Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection

Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection

Steven T. Seagle

This is the comic adaptation of the film Constantine, itself based on the classic comic book series Hellblazer. While the film adaptation takes up the vast majority of the book there are also three original Hellblazer stories, written by Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis.
The film plot is alright I suppose, not terribly involving and probably a lot more thrilling with the big budget effects of the big screen. The Delano and Ellis stories are only brief sections of much bigger plotlines and are presumably included in that form in order to tempt people to buy the older collections. They are both pretty damn good from what you get to read. The Neil Gaiman one is a stand alone short story and is excellent.
This is one to buy if you loved the film, or if you are a Hellblazer or Gaiman completist. I’d recommend that you do what I did and borrow it from your local library.
If it were just the film adaptation itself I’d say to give it a miss, but the extra content makes it worth your time.

Rating: B-

Silent Bob Speaks

Silent Bob Speaks

Kevin Smith

This is a collection of essays, columns and interviews by the director of Clerks, etc.
Generally speaking it’s entertaining enough, but the interviews especially are far too obsequious.
If you have any kind of fondness for the man’s films then you’re not wasting your time when you read this. Otherwise, I’d give it a wide berth.

Rating: C

To Say Nothing Of The Dog

To Say Nothing Of The Dog

Connie Willis

A few years back I won a prize from an online Science Fiction magazine. I received a copy of all the books nominated for best novel in the 1999 Nebula awards. This particular novel was one of those books and this is the first I’ve gotten around to reading it (by the way it didn’t win the Nebula, but it did win the Hugo.)
The book revolves around time travel. Ned Henry, a historian working on the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral in 21st Century Oxford, develops a serious case of time lag. Suffering from extreme tiredness and sensory confusion he is sent to the Victorian era to rest, but before he can do that he must complete a mission. Of course in his confused state he has no idea what that mission is.
It took a while for me to get into this book, but once I did I really started to enjoy it. The mixture of time travel, mystery and comedy really works. I’d recommend it.

Rating: A

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

So I finally got round to seeing this.
After reading the book of the film I was expecting this to be a bloated beast but was pleasantly surprised when I realized that nearly all the exposition and subplots were cut out. Comparing it to the book they’ve even edited down a bunch of the big set pieces. Which has had the effect of making the film move really quickly.
Yes the dialogue is atrocious. Yes all subtlety is lost. Yes the acting is mince (well mostly). Yes this film is a lot of fun to watch.
It’s no masterpiece. It’s probably the third or fourth best Star Wars film (with a big gap between the top two and the rest). I’ll be quite happy to buy it on DVD, whereas I only got Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones for completeness’ sake.
The main thing about this film is that when it does things right you can see how the prequel trilogy could have worked really well and when it does things badly you can see why it failed.
It’s an action packed adventure film with great battle sequences, lightsaber fights and some nice touches linking it with the original trilogy. If you can suffer the non-action scenes without Ian McDiarmid in them then you’ll enjoy the film. Just don’t expect anything meaningful out of it.
My verdict? Unless you’re a pretty rabid Star Wars fan, you’d be better off waiting for the DVD.

The Family Trade

Charles Stross

This is the highly enjoyable first volume of Stross’ fantasy epic The Merchant Princes. Which, if Stross himself is to be believed, was intended to be a fat trilogy, but after the publisher decided they wanted to print slimmer books, will now stretch to ten or twelve volumes!
The book follows Miriam Beckstein, a tech journalist, as she discovers that she is a high ranking member of a clan of ‘world walkers’ and thrust into a world of intrigue, politics and cold-blooded murder.
As with all multi-volume fantasy series my recommendation is to wait until the whole thing is out to read unless you want to suffer from extreme frustration (curse you Robert Jordan!). If you can’t wait, well it’s a damn good read.

Rating: A

The Serpent Mage

Greg Bear

Second of the ‘Songs of Earth and Power’ series finds the protagonist, Michael Perrin, back on Earth and discovering he has more power and more responsibility than he ever thought responsible.
Compared to the first of the duology this feels more bitty, and some of the characters are decidely wooden. It’s still enjoyable though, if not the book that it could have been.
A must read for those who’ve read The Infinity Concerto, otherwise a relatively lifeless and predictable piece of fantasy.

Rating: C

The Infinity Concerto

Greg Bear

The first book of a fantasy duology by reknowned Science Fiction author Bear.
It tells the story of a sixteen year old called Michael Perrin. Perrin is bequested a key and directions after the death of his friend, Arno Waltiri. Using the key and following the directions he finds himself in the Realm, legendary home of the Sidhe.
This is an enjoyable fantasy novel, even if the lead character is a bit whiny at times. Strong points include some of the invention in the later parts of the book and the interesting way poetry is used.
Well worth a read if you like your fantasy novels.

Rating: B

Firefly

Firefly is one of the great mysteries of 21st century television. How could a series this good, with this much potential get cancelled?
Of course I could be a little bit biased, after all Joss Whedon also created Buffy The Vampire Slayer (one of my favourite things ever). To put things in perspective, though, I watched a couple of episodes when it was finally broadcast in the UK and thought it was disappointing. Still I bought the DVD boxset when it came out hoping that I had just missed the good bits.
I put it to one side and only decided to finally watch the whole thing when the buzz around the Serenity trailer (the Firefly film) hit the net. I am seriously glad that I did.
It’s a bit of an odd piece, you really have to surrender yourself to it’s pacing to get the most out of it (which it was screwed over when it was first shown, what with the network refusing to show the double length pilot, which sets up the pace and characters for the viewer).
MORE LATER

Ultraviolet

This Channel 4 series was something I missed when it was first broadcast. It has since grown in reputation and I was sufficiently tempted to pick it up on DVD (OK, it was half price in a sale).
A modern tale of Vampires, this is a very British take on things. A total contrast to (the sublime) Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with it’s humour and acceptance of magic and the mystical. This version is very dark, characters are full of doubt and have to lie about the hidden world they inhabit.
The lead is played by Jack Davenport. He portrays a police detective caught up in this hidden world when his partner chooses to become a vampire.
MORE LATER

All My Sins Remembered

Joe Haldeman

This book takes the form of linked short stories about a far-future spy. The linking sections deal with his guilt over the actions he has been forced to take by his training in execution of his job, which contradict his internal beliefs.

This is a competently written, entertaining enough little piece. Apparently Haldeman has a large repution, but this is more based on Forever War (which I own but haven’t gotten around to reading yet).

Rating: B-

yes another post i place to remind to write more later

Cosmonaut Keep

Ken Macleod

The first of the Engines of Light Trilogy. Which contrasts near future earth and the discovery of alien technology and the ancestors of the people in the first part of the book living on a planet with dinosaur descendents and the descendents of abducted humans. It’s a slow starter but it gets really enjoyable once it gets going. I intend the read the rest of the trilogy now.
I should mention that this book is dedicated to Chris Boyce and is based on his ideas about extra-terrestial intelligence. I knew Chris when I did a work placement at the Herald & Evening Times Library in Glasgow. He was very kind to me and I was very sad to hear of his death a couple of years back.

Rating: A

Dark Light

Ken Macleod

The second of the Engines of Light Trilogy. Continuing the high standard of the first novel, this book follows the consequences of the Bright Star’s journey and the impact that Cairns and Volkov have on the development of the planet with their diverging agendas in the face of local political intrigue.
I like it very much.

Rating: A

Engine City

Ken Macleod

The third of the Engines of Light Trilogy. This one follows the lead characters to Nova Terra and the great city state of Nova Babylonia. Contact with aliens is made with fascinating implications, and the impact of Volkov’s neo-socialist politics have on the city.
This was a total blast to read. No sure about the ending, like, but it doesn’t spoil the trilogy.

Rating: A

see the new css effects?
i really should write something about films and music soon too

more recent reminders to self

The Wee Free Men

Terry Pratchett

You’d think that being a Young Adult Novel that Pratchett wouldn’t have put his full effort into this book. Far from it. It is a very fine novel that takes a middling Witches book and turns it into a masterpiece. Incredibly moving at times, as well as very funny. This is a must read.

Rating: A

Garden State

Rick Moody

This was a long winded and rather self-important book. I found most of the characters rather unsympathetic, except for Alice’s mother (and she barely appears after her accident). Moody is obviously a very talented writer, and the prose is rather nicely crafted. Unfortunately the plot was practically non-existent and while some people might love the slice-of-life thing I am not one of those people. I like my stories to have some sort of sense of journey to them.
Well written, but empty.

Rating: B

another reminder post

Feet Of Clay

Terry Pratchett

Prompted by the re-read of Night Watch I decided to read the Watch books again.
This one is about Golems. It’s pretty good. I’d rank it in the solidly enjoyable but not spectacularly good level of Discworld books.
If you’ve got any sense you’ll read all the Discworld books.

Rating: B

Jingo

Terry Pratchett

Another Watch book. This one is about the consequences the sudden appearance of an island between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. It’s pretty good, features Leonard Da Quirm who I always enjoy.
A lesser Discworld

Rating: B-

Men At Arms

Terry Pratchett

The second Ankh-Morpork Watch Book. This is the one where a deranged aristocratic assassin realizes that Carrot is indeed the heir to the throne of the city. The plot turns on a Leonard Da Quirm device called The Gonne (yup, a gun, but it’s a unique thing in culture of swords and arrows). It also introduces dwarves, trolls and a werewolf, Angua, to the Watch.
I’ve grown to appreciate this book more over the years.

Rating: B+

Maskerade

Terry Pratchett

This is a Witches book. It’s basically set around the plot of the Phantom of the Opera. It’s also the first book to feature Agnes Nitt in a major way before she becomes part of the Lancre coven.
It’s OK, but very slight.

Rating: C+

Pyramids

Terry Pratchett

A rare thing, a standalone Discworld novel. This tells the story of Teppic as he is trained to become an assassin, and then inherits the kingdom of Djelibeybi.
It’s pretty interesting and really very funny. No masterpiece though.

Rating: B

Going Postal

Terry Pratchett

The most recent Discworld novel. A very good book set in Ankh-Morpork, as a con man is given one last chance by the Patrician to become part of society as the Postmaster General. There’s a lot of thinly veiled stuff about corruption in business practices in here.
It’s a very good read.

Rating: B+

Thief Of Time

Terry Pratchett

This is a Death/Susan & Monks of History book. It’s very patchy, especially at the beginnning. Once it gets rolling it becomes more enjoyable. I have to admit to not particularly liking the Death/Susan books, even though I really like both characters. Don’t know why that is.

Rating: C+

Big Deal

Anthony Holden

Holden decides to jack his career as a writer in for a year after getting a taste for big time poker when he manages to win his way to the world series of poker. It follows him as he participates in tournaments around the world and as he visits a psychologist to analyse why he is so drawn to poker.
It’s very entertainingly written, and the man has considerable charm. You have to have some understanding of how various forms of poker are played to get the most out of it.
It makes the life of a poker pro sound very seductive.

Rating: B

Drunkard’s Walk

Frederik Pohl

A novella more than a novel this one. Set in a future version of America where a high flying young academic continually attempts suicide, without any will to do so on his own part. His search for why this is happening uncovers a secret conspiracy at the highest levels of society.
It’s a very mid-20th Century American tale this one. A decent read, but sadly my old copy of this died in the process of reading it and is now in the bin.

Rating: C+

Sign O The Times

Michaelangelo Matos

This is a critical appraisal of Prince’s masterwork, often steeped in the personality and history of the author. I know Matos as a regular on a message board I lurk on and he’s a quality writer.
This is of interest if you value Prince’s work or appreciate a good, well written piece of rock criticism.

Rating: B

Amnesia Moon

Jonathan Lethem

This is second novel, after the highly enjoyable Gun, with occasional music. This is a very unfocussed book filled with loads of great ideas. Lethem has gone on to lots of mainstream plaudits and obviously has decent chops as a writer.
This is not one of his best, but worth visiting.

Rating: B-

Conrad’s Fate

Diana Wynne Jones

This is a brand new Chrestomanci book. It’s the story of Conrad who has bad karma and whose Uncle tells him he must serve at the local castle to find the person he must kill to fix his karma.
This is an entertaining little book. Nowhere near the best Chrestomanci that she’s written but probably worth your time.

Rating: B-

Revenge of The Sith

Matthew Stover

The novelization of the forthcoming film.
What more can I say than that Anakin Skywalker is a stupid, self obsessed, whiny little bitch. Hopefully the shocking pacing problems of this books are fixed in the film.

C+

not the finished article

OK, this is a blog entry that I’ve been trying to get my arse around to doing for ages now. I tried to do it last year as well, but I just couldn’t just quite manage it.
Yes, this is my ‘The best albums of 2004’ entry.
Anyway I finally managed it, so here in reverse order, are my top ten albums of 2004 and why I think they deserve that little accolade.

10.

Ghosts of the Great Highway – Sun Kil Moon

This was the year that I was exposed to a load of new american indie label music through emusic. This where I found this album. It’s a new project from Mark Kozolek, the force behind The Red House Painters. It’s primarily melancholy music, but it’s even more preoccupied with broken relationships than Kozolek’s earlier stuff, with the occassional ruminations on more abstract things.

9.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse

Apparently Modest Mouse had something of a chart breakthrough this year with the lead single from this album, Float On, in the US. Of course that didn’t translate over here. As a follow up to the remarkable Moon & Antartica it’s a bit of a disappointment. However taken on it’s own terms it’s a really enjoyable rambling journey through Modest Mouse’s brand of alternative rock.

8.

We Shall All Be Healed – The Mountain Goats

I only discovered The Mountain Goats this year. John Darnielle is a very interesting guy, he writes really interesting lyrics and indeed increasingly writing memorable music. A bit too patchy to be in the same league as prior release Tallahasee it’s still a standout from this year’s releases.

7.

Faded Seaside Glamour – The Delays

I swithered about including this album, as it’s essentially sunny nature seemed out of place at this time of year. So I gave the album a good listen to and you know what? It’s too damned good to be missing from this list. If you have any kind of weakness for good, sharp pop with a bit of a bitter edge then this is the stuff for you.

6.

Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand

After seeing them support Interpol at the end of 2003, I was pretty certain that 2004 would be Franz Ferdinand’s year. The album is indeed very good, with very few weak points and with a verve and ambition that stands out on the British music scene. However, it’s fallen down a few places in the list in the last couple of months as over-saturation has robbed the music of some of it’s charm.

5.

Milk-Eyed Mender – Joanna Newsom

This shit is strange. A part and apart from the weird folk music of Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart that has appeared on the scene this year. This is the strangest – I mean twisty, girly voice and harp? And her choice of stuff to sing about? It remains really original and something you can listen to again and again

4.

Antics – Interpol

Turn on the Bright Lights was my album of 2002. To such an extent that it took me months to warm up to this follow up. It’s not as of one mood as the first album, but once I got used the less claustrophobic nature of the piece several songs have started to shine.

3.

Bubblegum – The Mark Lanegan Band

Mark Lanegan has one of my favourite voices of all time. Combined with a great band and some of the best material he’s gathered in a while it’s pretty irresistable to me. I do miss some of the psychedelic edge of his work with The Screaming Trees and the sheer hard direct rock of QotSA, this lies somewhere in the middle.

2.

Her Majesty – The Decemberists

This band annoyed the first time I heard them. So affected, so overtly theatrical. Then ‘I was meant for the stage’ and ‘Los Angeles, I’m yours’ wormed their way into my brain and the next thing I know I really love the album.

1.

Carbon Glacier – Laura Veirs

There was no contest this year for album of the year. This had it won after I had listened to it non-stop for a fortnight. It’s such a remarkable leap on from her earlier work. The music is so haunting, her voice is captivating to the extent that I can totally forgive the occasional lyrical annoyance. When the children’s voices appear on Snow Camping I still get goosebumps – even after all this time. That’s how good it is.