books monthly june 2017

This month's SF & Fantasy page is dominated by Star Wars...

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  The Jerry Dowlen Column

H G Wells: The War Of The Worlds

Published by Alma Books 21st May 2017

When an army of invading Martians lands in England, panic and terror seize the population. As the aliens traverse the country in huge three-legged machines, incinerating all in their path with a heat ray and spreading noxious toxic gases, the people ofthe Earth must come to terms with the prospect of the end of human civilization and the beginning of Martian rule.Inspiring films, radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, television series and sequels,The War of the Worlds is a prototypical work of science fiction which has influenced every alien story that has come since, and is unsurpassed in its ability to thrill, well over a century since it was first published.


With the timely announcement a coupe of weeks ago that BBC TV is to serialise The War of the Worlds, this is a most timely presentation of the classic story from Alma Books, and very handsome it is too. I was promised review copies of this and The Time Machine (below) that did not materialise, despite assurances they had been posted, so I forked out of my own pocket to secure copies. Too important to miss. I believe Oxford World Classics have a new edition out shortly, but this one is superb.


H G Wells: The Time Machine

Published by Alma Books 23rd March 2017

A Victorian scientist and inventor creates a machine for propelling himself through time, and voyages to the year AD 802701, where he discovers a race of humanoids called the Eloi. Their gently indolent way of life, set in a decaying cityscape, leads thescientist to believe that they are the remnants of a once great civilization. He is forced to revise this assessment when he comes across the cave dwellings of threatening apelike creatures known as Morlocks, whose dark underground world he must explore to discover the terrible secrets of this fractured society, and the means of getting back to his own time.A biting critique of class and social equality as well as an innovative and much imitated piece of science fiction which introduced the idea of time travel into the popular consciousness, The Time Machine is a profound and extraordinarily prescient novel.


One of my all-time favourite SF stories - I'm puzzled as to why the original film has not yet been released on Blu-Ray...



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Sarah J Maas: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Published by Bloomsbury 2nd May 2017

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit - and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords - and hunt for allies in unexpected places. In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all. Contains mature content. Not suitable for younger readers.


I have been saying for many years now that Sarah should be considered a serious contender for adult fantasy - whilst her previous books have been specifically aimed at young adults and teenagers, this one carries a warning that it contains material that is suitable only for adults. The cover is superb, and the story is simply magnificent. This is Sarah's major breakthrough into mainstream adult fantasy, and it is an absolute triumph!


Robin Hobb: Assassin's Fate

Published by Harper Collins 4th May 2017

The much-anticipated final conclusion to the Fitz and the Fool trilogy. Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protg Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee's only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles. Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected? But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices. ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.


I have unfortunately missed the first two segments of this trilogy, but what I will say is that had it not been for Sarah Maas's brilliant new blockbuster, this one would have been a naturalshoe-in for SF book of the month. The best fantasy now comes in massive, brilliant packages, and Harper Collins have really gone to town on this one. I wonder if I can persuade them to send me the first two instalments?

Peter V Brett: The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold

Published by Harper Voyager 4th May 2017

Two exciting short stories set in the engrossing world of The Demon Cycle from bestselling fantasy author Peter V. Brett. Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons – bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting and killing humanity for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace. But there was a time when the demons were not so bold. A time when wards did more than hold the demons at bay. They allowed man to fight back, and to win. Messenger Arlen Bales will search anywhere, dare anything, to return this magic to the world. Abban, a merchant in the Great Bazaar of Krasia, purports to sell everything a man's heart could desire, including, perhaps, the key to Arlen's quest. The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold is the essential addition to one of the most exciting epic fantasy series currently being published.


I do like it when authors release short stories or novellas as stop-gaps whilst the next major instalments are being written or not quite ready for publication. Major fantasy author Peter V Brett's Demon Cycle is one of the best around at the moment, and these two novellas are most welcome.

Deon Meyer: Fever

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 15th June 2017

'UK readers, you have a nice surprise coming. No, not Brexit, FEVER, by Deon Meyer. Reminiscent of THE STAND and THE PASSAGE. Great stuff' STEPHEN KING. I want to tell you about my Father's murder. I want to tell you who killed him and why. This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see. Nico Storm and his father drive across a desolate South Africa, constantly alert for feral dogs, motorcycle gangs, nuclear contamination. They are among the few survivors of a virus that has killed most of the world's population. Young as he is, Nico realises that his superb marksmanship and cool head mean he is destined to be his father's protector. But Willem Storm, though not a fighter, is a man with a vision. He is searching for a place that can become a refuge, a beacon of light and hope in a dark and hopeless world, a community that survivors will rebuild from the ruins. And so Amanzi is born. Fever is the epic, searing story of a group of people determined to carve a city out of chaos.


Reminiscent of Stephen King's The Stand, in some ways, yes, but for me this was more reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, in terms of its mood and sense of impending doom. The Stand was altogether more upbeat. Deon Meyer's post-apocalyptic South Africa is gloomy and angst-ridden, however it is extremely entertaining and the unusual setting makes a most welcome change from the north American continent. Superb writing.


Geoff Gaywood: Omnipotence

Published by Matador 28th May 2017

Against a backdrop of relentless global warming and deepening social conflict on Earth, an expedition sets out to secure a foothold on a distant planet thought suitable for human habitation. Almost immediately, the crew are sorely tested by a violent internal conspiracy, alien aggression and simmering emotional tensions. They complete a spectacular transition to a remote solar system where they find that their goal, as dangerous as it is exotic, already has the ominous attention of another civilisation. Moreover, a series of perplexing events suggest that their mission may be subordinate to a much greater power with its own strategic agenda. 

Essentially an adventure story, spiced with the conflicts, sex and humour typical of mankind as we know it, Omnipotence raises the scientific, philosophical and moral issues that will arise in such a venture. It is the story of how people like us might cope and how the values of human civilisation may evolve in our fast-approaching future.


Rather over-arching concepts of problems facing mankind, you have to wait for the adventure to take over, but it does, eventually, and what you're left with is a great story...


V S Nelson: The Keeper of Portals

Published by Matador 28th February 2017

After the death of his dad, Martin and his mum move into an enormous stately home where they encounter a mysterious being called the Keeper of Portals, who claims to control every portal on the planet, except for the door at the end of Martin’s bedroom, which has been sealed for 400 years. 

One morning, Martin wakes to discover the Keeper of Portals is missing and the door at the end of his bedroom has been opened. Martin steps through the door to find himself in the 17th century where he meets Isabel, the house’s maid. Martin and Isabel quickly learn that everything on earth, from time and causality, to pleasantries and buttons, is controlled by its own keeper. After discovering two imprisoned keepers, Martin and Isabel receive the ability to jump between doorways and change their time, but they soon become entangled in a battle against the master of the house, the Keeper of Questions. 

The Keeper of Portals follows Martin and Isabel as they alternate between the present day and the 17th century, often returning to a time they have already been to and nearly running into past versions of themselves. They fight hordes of murderous villagers, escape from the Keeper of Questions by hiding in a sea cave for 400 years and confront the powerful Keeper of Causality. But there is something wrong with time itself as items from the present day begin to bleed into Isabel’s time. After driving an off-road 4x4 through the peaceful countryside of the 17th century, Martin and Isabel confront the Keeper of Questions in the city of London. But when they arrive they find it deserted – the Keeper of Questions has control of everyone in London and it won’t be long until Martin and Isabel are next.


Owes quite a lot to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for its origins, but again, what you actually get is a decent adventure story with some cross-overs between worlds whilst retaining some of the author's favourite things from our own world. Very enjoyable.


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.