Review & Feature: The Aylesford SkullComments Off
Titan Books, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I broke one of my rules for this one. I generally hate to start a series anywhere but book one. I’m not even completely sure what number in the series this one is. The villain has appeared in at least one book without the hero, and I believe the hero is in at least three previous novels and several short stories. I had, however, accepted an actual print copy of this one for review, and to catch up on all the previously published material would’ve taken too long, especially as Titan Books don’t plan on reissuing the two previous Langdon St. Ives books they have on their schedule until one and two months respectively after this one. In any case I’m pleased to report that it isn’t necessary to have read the others to follow this one.
The first thing I noticed upon opening the book was that they’d printed the text in sepia. I’d have missed that clever detail on my Kindle. It sets the tone nicely.
James P. Blaylock is one of the literary pioneers of the Steampunk movement. Some would claim he pretty much invented that hybrid genre. Perhaps this explains why he is able to employ such a degree of subtlety to his steampunk world-building. Certainly this novel (I can’t speak for the others) is not overwhelmed by the trappings of Steampunk. There is an airship in the book, but it’s not employed until fairly late on and apart from a fascinating cross between steampunk technology and necromancy, employed by the villain Narbondo, that’s about it! The rest could pretty much take place in the real world of the late 19th Century.
It’s a fairly long book, with a lot of characters on both sides of the conflict, but I never found it less than gripping. In fact I sped through it in just two sittings. I especially enjoyed the way Blaylock split his heroes up and had them all working vaguely towards the same end, while having no clear idea where the others were, or what they were up to. Even so, he managed to keep a tight control on who was where and when, so that the action ties up properly in the end.
Scientist and explorer Langdon St. Ives is a pretty laid back sort of hero. He shrugs off an attempt by Narbondo to poison his entire family remarkably easily and doesn’t get really riled up until his four year-old son is kidnapped.
St. Ives’ son, Eddie is an unusually capable child for his age, adapting easily to strange situations and generally keeping his head. I can see that some readers would find that somewhat unrealistic. I found myself wondering if we weren’t witnessing the birth of a new hero, whose life might be explored further in books set at the turn of the Century (this one takes place in 1883) through the 1920s and 1930s?
Narbondo is deranged, as all such villains should be. His plot to overthrow the throne and government would leave even the likes of Fu Manchu speechless. Off-the wall doesn’t cover it!
I actually found the female characters generally more interesting than the males and would like to see more of Alice St. Ives and Mother Laswell. I feel they could even carry a book on their own, without the help of their menfolk.
The climactic scenes are spectacular to say the least, and I found it hard not to visualise it in terms of a Hollywood Blockbuster. The treatment given Sherlock Holmes in the Robert Downey Jr. movies would probably work much better (or at least offend fewer purists) with Langdon St. Ives as the male lead character.
A Note from the Author:
The following is a random collection of working notes taken from scores of pages of such notes that I wrote out when I was thinking through The Aylesford Skull. Please be aware that they contain potential spoilers as well as a number of ideas, characters, and potential scenes that didn’t make it into the novel, and so might be puzzling to readers. Hope you find them interesting. Cheers, Jim Blaylock
The Aylesford Skull: Early Plot Notes
So St. Ives is moving into the new digs, perhaps outfitting a folly tower with an observatory roof. He’s got Finn Conrad helping him out, taking care of the pygmy hippos (unless you really don’t want them, although I don’t see why not. A couple three eccentricities, actually. Something for Alice, too. Also, figure out the kids.) Finn likes his independent ways and is living in cottage near the tower. St. Ives takes some morsel of food out there late one night, seeing that the light is on, and hears Finn talking to someone. Curious, but not concerned, St. Ives knocks, after a pause Finn answers, but there’s no one else in the room. There had been two distinct voices, a conversation, not a monologue. Perhaps St. Ives had heard something curious/worrisome, not from Finn but from the other. St. Ives is too much the gentleman to ask about it. It’s odd that Finn would talk to himself. Perhaps the boy is simply lonely, he thinks. Perhaps he’s mad. And yet if that were the case, St. Ives had never known a saner madman. Later, maybe the next night, St. Ives is going out to look at the stars, wonderfully clear night, and he runs across a boy drawing a picture. He sees the picture. Boy vanishes. Maybe he’s drawing something in the dirt with a stick, maybe with a piece of charcoal on paper or stone or whatever. (Do you want to keep the picture or have it vanish with the boy? Better, I think, that it vanish with the boy.) St. Ives is shaken to his rational core. Could be now that he goes over to meet the neighbors. Could be he goes back to meet the neighbors again. The neighbors aren’t forthcoming, although the old woman could throw the fact in his face that maybe he heard a ghost speaking. St. Ives would point out the unlikelihood: vocal chords, after all. “Scientists!” she says with an oath. Etc.
This article was posted as part of the Aylesford Skull Swashbuckling Blog Tour celebrating the release of James P. Blaylock’s first full-length steampunk novel in twenty years.
For the opportunity to win a limited edition of The Aylesford Skull in a jacketed, signed, hardcover with a unique jacket design, just tweet “I would like a limited edition of the Aylesford Skull @TitanBooks #Blaylock”.
Details about The Limited Edition (available Feb 2013)
750 signed and numbered editions:
Jacketed, cloth-bound hardcover with ribbon
Signed by James P. Blaylock
Exclusive foreword by K.W. Jeter and introduction by Tim Powers
26 signed and lettered editions:
As above encased in a custom-made traycase
Changes. Book ReviewComments Off
Titan Books, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Trainee Herald Mags was just getting comfortable again with his studies but a new mission has presented itself. Mags is recruited to work with the King’s Own Herald to try and uncover the assassins who attempted to harm their ruler and burn a stable full of Companions. Danger is once again at the heart of Mags’ existence, only this time he is going undercover and it will take all of his skills and a heap of new ones to prevail.
Now he has been removed completely from his awful upbringing in the mine, Mags has to figure out who he is and what he wants to be. Still plagued by the lack of information about his parentage, he finds that friendships and trust cannot always be relied on and sometimes you have to be harsh to be kind. Despite the difficulties they all face individually, Mags and his Companion, mentor and friends will have to pool their resources if they are all to come through this alive.
Changes continues The Collegium Chronicles where Intrigues left off and once again Kirball takes a prominent position in the story along with Mags’ developing romance with Amily and the strained relationships his friends Bear and Lena have with their fathers. The biggest focus is on Mags and his coming of age struggles to fit in alongside those who are markedly different to himself.
Mags’ accent and unique dialogue take a step up in this volume and a whole host of his own made up words and pronunciations are added. Whilst being inventive and making him stand out from similar heroes, this does have a drastic effect on the pace of the book and at times it is hard to decipher exactly what is being said. The gist is clear but the actual words are skipped over by the reader and some depth is lost as a result.
The story is solid in progressing Mags’ tale, which will be concluded in book four of this series, but it suffered from the slow pace and occasional predictability. After the promising improvements in book two, this instalment was somewhat disappointing and had a very middle-ish feel to it. There are also some unresolved plot points which will need to be explained in book four in order to bring a sense of completion to the series.
Turbulence by Samit Basu. Book Review & CompetitionComments Off
Titan Books, p/b, 7th July, £7.99.
Reviewed by Rhian Bowley
Smart, skilfully written and superpowered. What more could you want? How about a Q&A with the author? Done. Consider it the superpower of reviews – an insight into the mind of the author, as well as a rundown of the book’s highlights. Don’t say we don’t spoil you. . .
How would you feel if you actually got what you wanted? And what would you do if you could really change the world?
The passengers of flight BA142 arrived in Delhi with more than the usual extras from plane travel (someone else’s flu germs, popped ears and, if you’re lucky, a stolen flight blanket). These guys disembarked with superpowers, and a choice – how to use their new ability, and which side to choose. Superpowers do not a superhero make; one has to take action and make allies, too. If all you wanted was to make it big in Bollywood, decisions like that can seem like a drag…
Turbulence asks all the right questions, not just the glamorous ones, and suggests a few answers too. What would be the most useful powers in today’s hyper-connected, image-conscious world? How far would brute strength get you, and how much good would redistribution of wealth really do? Was what happened on that aeroplane a secret military op, or have the passengers taken the next step in human evolution?
I loved this modern take on the classic superhero story (bearing in mind that old dude, Superman, has been knocking around since 1932) and admired the cleverness wound in around the Manga-style battle attacks and ubiquitous flying men. The character arcs are satisfyingly wriggly, careful not to jump to obvious conclusions but instead taking a thoughtful, realistic look at what people would actually do if given the ability they most desired. You might think you’d save the world and put Oxfam in charge of everything, but I’ll bet that a) you’d update Facebook first and b) things would be a little more complex than that.
Basu’s writing is sharp and well paced, and very funny in an arch, pop-culture saturated way. There’s a superpowered showdown in Hamleys, a nasty reptilian dude who would fit right in as a baddie from He-Man, and the main character can hook up to anything on a network, be that computers, phones or satellites. The superpowers Basu has created are inventive and fun, and there’s room left for a sequel to take the powered tribe even further.
As Samit answers below, Turbulence is very deliberately of its time, and it works very well as a slice of early 21st century life. Any story looking at superheroes will reflect back what we as a society revere and amplify, the signals sent out about the qualities we seek in our idealised selves. Turbulence highlights that our most valuable currencies right now are information and spin, while also featuring some bad-ass fight scenes and very funny characters. Recommended for anyone who’s ever imagined life as a superhero, which covers most of us, I suspect.
Read on for Samit’s answers to our questions, which give an expanded insight into Turbulence’s world.
Rhian: Turbulence is very ‘now’ – very much a world of Twitter, iPhones, Capoeira, high speed internet & even faster turnover of celebrities. Was the idea behind the novel a recent one, or something you’d wanted to write about for a while?
Samit: I wrote Turbulence in the summer of 2009, which is when it’s set. The whole idea behind it was to write a novel as situated in the present as possible, to say as much about the world right then as it could. The truth is I didn’t know that it was going to be a superhero novel until I realised that to write a story that aimed to move very quickly and capture, very fleetingly, the essence of a different world every few chapters, the characters would have to be amplified so as not to be overwhelmed by the chaos of the world around them.
Then it became clear that no type of character captured the 21st century zeitgeist as effectively as the superhero. And once I’d decided it was going to be a superhero story, I knew I should write it as quickly as possible, because capturing the mood of that precise time became more important than aiming for a sort of timeless feel, as writers would have to do when writing more standard SF or fantasy. Hence the focus on present day anxieties, present day obsessions and aspirations, as seen in both the world and the powers the heroes acquired. To help with this, I wrote fast, with the Internet and the phone on throughout, unlike with earlier books where I’d shut myself off.
Which is why it was very interesting for me when over the next two years a lot of the events I’d seen happening in the book actually happened in the real world, most noticeably the revealed presence of a very famous terrorist in Pakistan very close to where he was actually found, and when a large number of people in London suddenly got very angry…
Rhian: Which superpower would you least like to have, and why?
Samit: Invisibility. It would make research a lot easier, but the fear of disappearing entirely is a real one for any writer. The immense sense of grief I feel when I’m expecting to see my book in a store and it’s not there… I don’t want to feel that when I look in a mirror. No amount of quality time spent lurking in Scarlett Johannson’s bathroom could compensate for that.
Rhian: I’ll bet there’s a power you invented and wanted to include, but had to edit out – what would we find in a ‘Director’s Cut – Deleted Scenes’ version of the book?
Samit: Lots of them. The director’s cut you speak of actually exists – I added it to the Indian hardback and might put it online soon, it’s a bunch of things, a few short stories involving people on the plane but not in the book, a few stories about people in the book, details I left out because I wanted the central book to move forward as fast as it could, and cut out everything that wasn’t in the core plot. My natural state is one of digression, which is why my first three books were each over 500 pages long. But I didn’t want Turbulence to meander; I wanted it to go vroom.
Rhian: My favourite character is Uzma, the gang’s ‘Super-Like-Me Girl’. Was she based on your experience of real-life people like her?
Samit: Good, I love Uzma and she hasn’t been getting as much love as I’d like her to. She’s not really based on anyone I know, largely because the real-world Bollywood aspirants I know aren’t as bright and sharp as she is. But I do know some people who have that strange magnetic quality, that mysterious factor that lets them own every room they enter, and I thought that might be as relevant a superhero power as any, and something people would appreciate in this networking age.
The thing to remember about Uzma is that she’s not stupid at all - the pursuit of fame and celebrity status has become legitimate in today’s age. Didn’t some recent British study find that most kids want to be famous when they grow up? It’s certainly true in urbanIndiaas well, possibly all over the world. Uzma is very self-centred, yes, and doesn’t see why any power she’s acquired should cause her to alter her life plans and turn her into some kind of social worker. But isn’t that exactly what we’d think in her situation and with her goals? I know I would.
Rhian: How has your work in comics influenced your prose writing, and were you ever tempted to write Turbulence as a comic or graphic novel?
Samit: Writing books and comics are two entirely different experiences, and each helps the other. Writing comics has certainly helped me to structure visual sequences, look at dialogue more clearly and perhaps most importantly to be ruthless in terms of plot flow, cutting out everything that doesn’t belong. Prose gives you so much more freedom; you only really understand this when you start working in other media. Comics writing probably involves more constraints than any other form of longform fiction, and can give any writer a lot of discipline and new appreciation for many aspects of prose writing that he or she had taken for granted.
Writing comics also involved reading a lot of comics, and that was supremely helpful as well. One aspect of this was that I realized pretty early that superhero stories aren’t about powers and props at all, but about the people who wield them and the world they live in. Also, I came to the conclusion that thousands of writers over almost eight decades of feverishly paced work must have come up with any power I could possibly think of, any name, any idea, and the only reason I might think any superpower I’d created was new was simply that I hadn’t read enough. Once this pressure was gone, it was easy to just make stuff up and enjoy myself thoroughly.
I wasn’t tempted to do it as a graphic novel at any stage. This story was always a book. I can imagine adaptations into any number of other media, of course, but they would be fundamentally different, as they should.
Rhian: What’s your next project?
Samit: I’m doing a bunch of things now. There’s a sort-of-sequel, a stand-alone novel in the Turbulence world, where everything has changed a few years down the line. It’s tentatively called Resistance. Besides this, a couple of comics series, and possibly two films, one of which I’ll be directing if things work out. Each one is a different kind of story, the process involved in each requires a different kind of insanity, and I’m enjoying myself hugely.
To win a copy of Turbulence, please tweet a link to this review along with a description of the most original super hero you can conceive to @Titanbooks #Turbulence. One copy of the title is available per website and Samit’s favourite hero will win!
Batman: Arkham City by Paul Dini, Carlos D’Anda & various. Comic review(1)
Reviewed by Jay Eales
From the man behind some of the very best Batman animated stories, Paul Dini, comes the lead-in to one of the biggest computer games of the year: Batman: Arkham City. Dini has to walk a similar path to Jeph Loeb with his various Batman miniseries projects, and find a way to incorporate all the heavy hitters of the Batman rogues gallery. That he does this in a way that manages to remain fresh is testament to his skill.
Artwise, Carlos D’Anda puts in a workmanlike job, with occasional high points. There’s nothing to particularly dislike about his work, but there are plenty of artists I’d rather see here, such as Ted Naifeh, who illustrates one of several short related pieces at the end of the book.
The only real problem is that it relies on the reader being familiar with the previous Arkham game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and its job is to move the pieces around to set up the new Arkham City game, so it was always doomed to be the middle bit of a sandwich. Although I don’t know about you, but my favourite bit is the filling. I don’t have a games console capable of playing the Arkham games, so this is the only bite of the sandwich I have to go on.
Storywise, it takes up in the aftermath of Arkham Asylum, where an augmented version of Bane’s venom was used to power up a bunch of other Bat-villains, who run riot. Now, the Asylum’s Chief Warden becomes Gotham’s Mayor, and instigates a new rehabilitation programme where certain sections of Gotham are walled off, Escape from New York style, and criminals are thrown over the wall to fight for supremacy. Sounds like an insane plan? Certainly, but there’s a power behind the throne, and the Mayor is being manipulated by another of Batman’s foes, for reasons that won’t be made clear until the finale in the Arkham City game.
Prelude to Arkham City does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to explain how you get from A to B in a breezy entertaining manner, whetting the appetite for the feast to come. But that’s all there is to it. For fans of the games, that’s mission accomplished. If you’ve no intention of buying the games, you’ll feel as though you’ve had the prawn cocktail and gone home while everyone else tucks into the main course.
One Model Nation by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Jim Rugg. Comic ReviewComments Off
Reviewed by Jay Eales
Well, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t like that at all. A heavily fictionalised biography of a Kraftwerk-inspired German electro-pop/rock band during the height of Krautrock, against a backdrop of the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s terrorist activities. Definitely a promising and original scenario, and one I was interested in exploring. It’s an era I have some fondness for, but one I’ve always been meaning to investigate in more depth, so I was hoping that One Model Nation would fill in some of those blanks for me. Unfortunately, the script by Courtney Taylor-Taylor, better known as the lead singer of the Dandy Warhols, takes a lot of liberties with the facts in order to bolster the fiction, but doesn’t serve either well. I found the whole thing muddied and inconsistent, with the characterisation of the band members other than Sebastian as uniform as their stage costumes. I don’t have any clear idea as to what sort of band One Model Nation are. There’s the synthesisers and neat uniformity of Kraftwerk, but coupled with ponytails and shaggy hair, and a frontman who screams and throws himself around like a Damo Suzuki or Iggy Pop. Comics are already at a distinct disadvantage when depicting the music scene, but I have no idea what they sound like, even in my head. In a couple of scenes, just before gigs, they discuss whether one band member or another will show up, but there is not even a hint of panic that they won’t be able to go on with the show, so interchangeable are they! On one hand, Taylor-Taylor is to be applauded for not just trotting out the old tropes of a band biography, but in telling me his truth, I think he skipped a few too many details in the telling.
Taylor-Taylor seems in a rush to leap from event to event, skirting so lightly over everything that I did not feel the importance of anything that was going on, apart from a couple of stand-out scenes. One Model Nation appear on Top of the Pops, and are ushered into the presence of David Bowie, whose likeness is depicted by artist Jim Rugg as though channelling Madman and iZombie artist Mike Allred, who coincidentally wrote the foreword to the book. The other scene which stayed with me was the fictionalised escape of Baader.
This Titan Books edition is a revised new edition of a book previously published by Image. Tayor-Taylor has taken the opportunity to revise some parts of the strip, and there is a fair amount of back matter where he describes the genesis of the project, and we see cover designs, thumbnails and pages from Jim Rugg’s sketchbook. I have to say that I found more power in Rugg’s sketches than in many of the finished pages, but some of that may be down to the odd reproduction, with colouring that gives the impression that it has been photocopied a few times before going to print. This may have been a deliberate choice, to reflect the lo-fi retro zines of the period it depicts, but that may just be me reading too much into things. In the background notes, Taylor-Taylor says that the Image edition also featured a prologue and epilogue by another artist, which does not appear in this version. I wonder whether those scenes would have given me a better grip on the narrative.
Overall, I think that One Model Nation is an example of a celebrity from another medium whose talents do not translate well to comics. Compare and contrast with A Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, with his Umbrella Academy series, for someone who, arguably, turns out to be a better writer than rock star.
Crossed Volume 1 by Garth Ennis and Jacen BurrowsComments Off
Reviewed by Jay Eales
You can get a pretty good idea as to whether or not Crossed is for you by mulling over the following question: Do you want to read a comic where the antagonists think nothing of lopping off one of your legs and fucking it? If the answer comes back as no, then you’re best to move along now. Nothing to see here for you.
There’s a real 28 Days Later/The Walking Dead vibe here, with Ennis cranking his sickest ideas up to at least eleven, maybe twelve, and published by Avatar, possibly the only high profile American publisher who would consider publishing it. The concept is simple enough: A band of ordinary folks band together after some unknown event happens, causing some folks to become ‘Crossed’, recognisable by an angry red skin condition, looking as though someone has burned a cross across their faces. That, and the sheer insanity on display, tends to give them away.
As Ennis makes clear, the Crossed, for all their blasphemously inventive atrocities, don’t do anything that humans have never thought to do before, without the excuse of some imaginary zombie virus. They’re just the worst of us. And unlike the infected from 28 Days Later, who are rage personified, or your common or garden Romero zombie, semi-braindead but relentless, the Crossed are a varied bunch. Delayed gratification is not something that occurs to any of them. In fact, if they can’t find any normal people to play with, they’re just as likely to attack each other. Hmm… Crossed may just be an exploration of the mindset of the EDL… What makes them particularly dangerous is the way that some are sneaky, and able to plan some outrageous vileness upon our band of intrepid survivors. And then, some of them like nothing more than to beat you with a horse’s cock. As survivalist horror goes, there’s not much bleaker, and yet, Ennis leavens it with some of the trademark gallows humour that used to punctuate his Punisher and Preacher stories. You’ve met The Russian and Arseface. Prepare to meet Horsecock!
Batman: Hush Unwrapped by Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee. Comic reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Jay Eales
A deluxe reissue of the 2002 collaboration between Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, emphasising the artistic side of the partnership. Storywise, it’s very much in the same mould as Loeb’s earlier volumes with Tim Sale: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. The formula is that of a mystery, conveniently bringing Batman into conflict with most of his rogues gallery. In this case, the character pulling the strings calls himself Hush. A new foe… or is it? Even though Hush is nearly a decade old, I won’t spoil the reveal, as without it, the story would be robbed of its raison d’être.
Why bring out this version? Someone discovered Jim Lee’s original pencil art for the series, and had the idea of putting out a collection stripped of both inks and colouring, to show off Lee’s tight pencil art. So that it can still be read as a comic, they retain Richard Starkings’ lettering, but to be honest, the colour text boxes and special effects look garish on top of line art.
If you want to read Hush, I’d recommend one of the more traditional editions. This one is strictly for the Jim Lee fans, or wannabe artists who can learn from looking at pencil originals, and compare against the finished pages. An oddity rather than an essential purchase.
Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman. Book ReviewComments Off
Titan Books p/b £7.99
Reviewed by Mike Chinn
If you can’t guess what you’re in for by the book title, then the seven chapters contained herein aren’t going to give it away, either: A Volume in Vermillion, A Shambles in Belgravia, The Red Planet League, The Hound of the D’Urbervilles, The Adventure of the Six Maledictions, The Greek Invertebrate and The Problem of the Final Adventure. Well of course it’s elementary – they’re all clever plays on the titles of Sherlock Holmes stories. Much as this collection is.
Newman stands the Holmes/Watson relationship on its head: Professor James Moriarty is the genius at the centre of each tale, Colonel Sebastian Moran his Boswell. Each of the above tales has echoes of Conan Doyle’s originals but he’s not the only author to get the treatment. HG Wells, William Hope Hodgson, Anthony Hope and Thomas Hardy are just a few of the authors whose characters are drafted in. Watson is name-checked but neither Sherlock nor Mycroft Holmes is actually named. Moran’s insolent writing style has far more interesting sobriquets for them both. Irene Adler does the dirty on the Professor just as she did Holmes – this time messing about with the aristocracy of Ruritania – but she’s by far a less ladylike creation here. Or at least, that’s how Moran’s jottings portray her.
As in Newman’s Anno Dracula books, characters whose literary pedigree make them contemporaries of Moriarty and Holmes flit by often in cameos so fast you can miss them, leaving you wondering: “Wasn’t that…?” This is half the fun, of course. Some – like the Holmes brothers – aren’t actually mentioned by name, so it’s all the more delightful when you work it out.
There are several pages of footnotes at the end of the book, expanding on terminology, characters and sources; as well as three more pages of notes and acknowledgements. Fun and scholarly – two words you don’t normally expect to see in the same sentence.
Star Wars The Old Republic: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn. Book ReviewComments Off
Titan Books, h/b, £17.99
Reviewed by Craig Knight
Set nearly 4,000 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: Revan describes the fate of the eponymous Sith Lord turned Jedi. Players of Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic computer games will be familiar with the character of Revan and this book bridges the gap between the events of those games and the new online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic.
As something of a Star Wars fanboy and a recent addict to the aforementioned online game, I was eager to read this book and on the whole I wasn’t disappointed. Karpyshyn is a veteran of the Star Wars universe having penned several novels before this and his familiarity is evident in this book. The setting is spot on and the Star Wars atmosphere hits you as soon as you begin reading.
Fans of the character of Revan may be a little disappointed, however. As the book is entitled Revan, I expected this to be a detailed description of his fate but Karpyshyn concentrates more on the amusingly named Sith Lord Scourge. Don’t get me wrong, Scourge is a great character, fascinating and well written, but the amount of story time given to him effectively relegates Revan to second place. This has the unfortunate effect of making Revan’s character a little flat. Bioware went to great lengths in the games to create a huge backstory for Revan and to see it barely used was disappointing. Even Revan’s wife, Bastilla, such a huge part of Revan’s life, is cast aside with only a couple of cameo appearances.
Karpyshyn redeems himself somewhat by creating an Emperor just as dark and wickedly evil as Palpatine ever was – this is one person you really don’t want to annoy. The ending is thrilling and there’s also an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming.
Karpyshyn no doubt had some very strict parameters to work within, setting up the scene for The Old Republic, and he mostly succeeds. Although Revan himself is underused, the story is a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe and is one of those books that you want to keep picking up until it’s finished.
Stark’s War Trilogy by Jack Campbell. Book ReviewComments Off
Titan Books, p/b, £7.99 each
Reviewed by Craig Knight
The USA reigns supreme on Earth as the only remaining economic and military superpower. The other countries of the world turn to the Moon in search of a place away from American dominance. America, not happy with this, sends a military force to Earth’s satellite in order to establish a colony and wrest control of the Moon away from the foreign states.
Stark’s War is the first of the trilogy of novels describing America’s fight for the Moon in this rather unsettling universe. The first thing that stands out in this book is the dialogue. There’s a lot; really, an awful lot. It takes a while to get used to Campbell’s style of having the plot presented to the reader through copious amounts of talking. Does it work? Yes and no. The upside is that it effectively illustrates the various characters’ personalities and allows for a detailed narrative on the story’s events. The downside is that it becomes tiring after a while and the story feels as though it is being told rather than shown; I frequently wanted to see the events the characters were alluding to rather than just have them chat about them. That said, the dialogue is well written and gets deep into the story.
The military scenes are written very well and are superbly atmospheric with a mental image painted effortlessly by Campbell’s expertise in this area. The enemy – the rest of the world, really – is completely faceless though, with not even a single character portrayed. We’re told how formidable the enemy is but whenever they engage Stark’s forces, they seem woefully inept and capitulate with seemingly little resistance. This tends to siphon any tension and intrigue out of the story.
Stark’s War is an interesting story if you like military SF. The military scenes are well done but they lack depth as there’s never any doubt that Stark will win. However, the conclusion is gripping and the final assault against the enemy frontlines won’t let you put the book down until it’s read.
Stark’s Command continues immediately after the events of Stark’s War and the effect his decision will have on the American forces stationed on the Moon. Stark now has to rally his troops against the enemy’s counterattack and prepare for the American response to his actions.
The opening to Stark’s Command is explosive, throwing the reader right into the thick of battle with the enemy surging against the US forces after the devastating events of Stark’s War. This action doesn’t last, however, and it soon returns to the dialogue-heavy style that dominated the previous book. This is disappointing as the feeling of being told what is going on in the story is even stronger in this book than in the previous one. By the second half of the book I was screaming at the pages for something to actually happen and it does… in places. Like Stark’s War, the military scenes are superbly portrayed but there’s just no tension here. Stark never seems capable of putting a foot wrong and you have to wonder why he hasn’t single-handedly conquered the lunar colonies.
The characterisation is still great and Stark’s personality does shine through well. He makes a great double act with Sergeant Vic Reynolds who arguably steals the story whenever she is present.
Stark’s Command seems to suffer from being the middle book of the trilogy as it doesn’t do much more than discuss the actions of Stark’s War and prepare for Stark’s Crusade. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to continue onto the final book but I’m glad I did.
Stark’s Crusade is the last book in the trilogy and manages to go out with something of a bang. Facing the US Government’s increasingly desperate attempts to regain control of the lunar colony, Stark must look to the safety of his own troops and the growing unrest on Earth.
After the soporific nature of the previous book, Stark’s Crusade is a welcome change in pace as the events rapidly head to a conclusion. The story is still swamped in dialogue but there is more action this time and it seems to dilute the incessant chatting somewhat.
The main characters are portrayed as well as ever and we get to see more of the Colony Commander Campbell (any relation to the author, I wonder?) which is an interesting switch. Stark and Reynolds are still the highlight of the book with their banter often bringing a smile. Stark himself seems to head towards being a paragon of virtue by the end which defies believability a little but this is a minor criticism.
Campbell ramps up his discussion of what a military’s responsibility and purpose is and this often raises some fascinating insights. The author’s experience continues to shine through in the action scenes and is one of the points that make this book stand out. Overall, this is a worthy conclusion to the trilogy and has a satisfying, if predictable, ending.
The Stark’s War trilogy has a lot going for it: great action scenes, interesting characters and an original concept. However, it’s hard to get past the overwhelming amount of dialogue that drains the story of life and this turns what could have been a great story into just a fairly good story. It’s worth a read but be prepared for a lot of speech marks.