Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Best Things In Life | Click-Clack the Charitable Rattlebag

It's always the way when I'm AFK for any length of time: I fall so far behind on my RSS feeds that it can take weeks before I'm approaching current again. Luckily, whilst trawling through the blogs of all the authors I follow last night, I chanced upon Neil Gaiman's latest post, wherein the estimable author made mention of a short-story of his I'd never heard of.

It's called "Click-Clack the Rattlebag," and this is how it begins:
'What kind of story would you like me to tell you?'

'Well,' he said, thoughtfully, 'I don't think it should be too scary, because then when I go up to bed, I will just be thinking about monsters the whole time. But if it isn't just a little bit scary, then I won't be interested. And you make up scary stories, don't you?'
And today is the day for scary stories, isn't it?

Well, wonderfully, you can hear this one from free!

But we have to backtrack briefly, because I wrote hear rather than read. See, this neat Halloween treat is only available through Audible.

I confess I've never been particularly interested in audiobooks - I either focus too much on them, or not enough - so I didn't have an account already, but because Amazon now owns Audible, you can simply transfer your login details across.

Saying that, you still have to download a download manager and install player software capable of decoding DRM-ridden AA and AAX files, so yes, the process could certainly be better, but I dare say it's a fair price to pay for free Neil Gaiman.

One last caveat: you'll have to be timely to take full advantage of this offer. "Click-Clack the Rattlebag" is only available gratis till midnight tonight. On the other hand, for every download Audible tracks, the US arm of the organisation has pledged to donate $1 to the education-oriented charity, whilst the UK site will give 50p per user to Booktrust. So it's a guddle for a good cause.

Plus, you get a creepy short story by Neil Gaiman for nowt. What's not awesome about that bargain, exactly?

Do this thing, dear readers. 

This is the link to use if you're in the UK. If you're in Germany, you also have a special site. Everyone else needs to go here for their free Halloween reading.

To all and sundry, in any event: I wish you a happy All Hallows' Eve!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Scotsman Abroad | The Cost of The Croning

Today's post serves a pair of purposes. The first, as is traditional with The Scotsman Aboad, is to point you in the general direction of something I've had published elsewhere, and on this, the afternoon before the eve of All Hallow's, I find I have a fearsomely fitting review to share.

The Croning by Laird Barron is an oddly intimate novel of cosmic horror:
Laird Barron's first novel has been a long time coming. To great acclaim amongst certain circles, the Alaskan author has spent in excess of a decade contributing short stories to an array of magazines and anthologies. Many of his most notable efforts have been reprinted in year's best collections—all four editions of The Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow, feature Barron's distinct fiction—and upon their assembly into The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, and later Occultation, his dread dialogues were showered with honors and nominations, including but not in the least limited to nods from the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker and the Locus.

One comes to The Croning, then, with great expectations, anticipating horror of the highest order, and indeed, this is delightful dark fantasy, as delicate as it is inevitably devastating.

Fittingly, it begins with a drastic recasting of Rumplestiltskin:

"That venerable fairytale of the Miller's daughter and the Dwarf who helped her spin straw into gold has a happy ending in the popular version. The events that inspired the legend, not so much." (p.1)

Thus, in the opening phrases of The Croning, Barron begins this juxtaposition of the down to earth with what we might describe as out of this world.

If you missed The Croning upon its publication earlier in 2012, as I confess I did, I can't imagine a better time to get stuck into this delicately damned debut than now; clearly, it's ideal reading for the creepy season.

But wait! There's more...

You know how they say the best things in life are free? I call nonsense. Invariably, in my experience at least, though the best things in life sometimes appear to be gratis, in actual fact they often cost an awful lot of money. Like Strange Horizons, say.

In short, Strange Horizons is a depository of awesome authors. Of considered opinions, canny columns and incisive criticism; of moreish poetry and fantastic fiction. I honestly don't know what the hell they're thinking publishing my rubbish, but the very idea that they do, from time to time, makes me feel like one of the luckiest bloggers about.

In any event, every year Strange Horizons runs a fund drive, so that the site can pay its contributors - including yours truly - professional rates, as well as cover any other overheads. And with the end of 2012 fast approaching, the time has come to raise the funds the magazine requires to continue through 2013.

The progress rocket is tracking $5k of donations at the time of this writing, but to hit the topmost target - which will mean free podcasts of the stories Strange Horizons publishes, and a 50% rate raise for reviewers and those who compose poetry - to hit the topmost target, we need to get another six grand together.

This is more than the site's ever asked before, so the management are offering rewards to those whose donations hit a certain threshold, including t-shirts, sponsorships and the ability to choose a book for us to review.

All the details are here.

So if you get any extra money whilst out trick or treating this year, why not considering giving it to a worthy cause? Genre-oriented resources don't come any better than Strange Horizons, in my eyes.

And in some small way, you'll even be helping me, because - take a breath! - improved pay rates mean more Monopoly money in my personal PayPal account to spend on more books to review here on The Speculative Scotsman for free.

And that would be good. :)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Books Received | The BoSS: Beyond Boneshaker

Well, here I am. Home again, home again.

And it's actually not bad - other than the cold, that is - to be back. The week the other half and I just spent in Malta made for a more modest holiday than our month in North America earlier in the year, but I think there's something to be said for the self-contained. I mean, we saw everything we wanted to see, ate all the food we could, drank some truly awesome cocktails, and had plenty of time to relax in the between-times.

There was even some reading! :)

Of the books I brought along, I read The Ravenglass Eye, Osama and - on my Kindle - In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill, as well as the final volume (finally) of The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham — which was without a doubt the most heart-breaking novel I've read in 2012. I admit to some bubbling.

Reviews of some, if not all of the above will be forthcoming here on The Speculative Scotsman.

Add to that lovely lot the proofs which were waiting for me at my local post office. Amongst others, these included the sequel to The Emperor's Knife, the three Anno Draculas released to date, London Falling by Vertigo author Paul Cornell, and - last but not least - a long dreamed-of look at the new Warren Ellis: Mulholland Books are publishing Gun Machine in early January, and I can't bloody well wait.

However, one package in particular exited me, specifically because of its tinkling. My first thought was that someone had sent me a Christmas bauble... but no!

From the local Tor team, the following:

That's Boneshaker by Cherie Priest on a festive bed of straw, complete with scissors, gin and some other some vaguely steampunky stuff.

Here's a closer look at all those lovely little trinkets:

But damn, I'll be drinking that!

Now those of you who've been with me since the blog's beginning might remember that I've already read and reviewed Boneshaker, as well as its successor, Dreadnought. I didn't much enjoy either, neither. Be that as it may, this box was so lovingly put together that I'm tempted to give the series another shot.

Who knows? Perhaps the third time's the charm.

One way or the other, we'll see soon enough, because here in the UK, Tor are planning to publish a Clockwork Century novel every month through the fourth volume in the series' release next February. I'll give The Inexplicables a good going-over around then.

Are any of you folks excited to read it?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Video Game Review | Resident Evil 6, dev. Capcom

Rarely do reviewers agree on a great deal, particularly in foundling fields such as game journalism, and yet critics from competing sites - typically so desperate to distinguish themselves - have conspired to rip Resident Evil 6 to shreds.

Well, it ain't right. And I'm telling teacher.

Giant Bomb, a resource near and dear to my heart, is one of the biggest bullies: "Resident Evil 6 is a big-budget disaster on the order of the Star Wars prequels, a sprawling production that clearly required so many individual talents to bring it into being, you can't help but wonder how the end result could have turned out so bad."

At least Destructoid's reviewer quantifies his problems: "Listlessly wallowing in the depthless waters of homogeneity, Resident Evil 6 is a coward of a game, afraid to make its own individual mark in the industry and cravenly subscribing itself to every overplayed trope in the book."

Joystiq, meanwhile, are rather more reasoned — and they get bonus points for using appropriate imagery! "Everyone would do well to study its anatomy, to learn what happens to a series stuck somewhere between a new life and an old body."

Get it? Because of zombies? Oh, what wit!

But beyond the wit... bullshit. Because Resident Evil 6 is overwhelmingly alright. It certainly won't be winning any Game of the Year awards, but why would that be the yardstick against which we measure this sprawling sequel? Why not its immediate predecessor? Why not its closest competition? Why not the stale new Silent Hill, or the forthcoming installment of Call of Duty?

Come to that, why compare it with anything? Resident Evil 6 is what it is. And what it is structurally ambitious, narratively novel, graphically gorgeous and extraordinary aurally. It may be mundane mechanically - as throwback and old-fashioned as ever this series has been, despite the efforts of its developer - but it isn't broken, and the notion that it should have been overhauled to feel more modern (which is to say more like every other goddamn game on the market) is counter-intuitive coming from a community that demands diversification on a daily basis.

In any case, Capcom have gone to incredible lengths to make fans of this multifarious franchise happy. In an era when six hour single-player games have become the new normal, it's surprising - shocking almost - that Resident Evil 6 clocks in approximately five times as long. Less so when you realise it's essentially four games in one. In the first, you're Leon, returning from Resident Evil 4 in a campaign that feels a lot like that game's. The second campaign casts you as Chris, Resident Evil 5's protagonist, and it plays similarly: it's more shooter than survival horror.

But the third and the fourth campaigns return to that very territory: the former recalls Resident Evil 3: Nemesis - you're being chased by an unstoppable monster the whole time - and the latter, starring I couldn't possibly tell you who, feels like it's sprung fully formed out of Resident Evil 2, what with the secret player character and all the puzzles she-who-must-not-be-named has got to solve.

Resident Evil 6 is an odd sort of hodgepodge, on the whole: a guided tour through the make-up of the entire series to date, or a forlorn love letter to itself. In that sense, it reminded me - of all things - of Final Fantasy IX. What makes it cohesive, if anything does, is the structure of the story: characters continuously come together as four narratives neatly interweave, and each time the player experiences something a second time it's from a whole other angle, with more or different information.

Admittedly, the controls are iffy. The Quick Time Events around every corner are overbearing. The puzzles are plodding and the shooting is largely unsatisfying. The dialogue is obvious and the tone of the story is all over the place. Resident Evil 6 has a lot of problems... but so did all the other games in the series, and praise was lavished upon these.

So what gives?

Patience, I presume. Critics don't have a great deal of it on good days, and around this time of year, when there are huge new releases to play through and review each and every week, it's obviously in very short supply. But to dismiss this game on those grounds is dishonest. Resident Evil 6 may not be particularly great, but it's not bad either - not like certain ostensibly objective perspectives have suggested - and if you ask me, you've got to give Capcom credit for trying so damned hard.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Coming Attractions | House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

Have I told you lately that I love Adam Nevill's novels?

I don't think so, no. So this seems like a fine time to reiterate my feelings — especially given the recent news about his new book. It's called House of Small Shadows, and it looks to be about one of mankind's creepiest creations: dolls.

I know there's not a lot to it, but I'm loving this cover. The raindrops are a particularly telling touch, suggesting that this evil being is either looking inside from the outside or vice versa.

Thus, that tagline is suitably insidious. They watch you as you sleep indeed! Not if I have anything to do with it, they don't...

Quick question: do all dolls have anime eyes, as in the artwork above? I don't think so, but I honestly don't know — I've been avoiding these potential malevolents ever since Child's Play.

Anyway, I have a blurb for you too, borrowed whole-hog from the Tor team's blog:
Catherine’s last job ended badly. Corporate bullying at a top antiques publication saw her fired and forced to leave London, but she was determined to get her life back. A new job and now things look much brighter. Especially when a challenging new project presents itself – to catalogue the late M. H. Mason’s wildly eccentric cache of antique dolls and puppets.

Rarest of all, she’ll get to examine his elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals, depicting bloody scenes from World War II.

When Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at Red House itself, where she maintains the collection, Catherine can’t believe her luck. Until his niece exposes her to the dark message behind her uncle’s "art". Catherine tries to concentrate on the job, but M. H. Mason’s damaged visions raise dark shadows from her own past. Shadows she’d hoped therapy had finally erased. Soon the barriers between reality, sanity and memory start to merge. And some truths seem too terrible to be real...
Adam's latest, Last Days - which I reviewed for - was pretty great, but I'm still of the opinion that The Ritual - which you can read about right here - is his best work to date. Fingers firmly crossed The House of Small Shadows can hold its own against that classic contemporary horror novel.

The House of Small Shadows is penciled in for publication in the UK next May. Do yourselves a favour and destroy all your dolls before the promised month comes.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Book Review | Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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Or get the Kindle edition 

All Joe Spork wants is a quiet life. He repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. The bills don't always get paid and he's single and has no prospects of improving his lot, but at least he's not trying to compete with the reputation of his infamous criminal dad, Mathew "Tommy Gun" Spork.

Meanwhile, Edie Banister lives quietly and wishes she didn't. She's nearly ninety and remembers when she wasn't. She's a former superspy and now she's... well... old. Worse yet, the things she fought to save don't seem to exist anymore, and she's beginning to wonder if they ever did.

When Joe fixes one particularly unusual device, his life is suddenly upended. The client? Unknown. And the device? It's a 1950s doomsday machine. And having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the government and a diabolical South Asian dictator, Edie's old arch-nemesis.

With Joe's once-quiet world now populated with mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realises that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight, help Edie complete a mission she gave up years ago, and pick up his father's old gun.


It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why Angelmaker is one of the year’s best books, but then, it’s hard to put your finger on much of anything in Nick Harkaway's new novel, because it’s always in flux. One moment it’s animated urban fantasy, the next nostalgic sci-fi with geriatric spies, and it’s no slouch in the between times either. Angelmaker takes in biting black comedy, heart-warming romance, some light crime monkeyshines, an incisive commentary on the state of play of people in power and power in people — in government around the world, if particularly in Britain — and so very much more that I’d have to be “mad as a shaved cat” to even attempt an account of it all.

So quantity, yes, and in every sense: in character as well as narrative, in wit and impact and ambition. But also quality. As one right-thinking English critic asserted, The Gone-Away World was “a bubbling cosmic stew of a book, written with such exuberant imagination that you are left breathless by its sheer ingenuity,” but for all its wonders, Nick Harkaway’s extraordinary debut was not without its issues in addition — foremost amongst them its madcap, almost abstract construction, which too often left one wondering what in The Gone-Away World was going on, even as it was going, going, gone.

Angelmaker, however, is a book far better put than its predecessor. A markedly more crafted artefact. Though the author’s roving eye remains intact, and those subjects its alights upon feel as delightful and insightful as ever, Harkaway has honed this incomparable trick of his to a filigree so fine that it appears nearly invisible; a filament of woven gold — impossible, yet a fact for all that — which runs through Angelmaker from the fanciful first to the beloved last.

Not unrelatedly, it’s just such a thing that sets our tentative young protagonist off at the outset: a filament of woven gold, glimpsed amidst “a Golgotha of armatures and sprockets” in an antique automaton, given to him by an crazy old crone to fix and finesse. After all, that’s what Joe Spork does for a living. He may be the only son of an infamous criminal, but Joe will be damned before he follows in his father’s hoosegow footsteps.
"He shies away from the idea that he is what a certain class of crime novel calls an habitué of the demi-monde, by which it is implied that he knows gamblers and crooks and the men and women who love them. For the moment, he is prepared to acknowledge that he still lives somewhat on the fringes of the demi-monde in exchange for not having to talk about it."
Then again, “the stricture of Joe Spork is indecision, [as] a departing girlfriend once told him. He fears she was wrong,” and though he “tries not to reflect on the nature of a life whose high point is an adversarial relationship with an entity possessing the same approximate reasoning and emotional alertness as a milk bottle” — that being the stray cat that haunts his clockwork workshop — Joe is every inch an alumnus of the House of Spork. Once-mighty... now not so much. He’s smart and canny, connected and altogether too curious — bearing in mind what killed the kitty — so when several clients express an unhealthy interest in an objet d’art that has apparently passed through his hands, he simply can’t stop himself from looking into the thing.

The thing is, this doodah... it’s not just some high-value knickknack. It’s an apprehension apparatus; a vast and terrible truth-telling engine “whose shadow will be a block on the dreams of madmen; a weapon so awful that the world cannot survive its use, so that no one would use it save in the moment of their own inevitable destruction, and no one seek or allow the destruction of the one whose hand is on the hilt, lest they find the blade cuts every throat on Earth.” Long story short, it’s a doomsday device, and Joe isn’t the only person looking for it.

Meanwhile, “Edie Banister, ninety years of age and stalwart of the established order, has pushed the button on the revolution.” She’s the crazy old crone from before, of course, who set this whole show on the road, and she’s a side-splitting character in both concept and execution. In a stroke of sheer genius, Edie is also Angelmaker’s secondary narrator. Initially, the time we spend in her rambunctious company feels — however hilarious — perhaps a little beside the point, recalling the most meaningless moments of The Gone-Away World, but this is easy to forgive when the intrigue-rich life and times Harkaway treats us to begins to tie in with the sordid history of the House of Spork, and almost entirely forgotten thereafter, when these alternating perspectives converge in an unforgettable eruption of nuns, Tupperware and homemade explosive.

Angelmaker exudes such zany exuberance from its every pore, taking frequent “flights of trenchant fantasy” which will not be to everyone’s tastes, but I beg you: don’t let the arch tone dissuade you from the text. Harkaway’s latest may not be the most self-serious genre novel ever written, but it’s elegant in its inanity, masterful in its make-believe, and though it is — make no mistake — absolutely barking mad, it’s also truly beautiful. Like the MacGuffin it revolves around, it stands to “uproot so many old and rotted trees,” and one must bear in mind that “there are men who have made their houses in them. There are men cut from their wood. All the bows and arrows in the world are made of [these trees],” and Angelmaker, appreciated from a certain standpoint, is a stout shield set against them.

As I was saying, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly why Angelmaker is one of the year’s best books. Know this, though: it is. If the apprehension engine only existed, I’m almost certain it would confirm my suspicions. Of course then we’d all overdose horribly on unfettered knowledge, so perhaps it’s for the good that we go ignorant of the odd thing.


This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on


by Nick Harkaway

UK PB Publication: February 2013, Windmill
US PB Publication: October 2012, Vintage

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Recommended and Related Reading

Friday, 19 October 2012

We Interrupt This Broadcast | The Maltese Scotsman

Okay, so remember when I said I was hoping to head off for a holiday shortly? Well, my plans came together a little quicker than I was thinking initially. Everything fell into place so incredibly quickly, in fact, that I don't even have a moment to consult you all like I tend to do about what books to take away with me.

Long story less long: I'm going to Malta, guys. And I'm leaving... this evening!

But not to worry. I'll be back before you know it -  in time for Halloween week - and in my absence The Speculative Scotsman should be business as usual. There will be news, there will be reviews, and I should have access to the internet while I'm away, so if anything huge comes up, you can be sure I'll blog about it.

Well, as sure as you can ever be with me. :/

For obvious reasons my time today is awfully short, so I won't burble on much longer. But I did want to mention the books I mean to read over the next ten days.

I've packed two fantasy novels: Steven Erikson's Deadhouse Gates (again), and A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney.

I'm also going to be bringing one spooky book - namely The Ravenglass Eye by Tom Fletcher - as well as Osama by Lavie Tidhar... because it's about bloody time, and what with all the awards it's won, I can't really go wrong, can I? 

Maybe you're wondering why no sci-fi. Well, I only finished reading Great North Road on Wednesday - stay tuned to for my review in the not-too-distant - meanwhile Helix Wars was the week before, and I like to hop from genre to genre instead of spending too long immersed in any one.

Anyway, I really should pack some pants, so I'll sign off for now. Hard as it is for even me to believe, the next time we talk, I'll be in Malta.

Wish me warmth! :D

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Comic Book Review | Echo: The Complete Edition by Terry Moore

After 13 years and in excess of 100 issues of his hit comic book sitcom come conspiracy thriller Strangers in Paradise, you'd think the work of Terry Moore would be a known quantity. But no.

Echo has elements of the essentially self-published series with which its cult creator made his name, including realistic female leads, an unpredictable romantic triangle and some corporate corruption, but beyond these superficial similarities, it's a distinct thing both narratively and thematically, as delightful in its own right as it is demonstrative of Moore's myriad talents.

Like all the best things in life, it begins with a bang: an almighty explosion high in the sky, the fallout of a live munitions exercise gone awry. The Heitzer Nuclear Institute (hereafter HeNRI) has fashioned a battle suit from a revolutionary new alloy, but when project lead and pilot Annie Trotter dies during the final phase of its testing, all is thought lost.

That would be that... were it not for Julie Martin, an unfortunate photographer who happens to be in the desert when everything goes to hell in the heavens above her head. Instead, shrapnel from the battle suit adheres to her like a second skin.

As if Julie's life weren't complicated enough! In the midst of a long-delayed divorce, she's an emotional mess; meanwhile her sister needs round-the-clock care, her dog isn't eating, and now, to make matters worse, she's covered in shiny metal. At the hospital, immediately after her near-death experience in the desert, doctors dismiss Julie as a prankster, but when HeNRI is made aware of her involvement in the accident, its top dogs take her very seriously indeed. They dispatch NSB agent and mother of one Ivy Raven to bring their target in... at any cost.

State Park Ranger Dillon Murphy may be Julie's only hope when the company finally catches up with her, but he's Annie's man, and who knows what he'll do when he finds out about his new friend's ties to his partner's tragic passing?

There's so much more to Echo than the above, but I'm going to leave it at that for fear of spoilers. Half the fun of this wild ride is in seeing where it's headed next, anyway. One senses that was the case for Terry More, too, because the series changes gears repeatedly, sometimes suddenly, altering everything from the division between former friends and enemies to the very genre Echo operates in. At the outset, it seems to be a fairly straightforward superhero origin story, but the second arc is all horror and high-octane action, the third revolves around a biblical clash, and in subsequent volumes, far-fetched science fiction segues into oddly topical science fact.

Admittedly, all this gives Echo a bit of a schizophrenic feel. What it is at any given moment is no guarantee for what it was, or will be, and some sections are more successful than others: the subplot revolving around Hong the jawless is nonsense, and the middle act is painfully prolonged, but the beginning is brilliant, and though a fair few loose ends are left to dangle - such that you can easily see a sequel series - the climax still satisfies.

So the narrative is neat, but don't buy this book for the story: buy it for the fantastic characters. As in Strangers in Paradise before it, Echo's main attraction is its core cast members, whose incremental development carries through the complete series. Never mind what everyone's up to — where Moore excels, on the writing side, is in showing how events affect them and their perspective. The Julie of the last chapter is a far cry from the Julie we meet in Echo's opening issue... and I've hardly said word one about Ivy Raven, my favourite character by a massive margin.

Art-wise, Moore is as impressive as ever, and his work here is particularly consistent. His set-pieces especially are extraordinary - sweeping and detailed yet clearly rendered - but even amidst a five-part arc that would be better entitled Talking Heads, his pencils demonstrate a mastery of the minute: facial tics, posture and body language communicate as much about Julie as her dialogue ever does.

That said, I could have done with a little less fan-service, sir.

But let's not end on a bum note. Like Jeff Smith's Bone bible, The Complete Edition of Echo represents tremendous value for money, collecting all 30 issues of the mostly monthly — and unlike the series on either side of it (though seemingly complete, Strangers in Paradise is due to return in 2013, meanwhile Moore views his gorgeous horror comic Rachel Rising as an ongoing endeavour) Echo is over, and there's a lot to be said for such singularly satisfying, self-contained stories in a landscape so prone to the bloated or overblown.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Coming Attractions | Blood Oranges by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlin R. Kiernan has ever been awfully forthright about the publishing process, and brutally honest about the act of writing too. So going into her masterful last novel - that's The Drowning Girl: A Memoir for those of you who missed it - we knew in advance that it marked the end of an era.

Sad, but true. And some might say overdue.

Anyway, as in the tarot - not to speak of The Smashing Pumpkins' back catalogue - the end is the beginning. The beginning, in Kiernan's case, of a series of three all-out urban fantasies published under an open pseudonym. 

You must be wondering: why the half handle, when Kiernan's own name is so critically (if not commercially) credited? Well, here's her explanation:
"I do not hate this novel. It's this novel's sequel, Fay Grimmer, that's giving me fits. [...] But this book, Blood Oranges – though it's nothing even remotely like The Red Tree or The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, it's fun. Mostly, it was fun to write. It's a popcorn book. It's funny. It's a satire with an undercurrent of bitter disillusionment. It's candy bars with razor blades hidden inside them. It gives the middle finger to 'paranormal romance' and its corruption of urban fantasy. So, yeah."
This description puts me in mind of nothing so much as The Mall and The Ward. The work, you will recall, of another invented personage: the great S. L. Grey.

Here's the cover, in any event:


Then again, given what Kiernan's trying to do with this book - namely break into the mass market for urban fantasy - it fits, I think.

And Amazon has a blurb to boot!
My name’s Quinn.
If you buy into my reputation, I’m the most notorious demon hunter in New England. But rumors of my badassery have been slightly exaggerated. Instead of having kung-fu skills and a closet full of medieval weapons, I’m an ex-junkie with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Or... whatever.

Wanted for crimes against inhumanity I (mostly) didn’t commit, I was nearly a midnight snack for a werewolf until I was “saved” by a vampire calling itself the Bride of Quiet. Already cursed by a werewolf bite, the vamp took a pint out of me too.

So now... now, well, you wouldn’t think it could get worse, but you’d be dead wrong.
A moreish premise, no? Here Kiernan appears to be baking all the genre's essential ingredients in a single tray. What the resulting concoction will taste of is anyone's guess - my money's on something bittersweet, like treacle - but typically this author's work is deeply, darkly delicious.

So I have hope.

There's no UK publisher in place to date - nor would I expect there to be one, unless Jo Fletcher jumps in (on you go, Jo!) - but Blood Oranges is coming out in North America from Roc next February 5th.

Monday, 15 October 2012

But I Digress | Reading Rituals

Well, that's it, isn't it? Summer's over.

And winter, of course, is coming. I've felt the frost already, and if you squint into the slate-grey skies, you can nearly see the snow. Hell, if the supermarkets are to be believed, it's a fine time to start thinking about Christmas.

But let's not get quite so far ahead of ourselves!

Let's lament the end of the summer before we start celebrating the beginning of winter.

'Twas a mean season for me, I suppose. I had hoped to take a few weeks away from work over the holidays, but other factors intruded: a death in the family, changing obligations, sudden monetary troubles and so on. All the while the kiddies kept coming in, so I kept showing up to the education centre I teach English at.

As it stands, the plan is to steal off somewhere warm as soon as humanly possible - more on that as the story develops - but I'm running on empty at the moment. Have been since I got back from America in March: coming back from a life-changing experience only to have life kick in immediately will do that, I know now.

It hasn't, however, been doom and gloom all day and night in my little corner of Scotland. The rare sunny days we've had hereabouts have been a huge highlight, because earlier in 2012, I got myself a hobby: I decided the time had come to turn the rampant wilderness I called my back yard into a proper goddamn garden.

Well, it isn't perfect yet - and I don't imagine I'll be able to do much more with it till next spring - but six months of back-breaking, at times bloody labour later, I've got a lawn, a rock garden, and a pretty paved path between the two. A pretty paved path that proved the perfect place to drop a pair of camping chairs and improvise a table.

I have many happy memories of afternoons in my brand new garden this summer. Yes, the weather could have been better, but often enough there was some sun, and whenever there was, I took out my book, and I read.

And I read and I read and I read!

This became rather a habit. A ritual, if you will — which brings me to my point.

Now that I can't go out there, under pain of mild frostbite or a simple soaking, I've had to say goodbye to the garden for the time being. That I can live with. What I've having more trouble overcoming is the loss of the spot I spoke of, where I spent, shall we say, some serious time reading.

I'm a creature of habit, I confess. Most of what I read, I read in bed, immediately before nodding off. I did this all through the summer, in addition to which I had a couple of hours every couple of days with my book in the back yard. Absent that, it's back to burning the midnight oil until some replacement pattern arises, so my reading, recently, has dropped off dramatically.

How I miss my afternoons in the garden! :(

On the bright side, this got me thinking. Am I just an oddity, or do we all have specific spots where we get the bulk of our bookworming done? Places where we can go, or things that we do, to get away from it all, you know?

With so many other things competing for our attention, reading for a protracted period - for me at least - isn't easy these days. Without my camping chair in the garden, I'm having trouble getting through more than a book a week.

So I want to know: what are your reading rituals?

Inspire me, people, please!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Book Review | The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi

On the edges of physical space a thief, assisted by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrodinger box.
He is doing the job for his patron, and the owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

But the box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity, and
Perhonen is under attack. The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive. Jean le Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many more stories than can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two stories will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.


You don't have to have a doctorate in mathematical physics to keep pace with The Fractal Prince, though I warrant it wouldn't hurt. As per its predecessor, Hannu Rajaniemi's new novel might be the most intellectually impenetrable book you read all year — but read it you must if you've an interest in literary science fiction, because beneath its murky surface there sparkles such beauty that averting your eyes would be tantamount to travesty.

Having been imprisoned in a meta-cell for an untold term, the quantum thief Jean le Flambeur is finally free. Or is he? It's tough to tell, and in any event, Jean has one last job to orchestrate before his life is his own again: specifically a mission for Mieli and the technological goddess who sees and hears all evil from behind her Oortian eyes.

Jean and Mieli's journey on the Perhonen takes our unlikely allies from Mars, where the climax of The Quantum Thief occurred, to an oribital Zoku router a short hop off "the Highway — a constantly flowing river of spaceships and thoughtwisps, a starry brushstroke in the dark. A branch of the gravitational artery through the Solar System." (p.7) Inevitably, their interstellar road trip terminates on Earth, where Tawaddud Gomelez - the former lover of a genocidal jinn with a heart of magma, and latterly a political pawn in spirited competition with her sister Dunyzad - has become caught up in a posthuman revolution.

It's easy enough to encapsulate after the fact, but in the moment, The Fractal Prince's plot is at times nefariously multifarious. That said, what we have here becomes clear almost immediately: namely a great puzzle box of a book, very much in the mode of Rajaniemi's critical darling of a debut... and I fear it isn't any easier to to unpick this one's mysteries.

In the first, an overabundance of mythological and technical terminology poses a problem. There are ghuls and gogols and guberniyas; virs and beemees; also quarins and whatever an athar is; meanwhile, the muhtasib and the mutalibun roam the wildcode wastes. Needless to say, all this jargon is jarring - at least initially - and the complex concepts behind the weird words also mystify for the larger part.

Absent the detailed descriptions one correctly or incorrectly expects when such involved ideas are introduced, context is key in assuming an understanding of Rajaniemi's new novel, and even then, deciphering The Fractal Prince takes a level of dedication most authors would not dare demand. It's hard to get a handle on anything beyond the basic premise, and if by the last act some of our suppositions have been borne out, many more have not. In the interim, the thief's half of the whole simply happens. We get the impression that the stakes are great, but they are so abstracted it can be hard to get a handle on what Jean wants, or why.

Stark in its contrast to this overwhelming emotional coldness, the new narrative thread Rajaniemi introduces in The Fractal Prince is infinitely easier to invest in. Readers will warm to Tawaddud and the nest of stories she tends from the first, in fact. "There are roads and cities and wonders, herds of von Neumann machines, dark seas of the dead, sand that listens to you and makes your dreams comes true." (p.69) There is wonder here, and warmth. A markedly more transparent narrative, alongside an abundance of colourful characters with less existential concerns than those of the thief:
"There was something very strange about it: the bare-bones abstraction, like [a story] written by a child. Usually, the forbidden stories of the body thieves are addictive, full of danger and cliffhangers and characters that insert themselves into your head and become you. But this is raw, full of a simple desire, a dreamlike need to find something." (p.133)
The Fractal Prince only comes together conclusively when Tawaddud's tale becomes one with Jean's. Ingeniously, by the time you realise that this is happening, it has happened, "like origami, unfolded by invisible hands." (p.78) Thus the way is paved for a powerful finale that hearkens back to the entire's byzantine beginnings.

On the whole, The Fractal Price is a daunting novel despite its slight stature, just short of Greg Egan's Orthongonal series in terms of scientific stricture, and Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 has over it an edge of accessibility. Its narrative, too, is testing — but as the Sobornost gogol Sumanguru (or someone wearing his face) says, "sometimes, it is more important to hear how a story is told than what the story is." (p.154)

These words prove particularly prescient regarding this brief sequel to The Quantum Thief, because on the sentence level at least - and on the other end of the spectrum, structurally speaking - The Fractal Prince is fantastically crafted, studiously stimulating, and aesthetically oh-so-satisfying science fiction. Hannu Rajaniemi may not be a man to hold hands, but surely exploration is more interesting, ultimately, than instruction. So sure, you'll burn a few brain cells reading his new book, but this is a fair price to pay for such calculated artistry.


This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on


The Fractal Prince
by Hannu Rajaniemi

UK Publication: September 2012, Gollancz
US Publication: November 2012, Tor Books

Buy this book from

Recommended and Related Reading

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Bargain Books | The Humble Bundle

You've heard of the Humble Bundles, haven't you?

The first bundle was made available in May 2010, and it featured six indie video games, including Aquaria, World of Goo and Samorost 2. You could pay whatever you could afford in exchange for download codes for the whole lot. It was a tremendous success, raising more than $1m — of which a large part was donated to charity.

In the years since (both of them!) there have been countless other bundles - so very many that I admit I had rather lost track - including a Humble Music Bundle, and as of yesterday, the first Humble eBook Bundle. Thus this post's existence.

It features an astonishing array of novels and short story collections:
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  • Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
  • Invasion by Mercedes Lackey
  • Pump Six & Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link
  • Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
And all of these eBooks could be yours for the grand price of... whatever you have sitting in your PayPal account! Or less!

Or, of course, more. In fact, as an added incentive, if you donate more than the average amount - which is hovering right around $12 as of 2PM today - your bundle will come complete with two other eBooks, namely Old Man's War by John Scalzi and Signal to Noise, the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Considering how much a copy of that last alone would set you back, the Humble eBook Bundle represents such bang for your buck that this immediately qualifies as the bestest Bargain Books post ever. I've bought the lot for the cost of a new hardcover here in the UK: £20.

Seemed like the least I could do, really.

But you can choose how much you want to pay! You can choose, too, how your money gets divvied up between the authors, the organisers and the three charities the Humble eBook Bundle is supporting: that is to say Child's Play, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the SFWA. You can even gift a bundle to a loved one. Given such a good cause, I'm sorely tempted to do just that.

In 24 hours, the first Humble eBook Bundle has already raised around a quarter of a million dollars, and that's awesome. But I bet we can do better! Do the world a good turn, why don't you — and get some awesome ePUBs for your trouble.

What's not to like?

Monday, 8 October 2012

But I Digress | Honouring Dishonored

Little people remain the largest market for video games, so you'd think the summer holidays would be packed full of new releases to make the most of a captive audience of kiddies.

But no. This is not the case now, nor has it ever been — more's the pity. Instead, every summer, the industry suffers from what amounts to a drought. Nothing of note happens for a number of months. Summer is the season throughout which I wonder whether it's worth keeping up my subscription to LoveFilm; I replay games as rarely as I reread books, which is to say almost never, so I tend to rent rather than buy outright.

Invariably, though, there's an array of older releases to catch up on that make the holidays tolerable, and to a certain extent gamers have become conditioned to this period of listlessness. We look to downloadable titles for quick fixes. We go back to Battlefield 3 or some other multiplayer game, or revisit a few single-player favourites.

But mostly... we wait. We wait for the flood of new releases unleashed every autumn. And as of today, I think it's safe to say we're almost underwater.

I mean, crikey, I'm already behind! I've been keeping busy with Darksiders 2, Mark of the Ninja and Tales of Graces f, but I've already got copies of Borderlands 2 and the new Resident Evil in my queue, both of which look to be exhausting, 30+ hour affairs.

And there's so much more to look forward to! In the next six weeks alone, Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, X-COM: Enemy Unknown, Criterion's Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Far Cry 3 and Hitman: Absolution are all set to be released. Beyond that, the list goes on, and on, and on.

And on.

It doesn't, for instance, include the game I'm most excited to play this autumn. No prizes for guessing that I'm talking - and about time too - about Dishonored.

In case you're wondering why, let me clarify. Dishonored represents something none of the autumn's other contenders can: it's an original IP. A new experience. And there have been precious few of these in recent years. To purloin a semi-famous phrase, everything is a remix — a remake, a re-imagining, a straight sequel or a sequel to a sidequel. Or something.

On which note, go watch these videos. You simply must see and hear Kirby Ferguson's thesis.

To wit, Dishonored too takes its inspiration from any number of previous games. The project leads have been variously involved in Deus Ex, Half-Life 2 and the Thief series. In Dishonored they're evolving several of the systems they created in the first place; unifying a diverse spread of mechanics into a single, story-driven specimen.

In itself, all this is enough to make me moist.

But you know what really excites me about Dishonored? Well, I've been watching the developer diaries, and original IP it may be, but I'm getting a right Bioshock vibe from the footage — and I've adored no game this generation as much as I did and I do Irrational's last. From the propaganda posters to the way the player's powers can be combined in different ways in different situations: thus the way is paved for some experiential uniqueness, at least.

It's not a lot to go on, no, but if I'm right, we might well be talking about Dishonored again in a couple of months, when it comes time to pick our favourite games of the year.

It's coming out tomorrow for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in North America, and on Friday in European territories and the UK. I'll be waiting; indeed, antici... pating. Will you?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Book Review | Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

Now is the time to tell a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come... and all those already told.

It is the Age of Darkness and the realm called Kuruld Galain - home of the Tiste Andii and ruled over by Mother Dark from her citadel in Kharkanas - is in a perilous state. The commoners' great warrior hero, Vatha Urusander, is being championed by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such arrogant ambition.

As the impending clash between these two rival powers sends fissures rippling across the land and rumours of civil war flare and take hold amongst the people, an ancient power emerges from seas once thought to be long dead. None can fathom its true purpose, nor comprehend its potential. Caught in the middle of this seemingly inevitable conflagration are the First Sons of Darkness - Anomander, Andarist and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold - and they are about reshape the world...

Here begins Steven Erikson's epic tale of bitter family rivalries, of jealousies and betrayals, of wild magic and unfettered power... and of the forging of a sword.


As outlined in yesterday's introduction to the celebrated canon, Forge of Darkness marks a new beginning for The Malazan Book of the Fallen — a fresh start, at that, for the empire entire. Steven Erikson has himself stressed that his latest could and should be viewed as a jumping-on point for readers unfamiliar with the series. Readers like... me!

I should explain, before we descend any deeper into this rather labyrinthine quagmire, that I'm not a complete newcomer. I read Gardens of the Moon, albeit some time ago, and yours truly has had occasion - occasions aplenty, as a matter of fact - to gaze longingly at the various other volumes of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, all of which I own because I recall the first so fondly. That said, I did not come away from Erikson's darkly sparkling debut with terribly many questions, and a ten volume epic asks a lot more than does a single standalone fantasy. To wit, Deadhouse Gates and its successors have languished, as yet unloved, on my shelves ever since.

A trilogy, on the other hand - even if it is a trilogy of tomes, and I can't imagine The Kharkanas Saga is apt to take any alternate shape - should be rather more manageable.

Well... it is. And it isn't. It is, insofar as it has reignited my interest in the shelf I have dedicated to this series and the untold others that share its epic setting, including co-creator Ian Cameron Esslemont's eventual efforts — although I am less certain of the strength of said.

At the same time, however, it isn't - rather more manageable, I mean - to the point that it would be folly for me to attempt, even over the course of this gargantuan review, a serviceable synopsis of the ensemble of characters and narratives arranged (if not contained) within the tightly-packed pages of Forge of Darkness. Instead, suffice it to say that the first part of this prequel series takes place not years or decades or centuries, but many millennia before the events of The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Old gods are awakening; new resentments take shape with every passing season; a civil war between the peoples of the Tiste Andii appears inevitable — and all this will converge in Kharkanas, the broken and abandoned citadel which I gather features in the final volume of that vast saga, though for the moment it is a seat of power in full force:
"Think of Kharkanas as a beast crawled up from the river. Perhaps to the sun itself, or perhaps only to glower at the world. Think of the long-tailed, beaked turtles — the ones the river foll bring to the markets. Gnarled and jagged shells, a savage bite and thick muscles upon the long neck. Claws at the ends of strong limbs. Skin tough as armour. An ugly beast [...] foul of temper and voracious. Hear its hiss as you draw close!" (p.239)
Forge of Darkness' Kharkanas is home to the ungodly goddess Mother Dark, who has only just begun to realise her boundless power; to the court historian Rise Herat; and to his young student, Legyl Behurst. Furthermore, it is church to the competing High Priestesses, Emral and Syntara; to the priest Cedorpul; and to his baby-faced acolyte, Endest Silann.

Then there are those characters who do not come from, but come to the titular citadel in the first volume of The Kharkanas Saga. Foremost amongst these pilgrims: returning favourite Anomander Rake, known to all as the First Son of Darkness, and accompanied, as ever, by his brothers Silchas Ruin and Andarist. Then there's T'riss, an Azathanai who emerges - impossibly - from the Vitr sea. Also Caplo Dreem and the Warlock Resh of The Shake, and the frustrated captain of Urusander's legion, Hunn Raal, who will prove pivotal in the layered affairs Forge of Darkness chronicles. Last, though very far from least, we have Mother Dark's current consort, Draconus of Dracons Hold... admittedly, however, he's a little late to the party.

Already we have quite the cast, but know that I'm neglecting to mention at least as many others. And while Kharkahas is key, we spend as much time, and meet as many new characters, in five or six other Holds. Not counting those folks who have no home: nomads who wander the wide world in service of one master or another, whose own stories intersect with and ultimately bring together otherwise separate threads.

You begin, I think, to see how incredibly ambitious this book is — and why, in turn, I must abstain from a complete account of its characters and narratives. I warrant we'd be here all day otherwise!

And be we newcomers or old hands, it follows - like dawn after a night long drawn - that Forge of Darkness demands a great deal of its readers. Even now, on the eve of a new beginning, there can be no dipping of toes into the elaborate Malazan canon. This novel demands your all, and if you cannot give it, whatever efforts you may make, you make in vain.

Luckily, I went all in on Forge of Darkness, yet even then I found the first few chapters rather a hardship. The rapid-fire panoply of perspectives introduced in each came in such succession that I began to wish I had graph paper handy, or even better: a copy of the long-promised Encyclopedia Malaz.
"It was a conceit to imagine that they knew the world; that they knew its every detail. Forces ever worked unseen, in elusive patterns no mortal mind could comprehend. She saw life as little more than the crossing of unknown trails, one after another. What made them could only be known by following one, but this meaning surrendering one's own path: that blazing charge to the place of endings. Instead, a person pushed on, wondering, often frightened. If she glanced to her left she could see the wall of black grasses, shivering and rippling and blurry in the heat; and she knew there were countless paths through Glimmer Fate. Perhaps, if she could become winged as a bird, she might fly high overhead and see each and every trail, and perhaps even discern something of a pattern, a map of answers. Would this offer relief?" (p.100)
With only my memory, and mayhap my imagination to aid me - but alas, no wings - I made painfully slow progress through the first third of Forge of Darkness. Just as I had begun to grasp a single, solitary thread, there was the next to contend with, then the next. Upon the first repetition of these perspectives, however, things began to come together. Come the second, I couldn't have stopped reading if I'd wanted to — and I most definitely did not.

Given the staggering breadth and depth of this author's vision, I suppose it's unsurprising that the occasional critics who do discuss his work tend to steer clear of the little things. As above, so below: a bird's eye view is usually the most you can hope for, and though some superficial exposure is certainly better than none at all, this remains an issue, because Erikson shines on the sentence level as well. There is a precision to the construction of each and every paragraph in Forge of Darkness - a sense that attention has been paid to the look and the sound and the significance of the language used - that feels as typical of poetry as prose.

At the risk of knocking a genre I hold near and dear to my heart, let me simply say that one rarely sees such careful composition in vast volumes of fantasy, and when we do, especially when it is so sustained, in my view we are beholden to make it known. To wit, Steven Erikson should be raised up as a standard bearer, representing the best of the best of those books we would love to be more loved — those that are intellectually nutritious as well as delicious.

I came away from Forge of Darkness in awe of this author's ambition, moved as much by the miniscule as I was astonished by the massive, but while it won me over, I was willing, and its spell still took some time to take effect. Erikson's incremental development of character and narrative stymied me in the beginning, and though he eventually relents, at least to an extent, even then this novel is a far cry from accessible. Thus, I wonder whether it is truly as suitable a starting point for new readers as the author has asserted.

Be that as it may, if you come to the first volume of The Kharhanas Saga prepared to do more than a little lifting, the rewards it offers are vastly more satisfying than the pretty baubles of most novels. And as this early excerpt suggests, ultimately:
"Things should make sense. From one end to the other, no matter from which direction one elected to begin the journey, everything should fit. Fitting neatly was the gift of order, proof of control, and from control, mastery. He would not accept an unknowable world. Mysteries needed hunting down. Like the fierce wrashan that had once roamed the Blackwood: all their dark roosts were discovered until there were no places left for the beasts to hide, the slaughter was made complete, and now at last one could walk in safety in the great forest, and no howls ever broke the benign silence. Blackwood Forest had become knowable. Safe." (p.14)
Unfortunately, while the majority of the narratives it initiates are left to dangle, Forge of Darkness itself does end eventually. Given the almighty investment the entire requires of readers, for the multifarious plot to pause when it is finally in full swing is... a pain. Once you've gone and gotten into it, I assure you: you truly won't want this book to be over.

Of course, the finiteness of the form is no fault of the author's — though I would allow that too much of the first volume of The Kharkanas Saga is reserved for set-up. For slaughter in the forest, so that we may travel, one day, in some semblance of safety, to its deepest, darkest reaches.

Well, the sooner, the better.

For a new beginning from a phenomenal fantasy author, Forge of Darkness is surprisingly difficult to wholeheartedly recommend to readers unfamiliar with the series it aims to lay the foundation for. But cast your minds back. Recall that I was such a one, once upon a time. And know now that this twisted fairytale has a happy ending, because I plum loved this book, such that I expect to be first in line for the following volume.

Indeed, all I can think is that in the interim between Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light, however long that lasts, I have at least nine more Malazan novels to help keep my mind off the acute pain of anticipation.

See you in a few years!


This review (as well as its accompanying introduction) was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on


Forge of Darkness
by Steven Erikson

UK Publication: July 2012, Bantam Press
US Publication: September 2012, Tor

Buy this book from /
IndieBound / The Book Depository

Or get the Kindle edition 

Recommended and Related Reading

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Introductions | Origins of an Empire

The first of a series of three prequels, Forge of Darkness purports to be a new beginning for The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but as ever with the work of Steven Erikson, it is not so simple — an assertion acknowledged by the cult Canadian novelist:
"What I would speak of this morning is but the beginning of a tale. It is without borders, and its players are far from dead, and the story is far from finished. To make matters even worse, word by word I weave truth and untruths. I posit a goal to events, when such goals were not understood at the time, nor even considered. I am expected to offer a resolution, to ease the conscience of the listener, or earn a moment or two of false comfort, with the belief that proper sense is to be made of living. Just as in a tale." (p.513)
A tale such as this tale of tales. But where else are we to begin, if not at the beginning?

Even then, one can only wonder: which beginning?

Because you could say The Malazan Book of the Fallen began in 1982, when a couple of archaeologists endeavoured, in their off-hours, to excavate a history of their own creation. They did this, according to the old wives' tale they each tell, by playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. So the story goes.

Several years into these sessions, their campaigns had become so complex - and so compelling in their eyes - that Steve Lundin and Ian Cameron Esslemont resolved to share them in some way with the wider world. Together, then, nearly a decade on from the fiction's first informal flush, these friends collaborated on a film script. The movie would have been called Gardens of the Moon... if it had ever been made.

But it wasn't. The co-written script didn't sell. And if you'll permit me a side-note, perhaps that's just as well. Given Erikson's comments on the matter, Gardens of the Moon the movie would have played the affairs of this death-drenched empire in large part for laughs — an unconscionable thought, is it not?

Of course, the story was far from over, for soon after the screenplay's failure, Lundin and Esslemont drew a line in the sand and went their separate ways with the canon they had created. The latter author was to take his time developing his share of the saga, but almost immediately the former composed a novel based on the ill-fated film script.

Still, it took another age for anything to materialise from this. Finally, in 1999, Bantam Books published Lundin's first work of fantasy, under the pseudonym most of us know him by today. Gardens of the Moon garnered Steven Erikson a modest yet immodestly devoted following, and if not a win then a nomination for the World Fantasy Award. It was seen as self-contained at the time, but the book soon sparked a bidding war for further adventures in and of its empire. Thus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen - at least as we understand it - was born.

Twelve years, nine additional novels, seven to ten thousand pages (depending upon your preference for paperbacks) and approximately three million words later, Erikson's saga drew to a close with The Crippled God in 2011. The outspoken author lately allowed that he would die a happy man, knowing that the tale has been told to completion... however I'd really rather he hang on a little longer — not least because Forge of Darkness is, quite frankly, remarkable.

Stay tuned for my full review on The Speculative Scotsman tomorrow!