prince_o_foolsFrom #SFX 249.

THREE STARS

Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Harper Voyager

502pp

Fools out of thorns

With his fast-paced plots and helpings of blood, Lawrence is perhaps closest to Abercrombie in tone (not G.R.R. Martin, not matter what the cover notes might say). A companion piece to the Broken Empire trilogy – different prince, same world – the titular Prince of Fools is Jalan, a royal wastrel who gets dragged off on an adventure to the Arctic by a big Viking. Horrific sequences of necromancy follow.

Lawrence is a sharp writer who keeps us turning the pages with a careful balance of quips and gory incident, but this book is in other regards disappointing. We’re in a future epoch where civilisation’s returned after a nuclear war, bringing magic with it. This is rich ground for adventure, the painted backdrop we get however far from lives up to the setting’s promise. It’s rife with illogicality and there’s a degree of unimaginativeness. Compared with the dazzling fantasy future Earths of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock et al, the Broken Empire is badly sketched.

Prince Jalan has tendency to repeatedly tell us he’s a coward, when, of course, he has more than a hero’s measure of courage. It reminds us of all those fantasies from fifteen years ago or so that had beautiful female heroines who, for various reasons, thought they were repulsive. We can only hope this doesn’t reflect a male-equivalent trend of protagonists who loathe themselves for similarly unbelievable reasons.

Did you know?

The Broken Empire is our own Europe, its map redrawn by cataclysmic warfare and flooding. All things said, it’s a great fantasy map.


Pow! A quick insight to what is on my hobby table right now. I’ve not had chance to do a lot recently, but I’ve done okay. Here’s some stuff.

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A Cygor for my growing Beastmen Age of Sigmar Army. This model is brilliant, Games Workshop at its best – dynamic, packed with detail, and pretty damn weird. The instructions barely scratch the modelling options with the kit, and I opted for a beast of my own design. I enjoyed putting it together it so much I may buy another, just so I can do the traditional “death cow throwing giant glowing rock” version. Facing a summoning army (one of the oft complained about aspects of the game) will be a walk in the park with these things because they literally eat wizards. In the background you can see some of the many Orruks I’ve been batch painting for my Greenskinz army, and to the left it one of two nifty, laser cut MDF paint stands I bought over Christmas.

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I’ve also been slowly putting together a couple of forces of 1/72 scale World War II armies for Bolt Action. Not played it yet as I want to have most of the materials painted and looking cool. This here is part of a resin bocage set that I have since finished.


A book review from SFX #249.

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THREE STARS

James Smythe/ Borough Press/376pp

Intimate techno-thriller

No Harm is an example of “big idea” SF, where one technology changes the world. In this case, it’s ClearVista, a predictive data-mining algorithm fast becoming an online soothsayer.

Laurence Walker is on track to become the next president of the US, until ClearVista predicts he has no chance, despite all indications to the contrary. Cue terrible tragedy.

No Harm… is the kind of book we’d love to love. Smythe attempts to build a deeply intimate portrayal of bereavement and breakdown by showing us every detail in every scene and every thought in every head. It’s only intermittently successful at best; overall the effect is paradoxically distancing. The story is neither gripping enough nor Walker’s fall from grace sufficiently believable to properly ignite such a writing style. The way Walker’s presented, you’d imagine he’d have a little more fight in him. Indeed, if he had, this might have been a more impressive work.

The SF idea, however, is strong, addressing the proliferation of the use of “big data” in our day-to-day lives. From this we get enough plot for a Hollywood SF thriller of Minority Report’s ilk, but no more. No doubt carefully shorn of distracting subplots (Mrs Walker is a struggling writer, a self-referential annoyance) it would be of minor on-screen interest. As literature, the book fails in some of its aims.

Did you know?

Smythe won the Wales Book of the Year Award for The Testimony in 2012.


Pharos

Whoop! Uncork the fermented grape juice with bubbles, and imbibe! Pharos, my first, full-length Horus Heresy book is now out in hardback, ebook, and audiobook. The listen-with-your-ears version runs to 13 hours. Wow. Okay, the length is not unusual, but when I see audio running times in black and white it begs the question:  if it takes that long to read a book out loud, how long do you think the things take to write, eh? AGES, that’s how long.

Here’s the blurb.

With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Roboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to launch their long-planned attack on the Pharos itself…

I felt privileged to be asked to write Pharos. A tough book, because the Horus Heresy is Games Workshop’s best-selling novel range, and written by so many talented writers before me. Pharos also moves the story of the Heresy on a fair bit, so not only is it a book in brilliant series, it’s a pivotal book in a brilliant series. I was actually bricking it all the way through that I was going to screw it up. However, the I’m proud of the end result, and comments back from folks who bought the pre-release ebook on Christmas day have been overwhelmingly positive. Thanks for that.

Pharos came out on Saturday. If I were a more diligent author with my marketing noggin screwed firmly on, then I’d have been blaring loud on the internets about this then. But I have a kid who I was looking after solo all weekend, and a kid moreover that I was playing Helldivers with (for the hour I wasn’t run ragged, cooking, cleaning, ferrying etc.), so sorry if you missed the news, I was killing aliens.

If you’ve any questions about Pharos, ask me here or use the “Ask the Author” feature on my Goodreads page. I will answer them, I promise.

 


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Here’s my latest finished miniature for Age of Sigmar, a Warhammer giant, or as it is now known, gargant.

I’ve had this chap knocking about in a box for years. I originally got hold of it when we did the White Dwarf relaunch “Teh Giant Roxxor!” issue (yeah, I’ve had a long and lovely relationship with the internet). I distinctly remember the GW studio manager asking me suspiciously “Why did we give you one of those then?” Well, I needed to put the thing together so I could understand the kit properly and present it in the best light. I also really wanted one, but the first reason was paramount. I still think it’s important to engage with models when writing about them. When I was commissioned for Baneblade I assembled a Baneblade and had it on my desk throughout the writing. I still generally do something with the figures and/or games when I’m working. Not always, I admit, but often.

I didn’t paint this giant for ages for two reasons. The first was that I already had a painted Marauder Giant from waaaaay back (I still have it. It weighs as much as my head), and those pesky points values prevented me from taking two. Even when it was allowed, it didn’t make for a workable army. The second was that as time went on and WFB seemed to become more and more about breaking the latest army book and less about co-operative fun, I stopped playing in favour of other games (I really did have this experience a lot, and it wasn’t to my taste). Together with my also neglected until recently but now freshly painted Orruks, he’s finally out of the box and ready to stomp.

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I decided on a traditional fairy-tale vibe for the giant, because I just love the fleeing peasant and his hapless, soon to be consumed mate.

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Another detail I love is the cow! Brilliant. Besides being very dynamic, the model is festooned with humorous touches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rargh! Im going this way.

Rargh! I’m going this way. Stop me if you can.

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A face only a hobbyist could love.

 


A review from SFX #248.

Koko

THREE AND A HALF STARS
Kieran Shea
Titan Books
336 pages

Koko is yet another hard as nails, kick-ass female heroine with funky hair and awesome combat skills. There’s a PhD thesis to be written on why such protagonists have taken over SF so successfully. Don’t worry, we’ll spare you that. Luckily for us, Koko is one the more winning examples of her type, an ex-mercenary with just the right amount of more prosaic character traits to make her both believable and rootable for.

In a 26th century Earth undergoing a somewhat violent rebirth after five hundred years of ecological cataclysm and economic catastrophe, Koko has jacked in her career as a corporate gun-for-hire and is running a brothel-cum-bar on the artificial paradise resort of the Sixty Islands. That is, until her ex-buddy – who got her the cushy retirement in the first place – decides to have her assassinated. On the run, Koko heads skywards, where the most unlikely of allies awaits her…

Set in a pleasingly well crafted future which dazzles and bewilders just enough to seem real, Koko Takes A Holiday is fast and furious fun pulp. No matter how tiresome kick-ass chicks have become as a trope (and they can be as tedious as the square-jawed spaceman or mightily thewed barbarian once were), when done as well as here it works just fine. The story itself is perhaps a little thin to support so many pages, but the level of panache exhibited in the writing more than makes up for any shortcomings. Good old-fashioned, hyper-violent entertainment.

Did you know?

Kieran Shea’s enjoyed a much-lauded short-story career thus far, mainly in crime. Koko Takes a Holiday is his first novel.