Friday, February 28, 2014

Genre Conventions - Southern Ontario & Western New York

For those who are interested, and who may be in the Southern Ontario/Western New York area this year, here's a list of the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic book conventions that I've been keeping my eye on. I doubt very much I'll get to them all, but here's hoping I can hit at least a few of them.

March 7, 8, 9

Metro Toronto Convention Centre (South Building)
222 Bremner Blvd.
Toronto, ON

Guests Announced: Eliza Dushku, Giancarolo Esposito, Brandon Routh, Allison Mack, IronE Singleton, Sean Aston, Billy Boyd, Denise Crosby, Matthew Wood, David Finch, Dale Keown, Sephera Giron, Nancy Kilpatrick




April 4, 5, 6

Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel
600 HWY-7 E
Richmond Hill, Ontario

Guests Announced: David Weber, Steven Erikson, Anne Groell, Patricia Briggs, Donato Giancola, Julie Czerneda, Ed Greenwood, and Robert J. Sawyer


April 25, 26, 27, 28

Sheraton Hotel
801 Dixon Rd.
Toronto, ON

Competitions, contests, masquerades, and more.



May 2, 3, 4

Byblos Niagara Resort and Spa
100 Whitehaven Road
Grand Island, NY 14072

Guests Announced: David B. Coe, Mark Leslie


June 6, 7, 8


Scotiabank Convention Centre
6815 Stanley Ave
Niagara Falls, ON

Guests Announced: William Shatner, Marina Sirtis, Peter Mayhew, Dean Cain, Ernie Hudson, Chandler Riggs, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Sorbo, Alan Ruck, Sylvester McCoy, Tyler Mane, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Tony Todd, Jason David Frank, Derek Mears, R. A. Mihailoff, Paul Jones


July 11, 12, 13


Delta Meadowvale Hotel and Conference Centre
6750 Mississauga Road
Mississauga, ON



Guests AnnouncedAaron Archer, Jack Angel, Dick Gautier, Venus Terzo, James Roberts, Marilyn Lightstone, Livio Ramondelli, Casey Coller, Alex Milne, Andrew Griffith, John-Paul Bove, Josh Perez, Marvin Mariano


August 28, 29, 30, 31

Metro Toronto Convention Centre (South Building)
222 Bremner Blvd.
Toronto, ON

Guests Announced: TBD


Sept 19, 20, 21

Kodak's Theatre on The Ridge
500 West Ridge Road
Rochester, NY

Guests Announced: Brent Spiner, Billy West, Alaina Huffman, Vic Mignogna, Bonnie Piesse


September 21

Queen's Park (Toronto)

Guests Announced: TBD


Oct 4

Hamilton Convention Centre
1 Summers Ln
Hamilton, ON L8P 4Y2 

Guests Announced: TBD in May


November 14, 15, 16

Ramada Plaza Hotel (Toronto)
300 Jarvis St
Toronto, ON

Guests Announced: Robin Hobb, James J Murray, Paula Helm Murray, Margene Bahm


If you have a convention I've missed or anything to add, leave a comment below and I'll be happy to add it. Oh, and if you're planning to hit my hometown for Niagara Falls Comic-Con, pop me a note and we'll have to try and meet up!

Fantasy Review - Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

Although my taste generally runs more towards epic fantasy door-stoppers, with massive world-building and bloated casts of characters, Moth and Spark was an enjoyable diversion. I could have done with less romance and more dragons, and would have preferred to see the middle act shortened in favor of expanding the final act, but that's simply a matter of personal preference, and not a criticism of the book - which delivers on exactly what it promises.

Anne Leonard's writing style fluctuates a bit here, with the opening chapters actually coming across as stronger and more polished than the heart of the novel, but overall the entire book is solid. Corin is nicely established in the opening chapters as a capable leader, a young man with a good heart, who happens to be laboring under a compulsion. Tam is similarly established as a strong young woman, not just smart but clever, who aspires to rise above her caste. Both characters are a bit too perfect, a bit too pure, but while that might otherwise be a flaw, their romance works precisely because of it.

As for that romance, I thought it was very well played out, even if it was rushed. Their dialogue was natural - amusing at times, tender at others - and their relationship progressed very well. The fact that they complement each other so well, with Tam's newly revealed visions conveniently serving Corin's role in fulfilling the prophecy, was not surprising. What was surprising was the fact that, while the connection provided them with purpose, it was not relied on as the primary connection between them. I've seen that done before (I'm looking at you, Terry Goodkind), especially in stories where insta-love is necessary to the plot, and it always feels artificial.

The court intrigue and military drama surrounding them, however, wasn't nearly as strong or as detailed. There were glimpses here and there of a solid high-fantasy core, but Leonard always seemed to pull back just as I was getting into things. To be fair, that element clearly is not the focus here, but it did have an impact on how I read the story. As for the final act, make no mistake, there is some fantastic action and adventure in the closing pages. It approaches silliness at times, and there were a few plot/tactical holes that made me groan, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The final chapters move along at a great pace, with some genuine moments of dramatic tension, and the ultimate climax more than pays off on the promise of the opening prophecy.

For those readers in the mood for a light, romantic fantasy, then Moth and Spark is a great pick. For those readers who come for the romance, but who walk away wanting more of the epic fantasy elements then it may just be the perfect gateway novel as well.


Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 20th 2014 by Viking Adult

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Graphic Novel Review - Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm Knights

In a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Fables kind of mash-up, a legend (Robyn Hood), a fairy tale (Snow White), a hunter (Liesel Van Helsing), a warrior (Captain Hook), and a protector (Red Riding Hood) join forces to save the world in Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm Knights.

What Joe Brusha and Pat Shand have concocted here is a peculiar mix of not just fictional and mythological universes, but also of genres. There's some classical fantasy here, some spy-fi action, and even some elements of horror. Actually, it's quite heavy on the classical mythology element, with a confrontation between Cronus and Hades serving as the catalyst for the tale, and it owes a considerable debt to superhero comics in general, especially in regards to the skin-tight, revealing attire.

As you might expect, it's a series that looks great (tons of eye candy), and which is rife with comic book banter. It never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously, and even makes some in-jokes at its own expense. The story is pretty solid for a graphic novel, with some interesting twists and surprises, and the genres/universes actually mess surprisingly well. If there's one area where I found it lacking, however, is in terms of characterization. None of the heroes seem particularly well-defined, with their personalities kind of blurring into one another, leaving their costumes the only identifiable aspect.

It wasn't a fantastic read, but it wasn't necessarily a bad one either. I might be tempted to read a second adventure of Realm Knights, depending on the storyline, but I'm not waiting anxiously for the opportunity.


Paperback, 156 pages
Expected publication: July 8th 2014 by Zenescope

Horror Review - Marrow's Pit by Keith Deininger

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. After a solid string of hits, I'm sorry to say Marrow's Pit was the first DarkFuse title to miss the mark with me. Not so much an issue with Keith Deininger's writing, the problem was definitely more one of expectations.

The way the cover blurb plays up the Machine and Marrow's Pit, I was really expecting more on what they are, where they came from, and what their purpose might be. I expected them to be a central force in the novel, but they're really nothing more than background and scenery. Yes, there are some interesting tidbits about the religion that's grown up around the Machine, and a final twist revelation about Marrow's Pit at the end (that, I must add, didn't really make sense to me), but I really expected more.

Similarly, the cover blurb suggests a 1984 type scenario, with a hero who questions everything, and who journeys outside the norm in search of answers. Instead, we get a cold, submissive, unlikable protagonist, one who is defined by his harpy of a wife, and who spends most of the story trying to hide his crime. I just wasn't invested in him or his plight, and kept waiting for the 'real story' to begin.

My first thought on turning the final page was, "That's it?" I actually had to check online to ensure I'd downloaded the full book. The story itself wasn't bad, and the writing was solid, but Marrow's Pit just wasn't the book I expected to be reading, and I could never get my head past that fact.

ebook, 126 pages
Published 2014 by DarkFuse

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Horror Review - Nightcrawlers by Tim Curran

Despite something of a slow middle section and an ending that, as imaginative as it was, I felt robbed the story of much of its shock factor, Nightcrawlers was a solid, enjoyable, well-told tale of small town, subterranean horror. Tim Curran has a flair to establishing a scene, for imbuing it with real dread, and for keeping the gore fresh.

The opening chapters here are some of the tightest, most terrifying I've read in a very long time, with half-eaten bodies littering the field, a suffocating fog, sucking pits of mud, crumbling ruins, and suspicious noises all around. You can feel the claustrophobic terror of the situation, and the fact it's a group of well-armed cops who are so unnerved by the situation just adds to the horror. We only hear the first cop being taken down by something beyond the trees, but when we see the next one literally pulled down into the mud, that's when things really take off.

After that first dreadful night, the story definitely slows down a bit, but that's not to say it's any less interesting. The ugly history of Clavitt Fields is revealed through awkward conversations, difficult confessions, old news clippings, and some childhood memories. Each is a new layer, laid atop the muddy foundations of the opening scenes, to create a story that's even uglier, even creepier than we originally thought. By the time the rescue team is deployed, it's really more a retrieval team than anything else. Together, the cops must break into an old well, descend 30 feet into the earth, and make their way through a series of subterranean tunnels, complete with rotted wooden doors, crumbling masonry, and a protruding bit of bones and coffin where their journey extends beneath the cemetery.

I won't say much about the nature of the Nightcrawlers themselves, since that revelation is key to the final act, but they're an insidious sort of threat to the citizens of Clavitt Fields. It's a strange experience reading through the final chapters, as horror gives way to fascination, and terror yields ground to an almost sympathetic sort of understanding. The clues are there, so it's certainly not a cheat or a cheap twist, but Curran is to be commended for so deftly turning the story about on itself.

Ultimately, Nightcrawlers wasn't as much fun as Worm, but it's a more robust and satisfying story. Definitely worth a read, both for the dramatic power of the opening scenes, and the ingenuity of the closing ones.

Paperback
Expected publication: March 4th 2014 by DarkFuse

Waiting On Wednesday - The Very Best of Tad Williams

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams 
Paperback, 432 pages
Expected publication: May 13th 2014 by Tachyon Publications

This career retrospective from beloved author Tad Williams (Otherland; Tailchaser's Song; Shadowplay) demonstrates why he is one of fantasy's most enduring icons. The Very Best of Tad Williams collects Williams' finest work in multiple genres, including epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and YA. These superlative tales, many of which were previously available only in limited editions, introduce dragons, wizards, assassins, heroes, and fools — even a few cyberpunks.

Readers familiar with Williams' internationally bestselling novels and series will be delighted that in his short fiction he explores myriad new possibilities and adventures. Here are the stories that showcase the exhilarating breadth of Williams’ imagination, hearkening back to such classic fantasists as J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Peter S. Beagle, and beyond.

Despite being a huge fan of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and the Shadowmarch sagas, I've never read much of Williams' short fiction, or his forays into other genres (although I will get to Otherland some day), so I'm really looking forward to diving into this collection.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Graphic Novel Review - Red Sonja Volume 1: Queen Of Plagues

Gail Simone introduces Red Sonja Volume 1: Queen Of Plagues with the declaration that she "might actually be a barbarian lover in a superhero lover's clothing," and that's a pretty apt description of what's on display here. Making the move from superheroes to sword-and-sorcery, she manages to put something of a new spin on the genre. She embraces the silliness of Red Sonja's pulp origins, complete with the gratuitous chain mail t'n'a, but uses it to tell a story that's both solid and mature.

I don't remember my Robert E. Howard (or, to be fair, Roy Thomas) as well as I should, but I think Simone may actually do a better job of establishing her heroine's back story. Through a mixture of flashbacks and reminiscing, we witness her childhood, the death of her family, and her life fighting in the pits. It's harsh, and it's cruel, and it's violent . . . and it all helps to define the 'why' of 'who' she is. We don't get as much insight into her sister of the pit, but that shared history makes for a great villain in Dark Annisia.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. Red Sonja 'sounded' right, with her curses and her challenges, and I like that she wasn't the only woman in the world willing to take up the sword. The glimpses into Dark Annisia's madness in the final issue were exceptionally well-done, and are part of what kicked this up a notch from just being another pulp comic. Gail Simone did a fantastic job bringing the character of Red Sonja to the page, and given that Mercedes Lackey just announced that she's joining the likes of Nancy A. Collins and Tamora Pierce in contributing to the ongoing Legends of Red Sonja, I'm anxious to see what comes next.


Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 12th 2014 by Dynamite Entertainment

Monday, February 24, 2014

Skye - The Birth of a Character by Eric Garrison (Guest Post)

Writing in public has its ups and downs. It can be distracting, it can take awhile to get settled in somewhere that has few interruptions. Precious writing time is eaten up by travel to and from the place. Some places close before I'm ready to leave, and my momentum is lost. But I love to get out of my house to write for the energy and inspiration that comes with being around other people.

Sometimes I'll bring my laptop and work on a story or a novel, and no one looks at me twice. But I have an Alphasmart Neo word processor that stands out. It's a deep olive green, has only a 6 line LCD screen above the keys, and makes many people think of a kid's toy, rather than a serious writing implement. What can I say? It has a great keyboard, lasts hundreds of hours on AA batteries, and no internet to distract me. When I plan to do a lot of writing, I bring the Neo.

One day, I had set up camp at a table at a local brewpub. I'd gotten about an hour's worth of writing done when a tall, skinny girl in her early 20s approached me. She exclaimed in delight at the Neo and asked me questions about it. She told me her name was Skye. She'd had a few beers, and wasn't shy about inviting herself to sit down ti talk with me over a couple more pints. She was thrilled when I told her I was writing a novel, and she enthused about what books and TV shows she was into. She was there with an older gentleman, who just smiled and listened with great patience.

It was a fun conversation, even if it was random. When she finally said goodbye and wandered off, I'd lost two hours of writing time. At first, I fretted about that, annoyed because I'd taken a day off my day job to get ahead on the book. Then it hit me. Skye could be a character in the book. She was meant to be a cameo, a drunken live-action vampire roleplayer, meant for comic relief and as a plot device, but my character Skye, like her namesake, took over and became a key part of the last half of Sinking Down. She also went on to get her own series of books. Since that day at the brewpub, I've written the novel Blue Spirit, which stars Skye as the first person main character, and its sequel, Restless Spirit. Both are set to be published by Seventh Star Press later this year.

Sometimes I wonder what the real Skye would think about her fictional counterpart. If I ever run into her again, I'll be sure to thank her for the inspiration, bought at the expense of a couple of hours' time. It was well worth it.

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Sinking Down by Eric Garrison
Seventh Star Press, LLC (January 1, 2014)

Paranormal investigators Brett and Liz find themselves back in over their heads when a forest hunt for a roadkill-eating creature offers up a little surprise. Back home with their ghoulish house guest, it becomes clear there’s more to this investigation than either of them thought. Worse than that, Brett's own fate is linked to the little ghoul's.

So it's back out on the road, with plenty of time for pit stops with a greedy ex, a convention of ghost hunters, partying with fake vampires, and even drinking and fighting alongside good ole Uncle Gonzo. But as the investigation goes deeper, and unseen connections come to light, Brett finds there’s much more at stake than getting through a rough patch with Liz.

A rescue mission. A race for a cure. New friends and old adversaries. Unbreakable bonds and supernatural danger. It’s going to be a wild ride. Can the friends save the nearly undead tween? Can she and Brett stop themselves from ...Sinking Down?

Sinking Down is the 2nd Book in the Road Ghosts Trilogy!

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Eric Garrison is active in the writing community in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lives in the Circle City with his wife, step-daughter and four cats. He also enjoys gaming and homebrewing beer.

Seventh Star Press published the first of his Road Ghosts trilogy, Four 'til Late, in July of 2013. Sinking Down was released in December of 2013, with the final title to appear in 2014.

Eric's novel, Reality Check, is a science fiction adventure released by Hydra Publications. This book reached #1 in Science Fiction on Amazon's Kindle store during a promotion in July 2013.

Eric's short story, "Drag Show" appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of Strange, Weird and Wonderful Magazine and Volume 2 of that magazine's anthology series. His flash piece, "Dark Reflection", appeared in the Indiana Horror 2011 anthology. He's competed twice in the Iron Writer Challenge with two 500-word flash pieces, "Killer Cure" and "Moby Me".



Twitter: @erichris

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Tour Schedule and Activities

2/24 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post

2/24 Laurie’s Thoughts and Paranormal Reviews Promo/Spotlight

2/24 Deal Sharing Aunt Tour Wide Contest

2/24 Lost Inside the Covers Review

2/24 John F. Allen Writer Promo Spotlight

2/24 Beagle Book Space Promo/Spotlight

2/24 Seers, Seraphs, and More Promo/Spotlight

2/25 Vampires, Witches, and Me, Oh My! Character Post

2/26 Bee’s Knees Reviews Guest Post

2/27 Sapphyria’s Book Reviews Promo/Spotlight

2/27 fuonlyknew ~ Laura's Ramblins and Reviews Review

2/27 I Smell Sheep Guest Post

2/27 Jess Resides Here Character Interview

2/28 A Book Vacation Guest Post

2/28 Armand Rosamilia, Author Guest Post

3/1 Sheila Deeth The Art of Sinking Down

3/2 Come Selahway With Me Guest Post

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Welland Canal and Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel

In a follow up to January's hike along the ruins of the Third Welland Canal, I set out for the very same destination with an eye towards hiking beyond the underwater remains of St Peter's Cemetery and across to the Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel (more commonly known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel). For a while, it seemed as if the hike were not to be, as developments conspired against me. The service road I've always used is now fenced and gated, and the back road I used last time is so snow-covered, there was no safe place to park.

Not to be deterred, I parked in the old section Lakeview Cemetery and started hiking. As you can see, despite my hopes that the snow and the ice might have left enough space to safely cross the canal basin, there was a fast-rushing river of snow-melt with thick, snowy banks that just didn't look safe to cross.


No problem. I figured I would just hike up and around the edge of the basin, as I've done so many times in the past, climb down the embankment, and cross above the control gates. Well, there I was deterred again, as they've fenced the end of that walkway, meaning even if I had risked the steep, slippery slope, it would have been just to come up against another barrier.


Still undeterred, I decided to head up anyway and hike my way along the further sections of the Third Welland Canal. There was no guarantee that I'd be able to make my way across and double back to the Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel, but there are plenty of ruins to make the hike itself worth it, regardless of whether I ever reached my destination.


After a good hour of hiking, I finally made my way to the old swing bridge. While still in use, there's no need for it to swing anymore, although the elaborate gears and framework make for some interesting viewing.




Heading across the bridge, you can look out to the side and imagine the old boats coming down the canal, through the wooden gates (now broken and submerged), and past the bridge as it swings out of the way.


Once safely on the other side, I clambered down the embankment, across the service road, and into the woods on the far side. Apparently, the gated service road has done its job, as I only passed one other hiker, and none of the tracks leading down to the tunnel looked fresh. It's covered in graffiti, bricked up, and broken into, but the tunnel is still an imposing sight.


For safety reasons, I didn't venture too deep into the tunnel this time around. It takes a sharp bend after that first 100 feet, and continues on in total darkness before rounding another sharp bend, heading into the final 100 feet at the other end. With the head-bashing wooden supports installed along the way, and the cave-like stalactites of ice that all-but block the tunnel in places, heading too far without a good flashlight and a fellow hiker to help navigate isn't the best idea.


Once done with the tunnel, I hike back up to the basin, coming at the control gates from the other side. The walkway may be fenced and gated at the far end, but it's a great place to take in the full panoramic beauty of the canal. For what it's worth, I did climb down with an eye towards maybe crossing that river, but I made it halfway across before the mud, the snow, and the ice all convinced me it was a foolish idea.



So, it was a long hike back the way I came, with a few last glimpses of the old canal to be seen.


Round trip, it was a 2-hour, 5 mile hike that felt at least twice as long with the deep snow and slippery embankment. :)

Sci-Fi Review - Coyote: The Outlander by Chantal Noordeloos

There's a version of the old West not taught in schools, one where steampunk contraptions rattle through the streets, one-way rips in the fabric of reality randomly appear, alien Outlanders walk among us . . . and the best bounty hunter around is a cigar-chomping woman by the name of Coyote.

Such is the premise behind Coyote: The Outlander, a fun tale that's also an intriguing reading experience (but more on that in a moment). Chantal Noordeloos deftly juggles her genres here, with a Western tale that feels authentic, and a sci-fi adventure that intrigues, but which never overwhelms the central gun-slinging story. Having said that, there's a lot going on beneath the surface here that I'd love to see explored in another, longer tale, but that's curiosity talking, not any sort of discontent with how the story is told.

Coyote is a great character, one who reminds me of Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead - a deliberate caricature who never tries to deny what she is. A trouser-wearing, cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking, dead-eye shooting bounty hunter, she has the confidence and strength of character to stand her own against any man but one. She's the kind of woman who not only ignores the sexist objections aimed her way, but who also crushes the racist ones aimed toward Caesar, her silent black partner. She has her vulnerabilities, but they add colour to her rather than defining her.

She's also a woman with a conscience, one who refuses to hunt down Outlanders simply because of who they are. When the bounty for a murderous, child-killing Outlander - a despicable alien who just happens to work for the outlaw who killer her father - comes her way, however, she's quick to take the job. That, of course, sets up a confrontation with the charismatic villain, James Westwood, upon which the whole story turns. Without spoiling things, the final few scenes will have you rethinking the title as much as the woman.

As for that intriguing reading experience I mentioned, each chapter has a secret code that you can use on the http://www.coyotethebooks.com/ website to unlock additional scenes and stories, a soundtrack, and author's notes. You can enjoy the story without ever taking a peek, but they do accentuate things nicely. It's a neat gimmick, and one I suspect we'll be seeing more of in the future.

All-in-all, Coyote: The Outlander was a thoroughly enjoyable story, one with imagination, humour, action, and even a little emotion. Hopefully this isn't the last we've seen of Coyote.


Kindle Edition, 93 pages
Published July 21st 2013 by Tip My Hat publishing

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For starters, this week saw the arrival of my highly-anticipated package of Iron Wolves swag, courtesy of Andy Remic.


As for the ever-expanding bookshelves, new additions coming in the door this week included:

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters edited by Tim Marquitz & Nickolas Sharps
Published January 31st 2014 by Ragnarok Publications

Giant monsters and tremendous havoc brought to you by master authors Larry Correia, James Lovegrove, Peter Clines, and many, many more!

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is a collection of 23 stories focused around the theme of strange creatures in the vein of Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and more.

The anthology opens with a foreword by JEREMY ROBINSON, author of Project Nemesis, the highest selling Kaiju novel in the United States since the old Godzilla books—and perhaps even more than those.

From New York Times bestsellers to indie darlings Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters features authors that are perfectly suited for writing larger than life stories.


City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Broadway Books

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city—from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.


Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
Expected publication: April 30th 2014 by Solaris

This is a brand new Military SF series from Weston Ochse, an experienced military man and author.

Benjamin Carter Mason died last night. Maybe he threw himself off a bridge into Los Angeles Harbor, or maybe he burned to death in a house fire in San Pedro; it doesn’t really matter. Today, Mason’s starting a new life. He’s back in boot camp, training for the only war left that matters a damn.

For years, their spies have been coming to Earth, mapping our cities, learning our weaknesses, leaving tragedy in their wake. Our governments knew, but they did nothing—the prospect was too awful, the costs too high—and now, the horrifying and utterly inhuman Cray are invading, laying waste to our cities. The human race is a heartbeat away from extinction.

That is, unless Mason, and the other men and women of Task Force OMBRA, can do anything about it.

This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts.

A brand new military SF series takes a footsoldier’s-eye-view of the battle with an alien infestation. In the vein of 'Aliens' on Earth, Grunt Life sees a serving US military man bring a dose of reality to the threat from the void.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
This one came advertised as Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones. Again, good enough for me!

Nightcrawlers by Tim Curran
A village that burned to the ground 200 years ago, and a bloodthirsty evil that has bred underground for generations.

Warriors by Ted Bell
A kidnapped American scientist, the threat of all-out nuclear war, and ancient Chinese torture.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thriller Review: What Comes Around by Ted Bell

In preparation for next month's Warriors, the eighth full-length Alex Hawke adventure, What Comes Around is a short novella from Ted Bell that shows what happens when our favorite MI6 operative has a well-deserved vacation ruined by an ex-CIA agent's thirst for revenge.

It's been a long time since I've read an Alex Hawke novel, so it was nice to catch up with him on a small scale before the next book. This was an interesting read. It lacks the scope and scale of the adventures we're used to, but it still manages to capture the customary humour, adventure, and drama. It also raises some interesting questions about the spy trade itself, and about the ethics involved in the war on terrorism.

The plot here is simple - when high ranking officials with ties to the CIA start dying, each of them the victim of what seems to be an unfortunate accident, Alex Hawke sets himself out as bait for the killer. In an uncharacteristic twist, Alex goes into the situation far too cocky and far too relaxed, and ends up really having to battle for his life.

If you've never read an Alex Hawke adventure, this serves as a good introduction. He's very much a James Bond type hero, with a touch of Bruce Wayne thrown in, who balances action, politics, and personality in the sort of adventure that is sure to appeal to fans of Vince Flynn or Clive Cussler. What Comes Around is a fun, quick read, and a great way to whet the appetite for Warriors.


Kindle Edition, 100 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by William Morrow Impulse

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: May 13th 2014 by Forge Books

NASA is building a probe to be splashed down in the Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Saturn’s great moon, Titan. It is one of the most promising habitats for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, but the surface is unpredictable and dangerous, requiring the probe to contain artificial intelligence software. To this end, Melissa Shepherd, a brilliant programmer, has developed "Dorothy," a powerful, self-modifying AI whose true potential is both revolutionary and terrifying. When miscalculations lead to a catastrophe during testing, Dorothy flees into the internet.

Former CIA agent Wyman Ford is tapped to help Melissa Shepherd track down the rogue AI. As Ford and Shepherd search for Dorothy, they realize that her horrific experiences in the wasteland of the Internet have changed her in ways they can barely imagine. And they’re not the only ones looking for the wayward software: the AI is also being pursued by a pair of Wall Street traders, who want to capture her code and turn her into a high-speed trading bot.Traumatized, angry, and relentlessly hunted, Dorothy has an extraordinary revelation—and devises a plan. As the pursuit of Dorothy converges on a deserted house on the coast of Northern California, Ford must face the ultimate question: is rescuing Dorothy the right thing? Is the AI bent on saving the world… or on wiping out the cancer that is humankind?

Wyman Ford, hero of Tyrannosaur Canyon, Blasphemy, and Impact, is back! He's a very different hero from Aloysius Pendergast, and his adventures are more science/technology inspired, but they're all great reads.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fantasy Review & Giveaway: The Barrow by Mark Smylie

There is definitely a new trend in epic fantasy, one that I first encountered late last year with The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic. It's a trend towards a darker, more mature sort of epic fantasy, one that reaches deep into the genre's pulp sword-and-sorcery roots, but which refuses to hold back on the sex and the violence. It certainly contains elements of grimdark, especially the trend towards anti-heroes, but it chooses to smirk rather than scowl along with the reader.

It doesn't take long for The Barrow to declare its intentions regarding that trend. If you read the cover blurb and thought "Set in the world of the Eisner-nominated Artesia comic books" meant this was going to be a Young Adult or New Adult sort of romp, then think again. I haven't read the comics, so I don't know what liberties Mark Smylie may have taken in translating his world to prose, but this is certainly closer to a Heavy Metal novelization than something from Marvel, DC, or even Dark Horse.

In terms of world-building, there is an incredible amount of detail here to be explored. The geography is varied and well-defined, with the cities, mountains, fields, trails, roads, barrows, and barren wastes all having a tale to tell. Time and time again the characters top to tell one another a story, a bit of history or mythology, about their world and how this piece or that came to be. While those stories have the potential to be read as an info-dump by some, the backstory of Artesia is fascinating, and each story adds a welcome layer to the proceedings. There are probably enough stories here to fill half a dozen books on their own, and I (for one) appreciate that kind of narrative depth.

As for the characters, I was shocked by how willing Smylie was to sacrifice them to the cause. It doesn't take long to realize the stakes here are high, and that survival beyond the page is guaranteed for nobody. Once you get over the shock of seeing so many main characters murdered, dismembered, and eaten so quickly, you begin looking at the story with a fresh eye. When no character is safe, the sense of dread and mystery becomes that much more pronounced. As for those characters, they are indeed a crew full of scoundrels, deviants, and ruffians. Stjepan Black-Heart is about as questionable a leader as you can get, a man who is open with his perversions but secretive with his thoughts, and when a brothel owner and a mad magician seem the least distasteful of the lot, you know there's no crime, passion, or sin too low. There is one character in particular who crosses a line that I'm sure will shock most readers and, given his prominence in the tale, it's one of the biggest shocks in the story. I honestly felt betrayed by the revelation of his true nature, but it turns out to be crucial to the rest of the tale.

Plot-wise, this is a story that's as deceptive as its characters. On the surface, it looks simple - rob a tomb, find a map, gather a crew, and rob another tomb. It's no nearly so simple, however, and the bulk of the tale actually takes place between the two tombs. There are curses and conspiracies, political schemes and criminal agendas, and plots and counterplots to be navigated. The scenes within Gilgwyr's brothel are a turning point, revealing the story's true depth of depravity, vulgarity, and imagination. Even if you don't like Gilgwyr's or what he's scheming, you can't help but admire the intricacies of his agenda. Having said that, it takes a long time for many of those schemes to pay off, and some readers may be turned off by the amount of seemingly unnecessary detail. Patience is rewarded, however, with the final act of the story tying everything together, and revealing just how significant and how connected those events are.

As for that ending, it pays off in every respect. Whereas many fantasy novels build up our expectations with hints, promises, and threats of monstrous violence, only to stop short, Smylie delivers on his promises. From monstrous to madness, from necromancy to necrophilia, the events of the climax goes far beyond what we might have anticipated. He allows the worst to happen . . . and then pushes the horror even farther. There are no close calls or near escapes here, just one crushing defeat after another, with a victorious twist.

If you've ever wondered what it might be like to play Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of death-row inmates, while a sadistic warden whispers depraved encouragement behind you, then you are indeed ready for The Barrow.


Paperback, 613 pages
Expected publication: March 4th 2014 by Pyr

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Horror Review: Starers & Devil Let Me Go by Nathan Robinson

The young couple with the dog. The once distraught driver. The old man at the bus stop. The gang of kids on the field.

Even the bent and twisted young lad smeared across the tarmac outside his house, bubbles of blood blew from his nose as the breath left his punctured lungs, eyes fixed wide, yet remaining as calm as a stoned Buddha, despite his probable broken spine and multiple fractures.

All of them were staring blankly at the house.

And so begins the creepy, darkly humorous, Starers by Nathan Robinson.

With a well-intentioned dad, a slightly depressed mother, an angry daughter, and a wise-cracking uncle, the Keenes are just your average family. Nothing special, nothing too embarrassing, nothing horrific. You probably wouldn't look twice if you were to walk past their house, but that's exactly what thousands of ordinary people do - stop and stare, for no apparent reason. If that doesn't creep you out, then I can only imagine it's because you have no doors or windows in your home, and have never felt that tickle of dread that slips down your neck when you feel like you're being watched.

This is creepy, Twilight Zone-inspired, zombie-inspired horror here, folks. It's the kind of horror that builds slowly, wearing away your defenses, as it gets under your skin. The strangers outside aren't violent, but they're there, more of them by the hour, crowding in closer and closer, without a single word said about why they find you so worthy of their mindless, vacant, yet somehow accusing stares. You begin feeling claustrophobic in your own home. Your family begins looking to one another for answers . . . and blame. More than that, you begin dehumanizing the crowd outside, as your fear struggles to make monsters out of them, in order to justify your fears. Eventually, you just have to get out, but if they won't move, if they won't let you out, at what point does your violence become a rational, even necessary response?

Dark, creepy, and oh-so-very gory, this is also a book that's often laugh-out-loud funny. Such black (and sometimes corny) humour should feel out of place, but it helps to remind the reader of just how absurd the situation is. Kudos to Robinson for being able to manage that balancing act, and for knowing just when to alleviate some of the tension, without denying the story its unsettling heart. Definitely worth a read.

Kindle Edition, 146 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Severed Press


Like his first full-length novel, Devil Let Me Go is a collection of tales that is both unsettling and entertaining. Nathan Robinson dabbles all around the horror genre here, playing with a few different tropes, but making his mark on each of them. The stories are all based on simple scenarios, but defined by the clever way in which he uses his characters to exploit them. There were a few stories that didn't resonate with me as strongly as the others, but they all had their moments of 'magic' (so to speak).

The House that Creak’d opens things with post-apocalyptic tale that seems like madness for the longest time, before slowly revealing itself in a fantastic ending. Crack’d is another tale of disaster, but one that is defined by the madness of motherhood, as opposed to that of solitude.

Not That Way Home offers a major change of pace, with a remarkably tense tale that careens to an unexpected climax. Eat your Heart out Lorena is the darkest, most disturbing tale of the lot, and even if it's a bit predictable, I liked the execution. Banana Boxes was one of my favourites, an exceptionally well-narrated story with a great twist.

The Skeleton Tree is a great tale, one that takes a chilling image, confronts it, challenges it, and then runs away with the consequences. I didn't expect to like Colder than Hell up here, but it really grew on me. As for Fallen, it's the perfect tale on which to end things, the least chilling but the most emotional of all the stories here, and a solid slip sideways to flirt with the paranormal romance genre.

All-in-all, a solid collection. Not as much fun as Starers, but it's nice to see that Robinson isn't a one-trick novelty act. If you're looking for an introduction to his work, it's a great place to start, and if you're already a fan, then you'll find plenty here to enjoy.


Paperback, 202 pages
Published August 28th 2013 by The Bookshop of Doom

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

With an eye towards my plans for the next few months, I'm still trying to hold off on adding too much to the TBR pile, but I did pick up a few new titles:

FaceOff edited by by David Baldacci
Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by Simon & Schuster

In an unprecedented collaboration, twenty-three of the world’s bestselling and critically acclaimed thriller writers have paired their series characters—such as Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, and Lincoln Rhyme—in an eleven-story anthology curated by the International Thriller Writers (ITW). All of the contributors to FaceOff are ITW members and the stories feature these dynamic duos (and more):

• Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy vs. Aloysius Pendergast in “Gaslighted,” by R.L. Stine, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child
• Paul Madriani vs. Alexandra Cooper in “Surfing the Panther,” by Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein
• Michael Quinn vs. Repairman Jack in “Infernal Night,” by Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson
• Sean Reilly vs. Glen Garber in “Pit Stop,” by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay
• Cotton Malone vs. Gray Pierce in “The Devil’s Bones,” by Steve Berry and James Rollins
• Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller in “Good and Valuable Consideration,” by Lee Child and Joseph Finder

So sit back and prepare for a rollicking ride as your favorite characters go head-to-head with some worthy opponents in FaceOff—it’s a thrill-a-minute read.


Morningside Fall by Jay Posey
Expected publication: April 29th 2014 by Angry Robot

The lone gunman Three is gone, and Wren is the new governor of the devastated settlement of Morningside, but there is turmoil in the city. When his life is put in danger, Wren is forced to flee Morningside until he and his retinue can determine who can be trusted.

They arrive at the border outpost, Ninestory, only to find it has been infested with Weir in greater numbers than anyone has ever seen. These lost, dangerous creatures are harbouring a terrible secret – one that will have consequences not just for Wren and his comrades, but for the future of what remains of the world.


The Blood of Alexander by Tom Wilde
Expected publication: April 29th 2014 by Forge Books

A modern Indiana Jones steals a relic of Alexander the Great in Blood of Alexander, the thrilling debut from Tom Wilde.

Jonathan Blake makes a living stealing antiquities—stealing them back, that is. A field agent for the Argo Foundation, a company that makes it their business to preserve humanity’s history by liberating stolen artifacts from thieves and looters, Blake is used to dangerous assignments. But when he is forced by the US government into a deadly mission involving a missing Napoleonic standard, he finds himself in over his head. Blake is pitted against Vanya, the head of a fanatical cult, who seeks a gilded bronze eagle that holds a vital clue to the lost tomb of Alexander the Great.

From ancient ruins in Afghanistan to the catacombs of Paris to a chateau high in the French Alps, Blake must unravel the secret truth of the final fate of Napoleon Bonaparte, the murder of Percy Bysshe Shelly, and the hidden remains of Alexander. And he must do it before Vanya's apocalyptic plans for humanity come to their deadly fruition.


The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper
Published January 7th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Canada

Professor David Ullman is among the world’s leading authorities on demonic literature, specializing in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Not that David is a believer—he sees what he teaches as a branch of the imagination and nothing more. So when the mysterious Thin Woman arrives at his office and invites him to travel to Venice and witness a “phenomenon,” David is hard-pressed to overcome his skepticism.

But there are forces at work beyond anything David can imagine, and they will stop at nothing to ensure that the professor does not escape their grasp. Against his better judgment, David, accompanied by his beloved daughter, Tess, finds himself traveling to Venice, where an unspeakable horror awaits.

Soon David is pulled into a journey that will redefine what he is willing to believe. Guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David races to save his daughter. If he fails, he will lose Tess forever.


Chasm by James Bruno
Published May 22nd 2012 by Bittersweet House Press

A top secret program to resettle war criminals in our communities, men guilty of the most horrendous crimes imaginable. An American diplomat who blugeoned his family to death, disappeared and remains free to this day. A massive White House cover-up. These really happened. Operation Paperclip, run by the CIA, gave us Nazi scientists and SS murderers. William Bradford Bishop massacred his mother, wife and three young sons in 1976 and has been on the lam ever since. CHASM is based on these true covert programs and evildoers. Don't read it before bedtime. You won't be able to sleep. Promise.

Peace in the Balkans is fragile. The White House's political fortunes hang on ensuring that shaky peace deals hold firm. In a top secret codicil, the U.S. agrees clandestinely to take in scores of Balkan war criminals. This super-secret program is Operation CHASM. CHASM gets out of hand as war criminals go on a rampage of arson and murder across the U.S. Mike Gallatin's young daughter is almost killed. Drawing on his detective skills, the Cleveland investigator finds out about CHASM -- but almost at the cost of his own life as the ruthless National Security Adviser, John Tulliver, orders Gallatin's "recall." Written by a former insider, CHASM is about Washington powerholders, who, in pursuit of their own ambitions, take actions which trample on the little guy. But one average citizen, a victim of their policies, embarks on a quest to expose the hypocrisy and lies. It also demonstrates how malicious policies can overwhelm their implementers, dragging them into hellish behavior and self-destruction.

Readers of Silva, Forsyth and Ludlum will enjoy this taut thriller written by a man who worked in the twilight world of government secrets.

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• The Barrow by Mark Smylie
A crew of scoundrels, deviants, and ruffians. A map. A fabled sword. The barrow of a dead wizard. Watch for my review (and an international giveaway) on Tuesday!

• Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
This one came advertised as Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones. Again, good enough for me!

• Nightcrawlers by Tim Curran
A village that burned to the ground 200 years ago, and a bloodthirsty evil that has bred underground for generations. 

• A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger
Chaucer, cryptography, royal intrigue, and a a prophetic book that foretells the death of kings. Cool.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sci-Fi Review - The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

While I picked up the ARC of this several months ago, I almost didn't bother to give it a read. The "Apollo 13 meets Cast Away" tagline sounded interesting, but it also left me wondering just how Andy Weir was going to pull it off. After all, both of those movies succeeded largely based on the charisma of Tom Hanks (which can't exactly be captured on the page), and the true story element of Apollo 13 was responsible for much of that story's dramatic tension.

A fellow reviewer tossed MacGyver into the tagline mix, however, and suddenly I was curious enough to give The Martian: A Novel a chance, Hey, what can I say . . . but I'm glad I did! This was an absolutely stellar read, one that is full of action, drama, humor, and real emotional engagement. It's a testament to Weir's storytelling that, going into the last ten pages, I honestly wasn't sure whether Mark Watney was really going to survive.

The story wastes no time getting started, and the situation is almost as exceedingly dire as it is tragic. It's also a very lonely, claustrophobic start to the tale, with Mark the only character in a very small-scale drama. He's got a habitat, a rover, and a spacesuit. That's it. That's all. He can't even communicate with his ex-crewmates, much less anyone back home. He has a plan for sustaining himself by cultivating the potatoes NASA sent for Thanksgiving dinner, but it involves a lot of dirt, a lot of feces, a lot of urine, and some dangerous tampering with his life support systems. In the meantime, he has a USB stick full of disco tunes, a second full of 70s TV episodes, and a third full of murder mysteries.

Just when you start to wonder how long Weir can maintain that kind of tension, we're finally transported back to Earth for the other half of the narrative. The world is in mourning for the lost astronaut, with Mark a fixture on just about every news program and talk show. When a SatCon search for his body instead turns up evidence of his survival, politics and emotion begin a battle that carries through right to the end. With all due respect to Mark's struggle - and this is one of the most fascinating survival stories you're likely to encounter - it's the Earthly drama that really sells the story, especially once it takes on a multinational dimension.

• How much do you tell the public, and how much can you really hide from them? 
• Is it better to let his team think the've lost a crewmate, or to tell them they abandoned a man to his death? 
• Do you plan for a sustenance mission, rescue mission, or retrieval? 
• Most importantly, what is the life of one man worth, especially when the odds of survival are so astronomically stacked against him?

There are some startling twists and setbacks to the story throughout, both on Mars and Earth, which keep the tension high and the reader guessing. There's also a lot of science and technical detail that I'm sure may try the patience of some readers, but which I found fascinating - even if I didn't always understand it. The journal style narration of Mark's story is important, in that it's his only form of communication for a very long time, and it's more realistic than if he were to set out to write his own story. Plus, that off-the-cuff, automatic permanent recording of his spoken thoughts allows for some moments of gallows humor that really help to humanize the astronaut and the scientist.

If you are at all curious, then make the time for The Martian: A Novel. It's an amazing story that works as a human drama, science fiction adventure, and a sort of survival manifesto. Really, give it a read. You won't regret it. This is a read that is (if you'll excuse one last space pun) really out of this world.


Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Crown

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - Thornlost by Melanie Rawn

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Thornlost by Melanie Rawn
Expected publication: April 29th 2014 by Tor Books

The third book in Melanie Rawn’s superb new high fantasy series, that blends the worlds of magic, theater, art and politics!

Melanie Rawn returns to her rich high fantasy world in this sequel to Touchstone and Elsewhens. 

Cayden is part Elf, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high-society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good, very good. He’s a tregetour—a wizard who is both playwright and magicwielder. It is Cade’s power that creates the magic, but a tregetour is useless without a glisker—an elf who can spin out the magic onto the stage, to enchant the audience. And Cade’s glisker, Mieka, is something special too. So is their fettler, Rafe, who controls the magic and keeps them and the audience safe. And their masker, Jeska, who speaks all the lines, is every young girl’s dream.

They are reaching for the highest reaches of society and power, but not the way Cade’s mother thinks they should. They’ll change their world, or die trying.


I admit, as much of a fan as I am of Melanie's fantasy novels, I've been a bit gun-shy about diving into this series. The Diviner, her prequel to the shared world novel The Golden Key, took 15 years to materialize; The Captal's Tower, her concluding novel in the Exiles trilogy, has yet to see the light of day; and, after a prolonged absence from writing, her Spellbinder saga was prematurely canceled by the publisher. Getting invested in a new multi-volume saga seemed a bit risky, but with the third book ready to land on the shelves, it just may be time to get reading.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Horror Review: The Troop by Nick Cutter

What could be worse than being stranded on an uninhabited island? How about being stranded there with a deranged lunatic who is infected with highly-infectious parasitic worms. Not enough? Well, how about not just being stranded, but physically trapped there by shadowy military forces who won't let so much as a bird or fish escape its shores. Still not enough? Well, how about being trapped there, fighting the parasitic worms inside you, with an adolescent sociopath who is only too happy to exploit the situation. Still not enough? Well, how about we add a thin layer of conspiracy, with the very tangible suggestion that those military forces are deliberately allowing the horror to play out. Gotcha.

Yes, in a book that's been described as part Lord of the Flies and part 28 Days Later (which isn't a bad comparison, even if it only tells half of the story), The Troop proves to be a throwback to old-fashioned, late 80s, pulp horror, with a little 90s cynicism mixed in. Nick Cutter has crafted a grisly tale here that pulls no punches, and which wastes absolutely no time in getting to the good stuff.

At first, the story structure seems a little odd, especially since it spoils its own ending early on. The bulk of the story takes place in real time, exploring the Boy Scout troop's struggle to survive a situation they barely even understand. Spaced in between chapters, however, is a series of newspaper articles, scholarly pieces, and courtroom transcripts of the inquiry that is destined to follow. Ultimately, however, that second layer of storytelling really enhances the story, adding additional weight to the situation, and creating new doubts and questions for the reader. It also creates more of a mystery than we might have otherwise expected, as we try to guess which of the boys is the sole survivor.

The contagion at the heart of the story is as disgusting as it is brilliant. If you've ever thought a tapeworm was gross, or shuddered at the thought of people who deliberately subject themselves to said worms in a desperate effort to lose weight, then get ready to lose your lunch. The tapeworms here are genetically engineered to be ruthless parasites who quickly devour their hosts from the inside out, creating in them a ravenous, insatiable hunger. We're talking men who, in a matter of hours, begin to look like desiccated walking corpses, and who will chow down on anything they can get their hands on - from bugs, to dirt, to the wooden splinters of the cabin floor. Then, just to add to the ick factor, you can see the tapeworms wrapped around their victims' spinal cords, making their back-flesh flow and undulate.

As for that teenage sociopath, I don't want to spoil one of the darkest aspects of the story, but he's the creepiest part of the tale, simply because he's so human. There's an extended scene that will stick with you for a very long time, where he not only convinces another Scout that he's infected, but all-too-easily talks him into slicing himself up in a futile attempt to catch the tiny worms inside. What he does to the first Scout to be infected is even worse, not just because it's so cruel and so playfully callous, or because it gives him a disturbing hard-on, but because he contrasts it to the abuse of a kitten that first catapulted him over the line from curious to sociopathic.

If you're in the mood for a good, intense horror story, and have the strong stomach needed to make it through to the end, then be sure to check out The Troop. Just be careful what you touch, eat, drink, or breathe, because that next pang of hunger just might be something more . . .


Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: February 25th 2014 by Gallery Books