COLUMN: Fire is Catching! So Let’s Burn, Baby…

Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Eleventh [Nov 2015]

 “Shirts are always of thin material with long, floppy sleeves. They are normally worn without UNDERWEAR, and do not seem very warm. If you are prone to feel the cold, you are advised not to visit the SNOWBOUND NORTH.”

—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones

AT TIME OF writing over here in the UK, we are still basking in the celebration of Spectre and all that is Bond, James Bond o’course. The latest Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay 2, is just about to launch at cinemas, and the next Star Wars epic is hovering on the horizon, ready to smash more box-office records than may have yet been invented.

RedRising1-3Why do I mention this? Well, as it happens, Red Rising (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) by Pierce Brown was launched a few years back, and despite being a story ostensibly set on a colonised Mars, has been favourably compared to the original Hunger Games tale: Red Rising takes the whole concept of ‘gaming to maintain the social status quo’ and moves it several notches along the ‘gruesomely violent’ track in a story typically full of subterfuge and all-round deception. Now, while this first story in Pierce Brown’s trilogy was an extended tale of a low-born ‘red’ miner who undergoes a complete physical- and bio-engineered body overhaul to compete with the ‘golds’ of society, the second book, Golden Son (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015), manages – unbelievably – to move things onto a whole new plateau of uber-violence. As well as better writing, Golden Son combines some of the key elements of Hollywood storytelling from Spectre and Star Wars to introduce lots more backstabbing, infinitely more brutal carnage, and a whole lot more self-examination… And as such, makes for another cracking read. That said, one wonders where the third book, Morning Star (Hodder & Stoughton, Jan 2016), is going to take things, but here’s a confession: I am salivating at the very thought…

AftermathSticking with Hollywood for the moment, the supremely talented Chuck Wendig turned his hand to a Journey to Star Wars novelisation earlier this year – one of a series of prequel and/or expanded universe tales by an assortment of authors. Aftermath (Del Rey, 2015) by Chuck Wendig is one of the better ones I suspect, and spent three weeks in the New York Times Best Seller Lists back in September. I was a tad late to the party, but boy am I glad I finally made it – this is the way tie-in novels ought to be done, and if you missed it the first time round, it’ll be available in paperback within the first half of 2016.

The House of Shattered Wings (Gollancz, 2015) by Aliette de Bodard is another corker from the pen of an author whose imaginary worlds are quite simply, awesome. HouseOfShatteredWingsSet in a post-apocalyptic Paris gothique, it tells of the magic-fuelled war between several ailing Great Houses wherein fallen angels and gifted humans all have their part to play in the power games that follow when House Silverspires is torn apart from within. Great story-telling, evocative prose, and a setting to die for. Great stuff, and highly recommended.

Maresi_v2Regular readers will know I like to shine a light on Independent Publishers every so often, so it’s with some delight that I received an early proof copy of Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, due to be published in hardback by Pushkin Press in January. Labelled as YA, it’s a harrowing tale of a girl on the run (not Maresi, ironically) who finds solace and sisterhood behind the blessed walls of the Red Abbey on a secluded island inhabited solely by women. Of course, things don’t stay like that when the men she is on the run from turn up looking for her, and the Maresi of the title is witness to this. It’s a relatively short tale, but reminded me very much of Sarah Pinborough’s The Death House – those who have been paying attention will know that I adore lots of Pinborough’s stuff (incl. The Death House), so this is high praise indeed.

TwelveKings_US coverAs fantasy sagas go, I am not sure if Twelve Kings (Gollancz, 2015) by Bradley Beaulieu has been an easy one to miss – it’s a 600-page doorstop of a book, and despite a great premise of immortal kings being overthrown by a dark secret within their ranks, spends way too much time building a world and setting (400+ pages) before driving an express train through it to tidy everything up and race to the finish. Not entirely satisfying, but it does set things up well for the next volume, and it is a splendid world he’s built, truth be told.

And finally, Robert Silverberg will be celebrating his 81st birthday in January 2016, and has a body of work that numbers in the thousands (incl. those written under his many pseudonyms), and yet Lord Valentine’s Castle and the world of Majipoor remain his most popular. So here’s a couple of others worth seeking out that still have much relevance even today… The Time Hoppers (1967) is set in a familiar world suffering overpopulation and unemployment; Dying Inside (1972) tells of a man blessed and cursed by the same ability: reading people’s minds; and At Winter’s End (1988) is a tale full to bursting with imagination and pathos. As diverse as they are, any and all of these titles will serve as an amazing and healthy re-introduction to a master of his craft – go seek them out, have a read, and then tell me I’m wrong… Go on, off with you. Now. Begone.

Adios, ‘til next time!

* This column originally appeared in the
January/February 2016 issue of BTS Book Reviews



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