Archive for recommend

HARBINGER OF THE STORM By Aliette de Bodard – Reviewed

Posted in Morpheus Tales Magazine, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by stanleyriiks

With the kind permission of Morpheus Tales. This review will appear in the April issue of the  MT Supplement.

You know how sometimes when you meet someone for the first time, for absolutely no reason that you can put your finger on, you have an instant dislike – like a kind of anti-chemistry – and as you get to know them a little better you find out your initial instinct was complete and absolutely correct? (Lots of people who meet me for the first time get this impression.) That’s what happened with this book.

It should have been fine. A murder mystery set in Aztec Mexico at the height of the Aztec empire, somewhere around the fifteen century. Sounds interesting enough. Except that it’s really not. It’s not a murder mystery for a start; it’s more a political drama with a few deaths and murders thrown in. This is not Poirot. The story is much more reminiscent of Macbeth or Hamlet as it follows of the political intrigues when the ruler dies and his replacement must be found.

The minutiae of finding the new leader is epic, on a scale that even those not taking an instant dislike to, will find hard to bare. De Bodard, in her afterword, says herself that the process would likely have been shorter than she’d written it. Of course it would. The only things that would feel longer would have been having my fingernails removed with pliers, or my testicles boiled on a low heat.

One of the problems with the book is that you just don’t care. The characters, with their incomprehensible and mispronounce-able names, are interchangeable, having no distinguishing characteristics. The fact that half of them are priests and the other half are imperial family doesn’t help matters. There’s so little tension that a couple of deaths acts only to wake you up a little.

The fantastic Aztec Mexican setting is ruined by keeping everything within the courtly areas of the temples. There’s no jungle, no danger, no atmosphere. The Aztec setting, rather than spicing things up just adds to the confusion with the many-syllable names and a little of their religion. For one of the most blood-thirsty warrior nations in the world there’s little blood-shed, only once is sacrifice mentioned, and there’s absolutely nothing to help alleviate the boredom.

Can a book really be that bad? Everything good you might imagine should be contained in this book has somehow been removed. It’s rather like my mother’s cooking, when at her worse she manages to remove everything that’s good from every single ingredient until what you end up with is a vapid, insipid, flavourless slop. De Bodard seems to have fashioned this book in the same way. What should work just does not, and it doesn’t work unrelentingly. A failure of epic proportions, but a book that can be read. Probably the worst book I remember finishing, but finish it I did, and I feel quite proud to have suffered such torment and survived. I can only hope that Volume 1 in the Obsidian and Blood series was very different, and that the following third volume won’t make the same mistakes as the second.

Of course there are worse fates than having to read this book again, waterboarding or the aforementioned bollock boiling. Both of which I would recommend before attempting to read this.

www.angryrobotbooks.com

DIFFERENT SKINS By Gary McMahon – Reviewed

Posted in Morpheus Tales Magazine, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by stanleyriiks

I wrote this review a few weeks ago. I think it’s a good review, and it will be published in the first edition of the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement. Before putting it up here I wondered how the space and distant I’ve had since reading the book had changed my opinion. Actually, it hasn’t. I think that Different Skins is an amazing book, both the stories are moving and emotion-evoking. You can’t help but be sucked into the worlds that McMahon creates, the stories actually touch you emotionally and intellectually. That’s what I look for in my life, I don’t just want to read a book, I want to experience it. That what happens with Different Skins. I cannot recommend this book enough. Go do yourself a favour and buy this book:

http://www.screamingdreams.com

This is one of those books that it is a pleasure to hold. It feels nice. It looks stunning, the cover and back cover by Vincent Chong are exquisite. Even the interior looks and feels nice, it feels like you’re holding a good quality book in your hands. It feels very similar to the limited editions from Blood Letting Press, except in paperback.

OK, so it doesn’t particularly matter what the book feels like, it’s the content that really matters. Right? But my point is that it does matter, holding a book that feels nice just adds to the pleasure. And this book can be judged on its beautifully subtle and disturbing cover.

Introductions are normally a waste of time unless they’re by the author, Tim Lebbon’s intro doesn’t stray too far from this. But he does mention that he read McMahon’s stories as a writer would. I completely agree with him on this, although I probably read as a writer differently to Mr. Lebbon. McMahon’s stories, two novellas in this collection, are packed with ideas and details and phrases that I wish I’d written, that I want to use in one of my stories. There are just so many “I wish I’d thought of that” moments!

The first story, Even The Dead Die, is a ghost story set in a London occupied by the dead, and it’s so rich and powerful that it made me feel like a teenager again, discovering my first horror story. Every page sparkles with ideas and brilliance, it’s like reading the very best of Neil Gaiman or Clive Barker. McMahon’s London is dark and nasty and brutal, but it’s also perversely beautiful. And so is his first story, dark, rich, tragic, powerfully and perversely beautiful.

The second story really shows the breadth of McMahon’s skill. In The Skin is a very different story, a personal tale of loss and neglect, a story of life. The story of Dan, who goes on a business trip to New York and upon his return, finds that his son is not quite the same, that his wife is slightly different. His family is not who they were before he left. The second story in the collection is as different as it possibly can be, this is a much more personal tale, without the glitter and glamour, the brilliance or the ideas of the first story. And yet it touches you more deeply, more subtly than the first story. Its horror is all the more real for its understated openness and its horrible sense of loss. My favourite story of the collection was Even The Dead Die, then I read In The Skin and had to change my mind.

OK, so the services of a proof-reader wouldn’t go amiss (although the typos have been spotted and will be fixed for the next print run), and there is no Charing Cross Road Station, but what you get when you buy this book is something much more than you will expect.

Despite its length and cost, it’s a 120 page book for the price of an epic novel at £7.99, that quality I mentioned earlier makes reading this book worth more than any price you can put on it. I was shaken putting this book down, mentally and emotionally shaken. Reading the first story made me feel alive, reading the second made me feel empty. It is that power that I search for as a reader. It is the quality of the production and the contents of this amazing collection which pushes it beyond insubstantial things like money, it’s like the Lord of the Rings, Anansi Boys, The Thief of Always, Weaveworld… reading this book is an epic experience that will touch you in ways that few experiences can.

I recommend Different Skins wholeheartedly and unreservedly, and will be seeking out much more of Gary McMahon’s work.