It was a pleasant surprise to be asked to contribute the foreword to this Nine Hearts Publishing title. It was based on a prose article Dance With theIt was a pleasant surprise to be asked to contribute the foreword to this Nine Hearts Publishing title. It was based on a prose article Dance With the Muse and Write to Dissent) I wrote that appeared in a small press magazine Ubique #2. I forget when either appeared, but it was earlier in the last decade....more
A brilliant and heart-rending book. You wouldn't think the portrayal of the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats would do anything other than trivialiseA brilliant and heart-rending book. You wouldn't think the portrayal of the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats would do anything other than trivialise the Holocaust, but far from it. It brought out and re-emphasised the human pain, suffering -- and endurance -- in the face of such cruel inhumanity. The artwork was evocative; the story compelling....more
"This is a story of life", writes Seema Gill in her first novel Svera Jang. The words are buried deep within the text, just part of the flowing narrat"This is a story of life", writes Seema Gill in her first novel Svera Jang. The words are buried deep within the text, just part of the flowing narrative, yet they seem to encapsulate the entire book.
The life in question is that of the title character, Svera, a young Sikh woman who leaves her life in India behind to escape an arranged marriage only to fall in love and land herself in an abusive marriage.
Svera is a free spirit, a wandering soul, who wants to break free from the conventions and cultural expectations of her homeland; she wants to live her life and not be bound into the suffocating blanket of conformity. So, she heads to Europe, a land where she expects to find the space to grow as a human being, and the freedom to be herself.
Instead, she finds a culture that appears to fulfil her expectations, yet proves every bit as stifled by conventionality and expectations to conform as the homeland she left behind. It takes time for this to sink in to young Svera's perception, but in the meantime, she meets and falls in love with Peter.
The young Dane appears to be the epitome of the unconventional: a Marxist idealist, a member of a revolutionary party, and a man with heart and soul enough to want to change the world for the better. Yet Peter leaves his young bride on their wedding night to attend a party meeting. Not a good sign...
Svera's handsome blond Viking reveals himself as a man utterly bound up in conformity and convention; not just to his own cultural background but also to the really rather whacky expectations of his party comrades. More than that, as the relationships endures – and bears fruit – Peter reveals himself as a self-centred prig, the manly patriarch at the heart of conventional family expectations, and finally a wife-beating philanderer. A man, in short, not only stunted by his conventionality but by his own inadequacies.
Gill's story weaves in and out of fantasy, taking in a kind of magical realism, dissecting the story from events as they happen and on to the older, wiser Svera looking back on the life she has led. In many ways, the narrative is a dialogue between young Svera and the mature woman she became, as the latter strives to rise above the breaking of her heart and the smashing of her dreams, to come to terms with her past.
It sounds grim; a woman coming to terms with a history of abuse, but Gill loads her prose with hope and optimism, and an enduring affinity and compassion for life and humanity. This is no maudlin treatise on self-pity but a thorough-going journey into the realms of the human spirit. There is anger, there is hurt, there is grief and disappointment, and yes there are some mournful moments, but Svera's spirit remains far from broken and clouded by darkness. This is a journey into light and a life-affirming tale, a story of one woman's indomitable nature.
Quite simply, Svera Jang is a beautiful book. Gill's prose is heavily influenced by her poetic expression. The narrative blossoms with the author's rhapsodic verve, but it never descends into the pretentious, nor does it become bloated by purple excess. The language is rich, fulsome and utterly seductive as the author lures you into Svera's hopes, dreams – and finally her liberation as both a woman and a human being....more
This is a mammoth trilogy, which strangely comes in four door-stopping volumes (at least the editions that I read), but don't let the sheer epic scaleThis is a mammoth trilogy, which strangely comes in four door-stopping volumes (at least the editions that I read), but don't let the sheer epic scale of this novel put you off.
I first read this series beginning back in my student days, returning to it on a number of occasions for a re-read, and each time it reveals some more its depth and subtlety. Rich in vivid detail, Tad Williams has presented a complex and sophisticated fantasy that inevitably brings comparisons to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, however, this is unfair to both titles.
Both must be considered as what they are: standalone works that weave in-depth and detailed characters into a complex, multi-layered story that nevertheless portrays the eternal theme of good against evil.
However, while there is a depth and complexity to Tolkien’s work, it is much more in the heroic vein, dealing with more mythologised archetypes than does Williams' work. Here, he presents more of a landscape of Mediaeval realism, if it can be put in such terms, but his heroes and villains and the underlying mythical landscape is no less compelling for that.
In both worlds, evil is the product of fallen virtue – the arch-villains did not start evil but fell from grace, however, where Tolkien’s Dark Lord resonates with Christian mythology of the Fallen Angel, Williams' Storm King is a demonic monster of subtler, more tragic origins, and it was the cruelty and brutality of Man that had a hand in his fall.
When the Rimmersmen, a Viking-like people arrive in the lands of Osten Ard, they bring with them iron – a deadly metal to the immortal Sithi – and an even deadlier lust for conquest and colonisation. They scourge the Kingdoms of men and strive to destroy the race of Sithi they deem to be demons. And so these invaders sow the seeds of cruelty and destruction that reaps a terrible harvest of evil in the centuries that follow.
When his people are driven to the brink, under siege in their ancient home of Asu’a, Prince of the Sithi Ineluki works a dark and terrible magic to repel the invaders and save his people. Though he cannot repel the invaders, he at least creates an avenue of escape for those of his kind to find a chance to flee into hiding, but in the process, Ineluki becomes the Storm King, a creature that lurks beyond death, sustained by hate, that now embarks on a far-reaching plan to return from death and exert a cruel revenge on humanity.
The story follows the fortunes of Simon, a kitchen boy, who finds himself caught in the heart of the calamitous times that engulf his little world. Whether he likes it or not, he’s got destiny written all over him, and he’s got to grow up fast.
Whether it’s the panoramic landscapes, the intense and cruel battles, right down to the tiniest foibles and personal quibbles between the characters, Williams’ writing is evocative and engaging. The characters instantly set up residence in our minds as living, breathing people caught up in events beyond their understanding, beyond their measure, but never once losing their existence as an individual.
Coming in four hefty volumes (book three is split into two), this is a marathon read, but it is well worth the effort. Indeed, the story and the vivid characters soon pull you in until you are carried along, a ghostly observer in their world, as they face the greatest threat that Osten Ard has ever endured.
The word fantasy may put many off, but this is no sword and sorcery tale of derring do, rather fantasy of the intelligent kind. It is, if I dare suggest, literature in the best use of the word, a high drama, a thriller and a horror, and filled with humanity in all of its complex, timeless essence.
As with all the best genre fiction, Memory, Sorrow Thorn refuses to be bound by the label, even as it adds depth and complexity, and reaches out to make itself felt beyond the shelves of fantasy and preconceived perception. ...more
We think we might know the realm of Hell, but it proves to be rather more than the ‘torture-porn’ gorefest our modern cultural expectations might demaWe think we might know the realm of Hell, but it proves to be rather more than the ‘torture-porn’ gorefest our modern cultural expectations might demand.
Yes, there’s plenty of blood and pain for the damned souls incarcerated in the Underworld, but the truth of Hell’s horrors are much more psychological in nature, more subtle, more severe, and more intelligent than anything a schlock-horror mindset might favour. Wisehart avoids falling into the latter trap.
Given its theme, it might be tempting to call this a work of fantasy, but on the other hand given it Mediaeval setting, its homage to Dante, and the grip that religion had on how individuals saw their world in those bygone days, it can equally be called a historical novel.
Either way, Wisehart has woven a compelling and engaging story that will move its readers every bit as much as it provokes thought. It might even teach a thing or two about an era that is far removed from our own time, one that is – at least on the surface – more rational and reasoned....more
There's an interesting premise in this novel by Robert Sawyer that seeks to explore the nature of self-awareness and its origins. The story centres onThere's an interesting premise in this novel by Robert Sawyer that seeks to explore the nature of self-awareness and its origins. The story centres on a young girl Caitlan. Blind since birth, she's given a chance to see thanks to Japanese research scientist Dr Kuroda, but she gets more than she bargains for when the 'EyePod' (as she names the device) allows her to see cyberspace (the world wide web), and there she comes to perceive a nascent awareness.
Something is becoming aware of the outside world, of Caitlan, and through that it is becoming aware of itself. No, don't think of the Internet becoming aware; it's not that but this entity exists on the web all the same. Throw in an experiment with primates of different species beong taught to communicate over the species barrier with sign language, Internet censorship in China, and we have a number of strands that begin to weave together an exploration of consciousness.
It sounds fascinating, but the truth is the novel left me strangely unmoved, despite it covering a theme I expected would fire up my interest. The book is part of a series, so doubtless th real meat and bones of the story are yet to come, but I can't say this novel has inspired me to read further and find out....more
Speaking as an atheist myself, The God Delusion is one of those books I would have loved to have written, but as soon as I opened the book and began tSpeaking as an atheist myself, The God Delusion is one of those books I would have loved to have written, but as soon as I opened the book and began to read, it was clear I was never going to be up to the task.
Dawkins is given a hard time as a 'militant atheist', his works passed of as pedentic rants with little regard to balance and fairness. If so, I must have been reading a different book. One of the striking things about this book, the erudite and reasoned arguments aside, is the humanity and humanism in Dawkin's writing, and indeed rather more than a passing respect for the cultural contributions of the religious at their best -- dare one say at their most humane and humanist.
However, Dawkins is clear and firm in his stance in making his case against gods and religion.
This is not a work of disinterested academia, carrying out some comparative review of religions and their views, nor is it a work of objective, balanced journalism. On the contrary, Dawkins is presented an argument, a case, a position. He is advocating the atheistic stance against the religious. So, naturally, his writing stands its ground.
And his arguments are well-rounded, sharply honed, and presented with a relaxed and human warmth that is far from the shrill figure the author is often presented as being. ...more
ALL Cazaril wanted after he escaped the slave galleys of the Roknari was a simple job as scullion. Instead, his former patron makes him the tutor secr ALL Cazaril wanted after he escaped the slave galleys of the Roknari was a simple job as scullion. Instead, his former patron makes him the tutor secretary to the Royesse (Princess) Iselle.
So begins the former captain, courtier, commander and Lord's journey into a world of politics, power struggle, and a battle to defeat an ancient curse. Before he can win through, he will need all his wits and strength.
To call Bujold's work just another fantasy novel would be an insult. The story is written in loving detail, the characters are well fleshed out, and the political intrigue is both subtle and sophisticated. ...more
NOT to be read by the squeamish, perhaps, but Grave Secrets is a fascinating insight into the world of forensic anthropology, as well as a well plotteNOT to be read by the squeamish, perhaps, but Grave Secrets is a fascinating insight into the world of forensic anthropology, as well as a well plotted story.
A mass grave of political murder victims in Chupan Ya, Guatemala. Four missing girls, two of which are found dead, and political blocks placed on the investigation. What is the connection between the twenty-year-old victims and the modern deaths?
Forensic Anthropologist, Dr Temperance Brennan will need all her cunning and scientific knowledge to pull apart the mysterious crimes and -- literally -- unearth the truth....more
Now that the eerie air of familiarity I felt when reading Ian Woodhead’s The Unwashed Dead has seen the setting confirmed as Bradford, it’s tempting tNow that the eerie air of familiarity I felt when reading Ian Woodhead’s The Unwashed Dead has seen the setting confirmed as Bradford, it’s tempting to say ‘welcome to my old home town’.
Certainly, the revelation added a little frisson of nostalgia to the enjoyment as I found myself caught in the fray of this gripping frenzy of the undead, though a certain latent civic attachment compels me to point out that the real Bradford isn’t infested with zombie hordes – well, not until the pubs and clubs shut their doors, but that’s another story.
Back to the main event and The Unwashed Dead is an action-packed ride into zombie mayhem, featuring plenty of gore – without ever going over the top – and the pacing is spot on. The characters are fully fleshed, ready for the zombies to take a bite, and one way or another you will care about their fate. There are no cardboard cut-outs, stereotypes or caricatures to be found among the cast of this novel.
The Unwashed Dead is a cracking piece of work that fully deserves to find a place on the shelves of any bookstore. Certainly, I’d be happy to see some of the bandwagon zombie titles pushed aside to make room for this welcome addition to the genre. This is biting zombie action that will leave you craving more. ...more
A small selection of short stories it may be, but they are all finely written depictions of lives in motion. The stories don't depict grandiose themesA small selection of short stories it may be, but they are all finely written depictions of lives in motion. The stories don't depict grandiose themes, or great adventure, but those small moments that might seem fleeting but are of great import. Here, in these little slivers of living, is where human life is really defined, and these stories are engaging, moving, and filled with human warmth, even where the story touches upon the darker aspects of human nature. Time Standing Still makes for a worthy introduction to Farrell's work. It will not disappoint....more
NEVER work for a secret government research project is the moral of this tale, as David Tennant finds the hard way. His role is to bring an ethical diNEVER work for a secret government research project is the moral of this tale, as David Tennant finds the hard way. His role is to bring an ethical dimension, but when a colleague is found dead, he suspects murder. No time for morality, if he's right then he's next. The project is a staggering breakthrough in artificial intelligence, one that has terrifying implications as a stepping stone for human evolution. And someone wants it badly enough to kill. Dark Matter is a gripping thriller that combines old fashioned greed with cutting edge science, cosmology and an exposition on the nature of God. ...more