Sunday, 25 April 2010

The BoSS for 25/04/10

Wasn't last week's edition of the BoSS a doozy? Well this time out, tough though it must have been for the various proofs and advance reading copies which have arrived over the past seven days to keep pace with the likes of China Mieville, Philip Pullman, Peter V. Brett and David Mitchell... they've made it a much closer race than I'd have thought possible. Two books in particular stand out: Black Hills by Dan Simmons and Stories, the forthcoming collection of shorts edited by and featuring contributions from Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio I was lucky enough to recieve a manuscript of. Which isn't to slight the rest of this week's exciting haul...

Click through to read Meet the BoSS for an introduction and an explanation as to why you should care about the Bag o' Speculative Swag.

Read on for a sneak peek at some of the books - past, present and future - you can expect to see coverage of here on The Speculative Scotsman in the coming weeks and months.


Black Hills
by Dan Simmons

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
01/04/10 by Quercus Books

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Paha Saha is a Red Indian shaman who as a young boy at the Battle of Little Bighorn takes the ghost of the dying General Custer into his own body. Sixty years later, as an old man working as a dynamiter on Mount Rushmore, he plots to blow it up. Meanwhile, Custer finds himself trapped in a strange, dark place and begins to write sensuous, heartbreaking missives to his beloved wife.

"Thus begins an intricate narrative that sweeps across decades of American history, building up a portrait of one country's relentless expansion and what was lost and destroyed in its path. Black Hills is historical fiction with Dan Simmons' trademark twist. He weaves in real places, events and people with his own uniquely weird take on reality to create a portrait of a world that is hilarious and tragic, spiritual and disturbing."

Commentary: As I explained a few weeks ago, I love me a little polar exploring, so it's no surprise that The Terror - an epic tale of Ernest Shackleton's lost expedition to break through the legendary North-West passage - is one of my very favourite fictions of all time. Add to that: I've been reading Dan Simmons for a long time - in point of which fact, Hyperion was one of the first sci-fi novels I read in what I consider my adult life - and though I found the overlong and self-indulgent Drood rather lacking, I nevertheless enjoyed it for the most part. Black Hills, his latest, is significantly shorter than Simmons' last tomes, with less potential for limitless digression; a step in the right direction, if you ask me. To my dismay, the premise doesn't seem to involve the Antarctic at all... but I won't let that put me off.

The Reapers Are the Angels
by Alden Bell

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
03/09/10 by Tor

Review Priority:
2 (Fair)

Plot Synopsis: "God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...

"Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.

"This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves. When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right, if she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she's made enemies.

"Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense..."

Commentary: The review priority for this one is only so low because its release date is so far out, and I don't personally see the sense in writing about books readers won't be able to get their hands on for another six months - as is the case with Alden Bell's very promising debut. Nevertheless, I'll say that The Reapers Are the Angels looks brilliant by all rights. The premise is excellent, the narrative twist neat, and what I've read of the prose... it's just lovely. Can't wait to get started on this one in earnest.

by Gareth L. Powell

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
10/04/10 by Pendragon Press

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "In an age where interstellar travel is dangerous and unpredictable, and no-one knows exactly where they'll end up, Avril Bradley is a Communications officer onboard a ship sent to re-contact as many of these lost souls as possible.

"But a mysterious explosion strands her in a world of political intrigue, espionage and subterfuge; a world of retired cops, digital ghosts and corporate assassins who fight for possession of computer data that had lain undisturbed for almost a century..."

Commentary: Nice and short, and with Black Hills and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet occupying me at the moment, a quickie would be a fine thing. Gareth L. Powell is a fairly active twitterer whose path I've occasionally crossed on that network, but this'll be my first experience of his fiction. I hope for good things. With less than 100 pages to fill, it shouldn't fall to the endless galaxy-spanning worldbuilding that's put me off science fiction in the past. I've been away from the genre for far too long and Silversands, if it's up to the task, could well be the book to win me back over.

The Whisperers
by John Connolly

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
13/05/10 by Hodder & Stoughton

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "The border between Maine and Canada is porous. Anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people.

"Now a group of disenchanted former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men's hearts.

"But the soldiers' actions have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector..."

Commentary: Hmm. Crime fiction? Perhaps, but from trolling a few other advance reviews, it's not as simple as all that. "A visionary brand of neo-noir," says the Irish Times, with a "macabre narrative... couched in prose that is often allusive and poetic," adds the Independent. And it came with a soundtrack CD - music to read the book by - which tickles a particular fancy of mine. The Whisperers isn't, perhaps, the sort of fare you'd expect The Speculative Scotsman to read, but what do you know? From time to time - though there have been significantly fewer such opportunities since I jump-started the blog - I do dip my toes into other genres. Thus, this sounds like a great break from all the fantasy fare I've been indulging in as of late, and though I've read neither a Charlie Parker book nor indeed anything by John Connolly in the past, I very much mean to get to this before its release date.

Edited by Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
15/06/10 by Headline Review

Review Priority:
5 (Immediate)

Plot Synopsis: "One hell of a huge book of great, exciting stories which will become a uniting force for readers of all forms of imaginative fiction.

"Rather than being dictated by genre, for co-editors Gaiman and Sarrantonio there is only one true distinction in fiction: the one dividing realistic and imaginative fiction. Stories is a collection of the very best original fiction from some of the most imaginative writers in the world, as well as a showcase for some of fiction's newer stars."

Commentary: With contributions from Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio themselves, as well as all-new tales from Richard Adams, Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Diana Wynne Jones, Gene Wolfe, Joe Hill - and the list goes on - Stories looks like it could be the anthology of 2010. And there's no shortage of prestigious competition in that arena, with George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois' Songs of Love and Death and Sympathy for the Devil from editor Tim Pratt uppermost on my radar. But those collections will have to pull something more impressive than a surprise bunny from their respective hats to outdo the promise of original fiction from such an incredible and wide-ranging selection of authors. Stories could be a compelling argument against genre itself.


  1. You might get on with The Book of Lost Things by Connolly (hints of Mythago Wood) - no idea what his mysteries are like, though...

  2. Guilty as charged, I did jump on 'Reapers' a little early... There were zombies though, I couldn't help it :o)
    I hope you like it.

  3. No slight intended, Graeme! In fact, let me change my tune a bit: I can indeed see early reviews such as your piece on Reapers serving a purpose. How else to know what books to look out for when eventually they hit store shelves than from advance buzz?

    I mean to read this one as soon as I can, though I'll probably hold my review over till sometime during the Summer. What can I say? I can't resist a good zombie yarn either!

  4. ARGH NO! Don't read The Whisperers out of sequence with the rest of the Charlie Parker novels! There's a huge sweeping, slow-burn supernatural plot and character arc happening throughout the course of the novels that ( I think) would be ruined by diving in at the end first. I'm a big John Connolly fan ( though some of the books are a little rambling for my tastes ) and I think this series is well worth investing the time in, but please start at the begining! Pleeeeeaaassseeee