Our SPFBO short-list

We are taking part in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, a competition where we – and many other fantasy websites – receive 25 self-published fantasy books and are given the difficult task of selecting just 1 to put forward to the next stage.

Fergus and I approached this task in this way – we read the first chapter of each book and noted down those books that both impressed and engaged us. We then compared notes and found that we were in agreement on 5 titles. They were:

  • What Remains of Heroes (A Requiem for Heroes #1) by David Benem
  • The Penitent Assassin by Shawn Wickersheim
  • Whill of Agora by Michael James Ploof
  • Paladins Redemption by Kade Derricks
  • The Unseelie Court (Frotwoot’s Faerie Tales #1) by Charlie Ward

Mark Lawrence, who has the unenviable task of organising everything, thought it would be a good idea to mention some of the recurring issues we found with some of the entries, in the hope that feedback might prove useful. Should any of the authors of the 21 books that did not make the short-list require any additional feedback please email spfbofeedback@fantasybookreview.co.uk and we will be able to provide a little more information.

Obviously the first thing that should be mentioned is that Fergus and I like some sub-genres more than others. Some of the books that were submitted were not written with us in mind as their target audience. There isn’t much we can do about that I’m afraid – we simply like what we like. But if the book was well-written with an engaging story and characters it passed the first hurdle.

So here are a couple of snippets from our notes, to give a taste of why some books were passed over.

“Repetition of words throughout chapter, e.g. believe was used 5 times in the first 10 lines” – a reader can be lost as quickly as the first paragraph. I recently read a book which contained 5 similes on the first page – the sky wasn’t just black, it was as black as the deepest level of the largest ocean… and so on.

The complaint that appeared most was that the structure was poor, the writing sub-standard. The first book I rejected read like a bullet-point list, its structure being sentence, full stop, sentence, full stop – there was no flow, no celebration of a beautiful language and it had all the charm of a power-point presentation.

“Dry and uninspiring” was noted down next to a story. This means that after the first chapter we just has no interest in the story or its characters.

Many of the books were rather difficult to read, mainly due to how they were written. It’s not enough to just have a good story, the way in which it is told is of equal importance. Many books were often either under- or over-written, proving it really is a delicate balance. I’ve been running this site for nearly 10 years now and I’ve begun to notice something – many of the best authors have a work history including journalism or editing, jobs where one can become both skilled and comfortable with words. Many have also done a creative writing course. However, what I would find interesting is to be able to read a manuscript by someone like Robin Hobb before the editors got their hands on it. Robin Hobb writes beautifully but how much is natural and how much is thanks to the often under-appreciated skill of editors?

Then of course there comes the problem of having read the book before. I think every author wears their influences on their sleeve but sometimes it’s a little too on-the-nose. If, in the first chapter, you feel like you are reading a re-tread of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Twilight then it is unlikely that you will feel well disposed towards it.

In summary, the books that made the short-list had 2 things in common.

  1. The were written with a fair degree of skill, care and attention to detail.
  2. The story, locations and characters were both engaging and well-written.

When reading the very best stories you barely think about the author behind the work. Ideally the only time you give them any thought is when eagerly getting your hands on more of their work.

Congratulations to the 5 authors who have made the short list and thank you to all who submitted their work. Here are some nice words from Fergus to end on:

Dear Authors,

Firstly, I would like to say it takes courage, dedication and conviction to finish a story and a fearlessness to put it out in the world for others to read. You have accomplished something many dream off, but have been unable to achieve as yet.

Unfortunately, being a competition we can only go forward with the novels that resonated with us. For those who did not make next stage in our decision process, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read your work. Confidence, fortitude and belief in your story will see you through and we wish you every success in the future.

Kindest Regards

The Fantasy Book Review Team

Spotlight: After the Fall (an anthology)

Technology has changed the world around us over the last century, and promises even more great things for the future. But what does that future look like without the marvels of the machine age? After the fall of technology, what lies ahead for humanity?

Purchase online – e-book at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00UT5D3WS, paperback at http://boobooks.net/bookshop/after-the-fall/

After the Fall (an anthology) cover

Featuring a new story from Adam Roberts, plus tales from Allen Ashley, Mike Chinn, Caren Gussoff, Amelia Mangan, Stephen Palmer, Rob Sanders, Simon Sylvester and many more.

Ed Ahern

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He has his original wife, but advises that after forty six years they are both out of warranty. Ed has had forty five stories published thus far.

 

Allen Ashley

Allen Ashley is no stranger to end of the world stories, having edited Catastrophia for PS Publishing in 2010. Allen runs Clockhouse London Writers and is the judge for the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. A writer, editor, poet, tutor and event host, his most recent book is Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac (Alchemy Press, 2013) and has the following titles due in 2014: Sensorama (an anthology) and The Planet Suite (revised version of his breakthrough novel) – both from Eibonvale Press (UK). www.allenashley.com

 

Delphine Boswell

Delphine Boswell expresses her love of writing in the words of John Steinbeck, “I nearly always write just as I nearly always breathe.” Delphine has had numerous short stories published, several in anthologies, as well as a chapter excerpt from a dystopian trilogy that she is presently working on and a chapter excerpt from a mystery novel that she has completed. When not writing, she teaches a thesis completion course to university graduate students. More info can be found on her website: delphineboswell.com.

 

Gary Budgen

Gary Budgen grew up and still lives in London. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies including Interzone, Theaker’s Quarterly and Sein und Werden. Recently he has had stories in the Breaking the Rules, Where Are We Going? And the Urban Green Mananthologies. He is a member of London Clockhouse Writers. His website is: garybudgen.wordpress.com/

 

Daniel Carpenter

Daniel Carpenter has had his words on Metazen, Rainy City Stories and was featured in the National Flash Fiction anthology Jawbreakers alongside Ali Smith and Ian Rankin. Most recently his short story “Skin” was a runner up in the Manchester Climate Change Short Story Competition. He tweets at @dancarpenter85 and blogs on winterhillmcr.wordpress.com

 

Megan Chee

Megan Chee has lived in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is currently entering her first year at Cornell University. She spends an inordinate amount of time dreaming up stories, which has resulted in an unfortunate tendency to mutter under her breath in inopportune situations.

 

Mike Chinn

Mike Chinn has published over 40 short stories, from Westerns to Lovecraftian fiction; with all shades of Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction and Pulp Adventure in between. He’s scripted comic strips for DC Thompson’s Beano and late-lamented Starblazer digest; along with two books on how to write comics/graphic novels – which saw translation into several languages. The Alchemy Press published a collection of his Damian Paladin fiction in 1998,whilst he has edited SWORDS AGAINST THE MILLENNIUM (2000) and THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES (2012) and THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES 2 (2013) for the same imprint. He is presently working on a third volume in the PULP HEROES series, along with a Sherlock Holmes Steampunk mash-up for Fringeworks – in which he gets to send the famous detective to the Moon.

 

Helen Ellwood

Over the last ten years, Helen Ellwood has had two plays staged, has cowritten and directed two short films, both shown at QUAD in Derby, been a member of the script writing team for two BBC funded docudramas and has had two short stories broadcast on BBC Radio Derby.

Parts 1 and 2 of her co-written fantasy trilogy, Taranor, are available on Amazon. To break this weird run of twos, Helen is writing the third novel of the trilogy, aiming for publication early next year.

 

Caren Gussoff

Caren Gussoff is a SF writer living in Seattle, WA. The author of Homecoming (2000), and The Wave and Other Stories (2003), first published by Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Books, Gussoff’s been published in anthologies by Seal Press, and Prime Books, as well as in Abyss & Apex, Cabinet des Fées and Fantasy Magazine. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2008 was the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia E. Butler Scholar at Clarion West. Her new novel, The Birthday Problem, will be published by Pink Narcissus Press in July 2014. Find her online at @spitkitten, facebook.com/spitkitten, and at spitkitten.com.

 

David Hartley

David Hartley is a writer, blogger and performer based in Manchester. He writes tricksy tales about strange and wonderful things, some of which have been published, some of which have been banished to the distant reaches of a forgotten computer file. His first book of flash fiction, Threshold, was published by Gumbo Press in 2013 and is available via all good search engines. His blog is davidhartleywriter.blogspot.com and he can also be found on twitter: @DhartleyWriter

 

Andrew Kells

Andrew Kells has written radio adverts, short stories, scripts, and two novels; and has performed his work at literature events across the East Midlands. He is currently writing a contemporary urban fairytale, as well as developing his successful workshop for younger writers, “Your Epic Starts Here!”, which featured as part of Nottingham’s Festival Of Words and Nottingham Children’s Book Festival in 2013.

 

Emma Lannie

Emma J. Lannie grew up in Manchester and now lives and writes in Derby. Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, and her first short story collection Behind a Wardrobe in Atlantis was recently published by Mantle Lane Press. You can read some of her stories (and ramblings about time travel, buildings, and naps) at garglingwithvimto.blogspot.co.uk

 

LD Lapinski

LD Lapinski is a writer of fantasy, science fiction and short story flash.She recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. She is currently working on her first novel. @ldlapinski

 

Amelia Mangan

Amelia Mangan was born in London in 1983 and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Her writing is featured in many anthologies and magazines, among them X7: An Anthology of Seven Deadly Sins,No Monsters Allowed and Worms (all ed. Alex Davis), The Bestiarum Vocabulum andPhobophobias (both ed. Dean M. Drinkel), Blood Type: An Anthology of Vampire SF On the Cutting Edge (ed. Robert S. Wilson), and Attic Toys (ed. Jeremy C. Shipp). Her story, “Blue Highway,” won the first annual Yen Magazine Short Story competition in 2013, and was published in Yen #65.

 

MP Neal

MP Neal writes speculative fiction, mostly fantasy, science fiction or suspense where the characters at the centre of the story are often under threat. Her short stories, published or about to appear, are entitled “Last” in Strange Fortune (Knightwatch Press) and “The Unbinding” soon to be available in an anthology After the Fall (Boo Books). She has just finished her first novel The Dark Age. She is a mother who started out as a space scientist before becoming a writer. Her website can be found at www.facebook.com/maureenpneal

 

Stephen Palmer

Stephen Palmer is the author of eight novels: Memory Seed (Orbit 1996; Infinity Plus ebooks 2013),Glass (Orbit 1997; Infinity Plus ebooks 2013), Flowercrash (Wildside 2002; Infinity Plus ebooks 2013), Muezzinland (Wildside 2003; Infinity Plus ebooks 2011), Hallucinating (Wildside 2004; Infinity Plus ebooks 2011), The Rat And The Serpent (Prime Books 2005; Infinity Plus ebooks 2012) and Urbis Morpheos (PS Publishing 2010; Infinity Plus ebooks 2014). His eighth novel, the surreal and fast-paced Hairy London, is published as a paperback and an ebook in 2014. His short stories have been published by Spectrum SF, Wildside, NewCon, Unspoken Water, Rocket Science, Solaris, Theakers, Boo Books and Eibonvale, with more forthcoming for 2014. He lives and works in Shropshire, UK.

 

Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts is a writer and academic who lives some way west of London. His latest books are Jack Glass (2013), Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (with Mahendra Singh; 2014) and Bête (2014).

 

Rob Sanders

Rob Sanders is the author of six science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas, audio dramas and comics. His fiction has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list and has won national writing competitions. He lives off the beaten track in the small city of Lincoln, UK.

 

Cameron Suey

Cameron Suey is a California native living in San Francisco with his wife and daughter. He works as a writer in the games industry, and along with several other talented writers, won the WGA Award for Videogame Writing in 2009 for “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.” His work has appeared on the Pseudopod Podcast, several anthologies including A Quick Bite of Flesh and Historic History, and is featured in the first issue of Jamais Vu: The Journal of Strange Among the Familiar. He can be found on the web at thejosefkstories.com, where he writes about writing, horror, and other influences, and on twitter as @josefkstories.

 

Simon Sylvester

Simon Sylvester is a writer, teacher and filmmaker. He has written more than a thousand flash stories on Twitter and his first novel, The Visitors, will be published by Quercus Books in June 2014. Simon lives in Cumbria with the painter Monica Metsers and their daughter Dora. www.simonsylvester.wordpress.com

Tom Hiddleston reads J. G. Ballard’s High Rise

High Rise audiobook coverYesterday saw the release of the audiobook edition of High Rise, J. G. Ballard’s unnerving tale from 1975 of life in a modern tower block running out of control.

Tom HiddlestonRead by Tom Hiddleston (best known for playing Loki in Thor and The Avengers) the audiobook is set within the concealing walls of an elegant 40-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

We are massive fans of Ballard (who isn’t) and Audible have very kindly supplied us with a 25 second clip to whet your appetite.

Credit: Audible Studios, 2015

For more information on this audiobook, visit Audible UK.

Why the term “escapist” rather bothers me

A word that I have seen bandied around in various reviews, especially of fantasy literature is “escapist”.
Many people use this as a derogatory term, that something is “just escapist fantasy”, others (such as Stewart Hardy’s excellent Doctor Who video review series on Youtube “He who moans”), use the term as a positive one, (indeed many of Stewart’s moans about Doctor Who are that it isn’t escapist enough!).

Whether interpreted positively or negatively, or indeed moaningly, the term “escapist” is one that rather bothers me.

As defined on Wikctionary (oh yes, the quality of my research!), the term is given as, “intended for or tending toward escape”; especially, used to avoid, deny, or forget about reality, as through fantasy.

The first obvious problem with this is that “reality” is such a broad term (the most coherent definition I’ve ever heard is comprised of the single number 42), that what is being “escaped” isn’t exactly all that clear. If by “reality” we mean anything that is of historically or scientifically verifiable fact, then pretty much any fiction of any sort will be “escapist” simply because it involves characters and circumstances made up by the author and people that have never existed.

Then, as well as the simple fact that however historically accurate the authors’ setting, their characters are false (for all Dickens research on the French revolution there just wasn’t really anyone called Sidney Carton), any story always has a narrative and structure of events which the author has put together because she/he wanted things that way, indeed it is the very rare author who can convince you that the plot you witness in their books is entirely as random, pointless and generally unresolved as so called “real life” generally is.

It is not, however, just that “escapist” seems weird in purely factual or narrative terms that bothers me, (since like any good sceptic I’m quite aware any facts can be doubted, up to and including my own existence), it’s that “escapist” also bears something of the idea of emotional satisfaction or gratification. The majority of people who employ the term “escapist” in its negative sense seem to equate it with a kind of drug trip, that the person (usually male), descends into a state of pleasure, passively experiencing some vicarious emotional (or even, according to its worst critics, sexual or violent), buzz from a created situation in the literature.

Even people who favour the term use “escapist” to mean something which “takes them away from the problem of real life,” i.e. provides some sort of mental distraction which stops them thinking about whatever is troubling them at the moment, though why we should have a specific term for literature that provides this sort of absorbing distraction, and not say a fascinating conversation with a friend or a particularly difficult and absorbing task, I don’t know.

Even if we forget about whether such vicarious pleasure is necessarily always a bad thing, what really emphasises my simile about the term “escapist” is that it really doesn’t say very much.

If I were to say (as indeed I have said in some of my reviews), that such and such a book has “good characters”, or “exceptional style in its writing”, or even a negative comment such as, “it is just another derivative work and isn’t unique,” or “it doesn’t explore its ideas fully,” I am expressing an opinion to another person. My opinion may be questioned, challenged and debated, and indeed I might even change that opinion, however I am still contributing to a dialogue. I am saying “I believe this book had such and such a characteristic which makes it good.” I’m making a statement which others may debate, challenge and discuss.

“Escapist” however is quite another matter. If someone describes something as “escapist” they’re not talking about any qualities the book itself has, but of a state the book promotes in some of its readers, indeed most people who use “escapist” in its negative sense use it rather the way that people talk of the effects of alcohol: they themselves don’t become drunk, but strong liquor has this effect upon others.

Even in the more positive sense if I say, “I liked this book because it let me escape real life,” I have not actually told you anything about the book, only about its effect on me. I have told you how the book made me feel, but not said anything else. Indeed, probably your next question will be, “so what about it let you escape real life?”

Even if (as some people say), this “escapist” feeling I get is simply related to the fact that I’m reading about different circumstances from my own life, well again that hasn’t told you very much, particularly since, unless I were reading my own biography, the characters, plot and setting of pretty much any book ever written would be unlike those in my life.

This is the really major reason I find the term “escapist” not exactly a helpful one. Even if we can say coherently what “escaping real life” actually means with respect to fiction, and even if this is a sort of emotional drug trip (and both of those are pretty major “ifs” in themselves), what useful information does the term “escapist,” either meant positively, or especially negatively give you? You might as well say, “this book is bad because if you read it you might feel something not caused by something in reality” (hardly a damning criticism), or “I liked this book because it makes me feel happy,” – cheerful, but not exactly informative or much of a recommendation to others.

Myself, I’d suggest it’s much more important to think about why a book lets someone forget about their real life; what about its writing style, plot, characters or other elements caused such a major level of absorption in the reader that he/she became utterly taken up with the book’s world, especially when that reader is you yourself, and indeed what (if anything), the author’s intentions are in writing a book. Those are far more useful things to question, debate and think about the simple state of forgetfulness reading a book might, or might not, give you.

So, at least as far as reviews and discussing the qualities of books go, I’d personally suggest we let “escapist,” well, escape our lexicon and get back to dealing with the matters at hand, i.e. what exactly about a book is good, and why!

Spotlight: A Time of Kings by Sean Moran

First in a planned trilogy, A Time of Kings takes places 600 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, in an alternate history when the descendants of Arthur Pendragon reign over half of Western Europe. On the eve of the wedding of Prince Arthur to the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, a usurper emerges to challenge the Pendragons and the world. Meanwhile, Merlin searches for answers to an ancient mystery.

A Time for Kings book cover

Sean Moran is a hardworking, creative, and driven individual with a passion for writing. He has been writing since he knew how and before that, a child storyteller in the oral history tradition. A lover of history and student of the world, Sean currently lives and studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US.

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Amazon.com buy button

A tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett

Contributors: Fergus and Dark

The effect that the passing of Terry Pratchett had on me was surprising; I was deeply sadden and touched by the news. Although I have never met Terry his writing has shaped me in ways I did not even know.  Maybe it was his passion and personality shining through the pages, but I find that I will truly miss not having the opportunity to read his works.

Like countless others I have been a fan of his writing for many years. The Discworld novels in particular have always brought a smile to my face, offering a vivid imagery and a dry and compelling humour.  The stories were never loud (outlandish, yes) or in your face, but offered a subtle pleasure, placing me in a comfortable and welcoming armchair of familiarity. The best way I can describe my experience when reading one of Terry’s books was as I read the characters were arranged before me on my own personal stage, placing me both in and out of their world.

In tribute to his memory, I planned a weekend of Discworld joy. I have read Reaper Man (it felt fitting), I played a Discworld board game (and won) and finally I put forward my own personal vision of what I would like to think was the start of his next journey.

A Journey Home

A sombre light shines as Terry follows DEATH along grey sands. They do not speak; all that needs to be said has been said. Time passes and they come to a simple door of unvarnished wood and stop.

Terry turns to DEATH, “What is on the other side,”

MANY HAVE ASKED THAT QUESTION

Terry smiles, “I know, I wrote those words.”

Death reaches out places his skeletal hand on the door and gentle pushes.

I AM PERMITTED TO ANSWER

The door silently swings open, revealing a great expanse of blackness and flickering lights, contrasting against the greyness around them.  One light brighter than the others moves towards them, or they are drawn to it.

Turning Terry looks up into the face of DEATH who raises his hand and places it on his shoulder.  A smile, without skin or muscle spreads across DEATH’s face, reaching up to the sparkling blue stars that are his eyes.

Warm sunlight shines onto the sands as the view through the door changes, showing a sun hanging over of an impossible, foolish and incredible world.  Mountains, Seas and Cities are bathed in its light. Heroes, Villains and every wondrous thing in-between thrive and live in a world supported by four giant elephants swimming though the universe on the shell of an immense turtle.

Clouds rush by as they draw closer to a City, called by some the greatest City in the multiverse, a river winding its lumpish way through its heart.  A smell unique, foreign, but familiar rides through the door, strong, brazen and shameless in its own glory.

“Does it always smell like this?”

I AM TOLD ONLY ON THE GOOD DAYS

The scene in the doorway settles on a man, dressed head to toe in black.  He faces away from them looking out of a large window in an oblong office.  A small dog sleeps in a basket sleeps beside a desk.

“Gentlemen, please come in,” he calls out without turning.

YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT
Together Terry and DEATH step into the room, as the door closes behind them.

DEATH nods to the Patrician, who inclines his head, “Please do not let me detain you,”

The stars that are DEATH’s eyes flare.

Reaching into his robs he removes a gold hourglass and raises it to his face.  The glass of the timer is black and only the sound of sand running can be heard.

BLACK ON BLACK, BUT DEATH COMES TO ALL

The Patrician walks to his desk and sits, placing his elbows on the desk steepling his fingers, “Yes, I am told that is usually the case,”

Placing the hourglass back into his rob DEATH turns to Terry.

DO YOU LIKE CURRYS, MR PRATCHETT?

“Terry smiles, “Yes, I do.”

I AM AT YOUR DISPOSAL NIGHT AND DAY.

DEATH inclines his head and his gone.

Removing his hat Terry turns to the Patrician, who smiles and offers the chair facing his, “Welcome home Mr Pratchett.  May I offer you the second best seat?

Thank you Terry from me and all your fans.
Fergus, March 19, 2015

Early on Thursday the 11th of March the following tweet was sent by Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter account: AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Discworld will recognize to whom the above booming voice belongs and know what it means. Sir Terry Pratchett kept his appointment with the Reaper Man very much in the way he would’ve wished, surrounded by his family with his cat asleep on his bed. There is probably little need to reiterate all the many books Pratchett has written, the subtle humour and strange, warped reality of the fantastic world he created or how much of a presence his works have been in the lives of all those who read them or those who continue to do so. And that’s not to speak of his numerous other outings which have ranged from science fiction, to history, to a truly weird book about cats, all told with the trademark Pratchett sense of skewed reality.

My own relationship with Pratchett’s writing I admit has not been an easy one. When I first read Pyramids at the age of 12 (no it was not a good place to start), I actually didn’t enjoy it. The humour seemed nonsensical, the characters thin, and while I appreciated the wordplay I thought the whole thing didn’t know whether it was a serious fantasy or not.

Fortunately for me, a lack of available fantasy literature lead me first to Sourcery, then to Equal Rights, and by the time I hit Soul Music I had realized just what strange direction Pratchett was coming from.

I still remember being totally distracted during my English GCSE paper because I had Small Gods waiting for me at home and was all the time wondering exactly how Brutha would make it out of the hands of the Inquisition.

I will confess I’ve never called myself a serious Discworld fan. I’ve always said “oh they’re there for a bit of fun, but I prefer more serious fantasy” and yet I now find myself feeling a profound sense of loss to think that there will never be any more visits there, or indeed any of the other odd places Terry Pratchett took us to. After all “a bit of fun”, particularly one that can last me over several rereads (I think there are probably only two of Pratchett’s novels I’ve not reread at least once), and nearly 20 years really isn’t a thing to be under-estimated, and definitely is something I will miss in my life.

So I’ll just conclude by thanking Sir Terry for taking us to such amazing places, and wishing well to everyone who’s lives became a little brighter thanks to his unique perspective, especially his family and friends and those closest to him.

And if you haven’t visited Pratchett’s writing (especially the Discworld), well you’re in for not just a bit of fun, but a lot!
Dark, March 14, 2015

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles

When I first encountered the ‘Chronicles’ collection of books published in conjunction with The Hobbit films, it was the last movie and I had no expectation that I would ever come across any that had come before. However, thanks to the generosity of the publishers at Harper Collins, I’ve been provided with the other three books that were released over the past several years.

For the second movie in the trilogy, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, the Weta design team published ‘Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers’ – featuring a foreword by Evangeline Lilly (who played the elf Tauriel in the movies) and a behind-the-scenes look at thousands of costumes, armour, weapons, props, and set dressing elements that went into making The Desolation of Smaug an Academy Award-nominated film.

Once again, the book is credited to Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer, and comes with an introduction by costume designer Ann Maskrey, making it “the definitive guide to the artefacts and sumptuous fabrics of The Hobbit film adaptations.”

I have been a fan of coffee-table books for some time now, and when you make a coffee-table book out of the work done by Weta Workshop, then I am sold.

Each page is layered with beautiful full-colour photographs of the hundreds upon thousands of props, costumes, pieces of armour and weaponry, sets, and the intricately-worked scale items that were so integral to the making of these movies.

This book is not so limited to one movie over another, as is shown by the first chapter which details the design of the ‘Hobbits of The Shire’. Other chapters are allocated for all the major races and locations that populate The Hobbit movies, including ’The Elves of Mirkwood’, ‘The Company of Thorin’, ‘Beorn and His Home’, ‘Lake-Town and Its People’, and much, much more. Individual character costumes get a lot of attention, from Bofur’s hand-knitted scarf to the elf hunter armour and weapons.

For fans of the intricate detail that went into the thousands of costumes, pieces of armour, weapons, and everything else that made these movies, this book is a must have. The comments from each of the designers who worked on the movie that accompany many of the photos are really insightful, and really take you into the world of Weta Workshop.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles Creatures & Characters

This second book in the series was released in conjunction with the first movie, ‘An Unexpected Journey’, and deals specifically with the creatures and characters found in all of the movies.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles Creatures & Characters cover

 

The book is reliant upon a lot of makeup-chair and finished product photos, making it like a hardcopy version of one of the Behind the Scenes features that come with the Extended Edition. You get to see and hear about the processes behind making the costumes for each of the main characters, and hear from the actors and makeup artists as well.

Like the Behind the Scenes features, the whole process is on display – from casting the faces of the dwarves, to making the prosthetic feet for Bilbo, scaling costumes for the scale-doubles, and the animation work that went into the trolls and orcs and goblins. There are sections on coaching the actors in movement, language, and accents, and quotes with many of the actors from all of the movies.

One of the most interesting aspects of the movies for me has always been the dialogue and language work – but, understandably, it doesn’t necessarily warrant a lot of attention on the special features. In this book, there is a lot more effort put into providing a detailed look at the way the elves were made to appear on screen, which includes their language. Bret McKenzie, the actor who made famous an unnamed elf (first named Figwit by the fans after his appearance in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, and then given the name Lindir in The Hobbit movies) is quoted a lot, as is Leith McPherson, the wonderful dialect coach.

This book more than the others, is something you could sit down and just read. The other books are for the sporadic reader, who wants to just pick up the book for a few moments, look at some pictures, maybe read a quote or two, then put it back down. The Creatures & Characters book has much more meat to it – is an in depth look at the processes that created the characters and creatures that took centre-stage on the screen.

For fans of The Hobbit films, or for fans of movie-making in general, this book is an absolute winner.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles

For the first of The Hobbit movies, ‘An Unexpected Journey’, two books were released. The first one, ‘Art & Design’, takes you on a journey through the artwork that inspired the first movie, rather than the props and costumes. In many ways, this book is the only way much of this artwork will ever see the light of day – whereas two of the other books released in this series are very much companion pieces to the Behind the Scenes features released with the Extended Edition.

Thousands of pieces of art are packed into this book, including concept artwork, photographs, and development paintings. And for most of the pieces in this book, there is an accompanying blurb by the artist, revealing the stories behind the art.

With a foreword by world famous set decorator Dan Hennah, and Weta Workshop’s founder and creative director, Richard Taylor providing the Introduction, the book (like all in the series) is written and compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer (who many will have seen in the Behind the Scenes features).

I’m a massive fan of concept artwork – I’ll seek it out for most video games I play, and I love finding those pieces that are provided for movies such as The Hobbit (I’m less interested in concept artwork for, say, ‘Taken’). The second chapter is less about the concept artwork, focusing on the Dwarves and their costumes, and therefore photography. But many of the other chapters are heavily filled with concept artwork – like the chapters on Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum and the Company’s flight to the trees at the end of the film.

This book is the epitome of a coffee-table book, and should be on hand for any fan of The Hobbit films.

Competition: Win a copy of The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

The Devil's Detective book cover imageWelcome to hell… … where skinless demons patrol the lakes and the waves of Limbo wash against the outer walls, while the souls of the Damned float on their surface, waiting to be collected. When an unidentified, brutalised body is discovered, the case is assigned to Thomas Fool, one of Hell’s detectives, known as ‘Information Men’. But how do you investigate a murder where death is commonplace and everyone is guilty of something?

Those lovely people at Penguin Random House UK have given us 3 copies of The Devil’s Detective to give away. The competition is open to UK residents only  and here is how you can enter:

Simply tweet @FanBooRev with the name of the book you are currently reading and as many words from the first chapter as you can fit into 140 characters. For example:

@FanBooRev The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his…

The competition will close this Friday (March 6, 2015) and winners will be notified via Twitter and their UK mail address will be requested, so that a winning copy can be dispatched.

Good luck to all who enter.

For more information on The Devil’s Detective and its author Simon Kurt Unsworth, and to read an excerpt, visit the Del Rey UK website.