books monthly august 2017

This month's latest SF & Fantasy titles...

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Stephen King: The Dark Tower - The Gunslinger

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 20th June 2017

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba. "An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King's greatest literary achievement" (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series. A #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King's most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.


My understanding is that only The Gunslinger is being issued as a movie tie-in version, but that the other six novels will be "tweaked" in some way... this is the first iconic novel in King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower - there can't be any King fans who haven't read it, surely? It is in my opinion the first episode in the greatest fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings...




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Nancy Holder: Wonder Woman

Published by Titan Books 2nd June 2017

The official novelization of the eagerly anticipated movie, Wonder Woman. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers... and her true destiny.


Sometimes official novelisations are brilliant, sometimes they're awful. I remember the novelisation of Gladiator being awful. This one, thank goodness, isn't. Nancy Holder is a well respected, experienced author, and tells the tale of Diana, Woman, deftly, sincerely, and brilliantly. It could be a little longer, I think, but it's made me more than ever determined to enjoy the film when it finally arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray. Superb.





Greg Stones: 99 Stormtroopers Join The Empire

Published by Abrams and Chronicle 25th June 2017

Ninety-nine Stormtroopers join the Empire, and then their troubles begin. One takes a lunch break in the carbon freezing chamber. Two underestimate a princess. One picks the wrong time to ask for a promotion. Another fails to show Jabba the proper respect. And one interrupts Lord Vader's private time, failing him for the last time. A lifelong Star Wars fan, Greg Stones brings a playful wit and sympathy for the plight of the troops as they meet their amusing ends, filling each colorfully painted scenario with fun Star Wars details and appearances by Han, Luke, Chewie, K-2SO, and many other characters. As the trooper count ticks down, how will the last one fare as he receives a very special assignment (on the Death Star)?


An amusing collection of imagined scenes from Star Wars as various characterful Stor Troopers take their place in the ranks of the forces of the Empire. Strange but enjoyable.

Helen Keen: The Science of Game of Thrones

Published by Coronet 6th July 2017

A myth-busting, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping and fun-filled expedition through the world of Game of Thrones. Do dragons actually exist?
Is it possible to crush a person's head with your bare hands?
What really happened when royal families interbreed?
How does wildfire win wars?
Can you really kill someone with molten gold? Award-winning comedian and popular-science writer Helen Keen uncovers the astounding science behind the world's most popular television show. Join Helen as she sifts the fact from fantasy, discovers the truth beneath the togas, and reveals a world more fantastical than Daenerys Targaryen's wildest dreams. So pour yourself a bowl of brown, climb on your beast of burden, and prepare yourself for an amazing adventure. It's time to see the Seven Kingdoms as you have never seen them before.


I've only seen snippets of Game of Thrones, and although I read some of the books many years ago, I wasn't that impressed by it, and certainly wasn't impressed by the TV series. But it has an enormous following, something akin to Star Wars and Star Trek, but it will never replace Lord of the Rings as far as I'm concerned. Followers will lap this up, of course.

Francesca Haig: The Forever Ship

Published by Harper Voyager 29th June 2017

‘Set in a vividly realised world of elite Alphas and their ‘weaker’ Omega twins, it holds a mirror up to our obsession with perfection’ Guardian. They were born together and they will die together. One strong Alpha twin and one mutated Omega; the only thing they share is the moment of their death. The Omegas live in segregation, cast out by their families as soon as their mutation becomes clear. Forced to live apart, they are ruthlessly oppressed by their Alpha counterparts. The Alphas are the elite. Once their weaker twin has been cast aside, they’re free to live in privilege and safety, their Omega twin far from their thoughts. Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation. But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose. The power to change the world lies in both their hands. One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they’re not careful both will die in the struggle for power.


Extremely powerful fantasy which examines the perennial struggle between factions for supremacy in a way that confirms that it's mostly about people and the way they interact with each other in times of conflict. A mirror of the universe we co-inhabit, actually. Excellent.


Jay Kristoff: Nevernight

Published by Harper Voyager 29th June 2017

From New York Times bestselling author, Jay Kristoff, comes a dangerous new fantasy world and a heroine edged in darkness. Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death. Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya. Inside the Church's halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student. The Red Church is no ordinary school, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows love her. And they drink her fear.


I'm pretty sure I read this when it was first published in hardback, and thought at the time that it was high time someone wrote a fantasy all about assassins. There is something about assassins that appeals to me, and Jay Kristoff's Nevernight is a perfect showcase of could possibly be considered a sub-genre of the world of fantasy. This is brilliant.


Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Published by The Borough Press 1st June 2017

You think you know how the world works? Think again. From bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed historical and contemporary commercial novelist Nicole Galland comes a captivating and complex near-future thriller that questions the very foundations of the modern world. From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed novelist Nicole Galland comes a captivating and complex near-future science fiction thriller that calls into question the very foundations of the modern world. A young man from a shadowy government agency; an upstart academic at an Ivy League university – together they begin to uncover a secret that will change the world’s view of the past, and determine the future of humanity.


More thriller than near-future science fiction, but the latter aspect places it firmly on this page...


F C Yee: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

Published by Amulet 8th August 2017

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes fifteen 15-year-old Genie's every waking thought. But when she discovers she s an immortal who s powerful enough to bash through the gates of Heaven with her fists, her perfectionist existence is shattered. Enter Quentin, a transfer student from China whose tone-deaf assertiveness beguiles Genie to the brink of madness. Quentin nurtures Genie s bodacious transformation sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively as her sleepy Bay-area suburb in the Bay area comes under siege from Hell-spawn. This epic YA debut draws from Chinese mythology, features a larger-than-life heroine, and perfectly balances the realities of Genie s grounded, Oakland life with the absurd supernatural world she finds herself commanding.


I'm not that fond of oriental stuff, but I found Genie to be a fascinating and powerful characters who carries everything before her. This is hugely reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of character make-up, which is not at all a bad thing. Immensely enjoyable.


Michael Marshall Smith: Hannah Green and ger Unfeasibly Mundane Existence

Published by Harper Voyager 27th July 2017

It’s not every day that the Devil knocks on your door. There are a million stories in the world. Most are perfectly ordinary. This one… isn’t. Hannah Green actually thinks her story is more mundane than most. But she’s about to discover that the shadows in her life have been hiding a world where nothing is as it seems: that there's an ancient and secret machine that converts evil deeds into energy, that some mushrooms can talk ― and that her grandfather has been friends with the Devil for over a hundred and fifty years, and now they need her help.


There's nothing in the description to suggest that this might be a YA tale, but that's the sense I get from reading it. Hannah Green is, on the face of it, an ordinary mortal, but her links with the Devil, the actual Devil, surface in the most unlikely way. Powerful and moving, with an unlikely conclusion. Very enjoyable.


Marina J Lostetter: Noumenon

Published by Harper Voyager 27th July 2017

With nods to Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series and the real science of Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, a touch of Hugh Howey's Wool, and echoes of Octavia Butler's voice, a powerful tale of space travel, adventure, discovery, and humanity that unfolds through a series of generational vignettes. In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth's solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go? Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He's discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured. The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind's greatest ambition--to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy-- is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated Convoy Seven) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie's mysterious star and explore its origins--and implications. A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon--in a series of vignettes--examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes--an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.


Marina's novel is a collection of mini stories - it does have echoes of Arthur C Clarke, but it is also totally original and hugely entertaining. I can see this being made into an excellent TV series.


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.