Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview with Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough is an English writer who made her debut in 2004 with the novel “The Hidden”. Since then Sarah Pinborough published other five novels at Leisure Books, the publisher of her debut novel, “The Reckoning” in 2005, “Breeding Ground” in 2006, “The Taken” in 2007, “Tower Hill” in 2008 and “Feeding Ground” (reviewed on my blog) in 2009, a novel in the Torchwood series, “Into the Silence”, and a novella, “The Language of Dying”, at PS Publishing in 2009. On March this year Gollancz released Sarah Pinborough’s “A Matter of Blood” (recently reviewed here), the first novel in “The Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy, and will publish in September under the pseudonym Sarah Silverwood “The Double-Edged Sword”, the first novel in “The Nowhere Chronicles” trilogy. She was nominated for the British Fantasy Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award and won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 2009 with “Do You See”, published in the anthology edited by Ian Whates, “Myth-Understandings”.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Sarah, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
What stories made you dream of a writer career? Why an inclination towards the dark fiction?
Sarah Pinborough: I've always loved stories – and ever since I could write I can remember making stuff up, so I guess the idea of being a writer was always there. I don't remember a time – apart from maybe a year or so in my twenties, when I didn't write anything. It was either being an actress/film-maker or an author for me – I'm glad the writing won. I have too healthy an appetite for Hollywood! As for being drawn to the dark element of fiction, that's probably because I'm scared of just about everything and anything. I have recluse potential! I also have terrible nightmares, although now that I'm older I find that I enjoy them weirdly.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): What authors have an imprint and influence on your writing?
Sarah Pinborough: Too many! John Wyndham, Daphne Du Maurier, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, James Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut, Graham Greene . . . the list goes on. Recently I've been influenced by Graham Joyce, his slightly magical realism fantasy style had an impact on The Language of Dying, and John Connelly and Michael Marshall were big influences when I was pitching The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy. They made me see that there was a market for crime with a pinch of weird.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): It is said that no one is a prophet in their own land and it seems to apply to your case too since you have started your career in the US rather than your home land. What lead to your debut in the US? Did you try to be published in the UK at first?
Sarah Pinborough: I went to the States when I'd just started writing The Hidden and on the way back I picked up a Leisure Horror novel. I thought they'd be a great place for my book when I was done, and so when I finished it I sent it to Don D'Auria and he liked it. At that time no one in the UK was buying horror (or so it seemed on the bookshelves) so the US was a natural starting place. Six books later I finally came home as it were.

M(DW): You are a full time writer at the present, but how difficult is it for a writer to establish himself/herself?
SP: I don't think I have yet! I was lucky that the deals with Gollancz and doing the Torchwood books earned me enough to write full-time for a while (fingers crossed it lasts a while longer), but I wouldn't say I was anywhere near established. Finances and being established don't necessarily go hand in hand. You always hear stories about writers who get huge advances, don't sell through and then are dumped. I'd rather take small but secure steps up the ladder . . . although if someone wants to pay me a million pounds… ;-)

M(DW): How important is the research and documentation in an author’s writings? Is your research more thorough now that you are a full time writer?
SP: Ha! No... most writers hate research. Thank god for the internet. Both my trilogies are set in London so I do go and wander round the town (and tie it in with meeting up with friends) quite a lot, but that's about it. I try and get the facts right, especially now I'm writing more Crime fiction, but I'm not a research addict.

M(DW): You wrote fiction in different forms, novel, novella, short story. Which one felt more comfortable for you? Do some of the stories you want to write need more words than others?
SP: Novels are my most comfortable form. I only ever write short stories if I'm asked for one – wouldn't think about writing one for fun, and I've only written two novellas – The Language of Dying, and one for an upcoming anthology Zombie Apocalypse.

M(DW): You do not believe in the genre labels, but do you think that some fiction is underappreciated because of these labels? At some point in your career did you have to limit your writing to certain boundaries for some reason?
SP: Leisure have a clear idea of what they and their readers want in their books, and although I always understood that it can be very limited in terms of crossing boundaries or trying something different, so for the six books I did for them I was very clear that I was writing what I guess would be called straight horror – although I never went near a ghost or vampire or werewolf ;-).

M(DW): I understand that a part of your characters are named after real people. Did some of your personality or that of these people are transplanted into your characters?
SP: I often name my characters after people I know because they like it – but the characters and the real people are rarely similar. I'd find it very hard to write them if they were. I never consciously use any part of me in my characters. That would be weird!

M(DW): I know that your works also feature personal experiences and in a recent interview of yours I read that “The Language of Dying” is also a preserver of memories. Does the presence of your personal experiences in your fiction make the stories stronger? Is your fiction also a sweetener for your memories?
SP: I've used short stories as a way of preserving memory far more than novels (The Language of Dying is an exception in that it is only ever one breath away from the truth throughout), especially to document places I lived as a child that I won't ever go back to. For example, The Bohemian of the Arbat (Summer Chills, Constable & Robinson) was set in Moscow in the 1980s and Our Man in the Sudan (Humdrumming book of Horror Stories/ Mammoth book of Best New Horror) was set in Khartoum where I lived also.

M(DW): It seems that you changed a bit your register lately, with “The Language of Dying” and “A Matter of Blood”. Did you need a change in your writing process? Does a writer progress in the career when the author experiences new elements and genres in his/her writings?
SP: I think I just found my own style eventually and became more confident in what I was doing. I was very lucky in a lot of ways to get my first novel picked up by Leisure, but I have therefore had to grow up as a writer 'in print' as it were. I'd quite like to go through those early books with a red pen – although I dread to think how much I'd cut out! Plus, I've realised that I don't actually read a lot of straight horror – I like it in movies and in short stories but not in novels. It was a clear signal to me that my time as a horror novelist was probably over – for now at least it's time to try other things.

M(DW): “A Matter of Blood” is set in a near future, a grim outcome of our present global economic situation. What makes you see our future in dark colors? Since “Feeding Ground” has a few science fiction elements, do you consider writing a SF novel some day?
SP: Yes, I quite like the idea of Sci-Fi. In fact, my next trilogy is likely to be a crime in a much more science fiction setting. Still dark of course!

M(DW): “A Matter of Blood” features one of the strongest characters I’ve encountered in my readings, DI Cass Jones. Is it more difficult for a female writer to build a strong male character than for a male writer? Or is it a sole matter of talent?
SP: It's hard to say because I only have my perspective on it. I find it harder to write female characters, if I'm honest. I'm not a girly girl, so I'm not into shoes and shopping and romance and most of my friends are men. I do write women, but when I think of a main character they invariably pop up male. I'm not sure there's that much difference between male and female motivations – we all want the same things – we just go about them differently I suppose.

M(DW): Cass Jones is not the only character of your fiction who is deeply flawed and that makes your characters truly human. Why do you think that we don’t see more such characters in fiction? Are the writers afraid to give a human face to the flawed or negative characters?
SP: My characters are deeply flawed because I am, I guess! I find damaged people far more interesting in real life too, so it's a natural progression that I write about them. Lots of people out there do it well, though. Perhaps when writers are starting out they veer away from the human angle (the internal conflict we all have every day between right and wrong) or go for obvious little personality tics and traits as a guise for it rather than the more deep-rooted issues, but most of the books I read have got these kinds of characters in them. I just always take the angst to the hilt. I'm not sure there is a truly likeable character in the whole of A Matter of Blood (although I like them all!). Even Cass Jones can be an arrogant bastard as one of my friends pointed out!

M(DW): Speaking of female authors there are some very strong feminine voices within the horror genre, but they seem to be a bit neglected. Do you believe that horror fails to properly acknowledge the women writers within the genre? What makes women such strong horror story tellers?
SP: I hate getting caught up in the 'neglected female voice in horror' debate – we had too much of it last year – primarily because I never think in terms of gender. I have, however, just written a novel in collaboration with Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff and Rhodi Hawk – three very strong and successful female voices in the genre. The book rocks. It is interesting that women write Horror and Crime so successfully. It goes to show we're not all sugar and kittens.

M(DW): Although “Breeding Ground” and “Feeding Ground” share the same basic story and are related, is it more correct to say that “A Matter of Blood” is the first novel you write in a series? How different is the approach for a series of novels than the one for a stand-alone story?
SP: Well, technically A Matter of Blood isn't the first in a series, but the first in a trilogy, so it's more like planning one really long book. There is an arc within each but then the over-riding arc of the three books, which you wouldn't get in a series where the main character tends to remain static. The main issue when writing a trilogy is to make sure each one is satisfying in itself but also pays off a third of the over-riding story. It's certainly been harder on the brain than writing the straight horror!

M(DW): Not only that “A Matter of Blood” is the first novel in “The Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy, but you also will release, under the Sarah Silverwood pseudonym, “The Double-Edged Sword” the first novel in “The Nowhere Chronicles” series. Did you start to enjoy writing series of novels? How do you manage to handle the writing of two series of novels at the same time?
SP: Ha! It was more business sense than anything. There is a security that comes in signing for a trilogy that you don't have signing on one book! But yes, I am enjoying them – in a weird and twisted and brain-fried way – and will probably do the same again. There may well be more stories in The Nowhere Chronicles after this trilogy, but featuring different characters as the leads. I'm enjoying the world I've created there.

M(DW): Why the choice for a pseudonym in the case of “The Double-Edged Sword”? Considering that “The Double-Edged Sword” is a young-adult novel can the use of a pseudonym be seen as delimitation from the other part of your career?
SP: Gollancz wanted me to use a pseudonym for the YA so I did. I'm not sure if it's to separate the two brands within the same publishing house or because my adult fiction is very adult in terms of content. Either way, I was happy to have a different persona for the YA.

M(DW): How different is the writing for an adult audience than for a younger one? Does your experience as a teacher help you in writing “The Double-Edged Sword”?
SP: When I first started writing The Double-Edged Sword I was aware I was writing for younger readers, but by about thirty pages in I'd forgotten and was just writing a fantasy novel with younger main characters. The think I do like is that – although the book is very dark in places – you can be more quirky with YA. Kids look at the world differently than adults and they're not as cynical. My experiences as a teacher probably did help as I spent six years around teenagers and had got used to all their crazy behaviour and the way they approach things. Teenagers are great fun – they're full of all the promise of the world and have very little doubt. Their fears are different to ours. In many ways, they're more interesting.

M(DW): You won the British Fantasy Awards for the Best Short Fiction last year. Did this award change your career in any way? Does winning of such awards make a personal goal for you?
SP: Everyone likes to win awards or be nominated for them – you just can't help it! I don't think that award helped me particularly, but the year before when I was on the short list for Best Novel, that brought me to that attention of Gollancz who then asked me to pitch to them, which led to both the trilogy deals I now have.

M(DW): You are certainly focused on your two series at the moment, “The Dog-Faced Gods” and “The Nowhere Chronicles”, but are there any ideas pushing in the back of your mind for a future novel? Any other future plans for your writing career?
SP: I think once I've finished 'The Dog-Faced Gods' I'll be writing a dark SF/Crime trilogy – more news on that later!

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been an honor and a pleasure.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cover art - "The Blade Itself" by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s novels are a part of my Pile o’ Shame, especially his debut trilogy, “First Law”. Despite this I love the covers of Joe Abercrombie’s novels, especially those of the first editions, simple and truly effective. Subterranean Press will release a limited edition of Joe Abercrombie’s debut novel, “The Blade Itself”, and this week the author posted on his blog the cover artwork of this limited edition. It was a bit surprising to see this artwork, because the first image of the interior artwork I saw on Subterranean Press website was rather confusing, mainly because I didn’t quite understand the scene depicted, its meaning and the tone of that scene. However the cover artwork made by Alex Preuss looks great, in a beautiful style and that works like a magnet for me. It still has a small problem in my opinion, although the font and the color of the title are truly appealing, I find the lettering to be too big and in a wrong position, taking away a bit too much from the beautiful scene of the cover artwork. Still, even with this small drawback the cover artwork made by Alex Preuss is very beautiful and I am happy to see that the list of candidates for my year’s best cover is growing fast.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Grants Pass" edited by Jennifer Brozek & Amanda Pillar

Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publisher: Morrigan Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Morrigan Books

Humanity was decimated by bio-terrorism; three engineered plagues were let loose on the world. Barely anyone has survived.
Just a year before the collapse, Grants Pass, Oregon, USA, was publicly labelled as a place of sanctuary in a whimsical online, “what if” post. Now, it has become one of the last known refuges, and the hope, of mankind.
Would you go to Grants Pass based on the words of someone you’ve never met?

With alarming everyday news and with information that seems to describe the downfall of our world it is no wonder why the post-apocalyptic fiction picked up the interest of readers and became a genre on its own. This is one of my favorite subjects as well and it all started with Stephen King’s “The Stand”, therefore when I’ve found out about Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar’s collection of post-apocalyptic stories I desired to read “Grants Pass” as soon as possible.

It is the second time this year when I come with a different approach for my review of an anthology. I believe that such projects deserve a story to story review and it is a fair way to throw a light on the entire collection, each one with its strong and weak elements. But this time I’ll go for a general review of Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar’s “Grants Pass” because in the first place I read the anthology a little while ago and without the proper notes I can’t take properly every detail of each story into attention and secondly the stories share the same starting point and premise, the way they are delivered is different and depends on their authors.

“Grants Pass” starts with a prologue in the form of an online journal entry, written by Kayley Allard, a girl who considers a possible end of the world and its consequences. Hoping to meet her friend in the case of their survival she sets a meeting point in a small town, Grants Pass, but that it can also be a starting point for the rebuilding of the world. The prologue is followed by a series of newspapers entries from different countries that describe a collapsing world because of diseases outbreak following the escape of three laboratory modified viruses, natural disasters and terrorists’ acts. These set into motion the premises for the stories of “Grants Pass”, the characters of each such story learning and trying to reach the meeting point proposed by Kayley Allard, the town of Grants Pass.

Although the characters share this common goal, their situation and location is different, each one of them facing personal ordeals and the change in their existence in their own particular way. We are taken through different corners of the world, from Nepal to Belgium and United States, but the most challenging will prove to be the islands, territories that enclose and challenge the attempt of the characters to reach Grants Pass, with stories set in the island of Lanzarote, Spain, and Cyprus. Not even the space will miss this appointment, with a few heroes found by the apocalyptic events in a shuttle at four hundred kilometers from Earth. We are taken through different states of mind too, the psychological aspects playing naturally a key role in the stories and taken the characters through a wide range of emotions. The tone of stories is a battle of perspective, many of them exhaling an optimistic and hopeful undertone and others covering a grim and pessimist landscape. The anthology is brought to its final point in the same way as it is started, with a journal entry made by Kayley Allard that also sets the finish in light tones. I honestly think that “Grants Pass” would have worked better for me without that particular epilogue, but it is not bad that the collection ends in an optimistic atmosphere.

As natural for every anthology from the entire line-up of stories I had a couple that worked better for me and went closer to my heart. Going straight to my favorite story of “Grants Pass” is Cherie Priest’s “Hells Bells”, because it is rarely seen an post-apocalyptic scenario to be brought up through the eyes of a child. Cherie Priest masterfully captures the essence of childhood in subtle notes and makes it face such a dire perspective in an innocent approach. Seanan McGuire’s “Animal Husbandry” deals with the apocalyptic scenery from another particular angle. A veterinary who is in search of her daughter will find a new meaning for compassion and a new perspective for humanity in the dreary events that are unfolding. Jay Lake’s “Black Heart, White Mourning” has at its center a former patient in a mental institution and who now finds her freedom in the new landscape. Told through journal entries the story presents some unsettling thoughts, some disturbing moments and an uncomfortable end.

Post-apocalyptic fiction offers many reasons for meditation and “Grants Pass” is no different. Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar collect in their anthology stories that will fuel the thoughts driven by the apocalyptic scenarios and will keep them burning long after the reader finishes “Grants Pass”.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guest post for Vampire Awareness Month

Mark Deniz, the master mind behind many wonderful projects and the owner of the small publishing house Morrigan Books, runs a Vampire Awareness Month on his blog. Mark was very kind to invite me to his feast and from today, among his amazing guests and their wonderful articles, you can find my ramblings on a close matter to me, Dracula. I was never very fond of vampires, but I do have a lot of respect for Vlad Țepeș, the historical figure who inspired Dracula, and therefore I have chosen to take a look on these aspects from a personal perspective at Vampire Awareness Month.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cover art - "Up the Bright River" by Philip José Farmer

In December, Subterranean Press will release a collection of short stories by Philip José Farmer, “Up the Bright River”, and yesterday the publisher showed us the artwork for the dust jacket of the book made by the great artist, Bob Eggleton. I find this cover to be exceptionally beautiful, a scene of epic proportions and a landscape in the true style of Bob Eggleton. The colors, the light and shadows of the painting create an artwork of true beauty. It is one of the covers that make me pick a book from the bookshop shelves without taking into consideration the name of the book or the author. But Philip José Farmer’s “Up the Bright River” offers excellent material between the covers too, with a few of Philip José Farmer’s early works and some of the out-of-print tales, but also “Riverworld” stories collected for the first time. Here is the Subterranean Press presentation of the upcoming Philip José Farmer’s “Up the Bright River”:

This first posthumous collection of the short fiction of Philip Jose Farmer is a celebration of the impressive variety of his prodigious output, from the space adventures he published in the science fiction magazines of the 1950s through the 1970s, to his acerbic satires of religion and medicine, to his fictional biographies and memoirs, to his beloved Riverworld.
Appearing for the first time in a Philip Jose Farmer collection are his last three “Riverworld” stories—featuring characters from his own family history--as well as the “memoir” of Lord Greystoke which he claimed to have merely edited. Other highlights include “Attitudes,” the first of the Father Carmody stories; “The Two-Edged Gift,” which introduces the fictional science fiction writer Leo Queequeg Tincrowdor; “Toward the Beloved City” (about which its original editor said he had never before really understood the Book of Revelations); and “Father’s in the Basement,” a little-known Gothic horror tale which is also a satire of the writing profession.
Farmer created some of the most famous worlds in science fiction, but he also wrote
in many worlds, and readers familiar only with his best-known classics may find a few surprises among these tales.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Black Static - Issue 16

Issue 16 - April/May 2010
Publisher: TTA Press
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, TTA Press

I am more attracted by the long fiction than the shorter form and because of my preference the collections of stories take a little longer to read. However, when I feel the need for a quick reading in the shorter form of fiction the magazines provide a great source of stories and a very pleasant way to find new interesting writers. This time was the turn of the 16th issue of Black Static to find its way on my reading table.

Taking the non-fiction into account Black Static opens with the usual two pages column of news and information, “White Noise”. Browsing through the pages of the issue 16 we can find the excellent Tony Lee’s “Blood Spectrum”, the always informative and funny reviews of the latest DVD/Blu-ray releases, and Peter Tennant’s “Case Notes”, covering book reviews and featuring this issue an interview with Sarah Pinborough. Also in this issue of Black Static Stephen Volk talks in “Electric Darkness” about the state of a modern script writer, Mike O’Driscoll takes a look on “Night’s Plutonian Shore” at James Ellroy’s “Underworld USA” series and Christopher Fowler analyzes the situation of today’s horror, throwing a doubtful eye on the rise of Paranormal Romance.

As for the fiction section of Black Static #16 we can find the following 5 short stories:

“The Overseer” by Tim Casson – The story makes a strong start for the magazine, being the best one from the five published in this issue. It is a story of a young man who enjoyed his father’s wealth, but who failed to listen to his father’s advice and finds himself struggling for survival after the collapse of the stock market. Tim Casson creates an excellent atmosphere, oppressing and disturbing, materialized in the poor accommodation where Darius, the young man, lives, the way the day workers are chosen, with a spit on their feet, and especially in the factory where the main character finds work. With an overtake on the Egyptian mythology the story offers a couple of small ironies, but also involves a mask with a curse on itself. Although I didn’t engage with the character in the fullest the story is quite interesting.

“Extreme Latitude” by M.G. Preston – The action of this story takes place in an Arctic research station set in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. The story is told in a series of journal entires and through these entries we can see the story develop and the decrease in the mental sanity of the main character. Because of the isolation of the station, but also of a self-imposed solitude, a series of personal memories and a few strange events the character of the story falls into madness ending up in violent acts. M.G. Preston follows well the falling of his character, but a few of the memories involved in the story are rather ambiguous and they fall short of forming a solid reason for the character’s loss of mental sanity. However, the extreme location and position constitute enough reason for that and make the story work on an entertaining level.

“One Last Wild Waltz” by Mike O’DriscollMike O’Driscoll takes the stage of the fiction section too, after the non-fiction I’ve mentioned earlier, “Night’s Plutonian Shore”. Returning home for his brother funeral the main character of the story faces his childhood house and memories, rediscovering old places and people. It is a story strongly inclined on the psychological side, following the emotions through which the character passes at his return home. The memories of his childhood and of his relationship with his brother throw a bitter feeling on the story and making the character a sympathetic one. The story would have been stronger in my opinion without the presence of the mysterious snowmen and their involvement. Although their presence is related to the reconnection of the character with his roots they rather take away from the strong psychological aspect of the story.

“The Empty Spaces” by Alison J. Littlewood – Two widowers visit a doctor when one of them starts seeing his dead wife and find out that the mind tries to fill the empty gap left by the loss of vision. Another psychological approach for a story of this issue. The story feels stronger though, because Alison J. Littlewood keeps everything at the mental level without involving unnecessary elements, instead bringing forth feelings such as regret, remorse, but also a strong desire to live. She adds a tragic event in the story and although this one remains a mystery in the most part there are enough hints to make “The Empty Spaces” stronger.

“The Moon Will Look Strange” by Lynda E. Rucker – Following the death of his daughter the main character runs as far away as he can from his home. Lynda E. Rucker explores the emotional breakdown suffered by the story’s character, obsessed by images of his daughter and ending up neglecting himself. Told from the first person perspective unfortunately this character doesn’t have enough power and failed to engage me in his tragedy. The story engages with occult elements too, but the end is predictable and rather unsatisfactory. Lynda E. Rucker’s story is not a bad one, but considering the other four story of this issue it falls behind them.

As I said I am not the biggest fan of the short fiction, but it is nice from time to time to explore short stories. And although this time I didn’t find a small treasure in the form of a short story, as it happened to me before, the 16th issue of Black Static offers an enjoyable and entertaining reason for the search of one.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"This Blog Has Heart"

Over the years I’ve received a few awards from my fellow bloggers in recognition for my work made on the blog. Every time I receive such an award I feel happy and flattered, because although I don’t seek awards and praise for my reading passion it is good to see that people find some of my opinions useful. Rabid Fox, a constant reader and commenter here, offered my blog another award, This Blog has Heart, with a very complimentary description of Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews. This award brings me joy and although lately my schedule went a bit crazy, therefore preventing me to make a few interviews I wanted to make and writing a few articles I have in mind, it also gives me another reason for working on these features a bit more. Until then though I want to show my appreciation for a few blogs I follow with great interest. There are so many wonderful blogs I read and it is a bit unfair to limit this article to only 5 of them but as much as I want to cover them all unfortunately the time and space don’t allow me this. Instead I’ll make a small spotlight on 5 blogs, new and old, in appreciation for the hard and wonderful work done by the amazing people who run them.

A Dribble of Ink – Aidan’s articles are a constant source of information and we share the same love for fantasy artwork and cover art. I discovered a few cover artworks on his blog that I’ve missed and I always find his reviews to be interesting.

Floor to Ceiling Books – Amanda started her blog in 2009, but from this year she is a constant and beautiful presence in the blogosphere. She’s got the looks, but she’s also got the brains and that is shown in her reviews and articles. She is also an avid reader and the number of books she reads puts me to shame.

OF Blog of the Fallen – Larry explores and features works outside the English language, promoting the speculative fiction in a nice attempt of broadening its boundaries. His reviews are always deep and thoughtful and his articles will stir the things up from time to time.

Ruthless Culture – Larry (OF Blog of the Fallen) and Jonathan are two bloggers on a level I wish to achieve some day. Jonathan is ruthless in his reviews, but fair. His reviews are a constant source of inspiration for me, but not in a plagiarism way.

The Speculative Scotsman – Niall started in January, but it feels like he has been around for a long time. A prolific reader and blogger Niall covers not only book reviews, but also movies and computer games, and he provides serious and excellent opinions on these matters.

I want to thank Rabid Fox for this award and his wonderful words, it means a lot to me. I also want to thank the 5 bloggers showcased here and I hope that this small recognition will help them carry on the wonderful things they are doing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Title spotlight - "The Painted Darkness" by Brian James Freeman

Wandering the internet these days I discovered that this year Cemetery Dance will release a very interesting title, Brian James Freeman’s “The Painted Darkness”. I can’t honestly say that Cemetery Dance is among my allies, because it is one of the publishers that would hurt my budget too deeply in case of an acquisition. I also have to admit though that more than once I explored their online catalogue and desired some of their excellent books. So it was no surprise for me that I discovered another title on their publishing list, Brian James Freeman’s “The Painted Darkness” appealing to me as soon as I read its presentation and being one of the books I would love to have in my library. However, because at the moment my wallet cannot sustain such a weight lost I was very happy to find that on Brian James Freeman offers the opportunity to the readers to download “The Painted Darkness” for free as an ebook and as a streaming audiobook for a limited time. I am not sure for how long “The Painted Darkness” will be available for a free download, but if you are interested in Brian James Freeman’s book you can find it for now at At this address I could find that the free ebook has a few features that will not be available on the hardcover edition, such as an interview with the author, an interview with Ray Bradbury, comments from authors regarding the ebooks and the future of publishing, an afterword from Brian James Freeman and a 5$ discount coupon valid on an order of “The Painted Darkness”, but also more information about the book and the author and an interesting trailer. I personally went for the occasion and downloaded “The Painted Darkness” and now I am looking forward to read it.

When Henry was a child, something terrible happened in the woods behind his home, something so shocking he could only express his terror by drawing pictures of what he had witnessed. Eventually, Henry's mind blocked out the bad memories, but he continued to draw, often at night by the light of the moon.
Twenty years later, Henry makes his living by painting his disturbing works of art. He loves his wife and his son, and life couldn't be better... except there's something not quite right about the old stone farmhouse his family now calls home. There's something strange living in the cramped cellar, in the maze of pipes that feed the ancient steam boiler.
A winter storm is brewing, and soon Henry will learn the true nature of the monster waiting for him down in the darkness. He will battle this demon and, in the process, he may discover what really happened when he was a child — and why, in times of trouble, he thinks: I
paint against the darkness.
But will Henry learn the truth in time to avoid the terrible fate awaiting him... or will the thing in the cellar get him and his family first?
Written as both a meditation on the art of creation and as an examination of the secret fears we all share,
The Painted Darkness is a terrifying look at the true cost we pay when we run from our grief — and what happens when we're finally forced to confront the monsters we know all too well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cover art - "Elric: Swords and Roses" by Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock’s “Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné”, the excellent collection of books featuring Elric of Melniboné published by Del Rey, reaches the sixth volume of this series. The sixth volume, “Elric: Swords and Roses”, will be released in December and as Del Rey used the readers so far the book has wonderful cover artwork as well as very beautiful interior illustrations. On Missions Unknown John Picacio, the award winning artist who contributes with the cover and interior illustrations for this volume, shows us the cover artwork for Michael Moorcock’s “Elric: Swords and Roses”. I liked all the covers made for the Michael Moorcock’s collection published by Del Rey, but I have to admit that this one is the best of them for me. The motion captured by John Picacio and the colors he used make this an impressive cover, one that I find to be one of the best covers I’ve seen this year. The artwork can be enjoyed in the fullest on John Picacio’s post at Missions Unknown, where we can take into account every little detail of the cover in a larger version. I am very happy that I didn’t have Michael Moorcock’s Elric books before, because this way I was able to buy the Del Rey’s amazing collection. Now, I only need to complete it with “Elric: Swords and Roses” in December.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"A Matter of Blood" by Sarah Pinborough

"A Matter of Blood"
Format: Paperback, 432 pages
Publisher: Gollancz
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Gollancz

The recession that grips the world has left it exhausted. Crime is rising in every major city. Financial institutions across the world have collapsed, and most governments are now in debt to The Bank, a company created by the world's wealthiest men.
But Detective Inspector Cass Jones has enough on his plate without worrying about the world at large. His marriage is crumbling, he's haunted by the deeds of his past, and he's got the high-profile shooting of two schoolboys to solve - not to mention tracking down a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies.
Then Cass Jones' personal world is thrown into disarray when his brother shoots his own wife and child before committing suicide - leaving Cass implicated in their deaths. And when he starts seeing silent visions of his dead brother, it's time for the suspended DI to go on the hunt himself - only to discover that all three cases are linked . . .
As Jones is forced to examine his own family history, three questions keep reappearing: what disturbed his brother so badly in his final few weeks? Who are the shadowy people behind The Bank? And, most importantly, what do they want with DI Cass Jones?
On the hunt for a serial killer, vengeful DI Cass Jones uncovers a dark supernatural conspiracy!

After six horror novels, a spin-off novel in the “Torchwood” series and a novella Sarah Pinborough changes her register a little, publishing “A Matter of Blood”, a supernatural thriller.

Opening the first pages of “A Matter of Blood” the reader opens the door to a crime scene, one in a series of murders. DI Cass Jones leads the investigation of these series of crimes, but it is not his only case. He also works on the murder of two young boys, a crime that seems to be accidental at the first glance, and if these two were not enough he also has to deal with the suicide of his brother. As DI Cass Jones advances with his investigations and puts the pieces together so the reader also learns that the three cases are linked. But Sarah Pinborough manages to keep the mystery surrounding the cases and the link that draws them to a common point until the last possible moment, lifting the veil of enigma in a peak of tension, without forgetting to leave a very teasing element as the novel breaths its last page. But that is not the last breath of the author’s “Dog-Faced Gods” series, because although “A Matter of Blood” concludes the mystery of its plot and brings the cases to their conclusion, its last page leaves the reader with a question that will be answered in the next novel, or novels, of the series.

The story of “A Matter of Blood” follows DI Cass Jones and his investigation, not in an action-packed manner, but focused on the forensic and field work that is involved in such cases. Considering that the modern technology turned criminology into a science this works perfectly in this case and although the action moments are scarce Sarah Pinborough mixes a consistent mystery, a catchy setting and strong characters with supernatural elements to produce a story that moves logically and keeps the reader interested until the end. Scarce are the moments when Sarah Pinborough works on the setting of her story, but rare as they are those moments make the reader feel the surroundings. The story is set in a not too distant future, in a setting influenced and changed by the world economic crisis. The world is lead by The Bank, a mysterious and powerful financial company that impacts governments and controls the labor market, new drugs and diseases, such as the Strain II, a new, faster and merciless form of AIDS. All these elements add a new dimension to the story and create a bleak and oppressive atmosphere.

Sarah Pinborough works at the highest level with “A Matter of Blood”, but she is at her best while constructing the leading character, Cass Jones. DI Jones is haunted by his past, constrained by his present and with a future in doubt, a deeply flawed character, but entirely human. As a matter of fact there is not a single moment when Cass Jones doesn’t feel as a flesh and bone character. Facing his past he makes choices that affect his present and his relationships with those around him, steps over limits and boundaries, but has a back spine, a straight line and a personal moral conduct he follows. The way Cass Jones deals with his work and with those around him, liking or disliking people at the first glance, ignoring some and favoring others, brings him closer to the reader and makes him difficult to forget. There was a moment when I doubted Sarah Pinborough’s approach, when Cass Jones is suspended from his work, but fortunately, in the end, that proved to help the story and not another episode in this overused Hollywood cliché.

“A Matter of Blood” can be taken as a self contained story, but there are a few threads that are left hanging, leaving the door opened for the events to follow in “Dog-Faced Gods” series. If the events to follow will take the “Dog-Faced Gods” series to a new height is something to be seen in the novels to follow, but until then we have in the flesh of Cass Jones, a character who might be the person staying next to the reader as we speak, a realistic guide through the bleak atmosphere and the captivating story of Sarah Pinborough’s “A Matter of Blood”.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cover art - "Crossroads of Twilight" by Robert Jordan

Greg Ruth joins the line-up of artists for the e-book editions of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series of novels released by Tor Books, illustrating the cover of the tenth novel of the series, “Crossroads of Twilight”. This cover is a bit different than the previous ones, in terms of style and approach. It is a cover with a wider scene than the previous ones, at least it offers this feeling. Still centered on a character it brings more into focus a story, a feeling that is something more to this scene than the eye can take into consideration and this is an excellent achievement. Also, it is a cover that uses fewer colors, but it doesn’t lose force because of this, on the contrary. Greg Ruth made an excellent contribution to this series of covers and Tor Books keeps this feature at the highest level. As usual you can find more about the artwork of “Crossroads of Twilight” in an article posted by Irene Gallo on This e-book edition of Robert Jordan’s “Crossroads of Twilight” will be released on July 20th.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

2009 Shirley Jackson Awards & 2010 John W. Campbell Memorial Award

This week-end the 2009 Shirley Jackson Awards winners have been announced at Readercon 21, in Burlington, Massachusetts:

Novel: "Big Machine" by Victor LaValle (Speigel & Grau)

Novella: "Midnight Picnic" by Nick Antosca (Word Riot Press)

Novelette: "Morality" by Stephen King (Esquire)

Short Story: "The Pelican Bar" by Karen Joy Fowler ("Eclipse 3", Night Shade)

Single-Author Collection: "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" by Kevin Wilson (Harper Perennial)

& "Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical" by Robert Shearman (Big Finish Productions)

Edited Anthology: "Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe" edited by Ellen Datlow (Solaris)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Also this week-end, at the University of Kansas the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Memorial Award has been announced:

Winner: "The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

Second place: "Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America" by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Third place: "The City & The City" by China Miéville (Pan Macmillan/Del Rey)

Congratulations to the winner!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cover art - "The Heroes" by Joe Abercrombie

The Gollancz team who designed the cover of Joe Abercrombie’s “Best Served Cold”, composed by Didier Graffet and Dave Senior (illustration) and Laura Brett (Art Direction), was rewarded this summer with the Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Cover Art. The same team, coordinated by Gillian Redfearn, works on the cover design of the next Joe Abercrombie’s novel, “The Heroes”, and on the author’s blog I could find the first rough version of that cover. I love maps and once again Dave Senior designed a wonderful map for this cover. I love medieval weapons too and Didier Graffet keeps his work at the highest level, as he used us with the cover of “Best Served Cold”, but also with the covers he made for the French editions of many fantasy novels. I love this cover, as I loved all the UK covers made for Joe Abercrombie’s novels, and although they are similar in design, they are very attractive. I just hope the publisher won’t overdo this type of cover in the future, though.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In the mailbox

After a couple of hectic weeks I am back at my usual schedule, starting with a post about my latest arrivals in the mailbox. Among them I have the first review copy sent by a Romanian publisher, the debut novel of Oliviu Crâznic, “… și la sfârșit a mai rămas coșmarul” (… and at the end remained the nightmare):

- "The Emerald Storm" by Michael J. Sullivan (through the courtesy of Robin Sullivan);

Ex-mercenary Hadrian Blackwater sets course on a high seas adventure to find the lost Heir of Novron. His only hope lies in confronting the ruthless and cunning Merrick Maruis. Fearing Hadrian is not up to the challenge, Royce Melborn joins his ex-partner for one last mission. Their journey finds them adrift amid treachery and betrayals forcing Hadrian to face a past he hoped never to see again.

- "Amberville" by Tim Davys (through the courtesy of Harper Collins);

What does it mean to be bad?
Eric Bear has it all: a successful career, a beautiful wife, a blissful home. He knows he's been lucky; a while back, his life revolved around drugs, gambling, a gang of stuffed-animal thugs, and notorious crime boss Nicholas Dove.
But the past isn't as far away as Eric had hoped. Rumors are swirling that Dove is on the Death List and that he wants Eric to save him. If Eric fails to act, his beloved wife, Emma Rabbit, will be torn apart, limb from limb, and reduced to stuffing.

- "Lanceheim" by Tim Davys (through the courtesy of Harper Collins);

While finishing what was to be his greatest symphony, famed composer Reuben Walrus discovers he is going deaf. Desperate to stave off the encroaching silence, he embarks on an odyssey to find a fabled creature named Maximilian, rumored to have healing powers but only traceable via an underground network. But as Reuben gets closer to the truth, he must ask himself: Just who—or what—is Maximilian?
The story of the legendary creature is recorded by Wolf Diaz, Maximilian's oldest friend and most loyal follower. Oddly, unlike the other stuffed animals of Mollisan Town, Maximilian did not arrive by green delivery truck. He cannot be identified as any particular species and is made from a material unlike any other with almost invisible seams. And most puzzling, he grows in size. As Maximilian matures, he begins to preach odd parables, attracting a legion of followers hoping to learn from his teachings. But his believers aren't the only stuffed animals paying attention as his growing influence threatens the power of the darker forces currently ruling Mollisan Town. Now Maximilian is in hiding . . . and time is running out for Reuben to find him. As his search widens, the composer encounters a detective mouse, a giraffe who swears Maximilian miraculously cured his stomach cancer, and a mink who may hold the key to Reuben's salvation. But it's a race against time as Reuben's world steadily goes silent, and his desperation may ultimately lead to his undoing.

- "… și la sfârșit a mai rămas coșmarul" (… and at the end remained the nightmare) by Oliviu Crâznic (through the courtesy of Vremea Publishing);

Invited to a stranger’s wedding in a castle haunted by the devil, the fallen noble Arthur de Seragens finds himself caught in a terrible web of madness, betrayal and crime. While the guests die around him one by one in a mysterious way, cut down by an inhuman enemy, Arthur witnesses with horror at the noose getting tighter around the only person he cared about, the gorgeous Adrianna de Valois, the young daughter of the dark and feared chief of Police. Panicked and confused, Arthur is forced to make a fragile and controversial alliance with the strongest of the survivors, who already began together an investigation in the dark, but suspecting each other: the Viscount of Vincennes, Arthur’s childhood friend, versed in the saloon intrigues, logician and skillful hunter; the German Baron Von Walter the Traveler, who’s wanders through places forgotten by the world brought him face to face with unbearable truths; the beautiful and immoral Giulianna Sellini, who is said to have seduced the God and the Devil at the same time; the ex-priest Huguet de Castelnove, now a dangerous swordsman, with a road strewn with bodies behind him that leads to a mysterious mistress; the Duke of Chalais, the strong and cruel master of the land, refined, handsome and unable to abstain from his violent bursts; and, especially, the man who leads the investigation and who is feared by all, because one word from him can bring the stake – Albert de Guy, the Inquisitor…

- "Seance for a Vampire: Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" by Fred Saberhagen (through the courtesy of Titan Books).

When two suspect psychics offer Ambrose Altamont and his wife the opportunity to contact their recently deceased daughter, the wealthy British aristocrat wastes no time in hiring Sherlock Holmes to expose their hoax. He arranges for the celebrated detective and Dr Watson to attend the family's next seance, confident in Holmes's rationalist outlook on the situation. But what starts as cruel mockery becomes deadly reality when young, beautiful Louisa Altamont appears to her parents in the flesh as one of the nosferatu a vampire! The resulting chaos leaves one of the fraudulent spiritualists dead, Sherlock Holmes missing and Dr Watson alone and mystified. With time running out, Watson has no choice but to summon the only one who might be able to help Holmes's vampire cousin, Prince Dracula. Alternately narrated by Watson and the charismatic Dracula himself, Sance for a Vampire demonstrates that heroes are sometimes found in the most unlikely places. Saberhagen has recast Bram Stoker's paragon of evil into a noble, witty and chillingly powerful character.

Thank you all very much!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Malazan Book of Fallen" re-reading project started a re-reading project for the Steven Erikson’s series, “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, but also for the Ian C. Esslemont’s contribution to this fantasy world. The project is lead by Bill Capossere, from, and Amanda Rutter, also from but who also runs her personal blog Floor to Ceiling Books, both of them joined after the reading of each of the novels from the series by the two writers, Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, for a wrap-up.

“Malazan Book of the Fallen” was part of my Pile o’ Shame for a long time, but I read Ian C. Esslemont’s “Night of Knives” and I started this year Steven Erikson’s series, “Gardens of the Moon” being for me one of the best readings of this year so far. Therefore I will go along this project too in an attempt of reading this acclaimed fantasy series and for a try to settle these books more into my memory, with the help of the comments and the discussions that will take place at I am not sure if I would be able to keep the pace of this re-reading project, which is at 100-150 pages covered in one article per week, but I would certainly try too. If not I will still follow the discussions around the project for a better feeling of Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont’s fantasy world. The project already kicked off, yesterday Bill Capossere and Amanda Rutter posting their thoughts on the Prologue and the first chapter of “Gardens of the Moon”.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Solomon Kane"

I am more familiar with Robert E. Howard’s character, Conan, than with another of his fictional heroes, Solomon Kane, having read more stories centered on the famous barbarian than on the Puritan adventurer. However, the past week-end I got a chance to look a bit more on the Robert E. Howard’s character, although from a different perspective, when I grabbed a DVD of the movie “Solomon Kane”.

The movie opens with Solomon Kane and his crew attacking a fortress in North Africa with plundering intentions. Here Solomon Kane meets a demon, The Devil’s Reaper, who demands his soul. Escaping from the encounter Solomon Kane returns to England and tries to redeem his soul. He finds such an opportunity when an innocent young woman is kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Malachi.

I am not certain if the movie is based on a Robert E. Howard story, because I am not familiar with all the stories featuring Solomon Kane, but from information I found it doesn’t seem to be. Those sources even state that the movie is an origin story for Solomon Kane and it is intended to be the first part of a trilogy. These sources are backed up by the actual movie, which certainly feels like an opening for a wider story and that begins and ends like a premier part in a series.

This aspect leads to a small problem with “Solomon Kane”, a problem of pace and rhythm that looks to be uneven. After a beginning that jumps into full action, with an alert battle scene and a very interesting encounter, the movie slows down and it takes some time for Solomon Kane’s character to be built. The process is slow and pretty much uneventful, with almost half of the movie necessary for the plot to develop and for the conflict of the movie to kick into motion. Considering that the second half offers more action scenes and its rhythm picks up more speed the movie feels a bit uneven in its pace.

The action scenes offer interesting moments to the viewer. With plenty to enjoy in these scenes, they also offer plenty of swashbuckling but also violent and gory moments that are quite graphic. All of these on an excellent background and atmosphere, elements of the “Solomon Kane” that are at their best. There is plenty to admire at the scenery, landscapes and locations that are truly impressive in their beauty, but that also help the atmosphere of the movie. It is a dark and gritty atmosphere, an almost palpable one and that matches in every little detail the feeling evoked by the story. The weather and the lights bring their contribution too and make this dark atmosphere almost as unbearable for the viewer as it is for the movie characters.

Sadly, the atmosphere and the action scene are not matched by the story. It is not a bad story, but it is a flawed one, with easily to spot weaknesses and question arouse that in the end remain unanswered. Solomon Kane is on a path to redemption, but nothing explains what lead them to this path and his need of salvation. Also, there is a deeper connection between Malachi and Solomon Kane, with the evil sorcerer occupying the castle of Solomon Kane’s father and trying to lure Solomon to his childhood lands. But this deeper connection remains a mystery. “Solomon Kane” keeps its ups and downs in balance though, because although the story can be put at the downs the actor giving life to the main character can be put at the ups. As little as I know about the fictional character of Robert E. Howard I still made a personal image of Solomon Kane, a somber and quite dark character. James Purefoy reflects exactly that imagine, looking very somber and dark and giving a solid interpretation. James Purefoy is entirely in the skin of the haunted character that Solomon Kane is, haunted by his past and need for salvation, and backed with very good props I believe that another choice for this character couldn’t have been better.

“Solomon Kane” is a small budget movie, but that is not reflected on its creation rather on the story and pace. But it is a dark fantasy, with beautiful images, catchy action scenes and a solid character in its center and that makes it an enjoyable movie, one that will gladly consider for a re-watch.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A few days of silence

A few economic changes are made in Romania and therefore I will have a few busy days at work related to these changes. But I expect to be back on blogging schedule on Tuesday or Wednesday the latest. Until then I hope you’ll have a marvelous week-end and take care of yourselves! :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Looking over the first half of 2010

Half of the 2010 is gone and I think that this is a good time for a look over the first half of the reading year. The reading rhythm was a bit slow due to various reasons, but I still manage to finish 20 books so far. Unlike the last year, I had a few disappointing readings, but I am still happy to see that they were compensated by some excellent titles. This is the reason for including 6 books in my half of the year top. I also have decided to make a single classification, not taking in consideration the fiction length, remaining for each category to have an own top at the end of the year. Hopefully :)

1. “The City & The City” by China Miéville

2. “Purple and Black” by K.J. Parker

3. “Gardens of the Moon” by Steven Erikson

4. “The Harm” by Gary McMahon

5. “Kraken” by China Miéville

6. “Secrets of the Sands” by Leona Wisoker