Monday, 1 November 2010

The BoSS for 01/11/10

Now that we're done Trick or Treating, The BoSS returns triumphant as ever - and not a moment too soon, because let me tell you: the books don't stop coming when I've got my back turned.

What with the temporary hiatus in honour of all the spooky Halloween fun, I've loads of bookish goodies to tell you about, so why don't we get right to them?

For the moment, click through to Meet the BoSS for an introduction and an explanation as to why you should care about the Bag o' Speculative Swag, or 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.


Surface Detail
by Iain M. Banks

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
07/10/10 by Orbit

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

"Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether."

Commentary: I told this story in abbreviated form on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, but indulge me. Couple of years ago - couple of girlfriends ago, as a matter of fact - my then-partner and I attended what was to be the recording of a BBC Radio 4 book club programme all about The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks' perversely fascinating debut. We'd spent a week re-reading and comparing notes, thinking up questions we'd put to the man when when the day came. We were properly excited.

Well, the day came. The man... didn't.

Didn't even call in to say he was running late, or looking like he mightn't be able to make it after all. Nothing. Everyone - there must have been about 30 of us - sat around chatting for two, three hours in the hopes he'd materialise, but no such luck. Auntie laid on a budget buffet and copious quantities of complimentary red wine, so I guess the day wasn't entirely for naught... but I haven't read an Iain Banks book since.

What must be nearly a decade on, I'm thinking I've probably made my point. I've only read one of The Culture books - the very first, way back when - and I did enjoy it, so perhaps it's come time to let bygones be bygones and start in on the series afresh. As a matter of fact, I smell something of a readalong coming on... but sssshh. You mustn't tell anyone you heard it here first!

Birth of a Killer
by Darren Shan

Release Details:
Published in the UK on 30/09/10
by Harper Collins Children's Books

Review Priority:
2 (Fair)

Plot Synopsis: "Following the massive success of the Demonata series, Darren Shan is back where it all started – telling the life story of the vampire Larten Crepsley. Spanning centuries and continents, taking in sea voyages, murder, war and love, this is the epic, bloodsoaked tale of a vampire who started out a nobody... and ended up changing the world forever.

"When Larten escapes the terrible workhouse in which he toils, he doesn’t know that he is running from an early death… into another kind of transformation. After meeting the mysterious vampire Seba Nile while sheltering for the night in a crypt, Larten finds himself drawn into the shadowy world of the vampire Clan. As he travels and learns, Larten finds himself enjoying the adventure he has always dreamed of, seeing a world beyond any he suspected in his poverty-stricken youth.

"But Larten begins to discover something else, too. Much like death, becoming a vampire is something you can’t come back from..."

Commentary: Can't say I've ever read Darren Shan, and though Birth of a Killer is the first in a new series for the author, I understand The Saga of Larnten Crepsley is a prequel to The Saga of Darren Shan, which is both off-putting and... oddly meta.

Anyone willing to fight the good fight and recommend I give Darren Shan's latest a try?

Dark Matter
by Michelle Paver

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
21/10/09 by Orion

Review Priority:
5 (Immediate)

Plot Synopsis: "'What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?' January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return - when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark."

Commentary: I should have a review of Dark Matter up on the site in the very near future. This short and bittersweet book arrived right when I needed something modest to break up a pair of intimidating fantasy tomes, and I confess, it took me by surprise. Easily the equal of next month's The Silent Land - which you can read my thoughts on here.

The Rebel Prince
by Celine Kiernan

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
07/10/10 by Orbit

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Wynter is at last reunited with the exiled Prince Alberon, as he plots insurgency from his forest encampment. But she is losing faith with her companions, as they attempt to drive Alberon's plans in different directions. Caught between Razi's complex diplomacy, Alberon's desire for martial strength and Christopher's fierce personal loyalty, Wynter finds herself torn. Can she combine these philosophies, and find a way to heal the rift between king and heir? Or will each side destroy the other, causing Wynter to lose everything she holds dear? She fears the answers lie veiled in conflict and loss."

Commentary: What a bloody surprise... I'm behind again.

Now I didn't exactly adore The Poison Throne when I read and reviewed it back in April, but I enjoyed the first of the lovely Celine Kiernan's Moorehawke books enough to give the others a shot as and when they arrived. And now both sequels have: this and The Crowded Shadows. Aaaah!

I'm gonna have to get to it, aren't I?

So who's been keeping up with young Miss Wynter?

Version 43
by Philip Palmer

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
01/11/10 by Orbit

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "The odds of surviving quantum teleportation to the Exodus Universe are, more or less, fifty/fifty. The only ones crazy enough to try it are the desperate, the insane and those sentenced to death for their crimes. Belladonna is home to the survivors and, in a planet run by criminals and desperados, death is commonplace. But a particularly horrific (and improbable) killing attracts the Galactic Police force, and a cyborg cop is sent to investigate. Version 43 has been here before, and has old scores to settle. The cop was human once, but is now more programme than man. And he intends to clean up this planet, permanently, whatever the cost."

Commentary: Sounds... fun? A bit like... Tom Holt?

I don't know. Please, someone better read in satirical sci-fi, fill me in! Is this something I should give the time of day to?

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
by David Sedaris

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
28/09/10 by Little, Brown

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "This collection of sharply observed animal-themed tales is a delight, told with David Sedaris's trademark blend of hilarity and goodnaturedness. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of our own everyday interactions. In 'The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck', three strangers commiserate about animal bureaucracy while waiting in a complaint line. In 'Hello Kitty', a cynical feline struggles to sit through his prison-mandated AA meetings. In 'The Squirrel and the Chipmunk', a pair of star-crossed lovers is separated by prejudiced family members."

Commentary: Now this sounds a right treat!

Back in the day, before I learned how to drive, I'd borrow my Dad's car every couple of weeks to take the aforementioned ex out for a food or a film, you know. If I brought it back late, I didn't get a ride home, and I'll be honest: I brought the car back late more often than I did on time. So there were a lot of long walks home. Just me and my mp3 player.

Would you credit it, I had a David Sedaris audiobook somewhere on that old-ass Walkman, and me and he, we got acquainted. Of course, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is something of a departure for Sedaris. It could be utter rubbish. But I think not: Sedaris has a charming with words, a way of painting people and pictures of unlikely situations that I imagine will translate nicely to these fictional vignettes. This, I'll say, is a bestiary I can get behind!

Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
28/09/10 by Macmillan

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "A huge novel that follows five families through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for votes for women.

"It is 1911. The Coronation Day of King George V. The Williams, a Welsh coal-mining family, is linked by romance and enmity to the Fitzherberts, aristocratic coal-mine owners. Lady Maud Fitzherbert falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German Embassy in London. Their destiny is entangled with that of an ambitious young aide to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and to two orphaned Russian brothers, whose plans to emigrate to America fall foul of war, conscription and revolution.

"In a plot of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, Fall of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty."

Commentary: You can thank Starz's gloriously melodramatic adaptation of The Pillars of the Earth for turning me on to this one, the latest from Ken Follett, leader of the epic historical fiction pack. Fall of Giants sees Follett graduate from the middle ages to near-enough the modern era for a tale of intrigue in the Motherland that will, when completed, chart a century in the life of a certain Russian family; from great to good to cold to freezing - in that order.

Also, it's big. At close to a thousand pages, it'll take me some serious time to get through Fall of Giants, but if it's anything approaching the level of awesome that was The Pillars of the Earth, you can count on seeing a review... let's say sometime in the next century! :D

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