Aetheric Mechanics by Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarini

New Releases: God Killers by Liam Sharp

God Killers

God Killers is a collection by Liam Sharp, soon to be released from Mam Tor publishing. Sharp is a talented and versatile artist. His dark and imaginative work has appeared in Marvel, DC, 2000 AD and Heavy Metal. God Killers, a short story collection, is his first book, and there are signs of a longer fantasy series to follow.

God Killers is dominated by "Machivarius Point", a novella that takes up the bulk of the book. "Machivarius Point" (and several of the short stories) is set in Arddn, a sprawling fantastic setting of Sharp's own creation. The sprawling novella combines the epic science fantasy of a vintage Ace Double, the gritty ultra-realism (and ensemble cast) of an HBO miniseries and the loving-detailed urban landscapes of a China Mieville novel.

This amount of material could easily fill a lengthy trilogy, and, at a hundred pages, the novella is hard-pressed to contain it. As a result, the pacing is uneven - months and miles often whizzing by in the course of a few sentences or the space between pages. The focal points of the story are often strange choices as well - for example, a lot of printed real estate is absorbed by a surprisingly-lengthy, space-Gaelic back-story, (which - and maybe this is a result of the ARC - is difficult to read as it is entirely in italics).

The massive cast of characters further complicates matters - with so many protagonists to chose from, Sharp is often forced to instruct the reader as to the character relationships and motivations, rather than demonstrate them at a more leisurely pace. The fantastic settings (in every sense of the word) are short-changed as well - Sharp's vivid imagination has created some unique and tantalizing scenary, but most of it is visited briefly and at a very high speed.

The other short stories in the book offer further evidence of both Sharp's imagination and his ambition. The others set in Arddn are little more than fragments, each illuminating a little more of the complicated setting. One of the best, "The Irascible Bor-Bor", paints an intriguing picture of a group of flying carpenters - harvesting wood from floating forests inhabited by primitive tiger people. On the other end of the spectrum, I could barely skim "Kiazmus", as free verse epics have never appealed to me in any setting. (I'm not sure who I blame more for the prevalence of poetry in fantasy - Tolkien or Gaiman).

The two gems of the book are the title story, "God Killers" and a shorter piece, "Death and the Myrmidon". The former has a 'Gotcha!' twist straight out of the great pulp writers. Despite being a tenth of the length of the novella, Sharp gets the balance of character, setting and story just right - the result is a eerie piece of urban supernatural horror. The latter, despite the grim title, is a blackly comedic tale of Death's night out on the town with his drinking buddies. Although only a few pages long, it is an entertaining and well-crafted vignette. I wouldn't be surprised to see either of these appear in some of 2009's 'Best of...' anthologies.