It's been another month of buying and receiving books - all of which have been added to my personal library at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/diehardkev
. I have also recently had the opportunity to interview SF and Young Adult Fantasy author Scott Westerfeld on life, the Universe and Everything - a copy of which will I hope to post on here in due course. It also gave myself the excuse to finally elevate his books to the top of my reading pile and boy was I glad I did. First up was Midnighters: Secret Hour. This is the first part in a trilogy aimed at the teenage fiction market, where the world actually has 25 hours. The 25th hour is known only to a few special individuals and exists outside of the normal laws of time (in other words, time stops for everyone else in this hour). Each of the gifted "Midnighters" have unique abilities which allow them to survive against the Darklings - an ancient race of creatures which can only survive in The Midnight. When Jessica Day discovers she is a Midnighter, her abilities are initially a mystery, but somehow she stirs up the Darklings into a raging frenzy, leaving the Midnighters in a race to protect Jessica and discover her power before the Darkling s can stop her.
I'm a great believer in that childrens fiction should concentrate on storytelling and not bombarding them with morals and principles - after all fantasy should be regarded as escapsim from the harsh realities of life. Westerfeld is a natural storyteller and keeps the story tense and primly paced. There are some touching scenes between Jessica and the Midnighter she falls for and some focus on the triviliaties teenagers often have to face, but they don't detract from what is essentially a really enjoyable young superhero story.
From fantasy to Sci fi in what is one of the finest space operas I have come across in recent years. In fact to label Risen Empire as a space opera almost does it an injustice - the breadth of issues and technologies puts many a hard SF novel to shame. The Risen Empire is ruled by the Risen Emperor who has achieved immortality for himself and an elite few through symbiosis with an alien organism. Ruling over the Empire, peace has spread across the galaxy until a cult known as the Rix invade the heart of the Empire and galactic war breaks out. From the first chapter, it's full throttle action as an Imperial Squadron strike back at the Rix. It appears at first to emulate the traditional spaceship enagement popularised in Battlestar Galactica, but Westerfeld instead incorporates microtechnology - the ships are the size of dust grains and are operated by remote from an orbiting mothership! This kind of fresh approach and scale is the norm throughout the book and make it something extra special in my book. There is also a strong political theme. The Empire is ruled by people who never "die" and a renegade political group believe that this can only stifle the growth of humanity and also questions its need to go to war. Looking around the world today, its not hard to see where some of these themes have been reflected from.
This is hard hitting and epic science fiction and although falls slightly short of being directly comparable to Dune, can easily sit proudly alongside it on any SF readers shelf.
Two other books appeared on my desk this week - Somnambulist and Heart Shaped Box. The Somnambulist, apart from being an absolute tongue twister, is a debut literary fantasy comparable to the likes of Mark Gatiss and Christopher Priest. Narrating a stage conjuroring detective, a Dickensian London and a plot to bring the British Empire to its knees, I'm defintely looking forward to this one.
Last and by no means least is Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, also known as Stephen King junior. Yes the son of horror's most popular writer is making his own debut with a novel which I guarantee to be a winner in 2007. It's a supernatural thriller which has already had the big thumbs up from Neil Gaiman and will undoubtably receive a mammoth marketing campaign. What with Devil You Know (Mike Carey), Already Dead ( Charlie Huston) and Man From the Diogenes Club ( Kim Newman), I have really immersed myself this year in this newly established genre of supernatural investigative thrillers and I have a good feeling that Heart Shaped Box will round off 2006 in style!