Monday, 28 February 2011

Short Fiction Corner | "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" by K. J. Parker

I marked a lot of firsts last year. More, I think, than can be considered entirely par for the course for a guy in his mid-20s, when short of making a baby or finally getting that blasted book published there's nothing much you can see, or do, or achieve, that in one form or another you haven't already. Yet with TSS, and the expectation that I'd have something at least faintly interesting to say to you all each day - and every day - I found myself reading more widely in 2010; giving the time of day to books and authors I'm afraid to say I'd very likely have ignored before.

Perhaps I would have ended up reading K. J. Parker one day anyway... who can say? As was, one fateful day last Summer, I cosied up with The Folding Knife in large part because its cover bore such a striking image, enjoyed its intent and intelligence a great deal - and have I looked back since? Not for a cotton-pickin' second, no.

In fact in January there I read, reviewed and rather adored The Hammer, the latest standalone novel from the pseudonymous sort, and wished upon finishing it I could somehow find the time to read it all over again, or reach back into Parker's extensive back-catalogue for one of the good old oldies of his and/or hers I'm told I've missed. A few bad eggs in a row, reading-wise - it simply wouldn't do to tell you which just yet - only served to underscore that siren song.

So I added The Company to my tower of books To Be Read, trying not to stress overly much about the entirely unreasonable sense of guilt I felt in so doing, and lo and behold, as if specifically to set my half-maddened mind at ease, along came "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong."

You can read it here - indeed I would urge you to - as part of the stonking Winter edition of Subterranean Magazine, which I count myself quite, quite proud to have subscribed to, way back when it came on paper and cost actual money (especially, I would add, in light of the Atlantic). Also featured in this issue is fiction from genre stalwarts and rising greats such as Larry Niven, Mike Resnick, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Silverberg, and another of my own favourite authors, the one, the only... Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Come on, now: you know you want to.
And as well you should.

Anyway, what with the circumstances I've explained, "A Small Price for Birdsong" was the first of the short stories I gravitated towards, and what a story, truly. I hadn't read short-form K. J. Parker before - come to that I don't know that he or (sigh) she has even written a great deal - and though I was worried such a smaller-scale narrative as in "A Small Price for Birdsong" might perhaps be unable to match up against the unimaginable cunning and the whacking great emotional impact of Parker's novels proper, it quickly came clear that whatever fears I might have harboured were for naught. This is K. J. Parker on fine form indeed, doing for music what s/he has done in the past for money... and justice; industry... and engineering.

Let me explain.

Our protagonist: a professor of the aural arts, more tolerated for his tenure at a certain academy than admired for his talent - much to his own infinite misery. Our antagonist: an esteemed student of the selfsame professor who seems frustratingly brilliant at everything he sets his sights on. This time, however, Subtilus has set his sights on murder, and when he's caught, and sentenced to death himself, he passes on his final, unfinished symphony to the professor, who must decide whether to sell it as is, or embellish a final few notes and publish it as his own.

Of course the professor's conundrum is rather complicated when Subtilus somehow escapes the noose, and returns to his master bearing an offer which, if agreed, will change the interlocking courses of both their lives.

"A Small Price for Birdsong" is a stunningly good show - a characteristically light yet more often than can be considered occasionally profound exploration of the notion of ownership, of truth as an objective fact shifting and twisting through layer upon layer of perception and subjectivity. As the student surpasses the master, and the master the student, and the weight of the world shifts to balances out the scales, Parker wrings from two typically ambiguous characters deeply at odds with one another a remarkable and natural morality play the equal of any of his or her more expansive narratives... that I've read.

I understand some readers find K. J. Parker's fiction a little cold, a little distant, and though "A Small Price for Birdsong" is perhaps a less judiciously wicked tale than we're used to from this very distinctive storyteller, if you haven't found warmth anywhere in The Folding Knife or The Hammer or The Engineer Trilogy, likely you'll struggle reading this short story too. However, for all those who've yet to experience the insidious delights of K. J. Parker - who might mayhap have wondered whether the novel-length narrative was the best place to test the waters, as it were - there can be no better place to start than here.


PS: I see Jared from Pornokitsch quite beat me to the punch as regards recommending "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong," the cock. (Speaking of which, I'm still waiting!) But certainly as far as this story goes we agree on a great many levels, and I'd urge you to pop on over there to see what he has to say about the fabbiest K. J. Parker freebie ever.

If the pair of us shouting from the blogtops what an incredible short story "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" is doesn't move you to read the goshdarned thing, I don't know what will.

Seriously, go on now. It's still free, and it's still superb...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Film Review | Black Swan, dir. Darren Aronofsky

Critics would have you believe the Canadian king of venereal horror - David Cronenberg of course - has with his latest films, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, "finally grown up." Said critics can take a flying leap as far as I'm concerned. I've been a Cronenberg devotee practically since I could put one word in front of another: watching his 1983 cult classic Videodrome at an inexcusably young age, with my eyes goggling all the while, and writing, decades later, a dissertation on the very film during my honours year at Uni. It's one of those movies I doubt I'll ever, ever forget. Birthdays, telephone numbers, the names of my grandchildren, sure, they'll be so many stale scones at the back of the bread bin - but not the sadist pirate radio of Videodrome, oh no. Nor Debbie Harry and her cigarette fetish.

However Cronenberg himself, much to this particular critic's dismay, rather seems to have - forgotten, that is. In the past decade he's gone from indescribably visceral little horror films like Rabid and Scanners and The Fly towards the more ostensibly sophisticated fare aforementioned; though I'll allow that his eye for violence has carried over. At a stretch I suppose can see why certain critics would say that shift is tantamount to some sort of cinematic adolescence... yet to conclude so would be to presuppose Cronenberg's earlier work as juvenile. And not juvenile because of a lack of thematic concern, or due to some perceived deficiency in filmmaking flair, nor his technical (or indeed artistic) understanding of the form; no, for Cronenberg has from virtually word the first demonstrated those cinematic assets in abundance. Rather, a certain element would like you to think Videodrome and its ilk childish simply because... they're horror films.

And horror is for babies. Like comic books, and fantasy fiction. You know.

Cronenberg still makes fine films, if of a dramatically different ilk than before, and that's alright. They've been pretty good, even; it's nice to see him exploring pastures new. But the notion that one should dismiss out of hand such a storied body of work as Cronenberg's, simply because a particular connotation of the genre within whose bounds he once worked has been judged unsavoury by a hoity-toity vocal minority - that somehow we should think Videodrome a lesser film than Eastern Promises because one's horror and the other's not - now that, that bothers the hell out of me.

So against the grain, I'll be rooting for Black Swan for Best Picture, come the Oscar ceremony on Sunday: a horror film by any measure - director Darren Aronofsky isn't too school for cool yet - and add to that, a terrific one. The usually wooden Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime as Nina Sayers, a bulimic ballet dancer who wins the lead in a daring new staging of Swan Lake, in which she must play both the black swan and the white. Sheltered, virginal and naive, raised by a woman whose own dreams of dancing came to an inopportune climax - for which fact Erica seems to rather resent her daughter's hard-earned success - the innocence of the white swan comes naturally to Nina, whilst the part's darker half utterly eludes her.

No closer to embodying the power and the sexuality and the spontaneity of the black swan as the grand production's opening night approaches, Nina befriends her beautiful understudy Lily, a vivacious new addition to the troupe and already our dancer in the dark's strongest competition. Seeking to understand the other, to better perform in accordance with everyone's expectations, she yearns to escape the self, and with Lily, with assistance from visionary director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell), she does. With unsettling, indeed often grotesque, results.

Black Swan however is unsettling from the first: a beautifully composed and choreographed dream sequence of sorts, of blacks and whites and darks and lights, in which Aronofsky brilliantly reveals Portman's ballet prowess, and foreshadows much of what's to come. Nina is daydreaming of dancing the very part she'll struggle so tortuously to do justice. She is the perfect white swan - and what a surprise it is, to see the cold fish  from V is for Vendetta and The Phantom Menace kick! She is pure, and beautiful, and bright. Then comes the darkness... seducing, corrupting, destroying.

Then reality snaps back - as it will again, finally, irrevocably, mere moments before the closing credits roll.

Black Swan seems a modern-day metamorphosis fable set against the very real horrors of the hellish regime professional dancers must live under, if they are to stand a chance of success. In truth, from the outside looking in, ballet does not appear an ideal backdrop for thrilling cinema, or disturbing cinema. Perfect for inspirational fluff about an underachiever overachieving, or perhaps the stuff of an artsy fartsy rom-com - but not horror. Yet in Aronofksy's hands the awfulness of hand-me-down expectations and aspirations accumulates incredibly quickly. Nina's repressed sexuality comes to the fore, and her social ineptitude, body image issues and a scarification habit. All these things coalesce with such force that the daily ritual Nina undergoes each morning, and with which the real world narrative of Black Swan begins - limbering up in front of a full-length mirror, scuffing the soles of her ballet shoes, and half a grapefruit for breakfast - the ritual comes to represent the downward spiral of her dark days begun again; a cycle, repeating relentlessly, until the very thought of it stopping is a relief unto itself.

I didn't spend so long talking about David Cronenberg for no reason, you know. Black Swan isn't simply horrific: in its later stages, when all the unbridled psychological torment Nina has had to endure explodes from beneath her still-beating breast - when at last she invites the Black Swan and all its corrupting influence in - Aronofsky's latest becomes body horror, very much in the Videodrome mode. And in a few of those moments, most notably during a visit to the emergency room and in the dressing room between acts at the very end (when sometimes her legs bend back), the body horror doesn't quite come off, seeming instead a little too literal, a touch too visceral, to sit well with the gentle suggestion Aronofsky has made a masterclass of. This director's forte has always been the unseen, the unspoken, and when at last we see the Other of our and Nina's nightmares, and hear it speak, Black Swan relinquishes an amount of its power. Nor does the dubious CG some such sequences rely on help matters. Give me pig entrails and TNT, by God, or get out!

By the final curtain call, however, what few fault there are to be found in Black Swan seem a belittling insignificance beside the disquieting magnificence of this truly graceful and utterly gripping film. In her mania, Portman is absolutely marvellous - I doubt there will ever again be a role so tailor-made to her abilities than this; the stark sensibilities of the script by McLaughlin, Heyman and Heinz are exquisite; Clint Mansell surpasses his sterling work on The Fountain with a soaring fusion of scores dramatic and operatic; and as ever, Aronosky is a treat to watch work. Whether or not he is the heir to Cronenberg's grisly mantle I suppose remains to be seen, but on the strength of Black Swan alone, he seems a more suitable candidate than any other.

And in case you were wondering, I mean that in a good way.

Were I to have a vote this Sunday, I'd cast it - and not just to be difficult (though that too) - in favour of the unlikeliest Oscar candidate of the lot: Black Swan. A horror film, thank you very much. One of the best in decades.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ask Me Anything | Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It

So that's kind of how this thing's going to work. Questions, and answers. Obviously I wrote the exemplar questions you've been seeing yesterday and today, just so we were all thinking along the same lines. Next time, it's your turn.

You can send in your questions either by email, addressed to thespeculativescotsman [at], marked with the subject header "Ask Me Anything," or I suppose, just this once, you could leave them in the comments.

But I'd really rather you sent them direct - and say how you'd prefer to be credited: by name, your chosen handle, or anonymously - because there will be prizes.

Did I not mention there'd be prizes? :D

The keyword here is irony, internets. That is unless someone
wants to take issue with my understanding of the application
of said (in which case leave off, you pedant).

Well, there will be. Prizes, I mean!

As those of you who follow The BoSS will know, I get sent quite a lot of books for review - not to too my own horn, you understand: just to explain that I simply don't have room for all the lovely books, lovely though they are. And there are lovely. But sometimes I'll get multiple copies of a thing from multiple publishers, and often enough when I've reviewed a proof I can realistically say, I'll never read that again, and short of sending these beauties along to a charity shop, there's not a lot else to do with them.

But I figure, some of you might enjoy a good free book.

Thus, the best question that comes in each time I run an Ask Me Anything - and how regularly I'll do so remains to be seen: the ball's in your court, folks - anyway, I'll declare the best question a Star Letter or some such silly thing, and personally post you a good book in need of a nice home.

Remember: nothing is off limits. Nothing is too silly or too serious, too specialist or too vague. This is just a bit of fun. God knows, it might even be interesting...

So please, by all means, if it isn't too much trouble - I'd really rather adore you if you did - Ask Me Anything, internet. Starting...

... now!

Ask Me Anything | On the Dubious Dignity of Paranormal Romance

To the Speculative schmuck.

I notice you don't seem to particularly dig paranormal romance. What's the dealio, Niallio? Do you need to get laid or something?

From "Team_Jacob97xxx"

Eh, not so much. Scotsmen are known the world over for their healthy sex drives.

We are, aren't we?

But to your other question, Team_Jacob97xxx: what an acute observation! As a rule, no, I'm not a fan of paranormal romance, nor do I have much sympathy with those readers who live for new Stephanie Meyer, say, or the next novel in Charlaine Harris' interminable Sookie Stackhouse series. Perhaps it's because I do get laid, as you say, that I simply can't grasp the appeal of such counter-counter-culture wish fulfilment, wherein a typical narrative tends to involve an innocent outcast girl falling for a sexy bad guy who's really a good guy - or perhaps even three of them - and a bunch of will they/won't they rubbish before inevitably, they do.

It certainly doesn't help matters that so many of the authors making a living writing such tosh really can't write very well. Let's face it: when you've got Stephen King making fun of your grammar, I'm of the mind that there's a rather serious problem.

Of course if there's good paranormal romance out there that I'm missing, I'd love to hear about it. I'm open to anything. So long as there's a good story to be told - and I don't mean as above but substituting in Bigfoot in place of a vampire - and the someone doing the telling can tell a story well enough, technically if not necessarily artistically speaking, then sure, I'll give it a shot and report back. It's not the genre of paranormal romance that I take issue with, so much as the badly-written boilerplate nonsense that makes up the larger part of it, so far as I can see.

Ask Me Anything | A Squabble of Squirrels

Ahoy there, Scotsman!

Is it true, then, that the squirrels are taking over?

From "NotLarryAtAll"

In a word: no.

Do not believe the squirrels, nor the puppets they pass off as men. Do not believe their lies. For instance I can exclusively reveal that at least one rather esteemed blogger - you may not know him, but many do - is in fact several thousand squirrels in a man-suit. Each squirrel operates a tiny lever connected to every conceivable motor function, and work on a shift system, with an economy and a culture all their own. And voracious reading appetites, each and every one.

In addition, I regret to report that it is true, that their technologies are far in advance of ours. And their numbers - though much reduced - still add up to a credible threat if they were to muster together as one body, and one mind. But the squirrels are a notoriously forgetful enemy, prone to distraction (to run off and never return at the slightest hint of a tree, it has been observed) and only in rare cases capable of such collectivism as aforementioned. As yet, therefore, we need not live in fear of them.

Or perhaps that's simply what they want us to think...

Ultimately, the squirrels seem a sort of phantom menace -- created, perhaps, by the actual enemy of the future. Too little spoken of given their far-reaching influence, their very existence is even refuted by some; but there will come a day, be it in our lives, or in the lives of our children or our children's children, when the terror upon everyone's lips will be... the highland Haggi!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Ask Me Anything | Matters Lucubracious

Dear Niall.

What is your favourite word? Mine is "lucubration," which means the act of studying by candlelight, at night. Pretty sweet, right?

And no, before you lambast me: it's entirely coincidental that "lucubration" so happens to be today's word of the day on

Vouchsafing my regards, "vocabnazi"

That's what she said!

Uh, anyway. I had a favourite word, but then I saw your word, and it's pretty frickin' sweet, I'll give you that. You made me defensive. I'm sorry.

But a-ha! What with this being a blog about speculative fiction, I get to select from made-up fantasy terms too, so mines is "fuligin," which is to say a shade darker even than black. +10 blogger cred, right?


Ask Me Anything | Meet Mystic Mug

Perhaps you've heard already: as of tomorrow morning, I'm off.

On holiday, I mean -- not for keeps. The other half and I mean to steal a few idyllic days in the cottage up in Skye before Easter rolls around and and the full rate-paying guests start arriving in droves.

Oh my God, someone colour-balanced Skye!
The deal with the devil we've struck for this particular break means the weather might be piss poor while we take it easy - then again, it might not - but whatever the state of the heavens, at least we'll be able to keep saving for a proper trip abroad. Africa or something like that.

A guy can dream!

Anyway. I've squirrelled away a couple of reviews to go live in my absence - a couple of goodies, too - but I don't want to give you those, no. Not just yet. Instead, I wanted to leave something on the front page for a little while that might be a laugh: an invitation, in short, to Ask Me Anything.

See one of the things I've been thinking, this last little while, is that the blogosphere could totally do with a sort of agony aunt. Ridiculous, right? But so much fun! :D

Terrifying, but not an actual agony aunt.
So someone to tell your deepest, darkest secrets to, or just to take the piss out of; someone to come to when you're struggling to decide whether to read this book or that, or if you should give such-and-such a TV show a go even though it's in imminent danger of cancellation. Someone to ask advice from, or to trade pissy little quips with, if you fancy. And someone to share your idiosyncratic reading habits with - how you can't get through a page without a steaming cup of coffee in hand, or how you have musical themes for each of the fantasy sagas you follow - and ask, Am I a total weirdo, or what?

What I'm imagining is a cross between Mystic Meg, Matt Roush who writes a column for TV Guide each week, and me.

And there we have it: the three Ms of Ask Me Anything.

Actually, the first and only official rule of Ask Me Anything is that there are no rules, so scratch that. Seriously: be an asshole if you like. Disagree with a particularly disagreeable opinion of mine... tell me I suck... ask if it's true what they say about Scottish boxers being too tight. So long as your question either is or could lead to something that's funny, or interesting, pretty much anything goes.

But there's no better way to explain what this silly little thing is than to roll out a couple of exemplars - try before you buy and all that.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Books Received | The BoSS for 20/02/11

Met the old BoSS? Well, let me introduce you to the new BoSS - same as the old BoSS, more or less... except less is more. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

All caught up? Good. Let's get on with it, then.

What a lucky sort I am, because come Monday I'm heading off on holiday: back up to a certain cottage on the lovely isle of Skye where I full well expect howling wind, torrential rain, and so forth a great whack of time I mean to spend buried in books. Handy, then, that this week's been such a strong one in terms of potential reading material...


The Crippled God
by Steven Erikson

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 21/02/11
by Bantam Press

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: Savaged by the K'Chain Nah'Ruk, the Bonehunters march for Kolanse, where waits an unknown fate. Tormented by questions, the army totters on the edge of mutiny, but Adjunct Tavore will not relent. One final act remains, if it is in her power, if she can hold her army together, if the shaky allegiances she has forged can survive all that is to come. A woman with no gifts of magic, deemed plain, unprepossessing, displaying nothing to instill loyalty or confidence, Tavore Paran of House Paran means to challenge the gods -- if her own troops don't kill her first.

Awaiting Tavore and her allies are the Forkrul Assail, the final arbiters of humanity. Drawing upon an alien power terrible in its magnitude, they seek to cleanse the world, to annihilate every human, every civilization, in order to begin anew. They welcome the coming conflagration of slaughter, for it shall be of their own devising, and it pleases them to know that, in the midst of the enemies gathering against them, there shall be betrayal. In the realm of Kurald Galain, home to the long lost city of Kharkanas, a mass of refugees stand upon the First Shore. Commanded by Yedan Derryg, the Watch, they await the breaching of Lightfall, and the coming of the Tiste Liosan. This is a war they cannot win, and they will die in the name of an empty city and a queen with no subjects.

Elsewhere, the three Elder Gods, Kilmandaros, Errastas and Sechul Lath, work to shatter the chains binding Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, and release her from her eternal prison. Once freed, she will be a force of utter devastation, and against her no mortal can stand. At the Gates of Starvald Demelain, the Azath House sealing the portal is dying. Soon will come the Eleint, and once more, there will be dragons in the world.

And so, in a far away land and beneath indifferent skies, the final cataclysmic chapter in the extraordinary Malazan Book of the Fallen begins.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Pretty much a year ago to the day, I started in on the first volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen with an eye to getting a jolly ol' readalong going. Alas, I was beaten to the punch, and perhaps it was as well, for the few hundred pages of Gardens of the Moon I read while in Skye last time spoke of a commitment I probably wasn't ready to make.

But I'm all growed up now, and I'll be taking a suitcase-full of Steven Erikson on holiday with me this week. Granted, I've got rather a lot of catching up to do before I get to The Crippled God, the tenth and (sort of) final volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen - this isn't a wager I expect to win quickly, but win it I will... one day.

I'm tremendously excited at the prospect, too. Having a completed series of such esteem in hand from first to last tends to do that to me.

The Cypress House
by Michael Koryta

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 17/03/11
by Hodder & Stoughton

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: Arlen Wagner has seen it in men before - a trace of smoke in their eyes that promises imminent death. He is never wrong.

When Arlen and his young companion Paul Brickhill are stranded at the Cypress House with a hurricane approaching, Paul won’t abandon the boarding house’s enigmatic mistress Rebecca to face the storm alone.

But Arlen’s gift warns him that if they stay too long, they may never leave.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Sure, it was a bit silly, but I really rather enjoyed So Cold the River - quite simply the best haunted mineral water novel in existence - so I'm good and psyched to get an early start on the second of one-time PI Michael Kortya's award-winners to brave the crossing between publishers on either side of the Atlantic. And from the sounds of it, The Cypress House should make for perfect holiday reading.

As a matter of fact, it's keeping Steven Erikson company in my bag as we speak!

Trouble and Her Friends
by Melissa Scott

Vital Statistics
Published in the US
on 01/02/11
by Orb Books

Review Priority
3 (We'll See)

The Blurb: India Carless, alias Trouble, managed to stay one step ahead of the feds until she retired from life as a hacker and settled down to run a small network for an artist’s co-op.

Now someone has stolen her pseudonym and begun to use it for criminal hacking. So Trouble returns. Once the fastest gun on the electronic frontier, she has been called out of retirement for one last fight. And it’s a killer.

Less than a hundred years from now, the forces of law and order crack down on the world of the internet. It is the closing of the frontier. The hip, noir adventurers who got by on wit, bravado, and drugs, who haunt the virtual worlds of the shadows of cyberspace are up against the edges of civilization. It’s time to adapt or die.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Originally released in 1994, this reissue of Trouble and Her Friends is either an unsung cyberpunk classic... or feminist science fiction "very consciously written to flout the conventions of traditional cyberpunk" - that is according to one for-all-intents-and-purposes astute Amazon reviewer. For myself, going by the blurb and the first few pages, I can't quite decide.

Trouble and Her Friends isn't so immediately appealing that it'll be coming to the Highlands and Islands of bonnie Scotland with me, but I'll say it's certainly piqued my interest enough that I plan to give it the old one-over upon my return.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing
by Jasper Fforde

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 22/02/11
by Hodder & Stoughton

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: It is a time of unrest in the BookWorld. Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the peace talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the RealWorld or is this something more sinister?

All is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, eager to prove herself worth of her illustrious namesake.

The written Thursday is soon hot on the trail of her factual alter-ego, and quickly stumbles upon a plot so fiendish that it threatens the very BookWorld itself.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: I'm getting around to thinking such baffling plot synopses as above must be par for the course when it comes to Jasper Fforde, because the blurb borne upon the back of Shades of Grey had quite the same effect on my tiny mind when a copy of said came through the door late last year.

I hate to say I haven't gotten around to that one just yet - I had totally meant to, too - but the latest from Jasper Fforde, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, sounds every bit as superb and whimsical as Shades of Grey. Time permitting I'll surely be reading it at some point in the next few weeks: it's good and packed alongside The Cypress House and my aforementioned Malazan fun - though I expect I'll dig into those before this.

The Shape of Things to Come
by H. G. Wells

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 17/02/11
by Gollancz

Review Priority
3 (We'll See)

The Blurb: When a diplomat dies in the 1930s, he leaves behind a book of 'dream visions' he has been experiencing, detailing events that will occur on Earth for the next two hundred years. This fictional 'account of the future' (similar to Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon) proved prescient in many ways, as Wells predicts events such as the Second World War, the rise of chemical warfare and climate change.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Last but not least for this edition of The BoSS - well, not really - another gorgeous clothbound book to sit alongside the veritable library of time-honoured genre literature Gollancz have been thoughtfully reissuing while we've all been staring off into the horizon, at Peter Orullian and Patrick Rothfuss and such.

I'm afraid I'm rather taken with a few of tomorrow's novels myself, at this very moment in time, but kicking back with one of H. G. Wells's lattermost classics when I can find a few hours sounds like a very fine plan indeed.


That's it for this week. But never fear: the nearly-new and probably only moderately improved BoSS will be back at the same bat-time next week, in the same bat-place. See you then!

Except no, I won't... because I'll be on holiday, remember? Thus the BoSS will be taking a wee break too, for me to finally catch up on a few of the lovely-jubbly books I've been talking about BUT NOT READING this last little while.

On the docket, then, there's Jasper Fforde, Michael Kortya, The Unremembered, The Long Song, Halo: Cryptum and a generous second helping of Steven Erikson - which here's hoping goes down a touch easier than the first. What a busy little Scotsman I'm going to be.

Wish me happy holidays! :)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Trailer Trash | Isla de los Muertos

With marketing calendars so stuffed as to leave nary a day bereft of some huge news, these days when a game falls off the radar for any length of time you get to expecting the only news of it you'll here going forward will be of its untimely demise - a la the latest tragedy to befall Mirror's Edge 2, just a few days ago.

Not so with Dead Island, seemingly. In fact by all appearances, Polish developers Techland have been pretty goshdarned busy since announcing Dead Island in 2007. They've found themselves a fairly reputable publisher in Deep Silver. They've got enough code together to have demoed a sliver of gameplay to certain elements of the pressAnd they've put together a trailer.

If you haven't already, for shame! You really must watch it:

Released yesterday to some pretty ecstatic raves, the three minute piece Techland put together to officially out their melee-focused zombie survival horror (come RPG I dare say)  certainly looks the part. Moreover it feels it, too. But I'd like to think we're all adults here. We must know by now how incredibly deceptive trailers often are, and much as I might hope Dead Island is gaming's answer to The Reapers Are The Angels - rather than the Autumn of Dead Rising 2 - I sincerely doubt it will be.

I first saw the beautifully staged action embedded above over at Dark Horizons, where Garth Franklin writes that "The setting, piano score and emotional character focus of the trailer remind me of Lost [and] the structure is akin to Memento."

High praise - and perhaps there's a case for it. Dead Island can certainly lay claim to having a seriously sweet trailer, but it's much too early to tell much of anything about the game itself. Let's not set ourselves up for a fall. Bear in mind all we've seen of Dead Island so far is CG: no gameplay. And this is a game, not a CG movie.

...also it's coming from the studio which gave us Pet Racer and its world-renowned sequel Pet Soccer.

But I shouldn't be such an dick: Techland also gave the world Call of Juarez, and its sequel Bound in Blood - easily the best in class in western-themed video games before Red Dead Redemption came along and knocked all our socks off in 2010.

So they're capable developers when they sets their minds to it. There is hope!

For the very moment, however, let's not stoke the fires of our hearts with thoughts of a zombie video game with the sort of auteurish aspirations Garth has alludes to... not till we know a great deal more about Dead Island.

(Which I don't believe for a second will meet its projected 2011 street date, incidentally. More likely you'll see it - at the earliest - in the Spring of next year, on Xbox 360 and PS3.)

Press Release Your Luck | Stormdancing On Ice

In the darkest reaches of a new, improved, Aeroglass-infused taskbar, my email client of choice: Mozilla Thunderbird. And in Mozilla Thunderbird... a certain inbox.

(My own, as a matter of fact. I'm really a league behind on the emails at the moment; if you're waiting on a reply, I'm hoping to be good and caught up before I'm off on me hols - which is to say Monday. So there's that.)

Anyway. In that inbox, in that email client, pinned to that there taskbar - the very one! - a press release, would you believe. From the UK arm of the publishing monolith Tor, the announcement of a novel due sometime in 2012 from Melbourne-based author Jay Kristoff:

"Stormdancer is a dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan and follows Yukiko and her warrior father who are sent on an impossible mission to capture a legendary Thunder Tiger – a griffin. But an accident means Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, broken-winged griffin for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, and even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is that he’d rather see her dead than help her. 

"Meanwhile, the country around them is on the brink of collapse. A toxic poppy-based fuel is slowly killing the land; the omnipotent, metal-clad Guild is publicly burning those that they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own power.

"In hopes of saving her country – and herself - Yukiko must earn the griffin’s trust to become a symbol to her people; a myth, a legend... 

"...a Stormdancer."

A Scotsman's thoughts, then, conveniently arranged in the order I thought them:

  • My, that's a lot of genre buzzwords, isn't it? And all at once like that. Digital crispy bacon to the first person who can name another dystopian steampunk fantasy set in feudal Japan!
  • With griffins too, eh? Well then.
  • I drawn the line at toxic puppies myself. To think someone would take things a step too far and then somehow harvest fuel from the toxic puppies too. Imagine!
  • Wait... poppies? Well, I take it back. Poppies are totally evil within acceptable tolerances.

Obviously there's a long distance to travel yet between here and the day I get to properly go on about toxic puppies, but for all that I might raise an eyebrow at Stormdancer's rather overblown early synopsis, I trust in Julie Crisp, whom you might recall brought us the awesomeness that was Alden Bell's The Reapers Are The Angels last year - only the last rise on a mountain of sumptuous speculative fiction she's acquired on Tor's behalf - and of Stormdancer she has the following to say:

"This is an incredibly imaginative and well-executed fantasy... a wonderful read that everyone in-house fell in love with."

So I'm in.

But what do you guys think?