Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Art of "The Last of Us" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin (Dark Horse Books)

"The Art of 'The Last of Us'" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin. Haunting, beautiful, essential. 
I can't imagine what it must've been like to be a developer or artist involved in Naughty Dog's hugely acclaimed game "The Last of Us".

Imagine being in a meeting on day one and being told "Your next task is to come up with Naughty Dog's next successful franchise."

No mean feat for any developer, but one with the pedigree of Naughty Dog? The developers behind the massively successful Jak and Daxter and Uncharted series?

When I first heard about "The Last of Us" I was so burned out on zombies and zombie-based games that I barely paid any attention to it at all. But as those first beautiful pieces of concept art were leaked to the press, and the first game trailer came along I started to pay a lot more attention.

The Last Of Us does ruined civilisation better than any other game you'll see in the current console generation. 
For starters, the game's "infected" aren't just your run-of-the-mill undead. They're twisted humans, infected with a fungal parasite that at least has a basis in science fact rather than science fiction. Based on the blight that some insects carry, that warps and twists their bodies into new and interesting - and entirely unnatural - shapes, Naughty Dog set out to twist the expectations that folk would have about their main 'baddies' and at least make an attempt to make them original and through that, more menacing.

Early expressions and concepts for Joel, one of the game's main characters
In the book we see how both Joel and Ellie (the main characters in the game) evolved, and how their looks changed as the game progressed. Having such a charismatic character as Nathan Drake to follow, Joel had to be sufficiently different enough, but with the dual-edged sword of being a bit of a nasty piece of work but still caring, even fatherly at times, it must've been a tough gig to design someone who would live on in the memory through being pretty ordinary but forced into extraordinary circumstances.

The stunning dystopian urban landscapes, shattered by years of neglect and slowly melting away and succumbing to nature are some of the game's real 'wow' moments.

No Through Road!
In the book the original concept paintings are shown alongside target renders and stuff that actually appears in the game. So many games have attempted to show the fall of civilisation, the slow drip-feed of nature's encroachment on humankind's domain, but The Last Of Us nails it perfectly. Seeing the full colour plates in the book makes you appreciate just how detailed these are, and how many reference pictures from disaster / war zones the artists must've picked through to get the look just right.

Broken into sections that describe how the game unfolds, the book offers tantalising glimpses into what might have been. For instance, imagine the game with a female protagonist instead of Joel. Imagine Ellie as a wispy blonde girl rather than the gutsy dark haired teen we now know.

There's also artwork from the limited edition comic that served as a prequel to the game, and though the art style is radically different, it's still interesting to read about things that pop up in the game as backstory.

Most game-art books are fairly light on content and ridiculously expensive for what they offer. "The Art of 'The Last of Us'" is packed to the gunnels with brilliant and beautiful illustrations, so if you've played through the game so many times you could so blindfolded (yep, that'd be me), dive into the book to reveal even more of Joel and Ellie's world. An essential purchase not just for fans of the game but for folk who want to delve into the processes and evolution behind games and game characters.

Probably my favourite illustration in the book. Brilliant!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Saga Volume II by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume II. Red in tooth, claw and horn
If you've already seen my review of Saga Volume 1, you're already aware that I'm won over by the heady cocktail of uber-violence, romance and space-going surreality that has been poured lasciviously into Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples sprawling series.

With Volume 2 we play catch up for a while or two, with more of an introduction into the stories of Alana and Marko. When they met it wasn't quite murder, but as you see in this frame, it wasn't a bed of roses either. Owch!

Thwok!
On the run from ruthless mercenaries, the duo with their newborn daughter in tow have a less than happy "Meet the Parents" moment when Marko's mum and dad drop in (Marko's dad is eminently cool, have to say).

Meanwhile menacing "The Will" and Lying Cat team up with Marko's spurned ex who wants more than just cold hearted revenge (LYING!), and a couple of rather important family heirlooms back. Help comes from a surprising source but I'll leave you to discover that little nugget in the story yourself.

It's not exactly spoilerish to tell you that as you reach the end of Saga Volume 2, you're left hanging in the breeze waiting for Vaughan and Staples to polish up the rest of the Saga and deliver Volume 3 (If you're already voraciously consuming the original comic series rather than, like me, playing catch up with 'the box set' then you're in for a bit of a wait.

Suffice to say that this should not put you off enjoying a wholly fresh-feeling and deliciously dark pair of graphic novels. If you're not in love (or at least lust) with Alana or Marko by the end, there's probably something wrong with you. Once again, this is a comic for grown ups so expect nudity, sex and the world's droopiest and crustied sore-covered ballsack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume 1 Cover - Horny Horny Horny!

For the first official Graphic Novel review here at Daddy after Dark I wanted to look at something that may have slipped by completely unnoticed, but is well and truly worthy of your attention.

Brian K. Vaughan may be a name familiar to Lost fans. Someone who can weave a plot so intricate and deliciously dark that it's irresistible even when it makes no sense whatsoever, Brian has turned his talents to producing a sprawling sexy spacefaring science fiction masterpiece in the shape of Saga. With  the formidable illustrative talents of Fiona Staples, Volume 1 introduces us to Marko, a horned footsoldier on one side of a global conflict and his wife Alana, the sultry, sexy and kick-ass winged member of a technological coalition on the 'other side' of the war.

This is an adult graphic novel, so don't be surprised when it kicks off with a rather bizarre birth scene introducing us to Marko and Alana's daughter Hazel (the narrator of the story), and also has sex scenes and suggestive content (including something that deals with a subject that is really pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in an adult comic later on in the story).

But for all that, this isn't something that tittilates, it's something that deals with huge issues in a way that comics often steer around - or jump in with both feet and make a mess of things. Allegories of war, and even some rather tongue-in-cheek observations on becoming a parent for the first time are in here.

Prince Robot IV. Not to be trifled with. 

For my money though, it's the characters that make Saga stand out. Alana and Marko are seriously sexy characters who feel like they're reining in their awesome power and just trying to get along with being a family

But oh, then there's Lying Cat.

Lying Cat and "The Will" Again, don't mess with this pair! They'll turn you into a beanbag. 

A psychic cat as a sidekick, that can tell if folk are telling fibs? What's not to love. With his handler "The Will", a psychotic mercenary hunting for Alana and Marko - with the odd dalliance here and there to a prostitution colony, Lying Cat is utterly fantastic.

Saga is inventive, stunning to look at, and I cannot wait to dive into Volume 2 (it's so difficult not to dive through both volumes and consume them voraciously in one sitting). Watch out for a review soon.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna (Definitions - Young Adult)

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. Original and thought provoking stuff
When I'm on holiday, one thing's certain. I will voraciously consume books. When you've got a young child and you're all sharing a room, there's nothing better than escaping out onto the balcony with a good book and diving through it.

We were originally sent "The Lost Girl" by Sangu Mandanna some time ago, and though it's taken till now to have a platform to review it on, it's worth taking a closer look at as it is original and thought provoking stuff.

In a society mirroring our own, the technology exists to produce "echoes" - parallel living beings that are more than just clones of a person. Designed to step in and replace the original person in the event of an accident, echoes are created on "The Loom" and spend their lives learning all the intricate traits, mannerisms and lifestyles of their 'originals'.

The novel concerns one such echo, a girl whose 'original' is named Amarra but chooses to call herself Eva (named after a mischievous elephant she sees in a zoo during an illicit day out). The girl she's designed to 'replace' is feisty, somewhat spoilt perhaps (my wife described her as 'whiny' even, eek!) and privileged.

When tragedy strikes and Amarra is killed in a car accident, Eva is destined to fulfil her role, to replace Amarra and live with her grief-stricken family. The aim is that Eva will neatly assume Amarra's role, soak up Amarra's lifestyle, share Amarra's friends and her boyfriend Ray, and no one will notice.

But of course, the best laid plans of mice, men or weavers are never as clear cut and never run strictly to plan. Eva is spirited, more so than Amarra. Eva is different, and despite being an echo, Eva is her own person with her own wishes and desires. Wishes and desires that are not a neat fit for her new life, or any kind of fit at all for the weavers who created her.

Sangu Mandanna has produced a work that dances neatly between science fiction and fact. It does not blather or babble or befuddle us with technicalities, but it does deliver a story that calls into question everything we consider moral, deals delicately with the multi-layered nuances of grief, and delves into ethical questions that will, undoubtedly, one day become as real as humanity's desire to answer questions about our own creation, how we came to be, how we evolved to a state where we feel we're masters of the universe rather than pawns.

The book heavily refers to one of my favourite books of all time, Mary Shelley's scintillating "Frankenstein; or the modern prometheus" - in fact it's more a totem to Eva than anything else she encounters.

There are times when the novel forces us to evaluate whether we actually like Eva, but we can't help but admire her quest to prove that any living being - artificially created or otherwise - has a right to live in the way they choose not at the whims of others.

A fantastic, original and wholly absorbing debut.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre Books)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Winners can be Loesers!
This book has been on my wishlist for what feels like an eternity. They say that a book can lull you in with the awesome draw of "cover power" or make you stand up and take notice with a brief but tantalising blurb. That was the case here and thanks to a timely spot at our fabulous local indie (Mostly Books in Abingdon) who were running a promotion to nab this and several other brilliant titles for the paltry sum of £2.99, I seized my chance to wrap myself up the world of one Egon Loeser  (yes I kept pronouncing it "lew-ser" when I think it's closer to "loo-sser") while on holiday. Twice in fact, it's that great!

Antihero? Lust monster? Meldrew-esque misery guts? It's difficult to categorise a central character that utterly defies you to find anything about him to like - yet you can't help but do so. A theatrical set designer by trade, we first meet Loeser in Germany during the rise of the third reich but long before the first bullet of World War 2 is fired.

Loeser's world is governed by typically male pursuits. Lusting after unattainable females, experimenting with drugs and spending far too many waking hours as drunk as a skunk, Loeser meets a former student, Adele Hitler (yes, really but no, no relation) at a party and becomes so pivotally entranced by her, and his single-minded pursuit of her that his entire life becomes consumed by his quest.

So why "The Teleportation Accident?"

No there's no fancy fiddly fantastical messing around with temporal or physical displacement in the novel (which is what I was actually expecting), more the notion that a 17th century set designer came up with a physical device to move an actor instantaneously from one part of the stage to the other. This notion becomes a recurring motif for the novel as it explores surreal, comic and sometimes darkly disturbing themes during Loeser's chaotic and dishevelled mission.

Ned Beauman's comic touch is worth a huge mention here. Novels that make you burst out laughing loudly on aeroplanes are probably to be frowned on (as, possibly, are novels that make you uncomfortably titter at things you probably shouldn't be laughing at). Loeser and the supporting cast are so vividly hewn that it's almost impossible not to 'see' them despite several leaps across the globe as Loeser achingly gets closer yet thousands of miles away from his 'quarry'.

Reminiscent of bawdy 18th Century tales led by the nose through the 1930s like a wide-eyed staring adolescent, "The Teleportation Accident" does not disappoint and it's not hard to see why it was longlisted for the 2012 booker prize.

In fact with Beauman's previous novel "Boxer, Beetle" already winning awards - and Beauman himself described as one of the 12 best new British writers by The Culture Show, you're in for a heck of a ride. Just make sure you tuck some clean underwear (and a suit that doesn't smell of dead skunks) into your travel case.

"Black Arts" by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil (David Fickling Books)


"Black Arts" by Prentice and Weil. A Jack of Dark Trades 
Rip-roaring, roister-doistering and with such a deliciously dark blood-red vein of tense narrative running through it, Prentice and Weil's "Black Arts" is the sort of darkly delicious novel I just cannot resist.

Set in the stinking decrepit streets of Elizabethan London, "Black Arts" introduces us to a young street-thief named Jack who is about to undertake his first step on the 'career ladder' with notorious underworld crime king Mr Sharkwell.

But Jack's light fingers get him into more trouble than he bargained for when he steals a mysterious pouch containing seemingly innocent items. One of the items, a clay pipe, completely transforms Jack's life, bringing personal tragedy and dark magic hand in hand to land smack bang on his doorstep.

Fuelled by revenge, and the thirst for knowledge as to what his blood-red arm and mysteriously disrupted visual senses mean, Jack finds that his new talents are of particular interest to both sides of an unseen and wholly world-shattering conflict raging as London sinks further and further into moral degradation.

Jack is an interesting character, at first damaged and fragile but given new courage by vengeance and his first faltering dalliances into what his new powers can accomplish. With the aid of Sharkwell's own grandaughter, and other sympathetic characters, Jack soon finds that the mysterious and powerful enemy he makes early on in the story is perhaps an unbeatable foe. Or is he?

"Black Arts" happens at such a pace that you barely have time to draw breath. At times, Jack is seemingly lost in the morass as he struggles to make sense of his powers, and who can truly be trusted to help him exact revenge.

With luscious descriptive landscapes of rotten London painted in broad bloody strokes, and a strong and memorable cast of characters stretching as high as the Queen's own trusted advisers, this is a novel that is wrought from the darkest hues, but doesn't shy away from providing moments of comedic relief when things get too intense.

One for the blackest nights when you crave a page turner that will haunt you even as you dance between the waking world and your own darkly delicious nightmares.


Monday, 1 July 2013

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman (Quirk Books)

The spookiest covers in children's chapter books? You betcha!
I've been taking a look at a fab range of children's chapter books that are a little on the spooky side. One look at the lenticular covers (as you can see above, these slowly transform right before your eyes as you move the cover around) might be enough to sell this range of books to you, but what about the books themselves? How good are they?

In "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" Book 1, we're introduced to our hero, Robert Arthur, as he begins his first year at Lovecraft Middle School. Most of his friends have gone on to other schools. Unfortunately for Robert, the school bully Glenn Torkells is still around, and still extracting "Nerd Tax" every time he sees Robert. One of the many annoyances about Robert's first few days at the school.

Most of the other kids in class seem a bit weird and distant, except for one girl, Karina Ortiz, who urges Robert to stick up for himself against Glenn. Karina isn't quite as she seems though as Robert finds out later in the book (I won't spoil the twist).

In fact Karina isn't the only odd thing around Lovecraft Middle School. Kids disappear, and one particular teacher - the science teacher, Professor Goyle - seems more menacing than others.

Weird things start happening too. A plague of rats erupt from children's lockers (and one particular two-headed rat is soon adopted by Robert as a fuzzy friend), and the school library is a bizarre portal to another realm as Robert, Karina and eventually Glenn (who Robert saves from a particularly nasty near-miss) discover that Lovecraft Middle School is seriously warped in every sense of the word.

Charles Gilman's spooky stories have a whiff of Eerie, Indiana about them, and there are plenty of spooky goings-on to entertain kids who love the supernatural or a good old fashioned monstrous tale. It'll be interesting to see how the series develops. "Professor Gargoyle" was a neat introduction, a nice easy read but with plenty of spookiness to carry it through. I'm currently reading the second book (The Slither Sisters) and now the introductions of the main characters and the grist of the story have been laid down, Slither Sisters feels a lot more involved and sinister.

Perfect early readers for children. The books aren't particularly scary but they're great fun and those covers just leap out at you, who could possibly resist!

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman, is available from Quirk Books and of course your friendly local independent bookstore.



Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Art of "The Last of Us" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin (Dark Horse Books)

No comments:
"The Art of 'The Last of Us'" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin. Haunting, beautiful, essential. 
I can't imagine what it must've been like to be a developer or artist involved in Naughty Dog's hugely acclaimed game "The Last of Us".

Imagine being in a meeting on day one and being told "Your next task is to come up with Naughty Dog's next successful franchise."

No mean feat for any developer, but one with the pedigree of Naughty Dog? The developers behind the massively successful Jak and Daxter and Uncharted series?

When I first heard about "The Last of Us" I was so burned out on zombies and zombie-based games that I barely paid any attention to it at all. But as those first beautiful pieces of concept art were leaked to the press, and the first game trailer came along I started to pay a lot more attention.

The Last Of Us does ruined civilisation better than any other game you'll see in the current console generation. 
For starters, the game's "infected" aren't just your run-of-the-mill undead. They're twisted humans, infected with a fungal parasite that at least has a basis in science fact rather than science fiction. Based on the blight that some insects carry, that warps and twists their bodies into new and interesting - and entirely unnatural - shapes, Naughty Dog set out to twist the expectations that folk would have about their main 'baddies' and at least make an attempt to make them original and through that, more menacing.

Early expressions and concepts for Joel, one of the game's main characters
In the book we see how both Joel and Ellie (the main characters in the game) evolved, and how their looks changed as the game progressed. Having such a charismatic character as Nathan Drake to follow, Joel had to be sufficiently different enough, but with the dual-edged sword of being a bit of a nasty piece of work but still caring, even fatherly at times, it must've been a tough gig to design someone who would live on in the memory through being pretty ordinary but forced into extraordinary circumstances.

The stunning dystopian urban landscapes, shattered by years of neglect and slowly melting away and succumbing to nature are some of the game's real 'wow' moments.

No Through Road!
In the book the original concept paintings are shown alongside target renders and stuff that actually appears in the game. So many games have attempted to show the fall of civilisation, the slow drip-feed of nature's encroachment on humankind's domain, but The Last Of Us nails it perfectly. Seeing the full colour plates in the book makes you appreciate just how detailed these are, and how many reference pictures from disaster / war zones the artists must've picked through to get the look just right.

Broken into sections that describe how the game unfolds, the book offers tantalising glimpses into what might have been. For instance, imagine the game with a female protagonist instead of Joel. Imagine Ellie as a wispy blonde girl rather than the gutsy dark haired teen we now know.

There's also artwork from the limited edition comic that served as a prequel to the game, and though the art style is radically different, it's still interesting to read about things that pop up in the game as backstory.

Most game-art books are fairly light on content and ridiculously expensive for what they offer. "The Art of 'The Last of Us'" is packed to the gunnels with brilliant and beautiful illustrations, so if you've played through the game so many times you could so blindfolded (yep, that'd be me), dive into the book to reveal even more of Joel and Ellie's world. An essential purchase not just for fans of the game but for folk who want to delve into the processes and evolution behind games and game characters.

Probably my favourite illustration in the book. Brilliant!

Read More

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Saga Volume II by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

No comments:
Saga Volume II. Red in tooth, claw and horn
If you've already seen my review of Saga Volume 1, you're already aware that I'm won over by the heady cocktail of uber-violence, romance and space-going surreality that has been poured lasciviously into Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples sprawling series.

With Volume 2 we play catch up for a while or two, with more of an introduction into the stories of Alana and Marko. When they met it wasn't quite murder, but as you see in this frame, it wasn't a bed of roses either. Owch!

Thwok!
On the run from ruthless mercenaries, the duo with their newborn daughter in tow have a less than happy "Meet the Parents" moment when Marko's mum and dad drop in (Marko's dad is eminently cool, have to say).

Meanwhile menacing "The Will" and Lying Cat team up with Marko's spurned ex who wants more than just cold hearted revenge (LYING!), and a couple of rather important family heirlooms back. Help comes from a surprising source but I'll leave you to discover that little nugget in the story yourself.

It's not exactly spoilerish to tell you that as you reach the end of Saga Volume 2, you're left hanging in the breeze waiting for Vaughan and Staples to polish up the rest of the Saga and deliver Volume 3 (If you're already voraciously consuming the original comic series rather than, like me, playing catch up with 'the box set' then you're in for a bit of a wait.

Suffice to say that this should not put you off enjoying a wholly fresh-feeling and deliciously dark pair of graphic novels. If you're not in love (or at least lust) with Alana or Marko by the end, there's probably something wrong with you. Once again, this is a comic for grown ups so expect nudity, sex and the world's droopiest and crustied sore-covered ballsack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Read More

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

No comments:
Saga Volume 1 Cover - Horny Horny Horny!

For the first official Graphic Novel review here at Daddy after Dark I wanted to look at something that may have slipped by completely unnoticed, but is well and truly worthy of your attention.

Brian K. Vaughan may be a name familiar to Lost fans. Someone who can weave a plot so intricate and deliciously dark that it's irresistible even when it makes no sense whatsoever, Brian has turned his talents to producing a sprawling sexy spacefaring science fiction masterpiece in the shape of Saga. With  the formidable illustrative talents of Fiona Staples, Volume 1 introduces us to Marko, a horned footsoldier on one side of a global conflict and his wife Alana, the sultry, sexy and kick-ass winged member of a technological coalition on the 'other side' of the war.

This is an adult graphic novel, so don't be surprised when it kicks off with a rather bizarre birth scene introducing us to Marko and Alana's daughter Hazel (the narrator of the story), and also has sex scenes and suggestive content (including something that deals with a subject that is really pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in an adult comic later on in the story).

But for all that, this isn't something that tittilates, it's something that deals with huge issues in a way that comics often steer around - or jump in with both feet and make a mess of things. Allegories of war, and even some rather tongue-in-cheek observations on becoming a parent for the first time are in here.

Prince Robot IV. Not to be trifled with. 

For my money though, it's the characters that make Saga stand out. Alana and Marko are seriously sexy characters who feel like they're reining in their awesome power and just trying to get along with being a family

But oh, then there's Lying Cat.

Lying Cat and "The Will" Again, don't mess with this pair! They'll turn you into a beanbag. 

A psychic cat as a sidekick, that can tell if folk are telling fibs? What's not to love. With his handler "The Will", a psychotic mercenary hunting for Alana and Marko - with the odd dalliance here and there to a prostitution colony, Lying Cat is utterly fantastic.

Saga is inventive, stunning to look at, and I cannot wait to dive into Volume 2 (it's so difficult not to dive through both volumes and consume them voraciously in one sitting). Watch out for a review soon.

Read More

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna (Definitions - Young Adult)

No comments:
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. Original and thought provoking stuff
When I'm on holiday, one thing's certain. I will voraciously consume books. When you've got a young child and you're all sharing a room, there's nothing better than escaping out onto the balcony with a good book and diving through it.

We were originally sent "The Lost Girl" by Sangu Mandanna some time ago, and though it's taken till now to have a platform to review it on, it's worth taking a closer look at as it is original and thought provoking stuff.

In a society mirroring our own, the technology exists to produce "echoes" - parallel living beings that are more than just clones of a person. Designed to step in and replace the original person in the event of an accident, echoes are created on "The Loom" and spend their lives learning all the intricate traits, mannerisms and lifestyles of their 'originals'.

The novel concerns one such echo, a girl whose 'original' is named Amarra but chooses to call herself Eva (named after a mischievous elephant she sees in a zoo during an illicit day out). The girl she's designed to 'replace' is feisty, somewhat spoilt perhaps (my wife described her as 'whiny' even, eek!) and privileged.

When tragedy strikes and Amarra is killed in a car accident, Eva is destined to fulfil her role, to replace Amarra and live with her grief-stricken family. The aim is that Eva will neatly assume Amarra's role, soak up Amarra's lifestyle, share Amarra's friends and her boyfriend Ray, and no one will notice.

But of course, the best laid plans of mice, men or weavers are never as clear cut and never run strictly to plan. Eva is spirited, more so than Amarra. Eva is different, and despite being an echo, Eva is her own person with her own wishes and desires. Wishes and desires that are not a neat fit for her new life, or any kind of fit at all for the weavers who created her.

Sangu Mandanna has produced a work that dances neatly between science fiction and fact. It does not blather or babble or befuddle us with technicalities, but it does deliver a story that calls into question everything we consider moral, deals delicately with the multi-layered nuances of grief, and delves into ethical questions that will, undoubtedly, one day become as real as humanity's desire to answer questions about our own creation, how we came to be, how we evolved to a state where we feel we're masters of the universe rather than pawns.

The book heavily refers to one of my favourite books of all time, Mary Shelley's scintillating "Frankenstein; or the modern prometheus" - in fact it's more a totem to Eva than anything else she encounters.

There are times when the novel forces us to evaluate whether we actually like Eva, but we can't help but admire her quest to prove that any living being - artificially created or otherwise - has a right to live in the way they choose not at the whims of others.

A fantastic, original and wholly absorbing debut.

Read More

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre Books)

No comments:
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Winners can be Loesers!
This book has been on my wishlist for what feels like an eternity. They say that a book can lull you in with the awesome draw of "cover power" or make you stand up and take notice with a brief but tantalising blurb. That was the case here and thanks to a timely spot at our fabulous local indie (Mostly Books in Abingdon) who were running a promotion to nab this and several other brilliant titles for the paltry sum of £2.99, I seized my chance to wrap myself up the world of one Egon Loeser  (yes I kept pronouncing it "lew-ser" when I think it's closer to "loo-sser") while on holiday. Twice in fact, it's that great!

Antihero? Lust monster? Meldrew-esque misery guts? It's difficult to categorise a central character that utterly defies you to find anything about him to like - yet you can't help but do so. A theatrical set designer by trade, we first meet Loeser in Germany during the rise of the third reich but long before the first bullet of World War 2 is fired.

Loeser's world is governed by typically male pursuits. Lusting after unattainable females, experimenting with drugs and spending far too many waking hours as drunk as a skunk, Loeser meets a former student, Adele Hitler (yes, really but no, no relation) at a party and becomes so pivotally entranced by her, and his single-minded pursuit of her that his entire life becomes consumed by his quest.

So why "The Teleportation Accident?"

No there's no fancy fiddly fantastical messing around with temporal or physical displacement in the novel (which is what I was actually expecting), more the notion that a 17th century set designer came up with a physical device to move an actor instantaneously from one part of the stage to the other. This notion becomes a recurring motif for the novel as it explores surreal, comic and sometimes darkly disturbing themes during Loeser's chaotic and dishevelled mission.

Ned Beauman's comic touch is worth a huge mention here. Novels that make you burst out laughing loudly on aeroplanes are probably to be frowned on (as, possibly, are novels that make you uncomfortably titter at things you probably shouldn't be laughing at). Loeser and the supporting cast are so vividly hewn that it's almost impossible not to 'see' them despite several leaps across the globe as Loeser achingly gets closer yet thousands of miles away from his 'quarry'.

Reminiscent of bawdy 18th Century tales led by the nose through the 1930s like a wide-eyed staring adolescent, "The Teleportation Accident" does not disappoint and it's not hard to see why it was longlisted for the 2012 booker prize.

In fact with Beauman's previous novel "Boxer, Beetle" already winning awards - and Beauman himself described as one of the 12 best new British writers by The Culture Show, you're in for a heck of a ride. Just make sure you tuck some clean underwear (and a suit that doesn't smell of dead skunks) into your travel case.
Read More

"Black Arts" by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil (David Fickling Books)

No comments:

"Black Arts" by Prentice and Weil. A Jack of Dark Trades 
Rip-roaring, roister-doistering and with such a deliciously dark blood-red vein of tense narrative running through it, Prentice and Weil's "Black Arts" is the sort of darkly delicious novel I just cannot resist.

Set in the stinking decrepit streets of Elizabethan London, "Black Arts" introduces us to a young street-thief named Jack who is about to undertake his first step on the 'career ladder' with notorious underworld crime king Mr Sharkwell.

But Jack's light fingers get him into more trouble than he bargained for when he steals a mysterious pouch containing seemingly innocent items. One of the items, a clay pipe, completely transforms Jack's life, bringing personal tragedy and dark magic hand in hand to land smack bang on his doorstep.

Fuelled by revenge, and the thirst for knowledge as to what his blood-red arm and mysteriously disrupted visual senses mean, Jack finds that his new talents are of particular interest to both sides of an unseen and wholly world-shattering conflict raging as London sinks further and further into moral degradation.

Jack is an interesting character, at first damaged and fragile but given new courage by vengeance and his first faltering dalliances into what his new powers can accomplish. With the aid of Sharkwell's own grandaughter, and other sympathetic characters, Jack soon finds that the mysterious and powerful enemy he makes early on in the story is perhaps an unbeatable foe. Or is he?

"Black Arts" happens at such a pace that you barely have time to draw breath. At times, Jack is seemingly lost in the morass as he struggles to make sense of his powers, and who can truly be trusted to help him exact revenge.

With luscious descriptive landscapes of rotten London painted in broad bloody strokes, and a strong and memorable cast of characters stretching as high as the Queen's own trusted advisers, this is a novel that is wrought from the darkest hues, but doesn't shy away from providing moments of comedic relief when things get too intense.

One for the blackest nights when you crave a page turner that will haunt you even as you dance between the waking world and your own darkly delicious nightmares.


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Monday, 1 July 2013

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman (Quirk Books)

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The spookiest covers in children's chapter books? You betcha!
I've been taking a look at a fab range of children's chapter books that are a little on the spooky side. One look at the lenticular covers (as you can see above, these slowly transform right before your eyes as you move the cover around) might be enough to sell this range of books to you, but what about the books themselves? How good are they?

In "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" Book 1, we're introduced to our hero, Robert Arthur, as he begins his first year at Lovecraft Middle School. Most of his friends have gone on to other schools. Unfortunately for Robert, the school bully Glenn Torkells is still around, and still extracting "Nerd Tax" every time he sees Robert. One of the many annoyances about Robert's first few days at the school.

Most of the other kids in class seem a bit weird and distant, except for one girl, Karina Ortiz, who urges Robert to stick up for himself against Glenn. Karina isn't quite as she seems though as Robert finds out later in the book (I won't spoil the twist).

In fact Karina isn't the only odd thing around Lovecraft Middle School. Kids disappear, and one particular teacher - the science teacher, Professor Goyle - seems more menacing than others.

Weird things start happening too. A plague of rats erupt from children's lockers (and one particular two-headed rat is soon adopted by Robert as a fuzzy friend), and the school library is a bizarre portal to another realm as Robert, Karina and eventually Glenn (who Robert saves from a particularly nasty near-miss) discover that Lovecraft Middle School is seriously warped in every sense of the word.

Charles Gilman's spooky stories have a whiff of Eerie, Indiana about them, and there are plenty of spooky goings-on to entertain kids who love the supernatural or a good old fashioned monstrous tale. It'll be interesting to see how the series develops. "Professor Gargoyle" was a neat introduction, a nice easy read but with plenty of spookiness to carry it through. I'm currently reading the second book (The Slither Sisters) and now the introductions of the main characters and the grist of the story have been laid down, Slither Sisters feels a lot more involved and sinister.

Perfect early readers for children. The books aren't particularly scary but they're great fun and those covers just leap out at you, who could possibly resist!

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman, is available from Quirk Books and of course your friendly local independent bookstore.



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