Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Garro - Oath Of Moment

Today I bring you a review of Oath Of Moment by James Swallow.

I have promised several people reviews of tales from the deliciously dark universe of Warhammer 40k, and well here's my first! Unlike my previous reviews and many of the others yet to come, this is not a review of a book, but rather an audio drama written exclusively for Games Workshop's publishing section, the Black Library (link to the side).

The story is set in the Horus Heresy series that has become one of the flagship series for the company in recent years, and follows on from the events of the fourth book in the series 'The Flight Of The Eisenstein' and follows the tale of Captain Nathaniel Garro, the loyalist captain from the traitor legion of the Death Guard.

Garro, once a battle captain of the Death Guard legion of space marines, has seen his brothers and primarch (genetically designed super warriors, the gene sons of the Emperor) betray their oaths to the Emperor and the Imperium and join the traitor Horus and his legion of marines, along with the same happening with several other legions creating the core of the civil war that is just starting in the galaxy, as well as the slaughter of the loyalist elements of those legions on Istvann 3, having fled to Earth to warn the Emperor and the loyal legions about the traitors gathering in the Istvaan system, has been locked up in the facility on Luna (the moon) awaiting the judgement of the Emperor and his subordinates, namely Malcador the Sigilette.

Malcador comes to the imprisoned space marine and offers him the chance to serve him and therefore, the Emperor. Garro is ordered to search out and find key figures from across the legions, both traitor and loyalist, and form a group to conduct missions to secure the fate of the Imperium. Burning his sigil into the armour of the former Death Guard captain, Malcador sends Garro out into the galaxy to begin his quest, the stylised 'I' burned into his metal coloured armour.

For fans of this universe, doubtless you have already recognised what I mean by that symbol. Yes it is the mark of the Inquisition of the current timeline, which begs the questions of, did the Emperor approve the formation of the Inquisition during his time before the Golden Throne life support machine, is Garro therefore the First Inquisitor, and just what will they be getting up to during the galaxy spanning civil war? These questions are not answered during the course of the tale, but maybe we'll see something in the future.

Garro goes onto recruit his first member in the fires of the war, and ends up in one of the bitter battles of the Heresy.

The writing for this tale is snappy and fast flowing, giving it the feel of a frenetic fast paced combat and it allows you to cast your mind into the tale, landing you square in the middle of the action, your heart pounding as bolt shells and laser fire whips over your head.

The narrator, coupled with the nigh on perfect sound effects and soundtrack only serve to highten the feeling that you are a part of the fighting on this particular world and you can almost smell the discharge of weapons and the smell of a burning battlefield in your nostrils.

The characters, while not as fully fleshed out as some of the more memorable figures in the 40k universe (such as Commissar Gaunt and the Ghosts for example), are able to stand out from the vast majority of the often two dimensional figures some writers create and it stays away from florid prose that goes a grand total of no where quickly and from bogging itself down in superfluous details that have no bearing on the action as a whole.

Really, this audio drama is well worth the small amount of cash it takes to download it. The story, soundtrack and narration all serve to provide a vision of the grim future of the 40k universe that is able to spring out of the codex books and novels and punch you straight in the face with an activated power fist!

Four Stars

Garro - Oath Of Moment by James Swallow read by Toby Longworth.
Only available as a download from the Black Library website (link in the side panel)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Patient Zero

Today I bring you a review of Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Now I read a lot of zombie horror and such post apocalyptic texts. Why? I enjoy them, the idea of survival against the odds, fighting against an implacable enemy that is out to destroy the very thing that makes you human, all that 'good' stuff. This won't come as much of a surprise considering during my teenage years I read a lot of military sci-fi and have spent the last five years writing fan fiction for the deliciously dark universe that is Warhammer 40k, but more on that later.

Patient Zero is a book I have seen about on book store shelves for some time now, but after I finished reading Annie On My Mind, I went looking on Amazon's kindle store to find something new to plunge into and low and behold, Patient Zero was the result. Now I'm not going to spend ages going on about my thoughts of eBooks versus proper print here, I'll save that for another time, so I'll just jump straight into the review.

Patient Zero follows the story of Joe Ledger, a cop set to head off to the FBI training facility to start a career with them. However, as you might have guessed, things don't exactly go according to plan. 

The book opens with a raid on a suspected terrorist cell operating on the eastern coast of the United States where Joe and his team encounter an extremely violent and deranged individual that tries to bite Ledger. Yes you guessed it; this is the patient zero of the zombie plague. After dropping it with a couple of shots in the back, Ledger is left to ponder his fate awaiting a review when he is bundled away by a bunch of feds and introduced to the mysterious 'Mr. Church' and the Department of Military Sciences, the DMS, which just happens to be a super secret military organisation with a blank check from the US president. Cue the guy Ledger shot reanimated and hungry for flesh.

The story progresses along the usual conspiracy and gory lines common to a hell of a lot of fiction out on the market these days with the author trying to legitimise his plot line by bringing in lots of high tech equipment and rare medical diseases that his whole virus is hinged upon. Strangely enough, Mr. Maberry is able to keep the whole thing both realistic and tied up well together for the main narrative following the exploits of Ledger, Church and the DMS as they seek out who and what is behind the plague and try to stop it from becoming the world ending pandemic in the vein of Day By Day series, World War Z and just about anything by George A. Romero. 

Unfortunately, this is where his whole book starts to fall apart.

Clearly he had put in a lot of research to cover his virus and US sections of the story, and kept that working, but the author brought in elements both unnecessary and frankly, very poorly done. His bad guys are the classic Hollywood black hats of recent years, fanatical Muslims so dosed up on their twisted brand of Islam that they are quite happy to see the rest of the world burn, and what almost seems to be a requirement for undead media, a pharmaceutical company obsessed with money. Great, like we haven't seen that before! His villains are overdone, unbelievable and almost ruin the plot line with their antics. They make what was a good conspiracy read into propaganda bullshit. With these characters, the whole book starts to read like a recruitment drive for the US military and I can just imagine a bunch of people reading this book while saluting the Stars and Stripes and singing the American national anthem.

Now, I'm British through and through, cut me in half and you'll find the Union Jack imprinted in me like a stick of Brighton Rock after you get past the royal seal tattooed on my arse, and like most Brits dismissive of anything American (we're just painfully polite about it ;) ), but this kind of propaganda I'm seeing more and more frequently just makes me sick. There is no need for it and it ruins the effect of a narrative.

My biggest problem with this book however, is the way Maberry shoehorns the British military into the narrative. While research was done on the medical side for his virus, the author clearly didn't spent an second of his time while putting this story together to research the British military. He has come up with units, corrupted others, got equipment wrong, operating procedures wrong and created a fantasy version of the UK forces that all Americans seem to have brought into over the last few decades.

So let's go for a run down of his fuckups here shall we? 
1: British forces use halftracks. - We have not used halftracks since the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War and most of those were American machines purchased through Lease Lend.
2: British forces always forget mission objectives to care for casualties - NO. Mission always comes first. The UK forces will leave casualties until the battle has been won. We are not driven by the almost suicidal addiction to 'No Man Left Behind'. That is an American ideal, not ours.
3: Bastion Hospital takes wounded from Iraq - NO! Oddly enough there were field hospitals in our area of control in Iraq during the years we were there. NO casualties would ever have been transferred between warzones, because that is A. stupid B. runs the risk of them dying during transit and C. would involve flying over hostile airspace! There is no link between Iraq and Afghanistan that doesn't cross the airspace of at least three other nations. The quickest route is over Iran and yeah, that ain't going to happen.
4: Bastion hospital cannot care for battlefield injuries - Fucking bullshit. Bastion hospital is one of the best facilities in the world and can care for almost any injury going. It has top of the line gear and top of the line staff.
5: A pediatric doctor put in charge of triage - Ok what the fuck? Why would a PEDIATRIC doctor even be doing in uniform? It's not like there's a big call for them in the army is it? Dumbass addition.
6: There's a unit called the Sixteenth Air Assault Brigade - Nope, it's just 16 Air Assault Brigade. We only have the one.
7: There's a unit called the First Royal Anglian Regiment - NOPE! It's just the Royal Anglian Regiment. It's got numbered battalions and we shorthand that to One Royal Anglians while speaking. Did he actually bother to check this up? Clearly not.
8: A pharmaceutical company can create a false identity for a terrorist as a British soldier so he can get in through the system. - Yeah just plain NO!
9: The Royal Navy operates hospital ships - Not since the Falklands. All casualties’ head back to Selly Oak Hospital.
10: Foreign nationals and Red Cross doctors operate on said hospital ships - No, guess again Mr. Maberry. ONLY British military personnel work in British military hospitals. 
11: A Red Cross ship takes British military casualties around the world for treatment - Yeah fuck off.
12: There's a unit called the one hundred odd (forget the number he used) Armoured - NOPE! We have very few armoured units, even less now (thanks to the SDSR)
13: British forces worked in the area around Najaf, Iraq - No the yanks did. We operated around Basra, and if you get that wrong, you're really not trying.
14: Terrorists can plan and execute an ambush that would bring British troops running to their faked halftrack and casualties - Yeah no. Oddly enough you have something called a communications network that allows you to keep track of units in the field, and terrorists can access it because its known as something called a SECURE NETWORK!!
15: British casualties in Afghanistan are so high that whole units get wiped out and battalions have to be rotated rapidly to replace losses. - There is no excuse for this one. Ever. Maberry go cut your wrists you fuck. You do NOT make light of sacrifices made by soldiers and you NEVER write ANYTHING saying about losses being higher than in reality. You're on my list for this one, motherfucker.
16: Women serve in the SAS - No. Women do not serve in any branch that would lead them to the SAS. You have to be infantry of some form to have the skills to get there and to be in an infantry unit you have to be male. The SAS is and infantry unit (classed as by the MoD) so NO WOMEN ALLOWED!!! This is a popular one with authors and filmmakers, and one that is easily rectified. Get it right, fuckos!!

Well that's that rant over, but you can see the problem. If you're going to put that sort of thing into your story, you could at least spend a couple of days getting your research right, or in the case of Mr. Maberry, just doing some fucking research would be a starter for ten!

All in all, Patient Zero is a good read spoiled by unnecessary characters, poorly created situations outside the main plot line and hamstrung by piss poor research and stupid mistakes, and too many short, choppy chapters. If you can leave that to one side, the main plot line is a good read and is worthy of being held up there as one of the better pieces of zombie fiction, and would be there so long as the editor earned his paycheck.

Three stars.

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
eISBN: 978 0 5750 8694 4

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Annie On My Mind

Well for my first review I bring you Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden.

The book follows the story of Annie and (E)liza, two teenage girls from very different backgrounds from New York as they explore their feelings for one another. 

The book starts in a somewhat unassuming way as Liza sits in her room at MIT trying to get her mind straight about past events and just what Annie means to her. You get the slightly nasty feeling creeping up on you at this point that perhaps this might just end up as a depressing tale of lost love or a Sunset Boulevard style tale, yet the author manages to avoid this trap nicely as she just speeds on into the action of the main story, only dropping it back into the present at MIT after some major event in the storyline has occurred with each time having Liza work through her thoughts about it.

As with most LGBT fiction I've come across, the characters are remarkable in some way, having some skill that sets them apart from the crowd and enchants the other player in the romance of the novel, and Annie On My Mind is no exception to this apparent rule. The first time we are introduced to Annie in one of the many museums the pair visit during the course of the book she is singing beautifully, which just happens to grab Liza's attention. This sort of feature could easily be over done and ruin the feel of the novel as a whole, but Nancy Garden is able just to weave it into the background, making it more part of the character than a focus of the story, making the book feel far more well rounded and natural than it might have been if the point had been laboured. 

During the narrative the pairs relationship evolves, drawing them closer together until they are all but inseparable. The moment of their first kiss is so touching that it makes you long for the moment you too shared such an embrace, and although they both feel the same, that one moment sends them spiralling into confusion, not sure about their feelings they have or how to approach them but with them both still absolutely obsessed with one another. Their growing passion is cut through with school problems (as we all suffered in one form or another during our school years!) and the problems of just finding the space to express their love when they are constantly surrounded by people and like all teenagers, unable to break away to find that space.

As you might have expected, that space arrives but brings down the conflict element to the story, the religious school teachers both obsessed with the bible and the face of the school Liza attends. Their response to the girls makes you want to jump into the action and wring their necks, yet the author manages to convey not just the religious intolerance they have for the lesbian nature of the girls, but avoids overdoing it which is all too easily done to make them seem like the villain, but also manages to keep the characters humanity throughout, which just reminds you that they are not the black hat faceless villain of some cowboy movie.

All told, this novel although written for the teenage market is grown up in its approach to the themes it presents the reader, well crafted and superbly written, taking you a literal roller coaster of emotions through the course of the narrative. It leaves you wanting to know more and will bring you back to your teenage years and the way you felt about your first love.

Five stars.

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden
ISBN: 978-0-374-40011-8

Hello and welcome!

Well hello there and welcome to this little spot of mine here on the web! Unlike a similarly named short story series of mine (which can be found over in the Library section of Rachel's Haven see the links to the side!), this site will be dedicated to reviewing the books I come across and read.
I'll try and update this place as often as possible, but I hope you can understand any gaps between posts. It does take time to read through a novel after all!
So if you don't mind reading the text version of my verbal rambling, I hope you enjoy what I bring you and that you pick up some of the titles I review. Keep reading folks!