Wed, 22 Jul 2015 23:10

Before Dark Intelligence, I had read precisely one story by Neal Asher: It was called “Shell Game” and was also set in Asher’s “Polity” universe—and I read it 6 years ago and remember nothing about it save that I enjoyed it. Over the years I’ve seen the announcement of numerous new Polity books, but never got around to picking one up, so when the publisher offered a copy of DA for review I jumped at the chance to finally dig deeper into the universe.

Dark Intelligence more or less follows two characters as they chase after a rogue artificial intelligence “black AI” named Penny Royal. First we meet former soldier Thorvald Spear—whose terrific name might be the best thing in the book (not even kidding)—as he awakens 100 years after his death, a feat made possible using recovered memory implants placed into cloned bodies. Spear returns dead-set on revenge against Penny Royal, whom he blames for the death of his squadmates back during the Prador Wars. But is Penny Royal truly to blame? And are Spear’s memories even trustworthy? Spear’s sections of the book are written in an engaging first-person, often jumping to flashbacks of his memories to give his background, and overall his POV does a good job of getting the reader up to speed with the Polity universe. So it’s a surprise when, a few chapters in, we cut from Spear’s first-person narrative to a more traditional third-person one. Because this isn’t just Thorvald Spear’s story.

Enter Isobel Santomi, who turns out to be the second protagonist of the novel. She’s a crime lord who once struck a deal with Penny Royal, the result of which made her a powerful figure in the underworld. But Penny Royal’s gifts always come with a price, and Isobel finds herself slowly transforming into a “hooder”, some kind of bizarre, carnivorous wormlike monster. Like Spear, she too desires vengeance on the black AI.

Much of the story consists of Spear and Santomi bouncing around chasing Penny Royal from world to world. Thorvald and Isobel cross paths early on, and then Penny Royal hijacks Isobel’s ship, with Spear just missing the black AI at each stop. (I’ll confess I got a little lost at this point, trying to keep track of who was where as they all bounced around.) Eventually, all the threads converge at the planet Masada for a big finale where everything gets wrapped up nicely.

First, the good stuff: This a really cool universe. Thorvald Spear is a great name, as well as a joy to follow around. Penny Royal is a terrifying baddie. Isobel’s transformation is well-done body horror of the most disturbing degree. And it’s nice to see all the plot threads get tied up by book’s end.

On the other hand, the promotional material that came with my book billed it as “an ideal entry point for new readers” into the Polity universe (which was fairly influential in my decision to accept a review copy.) But a lot of the stuff at the end of the book seemed to hinge on characters and events from earlier books—with one prominent creature having already had an entire novel dedicated to it—and if I wasn’t entirely lost, I feel like I missed out on a lot of the impact the end of book could have had. And speaking of the end: Story-wise, everything came to a nice tidy conclusion, and yet this is just the first book of what I assume is a trilogy. Having said that, though everything was resolved, very little was actually explained, which is where I’m figuring (hoping) Book Two comes in.

Make no mistake, though, Dark Intelligence is a good read: fun characters and great action, all set in a fascinating and highly-imaginative (and slightly horrifying) universe. I definitely need to read some more Polity stories, but I’m thinking I’ll want to pick up some of the older books first. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:05

I’m a big fan of Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes books, so when I saw he had a new thriller out, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy. I generally like to go into a book knowing as little about it as possible, and in this case I didn’t even read the back-cover synopsis, so I was practically jumping in blind—Clines’ name on the cover was enough to get me excited. And my enthusiasm was amply rewarded.

The Fold starts out at a slow burn. We meet our protagonist, Leland “Mike” Erikson, who has a genius-level IQ and an eidetic memory, but prefers life under the radar, teaching English at the local high school. But he gets a call from Reggie, an old friend at the Department of Defense, who persuades him to fly out and use his special skills to observe a certain government-funded project. Reggie won’t tell Mike what the project is, but it works, and it’s amazing—but the project team appears to be stalling for more time and funding. Mike’s job is to make sure everything at the project is on the level, so Reggie can push the funding through. But of course, things at the “Albuquerque Door” project aren’t entirely what they seem…

The first half of the book takes its time setting things up: Mike flies out, meets the team, and gets to see the project’s success first-hand. He also spends a lot of time getting to know the individual team members and poring over the project’s logs and records. It reminded me a lot of a good Michael Crichton science thriller, with a lot of talking and science-y stuff, and only the occasional shock thrown out to deepen the mystery.

This goes on for the first half of the book, but the pace never flags: Clines keeps the tension high and the slowly-unfolding mystery intriguing. The short chapter-length and crisp prose work wonders, too. At about the halfway point, though, the Big Reveal hits and things start to unravel (in a good way!) at an accelerated pace, with the final act (after the Bigger Reveal) just going completely off the rails. It’s nuts. Maybe a little too nuts. But it’s frigging compelling reading. I read the whole thing in 24 hours: the first quarter Friday night (late Friday night), the second quarter Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and plopped down and cranked through the second half in a single sitting. I just could not put it down.

As I said previously, I’m not big on spoilers myself, and I also like to keep my reviews fairly tight-lipped when it comes to plot. But I mentioned Crichton earlier, and somewhere around a third of the way in I was very heavily reminded of his novel Timeline. If you took some of the concepts from that book and mashed them up with Patrick Lee’s The Breach trilogy (read that if you haven’t already, seriously) you’d get something very much like The Fold.

If I had to quibble, I’d say that the main premise (cool as it is) probably doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny (or if it does, there are a lot of coincidences going on) and that, despite Mike Erikson’s memory and intellect, I was able to arrive at a number of correct conclusions long before he did. And the end certainly does get weird. But really this book was just so much fun that I can barely bring myself to voice the complaints themselves, let alone delve into them. It’s just that good. And according to the afterword, it’s also tangentially-related to an earlier Clines book called 14. Shoot, looks like I’ve got a book to track down… [4 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:44

Dead Boys is a book I would have never picked up on my own. I’d never heard of it, nor its author, and a quick glance tells me it probably isn’t my sort of thing. But out of the blue one day I got an email from the publisher, saying there were review copies available, so I figured I’d go ahead and take a chance. By the next day, I had it loaded up on my Kindle and dove in.

I initially figured it was a book about zombies. I haven’t really consumed a lot of zombie media, so I don’t really know if I truly dislike it, but at the same time I have absolutely no desire to really try out the genre. But this book isn’t actually about the undead. It’s about the dead dead.

Dead Boys is a very surreal look at the afterlife, where the dead wash up on the shores of the River Lethe having lost the memories of their prior experiences in the living world. The zombie parallels begin and end with the dead’s physical forms: their bodies are in a constant state of decomposition, senses are dulled, and movement is slow and time-consuming. But the dead are always conscious, aware—essentially immortal in their new mode of existence. Squailia put in a lot of effort constructing the ground rules for the post-death life, and then spends the bulk of the book pushing that groundwork out to its logical conclusions.

Our main protagonist is Jacob Campbell, ten years a corpse, who’s on a quest to return to the living world. In death, Jacob is a well-regarded “preservationist”. In Dead City, the sight of bone is abhorrent, and as the dead’s physical forms are constantly decaying, Jacob and other specialists like him perform the services of keeping a body lifelike: filling deflated body cavities, replacing worn away flesh and skin with wood and leather, and similar cosmetic modifications. Jacob quickly picks up a handful of fellow travelers (the titular “Dead Boys”) and the quest begins in earnest: they must find the Living Man, rumored to have gained entrance to the Land of the Dead without having died himself, and who (Jacob hopes) holds the key to returning to the Land of the Living. That is, of course, just the beginning of their travels. Revelations await, and before anyone can regain the life they once lost, they must first come to fully embrace their new state of existence.

I definitely enjoyed Dead Boys. It’s not a particularly long book, and I read it in about a week. Jacob is an enjoyable protagonist, but is upstaged by almost all of the secondary characters, which is fine. It adheres very closely to the classic quest formula (travel to Place A, meet character B, travel to place C, meet D, etc…) of which I’m not a huge fan, and the plot stalls out for a bit in the second section, but overall it moves along at a nice clip. Some of the more surreal elements (of which there are a number) felt a little goofy to me, but there was a lot of neat stuff mixed in as well.

In the end, I think my expectations were a little off; I would have preferred a slightly deeper, more thoughtful or insightful novel. This book does have some good emotional beats, and obvious care was put into the characters and worldbuilding, but in the end it’s a fantasy quest story with a unique and interesting setting. Certainly there are a lot of readers out there who’ll fall in love with it. It’s by no means brilliant, but I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I took a chance on it. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:51

imageVampire Hunter D
Hideyuki Kikuchi
(1983)

When I picture a half-vampire/half-human vampire hunter, I envision a brooding, sexually-irresistible Adonis with superhuman speed and strength. Kikuchi tries to do this with his protagonist, D, but massively underpowers him. I mean, the dude can only draw his sword in 1/6 of a second? Pssh. I could probably do that! And every man and woman swoons when he walks in the room; c’mon, they should literally be throwing themselves at him! Sorry, Kikuchi, but your style’s just a little understated for my tastes. I’d blame the translator.


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Thu, 01 Jan 2015 16:34

Books read in 2014, listed by month finished. Books in italics are still in progress. As always, you can follow along with my reading journal @ LibraryThing, where you can also see my complete reading list, or just my 2015 reads.

January

The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 3 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 4 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 5 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 2 by James Roberts & John Barber
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 6 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Dresden Files: War Cry by Jim Butcher & Carlos Gomez
The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Raiser of Gales by Hideyuki Kikuchi
The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson

February

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 6 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
This Crooked Way by James Enge
The Wolf Age by James Enge
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

March

Shadows of the New Sun ed. by J. E. Mooney & Bill Fawcett
Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe
Delta Search by William Shatner

April

In Alien Hands by William Shatner
Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia
The Fold by Peter Clines
Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 6 by John Barber & Andrew Griffith
Step into Chaos by William Shatner

May

Beyond the Stars by William Shatner
Shadow Planet by William Shatner

June

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 5 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 6 by James Roberts & Alex Milne

July

The Gods of Laki by Chris Angus
William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie


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Wed, 01 Jan 2014 16:26

Books read in 2014, listed by month finished. As always, you can follow along with my reading journal @ LibraryThing, where you can also see my complete reading list, or just my 2014 reads.

January

The X-Files by Frank Spotnitz & Brian Denham
Transformers Classics UK, Volume 1 by Simon Furman
Transformers Classics UK, Volume 2 by Simon Furman
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 4 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 5 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers Classics UK, Volume 3 by Simon Furman
Transformers Classics UK, Volume 4 by Simon Furman
The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher & Ardian Syaf
Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin by Jim Butcher & Joseph Cooper
The One Tree by Stephen R. Donaldson

February

Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 4 by John Barber & Andrew Griffith
White Gold Wielder by Stephen R. Donaldson

March

The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson
Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

April

Williams Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

May

Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson
Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

June

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson
Skin Game by Jim Butcher

July

Transformers: Dark Prelude by James Roberts & John Barber
Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 5 by John Barber & Andrew Griffith
Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 1 by James Roberts & John Barber
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 1 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 2 by James Roberts & Alex Milne
Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards
The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges
Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 1 by Shane McCarthy & Guido Guidi

August

Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 2 by Shane McCarthy & Guido Guidi
Transformers: Spotlight, Volume 1 by Simon Furman
Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 3 by Shane McCarthy
Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 4 by Shane McCarthy & Mike Costa
Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards
Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch
Penny Arcade: The Warsun Prophecies by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik
Penny Arcade: Birds Are Weird by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik
Penny Arcade: The Case of the Mummy’s Gold by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik

September

 

October

The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
Transformers Classics UK, Volume 5 by Simon Furman

November

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont
Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Williams Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher

December

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe


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Mon, 16 Dec 2013 21:34

A couple of years ago, I read Patrick Lee’s debut trilogy, consisting of The Breach, Ghost Country, and Deep Sky. It was a new breed of fiction for me: the structure and feel of your run-of-the-mill action/thriller novel, but wrapped around the chewy gooey center of a science-fictional premise/MacGuffin. I enjoyed the heck out of them, and when I heard that he was writing another novel (albeit one unrelated to the trilogy) I was sold, sight-unseen.

Fast-forward to October 2013, and while perusing the latest offerings from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, what do I stumble across but a new novel from Patrick Lee! I was excited, but even better, I was fortunate enough to land a copy for review.

The blurb was inoffensively generic, bordering on clichΓ©: Ex-military man takes in a girl on the run from bad guys trying to kill her. I wondered if this was to be a straight-up thriller this time, or if Lee would manage to work in a SF angle; I assumed the former, but held out hope for the latter. All the while figuring it would be a wild ride either way.

I love it when I’m right.

Sam Dryden is an ex-special forces operative who lost his wife and child in an accident a while back. Recently he’s been having bouts of insomnia, and has taken up midnight jogs along the boardwalk. One fateful night, he runs into Rachel, a 12-year-old girl being hunted by a squad of armed men. Naturally, Dryden decides to help her. But Rachel is more than she seems: not only does she have the uncanny ability to read minds, but her drug-induced amnesia hides a terrifying secret.

Science fiction it is, then—and Lee even throws some pseudo-scientific explanations for Rachel’s telepathic powers (but then, I’m no biologist.) But beyond that, he teases out the ramifications of such an ability: if telepathy actually existed, how would the military-industrial complex seek to utilize it? Lee’s answer is both horrifying and depressingly realistic. Most importantly, it’s wildly entertaining.

The pace Lee sets for the book is a breathless one. The action starts right on page two, and hardly lets up from there. The entire first chunk of the book is an extended chase sequence, and even when you think you can stop and take a breath, there’s a massive twist or turn on the next page to keep you reading. In fact, the only criticism I have of the book is those sections where the pace actually does slow down: these sequences shift away from Dryden and Rachel to show what is essentially the “bad” guys’ side of things. Much of the insight into the military’s use of telepathic powers is revealed in these sections, and though they all end up tying together at the end, they don’t do a lot to advance the plot at that moment. In any other book, it wouldn’t bother me like it did here; but in a book this relentlessly-paced, such a noticeable slowdown is harder to forgive. But this is a minor gripe for a book that is still nigh-impossible to put down.

Probably what most impressed me, though, was the emotional layer Lee was able to squeeze in. I got a hint of it in his Breach books, but here…well, here it may have seemed a bit manipulative at first (guy loses his own child, then takes in a young girl on the run? Where do you think this could be going?) but Lee totally makes it work. The ending does much of the heavy lifting in this regard: instead of wrapping everything up all happily-ever-after like you might expect, Lee goes for the truer, more realistic approach, and the whole work is the more powerful for it. The last page in particular not only made me mist up a little, but actually had me flipping back to the first page to reread how it all started. Great stuff.

Runner will be out in February. Get it. Read it. And whatever Patrick Lee decides to write next, I’ll be in line for that, too, no questions asked. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Thu, 02 May 2013 13:49

Superheroes versus zombies. That’s Ex-Heroes in a nutshell. Don’t like superheroes or zombies? Well…that might not be a problem, actually.

Ex-Heroes is about a group of super-powered heroes trying to protect a last enclave of humanity in a Los Angeles movie studio-turned-fortress following the zombie apocalypse. I will admit that I’m a bit of a superhero guy, but I couldn’t care less about the current zombie trend. It’s okay, though, because the zombie apocalypse featured in Clines’ books is just the setting; the real show is the larger-than-life yet all-too-human characters: St. George, Stealth, Zzzap. Gorgon, Cerberus, Regenerator. You could draw some easy parallels between Clines’ creations and the stable of popular DC and Marvel Comics heroes, but it doesn’t matter because Clines makes his so engaging.

I loved the structure of the book, too. The chapters alternate: two “Now” chapters set in the present day, told from your standard third-person perspective; then one “Then” chapter set in the past and told in the first-person by one of the superhero characters. The Then chapters move forward chronologically, slowly building up the history of the zombie apocalypse (including an ingenious superhero-related origin for the zombies) as well as fleshing out the backstory of the characters involved. And the way they interact with the ongoing plot of the Now chapters works brilliantly.

If there are any real flaws in the book, it would be that one of the heroes seemed way too powerful, and the hasty explanations given for why he wasn’t more effective didn’t really satisfy me. Also, the main bad guy has huge question marks in his background that (thankfully) are mostly cleared up in the sequel, but still drove me nuts for most of this book. Those are minor nitpicks, though. This book is just too much fun. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Thu, 28 Mar 2013 11:27

Robert Silverberg is a prolific and award-winning science fiction author, of whom I’ve read only a handful of short stories. They didn’t leave me much impressed, but when I found out he had written an historical fiction novel that was being reprinted for the first time in thirty years, I was intrigued, and I was fortunate enough to win a copy for review.

The new edition of Lord of Darkness by Nonstop Press contains a great introduction by Silverberg about how his book came to be. Long story short, it was inspired by the true story of 16th century English mariner Andrew Battell, who was captured by the Portuguese while pirating in South America and shipped to Africa as a prisoner, where he spent twenty years of his life—including some time living in the African interior with a cannibal tribe and their powerful, dangerous leader, Imbe Calandola, the titular “Lord of Darkness”.

The book did not do well domestically, due to the fact that bookstores shelved it alongside his science fiction works; sci-fi fans weren’t interested in a historical fiction novel, and historical fiction fans (who didn’t know to look for an historical novel in the SF section) never discovered it.

That’s a shame, because it’s an absolutely amazing book.

Much of the appeal comes from Battell’s story, which is fascinating in itself; though obviously by the time Silverberg had expanded it to novel-length, it had become more fiction than fact, but still true to the events detailed in Battell’s original account. But perhaps more than even that, what kept me engaged from the first page to the last was the narrative voice employed by Silverberg. It’s a first-person account, naturally, but Silverberg attempts to present it as if it might have come from the pen of a 16th century English Protestant man, while still keeping it comprehensible to the contemporary reader. It’s done masterfully, with an old-fashioned biblical cadence that is just wonderful. Here’s the opening paragraph:

ALMIGHTY GOD, I thank Thee for my deliverance from the dark land of Africa. Yet am I grateful for all that Thou hast shown me in that land, even for the pain Thou hast inflicted upon me for my deeper instruction. And I thank Thee also for sparing me from the wrath of the Portugals who enslaved me, and from the other foes, black of skin and blacker of soul, with whom I contended. And I give thanks too that Thou let me taste the delight of strange loves in a strange place, so that in these my latter years I may look back with pleasure upon pleasures few Englishmen have known. But most of all I thank Thee for showing me the face of evil and bringing me away whole, and joyous, and unshaken in my love of Thee.

I don’t know a thing about Silverberg’s own beliefs, but Battell’s come through clear as day; his dialogue is full of philosophical asides on almost every conceivable subject. This is a thoughtful book. It’s also not an easy one. Battell makes choices of a questionable moral nature, from working in the employ of his captors and nation’s enemies, to living as a member of a cannibal tribe. This is not a book for the squeamish: there are some disturbing scenes here. At one point Battell, determined to leave nothing out of his narrative, remarks that what he is about to reveal will make the reader hate and condemn him, and certainly that’s an option. Battell’s awareness of his choices and actions, and his analysis of them at the time as well as after fact, add depth both to said scenes and to his character.

A final word of warning: There is a lot of sex in this book, and it’s fairly explicitly described, though couched in sixteenth century language as it is, it loses a little of it’s, shall we say, vulgarity. If that’s the kind of thing that’ll turn you off a book entirely, you might want to give this one a pass.

That said, part of the triumph of the novel is bringing you, the reader, to places that make you uncomfortable (sometimes extremely uncomfortable) and then bringing you through them—not entirely unchanged, but perhaps now seeing the world around you in a different light. That’s one of the marks of Great Literature, and Lord of Darkness is an absolute masterwork. Kudos to Nonstop for bringing it back into print. [5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 04 Mar 2013 09:01

imageForge of Darkness
Steven Erikson
(2012)

When I hear the word “prequel”, I think comfort. Give me more of the same stuff that I loved in the original series, just set a little earlier. We mostly know how it goes anyway, all you have to do is just flesh out the particulars. When Steven Erikson hears the word “prequel”, he must think, “Ha-ha, screw you guys!” because this is the kind of crap he pulls: Sworn enemies are now BFFs. Total jerks are now namby-pamby goody-goodies. Titles and relationships, even the geography turn out to be different than we thought! So it’s set a half a million years before the main series; who cares? There’s a reason dudes say things like, “I’ll never betray you in a million years!” Erikson, you’re doing it all wrong.


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Fri, 01 Mar 2013 09:01

imageThe Prince
NiccolΓ² Machiavelli
(1532)

What a bunch of garbage. This is AMERICA, we don’t even have princes here! Geez lou-eez, get with the times, Nick.


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Wed, 27 Feb 2013 10:35

imageScourge of the Betrayer
Jeff Salyards
(2012)

So I’m clipping through this enjoyable, if mysterious, military fantasy, when suddenly, out of nowhere: BLAM-O! right in the feelings! This is a macho manly-man’s book, and there’s nothing macho nor manly about the tears that are most definitely not welling up even now, no sir, no way. Oh, God, someone hold me.


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Tue, 05 Feb 2013 12:27

I’ve picked up a number of books through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program over the years. Some have been phenomenal, and some have been pretty good, but a lot of them have been pretty mediocre, if not downright bad. So when I signed up for a chance to win a copy of Gail Z. Martin’s upcoming novel, I had my fingers crossed: all I really wanted was an enjoyable, competently-written fantasy from an established author at a well-known publisher.

Ice Forged delivered exactly that.

The basic premise was an intriguing one: an arctic penal colony gets cut off from the rest of the world after the magical version of nuclear Armageddon. Has the post-apocalyptic scenario been done before in a fantasy world? If so, I haven’t read it yet, which isn’t saying a lot, other than that the idea here was new enough to me to be exciting. Anyway, the main character, a nobleman’s son by the name of Blaine McFadden, gets sentenced to Velant, the aforementioned penal colony at the top of the world. There’s some quick jumps in time as we see Blaine adjusting to his new life, while back on the mainland we’re introduced to a secondary protagonist, a functionary of the royal court named Bevin Connor. It’s through his eyes that we witness the magical strike which lays waste to the country of Donderath, while Connor himself escapes aboard a vessel headed for…Velant.

Martin’s an established author with a couple of published trilogies to her name, and it shows here. There’s nothing flashy, her prose isn’t noteworthy in the slightest, the characters aren’t particularly deep, and the book doesn’t make you think. But it is eminently readable; the pages and the minutes fly by in a blur. If nothing else, Martin shows herself to be a polished and professional storyteller.

Having said that, I can’t help but lament what Ice Forged could have been. Granted, this is just the first book in a series, so Martin’s laying the groundwork for future volumes, here, but. As much as I enjoyed Bevin Connor’s storyline, imagine if events on Donderath went unexplained and unwitnessed by the reader. Suddenly, the supply ships stop showing up in Velant, and Blaine McFadden’s got a mystery on his hands, and the reader is just as bewildered as he is. Suddenly, the mystery of the book becomes “What happened to Donderath?” instead of—well, that would be telling. But I think it could have been pretty amazing.

And while we’re on the subject of Blaine McFadden, one thing with him that bugged me: during his years in Velant, he adopts the nickname “Mick” to hide his true identity. Later on, his true heritage comes back to haunt him, and he’s forced to decide: is he truly “Mick” or is he “Blaine”? But it’s really a false choice, because the narrative has referred to him as “Blaine” for the entirety of the novel, and the only time the reader is reminded of the “Mick” persona is when a character (very rarely) calls him such. Instead, imagine a book that begins with the exile of Blaine McFadden, before switching to The Arctic Adventures Of Mick And Friends, and only after a large portion of the book is it revealed that Mick and Blaine are in fact the same character. Perhaps this is just a side effect of having read too much* of Gene Wolfe and Steven Erikson, two authors who thrive on strategically withholding information from the reader. But sometimes it’s worthwhile not to let the reader in on everything. (*I’m kidding, there’s no such thing!)

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but one of the other conceits of Ice Forged that was new to me in the genre was its use vampires. To the best of my knowledge, vampires have traditionally been used as a fantastical element in otherwise-contemporary settings. Here, Martin deploys more-or-less traditional vampires in a fantasy setting. Apparently, this is also true of her other series(es). I found out about this beforehand via the Author Q&A in the back of the book, and went in expecting to hate them. To the contrary, the vampire characters made for one of the more intriguing aspects of the book. Although I should say, Martin may have taken too much of her readers’ knowledge of vampires for granted, and not have explained them as thoroughly as she could or should have: I remember being jarred out of the story at one point when one of them was implied to be flying, and I couldn’t figure how that was possible, and certainly couldn’t remember it having been mentioned before.

But those are minor nitpicks. When you get right down to it, the end result is that Ice Forged is a well-written, enjoyable fantasy. Sometimes, that’s all you want. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 07 Jan 2013 16:33

Books read in 2013, listed by month finished. Books in italics are still in progress. As always, you can follow along with my reading journal @ LibraryThing, where you can also see my complete reading list, or just my 2013 reads.

January

Shardik by Richard Adams
Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

February

Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Yonder by Walt Kelly
The Prince by NiccolΓ² Machiavelli
Blood and Bone by Ian C. Esslemont
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
The Devil Delivered by Steven Erikson
Fishin’ With Grandma Matchie by Steven Erikson
Revolvo by Steven Erikson

March

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
Archimedes’ Claw by Theodore Morrison Homa
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
Lord of Darkness by Robert Silverberg
The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock
Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont

April

The City in the Autumn Stars by Michael Moorcock
Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines
The Dragon in the Sword by Michael Moorcock
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

May

Star Wars: Apocalypse by Troy Denning
The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto
Pandora by Holly Hollander by Gene Wolfe

June

The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto
The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

July

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

August

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges
Shakespeare’s Memory by Jorge Luis Borges
This River Awakens by Steven Erikson
Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning
Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

September

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

October

The Third God by Ricardo Pinto
Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

November

Runner by Patrick Lee
The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson

December

The Power That Preserves by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Lurking Fear & Other Stories by H. P. Lovecraft


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Wed, 02 Jan 2013 21:15

I was quite pleased with how last year’s Salty Awards turned out, so let’s do it again! Again, this is stuff that I read for the first time last year, even if it was published earlier (and usually it was.) Here’s a link to my 2012 reading list for reference.


Statistics

Look out, here come some stats! Quickly now:

Total books read: 41
Re-reads: 8
Non-series reads: 8
Novels by female authors: 1
Short story collections: 4
Ebooks: 2
Reads that were also acquired in 2012: 13
Borrowed (unowned): 0


Best Short Story Collection 2012:

I only read four short story collections last year, and only two of them would even be worthy of a top five list. But I have to give props to:

Endangered Species by Gene Wolfe
Another year, another Gene Wolfe short story collection. This one is particularly large, with 30 stories. Some of them didn’t quite grab me, but there are still plenty of amazing stories in here. It’s been close to a year since I read them, so I don’t remember much, but just looking over the table of contents, I can recall the following as being standout stories: “The Map” (taking place after The Book of the New Sun), “The HORARS of War”, “All the Hues of Hell”, “Procreation” (very Borgesian), “The Tale of the Rose and the Nightingale” (this one has lingered the most), and “Silhouette”. I’ve got one more collection left to read this year, and I can’t wait!


Best Comic Book 2012:

I didn’t read a ton of graphic novels this year, besides the collections of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 that I got for my wife (which were very good, by the way.) But no self-respecting Best Of list can omit this:

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
This book is considered such a classic in the field that it’s a miracle I put off reading it for so long. And it’s so absolutely mind-blowingly amazing that I actually feel bad for not having read it years ago. It is not a light undertaking (I was all but useless for two days straight) but it is so very, very worth it. The absolute pinnacle of superhero comics.


Best Novel 2012:

It was a down year for me, for novels, probably on account of how a few of them were quite long (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin) but also because of a number of weeks that saw me spending my nights playing video games, instead of reading. Of course, when I say “a down year”, I’m talking quantity, not quality; it was a very good year for those books that I did manage to read, and here are the best of them:

Runners-up:

5. Caine’s Law by Matthew Stover
I’ve loved all of Stover’s previous Acts of Caine novels, and this was the long-awaited fourth and (for the foreseeable future) final installment. Like the books before it, it is totally unlike any of its predecessors. Stover abandons entirely the conventional linear narrative and goes for something Completely Different, and the result is almost incomprehensible. And unequivocally kickass. As always.

4. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kinda funny that this made the list, when I had to set it aside for a month because I just couldn’t get it into it. But when I dove back in again, I was surprised how it felt like I hadn’t been away from it at all. In a good way. It’s a slow burn of a novel, but it’s very worth it. There’s a beauty to the thing that I have a hard time putting words to. And the end caught me quite by surprise. I will definitely be reading more of Kay’s work in the (hopefully near) future.

3. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back when I was 10 or 11, and then again in my early 20s, but I was always wary of this one. It was supposed to be dry, textbook-like. Boring, in other words. So I avoided it. But this year, when I decided to do a full Middle-earth re-read, I planned for The Silmarillion, and was both excited and apprehensive to try tackling it. The full re-read never happened, but I did read The Silmarillion, and wow. Now granted, my reading tastes have evolved considerably over the past dozen years, but why did I never read this before? Yes, it was a little slow in a couple of spots, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a work of staggering imagination and beauty.

2. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Yep, I’m slow, I finally got around to reading the Song of Ice and Fire series just now. (Funnily enough, the waiting list at the library for a fifteen-year-old book is hundreds of people long, thanks to the current TV show.) Anyway, the first book in the series was great, but it didn’t quite make the cut for this list; it was well-written and engrossing, but it was just one downer after another. The second book, though…oh, this book. Besides the fact that it doesn’t have a proper beginning or end, this book is practically flawless. It was hard to imagine how Martin could even improve on this installment, but…

The best novel I read in 2012 was…

1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
I suppose it might not seem fair for Martin to take the top two spots, but shoot, he almost had three books make my top five. Up to the very end, I didn’t think there was any way this book could surpass A Clash of Kings, but then Martin started tying some arcs up in such satisfying ways. And then the epilogue hit, and left me breathless; I still get chills thinking about it. It was the perfect spot to end the book: at a place where the story can pause and take a breath, but with that edge that leaves you thinking, “Holy crap, what happens next?!” Absolutely brilliant.

Honorable mentions: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock, Ghost Ocean by S. M. Peters, When She’s Gone by Steven Erikson



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Thu, 20 Dec 2012 16:53

I’ll come right out and say it: Vale of Stars is a frustrating book. It’s not well-written. It’s heavy-handed. It tries to do to much. The characters are obnoxious. The science is laughable.

And yet.

In a nutshell, the story follows four generations of women, with each woman being the protagonist of her quarter of the book. It begins aboard a generation ship as it approaches its destination world, skips ahead in time to the planetbound colonies, and then expands out from there to the wider world beyond the colony domes.

From the very beginning, the characters drove me crazy. The bad guy(s) are bad guys just to be bad guys; sure, we get more insight to their motivations as the book progresses, but it turns out to be nothing more sophisticated than “I hate these people, so I’m going to be evil.” The good guys (or gals, as it were) are just as unsubtle, always interpreting every action or opinion taken by the bad guys as this totally evil thing—not because it would make any sense to do so, but simply because these are the good guys, those are the bad guys, and this is the thing that needs to happen for the plot to go, and also because the author has his points that he needs to hit you over the head with as unsubtly as possible.

There is so much in this book that doesn’t make any sense, beyond the non-existent character motivations. At one point, there’s a biological transformation that’s completely ridiculous. A little girl gets banished to the planet’s surface, where she somehow founds a complete society including technology and infrastructure.

But buried inside all of the ridiculousness are some genuinely-interesting sci-fi novel concepts, including a halfway-decent first contact story, and the exploration of the worship of more advanced beings as divinities. And that’s the most frustrating thing about this book: it takes three-quarters of the novel to get to the truly interesting stuff, but those ideas feel like distractions simply because of the way they’re shoehorned into the rest of the story.

I would love to see some of these concepts expanded into their own proper novel (or novels) but I can’t actually recommend this one. [2 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 24 Sep 2012 13:23

A Game of Thrones
George R. R. Martin
(1996)

This is a book about terrible things happening to good people. It’s a book where decency is punished, and the bad guys win. It’s depressing and horrible…and I loved every minute of it. And now I hate myself.


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Thu, 13 Sep 2012 14:04

Deep Sky
Patrick Lee
(2012)

The concluding volume of Patrick Lee’s “Travis Chase” sci-fi thriller trilogy literally made my brain explode. Yes, I said literally. Now I’m dead, and can only blog from beyond the grave. And you know what’s hard? Typing out these posts with ghost fingers, that’s what’s hard. Thanks for nothing, Patrick Lee.


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Mon, 28 May 2012 11:00

The Book of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe
(1980)

So I’m starting in on this one, and it seems very much like your standard sword-and-sorcery fantasy. And then weird stuff starts bleeding in… Is—is that a raygun? Are those…aliens? Waitaminute, is the Matachin Tower actually a grounded rocketship? No no no no, science fiction and fantasy are two distinct genres for a reason! Gene Wolfe, you got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter in my chocolate!


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Thu, 24 May 2012 10:56

Caine Black Knife
Matthew Stover
(2008)

Matthew Stover is a f***ing fantastic writer, and his Acts of Caine are awesomely, brutally violent. But Mr. Stover has a fatal f***ing flaw, and it is this: he doesn’t use the word “f***” f***ing often enough. Is it too f***ing much to ask that every f***ing paragraph be seasoned with no fewer than 10 “f***“s? F*** no, it isn’t! Stover tries his best, but f*** if I still can’t help but hold this f***ing failure against him.


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Mon, 21 May 2012 12:12

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz ZafΓ³n
(2001)

This is a brooding, atmospheric novel full of mystery and suspense. It’s beautiful and it’s captivating. But it’s also all about the love of books and stories. F*** that s***. What’s the name of this blog, anyway?


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Thu, 17 May 2012 10:53

A Princess of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
(1917)

So this book is basically a rip-off every sci-fi action flick you can think of. It might as well be called “Star Wars on Mars Starring Superman.” Perhaps the most ridiculous part is the weapons the characters use to fight: swords. And not even lightsabers or laser swords or anything cool, just plain old metal blades. No rayguns or anything! This is supposed to be “classic” science fiction? Please.


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Wed, 16 May 2012 22:36

I’ve received, read, and reviewed review copies of books before, either won via random internet giveaways, or through dedicated early reviewer programs. But Scourge of the Betrayer marks the first time an author has personally reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you like a copy of my new book to review?” Normally, I’d be flattered, but also a little wary, having been burned more than a couple of times doing advance reviews of fantasy debuts. In this case, however, by the time Jeff Salyards had emailed me, I had already seen a handful of glowing reviews for the first book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series, and so in this instance I was flattered and immediately said, “Yes, please!”

And I’m glad I did.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I removed the dust jacket (as I do before reading) was that Night Shade Books went all-out in making this a gorgeous-looking book. The silver inlay on the blue hardcover looks fantastic, and in addition to printing the author name and title on the spine, as per usual, they’re also printed on the front cover, along with the swipe from the dust jacket and a splatter of silver blood in the corner; a second splatter adorns the back cover. It just looks fantastic and immediately makes you think you’re holding something special in your hands.

The story inside is related in the first-person by Arkamondos (“Arki”), an archivist who’s been hired by the Syldoon captain Braylar Killcoin to chronicle the exploits of his mercenary company. The novel starts off with the bookish Arki first meeting Braylar and his crew, and assumes a leisurely pace as the gang gears up for their mission while Arki gets a handle on the company and his place in it. Some might say “slow” instead of “leisurely”—very little happens for the first half or so of the book; it’s mostly downtime at inns or travel across a wide sea of grasslands—but it’s never sluggish; Salyards spends this time developing his handful of characters and the world they inhabit, most of which is just as foreign to Arki as it is to the reader. There are some moments of action, certainly, but the far more numerous and quieter moments are just as compelling. It’s a wise choice by Salyards, I think: by the time the real plot kicks in with all the action and excitement you could hope for, you’ve become invested in these characters and the mysteries of their world. And when death comes—and this being the type of book that it is, death will come—I was surprised by just how hard it hits. That kind of emotional connection in a book that runs a scant 250 pages is a rare thing; kudos to Salyards for making each of those pages count.

I’ve seen a number of comparisons to Glen Cook’s Black Company books, and…I dunno, getting compared to Cook is kind of the default thing when you’re talking about first-person military fantasy. Salyards’ book is gritty and bloody and grunt-level and narrated by an archivist, yes, but it has a very different feel for a few reasons. First is Arki’s perspective as an outsider to the Syldoon group: he’s out of his depth in this new world of soldiery and intrigue right alongside the reader. Secondly, although this is very much a fantasy novel, the fantastical elements play little to no role in this book (though presumably they’ll be far more important later in the series.) There are no mages wielding powerful magic in battle here—it’s just swords and crossbows and shields, prowess and guts and determination, and luck. The action is decidedly mundane, and feels that much more visceral and real for it. Finally, though the Black Company is ground-level in scope, there’s still an epic war going on in the background; Scourge of the Betrayer is much more intimate, and though there are, in fact, long-range machinations going on behind the scenes, they feel far more subtle and less immediate.

As mentioned, this is a pretty short book. A lot happens, but not a whole lot happens, if you get my meaning. This is very much just the first act in what should end up at least a trilogy. The book itself doesn’t come to much of a resolution, and the ending is less a cliffhanger than it is “To be continued…” Had this been a 600-page doorstopper, I’d take issue with that; but you know what? I’m perfectly willing to accept it from a tautly-written, shorter book. Two or three more volumes like Scourge should make for a highly-satisyfing series, and should have people saying Salyards’ name like they do Abercrombie’s now. Sign me on for Book Two, because I can’t wait to see where he takes this story. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 14 May 2012 10:57

The Crippled God
Steven Erikson
(2011)

Steven Erikson has got a gift: if you want bleak, depressing fantasy, he’s got you covered. Killing off characters you’ve become attached to? Check. Utterly destroying your faith in humanity? Check. Thinking your life and your actions have any special significance in the scope of history? He can fix that for you. It’s fantastic! And then comes the concluding volume of his 10-book Malazan Book of the Fallen, and…what’s this? I better get my eyes checked, because this looks suspiciously like a happy ending. Steven Erikson, why have you forsaken me?


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Mon, 07 May 2012 11:01

Embassytown
China MiΓ©ville
(2011)

I get that MiΓ©ville’s trying to write a book about communication and language here, but why does there have to be so much talking? The only languages I care about in my science fiction are foul language, and the language of violence. Actions speak louder than words, right? So gimme some friggin’ action. I even punched the book a few times to try and make up for MiΓ©ville’s lack, and though marginally therapeutic, it wasn’t nearly as effective as I’d have liked.


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Mon, 07 May 2012 11:01

The Princess Bride
William Goldman
(1973)

Mr. Goldman is a fantastic storyteller, and his classic tale about tracking down forgotten books, working in the publishing world, writing for Hollywood, hanging out with Stephen King and Andre the Giant, and stealing stuff from museums is by turns both charming and compelling. BUT. I just don’t understand his decision to have this ridiculous fairy-tale story keep intruding on his narrative. This is supposed to be the “good parts” version, after all!


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Thu, 03 May 2012 11:14

John Dies at the End
David Wong
(2007)

This book scared the s*** out of me. No, literally: I made such a mess, my wife kicked me out of the bedroom. Now I get to spend my nights on the downstairs couch alone with a pair of Depends. F*** you, Dave Wong.


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Mon, 30 Apr 2012 11:00

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
James Luceno
(2012)

Okay, so I know the book is titled “Darth Plagueis”, so of course I get that it’s gonna mostly be about that guy. But I sure would have liked to see more of this Palpatine character. Maybe he could get his own “Darth Sidious” book down the line or something. Also, I felt the pacing of the book was off; if Luceno’s editor had pushed him to cut even half of the extraneous action scenes, it would have worked much better. I don’t read Star Wars for the action; gimme more of that engaging political intrigue.


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Sat, 07 Apr 2012 14:26

Caine's Law

Date: April 07, 2012 14:26


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Wed, 04 Apr 2012 21:53

Dark of the Moon

Date: April 04, 2012 21:53


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Tue, 03 Apr 2012 21:25

Theft of Swords

Date: April 03, 2012 21:25


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Sun, 25 Mar 2012 13:02

The Dragon Never Sleeps
Glen Cook
Trade Paperback
Date: March 25, 2012 13:02


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Wed, 21 Mar 2012 15:53

I don’t usually write about movies. Which mostly has to do with the fact that I don’t see a lot of movies. Even the ones I see, my thoughts can usually be summed up in a Twitter post and don’t warrant a blog entry.

This past weekend, though, I went and saw John Carter. I loved it. It was great. Not perfect by any means, but perfectly enjoyable despite its flaws, and a lot of fun. I want to see it again, a rare feat.

When it opened, though, the critics quickly went in for the kill, and now Disney has declared the movie a flop that it lost $200 million on. The film cost $250 million to make, but apparently they also ran a marketing campaign that cost around $100 million. The surprising bit is that they spent so much on advertising, when the overwhelming opinion seems to be that Disney did the worst possible marketing job that they possibly could have.

I mean, here you have the first big-screen production of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ precisely-100-year-old science fiction saga that inspired an entire century of sci-fi and fantasy. Not once did Disney go to the historical and literary importance of the source material. Imagine a trailer that starts out with the following text:

Before STAR WARS
Before THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Before CONAN THE BARBARIAN
There was
JOHN CARTER
From the creator of TARZAN
And the director of WALL-E and FINDING NEMO

Come on, right? But no, nobody could possibly want to know about any of that stuff. And then Disney adds insult to injury by giving it the blandest, let’s-convey-the-least-information-possible title they could come up with. It was originally “John Carter of Mars” (the title card actually shows up as such at the end of the film) but because apparently movies with “Mars” in the title have historically done so poorly, they decided to leave that part off, even though the entire point of the movie is John Carter’s adventures on Mars! Heck, just use the instory native name of “Barsoom”. Something—anything—else! When the Super Bowl trailer aired, my friend Tara asked, perhaps only half-jokingly, “Why are they making a movie about Noah Wyle’s ER character?” (She would be amused to find out, as I later did, that ER‘s creator, Michael Crichton, was a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, and named the TV character after ERB’s hero.) The point is, the average modern moviegoer had no knowledge of John Carter or his pedigree, and Disney spent $100 million doing their best to not tell them. Is it any wonder it failed so miserably?

But it doesn’t deserve to. It’s maybe a little overlong, and unevenly paced, but it’s compellingly enjoyable. It’s complicated and sometimes less than easy to follow, but it doesn’t dumb anything down; it respects its audience enough to expect them to keep up and piece things together, and by and large, by the end, you will. It takes large and numerous deviations from the original text, but is somehow still unfailingly faithful to the spirit of the source material; how often does that happen? It’s gorgeous to look at, it has heart, and it’s just plain fun.

So I say: Screw the critics. Screw Disney declaring it a flop. If you like having any fun at the movies, you need to go see this movie while it’s still in theaters.


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Mon, 19 Mar 2012 20:57

Riptide
Paul S. Kemp
Star Wars
Mass Market Paperback
Date: March 19, 2012 20:57


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Mon, 19 Mar 2012 20:18

The Thousandfold Thought

R. Scott Bakker
Prince of Nothing
Trade Paperback  

Date: March 19, 2012 20:18


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Sat, 17 Mar 2012 22:59

In the Sorrows
One of my favorite authors, Matthew Stover, wrote this story, but it’s sadly not available in print. I wanted my “own” copy, so I formatted it into an eBook for my Kindle. But it needed a cover, and so I made this.


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Thu, 09 Feb 2012 17:48

I’m not overly familiar with Magic: The Gathering. I know that it’s a fantasy card game in which players battle each other using custom-constructed decks. And it was a big deal back in high school. It originated the term to “tap”, or rotate, a card in play. And it was a huge influence on one of my favorite card games. That’s the extent of my knowledge.

I am, however, very much familiar with Matthew Stover. He happens to be one of my all-time favorite authors, and is the sole reason I picked up Test of Metal.

Now, tie-in fiction is a tricky animal: most of it just isn’t that good. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, but I enjoy them because they’re Star Wars, not because they’re necessarily well-written—and if I’m being honest, most of them really aren’t. So I read tie-in fiction primarily because I’m a fan of the larger shared universe it’s set in. But what about when I’m not? Can a favorite author make me care about a franchise I know nothing about?

Well, yes. And no.

From the (minimal) research I did after reading this book, I know that Test of Metal follows up directly on events in Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell, another book in the Planeswalkers subseries. At the end of that book, the planeswalker (basically a type of wizard who can hop between different dimensions) Jace Beleren killed fellow planeswalker Tezzeret, ostensibly the “bad guy” of that novel. In Test of Metal, Tezzeret is not only resurrected, but is made the main viewpoint character. This is his story.

We start in media res with Tezzeret on an island made entirely of the magical metal, etherium. He is soon confronted by the powerful dragon Nicol Bolas, who, as it turns out, was responsible for recreating Tezzeret and sending him on a quest, of which this metal island is the end. Bolas then proceeds to trawl Tezzeret’s memories; subsequent chapters are the result of this mind-link, where the bulk of the novel’s story plays out in flashback, with Tezzeret as narrator.

Stover has loved playing with viewpoint and linearity in his Acts of Caine novels, and Test of Metal is no different. In addition to most of the chapters being flashbacks and narrated in the first-person by Tezzeret, we get additional first-person perspectives (one chapter each) from the other featured planeswalkers, Jace Beleren and Baltrice. And interspersed between those are the “present” goings-on at the metal island, related in standard third-person, from the POVs of both Tezzeret and Bolas. Alternating between the third- and first-persons is something Stover does extremely well, and its use suits the story perfectly. What I enjoyed perhaps the most, though, was how the book effectively begins at the end of the story. In fact, before I read the final chapter, I flipped back and reread the first chapter and had a couple of those great “Aha!” moments where the puzzle pieces start fitting together. But beyond just the structure of the novel, the story itself makes use of a limited amount of time travel in the form of a type of magic called “clockworking”; there’s a very nonlinear feel to entire book that’s simultaneously refreshing and bewildering, but Stover’s successful in keeping it all tightly under control.

If I had a main complaint, it would be that the story mostly boils down to a fairly-straightforward MacGuffin quest with powerful wizards throwing a bunch of magic at each other. And some of the dialogue is laughably juvenile—though as it more often that not also made me laugh in the good sense, I can overlook any quibbles there. In the end, it’s Stover’s handling of Tezzeret’s character and the internal journey he undertakes that elevate the book above the level of “mere” tie-in fiction. We get a bit of Tezzeret’s backstory, we come to understand his motivations, and watch as he undergoes both physical and internal transformations. He’s a fascinating character: highly intelligent, but not physically or magically overpowering, so he has to rely on his wits to get by. Plus, he’s also a bit of a smartass. Very much in Stover’s wheelhouse.

In fact, I enjoyed reading about Tezzeret so much that I really want to pick up Agents of Artifice just to get the first half (as it were) of the story. But I don’t think I really care enough about the Magic universe to bother doing so. Rather, I think I’ll just savor Stover’s contribution to it.

It’s not great literature, but it’s still better than most tie-in genre fiction deserves to be. It makes you use your brain. And it’s got all the classic Stover touches (warning: violence and strong language), plus plenty of twists and turns and double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses. It’s great fun, and I’d recommend it to any fan of fantasy. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Tue, 31 Jan 2012 13:50

2012 Family Portrait

Date: March 25, 2012 12:50


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Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:04

SFBC Malazan bindings


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Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:04

SFBC Malazan spines


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Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:03

SFBC Toll the Hounds pages


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Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:03

SFBC Deadhouse Gates closeup

Date: January 18, 2012 23:03


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Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:03

SFBC Deadhouse Gates pages


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Tue, 10 Jan 2012 17:20

Welcome to the first annual Salty Awards! I liked how last year’s “Best of 2010″ post turned out, so that’ll pretty much be the template for these awards. The main difference being, I’ve got a shiny new trophy now! Like last year’s Best Ofs, this is stuff that wasn’t necessarily published in 2011, just what I read the past year. And first reads only; re-reads don’t count. (Here’s a link to my 2011 reading list for reference.)


Statistics

First off, let’s start with some numbers, because who doesn’t love numbers?

Total books read: 51
Re-reads: 7
Non-series reads: 14
Nonfiction reads: 1
Novels by female authors: 3
Short story collections: 9
Reads that were also acquired in 2011: 21
Borrowed (unowned): 10

Interesting stuff, maybe, but not the real reason you’re here. Without further ado:


Best Short Story Collection 2011:

Runners-up:

5. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
In the first half of 2010, I tore through the entirety of Jim Butcher’s fantastic Dresden Files series. I had to wait until fall of 2011 for the next installment, and decided to check out this short story collection (that I had skipped out on previously) in the meantime, particularly since it contained a story that took place between the previous book and the upcoming one. I’m glad I did, because Dresden shines in the short story format, and it was fun to read about the “side jobs” that take place before and between the books of the series. “The Warrior” might be my favorite Dresden story of all time.

4. Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds
The Revelation Space universe is an amazing place, and a large part of what gives it its charm is the sense of history with which Reynolds has imbued his books. This collection is a bit of an eye-opener in when you get to see just what the scope of his created fictional history is. Copious references to characters and events from his series make these stories mesh perfectly with those books, and perhaps the most impressive part is that main of them were written before the books. Beyond that, though, this is still a solid collection of awesome sci-fi stories.

2. (tie) Storeys from the Old Hotel and Strange Travelers by Gene Wolfe
I chickened out and put both these books in a tie for second place. You know I love me some Gene Wolfe, and ranking two superb collections by a favorite author is always hard, but beyond that, each collection showcases a different form: Travelers features a number of Wolfe’s longer-form stories, 15 in all, while Storeys tackles the shorter form, with over 30 inclusions. They’re two totally different animals, but at the same time, they’re both totally Gene Wolfe. It’s like picking your favorite child (and sure, you might actually have one, but you’ll never tell!)


And the best short story collection I read in 2011 is…

1. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
I adore Gene Wolfe (see above) and one of his largest influences is the Argentinian author Borges. Allusions to Borges’ work abound in Wolfe’s, and I had recently read The Shadow of the Wind which had its own share of Borgesian elements, so I knew I had to eventually get around to reading the original. Holy wow. It’s easy to see the parallels between Wolfe and Borges; Borges is what you might get if you took Wolfe and removed all the sci-fi and fantastical elements, stripped it down to the raw, crystallized ideas. And concentrated it. Mind-blowing stuff, is what it is. “The Garden of Forking Paths” is one of my favorite stories ever.


Best Comic Book 2011:


This might be a one-off category for this year, but I read a fair number of comic book collections, mostly thanks to Half Price Books. There were three worth singling out, and they are…

Runners-up:

3. Last Stand of the Wreckers by Nick Roche & James Roberts
This series had been hyped beyond all belief by the Transformers fanbase, so I was excited to finally lay my hands on a cheap copy of the trade paperback. It did not disappoint. This is the kind of book that shows just how great this franchise can be when put in the hands of people who really care about and understand it. It takes place in IDW’s current series continuity, but besides a couple of scenes, it’s entirely self-contained, and it draws heavily on obscure characters from all throughout franchise history, meaning you don’t have to be familiar with them to enjoy this book. If you’re a hardcore fan, or just interested in seeing how good TF storytelling can get, you need to pick up this book. Besides the original 5-issue series, the trade paperback also collects a related prose story by Roberts titled “Bullets” that’s just icing on the cake.

2. Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher & Ardian Syaf
In the introduction to the graphic novel edition, Butcher explains that when writing the Dresden Files novels, he always pictured them in his mind as comic books. Which goes a long way toward explaining why this 4-issue original prequel series feels just like reading one of the novels. It’s pure unadulterated Dresden goodness, with all the trademark wit, magic, and monsters you’ve come to expect. And Ardian Syaf’s artwork is perfect: comic booky without being overly cartoony, and his characters—especially Harry Dresden himself—are spot-on.


And the best comic book I read in 2011 is…

1. Echo by Terry Moore
I have Tor.com and Stephen Aryan to thank for this one. After his write-up of this series, I just had to check it out, and was able to find 4 of the 6 available collections for cheap on eBay. Later I sold them and sprung for the Complete Edition containing all 30 issues, and let me tell you that is a beast of a book. And it’s amazing. Moore’s black-and-white artwork is gorgeous, his characters—their personalities and expressions and interactions—all fully realized, and he still manages to throw a bunch of slam-bang action into the mix. Almost impossible to put down.


Best Novel 2011:


Man oh man oh man this was tough; I read a lot of really good books this past year. (Titles link to my reviews.)

Runners-up:

5. The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
This was the big one, the final volume in the 10-book Malazan Book of the Fallen, perhaps the most ambitious fantasy series ever attempted, and the series responsible for my participation in various book cataloging sites and online forums, and thus also for my reading habits for the past half-decade. In those 5 years I’d read all of the previous books, re-read most of them, and discussed them all ad nauseum, and this capped it all off. It was exhilarating and bittersweet at the same time, bringing the decalogy full circle and tying (most) things up eventfully, emotionally, and thematically. It wasn’t perfect, but then, that’s fitting, too.

4. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
This was on my “I really need to read books by this guy” list, and I finally picked it up over Christmas of 2009. I haven’t read any Heinlein—outside the fairly crappy The Cat Who Walks Through Walls but people compare this book to Heinlein’s work a lot. It reminded me a lot of Card’s Ender’s Game, but mostly in a “sci-fi you’d recommend to a friend whose never read sci-fi before” way. The first-person narrative is fabulous, hilarious, and moving, and the action is gritty and frantic and very very real. All around, a very enjoyable, very human book.

3. Peace by Gene Wolfe
Yes, I love Gene Wolfe. Shut up. It feels weird to write a book review that basically goes, “I don’t understand this book, but I love it.” So it is with this one. A book of Midwestern memoirs doesn’t seem like it would be my thing, but Wolfe’s writing is so gorgeous, so eminently readable, but also quite haunting; and the sinister undercurrents that never quite reveal their true nature (at least on a first read) make this an absolutely fascinating book.

2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Scott recommended this one to me as his favorite book, and I trust his judgement, and hey, I found it for $2, too. It’s worth the cover price, though; this is one lush and luscious novel full of romance and mystery (and a tinge of horror) and absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It’s a book for book lovers, and for lovers of fine storytelling in general.


And the best novel I read in 2011 is…

1. Embassytown by China Miéville
Like Scalzi, I had never read any of Miéville’s work before, but that changed when I won a review copy of his upcoming Embassytown. Talk about being blown away; this book was amazing. All of my favorite sci-fi elements were present: well-developed, alien aliens, cultural clashes, intrigue, mystery, unconventional narrative structure, jaw-dropping revelations, and plenty of Big Ideas and musings on the nature of language and thought. I read a lot of reviews that basically gave it a thumbs-down, and I it’s like I can’t even decipher the words being written; it makes no sense at all to me. This was easily the best book of 2011, and one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, period.

Honorable mentions: Dissolution by C. J. Sansom, The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, The Breach by Patrick Lee, Reamde by Neal Stephenson



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Tue, 03 Jan 2012 17:21

In the next week or so, I’ll be writing up the first annual Salty Awards, looking back at my favorite reads of 2011, but right now I want to take a second to look forward to 2012.

My plans for 2011 didn’t entirely pan out, but that won’t stop me from making plans for the coming year! I’m scaling back considerably, with only four planned projects to tackle, but they’re not necessarily unambitious:

Gene Wolfe’s Solar Cycle

Since 2008, I’ve spent every December reading Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, and this year is no different. I’m currently halfway through book #2, The Claw of the Conciliator, but I don’t plan on stopping with the BotNS this year; rather, I’ll also be reading the related Book of the Long Sun (4 volumes that I’ve read once before) and Book of the Short Sun (3 volumes that I’ve yet to read) as well as various related short stories. The full list (in my planned order, the order of shorter works subject to change) goes like this:

  • The Book of the New Sun
    • The Shadow of the Torturer
    • The Claw of the Conciliator
    • The Sword of the Lictor
    • The Citadel of the Autarch
  • “The Map” (short story in Endangered Species)
  • “The Cat” (short story in Endangered Species)
  • The Urth of the New Sun
  • “The Boy Who Hooked the Sun” (short story in Starwater Strains)
  • “The God and His Man” (short story in Endangered Species)
  • “Empires of Foliage and Flower” (novella in Starwater Strains)
  • “The Old Woman Whose Rolling Pin is the Sun” (short story in Innocents Aboard)
  • The Book of the Long Sun
    • Nightside the Long Sun
    • Lake of the Long Sun
    • Caldé of the Long Sun
    • Exodus from the Long Sun
  • The Book of the Short Sun
    • On Blue’s Waters
    • In Green’s Jungles
    • Return to the Whorl

Tolkien’s Middle Earth

I’ve read The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings twice; the last time was about 10-12 years ago, and the first was about 10-12 years before that (I figure I was 10-12 at the time) so a reread this years seems in order. But I’ll be also be throwing in some of the ancillary material that I’ve never read before. I’m actually pretty excited about this one:

  • The Children of Húrin
  • The Silmarillion
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • The Fellowship of the Ring
    • The Two Towers
    • The Return of the King
  • Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth

That Dang Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve slowly been accumulating George R. R. Martin’s infamous series from used bookstores over the years, and have really wanted to get into them, but I also refused to start in until the most recent volume had been published. It will (presumably) be out in mass market paperback later this year, which will be the perfect time to dive in.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • A Game of Thrones
    • A Clash of Kings
    • A Storm of Swords
    • A Feast for Crows
    • A Dance With Dragons

Mistborn!

My wife has been on my case to read Brandon Sanderson’s acclaimed trilogy for a while, now. I keep telling her I’ll get to it next year. Now it’s in writing! I may as well stick the standalone sequel on as well.

  • Mistborn
    • The Final Empire
    • The Well of Ascension
    • The Hero of Ages
  • The Alloy of Law

Well, what do you think? Have I once more bitten off more than I can chew?


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Tue, 03 Jan 2012 16:29

Books read in 2012, listed by month finished. As always, you can follow along with my reading journal @ LibraryThing, where you can also see my complete reading list, or just my 2012 reads.

January

The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
Deep Sky by Patrick Lee
The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson

February

Magic: The Gathering: Test of Metal by Matthew Stover
The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson
When She’s Gone by Steven Erikson

March

The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Endangered Species by Gene Wolfe
The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April

Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover
Caine’s Law by Matthew Stover
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany
John Dies at the End by David Wong

May

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards
Star Wars: Cloak of Deception by James Luceno
The Children of HΓΊrin by J. R. R. Tolkien

June

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tales from Super-Science Fiction ed. by Robert Silverberg
The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson
Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont

July

Crack’d Pot Trail by Steven Erikson

August

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Transformers Legends ed. by David Cian
Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

September

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Ghost Ocean by S. M. Peters

October

Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson
The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer
Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson
A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

November

This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

December

Vale of Stars by Sean O’Brien
The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock
The Sundered Worlds by Michael Moorcock
Phoenix in Obsidian by Michael Moorcock


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Thu, 22 Dec 2011 11:32

The giveaway gods were smiling on me again when I won a copy of Courtney Schafer’s fantasy debut from the Staffer’s Musings blog. I hadn’t previously read any of the reviews in detail, but I got the sense that it had been favorably received overall—plus, I really wanted to find out just what was going on in that cover—so I threw my name in the proverbial hat, and viola! free book! Following some friendly correspondence with Ms. Schafer, a copy of The Whitefire Crossing showed up in my mailbox, complete with an encouraging personalized message in the front. Very lovely. Thanks, Courtney!

I had told her I wasn’t sure I’d get to reading it before year’s end; I was in the middle of Brent Weeks’ massive Night Angel trilogy, and having already let too much time pass between reading the first two books (you know how it is sometimes) I wanted to finish the whole thing in one go. Well, Thanksgiving rolls along, and the end of the second book is within sight, but man I really didn’t want to lug that massive omnibus edition up to my grandparents’ house, and The Whitefire Crossing had been sitting on my nightstand this whole time, with me (rather unexpectedly) itching to read it…

So I packed it and brought it up with me. Cracked it open Thanksgiving Day, and was immediately hooked.

Hooked bad.

Dev is a mountaineer and a smuggler who takes a job that’s a little out of the ordinary: smuggling a man across the titular Whitefire Mountains and into the country of Alathia. Kiran is the man being smuggled. He’s also a mage, on the run from an even more powerful mage. And magic is outlawed in Alathia…

The story is told in intriguing fashion: the narrative alternates between Dev’s and Kiran’s perspectives, but where Kiran’s POV is told from a third-person perspective, Dev’s is done in the first-person. It’s a fantastic device, as both characters have secrets they’re trying to keep from the other, and never truly getting inside Kiran’s head means the mysteries surrounding him remain tantalizing. However, the imbalance also means Kiran never quite seems as “real” a character as Dev, but that’s okay, because Dev makes for such a fantastic POV character. Saying he’s basically Han Solo seems kind of unfair, but it’s not entirely off the mark; he’s very much of the smuggler-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype, though his gold is perhaps a tad tarnished. But he’s got a past history and well-defined motivations; Schafer makes him a very real, very three-dimensional person. (Which is not to say Kiran doesn’t have those things, as well—he does. But again, he’s got that slight feeling of removal from the reader that Dev does not.)

There’s plenty of magic in the book, and mages and charms and wards and everything; it’s very well done, nicely consistent, and integrated into the story seamlessly and effortlessly. There’s not too much else to say about it. The plot’s not nearly as straightforward as my (very) brief synopsis above makes it out to be; there are some fantastic twists and turns that take the story in unexpected directions. But I don’t have much else to say about the plot. This is a book about relationships. Dev and Kiran. Dev and his fellow outrider, Cara. Dev and his former mentor, Sethan. Kiran and his master, Ruslan. I’ll stop there, but you get the idea.

The book is the first in a series, with The Tainted City due in late 2012. Don’t let that stop you from picking it up. This first entry more or less stands on its own, and comes to an acceptable (if not entirely satisfactory) conclusion. The future of the series depends on how well the first two books do, and they deserve to do quite well indeed.

I went into this review having given the book a 3.5-star rating. 3 stars is pretty much my baseline “I enjoyed it” rating; 2.5 would be “I enjoyed it, but” and 3.5 is a favorable “I enjoyed it, and…” 4 stars is another level entirely, and much as I wanted to, I didn’t feel like The Whitefire Crossing was quite at that level. But reflecting back on the book while writing and proofing this review, it’s become obvious to me that it is at that level. This is a really good book. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Thu, 17 Nov 2011 12:31

Brent Weeks is one of those authors I’d been hearing about for a while. I’m sure everyone’s got a similar list of writers they plan on eventually checking out when they get around to it. I’d heard about his Night Angel trilogy, three fantasy doorstoppers published back-to-back-to-back: some people loved it, some hated it, but the overall consensus was that, hey, it’s not great literature, but it’s an enjoyable story, and besides which it’s a completed series that you don’t have to wait for the next book to be published. Well, it happens that one day I had a coupon at the Science Fiction Book Club, so I went ahead and picked up the entire trilogy in one massive 1,400-page omnibus edition for under $8. It made its way onto my 2011 SF Reading Challenge list, and whaddaya know, it was one of the few challenge books that I actually got around to reading.

The Way of Shadows is the first book of the trilogy, and it’s a bit of an odd duck in that, on the one hand, it’s fairly standard Cliché Fantasy 101 fare. Written in a rather straightforward and plain style, it takes place in a quasi-medieval land divided into numerous countries ruled by various lords and kings. There’s prophecy, lost magical relics, and invaders from the north. The protagonist is a young boy without any magical talent who grows up to become someone extraordinary. It’s the kind of story David Eddings would write, the stuff you’d enjoy the crap out of as a young fantasy fan.

On the other hand, it’s more or less rated “R” for violence, language, and sex.

And on the whole, it ain’t half bad.

So the story starts out following Azoth, a child in the slums of Cenaria City whose dream is to gain the attention of, and become apprentice to, the legendary “wetboy” assassin Durzo Blint. (For those who’ve read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow, this section of the book totally reminded me of Bean growing up on the streets of Rotterdam; not a big surprise, then, that Weeks specifically mentions Card as an influence in the author interview at the back of the book.) Eventually, of course, Azoth does indeed become Durzo’s apprentice, adopting the new persona of “Kylar Stern” and developing into an efficient assassin. But the difference between an assassin and a wetboy is that a wetboy employs the use of magic to do his job, and as I alluded to earlier, Azoth-now-Kylar has no magical Talent. In Fantasy Cliché land, this merely means that Kylar is a supertalented mage whose abilities don’t readily manifest themselves…and of course that’s what happens here as well.

What keeps the story from bogging down in predictability is, well, it’s unpredictability.

Much of that comes from the way Weeks treats his characters. You’ve heard the expression “No one is safe” with regards to certain fantasy authors or series? Well, Brent Weeks invented that saying. (And before you ask, George R. R. Martin is another of those authors I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.) Weeks does a good job staying true to his quasi-medieval world, because people die. If some rival lord decides to wipe out your family, he wipes out your family. If the monarchy gets overthrown in a bloody coup and character X (who you thought was a pretty important character up to this point) is right there when it happens, guess what, expecting him to miraculously live through it isn’t terribly realistic. Which is not to say that Weeks indiscriminately kills anybody and everybody off, but shoot, if he thought that was what the story demanded, I totally believe he’d do it.

The book does have other issues. Prominent among them is Weeks’ tendency to have side-plots that only crop up once every hundred pages or so; there are a couple of characters who only show up in the story this way, and every time they do I have to rack my brain for who they are and what they’re doing. But for every element that lessens my enjoyment of the book, there’s something that makes up for it: the Vir of the Vürdmeisters is visually very cool. Weeks’ names can be pretty groan-worthy; Durzo Blint is one of the worst offenders here, but he develops into a fantastic character.

What it boils down to is that, despite the warts, Weeks writes a story that is compellingly readable. The chapters are short, and you always want to know what happens next. And often you’ll be surprised. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. A solid [3.5 out of 5 stars].


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Tue, 08 Nov 2011 11:48

Neal Stephenson’s latest novel is a contradiction of a book: a taut, fast-paced thriller that spans 1,000 pages and took me a month to read.

Richard “Dodge” Forthrast is the creator of the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) T’Rain. We first meet Richard at the annual Forthrast family reunion in Iowa, and the book starts out slowly as we meet certain of Richard’s family members. We’re introduced to his niece, Zula, and her boyfriend Peter. We meet Richard’s brothers, Jacob and John. There are stories of Richard’s days as a smuggler crossing the border between Canada and Idaho. And lots and lots of information regarding the creation of T’Rain.

Stephenson takes his time kicking the plot into gear. 100 pages slowly pass before it really arrives, but it’s never a chore; Stephenson has a gift for being highly readable, and is somehow able to make reading about firearms or midwestern cuisine or the creation of a geographically-plausible video game world consistently entertaining.

But then the titular, brilliantly-conceived “REAMDE” virus makes its appearance, and suddenly Zula and Peter find themselves abducted by a Russian mafioso. While they head to China to root out REAMDE’s creator, back in the western hemisphere Richard is left to try and piece together what has happened to his niece. And still that’s just the tip of the iceberg: when things finally throw down in China about a third of the way through the book, a bevy of new players are introduced and only then do you realize that the real story is just starting. What’s left is 700 pages of straightforward globe-hopping thriller, filled with spies and terrorists, not to mention the occasional hacker and militant libertarian.

Sadly, the books started to drag a little for me around the halfway mark. If you read many thrillers, you’ll know that they’re not particularly long books; 300-400 pages on average, perhaps. But the thriller portion of Reamde runs a solid 700 pages, and though there’s plenty of action, there’s also a lot of what feels like downtime. It got to the point where I had to force myself to pick the book up every night, but the funny thing is, once I started reading, I’d get sucked right back in. The pages didn’t exactly fly by, but I was absolutely riveted all the same.

Still there’s an advantage to Reamde’s length, and it’s that events and characters feel that much more real. The story itself takes roughly three weeks, and lengthy and copious amounts of detail make it feel like three weeks. (That it took me four weeks to read probably has something to do with it as well.) And Stephenson’s created a diverse cast of well-realized characters that you come to love, or come to love to hate. The day after I finished reading, I looked over and saw the book sitting on my nightstand and was actually saddened that I wouldn’t be reading it anymore. I already missed Richard and Zula and Csongor and Sokolov and Olivia and Seamus and… well, you get the picture. If you had asked me at the halfway mark, I would have told you I’d consider Reamde a “read once” book; but now I’m fairly certain that, years from now, I’ll be picking it up again to revisit some old friends.

If I had to come up with one real beef about the book, it would be that the title is pretty misleading. It hopefully doesn’t spoil much (and if so, I’ve spoiled far more already!) to say that the book has very little to do with the REAMDE virus—nor with the T’Rain game, despite the numerous pages devoted to detailing its creation and inner workings. Put plainly, T’Rain exists mainly for REAMDE to exist, and REAMDE is there to kickstart the plot, and little else. You could probably drop a bare minimum of 50 pages from the novel just by trimming away the T’Rain infodumps, and lose little from the story besides some of its “Stephensonesque” quality—but then, those random asides and tangents have long been part of Stephenson’s charm.

Despite being somewhat overlong (I didn’t even mention the drawn-out—and by “drawn-out” I mean “Michael Bay in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen drawn-out”—final climactic showdown) Reamde still manages to be a fantastic book. In a nutshell, it’s “What if Neal Stephenson wrote a thriller?” and I absolutely loved it. [4 out of 5 stars]

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Reamde

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Sat, 29 Oct 2011 11:42

Toy Story alien collection

My collection of Toy Story aliens (“ooooooh!”) as of October 2011.


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Fri, 28 Oct 2011 13:06

Do you ever have it happen where you hear a lyric or two from a song, and it recalls a passage or a topic from a completely-unrelated book? This is one of those deals, but in this case it was the lyrics from not one, but two different songs that always make me think of something from Gene Wolfe.

I’m presenting the quotes here in the reverse order in which I came across them. First up, a line from a They Might Be Giants song that I first heard this September. Next, a line from Jars of Clay that I first heard last December. Finally, the relevant passage from Gene Wolfe’s The Sword of the Lictor (being the third part of The Book of the New Sun) which I’ve read each December for the past 3 years.

It’s my hope that you’ll read the lyrics first, then the book passage (I apologize for the length; I couldn’t bring myself to trim it down) then reread the song lyrics, and finally go, “Hunh.”


I am a dog walker
But someday
I’ll be a dog

—They Might Be Giants, Dog Walker

You can lose your mind
Maybe then your heart you’ll find
I hope you won’t give up
What’s moving you inside

—Jars of Clay, Sunny Days

“Severian, who where those men?”

I knew whom he meant. “They were not men, although they were once men and still resemble men. They were zoanthrops, a word that indicates those beasts that are of human shape. Do you understand what I am saying?”

The little boy nodded solemnly, then asked, “Why don’t they wear clothes?”

“Because they are no longer human beings, as I told you. A dog is born a dog and a bird is born a bird, but to become a human being is an achievement—you have to think about it. You have been thinking about it for the past three or four years at least, little Severian, even though you may never have thought about the thinking.”

“A dog just looks for things to eat,” the boy said.

“Exactly. But that raises the question of whether a person should be forced to do such thinking, and some people decided a long time ago that he should not. We may force a dog, sometimes, to act like a man—to walk on his hind legs and wear a collar and so forth. But we shouldn’t and couldn’t force a man to act like a man. Did you ever want to fall asleep? When you weren’t sleepy or even tired?”

He nodded.

“That was because you wanted to put down the burden of being a boy, at least for a time. Sometimes I drink too much wine, and that is because for a while I would like to stop being a man. Sometimes people take their own lives for that reason. Did you know that?”

“Or they do things that might hurt them,” he said. The way he said it told me of arguments overheard; Becan had very probably been that kind of man, or he would not have taken his family to so remote and dangerous a place.

“Yes,” I told him. “That can be the same thing. And sometimes certain men, and even women, come to hate the burden of thought, but without loving death. They see the animals and wish to become as they are, answering only to instinct, and not thinking. Do you know what makes you think, little Severian?”

“My head,” the boy said promptly, and grasped it with his hands.

“Animals have heads too—even very stupid animals like crayfish and oxen and ticks. What makes you think is only a small part of your head, inside, just above your eyes.” I touched his forehead. “Now if for some reason you wanted one of your hands taken off, there are men you can go to who are skilled in doing that. Suppose, for example, your hand had suffered some hurt from which it would never be well. They could take it away in such a fashion that there would be little chance of any harm coming to the rest of you.”

The boy nodded.

“Very well. Those same men can take away that little part of your head that makes you think. They cannot put it back, you understand. And even if they could, you couldn’t ask them to do it, once that part was gone. But sometimes people pay these men to take that part away. They want to stop thinking forever, and often they say they wish to turn their backs on all that humanity has done. Then it is no longer just to treat them as human beings—they have become animals, though animals who are still of human shape. You asked why they did not wear clothes. They no longer understand clothes, and so they would not put them on, even if they were very cold, although they might lie down on them or even roll themselves up in them.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Sword of the Lictor


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Thu, 27 Oct 2011 23:18

So, October is birthday month, which means books! Here’s what came into my possession this month:


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Wed, 12 Oct 2011 17:52

So yeah, it turns out I’m not a big fan of L. Ron Hubbard. But that didn’t stop me from requesting a copy of L. Ron Hubbard Presents: Writers of the Future, Volume XXVII from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I always enjoy a good sci-fi/fantasy anthology, and I was at least subliminally aware of the Writers of the Future program, and figured this’d be a good bet for some high-quality SF/F short fiction (SFFSF?).

I love it when I’m right.

The Writers of the Future contest seems a fairly reputable program, with contest entries judged by such esteemed SFF writers as Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, and Frederik Pohl, among others. And past contest winners include such notable names as Stephen Baxter, Patrick Rothfuss, and Dave Wolverton. So right off the bat, this book showed the promise of some good stuff inside.

And on the whole, it delivers. There are some weaker stories, but they’re merely decent, not bad. But beyond that, there are a few truly phenomenal entries. Here’s a (very) brief review for each story:

  • “The Unreachable Voices of Ghosts” by Jeffrey Lyman — Almost every story in this collection is a science-fiction piece; this is no exception. A lonely man goes on what is essentially a suicide run to the edge of the solar system, fishing for a miniature black hole, and finds something else besides. There’s a nice atmosphere to the piece, and if the twist at the end isn’t entirely unanticipated, well, it’s still a solid and oddly-moving start to the anthology.
  • “Maddy Dune’s First and Only Spelling Bee” by Patrick O’Sullivan — Maybe this fantasy story should have been held until the end of the collection, because it sets the bar impossibly high for everything that follows. I’m not going to spoil anything by going into any detail, but this is hands-down the best entry here; it’s worth buying the book just for this one. I would love to see someone pay O’Sullivan to turn this into a series.
  • “The Truth, From a Lie of Convenience” by Brennan Harvey — A reporter on the Moon discovers that a Crazy Conspiracy Theory just might be true! Shocking! Nothing really new here, though it is still mostly enjoyable, even if the ending is kind of weak.
  • “In Apprehension, How Like a God” by R. P. L. Johnson — Another strong story, this time a sci-fi murder mystery. I guessed the killer early on, but I never guessed the killer’s actual identity. Color me impressed.
  • “An Acolyte of Black Spires” by Ryan Harvey — Fantasy or sci-fi? I couldn’t tell, but it doesn’t really matter. This one felt fairly cliché and dry throughout, though the mild twist at the end made me appreciate it more.
  • “The Dualist” by Aaron Hughes — At this point, the trend seems to be that the even-numbered stories are my favorites. It wasn’t until the last couple of pages that I figured out where this story was going, and it wasn’t until the final paragraphs that I understood, and was thusly blown away. A surprisingly moving tale.
  • “Bonehouse” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli — An intriguing premise: hunting down people who’ve run away and fully immersed themselves in the internet. But it didn’t really do much with it. Enjoyable, if entirely forgettable.
  • “This Peaceful State of War” by Patty Jansen — A decent “first contact” story, and if the fact that mysterious alien biology is the culprit is fairly predictable, the truth of that biology is stunning.
  • “Sailing the Sky Sea” by Geir Lanesskog — A fairly-entertaining tale about survival in a gas giant’s atmosphere. I loved how they pulled off the rescue, though I wish it had been foreshadowed earlier, instead of just coming out of the blue as it did.
  • “Unfamiliar Territory” by Ben Mann — This might be my least favorite story here. It felt pretty clichéd, and didn’t really have a whole lot of plot, though it managed to tease at a larger story to be told later.
  • “Medic!” by Adam Perin — This story saves the collection from a comparatively-weak second half. We get the story of a crotchety battlefield medic as he attempts to save his 1,000th life and earn his transfer out of the service. The main character is entertaining, and the ending is nicely emotional.
  • “Vector Victoria” by D. A. D’Amico — Another weak entry, based on the otherwise-intriguing premise of a government-engineered virus and the protesters (terrorists?) that try to counter it. Unfortunately, the story is a ho-hum rehash of old government-is-good/government-is-bad arguments, with no real resolution. And I found titular protagonist to be incredibly naive (as intended, I’m sure) and irritating (likely not).
  • “The Sundial” by John Arkwright — This might be the second-best story here. If you pressed a gun to my head, I’d probably classify it as “fantasy”; it almost feels like it doesn’t belong in the same book as the rest of these stories. I won’t spoil anything, though; you have to pick up this book to read “Maddy Dune”, anyway.

Also included are three essays on advice for writers and artists; I’ll be honest: I skimmed ‘em. I was just there for the stories. On the whole, it’s decent collection, elevated by the presence of 4-5 particularly strong stories. If I had to rank the top five, I’d have to go with “Maddy Dune”, then “The Sundial”, with “How Like a God” and “The Dualist” tying for third, and “Medic!” bringing up the rear. It’s worth checking out just for those stories. And I’m going to have to keep an eye out for previous collections, as well. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 15 Aug 2011 10:14

Kaylee with bubbles

Kaylee getting a little excited about bubbles on the Fourth of July. Photo  by Matt Armstead.

[2011-07-04]


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Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:36

In which I rave about Terry Moore’s amazing Echo comic book series.

LISTEN:

SMZcast #2

NOTES:

Wondering where episode #1 is? It’s been recorded, but the quality is very poor. I haven’t decided whether to re-record it, or just release it as is. We shall see.


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Tue, 26 Jul 2011 22:44

Fighter-Bot sketch

This is a sketch I did during a meeting. I’ve decided that this guy’s a redeco of Aerobot, with “dogfighter” detailing on his nosecone (y’know, the teeth and eyes and stuff.) He’s a bit of a brawler, hence his name. I haven’t yet decided what color scheme he’d have, but I’m thinking maybe something in olive drab and orange…


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Thu, 14 Jul 2011 13:08

20110713ChrisCropped

Corrected from here.

[2011-07-13]


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Thu, 14 Jul 2011 13:08

Me via Webcam

Corrected from here.

[2011-07-13]


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Wed, 13 Jul 2011 21:17

Me via Webcam

Me playing around with Cameroid.

[2011-07-13]


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Wed, 22 Jun 2011 17:06

Greed, published by Galaxy Press, is part of their “Stories from the Golden Age” series, which republishes all of L. Ron Hubbard’s old pulp magazine stories in book form. This volume contains three science-fiction stories: the titular “Greed”, as well as “Final Enemy” and “The Automagic Horse”. I’m always open to trying new authors, but I wasn’t about to dive into Hubbard’s massive Battlefield: Earth or his Mission Earth dekalogy; Greed gave me a nice entry point. The stories in this volume, however, were fairly lacking.

The title story, “Greed”, is the most boring of the bunch, and for all of its length there’s very little plot. Instead, the story reads much like a historical textbook entry regarding the main character. And where I’m able to (generally) look past the racism inherent in the old pulp stories of H. P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard, Hubbard’s use of “Asians” as the go-to bad guys really put me off for some reason.

“Final Enemy” is mildly more successful, owing somewhat to its short length. There’s a nice twist at the end, and the Asians are presented in a better light here. It’s nice enough, I guess, but not enough on which to recommend the entire book.

The longest story by far—running as long as the other two combined—is “The Automagic Horse”, and is a vastly different animal. Where the first two are outer-space stories, this one features a group of Hollywood effects people whose special effects studio is a front for building a rocket ship. But the plot revolves around the construction and fate of a mechanical horse. I liked this one for the most part, too, though it turned fairly predictable halfway through. There was one rather sexist line that didn’t bug me as much as it probably should :) though it did stick out.

There is one aspect about this book that bugged the heck out of me, though I’ve tried not to let it influence my review, as it has nothing to do with the stories themselves. Rather, it has do with Galaxy Press’s presentation of the stories. The book itself is roughly 150 pages long; 100 of that is comprised of the three stories. The rest is basically devoted to praising L. Ron Hubbard and/or pimping the rest of the “Golden Age” series. There’s an introduction by Kevin J. Anderson, an absurdly-brief preview of another volume in the series, and a lengthy biography on L. Ron Hubbard. Oh, and did I mention that Galaxy Press is run by the Church of Scientology? According to Wikipedia, many of the “facts” put forth by the Church of Scientology regarding Hubbard’s life are either unconfirmed or just plain false, and the biography in this book is ridiculously hyperbolic. In short, the whole endeavor feels like a money-grab, right down to the “subscribe now!” postcard bound into the middle of the book. Preserving Hubbard’s old pulp stories in book format is a worthy enterprise, and it’s a good-looking little book, but $10 for 100 pages of mediocre story is milking it. (And there are 80 volumes!) Consolidating everything into, say, a dozen $30 hardcovers would seem like a much more honest approach.

Overall though, it’s just not a strong batch of stories. Certainly not worth the $10 cover price, but this and other volumes might be worth picking up used for a couple bucks if you’re interested in pulp-era stories. [2 out of 5 stars]


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Tue, 14 Jun 2011 18:28

Complete SFBC Malazan Book of the Fallen

All 10 books of Steven Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen in Science Fiction Book Club editions.


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Tue, 07 Jun 2011 11:32

I wasn’t expecting to particularly love Glow when I put my name into the proverbial hat for the chance to win an advance copy. It was being billed as a “YA” book, and I’ve had little exposure to books falling under that particular label, so I figured I’d take a chance at expanded my reading horizons, if just a little bit. Besides, it was science fiction dealing wtih generation starships; it could certainly be interesting. And it is. In a way.

But I had a hard time liking the book.

It starts off with your typical high school romance between teenaged Kieran Alden and Waverly Marshall. We’re introduced to the protagonist lovebirds for only a handful of pages before they split up to attend to their various duties on the ship. Kieran and Waverly’s generation are the first to be born on the Empyrean, the enormous starship sent out into space (after its sister ship, the New Horizon) for the colonization of New Earth.

It’s not too long before disaster strikes: the New Horizon has inexplicably slowed, and when the Empyrean catches up inside a nebula, the ship is ambushed, and Waverly and the other young girls are abducted and taken back to the New Horizon. Waverly, now separated from her family and her boyfriend, has to deal with life as a “guest” aboard the new ship, and somehow figure out what’s going on, and maybe find a way back to the Empyrean. Kieran, meanwhile, is left in charge of the Empyrean with a handful of boys—the adults all killed, injured, or gone missing. His goals are similar to Waverly’s, though where Waverly is pitted against a handful of scheming adults, Kieran finds himself up against a group of mutinous boys.

On the one hand, it’s all rather ridiculous. How on earth (or off of it) do all of the adults on board the Empyrean manage to get taken out so easily? They wind up in four groups: blown out an airlock, gunned down in a shuttle bay, in a shuttle chasing after the New Horizon, and dead/dying of radiation from fixing the engines. That accounts for every. Last. Adult. On. Board. Leaving Kieran to play out “Lord of the Flies” in outer space, against one particular boy who’s motivated by nothing more than petty jealousy. I mean, come on.

As for Waverly and the girls, turns out the New Horizon folks are ultra-conservative religious fundamentalists (they even dress like the Amish for church services) who have been duped by their scheming Pastor/captain into abducting the Empyrean‘s girls as some sort of mission from God. Like most everyone else in the book, the characterizations of the New Horizon folks are all incredibly obvious: they’re either overtly slimy and evil, or perfectly sweet and innocent.

At least it reads quickly. The suspense is good, and the chapters are short—always helpful in making the pages fly by. There’s the occasional twist where you think, “Ah, this isn’t as stereotypical and/or predictable as it seems,” but only until it’s revealed that yes, in fact, it is.

Ah, but then comes the ending, and I’m still not sure whether it makes the book more irritating, or salvages the whole thing. You see, due to the portrayal of the New Horizon folks, I had pretty much written the whole book off as an extended “religion is bad” rant. But that was before the story took a bizarre left turn in which Kieran finds God. That would have fit in fine with a “religious people are crazy” theme, but see, the thing is: God actually talks to Kieran in person. Nothing wrong with that, but aside from it being mentioned in the very beginning that Kieran’s family was kind of religious, there was nothing in the book leading up to this. I was completely yanked out of the story, it was such a bizarre moment.

And yet, in this awkwardly-executed transformation lies the genius of this book: by the end, Kieran sees himself as appointed by God to lead the Empyrean to paradise. Which is precisely what occurred on board the New Horizon. There’s a nice contrast there, and a theme for the next book to explore: Is there a difference between those called by God and those who merely claim to be called by God, and how do you tell the difference? It’s an intriguing idea, the introduction of which is marred by the manipulative cliffhanger tacked on at the end.

Overall, I guess mostly I enjoyed it, but there’s little about it that I actually liked. I’m sure that readers much younger than myself will have a much kinder view of Glow than I do, but at the same time I’m not sure how it’s awkwardly-presented themes will resonate. [2.5 out of 5 stars]


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Sat, 21 May 2011 15:42

Let me just state right off the bat: this is a great book. I’d heard good things about this series, and with its impending stateside release I was fortunate enough to snag a review copy through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Retribution Falls is the first of the Tales of the Ketty Jay, which chronicle the adventures of Captain Darian Frey and his airship, the Ketty Jay, and its crew of mercenaries. The setting has a light steampunk flavor, and takes place in what I presume is the distant future (my own theory, based on the game of “Rake” being described as a variant of poker.) Or it could be some created fantasy world. It’s not important.

What’s important is this: Frey and his crew take on a job that seems too good to be true. Guess what they discover? Yeah, it is. Soon Frey finds himself framed for murder, and the Ketty Jay is on the run from both the Navy and the queen pirate of the Vardian skies herself, Trinica Dracken.

For the most part, the plot moves along briskly, focusing on the action. Indeed, the book starts off in media res with Frey and his companion Grayther Crake captured at gunpoint. And there are a couple of nice twists and turns to keep the reader on his/her proverbial toes. But it’s the characters that bring the story to life. All of Frey’s crew—and Frey himself—are each and all running from something. Everyone has demons in their pasts. Some are common knowledge, but doled out to the reader at a nice pace. Others are kept secret from both the reader and the other characters. Wooding does an admirable job of withholding these secrets, then waiting until the perfect moment to drop a bombshell.

In all, Retribution Falls is a blast; an action-packed tale with great characters. I’m definitely looking forward to future volumes. Recommended to all sci-fi/fantasy fans. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 16 May 2011 14:33

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in.

My first reaction would be to say that I wouldn’t want to live in any of sci-fi or fantasy worlds that I’ve read about. I mean, most of the fantasy worlds are pretty primitive and/or dangerous. Most of the sci-fi worlds are fairly dystopian and don’t necessarily sound like a lot of fun. I can safely cross pretty much all of my favorite books and series off the list.

That said, I think Piers Anthony’s Xanth could be a fun place to live. It seems to be a pretty fun place, with a fairly low danger quotient (unless you wind up in one of the books) plus I’d have my own unique magic ability. I’d like to visit earlier in the series, though, when the puns are a little less rampant.


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot.
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in.
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Fri, 13 May 2011 10:53

China Miéville is an author who’s been on my “need to read” list for a while now. I’d heard so many good things about his Bas-Lag books, and his last book, Kraken, sounded really intriguing. So when LibraryThing offered up a review copy of his latest book—and first sci-fi offering—Embassytown, I jumped at the chance, and was elated when I won it. I confess I probably had my hopes set a little high; I was really looking forward to be completely blown away.

I was.

Embassytown is exactly what it sounds like: a human (or “Terre”) embassy town on the planet Arieka, where humans live in the midst of the native Ariekes, or “Hosts” as the Embassytowners call them. Embassytown, located in a particularly turbulent area of a kind of hyperspace called “immer”, is actually a colony of the country of Bremen (on the far-off planet Dagostin) but remains fairly autonomous, despite the presence of Bremen officials there.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of Avice Benner Cho, a native of Embassytown and experienced traveller of the immer, and begins with a recounting of her watching the arrival of the impossible Ambassador, EzRa. You see, due to the peculiarities of the Hosts’ language, the only way to communicate with them is through specially-bred Ambassadors (the nature of which I’ll leave a mystery; part of what makes this book so awesome is the slow reveal of all the details.) Up until this point, all of the Ambassadors have been produced by Embassytown itself, but EzRa comes from Bremen, and is quite unlike anything anyone has been expecting. EzRa’s arrival will set off a chain of events that will change Arieka and Embassytown forever.

Avice initially tells her story in two interwoven threads, usually alternating with each chapter. The first thread (titled “Formerly”) starts with her as a child in Embassytown, where she is made a part of the Hosts’ Language (you’ll understand when you read it…eventually.) She grows up, leaves Arieka for the immer, finds love, and returns home. Then events pick up pace, leading up to and culminating in a shocking twist. The second thread (“Latterday”) starts with the arrival of EzRa after the events of Formerly, and goes on from there. Formerly only lasts half the book or so, with Latterday taking over completely after that point. It’s an interesting structure, but it works incredibly well. I found both threads to be quite gripping, and having the chapters alternate back and forth made me want to keep reading on to find out what happens next in each one. A lot of the backstory of the Hosts and their Language is given in the Formerly chapters, but because of the way these are spread out, you get that information in a slow drip instead of one big infodump, and by the time the true plot kicks in (when the Formerly thread wraps up) you’re mostly caught up on what you need to know. It’s a very effective way to retain some mystery while making sure the reader knows what he needs to know when he needs to know it.

There are a lot of ideas in this book, but many of them (like the immer) are just there for flavor; mostly the book concerns itself with the subject of language and communication and the essence of thought itself. Very highbrow, very literary concepts, but Miéville engages the reader at every turn, making it a very personal story as well, and keeps up a level of tension and suspense through most of the book, despite only a handful of “action” scenes.

Embassytown is an amazing book that manages to simultaneously be very thoughtful, engrossing, and absolutely riveting. I can’t believe I went this long without reading Miéville; he’s an amazing author, and this is an amazing book. [4.5 out of 5 stars]

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Thu, 12 May 2011 16:28

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.

This is an odd question, as it seems almost redundant. I’ve already put forth Caine as my favorite character, and Kelderek as the character I most identify with. Really, either of those would fit here. But I guess I’ll take the opportunity to go with someone else.

And that’ll be Ganoes Paran from Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, the nobleborn officer who has greatness thrust upon him, as the Bard would say. Paran’s an all-around nice guy who doesn’t necessarily want the power and responsibilities continually put on his shoulders, but he takes it on all the same, and ends up kicking some serious butt once he does. During Malazan rereads, I always look forward to those books that feature Paran; the shame is that so few of them do.


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot.
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Wed, 11 May 2011 16:50

Jericho Moon is the second of Matthew Stover’s books featuring the Pictish mercenary, Barra Coll Eigg Rhum, and makes up the second half of the Heart of Bronze omnibus.

Unlike the previous book, the plot here is rather—or maybe (since this is Stover) I should say, incredibly—straightforward: Barra and her compatriots—Leucas, the Greek warrior, and Kheperu, the Egyptian alchemist—take a job to rescue Agaz, Prince of Jebusi, from the clutches of the Israelites. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that they succeed (though it’s not such a simple task) in getting Agaz home. The thing is, once they do, they discover that the nation of Israel now plans to conquer Jebusi, which they call “Jerusalem”. So Barra has to decide whether to take her money and run, or to stand and fight against the Israelites and their god, Yahweh. (Guess which option she chooses.)

At times, this was an…uncomfortable book to read, on account of my own Christianity. I’ve read about fictionalized versions of “God” before, and generally taken little issue with any of it. (In particular, Piers Anthony’s Incarnations series comes to mind: his take on God could be seen as blasphemous to some, while I found myself amused more than anything.) But Stover is going for historical versimillitude in these books; it’s not necessarily historically accurate, but he intends it to feel that way, and indeed, it generally does. So it’s frankly disconcerting to see Yahweh portrayed as a bloodthirsty god that thrives on death and destruction. I was nervous going into the book because I knew (to some small extent) the direction that the story would take; yet I read on anyway, because Stover likes to make you think, and I didn’t want to shy away from that. And indeed, his depiction comes almost straight out of the Old Testament: we (and Barra) see firsthand the devastation that was once the city of Jericho, where at God’s command the Israelites slaughtered every living creature there. It’s not pretty, and I know many Christians who have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with that of the New Testament.

We get the Israelites’ perspective on this, too, as much of the book is told from the viewpoint of Joshua, the leader of Israel. Via his inner monologue, we find that he sees his job as being that of protecting his people from the wrath of Yahweh. I don’t necessarily agree with the thought, but it is an interesting one. As is the question that comes up: what if the Israelites didn’t want to be God’s Chosen People? If Stover’s portrayal of the relationship between Israel and their God didn’t quite agree with me, his depiction of the Israelites in general was well done. Joshua in particular is an extremely well-written character, and many of the “background” Israelites are seen to be men of strong faith and decency. There’s a somewhat slimy priest, Eleazar, but even he’s given moments of empathy.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “fantastification” of all of this otherwise-Biblical subject matter is Stover’s handling of angels. They are, in fact, demons, which threw me for a second until I remembered that “angel” simply means “messenger”, and in most fantasy (as here) a “demon” is merely a powerful creature summoned from some outer realm. As such, Stover’s angels are rendered akin to Lovecraftian monsters, and the first glimpse we get of one is perhaps the most vivid and awe-inspiring depicition of an angel in fiction that I’ve ever read.

Of course, this book is about Barra and company, right? Well, okay, but there’s not too much to say about that. Of course she stays to fight for Jebusi. There are some political machinations going on there, and one of the local gods wants to adopt Barra as her champion. Barra fights. Leucas fights. Kheperu does his thing. These three characters are great; it feels like they’ve developed a deeper bond as a result of the previous book, and their interactions are always fun to read. Unfortunately though, they spend much of the book’s latter portions separated. Prince Agaz is also a great character and gets some good moments, but really, the book is about Joshua and the Israelites as much as anything. Beyond that, it’s just a fun sword-and-sorcery adventure, but all of the historical details certainly raise it up a notch. [3.5 out of 5 stars]

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Mon, 09 May 2011 16:11

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.

Another answer from Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die; in this case, my favorite antagonist is Ma’elKoth. He’s a former small-time sorceror who at this point has risen to power as the Emperor of Ankhana on Overworld. His new name means, roughly, “to be limitless”, and he fancies himself a god—and, indeed, certainly seems to possess the power of one. If nothing else, he acts the part well. He’s basically a benevolent dictator, with the best interests of his people at heart, but he has a ruthless streak as well. He appreciates fine art, yet makes his power available for use by the reprehensible Count Berne. He’s charismatic and brilliant, has a sense of humor, the stature and looks of your classic Greek god… and Caine has to figure out how to kill him.

SPOILER TIME:

Caine doesn’t kill him, and Ma’elKoth’s subsequent development over the next couple books of The Acts of Caine are great stuff, too.


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot.
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Fri, 06 May 2011 15:03

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot.

I think the winner here has to be Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die. The story’s set on a dystopian future Earth where interdimensional travel has been discovered, and Actors from Earth are sent to a place called Overworld—a fantasy world come to life where magic works—to participate in honest-to-goodness Adventures that get broadcast to viewers back home. Hari Michaelson is a famous Actor who plays the popular assassin Caine; his last Adventure ignited a bloody power struggle on Overworld, resulting in a powerful sorceror becoming Emperor and declaring a pogrom on Actors. Michaelson’s estranged wife and fellow Actor, Shanna Leighton (aka Pallas Ril), is assisting refugee Actors when her connection to Earth is severed; due to the physics involved in interdimensional travel to Overworld, she’ll be dead within a week. So the Studio recruits Caine for one more Adventure, ostensibly to save his wife, but actually to assassinate the new Emperor, whose policies are losing the Studios money. Caine finds himself up against his bosses on Earth, and up against the Emperor on Overworld, while simultaneously fighting to find and save his wife. There are numerous twists and turns, betrayals, surprises, and revelations, along with an I-can’t-believe-I-just-read-that ending. It had me engaged from beginning to end (all three times.)


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot.
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Thu, 05 May 2011 11:00

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 15 – The cover from your current genre read.

Man, it bugs how that diagonal pattern makes the entire image look crooked, but it’s not, I swear. Anyway, this is my advance reading copy of China MiΓ©ville’s Embassytown that I got through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I’ve heard lots of good things about MiΓ©ville, but this is the first book of his I’d gotten around to reading. I was pretty excited to get to read this one, and so far it’s living up to my expectations.


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Wed, 04 May 2011 11:00

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.

Ah, another question I’m not qualified to answer. I’ve never watched a book trailer. I know that they exist, and I’ve seen links to them, but I’ve never felt the urge to click through. I mean, a visual advertisement for a prose story? The concept just doesn’t “click” in my mind. So I’ve never bothered to check them out. And I honestly don’t see that changing.


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Tue, 03 May 2011 11:23

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 13 – A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.

Thank goodness, another no-brainer! There is only one book that I know (definitively) that I’ve read more than five times. And that is (surprise, surprise!) Shardik.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s only one other book I’ve read more than 3 times, and that’s Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. But Shardik has been my favorite book for something like 20 years, and I’ve read it 10 times now. I’m itching to read it again this very instant (it’s been a couple years since the last time) but my wife probably won’t let me before I read Mistborn at her recommendation.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Mon, 02 May 2011 16:11

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.

Okay, I’ve been banging my head against this one for a while, which is partially why this particular post is so late. (I’ve got the next 3 written already, they’re just waiting for this one.)

The easy answer is to just name one of my favorite novels. But I realize that my tastes won’t appeal to many genre readers, and beyond that, I should name a book that everyone—not just genre fans—should read. A much narrower, and harder, decision to come to.

But I’m going to go with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I haven’t met anyone who’s read this book and didn’t enjoy it, including a co-worker who doesn’t normally read genre. It’s quite obviously science fiction, but it also has a very human element, and I think the fact that the main character (and most of the other characters, really) are children helps foster that emotional connection that wants you to keep reading. It reads quickly; there’s action, humor, and tragedy. It’s very much entry-level sci-fi, but it doesn’t pull any punches, and it shows off extremely well just what a great science fiction novel (and genre novels in general) can do.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Wed, 27 Apr 2011 14:40

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 11 – Favourite genre series.

Just one? Harsh! Okay, I’ve given this a little thought, so let’s start by listing the runners-up:

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are probably the prime example of an actual “series”: mostly-standalone novels that continually build on what came before, with plenty of character development and long-range story arcs running the background. There’s a dozen books so far, with probably another dozen to come, and they’re all fast-paced, can’t-put-it-down reads.

Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine are some of the best books I’ve read, but are less a “series” and more a sequence of novels that deal with the same main character and setting. The first two books stand on their own, with the third and (upcoming) fourth volumes making for a third story. They may just be the best books in this list, but I can’t justify giving them “best series” status.

Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap Cycle is a science fiction masterpiece; a dark and gritty space opera in five volumes. Again, less a true “series” than a story told in five (or, given the length of the first book, four and a half) parts. But this would probably take the award were it not for…

Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Quite possibly the most ambitious SF series ever attempted, this ten-book fantasy epic defies comparison. While the overall series is by turns overly convoluted, uneven, and inconsistent—though still fantastic—the individual books are some of the best fantasy novels ever written. Especially the first half of the series, which provides such masterpieces like Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice. Rich worldbuilding, fantastic characters, action, introspection, magic, war, courage, compassion, tragedy, and triumph—this series has it all.


 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 – Very first genre novel.
Day 2 – Your favourite character.
Day 3 – A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 – Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 – Favourite genre series.
Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 – A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 – The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 – Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 – Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 – World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 – Favourite genre.
Day 21 – Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 – A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 – Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 – A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 – Best hero.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Tue, 26 Apr 2011 11:55

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.

I love Richard Adams’ writing, and have for a very long time. I’ve read and enjoyed a number of his books, but of them all it’s the writing style in Shardik that sticks out to me. It’s rich, is the best way I can describe it. Incredibly descriptive, and he makes use of analogy like no writer I’ve read, genre or otherwise. You can’t go two paragraphs without running into a simile or metaphor—and they’re not just some random analogies thrown in that pull you out of the story, like too many other, poorer, authors are guilty of; they’re very well-done. Some passages that stick in my head:

He could see nothing—only those mysterious, faintly-coloured clouds and vaporous screens that swim before our eyes in darkness, seeming exhaled, as it were, from our own sightlessness as mists rise from a marsh.

A spasm seized him and the trees before his eyes dissolved into circling shapes of yellow, green and brown. Somewhere far off, it seemed, rain was beating on the leaves. He listened, but then realized that the sound lay within his own ear, as full of pain as an egg is full of yolk. He had a fancy to break it open and watch the thick, fluid pain spill over the ground at his feet.

The thought of [character] was never far from his mind. As, after a few years of marriage, a childless woman cannot be free from her disappointment, reflecting, “What a beautiful morning—but I am childless,” or “Tomorrow we go to the wine festival—but I am childless,” so Kelderek’s thoughts were troubled continually by the recollection of himself standing silent while [character] was bound and led away.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series.
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Fri, 22 Apr 2011 11:48

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.

I still haven’t entirely made up my mind on this one (which is part of the reason this post is a day late.) Apparently, I’ve turned into a big wuss, because there are a lot of books that make me tear up, if not not bawl outright. Thinking back on books that make me cry, I then have to distinguish between sad-crying and happy-crying.

The first scene that comes to mind for me is the end of the Chain of Dogs storyline in Steven Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates. Really thinking about it, though, it’s not really sadness that brings the tears (though it is sad) but a mixture of profound wonder (when the crows appear) and release (when the whole thing finally ends.)

For sad sad, I’m going to have to go with the story of “The Scholar’s Tale” from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. In this tale, the titular scholar Sol Weintraub’s adult daughter Rachel returns from the Time Tombs with a bizarre medical condition (dubbed “Merlin sickness”) that causes her to begin aging backwards: every morning when she wakes up she’s regressed physically and mentally (memories included) to where she was two days prior. The story deals with Sol and his wife having to deal with Rachel’s condition, trying to “raise” her with some semblance of a normal life, while still searching for a cure. It’s a heartbreaking story, made all the more tearjerking if you’re a parent.


 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Wed, 20 Apr 2011 15:56

I became a pretty much diehard Matthew Stover fan when, based on the strength of his amazing Star Wars tie-in novel, Traitor, I decided to give his original fiction a try. The result was falling in love with his Acts of Caine series. I also snapped up and read the rest of his SW work (if you read only one SW book in your life, make sure it’s Stover’s novelization of Revenge of the Sith.) And for a few years now, I’ve had a SFBC omnibus edition titled Heart of Bronze that contains the first two books Stover got published: Iron Dawn (1997) and Jericho Moon (1998).

I’m sure everyone has one of those books that you always intend to read, but every time you’re about to get to it, you find yourself drawn to something else. This was that book for me. I dunno why; I’ve loved everything else he’s written. So this past December, when I decided to join in on the Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011, I decided that I would finally read this as part of the challenge.

Iron Dawn is the first book, and introduces the three main protagonists: Barra, a red-headed Pictish princess-turned-mercenary; Leucas, a huge Athenian boxer, and veteran of the Siege of Troy; and Kheperu, a cunning Egyptian alchemist/sorceror. When Iron Dawn kicks off, the three have only recently banded together as a small mercenary company, and are still getting to know each other, and the interactions between the three are great fun to read.

The setting (as one might deduce from Leucas’ description) is the Late Bronze Age, with the Trojan War only 10 years or so in the past, and the destruction of Jericho at the hands of the Israelites about twice that old. And most of the action is confined to the city of Tyre. It sounds like historical fiction, though it’s definitely fantasy; Stover fills Tyre with numerous different peoples and languages and political powers, but there’s also magic and gods and demons and all of those great fantasy staples.

The story is relatively-straightforward sword-and-sorcery stuff; Barra and her companions are looking for mercenary work, but they (naturally) get in over their heads, and wind up having to take down a despotic prince with plans to enslave all of Tyre. Those familiar with Stover’s Caine books will know what to expect here, including strong characters, great action, and a plot with some twists and turns in it, as well as lots of profanity and graphic violence. It’s obviously an earlier work, though, and reading it, it’s hard not to think, “I can tell this is the guy who’ll go on to write Heroes Die.”

I had some problems with the pacing; especially in the first half or so, where it felt like every chapter consisted of Barra and company heading out into town to investigate, then reconvening back at their lodgings. It was hard to get a grasp on what the overall plot was, and I have to admit I had to force myself to pick the book back up more than one night. But once the plot finally kicked in, once the big threat finally began to emerge, it was much easier going. Stover knows how to write action, after all, and I especially liked how his heroes are not immune to miscalculation, nor to being surprised or overpowered. Barra alone with her axe, versus half a dozen professional mercenaries? In a typical fantasy story, of course Barra would whup ‘em all, but Stover’s fights are always more realistic, as are the results.

The other issue I had (and which probably affected my perception of the pacing) was Stover’s tendency to overuse the flashback device. For example, one chapter would end with the heroes fleeing. The next would pick up the story a number of hours later, with Barra reflecting on what they’re going to do now; and after a page or two of this, we get a flashback that picks up from the end of last chapter and catches us up to the beginning of this one. It’s not an uncommon device in fiction, but Stover just seems to use it far too much.

So I had my issues with it, but overall I enjoyed it. Barra, Leucas, and Kheperu are some of Stover’s best characters, and I found the setting to be fascinating and unique. Not his best novel by a long shot, but come on, it’s Matthew F@#$ing Stover. A must-read for those who are already Stover fans, but also a solid sword-and-sorcery fantasy worth checking out just for the unique setting. [3.5 out of 5 stars]


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Wed, 20 Apr 2011 11:00

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.

I…I don’t even know for sure what this is. Something to do with music that you would read a book to? Either composed or compiled by a fan or fans? If that’s the case, I’ve never listened to one. And it’s not something likely to appeal to me, anyway; I don’t multitask like that. If I’m reading a book, I can’t have any distractions. If there’s music on, I want to be listening to it. I can’t read in bed when my wife’s got the TV on, for example. So I’m going to have to take a “pass” on this one. Sorry.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Tue, 19 Apr 2011 16:11

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.

I had to do a bit of thinking for this one; the first hurdle was just coming up with couples. But once I hit on my answer, it was obvious:

Harry Dresden & Karrin Murphy, from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

Of course, they’re not “officially” a couple yet, but come on. They might as well be. And they should be, goshdarnit. When the series starts off, Murphy is on the Chicago police force, and Harry—Chicago’s resident wizard-for-hire—is the guy she calls in when cases get, shall we say, weird. It’s a working relationship to begin with, and there are serious trust issues: Harry holds back from Murphy because he doesn’t trust her to be able to handle knowledge of the supernatural, and Murphy begins to suspect Harry’s motives for keeping her in the dark. Suffice to say, it’s pretty annoying for the first couple of books, when all of their problems could have been solved by just trusting each other! But they reach that conclusion by themselves, and then the relationship really begins to blossom. Not yet lovers, but far more than just friends; there’s a bond of love and trust between them that’s really incredible to read about. Now if only they would hook up already! Because they’re absolutely perfect together. If only Changes hadn’t ended the way it did…


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Mon, 18 Apr 2011 14:20

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.

Another easy answer, thank goodness. In this case, it’s Kiska from Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire novels.

She makes her first appearance in Esslemont’s Night of Knives, a short novel (or extended novella) that mostly consists of two perspectives of the same violent night: one follows the war-weary veteran Temper, and is pretty cool. The other follows teenage rebel Kiska, and is responsible for turning an otherwise-decent book into something relatively mediocre. Despite every warning she receives from every adult willing to speak to her, Kiska decides to venture out into the city during the rare and deadly “Shadow Moon”. She’s bored with backwater Malaz City, and wants to get out and see the world, so apparently her plan is to get herself killed first, instead of just waiting a measly twenty-four hours for this supernatural convergence to pass. So yeah, she just about gets killed a half dozen times, each time coming to the realization that she should have listened to her seniors—just before deciding (again) that she’s too cool to be listening to adults because what do they know? Also, her big plan for ditching the city is to get recruited by the Empire’s assassin organization, because, like, she knows all about sneaking out of her aunt’s house and climbing on rooftops and stuff.

Esslemont’s third novel, Stonewielder, is notable for taking Kyle, the token reader-identification character (and fandom whipping-boy) from Return of the Crimson Guard and making him into a fairly likeable and baddass dude. Kiska makes her own reappearance as well…in a plot irrelevant to the rest of the book, and guess what? she’s still basically the same whiny little girl ten or so years later.

Most. Annoying. Character. Ever.

 


30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Sun, 17 Apr 2011 17:03

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).

Kelderek, from Richard Adams’ Shardik.

I’ve always respected Kelderek, a great character from an underrated book. Like the best characters, he has his strengths and his weaknesses; and I can identify with some of the latter and aspire to some of the former. Kelderek is a simple hunter who’d rather be playing games with the village children than pursuing more “manly” endeavors. Rather naive, he can be taken advantage of by more devious men. And when forced unwillingly into a position of leadership, he makes some poor decisions. But he’s also a man of strong faith who is unwavering in his loyalty and devotion, and makes a good leader when it’s on his own terms.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Sat, 16 Apr 2011 13:20

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.

Finally, the first no-brainer in this meme! I do not consider myself to have a single guilty pleasure book, per se; rather, my guilty reading pleasure consists of the entirety of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Which is not to say that they’re all bad books—Matthew Stover and Karen Traviss in particular write novels that are right up there with the best of the genre—but it sure can have its share of stinkers, and even the good books are still fairly mediocre. Still, I can’t keep myself from collecting them all (though I almost never buy them new) and though I don’t get to read many of them over the course of year (with so many better books waiting on my shelves) I generally try to keep current with those books/series that push the main SW timeline forward.

I used to be big on Star Trek novels, but when the new movies started conflicting with the books, and books started conflicting with other books, and I realized that there was no real continuity to any of it, I just kind of lost interest. Well, that, and book-wise I only really cared about the Original Series crew, and once the focus shifted to all the TNG/DS9/Voyager stuff, well, that was it for me. But from the beginning, the Star Wars books (and all licensed SW products, actually) have attempted to stick to a single, unified continuity. It’s pretty crazy to pick up a book published in 2011 and read it knowing that it’s continuing a story begun over 30 years ago. I started reading The Han Solo Adventures in elementary school, and then Timothy’s Zahn franchise-rekindling Thrawn Trilogy in middle school, and I’ve been reading about the adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia—and their children, and now grandchildren—ever since. At this point, they’ve practically become family.


 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Fri, 15 Apr 2011 17:35

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.

Richard Adams’ Shardik.

I feel kinda bad choosing this book. Why? Well, you’re likely going to see it cropping up a lot during the next 27 days, given that it’s my longtime favorite book. But it really is underrated. To begin with, most people aren’t aware that Adams wrote anything besides Watership Down. And Shardik isn’t always pegged as being “genre” either: at Half Price Books (my used bookstore chain of choice) it’s usually found in the Fiction/Literature section—as is pretty much all of Adams’ stuff, come to think of it. But Shardik is very much in the epic fantasy tradition, even though there are no real fantastical elements; only the fact that it takes place in a wholly-fabricated secondary world sets it apart as being fantasy. But, man, barring magic and dragons, it’s got everything a fantasy fan could possibly want: there are battles and intrigue and revenge, introspection and action; feats of courage and of cowardice; a smattering of romance. The characters are rich and memorable, as are the settings.

Like Watership Down, the book involves an animal, but where the rabbits of Watership Down were anthropormphized to some extent, Shardik the bear is a wild, savage, unknowable creature—less a character and more a catalyst that the events of the story hinge upon. Is he truly the divine incarnation of God, as the barbaric Ortelgans believe? Or is he a simple beast? In a book filled with lush, gorgeous descriptive language, Adams’ greatest coup is in leaving the true nature of Shardik up to interpretation by the characters and the reader.

In my humble opinion, an underrated fantasy masterpiece.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Thu, 14 Apr 2011 11:48

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.

Holy crud, how am I supposed to choose? It’s just…there’s so many! Just off the top of my head, I can come up with:

  • Kelderek and Bel-ka-Trazet from Richard Adams’ Shardik
  • Ganoes Paran from Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen
  • Severian from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun
  • Patera Silk from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun
  • Andrew “Ender” Wiggin from Orson Scott Card’s Ender series
  • Croaker from Glen Cook’s Black Company
  • Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files

It’s a positively maddening choice to have to make, but when it comes down to it, I have to go with Hari Michaelson, aka “Caine”, from Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine. There’s a lot to dislike about the guy, and I almost feel dirty just naming him as my favorute, but it’s always, always entertaining reading about him. And you always know that even when his enemies have completely beaten him (and I mean completely) he’ll still manage to will himself to victory. Nothing puts a grin on my face like Caine delivering comeuppance to those that deserve it.

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Wed, 13 Apr 2011 16:51

Ria over at Bibliotropic has started a fun genre book meme. It’s called 30 Days of Genre, and the plan is to discuss genre books (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) one subject per day for the next 30 days. For the full list, you can click this link, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.

This is a tough one, so you’ll have to bear with me while I search my memory. I was reading before kindergarten, Dr. Suess and the like. I read (finished?) The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in fifth grade. And like others, my dad read The Chronicles of Narnia to us when we were little; sometime after kindergarten, but before fifth grade—I’m not sure exactly when. I’m pretty sure that by that point I was reading Star Trek novels on my own, and so I’m going to have to go with The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah, which I seem to recall being my first Star Trek book. (My copy was published in 1987, which would put me at 8 or 9 years old—third grade or so.)

My mom had gotten me hooked on Star Trek reruns, and my dad soon started picking up the Pocket Books novels for me. (To this day, I associate “Star Trek” with the Pocket Books numbered series—all of which I own, most of which I’ve read—more than with the old TV show.) The Vulcan Academy Murders was my first, which I read at least three times; I remember very little about it now, barring Spock being left out in the Vulcan desert to fend for himself. I followed that one up with Michael Jan Friedman’s Double, Double and Diane Duane’s Doctor’s Orders, two of my all-time favorite (and most-read) Trek books. (Though I see that they were published 2 years later, so the timeline in my memory is suspect. But still.)

 

30 Days of Genre:
Day 1 '“ Very first genre novel.
Day 2 '“ Your favourite character.
Day 3 '“ A genre novel that is underrated.
Day 4 '“ Your guilty pleasure book.
Day 5 '“ Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 '“ Most annoying character.
Day 7 '“ Favourite couple in a genre novel.
Day 8 '“ Best fan soundtrack.
Day 9 '“ Saddest scene in a genre novel.
Day 10 '“ Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you.
Day 11 '“ Favourite genre series
Day 12 '“ A genre novel everyone should read.
Day 13 '“ A genre novel you'™ve read more than five times.
Day 14 '“ Favourite book trailer from a genre novel.
Day 15 '“ The cover from your current (or most recent) genre read.
Day 16 '“ Genre novel with the most intriguing plot
Day 17 '“ Favourite antagonist.
Day 18 '“ Favourite protagonist.
Day 19 '“ World/setting you wish you lived in
Day 20 '“ Favourite genre.
Day 21 '“ Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions
Day 22 '“ A sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 '“ Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had
Day 24 '“ Favourite classic genre novel.
Day 25 '“ A genre novel you plan on reading soon.
Day 26 '“ Best hero.
Day 27 '“ Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 '“ Favourite publisher of genre novels.
Day 29 '“ A genre novel you thought you wouldn'™t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 '“ Your favourite genre novel of all time.


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Tue, 12 Apr 2011 17:07

When I say that The Princess Bride is a modern classic, you know of course that I’m talking about the 1987 film by Rob Reiner. It’s one of those movies that you have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t seen it and almost as hard to find someone who has seen it, but didn’t love it. (Because of this, I’ll skip the standard book review plot preview/summary, and also won’t bother tiptoeing around plot spoilers.)

What a lot of people probably don’t realize is that the movie was based on a 1973 novel by the same name. Normally, this would be a point in favor of the novel; rare is the movie adaptation that is actually better than the book upon which it is based. But in addition to writing the novel, William Goldman also wrote the screenplay for the film. The result is that the story of Buttercup and Westley, Fezzik and Inigo, has been completely polished and streamlined for the screen, and improved upon in every way. Pretty much every single change that was made ended up being a change for the better. (The most amusing part about this is, while the majority of the dialogue was lifted verbatim from the novel, a number of the famous quotes from the movie, while also taken word-for-word from the text, are, in the film, either spoken by different characters, or inserted at different points in the story. But again, all of the changes made were improvements.)

What I’m getting at is that in a straight-up comparison of the fantasy story presented in the novel and that of the film, the film version wins hands-down. While some of the additional material in the book is of interest (like the flashbacks for Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo) much of it just ends up being tedious (Fezzik’s and Inigo’s entrance into the Zoo of Death) or awkward at best (see anything with Mad Max.) It makes for an interesting read viewed as the genesis of the screenplay, but is otherwise an inferior presentation in almost every respect.

Fortunately, Goldman’s book doesn’t concern itself with only Buttercup and Westley. Just as the film uses a framing device—that of the grandfather and boy—to tell the fantasy story, so too does the novel, but in this case they are entirely different creations. Goldman starts the book off with an entire chapter devoted to explaining how, when he was younger, his father would read to him from a book called “The Princess Bride” (thus the direction taken for the screenplay adaptation) and how, when Goldman finally tracked down the book years later, he discovered that his father had actually been abridging the story to cut out all of boring historical and satirical passages written by the author, one “S. Morgenstern”. Hence the subtitle to Goldman’s novel: “S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the ‘Good Parts’ version, abridged by William Goldman”.

As enjoyable as the fantasy story is, it was this real-world “secondary” narrative that entertained me the most. Goldman weaves an amusing tale of his search for a copy of Morgenstern’s book mixed in with life as a Hollywood screenwriter; and throughout the book he drops in asides (in italics to separate the commentary from the story) explaining what got cut for the abridgement and why, or (as in the film) comments that his father made upon first reading the story to him. It’s all very amusingly done, and, for me, was even more entertaining than the “main” story. I’ve seen some readers complain that Goldman’s commentary distracts them from the story, and to address that I would recommend picking up one of the more recent editions that includes a 30th anniversary introduction and a 25th anniversary introduction before the text of the main story. Pick it up and start reading at the beginning. Yes, that puts something like 90 pages between the front cover and the start of Buttercup’s tale, but the introductions are what sold me on the book this time around. (I had read it about a decade ago in college, an edition containing neither introduction, and gave it only 3.5 stars at the time.) Besides being downright entertaining, these sections serve to drive home Goldman’s secondary narrative and (hopefully) get the reader invested in it to the point that his later interruptions don’t feel at all intrusive, but rather a welcome addition to the book. The 30th anniversary editions also include, after the main story, the “abridged” first chapter of the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, prefaced by a long explanation by Goldman about the sequel, and why he’s only abridged the first chapter. It’s all terribly amusing.

I hope I didn’t come off as sounding too rough on the “main” story; I enjoyed it, I did. But really, the real reason to read this novel—as opposed to just watching the movie again—is to get all of Goldman’s delightful commentary. I’m keeping an eye out for some of Goldman’s other (non-genre) fiction, I enjoyed it that much. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 11 Apr 2011 22:55

Mystery Rummy Retheme Designs

I’m working on a retheme of the sadly out-of-print Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue, and here are a couple sample card designs. Please pardon the clipart; I’ll be redoing that once designs are finalized.


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Mon, 11 Apr 2011 17:50

Of all the books I’ll read and review this year, this will be the one I was least expecting to do. In fact, I had never even heard about this book (or its author, or the series) until it unexpectedly showed up in my mailbox one day, courtesy of my friend Amanda over at Floor to Ceiling Books. See, she had been sending out copies for World Book Night 2011, but I had gotten behind on my Internets, and didn’t know anything about it—and honestly wouldn’t have been expecting anything anyway. Suffice to say, I felt honored to have been a recipient, and planned for Dissolution to be my next read, once I had finished with The Wise Man’s Fear.

Dissolution is the first in a series of mystery novels set in the 1500s that feature—and are narrated by—hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake. I know nothing about the subsequent books, but I do know I’ll be checking them out at some point in the future, as I enjoyed this one so much.

Thomas Cromwell is in the process of dissolving the monasteries of England when his commisioner at the Scarnsea monastery in southern England is brutally murdered. Cromwell dispatches his emissary, lawyer and sometime-detective Matthew Shardlake, along with his aide Mark Poer, to investigate. But all is not as it seems at snow-covered Scarnsea; too many of the monks there have the motive, but not necessarily the means, and the bodycount will rise before the truth is finally revealed. But Shardlake and Poer must contend with more than a murderer, for the struggle between the Reformers and the Papists will sorely test the loyalties of both men.

Though I consider myself woefully under-read in the detective/mystery genre, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with it; and it seems to me that the actual mystery in a “whodunit” novel is perhaps less important than those things that make a good book work in any other genre—namely, the setting, characters, and narrative style. Dissolution has a fairly standard murder-mystery plot; Sansom includes a bizarre and grisly murder, lots of potential suspects, a slow but steady trickle of clues coupled with some red herrings, a couple of twists, and increasing amounts of danger as the investigation nears its conclusion. There’s even a little romance thrown in for good measure. It’s all very competently handled (save for one possible mistake that I’ll mention later), but it’s nothing groundbreaking.

What makes this book work is the setting. The claustrophia of the snowbound monastary is nicely done, but to be honest the “corrupt/lecherous monk as villain” seems to have become a bit of a clichΓ© by now. Rather, it’s being set against the backdrop of Cromwell’s war against the monastaries that brings everything to life. You have the tension between the Papists and the Reformers simmering in the background the entire time, and Shardlake’s investigation of the murder of a Reform commissioner—presumably at the hands of a monk—duplicates this clash of ideologies in the foreground. And yet, as Shardlake’s investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that this struggle is not a black-and-white affair; many of the monks are, in spite of their own personal failings, just as devout in their Catholic faith as Shardlake is in his Protestantism, and it comes to light that Cromwell’s own motivations and practices may not be as moral as Shardlake has believed. There are some good debates here, including a brief take on the age-old “works versus grace” argument, and though everything is colored by the first-person viewpoint of Shardlake, neither side is presented as being either right or wrong, even as our narrator holds firm to his own beliefs.

And kudos to C. J. Sansom for that. It would have been all too easy to have Shardlake begin to doubt his own beliefs, or lose faith entirely, or even start to get just a little wishy-washy. This is done all too often in fiction nowadays, it seems—especially speculative fiction. I guess a lot of authors think it’s realistic to write a person of faith coming up against some knowledge or revelation or trial that ends up shattering their faith in God. As a Christian myself, I always find such developments rather insulting. Sansom instead writes Shardlake in a manner that I find more realistic; here’s a man who has heard the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to him, who holds to his faith in God even as the men who profess to act in God’s name commit despicable acts. He keeps an open mind, while still retaining complete confidence in his doctrine. Perhaps I’ve said too much about Shardlake’s development, seeing as how part of the suspense (for me, at least) was seeing how his faith would survive the events of the novel, but it was this that impressed me the most about the book, and for which I must applaud Sansom. (The character of Mark Poer provides a nice counterpoint to Shardlake, but I will leave it that.)

I mentioned earlier catching what I thought might have been a mistake in the story, and I’ll try to explain in as non-spoilery a fashion as I can manage: Along with the murder there was a desecration of the monastary church, and while investigating, Shardlake is told that it was Brother Andrew who first “saw” what had been done. But we met Brother Andrew earlier in the book, and he’s completely blind, and presumably has been for some time. I thought maybe I had stumbled on the clue that would wind up busting the whole case wide open, and wondered how Sansom could have been so clumsy, but it turns out it’s never addressed. My only thought is that perhaps there’s more than one Brother Andrew? Not a big issue, but I have to say it distracted me for most of the book.

In summary, Dissolution is a good murder mystery in an intriguing setting, narrated by a great viewpoint character. If you’re not the religious type, it’s a very good period piece; if you are, there’s some good stuff to chew on here. If you’re a fan of mysteries, or of historical fiction, or religious fiction, or (like me) just a fan of good books in general, you should check this one out. [4 out of 5 stars]


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Thu, 07 Apr 2011 11:52

It’s safe to say that The Wise Man’s Fear was the second-most-anticipated book of all 2011. The first book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle was a monster hit in 2007, but rewrites and delays held the sequel back for a couple years longer than fans would have liked. But arrive it did, hitting #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Day Two of the Kingkiller Chronicle continues Kvothe’s story right where The Name of the Wind left off. After a welcomely-brief “present-day” portion to re-set the stage, we jump back into Kvothe’s first-person narrative as he resumes his tale: He’s back studying at the University, still struggling to pay tuition, still battling with Ambrose Jakis, still hanging out at the Eolian, still chasing after the mysterious and elusive Denna… There are a couple of new developments, but quite honestly, it feels like just a retread of the previous volume, and after a few hundred pages I was finding myself a little frustrated.

Thankfully, a third of the way through the book, Kvothe decides to take a break from his studies and venture out into the world, hoping to find himself a patron and, more importantly, discover the secret of the Chandrian. Suddenly, the book picks up. And quickly. Kvothe finds himself in the employ of a nobleman, gets involved in some palace intrigue, heads out on an expedition, loses himself in the land of the Fae, trains with a rigid warrior society. By the time he returns to the University, he’s started to build up the reputation that we’ve heard all about during the frame story, and which we started to see glimpses of in TNotW.

Now, all of these adventures I just described? They’re all very so obviously set-pieces, and the book is divided neatly (and perhaps awkwardly) into hundred-or-so-page sections dealing with each piece. It’s almost jarring when you notice the pattern. (If you notice it. Needless to say, I did.) But once again, Rothfuss sucks you so far into the story that it doesn’t really matter. Each set-piece has its own pace, its own mood, and Rothfuss more or less succeeds with each and every one. I’ve heard many reviewers say that his prose has improved with this second book, but I have to confess I don’t see it. There were a handful of passages in TNotW that left me breathless with their power (just off the top of my head: Taborlin’s fall, the doors of the mind, the leap from Elodin’s roof) and though I enjoyed every minute of TWMF, and while it included numerous memorable scenes, the words didn’t seem to contain the same magic this time around, even if the story still had it.

So while TNotW came in just shy of perfection, TWMF falls just a hair short of the standard set by its predecessor. But really, if you loved the first book, you’ll love the second book, too. And if you hated that one, this one’s not going to do anything to change your mind. It’s very much Part Two of a single, cohesive story, and I can’t believe we’re going to have to wait another three or so years for the finale, but man am I looking forward to it. [4 out of 5 stars]

Now, if you’ve read both books, and want to have your mind completely blown, check out this speculation round-up post at Tor.com.


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Thu, 07 Apr 2011 10:11

On Tuesday, Pitchfork put up a preview of They Might Be Giants’ upcoming album Join Us, along with an mp3 of the opening track. You can listen to it right here, and then I’ll share my thoughts on it:

Can’t Keep Johnny Down

I gotta say, the first time I heard those first couple lines, I did a “Did he say what I think he just said?” and sure enough, when I listened the second time I had a good chuckle:

Outnumbered a million to one
All of the dicks in this dick town
Can’t keep Johnny down

I dig the music; it’s got a good beat, and it evokes a previous TMBG song that I can’t quite put my finger on (which is bugging the heck outta me.) I also enjoy the way the song just kinda peters out at the end. All around, good music. I’ve always loved pretty much whatever TMBG does—both the quirky songs and the rockers—but I’ve found that as my tastes have matured, I’m more appreciative of the rockers. In which case, the music here is a good sign that this album’ll be right up my alley. (Though of course, with TMBG perhaps more than any other band, you can never be sure.)

But the vocals and the lyrics? Man, what a letdown. There’s no rhythm, no real rhyme scheme, and the melody disappoints. There’s a cleverness to some of the words (“beneath my dignity to flip off the guy as he pulls up alongside to say my gas cap is unscrewed”) but the execution doesn’t do them justice. Instead it all just kind of blurs together into some kind of rambling, paranoid monologue—which actually kind of works once you think about it. It seems to me that the song is about a guy who thinks everybody’s out to get him, when the reality is he’s just a jerk; and the vocal portion conveys that well, it just doesn’t turn out to be very pretty.

So, hey, I like it. It’s catchy, and it’s fun. Even if it’s not really very good.


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Tue, 29 Mar 2011 17:19

The first time I read this book, I was hesitant to do so. I had heard great things about it (which is why I picked it up during a sale at Half Price Books in the first place) but I also knew that it was the first book in a trilogy, and that the second book had already seen a couple of years of delays. Did I really want to get invested in a story without having any idea when the next chapter might come out?

Nevertheless, when I put up a little “What should I read next?” poll on Facebook and the Malazan forums I included The Name of the Wind as an option, and it was the clear winner. So I went ahead and dove right in, and boy, was I ever glad I did! So glad, in fact, that when the second book’s publication date was announced as March 2011, I got excited about the prospect of rereading TNotW beforehand. Thus it was that, after finishing the final volume of Steven Erikson’s magnificent Malazan sequence, I began rereading TNotW almost exactly a year to the day of my first read. And I loved it just as much this time.

The Name of the Wind begins the story of Kvothe the Kingkiller, legendary warrior, wizard, and musican. The book opens with Kvothe in hiding as a humble innkeeper named Kote, but when a scribe tracks him down to record his tale, Kvothe demands three full days to tell it properly. Thus we get justification for the trilogy (and indeed, the books are subtitled “Day One”, “Day Two”, etc.) as well as a nice framing device; “present-day” events at Kote’s Waystone Inn get the standard third-person treatment, with Kvothe’s past related in a first-person narrative given by the man himself.

Kvothe’s tale makes up the bulk of the book, and what would otherwise have been pretty standard, unoriginal fantasy fare becomes a wholly-gripping saga as told by Kvothe. Rothfuss’s prose never calls attention to itself—it never feels flowery or particularly sophisticated—but it has a flow to it that grabs you and pulls you along in its wake. “Can’t put it down” fails to convey the grip that Rothfuss sinks into his reader; “It’s 1:30 in the morning and I need to get up for work in six hours but the next chapter’s only like eight pages and DEAR GOD I CAN’T STOP NOT NOW YOU CAN’T MAKE ME STOP” is perhaps a more accurate account. I don’t think my wife has yet forgiven me for recommending it to her, thereby rendering her completely unproductive for a full week last summer.

So anyway, the bones of the story isn’t particularly inspiring stuff: young boy prodigy meets with tragedy, survives on his own until he can attend the University where he’ll learn the answers to his questions and eventually grows up to be the big legendary Kingkiller. (I’m trying to keep things as spoiler-free as possible here; if you’re well-versed in the traditional “farmboy grows up to save the world” brand of epic fantasy, you’ll probably see a lot of it coming from a mile away like my wife did—I, however, have long made a conscious effort to avoid such books, so it was all a revelation to me.) But Rothfuss puts so much love and care into all of these things that it all feels completely real. From struggling to survive on the streets, to scraping together money to pay for tuition each semester at the University, to the minute details of the magic system, to the solidity of the history and mythology of the world, Rothfuss makes it plain that there’s nothing generic here.

The first time I read TNotW, there were a couple key points that kept it from being a perfect book for me. The first was one particular sequence toward the end of the book (you know the one I’m talking about) that seemed to drag on for far too long. The second was that the beginning of the book took too long to get to Kvothe’s narrative and, in essence, the real story. After a second read, I took far less issue with both of these things; the one particular sequence wasn’t nearly as long as I remembered, and the first few chapters of the book, now that I was invested in the “present-day” story, were that much more interesting. A couple of flaws did surface on a second read, though; most prominent was a device that I noticed Kvothe using far too often in the telling of his tale: “If you’ve never been poor, you don’t understand what it’s like…” or “If you’ve never tasted methelgin, I can’t describe it to you…” and the like. I mean, a dozen occurrences over 800 pages or so isn’t really a lot, but it’s one of those things that once you’ve noticed, you can’t un-notice. But even coupling that with the fact that most of the big plot twists lost a lot of their impact was offset by being able to approach the story with the insight gained from a previous read.

So, not perfect, but pretty darn fantastic all the same. If you at all consider yourself a fan of fantasy novels, this is about as close to “must-read” as they come. Plus, now that the next book is out, you can spend two whole weeks being unproductive. Sure, the third volume’s not going to be out for another three or four years, but just think of all the rereading you can do until then. [4.5 out of 5 stars]


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Mon, 28 Mar 2011 19:38

Down...But Not Out! - crayon

A colorization of this old piece done entirely in crayon. I had made Alex a coloring book of my old Transformers lineart to color during church. I asked to color one. He said yes. I chose this piece because I’d never colored it previously.


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Thu, 24 Mar 2011 12:48

Karen Traviss is, in my opinion, the second-most talented author to have written in the Star Wars expanded universe, after only the incomparable Matthew Woodring Stover. I enjoyed the first couple books of Traviss’ Republic Commando series (though I’ve yet to read the other three) and though her Legacy of the Force books didn’t necessarily mesh well with the rest of that series, it’s my opinion that, taken by themselves, her three books were the best-written of the nine.

But, as was the case with Stover, my enjoyment of her Star Wars work eventually led me to her original fiction—specifically her six-book sci-fi Wess’har Wars series (pictured above.) It’s phenomenal, powerful, character-driven stuff, with fascinating aliens, moral dilemmas, and a strong sense of actions having firm consequences. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite sci-fi series, but the problem is that it’s her only published original fiction, and I want more! Lately, Traviss has been working in the Halo and Gears of War franchises, which, though I plan on checking them out at some point, aren’t a real priority for me. But more of her original fiction? I’d snap that stuff up in a heartbeat.

So now she’s announced on her blog that within a month she’ll begin work on a new original series of “character driven military-political action”. I’m willing to bet it will be another science fiction series, though part of me would love to see her take on the “military fantasy” genre. Either way, I’m pretty excited!


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Wed, 23 Mar 2011 19:30

Kaylee is a Butterfly

[2011-03-21]


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Tue, 22 Mar 2011 15:30

Steven Erikson’s The Crippled God is one of those books that, once you finish reading, you just sit back with your mouth agape and think to yourself, How am I ever supposed to review that?

It is the tenth and final volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, capstone to a series whose individual entries possess a scope and ambition that defies easy description. This is all a remarkable achievement in and of itself, never mind the accomplishment of releasing a completed ten-book series of epic fantasy doorstoppers inside twelve years.

As for the concluding volume itself, woe betide anyone attempting to provide a relatively spoiler-free summary of any “volume ten”, much less a Malazan book. However, unlike earlier entries in the series, this book is basically a direct continuation of the previous volume, Dust of Dreams: The Bonehunters are marching across the continent of Lether, headed to Kolanse, along with the armies of the Letherii, the Perish Grey Helms, and the Bolkando. The Shake prepare to make their stand on the First Shore against the invading Tiste Liosan hordes. And a cabal of Elder Gods move to play their hand.

Put that way, it almost sounds simple. And yet Erikson still manages to defy all expectations. Where DoD ended in a slam-bang confrontation that resulted in a massive “who’s dead/who survived?” cliffhanger, TCG takes its time getting back into the proverbial swing of things. The first chapter is an eye-opener—raising the stakes by introducing a couple of new threats, while also finally thrusting some old favorites back into the mix—but then the pace slows down again as the march to Kolanse recommences. Though that plot doesn’t move much for the first half of the book, Erikson thankfully writes in a lot of intrigue: betrayals and counter-betrayals and hints of further betrayal to come that leave you guessing how exactly it will all shake out at the final convergence. There’s a nice, epic battle mid-book that breaks the perceived tedium of the Lether-based plot, but though it’s satisfying in its own right, it’s also a bit frustrating in that it’s difficult to see how it relates to the main plot of the book, and indeed the series. When the final final battle does come, though, it’s quite the spectacle; Erikson pulls out all the stops, throwing one thing after another at the reader. And when it’s finally run its course, all you can do is sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s done. It is perhaps telling that there are two epilogues here, and I don’t think that a third would have been too much to ask.

Everyone knows that a series finale is supposed to tie up everything that came before, or at least to mostly do so; but Malazan fans have always been aware that Erikson had no intention of following the old formulae. So it comes as no surprise that numerous plot-threads and mysteries go unresolved here. And yet for all of that, it’s still impressive how much he is able to resolve in this book. The number of direct references to the first two books alone are ridiculous; one almost gets the mental image of Erikson rereading the series, making notes of everything he needs to address in the final volume. The number of previously-loose threads that actually do get tied up is impressive, especially in light of just how many years some of them had been left dangling. And there are a couple of key concepts that get completely turned on their heads, inviting a reread of the entire series with this newfound insight. Finally, the way the last epilogue mirrors the very first pages of Gardens of the Moon works beautifully, bringing the entire sequence full-circle in a fitting conclusion.

All of this is not to say that it’s a perfect book. Besides the issue I had with the occasionally glacial pace, Erikson does some serious teasing. It’s one thing to leave a mystery from a previous book unresolved; it’s another thing entirely to take such a mystery and then build on it, adding new layers of mystery and fascination—and then just ignore it or brush it aside. There are a couple of mysterious characters that get this treatment; Erikson teases like he’s going to do the big reveal here, and then fails to deliver. Another complaint I have is similar to the issue I took with Esslemont’s writing in Stonewielder, which is to say that though events get resolved, much of the resolution goes unexplained. To be fair to Erikson, though, I’ve seen some good discussion online about the end of The Crippled God, and it looks like many of those answers might be hiding in plain sight, squirreled away within the text and just waiting for a reread to bring them to light. It is perhaps unfair, but I’m willing to give Erikson the benefit of the doubt here, even as I withhold it from Esslemont. Finally, dare I say that I found the ending to be not tragic enough? Like I said, Erikson continues to defy all expectations, including those that he himself has fostered throughout nine books.

When all is said and done, The Crippled God is a memorable and fitting finale to one of the most ambitious fantasy epics ever written. I’ve heard from fans who have finished it, unable to bring themselves to read anything else for a time afterward. I had a similar reaction, though in my case it just meant finishing my reread of Deadhouse Gates before moving on to something outside the Malazan universe. So for current Malazan fans, it’s an absolute must-read. If you’re not a fan yet, might I humbly recommend starting at the beginning with Gardens of the Moon to see what you’re missing. [4 out of 5 stars] for The Crippled God, but [5 out of 5 stars] for The Malazan Book of the Fallen as a whole.


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Sun, 20 Mar 2011 16:09

Okay, first things first: I realize I’m four reviews behind right now, but have no fear, I do plan on getting those out by the end of the month.

With that out of the way, I just wanted to take a moment to mention World Book Night 2011, which apparently took place a week or so ago. I heard snippets about it over Twitter and the blogosphere, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.

Then out of the blue this past Saturday, I find a book in my mailbox! Not a particularly bizarre occurrence, but I wasn’t expecting one at the time, and certainly not from overseas! Turns out it was from my friend Amanda Rutter, C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution, one of 40,000 copies given away for WNB2011.

So thanks, Amanda! Here’s a shot of me with my new book, as requested. And seeing as how I’ve just finished The Wise Man’s Fear, I think I’ll be starting in on this one tonight!


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Mon, 07 Mar 2011 16:33

I finished this one over the weekend. Whew! Five years invested, and now the main sequence at least is all tied up. I’ll write a full review at some point, but first I’ll have to wrap my head around it some more. In the meantime, here’s my mini-review:

“Loved it, with reservations. Lots of resolutions, few explanations.”


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Sun, 06 Mar 2011 17:36

Alex's new dresser


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Sun, 06 Mar 2011 17:36

Alex's new dresser


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Sun, 06 Mar 2011 17:36

Elizabeth and her bed


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