30 July 2011

Pretty Little Dead Things by Gary McMahon

Pretty Little Dead Things by Gary McMahon

THOMAS USHER HAS A TERRIBLE GIFT.

Following a car crash in which his wife and daughter are killed, he can see the recently departed, and it’s not usually a pretty sight. When he is called to investigate the violent death of the daughter of a prominent local gangster, Usher’s world is torn apart once more. For the barriers between this world and the next are not as immutable as once he believed.

Pretty Little Dead Things is the debut novel from Angry Robot's Gary McMahon and the first in a series of books featuring Thomas Usher, a sort of sleuth who can communicate with the dead. Thomas Usher doesn't truly converse with the dead but rather he can sense their story and from this he is able to figure out their messages from the cryptic clues that they give him.

Thomas Usher is a tortured soul. He lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash and since waking up in the hospital, he finds himself able to sense and feel the dead around him. No matter how many ghosts he helps, he has never been able to find the ghosts of the two people he wants to see the most, his wife and daughter. For every ghost or person that he has failed, he tattoos their names to himself as a reminder of his guilt of letting them down.

In Pretty Little Dead Things, Usher begins with a simple job following the daughter of his employer. However things soon turn ugly and he finds himself caught in a complicated situation involving 3 dead girls who all have links back to his employer. At the same time, the niece of his once lover is missing and he fears there is a connection between these two cases.

This is a terrific thriller and horror story with descriptions of ghosts so vivid that makes you skin crawl. The scene where Kareena's ghost is hanging on Usher's landing is one of the best descriptions I've read of a ghost. McMahon also done a masterful job in portraying the loneliness that Usher feels for being stuck between two very different worlds while not belonging to either. Through these few hundred pages, I came to care about the protagonist, but just when things are finally going well for Usher, suddenly I see his hopes brutally dashed by a great evil.


Note: The following paragraph contains spoilers.

If I have to pick faults with this story, it would be the final part of this book. I feel that a coherent ending was sacrificed because too much emphasis was placed on introducing the big bad of the Thomas Usher series. I don't think there were enough said about the motivations for the Royales' to give up their daughter and why they made such a big scene if in the end they were the perpetrators? If the big bad had something to do with pushing them to do the things they did, it wasn't made very clear in the book.

On the whole I enjoyed McMahon's gritty style and his bleak depictions of Leeds and he did a great job of adding a supernatural element to a standard crime story. It is a compelling read and is one of the better horror thriller books that I've encountered. I will make sure to follow this author.

26 July 2011

2011 Hong Kong Book Fair


So an other year and an other book fair has come and gone. The Hong Kong book fair is an annual event that spans across a week and attracts over 1 million visitors that consists of locals and tourists. The focus should be on getting people to read but as usual the news that dominated newspapers' headlines are not about books but about the Leng Mo's and their "Pictorial Books".


Basically the Leng Mo's are the equivalent to Page 3 Girls in the UK but with clothes intact. Despite keeping their clothes on, they act way more slutty and I think the Page 3 Girls are much more wholesome when compared to these models. More of them can be found here, Soft models feed fans dessert at HK book fair [China Buzz]

Besides physical books, this year's fair had a strong focus on ebooks. The demand for digital books in Chinese is growing significantly as more and more Chinese people nowadays own a smart device that is capable of digital reading. There is still no clear market leader that provides Chinese ebooks and all the publishers are competing for a share of this highly lucrative market.

I spent around two hours at the fair and couldn't help but buy some books in the end. Even with the advantages of switching over to paperless reading, to me there is still something special about having a physical book in my hands. I just wish they had more fantasy books for sale though, maybe better luck next year?

Here are the books that I bought:

24 July 2011

Nonplayer by Nate Simpson

Nonplayer by Nate Simpson

Mid-21st century America doesn't have much to offer Dana Stevens, but there's plenty for her to live for inside Warriors of Jarvath, the world's most popular full-immersion online game. In the real world, she's a tamale delivery girl who still lives with her mom, but inside the game she's an elite assassin. When she gets the drop on King Heremoth, a celebrity non-player character, she thinks she's finally got a shot at fame. But when she slays Queen Fendra, the King's reaction is disconcertingly realistic. Something's amiss in Jarvath, and the effects may reverberate well beyond the boundaries of the game.

Nonplayer is a beautifully drawn comic by Nate Simpson, a computer game artist turned comic artist. Every panel is lovingly rendered with immaculate precision and detail. The colour palette used in the comic also adds a lush feel to the world of Nonplayer. It's a very different style to traditionally hand drawn comics.

This is the first digital comic that I have purchased and I think comiXology did a great job translating the paper experience over to digital. It feels just like a real comic when reading on the iPad and I like how it can show just one panel at a time on the Android app. The only issue I have with the panel view is that the panels may not be ordered correctly and sometimes the app jumps awkwardly to a previously seen panel.

The story in this first issue is pretty straight forward. We are introduced to the main characters, the world of Warriors of Jarvath and the aforementioned scene in the blurb that set everything in motion. This issue mostly provides the background of Nonplayer so we will only find out the consequences of Dana's actions in the later issues and I'm anxious to learn how it will all turn out.

I've always been intrigued by these stories where a fantasy world blends with reality. In movies to name a few there's been Tron, The NeverEnding Story, Matrix, etc... In manga and anime, .hack//Sign, Serial Experiments Lain are just a few that come to mind. I wonder what Nonplayer will do differently and how it will be carried out. However I might have to wait a while as Nate mentioned on an an interview on Boing Boing that it takes him roughly a year to finish one issue.

Despite the wait, I highly recommend you to pick up this comic just to look at it from an artistic point of view.

You can purchase Non player from comiXology or from the Nonplayer Store. Checkout the first few pages of the comic below.

22 July 2011

Skyborn by John Jackson Miller



A Jedi ambush leaves the Sith ship Omen marooned on a remote alien world, its survivors at the mercy of their desolate surroundings and facing almost certain death. But Sith will no more bow before the whims of fate than they will yield to the weapons of their enemies. And Omen's cunning commander, Yaru Korsin, will let nothing keep him and his crew from returning to the stars and rejoining the Sith order's conquest of the galaxy. Murdering his own brother has proven Korsin's ruthless resolve-but now an entire race stands in his way.

The primitive, superstitious Keshiri worship unseen gods called the Skyborn, shun science, and punish unbelievers with death. Branded a heretic, the widowed young geologist Adari Vaal is running for her life. Among the mysterious Sith castaways she finds powerful sanctuary-and her saviors find the means of survival. With Adari as their willing pawn, the Skyborn as their Trojan horse, and the awesome power of the dark side of the Force at their command, the lost tribe of the Omen set out to subjugate a planet and its people-and lay the foundation for a merciless new Sith nation.

Skyborn is the follow up to Precipice and introduces us to the Keshiri, the native population of the planet Kesh that the Sith crash landed on in the previous short story.

The book takes the view of a Keshiri named Adari, a scholar amongst a race of primitive beings. She is branded as a heretic from teaching her people that the land they are living on came from the volcanoes instead of their great beings from above, the Skyborn. During a confrontation with the town chief a nearby mountain explodes in flames and Adari goes out to investigate. There she discovers the stranded Siths. With her help they escape from the mountain and begin to integrate themselves into the Keshiri population as their deity.

I prefer this book more than the first book as it takes a more leisurely pace to introduce the culture and believes of the Keshiri. Not a great deal happens in these four chapters but it provides the necessary foundation for the later books.

With this book, Miller spent more time developing Adari as a character and I enjoy reading about her past and the reasons for her actions. Korsin is also turning out to be an interesting character, a Sith that is not entirely bad nor good but with the very qualities that makes us human within him. Seelah on the other hand is growing ever more suspicious of Yaru Korsin with contempt for him clearly displayed on her face.

Despite a rough start, I think this series is slowly discovering itself and onwards I go to the next book.

Precipice by John Jackson Miller

Lost Tribe of the Sith by John Jackson Miller

For the ruthless Sith Order, failure is not an option. It is an offense punishable by death–and a fate to which Commander Yaru Korsin will not succumb. But on a crucial run to deliver troops and precious crystals to a combat hotspot in the Sith’s war against the Republic, Korsin and the crew of the mining ship Omen are ambushed by a Jedi starfighter. And when the Sith craft crash-lands, torn and crippled, on a desolate alien planet, the hard-bitten captain finds himself at odds with desperate survivors on the brink of mutiny–and his own vengeful half brother, who’s bent on seizing command.

The Lost Tribe of the Sith is a free ebook series from Suvudu, a subsidiary of Random House, Inc and Precipice is the first book of this short story series. The basic idea of the book revolves around a group of Sith who were on the mining flotilla Omen when it crash landed on an unknown planet. This book is surprisingly short, only 4 chapters long.

It took me a while to understand what was going on, which is never a good sign for a short story. There were just too many characters thrown in. We're quickly introduced to the commander Yaru Korsin and his half brother Devore as the crew struggled to control the failing ship. Things started to heat up after the crash landing when the crew and passengers realised that they are marooned on an unknown planet with no help coming. Yaru decided to trigger off the beacon signal with Devore following, however things don't go well between them and a Force battle was unleashed. Just as things were finally getting interesting and I understood what was happening, the story came to an end.

On the whole this first book is OK. I think the author has a great story to tell but has been tasked to cramp much of his ideas into the short story format therefore making the entire book seemed rushed. I would have liked to see more build up leading to the crash itself. I will continue with the other books and see how things turn out for these people.

21 July 2011

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

Lucie Blackman – tall, blonde, and twenty-one years old – stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.The seven months in between had seen a massive search for the missing girl, involving Japanese policemen, British private detectives, Australian dowsers and Lucie's desperate, but bitterly divided, parents. As the case unfolded, it drew the attention of prime ministers and sado-masochists, ambassadors and con-men, and reporters from across the world. Had Lucie been abducted by a religious cult, or snatched by human traffickers? Who was the mysterious man she had gone to meet? And what did her work, as a 'hostess' in the notorious Roppongi district of Tokyo, really involve? Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, has followed the case since Lucie's disappearance. Over the course of a decade, he has travelled to four continents to interview those caught up in the story, fought off a legal attack in the Japanese courts, and worked undercover as a barman in a Roppongi strip club. He has talked exhaustively to Lucie's friends and family and won unique access to the Japanese detectives who investigated the case. And he has delved into the mind and background of the man accused of the crime - Joji Obara, described by the judge as 'unprecedented and extremely evil'.With the finesse of a novelist, he reveals the astonishing truth about Lucie and her fate. People Who Eat Darkness is, by turns, a non-fiction thriller, a courtroom drama and the biography of both a victim and a killer. It is the story of a young woman who fell prey to unspeakabale evil, and of a loving family torn apart by grief. And it is a fascinating insight into one of the world's most baffling and mysterious societies, a light shone into dark corners of Japan that the rest of the world has never glimpsed before.

The Lucie Blackman case was all over the news during the summer of my A levels. I would often return home to see how the case was progressing over the news. As months pass by and the media's interest in Lucie died down, I lost track of the story and never thought more about it until I read what happened to her in Jake Adelstein's Tokyo Vice. Reading about her left me with many questions unanswered and got me interested again in the details of this case. This book, "People Who Eat Darkness" gives a comprehensive account on what happened to Lucie during that night of 1st July 2000.

Over the years as a reporter Parry became close with the Blackman family and Lucie's friends and obtained an unprecedentedly detailed look into her life. We find out what it was like for Lucie to grow up in Sevenoaks and the separation that she felt when living in Tokyo as a hostess. Then he introduces us to the suspect Joji Obara, an awkward yet talented figure with a difficult upbringing. Here we learn that Lucie was merely one of the long list of victims that he had abused over the years.

This book really highlights the difference between the Japanese and Western legal system. At times you feel frustrated to find out that little progress was happening in the case because the police were waiting for a confession from the suspect. It feels absurd to read about a legal system that depend on honest criminals for its prosecution. If this happened in other countries, would the police take over 7 months to discover the body that is buried 200 yards from where the suspect lived?

The book also tells the story of the death of a loved one can and its detrimental effect on friends and family. During the entire ordeal, her family flew back and forth between UK and Japan and suffered the relentless questionings from the media and police. It was Tim Blackman's idea to blow up the situation and attract the attention of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. If it wasn't for his actions, Lucie's disappearance might have just been another case that gets swept under the carpet, leaving the killer free to abuse other victims. Despite Tim's noble actions, we find out later that he might be in fact leveraging the goodwills of others for his own gains. On the other hand, Lucie's siblings took the grief to their hearts and suffered much pain for it.

Richard Lloyd Parry's writing is beautiful and he uses his meticulous research to give the readers a vivid picture of Tokyo and the events that lead to that unfortunate summer of 2000. This is a powerful yet tragic story of a girl who let her guard down to the wrong person and an in depth view of a twisted human being with no sense of remorse.

15 July 2011

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow



Having witnessed the terrible massacre of Imperial forces on Isstvan III, Death Guard Captain Garro seizes a ship and sets a course for Terra to warn the Emperor of Horus’s treachery. But when the fleeing Eisenstein is damaged by enemy fire, it becomes stranded in the warp - the realm of the Dark Powers. Can Garro and his men survive the depredations of Chaos and get his warning to the Emperor before Horus’s plans reach fruition?

The Flight of the Eisenstein is the fourth book in the Horus Heresy series by the Black Library. This book takes place around the time of the tragic events on Isstvan III and tells the story of a group of loyal Death Guards and their journey back to Terra to deliver message of Horus's treachery.

Swallow does a marvelous job expanding on the character of Nathaniel Garro, who had a small role in Ben Counter's "Galaxy in Flames". For the past three books, the lead Garviel Loken seemed a little wooden, a little too guarded whereas Garro is honest about himself and not afraid to break rules to make a stand for his believes. He has a strong sense of tradition and honour and is one of the few remaining Astartes that originated from Terra. To me, Garro displays all the best qualities of a loyal Astartes. Even when Decius was on the verges of death, Garro never thought of abadoning him and despite all the resentment from his legion, Garro treated his housecarl with care and respect.

In this book we are constantly reminded of the brutalness during mankind's darkest hour. The loyalists on the Eisenstein could do nothing but watch while their closest friends perish before their eyes and brothers that once fought side-by-side now turn on each other. Garro is repeatedly tested throughout the book and the only thing salvation in his ordeal is his belief and faith in the Emperor.

What works particularly well for me are the interactions between people in this book. There is a great scene where Mortarion explains to Garro why worthy men must be awarded so others can have a goal to strive to. The relationships that Garro has with his housecarl, Kaleb and his other men are also touching.

It's also great to see the Primarchs getting more action in this book. Primarchs have always been referred as gods but Swallow brings a humanness to the Primarch of the Imperial Fists and excellently captures the conflicted feelings that went through Rogal Dorn as he learns of his brother's betrayal.

This is a solid entry to the Horus Heresy series with great action scenes and never a dull moment. A very satisfying read indeed.

11 July 2011

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden--Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things--and most of them don't play too well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a--well, whatever.

There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get... interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

It's always a little intimidating to get started on a series with a cult following. Despite all the positive reviews that I've heard about the Dresden Files for the past year, it has taken me until now to begin on this series.

The book begins with Harry answering a call from Lieutenant Karrin Murphy about a double murder investigation. The victims had their hearts ripped out of their bodies during the act of love making and the cops had no clue what could have caused this other than magic. Harry reluctantly agrees to help with the investigation but soon finds himself involved with the mob and hunted by a black magician known as Shadowman.

My initial thought of Storm Front is that it's basically an introduction to the character Harry Dresden, a sort of magic practitioner cum private investigator. He's a ladies man but keeps getting into situations that deny him of a date and he's also the black sheep of the wizard community. It's funny how all the female characters that Harry meets in his journey are all stunningly gorgeous, from the Arcane reporter Susan Rodriguez to the vampiress Bianca and Harry still has to remain a straight face in front of them. We are also introduced to Harry's sidekicks, Bob the air-spirit that resides in a skull and Toot-toot the fairy who keeps falling for Harry's traps.

On the whole it feels very much like the pilot episode of a TV series. We are presented with the male lead, the females who might or might not hook up with him and also the case of the week. The story is short and to the point with a good dose of humour thrown in alongside the action. Although it doesn't make as much impact on me as say Game of Thrones, it is still a good start to the series and I look forward to see how Harry grows through the series.

10 July 2011

World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z by Max Brooks

It began with rumours from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, "World War Z" brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.

Instead of the normal narrative mode you would find in most other zombie novels, World War Z differs by taking the form of a report and using a series of oral interviews from around the globe. In the book, Brooks plays the role of a reporter for the United Nations who is compiling the details of humanity's effort against the zombie outbreak for the last decade.

The book starts with the zombie virus outbreak in China and follows the spread to other countries through illegal organ trade and refugees. The outbreak was already well underway by the time the plague gained public attention. Nations quarantined themselves and had to put in drastic plans by sacrificing some of their citizens so that more may live.

Although the theme of this book is based on an impossible idea, the actions in this book are based on well researched data and historical scenarios. This makes you wonder whether our governments are truly prepared for the unexpected. The distrust and secrecy between governments are actually doing more harm to their citizens in this increasingly connected world. It also paints a bleak picture of what our society would be like in an apocalyptic world where the people are not equipped with the necessary skills and capabilities to survive.

It is also a commentary on the recent wars that the world was involved in, where there seems to be a disconnection between the people making the decisions and the people on the front line. The army wants to show off its latest toys to justify its cost expenditure even though they may not be the best tools for the occasion and also the failure to absorb the experiences of the front line soldiers to avoid unnecessary casualties.

I really enjoyed reading this book and especially like how it takes an international viewpoint with a range of diverse characters. Can't wait to see how this story will turn out on the big screen.

6 July 2011

Kraken by China Mieville

Kraken by China Mieville

Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears? For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a god. A god that someone is hoping will end the world.

I'll start off by saying that China Mieville sure knows his stuff. Kraken is a well researched book, blending religion, cults, mysticism and the weird together into a story. It has an interesting premise, a giant squid disappears from the Natural History Museum and this seemingly nobody is suddenly thrust into this world where magic exists and must help recover the squid before the prophesied end of the world comes.

This book had so much going for it. I enjoyed the way Mieville described all the different cults and the secret wars that go on behind the scenes of everyday London. Despite all this, the book just felt bloated and unevenly paced with the story jumping all over the place. There were unnecessary storylines that lead to nowhere but what's worse was that they caused more confusion and created more questions than answers.

I really had a hard time trying to finish reading this. After maybe halfway through the book I didn't care about any of the characters at all except wanting to get to the end as quickly as possible. To this day I still don't understand what special abilities Collingswood possessed and how he can so easily dismiss Dane who had been one of the key characters in the book. The ending also seemed rushed and too convenient, a little too "Deus ex Machina" for me. Everything just wrapped up so nicely even after all the chaos and weirdness that occurred in the book.

You can tell that Mieville has a lot of ideas for this book but at the same time it felt like he was writing for his own enjoyment and that he is too cool to share his thoughts with his readers. Some say you have to read this book with the humour that Mieville possesses and you will see the contradictory nature of religion and the farce in the story. To me, this means you are either with him or you're not. While reading this book, I felt as if I was on an express train, only getting glimpses of the outside but never in detail.

Kraken was my book club's read for June and many people struggled through it too or gave up before reaching the end. This is a book that I ought to like but just couldn't bring myself to liking it. People tell me that his Bas Lag books are better and I hope that they are right.