Tag Archives: Dan Abnett

A literary update…

As detailed in previous posts, I have been devoting much of my leisure time to reading of late – games and films have taken a back seat (although I did play through the “Mass Effect 3” demo on 360 and loved it).

To bring you entirely up to date, this week I have somehow found time to read…

“Triumff – Her Majesty’s Hero” by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot books), “Nekropolis” by Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot) and “Changeless” by Gail Carriger (Orbit books).

Triumff - a swiss army knife of a book...

“Triumff” is best described as a ‘Blackadder’-like, alternate history swashbuckler with the titular hero inadvertently and grudgingly fighting a conspiracy to kill the Queen in a Britain where the Empire never quite ended, magic is very real and puns are as lethal as a good blade.

Dan Abnett knows swashbuckling and is – I would argue – without peer when it comes to large-scale action sequences.  He’s also genuinely funny and possessed of a gift for the pun which staggers the mind and emboldens the heart.  This is a great romp – in the very best sense of the word – and is highly recommended to you if you enjoy adventure, invention (there’s a prodigious hit rate of ideas and some very cool world building in this novel), comedy and character.

My limbs are falling off - your argument is invalid.

Tim Waggoner’s “Nekropolis” is the first in his series of supernatural detective novels featuring former human cop and reluctant zombie P.I., Matt Richter.

This is a book where the cover directed me to take a punt with it and I’m glad that I did – this is a really enjoyable tale of mystery, murder, drugs and mayhem in a world of the dead so off-kilter and matter-of-factly strange that it makes Tim Burton’s films look like an episode of “EastEnders”.

Richter inhabits the titular city of Nekropolis, where the dead, the undead, the uncanny and the archetypal creatures of the horror genre exist in an uneasy détente – everybody wants to rule the place, be it vampires, werewolves, ghosts or the otherwise living-impaired, but no one creature can gain full control.

If you like your horror fiction scary but not gross, your detective hard-boiled but essentially decent with it and your romantic lead to be steadily decomposing, you should think about giving this book a try.

If you have engineer's goggles, prepare to don them...

Finally this week, I read Gail Carriger‘s second instalment of her ‘Parasol Protectorate‘ series, “Changeless”.

When talking about the first novel in the series, “Soulless”, I did raise some minor misgivings that I had regarding the contemporary idioms used in the book, which I felt took me out of the otherwise delightful world that Ms Carriger has created.  Those issues still remain in the second book – would it kill the editors of the UK edition to replace the word ‘stoop’ with the word ‘step’ when a scene depicts somebody waiting outside a house? – but I was able to put them firmly to one side and concentrate on enjoying the second steampunk romantic adventure for Alexia Tarrabotti, the now Lady Maccon and erstwhile preternatural at large for Queen Victoria.

Some reviews of this book took issue with storytelling decisions which separate characters for large sections of the narrative and with an ending which left me feeling oddly bereft and exclaiming to the delightful Mrs Rolling Eyeballs “You can’t end a book like that!  That’s like the climax of  “The Empire Strikes Back”, that is!”.

I know why people feel like that – by this point, you don’t want anything too terrible to happen to Alexia, Ivy, Lord Maccon and the cast – but I feel that the decisions that Carriger made with her second novel were very much for the best and ultimately made it a far more compelling tale than the first book was.

Partly this could be because a large part of the action is set in Scotland, which I love dearly.  Partly it could be due to the fact that the steampunk elements in this book are really well-balanced and cleverly integrated into the story – there are gadgets and stylistic inclusions which add to the sense of the world being drawn before you and don’t detract from the story moving along.

And move along it does – this is a book which is pacy but never breathless and leaves you absolutely needing to start the next book in the series as soon as you put “Changeless” down.  I venture that for some folks this will absolutely be a ‘one-sitting’ read and no higher recommendation can I give it than that.

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Cultural Activities, for the week commencing 28th August 2011

Hey – how’s it going? It’s another, suspiciously sunny Bank Holiday weekend in Blighty and I’m choosing to celebrate this clearly wrong and improper series of events by staying in indoors and doing things of a cultural nature.

Sci-Fi's most-bewildered new parents

Firstly, nay imminently, we have the return of the 11th Doctor in the second part of season six of (New) “Doctor Who”. As a big old fan of current showrunner Steven Moffat (we have a shelf with DVD’s of his various series, from “Press Gang” to “Sherlock”), I am seriously intrigued to see where the second half of this season goes.

[SLIGHT SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN PART ONE OF SEASON SIX] I don’t know anybody who didn’t stifle a mild yawn when the big reveal at the close of “A Good Man Goes To War” was that River Song was Melody Pond who was Rory and Amy’s daughter.  You could make logical deductive leaps and get there – it didn’t seem earth-shattering and the events of the episode didn’t necessarily jibe with River’s proclamation that the Doctor would soar to great heights during the battle of Demon’s Run and then be brought low.  As much as I did enjoy the episode – it’s a rattling good yarn – I was left wondering when Moffat was going to start to drop the plot-revealing, rug-pulling bombs which he’s awesomely good at.  Because you know that he’s going to be dropping bombs – it’s what he does. [SPOILERS END]

So, new “Who” – the splendidly-titled “Let’s Kill Hitler” – promises much and may even deliver more than that.  I have every confidence.

It's a Metal album. Surprised?

Next on my list of cultural esoterica is Machine Head’s pivotal, nay genre-defining 2007 album, “The Blackening”.   Not many bands in the post file-sharing age get the chance to come into their own on their sixth album, but the Bay Area’s most teeth-bared, riff-heavy, harmonic-abusing metallurgists, Machine Head, managed to do just that with “The Blackening”.  It’s a difficult one to describe to people who’ve never heard the band before, but the best that I can do is to suggest imagining what an on-fire, out-of-control tanker truck crashing into a fireworks factory in the middle of a 9.0 earthquake might sound like.  With slightly better solos, obviously.

The riffs are raging, the lyrics are very ticked off indeed and the whole records barrels along the unholy heck-spawn of Maiden, Metallica and Priest.  Go and listen to the band on Last.FM and see what you think.

Reading matters, as seems to be the case a lot nowadays, are revolving around “Warhammer 40K”, the Black Library and that nice man Dan Abnett.

I don't carry anti-mugger devices any more, just Dan Abnett omnibi...

I’m two novels away from finishing “The Lost”, my first encounter with the WH40K universe, and it’s left me keen to read more – it’s gothic, bleak, far future military SF that has great characters, terrific action sequences, actually funny humour and a rich continuity that I’m going to enjoy exploring and getting to grips with.  I can give no higher praise than to say that reading Dan Abnett’s books reminds me of reading “2000AD” as a nipper.

Yeah, that good.

Inevitably, given the “WH40K” bias at the minute, I’m also playing the XBox 360 demo of THQ’s upcoming “Space Marine”.

Big Men, in Power Armour, Hitting Things. This Can Only End Well...

The advance word would have you expecting a third-person action game quite akin to Epic’s “Gears of War” series (the third game in the franchise drops eighteen days after this game hits stores).  And the advance word would be bobbins, friends.

I’ve played the bejingles out of both “Gears” games and can report that the demo of “Space Marine” requires different tactics to the adventures of Marcus Fenix and co.  Sure, you can sub in the Space Marine chain sword as roughly analogous to the Gears Lancer rifle but the gameplay and WH40K mythos require you to approach game play in a different fashion – I felt at times like I was playing a blend of beat-em-up and third-person action RPG, if that makes any kind of sense.

“Space Marine” is big on melee combat – no hiding back in cover and picking off enemies at range with a rifle here.  You can drop the odd Orc with a ranged shot – there’s a satisfying chunky quality to the Bolter gun which is one of your four standard guns – but the game wants your character to wade in to the fight, knock seven shades out of a crowd of enemies, stun them insensible and then finish them off with a nasty melange of bladed weapon attacks.  Do that enough and you get a mutha of a power-up with basically finishes off the bad guys or wounds them so badly that you can do a finishing move which regenerates your health.

In fact, this is key – although the maps have collectables dotted around, and ammo pick-ups to grab, there’s no health station to replenish your character’s energy: You’ve got to work with the game mechanics and the premise that these characters kick ass in a very specific way if you want to progress.

Technically, it’s fine – it looks like I would imagine the Warhammer 40K universe to look, it has a pleasing sense of grimness and severity which is true to the stories that I’ve read to date and offers a pretty decent challenge even on the Normal difficulty.  The only thing not in favour is that a great many potential purchasers of this game are going to want to pick up “Gears 3” not very long after this game launches.

What that might mean for THQ’s hopes of establishing a long-running franchise is anybody’s guess – is this game going to attract a community who enjoy the single-player and make the multi-player a stalwart on Xbox Live and PSN or will it be over and done by the time that October comes around?  I can’t quite decide – the Warhammer 40K brand carries a lot of weight in SF/table-top gaming and the demo is a ton of fun, but will the regular gamers who don’t have any investment in this universe be able to see past the surface aesthetic elements which recall “Gears”?  Never mind that Warhammer 40K predates “Gears” by a matter of decades…

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