Quick Review: ACADEMIC EXERCISES by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-AcademicExercisesA superb collection of short fiction by one of the masters of the form

Academic Exercises is the first collection of shorter work by master novelist K. J. Parker, and it is a stunner. Weighing in at over 500 pages, this generous volume gathers together thirteen highly distinctive stories, essays, and novellas, including the recent World Fantasy Award-winner, “Let Maps to Others”. The result is a significant publishing event, a book that belongs on the shelf of every serious reader of imaginative fiction.

The collection opens with the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong,” a story of music and murder set against a complex mentor/pupil relationship, and closes with the superb novella “Blue and Gold,” which features what may be the most beguiling opening lines in recent memory. In between, Parker has assembled a treasure house of narrative pleasures. In “A Rich, Full Week,” an itinerant “wizard” undergoes a transformative encounter with a member of the “restless dead.” “Purple and Black,” the longest story in the book, is an epistolary tale about a man who inherits the most hazardous position imaginable: Emperor. “Amor Vincit Omnia” recounts a confrontation with a mass murderer who may have mastered an impossible form of magic.

Rounding out the volume — and enriching it enormously — are three fascinating and illuminating essays that bear direct relevance to Parker’s unique brand of fiction: “On Sieges,” “Cutting Edge Technology,” and “Rich Men’s Skins.”

Taken singly, each of these thirteen pieces is a lovingly crafted gem. Together, they constitute a major and enduring achievement. Rich, varied, and constantly absorbing, Academic Exercises is, without a doubt, the fantasy collection of the year.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of K. J. Parker’s novellas and short stories. The novellas he’s published with Tor.com and Subterranean Press routinely are among my favourite reads of any given year. Academic Exercises is the author’s first big collection of shorter fiction, and it’s a fantastic one at that. I really enjoyed this, and it further cemented my opinion of Parker as one of the best authors of short fiction. Continue reading

Music Review: FINDING GOD BEFORE GOD FINDS ME by Bad Omens (Sumerian Records)

BadOmens-FindingGodDeluxe

An interesting, eclectic metal album. Pretty cool.

If I hadn’t already known before listening to the album, I could have easily guessed that Finding God Before God Finds Me was released by Sumerian Records. The range of styles and sounds, mixing clean rock and crunchy, scream-y metal seems to be the calling card of many of the label’s artists. Luckily, it’s a mix that I enjoy very much. Some of the bands are better than others, and Bad Omens falls in the former camp — I only came across them relatively recently, but I’ve grown to like them a lot.

Bad Omens is a talented metal band, switching between the metal and rock spectra quite easily and skillfully. They sometimes remind me a bit of Asking Alexandria. Bad Omens is certainly their own band, with their own sound. They’re difficult to pigeon-hole, given the incredible range of their songs. For some, this might make them seem a bit schizophrenic or disjointed, but I think it makes Finding God Before He Finds Me a very interesting listening experience. Continue reading

Interview with JEREMY SZAL

SzalJ-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Jeremy Szal?

Jeremy Szal was born in 1995 and raised by wild dingoes. He spent his childhood exploring bookstores, beaches, and the limits of other people’s patience. He loves watching weird films, collecting boutique gins, exploring cities, and cold weather.

At least, that’s the impression I want people to have of me. I live in Sydney, Australia with my family and a hyperactive Jack Russell. I was homeschooled when I was a kid, up until the last few years of school, before heading off to university. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also the sort of guy who’s perfectly content to stay home with a good book or engaging boxset.

Your debut novel, Stormblood, will be published by Gollancz in June. It looks really cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

It’s the first book in a trilogy! It’s about the DNA of an extinct alien race that’s used as a drug, making soldiers permanently addicted to adrenaline and sending them off to war. Of course, everything that could go wrong inevitably did go wrong. The protagonist is one of these soliders, returned home from the war to find his squadmates being murdered, and his estranged brother is the prime suspect. Continue reading

Quick Review: UNDER PRESSURE by Robert Pobi (St. Martin’s Press / Mulholland UK)

PobiR-LP2-UnderPressureUSThe explosive second Lucas Page novel

A series of deadly explosions rock the city of New York and with too many victims and no known motive, the F.B.I. turns once again to Dr. Lucas Page…

On a beautiful October evening, New York City’s iconic Guggenheim Museum is closed for a tech company’s private gala. Until an explosion rocks the night, instantly killing 702 people, including every single attendee — yet the damage to the building itself was minimal.

An explosion of that precision was no accident and, in response, the FBI mobilizes its entire team — but the sheer number of victims strains their resources. Were all 702 victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there only one target and 701 unlucky bystanders? That many victim files is a staggering amount of data to sort through and Brett Kehoe, Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, decides that he can’t do this without more computational power.

Dr. Lucas Page, astrophysicist, university professor, and former FBI agent, is uniquely gifted for the task at hand — he can visualize a crime scene as if he was a bystander and can break down any set of data at a glance. Even though Page wants nothing to do with the FBI, with his city under attack and his family at risk, he steps in to find a killer in a haystack before they strike again.

I really enjoyed the first novel in Robert Pobi’s Lucas Page series, City of Windows. I was therefore very much looking forward to the character’s second outing, and I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed this, and zipped through it. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: IQ by Joe Ide (Mulholland)

IdeJ-IQUSIntroducing Isaiah Quintabe

A resident of one of LA’s toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores.

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.

They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.

This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

I’m very late to this series, much to my shame. IQ introduces a fascinating and engaging new character into the LA crime genre, and offers something a little different to most other ongoing crime series. I really enjoyed this series debut, and it’s easy to see why it’s become so popular. Continue reading

Quick Review: MEMOIRS AND MISINFORMATION by Jim Carrey & Dana Vachon (Knopf)

CarreyVachon-Memoirs&MisinformationUSA fascinating, at times unsettling novel-memoir

“None of this is real and all of it is true.” –Jim Carrey

Meet Jim Carrey. Sure, he’s an insanely successful and beloved movie star drowning in wealth and privilege–but he’s also lonely. Maybe past his prime. Maybe even… getting fat? He’s tried diets, gurus, and cuddling with his military-grade Israeli guard dogs, but nothing seems to lift the cloud of emptiness and ennui. Even the sage advice of his best friend, actor and dinosaur skull collector Nicolas Cage, isn’t enough to pull Carrey out of his slump.

But then Jim meets Georgie: ruthless ingénue, love of his life. And with the help of auteur screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, he has a role to play in a boundary-pushing new picture that may help him uncover a whole new side to himself–finally, his Oscar vehicle! Things are looking up!

But the universe has other plans.

Memoirs and Misinformation is a fearless semi-autobiographical novel, a deconstruction of persona. In it, Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon have fashioned a story about acting, Hollywood, agents, celebrity, privilege, friendship, romance, addiction to relevance, fear of personal erasure, our “one big soul,” Canada, and a cataclysmic ending of the world–apocalypses within and without.

I grew up watching and loving Jim Carrey’s movies — The MaskAce Ventura, and Dumb and Dumber, in particular, I found hilarious when I was a teenager. Combined with my general interest in Hollywood, I’ve found Carrey’s career to be pretty interesting. When I heard that he was writing a sort-of-novelized-memoir, I was certainly intrigued. I was lucky enough to get a DRC, and I’m happy to say that it is an interesting and rewarding read. It is, however, rather strange — perhaps predictably. Continue reading

Quick Review: ANARCH by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

AbnettD-GG15-AnarchThe Victory Arc comes to an intense, bloody close…

‘Men of Tanith… do you want to live forever?’

On the forge world of Urdesh, the massed forces of the Imperial Crusade engage in a final bloody battle with the Archenemy commander known as the Anarch, and his elite warriors — the barbaric Sons of Sek. A victory for either side will decide more than just the fate of Urdesh… it will determine the outcome of the entire Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Ibram Gaunt — now serving at the right hand of Warmaster Macaroth – finds himself at the very heart of the struggle. His regiment, the Tanith First “Ghosts”, holds the vital key to ultimate success. But as the forces of the Imperium and Chaos square up for the final, large-scale confrontation, Gaunt discovers that the greatest threat of all may come from inside rather than out.

The previous novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, The Warmaster ended with a number of cliffhangers — beloved characters’ fates were left in question, and tension on Urdesh was building towards an almighty confrontation between the Imperial and Archenemy forces. It took me a long time to get around to reading that novel, but I knew I didn’t want to wait too long before reading Anarch. I’m glad I didn’t — this is an intense end to a the series’s most recent story-arc, and it packs quite a punch. Continue reading