Sunday 28 February 2010

Opinionated Speculations: eBooks and iPads

Over at his blog, Stephen Deas - author of The Adamantine Palace and The King of Crags, which The Speculative Scotsman will be reading shortly - answers a question that I've often pondered myself. Regarding e-books.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In and around the blogosphere, we hear a lot about e-books. In particular, Jeff C over at the wonderful Fantasy Book News and Reviews has much to say about the emerging medium, but there are others beyond him - and no shortage of them. In fact, there's enough talk about e-books and the various readers with which to consume said that of late, I've felt increasingly pressured to drop the however many hundreds of pounds I don't have and get with the damn programme.

To be perfectly honest, though, it's only lately that I've considered buying an e-book reader to read actual books on. I've had my eye on the market since the very earliest news of Sony's first piece of hardware; I had a real geek crush on that initial bit of tech, but in the end, I wasn't in a great place financially when it finally arrived on the market, so I didn't take the plunge. Besides which, my hope has always been for a colour reader that I could get back into comics through.

I used to read a whole bunch of comic books. These days, I don't, but not because I became disillusioned with the medium, or fell out of love at all. I only stopped buying my stack of Vertigo and indie efforts because of the sheer cost of them, firstly, and the incredible amount of space they'd begun to take up. There are very few comics I'd care to read more than once, ultimately, and I made such a pittance selling on those I didn't love enough to keep that the proposition just stopped making sense. I started on the graphic novels, but that didn't last either; the very same problems were inherent there, too.

As I say, I've never stopped wanting to read Fables, Finder or The Walking Dead, nor anything by Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, but before the recently announced iPad, the only available readers were black and white, and comics without colour would be like bread without butter. Hell with that, especially considering the expense.

With the iPad on the near horizon, however, the equation, for me, has changed. I'll certainly wait to see what support there is for e-comics before I trade the big bucks for what is essentially a tablet PC, but the temptation is greater now than ever before.

And yet, since I launched TSS in the New Year, the urge to buy an e-book reader of some description has changed again. There's the pressure I've already mentioned, but add to that the fact that I've been offered PDFs and epub files for review months in advance of actual printed proofs, and I've had no choice but to turn them down, with hat in hand and the excuse that I'm a veritable luddite when it comes to literature that isn't printed on trees. I feel like an old man who can't find his way around a keyboard - no offense intended to any computer illiterate old men who are reading, incidentally.

On Tuesday, a post from Stephen Deas prompted me to reconsider yet again. He reports that, at the annual Orion party, discussions were had regarding the actual market-share of e-books. Better you hear it from the horse's mouth. You can read the original article in its entirety here, but for your convenience, dear readers, a brief excerpt:

"Amid the Amazon vs. Macmillan malarkey, iPads and other shenanigans and the poorly advertised possibly-not-actually-a-fact that the e-book version of The Adamantine Palace will have something pushing 60,000 words of extra material in it, I’d somehow gained the impression that e-books were, somehow, well, y’know, important? Apparently not. According to Peter Roche, chief executive of the Orion Publishing Group, there is the possibility that e-books will expand greatly in 2010, possibly up to a whopping great 2% of total sales. Woo-hoo."

Now hang on just a minute. A 2% share of a market that's dwindling year-on-year would represent a great expansion? Well... I guess I'm not so behind the times at all.

I don't doubt that e-books will go on to become a much more significant endeavour, perhaps even to equal old-fashioned printed equivalents in the not-too-distant, but I'm truly staggered at the disparity between the frequent talk of them around the blogosphere versus the reality of what, when you come right down to it, is their miniscule appeal.

In light of Stephen's comments, I think it's safe to say I'll be waiting for the inevitable next iteration of Apple's no doubt soon-to-be ubiquitous iPad. Either that, or for the price of the initial model to come down far enough that I don't feel as if I'm wasting hard-earned on tomorrow's technology today. The comics I've missed have waited this long, and while I'll have to keep turning down offers of e-books for review, in the end, who doesn't prefer the reassuring solidity of a real novel anyway?

I'll get an e-book reader one of these days - I will! The only upshot of all this is: today just isn't that day.

On the other hand, did someone mention that there'd be an extra 60,000 words worth of content in the electronic edition of The Adamantine Palace? For those of you further ahead of the curve than I, that's a hell of a bonus...

Saturday 27 February 2010

From Your Blogosphere Correspondent (27/02/10)

Well, it's nearly time for me to disappear off into the great good night, and what better note is there to leave on than the weekly derring-do of Your Blogosphere Correspondent.

So much has happened since the last round-up that it's hard to know where to start. Let's begin with... *rolls dice*... news from Brandon Sanderson, another of the legion of landmark fantasy writers none of whose work I've yet read - although in my defense, I did order all three of the Mistborn books the other day!

Anyway, Sanderson recently updated his LiveJournal to reflect the progress he's made on the second-to-last novel in The Wheel of Time, the opus of the late, great Robert Jordan. Already clocking in at round about 300,000 words - longer even than The Gathering Storm - Sanderson asserts that though he's shy of perhaps another 50k and his usual in-depth edits, but Towers of Midnight should be meeting its Spring 2011 release date easily, if not shouldering its titanic way into an earlier publication period, potentially as early as Christmas this year. Thanks to an aside from the lovely Aidan over at A Dribble of Ink for parsing this news in a way even I could understand it.

I'll be perfectly honest: I'm more interested in The Stormlight Archive, an original fantasy saga Sanderson has in the works. I've come so late to some of these milestone series that it'd be great to get in on a few of them from the ground floor for once. Then again, I've got Mistborn to tide me over till The Way of Kings makes it into my bloggery paws; no doubt that should keep me plenty entertained in the interim.

Moving on, the superhero movie news has been coming thick and fast this week. io9 reports on a wave of rumours that early scouting is underway for suitable locations to shoot the third of Christopher Nolan's rebooted Batman films. One "unnamed" source even goes so far as to assert that sets are in the process of being constructed, and that filming could begin as soon as late 2010. That's this year!

Of course, take all this with a pinch of salt. In fact, no: take it with a whole mine of the stuff. I don't believe this news for a second. For one thing, the paramount reason unnamed sources don't want to be identified is because they're as like as not sourcing their reports from thin bloody air. And given that talk of a script, a treatment or villains has hardly even started, I can't imagine anyone's been daft enough to start building sets or scouting for locations. When no-one has a clue what Nolan has planned for the caped crusader's third turnabout, what would be the point?

Enough wishful thinking. Summer 2012 is the very earliest we'll be seeing what one must presume will be the last of Nolan's Batman trilogy, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it slipped another year into the future. In the meantime, who wants to play the guessing game with me? Given Batman Begins and the events of the last moments of The Dark Knight, I'd put good money down on the third film being called Batman Ends. Any other potential titles you'd care to share, readers? I'm all ears. Bat-ears, even.

Continuing the World's Finest theme, more solid news broke recently that David Goyer, co-writer of The Dark Knight among other things, has been taken on to write The Man of Steel, which is to say the next Superman film. On the up side, early reports suggest that this isn't another reboot. On the down side, Goyer clearly isn't the reason the aforementioned Batman films have been so incredible; we've the Nolans to thank for that, I think.

Discount those movies from Goyer's writing credits and you have a clearer picture of the man's capabilities. We're left with the Blade trilogy, The Unborn, Jumper, TV's FlashForward... largely a lot of average, if not dreadful stuff. Thanks to the Batman films, Goyer has some serious good will behind him, but I can't imagine that will ultimately make The Man of Steel any better.

Don't mind me, though; after all, I had a whale of a time with Superman Returns. Perhaps it wasn't action-packed enough for some, but I thought it was brave, perfectly cast and, you know... fun. Who's with me?

Still on the film tack, I'm pleased to report that things have been looking up of late for the April reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street. With a fantastic set report on Dark Horizons followed shortly by a positive puff piece on io9, I'll admit that I was begin to wonder if this movie mightn't be as appalling as I'd imagined. And then a new trailer was released:

If you can ignore the brief Michael Bay bit and the trademark evil laugh at the very end, well... tell me that doesn't look like a great time. Slick and atmospheric - against all the odds, eh?

And back to books. Last of the big news, but not least amongst it, would you believe that Scott Lynch is finally done with the oft-delayed third novel of The Gentlemen Bastards? Well, if Adam Whitehead of The Wertzone is to be believed - and I've no reason to doubt such a fine fellow - The Republic of Thieves is, at last, finished!


Well. At the very least, the manuscript is now out of his hands, and in his publisher's, which - unless it's an absolute mess, and there's always that possibility - means there aren't likely to be any more delays. In terms of a likely release date, Spring 2011 looks like a goer.

Honestly, I really enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, but Lynch has been hammering one nail after another into his literary coffin since, for my money. It's not that the delays have bothered me particularly - his promise to somehow churn out a new book in the series every year made me nervous in the first place, a belief which Red Seas Under Red Skies only reinforced - but given that he's still, let's be honest, a new author, with the way he's systematically maligned his fans on his LiveJournal and insulted everyone's intelligence elsewhere, it seems to The Speculative Scotsman that he's have grown rather too big for his boots. And I don't know that on the strength on one very good book he deserves to have such large shoes anyway.

Still. I'll be reading The Republic of Thieves along with everyone else. I just hope it's been worth the wait.

Some news in brief before I call it a day and start packing for my trip:

Vincenzo Natali, director of the likes of Cube, Cypher and one of my most anticipated films of 2010, Splice, is set to adapt Tunnels, a popular YA fantasy series about "a 14-year-old boy [who] finds himself drawn into the world of a secret subterranean civilization dominated by the sinister, vicious Styx."

After the spiteful ruckus of a few weeks ago, there's been some movement on the director of Paranormal Activity 2. Apparently, Scarface and Carrie director Brian de Palma is one of three candidates Paramount Pictures are considering to helm the most unnecessary sequel in recent memory. My thoughts? Oh, no they're not! (Oh, yes they are!)

Wicker Park and Lucky Number Slevin director Paul McGuigan has let slip that he's at work on a limited television series with Arkham Asylum and The Invisibles writer Grant Morrison, starring so-called national British treasure Stephen Fry. And it's set in Scotland! If this pans out, it'll surely be one to watch out for.

The great bearded madman Patrick Rothfuss blogs about the state of play regarding the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Suffice it to say, The Wise Man's Fear looks tantalisingly close to completion, but let's not count our chickens just yet. Can't wait!

And finally, as I found out first hand this week, if you sign up to Weidenfeld and Nicholson's Carlos Ruiz Zafon newsletter from the sidebar on this page, you get access to a free short story called Los Angeles by Gaslight - and it's a goodie.

That's it From Your Blogosphere Correspondent for another week! Hope you've enjoyed reading, and please, do feel free to chip in via the comments if you think there's anything I've missed.

Now, for that holiday...

Retribution Keeps Falling

This just in!

Chris Wooding is many things. A Brit, for one; a young adult author, for another. Increasingly, however, the most distinctive of the many hats he's worn in his time is the one that boasts, in boldface, Esteemed Author of The Tales of the Ketty Jay.

For myself, I had a great time with the first novel in that breakout fantasy series last year. Retribution Falls was a few evenings worth of whimsical, action packed, light-hearted entertainment, and I know I'm not alone in that opinion, so it's curious to see so little buzz across the blogosphere about The Black Lung Captain, the second of The Tales of the Ketty Jay scheduled for release here in the UK this July.

Nonetheless, Wooding just announced on his blog that he and Gollancz have inked out a deal for two further volumes in the franchise. As Chris reports:

"The first, with a working title of The Iron Jackal, will probably land on the shelves a year after the release of its predecessor, making it July 2011. The fourth is a bit far in the future to predict with much accuracy, but it’ll be targeted for roughly July 2012, assuming that year’s predicted Armageddon doesn’t put a crimp in book sales. News on US release dates for the new books when I get it; we still have to sort out all the little contract details in the UK first."

All of which is fine news indeed with which to start another day in the speculative blogosphere.

You can read the whole story here, and don't forget to pop along to Wooding's website to pass along your congratulations.

Let's get The Black Lung Captain buzz started... now!

Friday 26 February 2010

The Curious Case of the Books in the Bag

I'm not, by nature, a terribly organised individual. I'll often leave things to the last minute and then waste valuable days in a mad panic because I haven't gotten to them sooner. Be it a matter of work or health or blogging, I'm altogether shambolic.

Not so with holidays - nor, indeed, the books I take on holiday with me. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I've spoken often over the last week about my plans to adventure my merry way on up to a lovely cottage by the seaside in the highlands of Scotland. Well, weather permitting - though as of today the weather is nothing of the sort - I'll be leaving on Monday. Today, in case you didn't realise, is Friday. I don't have a stitch of clothing looked out for the trip, nor any essential electricals or even toiletries. But I've already packed a bag full of books.

The vast majority of those books are, wouldn't you know it, speculative fiction of one sort or another, so I thought I'd share with you, readers, the contents of that bag, and a few of my thoughts and expectations thereof.

First and foremost, we have the runaway winner and the first runner-up of the recent Holiday Reading poll:

That's some substantial reading right there. I'll admit to being a little skeptical of the first volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen - although perhaps I should say, rather than skeptical, that I'm rather intimidated by the prospect of beginning such an expansive series. I'm sure it'll be great, but the last massive saga I read straight through - The Dark Tower books by Stephen King - was a real disappointment in the end. Then again, the end of anything by Stephen King tends to be a letdown, so I shouldn't allow that experience to dissuade me.

As for Scar Night, this is a book I've begun several times in the past, and without fail put down each time. I can't put my finger on precisely why. Nothing about the start of Alan Campbell's first novel was anything less than promising. For whatever reason, it just... didn't grab me. In any case, I'll be doing my damndest to make it through this time, and in spite of my brief past experience of Scar Night, I have high hopes.

Given that there's obviously interest in coverage of the two aforementioned novels, they'll be my top priorities, but certainly they don't represent the extent of the fiction I've packed for my week away. In no particular order, then, here are the rest of the books I hope to get stuck into during the next week:

There have been mixed reports of the first novel in the Hyddenworld quintet, but I've never read William Horwood before, and I understand his previous work is something of a touchstone in the genre, so here's hoping.

As for Veteran, the proofs that have come in over the last wee while - one of which, needless to say, I was pleased to receive - have left some very excited bloggers in their wake, and though I'm not usually taken by hard sci-fi, Gollancz man Simon Spanton's note accentuates the action more than anything else - not to mention the Dundee setting. Dundee, everyone! That's within arm's reach of me, which doesn't happen often in speculative fiction. Whether or not I get to it in the coming week, this is a sure-fire read.

From what I've read of it, A Dark Matter hasn't really grabbed me yet - it's been a fairly difficult experience so far - but I'll see it through. Really, I'm not one to give up in the middle of anything, and there's every chance things start to look up: Peter Straub has spun some fine tales in the past, and I fear I may be judging this one too soon.

Shadow Prowler, meanwhile, is very exciting. The English-language debut of Russia's bestselling fantasy writer, he's seen no shortage of comparisons to Sergei Lukyanenko - the author of the four Night Watch novels - and I had a great time with those, so... fingers crossed.

I've said before that Dark Life puts me in mind of Bioshock, and in lieu of playing the recent sequel to that incredible video game, this tasty morsel of YA fantasy should satiate my appetite for underwater adventure. I'm hopeful.

Talk about saving the best for last, eh? I can hardly wait to get stuck into The Prince of Mist. The trouble is, once I've read it, I've read it, and who knows how long it'll be before there's more Carlos Ruiz Zafon to look forward to. That said, there's just no way this stays in my bag for the whole week.

And there you have it. The eight novels I'm taking on holiday with me. Knowing me, I won't likely manage to read any more than half of them, but hey, a book in two days is hardly bad going. I should probably see some of the sights, after all. I'm not on holiday every day...

But here's to the days I will be! Can't. Bloody. Wait.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Book Review: Farlander by Col Buchanan

[Buy this book on Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

"The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.

"The Mercian Free Ports are the only confederacy yet to fall. Their only land link to the southern continent, a long and narrow isthmus, is protected by the city of Bar-Khos. For ten years now, the great southern walls of Bar-Khos have been besieged by the Imperial Fourth Army.

"Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Rōshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.

"When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Rōshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfil the Rōshun orders – their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports . . . into bloodshed and death."


Farlander begins with a brief but exciting prologue which introduces us to Ash, a sickly old assassin who is the pivot around which Colin Buchanan's first novel turns. He is a character spun from fine cloth, a solitary warrior whose ill health forces him to take on an apprentice in the form of Nico, a homeless thief caught red-handed in the act of his dubious trade and otherwise down on his luck. Together, Ash and Nico travel to a monastery deep in the mountains of Cheem where the young ragamuffin is trained to follow in the footsteps of his master by becoming Rōshun.

Whatever the strength of its start, Farlander peters out rather quickly in the pages that follow, as Buchanan falls to worldbuilding and the abrupt introduction of a series of at-best tertiary characters. When the duo arrive at Sato, the distant dwelling of Ash and his fellow assassins, the narrative picks up again, but even then it only ticks over into high gear after a relaxing, if somewhat overlong series of hijinx in and around the hills. The beginnings of an intriguing world are present and correct, and the characters too begin to come alive, but however deft and considered Buchanan's prose is - and it is: the man can turn a phrase with the best of them, I'll say that - his spotty sense of pacing means that by the time the real action gets going, Farlander is sadly almost over.

But all is not lost, not by a long shot. Even at its lowest ebb, which is to say around the book's baggy midsection, Buchanan's debut remains a compelling read. The thoughtful offspring of some unholy union between The Lies of Locke Lamora and the better parts of The Left Hand of God, there's a good tale to be told here, a tale that touches on such notions as legacy, learning and loss. Would that Farlander had the focus, or even the length, to do justice to those themes. You get the sense that the author has much more to say about the motifs that recur throughout his first novel; as is, readers can take comfort in the fact that Buchanan at least treats them respectfully, returning to and gradually developing each just short of a fine point.

According to the mini-biography at the back of the book, debut author Colin Buchanan has been "homeless in Belfast, lost in a Zen monastery, and scratching grafitti as a guest of the local constabulary," and so it comes as no surprise that the expansive cast of the first volume of The Heart of the World find themselves in equivalent fantasy environs. In point of fact, short of a brave, game-changing twist in its last act that will have readers reeling, that's exactly the problem: there's just too little about Farlander that is surprising. Things proceed much as you imagine they will; the dense exposition sometimes drags, the characters tread water too often, even the earth-shattering events that occur away from the narrative's main thoroughfare are devoid of the impact they should have.

For all that, though, there is yet something about Farlander that bodes well for the future of the series. Buchanan's voice is distinct, his central character memorably rendered, and the setting for his fiction starkly convincing, if ill-exploited. Taken as the foundation of a far greater tale, Farlander is despite its missteps packed with promise; as a self-contained tale, which I should stress it is not, it is a largely unsatisfying endeavour. Colin Buchanan's first novel is not, then, the greatest genre debut of the year, but equally, it is very far from the worst. As the Seer says, "the seeds of things show what fruits will come of them," and though there's perhaps better eating to be had than in the seeds of The Heart of the World, I don't doubt that the eventual fruits of this author's literary labours will prove considerably more delicious.


by Col Buchanan
March 2010, Tor

[Buy this book on Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

Recommended and Related Reading

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Opinionated Speculations: Book Trailer Park

For the next bit of featured burbling here on The Speculative Scotsman, I have for you, dear readers, a topic that's been intriguing me increasingly over the last little while; a topic brought to mind during my much ballyhooed-about review of The Left Hand of God, which I was reminded of once more while browsing through the publicity materials that accompanied my review copy of A Dark Matter. That topic?

Namely, the book trailer.

We've all seen a few, I'm sure, but what purpose do they truly serve? Do we think they work, or is the book trailer a marketing tack too far?

Let's take a look at the short promotional video the PR wizards from Doubleday put together for Peter Straub's latest novel:

It's a quick one. To say it lasts for 30 seconds is to give the static powerpoint screens advertising the book's title and a few choice recommendations more credit, perhaps, than they deserve.

That said, let's take stock - from the perspective of someone who hasn't a clue about this book - of what little one might glean from the trailer for A Dark Matter.

Firstly, there's a run through the woods from a first-person perspective that can only recall The Blair Witch Project, which will surely bring to the savvy viewer's mind the concept of found footage - or in this case, a found manuscript, such as those recovered in House of Leaves and Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Red Tree. Someone is either running from something, or, conversely, chasing it; it's unclear which. Whatever the case, the visuals soon become distorted, and the viewer must understand that things have taken a turn for the worse.

Perhaps the only other notable aspect of this book trailer is its sound: an aurally twisted gladiatorial chant that ratchets up throughout before erupting into applause and a few wolf-whistles. The chant hardly sounds human, animalistic even. It unnerves, implicating the viewer in some sort of supernatural and/or horrific goings-on.

The trailer's last seconds are devoted to brief blurbs. We know, from these, that Stephen King and Michael Chabon enjoyed A Dark Matter. And from the brief scene that precedes their recommendations, we gather that Straub's latest novel is creepy, potentially supernatural metafiction in which something bad happens in the woods.

I haven't yet read enough of A Dark Matter to say, with any certainty, if the book trailer's assertions are correct. In the interim, however, a plot synopsis will suffice:

"The charismatic and cunning Spenser Mallon is a campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes. After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body—and the shattered souls of all who were present.

"Years later, one man attempts to understand what happened to his wife and to his friends by writing a book about this horrible night, and it’s through this process that they begin to examine the unspeakable events that have bound them in ways they cannot fathom, but that have haunted every one of them through their lives. As each of the old friends tries to come to grips with the darkness of the past, they find themselves face-to-face with the evil triggered so many years earlier."

So it's safe to say that yes, the essential elements alluded to by the book trailer for A Dark Matter are present and correct in the text itself - or, at the least, the outline of the text. And yet, for all that the audiovisual experience of the trailer implies certain key features of Straub's novel, I can't help but feel it obscures rather more than it illuminates. In the end, it takes about the same amount of time to read the product description on Amazon or wherever else, and that, surely, gives potential readers a better idea of what to expect from A Dark Matter. Where in the trailer, for instance, can viewers learn of Spenser's cult of sexuality?

Of course, product descriptions themselves are often rather unhelpful, deceptive in the particular parts of a text they foreground - the better to shift the damn things in the first place. I wouldn't make the argument that a sales pitch is any more reliable an indicator than a book trailer; neither, after all, are the creations of, in this instance, Peter Straub, but rather the marketers whose job it is to sell his novel to as large and diverse an audience as possible.

But book trailers such as that advertising A Dark Matter are, I feel, an abstraction too far. If a blurb represents a stripped-down version of a novel, and a book trailer is a second-hand interpretation of said reduced still further, what's left can hardly bear much resemblance to the text itself, and the text, at the end of the day, is what counts above all else.

I understand that the intent is to pitch a book to an attention-starved audience that isn't interested in blurbs - that a 30-second clip can be televised to reach further than any written sales pitch - but how effective are they in that regard? Is that segment of the market even the type to care about books? Let's be frank for a moment: people who first hear about the likes of a new Peter Straub from some ad between episodes of Ugly Betty or some such drivel are hardly the sort likely to invest the time and effort into reading a book as dense as A Dark Matter anyway. So who are such book trailers even for?

Here's another offender, this time for Stephen King's Under the Dome:

I won't waste my time and yours by subjecting this one to similar analysis as I did A Dark Matter. I post it only because I feel it's indicative of what book trailers seem to have become: desperate and often inaccurate appeals to the lowest common denominator.

But there are better examples of book trailers out there. From this, one of the very earliest, an award-winning short from Hoss Gifford advertising the truly breathtaking A Life of Pi by Yann Martel:

To this, a trailer for a steampunk YA novel you'll be hearing more about on The Speculative Scotsman shortly. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld:

And finally, to this piece, in which Neil Gaiman himself narrates a brief pitch for The Graveyard Book:

For my money, each of the three ads above represent the better traits of book trailers, the things a little more thought can achieve. Rather than confusing the issue as the Peter Straub and Stephen King trailers did, they add a complementary dimension to the texts concerned that means, had I not already read and enjoyed each of these three novels, their respective advertisements would have certainly piqued my interest.

All the same, there is the thought that whatever their merits, book trailers could be said to rob readers of the pleasure of their own imagination. The implication that my mind's-eye simply isn't up to the task of realising the landscape of Leviathan or the unlikely situation Pi Patel finds himself stuck in could even border on the insulting.

But enough of my burbling - that's my $0.02 on book trailers. Over to you, then. Are book trailers a necessary evil in the era of web 2.0, or a marketing tack too far? Are they in any way effective, do you think, or are they borderline offensive?

Most of all, readers, I'd like to know whether you've ever been inspired to buy or read a novel because of a book trailer, and if the trailer left you feeling satisfied, or short-changed. Do chime in and let me know!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Cover Identity: The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

Well, when in Rome...

For the first in what I can only imagine will come to be a worrying regular look at cover art here on The Speculative Scotsman, I give you the newly redesigned Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

Though the review is still a few weeks off - the posting schedule is, I'm pleased to say, packed to the gunnels with good stuff in the interim - I had a whale of a time with Leviathan a little while ago, so the thought of more Westerfeld certainly has me in, if not fits of anticipation then certainly mild tremors thereof.

But I don't honestly know that I'd have looked twice at the three Uglies books without these striking new covers. Here, have a gander - the new designs are on the left, the old ones on the right:


Now there's nothing wrong with the old covers of Uglies, Pretties and Specials per se, but I can't help but think the new art will more effectively appeal to the market for these books; which is to say, young adults.

Of course, and I hate to have to stress this every time I talk about YA literature, I don't mean that market exclusively, only that the consensus seems to be that Westerfeld wrote the Uglies trilogy with such readers in mind. If these books are anything like Leviathan, however, they're sure to find an audience among more mature genre junkies, too.


The back-cover credits don't leave me entirely certain who we should be thanking for what, but between illustrator Sam Hadley and designer Nick Stearn, the three reworkings are each iconic pieces that look just lovely together. They have a sense of continuity that the now-outmoded designs rather lacked. Simple, but sleek; bold, but not boisterous.

Not to mention that the old art looks decidedly like something you might find adorning Chuck Palahniuk's back-catalogue, and these novels, from everything I've read and otherwise heard, are not that - not at all.


I can't imagine too many parents being pleased to see their kids reading a book with that last design on the cover, in particular. The new designs are certainly much less risque, but I don't think they've lost anything in the transition. They're perhaps a little generic, yes, but they're significantly less sterile than the old alternatives. They speak of action, intrigue and excitement, whereas the previous covers were cold and clinical - although perhaps that was precisely the plan. Certainly that's a notion tied into the subject matter, but I fear if that were the case, a disservice was done to the intended, all-ages audience.

One way or another, I wholeheartedly approve of the new artwork for Uglies, Pretties and Specials. You can expect reviews of these three, radically redesigned novels - due for release on March 4th from Simon and Schuster - as and when the opportunity to read them presents itself.


Here, opportunity! Wherever could you be hiding?

Monday 22 February 2010

Holiday Reading: Results

A few days ago, readers, I asked you to cast your votes in a poll between five series of speculative fiction that have lurked on my bookshelves since time immemorial. A week from today, you see, I'm heading off on a wee holiday where I hope to have all the time in the world - or at least all the time in the week - to indulge my love for the genre by finally immersing myself in some of the classic sequences that for one reason or another I've yet to experience.

You can read more about the contenders here, but in lieu of repeating myself, let it suffice to say that each represented a unique facet of speculative fiction; from dark fantasy to nightmarish steampunk to metafictional sci-fi and beyond. I don't doubt that all five of the possible holiday reading fare are worthwhile experiences in their own right, but even a week from now, my time - that terrible master of all we do - will be too short to do justice to every contender. Indecisive to the last, I asked the great and the good amongst the TSS readership to raise their voices in support of one or another.

And it's my pleasure to report that you lot - you lovely lot - responded in force. The results of the holiday reading poll, then, are as follows:

I hardly needed to have generated a pie chart to illustrate how clear a winner we have. The honour goes, of course, to The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, which saw an overwhelming and nearly immediate show of force. To its 10 votes, however, The Deepgate Codex saw a not inconsiderable 8 thanks to a late-game surge of support, easily installing Alan Campbell - a fellow Scots gentleman, wouldn't you know - as the runner-up.

With 3 votes each, The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan and The Braided Path by Chris Wooding are tied for third place, and bringing up the rear - with only a single nod - we have Steph Swainston's Castle books. From the little I've read of them, they deserve better; though the poll doesn't speak to the quality of the various contenders, only the interest of TSS readers in coverage of some series above others.


Isn't this a pickle? Ah, hell with it - I've a whole week to spend reading, so given how close The Deepgate Codex came to overcoming The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I think I'll bend the rules a bit and take the first book of each series on holiday with me. Sound fair?

When I return, then, you can look forward to an update on how my holiday reading quest went, and perhaps even reviews of Scar Night and Gardens of the Moon. Late to the party or no, I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about both books.

Here's to having the opportunity to spend a few days reading what I'm sure will be great speculative fiction by the seaside! What more could a guy ask?

Sunday 21 February 2010

The BoSS for 21/02/10

Hello, everyone!

It's been another busy week in terms of books received here at TSS HQ, so let's get on with the show; an all-singing, all-dancing tale of the proofs and review copies to have narrowly escaped the clutches of an increasingly bitter mailman since the last edition of the BoSS.

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.

That said, let's dim the lights and pull back the curtain for a quick look at some very exciting new books you'll soon be seeing reviews of here on The Speculative Scotsman.


Above the Snowline
by Steph Swainston

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
25/02/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "This is Jant Shira's life before the drugs took over, as a hunter in the mountains. Awian exiles are building a stronghold in the Darkling mountains, where the Rhydanne hunt. Their clash of interests soon leads to bloodshed and Shira Dellin, a Rhydanne huntress, appeals to the immortal Circle for justice. The Emperor sends Jant, half-Rhydanne, half-Awian, and all-confidence, to mediate. As Jant is drawn into the spiralling violence he is shaken into coming to terms with his own heritage and his feelings for the alien, intoxicating Dellin. This is the story of Jant's early years in the Circle.  Prepare to see shows the Fourlands as you've never seen them before."

Commentary: I'll confess to never having read Steph Swainston's Castle books, though praise from the likes of China Mieville and Richard Morgan has me very interested indeed to peel back the pages of Above the Snowline. And with this fourth novel in the series being a prequel, what better place to start than here? Probable holiday reading.

The Prince of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
27/05/10 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Review Priority:
5 (Immediate)

Plot Synopsis: "Max Carver's father - a watchmaker and inventor - decides to move his family to a small town on the coast, to an old house that once belonged to a prestigious surgeon, Dr Richard Fleischmann. But the house holds many secrets and stories of its own. Behind it is an overgrown garden full of statues surrounded by a metal fence topped with a six-pointed star. When he goes to investigate, Max finds that the statues seem to consist of a kind of circus troop with the large statue of a clown at its centre. Max has the curious sensation that the statue is beckoning to him.

"As the family settles in they grow increasingly uneasy: they discover a box of old films belonging to the Fleischmanns; his sister has disturbing dreams and his other sister hears voices whispering to her from an old wardrobe. They also discover the wreck of a boat that sank many years ago in a terrible storm. Everyone on board perished except for one man - an engineer who built the lighthouse at the end of the beach. During the dive, Max sees something that leaves him cold - on the old mast floats a tattered flag with the symbol of the six-pointed star. As they learn more about the wreck, the chilling story of the Prince of the Mists begins to emerge."

Commentary: You love Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I love Carlos Ruiz Zafon, we all love Carlos Ruiz Zafon! Can't say how excited I am to have received an early proof of this one. The Prince of Mist isn't due out till June, but just as soon as I'm done with Kaaron Warren's excellent Walking the Tree, I'm going to be all over Zafon's first all-ages novel like iron filings on a magnet. Given the early Summer publication date, it might be a while before you actually see my review, but rest assured, there will be one; The Prince of Mist has jumped to the very top of my stack of books To Be Read.

The King of the Crags
by Stephen Deas

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
15/04/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Prince Jehal has murdered, poisoned and betrayed his way to the top. There is a new speaker for the realms, his opposition has been crushed, now he just has to enjoy the fruits of power. And yet... he feels more for the wife he married for power than perhaps he should and his lover knows it. And out in the realms those loyal to the old regime are still plotting; there are rumours that the Red Riders, heralds of revolution and doom are on the ride. And still no-one has found the famous white dragon. The dragon that, if it lived, will have long since recovered from the effects of the alchemical liquid fed to the dragons of the realms to keep them docile, to block their memories of a time when they ruled and the world burned..."

Commentary: Stephen Deas is another author that's been getting a bunch of buzz lately - or perhaps his presence on Twitter has skewed my perception somewhat. In any case, I've heard tell that he does dragons like no other, and hey, I'm all for a good dragon. There have been a few lukewarm reviews of his last novel, The Adamantine Palance, but by and large the coverage has been very positive, so I'm not terribly worried. And besides, this is another chapter entirely, the first volume of a "fast, sharp and ruthless" new series - and this from Joe Abercrombie, the as-yet undisputed master of all things fast, sharp and ruthless. TSS will publish a full review of this one in advance of the April release.

The Passage
by Justin Cronin

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
24/06/10 by Orion

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she's the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn't think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He's wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

"Deep in the jungles of eastern Colombia, Professor Jonas Lear has finally found what he's been searching for - and wishes to God he hadn't. In Memphis, Tennessee, a six-year-old girl called Amy is left at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy and wonders why her mother has abandoned her. In a maximum security jail in Nevada, a convicted murderer called Giles Babcock has the same strange nightmare, over and over again, while he waits for a lethal injection. In a remote community in the California mountains, a young man called Peter waits for his beloved brother to return home, so he can kill him. Bound together in ways they cannot comprehend, for each of them a door is about to open into a future they could not have imagined. And a journey is about to begin. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man's darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human - and beyond."

Commentary: This is a behemoth of an ARC, weighing in just shy of 800 pages with margins so slim they're barely there. This is precisely the sort of tome that terrifies me. Nevertheless, a massive, multi-million dollar bidding war over the rights to publish both the book and latterly a film adaptation thereof - you can read more on that at A Dribble of Ink, here - speak to a story with some serious potential. Expect a huge publicity push for The Passage closer to its release in June. With a little luck, and some serious time spent burning the midnight oil, I should have a full write-up on the site in advance of even that. Everything I've heard and read relating to this book speaks to its massive potential, so I'm psyched.

Enchanted Glass
by Diana Wynne Jones

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
07/01/10 by HarperCollins

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "When Andrew Hope's magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Andrew has forgotten much of this, but he remembers the very strong-minded staff and the fact that his grandfather used to put the inedibly large vegetables on the roof of the shed, where they'd have vanished in the morning. He also remembers the very colourful stained glass window in the kitchen door, which he knows it is important to protect. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Exactly who he is and why he's there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent. There is a mystery to be solved, and nothing is as it appears to be. But nobody can solve the mystery, until they find out exactly what it is!"

Commentary: I've long been a fan of to so-called Godmother of British fantasy - for long enough that Harry Potter initially struck me as a shameless hybrid of her Chrestomanci series and The Books of Magic. I'm afraid to say The Speculative Scotsman fell off the Diana Wynne Jones wagon with her last new release, but nevertheless, I'm excited to get started on this very promising YA fantasy. The plot synopsis of Enchanted Glass certainly puts me in mind of her very best, so here's hoping.

Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest
by Amos Oz

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
18/02/10 by Chatto & Windus

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "In a village far away, deep in a valley, all the animals and birds disappeared some years ago. Only the rebellious young teacher and an old man talk about animals to the children, who have never seen such (mythical) creatures. Otherwise there's a strange silence round the whole subject.

"One wretched, little boy has dreams of animals, begins to whoop like an owl, is regarded as an outcast, and eventually disappears. A stubborn, brave girl called Maya and her friend Matti, are drawn to explore in the woods round the village. They know there are dangers beyond and that at night, Nehi the Mountain Demon comes down to the village. In a far-off cave, they come upon the vanished boy, content and self-sufficient.

"Eventually they find themselves in a beautiful garden paradise full of every kind of animal, bird and fish - the home of Nehi the Mountain Demon. The Demon is a pied piper figure who stole the animals from the village. He, too, was once a boy there, but he was different, mocked and reviled, treated as an outsider and outcast. This is his terrible revenge, one which has punished him too, by removing him from society and friendship, and every few years he draws another child or two to join him in his fortress Eden, where he has trained the sheep to lie down with the wolves, and where predators are few. He lets the two children return to the village, telling them that one day, when people are less cruel and his desire for vengeance has crumbled, perhaps the animals might come back..."

Commentary: Doesn't that sound just lovely? I'll definitely be taking Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest up to Skye with me - it's a very short novel, "a wonderful, haunting fable [from] one of the greatest living Israeli writers." The perfect thing, in other words, for me to bury my nose in during a break between the larger genre sagas TSS readers have decided I'll be reading for much of the rest of my time by the sea. Also the cover has cats on it; surely by now you know I can't resist anything feline!