Archive for January, 2008

Believe it or not, but this is my first reread for what must closing on three years now. Back then I nearly didn’t do anything but crack open books that had proved their worth, but suddenly I discovered that there actually existed other (and more interesting!) books then the ones found in my local library. Yeah, I know it sounds foolish, but I was only fourteen at the time and this literary addiction of mine hadn’t fully fastened its poetic hands around my neck. It has now, though, so the question of interest is really why “The Blade Itself” should warrant a second going-over, especially since I didn’t like it that much the first time I read it.

Heh, well…

(This next part is going to be quite long and has little to do with the book review itself. Feel free to skip on down below the picture if you want to read my current thoughts on the book.)

When I first read it, I had only just finished Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, and I guess I expected “The Blade Itself” to dazzle me both in equal measure and in form. The result? I thought that tBI was one of the most over-hyped and poorly written fantasies I’ve had the misfortune of reading, and I could not believe why everyone was loving this trite bullsh*t. I would’ve most certainly have written a long-winded rant on the subject if I was blogging at the time. Fortunately I wasn’t…

Anyways, this Joe Abercrombie chap has been bothering me ever since. Every time I browse forums, I see people whose opinion I respect are bowing in awe of his work, calling it all kinds of pretty words and flinging superlatives at him like so many pieces of candy. Joe is even something of a regular over at Westeros, my favourite message board, and I was adamant about disliking him as a person, too (the lack of logic here being that Bad Books are written by Bad People). At first I was quite pleased to discover that he was a pompous ass, just like I expected! But then I found myself snickering every time I read a comment by him (the horror!) and subconsciously browsing the topics he frequented most often. Then I began reading his blog, and suddenly I realized that though Joe Abercrombie is a without doubt a pompous ass, he’s also one of the funniest, most poignant and sweetly sarcastic rear-ends I’ve encountered. He is my idol – a superman version of what I strive to be – and I hated his first novel! This cannot be, I said to myself, because I was obviously hating myself by extension. Something needed to be done, and mightily quick, too!

So I reread “The Blade Itself” to better learn to love myself. That’s a horribly selfish thing to do, you might say, and you would be in the right. It was selfish and also a tad pompous, but somehow I believe that Joe Abercrombie would approve of it nonetheless.

The best way to describe “The Blade Itself” is to first conjure up a list of nearly every possible cliché imaginable. You’ve got the big barbarian who’s virtually unstoppable in a fight, a tortured torturer teeming with bitter malice, a master swordsman, beautiful princesses and a wise & powerful wizard who drives the plot forward as he pleases. Oh, and don’t forget that a there are several dark lords looming around in nearly every direction. Yes, it all sounds quite familiar on the surface, but in the murky ponds beneath writhes the juicy stuff that I neglected to see on my first visit to Abercrombie’s world. The author takes these trappings and subverts them, thus making it a unpredictable, if not very original ride.

Logen Ninefingers, the gruesome barbarian, is a thoughtful and ponderous character that only strives to stay alive, not slay an x amount of dark beings. Sand dan Glokta, the crippled torturer, is a haunted man far fallen from his former glory. Bayaz, the sage wizard, takes your glossy mental pictures of Gandalf and shatters them beyond recognition. At one point he even kills someone while he’s in the nude. I can’t even imagine Gandalf nude, much less having him fight in anything but fully garmented.

Abercrombie is obviously very skilled at characterization. Every single one of his cast are worth the time they’re given, though I must say that I enjoyed reading about Logen (reminded me of Steven Erikson’s “Karsa Orlong”) and Jezal (who is the only main character I can think of that is intentionally written like a first-class jerk) the most. Some of the characters suffered a bit from being repetitive. Especially Glokta – though otherwise wonderful – and Ferro Maljinn often used the same “catch phrases” so often that what was originally quite amusing quickly became te-he-rribly tedious. Yeah, we get it, Ferro really does hate everything and everyone. You don’t have to repeat it to the point that we begin to hate her for being that way.

“The Blade Itself” is in every way a first novel of a trilogy, and the plot suffers for it. Abercrombie has a lot characters he wants us to get acquainted with, so he spends a lot of time in building their relations and setting up the dilemmas that will be solved in book 2, “Before They Are Hanged” and the much hyped third installment, “Last Argument of Kings”. It’s almost as if this first book is one long inhalation, though you know that when the air starts gushing it out, it’ll probably blow away.

The other things that this book does really well is dialog. I love good dialog, and if a book has it I’m willing to let whole continents of other criticisms slide. John Scalzi is one of my favourite writers of dialog, Scott Lynch an other, but Abercrombie isn’t far behind either of them. Glokta’s inner dialog is probably the best part of the it all, though. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

This book review has already gone on too long, so I’ll try to wrap things up in usual fashion. “The Blade Itself” is a gritty first novel that brings with it some truly memorable characters, intrigue and a lot of grin-worthy witticisms. It’s goal is not innovate, but to tell a good story that will both surprise and shock you; basically it’s what David Eddings would have written if he still had any sort of talent. However, it has too many flaws to achieve anything more than a simple recommendation, but I have sneaky suspicion that I’ll think warmer of it when I’ve finished “The First Law” Trilogy (which I will attempt to do as soon as possible. I’m already some way into book 2).

7. 0 / 10 (strong)


Hell yeah!

This may even be better than having PJ direct it himself! Sweet, sweet news!

28 Weeks Later

I don’t like horror movies. They either scare the crap out of me or they take themselves too seriously, thus making them more like surreal comedy flicks. But for some reason I really like watching zombie films, even if also zombies have a great potential for comedy gold (i.e. “Shawn of the Dead”, “Planet Terror”). “28 Weeks Later” is the sequel to Danny Boyle’s classic “28 Days Later”, and neither of them are the least bit funny. They’re actually very terrifying – but in a good and entertaining way.

When you know that “28 Days Later” picked up the storyline 28 days after the the zombie-virus began wreaking havoc, you should be properly equipped to figure out when the sequel takes place. This next part here is a little spoilerish about the first film, so feel free to skip the next paragraph if you haven’t watched it yet.

The last zombies died six months ago and the US Army have begun letting British citizens back into London, though they’re kept under close guard on the Isle of Dogs. Everyone thinks that the virus known as “the Rage” is gone forever, but nobody wants to take any stupid chances. All it takes is for one person to get infected, and all hell will break loose once again. Guess what happens next?

Okay, so the plot of this movie isn’t exactly original, but the movie does a really good job of setting up likable characters that you want to survive. The film makers also upped the ante from the first film, making the main cast not only fight off blood thirsty zombies, but they have to do that while avoiding the US Armies’ extermination attempts. Some people just can’t catch a lucky break.

The ending leaves enough room for a third film, and judging by the popularity of this franchise, I’d say that there’s a good chance that they’ll make one. These are good films, and in my opinion, “28 Weeks Later” is even better than the first film. It’s more intense, more heartbreaking and while it isn’t as thematically deep as “28 Days Later”, it does what it sets out to do very well indeed. I certainly recommend it to all you zombie lovers. Keep the undead coming, I say!

7,5 /10 (strong)

“Godly good gods, is “Altered Carbon” as kick-ass as it seems? I’m only asking since it seems so very unlikely that anything actually can kick this amount of ass and not make the world implode with its sheer awesomeness. Please gods, if you can take the time out of your day to get back to me on this issue, I’d be beyond thankful.”

Yes, dear readers, this week I had the honour of reading Richard Morgan’s classic SF thriller, “Altered Carbon”. Imagine it as “Blade Runner” meets “Jason Bourne” meets Quentin Tarantino on crack, and you’ve just begun to scrape the top off its magnitude of ridiculous divineness. It’s far from a flawless read, but as debut novels goes, it comes pretty darn close.

“Altered Carbon” is set in the far future of the 26th century. The human race has experienced a development beyond anyones wildest dreams; we’ve conquered space, inhabited its planets and we’ve been able to digitize the human mind. One of the consequences of this last discovery is that it makes us able to travel between the human worlds faster than you can blink your eye. However, the other, and more important effect, is that this technology makes you nearly immortal. If you have enough money, you can transfer your consciousness to a different body, be it previously someones else’s, a clone of yourself or maybe even a synthetic body.

Our main character is Takeshi Kovacs. He’s brought to Earth – now something of a human backwater – by Laurens Bancroft who wants him to investigate his own suicide. Bancroft is one of Earth’s most influential and richest people, and he’s several centuries old. It wouldn’t make any sense for him to commit suicide since he’d only be revived in a new clone a day later. But the circumstances are such that the police can’t see any other possibility, so Bancroft brings in Kovacs all the way from storage in Harlan’s World. If anyone should be able to dig up the truth, it should be a former Envoy (top soldiers of the human government) and an intergalactic rumored pain-in-the-ass.

The scene is set, but as the plots and intrigues thickens, Takeshi Kovacs will find himself regretting ever having come to the hell hole named Earth.

Some of you may remember that Richard Morgan’s novel “Black Man” got the questionable honour of being my “Most Disappointing Novel” of 2007. The weird thing about that book was that I was enjoying it tremendously until I had to put it down for a week, but when I picked it up again, I couldn’t seem to shake thee feeling that it was one of the most bloated SF thrillers I’ve ever read. Naturally, I was a bit confused as to how something like that could happen. One moment I was thinking: “This is so f*cking awesome!” and the next I had to force myself into finishing it, thinking that I could shake the boredom if I just read one chapter more.

The obvious answer to this conundrum was that my pause had somehow ruined the experience of the book for me. Richard Morgan is such an acclaimed and beloved author that I couldn’t let a faulty decision on my part ruin my enjoyment of his work, so I decided that I should pick up his debut novel, “Altered Carbon”, and see what I made of it.

And as you’ve probably concluded by now: I loved every second of it. The prologue hooked me with its breathtaking pace and snappy dialog, and from there on out all I could do was to grab a hold and pray that this 534 pages long roller coaster wouldn’t buck me off.

Richard Morgan is known for his fantastic action scenes, but what I really enjoyed was the prose, which was something of a surprise to me. My heart raced every time there was a gun fight or such like, but the tone and setting that Morgan managed to convey was a much sweeter fix. At one point I wanted to slot in “Blade Runner”, but I figured that there wasn’t any need – I was already hearing the cyber-noir soundtrack in my mind.

Another thing that impressed me was the characterization. Takeshi Kovacs is a wonderfully flawed protagonist. I especially enjoyed his more schizophrenic scenes where his experiences from the Sharya war were revealed and fleshed out. The rest of the cast where also very good, but I have to make a special mention of “The Hendrix” – the A.I. that controlled the hotel where Kovacs lived. He was hands-down the best hotel-character I’ve ever read ^^

The only thing that kinda bugged me about this novel was the whole detective angle that Morgan deployed. He did it very well, but I’ve read so many of these now that I’m starting to get pretty bored with them. I also thought that he placed a tad too much focus on the whole “death is of no consequence” thing. It is a highly interesting premise that would naturally take up a lot of space if it ever existed, but I still felt that the author should have made himself a few more riffs to complete the symphony.

However, aside from those reservations, “Altered Carbon” is bloody amazing. It’s a fast paced, well-plotted, character driven and deep novel that will stick with me for a long, long time. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I figure that if I ever reread “Black Man”, I’d discover that it actually is a fantastic book. “Altered Carbon” certainly is, and you should make a point of reading it sooner rather than later.

9.0 /10

Gene Wolfe is widely known as the speculative genre’s high-brow alibi. Not even its most stubborn critics can find much to fault him with, and that’s why he’ll probably go down in history as one of his generations very finest authors. I’ve only read one book by him before (“The Wizard Knight”), but that’s of course due to my own stupidity and has absolutely nothing to do with Wolfe’s magnificence. So in a vain attempt to rectify this wrong and save myself from proverbial damnation, I decided to pick up his latest offering, “Pirate Freedom”.

This book is first and foremost about pirates, which is cool enough in and of itself, though not in the vein of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”. What you have here is a book that takes a very realistic approach to the trade, rather than the glorified vision most teenagers (like myself) conjure when confronted with the term.

Chris and his father moves from Jersey, USA to Havana, Cuba, where Chris is enrolled with a school at a local monastery. His father may not visit him while he’s there, nor may Chris depart from the premises until he takes his vows or leaves the cloth forever. He chooses the latter, and sets out as a young adult to find his father. But things have changed since he entered the monastery. Where the roads before were covered with asphalt, they’re now covered with regular gravel, and the cars that zoomed along them have been replaced with mules and carts. Chris has gone back in time to the era of conquest, colonies and pirates and he must now find a way to survive…

The entire book is written as a 312 page long confession. Old Chris has become a priest and is obviously back in the present time. When a man confesses to him that he has killed a man, Chris tells him that he’s done the same. The man wishes to know more about how a pious man like Father Chris could have done such a thing, but Chris says that the answer to that question would be much too long and complicated for a single evening, but he will write it all down and mail him his confession when he’s done.

Wolfe makes expertly use of the first-person narrative in “Pirate Freedom”, and the jumps between the main character’s life as a pirate and a priest are seamless and easy to tell apart. You do get the pleasure of reading a lot of info-dumps about pirate lifestyle and ships, though they’re never boring due to the fact that Wolfe draws comparisons between todays myths and “how it really was”.

For such a short book there’s a surprising high content of action, and while he does often hint at what is to come, the plot manages to surprise and entertain. The ending is also very satisfying, though we never do get an explanation for Chris’ time-traveling abilities…

“Pirate Freedom” is very similar to Wolfe’s acclaimed omnibus “The Wizard Knight”, both in style and tone. “The Wizard Knight” is in my opinion a much better book, mostly due to the fact that the only good character in this one is the Chris himself, where as tWK had dozens upon dozens of them. There are of course other characters than Chris, but they didn’t get enough screen time to become much more than fleeting acquaintances.

All in all I’d say that “Pirate Freedom” is a very good book, but falls surprisingly short on areas that I would have bet my temporal lobe it wouldn’t. However, even if this isn’t Wolfe’s best book, it’s still much better than 90% of other fantasy books you might consider. It’s exciting, informative and it’s got a bittersweet ending that makes it all worth the while. I liked it a lot, and so would you if you gave it a chance.

8.0 /10

* I just discovered that Warren Ellis (the author of the appallingly brilliant novel, “Crooked Little Vein”) will be publishing a novel in the beginning of August. It’s called “Listener” and it’s supposedly a 304 pages long post-apocalyptic SF novel. Keyword: Warren Ellis is teh hawsome, and so should “Listener” be.

* The best christmas present I got last year was without doubt a subscription to the british magazine, “SFX”. I got the first issue a couple of days ago, and lo did it contain everything a geek could wish for: An interview with Joss Whedon about the upcoming show “Dollhouse”, a story about Joe Hill’s new comic “Locke & Key”, an in depth look at Richard Matheson’s classic “I Am Legend” (the book) by none other than Christopher Priest, a weekly comics column penned by Warren Ellis and much, much more.

* My New Year Resolutions are both holding up. It’s getting increasingly easier to not eat sweets and chocolate, but lately I’ve been getting these weird dreams where I do nothing but stuff my face full of ’em. This is disturbing, to say the least.

“Not Buy Any Books For Two Months” is going to be retitled to the much leaner and nicer looking, “Not Buy Any Books For Two Months, Except New Releases That You MUST Have”. The difference between these two resolutions is the fact that I always read new releases as soon as I can get my hands on them. Other, older books have a tendency to lie around for while, thus increasing the looming size of my Stack.

* Speaking of book reviews and other non-school related miscellany; I’m going to have to cut back on them these next few weeks. I’m trying to summon the will to learn anything worthwhile about cars so that I may pass my driving test without too much trouble or stress. This will affect “A Slight Apocalypse” to some degree, but I’ll still make a point of posting as often as possible. Maybe it’ll help me to be more succinct, which is a trait I’d very much like to acquire.

Deadwood, Season 1

Deadwood is… Ahem… Okay, well… I guess that… What I really mean to say is that…

“Deadwood” is f*cking brainsplode fantastic.

TV doesn’t get better than this twelve parter western drama, and if you haven’t watched it yet you will most likely be hunted down and tagged as an inferior human being. That may sound harsh, and may also be a tad untrue, but I wouldn’t take any risks if I were you. I’d go out and get my hands on season 1 of “Deadwood”. Now, tuck yourself in and let good ol’ Amras tell you why this show is so divine that it makes L. Ron Hubbard cry out in jealousy in his, presumably, alien-infested afterlife.

This isn’t my first encounter with the brilliance of HBO’s “Deadwood”. I remember I watched quite a lot of these episodes a couple of years ago, but at that time I watched it mainly because of all the new swear words that were thrown about like so many pieces of candy. The fact that it sported a fair share of nice trollops and nasty crooks were also things that tingled my sense of wonder, but most of all it was the language that made the lasting impression.

I fell off towards the end of the season when they changed the airing time, but I’ve always wanted to come back to it some day and with the WGA strike still in full effect, this seemed like as good a time as any.

For those of you who don’t know what “Deadwood” is about (how comfortable is it living under a rock?), here’s the gist: It’s a drama series about a new settlement dubbed, well, Deadwood, obviously, where a lot people have come to seek their fortune, whether it be in gold or in other, less honest ways…

This special part of the USA has yet to be annexed by the government, so those with enough power can do nearly exactly what they want. That’s the where Al Swearengen comes in – one of the very best characters I’ve had the pleasure of watching (if not the best). He’s the owner of the Gem; the local saloon that deals in whiskey and snatch. Nothing happens in Deadwood without his blessing and the show centers around his affairs – and by extension – the entire camp’s affairs. The other main character is the former sheriff of Montana; Seth Bullock, one of the very few honorable cowboys you’ll meet in this show.

As for the acting in this show, it’s mostly top-notch. And by that I mean that they’re all very skilled or fitting for their role. However, I never could decide whether or not the guy playing Seth Bullock was too perfect for the part, or if he really did overdo it at times. It did feel a little strained when he was turning the righteousness on, but overall I was just in awe of his coolness to bother worrying about his acting chops. I also *loved* every scene that included Swearengen, Doc Cochran, Trixie, Wild Bill Hickock and Joanie, plus probably loads of others. Calamity Jane got on my nerves after a few episodes due to the fact that she had a very boring story arc that kept her character trotting up the same path every time we saw her. I hope she gets better in the next two season, ’cause she was just a time waster in this season.

The pacing was overall very good. They kept new intrigues coming while nurturing the previous ones into worthwhile plots and interesting problems. Some of the intrigues got a little slow-going in the middle of the season, but I had kinda expected that to happen. It is after all a very common problem that occurs when the producers are loathe to bring in new characters and conflicts that won’t get properly resolved by the end.

So after all this is said, I have to underline the fact that season 1 of “Deadwood” is a nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s got wonderfully portrayed characters that drive the plot lines forward with an eloquent grace that is both admirable and awe-inspiring. The dialog excellent because it both entertains and adds to the level of realism that saturates the entire premise. It really feels like a real town in the late 1800’s. It’s not a cozy place – it might get you killed – but who the f*ck cares? This is “Deadwood”, and it’s a nugget of gold in every way imaginable.


So apparently I’ve become a reviewer for Aschehoug, a pretty big Norwegian publishing house. “How did you manage this splendid feat?”, I hear you ask with a trembling, yet avidly impressed voice. Well, truth be told, I didn’t actually manage it.

They just took a review of mine without asking and posted it on their agency website. The review in question is of the Norwegian science fiction tale, “104” by Christopher F-B Grøndahl, which I posted on the 17th of November, 2007. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not mad about this or upset or anything like that. In fact, the only feeling I have towards this issue is that I felt like they should have asked me (I would naturally have said yes).

They are linking and naming me, so it’s not like they’re impolite about using my work. It’s actually kinda cool being an undercover book reviewer, though it would be even cooler if someone had told me about it.

(Initially posted by Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist)

It’s that time of year, folks. I think it was sometime around February or such like that we got to see the UK cover art for “Reaper’s Gale” by Steven Erikson, and this year we’re getting the new one in late January. I remember there being some discussion as to its quality, just like there’ll be with this one, but at least they’re getting a lot more consistent in tone; slightly minimalistic, dark and with a sinister element of some sorts as its main attraction.

I’ve seen prettier cover art than this, but it isn’t that bad either. If for nothing else, it got me thinking about whether or not Karsa Orlong will make an appearance in this one… He doesn’t exactly get along nicely with those Shadow Hounds (if that is indeed the type of Hound it is…).

Having already read and assessed Jim Butcher’s “Harry Dresden” series and Charlie Huston’s “Joe Pitt” books, I decided that I might as well go for the trifecta as far urban fantasy is concerned and pick up a “Felix Castor” novel. Mike Carey is probably best known as a comic-author (“Lucifer”, “Hellblazer”), but in 2006 he managed to get his first prose novel released. “The Devil You Know” has been doing very well for itself in the UK and will probably do much of the same in the US. I haven’t tried anything from this author before, but after having read this novel, I have to question my own sanity regarding that decision. This was really good stuff, yet it lacked a certain something-something…

Felix Castor is an exorcist. Or rather, he used to be an exorcist – a damned good one, too – but then he fucked up so horrendously that he decided to opt for an early retirement. Toasting ghosts is usually easy money, but sooner or later a guy is bound to end up in the ring with a spirit that doesn’t dance to his tune. And I mean that in the literal sense; Castor doesn’t quote Latin or spray holy water to get rid of the supernatural inhabitants of London. Some exorcists work that way, but he always preferred to play a tune on his tin whistle, which may sound feeble but it does work like a charm.

But Felix doesn’t do that stuff anymore. Anyway, that’s what he claims until a turn of events pushes him back in the game. After all, a man’s got bills to pay and friends to help out, and a simple haunting at the Bonnington Archive should be easy pickings for a guy like him. All he has to do is to go there, catch a feel of the ghost, exorcise her and then get the hell out of there with his pockets full of quids. But nothing is ever as easy as that. Soon he’ll be pulled into a much larger mystery that’ll make him question everything he knows about his trade. What exactly are ghosts and where do they go? Felix Castor would like some answers about the afterlife, especially since he by the looks of this job might be joining it sooner rather than later.

Mike Carey is obviously a proficient author. “The Devil You Know” is a trademark story that takes the unexpected turns that you know are coming, but manages to keep a brisk enough pace that you’ll have trouble putting it down. It’s a mystery novel like many you’ve probably already read, but it’s a well-written one that despite its lack of originality in style and tone, never falters or fails in its agenda.

The main reason behind that fact is probably that Mike Carey knows how to do characterization. I won’t say that I though Felix Castor was a very particular flavour of awesome, like Huston’s “Joe Pitt” is, but he’s a well rounded guy that feels very much like something human. The supporting cast is also not exactly screamingly original (nothing about this book really is), but they’re also quite good and interesting characters that I enjoyed reading about.

This book is told in first-person perspective, and that works pretty well. The story itself never leaves London, and I’d say that Carey did a helluva job in depicting the feel of that city. Sure, when I visited a couple of months back in time, I didn’t actually see much of the zombies or the ghosts that apparently haunt it, but then I never did leave the normal tourist streets. As for the mythology of the book, it’s your normal “Oh noes! Werewolves and zombies and (*insert fictional monster here*) are real!”. Of course, not everyone wants to admit to this fact, and there are degrees to how much each persons senses, which is why not everyone can become an exorcist. But I think you get the general idea; nothing new there either.

And that is the major fault of this novel. It feels a bit stale and could’ve done nicely with some fresh ideas. But I have no problem recommending this novel to anyone wanting some easy fun. It’s only 470 pages long in paperback, and those pages flew by.

“The Devil You Know” is one part creepy, two parts fun and three parts “haven’t I read something like that before?”. I liked it well enough, but can’t say it blew me away like Charlie Huston did. This isn’t a great book, but it is a good book that gets away with being a tired old cliché because it happens to be really well written tired old cliché. And really, what’s so wrong about that?

7.0 /10