty much enjoyed all of them). Lot's of characters all working towards a single goal and a glimpse into the wider worlds and plans of the Laundry and also their Russian equivalent, The Black Chamber.
Charles Stross - The Apocalypse Codex
I really like these very British Lovecraftian books about the UK's magical secret service The Laundry that Stross has done but I'm not sure I could actually read one. All the one I've come across (and I'm fairly certain that it's all of them) have been audiobooks and now all the characters are so entirely tied up with the voices that reader Gideon Emery has given them that this is the only way for me now.
This latest one pits our promotion bound hero, computational demonologist Bob Howard, against an American evangelist with a hard on for waking the Sleeper which would be bad news for all involved and everyone not involved. Helping him along the way are two external operatives - Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish, a witch and an ex-squaddie respectively - who slowly reveal to him the the true hidden history and nature of The Laundry.
This time out it's less obsessed with the bureaucracy of the agency and what we get is more of a straight adventure story but as Stross has been writing each as a pastiche of different authors such as Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and Anthony Price and here inserting Bob into a Peter O'Donnell (Modesty Blaise) novel that's understandable. These have fast become amongst my most anticipated releases and are an absolute joy to find out where Stross is going to take Bob next which is a particularly apt way to end this review as it mirrors the tantalising end of the book.
James Swallow – Doctor Who: Museum Peace
An old soldier at the end of his much lauded life visits the museum holding the remains / remnants of his glory days during the Dalek wars. There he meets a strangely familiar man who he recognises despite his different face. They discuss the war and the traveller’s inability to end the Daleks once and for all.
Meanwhile one of the exhibits, broken, subsisting and slowly marshalling what remains of its energy is spurred into action by the presence of these two enemies of the Dalek race. The final tragedy underlies the danger of these creatures but the traveller is committed to his path and leaves.
Swallow is always a reliable and enjoyable writer willing to mix up the action with a good understanding of the need for a human heart at the centre of a story.
James Swallow - The Horus Heresy: Garro - Oath of Moment
The Black Library seems to have gotten bang into audiobooks of late. This is the most recent and also one of the better ones.
Garro is the Death Guard marine who escaped from Istvaan on board the Eisentstein to warn the Emperor of Horus' rebellion.
I loved Swallow's Flight of the Eisenstein. It was a proper sci-fi romp full of ott battles and ridiculosly huge guns and it's good to see them bringing Garro back. Here he seems to be on a recruiting mission - probably for the Grey Knights - and finds himself on Calth looking for an Ultramarine Librarian. It's a short listen but fun nonetheless. The writing is solid and the dialogue is, as ever, stilted and pompous but that's part of the appeal. I've read a few of Swallow's books now and he usually delivers the goods.
James Swallow - Horus Heresy: Garro - Legion of One
The second of the Garro audiobooks sees him head for Istvaan III and recruit Gavriel Loken for his new un-named (Grey Knights) legion,.
It's a nifty little tale concerning Garro & his Ultramarine & World Eater companions attempts to defeat an army of plague zombies and the madness that has made the abandoned Loken convinced he is Cerberus the guardian of Death. It's all a little daft but that's where the fun lies in the 40k (& 30k) books.
The reader, Toby Longworth, is solid as ever but even he can't make the cod-Latin sound anything other than ridiculous and clunky.
I like Swallow's writing and these two audiobookshave been fun although I thought they'd make more of the recruiting than just the two. Be interesting to see what happens next.
James Swallow - Doctor Who: Peacemaker
I really like Swallow's writing. Some of his 40K books have been cracking, especially 'Flight of the Eisenstein' which was top notch. This one though took a while to get going. The setting didn't help - the wild west - as it's maybe got to be a little passe.
The story itself was a fairly typical piece of Who with the Doctor pitched against a couple (then trio) of sentient and psycotic hand guns called The Clade. The story chugs along until about halfway through when it starts to find it's feet a little and is all the better for it.
One of the main problems of these books I think is no-one really knows what to do with Martha. I didn't mind her in the TV show but in print you can feel the personality vacuum of her character. She sits on the page and sucks away any and all life from the scenes she's in.
A bit of an off day for Mr. Swallow this one though.