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Metal Gear Solid V

Posted on November 11th, 2015 in games

Metal Gear Solid has always been, for me, a slightly baffling mixture of the ground-breaking, the mind-blowing, the absurd, and the head-scratchingly self-indulgent, and that’s perhaps never been so true as with this latest instalment, number 5 (though it feels more like number 20) The Phantom Pain.

Without doubt, there is a lot here that’s hugely impressive and overall it’s a compelling and rewarding game to play.  There’s a magnificent opening sequence as a horribly maimed Snake has to escape a hospital under attack from ruthless paramilitaries, a straitjacketed psychic apparition and an insane unkillable burning giant.  And that’s just the opening.  There’s a nicely realised open-world to explore, bags of different missions and content, strong AI from enemies whose co-ordination and equipment are constantly improving.  There’s a vast base to build and populate with captured soldiers and a giant and varied arsenal to research, develop, and intricately customise, allowing for a huge range of different playing styles and approaches.  It isn’t excessively clunky like some of the previous games have been either – once you’ve got the hang of it you find yourself sweeping through enemy guard-posts with the slickness and precision of a breeze in the night, spiriting their hapless crews away to serve among your private army and leaving no sign that you were ever even there…

But *heaves a heavy sigh* it wouldn’t be Metal Gear without plenty of frustrations. I know maverick auteur Hideo Kojima is one of the great maverick auteurs of the industry, and that’s really maverick and very auter-y, but the way that he insists on lavishly declaring his authorship of every individual mission, item and episode begins to smack of egomania.  You can virtually see his logo on every bush, his name written in the puffs of smoke that issue from Snake’s gun as he lays down suppressing fire.  If one signature per painting was good enough for Picasso I’m not sure Kojima needs too many more.

Then there’s the labyrinthine incoherence which has always been a bit of a Metal Gear hallmark. Thankfully, the video sequences aren’t quite the self-indulgent marathons they have been in the past, and no doubt there are a lot of cool visual touches, but overall characters range from flat to stereotyped and deliver a wash of incomprehensible babble.  I think I missed one or two, but I swear I’ve played most of the previous games right through and I still, right from the start, had not a clue who anyone was or what the hell was going on.  Something about a skull-faced guy holding the world to ransom with super-soldiers but also a plague of language-recognising deadly microbes?  Plus giant robots.  And nukes.  And if you should be as confused as I was, worry not, for the game supplies several hours worth of audio-cassettes in which indistinguishable tough-sounding bass-voiced guys will growl out a sequence of loosely-connected words that will confuse you even more.  In the same way that ‘We Will Rock You’ the musical tries desperately to drag into one narrative a set of songs by Queen that were never supposed to have anything in common, the plot here seems to be a kind of straining net-bag desperately holding together all the crazy ideas and cool shit they wanted to include.  It’s frustrating, because at times there are really powerful thematic ideas of the kind video games so rarely touch almost emerging – the Phantom Pain of lost limbs, but also of all the things these ruined men have lost to lives of violence.  Trouble is, deeper points about the evil of warfare are hamstrung by the obsession with the incredible coolness of military hardware (guns are evil, but they’re definitely less evil once you lovingly customise them with loads of cool shit), and pretensions of gritty realism are rather undermined by strangely quaint esoteric throwbacks like Snake hiding in camouflaged cardboard boxes or grabbing sentries by popping out of portaloos.

One more thing which looms tiresomely large over this game.  The fan service.  Dear god, the fan service is the most embarrassing I’ve seen maybe ever.  The only significant female character wears a bikini all the time. In a war zone. Cos she photosynthesises. So she has to. It’s literally STRIP OR DIE for her. And she can’t speak, cos she’s infected with a deadly voice-activated parasite. She’s a literal mute in a bikini. Sometimes stretching suggestively. In a helicopter. Why exactly the camera has to endlessly, tediously haunt her glistening boobs is not explained in game. BOOBS BY HIDEO KOJIMA. I mean, adult content? I’m all for it. Actual sex ? Knock yourself out. But this adolescent peeking at boobs stuff? And in a game which is, after all, 18 rated? Oh, Hideo, Hideo, I’d hoped we were past that…

Progress Report September ’15

Posted on September 17th, 2015 in appearances, progress

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind of a past few months, but a lot of overseas trips are now behind me.  Half a War is out in English with many more languages to follow, and The First Law trilogy has been republished in the US by Orbit, so I’ve entered a brief period of (relative) calm.

I’ve finished the last short story for my collection, Sharp Ends (you’ll find further details including the table of contents in the post below this one) so apart from compiling and giving them a final edit it’s pretty much ready for publication in the UK and US in April next year in hardcover and e-book and with an audiobook read (I very much hope) by Steven Pacey.  I expect it will be available in some other languages not too long afterward but I’ve got no solid information on that yet.  Cover art is well underway and I’ll probably have something to show in the next couple of months, but for the time being let’s just say that it will be a development of the parchment theme and feature a map of the entire Circle of the World…

Looking to the future – got a few events over the next month or two including Titan Con near Belfast, Gollancz Fest in Manchester and London, and an interview at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival but then I’m aiming to keep the rest of the year free to start thinking about my next project.  This, as has often been said, is intended to be another trilogy in the world of the First Law.  Most likely it will take place a few years after the end of Red Country,  most likely it will pick up the threads of the original trilogy a bit more directly than the standalone books have done, most likely it will again feature a new central cast but with many familiar faces appearing in key supporting roles.

Since about 2001 I’ve always had a novel on the go, starting the next one well before the last came out.  This time around, I’ve scarcely begun on the thinking-about-it stage.  Furthermore, I haven’t written an adult trilogy since the First Law, which was under very different circumstances, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hobbyist with a lifetime of ideas to put into practice.  So the thinking-about-it stage might be quite long and involved this time.  In an ideal world I’d also like to produce a rough draft of the whole series before thinking about getting that first one ready for publication, to make sure the trilogy as a whole is as good as it can be.

Bottom line, you won’t see these books on your bookstore shelves for quite some time to come.  I shall keep you updated, however…

Sharp Ends

Posted on August 24th, 2015 in announcements, news

I’m delighted to announce that my collection of short stories is (nearly) complete and will be published by Gollancz in the UK and Orbit in the US in April 2016.  It shall be called Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law, and will contain 13 stories, all set in the Circle of the World over a period that starts some ten years before the beginning of The Blade Itself and ends a few years after Red Country closes, featuring a rogue’s gallery of familiar and unfamiliar characters.  Most of these have been (or will have been) published somewhere else before – in anthologies with other authors or special editions of the First Law books, but in general they haven’t been available that widely.  Several are entirely new, including one that teeters on the edge of being defined a novella.

The table of contents:

A Beautiful Bastard: The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one big enough to think he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta.

Made a Monster: After years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left – his own lunatic champion.

Small Kindnesses: The hopes of Shevedieh, the best thief in Westport, to turn her back on crime, come crashing down when she finds a huge drunkard sleeping in her doorway. Doing the right thing always comes at a price…

The Fool Jobs: Curnden Craw has been sent with his dozen to recover a thing from beyond the Crinna. One small problem. No one seems to know what the thing is.

Skipping Town: Shevedieh and Javre, ill-matched adventurers, find themselves forced to flee yet another self-made disaster.

Hell: ‘I have seen hell, and it is a great city under siege.’ The fall of Dagoska through the eyes of a young acolyte.

Two’s Company: Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, runs into Cracknut Whirrun on a bridge over a remote canyon. Can Shevedieh persuade either of these proud heroes to step aside?

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Three not entirely innocent bystanders are sucked into the  chaos of Monzcarro Murcatto’s vengeance.

Some Desperado: There is no honour among thieves when the outlaw Smoke finds herself being hunted down by her own comrades.

Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden: Royal Observer Bremer dan Gorst reports to the king on another ugly little skirmish as summer dies in the North.

Three’s a Crowd: It’s a foolish man who steals from the best thief in Styria, and when Horald the Finger steals her lover, it’s time for Shevedieh to stop running and start fighting. For those who work in the shadows, though, few things are ever quite as they seem…

Freedom: Being an absolutely true account of the liberation of the town of Averstock from the grip of the incorrigible rebel menace by the famous Nicomo Cosca.

Tough Times all Over: All Carcolf wants is to take her package from here to there, but in the city of fogs and whispers, there are always a dozen other rogues with their own ideas.

More news, including a reveal of the cover, when I get it…

Recent TV

Posted on July 27th, 2015 in film and tv

Sons of Anarchy Season 7: Sons of Anarchy has been a frustratingly mixed bag for me right from the start.  At its best it’s been tough and twisty as a mean rattler with some great characters and jaw dropping shocks.  At its worst it’s been nonsensical, melodramatic, and really quite silly.  Without Ron Perlman’s gravelly presence to counterbalance idealistic Charlie Hunnam there’s a sense that the Harleys may be running on empty as this final season commences. The engines do start to rev after a while, and it builds up to a suitably Hamlet-like bloodbath in the penultimate episode, but just when you’re thinking they might end in a gritty fireball, it retreats into a disappointingly sentimental swan song. Compared to the savage and uncompromising ending of The Shield, with which it shares a lot of great writers and actors, Sons of Anarchy ends up looking decidedly lightweight.

Sense8 Season 1: The Wachowskis have been responsible for some brilliant stuff (1st Matrix) and some risible stuff (other Matrixes (Matrices?)) so let’s say I didn’t have particularly high hopes for their foray onto Netflix. To begin with it seemed more risible than brilliant, but after a couple of episodes I was curious, and after eight or nine I must admit I was loving it despite myself. The science-fictional premise, of groups of super-evolved humans able to communicate and share skills over vast distances is kinda nonsense, but the wonderfully diverse characters and human dramas are (mostly) great. Don’t know how it’ll develop, as I’m really not that arsed about them teaming up to fight an evil governmental telepathic mega-corporation, but, much to my surprise, I could sit and watch them comfort, advise, and develop deep feelings for one another all day…

Vikings Season 3: Yes, yes, and thrice yes. The scale increases as history’s shiftiest and most piercing-eyed barbarians lay siege to Paris while the even shiftier King Egbert tightens his grip on Saxon England.  Treachery, violence and great antiheroic characters abound, tempered by historical detail though not too much historical detail, strong visual style and some nice takes on spirituality. It’s great.

Black Sails Season 2: After a very mixed first season it feels as though the producers hauled this one into dry dock and gave it a thorough going over, tossing out the weak and focussing on the strengths to very positive effect.  Things move at breakneck pace now, with shocking twists, explosive deaths, alliances that shift on the wind, a lot more sea based action, and a general focus on shit blowing up. Yaaaarrrr me hearties.

Peaky Blinders Seasons 1 and 2: Stone the crows but this series about Brummy gangsters just come back from fighting in the 1st World War and with big plans to found a criminal empire across Her Majesty’s not so green and pleasant land is a bit of alright.  Excellent performances all around, including a ruthless, calculating Cillian Murphy, a ruthless, sanctimonious Sam Neill and a ruthless, lunatic Tom Hardy. Punctilious period detail is combined with a  modern soundtrack and visual style to produce something thoroughly original and arresting, and with only six episodes a season it keeps the forward drive and never outstays its welcome. Recommended.

Hell on Wheels Season 4: I enjoyed the first couple of seasons of this tough western following gritty railroad man cum confederate survivor Cullen Bohannen as he struggles to keep the Union Pacific headed west while looking handsome yet grizzled and maintaining the right balance of threat and nobility.  I thought the 3rd season lost its way, to be honest, but this fourth one gets things back on the right track.  It starts a little slowly, with Cullen captured by Mormons, but before you know it there are megalomaniac carpetbaggers turning up from Washington, Irish gangsters arriving from New York, and southern psychopaths tracking up from Mexico, culminating in some of the most grimdark few episodes of TV I can remember seeing. This shit is bleak. Like, people-sitting-on-coffins-screaming-out-their-mindless-hatred-of-an-uncaring-god-that-made-the-world-this-way bleak.  Bleak.  But actually very good, and promising a cracking finale in the next season…

One Week until Half a War…

Posted on July 9th, 2015 in appearances, news

Half a War comes out in the UK in hardcover, e-book and audiobook in but 7 short days.  Here be its cover…

Half a War Final HB

And here be its blurb…

Words are weapons

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords

The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil

Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

And here be some early reviews…

“The final instalment in the Shattered Sea series is the perfect ending to an outstanding YA trilogy … Joe Abercrombie has long been the master of grim and gritty fantasy, but Half a War proves that he’s got all the skills of a master romance writer. The battles are bloody, the twists are shocking, and the deaths are heartbreaking.”

“War reaches the boiling point in the impressive conclusion … Abercrombie piles on shocking betrayals and charges his characters a high price for vengeance in this powerful and fitting final volume.”
– Publishers Weekly

“The narrative, well-sprinkled with gory action and impelled by characters at this stage not just familiar, but gratifying, moves along at a brisk clip. Best of all, the relentless intrigues, plots, and schemes bubble just below the surface.”
– Kirkus

“In his Shattered Sea saga, Abercrombie has created a series that is by shades engaging, mesmerising and jaw-dropping, possessing themes and complex characters so rarely interrogated by YA fiction.”
– Sci Fi Now

Here are the times and dates for my UK events next week, with visits to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, York, Nottingham, Ely, Colchester, London, Reading, Bristol, and the YA Literature Convention…

And over here you can find further information, the first three chapters as a sample and, oh, look at that, information on where you can preorder…

The First Law Trilogy goes into Orbit

Posted on June 30th, 2015 in announcements, artwork, news

I’m delighted to announce that in September, Orbit Books are going to be re-releasing the First Law Trilogy in the US.  They’ve been publishing the standalone books since the start, and will be publishing a collection of short stories in the same world early next year, so this will put all the First Law books under one roof. We’re working on a new cover approach for all six, but in the meantime they’ll have a contemporary twist on the original cover treatment…


E-books should be unaffected in the short term, but availability of the physical books might be patchy in the US until these new ones hit the bookstores…

SFX on Half a War

Posted on June 23rd, 2015 in reviews

SFX, the world’s biggest SF&F magazine, have spoken on the forthcoming Half a War, and they have spoken 5 starrily:

“The final instalment in the Shattered Sea series is the perfect ending to an outstanding YA trilogy … Joe Abercrombie has long been the master of grim and gritty fantasy, but Half a War proves that he’s got all the skills of a master romance writer. The battles are bloody, the twists are shocking, and the deaths are heartbreaking.”

As it happens, SciFi Now also have an early review, and they quite liked it too…

“In his Shattered Sea saga, Abercrombie has created a series that is by shades engaging, mesmerising and jaw-dropping, possessing themes and complex characters so rarely interrogated by YA fiction.”

Less than a month to go now … Half a War is out in the UK on 16th July and the US on 28th July. Further details, an extract, and preorder information over here…


Posted on June 13th, 2015 in games

Yes indeed, more hard to understand and even harder to play but nonetheless unique and rewarding dark fantasy roleplaying action from From Software, the guys who crushed my heart with Demons Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 (I actually managed to complete that, one of my proudest achievements).

Once again you are a nameless individual dropped ignorant into the midst of a gloomy world in terminal decay following a hinted-at catastrophe that has left civilisation in tatters, humanity a few last mutated lunatics surrounded by monsters. Stylings have shifted from classic medieval-ish with a twist to more Victorian gothic with a smear of eldritch, the classic fantasy  dialled down and the horror considerably up, but you’re still pretty much one lone outcast struggling desperately to survive in a world there can be no saving.

Gameplay is, once again, horribly unforgiving and requires superhuman persistence, but where Dark Souls encouraged iron caution and care, Bloodborne rewards a more agile and aggressive approach which makes things perhaps a little less gruelling.  I say a little, because this is still among the hardest game experiences out there.  The sense of crushing gloom and the frustration of repeated death can be tough to get through, but it does give a real sense of achievement when you navigate a difficult section to open up a vital shortcut or finally overcome a troublesome boss.  Several times I was tempted to cast my joypad aside, but each time I was dragged back in by the great design and the way the game unfolds itself.  You couldn’t say it has a narrative in any traditional sense, but the way offhand hints build up a vague sense of the background is intriguing. An object lesson in less is more world building – it’s about the notes you don’t play, as Miles Davis had it. We begin in relatively familiar survival horror Resident Evil style territory, in a city besieged by zombified infected, but as we pass through beautifully imagined ruined temples, haunted forests and abandoned universities of the dark sciences, things get stranger and stranger until we’re in full-on Lovecraftian nihilistic cosmos territory.

More casual gamers are going to find this a baffling and frustrating experience, but the patient will be rewarded by a dark and fascinating vision of a world gone mad…

Half a War Extract

Posted on June 8th, 2015 in news

Half a War, the thrilling conclusion to my Shattered Sea trilogy, is out in but a few brief weeks, would you believe – on 16th July in the UK and 28th July in the US.  You can read the first three chapters right now just over here, on my website.  Should that give you a taste for it, you should find preorder information not that far away

Go Vote

Posted on June 3rd, 2015 in announcements

Yes, I will admit, it’s a little late to encourage you to exercise your democratic right in the UK General Election, especially if you happen not to be a British citizen, but wherever you are in the world (or the wider cosmos, for that matter), you can still have your say in the winner of this year’s David Gemmell Legend Award, for the lengthy longlists have been narrowed down to shortlists of five contenders in each category:

Legend (Novel)
  • Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (HarperCollins)
  • Valour by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
  • Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (HarperCollins)
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)
  • The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (Orbit)
Morningstar (Debut)
  • Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot)
  • The Godless by Ben Peek (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
  • The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
  • Age of Iron by Angus Watson (Orbit)
Ravenheart (Cover)
  • Laura Brett for The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Gollancz)
  • Mike Bryan for Half a King (HarperCollins)
  • Jason Chan for Prince of Fools (HarperCollins)
  • Sam Green for Words of Radiance (Gollancz)
  • Jackie Morris for The Fool’s Assassin (HarperCollins)

Some good books on there and some great authors, with the obvious exception of Brent Weeks who all right-thinking people know to be the devil in human shape.  The Gemmell is still getting established and relies on getting as wide a public vote as possible, so do go vote.  You could vote for Half a King if you wanted.  You could vote for something else.  I think you’re crazy, but you could.  You could maybe even read some of the books in question and compare them one with another on what ever criteria should please you.  Jared from Pornokitsch is going to be doing that very thing over the coming weeks and he usually talks a lot of sense, so you could always just go see what he thinks about it.

But, in any case, VOTE.