Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dave vs, Monsters: Emergence by John Birmingham

Dave vs the Monsters, Emergence is the first book in the Dave Hooper trilogy featuring a middle-aged oil-rig safety officer who gets dragged into a fight between humans and monsters who live in the ‘under-realm’ – the first book details the war that starts off when the monsters ‘emerge’ onto Earth, when some accidental portals are opened between the two realms.

Now Dave Hooper is the ultimate cad, a worthless jerk who loves nothing more than holidaying off the rig with exotic women, bowlful of cocaine and other such stuff that lets him forget his responsibilities in the real world. Not only on the job but to his kids and wife. A frequent guilt-trip when Dave thinks about his wife, soon to be divorced but never really making any dent on the selfish pleasure-trip that he always gravitates to. It’s kind of sad that there are absolutely no redeeming qualities about this character that could make us like him – since the future of the world – facing this otherworldly horde on a marauding blood-feverish rampage - now rests on him.
I liked the beginning of the book and in fact was intrigued by the initial chapters, tracing the blazing inferno on the oil rig that signals the first sighting of the monsters. The first battle scene as well is fantastically portrayed. In fact, the change in POV – to that of Battle master of the Horde – was a total scream. But then things went downhill from there on.

Dave kills monster in a stroke of luck. Dave inherits super powers. And then on, it’s a drag where the military ( Joint Special Operations Centre, JSOC) takes Dave under their wing and we spend a lot of ztime just jetting from one location to the other or undergoing tests that prove Dave is in fact the Avenging Angel that the world has been blessed with.
Dave never rises above himself. And that for me, was the dampener. He still is fixated on women and having sex, is a complete racial stereotype and yaks his mouth off inappropriately at all times. Nobody calls him out on his views – in fact one of the lead women actually may even like this jerk! (If by book two and three, this ‘liking’ goes that way of romance, then I swear to god, I will go ape shit on Dave!)
The interesting concept of the otherworldly hierarchy – of Grymms, Fangr, Hunns, Battlemasters and their Queen – was pretty nicely fleshed out. In fact, the POV change to a minor demon by the middle of the book – was a nice touch and is one saving feature. There is nothing wrong with John Birmingham’s writing – it just wasn’t hitting me in the right manner.

Overall, a book that was hyped by the internet about bringing in a certain freshness to the stale urban fantasy genre – that brings in underworld and otherworldly Monsters into the fray – that is ultimately let down by an oaf of a prime narrator in Dave Hooper who ticks off all the boxes against the ultimate jerk title. I am not sure if I will continue this series. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Daredevil Season One.

I am just coming off a binge watch of all thirteen episodes of Daredevil, season one. And man! What a brilliant watch! Marvel’s dark knight, Daredevil – an original series from Netflix really is an outstanding series, aesthetically and thematically being very dark – and realistic in terms of treatment of the comic book – comes out a winner at all levels.

Hell’s Kitchen, the neighbourhood where the story plays out is home for Matt Murdoch, a blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night, cleaning up the evil in the city. Shady human traffickers and shadier real estate developers, the backside of Manhattan’s city skyscraper is the breeding ground for many such. And the kingpin of all this, is Wilson Fiske – a man who deludes himself into believing that he is “cleaning” up the city himself, making it a beautiful place to live in. First season pits Matt against Fiske in a game of shadows that ups the ante – when it comes to suspense and violence as we head towards the climax.

The atmosphere is so rightly dark throughout the series – maybe letting up a little towards the last few episodes. Capturing the comic book sensibilities so purrfectly. What appealed to me so much, was the beautifully choreographed action scenes. Where typically superhero action sequences are about flying cars and exploding buildings, this one’s about crunching bones and splattering blood. It’s visceral and real – and oh so, painful to watch. There’s this corridor fight scene in episode-2 that is probably one of the most realistic fight scenes ever, showing that the masked vigilante actually gets tired, breathless, choking and gasping but continues on with the fight.

But hey, the action doesn’t define a series. It’s the brooding sense of evil that fills up the screen every time Fiske shows up. That suspense waiting on the knife-edge when Daredevil is up against the bad guys. It paints that grey dark picture of a Marvel universe we are used to in the comic books – a world racked with crime and corruption and a few good men at the ground level trying to make a difference. The early episodes of the show concentrate on the origin story – of how Matt became a crime fighter, taking us back to his childhood, bonds with his dad and his training. But as the show moves on, the crimes in the city are all being perpetrated by one master agent, a man in the shadows – the Kingpin. And then the focus is on the showdown between him and the hero. The tales build around that. There is a gritty noire feel – a mix of police procedural tied up with a superhero tale. Reporters in the city digging around for truth. Being helped in the night by the masked vigilante. A superhero grounded in his ‘human’-ness.

As far as performances go, it is top notch. None of the actors feel out of place. British actor Charlie Cox owns the role of Daredevil, lending a kind of suave nobility mixed with gut-wrenching vulnerability to the blind, yet ‘super’-sensitive lawyer out to right the wrongs in his city. He is at home, leaping and spinning around in that gravity-defying action sequences, cut up and bleeding roguish-charm, bringing in that hurt catholic sensibilities to the role of Matt Murdoch. He is ably supported in this by Elden Henson who plays his attorney-partner and wingman Foggy Nelson’s role ( the goofy comic relief at times) and Deborah Ann Woll’s character of Karen Page – who brings in the right mix of bright-eyed damsel in distress and strong-headed resourcefulness to the role. But the star of the show truly is Vincent D’Onofrio playing Fiske. Alternating between vicious and vulnerable, a man torn by his need to “make his city beautiful” but who chooses the wrong ways to do so. His mood lapses into mindless violence is frightening – but so is his heart-rending portrayal of a lonely heart trying to woo the woman of his desires. Vondie Curtis-Hall playing the super-reporter Ben Ulrich brings in the touch of gritty realism to the show.

Overall, a brilliant start to the series in season one. One grouch I have is with the character killings – and they are many! Like George RR Martin’s treatment of our favorites, this show too is callous on that front – there are some brilliant actors whose potential is curtailed with such character killings ( and I won’t be spoilery here with letting the names out but watch out!)
But hey – the final verdict: Daredevil’s entertaining, gripping and absolutely shocking. I cannot wait to see what happens next – especially with the superhero having just donned his cape-outfit in that final episode reveal! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Interview with Sommer Nectarhoff ( The Death of Ydain)

Today, I would like to welcome Sommer Nectarhoff to Fantasy Smorgasbord!

So Sommer Nectarhoff is the author of the upcoming epic fantasy, The Death of Ydain releasing worldwide on Dec 18th. We caught up with Sommer to chat about his upcoming novel, the success of his previous dark fantasy ten-book series, The book of Lokk, and lots more.

So for the readers of the blog, please tell us who is Sommer Nectarhoff. 
Hey! Naturally I’m a writer, haha. But I’m from Chicago and currently a student at Tufts University in Boston. It’s safe to say I’m a nerd—not only for fantasy but in most walks of life—and writing’s been in my genes since day one.

Your new book, The Death of Ydain is releasing this Friday, Dec 18th. It has a mind-blowing cover and a very intriguing premise. Tell us more about the book and what inspired you to write it?  
Sure! “The Death of Ydain” takes place across the sea from the land featured in “The Book of Lokk”, and a thousand years in the past. The “thousand years” part is key—this book is meant to set up the legendary origins of the Shattered Kingdom, which I’m currently exploring in Lokk’s present with a series of novellas. I was inspired to write it not only because I was curious about what else was happening in Lokk’s world, but also because I’m a huge fan of mythology and in particular the old stories of King Arthur, which “The Death of Ydain” is meant to emulate.

Give us a peek into the characters who make up the Death of Ydain. What makes them compelling? 
Oooh! Good question. “The Death of Ydain” is written with a very distinct narrative voice—there’s no main protagonist whose “mind” the reader lives in—and by a fictional author a few hundred years after the events are supposed to have taken place. Because of this the characters are somewhat larger than life—you have the stereotypical dragon-slaying knights and mischievous maidens of the first fantasy stories, something that we don’t really see so much anymore with the rise of “grim-dark”.

I am very impressed by the cover – would you give us more details about how it came about.
Sure. I wanted the greatest cover possible for this book, so I essentially selected one of the most badass characters in the story, gave his description to my artist, Sebastian Horoszko, and had him work his magic. I specified that I wanted it to be a character-focused piece, one that a reader simply couldn’t look at without feeling drawn in and needing to read the book. I think we succeeded!

What kind of research did you do for the book? 
“The Death of Ydain” is written in late Middle English, so most of the research I did came in the form of studying old texts from the twelfth-fifteenth centuries. My main inspiration was “Le Morte d’Arthur” (the death of Arthur in French), and the title I chose for my own book reflects that. I’d heard that Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings to create his own mythology for Europe, and the idea’s always been in the back of my head ever since.

What is your writing process like? 
To sum it up very simply I’d say this: long hours. I write every single day for many hours, and there were days I wrote for twelve hours a day when I was writing my first draft. Then I go through heavy revisions, and I don’t finish the first page until I’m done with the last—that way the book is consistent the whole way through.

What authors have influenced you most, and why? 
Another good question! To be honest I would say I’ve been much more interested by non-fantasy writers than anyone else, though I’ll give you some examples from both worlds. Ernest Hemingway’s prose inspired me more than any other that I’ve read—it keeps me writing as simply as possible: I’m definitely of the opinion that must work is far over-written. I try to keep my prose as clean as I can.
While I can’t say I’ve been particularly effected by the prose of GRRM or Steven Erikson, the sheer breadth of their worlds has shown me what’s possible in worldbuilding. I want to create whole cultures and societies for my readers to fall into, the same way GRRM and Erikson did for me.

What are you currently reading? Any books that you would recommend? 
I’m currently reading the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. As far as fantasy recommendations go I would say that anyone who hasn’t read A Song of Ice and Fire is missing about, though most people have by this point. If you’re up for a fun challenge then check out “Le Morte d’Arthur” it’s a classic from over five hundred years ago, and everything from the plot to the characters are as fresh now as they were then.

What is next on the cards? Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
I’m in the process of writing some novellas in the Shattered Kingdom that take in the fictional present. Look for them in early 2016!

Thank you so much for stopping by and here's wishing you good luck with the new release! Cannot wait to get my hands on the same. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Builders by Daniel Polansky

With this novella from, Daniel Polansky has become my all-time favorite grim-dark author.

Builders packs in quite a lot of punch in this small novella, just over hundred and ninety pages that is a unique mix of spaghetti western by way of blood-soaked revenge story featuring fantastical furry intelligent animals banding together for one final "job".

This is my introduction to Polansky's works - having missed out the Low Town series of books - and what an introduction! Bullets flying fast, furry feathers exploding everywhere, sparse and stark dark humor filling up the silence left in the narrative when this anthropomorphic fantasy gets rolling. It's sheer genius to have got this right. And Daniel does a bang-up job of investing us in the bleak future of this group of animals - getting ready Kill-Bill style to avenge an old slight against a powerful enemy who had split them up once before.

A band of friends, getting together for that one last job is something we see in movies often. But Daniel puts in his own spin to things: A one-eyed mouse not given much to talking, a boastful stoat, a retired opossum - and quite a handful of other colorful "animal" characters walk into a bar, to plan this revenge. And before long, the well laid plans of men and mouse gets blown up to smithereens. With backstabbing, drama and suspense - all wrapped up in black gallows humor, the novella never slows down once the first shots are fired. The gaps in the narrative are left for the reader to fill in - like the name of our leader is just Captain. and he's got a dark, haunting past full of skeletons that he doesn't want to dig up.

Being a novella, Polansky doesn't really get time to focus in detail on each of the individual characters and their development - but they are all suitably well written. But the enigmatic Captain, the mouse nursing cold revenge in his heart for ages, is the  main protagonist and is the star of the show. His silence is eloquent and speaks much - and I hope Daniel someday goes back and writes shorts about the older days of the gang together.

There are brief moments of utter hilariousness interspersed between extreme Joe Abercrombiesque style of casual violence. Gritty and darkly comic, The Builders is a unique experiment that combines animal traits with human motivations of greed & revenge and one that am really happy to say, has succeeded. Daniel writes like he doesn't care. Without care for any of those yellow-lines of keeping within a genre boundary. He thwarts them and does so gleefully - writing a mouse into a Sergio Leone's moviescript is a class-act. You marry that into Brian Jacque's RedWall and pour in a bit of Kill Bill. You start to get the shape of it.

It's ultimately a roaring fun-ball of a story - over the top when it comes to the storyline but pitch-perfect in terms of characters, well-realized with their own quirks. Makes me want to go pick up all his previous books right away. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Deadlands: Ghostwalker by Jonathan Maberry

Confessions, I haven’t played the Deadlands RPG before nor did I have any clue as to what the game is about. So was a greenhorn thrust headlong into this fantastic world – a weird western landscape where the discovery of “ghost-rock” has accelerated technological innovations and at the same time, thinned the veil between worlds to allow for other-worldly ‘souls’ to invade the human realm. And man, did I love this pulpy adventure or what.

This unlikely juxtaposition of two to three different genres makes for a crackling hotbed of stories and ideas ripe for more. And Jonathan Maberry, the best-selling author of the Joe Ledger series, digs right in and comes up with pure gold in this opener to this franchise-based novels.

A highly entertaining story that is a mix of action, horror and comedy. This is not any high-brow literature but an all-out over-the-top mix of tropes done right, served as a heady concoction of blazing gun fights, zombies, necromancers, the untamed weird wild west at the turn of the nineteenth century mixed up with lovecraftian horrors – When I look back, this book has so many things crammed in to it that I cannot imagine how Jonathan pulled it all together. But he pulls it off and he does it in full elan – forcing us to love and cheer for these larger-than-life characters: The gunslinger with a haunted past, the red-indian sidekick who speaks too much for his own good and the distraught lady in town who attracts danger like blood in the water draws sharks and of course the indomitable villain who wants to conquer the world. It all somehow fits in.

The small desert town of Paradise Falls forms the center point of an epic conflict when Grey Torrance, a mercenary gun-hand unwittingly finds himself drawn into a fight for saving this town. Looks Away, a Sioux whose life Grey saves, is determined to ‘protect’ his friends in this town from the predatory dogs – Capitalists in search of ‘ghost-rock’ who want to wipe out the population there. This also happens to be where he last interacted with his ‘boss’, an eminent scientist named Percival Saint also prospecting for traces of ghost-rock in this town. Grey – a free radical with a haunted past, is also drawn to Jenny, the sassy strong willed girl who is determined not to give up her father’s dream, that is her hometown. The fight snowballs into something way beyond epic when Grey realized his adversaries are not simple merchants out to buy some real-estate – but vile necromancers capable of reviving not just dead bodies/corpses and subjugating them to his will but also command demon-souls from other worlds to do his bidding.

The guns never stop shooting, the zombies keep coming – and Jonathan throws in his own flavor of the lovecraftian horror mix that will have you flinching and gasping - to keep things on the boil and he never takes his foot off the pedal. Every chapter ends on a tense note, drawing us headlong into this pulpy adventure as we race towards a cataclysmic ending.

I loved it. The perfect book to spend your grey rainy afternoons imagining the purplish lightning and the bright blue explosions as the world goes to hell. I am kicking myself for not having read any more Jonathan Maberry books. It’s a treat for newcomers but am sure all the fans of the Deadlands are loving it, in equal measure – as Jonathan does full justice to the potential of this vast and highly innovative franchise.