Quick Review: INVOCATIONS by Various (Black Library)

WarhammerHorror-InvocationsReturn to the dark places of the worlds of Warhammer for a new anthology of sinister stories that dive into the arcane, the unexpected and the downright terrifying.

An Imperial Priest extracts a monstrous confession; a widower embarks on a doomed pilgrimage; a witch hunter returns to the place of his nightmares… Invocations is Black Library’s second Warhammer Horror anthology, featuring more short stories set in the chilling hellscape of the 41st Millennium and the arcane gloom of the Mortal Realms. From the whispering corridors of an abandoned medicae facility to the shrieking dungeons of ghostly castles, this collection of sinister stories further explores the unspeakable evil haunting in the worlds of Warhammer.

An interesting, engaging collection of horror and suspense fiction, set in the Warhammer science fiction and fantasy worlds. Atmospheric, creepy, and featuring varied protagonists, this is a solid anthology. I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: GODS & MORTALS (Black Library)

Various-Gods&MortalsAn anthology of Age of Sigmar short fiction, which serves very well as an introduction

For too long, the Mortal Realms have suffered under Chaos’ twisted crusade. Tainted lands writhe in agony and once great cities lie in ruins, the hopes of their people extinguished. But the storm winds rise. Sigmar’s greatest creation, the Stormcast Eternals, strike with His vengeance. Their lightning drives the darkness away and their thunder drowns out the screams of the Foul Gods’ acolytes as they fall to sword and halberd. The sons and daughters of the storm know they cannot fail. For now is the time where the fate of a world will be decided. Where Gods and mortals must rise and fight, or face their final damnation.

CONTENTS
The Dance of the Skulls & Obsidian by David Annandale
Blacktalon: Hunting Shadows by Andy Clark
Vault of Souls by Evan Dicken
Bear Eater, Force of Personality, Gods’ Gift & The Hardest Word by David Guymer
Pantheon by Guy Haley
Callis & Toll: The Old Ways by Nick Horth
Pilgrim’s Trial by Robbie MacNiven
Auction of Blood, Eight Lamentations: The Tainted Axe, The Library of Forgotten Moments, Order of the Fly: Tourney of Fate & The Road of Blades by Josh Reynolds
Gravesend Gold & The Witch Takers by C L Werner

The Age of Sigmar is a pretty massive fantasy setting, one that continues to grow. It could be a bit daunting to find a way into it. If you are looking for a way in, this is a substantial collection of short fiction may be your best bet. Including stories featuring some established characters, as well as touching upon many of the myriad facets of the Mortal Realms, reading Gods & Mortals will give readers a nice, broad glimpse of the Age of Sigmar. Continue reading

Interview with ALIYA WHITELEY on 2084

Above you can watch an interview with Aliya Whiteley, one of the authors whose work will feature in the new anthology 2084. Published by Unsung Stories, the anthology has been funded through Kickstarter. It sounds like a really interesting collection, and I’m looking forward to reading it. At the time of writing, it has raised three times its original goal (stretch goals have been added). Continue reading

Guest Post: “Tips for Setting a Reading Goal” by Lesley Conner

ConnerL-AuthorPicLife is busy. Between work and family and friends, we all have countless commitments that are scrambling to suck up all of our free time. If we aren’t careful, reading time gets broken up and given away to other tasks. Before you know it, one day you stop and think Wow! When was the last time I sat down and read a book? If you’re a big reader like I am, this is a sad thought and one that I’ve had in the past when life has gotten too hectic. Setting a reading goal each year helps keep me from finding myself in this place. Since it is January, I thought this would be the perfect time to share some tips for setting such a goal. Continue reading

Quick Review: AHRIMAN – EXODUS by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-AhrimanExodusA collection of short stories set in French’s Ahriman series

Ahriman, exiled sorcerer lord of the Thousand Sons, has many servants who do his bidding. Each has a tale to tell, but few as compelling as that of Ctesias the twice-dead, summoner of daemons. From an encounter with the mysterious Dead Oracle to the perils of the Hounds and Wrath and navigating the Gates of Ruin, Ctesias is a vital link in Ahriman’s grand plan. This is Ctesias’ tale, in his own words, of his trials and the great and terrible deeds he has performed in his master’s name. This is the chronicle of his path to damnation as he leads Ahriman to his exodus from the Eye of Terror.

Each of the short stories contained within this collection are told from the perspective of Ctesias, a member of the fallen Thousand Sons Traitor Legion. A sorcerer particularly gifted at summoning and binding daemons, he has been adopted into Ahriman’s war band, for a particular reason that his new master is keeping hidden. I had already read a few of the short stories contained herein, but the anthology was a nice way to have them all collected in one volume. As I expected, I enjoyed the collection. Continue reading

Review: FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS by Nalo Hopkinson (Tachyon)

HopkinsonN-FallingInLoveWithHominidsA new anthology of short stories

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents more than a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print, including one original story. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

Reviewed by Ryan Frye

I typically read short fiction for one of two reasons, either it’s an author whom I love, and I’ve devoured everything else of theirs so I dig into their short-form stuff, or it’s an author whom I’ve never read before and I want to sample their work without trying to pick out a full-length book to start with. The latter was the case with Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love with Hominids. Hopkinson is an author who’s been on my radar for a while now, so when the opportunity came along to check out her yet-to-be-released short fiction collection I jumped at the chance. Continue reading

Review: LEGACIES OF BETRAYAL (Black Library)

Various-HH-LegaciesOfBetrayalThe 31st Horus Heresy book

Only from out of great conflict can true heroes arise. With the galaxy aflame and war on an unimaginable scale tearing the Imperium apart, champions of light and darkness venture onto countless fields of battle in service to their masters. They ask not for remembrance or reward – simply to meet their destiny head-on, and only by embracing that destiny will they come to learn what the unseen future may yet hold for them.

This anthology pulls together a number of short stories that have appeared elsewhere — either as eBook shorts, or as audiodramas, or included in previously limited edition anthologies (from the Black Library Horus Heresy Weekender, for example). I had already read (or listened to) seven of the 18 stories herein. Instead of re-reviewing these, I have included links to my earlier blog posts. For all the stories (save two), I have included synopses, and also the original covers. Overall, this is a very good anthology. Continue reading

Quick Review: THINKING ABOUT IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE by David Mitchell (Faber)

MitchellD-ThinkingAboutItOnlyMakesItWorseA superb collection of Mitchell’s Observer columns

Why is my jumper depreciating? What’s wrong with calling a burglar brave? Why are people so f***ing hung up about swearing? Why do the asterisks in that sentence make it okay? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? Why is every film and TV programme a sequel or a remake? Why are we so reliant on perpetual diversion that someone has created chocolate toothpaste? Is there anything to be done about the Internet?

These and many other questions trouble David Mitchell as he delights us with a tour of the absurdities of modern life – from Ryanair to Downton Abbey, sports day to smoking, nuclear weapons to phone etiquette, UKIP to hotdogs made of cats. Funny, provocative and shot through with refreshing amounts of common sense, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse celebrates and commiserates on the state of things in our not entirely glorious nation.

David Mitchell is a comedian, actor, writer and the polysyllabic member of Mitchell and Webb. He won BAFTAs for Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and has also starred in Jam and Jerusalem, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff and Ambassadors. He writes for the Observer, chairs TheUnbelievable Truth, is a team captain on Would I Lie To You? and has been in two films, neither of which made a profit.

I have long been a fan of David Mitchell’s television work – That Mitchell & Webb Look, Peep Show (which I was actually didn’t love at first), the all-too-short Ambassadors mini-series, and his frequent guest spots on QI and Have I Got News For You being my favourites. After I listened to the audio edition of his superb memoir, Back Story, my respect for him grew even more (it’s among my top ten ‘reads’ of the year, easily). I didn’t know how frequently he had been writing for the Observer, however, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy of Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse. This is a great read. Continue reading

Upcoming: “Legacies of Betrayal” (Black Library)

Various-HH-LegaciesOfBetrayalThe 31st book in the formerly-New York Times-bestselling Horus Heresy series!* An anthology, Legacies of Betrayal is due to be published in April 2015. It looks like it’s going to be quite a substantial tome, too…

Only from out of great conflict can true heroes arise. With the galaxy aflame and war on an unimaginable scale tearing the Imperium apart, champions of light and darkness venture onto countless fields of battle in service to their masters. They ask not for remembrance or reward – simply to meet their destiny head-on, and only by embracing that destiny will they come to learn what the unseen future may yet hold for them…

This Horus Heresy anthology contains eighteen short stories by authors such as Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Nick Kyme and many more. Also, Chris Wraight’s acclaimed novella Brotherhood of the Storm delves into the nature of the elusive White Scars Legion, and their questionable sense of duty to the Emperor.

Eighteen short stories, huh? Plus Wraight’s Brotherhood of the Storm? I wonder if it will include some of the other formerly-limited-edition novellas? Hope so, as I rather liked the ones I’ve read (including Wraight’s story). Rather looking forward to this. But first, I’ll have to read Graham McNeill’s Vengeful Spirit and David Annandale’s The Damnation of Pythos, both of which I have already.

* It’s been quite some time since they last had one in the NYT charts. I believe McNeill’s A Thousand Suns was the first to land on the list?

“Legion of the Damned” Digital Anthology (Black Library)

Various-BL-LegionOfTheDamnedCollection

A collection of short stories all focused on that enigmatic Space Marines legion, the Legion of the Damned, from some of Black Library’s best up-and-comers and a couple of not-quite-old-hands. The Legion are a peculiar addition to the WH40k lore. I remember when they first made models for them (they were a custom job by one of their professional modellers, if I remember correctly). Since then, there’s no doubt that they’ve fleshed out the background and the story of who and what the Legion is. Sadly, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with more than the fiction set in Games Workshop’s science fiction and fantasy systems for well over a decade. As a result, these six stories contained some interesting new detail. I still don’t have a full picture of how the Legion ‘works’, but by no means does this bother me. These authors have done a great job of writing tales that tap into the horror and menace of the Legion of the Damned, and their mysterious appearances on the battlefields of the 41st millennium. I’ll deal with each of the stories individually, below…

I read the stories as individual short stories on my Kindle, so I have no idea if I read them in the order that the collection is compiled. I’ve listed them in the order I read them.

David Annandale, THE DARK HOLLOWS OF MEMORY

The sinister limbo of winter is falling on the Imperial archive world of Mnemosyne. A great fog rolls in, one that will not dissipate for months. With it comes unimaginable hell for the planet’s citizens as the Chaos Space Marines of the Company of Misery stage a brutal invasion. But as the defenders of Mnemosyne fall before the Traitors, something moves in the mist. There are phantoms abroad, warriors of darkness and flame. The Company of Misery is now confronted by the Legion of the Damned, and the terrified scribes of the Librarium find themselves caught in a war between the armies of horror and terror.

This was a really good story. It’s peculiar, atmospheric, well-paced and very well-written. I also liked the battle in the library-feel to it. Just right for a short story, I think. A tricky story to write about without ruining the ending. Needless to say, the Legion of the Damned and their aesthetic and tactics are perfectly suited to Annandale’s skills and style of writing – he does a great job of evoking the sinister-spookiness of the Legion. The author continues to impress, with each new piece of fiction. I’ll have to bump his latest Space Marine Battles novella, Stormseer, up the TBR (e-)mountain.

*

Josh Reynolds, REMORSELESS

After a gruelling siege, the Iron Warriors scent victory over their eternal enemies the Imperial Fists. Alongside their grand battalions is a host of Traitor Guardsmen – Skaranx is unique amongst their number, a killer of Angels. As he stalks his singular prey, he encounters Space Marines the likes of which he has never seen before. Remorseless, these warriors are beyond life and death. They are damned and so, he realises chillingly, is he…

This story didn’t start as slickly as I’ve come to expect from Reynolds. It certainly improved tremendously and quickly as the story unfolded, though. The antagonist, who is also the narrator, is sufficiently brutal and twisted. The near-claustrophobic urban battlefield setting is well-written and presented, and adds to the frantic combat and atmosphere of chaos. I imagined this could be filmed with close-focus handicam, all shaky and intense (like a baroque, military sci-fi version of the Jason Bourne movies). By the end of the story, this has turned into a very good, engaging cat-and-mouse battle. If the mouse was a genhanced killing machine, and the cat was just a creepier, more efficient killing machine…

*

L.J. Goulding, ANIMUS MALORUM

Fighting against ork invasion, Fourth Captain Erices and his few surviving warriors are prepared to sell their own lives dearly in the name of the Imperium. However, when dark legionnaires led by the mysterious Brother-Sergeant Centurius emerge from the catacombs to aid in the defence of the city, it becomes worryingly unclear what exactly they might expect in return…

This story takes on a very interesting aspect of the Legion of the Damned’s presence in the WH40k universe. Specifically, what happens after the battle? It’s a nice alternative approach to the Legion: after all, they are only usually presented on the field of battle. I had never read any fiction or background text that discussed what happens next. Animus Malorum is a well-written tale, with a superb, sinister twist at the very end. I didn’t see that coming. Very cool indeed.

*

Graeme Lyons, FROM THE FLAMES

Battle-brother Seoc of the Invaders is alone. With his brothers dead around him, killed by the avatar of an alien war god, he prepares to sell his life dearly and join the Emperor in eternity. Until something emerges from the flames… Spectral Space Marines, their black armour adorned with symbols of fire and death, move to engage the enemy, but can Seoc survive the battle between the bloody-handed horror and the terrible revenants?

This was more a micro-story, really, but it is nevertheless a pretty good one. It’s a very quickly-paced battle scene, which offers an interesting and inspired way to deal with a burning enemy (Eldar Avatar) and what that means for burning saviours (the Legion of the Damned squad that does the battlefield equivalent of a drive-by). It was a very good decision to keep this short, as it gave the story more punch.

*

C.Z. Dunn, SHIP OF THE DAMNED

Far from home, Sister Agentha travels aboard an ancient pilgrim vessel, providing a sacred light in the vast darkness of the void. However, on answering a mysterious distress signal, she soon finds herself with far more to contend with than the ignorance of children as plague zombies flood the decks and wreak bloody havoc on the faithful. Trapped in the belly of the ship with death on all sides, Agentha’s only hope is a mysterious black object taken from a group of refugees… but will it send help, and what will be left of them when it does?

I really liked that this story was focused on a female non-combatant: Sister Agentha, who is effectively a teacher (although, one with considerable faculty for violence, seeing as everyone from her order is still trained to battle the foes of the Emperor). She confiscated a shiny metallic ball from one of her students, something he picked up after the shuttle he was originally on was left adrift, dropped by space marines in black armour. The pilgrim vessel the characters inhabit answers a distress signal that proves to contain… plague zombies! It’s been a while since I read anything about those gribbly beasties. The story is atmospheric and tense. Good stuff.

*

Nick Kyme, VOTUM INFERNUS

Fleeing in the aftermath of a terrible defeat, troopers of the Vostroyan Firstborn are being hunted by dark eldar. A pair of wyches, a brother and sister, plan to make brutal sport of the mon’keigh. But as the mists thicken a strange figure appears on the battlefield, one clad in armour of blackest night. Who are “the Damned” and what do they want with this world and the souls upon it…?

What happens when warriors who employ and embody fear are faced with an enemy more terrifying? This is a pretty interesting story. Sometimes, the description went a bit further than necessary, creating tautologies, but it’s still a solid addition to the collection. It’s perhaps not Kyme’s best, but does the trick. In addition, the twist at the end was unexpected and pretty cool.

*

General Thoughts…

There is a slight feeling of repetition, if you read all of these stories together. This is neither the fault of the authors, nor me saying that the stories are all the same (just see what I’ve written, above). Rather, the nature of the Legion of the Damned and how they “work” in the WH40k setting means there are only a limited number of ways to describe (particulars aside) their appearance on a battlefield and also their physical aspect (for example, from Lyons’s piece, “Hulking black shadows wreathed in witchfire, they are of sinister aspect, ebon armour decorated with arcane sigils made of what looks like bone” – this tells you everything you need to know, and is a variation on what’s to be found in all these stories – and probably the Space Marine Battles: Legion of the Damned novel, too…). Overall, though, I enjoyed reading these stories. If you’re looking for short stories set in the WH40k universe, with a slightly more dark, horror-feel to them, then this collection should suit perfectly.