Movies of 2017: Ghost in the Shell

In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

Ghost in the Shell. 2017, a somewhat disappointing 6.9 stars on IMDb. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano and directed by Rupert Sanders.

Based on the acclaimed anime of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning, a noir-esque mishmash of a daylit Blade Runner cityscape crossed with the action of The Matrix. Scarlett Johansson’s Major is a brain in a cyborg body, put to work combatting terrorism as part of the elite Section 9 but soon delves deeper into the mystery of who she really is, who is the ghost?

So, the action is gloriously choreographed, the special effects are absolutely top-notch, the supporting cast are, with few exceptions (the cockerney member of the team did grate a tad), splendid. Takeshi Kitano simply oozes cool as Aramaki, head of Section 9. Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones – I *knew* I recognised him!) is wonderful as Batou, Major’s sidekick of sorts and Michael Pitt is a convincing villian in Kuze.

Weak point if any is the usually reliable but here woefully underused Juliette Binoche who is called on to do little other than stand by the Major, do some medical mumbo jumbo and look suitably angst-ridden. I was initially amused by how often someone mentions the word ‘ghost’ or, to a lesser extent ‘shell’, which got a bit much in the end.

I saw Ghost in the Shell in 2D, but I could imagine that it would look glorious in full IMAX 3D. I might even be tempted to go find out.

Overall, I give Ghost in the Shell 7 cyborg Scarletts out of ten. Definitely worth checking out on the big screen.

The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

I just loved this from the first page. Fast-paced, with funny dialogue which fizzes with snark and a glorious cast of characters. We’ve got grand Houses battling for influence with the Emperox, wormholes, sarcastic space captains, pirates, dukes and a glorious cast of minor players in the empire-spanning game of power.

Favourite character is hard to pick – there’s the deliciously foul-mouthed Kiva, daughter of the House of Lagos, unafraid to speak her mind (and she does get most of the best lines). Cardenia, newly-annointed Emperox Grayland II, ruler of, well pretty much everything, and not entirely thrilled about it. The rival Houses, with their Machiavellian schemes to gain or influence power reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune (though slightly more foul-mouthed).

The plot veritably bounds along from planet to planet (or slightly more accurately, from planet to Hub) as we follow our heroes (if you can call anyone here a hero) on an exhilarating, rip-roaring galaxy-spanning adventure.

Book one of a new series, and I cannot wait for Book 2.

Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

SIX STORIES BF AW.indd

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame … As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending.

Recently I went along to the Orenda Roadshow in Leeds where Karen Sullivan had assembled some of her lovely authors (including her co-pilot Thomas Enger) to do readings from their books. I’d already read books by quite a few of them, and had books from one or two more, but one which really grabbed my attention was a guy from Newcastle telling a story about a murder. As you’ve no doubt guessed, that was Matt Wesolowski and he was reading from his debut novel, Six Stories. And he was up against some stiff competition that evening, I can tell you. I knew I had to buy a copy.

Six Stories is unlike anything I’ve read before. Told in the form of six episodes of a Serial-style podcast, we delve into the mysterious events at Scarclaw Fell twenty years ago when a young boy goes missing and is ultimately found dead.

Each episode is an interview with one of the group of friends who were there that evening, and Matt deftly weaves an intricate, multi-layered plot, letting us in on one secret at a time. And there are so many secrets…

It’s an astonishingly confident and compelling novel, all the more impressive for being a debut. Matt manages to capture the distinct voices of the cast of characters perfectly, with all of their teenage angst and worries, the shifting group dynamics and emotions.

Six Stories is dark and disturbing in places, with an unsettling feeling of dread creeping up as you delve further into the story and the events on Scarclaw Fell.

I know it’s only March, but I will call it now – Six Stories will be one of my books of 2017, and I would be very surprised if it’s not very near the top of the list. I highly recommend it.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available now. You can find Matt on twitter @concretekraken.

 

 

Inspirational writers – guest post by Paul Harrison

Today I’d like to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog. Paul is the author of Revenge of the Malakim, book 1 of The Grooming Party trilogy.

The question for Paul today is this:

“Which authors inspired you to write and who do you follow avidly in your own reading?”

The first book I ever read, that had a profound effect, on me, was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The character, Captain Ahab, and his obsession with catching the white whale, which he turned into a monster, had me gripped. A fundamental fight between good and evil. Yet, by the end of the book, I was left contemplating, which was which.

It was that volume, that aroused my interest in writing stories. At school, I excelled in all areas of English. My reading habits changed, as new interests came to the fore, girls and football. Not necessarily in that order. Later in life, I began to avidly read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I still enjoy reading his Sherlock Holmes stories. Both authors undoubtedly paved the way for my own writing career.

However, it was my great, great grandfather, Will Scott, who was my true inspiration. He was employed as a letter reader/writer and story teller in Victorian times, there were tales within the family of his writing exploits and stories. I believe, the writing gene, if there is such a thing, has been passed down to me from him. In reverence to him, I have named the main protagonist, in my book Revenge of the Malalkim (DCI Will Scott) after him.

The twists and turns and plot lines within Revenge of the Malakim, are very much inspired by both Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. I want the characters to engage with the reader, and become friends, or in some instances, someone to seriously dislike.

The first author I physically met, was the late Jonathan Goodman. He became a trusted friend, and a mentor for my true crime writing. Together, we would often take off on case research expeditions across the UK. I learned so much about the writing craft, from Jon, he too was an excellent story teller. I still miss him to this day.

My interest in reading crime fiction re-emerged with Mark Billingham books. That man can write a gripping, down to earth book, he’s someone whose books I will always find time to read. Another author who I thoroughly enjoy reading, is Malcolm Hollingdrake. He’s got a story telling style that really appeals to me.

Revenge of the Malakim is my first crime fiction novel. It’s the first book in the Grooming Parlour trilogy, published by Williams and Whiting. I can promise the reader many twists and turns right through to the last page. One of the crime scenes is, let’s just say, unique. I’ll leave that surprise for the reader to find.

Thanks Paul. Revenge of the Malakim is published by Williams & Whiting and is out now.

It’s high summer and the streets of Bridlington East Yorkshire are awash with tourists. A serial killer is on the loose. DCI Will Scott and his team embark upon a fast paced investigation to catch a killer with a unique agenda. As the body count rises the killer randomly moves location and the police are unwittingly drawn into a dark and sinister world where cover-ups and corruption reigns. A place where no one can truly be trusted and nothing is ever what it seems.

A Dave by any other name…

recently I came across this most glorious thing, courtesy of Dr Seuss.

Too Many Daves
BY THEODOR GEISEL (DR. SEUSS)

Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, “Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!” she doesn’t get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
And one of them Shadrack. And one of them Blinkey.
And one of them Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey.
Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face.
And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
And one of them Sneepy. And one Weepy Weed.
And one Paris Garters. And one Harris Tweed.
And one of them Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt
And one of them Oliver Boliver Butt
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate …
But she didn’t do it. And now it’s too late.

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), “Too Many Daves” from The Sneetches and Other Stories

Henceforth, I wish to be known as Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate. After all, it’s never too late…

Parallel Lines – Steven Savile

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for  Parallel Lines, by Steven Savile. Each stop on the tour focuses on a particular character. Today the extract I have for you is all about Sasha Sumner. Sasha ’s love life can best be described as gossip worthy. She’s having a bad day. She has had a lot of them recently…

How far would you go to provide for your child? Adam Shaw is dying, and knows he ll leave his disabled son with nothing. His solution? Rob a bank. It s no surprise that things go wrong. What is surprising is that when another customer is accidentally shot, no one in the bank is in a hurry to hand Adam over to the police. There s the manager who s desperate to avoid an audit, the security guard with a serious grudge, and the woman who knows exactly how bad the victim really was… Eight people, twelve hours, one chance to cover up a murder. But it s not just the police they have to fool. When many lives intersect, the results can be explosive

Sasha Sumner

As usual, the lights were out and the blackened façade offered no glimpses of life beyond the glass. She rang the staff bell and smiled up at the security camera. A few seconds later the door buzzed and she pushed it open. She was surprised to find that she was the last to arrive. The entire staff had gathered on the main floor and there was a soft but insistent buzz of conversation, with Richard Rhodes, the manager, at the center of it. She didn’t like the guy: he was needy and always tried too hard to be liked. She thought for one terrible minute she’d got her days wrong and was late for the staff meeting. She hadn’t and she wasn’t. The reason everyone had gathered around Richard Rhodes was obvious the moment she saw him properly. He looked like shit. The entire left side of his face was covered with purple-black bruising, his forehead was cut up with a mesh of small grazes, and his lips were swollen. The swelling made his voice slur.
“…followed me out of the bank last night. I didn’t notice him at first, then I heard his footsteps right behind me and looked back…” Rhodes looked up uncertainly, as though seeking understanding. His staff hung on his every word. He could have told them how he bumped into Mike Tyson and volunteered to spar a few rounds and they would have nodded and smiled encouragingly. “He was big.” Rhodes rubbed at his chin. “He was an animal, snarling and swinging his fists… I thought he was going to kill me.” Rhodes paused just long enough for that one to sink in. It was the one nightmare they all shared: a bank robbery with violence. “When I fell down he started kicking me, yelling about keys to the bank. I tried to explain that we have a time-lock on the night safe, that even I can’t open it, but he just wouldn’t believe me.”
Sasha looked at her co-workers as they absorbed his bullshit. And it was bullshit. It wasn’t even good bullshit. She’d grown up around liars, both good and bad. Rhodes was at best economical with the truth. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see straight through him; he was twitching and shifting, clearly going through a well-rehearsed speech. Worse, he kept looking for affirmation in their eyes. But why was he lying?
“Did you call the police?” she said, looking Rhodes straight in the eye, challenging him to try to brush her words away. “He could be out there now. And if not here, another bank in the city. You were lucky, Richard. Next time he might kill somebody.”
Rhodes looked at her. She smiled as he swallowed and rubbed hard at his right eye as though trying to make the bruise disappear.
“God… yes. Yes… I should. I didn’t even think…” he said sickly. He shook his head, his body language saying no, no, no. “I’ll do that now while you girls open up. Everyone be safe today.” He touched his cheek again, then shuffled away to his office across the lobby. That was another thing, he insisted on calling them “girls.” She really hated that.
They had the routines down, so when the little hand ticked over onto the hour they were ready to open the doors to the world.
The morning dragged on. She wasn’t a clock watcher. That would drive you mad in a place like this. She saw a guy with the twitch shuffling towards her counter.
She didn’t know what was wrong with him, Parkinson’s, maybe. She couldn’t help it; she pitied the guy. She knew she wasn’t supposed to pity people, that demeaned them and their fight, but how could you be human and not? She flashed him her most welcoming smile as he wrapped his left hand around his right elbow. His arm twitched almost like he was battling an uncontrollable urge to do the birdie dance.
Sasha kept on pitying him right up until he pulled out the Beretta 9mm.

Parallel Lines by Steven Savile is published by Titan Books. You can follow more of the blog tour and meet some of the other characters from the book here

Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.

I have a tiny confession to make. The book turned up and, dear reader, I judged it by its cover. More specifically, I judged it by its title, the ‘Wyld’ made me think of the terrible fantasy epics of my youth and Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted.

Oh how wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Kings of the Wyld is, quite simply enormous fun. Clay Cooper, determinedly helmetless member of the Watch, returns home to find his old mate Gabe with one last job: Let’s get the band back together and go on a quest to find his daughter on the other side of the world. It’s only a thousand miles through a monster-infested forest. Should be no problem.

What follows is a splendid rollercoaster of the most rollicking kind, with a grand smörgåsbord of beasts and monsters, evil villians, ex-girlfriends, former managers, relentless bounty hunters and what will soon become your favourite wizard since Gandalf (or Rincewind, depending on your literary tastes), Moog.

Kings of the Wyld has a simply delicious premise – what if the bands of adventures were treated as rockstars, with bookers sorting out gigs to clear out a horde of goblins, or dealing with an infestation of kobolds? Clay’s band really do get back together (one even wields an axe) and go on one final world tour with the action cranked firmly up to 11.

The cast are all brilliantly depicted, but my favourite would have to be Moog the somewhat eccentric (is there any other kind?) wizard, with his all-in-one pjs and a sideline in, ahem, gentlemen’s medicine. Then there’s Matrick, the cuckolded king and to complete the set, Ganelon. Who has his own set of issues…

It’s an epic quest which simply rattles along, putting our ageing heroes with their sore backs and gammy knees through trials and tribulations one after the other until the grand finale.

As you can probably tell, I adored this book. It’s gone immediately onto my Books of 2017 list and I will pester you mercilessly to read it.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames is published by Orbit and is out now. You can find Nicholas on twitter @Nicholas_Eames, or at his website nicholaseames.com.
Thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy and David @bluebookballoon for the gentle encouragement (ok, nagging) to read it!