A Non-Spoiler Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

A Non-Spoiler Review

Fans of the ‘Harry Potter’ behemoth franchise have no doubt already queued up to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the new movie set in the Harry Potter universe, and tied into the book of the same name that was featured in the Harry Potter books. The movie is currently trending at around 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, 65% on Metacritic, and an impressive 8/10 on IMDb.

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but from what I can tell it’s not the most impressive script, while still being visually stunning – about what you’d expect, I think, from J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - The Original Screenplay cover image

For those who are well and truly hooked, however – or for the Harry Potter-completest in all of us – comes the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay, written by J.K. Rowling and put out in a beautiful little hardcover edition. I’m not going to review the contents of the book – as I haven’t read it, and won’t read it until after I see the movie – but rather simply tell you that a) it exists, and b) it’s beautiful.

My copy is a beautiful little hardcover, slightly smaller than a traditional hardcover book, and in a beautiful blue dust-jacket with gold artwork. The book doesn’t contain anything other than the full screenplay of the movie – which is a little disappointing, considering the potential for an introduction from someone involved in the making of the movie, or J.K. Rowling herself, and some additional backmatter. Although, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that they are dolling the extra material out in the most lucrative and expensive way possible. Stay tuned for more books, I guess.

In the end, you don’t need this book, unless you absolutely need this book, in that case …

Something is stirring in the garden, ready to be reborn

In 1984, UK-born Martin Springett—an accomplished musician and illustrator who had produced comics for the legendary Heavy Metal magazine and designed and illustrated record covers for Columbia—was commissioned to illustrate the cover of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay, the first novel of the acclaimed Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy. A classic of fantasy literature, the trilogy is beloved worldwide, and it launched Springett to international fantasy illustration fame.

In 1983, Springett is living in Toronto and releases his own album: The Gardening Club. A musically rich and diverse album, The Gardening Club combined King Crimson-like complexity, Canterbury scene-infused whimsy, and a strong pop sensibility, but in the shadow of new wave it was the right album, at the wrong time.

In 2016, The Gardening Club will be revitalized with a trilogy of releases: a deluxe repackaged version of the original LP, an EP filled with previously unreleased songs and a brand new companion graphic novel filled with Springett’s signature lush, oneiric imagery, wonderful wordplay and decidedly English brand of the fantastic.

You can stream this music for free on the Space Wreck site:

The Gardening Club Postcard

Audiobook review – Alien: Out of the Shadows

The audio dramatisation of Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows is great fun, both eerie and atmospheric while staying mostly true to the Alien legend we know and love. Laurel Lefkow voices Ripley but at times you’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s Sigourney Weaver herself as it is such a great impersonation, and one that I think works perfectly.

But before the review – here’s the synopsis of the story that unfolds over four and a half hours:

As a child, Chris Hooper dreamed of monsters. But in deep space, he found only darkness and isolation. Then, on planet LV178, he and his fellow miners discovered a storm-scoured, sand-blasted hell – and trimonite, the hardest material known to man.

When a shuttle crashes into the mining ship Marion, the miners learn that there was more than trimonite deep in the caverns. There was evil, hibernating and waiting for suitable prey. Hoop and his associates uncover a nest of Xenomorphs, and hell takes on a new meaning. Quickly they discover that their only hope lies with the unlikeliest of saviors….

Ellen Ripley, the last human survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo.

Alien: Out of the Shadow audiobook cover

This is an adrenaline-fuelled story and once it has picked up the pace it never slows down. The cast are excellent, with special mention to Lefkow again plus Rutger Hauer and Corey Johnson. The production values are very high (no doubt thanks to the classy Dirk Maggs) and the sound effects really make you jump and are superb are raising the tension to unbearable levels.

There are many, many positive elements. But there are also a few negatives – the story can feel a little unlikely in places and sometimes a little lessening of the pace and some character and location building would have been preferable, in my opinion. I guess the shortened nature of an audio dramatisation is that there is a lot to fit into a relatively small amount of time. I think a lot of listeners will wish it was longer, which is a complement.

But overall this is a triumph and fans of the great radio adaptations such as The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and the BBC’s Lord of the Rings will love what they find here. I’d give it 8.5/10.

Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama
Written by: Tim Lebbon, Dirk Maggs
Narrated by: Rutger Hauer, Corey Johnson, Matthew Lewis, Kathryn Drysdale, Laurel Lefkow, Andrea Deck, Mac McDonald
Length: 4 hrs and 31 mins
Performance
Release Date:26/04/2016
Publisher: Audible Studios

Alien: Out of Shadows is only available from Audible

Disability in fantasy

A post by Peter Newman, author of The Vagrant and The Malice

Although The Vagrant is known for having a silent protagonist I’m going to talk about someone else in the series today, a character known as Tough Call.

Tough Call is the rebel leader of Verdigris, who sets up her group headquarters underneath the city when it is overrun by demons. A child of the old administration, she opts to fight rather than bend the knee. Moreover when she comes into contact with one of the demons, she elects to cut off her own arm rather than succumb to the taint. The taint, in case you’re wondering, is something that surrounds the demons and can alter any human, animal or plant that it comes into prolonged contact with, mutating them into strange half-breed creatures. At the lowest end of the spectrum this could mean the loss or gain of nails and hair. At the highest, it could mean growth spurts, shifts in skeletal structure, loss of emotional control, organ failure, additional strength, additional limbs, or death.

Rather than gamble, Tough Call elects to remove the arm entirely before the taint can spread. In doing so, she becomes a symbol for the resistance.

In Tough Call’s case, her disability is a badge of pride, a tribute to her strength of will rather than something to be pitied or hidden. It’s never the focus in the scenes she’s in and it certainly isn’t the primary thing about her. When we first meet Tough Call she’s in a difficult position, fighting a virtually un-winnable war and making some dubious choices in order to survive and keep her people safe. She also happens to be a middle-aged woman with one arm. That’s it.

When I was writing The Vagrant and The Malice, I didn’t set out to include characters with disabilities, they just appeared as I was writing. There are three prominent characters that suffer from a physical disability which, given the number of people in the books and the kind of world it is, seems like quite a low number.

It got me trying to think about other characters in fantasy with disabilities, and the majority that come to mind are villains. Chances are if a character has a scar, a missing eye, or a hook for a hand they’re against the heroes rather than with them. And if the hero does have a scar, it’s often a ‘sexy’ scar to demonstrate toughness without disfiguring too much, or one that is located on their back or thigh, easily hidden beneath clothing. In film, we often have a shot of the (usually male) hero’s back which is covered in aesthetically placed scars, but most of the time these marks are out of sight and out of mind.

In fact I really struggled to think of any disabled protagonists in the fantasy I’d read recently (with the exception of Bran in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Xinian in Jen Williams’ Copper Cat books) though this may be more an indictment of my memory or lack of reading than the genre as a whole.

Feel free to set me straight in the comments as I’d hope there are a lot more positive examples out there, though please don’t include characters with magic or technology that renders their disability irrelevant. The classic example being blind characters that have such advanced other senses that they aren’t disadvantaged all.

If you’re a writer reading this and, like me, you’d like to include more characters on the disabled spectrum, there’s a great post by Elsa S. Henry on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog about writing blind characters, and this one by Elspeth Cooper on the Bookworm Blues blog about disability in fantasy is interesting too.

© Peter Newman, May 2016
www.runpetewrite.com

The Malice is available from May 19, 2016. Review coming soon…

Snippet from the front cover of Peter Newman's The Malice

In the south, the Breach stirs.

Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.

Purchase on Amazon

If you have any comments to make on this topic, please leave using the form below.

Alien: Out of the Shadows – dramatised for audio

A brand new audio drama, Alien: Out of the Shadows – starring Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) in his first role for audio, Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter), Corey Johnson (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Kathryn Drysdale (St Trinian’s) – is available to download from April 26, 2016.

Alien: Out of the Shadow audiobook cover

A new chapter in the Alien franchise, the sci-fi audio drama is directed and produced by the renowned radio director Dirk Maggs (radio series of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), based on the original novel by award-winning author Tim Lebbon.

The story follows Chief Engineer Hooper (Corey Johnson), who finds himself in command of a stricken orbital mining vessel after its captain is killed. Hooper finds himself not only responsible for the lives of his fellow crew, but also for the survivor of the only previous alien encounter, Ripley (Laurel Lefkow).

Hooper’s ship, a large mining freighter, is in orbit over a planet whilst servicing a mine on its surface below. Suddenly, two of its drop ships appear unexpectedly from the storm-lashed planet, with on-board cameras revealing alien creatures are loose on the vessels, attacking the mining crew on their return to the freighter. The crew must struggle not only against the ferocious predatory aliens but also against Ash (Rutger Hauer), the Artificial Intelligence on board the freighter that will stop at nothing to secure an alien specimen alive.

Rutger Hauer (voicing Ash) says, “Working on such a famous franchise was a challenge, but an amazing one to have. This was also my first introduction to audio work; it was fascinating to focus on just how powerful the voice can be for such a unique, non-human character like Ash. In the art form I work in, creating compelling audio drama is the ultimate illusion.”

Available from April 26, 2016 and available to download at www.audible.co.uk/scream

Cast List

  • Ash – Rutger Hauer
  • Baxter – Matthew Lewis
  • Hooper – Corey Johnson
  • Ripley – Laurel Lefkow
  • Kasyanov – Andrea Deck
  • Lachance – Mac Macdonald
  • Jordan – Barbara Barnes
  • Powell – Abdul Salis
  • Welford – Nathan Osgood
  • Sneddon – Kathryn Drysdale
  • Garcia – Regina Brandolino
  • Vic Jones / Cornell – Tom Alexander

 

Gollancz to publish Discworld colouring book

Gollancz has acquired World Rights to publish a Discworld colouring book of line drawings by Paul Kidby, Sir Terry Pratchett’s artist of choice.

If Terry Pratchett’s pen gave his characters life, Paul Kidby’s brush allowed them to live it. He provided the illustrations for The Last Hero, which sold over 300,000 copies, and has designed the covers for the Discworld novels since 2002. He is also the author of the definitive portfolio volume The Art Of Discworld.

Containing black-and-white line drawings based on his hugely popular artwork as well as original pieces produced exclusively for this book, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Colouring Book features iconic Discworld personalities as Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Rincewind, Tiffany Aching and, of course, DEATH.

Paul Kidby said: ‘It’s been a great pleasure to select some of my favourite artworks and recreate them as line drawings here ready for colouring. Now it’s over to you to embark upon the Discworld colouring-in extravaganza. The future is bright; it’s not orange, it’s Octarine!’

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Colouring Book will be published by Gollancz on the 11th August priced at £9.99.

We featured Paul Kidby in 2011, when he spoke to us about his acclaimed illustration for the front cover of the Discworld novel Night Watch.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry

Sometimes books and narrators are perfectly matched. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and the voices of George Guidall and Frank Muller is one example, Guy Gavriel Kay’s works and Simon Vance another. And we also have Stephen Fry and Harry Potter, which is a match made in heaven.

It’s surprising to find that the first book in J. K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, will celebrate its nineteenth anniversary this year so a review of the audiobook in 2016 may seem a little odd. But there is a good reason, and that is that all seven audiobooks are finally available on Audible.co.uk, with whom I have a yearly membership.

One thing I will say before the review itself is that a good narrator can make an average book better and a poor narrator can make a good book seem average. This is why reviewing audiobooks is often so difficult. But this audiobook review is easy as the first Harry Potter book is excellent and Stephen Fry nails it.

There’s not much you can really say about Harry Potter that has not already been said. I’ve always found it a delightful book, wish-fulfillment of the highest order and written with great energy and humour. The children (and the millions of adults like myself) that found themselves spellbound by this book didn’t just want to read about Hogwarts, they wanted to go there. It is the Hobbiton of its generation. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is a lovely story which draws on the elements I have always enjoyed – we have the young, unsuspecting hero in a horrible situation with horrible people (the unforgettable Dursleys) discovering that he is not quite as ordinary as he believed. And in short order he finds himself at the most wonderful school of magic with friends (for life), a brilliant assortment of teachers and more adventure, thrills and danger than you could shake a wand at.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone audiobook cover

But what makes this audiobook so wonderful is that it is a wonderful story read to you by a simply wonderful story-teller. I’m old enough to have followed Stephen Fry through the decades and have seen pretty much everything he has been involved in. I have seen him on screen with Robbie Coltraine (Hagrid), Emma Thompson (Miss Trelawney), Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart) and I find it charming to think that he is doing impersonations of close friends when he voices these characters. He also produces excellent voices for Harry, Ron and Hermione, who are the most important of all as they feature is what must be every chapter of the book. Harry’s Uncle Vernon, Dumbledore and Miss McGonagall are other great voices that stand out. There is simply no weak link in Fry’s narration and to create such unique and rich voices for what, over seven books, becomes a very large cast indeed, is a remarkable achievement.

Audiobooks simply don’t come much better than this. If Harry Potter is not your thing then fair enough, this won’t change that, but if Harry Potter is your thing and you want someone to read it to you while you drift off to sleep, wash the dishes, go on a run or drive to work (which is where I did my listening), then this reading is simply sublime.

Don’t believe me? Then head over to Audible.co.uk and listen to a 5 minute sample.

2015 has come and gone, let’s look to 2016

It’s that magic time of the year again, it’s 35 plus degrees outside (I live in the Great Down Under), I’ve drank too much, eaten too much and the in-laws are getting on my last nerve.  However, these humid, sun burnt days covered in Aloe Vera, unmoving, does give me time to reflect and take stock on the books I have read this past year.  There have been good, bad and exceptional, which leads to the inevitable, mournful, pitiable thought: Where did the year go? Can someone please scratch my nose it hurts to move? And I should have read more?

Fortuitously we are given another chance to increase our book tally and plan for the new year as I recover and rehabilitate from the holiday excess, offering alms to the unread soul of 2015 and be like the bear and get stuck in a new.

Down to it, then, my cream of the crop, the duck’s nuts, or if you like the dog’s balls. Of the books I have reviewed (not all released in 2015) my picks for the year would have to include:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison coverThe story has its twists and turns, nothing too dramatic or surprising and is told across an expansive kingdom, but there are no flashy fight scenes, dragons or mighty heroes, just a fragile king looking for friendship and guidance, with a desire to make the life of the people he rules better.

It’s this theme that resonates and makes you love the book even more.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim ButcherUp, up, the winds and mists call the Grimm and wildcats. Duty, freedom and protection of family, new and old calls, as War blazes and the few and dedicated will be required to preserve the many. Another great series for a master of the Genre.

Day Boy by Trent Jamieson

Day Boy by Trent Jamieson book cover imageDay Boy is a coming of age story set in a world of harsh truths, blood, death and survival. It is a poetic story of humanity, of monsters living in the Shadow of the Mountain, bitter cold and open to the burning of the clear night sky.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson book cover imageIn Shadows of Self you can feel the world, its mists and people. You can smell the horse leather and the coal in the air and you just want more.

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan book cover imageThe Autumn Republic is everything you want – and didn’t want – for this story. The writing quality, flow and depth of commitment Brian McClellan has put into this final book in the trilogy is no less than the previous two instalments. I cannot see how you will be disappointed.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman book cover imageIf you like your worlds colourful but dark, fantastical and adventurous, this is the book for you.

Speak the name of the Library in the Language and the door will open. Step through at your own risk.

The Vagrant by Peter Newman

The Vagrant by Peter Newman book cover imageThe Vagrant is his name. He has no other. Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach. Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

A Crown of Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.

The middle runners, while not world burners, they provided me a goodly amount of enjoyment and nostalgia,

The not so middle, those riding on the crest of the wave until they reach the shore of the next in their series.

As always there are some books which I did not have a chance to review but do require a mention,

  • Hallow Point by Ari Marmell 7/10
    The second in Oberon series, is much like the first, a great little read that ticks along nicely. The site has a review from another reviewer, click here.
  • Time Salvager by Wesley Chu 6.5/10
    If I am being honest, I had high hopes for this book and was somewhat disappointed. Well written, good narrative and engaging in parts, its biggest negative is the story was not very original, sticking to well-worn ideas on time travel and cause and effect.
  • Lockstep by Karl Schroeder 7.5/10
    The first three quarters of this book are fantastic, unfortunately the last quarter peters out and the finale is unsatisfying. You get the feeling the story ending was rushed a little and that more was intended, but not achieved.
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson 9/10
    Awesome second installment to the Stormlight series. I tried a few times to get a review on paper, but the sheer size always made my words stumble and fall at the starting blocks. Can recommend this series enough got lovers of EPIC fantasy.
  • Firefight by Brandon Sanderson 7/10
    While not in the same league as Steelheart, the second installment in the Reckoners series had its highs and lows, but was overall a decent read.

I actually read all of the Secret History series by Simon R Green, The Man with the Golden Torc being book 1 and would recommend them to readers who enjoy funny, dark and on the nose comedy.

Side note on Brandon Sanderson, whose books fill the 2015 and 2016 list.

Have you ever seen the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton, if not, the basic premise is Keaton’s character clones himself four times in order to do everything he needs to do in life, work, play, bake, etc. So in that regard I would like to postulate hear and now, due to the SHEER volume of words Brandon Sanderson has been out putting out in the last few years and in the year to come, that he is quadruplets. Three for every day and one for Sunday best. I have even found a raw photo of all four of them together, on the far left is Studious Sanderson, next is the Wiseguy Sanderson, followed by the Scholarly Wiseguy Sanderson and finally Mischievous Sanderson.

The Four Sandersons image

It’s either that or he has stolen Shakespeare’s monkeys and has had them working overtime for the last decade.

Image with monkeys typing

Side note end.

And now comes the goodies for 2016, including their release dates. Gimme!

Gimme Them All (Futurama)

  • Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson, 26th Jan 2016
  • Staked by Kevin Hearne, 26th January 2016
  • Calamity by Brandon Sanderson, 16th Feb 2016
  • Burned by Benedict Jacka, 5th April 2016
  • The Malice by Peter Newman, 24th April 2016
  • Peace Talks by Jim Butcher, 10th May 2016
  • A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall, 24th May 2016
  • Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley, 14th June 2016
  • The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch, 16th June 2016
  • The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks, Mid-Late 2016
  • Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss, Mid 2016
    (Fingers, toes, legs, arms and eyes are all crossed it’ll happen)

What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Review: The Official A Game Of Thrones Colouring Book

When my Mum informed me that she needed to borrow some of my Derwent colouring pencils, I was a bit surprised. Turns out, however, that adult colouring has taken the world by storm. Bookstores all over the world are now selling colouring books for adults, with themes from intricately drawn flower mandalas to cats.

And A Game of Thrones.

The Official A Game Of Thrones Colouring Book is an marvellous selection of intricate drawings that will keep any adult colouring extraordinaire busy for hours (and the rest of us for days).

Done very much in the style of decades’ worth of fan and professional art inspired by a fantasy book series – including art by the world-famous John Howe, who is renowned for his The Lord of the Rings artwork, and his subsequent heavy-involvement with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies – the nearly-50 original black and white drawings found inside cover everything from House crests, dragons, wolves, battles, and your favourite characters.

Even if you are just starting out into the world of adult colouring, this book will be an absolute blast – and all the more fun if you are a fan of A Game of Thrones.

Sequel to The War of the Worlds due January 2017

Gollancz have announced the acquisition of World rights to The Massacre of Mankind, a sequel to one of the most famous and influential science fiction books ever – The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. The novel will be written by multi-award-winning author Stephen Baxter.

First published in 1897, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells has been both popular (having never gone out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, and a television series.

In Stephen Baxter’s sequel, set in late 1920s London, the Martians return, and the war begins again. But the aliens do not repeat the mistakes of their last invasion. They know how they lost last time. They target Britain first, since we resisted them last time. The massacre of mankind has begun.

“HG Wells is the daddy of modern SF. He drew on deep traditions, for instance of scientific horror dating back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and fantastic voyages such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And he had important near-contemporaries such as Jules Verne. But Wells did more than any other writer to shape the form and themes of modern science fiction, and indeed through his wider work exerted a profound influence on the history of the twentieth century. Now it’s an honour for me to celebrate his enduring imaginative legacy, more than a hundred and fifty years after his birth,” said Steve Baxter.

The Massacre of Mankind will be published in hardback, £20, and eBook, £19.99, on the 19th January 2017.