Upcoming: DUNE 50th Anniversary Edition

Today, Hodderscape unveiled the cover for the 50th anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Designed by Sean O’Connell, as you can see, it’s a pretty stunning cover:

HerbertF-Dune50thUK

I’ve never actually read Dune, despite many people recommending it (clearly, I’m just difficult). With this new edition, perhaps I will have no excuse…? The 50th anniversary edition will be published in the UK by Hodder on July 16th, 2015. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the novel’s synopsis:

Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable — and rarest — element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.

In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.

And his journey will change the universe.

Hodderscape’s Handy Hodder Holiday Help Sheet…

At the end of the year, sharing lists of gift suggestions is always popular. This year, Hodderscape has produced this handy graphic to help you decide which of their books you should get yourself (or friends and the book-lovers in your lives). They shared it on their Facebook page, from whence I have shamelessly lifted it:

HodderXmasShoppingList2014

A great selection on here, too. I’ve only read three of the books on there — Straight Razor CureLagoon and The Three (all three are excellent) — but all of the others are on my Must Read list. Here are links to the publisher’s pages for the books in the graphic:

Scott K. BrownTimeBomb

Pierce BrownRed Rising

Stark HolbrookNunslinger

Stephen KingRevival

Rebecca LeveneSmiler’s Fair

Sarah LotzThe Three

Daniel PolanskyStraight Razor Cure

David RamirezThe Forever Watch

Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke and Bone

Tad Williams, The Dirty Streets of Heaven

“Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon (Orbit)

MoonE-SpeedOfDark2002A superb, endearing, and moving modern classic

Lou is different to “normal” people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, however, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.

One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become “normal” like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.

As I’m sure a lot of other reviewers have found, Speed of Dark is not the easiest of novels to review. Reading Speed of Dark was illuminating, engaging, and moving. Lou is a powerful and endearing voice, and to get a glimpse of how his mind works and how he sees the world was fascinating. I don’t know nearly as much about autism as I should, but I felt Moon has written an intelligent and nuanced tale of an autistic man’s experiences in a world that doesn’t know how to accept him as he is, nor properly understand how he sees the world. This is a great novel, and it is absolutely clear to me why it won a Nebula Award.

To get it out of the way quickly, I think there was only one weakness to the novel, and that was the fact that plot felt somewhat of a secondary concern. This is not strictly speaking a bad thing, as Lou and his colleagues are universally interesting characters to spend time with. The plot centres around the innovative “cure” for autism, and the characters’ decisions of whether or not they want to take it, and therefore become more like the “normals”. The ending felt just a tad rushed and truncated, and I’m still not sure how I actually feel about Lou’s choice (I won’t spoil it, though).

What a cure for autism would mean is something I’ve wondered about quite a bit, recently. It’s not something I’m very good at talking or writing about, but I did like the way Moon handled the issue and hypothetical, and also how her characters saw the choice.

Without doubt, the best thing about the novel is Lou’s voice. I loved reading the story told through his perspective – seeing the different ways he sees people and the world, his shrewd observations about how “normals” treat him so very differently, when they don’t have to (or, indeed, really shouldn’t). The different ways in which certain actions of his are treated as symptoms, while the same actions from a normal are considered, well… normal. Here’s an early example from the novel, when Lou is visiting his therapist, Dr. Fornum:

When she answers the phone I can look around her office and find the twinkly things she doesn’t know she has.  I can move my head back and forth so the light in the corner glints off and on over there, on the shiny cover of a book in the bookcase.  If she notices that I’m moving my head back and forth she makes a note in my record… It is called stereotypy when I do it and relaxing her neck when she does it…

In fact, this early scene with Dr. Fornum is filled with interesting and intelligent commentary on the treatment and impression of those with autism in society today. I’m sure there are many reviews that have used the following passage, but I thought it was superb and perfectly explains Lou’s situation:

If they aren’t going to listen, why should I talk?

I know better than to say that out loud. Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say.

In this office, where I am evaluated and advised four times a year, the psychiatrist is not less certain of the line between us than all the others have been. Her certainty is painful to see, so I try not to look at her more than I have to. That has its own dangers; like the others, she thinks I should make more eye contact than I do. I glance at her now.

Dr. Fornum, crisp and professional, raises an eyebrow and shakes her head not quite imperceptibly. Autistic persons do not understand these signals; the book says so. I have read the book, so I know what it is I do not understand.

What I haven’t figured out yet is the range of things they don’t understand… I know some of what she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that I can read. She thinks I’m hyperlexic, just parroting the words… She knows I work on a computer, she knows I went to school, but she has not caught on that this is incompatible with her belief that I am actually nearly illiterate and barely verbal… She does not like it when I use big words (as she calls them) and she tells me to just say what I mean.

MoonE-SpeedOfDark2014

The novel is filled with very-well-written passages, or almost beautifully-worded observations and descriptions. At one point, for example, Lou ponders the nature of his autism, and how or why he has it:

I do not think God makes bad things happen just so that people can grow spiritually. Bad parents do that, my mother said. Bad parents make things hard and painful for their children and then say it was to help them grow. Growing and living are hard enough already; children do not need things to be harder. I think this is true even for normal children. I have watched little children learning to walk; they all struggle and fall down many times. Their faces show that it is not easy. It would be stupid to tie bricks on them to make it harder. If that is true for learning to walk, then I think it is true for other growing and learning as well.

God is suppose to be the good parent, the Father. So I think God would not make things harder than they are. I do not think I am autistic because God thought my parents needed a challenge or I needed a challenge. I think it is like if I were a baby and a rock fell on me and broke my leg. Whatever caused it was an accident. God did not prevent the accident, but He did not cause it, either… I think my autism is an accident, but what I do with it is me.

As I said at the start, and is no doubt apparent at this point, this is a tricky novel to review. Overall, then, I would say that this novel is extremely well-written, delicately and intelligently handled, quite moving and even uplifting. It could be described as “low-SF”, as the cure and something at the end are pretty much the only science fictional part of the story.

Very highly recommended. This is a superb novel.

***

I received this novel as part of the Hodderscape Review Project. It is published in the UK by Orbit Books, and received a new cover this week (the second included in the review, above).

Interview with SARAH LOTZ

SarahLotz-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Sarah Lotz?

I’m a genre-crossing pulp-fiction writer based in South Africa. I’m addicted to coffee and collaborating, and write horror novels with author Louis Greenberg under the name S.L Grey; a ‘choose-your-own’ erotica series with authors Helen Moffett and Paige Nick (as Helena S. Paige), and a YA series co-written with my daughter under the name Lily Herne.

Your next novel, The Three, is due to be published by Hodder in May. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader?

I’m tempted to say it’s about plane crashes and (possibly) evil children – but I hope there is more to it than that! Here’s a brief description:

Four devastating plane crashes. Three child survivors. A fanatic who insists the survivors are possessed by the harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he’s right?

I’m fascinated by how quickly fear and paranoia can spread throughout society – especially during the aftermath of a devastating event – and the novel attempts to explore how this could potentially influence the political landscape. Continue reading

“The Copper Promise” by Jen Williams (Headline)

WilliamsJ-CopperPromiseA fun fantasy adventure

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

Lots of people have discussed the rise of grimdark, the loss of fun and adventure in fantasy of late. Personally, I’m rather fond of grimdark. I’m also rather fond of more fun-loving, adventure- and quest-focused fantasies of the ‘classic’ mould. The Copper Promise manages to straddle both of these camps rather skillfully. A lot of people are going to like this.

And, indeed, there’s a lot to like: some good protagonists to guide us through the world, plenty of action to be survived and enjoyed (as a spectator), dragons to fight and be killed by, dungeons to explore, treasure to be found, magic to be wielded, and pirates to fend off. The world is well-drawn and well-developed, and feels fully-formed very quickly. Readers will be drawn to the Band of Adventurers-style story that we’re thrown in to pretty much right off the bat. It was great to see the story unfold, and the heroes’ struggle against what they unleash from beneath the Citadel is epic and varied.

And yet. The Copper Promise didn’t excite me as much as I had expected. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I kept reading and Williams can certainly write both more serious and also wittier sections. But. It took me a while to really get hooked into the story. There were moments of exposition that verged on info-dumping (especially near the beginning). While well-written, the characters didn’t seem too inspired at first blush, and seemed to come right out of Fantasy Central Casting: a mischievous, reckless thief; a taciturn, moralistic and conflicted former knight. They were, however, pretty well-written characters, and Williams fleshed them out well over the course of the novel.

I felt that Wydrin’s quips and/or snark near the beginning of the novel sometimes verged too close to Lorelai Gilmore-like frequencies – it was like we were really meant to know that the character was sarcastic and feisty, and maybe it was a bit overdone. True, it fits her cavalier, act-first-think-later attitude to adventuring (and looting), and it did balance out later. But it irked me at the beginning (perhaps a result of my mood at the time I read it, perhaps not). Lord Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian’s benefactor, is a less grimdark version of Abercrombie’s Inquisitor Glokta, only high-born and less misanthropic, but equally driven and focused on his cause. Perhaps that’s a rather lazy comparison (Frith was also crippled by torture), but the connection popped into my head immediately after reading the prologue and then again after we are reunited with him and he hires Wydrin and Sebastian. Speaking of the three of them, they worked pretty well as a group, and I enjoyed reading about their exploits.

The issues I had with the novel were minor, but they were also clear. Along with the aforementioned niggles with regards to the characters, there were also occasional pacing issues – when the narrative felt a little uneven. And at other times, the characters’ speech patterns shifted from more ‘natural’ to forced or affected, which felt a little jarring as they were predominantly written in a very natural, engaging way – there were even a few moments of what felt like Renaissance Fair-esque weirdness near the beginning. I also think it could have done with being just a bit shorter – tightening up may have helped with the pacing issues.

A lot of people will like this novel. For me, this is a good novel, and one that looks back at what used to make fantasy so much fun and addictive and contemporizes it rather well. The sense of adventure, the quirky characters… a big, fuck-off dragon. That kind of thing. But, after finishing, I was not left with the sense that this had been a spectacular read. It will certainly be interesting to see what the author comes up with next. Williams can definitely write, and has obvious talent and love for the genre (there are so many lovingly adopted tropes and genre conventions that are gleefully included and tweaked).*

A cautious recommendation, therefore. If you are looking for a fantasy novel that has a classic sense of fun coupled with a more contemporary style, then The Copper Promise should suit your needs. I look forward to reading Williams’s second novel.

***

The Copper Promise was received from both Headline and also as part of the Hodderscape Review Project.

* I am, of course, purely speculating about any levels of authorial glee.

Upcoming from Hodder Books (UK): “The Forever Watch” and “Lagoon”…

It’s Saturday night, and I’m stuck at home. So, naturally, I’m reading publishers’ catalogues. Currently, I’m reading Hodder Books’ Spring 2014 catalogue, which means I’ve got more information on a number of books that I’m excited to read this year.

PrintFirst up, we have David Ramirez’s THE FOREVER WATCH:

The Truth is only the beginning.

The Noah: a city-sized ship, half-way through an eight hundred year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer.

And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

The Forever Watch is due to be published on March 20th 2014 in the UK by Hodder, and April 22nd 2014 in the US by Thomas Dunne.

Update: Just been informed by Hodder that The Forever Watch has been pushed back to a May 1st publication.

OkoraforN-LagoonNext, we have Nnedi Okorafor’s LAGOON:

A star falls from the sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper, famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Each wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never have imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world, and themselves.

Love that Joey Hi-Fi cover… Lagoon is due to be published by Hodder in the UK and US in April 2014.

For more on Hodder Books’ science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing, be sure to check out the Hodderscape website.

“The Crystal Cave” by Mary Stewart (Hodder)

StewartM-M1-CrystalCaveOne of the best-loved interpretations of the Merlin Myth

Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. This is the world of young Merlin, the illegitimate child of a South Wales princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity. Yet Merlin is an extraordinary child, aware at the earliest age that he possesses a great natural gift – the Sight.

Against a background of invasion and imprisonment, wars and conquest, Merlin emerges into manhood, and accepts his dramatic role in the New Beginning – the coming of King Arthur.

Hm. How to review a book that is well-written, well-conceived, but didn’t fire one’s imagination? In brief, I suppose, is the best answer. I received this as part of the Hodderscape Review Project, which has been a great way to try out some classics of genre fiction. True, only one has truly wormed its way into my mind (Stephen King’s The Shining), but I am very happy that I’ve had the opportunity to read these books (this is the third so far). I’m especially looking forward to the next title in the project (by none other than Ursula le Guin…). The Crystal Cave, however, must also be put on the Shelf of Classics That Disappointed.

Despite this, there is a fair bit to like in this novel. Stewart’s prose is well-crafted and fluid – it reminded me of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, actually, in style. The characters are interestingly portrayed and well-drawn. Despite these things, the story itself just didn’t grab me enough to make me love it. This is one of the first novels that, after I told friends and family that I was going to read it, was universally met with comments along the line of, “It’s great!” and “It’s fantastic!” Sadly, I just didn’t get swept up by it. The story took too long to get going. I did, however, enjoy how Stewart brought in Merlin’s gift of Sight into the story, and developed it over the course of this first book – he first comes across as incredibly observant, and then we start to see his knowledge of things he couldn’t possible know.

As far as Merlin/Arthur interpretations go, I can certainly see why this has been so popular, and how that popularity endures today. Of the many other versions of this story that I have read (most recently, I think, DC Comics’ Demon Knights and Maurice Broaddus’s Knights of the Breton Court), this is probably the best conceived and in-depth.

It is perhaps the long-game approach that Stewart took that makes the novel not really work for me. It suffers from being too obviously the first part of a series – the characters, ideas and so forth aren’t developed enough, and I didn’t think the plot moved forward enough. Sadly, this means I haven’t got the bug to seek out the rest of the series. At least, I am not in any hurry. As someone who will happily sit through thousands of pages of epic fantasy trilogies (most recently, Joe Abercrombie and Peter V. Brett – both authors for whom I had some catching up to do), it is perhaps strange to say this book didn’t work for me.

That’s quite possibly the most carefully-written, sitting-on-the-fence review I’ve ever written. I’m not proud of it. I just couldn’t rustle up much verve to dig deeper. Which is never a good sign when it comes to a novel. I’m sure, in the future, I’ll give this another try. As it stands, though, it didn’t work for me, and I don’t want to belabour the point.