Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Utopiales European Award nominees

This year, during Utopiales, the annual international science fiction festival held in Nantes, France, the winner of the Utopiales European Award will be announced. The Utopiales European Award is at its 6th edition and rewards a novel or a collection, published in French, during the literary season preceding the Utopiales festival, by a European speculative fiction author. This year’s prize has a cash value of 2000 euros and the jury includes Jean-Pierre Dionnet (writer, scriptwriter and journalist), Florence Porcel (writer, journalist and actress) and Guillaume Choplin (reader). The award ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 1st.

“7 secondes pour devenir un aigle” (7 Seconds to Become an Eagle) by Thomas Day (Éditions Le Bélial)

“Juste à temps” (Just in Time) by Philippe Curval (Éditions La Volte)

“L’Opéra de Shaya” (Shaya’s Opera) by Sylvie Lainé (Éditions Actusf)

“La longue terre” (The Long Earth) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (Éditions L’Atalante)

“Sumerki” (Dusk) by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Éditions L’Atalante)

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cover art - "Half a King" by Joe Abercrombie (French edition)

French edition, published by Bragelonne
I’ve noticed a tendency towards simplification when it comes to some of nowadays’ book covers. A basic concept springs forth, with some degree of success I guess, and immediately after that it seems that one idea, with slight changes, is put on the repeat. I am afraid there is no magic for me in most of these cases. Joe Abercrombie’s recently released novel is one such example, I found no appeal for the covers of “Half a King” US and UK editions. Perhaps the UK edition has something extra, but not much, in my opinion, neither of them has a story to tell, neither of them flirts with me, lacking the allure that usually sends me trotting to check the statement of my bank account in order to see if one more book acquisition, for the sole sake of the cover artwork, might be viable. The situation is redeemed a little by Subterranean Press, their limited edition of Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” is adorned with a wonderful cover and interior illustrations by Jon McCoy. But as it is the matter with majority of Subterranean Press’ excellent produced books, going for a copy of that edition would demand a heavy toll from the said bank account. However, since we are talking about book covers, not book acquisitions, I have nothing by admiration for Subterranean Press’ choice of artwork in this case. Even more so when I look upon the choice made by Bragelonne for the cover of Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” French edition. Yes, it is a French edition again, and yes, it is the same excellent art department of Bragelonne that make me wish I had a bigger financial power and endless space for my personal library just to be able to put this book, with this cover, on the bookshelves. Responsible for this beauty is yet again Didier Graffet and the David Gemmel Award winning team behind three other Joe Abercrombie’s book covers, the UK editions of “Best Served Cold”, “The Heroes” and “Red Country”. I do believe that Didier Graffet captured perfectly some of the essence of the story and has created a painting that not only is a great companion for the novel, but it also stands proudly tall on its own. One that I wish to see more on books instead of those that could be gathered in a tight group of similar covers.

UK edition, published by Harper Voyager

US edition, published by Del Rey

Limited edition, published by Subterranean Press

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 Premio Minotauro finalists

The finalists of the 11th edition of Premio Minotauro (El Premio Internacional de Ciencia Ficción y Literatura Fantástica de Ediciones Minotauro), the most prestigious award for an unpublished speculative fiction novel by a Spanish or Latin American author, have been announced. For the first time the winner of Premio Minotauro will be announced during Sitges, the International Fantastic Film Festival, held between 3rd and 12th October (a change of venue surrounded by controversy and debate). The members of the jury for the 2014 Premio Minotauro are Adrián Guerra (producer), Ángel Sala (the director of the Sitges Film Festival), Marcela Serras (editorial director of Minotauro), Javier Sierra (writer) and Carlos Sisí (writer and winner of the 2013 Premio Minotauro) and they’ll announce the winner on October 7th.

“¿Cuál es tu lucha?” (What is Your Fight?) by Griot (pseudonym)
“Cuéntame un cuento japonés mientras el mundo se acaba” (Tell Me a Japanese Story While the World is Ending) by Maria Antònia Martí
“Hermana noche” (Sister Night) by Morgenstern (pseudonym)
“Hugo Lémur y los ladrones de sueños” (Hugo Lémur and the Dream Thieves) by Luis Manuel Ruiz
“Por los ojos del elegido” (By the Eyes of the Chosen) by Isabel Belmonte

For the 11th edition of Premio Minotauro a total of 450 manuscripts have been received (the previous edition had 590 manuscripts in competition). 411 from 450 have been sent in electronic format, most of them have been submitted from Spain, 282, followed by Latin America, 150, especially Argentina, 55, and Mexico, 32. The majority of the submitted manuscripts are science fiction works, while the epic fantasy was in a decreasing tendency. As part of the prize the winner will receive 10,000 euro and the respective novel will be published by Ediciones Minotauro, due to be released on 28th October.

The previous winners of the Premio Minotauro are:

2004 – “Máscaras de matar” (Masks of killing) by León Arsenal
2005 – “Los sicarios del cielo” (The assassins of Heaven) by Rodolfo Martínez
2006 – “Señores del Olimpo” (Lords of Olympus) by Javier Negrete
2007 – “Gothika” by Clara Tahoces
2008 – “El libro de Nobac” (The book of Nobac) by Federico Fernández Giordano
2009 – “El Templo de la Luna” (The temple of the moon) by Fernando J. López del Oso
2010 – “Crónicas del Multiverso” (Chronicles of the multiverse) by Víctor Conde
2011 – “Ciudad sin estrellas” (City without stars) by Montse de Paz
2012 – “La Torre Prohibida” (The Forbidden Tower) by David Zurdo and Ángel Gutiérrez
2013 – “Panteón” (Pantheon) by Carlos Sisí

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Free fiction - "Supply Limited, Act Now" by Helen Marshall

Helen Marshall is one the rising stars of speculative fiction and there are plenty of things proving that. An excellent debut short story collection, “Hair Side, Flesh Side” (ChiZine Publications), named one of the top ten books of 2012 by January Magazine, nominated for Aurora Award, long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and winning the British Fantasy Sydney J. Bonds Award. Two volumes of poetry, “Skeleton Leaves”, nominated for a Rhysling Award and winner of the Aurora Award, and “The Sex Lives of Monsters”, nominated for a Rhysling Award and a Bram Stoker Award and winner of the Elgin Chapbook Award. And from this month a second short story collection, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”, also released by ChiZine Publications, that promises to consolidate Helen Marshall’s position within the genre:  Ghost thumbs. Microscopic dogs. One very sad can of tomato soup. Helen Marshall's second collection offers a series of twisted surrealities that explore the legacies we pass on to our children. A son seeks to reconnect with his father through a telescope that sees into the past. A young girl discovers what lies on the other side of her mother's bellybutton. Death's wife prepares for a very special funeral. In Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Marshall delivers eighteen tales of love and loss that cement her as a powerful voice in dark fantasy and the New Weird. Dazzling, disturbing, and deeply moving. To celebrate the release of Helen Marshall’s new short story collection, which Kaaron Warren highly recommends (Gifts for the One Who Comes After is in turns chilling, heart-wrenching and uplifting. Marshall has a way with words that makes even the most peculiar seem possible, and the stories here are each so layered with character and meaning, they are like perfect, condensed novels.), SF Signal offers us the chance to read one story from “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”, “Supply Limited, Act Now”, for free on their website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Table of contents - "Terror Tales of Yorkshire" edited by Paul Finch

It is time to embark on the journey for the seventh destination of Gray Friar Press’ series of terror tales anthologies edited by Paul Finch, Yorkshire. Ever since “Terror Tales of the Lake District”, the first in this series of anthologies, was published three years ago and with each new one being released I found myself thrilled and enchanted with the concept behind these collections, with all these myths and legends parading old and new clothes and the writers bringing them into the spotlight. Carole Johnstone, Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Tim Lebbon, Adam Nevill, Simon Bestwick, Ray Cluley, Stephen Volk, Joel Lane or Christopher Fowler are some of the excellent writers who offered me as many reasons of delight in the terror tales of the Lake District, the Cotswolds, East Anglia, London, the Seaside and Wales. And with another powerful line-up assembled by Paul Finch and the promise of devils, murder machines, horrors, tunnels, tricksters, shadows, witches and aliens it seems that “Terror Tales of Yorkshire” adds more strength to this already strong series of anthologies. I’ll not repeat too much what I’ve already said on a couple of occasions before, but I’ll say once more that I find the entire concept of this series fascinating and I’ll reiterate my dream of seeing it extended to an entire collection dedicated to the terror tales of various regions of the world, if not all of them.

Yorkshire – a rolling landscape of verdant dales and quaint country towns. But where industrial fires left hideous scars, forlorn ruins echo the shrieks of forgotten wars, and depraved killers evoke nightmare tales of ogres, trolls and wild moorland boggarts...

The stalking devil of Boroughbridge
The murder machine at Halifax
The hooded horror of Pontefract
The bloody meadow at Towton
The black tunnel of Renfield
The evil trickster of Spaldington
The shadow forms at Silverwood

And many more chilling tales by Alison Littlewood, Mark Morris, Stephen Laws, Simon Clark, Mark Chadbourn, and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.

“In October We Buried the Monsters” by Simon Avery
The Decapitation Device
“The Coat off his Back” by Keris McDonald
Haunting Memories of the Past
“They Walk as Men” by Mark Morris
The Yorkshire Witches
“On Ilkley Moor” by Alison Littlewood
The Black Monk of Pontefract
“The Crawl” by Stephen Laws
The Woman in the Rain
“Ragged” by Gary McMahon
The Hobman
“A True Yorkshireman” by Christopher Harman
The Town Where Darkness Was Born
“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be in Hell” by Mark Chadbourn
A Feast For Crows
“The Demon of Flowers” by Chico Kidd
City of the Dead
“The Summer of Bradbury” by Stephen Bacon
Radiant Beings
“Random Flight” by Rosalie Parker
Death in the Harrying
“The Rhubarb Festival” by Simon Clark
The Alien
“The Crack” by Gary Fry
The Boggart of Bunting Nook
“A Story From When We Had Nothing” by Jason Gould

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Blood Work" by L.J. Hayward

Publisher: self-published
Review copy received through the courtesy of the author, L.J. Hayward

Matt Hawkins isn’t a wizard. He’s not a werewolf, either. He doesn’t talk to ghosts, though he thinks he might like to see one some day. Matt’s just an ordinary, everyday kind of guy. So why is the oldest and meanest vampire in town suddenly gunning—or should that be ‘fanging’?—for him?
Maybe it’s his social skills, or lack thereof—but it wasn’t his fault he lost his pants in the middle of the mall. Perhaps it’s because he’s on nickname basis with the ghoul in a local cemetery. Then there’s the outside chance it’s the fact Matt’s one half of the vampire slaying team that is Night Call.
His partner is Mercy, a pint sized fighting machine with a killer wardrobe—and she’s the only tame vampire in existence.
Still, none of that explains why tenacious PI Erin McRea is digging through all the nastiest moments of his history in an effort to find him.
And somehow Matt has to find the time to see his therapist about that little temper problem he has…

Vampires. Werewolves. Ghouls. I can’t recall a time in my earliest readings when these creatures were nothing but dangerous and avoiding them as much as possible was to be preferred. Despite a large number of paranormal romance novels smoothing the rough edges of these creatures and making them subject of exotic love affairs, reducing their threat to a flimsy state, there are still stories out there that return these beings to their menacing nature. The latest novel to fall into my arms and hinting at such a restoration is an urban fantasy by L.J. Hayward, “Blood Work”.

To a certain extent it seems the basic concept behind L.J. Hayward’s story is nothing we didn’t see before, a paranormal investigator draws the unwanted attention of a very powerful creature and the two chase each other in an attempt to bring their business to a conclusion. But there is more to “Blood Work” than this central plot leaves to be seen from the beginning. For starters we have Matthew Hawkins, the main character and the paranormal investigator in question, and it is Matt Hawkins who finds himself the subject of a private investigation as well, an enigmatic woman hiring a specialized company to discover his whereabouts. Approaching the main character from these two different angles gives L.J. Hayward the opportunity to place Matt Hawkins into the gray area of morality, he is a human being with qualities and flaws, courses of action we approve or disapprove, a temperament that could be appealing to some and appalling to others. Matthew Hawkins is as three-dimensional character as we can get and that forms one of the strong pillars on which “Blood Work” is supported.

The characterization draws power not only from Matt Hawkins being investigator and investigated, but also from the fact that these two sides are approached from different perspectives, L.J. Hayward switches between first person narrative in case of Matt Hawkins investigator and third person narrative in case of Matt Hawkins investigated. It is the perfect opportunity to create solid scaffolding for building a character. It is also an ideal entry point for another main character, in this situation Erin McRea. Not as developed as Matthew Hawkins she is still a welcomed and strong presence within the plot. Of course, Erin McRea does not benefit from two viewpoints in support of the character’s construction, but it is not this aspect preventing Erin reaching its full potential, but a couple of emotional elements left hanging. As is the case with one facet of Matt Hawkins, a relationship with his brother that is only hinted at and that it seems to have significance in regard of Matt’s character development.

L.J. Hayward’s “Blood Work” doesn’t have only good characterization to back it up, but also a healthy dose of action, mystery and humor. L.J. Hayward throws the reader head first into straight action, the first couple of chapters are rich in energetic and frantic scenes. But while she makes a stand for the physical part of the story she also feeds the cerebral side with a well-placed intrigue. And along the novel crisscrossing between the two L.J. Hayward energizes the plot without repeatedly taking the same course of action, but without losing the balance that in the end rounds the intrigue in a cursive manner. Helping along are the dialogues of “Blood Work”, especially when Matt Hawkins is involved. Often pleasant, intelligent, playful or hilarious the exchange between the characters prompt a naturalness to the situations and relationships they’re in. They contribute nicely to the well functional capacity of the story. Top these with an interesting situation regarding vampires feeding and the different blood types, a ghoul with an involuntary sense of humor (“That freakin’ ghost tour came through. Here half the night they were. All pretending to be jumpy and scared and squealing and stuff. Gave me the worst headache. I’ve hardly slept all day.”), plus an unusual werewolf transformation and the degree of entertainment for the reader is up to the recommended levels.

There are moments when “Blood Work” wobbles a bit and it would have still needed a bit of polishing in my opinion. Nothing major, there is nothing troublesome on the whole at the little parts that required mending, but they are still nudging the back of my mind. Matt Hawkins seems to acquire at some point in his past strong psychic power, but I still failed to find how he has come to be in this position. Also, with an expensive car, a house in a posh neighborhood and a compulsive spending behavior I wondered more than once how Matt, self-employed and running not the most profitable of businesses, has the financial capacity to afford all these. And I failed each time to find my answer. But more pressing is that we are told that Mercy, a vampire close to being Matt’s sidekick, is capable only of trained and triggered responses and yet she displays enough personal attitude to render almost null an automatic behavior. For instance, more than once Mercy plays favorites when it comes to outfit choices and even Matt states at some point: “Mental note, pay more attention to what clothes Mercy buys. eBay – a vampire tamer’s worst enemy.” It certainly doesn’t look like mechanical reaction. And to put “Blood Work” better on its feet an extra pair or two of proof-reading eyes would have helped.

I am not an avid reader of urban fantasy, but if all those I read are as good as L.J. Hayward’s novel I can hardly find a reason for complaint. As a matter of fact, with no consideration for what genre they’re fitted in, if all the novels are at least as fun, fast-paced and gripping as “Blood Work” the readers are exclusive beneficiaries of joyful readings.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cover art - "Mayhem" by Sarah Pinborough

French edition, published by Bragelonne
Different publishers have different visions for their cover artwork and different markets have different demands. I am perfectly aware that marketing analyses and the business side of publishing have something important to say in the construction of a book cover, but strictly from a reader point of view and even that from a very personal perspective I must say that I like the book covers to be striking. Minimalist or flamboyant, colorful or basic, I love when a book cover speaks to me and triggers immediately the thought: “look at this beautiful artwork, I wonder what the book is about”. I also love when after finishing a book I discover new dimensions for its cover artwork based on the reading experience. Covering all these sides of my predilection for cover artwork is Sarah Pinborough’s “Mayhem”. Not only that, but as often it happens for a book to have a beautiful cover on a certain edition and rather dull ones on others Sarah Pinborough is very lucky in this sense, I discovered no less than four striking artworks for the cover of “Mayhem”. The UK edition released by Jo Fletcher Books, the first to be published, has a simple and yet very effective concept, the US edition, released by the same publisher, has a more in the face cover, but full of significance nonetheless. And with the addition of the map in the background things are getting even more interesting. The Spanish edition, published by Colmena Ediciones under the title “El Segundo Asesino” in December last year and with a cover by Alejandro Colucci, highlights the same elements in a different manner, without losing power or appeal in the process. The fourth is the French edition, due to be released by Bragelonne next week under the title “Whitechapel”, with a cover by Fabrice Borio. And I must admit, if you ask me which one I like more, I’d push the French cover on the first place at photo finish. The anatomical drawing together with the map, the man on the bridge together with the silhouette of London in the background, the colors and the title lettering (that reflects magnificently on a certain duality within the story) are as many elements that resonate with me and put together create an admirable final result. If only all the books are treated with four excellent cover artworks as Sarah Pinborough’s “Mayhem” is. Or at least with one.

UK edition, published by Jo Fletcher Books

US edition, published by Jo Fletcher Books

Spanish edition, published by Colmena Ediciones

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Title spotlight - "The Free" by Brian Ruckley

After the initial reading there are books that stand better against the passing of time than others. We gather experience with each passing day and with each new book we read so those first impressions would have difficulties in being seen from the same perspective. Of course, this implies that a reader returns to a certain book again and the new opinion is not based solely on the initial consideration of that book. For me, some of the novels that fared very well with the passing years are written by Brian Ruckley. I liked “The Godless World” trilogy a lot the first time I read it, but when I came back to read again a chapter or two from “Winterbirth”, “Bloodheir” or “Fall of Thanes” I noticed that my opinion of the series improved extensively. It is only a chapter or two, occasionally, since with so many new books published every week a re-reading of the entire “The Godless World” trilogy it’s unlikely for the time being. However, I do held my hopes high for such a thing to happen at some point in the future. Still, certainly not before the publication of Brian Ruckley’s new novel, “The Free”, released by Orbit Books next month. After “The Edinburgh Dead”, the author’s historical fantasy crime novel published in 2011, Brian Ruckley returns to heroic fantasy with this new novel. And at the first glimpse “The Free” is pretty standard, a mercenary company, a soldier with a haunting past and a last opportunity to redeem it, nothing spectacular in this sense. But I am more than certain that Brian Ruckley is up to the task of not turning “The Free” into one of many. After all, my experience with “The Godless World” trilogy, “The Edinburgh Dead” and one of my favorite sword-and-sorcery short stories, “Beyond the Reach of His Gods”, is completely satisfactory and so far I have no reason to believe that the one with “The Free” would be different. There is only one small shadow overcasting my good feelings for this upcoming novel and that is the cover artwork. I’ve seen plenty of similar covers on the market recently, but, from my point of view, this trend tends to be bland and disappointing. I do like the covers more expressive and even if it has a simple concept I love it more when it reflects something of the story contained within the book. But since the notorious advice is not to judge a book by its cover I am more than happy in this case to let the matter pass.

They are the most feared mercenary company the kingdom has ever known.
Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder – winning countless victories that shook the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.
Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse – for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free’s darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.
As The Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An European SF short story collection

European speculative fiction writers a new SF short story collection needs you! “Planet Europa” (working title) wishes to be an anthology of English in translation short stories dedicated to the writers from all corners of Europe and with a desire to focus especially on the parts of the continent less represented within the genre. In a still slow moving market for the authors outside the English language, despite the efforts made in support of this process, this is an excellent initiative. And although there are fewer precise specifics regarding this project and it still needs to fully clarify its concept the initial details about “Planet Europa” (working title) can be found on the Europa SF, The European Speculative Fiction Portal.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 British Fantasy Awards

It is good to be back in the saddle and even better to do so with the recently announced winners of the 2014 British Fantasy Awards. I might not be a prolific reader and reviewer lately, but I am still happy to see that some of my recently favorite readings, such as Sofia Samatar’s “A Stranger in Olondria”, Sarah Pinborough’s “Beauty” or Carole Johnstone’s “Signs of the Times”, together with the excellent artist Joey Hi-Fi are among the winners of this prestigious award. So, without further ado, here are the 2014 British Fantasy Awards winners announced on Sunday, 7th September, at the FantasyCon held in York:

Best fantasy novel (the Robert Holdstock Award): “A Stranger in Olondria” by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press)

Best horror novel (the August Derleth Award): “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins)

Best novella: “Beauty” by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)

Best short story: “Signs of the Times” by Carole Johnstone (Black Static #33)

Best anthology: “End of the Road” edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris)

Best collection: “Monsters in the Heart” by Stephen Volk (Gray Friar Press)

Best small press: The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)

Best comic/graphic novel: “Demeter” by Becky Cloonan

Best artist: Joey Hi-Fi

Best non-fiction: “Speculative Fiction 2012” edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)

Best magazine/periodical: “Clarkesworld” edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker (Wyrm Publishing)

Best film/television episode: “Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere” / David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Best newcomer (the Sydney J. Bounds Award): Ann Leckie, for “Ancillary Justice” (Orbit)

The British Fantasy Society Special Award (The Karl Edward Wagner Award): Farah Mendlesohn

Congratulations to all the winners!