Quick Review: HEAVY by Dan Franklin (Constable)

FranklinD-HeavyUKWhat exactly is heavy metal music? How deep do its roots go?

Long established as an undeniable force in culture, metal traces its roots back to leather-clad iron men like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, who imbued their music with a mysterious and raw undercurrent of power.

Heavy unearths this elusive force, delving deep into the fertile culture that allowed a distinctive new sound to flourish and flaying the source material to get to the beating heart of the music. From the imminent threat of nuclear apocalypse that gave rise to Metallica’s brand of volatile thrash metal to Bloodbath and Carcass, the death metal bands resurrecting the horror of medieval art.

But there are always more lines to be drawn. Cradle of Filth and Ulver trade in the transgressive impulses of gothic literature; Pantera lay bare Nietzsche’s ‘superman’; getting high leads to the escapist sci-fi dirges of Sleep and Electric Wizard; while the recovery of long-buried urns in the seventeenth century holds the key to the drone of Sunn O))).

Dissecting music that resonates with millions, Heavy sees Slipknot wrestling with the trauma of 9/11, Alice in Chains exposing the wounds of Vietnam and Iron Maiden conjuring visions of a heroic England. Powerful, evocative and sometimes sinister, it gives shape and meaning to the terrible beauty of metal.

This is a fascinating, intelligent and engaging examination of what it means for music (and a few other things) to be “heavy”. Using a few bands, their windows and genres as windows into the worlds of heavy metal, Franklin takes readers on an interesting tour of heavy music over the last few decades. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE FIRST WALL by Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

ThorpeG-HHSoT3-FirstWallMaster siege breaker meets master defender…

The outer defences have fallen, but the walls of the Imperial Palace stand. To break them, the Traitors need their most devastating weapons – and so the Lion’s Gate Spaceport must be theirs…

The war for the fate of mankind blazes on. Though the outer defences have fallen, the walls of the Palace itself remain inviolate as Rogal Dorn, the Praetorian of Terra himself, uses every known stratagem and ploy to keep Horus’s vast armies at bay. In Perturabo, the Traitor siegebreaker, Dorn faces an adversary worthy of his skill. A terrible, grinding attrition ensues. The crucial battle for the Lion’s Gate space port is at the heart of this conflict. With it in their possession, the Traitors can land their most devastating weapons on Terran soil. Dorn knows it must not fall. But with enemies attacking from all sides, and the stirrings of the Neverborn drawn to the slaughter, can the Imperial defenders possibly prevail?

This is the third novel in the Siege of Terra series, the closing act of the epic Horus Heresy. The traitors have broken the planet’s outer defences, and are in the process of breaking into the continent-sized Imperial Palace. A bit of a slower novel than the first two in the series, but still an excellent addition to the series. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: PROVIDENCE by Max Barry (Putnam)

BarryM-ProvidenceUSThe highly-anticipated return of Max Barry!

Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson are astronauts captaining a new and supposedly indestructible ship in humanity’s war against an alien race. Confined to the ship for years, each of them holding their own secrets, they are about to learn there are threats beyond the reach of human ingenuity–and that the true nature of reality might be the universe’s greatest mystery.

In this near future, our world is at war with another, and humanity is haunted by its one catastrophic loss–a nightmarish engagement that left a handful of survivors drifting home through space, wracked with PTSD. Public support for the war plummeted, and the military-industrial complex set its sights on a new goal: zero-casualty warfare, made possible by gleaming new ships called Providences, powered by AI.

But when the latest-launched Providence suffers a surprising attack and contact with home is severed, Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson must confront the truth of the war they’re fighting, the ship that brought them there, and the cosmos beyond.

Back in 2013, I read and very much enjoyed Max Barry’s Lexicon. Then everything went quiet… This year, though, the author returns with Providence: an interesting and engaging sci-fi thriller. I quite enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE OFFICE by Andy Greene (Dutton)

GreeneA-OfficeUS“The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s”, an Oral History

The untold stories behind The Office, one of the most iconic television shows of the twenty-first century, told by its creators, writers, and actors

When did you last hang out with Jim, Pam, Dwight, Michael, and the rest of Dunder Mifflin? It might have been back in 2013, when the series finale aired… or it might have been last night, when you watched three episodes in a row. But either way, fifteen years after the show first aired, it’s more popular than ever, and fans have only one problem–what to watch, or read, next.

Fortunately, Rolling Stone writer Andy Greene has that answer. In his brand-new oral history, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, Greene will take readers behind the scenes of their favorite moments and characters. Greene gives us the true inside story behind the entire show, from its origins on the BBC through its impressive nine-season run in America, with in-depth research and exclusive interviews. Fans will get the inside scoop on key episodes from “The Dundies” to “Threat Level Midnight” and “Goodbye, Michael,” including behind-the-scenes details like the battle to keep it on the air when NBC wanted to pull the plug after just six episodes and the failed attempt to bring in James Gandolfini as the new boss after Steve Carell left, spotlighting the incredible, genre-redefining show created by the family-like team, who together took a quirky British import with dicey prospects and turned it into a primetime giant with true historical and cultural significance.

Hilarious, heartwarming, and revelatory, The Office gives fans and pop culture buffs a front-row seat to the phenomenal sequence of events that launched The Office into wild popularity, changing the face of television and how we all see our office lives for decades to come.

I was a latecomer to The Office. When the original UK version first aired, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ricky Gervais. This meant I didn’t rush to watch the American version. A few years ago, though, we gave it a try and quickly fell in love with the employees of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton, PA. I’ve now watched the whole series multiple times, and each time it keeps me entertained, laughing out loud. When I learned about this book, I quickly got in touch with the publisher and they were kind enough to send me a DRC. I started reading it almost immediately, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Continue reading

Quick Review: BY FORCE ALONE by Lavie Tidhar (Tor Books/Head of Zeus)

Tidhar-ByForceAloneUSThe Shites of the Round Table…?

A retelling of Arthurian myth for the age of Brexit and Trump…

Everyone thinks they know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

The fact is they don’t know sh*t.

Arthur? An over-promoted gangster.
Merlin? An eldritch parasite.
Excalibur? A shady deal with a watery arms dealer.
Britain? A clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.

A savage and cutting epic fantasy, equally poetic and profane, By Force Alone is at once a timely political satire, a magical adventure, and a subversive masterwork.

Lavie Tidhar is one of the most interesting storytellers writing today. Never shy of tackling sensitive topics and subjects (Hitler and Osama bin Laden to name but two recent-ish subjects), in By Force Alone he turns his attention to the Arthurian myth — in many ways, the closest the United Kingdom has to a founding mythology. This is not the Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot you may know from other popular interpretations: This is an entirely new beast. It is a grim, grubby version of Camelot and post-Roman Britain. It is also very funny, engaging, and gritty. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: FIREWALKERS by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Solaris)

Tchaikovsky-FirewalkersOn a scorched Earth, access to energy can mean the difference between life and death.

Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable.

The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power?

Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below.

Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope.

The Firewalkers.

Firewalkers is the latest shorter novel by Tchaikovsky. A mystery set in an environmentally ravaged future, it follows a group of firewalkers as they are sent out to investigate some strange energy surges and interruptions. A bleak picture of the future, one in which the very few have left the many behind. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: SEPULTURUM by Nick Kyme (Black Library)

KymeN-SepulturumSomething strange is happening to all the people…

Morgravia Sanctus is being hunted. Hiding in the low-hive of Blackgheist, she pieces together the fragments of her broken memory, trying to regain her past even as a hideous plague sweeps the hive, turning men into monsters…

Morgravia Sanctus is being hunted; why or by whom she doesn’t know. Something terrible has happened to her, a profound trauma that has left behind ‘red dreams’ and a physical agony that can strike at any moment. Her life in danger and her memory fragmented, she arrives in the low-hive of Blackgheist to escape her pursuers and search for ‘the Broker’ – a trafficker in memories and psychic mind manipulation. Soon after, a plague sweeps the city, turning its citizens into blood-hungry monsters. Order collapses, death and slaughter are rampant. Caught up in the carnage, Morgravia must flee once more. But as the ravening spreads, is there any hope of stopping this contagion?

Nick Kyme’s Sepulturum is a great, classic hive city story, with added zombies! Atmospheric, quickly paced, it ticks all the boxes of a great WH40k novel. Bringing the zombie genre firmly into that of the WH40k setting, I rather enjoyed this. Continue reading