25 September 2013

Books: London Falling by Paul Cornell (2013)




With TV shows like Grimm and Supernatural and new series debuting this fall, Sleepy Hollow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being just two, media outlets like TV networks and movie studios have taken the basic premise of the procedural crime show and added an element of urban fantasy to attract a larger demographic. But fantasy and science fiction authors have doing this for a while, most notably with Neil Gaiman. 

Paul Cornell is known for his long association with Doctor Who (he wrote five novels in the New Adventure line when the BBC series was in its wilderness years, including Human Nature, which he adapted into the highly praised 2-part 2007 Who episode Human Nature and The Family of Blood) and creating the Bernice Summerfield character companion that was eventually spun off into her own series. Cornell has also written for a number of British comics, as well as Marvel Comics and DC Comics in America, and with London Falling, we see his third novel (behind 200ls Something More and 2002s British Summertime) and the beginning of a new series. 
 
After Rob Toshack, London crime boss, dies a horrific death while being interrogated, four members of the London Metropolitan Police Service encounter something in a crime scene that gives them the Sight. Transformed, they're now able to access an entirely new London, one that's more dangerous than they ever thought possible.

While I generally find police procedurals –at least the ones presented on TV- to be dull, pedantic and predictable, Cornell is able to balance some of the more mundane aspect of police work with the paranormal, creating a clever book that is grim, bloody and page-turning. 

For readers of your typical crime novels, the book gets off to an easy start before Cornell begins putting on the pressure with a complex story and characters that are all very well drawn out. And that is the best aspect of the book, as much as it’s a plot driven novel, author Cornell takes his time fleshing out the characters. We got cops like Kev Sefton, a sort-of closeted gay man (which I found interesting), Quinn , a cop with a strained home life -even his wife Sarah calls him by his surname, which is odd and could explain things. There’s Costain, a good undercover cop (UC as Cornell ramps up the acronyms and British slang –more on that below) who seems to want to escape all the real life horrors of being a cop and police analyst Lisa Ross, who is more than a Girl Friday –her Dad was murdered by Toshack. 

Soon they quartet understand they’re battling not only their own demons but the ones that run rampant through London, including one Mora Losley, a particularly vile woman who is killing kids as sacrifice to her beloved football team, West Ham United. The problem is she’s been doing it for centuries (and Losely ability to manipulate memories is horrifying, but also a clever device –which explains how she was able to hide her antics from the real world for so long). 

The book just gets better as is goes along, leaving me on the edge of chair so to speak.

But (yes there is a “but”), I did grow weary of Cornell’s use of the British slang “nick.” Apparently, it has many meanings (“In zero time, Brockley nick had done them proud…”, “…and keep going all the way to your nick…”, “Get back to the nick…”) and while I appreciate that the US publishers of this book did not alter it too much, I found myself being stopped by its various use. Of course, being an American this may make me sound like an asshole, but I would’ve hoped Cornell understood that some of his readers may not be British and might need a wee bit of an explanation of the word “nick” and how it can mean so many different things (there is a glossary at the end, and while useful, it failed to explain that word or what a “brief,” was, though I quickly made the connection that it meant a lawyer). 

Still, an enjoyable first book in a series.

13 September 2013

Books: Leviathan Wakes: Book One of The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (2011)




As George R.R. Martin says on the cover, Leviathan Wakes is an attempt at creating a space opera that once dominated the Golden Age of Science Fiction during the 1940s and 50s. And author James S.A. Corey (pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck –who are Martin’s assistant) does fairly well, doing what science fiction has always done, setting a story in the future, but borrowing many plot elements from today. The authors also blend real science with several different genres, including a noir detective, thriller aspects, horror and magical aspect that science fiction needs when it comes to space travel –instead of warp drive, they have Epstein Drive (and that’s as far as the authors intend to explain it). 

In future, Earth has yet to encounter aliens but they have populated the solar system, with colonies all over the place, including many moons, Mars and the Asteroid Belt. New businesses have popped, including harvesting ice from the rings of Venus to supply water to those who’ve been born and raised in space. There is also a major conflict between Mars, Earth and “Belters” that is heating up and may boil over to war.

But war is something Jim Holder and his crew of the Canterbury can care less about. Holden and his crew make their living as one of those ice miners, but when they accidentally comes across the remains of a ship called the Scopuli, they discover a secret that people are willing to kill and start wars for. At the same time, Detective Miller is searching for the daughter of a rich couple, and his investigation eventually brings him to Holden and the remains of the Scopuli. The two men must work together to find out what is going on and keep themselves and everyone else alive.

I think the book works because the authors don’t get too complex in setting up their universe –plus it helps that they don’t get all technobabble. It’s a more or less straight forward adventure tale, highlighted by some believable characters, an interesting story and more than a modest dose of humor. It’s not dark and forbidding, but it is dangerous.