July 17, 2014

Traitor's Blade, by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor's Blade, by Sebastien de Castell, contains some of the virtues of Musketeer fiction. High paced action and adventure rule the first portion of the story of a disgraced set of swordsman of justice for a King who has been killed, replaced by a set of squabbling Dukes who would rather rule their petty little fiefdoms with an iron fist rather than offer justice. Falcio and his companions have become outlaws, swords for hire, dreaming of better days. The first act also shows us how Falcio got on his path in the first place.

The book misses, however, a good bet with a very questionable structure choice. Midway through the book, the action focuses on Falcio, alone, and someone he has sworn to protect. The novel completely abandons the fresh banter and interplay that is one of the best things about Musketeer fiction, and replaces it with a base-under-siege sort of storyline. I felt cheated by this. When I read Musketeer fiction, I want fast paced action and adventure. As said above, Traitor's Blade has those in spades. I also though want that Musketeer dynamic, and Traitor's Blade takes that away from me, the reader and replaces it with something lesser. Similarly, the movie The Musketeer, often having D'Artagnan go solo, completely gets this wrong as well.

However, 'fridging' a female character to provide motivation to the protagonist to go on his life path is more than just lazy writing, its a perpetuation of a very tired and sexist trope. There were any number of ways to get Falcio to meet the king and resurrect the Greatcoats. To do it this way helped set the book on the wrong foot for me early on, and the book never recovered. There is also a brief encounter between Falcio and another female character in that second act that was frankly offensive to me.

The denouement of the book is a muddled mess as well. The already murky motivations of the antagonists compounds with a lot of coincidence and hand waving. Worse, while the first part of the book reveled in swordplay, and the second, while questionable structurally, at least provided some action beats, the third act has the wheels go off entirely. A crucial fight scene in the end of the book is not described at all. The big battle at the end is a wet firecracker. The book feels like an imperfect but entertaining first act, and then loses its way as soon as Falcio goes off on his own.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:10 AM

April 17, 2014

Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History<

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008GRRRL4/

If you have any interest or curiosity about Herodotus, the "Father of History", Debra Hamel has helpfully focused on the "Good parts" (and yes, she does reference the Princess Bride in that). Hamel provides context, analysis and thought to the parts of Herodotus' History that she chooses to share with the reader. From crazy Kings to strange Oracles, this is one of the best ways for readers new to Herodotus, and those unwilling to read the whole bloody thing again (raises hand) to get a feel for what he was up to, and what riches there are to be found.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:18 PM

February 27, 2014

The fraught social activity of buying a book

So, there's an author.
I like his work, he writes in a subgenre of F/SF that not many people tackle, and he tackles it rather well, I think. Good stuff, a tad underappreciated, good stuff.
However his political and personal beliefs are diametrically different than mine. This has usually balanced out to reading his books, except...

His newest forthcoming book is coming from a new micro-press run by one of the most odious, bigoted, horrid people in the F/SF community. Buying the book, when it comes out does support the author, warts and all, but it also supports this micro press, its founder and the founder's goals.


The question is--do I buy the new book?

I don't think there is an easy answer to this.

Buying a book can be a social act, and can be similarly fraught Not news, I know, but there it is.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:22 AM

December 31, 2013

William Lind's 1995 article "Militant Musings: From Nightmare 1995 to My Utopian 2050"

I put the following here since its important to read. Not because I believe, endorse or want this future. Quite the reverse. This is the sort of world the Vox Days and Sarah Hoyts of the world want.

I do not want this world. But I give you a glimpse of it from someone who does.

William S. Lind
Sunday, April 30, 1995

"Militant Musings: From Nightmare 1995 to My Utopian 2050"

Editors' Note: The investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing has focused attention on the political thinking of militant groups scattered around the country, some of whom advocate armed resistance to the federal government and all it represents.

In the writings of some leaders of this movement, America is a country already in the grip of a civil war. Polemicists for the militia movement, while varying widely in their favorite causes, have a common denominator: They portray an illegitimate federal government dominated by special interest groups in mortal struggle with patriots representing traditional American values.

These apocalyptic visions are not restricted to isolated pockets of rural America but are also found in Washington. William Lind, a military writer and former adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, is now a center director at the conservative Free Congress Foundation.

Lind wrote the following futuristic fantasy - intended as a look back from the 21st century - long before the Oklahoma City bombing. He did so, he said recently, "to show how high a price we may pay for a government that has become a 'new class' - contemptuous of the common culture, unwilling or unable to make things work and concerned primarily with maintaining its own privileged status."


The triumph of the Recovery was marked most clearly by the burning of the Episcopal bishop of Maine.

She was not a particularly bad bishop. She was, in fact, quite typical of Episcopal bishops of the first quarter of the 21st century: agnostic, compulsively political and radical and given to placing a small idol of Isis on the alter when she said the Communion service. By 2037, when she was tried for heresy, convicted and burned, she had outlived her era. By that time only a handful of Episcopalians still recognized female clergy, and it would have been easy enough to let the old fool rant our her final years in obscurity. But we are a people who do our duty.

I well remember the crowd that gathered for the execution, solemn but not sad, relieved that at last, after so many years of humiliation, the majority had taken back the culture. Civilization had recovered its nerve. The flames that soared about the lawn before the Maine statehouse that August afternoon were, as the bishopess herself might have said, liberating.

In this Year of Our Lord 2050 we Victorians have the blessed good fortune to live once again in an age of accomplishment and decency. Most of the nations that cover the territory of the former United States are starting to get things working again. The cultural revival we began is spreading outward from our rocky New England soil, displacing savagery with civilization a second time.

I am writing this down so you never forget, not you, nor your children nor their children. You did not go through the war, though you have suffered its consequences. Your children will have grown up in a well-ordered and prosperous country, and that can be dangerously comforting. Here, they will at least read what happens when a people forget who they are.


Was the dissolution of the United States inevitable? Probably. Right up to the end the coins carried the motto E Pluribus Unum, just as the last dreadnought of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian navy was the Viribus Unitis. But the reality for both empires was Ex Uno, Plura.

You see, some time around the middle of the 18th century we men of the West struck Faust's bargain with the Devil. W could do anything, say anything, think anything with one exception: Verweile doch, du bist so schoen (Stay, you are so beautiful). We could not rest; we could not get it right and then keep it that way. Always we must have novelty - that was the bargain.

It's funny how clearly the American century is marked: 1865 to 1965. The first Civil War made us one nation. After 1965 and another war, we disunited - deconstructed - with equal sped into blacks, whites, Hispanics, womyn, gays, victims, oppressors, left-handed albinos, you name it. In three decades we covered the distance that had taken Rome three centuries. As recently as the early 1960s - God, it's hard to believe - America was still the greatest nation on earth, the most powerful, the most productive, the freest, a place of safe homes, dutiful children in good schools, strong families and a hot lunch for orphans. By the 1990s the place had the stench of a Third World country. The cities were ravaged by punks, beggars and bums. Laws applied only to the law-abiding. Schools had become daytime holding pens for illiterate young savages. Television brought the decadence of Weimar Berlin into every home.

Didn't anyone realize that when the culture goes it takes everything else with it? Of course, some people knew. But going back to a culture that worked, to traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian culture, meant breaking the Faustian bargain.

By the 1990s, too late of course, people were willing to do even that. Rummaging among old papers - Maine winters give you time for rummaging - I ran across a January 1992 poll by Lawrence Research: 59 percent said the nation's leaders should be taking the country back toward the way it had been; 61 percent thought life in the 1950s was better than it was in the 1990s; 47 percent said their grandparents' lives were happier than their own - and the margin was 15 percent higher among blacks, whose grandparents had lived under segregation.

But those people had no voice. The folks who could b heard - politicians, television stars, porn queens - all jigged along in the Faustian dance as the Devil himself tooted out the tune. They looked neither forward nor back.


Then the hammer blows fell. First, the currency collapsed. Inflation had been jerking upward for years because the only way the government could manage its massive debt was to pay it off in inflated dollars. People had adjusted as they did in other Third World countries, opening foreign currency accounts, bartering, burying gold in the back yard. The, in the spring of 2001, a new administration really opened the valve. By that summer, inflation was running 40 percent per month; by fall, 400 percent. Financial Weimar had followed cultural Weimar. The middle class was wiped out.

By the year 2005, it was obvious that AIDS was spreading fast. Everyone had friends, relatives, neighbors who suddenly were stricken. But the government will still pumped out the same old line. Terrified of the gay lobby, officials conspired to reassure the public that there was no cause for alarm, that "homophobia" was the real problem.

In fact, the government suppressed evidence to the contrary, fearing to cause panic. They were right. When the Los Angeles Times broke the story that it was spreading by unknown means, the cities emptied. Most people came back, because they had to go to work or starve, though they left the children in the country if they could. People demanded the quarantine of anyone diagnosed as HIV positive. Instead, the government classified the infected as "disabled," which made any preventive measures illegal discrimination.

In the spring of 2009 the blacks of Newark rose and took over the city. They rebelled not against whites but against their real oppressors: the drug dealers and drug users, gunmen and hit men, car thieves and squatters and the rest of the scum who made life hell for the majority who wanted to work and walk home safely and not to see their kids shot in front of their houses. They knew who the guilty parties were, and they went and got them with ropes and kitchen knives. For the first time in decades, Newark saw peace.

Average people cheered, but the federal government, drooling such pieties as "due process" and "law and order" (in a place where the law had long since ceased protecting anyone but criminals), sent in the National Guard. The people of Newark met the troops and begged for their help, and the soldiers either went over or went home. Air Guard painted pine tree insignia on its aircraft and threatened to bomb any federal forces approaching Newark. On May 3, Gov. Ephraim Logan of Vermont told the legislature that the federal government no longer represented the people of his state and asked for a vote of secession. Vermont became a republic the next day.

The first Civil War was, on the whole, a gentlemanly affair; the second one wasn't. Here in northern New England we were lucky. Because we didn't have many ethnic divisions or cults or Deep Greeners, we didn't have militias shelling the cities and ravaging the suburbs. Elsewhere, it was what Lebanon and Yugoslavia and the former Russian empire saw in the late 20th century. The Reconquista drove the Anglos out of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California; the Anglos drove the Hispanics our of what was left of the American West. Blacks and Hispanics in L.A. turned on each other, but there were a lot more Hispanics. Korean marines landed in Long Beach to get their people out.

The Deep Greeners took over Oregon, and North Americans got their first taste of totalitarianism. If you weren't one of them, you didn't get a Breathing License and they tied a plastic gad over your head. That lasted three years until the rest of the state recaptured Portland with Japanese help (they needed the timber). Both Portland and Washington are doing okay now; recently they got the right of send non-voting delegates to the Diet in Tokyo.

After the usual series of coups, northern California ended up as the Azanian Republic. It made Oregon seem rational by comparison. The Azanian government in Berkeley was, in its final incarnation, run by a coalition of radical feminists, Maoist guerrillas and militant vegetarians. The only capital crime was eating meat. The end came after Azania was overrun by animals, who, by law, could be neither killed nor neutered.

Elsewhere, it took about 10 years for the hate caused by decades of illegitimate government to work itself out. Not much was left of the cities or the people who had lived there, but most folks in the countryside at least had been able to eat. By 2017, the South had a second Confederacy going. Southern culture had stayed pretty strong, outside the cities anyway. Florida was a mess, or course, but otherwise Dixie didn't see much fighting.

But it is our New England history that concerns me. We were the luckiest. Maine and New Hampshire quickly followed Vermont into secession, and upstate New York came in too - after ceding New York City to Puerto Rico. We knew we were all in this together, so we formed the northern Confederation in 2010. Massachusetts was not invited, but in 2011 New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland joined (Canada didn't survive into the 21st century). We had some tough economic times, but nobody starved and we had only one rumpus on our own soil - an attempted putsch by a small band of Deep Greeners in Vermont that was put down by a small band of state cops with a couple of fire hoses.

But it was what happened on the cultural front that really made the difference for us. The Retroculture Movement had been growing quietly since the mid-1990s. It wasn't political, just individuals and families deciding to live again in the old ways. By the early 2000s there were Retroculture books, magazines, clubs, even special communities for people who wanted to discover how Americans used to live and how to bring back the old was. Some people liked one period, some another, but gradually more and more found themselves looking to the Victorian era as the model. The Victorians in England and America had been an astoundingly productive bunch, building, inventing, creating, conquering - all the things we needed to do again if we were to be civilized people.

The family was the first Victorian institution to make a comeback. With everything else falling apart, people saw pretty quickly how important a family is. That would have happened without Retroculture, but the Retro Movement helped us see how to make families work. We dug out the many books (most written by women) the Victorians had published on how to make a good home, raise children and live together happily (the secret was sacrificing the late 20th century's god, the self). The good ladies of the League of militant Homemakers made sure women put duty to husbands and children first; those who refused so they could pursue a "career" were given a bring embroidered "C" to wear over their left breast.

The schools came next. We tossed out the vast accretion of "professional" educators and found ordinary men and women who knew their subjects and were dedicated to passing on the culture to a new generation. The kids learned to read with Mr. McGuffy's readers. They learned to figure on a chalkboard instead of a computer that did the work for them. They learned the difference between right and wrong and got their bottoms fanned until they did.

We deconstructed most of the universities. After all, they had started this "multiculturalism" hysteria that ended up with millions of people dead in the wars that followed. The ideologues gone, real scholars emerged from hiding and began offering Greek and Latin and the great books of Western civilization to anyone who wanted to learn.

Christians took back their churches from the agnostic clergy, and the pews filled up again. The church, not the government, became the problem-solver when people were hungry or sick or old and without family. The government was broke anyway and was busy defending the borders with not much tax base left.

As the Victorian spirit spread, standards were revived. Communities decided that some things were acceptable and some weren't. Crime wasn't; with justice locally controlled and the lawyers digging potatoes, somebody who mugged on Tuesday hanged on Wednesday.

Entertainment was expected to be decent. In a world that had grown ugly enough, there was small desire for ugliness in art and music as well. The Victorian entertainments were revived, and young people in particular went in heavily for choral singing. The last rock concert was held in 2013 in the Cleveland arena. It featured all the big rock bands lift in North America and most of the remaining rock fans too. The Greater Cleveland Garden Club sealed the doors and pumped in a herbal compound, derived largely from Queen Anne's lace and Viola odorata, that rectified brain damage in the cranial region connecting hearing to taste. The fans were soon holding their ears and whistling "Dixie," and the ancient Rolling Stones ended up improvising Albinoni on their electrical guitars.

By the mid-2020s, people had started to speak of the Recovery. Things were starting to work again, at least for us up north. And it was obvious why: The Victorian spirit and Victorian practices, were making them work. The slogan became, "What worked then will work now" and, of course, it did. That broke the Faustian bargain. We had found where we wanted to settle down and stay - right there in the age of Queen Victoria - and we did.

In gratitude to our Victorian exemplars, the Northern Confederation became, in the year 2035 A.D., the nation of Victoria. It was done by citizen petition and referendum, the way all important questions are decided. In fact, there isn't much other government - nor is it needed, now that we again have a virtuous citizenry. The legislature meets for a couple of months every two years, with citizen legislators who are paid one hundred gold dollars per annum and can't be reelected. To prevent a government bureaucracy from growing, the federal capital moves every six months from one province to another; at last count it had 76 employees. The president of Victoria is chose by lot from among the handful of registered voters who offer to serve.

And so it was that in 2037 we burned the bishopess. We knew this act would close the seal of the old book, the book that had seen us go from decay to dissolution to Recovery. The auto-da-fe was symbolic; the Recovery was in fact already on solid ground or we wouldn't have ad the moral fiber to torch the old girl.

We are hopeful as we look to the future, and not only here in Victoria. Victorian parties are growing fast in other nations in North America, in the Confederacy and in Trans-Mississippi. Only in Nueva Espana, where California's old Hispanic Party is locked in bitter warfare with the Indian revivalist Aztec Alliance (their slogan: "You'll leave your heart in Mexico City") does it look hopeless. Elsewhere, there is even talk of some kind of a new union, much looser, of course, built on shared values and culture, not a shared public trough.

But there will never be another Washington. We have learned, after all, some lessons from history.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:41 AM

December 28, 2013

Review: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

The Great Emperor of Annur has been assassinated. His three children, including his heir, Kaden are scattered across the continent. Caught out of position, even the news of the death of the Emperor takes time to reach Kaden and Valyn, as isolated as they are. Adare, the Emperor's daughter and a minister in her own right, is left shakily at the center of things.

Who really killed the Emperor? And for what purpose? And can the martial skills being learned by Valyn, the ministerial skills of Adare and the meditative training of the heir, Kaden, be put to use to solve the mystery? Or just even to survive?

The Emperor's Blades is a debut Epic Fantasy from Brian Staveley.

The book has many of the virtues of what I call neo-Epic Fantasy--a large scale setting, but relatively few point of view characters. Instead of the more than dozen viewpoint characters one might find in Martin, or Erikson, the book restricts itself almost exclusively to the principals. We don't get a look into the minds of the antagonists, as determining who and what they are is part of the fabric of the book. This gives us deep understanding of the brothers Valyn and Kaden, as they are even unaware at first that there has been an assassination, and (especially Valyn) can do little about it anyway once they do find out.

The major weakness, or the missed opportunity, even, though, is with Adare. Staveley clearly knows what he wants to do with Valyn and Kaden. The book spends a large pagecount on their day to day life and training. A constellation of secondary characters grow up around each of them, especially Valyn. The Kettral society and the society of monks devoted to the Blank God are rich places, settings and character webs.

By contrast, Adare gets extremely little to work with, especially in terms of pagecount. While her plotline is important (as she is directly working on the assassination problem), it gets short shrift by comparison. Although likely unintended, the text feels like it tackles her story with extreme reluctance. Also, while the secondary female characters around Valyn come off well, the writing of Adare feels very much like the author is unsure of himself and what he wants to do with her. Also, the cultural bias against female leadership seems ill at ease with the facts on the ground as far as women in the Kettral. The text seems more content to spend pages and pages on Kaden being buried alive as part of his training than to have Adare come across as anything other than a plot device.

The writing is entertaining, the action pieces well done, and Valyn and Kaden, and those around them, come across very well. There are some neat worldbuilding ideas here, and clear set ups for future volumes. The mishandling, in my eyes, of Adare keeps what might have been an excellent debut epic fantasy into only a pretty good one.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:13 PM

December 26, 2013

Favorite Reads in 2013

My favorite books that I read in the calendar year 2013.

2013 was a relatively productive year. Although I don't reach the reading speed of, say, Sarah Chorn, I managed to read 70 books, plus a small slate of audiobooks, and some novellas. I still do miss riding the bus to work and really having a decent book count.

Once again, statistics don't lie (Thank you, Jamie Todd Rubin), and despite my self-perception to the contrary, I appear to read Fantasy at a 2:1 ratio over Science Fiction these days. I would have thought it was much closer to parity.

Anyway, Here Goes.

NB: I disqualified books that won in one category from winning in another.

Favorite Book You (Probably) Haven't Read Yet.

Bear, Elizabeth: Steles of the Sky

You are (with some notable exceptions) are exceedingly unlikely to have read this already, since I got a look at it even before ARCs officially went out. Bear sticks the landing on her Eternal Sky Trilogy. I am more than satisfied with the resolution. I'd bet money you are going to agree with me.

Favorite Trilogy I read in one Year:

Newman, Emma: The Split Worlds Series (Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, All is Fair)

I was absolutely charmed by both author and the novels. A Changeling the Dreaming RPG player who creates a intricate web of Fae, Fae touched, sorcerers, Elemental Courts all behind the scenes of our modern world? Yes, please. The writing holds up to the promise of the premise, and although there is clearly more to the stories of the characters, a complete story is told in three volumes.

Favorite Space Opera

Corey, James S.A. Abaddon's Gate

James S.A. Corey, in the personages of Daniel Abraham (who I read a f*ckton of) and Ty Franck, write what looks like retro-future SF with modern sensibilities. That is in full flower in this third novel, with strong female characters front and center, a big dumb object, a chase across spaceships and much, much more. The news that there is going to be several more novels in this universe makes me squee.


Favorite SF [Novel] Debut:

Leckie, Ann: Ancillary Justice

Ann Leckie has written a number of stories, good stories, but with her first novel, Ancillary Justice, Leckie has upped and amped up her game. Space Opera with a touch of Delany and Banks, rich detailed writing that puts you there, and does interesting sociological things. While I've been agonizing on what else to include, Ancillary Justice is certain to go on my Hugo ballot.

Favorite Fantasy Novel Debut:

McClellan, Brian: Promise of Blood

This was tough. 2013 wasn't the year I read fourteen debut novels, but I did read some very good ones. My heart finally went for this flintlock fantasy at my utter disappointment at the news that the sequel's publication is being moved from February to July 2014. None of the other debut fantasy novels' sequels I read being pushed back like that would cause quite the same reaction (although some might come close).

Favorite End of a Trilogy:

(Tie)
Elliott, Kate: Cold Steel
Lawrence, Mark: Emperor of Thorns

In the end I couldn't choose between Kate Elliott's fine Spiritwalker capstone with COLD STEEL and Mark Lawrence's EMPEROR OF THORNS. Kate is an accomplished writer who sticks the landing. Lawrence is a newcomer who has made a splash quickly and rightly so.

Favorite Short Fiction Collection or Anthology:

Andreadis, Athena: The Other Half of the Sky

An anthology of original fiction focusing on women characters? Yes, please. There are some excellent stories, here, even beyond the usual suspects (including Aliette de Bodard, Jack McDevitt, and Joan Slonczewski). It delivers on its theme and the stories are entertaining. Can't ask for more!


Favorite Audiobook:

I have to decline to answer this category, since I have given the exclusive rights to this answer, fittingly in an audio clip, to SFF Audio. Stay tuned!

Favorite Non Fiction:

Wickham, Chris: The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000

I read some non fiction this year as a way to recharge, refresh and educate myself. This thick work on the post-Roman Empire period in Western Europe taught me a lot and I recommend it to everyone remotely interested in the subject.


And that was my 2013. On to 2014!

Posted by Jvstin at 7:32 PM

July 22, 2013

SFF Audio Podcast--1984

I'm on the SFF Audio Podcast for the second time, talking about George Orwell's 1984.

http://www.sffaudio.com/?p=48610

Posted by Jvstin at 7:11 AM

June 18, 2013

Five books for non-genre readers

Damien G. Walter asked:

Now that Fantasy / SF is taking over the mainstream, which books do you recommend to people who have not read it before?

I decided on a quick list of five novels, off the top of my head and a very quick reaction. I am assuming someone who does read novels, just not genre. I tried to be as contemporary as possible, too.

Corey, James S.A:. Leviathan Wakes. Big scale, wide screen solar system space opera. Its amazingly accessible and not so buried in jargon and the history and baggage of the genre that it would make a fine entry point for someone who wants to read space.

Bujold, Lois M.: The Warrior's Apprentice. This is the first novel with Miles Vorkosigan as a main character, and tells the story of how he gets washed out of the Imperial Academy, and his acquisition of a mercenary force. Bujold has improved and grown since then, but I think starting with the start of Miles story gives new readers to SF a reasonable starting point.

Kemp, Paul S. The Hammer and the Blade I think sword and sorcery has an advantage over epic fantasy in many ways for new fantasy readers--smaller cast, smaller scale, more characterization. Egil and Nix do derive and are informed by the history of the genre (c.f. Fritz Leiber) but starting here is no bad thing.

Butcher, Jim. Storm Front. This list HAD to have urban fantasy somewhere on it, and so I decided to go with a favorite. The only wizard in the Chicago phone book is a concept that lets readers get used to the idea of magic in the modern world. (Emma Bull's War for the Oaks might also work here)
Gilman, Laura Anne Flesh and Fire. I needed an epic fantasy on this list, but a lot of epic fantasy is really not for first time fantasy readers. Even Martin is best read once you start understanding the conventions of the genre, although if you wanted to put a Game of Thrones here,I won't argue hard. But Flesh and Fire is a story that slowly introduces the main character, and us, to a rich and vibrant fantasy world where magic is based on wine.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:28 AM

April 14, 2013

Nostalgic Books

Sarah Chorn, in a Facebook post, asked:

What are some of your most "nostalgic" books?

What I mean is, there are some books I've read that I'll love forever and ever because they just did something profound to me...

I gave this some thought, and came up with a few answers:

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
Foundation, Isaac Asimov
The Warrior's Apprentice, Lois M Bujold
War for the Oaks, Emma Bull
Jhereg, Steven Brust
Cosmos, Carl Sagan


That's a short list that will do for now.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:19 AM

March 31, 2013

2013 Hugo and Campbell Award Nominations

The Hugo Award nominations are out!

Once again both SF Signal and the SF Signal Podcast have made the finalists list for the second year running. (SF Signal won last year; the podcast did not)

I want to thank John DeNardo, J.P. Frantz and Patrick Hester for letting me be part of the team, with columns, mind melds, reviews and being on the podcast.

Go Team SF Signal!

Posted by Jvstin at 10:10 AM

March 5, 2013

Two Book Reviews, One Interview

I've been a busy Paul!

I have an interview with R.T. Kaelin over on SF Signal:

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/03/an-interview-with-r-t-kaelin-editor-of-triumph-over-tragedy/

Also, on SF Signal, I review "On a Red Station Drifting", by Aliette de Bodard. You will never see Fish sauce the same way again.

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/03/book-review-on-a-red-station-drifting-by-aliette-de-bodard/

On the Functional Nerds, I review another novella, "The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson:

http://functionalnerds.com/2013/03/book-review-the-emperors-soul-by-brandon-sanderson/

Posted by Jvstin at 9:42 AM

March 2, 2013

Interview with Zachary Jernigan

Over on Skiffy and Fanty, I have a written interview with Zachary Jernigan, author of the soon-to-be-published No Return.

Check it out:

http://skiffyandfanty.com/2013/03/01/interview-with-zachary-jernigan-conducted-by-paul-weimer/

Posted by Jvstin at 8:34 AM

December 27, 2012

My Five Top Reads of 2012

My Five Top Reads of 2012

2012 was a fruitful year for me reading in genre. While I didn't have the sheer volume of first novelists and new voices that I had in 2011 (when they took up half of my reading volume), I did get to see some of those 1st novelists turn into 2nd novel novelists, of varying strengths. In addition, some old friends and favorites helped make this a memorable and winning year for books. I particularly appreciated my own efforts to read as much of the Hugo nominees, in novel and novella, as practical.

My favorite books that I read this year are as follows:


Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed. (My SF Signal review: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/02/review-throne-of-the-crescent-moon-by-saladin-ahmed/) A wondrous city of adventure in a secondary fantasy world more in common with the Middle East than Western Europe, and one of the most unusual protagonists I've seen in Doctor Adoulla Makhslood

vN, Madeline Ashby (Functional Nerds review: http://functionalnerds.com/2012/09/book-review-vn-by-madeline-ashby-2/) A debut novel from Ashby, that has overtones and intimations of the movie A.I., and some cutting edge speculation on what artificial intelligent lifeforms would really be like.

The Desert of Souls, Howard Andrew Jones (SF Signal review http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/01/review-the-desert-of-souls-by-howard-andrew-jones/): Arabian Days and Arabian Nights, a marriage of historical fiction and fantasy that brings the 8th Century Middle East to gorgeous life, and the beginning of the relationship of two characters that I want *lots* of novels to read about.

Edge of Infinity, anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan (SF Signal review: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/10/book-review-edge-of-infinity-edited-by-jonathan-strahan/ ) . Far and away the best stories I read published this year were between the covers of Strahan's anthology of Solar System Science Fiction. He also lays down a marker for what he thinks the next generation of SF is going to be about. Essential reading for anyone interested in the SF field.

Range of Ghosts, Elizabeth Bear. (SF Signal review: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/03/book-review-range-of-ghosts-by-elizabeth-bear/) My favorite book of the year, and my favorite novel that Bear has done. This is the author hitting on all cylinders, creating and depicting a universe and characters I want more of, yesterday. This is the book that helped me coin my neologism "Silk Road Fantasy"

I am not going to bother naming runners up, for I would make this list easily twice as long over again. Suffice it to say a lot of books clamor for sixth place in my lights.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:25 PM

October 27, 2012

Book Review: The Firefly Witch by Alex Bledsoe

Years before he became a novelist, Alex Bledsoe wrote a series of short stories that, according to him, we would call Urban Fantasy, but predate the modern swath of novels in the genre. Now, Bledsoe has decided to polish and republish these stories in ebook format. This first volume in the series collects the first three stories together.

These are the tales of The Firefly Witch.

Tanna Woicistikoviski lives in a small town in Tennessee, a graduate student of psychology and parapsychology. She is also blind. However, when fireflies are present, or particularly strong psychic events, Tanna can see. She is also a witch of not inconsiderate talent and has a mission and drive to help people.

Our point of view and entry into the world of the Firefly is Ry Tully. With few exceptions, the point of view in the three stories is a first person narrative from Ry's point of view. Ry is not Wiccan, has no magical talent, and works for the local small-town paper. Thus, he provides a outsider's view into Tanna's world. And as his relationship develops and deepens with Tanna, we get to see how he reacts to Tanna's world.

The Chill in the Air Wakes the Ghosts off the Ground introduces us to Ry, and to Tanna, and how they first met.

In Lost and Found we do break the point of view of Ry, as Tanna and Ry encounter and deal with the first ghost ever to exist.

The Darren Stevens Club tells us the story of Tanna and Ry's handfasting, and the challenges of a Wiccan marriage in a small town in Tennessee, on both sides.

There is a bit of a bright cheerful naivete to the stories, something that the author alludes to in the introduction to the story collection. Its certainly not the same style as, say, The Sword-Edged Blonde or The Hum and the Shiver. It's my thought that Alex is wrong. These are not solid Urban Fantasy, but rather are much closer to the amorphous boundary between that genre and the genre of Paranormal Romance. The relations firmly follow the conventions of that genre, with HEA sort of endings. There are challenges and upsets in relationship between Tanna and Ry, but such challenges, as well as the situations they get themselves into, are always overcome.

Are they worth your time, money and energy? I read these three stories quickly, over lunch at a local Thai place, having none of my usual reading material available. I was charmed (and, frankly, surprised) by this side of Bledsoe's work. And yes, Alex, 15 years on, the writing in the three stories still holds up compared to your more recent work. I can see your growth as a writer, but many aspiring writers could only wish to write as well as you did, back then.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:34 PM

October 2, 2012

Book Review: Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

Engraved on the Eye is a collection of short fiction by Saladin Ahmed, who is probably best known to readers for his debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon. In Engraved, we get a number of pieces from him in a variety of universes.

In Where Virtue Lives ,we witness the first meeting between two of the main protagonists of Throne of the Crescent Moon, Rasheed and Doctor Adoulla, as the former's arrival in Dhamasawaat coincides with a ghul problem the Doctor is dealing with.

In Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela, we trade his fantasy universe for a story that seems to be set in the Classic age of the Baghdad Caliphate. Abdel is a physician who has been reassigned to a remote small town, and is requested to perform a rather unexpected bit of doctoring for the local hermit.

Judgement of Swords and Souls is the second and final story of the collection set in the universe of Dhawasawaat, as we get a look into the Lodge of God, and how a young woman, Layla bas Layla, struggles with the politics of the Order with her own promises and beliefs. The story doesn't make it clear if it takes place before or after the events in Throne of the Crescent Moon

In Doctor Diablo goes through the Motions, a supervillain discovers that even he has to deal with the mundane and quotidian problems of being a person of color.

General Akmed's Revenge? is the story of a small time actor, Muhammad Mattawa, whose typecasting as an Arabic villain leads to a funny Lady and the Tiger ending.

Mister Hadj's Sunset Ride brings a Muslim gunslinger to the Wild West, with more than a touch of the Weird West to the tale.

The Faithful Soldier, Prompted, the only science fiction story of the collection, gives a slice of life into a future world dominated by nanotechnology, implants, and one man's abiding faith.

Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World is the anchor of the collection and my favorite. Ahmed creates a secondary fantasy world and characters,. that, if he wanted to, could certainly alternate with his world of Dhawsawaat. Its a realm that feels more than a bit like a take on Mythic China, as a group of wandering adventurers comes face to face with a problem from their past.

If you've been reluctant to try Throne of the Crescent Moon, or are one of those who prefer their fantasy in a shorter format, Engraved on the Eye is an excellent opportunity to get to know the work of Saladin Ahmed. Fans of Throne of the Crescent Moon will discover more about that world, and proof that he is far from a one-trick pony.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:09 PM

September 18, 2012

The Stress of Her Regard: A Blog Post about Reviewing

Sometimes, being a book reviewer and small genre personality has its benefits.

Like, for example, getting to write a post for Kate Elliott's blog and LJ.

Here's the link. Go read what I have to say about Book reviewing:

http://www.kateelliott.com/wordpress/?p=708

Posted by Jvstin at 11:56 AM

August 4, 2012

Reviewing books negatively--my view.

Hi.

My name is Paul "Princejvstin" Weimer.

I'm a reader and a book reviewer. I've written a boatload of reviews, here but most of them nowadays are at SF Signal, at the Functional Nerds.

Like just about everyone, not every book I read is going to be the next hawt thing, or even an average book. Some of them are going to, in my point of view, not be up to my standards.

What to do?

Some people do not write reviews of books they dislike.

Others like to use humor to disarmingly talk about books that didn't work for them. Justin Landon at Staffer's Reviews has his "secretary Cheryl" as a device to do this:

http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/search/label/cheryl

And then there are those who like to, in the words of Damien Walter (http://damiengwalter.com/2012/08/03/aggressive-reviewing-is-here-to-stay-learn-to-deal-with-it/) be aggressive in their reviewing. This can range from tearing a work apart enthusiastically, to the likes of "Requires Hate", who has a tendency to add a healthy dollop of the peanut butter of ad hominem and personal attacks to the chocolate of her scorn and hatred in her reviews and reactions to books and authors.

I don't fall into any of these camps.

I try to be polite and professional, honest and trustworthy in my reviews. Even the reviews where the book did not work for me, or only worked partially. I try and tell people what worked and what didn't. My opinion is my own, informed by 30 years of genre reading. Your mileage may vary.

I am no paragon of virtue. No indeed.

Can I do better? Yes, clearly.

I can only try to grow forward in my writing, be it reviews or anything else.

But my style is definitely not aggressive, mocking, or pour-gasoline-on-and-light-a-match. It would take a reboot of my character to do any of that.

And that's where I stand.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:03 AM

April 26, 2012

Story Review: A People's Army by T.C. McCarthy


Book (Story) Review: A People's Army by T.C. McCarthy

In a future where the conflicts of Earth have translated out to the stars, Choi has a problem. He's a loyal and competent tank commander in a conflict on a iceball of a world between a large American armor force and a Chinese force reinforced by their under-equipped and under-gunned North Korean allies who are at best, expendable.

The problem is, *he's* the North Korean.

Oh, and his tank has broken down, his unit decimated, and the Americans are coming. Oh, and his politically connected and very dogmatic crew members appear to have been more selected for loyalty to the North Korean state rather than competence.

Choi is not having a good day. And if he is not careful, it's going to be his last.

Such is the matter of A People's Army, a military short story by T.C. McCarthy. Better known for his Germline/Exogene diptych (which I have not yet read), A People's Army runs from the above premise and unspools the conflicts, both the technical and the social ones that Choi faces just to survive in a war he doesn't understand.

The role reversal of the usual characters is a nice touch, and the characters felt authentic and well-realized. Choi makes an appealing protagonist, especially that he is a character that doesn't fit the usual molds one might find in a military SF story. A loyal albeit cynical member of a North Korean military? I'll be darned if I can think of a character I've read lately remotely like him in that regard.

In addition, the action scenes are well done, and the entire premise and scenario reminded me of the Eastern front in World War II, with the North Koreans in the role of one of the hapless minor allies of the Germans, facing opposition stronger than they by far, and being deliberately used as fodder. The sense of impending doom, like a countdown clock, is also well done.

My complaint with the story is that I never quite bought the premise as a serious bit of speculation. I couldn't imagine a sequence of future history that plausibly would result in this scenario taking place. It is the largest, the most glaring but really the only flaw I can find in the story.

At some point, I will need to read Germline, and see what McCarthy can accomplish at novel length.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:53 PM

April 24, 2012

Tor Books To go completely DRM-free

Tor Books To go completely DRM-free

Big news. Huge.

Backlash against The River, of course. Let's see if when the other big publishers start to follow suit. I'm pretty sure they have no choice if they want to survive in this ebook world.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:46 PM

April 10, 2012

I am a Book Reviewer, not your...

I am a book reviewer.

I enjoy sharing my thoughts about books. I love to talk about books, write about books and think about books.

I love the opportunity I have to get to know authors and other professionals in the book world. Be it chatting with Stina Leicht on twitter, or commenting on fellow book blogger's Justin Landon's latest review, or re-sharing something that Harry Connolly has shared on Google Plus to all and sundry, I enjoy and revel in the role that I have carved myself into the community. Am I small fish? Yeah. Most publishers have no clue who I am; I'm far more faceless than most of my peers.

What I am not am, however, is your bitch.

I may not get review copies directly from publishers, but I get plenty of emails from self-published authors. I generally turn these offers down. I have way too many books already to read, and, frankly, I am extremely careful about authors without any background in writing who are pushing out a novel in a self published format. The samples of such novels I have read, with very few exceptions, have not been to my interest or liking.

Getting emails is fine and dandy. The following sequence of events is why I am writing this rant today.

People who get to know me and follow my stuff know that I am a amateur photographer, too. I love to share my photos and in point of fact share them nearly every day.

So, today, I put up a photo for today of Mary Robinette Kowal. Besides being charming to meet (and allowing me to photograph her), today is her Book release day for A Glamour in Glass. So, it makes perfect sense to share a photo of her, right?

So, imagine my surprise when I get a comment on the Google Plus edition of the sharing of the photo from an author I have never talked to. Never engaged with. Au author I don't know from Adam and doesn't know me:

Hey Paul. Here's a link to the trailer for my upcoming novel. Email me if you're interested in reviewing it.
(link to book trailer)

I'm sorry. I'm not your bitch. A comment on the photo is welcome. Using the photo to cold-pitch me a book is not. Especially since I am sure the author knew what he was doing in that others, looking at the photo, would see the comment and find out about the book. A book that has zero to do with Mary Robinette Kowal, photography, or even the Regency.

Yes, I got angry. I deleted the comment. I also contacted the author and said the following:

I'm not pleased with your comment on a post unrelated to topic with a book trailer for your book. I understand your desire for me to read and review your book and to get the word out about your work, I get that, okay?

However, that said, to take a post where I share a picture of Mary Robinette Kowal and comment with the offer, having absolutely nothing to do with the picture, the author or her book is out of bounds. Some might even call it spam. That's why I deleted it. I am pretty open about how to contact me via email. That's the place to make such offers.

Sorry, I will not be reading and reviewing your book.

The author did not appreciate that. His response:

Delete the post then you idiot. You're lodged on G+ as a book reviewer and you don't have the option to send you a message. You're right you won't be reviewing my book!

So the author turned to insulting me instead.

I'm sorry, author. I'm not your bitch.

If you are a publisher, agent, publicist, or the like and are interested in sending me review copies of books, you can contact me at my email address of jvstin@gmail.com. My email address is not a secret, and had the author in this story did the smallest amount of legwork, he would have found it.

If you are an author, the best way to get me interested in reading your book is not to cold-comment me, but rather engage me on a personal level. Get to know me. Let me get to know you. Let me become interested in you and your work. Then we can talk books.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:04 PM

March 30, 2012

Recent Book Reviews

Hello!

I've had two book reviews this week.

At SF Signal, I have my first ever five star review, this of Elizabeth Bear's Range of Ghosts.

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/03/book-review-range-of-ghosts-by-elizabeth-bear/

Over at the Functional Nerds, I take on a more controversial and divisive book, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns:

http://functionalnerds.com/2012/03/knight-to-kings-knights-six-prince-of-thorns-by-mark-lawrence/

Posted by Jvstin at 7:50 AM

March 15, 2012

The Straits of Galahesh review

A new book review from me, this time at the Functional Nerds.

The Straits of Galahesh, by Bradley Beaulieu. Find out why I call it a "Russian Bear" of a novel

http://functionalnerds.com/2012/03/a-russian-bear-of-a-novel-the-straits-of-galahesh-by-bradley-beaulieu/

Posted by Jvstin at 8:09 AM

March 1, 2012

SFWA, IDG, Amazon and me

Update:

Read Kris Rusch instead. Ignore what I have to say. (all three of you reading this).

http://kriswrites.com/2012/02/29/the-business-rusch-you-asked-for-my-opinion/

Have you heard about the dispute between Amazon and the distributor IDG?

Here's a link:

http://www.sfwa.org/2012/02/sfwa-is-redirecting-amazon-com-links/

Read it? Good.

Sarah Hoyt has a very different viewpoint and pulls no punches.Here's a link.

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/03/01/good-author-heres-a-fish/

Read it? Good.

Here's my response. I commented it there, but wanted to share it here.

Disclaimer: I am not a member of the SFWA.

I am going to politely disagree.

The SFWA jumping in on the side of IDG is pure economics. Lots of their authors have books on Amazon via IDG, when Amazon decided to put the screws to IDG, their members suffer. Therefore, as an organization that represents its members, its going to support their revenue streams. Even if that revenue stream is one that you (and many others) recognize as foolish in the long run.

Yes, the authors could negotiate better contracts with publishers and authors in regards to right. Yes, they *should*.

Yes, they could work to sell ebooks themselves and sell them on their own websites. Yes, they *should*. Plenty of fine folks already do, such as the people at Book View Cafe and Baen.

But today, today, the livelihood of authors in the SFWA has been hurt by IDG not agreeing to Amazon's terms and Amazon's draconian response. And so the SFWA sides with them.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:25 PM

Books Read to Date, March 1,2012

11. Shadow's Lure Jon Sprunk
10. Arctic Rising Tobias Buckell
9. Planesrunner Ian McDonald
8. Going to the Moon Lavie Tidhar
7. Tales of the Far West Gareth-Michael Sharka
6. Throne of the Crescent Moon Saladin Ahmed
5. Straits of Galahesh Bradley Beaulieu
4. Desert of Souls Howard Andrew Jones
3. Lady Lazarus Michele Lang
2 Worker Prince Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Strata (novella) Stephen Gaskell and Bradley Beaulieu
1. Kafkaesque John Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

Posted by Jvstin at 12:38 PM

February 28, 2012

New Book Review at SF Signal: Arctic Rising

A new review at SF Signal.

This time I look at Tobias Buckell's new global warm technothriller, Arctic Rising:

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/02/review-arctic-rising-by-tobias-buckell/

Posted by Jvstin at 7:06 PM

January 7, 2012

Who is a review for?

Who is a book review meant for?

Who are MY book reviews meant to engage?

KB/KT Grant has an opinion:

Reviews can be cruel and for the author, heartbreaking. But reviews are not for the author. They are for readers. Authors, the reviews aren't for you!

In my case, and in my opinion of my reviews, no, I disagree.

My reviews are mainly for the readers, to point them at the books, yes, and give them more information. Would they possibly like this book? Should they bother picking it up? Is this book for a reader like them?

My reviews are intended to be an engagement with the author as well. They aren't meant as formal criticism, as deep essays on their work, but it is a communication. "Hey, Laura Anne Gilman. This is what I thought about your book. This is what I liked, what I didn't think worked. What I took away from reading your work. I want an author to read my review of their work..

I understand many of the authors I read and review will never read the review I write and don't want to. But it is there for them to read almost as much as the readers if they want to.


Posted by Jvstin at 9:13 AM

January 3, 2012

Novella Review: Strata, by Bradley Beaulieu and Stephen Gaskell

Strata, by Bradley Beaulieu and Stephen Gaskell


Set a century and a half in the future, on a sprawling mining platform orbiting the Sun, Strata is the story of redemption, second chances, sacrifice, and revolution. Oh, and racing. One must not forget racing. Skimming on the surface of the sun racing, that is.

Smith Poulson used to be a racer. What better sport can distract the company-town impoverished workers on platforms like Exx-Pac than have the corporations who have built the platforms outfit and sponsor daredevils who compete with each other, using flimsy ships on dangerous courses in the outer photosphere of the sun. Exciting, two person races for prestige and possibly even a ticket back home to Earth make racing even more alluring for the deadly dangerous. Poulson used to be a racer, and used to be active in local worker politics, until an accident (or was it sabotage?) ended the one career and scared him off the other. Now he is lower management, a union representative, with a pretty trophy wife and a relatively quiet life. He's a lifer with no prospect or even motivation of leaving the platform for Earth, but his lot could be worse, right?

Now, a young racer named Kami, and the prospects of labor unrest on the platforms, and a plan to upset the apple cart for good threaten to suck him back both into worker politics as well as racing. And in the process, Poulson is faced to confront the truths that he has closed his eyes to for a very long time.

The strengths of Strata are many. Although some of the tropes and plot twists are sometimes telegraphed, the setting is strong and relatively underdeveloped. There are novels and stories that feature solar engineering, but the conceit of mixing solar engineering with a revolution and adding more than a dash of action adventure in the form of the racing is an inspired mix. The novella is at its best and is at its strongest when the action heats up, be it within or especially outside the Exx-pac platform.

The characterization, with one exception, is more than adequate. It's not groundbreaking, but the characters don't feel like cutouts waiting to be fried by the omnipresent sun. The relationship between Kami and Poulson throughout the novel is a strong and evolving one.

Themes of repression, rights, and freedom resonate strongly throughout the story.

The plotting is tight, complete with a Chekov's gun that goes off. The ending fits what has happened before and the authors did not pull the two punches I thought that less confident authors might hold back on.

I do have a few criticisms, though.

I am not sure I buy the socioeconomic premise of the novel. Having platforms beaming power from the sun to an energy starved Earth is fine and dandy. I'm not sure the economics work for them to be simultaneously large enough for the populations they support AND simultaneously have a feudal sort of social system that makes them into old style company towns. This reminded me of the planet Vulcan that the titular character Sten hails from, from the Allen Cole novels.

I'm of two minds regarding the racing. From an action-adventure standpoint, the racing is a brilliant idea, wonderfully described in its execution. Some of the best scenes in the entire novella take place during the racing, and its clear the authors put a lot of time and effort into the concept. However, especially how dangerous in terms of matériel and men racing is, I'm surprised the corporations running the platforms would ever allow such a practice to start in the first place.

Lastly, the story only barely and technically passes the Bechdel test, and the one non-cameo female character we do see is somewhat underdeveloped. While the authors show good focus on the two main characters, the story did feel slightly like a throwback in this regard.

Overall, though, I did quite enjoy the story. I admit that I'm surprised that the authors chose to self publish their work instead of trying hard to get this into Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, or even more appropriately, Analog. It would not be out of place in any of those markets, and would fit comfortably and deservedly amongst them.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:44 PM

December 30, 2011

A Dream Shared World Anthology

It's been far too long since a real effort like Thieves World or Wild Cards has really had a shared world that has taken genre by storm.

I had thoughts recently on my "Dream" anthology. If I had a few million dollars and could arrange the world to my desire, I'd produce THIS.

A Secondary fantasy world, built from the ground up. Shared World.

How would I do it? Grab the best and turn them loose...

John Joseph Adams, Editor

What, you think I could edit this better than he could? I think not! I normally would pick, say, the team of Gardner Dozois and George R R Martin, but I don't need AISOF fans wanting my blood. Jonathan Strahan would also be a good choice, and if this things gets too big, John might want Jonathan's help.

Lou Anders, Publisher.

Because Pyr will do it right.


Kate Elliott, Mistress of Worldbuilding.

Based on her love of worldbuilding, I want Kate as lead designer on building this fantasy world.

Jon Roberts, Cartographer

Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about maps. We need maps of continents, polities and cities from the get go. We put Jon in charge of that. Kate (see above) is a cartographile, I think they will work well together

Karen Lord and Aliette de Bodard, cultures and societies.

One writes fairy tales based on Non-western Myths in beautiful prose. One had the audacity to tackle Aztec culture in a series of novels. Together they fight crime! If I want people who can describe unusual cultures (I think Jack Vance is probably too old for this role), this pair will do the job. Get Catherynne Valente to consult on myths.

Laura Anne Gilman, Food and Drink

If you have read the Vineart War, you will know why. She's a foodie, and knows how to write food. L.E. Modesitt also likes to write food. Team them up, maybe.

Steven Erikson, History

The guy writes books that run into the hundreds of thousands of years in scope. Yeah, I think he should do the back history on this world.

Tim Akers. Religion

We don't want a Crystal Dragon Jesus, so I trust we'll get authentic feeling religion.

Brandon Sanderson, Master of Magic

Yeah, you saw this one coming a mile away, didn't you? And can you blame me. This is his ballpark.

Judith Tarr, Horsemistress

If there are horses or 'smeeps', Judith Tarr is the person I want to be thinking about how they work.

Lois Bujold, Ruling Families

A mistress of character, if there are royal families or the like to draw up, I want her to do it.

John Picacio, Art

I want John to do the cover art for the book, full stop.

John Anealio, Music

The official soundtrack to this anthology should come from him.

Patrick Hester and Mur Lafferty, Podcasting

Audio interviews with the authors, audio versions of the stories! These are the pair I want doing that.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Promotion

He works hard with #sffwrtcht. He'll promote this anthology well.

Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks, Roleplaying

The guys at Evil Hat are my first choice to design the RPG for this world. It could be FATE, it could be Cortex, it could be something completely different. Maybe get Robin Laws in as a consultant.

Erin Hoffman, Videogames

If there is going to be a computer game or three set here, get her to design it. Everything from Japanese style social games to something like Skyrim.

Paul Cornell and Chris Roberson, Graphic Novel adaptation

These are the guys I want to do the comic/graphic novel adaptation or tie-in. They know the artists better than I.


All of the above would have a chance to write stories as well. But there are plenty of writers I'd want to invite. A very very partial list of invitees would include:

Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell

This pair got together and wrote a pair of linked novellas (The Executioness and The Alchemist). I want to turn them loose in a corner of this world and go to town.

Elizabeth Bear (maybe teaming up with her ally Sarah Monette, they write well together!)

Daniel Abraham

Martha Wells

Ari Marmell

Jim Butcher

Steven Brust

Kay Kenyon

Mary Robinette Kowal

Guy Gavriel Kay

Robin Hobb

Kevin J Anderson

Lavie Tidhar (for that gonzo skewed look at things)

Jeff Vandermeer--the anthology needs at least one weird story.

I'd also want a good portion of the anthology to give some of the newest writers a chance. Like Jon Sprunk, Courtney Schafer (mountains, Gandalf, mountains!), Teresa Frohock, Moses Siregar, Bradley Beaulieu, Kameron Hurley (one kick-ass heroine, served dirty),

And there you have it. It would never happen, of course.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:37 AM

December 29, 2011

2011 in Reading, or Paul joins two blogs and reads lots of First Novels

2011 was quite a year for me on the reading front, even if it wasn't in terms of raw numbers.

In 2011 I finished 50 books:

32 Fantasy
11 Science Fiction
7 Other

26.5 books authored or co-authored by Women.

Laura Anne Gilman wins the plurality award, with 5 books read (Hard Magic, Dragon Virus, Flesh and Fire, Weight of Stone, The Shattered Vine)

I read plenty of first novels, and even more to the point, a bunch of 2011 first novels. All of the First Novels:

God's War, Kameron Hurley
The Unremembered, Peter Orullian
The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajanemi
Hounded, Kevin Hearne
Winds of Khalakovo, Bradley Beaulieu
Shadow's Son, Jon Sprunk
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, Mark Hodder
Sword of Fire and Sea, Erin Hoffman
Miserere, Teresa Frohock
The Whitefire Crossing, Courtney Schafer
Of Blood and Honey, Stina Leicht
The Black God's War, Moses Siregar
Southern Gods, John Hornor Jacobs
Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

Technically, Blackdog (KV Johansen) and Wolfsangel (MD Lachlan) count since they are their genre first novels, but both have written books before.

So, counting those, 16 first novels?!

Anyway, the big news was that I was "picked up" by both SF Signal and The Functional Nerds and that's where the vast majority of my reviews are these days. People read my reviews, I talk to authors.

I may be a third rate book blogger, but I used to be a 6th rate one. :)


Posted by Jvstin at 9:05 PM

December 2, 2011

Reviewing, Jvstin Style

So, Patrick at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist received a letter. Go read the post and the letter.

http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2011/12/hmmm.html

Read it? Good.

I made a comment on Google Plus that Laura Anne Gilman was kind enough to throw some cents in.

Jessica Strider has some thoughts, too:

http://scififanletter.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-reviewers-are-not-entitled-to-free.html

The L.A. Times has weighed in too:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/12/book-blogging-hit-the-wall-williammorrow-blogger-notice.html

But let me be clear and reiterate my position.

I don't consider receiving books from John DeNardo, John Anealio, or a publisher directly to be a right at all.

I know it costs money for a publisher to do this. Time and effort, and the fact that books sent out don't always get read and reviewed. How do you think, partly, I got the gig I do at SF Signal and the Functional Nerds? They have too many books and I am willing to read and review a few books for them. I appreciate the symbiosis.

This publisher letter is different. Treating me as an unpaid employee? The patronizing tone? The scolding?

I can do without *all* of that. Even if some of the ideas in the letter about requesting books seem on their face to be good ones, rather than shotgunning them at reviewers.

I appreciate when I get sent books, and I make good faith efforts to read and give honest, clear reviews. I've turned down a number of (mostly) self published authors when I don't think I could do their work justice, temporally or otherwise. I had a very bad experience in an honest critical review of a small press/self published novel that I do not intend to repeat.

If a publisher is going to start making it an unpaid job on my part by dictating my workflow and what I do or don't do, well, its not going to be so much fun any more. I already obsess and worry about the quality of my reviews. I don't need a publisher to add fuel to that fire. I will simply rely on purchased books for reviews.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:41 PM

November 22, 2011

Rest in Peace, Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey

You gave me the first sympathetic portrayals of dragons I encountered in my reading life

You taught me that the boundaries of fantasy and science fiction could blur.

You taught me that female characters could be far more than cardboard cutouts

You taught me, dammit, that female writers of genre were as good as the male ones.

May you always soar with the Dragons and characters you brought to life.

Rest in Peace.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:47 PM

November 9, 2011

Best Books of the year, via Amazon

It must be heading toward the end of the year, as Amazon publishes its "best books of the year" lists. This is the one for Science Fiction and Fantasy. It has books by Daniel Abraham, Lev Grossman among others, (Yes, that was a Jo Walton reference...)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_358085602_33?ie=UTF8&plgroup=1&docId=1000745161&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=left-1&pf_rd_r=1ND37MX40Y1Z6JM6GKR7&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1328523022&pf_rd_i=3321372011

Posted by Jvstin at 5:30 AM

October 16, 2011

Dreamhaven Bookstore closing

Via the Dreamhaven Catalog email:

Extremely sad news for genre fans in Minneapolis. For years, we've been blessed by having two genre bookstores
to wander through and buy books from. That is a state of affairs that is not going to last:

#####################################################################

VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:
I'll be closing the retail store at the end of January. It's been a tough
decision but in-store business has all but disappeared. Mail order
shouldn't change too much because of this but there definitely will be
changes -- different phone number, different hours, more used instead of
new books listed -- but all in all, things should be pretty much as is.
Perhaps even better since I'll have more time to catalog books that have
been piling up here for the past 35 years. There will also be some big
sales as I begin to clear some items out of my regular inventory.

I'll still be attending conventions, likely more than I do now. I'll go
where the business is. I'll be in San Diego for World Fantasy and Chicago
for WindyCon so come and see me at either one.

Greg

#####################################################################

Posted by Jvstin at 7:52 AM

October 12, 2011

Brief Review: If by Reason of Strength

If By Reason of Strength is an electronically published short story by Jamie Todd Rubin.

The story revolves around one of the first men to reach Mars, Norman Gilmore. He has also just served a 280 year prison sentence for a quartet of murders, and is the oldest person on the planet. These three facts are not unrelated, and the story focuses on Norman's actions upon being released. His long life now nearly over, he needs to go back to the now terraformed Mars...

The story feels and invokes the Golden Age of science fiction, to its credit and benefit, as well as its detriment. Jamie holds strong and fast to the idea he invokes, and any science fiction short story that invokes Dr. Seuss is more than okay in my book.

If by Reason of Strength, in addition to its Golden Age production values, has a good backbone of further ideas beyond the "300 year old murderer being released from prison". I hesitate to reveal the gems of ideas that the author brings forward here, for fear of spoilers on a relatively short novella. But, that, too, is pure Golden Age, ideas tossed casually at the reader rather than parsimoniously hoarded. The author is a reader and reviewer of old science fiction, and the love he has for that time period clearly comes through in his own writing, but it is more informed and infused than straight up imitation. Call it a homage to Golden Age SF Writing. The story keeps humming along and doesn't have time to flag.

However, there are a fair sheaf of implausibilities in the scenario presented in the story, which threatened my sense of disbelief.

That said, however, the story was well written on the mechanics, was entertaining, and did very well in pulling this reader forward, to uncover the mysteries the author had waiting to uncover and decipher. Implausibilities aside, the story was an interesting read, and the themes invoked well developed.



Posted by Jvstin at 7:28 PM

October 8, 2011

B&N--Walking down Borders Road?

After a visit to Smashburger today, I walked over to Barnes and Noble. Even though I buy most of my books as ebooks these days, and many of the physical ones on Amazon, there is something to walking through a bookstore and browsing.

This time, I got depressed, quickly. Sections had shrunk from my last visit--the science fiction and fantasy section especially. I know the layout of that B&N well, and the shelves were shorter. Worse, the density of books on the shelves was less,; there were far fewer copies of any particular book.

And then there were the games.

Friends of Borders might remember their "build a bear" fiasco, where they had Build a bear workshops in some of their stores, and tried to sell anything and everything but books to keep their profits up. Well, Barnes and Noble is going down that road, too.

I am not talking about the large amount of floor space devoted to promoting their Nook.

No, I am talking about the record amount of floor space devoted to board games. Yes, board games.

Barnes and Noble seems to be walking down Borders road. That's not a good road. Not for authors. Not for readers.

Will Steve Jobs be remembered one day as the catalyst for the death of the chain record store AND the chain bookstore?

Posted by Jvstin at 6:54 PM

October 1, 2011

Letter from Barnes and Noble

So Barnes and Noble bought my Borders user information, and sent me the following letter.

So, unless I put the effort to do so, my information will go to B&N (on two separate accounts--apparently Borders had two of my email addresses somehow).

Privacy? What privacy?

They are offering Borders Premium members a switchover to a B&N membership, though. That's not so bad for those sad souls who actually bought one of those memberships knowing that Borders was circling the drain...

Dear Borders Customer,

My name is William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble, and I'm writing to you today on
behalf of the entire B&N team to make you aware of important information regarding your Borders account.

First of all let me say Barnes & Noble uniquely appreciates the importance bookstores play within local communities, and we're very sorry your Borders store closed.

As part of Borders ceasing operations, we acquired some of its assets including Borders brand trademarks and their customer list. The subject matter of your DVD and other video purchases will be part of the transferred information. The federal bankruptcy court approved this sale on September 26, 2011.

Our intent in buying the Borders customer list is simply to try and earn your business. The majority of our stores are within close proximity to former Borders store locations, and for those that aren't, we offer our award- winning NOOK™ digital reading devices that provide a bookstore in your pocket. We are readers like you, and hope that through our stores, NOOK devices, and our bn.com online bookstore we can win your trust and provide you with a place to read and shop.

It's important for you to understand however you have the absolute right to opt-out of having your customer data transferred to Barnes & Noble. If you would like to opt-out, we will ensure all your data we receive from Borders is disposed of in a secure and confidential manner. Please visit www.bn.com/borders before October 15, 2011 to do so.

Should you choose not to opt-out by October 15, 2011, be assured your information will be covered under the Barnes & Noble privacy policy, which can be accessed at www.bn.com/privacy. B&N will maintain any of your data according to this policy and our strict privacy standards.

At Barnes & Noble we share your love of books -- whatever shape they take. We also take our responsibility to service communities by providing a local bookstore very seriously. In the coming weeks, assuming you don't opt-out, you'll be hearing from us with some offers to encourage you to shop our stores and try our NOOK products. We hope you'll give us a chance to be your bookstore.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:07 AM

September 3, 2011

Books Read to Date, September 3, 2011

33. Infidel, Kameron Hurley, Science Fiction
32. Prospero Regained, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Fantasy
31. The Whitefire Crossing, Courtney Schafer, Fantasy
30. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer Fantasy,
29. Miserere, Teresa Frohock, Fantasy
28. Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding, Fantasy
27. The Goblin Corps, Ari Marmell, Fantasy


26. Engineering Infinity Jonathan Strahan Science Fiction
25. Sword of Fire and Sea Erin Hoffman Fantasy
24. Story Engineering Larry Brooks Nonfiction
23. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack Mark Hodder Science Fiction
22. Shadow's Son Jon Sprunk Fantasy
21. Golden Reflections Fred Saberhagen Science Fiction
20. Cowboy Angels Paul McAuley Science Fiction
19. Embassytown China Mieville Science Fiction
18. With this Ring I thee Bed Alison Tyler Fiction
17. Winds of Khalakovo Bradley Beaulieu Fantasy
16. Wolfsangel M D Lachlan Fantasy
15. Dragon Virus Laura Anne Gilman Science Fiction
14. Hounded Kevin Hearne Fantasy
13. Creative Lighting Harold Davis Nonfiction
12. The Fallen Blade Jon Courtnenay Grimwood Fantasy
11. The Cloud Roads Martha Wells Fantasy
10. Hellhole Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert SF
9. The Alchemist in the Shadows Pierre Pavel Fantasy
8. The Quantum Thief Hanno Rajanemi SF
7.The Iron Khan Liz Williams Fantasy
6.The Unremembered Peter Orullan Fantasy
5. Cleopatra Stacy Schiff Nonfiction
4. The Hidden Reality Brian Greene Nonfiction
3. God's War Kameron Hurley Fantasy
2. Hard Magic Laura Anne Gilman Fantasy
1. Hell and Earth Elizabeth Bear Fantasy

19 Fantasy
9 Science Fiction
1 Fiction
4 Non Fiction

19 books written by men
14 books written by women (NB: I am counting the Vandermeer collection under Ann)

Posted by Jvstin at 9:56 AM

July 19, 2011

Sic Transit Borders

I've always liked Borders.

One of my favorite bookstores, before it was destroyed, was the Borders at the base of the World Trade Center in NYC. I remember back in the 80's when I wanted my cousin, who was taking us to the top of the WTC at the time, to let me buy a book there...

When I lived in California, the nearest bookstore to me was the Borders at a shopping mall a short bus ride away. With a movie theater and restaurants there, going to that mall for book shopping, movie watching and a meal was a lot of fun...

In Minnesota, I began to watch the slide and fall of Borders with sadness. I slowly transferred my affections to B&N as the Borders visibly and irrevocably lost their quality. I resisted for a long time, because of the goodwill that Borders had built up over the years.

And now it is all gone. And we will all be poorer for it.

Rest in Peace, Borders. You will be missed.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:37 AM

July 8, 2011

Books Read to Date, July 8,2011

It's just past the halfway point of the year. Let's see how I am doing

26. Engineering Infinity Jonathan Strahan Science Fiction
25. Sword of Fire and Sea Erin Hoffman Fantasy
24. Story Engineering Larry Brooks Nonfiction
23. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack Mark Hodder Science Fiction
22. Shadow's Son Jon Sprunk Fantasy
21. Golden Reflections Fred Saberhagen Science Fiction
20. Cowboy Angels Paul McAuley Science Fiction
19. Embassytown China Mieville Science Fiction
18. With this Ring I thee Bed Alison Tyler Fiction
17. Winds of Khalakovo Bradley Beaulieu Fantasy
16. Wolfsangel M D Lachlan Fantasy
15. Dragon Virus Laura Anne Gilman Science Fiction
14. Hounded Kevin Hearne Fantasy
13. Creative Lighting Harold Davis Nonfiction
12. The Fallen Blade Jon Courtnenay Grimwood Fantasy
11. The Cloud Roads Martha Wells Fantasy
10. Hellhole Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert SF
9. The Alchemist in the Shadows Pierre Pavel Fantasy
8. The Quantum Thief Hanno Rajanemi SF
7.The Iron Khan Liz Williams Fantasy
6.The Unremembered Peter Orullan Fantasy
5. Cleopatra Stacy Schiff Nonfiction
4. The Hidden Reality Brian Greene Nonfiction
3. God's War Kameron Hurley Fantasy
2. Hard Magic Laura Anne Gilman Fantasy
1. Hell and Earth Elizabeth Bear Fantasy

So, 26 books:

13 Fantasy
8 Science Fiction
1 Fiction
4 Non Fiction

17 Male authors
9 Female authors

Posted by Jvstin at 7:12 AM

June 21, 2011

Help NPR choose the top 100 F/SF novels ever written

You probably have seen this on the Internets, but NPR is asking for nominations for best F/SF novels ever written--and you can nominate a series. (you can nominate up to 5 books/series)

My own personal list, that I submitted, looked like this:

Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny
Dune, Frank Herbert
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
Ringworld, Larry Niven
The Vorkosigan Saga, Lois Bujold

Go nominate your own favorites!

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/20/137249678/best-science-fiction-fantasy-books-you-tell-us

Posted by Jvstin at 2:02 PM

June 20, 2011

The Four Factors of what I look for in reading a book

I've grown into a niche of reviewing books the last couple of years, culminating with me joining both the crew at The Functional Nerds and SF Signal to do that.

So what do I look for when I read a book (especially one I am going to review)? Glad you asked...

There are 4 Factors I look for. I've mentioned them before, but let's codify it.

Plot:

What's the story, Morning Glory? What happens during the book. I need action and adventure in the books I read. I don't want to read a pastoral story about a hausfrau living on a farm in the 1880's. I want a plot that carries me through the book, and away from the mundane world.

Character:

Who's the protagonist? Who is the villain? Are there shades of grey. I want someone to root for, and someone for them to strive against. Neither has to be black and white, but I want a character interesting enough that I want to see them take on the world.

Setting:

Make the world come alive. Be it a faerie-tinged Minneapolis, a fantasy kingdom with airships, or a steampunk 1860's London. I want to be immersed (but not overwhelmed) with the details. Make me believe in the world you've created and that the characters are a part of it.

Language:
This is a tricky one. This is the one that brings very good novels that have the other three and bring it to the sublime and best novels. Language can range from Hemingway to Wolfe in terms of style, but its often a "x factor" in my reading.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:10 AM

May 28, 2011

Book Review 2011: Embassytown

Avice Benner Cho thought she was off and away from the strange, distant colony of Embassytown forever. After a difficult upbringing, she became an immerser, directing ships from planet to planet. Her home started to become a memory.

But then, in the company of a husband eager to see it, she returns to her home planet, and the titular city of her birth, in time to witness, participate and influence a true revolution of ideas--a revolution in the language of an entire species.

Such is the Matter of Embassytown, the latest novel from China Mieville. An ambitious novel, Mieville plays hard and long with the idea of language and the how it influences thinking, and vice versa. His invented species the Hosts, the Ariekei, have a peculiar language. It is spoken with two mouths, is not understood by the Ariekei unless spoken by living beings, and is not generally understood or accepted unless it tells something true.

In order to get themselves understood by the Hosts, pairs of human clones are raised together to the point their thoughts harmonize, and they are as physically identical as possible. These pairs, then, can be understood by the Ariekei. We meet several Ambassadors, and we see what happens when a single one of a pair is lost.

The plot of the novel kicks into high gear when Bremen, the planet responsible for the Embassytown colony sends something novel--EzRa, a pair of non-identical twins that, nonetheless, can harmonize their thoughts and speech patterns so that they can be understood by the Ariekei. This paradoxical pair, however, proves to be something that the Ariekei at first are delighted by, and then, finally, given how language and reality are bound together, start to destroy the foundations of their language, and the Ariekei themselves.

There is much more idea-gathering in the novel. Avice, in her youth, became a simile, a living part of the Ariekei language in a way that reminded me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok. Upon returning to the planet, she meets others who are in the same unique position, living ideas in the Ariekei language. The city is a living city, with its biotechnology a slightly underexplored aspect until that technology starts to fail in the wake of EzRa.

You might notice I have left something out in this spread of ideas and plot: heart. While the ideas are amazing in Embassytown, and the prose the strong and clear and uncompromising stuff one expects from a Mieville novel, the real weakness in this bounty is the characters. The characters are two-dimensional, at best, never gaining real emotional depth, growth or focus. We never emotionally get a handle on Avice and her husband's marriage, especially when it stops running smoothly. The characters move without real conviction. Not even our narrator, Avice, gives us real insight into her feelings.

It is a real pity. With more emotional resonance from the characters, this novel could have gone from being extremely good and interesting to something of an even higher order. And reading it, I could feel the sense that Mieville was trying to reach that highest tier. As it stands, this is a strong example of science fiction and should be read by anyone interested in science fiction today, but it doesn't quite reach its ambitions.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:04 AM

May 6, 2011

Reading Workflow

The Reading Workflow

A few thoughts on e-book readers, tablets and my reading "workflow"

Photographers talk about a workflow in taking pictures. These workflows are different for film and digital, but there is a discipline from envisioning a picture to actually having one, be it a .jpg or a printed image. Disrupting that workflow can help spoil the process or stop it in its tracks.

Writers have workflows too, techniques to get themselves to write. Some writers use things like "Write or Die", or they find time to hike and narrate their books into a recorder for later transcription, or they go to full screen mode for Scrivener. They have a process, a discipline, a way to find the time to get working on it. And to quote Mighty Mur Lafferty. "I should be writing".

But what about readers? Don't they have "Workflows"?

I was thinking about this in relation to an article on the Huffington Post that author Victoria Strauss linked to on twitter.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/05/ereader-tablet_n_857766.html?ir=Books

We live in an interconnected, media-saturated world, where it can be difficult to find time with the myriad distractions, to sit down and read a book, no matter what form that book takes. Web surfing,or checking e-mail, or playing Angry Birds, or watch ing the Youtube video your sister sent you, or watching last night's Doctor Who on the DVR...

I bought a Kindle a couple of months ago. For me, one of the features of the Kindle is that it mostly *is* a dedicated e-reader. That's a feature, not a bug. It can do a few other things, but its not easy or convenient to do so. If I am turning on a Kindle, I am turning it on to read more of a book. I am looking to get into my reading workflow.

But what about the idea of reading on a phone (Apple, Android or otherwise) , or on a tablet? If and when Amazon puts out its tablet, and I purchase one, if I turn on the tablet, ostensibly to read the latest book from James Enge, or Lisa Spindler, or Lois Bujold, or Gene Wolfe, the multifunction nature of the tablet threatens to lure me away from the book. The unitasking nature of a tablet is like the unittasking nature of a physical book. And I can imagine that for others, once such devices come out ,they will sync their work email to the thing, or be chained to other obligations that demand attention in our "always at work" mentality these days.

Multitasking gadgets are a threat to my reading workflow. And possibly they are a threat to yours as well. I don't say that such devices should not be made, but I think they are a mixed blessing, as regards to reading books.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:58 PM

April 26, 2011

Books Read to Date, April 26 2011

13. The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells
12. Creative Lighting, Harold Davis
11. The Fallen Blade, John Courtenay Grimwood
10. Hellhole, Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson
9. The Alchemist in the Shadows, Pierre Pavel
8. The Quantum Thief, Hanno Rajanemi
7. The Iron Khan, Liz Williams
6. The Unremembered, Peter Orullan
5. Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
4. The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene
3. God's War, Kameron Hurley
2. Hard Magic, Laura Anne Gilman
1. Hell and Earth,Elizabeth Bear

7 Fantasy novels, 3 SF novels, 3 Non fiction books.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:18 AM

Book Review 2011 #13: The Cloud Roads (at SF Signal)

In addition to the recent debut of a gaming column at SF Signal, I *still* review books for them.

This time, go and read what I thought of Martha Wells' The Cloud Roads

And yes, those of you wondering if there are going to be more at the Functional Nerds...just you wait. ;)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:14 AM

April 20, 2011

21st Century Mistressworks Meme.

Via

http://iansales.com/2011/04/19/21st-century-sf-mistressworks-meme/

I've not read enough of these recent SF books by women. Regrettably far far too few. The ones I've read are in Bold. I've italicized authors where I've read other books by that author but not that one.

How many have YOU read?

1 Solitaire, Kelley Eskridge (2002)
2 Warchild [Warchild], Karin Lowachee (2002)
3 Natural History, Justina Robson (2003)
4 Maul, Tricia Sullivan (2003)
5 The Time Traveller's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
6 Spin State, Chris Moriarty (2003)
7 Dante's Equation, Jane Jensen (2003)
8 Steel Helix [Typhon], Ann Tonsor Zeddies (2003)
9 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
10 Nylon Angel [Parrish Plessis], Marianne de Pierres (2004)
11 The Courtesan Prince [Oka-Rel Universe], Lynda Williams (2004)
12 Survival [Species Imperative], Julie E Czernada (2004)
13 Banner of Souls, Liz Williams (2004)
14 City of Pearl [Wess'har Wars], Karen Traviss (2004)
15 The Year of Our War, Steph Swainston (2004)
16 Bio Rescue, SL Viehl (2004)
17 Apocalypse Array [Archangel Protocol], Lyda Morehouse (2004)
18 The Child Goddess, Louise Marley (2004)
19 Alanya to Alanya [Marq'ssan Cycle], L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
20 Carnival, Elizabeth Bear (2006)
21 Mindscape, Andrea Hairston (2006)
22 Farthing [Small Change], Jo Walton (2006)
23 Half Life, Shelley Jackson (2006)
24 The Carhullan Army, Sarah Hall (2007)
25 Bright of the Sky [The Entire and the Rose], Kay Kenyon (2007)
26 Principles of Angels [Hidden Empire], Jainne Fenn (2008)
27 Watermind, MM Buckner (2008)
28 The Rapture, Liz Jensen (2009)
29 Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (2010)
30 Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren (2010)
31 Birdbrain, Johanna Sinisalo (2010)
32 Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (2010)
33 Song of Scarabaeus, Sara Creasy (2010)

Posted by Jvstin at 11:44 AM

April 16, 2011

Book Review 2011 #12: Creative Lighting

Creative Lighting

A book by Harold Davis

A review by Paul Weimer

Harold Davis is a well-known, award winning photographer based out of California, but with a suite and portfolio of pictures from around the world. He has a written a number of books on photography, most notably the "Creative" series.

Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques is the latest of the latter series of books. Creative Lighting's mission and goals are to allow photographers to take better pictures by taking advantage of, and in some cases, manipulating the light available for photographs. While a small section at the end explores how to use Photoshop to work with High Dynamic Range photography and other effects, Davis keeps the bulk of the book grounded for dealing with and creating situations in the field and in the studio.

Within each of the major sections of the book, Davis has a wide assortment of topics, usually only a couple of pages long, with one or more photographs to illustrate the technique or subtopic. The photographs are a strong point of the book. The sheer variety of the photographs in the book used to illustrate various ideas in lighting is absolutely amazing. From an underexposed model, to a high-key flower, from a simple picture of San Francisco, to a grand HDR panorama of the California mountains put together with Photoshop, Davis' photography takes center stage.

With these beautiful photographs, Davis provides full information on the the lens and settings, and usually explains what he was trying to do with a particular photograph. In this way, Davis allows the reader-photographer an entrée into his mind and thought patterns. He often tells us what the light is doing, and how he is trying to make best use of it.

Those strong thought patterns I just mentioned dominate the book. Readers who have read Davis' work before are aware of it, but new readers to his books might be surprised by Davis' strong point of view. He has his likes, his biases and he is not shy about expressing them to readers. He is a strong believer, for instance, in photographers sticking to manual mode whenever possible. Many of the photos show his opinions and point of view as well.

While the ambient and natural lighting portions of the book are well done and well written, the real value of the book comes when Davis brings the readers into his studio, or enhances the natural lighting of a scene with fill lighting and other techniques. The book is replete with diagrams of his set ups that correspond to a nearby picture in the book that uses that particular scenario. As someone who has never taken a photograph with anything fancier than a camera's flash, I was fascinated to finally be able to understand how to use some additional tools and techniques to change, adapt and increase the lighting of a subject.

There are a few minor shortcomings in the book, but not many. I was surprised, for instance, that while he discusses the classic exposure triangle of Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed, for instance, he never actually lays out the diagram. While I am not a visual learner, I felt that the diagram is practically expected in books that cover the exposure triangle. Also, the breakneck pace of topics, rarely lingering on them for more than a couple of pages, might turn off some readers. The ordering of some of the early sections, too, could have been changed. A few times, I found that I needed to jump forward a bit to understand an aspect of a topic before returning to the main flow of the topic.

Overall, this book seems to be targeting post-beginners to digital photography, people who have been using their DSLR for a while, and are seeking to improve their game with using light to best effect. I think the book hits its mark. True experts in the field may only find value in the considerable inspiration that Davis' photos bring, and complete neophytes are going to trip themselves up on Davis' assumption that readers know the basics of the craft. However, for people in between who are looking to learn more about how to use lighting in their photographs, I recommend this book unreservedly. Fans and avid readers of Mr. Davis' other works will find much to like here, as well.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:42 AM

April 12, 2011

Book Review 2011 #11: A review on SF Signal--by yours truly.

I am not sure I set out to do it explictly, but over the last few years, I've been building a brand with book and movie reviews. Amazon, Goodreads, my own work here...my reviews have been popping up ("like daisies!") and slowly people have taken notice.

You've seen that I am now part of the Functional Nerds, and there's going to be more fun stuff with that site coming.

Today, though, I've joined the SF Signal team as one of their reviewers.

My debut review, of Jon C Grimwood's The Fallen Blade, is now up on their site for you to read and enjoy. The reviews there are in a somewhat different format than I usually do, but the same honest point of view is now available to a wider audience.

Enjoy!

And to quote Fezzik, "Don't worry, I won't let it go to my head". I'm *still* just this guy, you know?


Posted by Jvstin at 6:46 AM

April 8, 2011

Book Review 2011 #10: (at the Functional Nerds): Hellhole

They must have been happy with the first book review I gave to the Functional Nerds, because they have just published a second one.

This time, I went old School Space Opera.
Find out what I thought of Hellhole, by Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert at the Functional Nerds:

http://functionalnerds.com/2011/04/old-school-space-opera-is-alive-and-well%E2%80%94a-review-of-hellhole/

Posted by Jvstin at 6:38 AM

March 21, 2011

Inside the Blogosphere: In Case of Disaster, Save These Books

Over at Grasping for the Wind, John Ottinger asked:

If you had to leave your house in a hurry, and you could only grab five volumes off your shelf, which five would they be and why?

Ironically, John posed this question sometime before the disaster in Japan. His question, though, was sparked by a series of wildfires in Central Florida. It's still a pertinent question, no matter what the disaster.


Go and check out the answers others gave.

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2011/03/21/inside-the-blogosphere-in-case-of-disaster-save-these-books/

Posted by Jvstin at 3:03 PM

Books Read to Date, March 21 2011

9. The Alchemist in the Shadows, Pierre Pavel
8. The Quantum Thief, Hanno Rajanemi
7. The Iron Khan, Liz Williams
6. The Unremembered, Peter Orullan
5. Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
4. The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene
3. God's War, Kameron Hurley
2. Hard Magic, Laura Anne Gilman
1. Hell and Earth, Elizabeth Bear

5 Fantasy novels, 2 SF novels, 2 Non fiction books.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:34 AM

Book Review 2011 #9: The Alchemist in the Shadows

The 9th Book Review of the year is not here.

It is, in fact, my debut post on John Anealio and Patrick Hester's Functional Nerds website.

So, go check it out!

http://functionalnerds.com/2011/03/musketeers-and-dragons-a-review-of-the-alchemist-in-the-shadows/

Posted by Jvstin at 7:29 AM

March 19, 2011

Book Review 2011 #8: The Quantum Thief

Another ARC of a debut novelist, but this time, its SF...

The Quantum Thief Review

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
"Time is what we make of it; relative, absolute, finite, infinite. I choose to let this moment last forever so that when I toil to clean your sewers and protect you from phoboi and carry your city on my back - I can remember what it is like to have such friends."
--Christian Unruh at his carpe diem party.

Hannu Rajaniemi and his debut novel The Quantum Thief are something I've heard about for a while, mainly through the agency of the Coode Street Podcast, the enthusiasm Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe have for this novel infectious. I was extremely fortunate to get a chance at reading an ARC of the book.
A welcome letter from editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden evokes Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge and Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber in trying to introduce the book. Given my high regard for all three gentlemen, you might imagine that this has colored my perceptions of the book, and you would be right. Mr. Rajaniemi has a day job running a think tank based on AI and advanced mathematics, and has a doctorate in String Theory.
It should surprise no one, then, that the world of the Quantum Thief is a high concept, high jargon post-Singularity world.
Jean Le Flambeur, an imprisoned thief undergoing an endless series of rounds of Prisoner's Dilemma, is rescued by Mieli, an agent of a mysterious post-Singularity being. From there, the pair travel to Mars to find one of Le Flambeur's most prized and valuable possessions: His lost memory.
In the meantime, Isidore Beautrelet, citizen of the Oubilette, the moving city of Mars, has a tempestuous relationship with his girlfriend, and his efforts at playing detective have brought him to the attention of one of the most powerful men on Mars. Unruh is a man who is worried about the announced arrival of a master thief. A thief named Jean Le Flambeur.
Mix in post-Singularity technology and a plot that barely pauses for breath, and blend on "high", and you will get The Quantum Thief. Rajaniemi is being touted as the Next Big Thing in science fiction (the back cover of this ARC calls it "The strongest SF debut in years") , and judging from this first book, he is making a very good, but not perfect, start.
Post-Singularity worlds and books are very tricky things. Be it Charles Stross, Walter Jon Williams, Vernor Vinge, John C. Wright, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Greg Egan, Karl Schroeder or Hannu Rajaniemi, making a book that effectively captures the world that is beyond by definition an indescribable point in technology and history is difficult, at best. And worse, there is the death problem. When you have a world where death's sting strikes with far less strength, how do you generate stakes and conflicts that actually mean something? In a world where backups of people or other technologies make death far less fearsome, how do you deal with that lack of a final threat to a character's sovereignty and agency?
In the book, Rajaniemi deals with the Post-Singularity problem by making no compromises, and precious little infodumping. He chucks the reader into the deep-end and expects them to sink or swim, trusting them to get it, or not. I think he is only partially successful in this approach. Lots of jargon and terms get tossed around, and it requires an attentive and active reader to really make good headway. And I would not dream that any reader who hasn't read at least one or two novels by the gentlemen I listed earlier should even try to tackle this book. Rajaniemi loves his technology and science, although I wonder if he realizes that not every reader who comes across references to, say, WIMPS in the text are going to realize he is talking about Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, in current day physics a proposed component in of dark matter. A glossary at the back of this book would have been extremely useful.
As far as the death problem, Rajaniemi deals with this by simply allowing for a stratification of society and its individuals. In the Oubilette, there is no immortality, Time is a currency and when your time is up, if you are a citizen, you spend a period as a servant class. (Visitors merely are forced to leave). So, the threat of death, real death, still exists in the post-Singularity universe he has created.
For all of the technology and jargon, there is an almost surprising amount of character focus in the book. The evolving interactions between Le Flambeur, Mieli, her ship and the characters they meet on Mars were touching, and real. And Perhonen, Mieli's ship, is a distinct character in her own right. With two strong female characters flanking Jean, Rajaniemi easily passes the Bechdel test.
I have to admit, on a personal note, that perhaps Mr. Hayden's letter made me see the references, and perhaps they aren't even there, but I was vastly amused that Le Flambeur's outfit, once he has a chance to dress properly, are the black and silver colors of Prince Corwin of Amber. He, too, was a character who did not know all that he was, and was in a sense imprisoned, too...And that nine specific individuals play a large part in Le Flambeur's scheme.
There are two sequels planned, and while the book's narrative does end at a closing point for the main characters, there is a coda of sorts that suggests the source and vector of conflict for the next book. As I have said above, this high octane post-singularity fiction is not 100% successful, but I suppose the ultimate question is: Do I want to read more of Flambeur, Mieli, and beyond?
The answer to that is a resounding yes. Welcome, Mr. Rajaniemi, to the science fiction pool. I hope you will stay a while and write some more interesting books set in this world. But come next book, please give us poor pre-Singularity intelligences a glossary. Please?

Posted by Jvstin at 11:47 AM

March 12, 2011

Book Review 2011 #7: The Iron Khan

Next up, I take a look at the most recent Inspector Chen book by Liz Williams.

Inspector Chen has come far.
Once he was the freak of his department in the near-future Chinese model city of Singapore Three, the departmentメs Snake Agent. Chen is a former emissary of the goddess Kuan Yin, and married to a demoness, Inari, and generally considered to be that guy that handles spirits, Heaven and Hell. Over the course of four prior books, his reputation, power and contacts have changed and improved. His partner, Zhu Irzh, once just a seneschal in Hell but now finds himself the stepson of Hellメs current Emperor and is engaged to a powerful demoness from a different Hell altogether. Chen has established a lasting friendship with the newest Emperor of Heaven. He even has a rapprochement with the goddess.
In addition to the changes to Chen, however, Singapore Three it has become more acclimated to contacts with spiritual realms. Are they embraced with full-throat enthusiasm? Of course not! But the ostracism of Chen for his dealings with the subject is at an end. With all that has happened, they would have to be. Things have changed in the world, and Inspector Chen still needs to be on the case.
And it is a good thing, too.
In the Iron Khan, Liz Williams raises the stakes again, showing us more and more of the esoteric world behind the world that she began in Snake Agent. From that book forward, Williams has delighted in showing us more and more of the metaphysics that underlie the worlds beyond our first. Weメve not only seen the Chinese Hell and Heaven, but have been given glimpses of the afterlives of other regions and cultures as well. In the Iron Khan, Williamsメ narrative takes our characters into exotic, strange hells, the Taklamakan desert, and even a journey through time and space itself.
As is usual for the Chen books, the narrative not only focuses on Chen, Zhu Irzh and their friends and allies, but new characters, whose goals, desires and needs bloom like a flower quickly coming into full season. Both the titular antagonist, the Iron Khan, other antagonists, and those who oppose their efforts, such as the Japanese warrior Omi, have their narrative threads intersect with our main characters. They have pasts, presents and futures of their own, and never serve to act for the benefit of the main characters. If anything, these characters draw our main characters and their talents into their stories, for ill or will. Sometimes this is even literal.
Recently, Iメve been turned onto the idea that every book rests on four foundations. Plot, Setting, Character and Language, and different readers emphasize these elements to different amounts. Thus, let me say that Ms. Williamsメ language and style is not for everyone. She uses a third person omniscient that takes getting used to. This allows her writing to feel like that of a storyteller who is telling you this story over a cup of coffee in an English pub while listening to the rain. For example:
モKuan Yinメs vessel sailed on, towing the little houseboat slowly behind it like a tug, reversed. The boat of the former Empress of Heaven receded into the distances of the Sea of Night and that was the last theyメd see of her, Inari thought to herself.
She was, of course, wrong.

Do I get the feeling that Williams is about done with this series? Sure. She seems to be building toward something, and in some cases, the characters do not feel as fresh and de novo as in earlier books. I think the book could have been a little longer, to allow the readers, especially newer ones, to get a handle and feel for the characters and allow them to show themselves off. However, given all that, I certainly look forward to the next (and from all indications, last) of the Inspector Chen novels. She even provides a possible hook at the end of this book for a possible plotline for it. Once again, though, starting here with this series is missing the point. If I have intrigued you, hunt down a copy of Snake Agent, and give the world of Inspector Chen a taste. You just might find its rich and distinctively unusual flavors to be to your liking.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:20 PM

March 6, 2011

Book Review 2011 #6: The Unremembered

Next up, a debut epic fantasy novel from Peter Orullian

"I draw with the strength of my arms, but release as the Will allows"

Choice and consequences lie heavy freight on The Unremembered, the debut novel by fantasy author Peter Orullian.


Sometimes, epic fantasy is all that will do for a reader of speculative fiction, and so I turned to reading this eagerly, hoping to quench that recurring thirst and need. for epic fantasy that builds a secondary world peopled with characters, lands, creatures and magic that provide escapism and escape in equal portions. The marketing plans, as mentioned
on the ARC of the book I received and elsewhere, clearly point to a big push to make Peter Orullian the next big thing in epic fantasy. With the field of fantasy tilting more and more to things like Urban Fantasy, Steampunk and other subgenres, the field of Epic Fantasy is wide open. Sure, Brandon Sanderson is attempting to fill the late Robert Jordan's shoes. George R R Martin has been glacially slow in putting out his books (with the promise, as of the writing of this review/reaction that the 5th book will finally come out in Summer 2011). Elizabeth Moon has returned to the work of Paksenarrion. Other voices have tried to get a kingdom or duchy in the realm of Epic Fantasy, too, but there is plenty of lebensraum. with fantasy writers flocking to other pastures.

So there is room for Orullian to make a play to get into the field and claim a kingdom for himself. How did he do with that in The Unremembered? This is what I found.

The world of the Unremembered reminds me a lot of Guy Gavriel Kay's world of Fionavar, or Robert Jordan's world. We get a prologue of Gods at the beginning of the world, when one of their number, deemed evil, is imprisoned in a portion of the world they have built, along with his foul creations. Ostensibly isolated from man and the other works they have made, the Gods, satisfied by the binding of one of their number and his works, abandon the world, to go on to make another, as they apparently have done many times.

Leaving a God imprisoned on a world with his foul creations is, in a very real sense, an Original Sin, and the consequences of that Original Sin, by the creator gods themselves, haunts the world of the Unremembered.

After this portent-freighted prologue, we shift to a pastoral setting, the Hollows, that is reminiscent, perhaps too much so, of Hobbiton, and Edmond's Field. A pastoral setting, where a young man, not yet an adult, is ignorant of the power and ability he truly wields, power that draws forces of the evil Whited One and his opponents alike to the backwater village. Tahn soon finds himself, his sister Wendra, his best friend Sutter, and a scholar's so, Braethen, are whisked away by two mysterious strangers, with the Bar'dyn of the Whited one hot on their heels.

In their journey, Wendra will find a surrogate replacement for the child she loses in childbirth, the group are split and struggle to find their destination of the city of Recityv, carefully kept ignorant of the true purposes and reasons for the long journey. Ultimately, decisions and consequences of those decisions conspire to bring the members of the group, changed by their experiences, back together in time to confront the true challenge and destination of their long journey.

The novel is written in third person subjective, with the focus mainly on Tahn and his companions, although we do get a few scenes focused on other characters, too (notably, the regent of Recityv)

I wanted to like this book much more than I did. At shorter lengths, having read a couple of stories Orullian has written and set in this world (both of which work as "extensions" of the narrative of the Unremembered) he is a strong writer, his descriptive prose evocative and sometimes lyrical. At the longer length of the novel, though, for this reader, we do get that, in sections. However, there were problems for me in the reading of this novel.

The plugged-in nature of some of the aspects of the book, for one thing, felt too much like a paint by numbers approach. A check of his website shows that Orullian has given great thought to his world, and yet, a fair number of things do not feel organic and natural. The opening scenes reminiscent of Robert Jordan and Tolkien, for example. Or the fact that the force of evil is counter-intuitively called "the Whited one", as if to avoid the usual connotation of black=evil (this is something Modesitt does, too, in his Recluce novels). Or, more bizarrely, Orullian's concept of elves, the Far. However, instead of being long lived immortals, the Far have lives shorter than the citizens of Logan's Run. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out how Far society would survive for any length of time given such a severe and inescapable age limit.

On a language front, while the prose descriptions are strong and the combat evocative, I was thrown by some of the names, that, again, felt like he was trying too hard. Recityv? Bar'dyn? Qum'rahm'se? Too many apostrophes in that last one for me. And I got annoyed years ago with a novel where the character smoked "bacco". In the Unremembered, we have "tobaccom" and some characters drink "kaffee". I do understand that coming up with names and concepts in a secondary world is difficult, but, still, it irked me. He does better when describing young adults with the neologism "melura", for example, and he has originality and thought in thinking about the transition to adulthood and how that happens in his world.

I get the feeling that a certain incident and consequence near the climax of the book is where Orullian started, especially given it is foreshadowed earlier in the book. I have no insight to the writer's process, but it reads like that is the singular thing that he started with, and the novel forward and backward, crystallizes from that choice and its consequence. I didn't care for how that decision played out, personally, especially when we learn the costs of that decision to one of the characters.

Perhaps I've read too much fantasy lately with distinctive shades of grey. There is a scene in the movie The Patriot where the antagonist, played by Jason Isaacs, decides to burn a church down, with the people inside. This move is clearly designed from a movie narrative standpoint to have the audience, once and for all, end any sympathy they have for him and paint him as a foe that must be stopped. Its over-the-top and even in the context of a movie, its too much.

In the Unremembered, one set of human antagonists are portrayed in that very way. We get several instances of when they are almost a caricature of villainy and evil. We get one or two token exceptions in the group, but for the most part, the novel seems intent on painting them uncompromisingly evil.

Lastly, the novel quite blatantly ends with an inconclusive ending that seems to be designed for sequels. The fate of at least one character is unknown, and other threats and situations in the world are left very unresolved. The true motivation for the actions of the human antagonists mentioned above, for example, are still not clear. There is a careful balance between leaving things too neatly wrapped up and no-ending at all. The Unremembered falls somewhat away from the midpoint of these extremes.

There are things to like here, though, don't get me wrong. I understand from the press information that Orullian is a musician by trade. It should be no surprise that in the tangle of magic systems in the book, music turns out to be a way to do magic, and strong magic at that. Although late in the book, he pulls back on the lushness of describing the way it works, it reminds me, in a good way, of the Spellsong books.

In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and wonder why, given his background and training and interest, why he didn't focus his narrative on the musician and music-based magic. Writing what you know is not just a platitude. The joy with which he writes the music-based scenes in this book makes me wonder if (and if not, why not) he tried to do this book from that perspective, or a book from that perspective.

As I have said before, the themes of choice and consequence weigh heavily on the narrative. This reminds me a bit of David Drake's Lord of the Isles series, where he never flinches from the fact that prices have to be paid, like it or not, once a deed is done or even contemplated.

Characterization, as usual for a book like this, varies, and sometimes wildly. I don't blame Tahn for the mixed and gut-wrenching reactions he has to the various revelations in the book, as well as other things. I think a couple of things should have been set up a lot better, however. Tahn's history and nature, once it all comes out has problems resolving itself in my head.

So is Peter Orullian really the next big thing in fantasy, after all?

No.

To be clearer, I don't think he is there, yet. Not by a long way. But this is his first novel. We'll see how his work matures and changes in subsequent books.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:33 AM

March 3, 2011

A Dance with Dragons--July 12th (?)

This deserved more than a tweet.

According to Martin's website:

Meanwhile... there is news. Big news. The end is in sight, at long long last, and we're close enough so that my editors and publishers at Bantam Spectra have set an actual publication date.

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS will be in your favorite bookstore on

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2011

Yes, I know. You've all seen publication dates before: dates in 2007, 2008, 2009. None of those were ever hard dates, however. Most of them... well, call it wishful thinking, boundless optimism, cockeyed dreams, honest mistakes, whatever you like.

This date is different. This date is real.

Well, even if it does come out on July 12th--I'm not as excited as I once would have been.

It's been too long, George. Its cruel of me to say, but its been too damn long since the last two books. A Feast for Crows came out in 2007. A Storm of Swords came out in 2000. Martin is still considered a King (if not the High King) of Epic Fantasy, but the tarnish is there.

In the last few years, I've been introduced to epic fantasy from:
Peter Orullan (currently reading)
Adrian Tchaikovsky (Empire in Black and Gold)
John Brown (Servant of a Dark God)
Robin Hobb (Rain Wilds)
Kevin J Anderson (Terra Incognita)
Jim Butcher (Codex Alera)
Daniel Abraham (Long Price Quartet)
Brandon Sanderson (Warbreaker)

And that doesn't even go into Sword and Sorcery.

I will eventually buy and read ADWD. But on publication day? No.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:33 AM

March 2, 2011

February 26, 2011

Book Review 2011 #5: Cleopatra

Another non fiction book, this time tackling the most famous woman in history.

Cleopatra is the most famous woman in history, and yet what we know about her is mostly incomplete or wrong, or based on movies (Elizabeth Taylor, anyone?), or just plain propaganda. Cleopatra has been used as an icon for many people, without a full understanding of who she was--and who she wasn't. Her tangling with Julius Ceasar, and the succession struggle in the wake of her death ensured that she would be remembered forever, but it did also ensure she would be remembered in a distorted, incomplete way as well.

Stacy Schiff tries to sort it all out in her new biography of the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. Schiff is a former Pulitzer Prize winner who has done extensive research with the source documents (such as they are) to try and capture a portrait of not only Cleopatra but the world in which she lived.

The first part of the book tries to set the stage, describing the Alexandrian world that was the seat of power that Cleopatra lost, regained, and ultimately lost again. Schiff does a careful sorting of the sources, trying to find the real Cleopatra amongst the distortions, gaps and propaganda written into the accounts. Schiff is meticulous in telling us what we know, why we think we know it, and more importantly--what we don't know. Schiff eschews outright invention, but she does make guesses and logical leaps as to Cleopatra's nature and the nature of her actions, but at every step, she tells us on what sort of ground we are standing on.

Take Cleopatra's appearance, for example. Aside from a visage on coins, we have no surviving portraits of the Queen at all. Schiff, however, is able to build up a picture of what she might have looked like based on scant information and reason. There is a strain of thought in some academic circles, for example, that Cleopatra must have had an African experience, given that she lived in Egypt. Especially given the inbred nature of the Ptolemies, Schiff believes otherwise, pointing out that given the Romans had written so scandalously of her, if she did have such features or ancestry, it would have been surely noted and denigrated by the Romans. And yet, amongst many of the charges and slander set against her, her appearance is NOT one of those things.

This sets the pattern for a fair amount of the book, sorting small gems of probable fact from a sea of dross. Schiff has done a lot of work in sorting through it all, and presenting a biography that is as reasonably readable for a non-expert in the field as you can ask. Schiff has written a biography of Cleopatra for everyone, not just those steeped in the Ancient World as I am.

Schiff's style is a bit dry at first, but as she gets into the character of Cleopatra as opposed to just political events, her style opens out and we get a portrait of Cleopatra that reads like a character-driven novel rather than a biography from scattered sources. Schiff captures on the page the reasons why Cleopatra's name is far more famous today than many other women from the ancient world. It is because of her connection to Rome, but its more than that. Cleopatra is a bundle of contradictions, a strong woman in a time when women did not generally rule, who managed to become a legend.

Do you know who Queen Zenobia was, without the benefit of a search engine, for instance?

I daresay that Schiff might get another Pulitzer prize nomination for this biography of Cleopatra. If you have any interest at all in the subject, this volume makes a fine introduction to one of the most fascinating and powerful women in history.

Strongly recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:06 AM

February 25, 2011

Why is Fantasy ascendant over SF?

In my recent entry on why I like Fantasy and SF, I ended with a tease: I had a theory on why Fantasy is currently ascendant over SF.

And here it is...


Fantasy is ascendant over SF as a matter of the changing reading demographics in the F/SF field and our educational system.

To put it short and bluntly, more and more readers of the genre are women, and women read less science fiction. The reasons for all this probably would get me a Master's thesis at least, if I could defend it. Or perhaps pitchforks at my virtual door. I haven't pissed off the Internet since I tried to defend Patricia Wrede at RaceFail.

First, I think the videogame generation has reduced reading among the classic population of people who read SF from the Campbell era on forward: young males. That population is aging and aging out, and they are *not* being replaced in replacement numbers. Can I honestly say that, if my 12 year old self was transported to today, that I would be playing CRPGs, Halo and the like rather than reading Ringworld or Planet of Adventure? The atomization of media is apparent to anyone who pays attention to TV ratings. It applies across all media--we have lots more choices, and very appealing choices, too.

Videogames is another field which has done poorly by the fairer gender. Too many assume a male player and a male player's sensibilities. Some games do make efforts to make female players welcome and part of the experience--Bioware's Dragon Age and Mass Effect series comes to mind. But they are the exception. So, in general, less women are picking up the xbox 360 controller and *are* picking up a book.

So, there are less men becoming dedicated readers, the classic audience for SF readers. And the proportion of women reading in general is ever higher.

Next, our educational system, although it has made great strides, still does not encourage women to enter into the sciences (especially the hard sciences). Science is something that the female gender is horribly underrepresented in as career choices. Trying to solve that problem is far beyond the bounds of my blog post, even if I did have any answers.

Plus, what is uncharitably called the "women's genre" of Romance has been expanding, lately. Speculative and supernatural elements have been creeping into novels in the Romance section, and romance elements have been showing up in SF and fantasy. This is a tendency that has been going on for years, and I know some cranky fans decry "romance cooties", but I remember when the stuff Catherine Asaro does in her books was unusual and a rara avis. Not so much anymore!

And really, is Sherrilyn Kenyon writing romance novels with fantasy in them, or fantasy novels with lots of romance? How do you even make that distinction? To allude to a famous Gene Wolfe essay, the kingdom of fantasy has the Romance Empire looming on its borders and more than a little overlap has occurred.

So, when women are drawn to the genre, they are not drawn to the Alistair Reynolds novel or the Karl Schroeder novel, they are primarily drawn to the fantasy novels. Perhaps at first, and primarily overall fantasy that is not so different than the romance novels-that is to say, Urban Fantasy.

One more thing. I think D&D has influenced a number of young writers to choose fantasy over SF. There are exceptions of course--Charles Stross created stuff for the Field Folio, but I think that fantasy comes more naturally to the "Children of Gygax". Thus, more F/SF writers are drawn to fantasy, and more fantasy gets written. And as this becomes obvious, authors switch gears to write fantasy instead of SF.And the vicious cycle continues...

Thus, Fantasy, and in particular, Urban Fantasy, dominates the genre at present.


Posted by Jvstin at 2:46 PM

February 23, 2011

Why I do like both SF and Fantasy

This is a reaction to the Steve Davidson (Crochety Old Fan) blog post on Grasping for the Wind. A continuing conversation of sorts on the SF Signal community (http://www.community.sfsignal.com) has convinced me that while he and I have some things in common, in some respects, we are not fellow travelers.

To keep it positive, rather than getting pugnacious about the matter, I am going to keep it positive and tell you why I like both SF and fantasy.

I began reading both genres (if you must try to separ at an early age, and read stuff ranging from Tolkien to Clarke, with a healthy dollop of items that fall in the mushy middle.

In a tweet that I posted some time ago, I picked up and transmitted an idea that there are four characteristics to read a book for:

Plot
Character
Setting
Language

I used to read heavily for setting and plot above all else. The advantage of reading Fantasy and SF is that it can take me places and tell me stories about those places, places that don't or can't exist. I can walk the Glory Road, see Helm's Deep, explore the Ringworld, wander through Lankhmar and more. I enjoyed and enjoyed these alternate worlds.

As a bumper sticker once said "Reality is for people who can't handle Science Fiction"

As I have matured as a reader, I have learned to love Character and appreciate language more. Some of the clunky writing in some old favorites now feels tinny and false to me, and cardboard characters definitely does in a lot of work. I need a protagonist to identify with, or at least able to follow the story of. Since setting is still important to me, my fiction reading mandates that those protagonists are in Fantasy and Science Fiction environments, or a modern environment with a healthy dose of same.

Thus, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander's story and characters do not interest me that much, even if Scandinavia is an unknown country to me. On the other hand, Titus Quinn, in Kay Kenyon's Rose and Entire Quartet definitely qualifies. And while the Entire is setting with a big S and the reason why I started reading the novels, Titus, and the other characters he meets, is why I kept reading the novels. Similarly, Tremaine in Martha' Wells Fall of Ile-Rien gets points not only because I've read and devoured the previous novels set in that universe, but because I liked her as a character and wanted to see where she was going to take her. Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville in her urban fantasy series works for me primarily on the note of character.

Both SF and Fantasy provide these qualities for me. Good Fantasy has the same virtues as Good SF--consistency, depth, and strong fundamentals in the four elements. I am delightfully agnostic on whether that is Hard SF or Epic Fantasy, although I admit that Urban Fantasy is the subgenre of F/SF I read the least. (And even so, besides the previous mention of Vaughn, I very recently enjoyed Laura Anne Gilman's Hard Magic, urban fantasy all the way).

I have a theory as to why Fantasy is ascendant over SF, a theory different than the ones recently expressed in a recent SF Signal podcast episode., but I think that requires a different and new post.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:52 PM

February 22, 2011

2010 Nebula Award Nominees announced

Via tor.com, the 2010 Nebula Award Nominees.

Short Story

"Arvies," Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 8/10)

"How Interesting: A Tiny Man," Harlan Ellison® (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)

"Ponies," Kij Johnson (Tor.com 1/17/10)

"I'm Alive, I Love You, I'll See You in Reno," Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed 6/10)

"The Green Book," Amal El-Mohtar (Apex 11/1/10)

"Ghosts of New York," Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)

"Conditional Love," Felicity Shoulders (Asimov's 1/10)

Novelette

"Map of Seventeen," Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)

"The Jaguar House, in Shadow," Aliette de Bodard (Asimov's 7/10)

"That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)

"Plus or Minus," James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 12/10)

"Pishaach," Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)

"The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara," Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of Fantasy 4/10)

"Stone Wall Truth," Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov's 2/10)

Novella

The Alchemist, Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean)

"Iron Shoes," J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2)

The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)

"The Sultan of the Clouds," Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov's 9/10)

"Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance," Paul Park (F&SF 1-2/10)

"The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window," Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010)

Novel

The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace)

Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)

Blackout / All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

Ray Bradbury Award

Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (directors), Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (screenplay), Sergio Pablos (story) (Illumination Entertainment)

Doctor Who: "Vincent and the Doctor," Richard Curtis (writer)

How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (directors), William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders (screenplay) (DreamWorks Animation)

Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Edgar Wright (director), Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay) (Universal)

Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (director), Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich (story) (Pixar/Disney)

Andre Norton Award

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)

White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry)

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)

I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)

The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)

A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)

Behemoth, Scott Westerfield (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Posted by Jvstin at 9:20 AM

February 15, 2011

A few brief thoughts on the Nihilism in Fantasy Debate

So if you have not heard already, the topic du jour in Fantasy is an article by Leo Grin, called the "Bankrupt Nihilism of our Fallen Fantasists

Go ahead, read it. The comment threads are interesting too.

http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/lgrin/2011/02/12/the-bankrupt-nihilism-of-our-fallen-fantasists/

I've seen one defense of it (from Mr. Wright) and a lot of people thinking that this is nonsense. Mr Abercrombie, mentioned by name in the article as being a star of this nihilistic fall, has a measured response to it:

http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2011/02/15/bankrupt-nihilism/

There are many other responses, on twitter and elsewhere.

Anyway, in my opinion, his points ARE nonsense. It's even funny and pitable in a way. I don't recall Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (whom he only mentions in a comment thread) being moral compasses of what is good and right. He's longing for a past in Fantasy Literature that never, ever was.

And he seems to be trying to make a political point. Recall this paragraph from his article.

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it's just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It's a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein's monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.

Wow. The Fall of Fantasy into Nihilism is a Liberal Plot!

Grin also seems to be extremely selective in his reading of modern fantasy. Even if you exclude urban fantasy, there are plenty of authors who don't fit into the round hole he is putting the genre. And what is wrong with shades-of-grey characters anyway? Not everyone and everything is black and white.

And just where are the contemporary women fantasy writers in his thesis, and their work? Has he never read Elizabeth Moon, Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Bear, Robin Hobb?

Then again, some of their work might explode his brain.

Grin's last words on his article were

"Call me humorless, call me old-fashioned, but I daresay the good professor had a much better idea of war and heroes than the nihilistic jokesters writing modern fantasy.
To be continued. . . . ."

We'll see what he further has to say. Bring the popcorn.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:40 AM

February 13, 2011

Book Review 2011 #4: The Hidden Reality

Next up, a popular science book from Brian Greene

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

Brian Greene is the foremost advocate for the power and strength of String Theory. While he himself might not be on the cutting edge of string theory research, his role as a popularizer and explainer of string theory makes him the one name the average person could name, if they could name anyone at all, involved with string theory. In the Hidden Reality, Brian Greene builds on his previous two books, The Elegant Universe, and The Fabric of the Cosmos, to continue the story of String Theory in a new context--the Multiverse.

The Universe is big, nearly indescribably so. Far from the small sphere imagined by the ancients, the universe is so large that there are regions of space within our universe that have expanded so far away, so fast, that we can never, ever see them. And yet even given that, that may not be the full extent of all that is. Such heady concepts abound in the Hidden Reality, where Greene describes a series of scenarios where our universe, our reality, is only one of many. From the quantum mechanical to branes to us living in a computer simulation a la the Matrix, Greene illustrates a number of possibilities for parallel universes of various kinds--from places where duplicates of Earth exist, to places where the very laws of reality are stunningly different. String Theory, the contentious, complicated and convoluted mathematics that describe one dimensional strings as the fundamental building block of everything, are our tool and guidepost for exploring these possible multiverses.

While The Hidden Reality is a popular science book, one should not mistake this book as easy or light reading for anyone outside of the fields of Physics. Greene could have made this book even more comprehensive, as he again and again subcontracts some of his more detailed explanations to his other two books for readers interested in the deeper details of a point he is making. Having read both of his books, I didn't find this off putting, but it felt like he was overly pimping his work a bit the nth time I came across this practice in the text.

The other thing to understand before picking up this book is his evangelistic attitude toward String Theory. There are some other physics theories out there that attempt to unify and explain things in the same way that String Theory does. (e.g. Loop Quantum Gravity) but Greene is frankly dismissive of these other approaches. High level Physics readers who have problems with String Theory will definitely not like this book, since reading nearly all of it predicates an acceptance of String Theory.

Should you read this book? If you have read, relatively understood and enjoyed Greene's previous two books, then, absolutely. Greene marries string theory and its latest developments and evolutions with a sheaf of ideas for multiverses. Greene may not be Stephen Hawking, but he does a good job at making this material as accessible to the hoi polloi as it is possible.

If String Theory to you sounds like something that happens to your Ramen noodles, then this is not quite the place to start. I would try the Elegant Universe, and then, if you understood and enjoyed that, come back to The Hidden Reality, possibly by way of the Fabric of the Universe.

If Greene is right, and one of these multiverse theories are correct, then there is an alternate you, right now, reading this review, possibly wondering if there are more of you somewhere else in the multiverse.

Heady stuff.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:10 AM

February 10, 2011

Book Review 2011 #3: God's War

Next up, a book from debut novelist Kameron Hurley


"Bugs, Blood and Brutal Women. All the best things in life."
So was signed my copy of God's War, by debut novelist Kameron Hurley. I entered an online contest to win a copy of the novel, now out, and was delighted that the author had taken the time to personalize it in this way. It was a good omen to start the book off.
God's War is set during a perpetual war on Umayma, a distant planet in an indistinctly far future where two polities, each dominated by a rival descendant sect of Islam (never mentioned directly as the ur-religion). God's War is the story of Nyx. Once upon a time, she was a Bel Dame, a government agent used to stop deserters, lethally if necessary. She lost that position on a bad job, and now scrapes together a living as a bounty hunter, having cobbled together a team of misfits to help her with her work. Primary and most important amongst these is the other main viewpoint character, Rhys. Rhys is a refugee from Chenja, the nation on the other side of the eternal war with Nyx's Nasheen.
This hardscrabble existence for Nyx and her team gets a kick in the pants when the Queen of Nasheen makes an offer Nyx can't refuse--find a missing person, and a rare one at that: a visitor from another planet who has slipped the custody of her Nasheen hosts. A person who might have the high technology that Nasheen or Chenja could use to end the perpetual conflict for good. And so starts a multi-sided scramble to find the missing offworlder...
The strong points of God's War are three: world building, the characters and descriptive, tight prose that invokes and evokes her wonderfully visualized world.

World building: Interesting and real-feeling descendant forms of Islam, a dry and hostile planet, the strange and wondrous bugpunk technology and biotechnology. The lack of exposition may turn off some. There is plenty of world building, but a relative lack of anything resembling infodumping, and a lot of things are taken as is, with the bug-dominated "Bugpunk" technology being first and foremost. A lot of it is "handwavium" of the first order, and Hurley does not give us any real chance to get up to speed on it. It's been a while since a novel truly has chucked me in the deep end. However, I found the experience invigorating and satisfying once I started to puzzle things out. Hurley has a strong and vivid imagination.
Characters :
Well drawn and interestingly contrasted characters ranging from Nyxnissa, Bel Dame turned bounty hunter, to Rhys the foreign magician, the rest of her crew, and her opposition. Nyx doesn't seem to know what she wants in life beyond her next piece of bread, but rather than vacillating or doing nothing, she is an active character, brawling, brutal, and bloody as she carves her way through the world. The other characters, too, have lesser well defined but still concrete needs and agendas, some of which are only revealed in flashback after we have seen them in action for a while. This slight non linearity forces the reader to pay attention.

Prose: Hurley writes to a well constructed third person viewpoint that mainly focuses on Nyx and her doings. The times where we break away from her or Rhys feel a little off to me, though, an almost unwelcome variation on the theme. Despite this, the alien natures of Umayama and the humans that inhabit it and their cultures are exceedingly well done. You can feel the heat, taste the sweat of the fighters in the gyms, smell the blood of vicious battle.
The style of the book, combined with the technology, gave me a Vandermeer New Weirdesque feel to God's War, with the proviso that this is science fiction, even if Rhys is called a magician and just how things like his talent and those of the shapeshifters are not really explained.
This book is not for the squeamish. Right in the first chapter, Nyx talks about a hysterectomy, and the book does not soften from there. The protagonist gets tortured. People die. Fights and conflicts are messy, inconclusive, and exceedingly violent. Its all very vividly described but fortunately not to the level of "torture porn"
Blood, Bugs and Brutal Women. It says it all.
I, for one, am looking forward to the next Nyx novel, and what else Hurley is capable of beyond her vision of life on Umayama.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:32 PM

January 23, 2011

Book Review 2011 #2: Hard Magic

My second book of the year is my first Laura Anne Gilman novel...

I've mentioned before in previous reviews of mine that Urban fantasy is a genre that I find hit or miss. Certainly its popular, authors are doing well cranking them up, but many urban fantasy novels feel like either romance novels with not well worked out paranormal elements, or feel like they are bandwagoners trying to get in on a hot sub-genre. And, I generally like my landscapes more fantastic and bigger. But I am willing to dip into the sub-genre now and again, if for no other reason than to keep abreast of how it is evolving.

Laura Anne Gilman is an author whose work I have not read before, but she has popped up in mentions of blog posts and social media by authors I have varying levels of contact and friendship with. So, I was delighted to enter and win a contest for a copy (signed as it turns out) of one of her books: Hard Magic

Hard Magic starts a new novel in her "Cosa Nostradamus" universe. Seven books in, there is not a lot of explanation of how the universe works, but clues in the book provided by good writing from Gilman allowed me to piece together that Hard Magic and its previous novels are set in a modern-day urban fantasy universe where magicians, and nonhuman races ("fatae") secretly live in a world ignorant of their presence. A major organized faction of practitioners (Talents), called the Council, try to organize the magical community. Opposing them are lonejacks, who are talents who try and make their own, anarchic way in keeping their powers secret and doing the business of making a living.

Bonnie Torres, a character who had appeared as a minor character in previous Cosa Nostradamus books, gets center stage in Hard Magic. With a Council patron, and a lonejack sort of independence, she nicely encapsulates the dichotomy between these factions as she tries to make a living in NYC.

When Bonnie gets a call to attend a job interview she never applied for, she is soon sucked into PUPI--Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations. She joins a number of other misfit Talents similarly recruited, and together learn to harness their powers for magical forensics.

Oh, and of course, they DO get a case, investigate the strange suicide of a prominent pair of Council members that may very well be something more than a suicide. And in the process, Bonnie and her new friends stir up a number of very dangerous hornets nests in the process...

As an expatriate New Yorker, I felt like a slice of home reading this book, as, with the exception of a few teleports to Boston and Chicago, the entirety of the book takes place in New York City. From jokes about the GWB to pumpernickel bagels, Gilman brings forth the spirit of New York. Bonnie is clearly not a native, and we get a sense of her trying to understand the city, like a cat, has decided to adopt her. Unlike some urban fantasy that I have read, the setting is in harmony with the fantastic elements and they work together (much like, say, Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron).

The central mystery is a fair one by the standards of the universe. More than the mystery, though, the writing and the text show that Gilman is even more interested in exploring the characters. While we only follow Bonnie's point of view and her mind, Gilman does allow us to slowly reveal aspects of her employers and fellow employees. By the end of the book, we have a good handle not only on Bonnie but also her evolving relationships with PUPI, and her mentor J as well.

The advantage for Gilman to start a new series within her Cosa Nostradamus universe is that it provides a new entry point for people wanting to explore a new urban fantasy universe. If you are looking to try some urban fantasy, or more especially if you are a urban fantasy junkie, I recommend you give Bonnie Torres and the PUPI investigators a try.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:11 AM

January 8, 2011

Book Review 2011 #1: Hell and Earth

Hell and Earth is the second of the Stratford Man novel diptych that began with Ink and Steel.

William Shakespeare is free from Hell thanks to the love of their mutual lives, the now-Changeling Christopher Marlowe. Kit has lost much, including his name, and William's palsy is a slow death sentence, but both figures, in Faerie and on Earth, cannot rest on their laurels. Elizabeth is dying, and there are those who wish to use her death and the life of her successor to change not only the destiny of England, but the destiny of all realms.

For William Shakespeare and, even more so, Kit Marlowe is more powerful than he knows, and his untapped power, if harnessed properly, could be used to topple more than James I and the Mebd. Much, much more. The Nature of God itself is up for grabs, if that power is used properly...

The narrative of Hell and Earth is the second half of the "play" that begins in Ink and Steel and Elizabeth Bear wastes no time in plunging us back into her 16th century world. The shadowy plots and plans of the Prometheans who oppose Kit and Will slowly reveal themselves, and their plans are both monstrous and breathtaking indeed. Throw in an audacious and unapologetic attempt to coil in everything from the date of Elizabeth's death to the Guy Fawkes plot to the writing of the King James Bible, and I have found that Hell and Earth, along with Ink and Steel functions as much as a secret history as well as a historical fictional fantasy. In an afterword, Bear mentions that Shakespeare and Marlowe did this very same thing in their own plays, cutting history to suit a narrative end. She makes no apologies.

And so shouldn't the reader. Even beyond Faerie and Hell, Hell and Earth shows an Elizabethan England that is in a fictionalized past, and in this second volume, I started to really grok that in a way that I didn't really internalize in the first volume, Ink and Steel. Treat the books in the same way one might treat Henry V, and

The writing is crisp, vital, and has the ring of veracity. Well drawn characters that never feel like they are 21st century individuals wearing period garb, Bear populates her narrative with complex and conflicted people who are true to their life and times.

Again, though, don't start here. Start with Ink and Steel and immerse yourself in Bear's vision of 16th century England seen through two of its greatest playwrights, plus the nature of God, secret conspiracies,two Queens, Hell, and the Faerie realms.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:43 AM

December 26, 2010

2010 Roundup of Books and Movies

In 2010, I finished reading 39 books and saw many movies...


I read the entire Void trilogy this year, finished Kenyon's four volume Rose and Entire quartet, read the last of Stross' Merchant Princes series, and discovered new writers, both to me and to publishing in general. With an I-Pod, I also started to enjoy podcasts ranging from Strahan and Wolfe's Coode Street, to SF Signal's talented gaggle of writers, to ancient history of Rome, Byzantium and the Normans.


Favorite Genre Movie: Inception
Favorite Game: Borderlands
Favorite Podcast: The History of Rome
Favorite Book: I'm going to give a pass, too many choices.

All Books read:

39 Sizing up the Universe J Richard Gott, Robert J Vanderbei
38 Ink and Steel Elizabeth Bear
37 All that Lives Must Die Eric Nylund
36 The Cardinal's Blades Pierre Pavel
35 The Evolutionary Void Peter F Hamilton
34 The Temporal Void Peter F Hamilton
33 Template Matthew Hughes
32 The Spiral Labyrinth Matthew Hughes
31 Transition Iain Banks
30 Palimpest Catherynne Valente
29 Prospero In Hell L Jagi Lamplighter
28 Hull Zero Three Greg Bear
27 Sheet Music Tibby Armstrong
26 The Mermaid's Madness Jim Hines
25 Trade of Queens Charles Stross
24 Lucky 13 Sommer Marsden
23 Got a Minute Alison Tyler
22 Torn Alison Tyler
21 Empire in Black and Gold Adrian Tchaikovsky
20 The Dreaming Void Peter F Hamilton
19 Land of the Burning Sands Rachel Neumeier
18 Allison's Wonderland Alison Tyler
17 Fast Girls Rachel Kramer Bussel
16 Lord of the Changing Winds Rachel Neumeier
15 Much Fall of Blood Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, Dave Freer
14 Stories Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrontonio
13 Dragon Keeper Robin Hobb
12 The Dream of Perpetual Motion Dexter Palmer
11 Star Finder Poul Anderson
10 The Van Rijn Method Poul Anderson
09 Starfinder John Marco
08 The River Kings Road Liane Merciel
07 The Stepsister Scheme Jim Hines
06 Prince of Storms Kay Kenyon
05 Into the Looking Glass John Ringo
04 The Quiet War Paul McAuley
03 Servant of a Dark God John Brown
02 Cursor's Fury Jim Butcher
01 The Edge of Physics Anil Ananthaswamy

Posted by Jvstin at 8:44 AM

Book Review 2010 #39: Sizing Up the Universe

The last book of the year is one I received only a couple of days ago...

How big is the universe and the things that are in it? You can throw around all sorts of numbers. 93 million miles is the distance to the Sun. Jupiter has a diameter of 142,800 kilometers. Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years away. It is 2 million light years to the Andromeda Galaxy, the furthest object visible with the naked eye.

But what does all that really mean? How do you wrap your way around those sizes and compare them to more familiar sizes and distances? J Richard Gott and Robert J Vanderbei, in National Geographic's Sizing Up the Universe, have set themselves this tall order--explain to the reader just how big things are, and tie it to the every day so that readers can get a handle around it. Also add in a gorgeous visual guide to the heavens, from star charts to pictures ranging from Neil Armstrong to the Cosmic Microwave Background, and you have Sizing Up the Universe.

The book starts off with apparent sizes of objects in the sky, starting with the Moon and moving its way upward. While I have seen many books explain size in a more conventional manner (and the book later does delve into the real size of objects), the authors obvious interest in astronomy and backyard sky viewing give them a perspective as to the apparent size of stellar objects that was illuminating even to a astronomy enthusiast like myself. I had no idea, for example, that the apparent size of the small dim smudge of the Andromeda Galaxy is actually much, much larger than that.

The book then launches itself into viewing the night skies, as a way to bridge the previous section with the subsequent ones, and again showing the astronomical interest of the authors. The charts in this book can be used to find objects in the sky in all four seasons.

Next, the book concerns itself with the distances and sizes of objects, and goes through the routine and familiar (to me) story of Eratosthenes, who discovered (roughly) the size of the Earth, and the efforts throughout history to find the distance to and sizes of the Moon, and the Sun. The authors then use those as scales to map distances all the way to the edge of the Universe. A centerpiece of the book is a gate-fold four page logarithmic size chart of the distances from the Earth that you may have seen on the internet.

Finally, in the tradition of the "Powers of Ten", the book uses a 1:1 size picture of Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon, and then proceeds to pictorially move up to larger and larger scales, until the entire universe is encompassed.

Amazing pictures, comprehensive, intelligently written but not written down to the viewer, Sizing Up the Universe is eminently designed for those teenagers and adults who have ever looked at the sky and wondered just how big and how far away the stars and planets *really* are.

Highly Recommended.

Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective

Posted by Jvstin at 8:15 AM

December 24, 2010

Book Review 2010 #38: All that Lives Must Die

Next up is the second book in the Mortal Coils sequence.

In Mortal Coils, the first book in sequence, we are introduced to the teenaged twins Eliot and Fiona Post. Children of scions of opposing factions, the Immortal Audrey Post(aka Atropos) and the Infernal Louis Piper (aka Lucifer), they have an uneventful, if odd, homeschooled and shut in life, until both factions notice their existence and try to lure the twins to one side or the other. The first novel ended with an Infernal attempt to suborn the children defeated on the one hand, and the twins passing a deadly test set by the Immortals on the other.

Now, the twins have an even greater test: High School.

All That Lives Must Die is the story of Fiona and Eliot, as they grow into their newly discovered, and still developing abilities, in the context of a magical High School, Paxington Institute, that makes Hogwarts seem tame by comparison. The twins discover that there are many of their age with magical abilities, and the reader gets a sense that the Immortal/Infernal split explicated in the first book is really only the beginning of the story. The twins also fracture, as the pressures of school, and their social relations pull at Eliot and Fiona from completely different directions.

And, of course, both the Immortals and Infernals have their own ideas on the education and development of the children. In addition, both sides have become convinced that the children's existence herald that the long standing truce between the two camps is about to be over, and start to arm accordingly.

While the book has teenaged protagonists and even has a reader's guide at the end, the book does not feel like dumbed down YA fiction. Rather, it is in the vein of the better Potter novels, and the newer crop of fantasy and science fiction novels with teenagers in mind. The prose is intelligent, never talks down, and has additional layers that adult readers will enjoy. For example, the hinted identities of Eliot's "band" in Hell are clearly "credit cookies" meant for readers beyond teenagers. In other words, the book feels very much like the best of Pixar movies in that respect.

In addition, the novel continues Nylund's tradition of putting in footnotes as a way to expand the playground of the imagination. Careful reading of the footnotes, with their tone of having been written after the events in the books, provide hints and clues as to where this is all going, and at their best are as witty and urbane as the footnotes in the works of Jack Vance. He even manages to tie in his long-ago first novel in one particular entry.

Nylund is one of those authors who is not stingy on the creativity. From all of the mythological personae given new life and identities, to the vistas of the Paxington Institute, Hell and beyond, and the swirling, complexity of the factions gearing up for the inevitable conflict, Nylund enjoys spooling out his imagination for the reader. As said before, the text is well written but not dumbed down. I devoured this book.

Urban fantasy with a mythological bent. Who would ask for anything more? You won't want to start here--start with Mortal Coils. You'll thank me later.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:41 AM

Book Review 2010 #37: Ink and Steel

Next up, a return to my friend Elizabeth Bear's fiction...

In her diptych, Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear shows us the end of the story of the Promethean Age, when Faerie has been fighting a long war against technology, against Hell, and against those magicians, the Prometheans, who would still see it bound.

In the second volume of that series, when Christopher Marlowe, part of Lucifer's household, appears, he blazes across the page in such a way that I knew, then, that Bear had to write more of his story, and how he had gotten to be in Lucifer's household in the first place.

In Ink and Steel, the first of another diptych, Elizabeth Bear takes us back to the days when Christopher Marlowe is still alive (although not for long), and just as importantly, the early days of the career of one William Shakespeare, whose poetry and pose is as potent an armament as any Elf-knight's sword. For such poetry and pose are strong magic, magic that can be used for good, or for ill...

Shakespeare and his world is a popular choice for fantasy and SF authors. Ruled Britannia has him writing plays for a Spanish-installed Monarch. Sarah Hoyt's trilogy has Shakeapeare tangle with the land of Faerie. Neil Gaiman had Shakespeare meet one of the Endless. Poul Anderson's Midsummer's Tempest is a fine novel where Shakespeare's plays are fact. Bear is in good company here.

With chapters arranged like acts and scenes of a play, with florid, lush descriptions and prose, and the subject matter of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England and Elizabethan Faerie, the book, at least this half, reads and feels like a prose version of one of William Shakespeare's plays. Betrayals, forbidden and denied love, politics, unusual landscapes, engaging and multisided characters convince me that these are books that Bear not only enjoyed writing, but in a sense was born to write. This book (and I am sure, the second half, Hell and Earth) are the kind of books that an author has in mind when she decides to become a writer.

I think, too, that Bear hits it out of the park. I personally know that Elizabethan England is something that Bear knows a fair amount about, and that knowledge flows out onto the page. From the minutae of the changes in the courtiers and servants to Queen Elizabeth, all the way down to what a trip through the streets of London feels like, that knowledge is not dumped on the page, but, rather, flows into that previously mentioned lush text. And then there is Faerie, and even a trip into Hell. Bear is not afraid to make things happen and deliver on the page, consistently, for the reader.

This IS the first novel of two, and so the story does not end here, which may frustrate some readers. I suspect others may object to some characterizations of Shakespeare and Marlowe, but one might consider that Bear almost certainly knows more about the subject than me or you.

I look forward to finishing the Statford Man sequence in Hell and Earth and see just how Bear finishes off the story.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:12 AM

December 9, 2010

Book Review 2010 #36: The Cardinal's Blades

The ring of swords. The clash of steel. Action. Adventure. Swashbuckling. Romance.
Even in this modern age, there is a irresistible romance to swordplay, musketeers and the derring-do of a long lost age. Captured by Alexandre Dumas in his 19th century novels, the world of the musketeers has extended into many movie adaptations (and yet more to come). As a seminal influence, the Three Musketeers are one of the principal inspirations for both the sword and sorcery and sword and sandal genres in fantasy and historical fiction.

Similarly, dragons are an extremely popular sub-genre in fantasy today. While dragons have been around in fantasy fiction since the time of Smaug, and the transformed Eustace, and McCaffrey's Pern are replete with them, in the last few years dragons have commonly cropped up both in modern day tales as well as the alternate Napoleonic War novels of Naomi Novik.
The Cardinal's Blades, the English language debut of French author Pierre Pavel, might be thought of as the marriage of these two streams of culture. Grounded in an alternate-history 17th century France, the Cardinal's Blades is the story of the titular characters, a disgraced secret force of Cardinal Richelieu brought back into service for one more mission against France's major adversary--Spain and its Court of Dragons, and more to the point, its secret society trying to operate in France, the Black Claw.

In Pavel's alternate world, while history has mostly gone on as it has in our world (I did catch at least one major change that makes this alternate history, not just our-history-with-dragons), there are dragons of all sizes in society. Dragonets are pets for the rich and powerful (such as the good Cardinal himself). Wyverns, in perhaps a nod to Novik, are used by aviators as couriers. There are half-dragons (matings between transformed dragons and humans) and brutish dracs (humanoid dragon offspring) as well. Actual dragons are rare and devoted to their own inscrutable purposes. For the most part, they are offstage, manipulating the action rather than, say, taking to the skies and raking Paris with gouts of fire.
This is also true of the other fantastic draconic elements I just mentioned. For the most part, the dragonets, and wyverns are only there for color, a splash of fantasy paint on the historical bones of the book. The Cardinal's Blades' focus is directed on the historical sword-and-sandal elements and milieu.

Characterization development, is another disappointment in this novel. Pavel seems to have reserved most of his characterization for the captain of the Cardinal's Blades, La Fargue, and has fallen to stereotypes and somewhat thinner character development for the rest of the cast . The Womanizing rogue, the Serious one, the Woman in a man's world. Once these traits are set, they do not seem to change or grow.

On the bright side, every one of the Cardinal's Blades does get individual attention and screen time, especially when La Fargue gets the band back together, and when the members head out in a Diaspora to accomplish various pieces of the problem of opposing the Black Claw and its plans. The villains are somewhat more well drawn, and as in the case in many of these books, are as interesting as the characters.

A fair criticism of this review might ask--given my criticisms thus far, well what DOES work in this book?
Well, the Historical perspective. As I have said earlier, this is an alternate history. I am not so familiar with French history to be aware of other divergences, but there is one. It is not at all clear that the fantasy elements are responsible for the point of divergence, and it does seem to be again, mostly for color. The writing does effectively convey the backdrop of 17th century France, perhaps more so because I kept mentally filling in memories of various Musketeers movies. What I mean by this is, nothing in the book jarred with those visions, helping to establish an effective mise-en-scene for the events of the novel.

The swashbuckling action and adventure, too, is one of the best reasons to read this book. Action and adventure this novel has in plenty and Pavel seems to be at his best and most effective as a writer when things get interesting. To the point, there are very effective "set-piece" encounters and battles that are exciting, well written, and helped draw me through the book. For all of the weaknesses mentioned above, Pavel knows how to write effective, engaging and exciting encounters between the protagonists and their foes.

Another thing that works is the complexity of the plot. It's not too convoluted, but things are not quite as they seem, and the motivations of the bigger players on the board are suitably complex and multisided. There is a lot going on in Pavel's world, much more than meets the eye, and there plenty of material here that future volumes in this world could explore.

So, while I don't think that Pavel's The Cardinal's Blades is an heir to, say, Brust's The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years Later, I think it is good enough that I would read a sequel, especially given the twist ending that begs for explanation in a future volume. I hope that forthcoming books will keep Pavel's strengths and shore up some of the weaknesses and would love to see what he does, given an opportunity to grow into this universe.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:18 PM

December 7, 2010

Picking Brains of Favorite Authors

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2010/12/06/inside-the-blogosphere-meeting-our-favorite-authors-and-picking-their-brains/

Over on Grasping for the Wind, John Ottinger asked a bunch of bloggers, including me, the following question:

If you could meet in person any SF/F author, living or dead, who would it be? And if you could only ask one question of this author, what would it be and why?

My answer, which you have seen already, is pretty pedestrian compared to the others, so go and see what other people thought.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:16 AM

December 4, 2010

Book Review 2010 #35: The Evolutionary Void

On the heels of the Temporal Void, I read the 3rd and final volume of the Void Trilogy by Peter F Hamilton

The fate of an entire galaxy and the two universes that very uneasily co-exist within it comes to a head in the third and final volume of Peter F Hamilton's Void trilogy, the Evolutionary Void. In addition, this book serves as a capstone to the previous two books set in the universe, the Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained diptych, as some of the most important and memorable characters from those volumes influence matters as well.

A summary of events in the book would not make much sense, and so I am forced to speak in generalities. In this final volume, many of the secrets and mysteries of the first two books are revealed, sometimes on a grand scale, such as the nature of the Void, and why it acts as it does, and sometimes on more intimate scales, such as the reason why Rah and the colonists were able to
found the culture of Makkathran inside the Void in the first place. Hamilton, like in Judas Unchained, finishes up the current plotlines, resolves the major obstacle, and sets the stage for, if he wishes for future books set in the future. I don't think its a spoiler to tell you that the attempts to keep the Void from devouring the galaxy are successful. The rub is in the doing, and in the characters that he sets on the stage.

There are numerous callbacks, references and appearances by characters from all four of the previous books in the universe, sometimes in the most unexpected places. This is a book that Hamilton has written, in some senses, for readers of the previous four books. I think this is a weakness in a way, people who do not intimately remember details from those books are going to at best miss some "cookies" for faithful readers, and at worst, be confused when conflicts and events resurrected from the past spill out and take over the narrative.

The format changes too, breaking the pattern of the last two novels. We get much more of the space opera, and less of Eddard's backstory inside of the Void. Also, Eddard's story is not told completely and comprehensively, and more so than in the first two novels, we hear about events from Inigo and others, and then get to read what really happened. This complexity and experimentation, I think, don't always work, but they work well enough. In addition, there are touching and moving passages, such as the last dream that Inigo withheld for so long (and why he walked away from his religion). All of this shows Hamilton's depth and growth as a writer.

This is heady space opera of the highest order. Let me correct that. This is heady science fiction of the highest order. Hamilton has only improved as an epic science fiction novelist. I think he is too enamoured of piling every character he can into his climaxes and final pages, but the ending of this one felt much less of a deus ex machina that some of his previous books seem to have suffered from.

It's difficult not to imagine anyone who has read Temporal Void would not want to pick up this volume. For everyone else, start with Pandora's Star, and when you get to this volume, you will have experienced five volumes of space opera science fiction that only get better as the books progress.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:21 AM

November 27, 2010

If you could meet in person any SF/F author, living or dead, who would it be? And if you could only ask one question of this author, what would it be and why?

John Ottinger at Grasping for the Wind asks:

If you could meet in person any SF/F author, living or dead, who would it be? And if you could only ask one question of this author, what would it be and why?

I'm a shy-with-strangers sort of person, so I haven't met many authors, SF or otherwise.

But let's pretend that handicap isn't there.

So many choices...but for amusement, I will pick the late Isaac Asimov, and I would ask him this, given his prolific writing, both fiction and non fiction:

Is there any subject that you don't think you could write a book on?

Posted by Jvstin at 8:33 AM

November 14, 2010

Book Review 2010 #34: The Temporal Void

Next up, the second in Hamilton's Void Trilogy

In The Dreaming Void, we were introduced to the Commonwealth nearly a millennium and a half after the events of Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. A wide, diverse Commonwealth has exploded into numerous factions and polities, including the strange adherents of Living Dream, seeking a way into the physics-defying realm in the center of the galaxy. Book one was set up, introducing us to the characters, and allowing the reader to slowly start to piece things together. Old friends from the original duology,like Paula Myo, took their places along with Araminta, Mr. Bovey, Corrie-Lyn and many other new characters.

In the second book, Hamilton really sets them in motion. With the revelation of the identity of the mysterious Second Dreamer, much of the book is an extended cat and mouse chase sequence as Araminta seeks to escape the various forces that want to control her, destroy her, or worse.

In the meantime, we get to see much more of Edeard's life within the Void. Even more important--a key event in Edeard's life reveals once and for all just *why* it is so crucial, so important for the Living Dream adherents to get within the Void and live a life there. You didn't really think that the millions of Living Dream followers just wanted to live a medieval life, bereft of technology and gaining a few psionic powers, did you? In the Temporal Void, Hamilton reveals it--and it is a doozy. (For spoiler reasons, I am not revealing it).

But that last point shows the strength of Hamilton's writing when it comes to series. This middle volume sets us up for the finale, but does so without marking time. Again, Hamilton shows his increasing sense of balance in his writing. The Void Trilogy, while epic-sized at nearly 700 pages, is still tighter and more focused than previous novels Hamilton has wrote. He does seem to have gained increased control over his writing, much as Edeard refines his psionic abilities. Practice and skill allow the words to flow, and the plot and characters come to life in this middle volume of the trilogy.

I also have a personal, idiosyncratic theory that Hamilton wrote this trilogy to dip into the waters of fantasy. Edeard's adventures in Makkathran certainly feel like a fantasy story, and in this second volume, we switch from "callow boy makes his way to the big city" to a "political power, intrigue and police procedural with psionics in the big city". Its not all roses and champagne, Edeard's path is not easy or even clear. The consequences of power seems to be an emergent theme in this second book, both in Edeard's story and the universe at large.

Strong science fiction, amazing technology, a realm at the center of the galaxy which feels like psionic-fueled fantasy? Hamilton has managed a tricky balancing act for a second volume, and has come through with flying colors. I look forward to the third and final of the Void books, and so should you.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:37 AM

October 30, 2010

Book Reviews 2010 #32-33: The Spiral Labyrinth and Template

A pair of novels set in the Archonate of the penultimate age of Earth, by Matthew Hughes.


Matthew Hughes is an under-appreciated writer. For years he has been toiling in a mainly Jack Vancean sort of vein, turning out stories and novels set in a world where science is just about to turn over to magic, but not quite yet. Old Earth, with a baroque and dizzying array of ancient cultures, is a rich field for Hughes to explore. On an even larger scale, Old Earth is itself but one planet in "The Spray", Hughes's answer to Jack Vance's Oikumene. A dizzying array of planets of even more diversity than Earth itself, Hughes' fiction allows the reader to experience a full and inexhaustible range of cultures, environments and characters. His prose brings these environments and characters to life, transporting the reader to areas both familiar and absolutely alien for all of their humanity.

In the Spiral Labyrinth, we continue the adventures of Henghis Hapthorn, previously seen in a couple of short stories as well as Majestrum. As a freelance discriminator (private investigator) he is a late-age-of-Earth Sherlock Holmes, with a number of twists. Thanks to the results of previous adventures, his integrator, a semi-sentient computer, has been transformed from a device to a fruit-craving unique creature. Also, his sense of intuition, an invaluable compliment to his finely honed sense of reason and logic, is in fact now a full fledged sub personality within his brain that he can converse with, named Osk Rievor. Even with these handicaps (although he would insist they are advantages), Henghis is the foremost discriminator on Old Earth.

In the Spiral Labyrinth Henghis once again gets plunged into situations far beyond his ken, surviving by applications of luck, verve, reason and intuition. Hughes likes to put his characters through the wringer. The keystone event of Spiral Labyrinth, for example, has Henghis, thanks to the titular device, accidentally transported several centuries into the future--and past the point where the rules of the universe finally change from science and magic. Worse, he has been transported here without Osk Rievor (who knows a little theory of magic), and so he must survive on reason alone, in a land without reason.How does Henghis survive in a world of dragons and spells, and how he manages to get home are the meat and potatoes of the book.

And, like previous novels and stories, Spiral Labyrinth stands alone, but continues to build the life, career and nature of its main character. You certainly can start here, Hughes does a good job enfolding previous events into the narrative in an organic way. However, this does not mean the stories are episodic. I have no doubt that the adventures of this book, and their impact on Hapthorn, will continue to resonate through the next

If you are a Jack Vance fan, or simply enjoy picaresque adventures in a baroque series of settings with an engaging main character, the Henghis Hapthorn stories of Matthew Hughes, including the Spiral Labyrinth, are definitely for you.


In Template, Matthew Hughes starts us far away from Old Earth, on a backward part of the Spray. Conn Labro has been raised from an orphaned birth to be a gaming duelist. Indentured to a Gaming House, his life is mostly duels and fighting for his employer. When his one link to a life outside Horder's Gaming Emporium, a mysterious old man who is his only friend, is murdered, events sweep up Labro into an intrigue of double-dealing and an even more unusual inheritance that Labro never expected to be heir to. Along with a showgirl tied to his murdered friend, Labro makes a journey toward Old Earth, and beyond, to uncover the mystery of something even greater than a inheritance or his old friend's death.

His own origin.

Unlike many of the other stories Hughes has written in the Archonate, Template starts us far away from Old Earth, and Old Earth is only a waypoint (albeit a major one) in the rambling journey of the protagonist. Template appears to be Hughes' interpretation and riff on the themes and ideas of Jack Vance's Demon King novels. Labro is a lens that allows us to see a wide variety of worlds and characters. Labro's own provincial attitudes are the barometer by which other (and there are many in this book!) cultures are judged.

Admittedly, Jenore, the aforementioned showgirl, is more of a plot device than a completely fully formed character, and I didn't quite buy the romance between the characters.This is perhaps the weakest part of the book for me. Perhaps had the book been longer, this weakness might have been addressed.

Still, even given these weaknesses, the writing is strong and bright, and dense. It might be among the strongest writing that I have read from Matthew Hughes, perhaps because we get to see corners of the Spray from the eyes of characters who are new to Hughes, and thus have the contrast of being something different for him. Labro and Mordene are not his usual type of characters to explore and use as focal points. The structure of the plot almost follows Van Vogt's maxim that plot twists and plot advancement should occur at a breakneck pace. Combine that with a dizzying array A slim and slight volume, I devoured Template rapidly. Fans of Jack Vance, or Matthew Hughes' prior work, will appreciate Template.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:14 AM

October 17, 2010

Book Review 2010 #31: Transition

And now, my second attempt to "get" Iain Banks...

Transition is a frustrating book.
This is my second attempt at reading Iain Banks. My first attempt at reading him, Inversions, was less than satisfactory. I have never read any of the Culture novels, despite having friends who have raved endlessly about them.
Being a fan of Moorcock, and Zelazny, and well immersed in the idea of multiple universes and alternate histories, I thought I would try and give Transition a try, and see if I could unlock Iain Banks to my imagination at last.

The attempt was, at best, partially successful.

Told by unreliable narrators, primarily a psychiatric patient, Transition tells the story of several individuals, the identities of more than a couple are possibly the same person at different points in their personal timeline. Or are they? The problem with unreliable narrators is that its difficult to take anything said at face value or even at first reflection.

Reflections. Transition is the story of these individuals who work with, or for the Concern. The Concern is an organization that has developed a drug that allows certain sensitive individuals the ability to jump between alternate histories, between worldlines. The Concern sends out agents between these timelines for its own inscrutable purposes.

Its an old trope in science fiction--I was cutting my teeth on The Coming of the Quantum Cats by Frederik Pohl 25 years ago. There, it was technology, and not drugs that allowed it. Or, say, the sadly forgotten Mainline by Deborah Christian, where the primary character is the only one who has the ability to jump between histories, but the jumps are "small". And then there is Zelazny, and Moorcock, and H Beam Piper's universe...Banks is not precisely breaking new ground here.

So what does Banks bring to the old idea? Well, the Concern appears to be undergoing radical change within its ranks, and its time of action is, in our world, is between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers. Politics, and philosophy mix into the basic plot, making this book a very political tract. I am not sure that Banks intended the book to be leveled at specific targets, but the scaffold of a series of alternate worlds allows him to do so. For example, one of the main worlds that the members of the Concern pass through and inhabit is a Muslim dominated world where the primary threat is from CT's--Christian terrorist suicide bombers. In a world that may be our own, Adrian Cubbish, one of our narrators, is a hypercapitalist who worships the free hand of the market with a fervor that would shock the most jaded trader in London or New York. I am not sure the tribulations of Patient 8262, including attempts at molestation, are meant to evoke Abu Ghraib, but these sections were disturbing, even if we aren't sure through much of the book just how he connects with much of the events of the book. It's that unreliable narrator problem, again.

Its extremely off-putting, as much off-putting as, say, L Neil Smith's heavy handed attempts at libertarian politics in his novels. I am not saying that such politics has no place in a book, but when the politics is so integral to the novel, to the point of hurting plot and character, then I cry foul.

Even with the heavy handed political layering, there are some interesting concepts that Banks invents, or uses. For example, like in Zelazny's Amber series, amongst the sheaf of infinite Earths, there is one that is very different than the others, and unique: Calbefraques. And like the Amber series, the Concern is based on this central, singular world, and works in our more traditional world. I liked Calbefraques perhaps precisely because it was so very different than the Earths that appear to be funhouse mirrors of our own world.

Another positive is some of the other abilities that we see the Concern use. There is more to their suite of employees than simple world-jumping, and one of the books Narrators, through contact with a rebel(?) member of the Concern, learns some interesting tricks indeed. I liked how Banks described a climatic cat-and-mouse use of opposing powers in a version of Venice. After some slow going, I felt the novel really come to life in this sequence.

I did find it amusing, too, that I was listening to Palimpsest at the same time I was reading this book. Like that book, it emerges that certain talented individuals in the Concern can travel between the worlds, taking their partner along, too, by the act of sex.

So, as I have said, Transition is a frustrating book.

Can the politics and other layers things be seen through? Does the good parts of the novel outweigh the more freighted ones. Yes. But its not as easy as I would have liked--and perhaps that is precisely Banks' intention and his point.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:52 AM

Book Review 2010 #30: Palimpsest (audiobook)

Next up, an audiobook of a Hugo Nominee...

Sex. Pain. Grotesqueries. Salvation. Escape.

Palimpsest, especially as an audiobook, is a rich, sensual, baroque and lush descent into the lives of four otherwise ordinary individuals who discover a gateway into selected fragments of the eponymous city.

A Hugo nominee, the audiobook version takes the prose and transforms it into an exquisite aural experience. I think that the audiobook is a natural form for a novel which is, to be frank, a little short on plot, and very long on style and imagery. The intimate encounters of Oleg, November, Ludvoico and Sei come across, read, as borderline erotica. But while the sexual, erotic elements of the book are probably the most famous to those who have not read the book, the book also delves into the darkness and the grotesque as the four protagonists, bound together across space, each seek permanent passport to the city. No, I think this novel fits much more in the New Weird than anything else. Palimpsest is very much like Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris, a city with echoes of our own, but plainly fantastic and impossible. The city is as much, or if I might be permitted to criticize, even more fully realized as a character than the four protagonists ever are. Valente's style and imagery brings that fifth character, the city of Palimpsest itself, to indelible and inescapable life.

I have heard Valente described as a modern-day Scheherezade. Certainly, listening to this book, rather than reading this book, reinforces that perception. Aasne Vigesaa certainly does an excellent job with characters both male and female, bringing them and that baroque prose to your ears in excellent fashion. In fact, speaking of Scheherezade, I would love to have Vigesaa read the Arabian Nights...

I don't recommend using this audiobook for a long drive across the country, the prose and the dulcet tones of the narrator are precisely the wrong things to try and listen to while concentrating on driving. On the other hand,listening to a portion of this book before sleeping is a ticket for your own esoteric and strange dream imagery. One might say that listening to this audiobook before sleeping is your own ticket, your own way into the mysterious and singular Palimpsest. It did for me.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:24 AM

October 2, 2010

Book Review 2010 #29: Prospero in Hell

The second in the series of books by L. Jagi Lamplighter...

In the first book in the series, Prospero Lost, L. Jagi Lamplighter introduces us to a cross between epic and urban fantasy, where the daughter of Shakespeare's Prospero, is the CEO of a corporation devoted to managing the many malicious arcane (demonic, and otherwise) threats to humanity. Discovering that her father has disappeared, Miranda sets on a quest to find, question and obtain the assistance of her estranged siblings.

This second novel continues the growth of Miranda, as a leader, and as a person, as she takes the lead in trying to get her siblings together, organized, and pointed in one direction--the rescue of their trapped father.

Middle novels in a trilogy are usually good for marking time. The first novel sets the stakes, the last novel finishes up the situation and resolves everything. The middle novel often serves to tread water, or to reverse much of the protagonists good work.

Prospero in Hell manages to get real character development, growth, and unfurling of the plot in the midst of a middle volume, a pretty good feat for the second novel for a writer. In point of fact, Lamplighter's writing is strong enough that when a very dark event (foreshadowed, even) happens to Miranda, I felt a visceral reaction.

The stakes and situation evolve and change, and I think I now better understand what the author is trying to do here. Two novels in,I think that my characterization of this as Urban Fantasy is not quite accurate. Instead, Lamplighter appears to be mining a different vein: Christian Fantasy. The discussion of salvation, the appearance of an angel, and more clearly make it clear that Lamplighter is invoking the heritage of C.S. Lewis as much as Roger Zelazny. I didn't twig onto that in the first book when the climax brings them to the North Pole and Father Christmas, but I recall that, too, Lewis has his protagonists meet Saint Nicholas when they needed him.

I have to admit that, although she is clearly writing the novels she wants to write, its a pretty good strategy as a writer to stake out this field. Compared to a lot of the fantasy sub-genres these days, its an underdeveloped field. Players of Steve Jackson's RPG In Nomine, for example, are going to love this novel for the ideas that can be used in that game of Angels and Demons and Other Powers.

The novel doesn't quite come off as preachy or conversion-oriented, but even if I didn't already know that faith was important to the husband and wife team, it comes across strongly in the narrative. One should not worry that this novel or its predecessor stray into didactic Left Behind territory. For one thing, Lamplighter can write better than Lahaye and Jenkins while tied up in a sack with a dyspeptic cat.

And, there is a heavy leavening of a mix of other mythologies into the narrative. This is the kind of universe and book where Miranda meets angels, demons, elves, the Lord of the Djinn, and wields the dangerous and treacherous Laevateinn. Oh, and as you might guess from the title, dares to try and find a way into Hell itself. If I didn't know better, I would swear the author had visited John Myers Myers' Commonwealth of his novel Silverlock and spent copious amounts of time there.

I think Lamplighter's novels deserve a wider audience. Starting here is a mistake, but do try the first novel, Prospero Lost. I wager that readers who finish it will definitely want to continue to read Miranda's story in this volume.

Prospero in Hell (Prospero's Daughter)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:03 PM

Book Review 2010 #28: Hull Zero Three

Next up, a return to Hard SF from Greg Bear...

After an extended period where Greg Bear, once known for Hard "Big Idea" SF such as Eon and the Forge of God, took a detour into biological SF and near-future thrillers, Greg Bear has returned to his roots with Hull Zero Three.

Showing that he has learned from his sojourn in other realms, however, Hull Zero Three is both a return to Hard SF, and shows his evolution as a writer. Instead of a big canvas approach to his subject, as I expected, Hull Zero Three has a much tighter focus.

Hull Zero Three tells the story of the narrator, nameless through much of the narrative, as he awakens, mysteriously, on board a spacecraft. Memories of arriving at a planet, memories of a former life, and a slow recollection of past memory tug at him. Even through all of this, however, on the cold and deadly spacecraft, the narrator has a larger problem than remembering who and what he is: Simple Survival.

With its tight focus, protagonist unsure of the past or future, uncertain and unreliable allies, strange monsters(!) and the setting of a ship hurtling through space, I was reminded of another odd duck of a novel that was atypical of its author: A Short, Sharp Shock, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Like Hull Zero Three, it was both typical and utterly unique to Robinson's oeuvre, a striking story that, while not entirely successful, was still amazingly memorable years later.

Hull Zero Three fills that niche for Bear. No massive scale looks at the spacecraft, no wonder-busting grand canvas. This is a personal, dark story (very dark once the full details of the situation emerge). Lots of interesting speculation and a working out of the implications of the technology. And, given that much of the novel is a "chase scene", the book moves at a frentic, breakneck pace. Instead of just the usual infodumps, we learn the background in a drip and drab sort of fashion. It requires the reader to pay attention to get the whole picture of what is happening on the ship.

Oh, and the prose. Bear has polished and improved his prose and dialogue, giving a fuller reading experience than some of his earlier works, which often were stronger on ideas than on characters or story. Not here. This book works on all levels.

The ending is a bit muddled, and I wonder if its a case of editing, or a strange choice on the part of the writer to jump forward, and then back again in a bit of a whiplash fashion. Narratively and otherwise, that is my main complaint with the book.

It's also amazingly short. Clocking in at only just over 300 pages, its a brief, intense, dark work from a writer who has been away from his core output for far too long. Welcome back, Greg Bear. Let's see what else you can do with your new tools.

Hull Zero Three

Posted by Jvstin at 10:05 AM

September 24, 2010

Book Review 2010 #27: Sheet Music

Next up, an exciting debut of erotic fiction...

She's a music reporter. He's an enigmatic musician. Together they catch fire!

The best erotic fiction that works on a fictional as well as a heat level works because the author makes us give a tinker's dam about the characters. Sure, the build up of passion, heat, and sex are the main selling points for erotic fiction. Its true. But when an author manages to get you to care what happens outside of the bedroom (or kitchen, or...), then you have a keeper. The author has managed to create a work of fiction that just so happens to have a lot of steamy sex in it.

Sheet Music manages that feat.

Kyra is a music reporter. Her assignment is David Tallis, a musician whose life is as much of a puzzle and mystery as the more reclusive music stars in our world. Kyra did not get to her position by giving up, even with such a difficult prospect. David enjoys the paparazzi about as much as a root canal. Kyra has to up her game, and wind up under David's sheets in the process...

What starts off as a seduction turns out to be a case of About Last Night, as David's Past, Kyra's Present, and their very different personalities collide. With plenty of sex in between, Armstrong manages to keep up the story while continuing to charge up the intense encounters between the two main characters. Armstrong doesn't make it easy for the two characters. Growth, and reflection are necessary for both Kyra and David before the denouement.

I didn't think the subject matter would quite appeal to me--I consider myself somewhat musically stunted. Still, I was fascinated by the characters, the setting of London (which I have visited once) felt like the author had did her homework, and well, the encounters between David and Kyra are hot. What more can a reader ask?

I look forward to enjoying more books from Ms. Armstrong.


Sheet Music is available for the Amazon Kindle
Sheet Music

It is also available at Ellora's Cave.
http://www.jasminejade.com/p-8533-sheet-music.aspx

Posted by Jvstin at 7:14 AM

September 11, 2010

Book Review 2010 #26: The Mermaid's Madness

Now, a much lighter book from Mr. Jim Hines

In the Stepsister Scheme, Mr. Jim Hines came up with a clever fantasy conceit, reimagining Snow White and Sleeping Beauty as kick-butt action heroines that could stand toe to toe with the likes of Sarah Connor, River Tam, and Ripley. Princess Cinderella, Danielle Whiteshore, joins their duo in an effort to find her husband, the Prince, who has been kidnapped, with faerie magic aid, by her evil stepsisters.

In the Mermaid's Madness, we turn to the sea. The relationship between the island kingdom of Lorindar and the merfolk of the sea have necessarily been amicable for a long time. When the annual meeting turns deadly, the three princesses have to uncover old secrets, discover the truth of the Mermaid's Madness, and even save the life of their Queen. In the aftermath of the attack, her life, and her soul hang by the slenderest of threads.

And, as best they can, kick some butt.

Although the Stepsister Scheme was never as light and frothy as it seemed to be, the Mermaid's Madness does strongly rejigger the balance between lightness and more serious matters. The threat to the Queen comes across on the page as far more serious than the threat to Armand in the first novel. In addition, the revelations of how and why the Princess' antagonists are acting are much more complex than the relatively straightforward motivations of the first book. Snow White's mirror magic extends and evolves, Danielle learns what it means to step up and be a Princess, and Talia's secret, unrequited love is revealed. This is all good character development. I appreciate a series where the author avoids the Scylla and Charybdis of no character development on the one hand, or radical and unrealistic development on the other.

So one might say that the Mermaid's Madness is a more mature book than the previous one. The writing still is strong, and the episodes of humor and levity do not clash against that darker, mature tone that I mentioned. And its damned entertaining. The central concept of the first book, of Disney Princesses as heroines that take charge, still is in full flower. Oh, and I love how the story of Ariel is transmogrified into something as tragic as the original Hans Christian Andersen story, and yet has unique elements to Hines' universe as well.

I look forward to reading the third and final book in the series.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:15 AM

Book Review 2010 #25: Trade of Queens

Next up: The end of a series by Charles Stross

Six books in, the Merchant Princes series has come to an end.

For those of you just joining us, Miriam Beckstein, journalist from Boston, discovered that she really is the scion of a family with a secret--with the aid of special clockwork knots, they can transport themselves between our world, and the primitive feudal world of their birth. They have used this power to amass wealth and power by through the lucrative trade of drug smuggling, using the Gruinmarkt as a way to get around the DEA. Miriam has been married, widowed, discovered a *third* history where a autocratic British empire runs North America and is on the cusp of revolution, and has learned there are more worlds still out there.

Now, things come to a head.

The Clan sends a message to the United States by using their worldwalking powers to explode a few stolen backpack nuclear weapons. This, frankly, leads to no good end, as President Cheney (President Bush is killed by one of the bombs) decides on a murderous course of revenge which is perfected by HIS successor. Cheney's revelation of worldwalking to the world leads to tensions between nations, including...well, that would be telling.

And in the middle of it all, Miriam is just trying to find a place, a world, for herself and her people to survive. The Trade of Queens indeed...

I got the sense, reading this, that Stross felt he wanted to be done with this universe. There is a weariness to the text and to the plot that I didn't detect in earlier volumes. There is some lovely speculation on why the worlds have different amounts of technology, but this speculation is sadly stillborn. The novel also suffers by ending Miriam's plot long before the end of the book, and she does not appear afterwards.

A few glitches and typos (the inconsistent use of code names in and out of public) mar the text a bit as well. It felt unprofessional and sloppy. I know that this is not fair to the writer, but I am responding to the text as much as the talented Mr. Stross.

This is not to say that its all bad. Stross' strong points hold here. His worlds show harsh contrasts and he follows the implications of worldwalking technology and its revelation to its terrible, stark conclusions. Even though I winced at the actions of the U.S. and other nations, I cannot deny that they are anything but extremely plausible. I suspect that if these novels had been written before Sept 11,2001, the tone would have been different, but in the post 9/11 world, things really are different.

Looking back, I am glad to have read the series, but this volume definitely ends it on a bit of a whimper. It doesn't quite fulfill the enormous promise of the first novel. I think Mr. Stross, as talented as he is, still has things to learn about writing a full blown series. I look forward to seeing him try.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:51 AM

September 5, 2010

2010 Hugo Award Winners!

http://www.thehugoawards.org/2010/09/2010-hugo-award-winners/

Presented at: Aussiecon 4, Melbourne, Australia, September 2-6, 2010


Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK); The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

Best Novella: "Palimpsest", Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)

Best Novelette: "The Island", Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)

Best Short Story: "Bridesicle", Will McIntosh (Asimov's 1/09)

Best Related Book: This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I"), Jack Vance (Subterranean)

Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: "The Waters of Mars" Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)

Best Editor Short Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Best Editor Long Form: Ellen Datlow
Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan
Best Semiprozine: Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl
Best Fanzine: StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith
Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster
And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): Seanan McGuire


Ties rarely happen in the Hugo awards, especially with the arcane ballot rules used. The last time (for novels anyway) was 1993 (A Fire Upon the Deep and the Domesday Book).

And I am tickled pink that grand statesman Frederik Pohl won an award for best fan writer, because of his efforts in blogging the early history of the field.

Congratulations to all! (Now, I guess I really really need to get a copy of the Wind-up Girl...since it won the Nebula *and* tied for the Hugo)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:49 AM

August 28, 2010

Books Read and Reviewed 2010 to Date(August 29th)

Italicized books are ones I received books from the author, or review copies.


24. Lucky 13, Sommer Marsden
23. Got a Minute, Alison Tyler
22. Torn: Erotica Ripped from the Seams, Alison Tyler

21. Empire in Black and Gold, Adrian Tchaikovsky
20. The Dreaming Void, Peter F Hamilton
19. Land of the Burning Sands, Rachel Neumeier
18. Allison's Wonderland, Alison Tyler
17. Fast Girls, Rachel Kramer Bussel

16. Lord of the Changing Winds, Rachel Neumeier
15. Much Fall of Blood, Eric Flint, Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer
14. Stories, Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
13. Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb
12. The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer

11. Star Finder, Poul Anderson
10. The Van Rijn Method, Poul Anderson
9.Starfinder, John Marco
8. The River Kings Road, Liane Merciel

7. The Stepsister Scheme, Jim Hines
6. Prince of Storms, Kay Kenyon
5. Into the Looking Glass, John Ringo
4. The Quiet War, Paul McAuley
3. Servant of a Dark God, John Brown
2. Cursor's Fury, Jim Butcher
1. The Edge of Physics, Anil Ananthaswamy

Posted by Jvstin at 9:09 AM

Book Review 2010 #24: Lucky 13

One more anthology of Erotica, this time from one author...

Ms. Marsden's talents first came to my attention because of her frequent appearance in the anthologies edited by Alison Tyler. Again, and again, the name would crop up, always tied with a story that had strongly developed characters, were sizzling hot, and understood that the fastest way to arouse anyone of any gender or sexual orientation was to engage the organ everyone has in common--the brain.

In Lucky 13, Sommer gets a chance to show off her stuff in a solo context, bringing together thirteen of her stories for your pleasure:

Pause
Underpass
Confessions of a Sexpert #1: Sally Mae
Masturbation 101
Open All Night:Claire
Confessions of a Sexpert #2: Mr. Winkler
Fresh Meat
Mrs. Polenesi
She Looked Good In Ribbons
Paper or Plastic?
Kissing Me Sexy
Beautiful Rita
For Tonight

In this collection of thirteen stories, meet Noelle, whose infidelity will tug at your heart, as well as your arousal. The darkly powerful relationship between Jared and Brenda. The special customer service Lissa gets from Chad. The melancholy encounter between Alyssa and West in She Looked good in Ribbons, possibly my favorite story of the thirteen. The sizzling office threesome in Fresh Meat. And more.

As I expected, hot sex and well developed characters together have combined into a powerful collection of Sommer's work, and this serves as a good sampling of her oeuvre, style, and the buttons she likes to push. Like me, anyone who has encountered Sommer's work elsewhere will find more of her excellent work here, this time unalloyed by other writers. Sometimes, you want to devour just one writer's style and passion, and this anthology allows you to explore Ms. Marsden's work in that way.

Sometimes the thing's we're forced to wait for are the very best things. And sometimes, waiting is severely overrated. Try Sommer's work sooner, rather than later, and you will see what I mean.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:40 AM

Book Review 2010 #23: Got a Minute?

This has been a summer for erotica reviews, i suppose...

Short erotica sometimes gets a bad reputation.

Of course, much erotic fiction gets a bad reputation, but short stories are unfairly derided even within the genre as being "beat material". Poorly written, and nothing more than two people devoid of any character having mechanically described sex. This sort of stuff fills much of the internet; its not hard to find.

Wouldn't it be nice to read some short, short erotica that rises above that sordid reputation to something tastier, more arousing, and better written?

Although erotic novels build up the heat and passion between its characters over time, some days, you don't want to spend the time reading to build the heat, and just want to jump into the fire. Just like sometimes, you want to sample a flavor that accumulates in the mouth, and sometimes you want to try the habanero mango salsa and feel the sharp pain quickly.

In Got a Minute, edited by Alison Tyler, you can.

Got a Minute brings together over 50 stories to this task--write a short, short story, bring a hot situation to fruition quickly, and write it well.

Given those bounds, and given the stable of authors on tap here, its difficult not to find a sheaf of stories to like. Shanna Germain gives us a protagonist who tells you, in the second person, the best way to spank her.Rachel Kramer Bussel gives us two lovers, a banker and a lawyer, whose mouths devour each other's bodies deliciously in the summer heat. Bonnie Dee shows us how the dual acts of massage and painting toenails can lead to explosively erotic results.

IAnd if you don't like a particular kink or author, a new situation and author is just a minute away in this anthology, waiting for you to jump into another fiery furnace of erotic heat and desire.

Surprisingly, though, given the word count strictures, some of the stories go beyond a mere hot sexual situation and bring more interesting and unexpected things into the mix.

Inga Mahn's Backroom Sally, for instance, puts a delicious twist into the idea of a coin-operated sex machine. The editor herself,. Alison Tyler, manages to mingle a heartbreaking story of a past relationship into the current hot one in "No-Win Situation".

That's the greatest strength of the virtues of this anthology. Not the hot sexual situations that will fuel your imagination. Not the variety of authors with their points of view, writing styles, and ideas on display. No, its the sheer surprise and encapsulation of the unexpected in these stories that lift the sub-genre of short erotica from the sordid into the realm of erotic literature.

A truly tasting anthology that I reservedly recommend.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:58 AM

August 19, 2010

Book Review 2010 #22: Torn: Erotica Ripped from the Seams

Yes, another book (small) of erotica...

Torn: Erotica Ripped from the Seams


torn
verb:.
1. the past participle of tear.
that's torn it Brit slang an unexpected event or circumstance has upset one's plans
adj:
1. split or cut
2. divided or undecided, as in preference he was torn between staying and leaving

In Torn, Erotica Ripped from the Seams, erotic author and anthologist Alison Tyler brings together stories written by herself, and by recurring anthology partners and friends: Jax Baynard, Sommer Marsden, Sophia Valenti and Thomas Roche.

Each of the stories explores the concept of "torn" in different ways, both metaphorical and literal. We have torn clothes, people torn by indecision and circumstance, and everything in between. With such a broad topic the stories sometimes have only an indirect relationship to the theme, but this doesn't keep the stories from being arousing.

Sophia Valenti's story, Having it All, takes the concept of torn to mostly metaphorical levels, as we discover how Kate is torn between Patrick and Carson...and discovers she may not have to be so torn.

Sommer Marsden's More Holes than Jeans does involve actual torn jeans, and also a very hot threesome, as little Amy finds herself picked up by a very carnivorous husband and wife team.

Jax Baynard's Hill Country takes us to the northern panhandle of Texas, and how a metaphorical tear in a wife's trust in her husband is healed in the breach. Don't get me wrong: its a hot story about a stocking fetish...

Thomas Roche's Rip off my clothes takes it title to literal heights, in a very dirty, kinky dominance and submission story that pushes the boundaries of the anthology.

The anchor story, by Alison herself, introduces us to a writer whose lover takes tears in her jeans as a most delicious invitation to naughtiness.

My favorite story of the quintet is probably Sommer's. Both Amy and the Gundersons are interesting characters even as they have hot sex within their short story. I'd love to read more about what the latter get up to.

But, really, they are all good, original (no reprints here) and hot. Trust me: try them, you will like them

Posted by Jvstin at 5:33 PM

August 8, 2010

Book Review 2010 #21: Empire in Black and Gold

Next up, the start of a novel and original fantasy series.

It's an audacious idea that you might laugh at if I describe it in print. Here goes.

On a parallel world, giant insects grew to enormous size, threatening mammals, reptiles, and primitive humans in the process. In order to adapt to this threat, tribes of humans form mystical alliances with these giant insects, taking on their traits and abilities even while remaining human.

Thus is Shadows of the Apt, the start of a new series by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

This world is moving slowly into an age of science, as the apt (technologically able) varieties of the Kinden, the Beetle, Ant and Wasps have become ascendant over the magic and superstitious Mantis and Moth Kinden. So ascendant in fact, that the Wasp Empire has decided to conquer the world, with flying soldiers that can both fight well and use magical bursts of energy to attack (think Janet Van Dyne from the Marvel comics universe). The Wasps are intent on subjugating all of the Kinden, of every variety, to their yoke.

Opposing the Wasps, recognizing the threat for what it is, is an old Beetle college teacher who doubles as a spymaster, who has gathered and trained a diverse set of Kinden with the goal of using them to build a resistance to the city-state gobbling Wasps.

But the Wasps are onto Stenwold, and his young charges find themselves facing the might and danger that the Wasps represent far sooner than they expected...

I probably would not have picked up this book, with this gonzo (but brilliant premise) if I didn't trust the publisher. Prometheus/Pyr books has a reputation for a strong hand on the tiller, and if he was willing to bring the novel over from Britain to America and publish it, that gave me hope it was worthwhile. I am glad I picked it up on that basis.

Its hard to classify this novel. It's clearly fantasy, given the powers of the Kinden, but the burgeoning of rapidly developing technology (trains and even better, AIRSHIPS) give a steampunkish feel to this universe. And there is apparently fading but real magic in this world, too, as exemplified by the Moth Kinden.

More than the background stuff. The characters really shine. Human with insect like traits and proclivities, they are in the end still human, with human failings, foibles, motivations and personalities. From Stenwold Maker, college teacher and spymaster, to his coterie of family and proteges, and those they interact with in trying to oppose the Wasps, each character is well developed, has a story arc, and develops over the course of the story. And, the sign of a very good writer, Tchaikovsky manages to humanize the evil Wasps as well, providing characters on their side of the conflict with recognizable motivations and personalities, rather than faceless adversaries.

The novel simply works on a number of levels. Magic, technology, interesting characters and at the core--an original idea. We see a number of Kinden, and get mentions of several more. Characters embody, and transcend, those Kinden stereotypes.

I will pick up Dragonfly Falling, and continue to read of the Kinden.


Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt 1)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:17 AM

Book Review 2010 #20: The Dreaming Void

Next up, the start of Peter F Hamilton's latest big fat series.

The 36th century is a good time to be a human.

No, really. Wormhole technology and rapid technological advancement has made humans a pretty big player on the galactic stage. Sure, there are post-singularity beings floating about here and there, and a few species which do things that we humans don't understand, and some pugnacious species as well. Still, its been 1200 years since a threat capable of taking on the whole of the human race has emerged.

But when a retired and missing dream-fueled religious prophet's followers decide to conduct a pilgrimage toward the mysterious center of the galaxy, where one of those powerful alien races have been keeping a vigil over a threat capable of devouring everything and everyone, the quiet peace that the human race is bound to end. Just what IS the Void in the center of the Galaxy, and what do the dreams suggesting that it is inhabited--by humans, mean? And what does it mean that an uncrowned successor to that prophet is now broadcasting more dreams of that strange realm? And with new fractures and fissures in the increasing divergent branches of humanity, how can the Commonwealth possibly coordinate a response this time?

It looks like Interesting Times are in store for the Human Race once more...

The Dreaming Void is set 1200 years after Peter F Hamilton's Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. Set in a universe where anti-aging technology, combined with wormhole technology has led to a Commonwealth of worlds and cultures, Hamilton has extrapolated the already amazing universe depicted in those previous two novels and brought new and extended concepts, ideas and characters to his rich tapestry.

Even better, Hamilton has improved as a writer. Readers who have read the Pandora's Star duology, or the Reality Dysfunction trilogy knows that he writes sprawling, brawling large scale novels with lots of characters and word counts that push 1000 pages. The Dreaming Void clocked in just under 600 pages.

We meet plenty of new characters, as well as some old favorites who have survived all this time. Even in a conservative society such as the Commonwealth does not allow people to remain static over such time scales and Hamilton's increasingly deft characterization makes the evolution of the characters over that time believable.

It's Edeard's story, though, that is the real innovation in Hamilton's writing. An intensely personal story that could be considered magic (or at least psionics) in a quasi-medieval setting inside the Void, his story is intriguing and interesting--and very unlike anything I have read in a Hamilton novel before. I was pleasantly surprised.

That said, the standard virtues of a Hamilton novel are in full force here. Aside from Edeard's story, back in the main universe readers will encounter amazing technology, strange aliens, a variety of characters and settings, a wide scale view of an entire culture as the narrative proceeds apace. Hamilton writes some of the best Space Opera in the business and those talents are in full force in this book.

Hamilton has significantly and visibly improved as a writer with this series, and I look forward to picking up and reading the Temporal Void, the next book in this trilogy.

A final note: Do you need to have read Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained to read this book? I think, actually, that they provide value-added goodness but are not strictly necessary. I think a practiced SF reader can start here and be perfectly happy and follow what is happening and why with minimum problems.

The Dreaming Void (The Void Trilogy)


Posted by Jvstin at 6:37 AM

July 31, 2010

Book Review 2010 #19: Land of the Burning Sands

Land of the Burning Sands is the second book in Rachel Neumeier's new Griffin Mage Trilogy.

Sophomore books are hard.

You've written the first book, and now the freshness and newness of your stuff as a writer is gone. You have to come up with a second act, and have something new to say, and, worse improve on your previous book. If you are writing a series, especially a trilogy, and your sophomore book is the *middle* book in the trilogy, that is really putting yourself behind the eight ball. Even high class writers have trouble with middle books in trilogies.

Still, given the promise of the first book (Lord of the Changing Winds), I picked up this book with the hope that Neumeier would be able to carry the story and world forward well enough, even given the disadvantages and problems outlined above.

I need not have worried.

Land of the Burning Sands takes place, temporally, not long after the battle at the end of Lord of the Changing Winds. The focus, however, is no longer on Feiebriand, but rather on Casmantium, the antagonists of the first novel. We are introduced to Gereint, whose crime has made him a magically bound servant, and who has the opportunity to take advantage of the triumph of the Griffins in book one to work his way toward freedom. Along the way, he meets allies, a romantic interest (who is far more than just an ornament for the hero), and surprisingly, not as many Griffins as the first book...

But that last part is all right. This book is something different than the first. Rather than focusing on Kes and Kairaithin (the latter appears, but only in the climax of the book), this book focuses on Gereint, the Amnachurdan family, and Beguchren, the (now) last real cold mage left in the entire kingdom. We also see Lord Bertaud from Feiebriand, and the Arobern, but otherwise there is no overlap between the two books in terms of character scope. This second novel is a book that focuses tightly on these characters, as they react to the consequences of the battle of the first novel, and the Griffins desire to punish Casmantium by taking excessive advantage of their victory. Advantage enough to possibly destroy the kingdom entirely, or change it beyond recognition forever.

Without the problems of logistics and battles that I had in the first novel, many of the weaknesses that I found in the first novel simply are not an issue in this second book. This novel plays to Neumeier's strengths in a stronger way than the first novel did, although I don't think that this novel is really readable without reading the first. We get to see more and new magic, and like the first book, learn that when people in Neumeier's fantasy world come to terms with burgeoning magical power, they can literally move mountains. And characterization, a strength of the first novel, here, helps humanize and personalize the antagonists of the first novel, and puts them front and center as real human beings with their own concerns and problems. We learn just why the relations with Griffins are so strained, providing a dose of complexity to the relationship between the earth aspected humans and the air and fire oriented griffins.

I loved it. Neumeier has reduced and eroded my concerns about the first novel, broadened and filled in her world, and made me excited to see the conclusion to this unique trilogy.

I will definitely buy and read the third novel in this series. As for you, I suspect that if you read and enjoyed the first novel, you have already picked this up for your to-read pile. If you have not, I recommend reading Lord of the Changing Winds, first, to provide better context and impact for the events in this second Griffin Mage novel.

Lord of the Changing Winds (Griffin Mage Trilogy Book 1)


Land of the Burning Sands (Griffin Mage Trilogy Book 2)

Posted by Jvstin at 9:06 AM

Book Review 2010 #18: Allison's Wonderland

Another book i received for review, and yes, again, its erotica...

Once upon a time, at College, I came across a theory that was to me novel, audacious, and helped reinforce the idea that what I was going to learn in college was not just going to be more high school, but was a whole new type of learning.

That theory, as expounded by one of my professors, was simple. All fairy tales, she said, every single one, had at its bottom a sexual context. Some were cautionary tales, she said, tales meant to warn young women about the dangers of sex outside of marriage. Others were symbolic rites of passage, suggesting the transformation between girl and woman by means of various symbols. Others were meant to show the transfer of bonds between a girl and her father and a woman and her husband.

This old theory was firmly in mind as I began to read Allison's Wonderland, an anthology of erotic fiction based on fable, fairy tale, myth and legend. Readers of my reviews know that I am well and familiar with Ms. Tyler's previous work--both as an indefatigable anthologist and a writer of her own right. That work, in the main, however, has been kinky, sexy, hot contemporary erotica. Characters that you could meet walking down the street in Los Angeles, or encounter in a sawdust-floor bar in deepest Texas.

This anthology, on the other hand, is a little different.

Some of the stories in this collection, such asJanine Ashbless' Gold on Snow and Georgia E Jones' The Walking Wheel, are explictly set in a fairy tale or historical fantasy world. Others take the idea and theme of various stories and transform them into contemporary contexts, sometimes very much a tale sprinkled with magic. Charlie, in Portia Da Costa's Unveiling his Muse meets a fairy queen of his own creation.Sometimes, though, the only magic needed are the interactions of the protagonists (such as Ms. Tyler's own Rings on her Fingers.

All are most delicious and the quality of the tales are high--and hot Ms Tyler has many of her "Regulars" contribute stories--herself, of course, Kristina Lloyd, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sommer Marsden, and others. Ms. Tyler has slaved away at getting a high quality of authors in the genre to contribute to the anthology.

There is a wide variety of fairy tale subjects to be found here, too. If you were afraid of reading ten variations on Red Riding Hood, relax, Ms. Tyler has carefully crafted an anthology of a wide variety of stories based on original fairy tale inspiration. She also has provided a wide variety of sexual themes, combinations, and kinks. What other anthology are you going to find an imaginary (or IS she?) lesbian dominatrix mermaid? Or a Greek God in an online chat room?

The stories and authors temper and tone are appealing, in general, to a wide variety of readers of this genre.
Readers of Ms. Tyler's other anthologies, especially, are going to be quite taken with this set of tales. Readers of the A. N. Roquelaure Beauty novels will be quite satisfied as well.

Really, there are few readers of erotic fiction who will not find something to their taste in Allison's Wonderland. So, why not take a trip down the rabbit hole, and find out where it leads you? You won't regret it.

Allison's Wonderland on Amazon.com

Posted by Jvstin at 7:22 AM

July 6, 2010

Liaden Expanding Universe Contest

Via Superagent Jennifer Jackson

Expanding Universe Contest at sharonleewriter.com

In celebration of the publication of Mouse and Dragon (The Liaden Universe), the thirteenth novel set in their Liaden Universe®, authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are holding an Expanding Universe Contest! Yes! No less than thirty-six electronic copies of The Dragon Variation will be given away.

The Dragon Variation (The Liaden Universe) is an omnibus edition of three Liaden Universe® novels -- Conflict of Honors, one of the first modern SFRomances; Local Custom, second place winner of the Prism Award for best Futuristic of 2002; and Scout's Progress, the first place winner of the Prism Award for best Futuristic of 2002, Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice for Best SF Novel of its year, and the prequel to Mouse and Dragon.

That's three complete novels under one cover. No prior knowledge of the Liaden Universe® required. Electronic! In Baen Books' DRM-free, multiplatform style. This omnibus can be read on your Kindle, your phone, your iPad, your desktop, or other ereader.

How The Contest Works:

*The Expanding Universe Contest is open to anyone -- and everyone! -- who has never, ever, cross-your-heart read a Liaden Universe® novel. (I'm not eligible for this contest, natch)

Visit the Contest website and submit your name, and where you heard about the contest. (That would be here!) From those who respond, 36 lucky winners will be chosen by drawing. If 36 or less people enter the contest, then everyone's a winner!

*Each winner will be asked to provide their email address for purposes of receiving the code that will allow them to download their prize.

*A list of winners -- with links to their websites, should they wish, and links to the website where they heard about the contest -- will be published in Sharon Lee's blog.

Small Print: The contest will end at midnight Eastern Daylight Time (4:00 a.m. GMT) Friday, July 16. A list of winners will be posted on Sharon Lee's blog on Saturday, July 17. It is the responsibility of the winners to contact Sharon Lee according to the instructions given with the winner's list. Prizes will be held for 12 days.

It's that simple. So! Those friends you wanted to get hooked on the Liaden Universe®? Point 'em this way. Been meaning to try this Liaden thing, but never got around to it? We're making it as easy for you as we can.

I like the Liaden stuff that I've read. Here's a chance for you to do so, too.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:59 PM

June 28, 2010

Book Review 2010 #17: Fast Girls

A book of erotica I received for reading and reviewing by the anthology, the prolific Rachel Kramer Bussel...

Fast Girls Erotica for Women"has a title that implies that the audience for the stories in this book is limited to women.

Don't be fooled.

This heterosexual man found the stories in this collection delicious and very much to my sensibilities and tastes.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has collected a set of stories here that are a treat for both genders and all orientations. The theme of the anthology
is women protagonists who take charge of their own sexuality and aren't afraid to employ it.

How can you say no to THAT?

The stories by and large do live up to the promise of the theme of the anthology. No shrinking violets, these, the female protagonists
enjoy sex, and the authors focus on all sorts of aspects of that desire and need, from the dominant, to the kinky to the submissive, to straight
forward lust.

As some of the other reviewers have mentioned, "Confessions of a Kinky Shopaholic" is one of the strongest stories in the set. Bussel herself
includes a sizzling hot story "Whore Complex" that is sharp and strong. "Panther" will make you rethink what you see when you see art sculpture. And what
guy wouldn't want to be the "Cute Boy" in D L King's "Let's Dance"?

Female readers who seek internal sexual fulfillment and empowerment can put themselves in the place of the protagonists. Male readers can delightfully imagine being on the other end of an encounter with Claire, Tracy, Evangeline (God, yes!) and all the others.

Admittedly, if you prefer your erotica to be of characters who are timid, tentative, even virginal, then this collection of erotica is not for you. This collection
of erotica is like a chipotle pepper--smoky, warm, sizzling, hot and daring for you to take a bite--if you dare!

Will you?

Fast Girls: Erotica for Women

Posted by Jvstin at 10:27 AM

June 20, 2010

Book Review 2010 #16: Lord of the Changing Winds

Next up, a book featuring my favorite mythological creature.

(Hint, its not dragons)

I love Griffins.

Sure, Dragons are awesome. Dragons are mighty. Dragons go with heroic fantasy as much as, say, treasure laden dungeons.

But Griffins...

Combine a lion, king of the beasts, with an eagle, king of the air. That's a potent combination. A combination that speaks to me in a way that the coldly reptilian eye of a dragon doesn't always manage. Too, Griffins are not as well developed as dragons. Everyone knows dragons breathe fire (except when they don't). Everyone knows they love riddles (except when they don't). Smaug is the classic, archetypal dragon.

Griffins aren't anywhere near as common, and so their natures are more of a blank slate...and thus room for a writer (or a GM) to invent as they like. I like seeing that potential fulfilled...and this latest read of mine makes it happen.

Lord of the Changing Winds is the first book in a new trilogy called "The Griffin Mage" by author Rachel Neumeier.

Set mainly in the country of Feierabiand, Lord of the Changing Winds is the story of Kes. A young healer in the backwater village of Minas Ford, her life, and the life of her country, are turned upside down by the arrival of large migrating band of Griffins. Why the Griffins have left their desert, what they want with Kes, and the machinations of the Kings of Ferierabiand and neighboring Casmantium are the Matter of this first novel.

This is Neumeier's first adult novel, and there are striking strengths, and, unfortunately, some glaring weaknesses that mar but do not completely spoil the reading experience.

Best of all is Neumeier's imagining of what Griffins are, and what they do. Their terraforming of the land around them into a beloved (to them) desert is a wonderful conceit and concept, and a strong rationale for why Griffins are usually found in places far isolated from man. The characterizations and emotional palettes of the characters, both human and Griffin, on all sides of the conflicts are strong. I felt myself wanting to know more about the Griffins, their culture, and the cultures of the two very different nations caught in the claws of the Griffins life.

The quality of the writing is very good. Neumeier describes the Griffins lovingly, with the words of someone who loves these creatures as much as I. Each of the Griffins we meet is an individual, in appearance as well as personality. Her writing description of environment goes best when she is describing the Griffins desert, and less so when the action takes us elsewhere.

The magic use in the novel was not strong enough for me to judge it. I need more data before I can decide whether it makes sense or not. I can see the lines of how it works, but I'd like to know more before I decide if I like it or not.

The weaknesses in the novel on the other hand have to do with the movement of people, and more especially armies. There is a phrase in military circles: "Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics."

As bad as it seems that armies fly around the map of Neumeier's world (and they do, I couldn't get a decent sense of scale), the worse part is the logistical trains. Neumeier does not seem to really have considered the logistics and supply chains needed to make the movement of these armies, especially at speed, practical and possible. From a 30,000 foot level. what the two armies are trying to do makes sense. But without a decent sense of scale, it seemed as realistic as wargaming in the video game Civilization IV. Happily, this is not as crucial to the enjoyment of the book as one might fear, but this lack of thought was disappointing.

So, would you, gentle reader, like this book? If your preference is for fantasy fiction with strong characterization and the use of a neglected mythological creature, the Lord of the Changing Winds might be your cup of tea.

If you prefer the military aspects of your fantasy reading to be more rigorous. you are going to be frustrated with swaths of this novel. Personally, I think the strengths and inventiveness and quality of the writing outweigh the negatives, and I have already make plans to buy and read the second novel in the series.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:59 AM

June 11, 2010

The Way of Kings

Although I am uninterested in his project to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, I have enjoyed the one Brandon Sanderson novel I read (an ARC of Warbreaker in 2009).

I've heard news for a while of his latest project, The Stormlight Archive, a Steven Erikson style Decaology of novels. The first one ,The Way of Kings is coming at the end of August.

In the meantime, excerpts are showing up online, most notably on the TOR site.

I must admit, I am intrigued, even if my reading queue is too large as it is! (I'm behind on the Malazan series, for example...)

A short excerpt is below. More at TOR.


Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast. The enormous stone beast lay on its side, riblike protrusions from its chest broken and cracked. The monstrosity was vaguely skeletal in shape, with unnaturally long limbs that sprouted from granite shoulders. The eyes were deep red spots on the arrowhead face, as if created by a fire burning deep within the stone. They faded.

Even after all these centuries, seeing a thunderclast up close made Kalak shiver. The beast's hand was as long as a man was tall. He'd been killed by hands like those before, and it hadn't been pleasant.

Of course, dying rarely was.

He rounded the creature, picking his way more carefully across the battlefield. The plain was a place of misshapen rock and stone, natural pillars rising around him, bodies littering the ground. Few plants lived here. The stone ridges and mounds bore numerous scars. Some were shattered, blasted-out sections where Surgebinders had fought. Less frequently, he passed cracked, oddly shaped hollows where thunderclasts had ripped themselves free of the stone to join the fray.

Many of the bodies around him were human; many were not. Blood mixed. Red. Orange. Violet. Though none of the bodies around him stirred, an indistinct haze of sounds hung in the air. Moans of pain, cries of grief. They did not seem like the sounds of victory. Smoke curled from the occasional patches of growth or heaps of burning corpses. Even some sections of rock smoldered. The Dustbringers had done their work well.

But I survived, Kalak thought, hand to breast as he hastened to the meeting place. I actually survived this time.

That was dangerous. When he died, he was sent back, no choice. When he survived the Desolation, he was supposed to go back as well. Back to that place that he dreaded. Back to that place of pain and fire. What if he just decided . . . not to go?

Perilous thoughts, perhaps traitorous thoughts. He hastened on his way.

The place of meeting was in the shadow of a large rock formation, a spire rising into the sky. As always, the ten of them had decided upon it before the battle. The survivors would make their way here. Oddly, only one of the others was waiting for him. Jezrien. Had the other eight all died? It was possible. The battle had been so furious this time, one of the worst. The enemy was growing increasingly tenacious.

But no. Kalak frowned as he stepped up to the base of the spire. Seven magnificent swords stood proudly here, driven point-first into the stone ground. Each was a masterly work of art, flowing in design, inscribed with glyphs and patterns. He recognized each one. If their masters had died, the Blades would have vanished.

These Blades were weapons of power beyond even Shardblades. These were unique. Precious. Jezrien stood outside the ring of swords, looking eastward.

"Jezrien?"

The figure in white and blue glanced toward him. Even after all these centuries, Jezrien looked young, like a man barely into his thirtieth year. His short black beard was neatly trimmed, though his once-fine clothing was scorched and stained with blood. He folded his arms behind his back as he turned to Kalak.

"What is this, Jezrien?" Kalak asked. "Where are the others?"

"Departed." Jezrien's voice was calm, deep, regal. Though he hadn't worn a crown in centuries, his royal manner lingered. He always seemed to know what to do. "You might call it a miracle. Only one of us died this time."

"Talenel," Kalak said. His was the only Blade unaccounted for.

"Yes. He died holding that passage by the northern waterway."

Kalak nodded. Taln had a tendency to choose seemingly hopeless fights and win them. He also had a tendency to die in the process. He would be back now, in the place where they went between Desolations. The place of nightmares.

Kalak found himself shaking. When had he become so weak? "Jezrien, I can't return this time." Kalak whispered the words, stepping up and gripping the other man's arm. "I can't."

Kalak felt something within him break at the admission. How long had it been? Centuries, perhaps millennia, of torture. It was so hard to keep track. Those fires, those hooks, digging into his flesh anew each day. Searing the skin off his arm, then burning the fat, then driving to the bone. He could smell it. Almighty, he could smell it!

"Leave your sword," Jezrien said.

"What?"

Jezrien nodded to the ring of weapons. "I was chosen to wait for you. We weren't certain if you had survived. A . . . a decision has been made. It is time for the Oathpact to end."

Kalak felt a sharp stab of horror. "What will that do?"

"Ishar believes that so long as there is one of us still bound to the Oath-pact, it may be enough. There is a chance we might end the cycle of Desolations."

Kalak looked into the immortal king's eyes. Black smoke rose from a small patch to their left. Groans of the dying haunted them from behind. There, in Jezrien's eyes, Kalak saw anguish and grief. Perhaps even cowardice. This was a man hanging from a cliff by a thread.

Almighty above, Kalak thought. You're broken too, aren't you? They all were.

Kalak turned and walked to the side, where a low ridge overlooked part of the battlefield.

There were so many corpses, and among them walked the living. Men in primitive wraps, carry ing spears topped by bronze heads. Juxtaposed between them were others in gleaming plate armor. One group walked past, four men in their ragged tanned skins or shoddy leather joining a powerful figure in beautiful silver plate, amazingly intricate. Such a contrast. Jezrien stepped up beside him.

"They see us as divinities," Kalak whispered. "They rely upon us, Jezrien. We're all that they have."

"They have the Radiants. That will be enough."

Kalak shook his head. "He will not remain bound by this. The enemy. He will find a way around it. You know he will."

"Perhaps." The king of Heralds offered no further explanation.

"And Taln?" Kalak asked. The flesh burning. The fires. The pain over and over and over . . .

"Better that one man should suffer than ten," Jezrien whispered. He seemed so cold. Like a shadow caused by heat and light falling on someone honorable and true, casting this black imitation behind.

Jezrien walked back to the ring of swords. His own Blade formed in his hands, appearing from mist, wet with condensation. "It has been decided, Kalak. We will go our ways, and we will not seek out one another. Our Blades must be left. The Oathpact ends now." He lifted his sword and rammed it into the stone with the other seven.

Jezrien hesitated, looking at the sword, then bowed his head and turned away. As if ashamed. "We chose this burden willingly. Well, we can choose to drop it if we wish."

"What do we tell the people, Jezrien?" Kalak asked. "What will they say of this day?"

"It's simple," Jezrien said, walking away. "We tell them that they finally won. It's an easy enough lie. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be true."

Kalak watched Jezrien depart across the burned landscape. Finally, he summoned his own Blade and slammed it into the stone beside the other eight. He turned and walked in the direction opposite from Jezrien.

And yet, he could not help glancing back at the ring of swords and the single open spot. The place where the tenth sword should have gone.

The one of them who was lost. The one they had abandoned.

Forgive us, Kalak thought, then left.

"The love of men is a frigid thing, a mountain stream only three steps from the ice. We are his. Oh Stormfather . . . we are his. It is but a thousand days, and the Everstorm comes."

--Collected on the first day of the week Palah of the month Shash of the year 1171, thirty-one seconds before death. Subject was a darkeyed pregnant woman of middle years. The child did not survive.

4500 YEARS LATER

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, wore white on the day he was to kill a king. The white clothing was a Parshendi tradition, foreign to him. But he did as his masters required and did not ask for an explanation.

He sat in a large stone room, baked by enormous firepits that cast a garish light upon the revelers, causing beads of sweat to form on their skin as they danced, and drank, and yelled, and sang, and clapped. Some fell to the ground red-faced, the revelry too much for them, their stomachs proving to be inferior wineskins. They looked as if they were dead, at least until their friends carried them out of the feast hall to waiting beds.

Szeth did not sway to the drums, drink the sapphire wine, or stand to dance. He sat on a bench at the back, a still servant in white robes. Few at the treaty-signing celebration noticed him. He was just a servant, and Shin were easy to ignore. Most out here in the East thought Szeth's kind were docile and harmless. They were generally right.

The drummers began a new rhythm. The beats shook Szeth like a quartet of thumping hearts, pumping waves of invisible blood through the room. Szeth's masters--who were dismissed as savages by those in more civilized kingdoms--sat at their own tables. They were men with skin of black marbled with red. Parshendi, they were named--cousins to the more docile servant peoples known as parshmen in most of the world. An oddity. They did not call themselves Parshendi; this was the Alethi name for them. It meant, roughly, "parshmen who can think." Neither side seemed to see that as an insult.

The Parshendi had brought the musicians. At first, the Alethi lighteyes had been hesitant. To them, drums were base instruments of the common, darkeyed people. But wine was the great assassin of both tradition and propriety, and now the Alethi elite danced with abandon.

Szeth stood and began to pick his way through the room. The revelry had lasted long; even the king had retired hours ago. But many still celebrated. As he walked, Szeth was forced to step around Dalinar Kholin--the king's own brother--who slumped drunken at a small table. The aging but powerfully built man kept waving away those who tried to encourage him to bed. Where was Jasnah, the king's daughter? Elhokar, the king's son and heir, sat at the high table, ruling the feast in his father's absence. He was in conversation with two men, a dark-skinned Azish man who had an odd patch of pale skin on his cheek and a thinner, Alethi-looking man who kept glancing over his shoulder.

The heir's feasting companions were unimportant. Szeth stayed far from the heir, skirting the sides of the room, passing the drummers. Musicspren zipped through the air around them, the tiny spirits taking the form of spinning translucent ribbons. As Szeth passed the drummers, they noted him. They would withdraw soon, along with all of the other Parshendi.

They did not seem off ended. They did not seem angry. And yet they were going to break their treaty of only a few hours. It made no sense. But Szeth did not ask questions.

At the edge of the room, he passed rows of unwavering azure lights that bulged out where wall met floor. They held sapphires infused with Stormlight. Profane. How could the men of these lands use something so sacred for mere illumination? Worse, the Alethi scholars were said to be close to creating new Shardblades. Szeth hoped that was just wishful boasting. For if it did happen, the world would be changed. Likely in a way that ended with people in all countries--from distant Thaylenah to towering Jah Keved--speaking Alethi to their children.

They were a grand people, these Alethi. Even drunk, there was a natural nobility to them. Tall and well made, the men dressed in dark silk coats that buttoned down the sides of the chest and were elaborately embroidered in silver or gold. Each one looked a general on the field.

The women were even more splendid. They wore grand silk dresses, tightly fitted, the bright colors a contrast to the dark tones favored by the men. The left sleeve of each dress was longer than the right one, covering the hand. Alethi had an odd sense of propriety.

Their pure black hair was pinned up atop their heads, either in intricate weavings of braids or in loose piles. It was often woven with gold ribbons or ornaments, along with gems that glowed with Stormlight. Beautiful. Profane, but beautiful.

Szeth left the feasting chamber behind. Just outside, he passed the doorway into the Beggars' Feast. It was an Alethi tradition, a room where some of the poorest men and women in the city were given a feast complementing that of the king and his guests. A man with a long grey and black beard slumped in the doorway, smiling foolishly--though whether from wine or a weak mind, Szeth could not tell.

"Have you seen me?" the man asked with slurred speech. He laughed, then began to speak in gibberish, reaching for a wineskin. So it was drink after all. Szeth brushed by, continuing past a line of statues depicting the Ten Heralds from ancient Vorin theology. Jezerezeh, Ishi, Kelek, Talenelat. He counted off each one, and realized there were only nine here. One was conspicuously missing. Why had Shalash's statue been removed? King Gavilar was said to be very devout in his Vorin worship. Too devout, by some people's standards.

The hallway here curved to the right, running around the perimeter of the domed palace. They were on the king's floor, two levels up, surrounded by rock walls, ceiling, and floor. That was profane. Stone was not to be trod upon. But what was he to do? He was Truthless. He did as his masters demanded.

Today, that included wearing white. Loose white trousers tied at the waist with a rope, and over them a filmy shirt with long sleeves, open at the front. White clothing for a killer was a tradition among the Parshendi. Although Szeth had not asked, his masters had explained why.

White to be bold. White to not blend into the night. White to give warning.

For if you were going to assassinate a man, he was entitled to see you coming.

Szeth turned right, taking the hallway directly toward the king's chambers. Torches burned on the walls, their light unsatisfying to him, a meal of thin broth after a long fast. Tiny flamespren danced around them, like insects made solely of congealed light. The torches were useless to him. He reached for his pouch and the spheres it contained, but then hesitated when he saw more of the blue lights ahead: a pair of Stormlight lamps hanging on the wall, brilliant sapphires glowing at their hearts. Szeth walked up to one of these, holding out his hand to cup it around the glass-shrouded gemstone.

"You there!" a voice called in Alethi. There were two guards at the intersection. Double guard, for there were savages abroad in Kholinar this night. True, those savages were supposed to be allies now. But alliances could be shallow things indeed.

This one wouldn't last the hour.

Szeth looked as the two guards approached. They carried spears; they weren't lighteyes, and were therefore forbidden the sword. Their painted red breastplates were ornate, however, as were their helms. They might be darkeyed, but they were high-ranking citizens with honored positions in the royal guard.

Stopping a few feet away, the guard at the front gestured with his spear. "Go on, now. This is no place for you." He had tan Alethi skin and a thin mustache that ran all the way around his mouth, becoming a beard at the bottom.

Szeth didn't move.

"Well?" the guard said. "What are you waiting for?"

Szeth breathed in deeply, drawing forth the Stormlight. It streamed into him, siphoned from the twin sapphire lamps on the walls, sucked in as if by his deep inhalation. The Stormlight raged inside of him, and the hallway suddenly grew darker, falling into shade like a hilltop cut off from the sun by a transient cloud.

Szeth could feel the Light's warmth, its fury, like a tempest that had been injected directly into his veins. The power of it was invigorating but dangerous. It pushed him to act. To move. To strike.

Holding his breath, he clung to the Stormlight. He could still feel it leaking out. Stormlight could be held for only a short time, a few minutes at most. It leaked away, the human body too porous a container. He had heard that the Voidbringers could hold it in perfectly. But, then, did they even exist? His punishment declared that they didn't. His honor demanded that they did.

Afire with holy energy, Szeth turned to the guards. They could see that he was leaking Stormlight, wisps of it curling from his skin like luminescent smoke. The lead guard squinted, frowning. Szeth was sure the man had never seen anything like it before. As far as he knew, Szeth had killed every stonewalker who had ever seen what he could do.

"What . . . what are you?" The guard's voice had lost its certainty. "Spirit or man?"

"What am I?" Szeth whispered, a bit of Light leaking from his lips as he looked past the man down the long hallway. "I'm . . . sorry."

Szeth blinked, Lashing himself to that distant point down the hallway. Stormlight raged from him in a flash, chilling his skin, and the ground immediately stopped pulling him downward. Instead, he was pulled toward that distant point--it was as if, to him, that direction had suddenly become down.

This was a Basic Lashing, first of his three kinds of Lashings. It gave him the ability to manipulate what ever force, spren, or god it was that held men to the ground. With this Lashing, he could bind people or objects to different surfaces or in different directions.

From Szeth's perspective, the hallway was now a deep shaft down which he was falling, and the two guards stood on one of the sides. They were shocked when Szeth's feet hit them, one for each face, throwing them over. Szeth shifted his view and Lashed himself to the floor. Light leaked from him. The floor of the hallway again became down, and he landed between the two guards, clothes crackling and dropping flakes of frost. He rose, beginning the process of summoning his Shardblade.

One of the guards fumbled for his spear. Szeth reached down, touching the soldier's shoulder while looking up. He focused on a point above him while willing the Light out of his body and into the guard, Lashing the poor man to the ceiling.

The guard yelped in shock as up became down for him. Light trailing from his form, he crashed into the ceiling and dropped his spear. It was not Lashed directly, and clattered back down to the floor near Szeth.

To kill. It was the greatest of sins. And yet here Szeth stood, Truthless, profanely walking on stones used for building. And it would not end. As Truthless, there was only one life he was forbidden to take.

And that was his own.

At the tenth beat of his heart, his Shardblade dropped into his waiting hand. It formed as if condensing from mist, water beading along the metal length. His Shardblade was long and thin, edged on both sides, smaller than most others. Szeth swept it out, carving a line in the stone floor and passing through the second guard's neck.

As always, the Shardblade killed oddly; though it cut easily through stone, steel, or anything inanimate, the metal fuzzed when it touched living skin. It traveled through the guard's neck without leaving a mark, but once it did, the man's eyes smoked and burned. They blackened, shriveling up in his head, and he slumped forward, dead. A Shardblade did not cut living flesh; it severed the soul itself.

Above, the first guard gasped. He'd managed to get to his feet, even though they were planted on the ceiling of the hallway. "Shardbearer!" he shouted. "A Shardbearer assaults the king's hall! To arms!"

Finally, Szeth thought. Szeth's use of Stormlight was unfamiliar to the guards, but they knew a Shardblade when they saw one.

Szeth bent down and picked up the spear that had fallen from above. As he did so, he released the breath he'd been holding since drawing in the Stormlight. It sustained him while he held it, but those two lanterns hadn't contained much of it, so he would need to breathe again soon. The Light began to leak away more quickly, now that he wasn't holding his breath.

Szeth set the spear's butt against the stone floor, then looked upward. The guard above stopped shouting, eyes opening wide as the tails of his shirt began to slip downward, the earth below reasserting its dominance. The Light steaming off his body dwindled.

He looked down at Szeth. Down at the spear tip pointing directly at his heart. Violet fearspren crawled out of the stone ceiling around him.

The Light ran out. The guard fell.

He screamed as he hit, the spear impaling him through the chest. Szeth let the spear fall away, carried to the ground with a muffled thump by the body twitching on its end. Shardblade in hand, he turned down a side corridor, following the map he'd memorized. He ducked around a corner and flattened himself against the wall just as a troop of guards reached the dead men. The newcomers began shouting immediately, continuing the alarm.

His instructions were clear. Kill the king, but be seen doing it. Let the Alethi know he was coming and what he was doing. Why? Why did the Parshendi agree to this treaty, only to send an assassin the very night of its signing?

More gemstones glowed on the walls of the hallway here. King Gavilar liked lavish display, and he couldn't know that he was leaving sources of power for Szeth to use in his Lashings. The things Szeth did hadn't been seen for millennia. Histories from those times were all but nonexistent, and the legends were horribly inaccurate.

Szeth peeked back out into the corridor. One of the guards at the intersection saw him, pointing and yelling. Szeth made sure they got a good look, then ducked away. He took a deep breath as he ran, drawing in Stormlight from the lanterns. His body came alive with it, and his speed increased, his muscles bursting with energy. Light became a storm inside of him; his blood thundered in his ears. It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.

Two corridors down, one to the side. He threw open the door of a storage room, then hesitated a moment--just long enough for a guard to round the corner and see him--before dashing into the room. Preparing for a Full Lashing, he raised his arm and commanded the Stormlight to pool there, causing the skin to burst alight with radiance. Then he flung his hand out toward the doorframe, spraying white luminescence across it like paint. He slammed the door just as the guards arrived.

The Stormlight held the door in the frame with the strength of a hundred arms. A Full Lashing bound objects together, holding them fast until the Stormlight ran out. It took longer to create--and drained Stormlight far more quickly--than a Basic Lashing. The door handle shook, and then the wood began to crack as the guards threw their weight against it, one man calling for an axe.

Szeth crossed the room in rapid strides, weaving around the shrouded furniture that had been stored here. It was of red cloth and deep expensive woods. He reached the far wall and--preparing himself for yet another blasphemy--he raised his Shardblade and slashed horizontally through the dark grey stone. The rock sliced easily; a Shardblade could cut any inanimate object. Two vertical slashes followed, then one across the bottom, cutting a large square block. He pressed his hand against it, willing Stormlight into the stone.

Behind him the room's door began to crack. He looked over his shoulder and focused on the shaking door, Lashing the block in that direction. Frost crystallized on his clothing--Lashing something so large required a great deal of Stormlight. The tempest within him stilled, like a storm reduced to a drizzle.

He stepped aside. The large stone block shuddered, sliding into the room. Normally, moving the block would have been impossible. Its own weight would have held it against the stones below. Yet now, that same weight pulled it free; for the block, the direction of the room's door was down. With a deep grinding sound, the block slid free of the wall and tumbled through the air, smashing furniture.

The soldiers finally broke through the door, staggering into the room just as the enormous block crashed into them.

Szeth turned his back on the terrible sound of the screams, the splintering of wood, the breaking of bones. He ducked and stepped through his new hole, entering the hallway outside.

He walked slowly, drawing Stormlight from the lamps he passed, siphoning it to him and stoking anew the tempest within. As the lamps dimmed, the corridor darkened. A thick wooden door stood at the end, and as he approached, small fearspren--shaped like globs of purple goo--began to wriggle from the masonry, pointing toward the doorway. They were drawn by the terror being felt on the other side.

Szeth pushed the door open, entering the last corridor leading to the king's chambers. Tall, red ceramic vases lined the pathway, and they were interspersed with nervous soldiers. They flanked a long, narrow rug. It was red, like a river of blood.

The spearmen in front didn't wait for him to get close. They broke into a trot, lifting their short throwing spears. Szeth slammed his hand to the side, pushing Stormlight into the doorframe, using the third and final type of Lashing, a Reverse Lashing. This one worked diff erently from the other two. It did not make the doorframe emit Stormlight; indeed, it seemed to pull nearby light into it, giving it a strange penumbra.

The spearmen threw, and Szeth stood still, hand on the doorframe. A Reverse Lashing required his constant touch, but took comparatively little Stormlight. During one, anything that approached him--particularly lighter objects--was instead pulled toward the Lashing itself.

The spears veered in the air, splitting around him and slamming into the wooden frame. As he felt them hit, Szeth leaped into the air and Lashed himself to the right wall, his feet hitting the stone with a slap.

He immediately re oriented his perspective. To his eyes, he wasn't standing on the wall, the soldiers were, the blood-red carpet streaming between them like a long tapestry. Szeth bolted down the hallway, striking with his Shardblade, shearing through the necks of two men who had thrown spears at him. Their eyes burned, and they collapsed.

The other guards in the hallway began to panic. Some tried to attack him, others yelled for more help, still others cringed away from him. The attackers had trouble--they were disoriented by the oddity of striking at someone who hung on the wall. Szeth cut down a few, then flipped into the air, tucking into a roll, and Lashed himself back to the floor.

He hit the ground in the midst of the soldiers. Completely surrounded, but holding a Shardblade.

According to legend, the Shardblades were first carried by the Knights Radiant uncounted ages ago. Gifts of their god, granted to allow them to fight horrors of rock and flame, dozens of feet tall, foes whose eyes burned with hatred. The Voidbringers. When your foe had skin as hard as stone itself, steel was useless. Something supernal was required.

Szeth rose from his crouch, loose white clothes rippling, jaw clenched against his sins. He struck out, his weapon flashing with reflected torchlight. Elegant, wide swings. Three of them, one after another. He could neither close his ears to the screams that followed nor avoid seeing the men fall. They dropped round him like toys knocked over by a child's careless kick. If the Blade touched a man's spine, he died, eyes burning. If it cut through the core of a limb, it killed that limb. One soldier stumbled away from Szeth, arm flopping uselessly on his shoulder. He would never be able to feel it or use it again.

Szeth lowered his Shardblade, standing among the cinder-eyed corpses. Here, in Alethkar, men often spoke of the legends--of mankind's hardwon victory over the Voidbringers. But when weapons created to fight nightmares were turned against common soldiers, the lives of men became cheap things indeed.

Szeth turned and continued on his way, slippered feet falling on the soft red rug. The Shardblade, as always, glistened silver and clean. When one killed with a Blade, there was no blood. That seemed like a sign. The Shardblade was just a tool; it could not be blamed for the murders.

The door at the end of the hallway burst open. Szeth froze as a small group of soldiers rushed out, ushering a man in regal robes, his head ducked as if to avoid arrows. The soldiers wore deep blue, the color of the King's Guard, and the corpses didn't make them stop and gawk. They were prepared for what a Shardbearer could do. They opened a side door and shoved their ward through, several leveling spears at Szeth as they backed out.

Another figure stepped from the king's quarters; he wore glistening blue armor made of smoothly interlocking plates. Unlike common plate armor, however, this armor had no leather or mail visible at the joints-- just smaller plates, fitting together with intricate precision. The armor was beautiful, the blue inlaid with golden bands around the edges of each piece of plate, the helm ornamented with three waves of small, hornlike wings.

Shardplate, the customary complement to a Shardblade. The newcomer carried a sword as well, an enormous Shardblade six feet long with a design along the blade like burning flames, a weapon of silvery metal that gleamed and almost seemed to glow. A weapon designed to slay dark gods, a larger counterpart to the one Szeth carried.

Szeth hesitated. He didn't recognize the armor; he had not been warned that he would be set at this task, and hadn't been given proper time to memorize the various suits of Plate or Blades owned by the Alethi. But a Shardbearer would have to be dealt with before he chased the king; he could not leave such a foe behind.

Besides, perhaps a Shardbearer could defeat him, kill him and end his miserable life. His Lashings wouldn't work directly on someone in Shardplate, and the armor would enhance the man, strengthen him. Szeth's honor would not allow him to betray his mission or seek death. But if that death occurred, he would welcome it.

The Shardbearer struck, and Szeth Lashed himself to the side of the hallway, leaping with a twist and landing on the wall. He danced backward, Blade held at the ready. The Shardbearer fell into an aggressive posture, using one of the swordplay stances favored here in the East. He moved far more nimbly than one would expect for a man in such bulky armor. Shardplate was special, as ancient and magical as the Blades it complemented.

The Shardbearer struck. Szeth skipped to the side and Lashed himself to the ceiling as the Shardbearer's Blade sliced into the wall. Feeling a thrill at the contest, Szeth dashed forward and attacked downward with an overhand blow, trying to hit the Shardbearer's helm. The man ducked, going down on one knee, letting Szeth's Blade cleave empty air.

Szeth leaped backward as the Shardbearer swung upward with his Blade, slicing into the ceiling. Szeth didn't own a set of Plate himself, and didn't care to. His Lashings interfered with the gemstones that powered Shardplate, and he had to choose one or the other.

As the Shardbearer turned, Szeth sprinted forward across the ceiling. As expected, the Shardbearer swung again, and Szeth leaped to the side, rolling. He came up from his roll and flipped, Lashing himself to the floor again. He spun to land on the ground behind the Shardbearer. He slammed his Blade into his opponent's open back.

Unfortunately, there was one major advantage Plate offered: It could block a Shardblade. Szeth's weapon hit solidly, causing a web of glowing lines to spread out across the back of the armor, and Stormlight began to leak free from them. Shardplate didn't dent or bend like common metal. Szeth would have to hit the Shardbearer in the same location at least once more to break through.

Szeth danced out of range as the Shardbearer swung in anger, trying to cut at Szeth's knees. The tempest within Szeth gave him many advantages-- including the ability to quickly recover from small wounds. But it would not restore limbs killed by a Shardblade.

He rounded the Shardbearer, then picked a moment and dashed forward. The Shardbearer swung again, but Szeth briefly Lashed himself to the ceiling for lift. He shot into the air, cresting over the swing, then immediately Lashed himself back to the floor. He struck as he landed, but the Shardbearer recovered quickly and executed a perfect follow-through stroke, coming within a finger of hitting Szeth.

The man was dangerously skilled with that Blade. Many Shardbearers depended too much on the power of their weapon and armor. This man was different.

Szeth jumped to the wall and struck at the Shardbearer with quick, terse attacks, like a snapping eel. The Shardbearer fended him off with wide, sweeping counters. His Blade's length kept Szeth at bay.

This is taking too long! Szeth thought. If the king slipped away into hiding, Szeth would fail in his mission no matter how many people he killed. He ducked in for another strike, but the Shardbearer forced him back. Each second this fight lasted was another for the king's escape.

It was time to be reckless. Szeth launched into the air, Lashing himself to the other end of the hallway and falling feet-first toward his adversary. The Shardbearer didn't hesitate to swing, but Szeth Lashed himself down at an angle, dropping immediately. The Shardblade swished through the air above him.

He landed in a crouch, using his momentum to throw himself forward, and swung at the Shardbearer's side, where the Plate had cracked. He hit with a powerful blow. That piece of the Plate shattered, bits of molten metal streaking away. The Shardbearer grunted, dropping to one knee, raising a hand to his side. Szeth raised a foot to the man's side and shoved him backward with a Stormlight-enhanced kick.

The heavy Shardbearer crashed into the door of the king's quarters, smashing it and falling partway into the room beyond. Szeth left him, ducking instead through the doorway to the right, following the way the king had gone. The hallway here had the same red carpet, and Stormlight lamps on the walls gave Szeth a chance to recharge the tempest within.

Energy blazed within him again, and he sped up. If he could get far enough ahead, he could deal with the king, then turn back to fight off the Shardbearer. It wouldn't be easy. A Full Lashing on a doorway wouldn't stop a Shardbearer, and that Plate would let the man run supernaturally fast. Szeth glanced over his shoulder.

The Shardbearer wasn't following. The man sat up in his armor, looking dazed. Szeth could just barely see him, sitting in the doorway, surrounded by broken bits of wood. Perhaps Szeth had wounded him more than he'd thought.

Or maybe . . .

Szeth froze. He thought of the ducked head of the man who'd been rushed out, face obscured. The Shardbearer still wasn't following. He was so skilled. It was said that few men could rival Gavilar Kholin's swordsmanship. Could it be?

Szeth turned and dashed back, trusting his instincts. As soon as the Shardbearer saw him, he climbed to his feet with alacrity. Szeth ran faster. What was the safest place for your king? In the hands of some guards, fleeing? Or protected in a suit of Shardplate, left behind, dismissed as a bodyguard?

Clever, Szeth thought as the formerly sluggish Shardbearer fell into another battle stance. Szeth attacked with renewed vigor, swinging his Blade in a flurry of strikes. The Shardbearer--the king--aggressively struck out with broad, sweeping blows. Szeth pulled away from one of these, feeling the wind of the weapon passing just inches before him. He timed his next move, then dashed forward, ducking underneath the king's follow-through.

The king, expecting another strike at his side, twisted with his arm held protectively to block the hole in his Plate. That gave Szeth the room to run past him and into the king's chambers.

The king spun around to follow, but Szeth ran through the lavishly furnished chamber, flinging out his hand, touching pieces of furniture he passed. He infused them with Stormlight, Lashing them to a point behind the king. The furniture tumbled as if the room had been turned on its side, couches, chairs, and tables dropping toward the surprised king. Gavilar made the mistake of chopping at them with his Shardblade. The weapon easily sheared through a large couch, but the pieces still crashed into him, making him stumble. A footstool hit him next, throwing him to the ground.

Gavilar rolled out of the way of the furniture and charged forward, Plate leaking streams of Light from the cracked sections. Szeth gathered himself, then leaped into the air, Lashing himself backward and to the right as the king arrived. He zipped out of the way of the king's blow, then Lashed himself forward with two Basic Lashings in a row. Stormlight flashed out of him, clothing freezing, as he was pulled toward the king at twice the speed of a normal fall.

The king's posture indicated surprise as Szeth lurched in midair, then spun toward him, swinging. He slammed his Blade into the king's helm, then immediately Lashed himself to the ceiling and fell upward, slamming into the stone roof above. He'd Lashed himself in too many directions too quickly, and his body had lost track, making it difficult to land gracefully. He stumbled back to his feet.

Below, the king stepped back, trying to get into position to swing up at Szeth. The man's helm was cracked, leaking Stormlight, and he stood protectively, defending the side with the broken plate. The king used a onehanded swing, reaching for the ceiling. Szeth immediately Lashed himself downward, judging that the king's attack would leave him unable to get his sword back in time.

Szeth underestimated his opponent. The king stepped into Szeth's attack, trusting his helm to absorb the blow. Just as Szeth hit the helm a second time--shattering it--Gavilar punched with his off hand, slamming his gauntleted fist into Szeth's face.

Blinding light flashed in Szeth's eyes, a counterpoint to the sudden agony that crashed across his face. Everything blurred, his vision fading.

Pain. So much pain!

He screamed, Stormlight leaving him in a rush, and he slammed back into something hard. The balcony doors. More pain broke out across his shoulders, as if someone had stabbed him with a hundred daggers, and he hit the ground and rolled to a stop, muscles trembling. The blow would have killed an ordinary man.

No time for pain. No time for pain. No time for pain!

He blinked, shaking his head, the world blurry and dark. Was he blind? No. It was dark outside. He was on the wooden balcony; the force of the blow had thrown him through the doors. Something was thumping. Heavy footfalls. The Shardbearer!

Szeth stumbled to his feet, vision swimming. Blood streamed from the side of his face, and Stormlight rose from his skin, blinding his left eye. The Light. It would heal him, if it could. His jaw felt unhinged. Broken? He'd dropped his Shardblade.

A lumbering shadow moved in front of him; the Shardbearer's armor had leaked enough Stormlight that the king was having trouble walking. But he was coming.

Szeth screamed, kneeling, infusing Stormlight into the wooden balcony, Lashing it downward. The air frosted around him. The tempest roared, traveling down his arms into the wood. He Lashed it downward, then did it again. He Lashed a fourth time as Gavilar stepped onto the balcony. It lurched under the extra weight. The wood cracked, straining.

The Shardbearer hesitated.

Szeth Lashed the balcony downward a fifth time. The balcony supports shattered and the entire structure broke free from the building. Szeth screamed through a broken jaw and used his final bit of Stormlight to Lash himself to the side of the building. He fell to the side, passing the shocked Shardbearer, then hit the wall and rolled.

The balcony dropped away, the king looking up with shock as he lost his footing. The fall was brief. In the moonlight, Szeth watched solemnly-- vision still fuzzy, blinded in one eye--as the structure crashed to the stone ground below. The wall of the palace trembled, and the crash of broken wood echoed from the nearby buildings.

Still standing on the side of the wall, Szeth groaned, climbing to his feet. He felt weak; he'd used up his Stormlight too quickly, straining his body. He stumbled down the side of the building, approaching the wreckage, barely able to remain standing.

The king was still moving. Shardplate would protect a man from such a fall, but a large length of bloodied wood stuck up through Gavilar's side, piercing him where Szeth had broken the Plate earlier. Szeth knelt down, inspecting the man's pain-wracked face. Strong features, square chin, black beard flecked with white, striking pale green eyes. Gavilar Kholin.

"I . . . expected you . . . to come," the king said between gasps.

Szeth reached underneath the front of the man's breastplate, tapping the straps there. They unfastened, and he pulled the front of the breastplate free, exposing the gemstones on its interior. Two had been cracked and burned out. Three still glowed. Numb, Szeth breathed in sharply, absorbing the Light.

The storm began to rage again. More Light rose from the side of his face, repairing his damaged skin and bones. The pain was still great; Stormlight healing was far from instantaneous. It would be hours before he recovered.

The king coughed. "You can tell . . . Thaidakar . . . that he's too late. . . ."

"I don't know who that is," Szeth said, standing, his words slurring from his broken jaw. He held his hand to the side, resummoning his Shardblade.

The king frowned. "Then who . . . ? Restares? Sadeas? I never thought . . ."

"My masters are the Parshendi," Szeth said. Ten heartbeats passed, and his Blade dropped into his hand, wet with condensation.

"The Parshendi? That makes no sense." Gavilar coughed, hand quivering, reaching toward his chest and fumbling at a pocket. He pulled out a small crystalline sphere tied to a chain. "You must take this. They must not get it." He seemed dazed. "Tell . . . tell my brother . . . he must find the most important words a man can say. . . ."

Gavilar fell still.

Szeth hesitated, then knelt down and took the sphere. It was odd, unlike any he'd seen before. Though it was completely dark, it seemed to glow somehow. With a light that was black.

The Parshendi? Gavilar had said. That makes no sense. "Nothing makes sense anymore," Szeth whispered, tucking the strange sphere away. "It's all unraveling. I am sorry, King of the Alethi. I doubt that you care. Not anymore, at least." He stood up. "At least you won't have to watch the world ending with the rest of us."

Beside the king's body, his Shardblade materialized from mist, clattering to the stones now that its master was dead. It was worth a fortune; kingdoms had fallen as men vied to possess a single Shardblade.

Shouts of alarm came from inside the palace. Szeth needed to go. But . . .

Tell my brother . . .

To Szeth's people, a dying request was sacred. He took the king's hand, dipping it in the man's own blood, then used it to scrawl on the wood, Brother. You must find the most important words a man can say.

With that, Szeth escaped into the night. He left the king's Shardblade; he had no use for it. The Blade Szeth already carried was curse enough.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:32 AM

June 6, 2010

Books Read 2010 to Date (June 6,2010)

Italicized books are ones I received books from the author, or review copies.

15. Much Fall of Blood, Eric Flint, Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer
14. Stories, Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
13. Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb
12. The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer

11. Star Finder, Poul Anderson
10. The Van Rijn Method, Poul Anderson
9.Starfinder, John Marco
8. The River Kings Road, Liane Merciel

7. The Stepsister Scheme, Jim Hines
6. Prince of Storms, Kay Kenyon
5. Into the Looking Glass, John Ringo
4. The Quiet War, Paul McAuley
3. Servant of a Dark God, John Brown
2. Cursor's Fury, Jim Butcher
1. The Edge of Physics, Anil Ananthaswamy

Posted by Jvstin at 11:53 AM

Book Review 2010 #15: Much Fall of Blood

Another book from the Amazon Vine program...

Back in 2001, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer teamed up to create a new fantasy alternate history, The Shadow of the Lion. In this Heirs of Alexandria series, the Library of Alexandria never was burned, Christianity split along "Pauline" and "Petrine" lines. Oh, and magic works, and there are entities far older than man...and inimical to humans.

The first book had the Slavic demon god Chernobog as its main antagonist,threatening the city state of Venice.A sequel, a few years later, This Rough Magic, introduced a new antagonist, Countess Elizabeth Batholdy, better known in our universe as Countess Bathory, who bathed in the blood of young women in an attempt to stay young. In the Heirs Universe, with magic powers at her command, she is even more villainous and dangerous, most especially because she so carefully hides her villainy and plots within plots, and most dangerous magical connections.

I had thought the series dead, but much to my delight, the third novel in the series, Much Fall of Blood, continues the adventures of Prince Manfred of the Holy Roman Empire, Erik of Iceland and new allies and companions. This time, Manfred and Erik need to escort some diplomats across dangerous Balkan territory...

Batholdy is back and as treacherous as ever, Chernobog remains working behind the scenes, the Byzantines are feckless, King Emeric of Hungary is ambitious, and the complicated politics of this universe adds the Mongols and their successor states into the mix. And did I mention a certain "Drac" from Transylvania who turns up?

It's a delightful stew, in a most interesting and alternate early 16th century. There is always something interesting happening to the cast of characters, and there is character growth and development to suit fans of the series. We get resolution on plotlines going back to the last two novels in a satisfying manner, and there is plenty of room for sequels set in this universe.(There is one giant dangling plot line which is explicitly not resolved that suggests at least one more novel in the offing)

As always, though, you shouldn't start here. You should start with The Shadow of the Lion, and find for yourself why this is a rich fantasy alternate history that I am very glad that the three authors have decided to return their talents to exploring.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:01 AM

Book Review 2010 #14: Stories

The next book came via the Amazon Vine program.

Stories is an anthology composed by the profilic anthology Al Sarrantonio, along with fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Bringing together talents ranging from Mr Gaiman himself to Tim Powers, Joyce Carol Oates, and chuck Palahnuik, its an impressive stable of authors for an all new anthology.

The mission of the anthology is to dissolve the artificial barrier between genre fiction and mainstream fiction. providing a suite of stories that straddle the borderland between the often walled kingdoms of fantasy, and the realms of contemporary literary fiction.

With such an impressive pedigree of writers, I started the anthology with high expectations. While I didn't think that the anthology would be the holy grail of a book that could help tear down that wall, I hoped that I could find good value for money in the stories.

Unfortunately, for me, this proved not to be the case.

I think that, for the most part, the authors in the anthology kept the stories *too* contemporary, shying away too much from genre conventions and trappings, in an effort to be more literary. Many of these stories would not be out of place in one of the many high school and college short stories anthologies that I read in English class. That's precisely the problem, and its a bug, not a feature, of the anthology. Oh, a number of the stories do not fall under this broad brush that I am painting. But for the most part, the stories remain too literary for their own good.


Let me not say that the quality of the stories is bad. They aren't--not even the ones which remain closest to the literary side of the no man's land between contemporary and genre fiction. But the stories, one after another, just felt like they didn't really fulfill the mission of the anthology to my expectations.

The lineup of the anthology is as follows:

Table of Contents

* Blood - Roddy Doyle
* Fossil-Figures - Joyce Carol Oates
* Wildfire in Manhattan - Joanne Harris
* The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains - Neil Gaiman
* Unbelief - Michael Marshall Smith
* The Stars are Falling - Joe R. Lansdale
* Juvenal Nyx - Walter Mosley
* The Knife - Richard Adams
* Weights and Measures - Jodi Picoult
* Goblin Lake - Michael Swanwick
* Mallon and Guru - Peter Straub
* Catch and Release - Lawrence Block
* Polka Dots and Moonbeams - Jeffrey Ford
* Loser - Chuck Palahniuk
* Samantha's Diary - Diane Wynne Jones
* Land of the Lost - Stewart O'Nan
* Leif in the Wind - Gene Wolfe
* Unwell - Carolyn Parkhurst
* A Life in Fictions - Kat Howard
* Let the Past Begin - Jonathan Carroll
* The Therapist - Jeffery Deaver
* Parallel Lines - Tim Powers
* The Cult of the Nose - Al Sarrantonio
* Human Intelligence - Kurt Anderson
* Stories - Michael Moorcock
* The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon - Elizabeth Hand
* The Devil on the Staircase - Joe Hill

Posted by Jvstin at 8:25 AM

May 22, 2010

Book Review 2010 #13: Dragon Keeper

Next up, Robin Hobb...

DRAGON HAVEN (RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES, NO 2)

In Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb started a duology of novels set in her "Farseer" universe. After the events which allowed the Traders to become independent (as chronicled
in the Liveship novels), a group of dragon eggs, entrusted to the inhabitants of the dense and deadly Rain Wilds rainforest, have hatched into pale imitations of the dragon
Tintaglia, who laid them. A misfit group of keepers, hunters and dracophiles banded together to take the young proto-dragons deep into the Wilds in search of an ancient dragon
city.

Dragon Haven completes and concludes the story of those keepers, their dragons, and those with them, as the physical challenges of the deadly Rain Wilds, dissension amongst the
crew of the Tarman, and doubts about whether the mysterious dragon city of Kelsingra even exists anymore threaten the health and well being of not only the expedition, but all
of those associated with it.

Robin Hobb is one of the most acclaimed writers of "low fantasy" (fantasy without tremendous amounts of magic), and the conclusion to the Rain Wilds series, Dragon Haven, shows us why.

First, its all about the characters, especially female characters. Well drawn, complex, conflicted and most importantly, capable of change and growing, Hobbs characters continue the development they started in the first volume, and grow to meet the challenges they meet. Not only the young adults, Thymara, Tats, Rapskal and the other keepers. Not only the adults, too, Alise, Captain Leftrin, Sedric and the other adults. No, Hobb's deft hand extends to the dragons, as well. While dragons with personalities is not new in fantasy fiction, Hobb's still-growing dragons evolve and change over the course of the two novels, and more especially this one.

Second, the milieu of the Rain Wilds is vividly described and invoked in her writing. The Rain Wilds, with significant (and frightening) changes resembles the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest that Ms. Hobb makes her home in, and that mise en scene, that sense of place, is wonderfully set before the reader. The Rain Wilds are a character as much as the human or dragon characters are. Unintentionally, perhaps, but the book has only reinforced my desire to see the area of the country that inspired the Rain Wilds.

Thirdly, the plot. Although the first book ended in medias res, and clearly as the first book of a duology, we receive a solid resolution to the plots of the first book. Even the keepers of the messenger birds, Erek and Detozi, whose messages have served as a window to the world beyond the Tarman, have a subtle and small plot of their own that resolves nicely. Although part of the resolution seems to come a bit out of the blue, I realized at the end that I had, indeed, missed a Chekhov's Gun Ms. Hobb had subtly placed earlier in the series.

Lastly, the inventiveness of Ms. Hobb's writing. Let me give you one example, her Dragons. Dragons are not quite as common as werewolves and vampires in novels these days, but a glance in the local F/SF section of the bookstore shows that Dragons have always been a big part of the Duchy of Fantasy. Hobb does not tread new ground; her dragons are new, and different, given their weaknesses, deformities and deficiencies that the dragons have been cursed with, and must overcome in order to become true dragons. I can't help but wonder what the young life of other fantasy dragons were like, now that Hobb has so expertly thought out and shown us the birth and development of young dragons in her world.

You couldn't and shouldn't read this book before reading Dragon Keeper. Fans of Hobb will have already bought this book, of course, and their loyalty to her writing is rewarded. Start with Dragon Keeper, and continue on with Dragon Haven, and I would bet good money that you will become a fan of Hobb's writing, too.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:36 AM

May 16, 2010

2010 Nebula Winners!

For once, I haven't read any of the winners, although I have heard nothing but good things about The Windup Girl. (And it is a Hugo nominee, too, so it could potentially get both awards)

Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 Nebula Awards, presented this evening at a banquet in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


Novel
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, September 2009)

Novella
The Women of Nell Gwynne's, by Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, June 2009)

Novelette
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,"
by Eugie Foster (Interzone, February 2009)

Short Story
"Spar," by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, October 2009)

Ray Bradbury Award
District 9, by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, August 2009)

Andre Norton Award
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, June 2009)

Solstice Award (for impact on the field)
Tom Doherty, Terri Windling, and Donald Wolheim

Service to SFWA
Keith Stokes

Author Emeritus
Neil Barret Jr.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:05 AM

May 12, 2010

Book Habits Meme

Via Walker of Worlds blog

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

I generally don't eat when I read, unless I am reading at the dinner table.

What is your favorite drink while reading?

Iced tea.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Marking my books horrifies me. ;)

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

I use a variety of bookmarks, ranging from a simple grocery receipt to fancier bookmarks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?

I'd say 80-85% fiction, 15-20% non fiction.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I prefer to end on chapters, or at least at changes in POV or other breaks within a chapter.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

I've been tempted with a few books to throw them, but I respect books too much to do so. Even the bad ones.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

If I can't get it from context, I will look it up as soon as I am able.

What are you currently reading?

An Arc of "Dragon Haven" by Robin Hobb. Low Fantasy, with serpents re-evolving into Dragons.

What is the last book you bought?

Empire in Black and Gold, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

I prefer to read one book at a time.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?

I used to read on the express bus on the way to work. Now, I use my lunch break at work to read.


Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

Most of the authors I read seem to do series, so I wind up reading series.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

A lot of authors come to mind. I try to tailor my recommendations to the person.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)

Organize books?? ;)

Posted by Jvstin at 5:12 AM

May 8, 2010

Book Review 2010 #12: The Dream of Perpetual Motion

My next book was kindly sent to me by a contact from MacMillan Books, and stands in the borderland between Literary fiction, and science fiction...

Hello Miranda.

The Tempest is one the most potent of Shakespeare's plays. The idea of the singular genius, living apart from the rest of humanity despite, or perhaps because of his unique gifts. An innocent, sheltered daughter of that genius, kept from the world. Caliban, who believes he is heir to Prospero's holdings and powers. Dark secrets. Hidden abilities. The conflict between the private and the public. The meaning of humanity.

Is it any wonder that it makes for strong meat for subsequent writers to use for their own fodder?

Dexter Palmer takes the story of the Tempest, and brings it into an alternate, steampunk infused early 20th century in The Dream of Perpetual Motion, a novel that lives in the borderland between science fiction and the world of literary fiction.

The world of The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a borderland too, as the gadgets and clockwork men of Prospero Taligent have transformed Xeroville into a wonderland of automation and automata. In this world, we follow the story of Harold Winslow. A chance encounter at a young age brings him forever into the orbit of the mysterious, reclusive Prospero Taligent, who never leaves his fortress and tower like skyscraper, and as importantly, into contact with his adopted daughter, Miranda. Twisted and sculpted by her father's idiosyncratic methods of raising her, the novel is also the story of how these two characters meet, part, grow, change and finally come to terms with each other.


"One world from you is all I want. Just speak one word, and we will begin. Name, rank and serial number, perhaps the misquoted lyrics from a popular song: anything will do. From there we'll move with slow, cautious steps to gentle verbal sparring, twice-told tales, descriptions of the scarred and darkest places of our old and worn-out souls..."

The novel is also the story of magic versus science and miracles versus technology. Again and again, the transformation of the world, through the agency of Prospero, into a world of gears and clockwork men is described as a fundamental change in the world itself. While the agent of Prospero in the Tempest is one of the magician in a world losing magic, In the Dream of Perpetual Motion, like the HBO series Carnivale, Prospero is hastening the end of wonder and the beginning of the age of reason and science.


The novel's virtues and strengths lie in the literary field more than the science fiction (to be specific, steampunk). The novel works as a literary study of Harold Winslow and his relationship with Prospero,Miranda (and briefly, Caliban). The automata, the fantastic gadgets, the amazing Zeppelin upon which Harold is imprisoned are really backdrop, stage, and setting for his story to unfold. The Dream of Perpetual Motion does not take the virtues of science fiction so much as it cloaks, shapes and colors its literary virtues in the trappings of gears and metal.

What this means is that the novel is designed for, and clearly works on the level of contemporary fiction with a steampunk cast to it. Readers not used to science fiction, but eager to read and enjoy literary fiction will have the opportunity to get a taste of the fantastic along with the character studies found in this book. Conversely, readers who prefer science fiction and fantasy who want to peek outside of the great kingdom of fantasy and science fiction literature into the republic of literary fiction might find a steampunk-dressed, Shakespeare-invoking novel such as this a passport to that foreign country.

Palmer clearly had fun writing this book, his first novel. In a tradition more suited to SF than literary fiction, he even tuckerizes himself into the book, a character with his name and profession appearing briefly at a party for the art of Harold's sister Astrid.

In summation, Palmer has created an interesting hybrid novel, one that will reward readers of both genres that it straddles. Perhaps not as a colossus, but certainly as a bridge between two realms of the written world that do not often talk to each other.

There is much more about the book, including a picture gallery, and other multimedia extensions of the book at the Macmillan website set up for the novel:

http://us.macmillan.com/thedreamofperpetualmotion

Posted by Jvstin at 6:46 AM

April 24, 2010

Book Review 2010 #10-11: The Van Rijn Method and David Falkayn Star Trader

Next up, two volumes collecting Poul Anderson's future history stories...

Poul Anderson was a treasure of the science fiction community.

Although his politics skewed strongly right, unlike many other authors of his ilk that I shall not name, his politics rarely got in the way of him telling a damned good story. Some of his best stories are in a loose future history that starts with the stories of "Merchants in Spaaace" and extend to Dominic Flandry, aka "James Bond in Spaaace."

The Van Rijn Method and David Falkayn: Star Trader are the first two volumes in a sequence collecting all of these stories. In these two books, you will meet the Falstaffian (in all senses of the word) Nicholas Van Rijn. Larger than life, Van Rijn is a crafty capitalist not beyond allowing his malapropisms to allow a competitor, be it human or alien, to "misunderestimate him", to his very good advantage. (being Indo-Dutch, English is his second language, and his mangling of English expressions is one of the delights of reading stories with him as a character). Also in these stories, Van Rijn's company takes on other traders, including the titular character of the second volume, David Falkayn. From the aristocratic planet Hermes, Falkayn is a good and true capitalist, although perhaps not as rapacious and overbearing as Van Rijn. He also brings a "nobles who do something" frisson to the mix, showing that teeth to the flesh capitalism can be tempered by other concerns as well. And this leaves out Adzel, a buddhist dragon. And Chee Lan, temper-driven, high strung member of Van Rijn's teams. And more.

Sure, the books are outdated in many respects. I winced every time a character lit a pipe, and while we have a sentient computer in a few of the stories, we don't seem to have anything resembling the Internet. Female characters are, for the most part, not as strongly defined as later and more recent writers might do. That's the prices you pay for reading stories written up to 40 years ago, after all. Those concerns aside, the virtues of Anderson's stories are eternal. Interesting situations, excellent worldbuilding, and compelling and well drawn (mostly male, again) characters. Anderson gets the details right, and cares about getting them right. He wrote the famous essay "On Thud and Blunder", which explains how much fantasy fiction then (and since, sadly) gets so very wrong. That sensibility is in much evidence here, as well.

The stories in these volumes are an excellent place for you to begin if you have never had the pleasure of sampling the works of one of Science Fiction's greatest authors.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:08 PM

Book Review 2010 #9: Starfinder

Next up, a new book I received from an author I read years ago...

Sometimes I read too broadly for my own good.

Years ago, I discovered a fantasy debut novel by the author John Marco, a novel by the name of the Jackal of Nar. Nice and gritty military fantasy that I liked enough to email the author about.

My interests and reading drifted, and I didn't follow up with his later works, and in point of fact John Marco slipped from my mind until I rediscovered his work. An email contest for a copy of his latest novel led me to obtaining a copy and reading where the author I had enjoyed a decade ago had gone in his writing.

Starfinder is very different than the military fantasy novels of his past.

Starfinder, aimed at a YA audience (although perfectly enjoyable by adults) is the story of Moth and Fiona. He's an orphan, the ward of an old knight, and dreams of flying in the skies even as he hears Leroux's stories of the Skylords, Faerie beyond a misty reach that laps against their mountain city home. She's the granddaughter of Rendor, military mind and creator of newfangled steampunk-ish flying machines called Dragonflies, as as well as a brand new, armed to the teeth airship, the Avatar.

When Leroux dies, willing and bidding Moth to enter the Reach and aid his avian companion, Lady Esme, to return to her true form in the process, Moth and Fiona find themselves on the run into the mists of Faerie, the Reach. As they flee, they are chased by Rendor, in his massive flying ship, and the Skylords themselves, seeking the unique magical gift that Moth now has in his possession, and only he can wield.

The Starfinder.

Part steampunk, Part YA, part borderland-of-Faerie novel, Starfinder is the sort of novel that adults will wish they had available to read when they were 12. Instead of the more conventional fantasy novel a la Harry Potter, the world of the Skylords is an amalgam of several fantasy and science fiction subgenres that provides a stew rich enough for adults such as myself to enjoy as well as children. Combine steampunk technology with a coming of age story, and a faerieland with dragons, centaurs, mermaids and more, and mix well. Very well, as it turns out.

Certainly, the plot and characters are somewhat simplified for a YA sensibility, to be sure. One shouldn't expect Joycean style characterization or Gene Wolfe-esque complications in a turgid plot in a novel aimed at teenagers, to be sure. With that aside, however, Marco has done a remarkable high-wire act in balancing these various concerns, and still producing a book that is enjoyable for older readers as well. There are strains and motifs of deeper and more complex themes layered in here in a way that hearkens back to his first novel.

It's clearly the first of a series as given it is subtitled "a skylords novel". I am looking forward to the subsequent volumes.


Posted by Jvstin at 12:28 PM

Book Review 2010 #8: The River Kings' Road

A book I received due to the graces of Amazon Vine...

An impious mercenary witnesses, and avoids an attack in a bordertown between two fractious medieval fantasy kingdoms, Langmyr, the site of the attack, and their implacable enemy, Oakharn. Also surviving the attack are a young woman, and the heir to the Oakharn lord killed in the massacre.

This sets the stage for a complex web of alliances, struggles and strivings, as forces not only on both sides move to investigate and take advantage of the attack, but powers from beyond Oakharn and Langmyr as well. Godtouched champions of good and light maneuver against each other, and those caught in the middle simply try to survive, and wait to see if this massacre will lead to yet another conflict on already blood-soaked ground.

Such is the fodder for River Kings' Road, a fantasy novel debut by Liane Merciel. The broad lines of the world and conflict she creates is nothing new for experienced fantasy readers. Medieval fantasy, magic based on devotion to one of a pantheon of deities, the basic trappings of a typical fantasy world. Digging a little deeper, the novel features a variety of multidimensional characters on a decidedly complex chessboard of groups seeking to quell or enflame, the fires of war and conflict between the two kingdoms. Merciel does a good job at the shades of gray between the the two characters who really are black and white. She also has clearly read and grokked the Anderson essay "On Thud and Blunder". She gets underpinnings right that many authors completely and utterly forget. Horses in her universe, for example, are *not* treated as motorcycles. The medieval feel of the world is pervasive and palpable. Faith has a role in this world that feels authentic and nuanced rather than "Crystal Dragon Jesus" .


My only major complaint is that it is not extremely original. I've read much fantasy like this before, of varying qualities, degrees and shadings. Its familiar territory. Kingdoms with ambitious vassals, sorceresses, paladins, and so forth.

Oh, and the novel really could have used a map and a glossary or concordance. While these two features in a fantasy novel are practically cliche by this point, when you have a novel geography and world, it is often useful for really getting a handle on who is where, where they are going, and how people are related to each other.

It's a decent debut, even if not groundshattering. Merciel has ideas here that I would like to have explored further, and I hope her novel does well enough that readers such as myself will have the opportunity to discover them.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:54 AM

April 23, 2010

Locus Award Nominees

Finalists for this year's Locus Awards have been announced. The prizes will be presented at the Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 25-27, 2010.

(I italicized the books and stories I've already read)

Science Fiction Novel

The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker
Steal Across the Sky, by Nancy Kress
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Galileo's Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson

Fantasy Novel

The City & The City, by China Miéville
Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett
Drood, by Dan Simmons
Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente
Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer

First Novel

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry
Soulless, by Gail Carriger
Lamentation, by Ken Scholes
Norse Code, by Greg van Eekhout

Young-Adult Novel

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Liar, by Justine Larbalestier
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

Novella

The Women of Nell Gwynne's, by Kage Baker
"Act One," by Nancy Kress
"Vishnu at the Cat Circus," by Ian McDonald
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow
"Palimpsest," by Charles Stross

Novelette

"By Moonlight," by Peter S. Beagle
"It Takes Two," by Nicola Griffith
"First Flight," by Mary Robinette Kowal
"Eros, Philia, Agape," by Rachel Swirsky
"The Island," by Peter Watts

Short Story

"The Pelican Bar," by Karen Joy Fowler
"An Invocation of Incuriosity," by Neil Gaiman
"Spar," by Kij Johnson
"Going Deep," by James Patrick Kelly
"Useless Things," by Maureen F. McHugh

Magazine

Analog
Asimov's
Clarkesworld
F&SF
Tor.com
Publisher

Baen
Night Shade
Pyr
Subterranean
Tor
Anthology

Lovecraft Unbound, edited by Ellen Datlow
The New Space Opera 2, edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Collection

We Never Talk About My Brother, by Peter S. Beagle
Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald
Wireless, by Charles Stross
The Best of Gene Wolfe, by Gene Wolfe
The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny: Volumes 1-6, by Roger Zelazny

Editor

Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
David G. Hartwell
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Artist

Stephan Martinière
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Charles Vess
Michael Whelan
Non-fiction/Art Book

Powers: Secret Histories, by John Berlyne
Spectrum 16: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, edited by Cathy & Arnie Fenner
Cheek by Jowl, by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I"), by Jack Vance
Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess, by Charles Vess

Posted by Jvstin at 7:25 AM

Dexter Palmer's The Dream of Perpetual Motion

Dexter Palmer's The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a new literary steampunk novel.

St. Martin's Press and Palmer have decided on a multimodal push to promote their new author and book.

On the McMillan page, you will find a screensaver, art inspired by the book, background information, an audio excerpt, and much more. St. Martin's Press is seeking to spread word about the book in a number of ways.

That way includes me. As it so happens, gentle readers, a contact at McMillan/St. Martin's Press has asked me, and I have agreed, to read, review and discuss The Dream of Perpetual Motion. In point of fact, the book arrived yesterday.

As soon as I know what to think of the novel, you, gentle readers, will know as well.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:17 AM

April 4, 2010

2009-10 Hugo Nominees

Hugo Nominees for 2009/2010!

I find it amusing that a nominated work in the Novella and Novel category have the exact same title...

BEST NOVEL (699 nominating ballots)

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

BEST NOVELLA (375 nominating ballots)

"Act One" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's 3/09)
The God Engines by John Scalzi (Subterranean)
"Palimpsest" by Charles Stross (Wireless)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow (Tachyon)
"Vishnu at the Cat Circus" by Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days)
The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker (Subterranean)

BEST NOVELETTE (402 nominating ballots)

"Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 3/09)
"The Island" by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2)
"It Takes Two" by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three)
"One of Our Bastards is Missing" by Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three)
"Overtime" by Charles Stross (Tor.com 12/09)
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

BEST SHORT STORY (432 nominating ballots)

"The Bride of Frankenstein" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 12/09)
"Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh (Asimov's 1/09)
"The Moment" by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints)
"Non-Zero Probabilities" by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
"Spar" by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

BEST RELATED WORK (259 nominating ballots)

Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees by Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teens' Science Fiction by Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
On Joanna Russ edited by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)
The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)
This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I") by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY (221 nominating ballots)

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Written by Neil Gaiman; Pencilled by Andy Kubert; Inked by Scott Williams (DC Comics)
Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk with Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona and Ardian Syaf (Marvel Comics)
Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham; Art by Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn; Colour by Lee Loughridge & Laura Allred; Letters by Todd Klein (Vertigo Comics)
Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse Written and Illustrated by Howard Tayler

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION - LONG FORM (541 nominating ballots)

Avatar Screenplay and Directed by James Cameron (Twentieth Century Fox)
District 9 Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell; Directed by Neill Blomkamp (TriStar Pictures)
Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
Star Trek Screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; Directed by J.J. Abrams (Paramount)
Up Screenplay by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter; Story by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, & Thomas McCarthy; Directed by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION - SHORT FORM (282 nominating ballots)

Doctor Who: "The Next Doctor" Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Andy Goddard (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: "Planet of the Dead" Written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts; Directed by James Strong (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: "The Waters of Mars" Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
Dollhouse: "Epitaph 1? Story by Joss Whedon; Written by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (Mutant Enemy)
FlashForward: "No More Good Days" Written by Brannon Braga & David S. Goyer; Directed by David S. Goyer; based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer (ABC)

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM (289 nominating ballots)

Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Juliet Ulman

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM (419 nominating ballots)

Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (327 nominating ballots)

Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Daniel Dos Santos
Shaun Tan

BEST SEMIPROZINE (377 nominating ballots)

Ansible edited by David Langford
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

BEST FAN WRITER (319 nominating ballots)

Claire Brialey
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Lloyd Penney
Frederik Pohl

BEST FANZINE (298 nominating ballots)

Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
CHALLENGER edited by Guy H. Lillian III
Drink Tank edited by Christopher J Garcia, with guest editor James Bacon
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

BEST FAN ARTIST (199 nominating ballots)

Brad W. Foster
Dave Howell
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

THE JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (NOT A HUGO AWARD) (356 nominating ballots)

Saladin Ahmed
Gail Carriger
Felix Gilman *
Seanan McGuire
Lezli Robyn *
* Second year of eligibility

Posted by Jvstin at 6:02 PM

March 25, 2010

Bracketology

Not quite a book review, but a pair of book recommendations for the March Madness season

The Final Four of Everything

and

The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything


Mark Reiter knows what makes many of us tick in March. Even for those of us who don't really care about Basketball, there is something appealing about the idea of a bracketed tournament. The best of the best across the country compete head to head, looking to go to the next round. Upsets! Dark horses! Powerhouses! It's heady stuff.

Suvudu, for example, is doing brackets of "cage matches" between fantasy characters.

anyway, Mark Reiter takes these concept in his two books, The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything and The Final Four of Everything. He takes on all sorts of subjects in these two books, setting up brackets and letting them duke it out. It would be enough if we had Reiter's opinions on, say, the best NY Athletes, but Reiter takes his concept to the next level and gets experts to do and fill out how the brackets will go. So, in the aforementioned example, he has sportswriter George Vecsey do brackets for the best NY athletes. (Babe Ruth wins out in the final against Jackie Robinson). Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak takes on Supreme Court decisions. Time science editor Jeffrey Kluger does a set of brackets on astronauts. And so forth.

Both books are filled with delicious fun that encourage reading and debating at the dinner table, or wherever, and are eminently suited to the March Madness season.


Posted by Jvstin at 5:14 AM

March 14, 2010

How Do You Organize Your Library?

John Ottinger III @ Grasping for the Wind [http://www.graspingforthewind.com]: asks:

As an avid reader, you probably have scads and scads of books. How do you like to organize them? Category, title, author, ebooks only, or some mix thereof? Explain your organizational system for books, (or lack of it) and why it works for you.

Organization? What is this word of which you speak?

Seriously, I have too many books to really organize them well, given space limitations. This has been doubly true since moving in with My Friends the Olsons.

I do roughly classify and store them as follows:

Fiction: This is almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy, or stuff that is very close to it (e.g. Jorge Luis Borges, Lewis Carroll).

Roleplaying books: I have plenty of these, ranging from a first edition D&D DMG to the latest stuff from Evil Hat, Chad Underkoffler, and the Forge.

"Reference books": This is what I call non fiction that I like to dip in, and use ideas for games and writing and whatnot. Historical atlases, history books, a tarot book, a dictionary or two on mythology, and more. I also think of this as "browsing reading", stuff to be gleaned and glanced over at my leisure.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:12 PM

March 12, 2010

Book Review 2010 #7: The Stepsister Scheme

The next book is not quite so much as a "fractured" fairy tale, as a re-imagined one...

Jim Hines' The Stepsister Scheme is the first in a series of two (and at least a third in the pipeline books) that reimagine Fairy Tale princesses as more proactive heroines that are in no need of rescuing.

Or, to put it more flippantly, Disney Princesses meet Charlie's Angels.

The Stepsister Scheme introduces us to Danielle Whiteshore, Cinderella herself, newly married to Prince Armand (aka Prince Charming). Her new happy life as a Princess (and expecting a baby, no less) is short-lived, as her stepsisters, with unexpected abilities, kidnap Prince Armand for reasons unknown.

Fortunately for Danielle, that serving girl Talia is secretly working for the Queen, and is a Princess herself, better known in the stories as Sleeping Beauty. Even better, she is awfully good with weapons. And it turns out that the Queen has another Princess in her service, a certain dark haired Princess named Snow White. She has arcane powers, especially with mirrors.

Although Danielle cannot seemingly compete with this duo, she manages to get herself into their company on their mission to rescue Armand and figure out who or what is backing Danielle's stepsisters in this powerplay. Danielle proves to have powers and talents of her own, and takes possession of a weapon blessed by her mother, unusable by any save her. And thus, these three Princesses, armed and ready, set off to save a Prince.

The book is first and foremost a light, funny and fluffy take on the idea of Disney Princesses, turning them into action heroines. it is entertaining on that level alone, but the book does go further, giving interesting speculations on the nature of faeries, reinterpreting the fairy tales the Princesses spring from, and more. There is even a bit of unexpected and tragically unrequited love (that actually is important as a plot point).

Hines has clearly learned from his previous writing to make a readable and entertaining novel, whose sequels I definitely will seek out.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:12 PM

March 7, 2010

Book Review 2010 #6: Prince of Storms

My next book read is the last in a fabulous series by Kay Kenyon.

Prince of Storms is the fourth and final book in Kay Kenyon's The Rose and the Entire Quintet. Starting with Bright of the Sky,progressing through A World Too Near, and City without End, the Series has followed the travails of Titus Quinn. Quinn, a pilot whose accidental visit to the alternate universe of the Entire is used by the Minerva Corporaton to send him again, has grown from searching for his lost wife and daughter, to toppling the Tarig overlords of the Entire itself, and setting himself against his daughter.

Now, in the fourth volume of the series, the themes and stories of the Entire and the Rose quartet come to a head as the different visions of the future of the Entire, and the Rose (our universe) clash together. Quinn's desire to keep Earth and the Entire safe is set against his daughter Sen Ni (Sydney)'s desire to have the Entire survive at any and all costs. And then there is Geng De, the Navitar friend to Sydney who has a decidedly different view of what should happen to the Entire. And finally, there are the Jinda Ceb. Former eternal enemy of the Tarig, now that the Tarig are overthrown, and they are part of the Entire, what is THEIR vision of the future of the two universes?

In Prince of Storms, these larger issues are resolved, as well, and as always, set against the personal stories of Quinn, his daughter Sen Ni, his (first) wife Johanna, his Entire wife, Ji Anzi, and many others. Kenyon's big canvas and big questions are grand and epic, but her characters inhabit this complex pair of worlds.

I have to admit, the ending to this novel, and the fates of the characters are understandable, fitting, and logical, given the sequence of events. What they are decidedly not, however, are predictable given the start of the series. This is not a simple quartet where the hero simply journeys across the landscape, picks up companions, overthrows the dark lord, and rules happily ever after. Kenyon's writing, narrative and story are far more nuanced than that.


As always, one should not start here with this book, and I don't even think its realistically possible to fully enjoy this book without having read its predecessors. If you want wide canvas science fiction that is very much in the mold of planetary romance and epic fantasy, and with more than a dash of characters that will propel you through this landscape, I cannot recommend Kay Kenyon's The Rose and the Entire Quartet enough.

I have heard that Kenyon is going to turn from SF to more straightline fantasy for her next work. Thanks to the strength of writing and the enjoyment of reading the Rose and Entire Quartet, this reader will certainly follow her into those realms as well. Read the Rose and the Entire Quartet, and find out for yourself why.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:30 AM

February 20, 2010

Book Review 2010 #5: Into the Looking Glass

Next up...another try at reading John Ringo. Glutton for Punishment, me.

Never let it be said that I don't give people second chances. After my unhappiness with the story buzz-killing politics found when I read his The Tuloriad, I decided to try John Ringo, straight up, to see if another novel of his might have more of the good stuff and less of the thud and blunder.

And so I picked up Into the Looking Glass, a completely different series and world, and unlike the Tulorian, written without a co-author.

The set up and the basic scenario are interesting and clever: A high energy particle accident opens up potential gates to other worlds. Through these gates come contacts of several different kinds, including a malevolent force intent on turning the Earth into more territory for itself by an endless churning out of units that reminded me of the Zerg in Starcraft.

A ragtag group of soldiers, a "redneck physicist" and others fight to keep the aliens off of our turf, make contact with friendly aliens, and try to keep a situation spiraling out of control from going completely off of the rails.

I liked the basic premise as far as it went. The strength of the basic premise allowed me enough forward momentum to continue the book. Although implausible, I liked the "battletech" prototype technology employed against the hostile aliens.

However, the negative aspects of the book outweigh the positives.

After a good opening, the second half of the movie drags and loses momentum. Ringo also leaves a lot of dangling plot threads that seem more sloppiness than setting up a sequel. And the out-of-nowhere epilogue with trying to build a star drive is one of the worst tacked on last portions of a book I've read since Ender's Game. It almost seems like to me that Ringo was writing the book to frantically get the plot and scenario to the situation where we get that star drive, but the book is too short to make it plausible. It's a leap too far.

Character development is implausible. Our physicist hero goes from never firing a gun to being an expert in a shockingly short amount of time. Other characters are flat, wooden and without personality. Also, the government response to "tuffy", an extra-dimensional alien that may literally be a manifestation of God, is implausible, at best.

Female characters are another problem in this book. Sure, the novel mainly focuses on soldiers and a military response to it, but the number of significant female characters is thin on the ground. I expect better in a modern SF novel.

Now the politics. I dislike novels which turn into political tracts and grist for the mill to promote a political viewpoint rather than an actual story.Into the Looking Glass takes pot shots at liberals and the French. However, what he has to say about Arabs made my blood boil. The schadenfreude the author and the characters seem to have at the plight of those in the path of a Gate in the Middle East disgusted me.

"Any word on what we we're going to do?" Bill asked.

"Well, the Teams are sitting back, watching the tube and laughing in their beer." Miller answered. "The Ayrabs (sic) can't fight for shit. There's a lot of cultural reasons for it...Wait a year and there won't be enough mujaheddin left on earth to bury the bodies...The ragheads will also see,clearly, what the U.S. can do if it cares enough to send the very best. Nuclear weapons rising where the mullahs cannot ignore them."

If I want to re-read an alien invasion novel, I will read Pournelle and Niven's Footfall. There are two authors, no liberals they, who understand how to write an alien invasion novel, make it believable, and not take every opportunity to score political points.

Sorry, Mr. Ringo, I'm done trying to read your work. Good luck in your future endeavors.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:15 AM

February 7, 2010

RIP, William Tenn

The list of F/SF deaths gets tiresome, especially with the recent loss of Kage Baker.

Today, William Tenn (real name Philip Klass) passed away.

William Tenn was on only as a short story novels, his novels were less successful. Tenn's work was wickedly satirical in a way only matched in the SF field by C.L. Kornbluth.

My favorite Tenn stories:

The Brooklyn Project: Researchers send a probe back in time, insisting all the while that time and history cannot be changed, even as things get weirder and weirder in the present...

Eastward Ho!: After a nuclear war, Native American nations turn the tables on the United States.

The Liberation of Earth: Two different alien races come to Earth...and the Earth becomes a proxy space for their war.

Null-P: George Abnego, the most ordinary man in the US, becomes an unexpected symbol in a post-World War III age.

It Ends With a Flicker: Two different alternate histories seek to end the disaster that threatens humanity by changing the historical event that made it happen. Only...

And there are many others. Tenn had a gift for stories with a sting in the tail.

Now, I am tempted to pick up the NESFA Press volumes of his collected stories.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:46 PM

February 6, 2010

What am I reading now?

Via SF Signal and other places.

1. What Book Are You Reading Now?
2. Why did you choose it?
3. What's the best thing about it?
4. What's the worst thing about it?

1. Into the Looking Glass, John Ringo
2. I wanted to try Ringo again after a negative previous experience.
3. Competent protagonists that drive the narrative forward
4. The liberal-bashing politics is getting old, fast.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:08 AM

Book Review 2010 #4: The Quiet War

Next up on my book list is the author who previously penned one of my favorite SF series, ever.

Back in the 1990's, I went through a spurt of reading the novels of Paul McAuley. His SF aligned perfectly with my tastes, from Fairyland to Pasquale's Angel to the Confluence Trilogy, one of my favorite SF series of all time.

I didn't read his SF techno-thrillers, but I am very happy that he has now returned to straight main-line science fiction with The Quiet War.

The Quiet War is set in a solar system after "The Overturn", when the 20th and 21st century geopolitics and fossil fuel economy world have withered under devastating climate change and political upheaval The powers of the 23rd century on Earth are Greater Brazil, the European Union and the Pacific Community. Family-based Autocracy is the new politics, Gaia is the official religion and the powers on Earth work to try and repair the damage done by the near extinction-event.

Out in the Jovian and Saturnian moon systems, however, the Outers carry on with Democracy, experimentation, and innovation. The Outers explore the boundaries of what it means to be human, as they carve out lives in the bleak and dangerous landscape of moons such as Callisto, Rhea, and Titan.

These two visions cannot long remain out of conflict, even if seperated by millions of kilometers of space. The Quiet War tells the start of the story of that conflict, of the forces pushing for and against war, and, finally, the details of the "short, quiet war".

McAuley's return to Space Opera is a return to themes he has explored before, on a canvas that runs from Earth to Saturn. Gene-manipulated individuals, as in Fairyland here ,are in full flower, from the experimentation of the Outers to the "Daves", a set of clones created by Greater Brazil to be tools of war and espionage in the upcoming conflict. McAuley lingers lovingly over the terrain and milieu of the outer system.

His sense of description is more perfunctory on Earth, but it is when the setting of the story is set on one of the Moons that you can feel the joy of his writing in the depth and texture of these described worlds. I almost wanted to get a plane ticket for Brazilia so that I could get a shuttle for a ship to visit the Jovian moons.

Frankly, while I found Dr. Owen, Macy Minnot, Dave #8 and the other characters moderately interesting enough in the process of reading the novel, characters are not the strongest point of McAuley's writing. What has been strong in the past in his work, and what is strong is here, is the sensawunda of the ideas McAuley likes to throw around. It requires that sort of mindset to best enjoy McAuley's writing. Readers who rely on strong character based science fiction may not be the target audience for his work, especially this novel.

Finally, the Quiet War doesn't quite stand on its own, it feels a bit incomplete. Fortunately, the other half, the Gardens of the Sun, is coming out this spring. Since, despite the characterization problems, McAuley's space opera is still to my taste,I for one am definitely going to read it.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:33 AM

January 31, 2010

Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov

I'm surprised, in a good way, 90 year old Frederik Pohl has taken up blogging.

Even more delightful, he has recently been telling about his early life, as it intersected with none other than Isaac Asimov.

A must read for any science fiction fans.

http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2010/01/isaac/

http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2010/01/isaac-part-2/

Posted by Jvstin at 7:35 PM

Kage Baker, RIP

Via Jeff Vandermeer, and others, Kage Baker's fight with uterine cancer has been lost.

I've only read one of her novels, and didn't particularly care for it. Her work was well regarded. though, by friends, and others in the community. Therefore, I consider the failing to be mine, not hers, and now she will not write any more stories or novels for me to try and reassess my opinion of her work in a more positive light.

Rest in Peace.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:27 PM

January 23, 2010

Book Review 2010 #3: Servant of a Dark God

After the heat I generated on LJ and my facebook regarding politics, here we will have an entry that few will read, almost no one will comment on, and certainly will generate no fire or sizzle. A book review!

Disclaimer: I received this book via the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

John Brown's Servant of a Dark God is a debut fantasy novel that spoils some of its very good elements with some frankly clumsy mistakes and misccues.

The fantasy world Brown posits a hierarchy of magical beings of which mankind sits at the bottom (although there are Gnostic hints this was once not the case) Magical power and talent is tightly and strictly controlled, and those who dare to use such magic are accused of "Slethery", that is to say, witchcraft. And yet there are those who practice and cultivate such arts in secret, both human and inhuman.

Servant of a Dark God focuses on a family in a land recently conquered by overseas invaders, and the dynamics of the rights of the overlord conquerors versus the native population adds to the complexity and depth of the world Brown has created. Characters have confused, divided and conflicting loyalties that shows a depth that many writers with far more experience than Brown never learn or bother to give to their characters and worlds. The magic and arcane aspects of the universe are a bit of a "jump in the deep end", but Brown's ideas are fresh and relatively unique and I liked learning more and more about how it actually worked.

Also, unlike the usual epic fantasy, this novel stays within and provides detail for a relatively narrow geographic area. There was no 1000 mile walks across the countryside. This is a local story, which is a nice change of pace from the usual novels of this type.


I would have highly enjoyed this novel, with all of these interesting elements, except for two major missteps.

First of all, the main character, Talen, was not one drawn well enough to be engaging and interesting enough for my taste. Brown manages to characterize and develop the secondary characters in a much better fashion than Talen, but since this is Talen's story, he gets the lion's share of the action and story. Worse, his story takes far too long to develop. It was a rough slog in the first third of the book, when one of the major mysteries of the novel was who stole Talen's work pants. I stuck it out, and matters improved, but my taste for Talen as a character was permanently ruined by a very weak opening.

Second, Brown is a little too complex and clever for his own good. The obfuscation in the novel can be thick and heavy, and while any writer must balance infodump with telling the reader nothing, I think Brown withheld too much information at certain points, to the determent of the narrative. While puzzling out some of this was a positive to reading the novel, in some cases, it only served as a millstone to the reader.

This book very nearly failed the "100 page test." By contrast, the last 100 pages of the novel were very good.

Overall, though, like some of the best from Sanderson, or Drake, the fantasy here is not of the cookie-cutter epic fantasy type that is eptiomized in the Tough Guide to Fantasyland. I am unsure if I want to continue with subsequent novels in the series, due to not warming up to Talen as a character, but I think I would be inclined to read other novels by this author otherwise in the future.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:56 AM

January 17, 2010

Book Review 2010 #2: Cursor's Fury

Next up, a return to Butcher's Codex Alera universe.

Cursor's Fury is third in the Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher and continues the story of Tavi, the fury-less young man whose skill, intelligence and bravery have saved the Empire falling apart around him, twice.

In this third novel, noew that his school studies are behind him, Tavi is sent off to be an officer in the Legions, in specific a new Legion formed by the Gaius in a bid to try and create a force that will not be caught up in the tensions rising in his Empire.

However, the rise of a rebellion causes the Gaius to send Tavi's Legion out of the way--and, unwittingly, straight into the path of something even worse: An invasion of the canine, wolf like Canim. Tavi's Legion has been moved out of the way of the frying pan of the rebellion, into the fire of being the only force in the area between the Canim and a large chunk of the Empire.

In the meantime, as always, the story follows Tavi's Aunt Isana, Uncle Bernard and Bernard's lover (now wife) Amara as they are sent to try and counter the rebellion threat.

And just where is Tavi's "barbarian" friend, lover and possible lifemate Kitai in all this?

The Codex Alera universe grows and expands in this third novel, and a couple of characters actions, going back to the first novel, are reviewed and reinterpreted. And again, characters and the world change, develop and progress. Butcher has a real sense of moving events in this books--things do not merely happen only when characters are there to see it, and none of his characters are perfect. And the ending. Anyone can write a decent opening to a novel. Butcher, with the sting in the tail of this ending, proves he can end a book as forcefully as he begins one.


I am definitely looking forward to getting to and reading the next novel in one of the most entertaining epic fantasy series out there.

Butcher's novels may not be high literary fantasy in the sense of George R R Martin, but they provide "value for money" in terms of entertainment. And, in a mild digressive criticism of Mr. Martin, Butcher has shown little trouble in turning out novel after novel in this entertaining series.

Again, though, don't start here with this novel if you are new to the Codex Alera universe. Start with Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1), and see for yourself.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:20 AM

January 10, 2010

Book Review 2010 #1: The Edge of Physics

Let's start off 2010 with some non fiction. I received The Edge of Physics as part of the Amazon Vine program.

The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Anil Ananthaswamy is not quite what it seems.

While the title promises a look at the bleeding edge of physics and cosmology, this book in actuality has a broader canvas. Anathaswamy, a journalist at the New Scientist, focuses on the places he goes and the people he meets on his journey to understand the experiments, equipment and the people associated with them.

High energy physics requires special conditions to have their detectors work. If you want to detect WIMPs, look for primordial antimatter, and try and find Higgs Bosons, you need special equipment, which just can't be built anywhere. In this book, Ananthaswamy chronicles his journeys to these often remote locations and talks with the people there. In the midst of this, the book is filled out (some might say padded) with a large number of digressions. In detailing his trip to Antarctica, for example, Ananthaswamy feels compelled to discuss the race to reach the South Pole first by Shackleton and Scott. It really has little to do with the physics experiments going on at Antarctica, and while its a fascinating bit of history, it is out of place as far as the title of the book is concerned.

This portion, and almost all of the other portions of the book read like travelogue, as Ananthaswamy details the effort he has to take in order to get to some of the more remote locations where the physics experiments are taking place, such as Lake Baikal, the Chilean Desert, South Africa, and the Soudan Underground Mine in Minnesota. Those far more interested in the physics are going to be annoyed by these portions of the book. For myself, I liked these digressions, and accepted them as part of the matrix of the book. I was fascinated by, for example, his journey to Lake Baikal. I didn't know much about the lake, and in reading this book I learned as much, if not more about the lake than about the neutrino detector submerged there.

It's a relatively conversational tone of a book, with no equations and not a lot of hard science. It's well edited and a very easy read. I think that the target audience for this book are those who have taken physics in high school, maybe some general science in College, but do not generally have a strong science background. My mother is has no special science background. and no post-secondary education I think she would be able to understand and enjoy this book.

Conversely, those who have physics degrees, and have a stake in the "cage match" that is going on between String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity should stay far away from this book.Ananthaswamy does not "discuss the controversy", to coin a phrase. While the information on the experiments might be interesting to physics experts, the non physics portions of the book will probably not be to their taste.

If you are looking for a book on the level of Lee Smolin or Brian Greene, no matter which camp you support, then this book is definitely not your cup of tea and you probably will be frankly bored by large portions of this slim volume. If your interest is more broad, and your commitment to controversies in the field are not intense, then this relatively painless look at the field, and more especially, the people and places associated with high energy physics is entertaining and informative, even if (and for me especially because) it does contain a wide ranging view of the people and the places the physics takes place.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:37 AM

January 2, 2010

Final Book Tally 2009

A few days late, but this is my final list of books read in 2009:

57 Shadow Pavilion, Liz Williams
56 Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb
55 Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon
54 Roadside Geology of Minnesota, Richard Ojakangas
53 Finch, Jeff Vandermeer
52 Unseen Alchemicals, Terry Pratchett
51 Precious Dragon, Liz Williams
50 Three Unbroken, Chris Roberson
49 Things We Didn't See Coming, Steven Amsterdam
48 The Very Best of Fantasy&Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder
47 The Tuloriad, John Ringo and Tom Kratman
46 Age of Misrule: World's End, Mark Chadbourn
45 Tales of the Road, Cathy Wurzer
44 The Edge of the World, Kevin J Anderson
43 Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder
42 Fledgling, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
41 The Compleat Traveller in Black, John Brunner
40 River of Gods, Ian McDonald
39 Two Hawks from Earth, Philip J Farmer
38 The Pluto Files, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
37 Academ's Fury, Jim Butcher
36 Songs of the Dying Earth, Martin and Dozois, Editors
35 Judas Unchained, Peter F Hamilton
34 The Tourmaline, Paul Park
33 Poison Study, Maria Snyder
32 Furies of Calderon (audiobook), Jim Butcher
31 Other Earths, Nick Gevers and Jay Lake
30 The Revolution Business, Charles Stross
29 The Affinity Bridge, George Mann
28 Yellowstone's Treasures, Janet Chapple
27 Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson
26 Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
25 Midwinter, Matthew Sturges
24 Children of Chaos, David Duncan
23 Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
22 Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn
9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 7:49 AM

December 26, 2009

Book Review 2009 #57: The Shadow Pavilion

The Shadow Pavilion: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel
is the fourth in Liz Williams Inspector Chen series.

Inspector Chen has been to Hell, dealt with a misguided invasion of Hell by Heaven, corporate takeovers in Hell, and even overseen the ascension of a new Emperor of Heaven.

What does "Snake Agent" Inspector Chen, his demon wife, his demon senechal partner (and new fiance!) and other allies do next?

Well, would you believe get caught in the machinations of demonesses and a demigod from a different Hell (a Hindu one!) as well as deal with an assassination attempt on the (new) Emperor of Heaven himself?

Shadow Pavilion is the fourth novel in Liz Williams' Inspector Chen series. Set in the early 21st century in the Chinese city Singapore Three, where the divine, demonic and real life intersect in very real ways. Not very assessable to those new to the series, Shadow Pavilion continues to expand the playground. While we have had hints there are other heavens and hells in the previous novels, but in Shadow Pavilion we not only meet denizens from them, but we actually have the characters travel to them. Williams does an excellent job making these new realms distinctly different than the bureaucratic-mad Chinese Hell, and the change in venue makes for an interesting contrast.

I enjoyed this volume in the series overall, as always. Inspector Chen and his world are clearly subjects that Ms. Williams has found a niche in writing in, and I look forward to subsequent novels.

My only complaint with this novel is its length. While the other novels are approximately the same short length, in this case, it feels like Williams was writing a bit to that length, rather than to the end point of a story. The pacing felt just a little bit off to me. This is not a serious flaw, but it is a noticeable one.

Recommended to fans of the series. For others, I suggest trying out Snake Agent to see if you like Williams brand of modern Chinese supernatural urban fantasy.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:06 PM

December 23, 2009

The Best Genre-Related Books/Films/Shows Consumed in 2009

Sf Signal has been asking luminaries in the SF field what they considered the best Genre Related books, films and shows they consumed in 2009. Note that the material does not necessarily need to have come out in 2009, they just have had to consume it.

Unlike Gaul, the Sfsignal article is divided into four parts:


http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/12/mind-meld-the-best-genre-related-booksfilmsshows-consumed-in-2009-part-1/

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/12/mind-meld-the-best-genre-related-booksfilmsshows-consumed-in-2009-part-2/

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/12/mind-meld-the-best-genre-related-booksfilmsshows-consumed-in-2009-part-3/

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/12/mind-meld-the-best-genre-related-booksfilmsshows-consumed-in-2009-part-4/

Behind the cut, my own choices!

Books:

I read over 50 books this year, many of them in the genre. The ones I liked best were:

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
There was no way that this tribute anthology to Vance's work would miss being on this list. A real treasure.

Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1). I've come late to the Calderon party. I listened to the first book and a half of the Codex Alera series on vacation, read the remainder of the second book, and now am going to tackle book three. Epic Fantasy done right, and with more than a little Roman flavor.

Three Unbroken (Novel of Celestial Empire). I really like Chris Roberson's work, and this is the latest novel in his Celestial Empire universe, where China and the Aztecs duel over the planet Mars...


Films

It was a good year for SF films:

Star Trek (Single-Disc Edition). Star Trek is a reboot done right. Even with that darned overuse of lens flare, Star Trek lives again!


Back to the Future - The Complete Trilogy (Widescreen Edition). I picked this up this year. I recall being less than enthused, back in the day, with the third film. On this watch through, though, I have come around to its charms. And the first movie is a classic, period, full stop.

Up. I should be shot if I didn't include what might be the best Pixar movie yet.

Avatar: Sure, the story is weak, but the technical aspects of Avatar put it on this list. You must see this film and see what Cameron's use of technology has wrought. You simply must.

Shows:

Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series. The last fourth season of the Doctor, and how! From Pompeii to the Medusa Cascade, another trip of a lifetime, with a heartrending ending to boot.

Sanctuary: The Complete First Season. Although I didn't really like it at first, watching episodes at my friends house has warmed me to this series. And certainly, on cable, it has less of the tsuris that, say, Dollhouse has gotten itself into.

Doctor Who: The War Games (Story 50). This classic episode, the last of the Troughton era, was recently re-released on DVD. A perfect swan song for the Second Doctor, Zoe and Jamie.


Posted by Jvstin at 11:49 AM

December 13, 2009

Book Review 2009 #56: Dragon Keeper

NB: I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program

Life in the jungle filled Rain Wilds is tough. Whether you live in half-ruined Bingtown, recently rebuilding from a war with a long time adversary, or if you live deeper in the Rain Wilds, where buildings are built into the trees, and social position is based on how low to the ground you can manage to live, its a tough life. The fact that the river itself is somewhat acidic and inimical adds to the dangerous ground.

To this dangerous environment, add Dragons, hatched from Sea Serpent eggs, and protected by a bargain the egg layer has made with the Rain Wilds folk to care for the creatures. Mix in the fact that these dragons are stunted, malformed and some of them are nearly feral. These are far from your typical fantasy dragons!

Set in (as you might already have guessed) Hobb's Farseer world, Dragon Keeper is the story of these malformed dragons, offspring of the true dragon Tintaglia (who featured prominently in the Liveship Traders series). Malformed and stunted as they are, they are not the creatures anyone expects, and are a burden on the Rain Wilders. The Dragons seize a chance to get the Rain Wilders to get them out of each other's hair by sending them, with their keepers, upriver, in search of a legendary city from the prior Elderling civilization.

Dragon Keeper is also the story of two young and very different women. Thymara has the mutations and markings that make her a semi-outcast even amongst her people, and it is no wonder that she leaps at the chance to escape her home environment and join that expedition to repatriate the dragons further upriver. By comparison, Alise is a sheltered young woman, bound in a marriage that is literally only in name, whose study of scrolls and documents makes her, improbably, the foremost theoretical expert on Dragons and their former world. She, too, with both hands, leaps at the chance to escape her home life and join the expedition.

There are a small flock of secondary characters as well that mainly serve as relief and contrast to Alise and Thymara (although compared to many authors, they serve very well as defined characters).Sedric, secretary to Hest, and unwilling companion to Alise on her journey, is close as they come to being a third main character in the novel.


I've read a few of Hobb's novels before (and under her pen name Megan Lindholm as well). Like those previous novels, she provides solid characters, a well fleshed out and thought out world, and has captured the magic of "one more page, one more chapter" in her writing style, leading the reader on to continue the journey. In addition to cutting between the two main characters, the chapters also have the text of messages sent between bird keepers, which provides a third, objective view of some events and helps flesh out the world as really extending beyond the words on the page.

While I think reading some of the previous Farseer books (especially the Liveship Traders--there are Liveships in this novel, naturally) might be useful for understanding some events, since most of this book is set in the isolated backcountry, I think this book can serve as a gateway book to Hobb's work.

The only weakness to the book, and its endemic to a lot of fantasy these days, is that this is an unfinished story.This is the first in a duology and even as such, this first novel does not stand alone.

However, given the richness of the book, I will *definitely* be looking to getting and reading the second book when it comes out. I also need to fill in the backlog of books of Hobbs in the Farseer world I haven't read--Dragon Keeper helped remind me of the skill and craft in her worldbuilding and characters.

If you are looking for a low magic fantasy world with a different take on dragons, or if you are a previous fan of Hobb's Farseer world, I recommend Dragon Keeper to you.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:47 PM

December 11, 2009

Peter Watts and US Customs

Via many places, like Locus, Peter Watts own Blog, at Boing Boing, Making Light, and a growing list of other ocations, Canadian SF Author Peter Watts has had a nightmarish incident at the US-Canadian border crossing at Port Huron.


Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario's first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.

He will need some shekels for his defense fund:
http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts.htm


Damn.

In April, readers will recall, I was stopped at US Customs after a one day trip into Canada from Grand Marais on my North Shore Expedition. I was questioned for over an hour, and my car was searched. I felt violated.

Now, I realize I was damned lucky. And in the world's greatest democracy, that's a horrible thing for me to say, all the more so because it is true.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:16 PM

December 8, 2009

The Death of Science Fiction, Part CLXIV

Fantasy author Mark Charan Newton has caused some stir with a blog entry on the evergreen subject of "the death of science fiction". Mark's thesis is that fantasy is in the process of supplanting SF for a number of reasons. Women are more voracious readers than men and they "don't read science fiction". Culture has caught up with SF, literary fiction is eating SF, and fantasy films have turned imaginations to fantasy rather than SF.

After that initial shot across the bow, he has gathered a number of responses. Philip Palmer thinks its tripe. Mark Chadbourn, who has written a fair amount of fantasy, responded as well. The Wertzone disagreed as well.


I bet there are others, too.

And Mr. Newton has responded to his critics.

Now, what do I think?

Well, my friend Scott and I have seen a distinct rise in "urban fantasy" the last few years, to the point where it dominates the SF bookshelves over its counterparts standard fantasy and science fiction. It seems everyday that I read about a SF author signing a book deal to do a fantasy novel or switching into the fantasy genre.

Outward appearances would suggest that Mr. Newton is correct. Fantasy is the future, and SF is in a dieback. I do think that we are in a cycle where fantasy (especially urban fantasy is ascendant. I am not convinced that this is a permanent state of affairs. In addition, I think there will always be a market for science fiction, a significant market. Granted, the types of SF may change, just as fantasy has shifted significantly toward urban fantasy, but I suspect that authors like Stross, Bear, and many others will have sufficient readers to keep the fire alive.

And I like fantasy. I may not be a fan of much urban fantasy, although I've discovered authors I do like. After reading a bunch of fantasy, sometimes I *have* to get immersed into some that "old time religion" that is science fiction.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:36 PM

November 29, 2009

RIP, Robert Holdstock

Via many, many places, including but not limited to Steven Silver, Robert Holdstock, author of Mythago Wood and many other novels, has passed away.

In my previous entry about the 6 best fantasy novels, I very nearly put Holdstock on my list of six, for his award winning Mythago Wood, a seminal fantasy novel about mythological fantasy in post WWII England.

Rest in Peace.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:54 PM

"What are the Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time?"

Via i09.com, a link to The Magicians author Lev Grossman reveals that he has an article on The Week about the Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time

He admits its an impossible question, but gives it a go anyway...

I will leave you to look at his article to find out why. Here, I want to talk about it and think out loud about what I think of the impossible question.

His list is as follows:
-- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
-- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
-- Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories
-- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
-- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
-- Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

I can hear the groans already. But yes, its an impossible question. Grossman admits this.

So let's build a list from me, working from this.

Tolkien has to be on this list. Even if you believe that Moorcock "Epic Pooh" nonsense about Tolkien (and I *don't*), Tolkien is so seminal to the genre, that he has to be on a list of six.

Leiber's stories aren't a novel. Theoretically if I wanted to nitpick, Grossman is cheating a bit by including them. But I think they belong on here, too. Young whippersnappers who read Chris Evans or Richard Morgan or Enge or Erikson don't realize how much of a debt *they* owe to Leiber. So put Leiber on my list, too.

I am chucking White off of my list. I wasn't as swept away by it as Grossman was. I don't deny its fine work, but I wouldn't put it on my six.

What instead?

No hesitation. I will put on The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance. Vance is only now really being appreciated, even at the end of his career. The DE was a strong influence on Dungeons and Dragons (which in turn influenced many writers), and is a crackling good read. Songs of the Dying Earth, the anthology I read and reviewed some time ago, shows that a swath of authors have taken notes from Vance's work. So he gets on my List of Six.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. It might be a taste thing. I don't deny the craft and art, it just didn't work for me as well as I wish it would.

Instead, maybe because its her birthday, I am going to go with the Science Fantasy classic "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. I know there are sequels I have never read, but I've always thought this one was full, complete and wonderful.

Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link

I haven't read this, to be honest. I can't really say if its worthy or not. Clearly, Grossman was looking for something recent and urban in tone for this slot.

As my friend Scott would say. "FINE!"

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I can hear your groans already. But this is the one that won the Hugo, this is where some of the awkwardness of the first novel or two falls away and she shows just why she's a billionaire. Sure, I know lots of other authors have mined this territory and you might even argue they do it better. But here, Rowling shows the talent she has in full.

Last from Grossman's list:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Well, this is not a bad choice. If I was lazy, I could say "Yes" and just go with it. I am going to decline to do that on the basis that two Inklings is one too many for this list, and in a contest between Lewis and Tolkien, Tolkien wins.

So we need one more book. Tricky.

Okay, I am doomed no matter what I pick. And I could pick so many authors. John Crowley? Steven Erikson? Terry Pratchett? Guy Gavriel Kay? Robert Holdstock? Julian May? Judith Tarr?

I will pick the Morgaine stories of C J Cherryh. Science Fantasy again, like L'Engle, and its arguably science fiction, but Morgaine feels like fantasy to me. The novels concern a time-traveling heroine, Morgaine, and her loyal companion Nhi Vanye i Chya. Her mission is to close gates between worlds which are too dangerous to be allowed to be kept open. In addition to Vanye, her constant companion is Changeling, a device in the shape of a sword that has a wormhole on its tip and can kill friend as easily as foe.


So My list, overall is as follows:

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Fritz Leiber
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
The Tales of Morgaine, C J Cherryh

Lankhmar Book 1: Swords And Deviltry

The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition

Tales of the Dying Earth

A Wrinkle in Time

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)

The Morgaine Saga (Daw Book Collectors)

I am extremely interested in what you think of Grossman's list, and of mine.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:51 AM

November 28, 2009

Rulebooks for Reading

Over on Gnome Stew, DNAPhil recently broached the subject of reading game rulebooks for ideas on plots, mechanics, and even just for recreation.

I do all three of these myself!

I find that rulebooks from one system can provide inspirations for other games that I run. As a long time Amber GM, a game that spans a multiverse, nearly any setting from any rulebook can be used as inspiration for a shadow or world. Much of the Dreamlands in my world have been inspired by a host of supplements and ideas. The Yithonghu, enemies from the dream world, were originally inspired by a GURPS Cabal creature. A port city in Weirmonken, Turku, was inspired partially by an Iron Kingdoms Port city.

Even beyond Amber, I borrow from other games. For example, The ruins of Serathis, from Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved world have shown up as a site in my face to face Exalted session. The magisterium, an ancient tower that was appearing only once every full moon, came from a session of In a Wicked Age that I played with the Indiegamers where that came up in the Oracles.

I fully expect to do more of this in the future. Beyond that, though, even if I never actually get to use or run them, I like to read RPG books for pleasure. Sometimes small things, ideas that I don't even explicitly remember, come from pleasurably reading a nice and detailed RPG supplement.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:10 PM

November 25, 2009

Book Review 2009 #55: Trading in Danger

Next up, my first foray into the Vatta universe...

Trading in Danger (Vatta's War)

Although I am a fan of space opera, I've improbably managed to avoid reading the novels of Elizabeth Moon until now.A friend finally convinced me to take the plunge, and begin here, with her first Vatta novel.

I am glad that I did.

Set in a space opera universe of FTL travel, ansibles for FTL communication, and a balkinized polity of trading planets, pirates, mercenary companies and more, Trading in Danger is the story of Kylara (Ky) Vatta. Unlike her trading oriented family, she's more interested in a military career. This career path goes off the rails in the first chapter of the book, as she is cashiered out of the military academy for what seemed to be an innocent attempt to help a fellow classmate.

Scandalous! Her family decides that a change of scenery and away from the media lights of her home planet of Slotter's Key. The Glennys Jones is one of the oldest ships in the Vatta trading fleet and due for scrap. Send Ky to captain the falling-apart ship for one last mission, with the end point of the mission having the ship being scrapped on a distant planet, and have her charter transportation back home for her and her crew. In the meantime, the scandal will have been forgotten

Simple, right?

Although she assiduously avoided joining the family business to this point, Ky cannot resist the chance to make some "trade and profit." And in the quest for that, winds up in an unfamiliar solar system that is just about ready to break out into civil war...

Moon is the sort of space opera writer that reminds me of Bujold in many ways. The technical details are plot oriented and relatively general in their details. Readers looking for lovingly thought out technical details of an FTL drive are going to be disappointed here. The technological details here serve character development and plot. And it is there, especially the character development, that Moon shines. Ky is a fully formed and envisioned three dimensional character, who has strengths, weaknesses, personality and who grows and changes in the course of the novel. Even when she does the wrong thing (for the right reasons), she is a sympathetic viewpoint character and Moon makes her the hard core of the novel. Her secondary characters are also well drawn as well, and contrast well against Ky, ranging from her family, to her crew, to those she tangles with in the course of her story.

The pacing is a bit slow as far as the action goes, its clear Moon is more interested in character development and starting the building of her world here than anything else. I was never precisely bored, but there are stretches that are less action packed than others. I also suspect that there might have been a larger book here that Moon decided to trim. Some subplots and ideas are mentioned and dropped in, but not fully explored. This may be a case of Chekov's Law, as applied to subsequent novels.

Speaking of subsequent novels, despite the relatively minor detractions, I definitely be looking to continue to read Ky's story in the subsequent novels in this series.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:31 AM

November 18, 2009

Coming to the SF Genre

Ecstatic Days on coming to the SF genres

As always, I have to give credit to my older brother, for inducting me into the secret society of SF readers. Martian Chronicles, I Robot, Heinlein, Zelazny, Vance...my brother taught me early and well. And I ate it all up and started seeking my own.

I do see Jeff's point. Since we lived in NYC, we had easy access to lots of written SF. If we had lived elsewhere, it would have been more difficult. By no means impossible. My friend Scott, who moved around a lot in the heartland, and did not like visual SF much, fell into the F/SF reader genre on his own thanks to the mercies of public libraries ranging from Georgia to Montana.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:38 AM

Disappointing endings to SF novels redux

You will recall my entry to John Ottinger's question "What is the worst/most disappointing end to a SF novel that I've read"?

John has collected a number of other responses to the question at Grasping for the Wind. Go and read it.

(Hint: One of the other interviewees ALSO picked Hamilton's the Night's Dawn Trilogy!)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:24 AM

November 17, 2009

Book Review 2009 #54: Roadside Geology of Minnesota

NB: Unemployment has *not* done wonders for my reading time.

Next up is the latest in the Roadside Geology series, in my adopted State no less.

Richard Ojakangas is a native Minnesotan whose life has been spent in learning about and teaching Minnesota's geological history. He taught at the U of M in Duluth for over 30 years, and is the author of Minnesota's Geology, which is probably the definitive geology book on the North Star State.

That book, however, is not quite meant for the casual reader (although its less imposing than many other books of the type). Minnesota has lacked a Roadside Geology style book for too long. After years without one, Ojakangas has finally written a book for the non-scientist, the latest in the Roadside Geology series, the Roadside Geology of Minnesota.

It's been worth the wait.

After an introduction to the geological history of Minnesota (as you might expect, the Pleistocene, with its glaciations, gets a lot of space) as well as some basic geology to get those who avoided the rock science in high school or college, the book divides into several sections based on Geography. (Northeastern, Northwestern/Central, Southwestern, Southeastern)In each section, Ojakangas gives a general overview of the Geology of that area followed by the meat of the book, Road Guides.

There are plenty of photographs, maps and diagrams to elucidate the text and keep travelers oriented as they visit the various highlighted sites. I learned about plenty of sites that were just off of my route in previous travels that I will definitely visit with book in tow. I had no idea, for instance, of a beautiful beach of rhyolite pebbles lies just 3 miles north of Gooseberry Falls. I'd never heard of Chimney Rock, a spire of sandstone a few miles off of US 61 on the way south from St. Paul. In addition, I have an appreciation for places and locales I have seen, now having a better geological context for them. The composition and nature of Barn Bluff in Red Wing, for instance. I had no idea there's a fault that has shifted the layers on one side of it!

Armchair amateur geologists who buy the Roadside series of volumes will not want to miss this latest volume.I most especially recommend this book, though, for any and all Minnesota travelers interested in the physical geology of the state to buy the book, read it, and then take it with you on your next road trip to, say, Gooseberry Falls, or Winona, or the Boundary Waters, or Pipestone. I certainly will!

Posted by Jvstin at 12:01 PM

November 13, 2009

What are the worst or most disappointing endings in science fiction/fantasy novels

John Ottinger asks:

What are the worst or most disappointing endings in science fiction/fantasy novels? Why?

I'm going to limit myself to just one...

My nomination, and it pains me to do it, because I like the novels so much otherwise, is Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy.

Big scale space opera, lots of cool technology, returned dead plaguing human space. Hamilton thinks big, writes big and loves the cast of thousands with viewpoint characters spread across a wide swath of locales and situations. Peter F Hamilton is a leading star of the "New Space Opera".

But the ending, Peter, the ending! The novels are let down badly by the denouement. The denouement of the trilogy is, unfortunately, a complete and literal deus ex machina. Joshua Calvert literally finds a lost God (a naked quantum singularity) to undo all of the damage (and change the nature of human space in the bargain). I felt cheated by this. After thousands of pages, the book ends like a bad medieval morality play.

I am very happy that subsequent novels from Hamilton have had much better endings, but this series just fails on that level. I wonder if Hamilton rewrote the novels today if he wouldn't be able to do it better. (He could hardly make it worse!)

Posted by Jvstin at 10:18 PM

November 6, 2009

Jo Walton on Kalvan

The indefatigable Jo Walton (herself an author of merit in her own right) has been blogging about favored novels on Tor.com (And really, you are missing out if you aren't subscribed to the feed).

Anyway, today, she talks about one of my favorites, Piper's Kalvan of Otherwhen. Pennsylvania Trooper Calvin Morrison gets accidentally shunted sidewise in time to another world where he really can be a hero thanks to his knowledge of gunpowder.

Walton makes excellent points about how a few things, culturally, don't work in modern sensibilities, but the rollicking story, narrative and characters (including a princess who is no wilting flower--I just love Rylla too) make the story a classic.

And its still in print on Amazon, so you don't even need to work that hard to find it.

The Complete Paratime (Ace Science Fiction)

Posted by Jvstin at 11:53 AM

November 4, 2009

Best Genre Endings

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2009/11/02/inside-the-blogosphere-best-book-endings-in-the-genre/

The Indefatiguable John Ottinger over on Grasping for the wind has compiled some opinions on favorite best book endings in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Recent tsuris in my life did not allow me to participate in this round, but go ahead and read what other F&SF bloggers have to say. A warning though, this sort of thing is necessarily spoiler-driven.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:45 AM

October 25, 2009

Book Review 2009 #53: Finch

My next book is a return to the New Weird of Jeff Vandermeer

NB: I received an ARC of this book via the Amazon Vine Program

Jeff Vandermeer is the Hierophant of the the "New Weird", an avant-garde branch of modern fantasy that uses phantasmagorical imagery and horror in an often urban secondary fantasy world. China Mieville's Perdido Street Station may be the most commercially successful of this branch of fantasy, but Vandermeer has done more than any author (and editor) in forming the New Weird style of fantasy.

He started it in earnest with (deliberately confusing) two versions of City of Saints and Madmen, a collection of stories (and in the second iteration, stories and other miscellany) set in his secondary world of Ambergris. Next came Shriek, an Afterword, another book set in Ambergris, a more proper novel although with bizarre stylistic conventions.

And now there is Finch. Ambergris has changed from the time of Saints and Shriek. The Gray caps have risen, taking advantage of the civil war between two Houses to take the city for themselves, changing it in their fungal ways, and building some sort of secret project. Rebels scheme in and on the outskirts the ruined city. Ordinary people try to just survive an increasingly bizarre landscape. And just *what* are the Gray Caps going to do now??

Enter into this Finch. That's not his real name, and in a sense not his real identity, but that's the one he uses as a detective in employ of the Gray Caps and the Partials (the fungally transformed humans) who serve them. He claims he is not a detective, but it is what he does in this new order. What starts out as an investigation of a murder turns into a conspiracy and a tangled web of secrets and revelations that unwind not only Finch, but Ambergris itself.

While this is a more proper novel than many of his previous efforts (even more so than Shriek), the sensibilities and ideas explored in previous works are in full force here. Ambergris has fallen from its previous heights, a fuzzy, spore laden shell of its former self. The already weird Ambergris of previous novels is radically transformed in this novel. And as much as Finch, his fellow detectives, contacts, and lover, the city is a character.

Noir, horror, New Weird, phantasmagorical fantasy. Ambergris is one of the most vividly realized cities in modern fantasy. Its a place you wouldn't want to live, but its definitely a place that you will want to visit. While reading the previous volumes aren't strictly necessary, I think that a reader would be very much lost at sea if they haven't done so. But for those readers ready for a dose of the New Weird, laced with noir, and a detective mystery, Ambergris awaits you.It'll get under your skin, and transform you. In a good way. Promise.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:51 AM

Book Review 2009 #52: Unseen Academicals

My next book is another book-for-review deal, the latest Discworld book by the irrepressible Mr. Pratchett...

NB: I received a review copy of this book.

Football (Soccer to us Americans). Romeo and Juliet (with a dash of Cyrano de Bergerac). Secret pasts of characters. Cooking.

Such is the Matter of Unseen Academicals, the latest Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett. Centering on Unseen University, Pratchett takes us not only into the doings of the wizards there, but the "little people" who make the University work. We meet Glenda, head of the Night Kitchen and possibly one of the best cooks anywhere. We meet Trev Lively, son of the famous football player Dave Lively (who scored an unprecedented four goals in his career in the old and illegal version of football played on Discworld's streets). We meet Juliet, a fashion star waiting to be born from her humble beginnings in the kitchen. And we meet the mysterious Mr. Nutt, who is from Uberwald. He's a candle dribbler, but also amazingly educated for someone of his station. Oh, and he is a monster of unusual stripe...

How is it? Well, while I was entertained, UA is frankly, not as good as some of Pratchett's best novels. There are a few things here which are not as well integrated as other plotlines in the novel. Stuff that felt like they should be more important, or were going to be, but never quite came to fruition. I was expecting more out of them than we actually got. Its possible, due to my scattershot reading of Pratchett's work that there are some characterization issues that I am missing. Lord Vetinari feels different than he does in the novels I have read, for example.

On the other hand, a very good Pratchett as opposed to a first-rank Pratchett is still better than a lot of the dreck out there. And there are wonderful things in the novel that frankly made me laugh aloud while reading it. The footnote about the Explorer's Guild, for example. Or the offhand mentioned consequence of yet another strange addition to the Watch. The character growth of Ponder Stibbons, who is rapidly becoming a force within the University to rival Ridcully himself. Or the climatic game for that matter. (although there is an incident in the game involving how the Librarian is removed from goalkeeper that felt very wrong).

I have a large gap in unread Pratchett novels that was little handicap in reading this novel, and so I can unreservedly recommend this latest Discworld novel to readers of all levels of familiarity with Pratchett's work. Is it up to his highest standards? No. On the other hand, only very good Pratchett is still much better than much of the competition.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:56 AM

October 10, 2009

Books Read to Date 10/10/2009

Books Read this Year to Date (bolded books were ARCs or otherwise given in exchange for review)

51 Precious Dragon, Liz Williams
50 Three Unbroken, Chris Roberson
49 Things We Didn't See Coming, Steven Amsterdam
48 The Very Best of Fantasy&Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder
47 The Tuloriad, John Ringo and Tom Kratman

46 Age of Misrule: World's End, Mark Chadbourn
45 Tales of the Road, Cathy Wurzer
44 The Edge of the World, Kevin J Anderson
43 Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder
42 Fledgling, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
41 The Compleat Traveller in Black, John Brunner
40 River of Gods, Ian McDonald
39 Two Hawks from Earth, Philip J Farmer
38 The Pluto Files, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
37 Academ's Fury, Jim Butcher
36 Songs of the Dying Earth, Martin and Dozois, Editors
35 Judas Unchained, Peter F Hamilton
34 The Tourmaline, Paul Park
33 Poison Study, Maria Snyder
32 Furies of Calderon (audiobook), Jim Butcher
31 Other Earths, Nick Gevers and Jay Lake
30 The Revolution Business, Charles Stross
29 The Affinity Bridge, George Mann
28 Yellowstone's Treasures, Janet Chapple
27 Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson
26 Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
25 Midwinter, Matthew Sturges
24 Children of Chaos, David Duncan
23 Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
22 Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 9:01 PM

Book Review 2009 #51: Precious Dragon

Precious Dragon is third in the Inspector Chen series...

In this third volume in the Inspector Chen series, Liz Williams continues the stories of the strangest and most interesting police partner duo in fantasy or straight fiction--Inspector Chen and Seneschal Zhu Irzh. The one is a devotee of the goddess Kuan Yin working as a "Snake Agent" for the Singapore Three police force. His partner is a liaison from the Chinese Hells, and is, in fact, yes, a demon. Together they fight crime!

That may sound flippant, but by this third novel, Williams really starts making this pair work. Ostensibly, while the novel is about the titular character, who is a little boy who is far more than he appears, the novel positively sings and dances with delight when Chen and Zhu are back on screen. Be it Zhu's complicated relationship with his lover and his family, or Chen's attempts at trying to do the right thing in Earth AND in Hell, the buddy cop routine never fails to please.

I recently read a story by Williams in the Songs of the Dying Earth anthology and now, based on that, I can see that Vance is an inspiration for these characters, and some of the descriptive motifs and styles in these novels. The amazing "hell-bound train" is an image that has been indelibly burned into my memory.

Williams is also willing to avoid the reset button. Things have changed from the start of the first novel, and through the second, and the balance of things changes by the end of this one as well. Its an organic process of her world growing, developing and changing in a real way.

You shouldn't start here, of course. And the start of this novel is a little slow. But when the novel gets on all cylinders, Williams shows that she is an entertaining, engaging, and most talented fantasy novelist. I am looking forward, eagerly, for the next novel in her Inspector Chen series. After reading this, I am pretty sure you will, too.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:30 PM

Book Review 2009 #50: Three Unbroken

Next up, some good old fashioned AH SF set in Spaaace!

I mentioned in a review of The Dragon's Nine Sons that Roberson's marriage of AH science fiction with space opera in the off-planet stories of his Celestial Empire world is a tasty combination that pays dividends for the reason.

Set at about the same time as The Dragon's Nine Sons, Three Unbroken is another novel of the Chinese-Aztec war around Mars. While the Dragon's Nine Sons took its inspiration from "The Dirty Dozen", the inspiration for Three Unbroken is "Band of Brothers". In an afterword, Roberson confirms my suspicions that Ambrose's work was a major influence on this novel.

Three Unbroken tells the story of a trio of soldiers of the Chinese military forces: a female Indian bomber pilot, a Texan infantryman and a Manchu nobleman who becomes a commando. The novel follows their stories in the War against the Aztecs on Mars until the explosive (and given that this is based on WWII, very appropriate) finale.

The novel also takes physical and thematic inspiration from the I Ching. The novel is divided into 64 chapters, one for every line of the divination device. The ideas and concepts from the I Ching are reflected in the events of each chapter. While I am not an expert on the I Ching, I did see the parallels. Roberson does a good job of lining up the events to the I Ching lines without making it seem forced.

Overall, the novels show the development of the soldiers into masters of their arts. Sticking to the mostly low level viewpoint, instead of just the Grand Strategy, Roberson shows the individual soldier's point of view of war, and shows it well. We get some battle and action sequences for all three soldiers, too. Each of the soldiers is challenged, and learns that War is often a matter of not just grit and combat, but the Unexpected.

Once again, as I have said in other reviews of Roberson's work, while his work might not be as literary as some other SF writers, Roberson knows how to write entertaining and interesting science fiction. Roberson writes precisely the kind of SF that I want to spend my recreational time reading. Fans of his work will be quite satisfied with Three Unbroken and I think its a good (although The Dragon Nine Sons might be slightly better) way to get introduced to his Chinese Empire AH stories and novels.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:50 PM

Book Review 2009 #49: Things We Didn't See Coming

Another Review copy book, and this time a single author collection...

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Pantheon Books.

Steven Amsterdam is a native New Yorker working in Melbourne, Australia. Things we didn't see coming is this ex-pat's collection of linked short stories in an alternate history where things after Y2k went a little...wrong. A

The protagonist is never named either, and we follow him and the world for years after Y2k's troubles (and more troubles in the course of the stories) have led to a post-apocalyptic environment, with central authority alternatively inept and overly restrictive. The protagonist tries to make his way in a world far more mixed up than ours. Internal evidence suggests that about 25 years passes during the course of the stories.

Amsterdam's stories are a good example of mundane science fiction. The only real speculative element is the fact that this is an alternate history and future, where Y2k went far worse than in our world. Other than that, this fiction is purely literary in nature, style and tone.

I didn't quite find the style to my taste. It felt too minimalist, too narrow for my reading pleasure. Not enough speculation in the science fiction. From a dispassionate point of view, the stories are very well written and fit together well. Mundane SF fans as well as those who normally hate SF but want a small element of the speculative in their reading will highly enjoy Steven Amsterdam's collection.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:51 PM

Book Review 2009 #48: The Very Best of Fantasy&Science Fiction

I haven't read any short story anthologies in a while, and this is the first of two in a row...

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through the kind offices of the Publicist of the publisher, Tachyon Publications.

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, is an anthology of stories across the eponymous magazine's 60 year history.

Although I am not a heavy reader of SF magazines (when I read SF stories, its usually in anthologies or collections), it is clear to me, immediately, that F&SF has had a wonderful history of publishing some of the best stories in SF history.

And a swath of those stories are ably collected by Mr. Van Gelder in this collection. The stories range in publication date from 1951 (Alfred Bester's Time and Third Avenue) to 2007 (Ted Chiang's story The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate).

Arranged in chronological order, the stories show the changes and evolution of the SF story with a high quality of selected stories throughout. Its not just a "most famous" story group either. While there are genre-famous stories like Flowers for Algernon, the Deathbird, and Harrison Bergeron, there are stories that are in that class, but much well less known. (Zelazny's This Moment of the Storm, for instance, or Peter Beagle's story sequel to the Last Unicorn, Two Hearts come to mind)

With that in mind, I devoured this book quickly and gleefully. I enjoyed the touchstones to the classics and old favorites, and discovering new (to me) stories as well. Gelder has done an top notch job.

Genres that forget their history are condemned to fail by that forgetting. Collections like this help the genre of SF keep in mind its roots and history. Any serious fan of science fiction would do well to dip their oars into this volume.

The lineup:

Of Time and Third Avenue, Alfred Bester
All Summer in a Day, Ray Bradbury
One Ordinary Day with Peanuts, Shirley Jackson
A touch of Strange, Theodore Sturgeon
Eastward, Ho!, William Tenn
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
Harrison Bergeron, Kurt Vonnegut
This Moment of the Storm, Roger Zelazny
The Electric Ant, Philip K Dick
The Deathbird, Harlan Ellison
The Women Men Don't See, James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon)
I see You, Damon Knight
The Gunslinger, Stephen King
The Dark, Karen Joy Fowler
Buffalo, John Kessel
Solitude, Ursula K Le Guin
Mother Grasshopper, Michael Swanwick
macs, Terry Bisson
Creation, Jeffrey Ford
Other People, Neil Gaiman
Two Hearts, Peter S Beagle
Journey into the Kingdom, M Rickert
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, Ted Chiang

Posted by Jvstin at 6:15 PM

Book Review 2009 #47: The Tuloriad

My next book is an ARC and my first entry into the "Posleen" universe of John Ringo

Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC from the Amazon Vine program.

The Tuloriad is an ancillary novel in the Legacy of Aldenata (Posleen) universe of Eric Flint. The Tuloriad was written in collaboration between Flint and Tom Kratman.

I only knew the basics of the Posleen universe and the premise before taking up this novel. In the Posleen series, alien races make first contact with man, in an effort to manipulate them as warriors against the galaxy-wide threat of the centauroid Posleen, an aggressive warrior species. The novels in the series, in its main lines and its side branches, explore the war between the Posleen and the humans, and other conflicts as well.

The Tuloriad is set after the Posleen have been evicted, with enormous damage, from their occupation of portions of the Earth.The novel follows two strands--a group of humans sent by the Pope to try and give the Posleen a human faith in order to try and civilize them, and a group of the Posleen fleeing after the disaster of the invasion of Earth.

While the military SF aspects of the book and some of the technological speculations and ideas are most interesting (high tech halberdiers for the win!), the rest of the novel is weak and underwritten. Although while I found the sentient embodied AI the most interesting single character, I didn't feel the human "mission" to the Posleen as interesting as the Posleen exodus thread. They were necessary to the finale, but otherwise could have been excised completely.

There was a good novel in here, or bits of one, but its hard to find.

The other problem with the novel is the afterword. Niven says that the technical term for someone who attributes the POV of a novel and its characters to its author is "idiot". However, the afterword makes it clear that the tone and themes of the novel is, indeed, a feature and not a bug.

There are novels and authors who manage to use their faith and religious beliefs in a positive and constructive way.

In this novel, and especially in its afterward, the authors instead use it like a bully club against anyone of divergent beliefs, Muslims and non-believers in particular. If I had read the afterword first, as I sometimes do, I would not have continued with the novel at all. Which is a shame because, despite the weaknesses I said above, there are a few things to find and enjoy in the novel and I would have missed them.

I find I have no desire to return to Ringo's Posleen universe, although I suspect devotees of the universe will enjoy this volume far more than I did.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:43 PM

September 19, 2009

Book Review 2009 #46: Age of Misrule: World's End

My next book is the first in a series that has come across the pond from Britain.

Mark Chadbourn, an author of 11 books, is a big deal over in Brtain. His books are now filtering over to America at last...

With Age of Misrule: World's End, Mark Chadbourn's oeuvre of Celtic gods and monsters returning, with catastrophic results, to the world, finally reaches U.S. Publication. Done in a handsome edition with great art by John Picacio, the book soon transports the reader into a world that starts off familiar.

Only at first.

We met a set of characters in-then contemporary Britain (the book was originally written in the 1990's). Jack, Ruth, Laura, Shavi, and Ryan slowly come together, under the mysterious guidance of Tom, as events slowly reveal that the old creatures and Gods of Celtic Mythology are not only real, but they are returning to the world to take their place in (mis)rule once again.

Technology starts to fail, and magic starts to rise again. But the return of magic and magical beings, and magical items is no good thing. And worse. the five characters have been signaled out by the forces of darkness for reasons the characters themselves do not at first understand.

Still, when a dragon firebombs a freeway in order to try and kill you, and the Wild Hunt comes after you to stop you from doing something that you yourself do not know, its time to, flaws and all, to try and be a hero. To try and make sense of a changing world, and better still, try and guide its change for the better.

The characters are three dimensional and none are cookie cutter protagonists or sad-sacks. Chadbourn's writing is both poignant in the stories of the character as well as describing vividly and engagingly the encounters and conflicts these characters face as they deal with the too-rapidly changing world.

Strong use and understanding of remixed mythology and Faerie (which reminded me, in a different vein, of Bear's Promethean Age novels). Excellent set pieces. Characters that grow, change and you learn to care about.

Forget derivative pablum fantasy. This is some of the good stuff. In Silverlock terms, its clear that Chadbourn has made a pilgrimage to Hippocrene and isn't afraid to write like it.

I've already bought the second book in the series. I think, after reading this one, you will too.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:28 AM

Book Review 2009 #45 : Tales of the Road

My next book is a travelogue by a MPR host.

Cathy Wurzer is well known to Minnesotans as a host of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition, and is one of Minnesota's best journalists.

In this book, Tales of the Road, Highway 61, a companion to a PBS documentary of the same name (which I have not seen), Cathy Wurzer travels the quintessential highway in Minnesota, Highway 61.

Memorialized by Minnesota native Bob Dylan, Highway 61 stretches from the Canadian Border at Grand Portage and goes all the way to the Iowa border (although its re-signed as Interstate 35 for a good portion of its route). Wurzer takes us along this entire route, north to south, stopping at the famous locales, as well as the less heralded locations. Even more poignantly, like her visit to the tragic tale of rollingstone colony, only the site and a few ruins remain of one-interesting venues, attractions and historical sites.

This is where the power and strength of Wurzer's writing comes through best. Her stories about the famous Split Rock Lighthouse, Tobie's, and the Aerial Lift Bridge are strong writing, interesting and show good scholarship. Its her stories about the venues which are lost or are fading away, venues that, even though I have traveled much of Highway 61, I've never *heard* of, is where the strength of the book lies.

The next time this amateur photographer and transplant into Minnesota travels Highway 61, I will be taking this book along, so that I can find the sites and places, and stories that Wurzer has so ably brought to life.

Any Minnesotan, local or expat, would do well to have this book as part of their library.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:10 AM

September 11, 2009

Questions via Books Meme

From Andrew Wheeler

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe Yourself: The Compleat Traveller in Black

How do you feel: Pushing Ice

Describe where you currently live: Empire of Ivory

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Edge of the World

Your favorite form of transport: Mortal Coils

Your best friend is: Judas Unchained

You and your friends are: Children of Chaos

What's the weather like: Midwinter

Favourite time of day: Warbreaker

If your life was a: City without End

What is life to you: All the Windwracked Stars

Your fear: Academ's Fury

What is the best advice you have to give: Poison Study

Thought for the Day: Yellowstone's Treasures

How I would like to die: Naamah's Kiss

My soul's present condition: River of Gods
----------------

Posted by Jvstin at 7:47 PM

September 7, 2009

Book Review 2009 #44: The Edge of the World

My next book is Kevin J Anderson's first fantasy novel (as opposed to the numerous SF novels he has written).

Kevin J Anderson is well known in SF circles for his "Saga of Seven Suns" SF series, and more visibly, for his extensions of the Dune universe written by Frank Herbert's son Brian.

Here, in The Edge of the World, Kevin J Anderson tries something new--a fantasy novel. As it so happens this is the first novel of Anderson's I have read, and so I came into reading this novel unaware of first-hand knowledge of his writing styles and choices.

The Edge of the World is billed as the first of the "Terra Incognita" series, and is set in a very low magic (lower than even, say, George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones world) universe. The level of technology, aside from gunpowder, is pre-Renaissance, early Age of Exploration.

And therein hangs the hook for his story. Two squabbling nations divided by different interpretations of a common origin myth find themselves, by bad luck and coincidence, drawn into a protracted religious-political conflict. In the meantime, both nations strive to explore the world beyond the continent that houses both Tierra and Uraba. There is a third, smaller, religious group that lives in both lands and tries to get along in the midst of the war. Although I am sure Anderson did not intend it, I got a Guy Gavriel Kay vibe from the parallels between his three factions and the Kindath, Asharites, and Jaddites.

The book is divided into short chapters--over 110 in a 570 page volume. Plenty of POV characters in all three groups. Readers used to large casts and whiplash changes between POV characters will be familiar with the technique. Having weaned myself on Martin and Erikson, I didn't have a problem with the structure of the book. Too, many of the plot contrivances and coincidences seemed fine, if suitably tragic to continue to simmer and increase the conflict between the two nations. Characters show up and often die quickly, again, much like Martin and Erikson.

However, I felt a couple of the twists and turns in the tale seemed like needless cruelty and not important to the overall plot. I didn't see their point and it was somewhat offputting. Also, while Anderson mostly does a good job to show that both sides in the religious-political conflict are capable of atrocity and evil, the finger does seem a bit on the scales to one side, at least to my perception.

With those concerns aside, however, the Age of Exploration is an interesting time period in Earth's history, and Anderson captures it well in his fantasy universe. He's an accomplished writer, that comes across very well.

And aside from some of the plot concerns, I was more than well satisfied with character development, growth and change. Anderson paints on a pretty big blank map (a metaphor used in the book) and I do want to see how the map fills in, especially given the discoveries made by characters from both nations in the novel.

I am intrigued enough by the novel's strengths to want to continue to read the series, and perhaps eventually try his Saga of Seven Suns novels, too.


Posted by Jvstin at 9:32 AM

September 6, 2009

Book Review 2009 #43: Sun of Suns

My next book is a swashbuckling space opera in one of the most original BDOs (Big Damn Objects) in science fiction.

Imagine a balloon circling a distant star.

Imagine this balloon is thousands of miles in diameter.

Imagine that within this balloon there are societies clustered around fusion-powered miniature suns, all floating in the atmosphere within this balloon. Societies, polities, nations existing in low gravity who sail the skies on ships and bicycles of a mostly steampunk level of technology. A world of action, adventure, and swashbuckling goodness.

Welcome to Virga!

Sun of Suns introduces this audacious and awesome setting created by its author, Karl Schroeder (who I previously enjoyed his Lady of Mazes). Virga is sui generis as a setting, and Schroeder has carefully constructed his world to tell the kind of stories he wants. (There are good reasons why technology, aside from the fusion suns, technology is low, reasons that are revealed in the novel).

Clearly influenced by Dumas-like fiction, Sun of Suns is the first in a series of novels set in Virga. Sun of Suns tells the story of Hayden Griffin. His family was killed in an attempt to free his nation of Aerie from dominance by the nation of Slipstream, and he has sworn revenge and to continue his parents work to free Aerie. Events cause him, however, to join to an attempt by a small fleet from Slipstream to follow a map that may lead to a treasure beyond price that will give a decisive advantage over its own deadly rivals.Rivals that are no friends of Aerie, either...

Ships and bicycles that sail the skies. Nations and pirates. Sword duels and pistols. I am reminded of a lower tech milieu of the Disney movie Treasure Planet, except everything is contained within this balloon. We get hints of what the universe is like of this clearly artificial world, and are introduced to a character exiled from that outside world into Virga.

From Hayden Griffin's desire for revenge, to Admiral Fanning's quest for a decisive edge for Slipstream, to his wife,Venera Fanning, who has an obsession with a bullet wound from years ago, to the mysterious armorer from beyond Virga, Aubri McMallan, not only is the novel a rollicking adventure with flying ships, it also has larger-than-life characters appropriate to the setting.

My only complaint, perhaps is that Sun of Suns is a bit too short. Still, that only means that I will *definitely* be reading more of the three additional novels Schroeder has written in this amazing world.

If you are the type of fantasy and SF reader who enjoys Dumas-style action and adventure in addition to your SF fix, hoist sail and get thee a copy of Sun of Suns. You won't regret it.


Posted by Jvstin at 10:11 AM

Book Review 2009 #42: Fledgling

My next book is a book from the Amazon Vine Program...the latest Liaden novel.

For years, the team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been turning out character-oriented science fiction in what is termed the "Liaden Universe", a future space opera universe where alien species and several factions of humanity jostle against each other. In such a universe, there is limitless room for characters and stories, and the writing team has been filling in that universe eagerly.

Fledgling is the latest effort in this vein and a bit different than some of their previous work. Fledgling takes the story of a character who shows up in I, Dare, Theo Waitley, and shows us her origins. While Delgado is not precisely an isolated world, its isolated from the culture of much of the rest of the galaxy by its restrictive, safety oriented society and local customs.

The reader is plunged into this world, and some parts of this work better than others. Some changes in language and diction felt too artificial to me, as if Miller and Lee wanted to use neologisms for common words, ideas and phrases in modern English. While the intent was to make this an alien world, some of them felt like they were using a new word for the sake of a new world.

Also, the character arcs of Theo's estranged parents does not work that well, either. While the revelation about the change in their relationship is written very well, what works less are other aspects of their personality. There are some flashbacks to their first meeting years ago, for example, but it doesn't feel as fully written as the main plot of the novel, and it seems to just end. I think I understand why they included it, but I think it might have been excised or truncated further without harming the novel. Also, in their individual arcs in the present time, Kamele and Kiladi don't come across quite as well as Theo does. They are not poorly drawn, just not as well developed.

What works better, especially once she leaves her world, is the character arc of Theo Waitley herself. The title, Fledgling, is telling. Theo starts off as a clumsy girl, and learns to spread her wings, in a more than metaphorical fashion. Especially once she leaves the stifling, stuffy world of Delgado, Theo's personality, skills and talents come into full flower. The latter portions of the novel that focus on her are the strongest parts of the entire book and make the previous portions of the novel worthwhile to read through to get to. This is the story that any and all Liaden fans will relish and enjoy.

I think the slowness and difficulties early in the novel are a bit offputting, but by the end of the novel, I was reasonably satisfied with the novel. Liaden fans will want to read this story to see Theo's backstory, of course. YA readers looking for a SF novel could do well here, too. I don't think that an adult reader of science fiction who wants an entry point into the Liaden novels are best served with this book, however.

Overall I recommend the book wholeheartedly to Liaden fans (who will not need my blessing to do so), and to a lesser degree to YA SF readers.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:32 AM

September 5, 2009

Neil Gaiman's Library

Neil Gaiman's Library

Now *this* is a personal library worthy and big enough to be in L-Space¹!

http://blog.shelfari.com/my_weblog/2009/09/neil.html#


¹Pratchett reference. Terry Pratchett, if anything, is not quoted often enough.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:42 AM

September 3, 2009

Book Review 2009 #41: The Compleat Traveller in Black

Let's turn away from politics and back into F/SF eh?

My next book is an oldie but a goodie: The Compleat Traveller in Black, by John Brunner.

Although I've read some of Brunner's SF, I had not heard of this book until I started playing the White Wolf RPG game Exalted. That book lists The Compleat Traveller in Black as an inspiration, and so, even though it is out of print, I was inspired to eventually find a copy of this book and read it.

It feels very much like some of Moorcock's Melnibonean work. The world is young, and still in many ways in the grip of the elder era of Chaos. The laws of science, logic and reason are still not in full evidence, with the laws of magic and chaos still trying to hold their ground.

Enter into this realm the Traveller in Black. The Compleat Traveller in Black collects a number of stories Brunner wrote about a mysterious figure who works for Order and reason. In Moorcock terms, he is a definite champion for Law. The traveler encounters forces of elemental chaos, and by actions both subtle and gross, by himself and through sometimes unwitting accomplices,works to impose reason on the world. He often does this by granting wishes. One to a customer, but the results are not often what the wisher expects. Sometimes, not even the Traveler himself is fully aware of the consequences of the wishes...

The stories have a unity of voice and vision even though they were written over a period of twenty years. The traveler is a character difficult to get to know, but we get an interesting portrait of him and the world he is helping fashion. We see through the stories how his actions shape the world around him, diminishing its magic, increasing its stability. And indeed, in the end, he creates a world that not only does not need him, but is positively opposed to his further existence.

I found this an interesting counterpoint to Vance's Dying Earth, set at the opposite end of time. I think the Dying Earth is a better realized milieu, overall, but certainly, many fantasy fans will enjoy this look at the morning of the world by Brunner.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:31 PM

August 27, 2009

Excessively cruel or sadistic author?

Okay. Is it just me, or is this needlessly cruel on the part of an author to their characters?

I will keep the names of the book, author and characters anonymous because I am still reading the book.

I've had problems with the novel thus far and what the author has done (despite some of the novel's strengths) but this made me wonder if I really like the novel or not.

What do you think:

King of a Kingdom, long a widower, sends for a bride from an outland province of his kingdom. She doesn't speak his dialect and is clearly going to be homesick. So, he decides to build a church in the style of this outland province to make her feel at home. As a sign of permanance, he decides to use iron nails rather than wooden dowels in the construction of the church and its furnishings.

The new wife is delighted, loves the place.

Five years later, while in the church, the wife is startled by her young son.She scratches her hand on one of those nails that hold the church together. She gets tetanus, sickens and dies.

You tell me: Excessively cruel, or just tragic?

Posted by Jvstin at 6:31 AM

August 26, 2009

SF/F Reviewers Linkup

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German

A


7 Foot Shelves
The Accidental Bard
A Boy Goes on a Journey
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
A Fantasy Reader
The Agony Column
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
A Journey of Books
All Booked Up
Alexia's Books and Such...
Andromeda Spaceways
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Ask Daphne
ask nicola
Audiobook DJ
aurealisXpress
Australia Specfic In Focus
Author 2 Author
AzureScape

B


Barbara Martin
Babbling about Books
Bees (and Books) on the Knob
Best SF
Bewildering Stories
Bibliophile Stalker
Bibliosnark
Big Dumb Object
BillWardWriter.com
The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf
Bitten by Books
The Black Library Blog
Blog, Jvstin Style
Blood of the Muse
The Book Bind
Bookgeeks
Bookrastination
Booksies Blog
Bookslut
The Book Smugglers
Bookspotcentral
The Book Swede
Book View Cafe [Authors Group Blog]
Breeni Books

C


Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]
Charlotte's Library
Circlet 2.0
Cheryl's Musings
Club Jade
Cranking Plot
Critical Mass
The Crotchety Old Fan

D


Daily Dose - Fantasy and Romance
Damien G. Walter
Danger Gal
It's Dark in the Dark
Dark Parables
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dead Book Darling
Dear Author
The Deckled Edge
The Doctor is In...
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Drey's Library
The Discriminating Fangirl
Dusk Before the Dawn

E


Enter the Octopus
Erotic Horizon
Errant Dreams Reviews
Eve's Alexandria

F


Falcata Times
Fan News Denmark [in English]
Fantastic Reviews
Fantastic Reviews Blog
Fantasy Book Banner
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy By the Tale
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings
Fantasy Literature.com
Fantasy Magazine
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' News and Reviews
Feminist SF - The Blog!
Feybound
Fiction is so Overrated
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
Follow that Raven
Forbidden Planet
Frances Writes
Free SF Reader
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
From the Heart of Europe
Fruitless Recursion
Fundamentally Alien
The Future Fire

G


The Galaxy Express
Galleycat
Game Couch
The Gamer Rat
Garbled Signals
Genre Reviews
Genreville
Got Schephs
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
a GREAT read
The Green Man Review
Gripping Books

H


Hasenpfeffer
Hero Complex
Highlander's Book Reviews
Horrorscope
The Hub Magazine
Hyperpat's Hyper Day

I


I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending
Ink and Keys
Ink and Paper
The Internet Review of Science Fiction
io9

J


Janicu's Book Blog
Jenn's Bookshelf
Jumpdrives and Cantrips

K


Kat Bryan's Corner
Keeping the Door
King of the Nerds

L


Lair of the Undead Rat
Largehearted Boy
Layers of Thought
League of Reluctant Adults
The Lensman's Children
Library Dad
Libri Touches
Literary Escapism
Literaturely Speaking
ludis inventio
Lundblog: Beautiful Letters

M


Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review
Mari's Midnight Garden
Mark Freeman's Journal
Mark Lord's Writing Blog
Marooned: Science Fiction Books on Mars
Martin's Booklog
MentatJack
Michele Lee's Book Love
Missions Unknown [Author and Artist Blog Devoted to SF/F/H in San Antonio]
The Mistress of Ancient Revelry
MIT Science Fiction Society
Monster Librarian
More Words, Deeper Hole
Mostly Harmless Books
Multi-Genre Fan
Musings from the Weirdside
My Favourite Books
My Overstuffed Bookshelf

N


Neth Space
The New Book Review
NextRead
Not Free SF Reader
Nuketown

O


OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
ommadawn.dk
Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy
The Ostentatious Ogre
Outside of a Dog

P


Paranormality
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Patricia's Vampire Notes
The Persistence of Vision
Piaw's Blog
Pizza's Book Discussion
Poisoned Rationality
Popin's Lair
pornokitsch
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Pussreboots: A Book Review a Day

Q


R


Ramblings of a Raconteur
Random Acts of Mediocrity
Ray Gun Revival
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Reading the Leaves
Review From Here
Reviewer X
Revolution SF
Rhiannon Hart
The Road Not Taken
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Robots and Vamps

S


Sandstorm Reviews
Satisfying the Need to Read
Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics
Science Fiction Times
ScifiChick
Sci-Fi Blog
SciFiGuy
Sci-Fi Fan Letter
The Sci-Fi Gene
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
SciFi Squad
Scifi UK Reviews
Sci Fi Wire
Self-Publishing Review
The Sequential Rat
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Diplomat
SFFaudio
SFFMedia
SF Gospel
SFReader.com
SF Reviews.net
SF Revu
SF Safari
SFScope
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Simply Vamptastic
Slice of SciFi
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Solar Flare
Speculative Fiction
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
The Specusphere
Spinebreakers
Spiral Galaxy Reviews
Spontaneous Derivation
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stainless Steel Droppings
Starting Fresh
Stella Matutina
Stuff as Dreams are Made on...
The Sudden Curve
The Sword Review

T


Tangent Online
Tehani Wessely
Temple Library Reviews
Tez Says
things mean a lot
Tor.com [also a publisher]
True Science Fiction

U


Ubiquitous Absence
Un:Bound
undeadbydawn
Urban Fantasy Land

V


Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Veritas Omnia Vincula

W


Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
Wanderings
Wendy Palmer: Reading and Writing Genre Books and ebooks
The Weirdside
The Wertzone
With Intent to Commit Horror
The Wizard of Duke Street
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The Word Nest
Wordsville
The World in a Satin Bag
WriteBlack
The Written World

X


Y


Young Adult Science Fiction

Z


Romanian


Cititor SF [with English Translation]

French


Elbakin.net
Mythologica

Chinese


Foundation of Krantas
The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [with some English essays]
Yenchin's Lair

Danish


Interstellar
Ommadawn.dk
Scifisiden

Portuguese


Aguarras
Fernando Trevisan
Human 2.0
Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm
Ponto De Convergencia
pós-estranho
Skavis

German


Fantasy Seiten
Fantasy Buch
Fantasy/SciFi Blog
Literaturschock
Welt der fantasy
Bibliotheka Phantastika
SF Basar
Phantastick News
X-zine
Buchwum
Phantastick Couch
Wetterspitze
Fantasy News
Fantasy Faszination
Fantasy Guide
Zwergen Reich
Fiction Fantasy

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German
Posted by Jvstin at 7:38 PM

SF/F Reviewers Linkup Meme 2nd Ed.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German

A


7 Foot Shelves
The Accidental Bard
A Boy Goes on a Journey
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
A Fantasy Reader
The Agony Column
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
A Journey of Books
All Booked Up
Alexia's Books and Such...
Andromeda Spaceways
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Ask Daphne
ask nicola
Audiobook DJ
aurealisXpress
Australia Specfic In Focus
Author 2 Author
AzureScape

B


Barbara Martin
Babbling about Books
Bees (and Books) on the Knob
Best SF
Bewildering Stories
Bibliophile Stalker
Bibliosnark
Big Dumb Object
BillWardWriter.com
The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf
Bitten by Books
The Black Library Blog
Blog, Jvstin Style
Blood of the Muse
The Book Bind
Bookgeeks
Bookrastination
Booksies Blog
Bookslut
The Book Smugglers
Bookspotcentral
The Book Swede
Book View Cafe [Authors Group Blog]
Breeni Books

C


Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]
Charlotte's Library
Circlet 2.0
Cheryl's Musings
Club Jade
Cranking Plot
Critical Mass
The Crotchety Old Fan

D


Daily Dose - Fantasy and Romance
Damien G. Walter
Danger Gal
It's Dark in the Dark
Dark Parables
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dead Book Darling
Dear Author
The Deckled Edge
The Doctor is In...
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Drey's Library
The Discriminating Fangirl
Dusk Before the Dawn

E


Enter the Octopus
Erotic Horizon
Errant Dreams Reviews
Eve's Alexandria

F


Falcata Times
Fan News Denmark [in English]
Fantastic Reviews
Fantastic Reviews Blog
Fantasy Book Banner
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy By the Tale
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings
Fantasy Literature.com
Fantasy Magazine
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' News and Reviews
Feminist SF - The Blog!
Feybound
Fiction is so Overrated
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
Follow that Raven
Forbidden Planet
Frances Writes
Free SF Reader
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
From the Heart of Europe
Fruitless Recursion
Fundamentally Alien
The Future Fire

G


The Galaxy Express
Galleycat
Game Couch
The Gamer Rat
Garbled Signals
Genre Reviews
Genreville
Got Schephs
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
a GREAT read
The Green Man Review
Gripping Books

H


Hasenpfeffer
Hero Complex
Highlander's Book Reviews
Horrorscope
The Hub Magazine
Hyperpat's Hyper Day

I


I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending
Ink and Keys
Ink and Paper
The Internet Review of Science Fiction
io9

J


Janicu's Book Blog
Jenn's Bookshelf
Jumpdrives and Cantrips

K


Kat Bryan's Corner
Keeping the Door
King of the Nerds

L


Lair of the Undead Rat
Largehearted Boy
Layers of Thought
League of Reluctant Adults
The Lensman's Children
Library Dad
Libri Touches
Literary Escapism
Literaturely Speaking
ludis inventio
Lundblog: Beautiful Letters

M


Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review
Mari's Midnight Garden
Mark Freeman's Journal
Mark Lord's Writing Blog
Marooned: Science Fiction Books on Mars
Martin's Booklog
MentatJack
Michele Lee's Book Love
Missions Unknown [Author and Artist Blog Devoted to SF/F/H in San Antonio]
The Mistress of Ancient Revelry
MIT Science Fiction Society
Monster Librarian
More Words, Deeper Hole
Mostly Harmless Books
Multi-Genre Fan
Musings from the Weirdside
My Favourite Books
My Overstuffed Bookshelf

N


Neth Space
The New Book Review
NextRead
Not Free SF Reader
Nuketown

O


OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
ommadawn.dk
Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy
The Ostentatious Ogre
Outside of a Dog

P


Paranormality
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Patricia's Vampire Notes
The Persistence of Vision
Piaw's Blog
Pizza's Book Discussion
Poisoned Rationality
Popin's Lair
pornokitsch
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Pussreboots: A Book Review a Day

Q


R


Ramblings of a Raconteur
Random Acts of Mediocrity
Ray Gun Revival
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Reading the Leaves
Review From Here
Reviewer X
Revolution SF
Rhiannon Hart
The Road Not Taken
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Robots and Vamps

S


Sandstorm Reviews
Satisfying the Need to Read
Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics
Science Fiction Times
ScifiChick
Sci-Fi Blog
SciFiGuy
Sci-Fi Fan Letter
The Sci-Fi Gene
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
SciFi Squad
Scifi UK Reviews
Sci Fi Wire
Self-Publishing Review
The Sequential Rat
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Diplomat
SFFaudio
SFFMedia
SF Gospel
SFReader.com
SF Reviews.net
SF Revu
SF Safari
SFScope
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Simply Vamptastic
Slice of SciFi
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Solar Flare
Speculative Fiction
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
The Specusphere
Spinebreakers
Spiral Galaxy Reviews
Spontaneous Derivation
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stainless Steel Droppings
Starting Fresh
Stella Matutina
Stuff as Dreams are Made on...
The Sudden Curve
The Sword Review

T


Tangent Online
Tehani Wessely
Temple Library Reviews
Tez Says
things mean a lot
Tor.com [also a publisher]
True Science Fiction

U


Ubiquitous Absence
Un:Bound
undeadbydawn
Urban Fantasy Land

V


Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Veritas Omnia Vincula

W


Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
Wanderings
Wendy Palmer: Reading and Writing Genre Books and ebooks
The Weirdside
The Wertzone
With Intent to Commit Horror
The Wizard of Duke Street
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The Word Nest
Wordsville
The World in a Satin Bag
WriteBlack
The Written World

X


Y


Young Adult Science Fiction

Z


Romanian


Cititor SF [with English Translation]

French


Elbakin.net
Mythologica

Chinese


Foundation of Krantas
The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [with some English essays]
Yenchin's Lair

Danish


Interstellar
Ommadawn.dk
Scifisiden

Portuguese


Aguarras
Fernando Trevisan
Human 2.0
Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm
Ponto De Convergencia
pós-estranho
Skavis

German


Fantasy Seiten
Fantasy Buch
Fantasy/SciFi Blog
Literaturschock
Welt der fantasy
Bibliotheka Phantastika
SF Basar
Phantastick News
X-zine
Buchwum
Phantastick Couch
Wetterspitze
Fantasy News
Fantasy Faszination
Fantasy Guide
Zwergen Reich
Fiction Fantasy

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German
Posted by Jvstin at 7:33 PM

August 19, 2009

Nasa List of Media on the ISS

A FOIA request has produced a list of the items that Nasa has stocked in terms of media available to the astronauts on the International Space Station:

http://www.governmentattic.org/docs/ISS_Media_2008.pdf

A fair amount of SF books along with the action movies are listed:

A Roll of the Dice, Catherine Asaro
The Apocalypse Troll, DAvid Weber
Barrayar, Lois Bujold

The Harry Potter movies
Star Wars
Star Gate SG_1, seasons 1-5

And more!

Go read the entire thing

Posted by Jvstin at 2:59 PM

August 16, 2009

Books Read to Date August 16,2009

Books Read this Year to Date (bolded books were ARCs or otherwise given in exchange for review)
40 River of Gods, Ian McDonald
39 Two Hawks from Earth, Philip J Farmer
38 The Pluto Files, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
37 Academ's Fury, Jim Butcher
36 Songs of the Dying Earth, Martin and Dozois, Editors

35 Judas Unchained, Peter F Hamilton
34 The Tourmaline, Paul Park
33 Poison Study, Maria Snyder
32 Furies of Calderon (audiobook), Jim Butcher
31 Other Earths, Nick Gevers and Jay Lake
30 The Revolution Business, Charles Stross
29 The Affinity Bridge, George Mann
28 Yellowstone's Treasures, Janet Chapple
27 Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson
26 Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
25 Midwinter, Matthew Sturges
24 Children of Chaos, David Duncan
23 Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
22 Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 6:21 PM

Book Review 2009 #40: River of Gods

Next up is a novel of future India...

Nominated for the 2005 Hugo Award for best novel (losing to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell), River of Gods is an ambitious look at 2047 India by Ian McDonald.

As India approaches its 100th birthday, it has balkanized into a number of semi independent nations. Technology runs high here, higher than in some parts of the world. Artificial Intelligences reach for above-human sentience even as "Krishna cops" try and prevent them from doing so. The lack of a monsoon for years has caused two of the nations to go to the brink of armed conflict. And in space, the Americans have discovered an asteroid is actually an alien artifact, seven billion years old, which inexplicably has a tie to several of the characters...

As I said, its an ambitious novel, with a large cast and a large canvas upon which McDonald draws. In an almost Bollywood like fashion, all of the plotlines and characters, disparate at first, eventually have their stories draw together.

McDonald pulls no punches and immerses the reader immediately in unfamiliar culture, terms, customs and societies. It takes a lot of work to keep up in this novel, but once the basics are down, the novel starts to sing. (This is definitely not a novel to give to a first time reader of science fiction). In point of fact, with its numerous characters at all sorts of social strata, its social commentary, and its vision of the future, the novel feels to me like McDonald's attempt to re-write Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (but without the New Wave experimental narrative and textual techniques).

I don't think the novel quite lives up to its ambitions, and a few of the characters did not much appeal to me as much as the main plot did. However, the vision of India's future is wall-to-wall, engrossing and interesting. Throw in some snazzy technology, and even a bit of humor (I dare you not to laugh when you discover the fate of Bill Gates in this timeline)

Mcdonald has a collection of stories set in this world (Cyberdad Days) which, on the strength of this, and my enjoyment of it, I fully intend to buy and read.

Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:05 PM

Book Review 2009 #39: Two Hawks from Earth

A reprint of an old Philip J Farmer novel...

The scene is World War II. Native American Bomber Pilot Roger Two Hawks, off course on a mission to bomb the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, has a mid air collision with a German plane over enemy territory. Along with Pat O'Brien, turret gunner, he is the only person to successfully manage to get a parachute open and descend to the countryside.

Hawks felt something odd just before the crash, however, and that oddness is reinforced when Hawks and O'Brien land. The people are all wrong, with technology distinctly primitive (~World War I era) by even backwater Rumanian standards. What's more, they speak a language that Hawks recognizes as a derivative of an Iroquois tongue.

Hawks, as a reader of science fiction and comic books has figured out what has happened. Somehow he and the gunner have wound up in a parallel history. One where the Siberian tribes that would have gone to America (only a chain of islands here), instead rolled west and vastly changed subsequent history. But events quickly sweep up Hawks along, as this world has a World War on a scale similar to his own going on...

Two Hawks from Earth is the story of Roger's quest to make his way through this world, and find a way to get back home. Along the way, his skills in this slightly technologically backward world are much in demand. And, of course, like any good adventure novel, there is always the love interest.

Some of the science (especially the ethnography) is outdated and flat out wrong. Given that, though, Two Hawks from Earth does what Farmer wrote very well--action and adventure, with a protagonist making his way in an unfamiliar world.

I read this book years ago in its bowdlerized and shortened edition (The Gate of Time) and I wondered if the re-read would hold up to my memories. I noticed the differences in the text, but the basic premise of the novel and the writing still held up for me.

I enjoyed it heavily. Fans of Farmer should not miss this reprint of a long-out-of-print novel, and fans of Alternate History novels will appreciate this as well. Its not a door stopper that people such as Turtledove put out, Farmer keeps the pace crackling and the novel and story never get dull.

Sometimes you can go back into your reading past and come away delighted again. I certainly was in this case.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:46 PM

2009 Book Review #38: The Pluto Files

My next book is a non fiction one from a "Villain" in the "Is Pluto a planet" debate.

Neil Degrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (he serves as director). He's a columnist for Natural History magazine, and already has a book of essays, Death by Black Hole, to his credit.

To lovers of the planet Pluto, however, he is a villain.

Although it took a NY Times columnist a year to bring the change to light, the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, under Tyson, kept Pluto out of the display of the main sequence of planets, putting it with the Kuiper belt objects instead. In effect, Pluto had been "demoted".

Once that article came out, however, the howls rose, and the IAU took up the question in full...

In The Pluto Files, Tyson tells the full story of Pluto, and his part in its rise and fall.

Tyson is not a self-aggrandizer, but he does have a central role in the drama and he fully documents his part in Pluto's story in the book. Along the way, he tells the story of Pluto's discovery, its debate among the IAU, and the ultimate designation given by the IAU. Plenty of digressions tie in the field of astronomy and astronomers, popular culture (including a certain Mouse's dog) and more.

I've previously read Tyson's work in Death by Black Hole, and he keeps that easy, accessible style for his work here. He may not have the skill of the late Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan just yet, but those who only have a little science education should not be intimidated or put off by the subject.

I, myself, learned a lot of what happened "behind the scenes" in the debate on Pluto, and found the book educational as well as a pleasure to read. The book is relatively short for the price, which is about the only major thing I can say against the book.

Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:19 PM

August 9, 2009

2009 Hugo Winners

Special congratulations to Elizabeth Bear, who won best novelette for "Shoggoths in Bloom"! That's number two, my friend!

The rest of the winners:
The Winners of the 2009 Hugo Award have just been announced via The Hugo Awards Twitter feed:

* BEST NOVEL: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)

* BEST NOVELLA: "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008)

* BEST NOVELETTE: "Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's Mar 2008)

* BEST SHORT STORY: "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two, also: audio version)

* BEST RELATED BOOK: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

* BEST GRAPHIC STORY: Girl Genius, Volume 8: "Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones" Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:56 PM

August 7, 2009

Book Review 2009 #37: Academ's Fury

This review is based on listening to about 3/5 of the book on the trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks I took in June, and the remaining 2/5 that I read.

Academ's Fury is the second novel in the Codex Alera sequence by Jim Butcher. Although he is far more well known for the Dresden Files novels, here in the second book of the Codex Alera series, he starts to really show he can do epic fantasy too.

The novel takes place some time after the events of the first novel. Tavi, as promised in the conclusion of the first novel, is now a student at the Academy in the capital city, and serves Gaius Sextus, the ruler of Alera, as a page.

The political threats that ring Gaius threaten to draw Tavi in, especially given his relocation to the heart of the Empire. And then there is a mysterious rising of strange creatures in the north that threaten his uncle Bernard and his lover, the cursor Amara, and the Marat as well. And then there are the savage Canim, who through their Embassy are clearly up to something...

As ably as he showed the pastoral Calderon Valley, in this novel, the partial change of venue (although there are plenty of scenes in this novel too) to the city shows good worldbuilding, and a whole host of new characters, intrigues and venues.

The old characters grow and develop, too. Tavi, Kitai, Amara, Bernard and even Gaius are not set in stone, but grow and change. Come for the world building, stay for the characters and their personal stories.

The appetite that was whetted by listening to the first novel has only been fueled by this one. Readers of the first novel will definitely want to read this one. And, probably like me, will want to read the third one in short order.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:32 PM

Book Review 2009 #36: Songs of the Dying Earth

Long awaited by many people besides me is this tribute anthology to the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance.

Edited by George R.R. Martin (who contributes a story as well) and Gardner Dozois, this anthology is another journey to the Dying Earth world created by Jack Vance.

Vance himself provides an introduction, and Dean Koontz provides an appreciation. But the heart and meat of the anthology are the stories.

Many of the authors do a remarkable job in capturing the essence of the Dying Earth. The language, the picaresque characters, the strange rambling adventures. Some of the stories feature characters from Vance's stories as main protagonists, others rely on those characters as plot devices, or even just as background color.

So how did they do?

Given the truism that anthologies can vary in the quality and interest stories and authors bring, I thought the quality of the stories was uniformly high. I was gratified that my high expectations were met by the authors and their stories. And the range of subjects and stories is high. Therein you will find more doings of Cugel (contradictory stories, if you wanted to try and take all of these stories as canonical), an architect who uses his skills to defend a castle, magicians large and small scrambling for power as the sun dies, and more, much more.

Dan Simmons has the only novella, the centerpiece of this anthology, The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz. It's one of the stronger stories in the volume. Like his digestion of Keats in the Hyperion novels, and the Iliad in Ilium, Simmons shows that he truly digests and does a good Dying Earth.

Besides his story, I particularly liked Wright's Guyal the Creator (continuing the character's story from the Vance story), Matthew Hughes' Grolion of Almery. (Hughes' own novels show his prior affection for homage to Vance), Paula Volsky's The Traditions of Karzh (showing how a would be wizard really gets his power) and Walter Jon William's Abrizonde (the aforementioned story about a hero architect).

But, really, few of the stories are poor, although I do wonder why Neil Gaiman felt the need to tie in the real world with the Dying Earth in his tale. I found that a bit atonal, even if its a decent story.

In any event, fans of the Dying Earth should not miss this anthology, especially given the list of authors and the love and care they have given the world of Messr. Vance.


The full list of stories:
The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale --Robert Silverberg
Grolion of Almery --Matthew Hughes
The Copsy Door --Terry Dowling
Caulk the Witch Doctor --Liz Williams
Inescapable --Mike Resnick
Abrizonde --Walter Jon Williams
The Traditions of Karzh --Paula Volsky
The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod --Jeff Vandermeer
The Green Bird --Kage Baker
The Last Golden Thread --Phyllis Eisenstein
An Incident in Uskvesk --Elizabeth Moon
Sylgarmo's Proclamation --Lucius Shepard
The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or The Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee --Tad Williams
Guyal the Curator --John C Wright
The Good Magician --Glen Cook
The Return of the Fire Witch --Elizabeth Hand
The Collegeum of Mauge --Byron Tetrick
Evillo the Uncunning --Tanith Lee
The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz --Dan Simmons
Frogskin Cap --Howard Waldrop
A Night at the Tarn House --George R R Martin
An Invocation of Curiosity --Neil Gaiman

Posted by Jvstin at 8:58 PM

August 4, 2009

Prospero Lost Release Day

Today, my friend (and wife of author John C Wright) L Jagi Lamplighter () has the release of her debut fantasy novel, Prospero Lost. (And my copy from Amazon is on its way...)

I had the privilege and honor and reading joy of reading an ARC of the book back in December. Here is a republishing of that review to encourage you to try the book:

Shakespeare is a very common subject for fantasy. The fact that he has some fantasy within his own plays has proven inspirational to other authors using him and his works as inspiration for their own stories. I've read and am aware of a number of these. Sarah Hoyt's trilogy involving Shakespeare's interactions with Faerie. Elizabeth Willey's trio of novels had a Prospero as a sorcerer and estranged part of a world-spanning family, creating a land instead of exile on an island. My friend Elizabeth Bear has mined this territory in the back half of her Promethean Age novels (although she is as much a fan of Kit Marlowe as Shakespeare).


Into this field has waded L. Jagi Lamplighter. Her husband is John C. Wright, whose own style and tastes range from the Golden Age trilogy, through the Orphans of Chaos trilogy, to, of all things, a sequel to a Van Vogt novel. It would be a mistake to think, though, that Lamplighter's style and sensibilities are a clone of her husband.

No, what she has created in Prospero's Lost is quite different. Modern Day, Our Earth Fantasy is very common these days, but it seems that every other book in the F/SF section is a Vampire novel, one way or another. Fantasy is in ascendancy over Science Fiction, and Vampires are leading over other types of fantasy.

Thankfully for me, Prospero's Lost is a fantasy of a different type. It might be helpfully be classified as a Secret Arcane History. In Lamplighter's universe, there is a hierarchy of arcane beings with the detail and complexity of a Gnostic universe. The novel's heroine, Miranda, tangles and meets with demons, elves, elementals, magicians, and even Santa Claus (a depiction that reminded this reader of the Narnian version as much as traditional depictions). There are references to unicorns, angels, and other beings between Man and God. The universe is a Christian universe and Protestant-Catholic theology comes into the plot, however, Lamplighter effectively populates the spaces between Demons, Man, Angels and God. Most people in this world have no idea of these beings, of course. In that sense, I wonder if Lamplighter has read the RPG Nobilis for some inspiration on the complex mythology.

The story is the growth and development of Miranda.Devoted daughter of her father, Prospero, ageless and virginal, the disappearance of her father spurs her out, in true Hero fashion, from the comfort of her home to find her diasporatic siblings, in a quest to find (and save) her father. Along the way, in a fashion that reminded me a bit of Pratt and De Camp, we have an elemental modeled along the lines of a noir detective, a modern day Circe, an aging demon hunter, hell hounds, narrow escapes, adventures and Christmas Dinner at the House of Santa Claus. Flashbacks, that help establish the characters and their motivations. And the Three Shadowed Ones and the mystery of just what happened to the patriarch of the clan.

Okay, I've gotten this far without invoking Mr. Zelazny but I will now. Lamplighter is a fan of Zelazny (she cut her teeth on the ADRPG) and although these are new characters, on a Secret History Earth, the influence of Zelazny on this novel is similar to, say, the aforementioned Elizabeth Willey novels. The author clearly has read and loved Roger's work (like her husband does) and it has flavored this work (again, like John's Orphans of Chaos). It was a conscious effort on my part to decide that the Circe-like sister to Miranda "is definitely not Fiona after all". So don't come to this book looking explicitly for Jack of Shadows or Corwin analogues, but people who devour Zelazny's oeuvre will definitely appreciate Lamplighter's sensibilities and writing.

It's a first novel, so I expect the first-novel writing (which might also be a consequence of reading an ARC) to improve in subsequent novels. This book was a fitting and highly pleasurable way to end the year.

Watch for it.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:39 AM

July 28, 2009

Books Read to Date July 28,2009

Books Read this Year to Date (bolded books were ARCs or otherwise given in exchange for review)

35 Judas Unchained, Peter F Hamilton
34 The Tourmaline, Paul Park
33 Poison Study, Maria Snyder
32 Furies of Calderon (audiobook), Jim Butcher
31 Other Earths, Nick Gevers and Jay Lake
30 The Revolution Business, Charles Stross
29 The Affinity Bridge, George Mann
28 Yellowstone's Treasures, Janet Chapple
27 Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson
26 Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
25 Midwinter, Matthew Sturges
24 Children of Chaos, David Duncan
23 Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
22 Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 7:47 PM

Book Review 2009 #35: Judas Unchained

Judas Unchained is the second of the Pandora's Star duology, by Peter F Hamilton.

In this second volume of the Pandora's Star duology, Hamilton really comes of age as a writer.

Don't get me wrong. Judas Unchained is in many respects the typical future space opera that Hamilton is known for. JU is set as a sequel to Pandora's Star, in a universe where wormhole technology and rejuvenation have led to a world where a commonwealth of planets are connected by trains and wormholes. And where an accidental release of an xenophobic alien species threatens to bring down the Commonwealth for good.

Beyond that, though, Hamilton shows an improvement and maturity on his writing from his previous efforts. Some of Hamilton's previous series and novels have suffered from a bit of a deux ex machina ending, as if he was unable to come up with answers within context to the major tsunami of tsuris sent his characters and worlds.

In JU, without giving too much away, the explicit chance that the readers might expect for that Deux ex machine ending actually turns out to be a red herring. The problems are resolved by humans and in a satisfactory manner.

The characters continue to develop and grow from the first novel, and finding out the ultimate fates of Paula Myo, Mellanie Rescorai, Ozzie, Captain Kime, and the galaxy of characters is a major driver. The novel crackles of energy.

I wouldn't start here, starting with Pandora's Star is a much better option. And once you devour that volume and come to this one, I promise you will be most satisfied, as I was.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:28 PM

Book Review 2009 #34: The Tourmaline

The Tourmaline is the second in the Roumania novels by Paul Park.


Not all alternate history is of the classic mold. You know the drill. Lee wins at Gettysburg, and the world is different because of it. Varus' legions aren't slaughtered by the Germanic tribes, and Rome continues on and on. The Spanish armada conquers England, and Shakespeare turns out to be a hero to the oppressed English.

The Roumania novels are definitely different. The first novel, a Princess of Roumania, started ordinarily enough, with Andromeda, Peter and Miranda slowly discovering that their modern day New England world was in fact, an illusion, an artiface. The real world is very different, where Roumania is a major power with magic at its command, and a vicious conflict between Germany and Roumania only part of the complicated politics.

The second novel takes up from the first and continues the stories of Miranda, Andromeda and Peter as they start to learn their real identities, and their destinies, in Roumania. Throw in one of the most complex and multi-sided antagonists I've read in fantasy, the Baroness Ceaucescu, a slow reveal of more of what this alternate "real" world is like, and mix well.

It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Its been a while since I read the first novel, and like when I read the first novel, it took me a while to get used to Park's dream-like style and characterizations. You really have to pay attention to the prose, and go with it, and even then, things aren't always crystal clear. And I am pretty sure its a feature, not a bug.

I certainly would never start the series with this book. But those who liked the first novel should and will likely enjoy the second.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:02 PM

July 20, 2009

Shorter Adam Roberts on the Hugos

Shorter Adam Roberts on the Hugos

Shorter Adam Roberts:

Dear Hugo voters and nominators:
Your taste sucks
No love,
Adam

It seems he is not a fan of the Star Trek movie reboot, either..

Posted by Jvstin at 8:38 AM

July 16, 2009

NY Times on Jack Vance

Maybe a little too late in his career, for my taste, but the NY Times has a recent article on Jack Vance. They do key on Songs of the Dying Earth, the tribute anthology that has been just released, and that I have been gushing about. The author of the article relies heavily on Chabon to help decipher the singular mr. Vance.

Some bits from the article:

Michael Chabon, whose distinguished literary reputation allows him to employ popular formulas without being labeled a genre writer, told me: "Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don't get the credit they deserve. If 'The Last Castle' or 'The Dragon Masters' had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he's Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there's this insurmountable barrier."

Right about now you might be thinking, Well, if Vance is as good as Simmons and Chabon and Rhoads say he is, and if he refused to give in to the demands of the genres in which he worked, then maybe he would have done better to try other forms that better rewarded his strengths -- isn't it a shame that he confined himself to adolescent genres in which his grown-up talents could not truly shine? But I think that question would be wrong in its assumptions: wrong about Vance, about genre and about what "adolescent" and "grown-up" mean when we talk about literary sensibility.

Chabon contrasted Vance with Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, British dons who shared a grandiose "impulse to synthesize a mythology for a culture. There's none of that in Vance. The engineer in him is always on view. They're always adventure stories, too, but they're also problem-solving puzzles. He sets up these what-ifs, like a syllogism. He has that logic-love like Poe, the Yankee engineering spirit, married to erudite love of pomp and pageantry. And he has an amazing ear and writes a beautiful sentence."

It's a pity Chabon didn't contribute to Songs, since its clear that he understands and loves Vance's work. He gets it.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:19 AM

July 13, 2009

Charles N Brown, RIP


As you have seen many places elsewhere if you are reading this here, Charles Brown, founder and editor of Locus, has died on his way back from Readercon.

I am not a F/SF writer and I am ambivalent on the best of days if I have the stones to be one. I came to Locus, first, because of its indispensable use to me as a fan, especially back in the 80's and 90's.

Locus, which I first started to read by buying copies at the Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, told me what books were coming, what authors were selling, what books were popular, what books were worth my time, and what books were winning awards. In the days before the Internets took off, that information was golden.

Nowadays, Locus is not as indispensible and solitary in conveying that sort of information, but I still find it useful, so much so that I fill out my Locus survey every year, and I've had a subscription for more than 10 years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:17 PM

July 11, 2009

Songs of the Dying Earth Table of Contents

Now that I have the copy in my hands, I can report on the table of contents. I haven't seen anyone else do it yet, so I get to be first!


Songs of the Dying Earth
TOC:

Thank You, Mr Vance --Dean Koontz
Preface --Jack Vance

The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale --Robert Silverberg
Grolion of Almery --Matthew Hughes
The Copsy Door --Terry Dowling
Caulk the Witch Doctor --Liz Williams
Inescapable --Mike Resnick
Abrizonde --Walter Jon Williams
The Traditions of Karzh --Paula Volsky
The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod --Jeff Vandermeer
The Green Bird --Kage Baker
The Last Golden Thread --Phyllis Eisenstein
An Incident in Uskvesk --Elizabeth Moon
Sylgarmo's Proclamation --Lucius Shepard
The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or The Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee --Tad Williams
Guyal the Curator --John C Wright
The Good Magician --Glen Cook
The Return of the Fire Witch --Elizabeth Hand
The Collegeum of Mauge --Byron Tetrick
Evillo the Uncunning --Tanith Lee
The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz --Dan Simmons
Frogskin Cap --Howard Waldrop
A Night at the Tarn House --George R R Martin
An Invocation of Curiosity --Neil Gaiman

Posted by Jvstin at 10:25 PM

Songs of the Dying Earth

My copy of Songs of the Dying Earth, the Jack Vance Dying Earth Tribute Anthology, has arrived!

Posted by Jvstin at 10:07 PM

July 7, 2009

Book Review 2009 #33: Poison Study

Poison Study is the first in a series of fantasy novels by Maria Snyder.

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace--and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

Yelena, you see, has been chosen to be the Commander's new food taster. And the Commander has so very many enemies. As does Yelena...

Poison Study is the first in a trio of novels by Maria Snyder, telling the story of Yelena. Set in a fantasy kingdom which has recently been taken over in a puritanical military dictatorship which reminded me of Cromwell's England. Yelena's crime, the murder of one of the sons of the military officers, is not easily forgiven by the grieving father. In addition, that father has plans of his own for the future of Ixia. And what of the strange abilities that Yelena is slowly starting to manifest?

Poison Study is definitely a character driven book, focusing on the motivations, character, and growth of Yelena. As such, Snyder creates a complex, three dimensional protagonists with strengths, flaws, hopes and dreams that grows and changes throughout the novel. There are hints of some interesting world building going on here, too.

Its a solid, good novel, and I look forward to reading the remainder of the series.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:56 PM

Book Review 2009 #32: Furies of Calderon

Furies of Calderon is the first book in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera Series. I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook on my trip to Yellowstone and points beyond.

Jim Butcher is not only known for his Dresden Files novels. He also has a burgeoning series of novels set in a fantasy world with Romanesque overtones, where nearly everyone in the Empire has a bond with one or more elemental spirits called furies.

However, one young man, named Tavi, living in Calderon valley, is one of the few people in the Empire, perhaps the only one, who has no fury of his own.

And therein hangs a tale.

Tavi, and the Calderon valley he lives in becomes the focal point of struggles within and without of the Empire, as those who struggle to unseat the Emperor are willing to bargain with the Empire's enemies for a chance to make the Emperor seem unable to control his domain.

Our viewpoint characters are the aformentioned Tavi, sheepherder in the Valley, and Amara, a spy in the service of the Emperor. As their points of view converge, split and merge again, the book develops into a heady brew of intrigue, world building, action scenes, and an intriguing magic system in the nature of the furies.

My traveling companions and I entirely and wholehearted enjoyed the book, which sports good production values with the voices and narration. I will definitely be looking to reading or listening to further volumes in the series.

Lovers of Epic Fantasy will definitely like Butcher's take on the genre. Fans of Butcher's Dresden files novels will find this different in the sense of thematic matter, but will find his skills at characterization and world building honed in those novels well employed here.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:24 PM

Book Review 2009 #31: Other Earths

Other Earths is an anthology of alternate history stories, edited by Nick Gevers and Jay Lake.

Alternate history is one of my favorite subgenres in Science Fiction, and it is a subgenre that lends itself as well to the short story as to the novel. The sting in the tail in realizing just where the divergence lies in a story's world and how it lies changed with our own often works better in a short story than the expanse of a novel. An AH novel explores an alternate history at length; a story is about the sting in the tail.

So I read Other Earths, a collection of new AH stories, with eagerness. Edited by Jay Lake and Nick Gevers, Other Earths includes stories by authors well versed in the genre, including Stephen Baxter, Paul Park and Robert Charles Wilson.

Like all anthologies, though, anthologies can all too often be very uneven in their quality. The very variety of the authors presented here means, necessarily, stories with wildly divergent styles, aims, and themes. Paul Park's story, "A Family History", has an almost dream like quality to it that is very alike to his Roumania novels. It is very different than the rigorous "The Unblinking Eye" by Baxter, which is really a puzzle story wrapped in the trappings of an alternate history. Liz William's "Winterborn" adds an element of fantasy to the alternate history.

And so all of the stories range in this way. What this meant for me, though, and likely will mean for you is that while you will undoubtedly find stories here you will like, its just as certain there are stories in this set of 11 stories that you will dislike, perhaps intensely.

It is a good line up of authors in the book, however, and if you are at all interested in Alternate history, I do recommend the book to you.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:02 PM

Book Review 2009 #30: The Revolution Business

The Revolution Business is the fifth book in the Merchant Series books by Charles Stross.

The Merchant Prince series, about Miriam Beckstein, is the series that got me into the works of Charles Stross.

The Revolution Business is the fifth in this series. It follows off of the explosive ending to the fourth novel, where the machinations of several parties, ranging from the Clan to the U.S. Government, to the political enemies of the Clan in the Gruinmarkt, all fall against each other, inadvertently messing up each other.

Even more important is Miriam, our central character. In the novel, she quickly finds herself thrust into politics of the Family in a way that she could not imagine even in previous novels. Her previous efforts are nothing compared to the cut and thrust of politics now, in the wake of the deadly politics in the Gruinmarkt. And then there is the technological breakthrough of the US Government in terms of worldwalking, and the Clan's very personal approach to their feud with the US Government...

About the only fault I have in the novel is that we don't get enough of the third world, the New Britain world. It suffers a bit in comparison to events in our world and the Gruinmarkt. With that aside, though, this novel continues to build on the previous four novels of the series. Stross has managed this series, its worlds and assumptions, with enviable and undeniable skill. His skill in developing believable and complex characters, having them grow and change (and in some instances, kill them off) is admirable.

There is one more novel planned in the sequence, and Stross ends this book with an explosive cliffhanger that will make you want to read the sixth book all the more. I know that I certainly do!

Posted by Jvstin at 6:42 PM

June 28, 2009

Book Review 2009 #29: The Affinity Bridge

I received a copy of an ARC of George Mann's Steampunk novel The Affinity Bridge, as part of the Amazon Vine program.

The year is 1901.

A strange zombie plague threatens the low class areas of London. Zeppelins fill the skies, piloted by mechanical men. Queen Victoria, with medical help, is still on the British Throne. A mysterious, glowing policeman has been strangling people.

Welcome to the world of George Mann's The Affinity Bridge.

In this Victorian AH Steampunk world, meet Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes. Agents of the Crown, its their job to deal with enemies and threats to England.

And do it proper British style, of course.

Its clear that there are dark things afoot. A mysterious zeppelin crash impels our two agents into a world of conspiracy, adventure, intrigue and even a bit of the New Weird. The book is not as aggressively set in that genre as other novels I have read as of late; The Affinity Bridge is much more a pure AH "steampunk novel"--with some twists.

The novel starts slowly as we start to get to know the characters. It's clear Newbury and Hobbes are relatively new to each other, as they are to us. However, the writing and characterization improve as we get to know Newbury, Hobbes, and the characters around them.

When it does hit on all cylinders, the novel feels a lot like those old Victorian novels, with all of the plots tying together in a neat fashion (perhaps too neat), hair-breadth escapes, and even a couple of pitched battles, and always time for British sensibility. The characters are neither cardboard nor two dimensional--both have flaws and aspects of their characters that they keep under wraps.

The tagline to this book is "A Newbury and Hobbes novel" which sounds to me that a sequel might be in the offing. Now that the characters and world are firmly established by the end of the Affinity Bridge, I'd read it.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:25 PM

Book Review 2009 #28: Yellowstone's Treasures

Yellowstone Treasures is a guidebook to Yellowstone National Park, written by Janet Chapple

In its third edition, Yellowstone Treasures is a comprehensive guide to Yellowstone National Park, written by Janet Chapple. Janet's father worked in Old Faithful Inn for four summers, giving his daughter a lifelong love of the park.

That love has translated into this guidebook.

I purchased the book in anticipation of a trip to Yellowstone, and on our recent trip to the west, my friends and I quickly discovered this book was illuminating, enlightening, and above all, essential to our travels.

My friend's daughter needed a bathroom, and quickly? Janet's system of describing everything along the roads of the park, down to mileposts, allowed me to easily tell them exactly where we were, and exactly how far it was to the nearest toilet. What's the name of that mountain? A quick look at the mileposts, drawing and maps almost always told us the answer.

In addition to the comprehensive and painstaking detail on the sights at each mile of the road, Janet provides opinions on the best things to see, cross references things by subjects, and provides a lot of the background on the park in asides in the book.

I found myself, as we were traveling along, reading aloud on subjects that Janet mentions. Where did the Firehole River get its name? Just who was Norris that Norris Geyser Basin is named for? Which of the sights in Mammoth are worth stopping to take a look at?

I had purchased an additional guide to Yellowstone, but everything my traveling companions and I could want to know or need to know about the area within Yellowstone was within the nearly 400 pages of this book. The next time my friends and I go back to the park, we certainly will be making use of Ms. Chapple's work.

If you are planning to visit Yellowstone National Park, I strongly advise you to get a copy of this book beforehand yourself and keep it on hand as you traverse the park. You will be extremely glad that you did.

This is the way to write a travel book on a National Park.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:40 PM

June 17, 2009

Shared Worlds

Spreading across a couple of blogs and sites, and definitely worth checking out is Shared Worlds.

What real life places inspire fantasy and science fiction. Between the main Shared Worlds site which asks this of 5 authors (Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula Le Guin, China Miéville, and Michael Moorcock) and the SF Signal version which asks a bunch more writers ranging from Alan Dean Foster to James Enge, this is a nice knot of interesting stuff to look at.

So what about me? What do I think?

Well, not to choose any of the answers that the real published authors have already picked, the city I think of when I think of the genre is New York City.

Not just because its my hometown, of course, but, well, Television Tropes puts it best in their entry Big Applesauce.

Are aliens landing in UFOs? They'll land in Queens.

Is there a neighborhood full of world-class martial artists with superhuman powers? It's in New York's Chinatown.

Is there a magical gateway between worlds? It's in the Queens Midtown Tunnel. (Or in Central Park, or maybe in the subway tunnels, depending on the cuteness-darkness factor of the story being told).

Is a giant alien monster attacking? It's attacking Manhattan.

Is there a mysterious gigantic cavern hidden just beneath the earth's surface, wherein aliens once upon a time created all life on earth? It's underneath the Battery.

Is there only one person with the special gifts needed to save a distant planet or alternate dimension? He lives in Tribeca; not the SUV, but the place that surely everyone has heard of, 'cause New York is just that famous.

Is a prominent figure from religion or myth manifest once more and living in the world of humans? He's in Central Park.

An Ultimate Showdown Of Ultimate Destiny? Madison Square Garden's got front row seats.

Is your maternal grandmother visiting your home in Phoenix, Arizona? She's fluent only in Bronx-accented Yinglish.

Want to do a Reality Show focusing into the culinary field, or art, or dance or theatre? New York is the place to be, since people don't eat, paint, dance or act anywhere else.

What Tokyo Is The Center Of The Universe is to Anime and Japanese TV, Big Applesauce seems to be to American TV: the clichéd idea that anything that occurs in, or references, New York is automatically more interesting to the average American viewer than anything elsewhere. At the very least, like Tokyo, New York is where more than half of television's writers are, which makes it more interesting to the writers than anything elsewhere.

The rule seems to be that if a series or movie proposal does not require another setting (Kirks Rock, for instance), it should be set in New York. If an original, successful series is set in Las Vegas, its Spin Off will be more successful if set in New York. If you can't possibly get the show to happen in New York, have at least one main character and as many minor ones as possible be from New York, and continually harp on about how much better New York is.

The bias is especially obvious when characters speak about specific parts of New York casually, while the entirety of Middle America usually consists of about ten distinct places.

Everything is better served with Big Applesauce. And that especially includes Science Fiction and Fantasy.


Posted by Jvstin at 8:47 PM

May 28, 2009

Naamah's Kiss Contest Winners!

Well, the Naamah's Kiss Contest is over and we have five winners!

The winners are:

1. Amber DiTullio
2. Fiona Morales
3. Ray Laura
4. Scott Sink
5. Kimberly Bea

I have submitted your snail mail addresses to the publisher to send you your copy of Jacqueline Carey's novel.

Thank you to all of you who submitted entries and participated!

Posted by Jvstin at 8:52 PM

May 22, 2009

Book Review 2009 #27: Warbreaker

(NB: I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program)

Brandon Sanderson has slowly been building a reputation in fantasy circles, including the plum assignment and task of finishing the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He has written a number of other novels as well.

Warbreaker, on the other hand, is the start of a new series for him, a new chance for his talents at secondary creation, of creating new mythologies and magic systems, "secondary world building", to get full rein.

Warbreaker is the story of five viewpoint characters: Two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, princesses from the backcountry that have separately found themselves in the city of T'telir. the city their family once ruled. Next there is the God King of this city and kingdom, Susebron. An old contract mandates that he must marry one of the princesses and yet for all his power is a virtual prisoner in his own palace. Then there is the newly minted god Lightsong, who doesn't like his job or even godhood much. Finally there is the mysterious Vasher who has obscure plans of his own.

Even more prominent than the characters is the magic system. In his fiction, Sanderson likes to play with different magic systems and pantheons. Magic here is based on a color-themed and informed power called Bio-Chroma. The Gods, too, also partake of this magic and its power, although in a slightly different way than ordinary practitioners of the magic art. Indeed, the nature of the Gods

Part of the joy of reading the novel is puzzling out the implications of the magic system, and how that influences characters and events.

I thought the plot and characters took a little while to really get rolling. (Although some secondary characters, a group of mercenaries that Vivenna meets, were excellent comic relief from the start) However, the final third of the novel hits on all cylinders and the promise shown earlier in the novel pays off in spades.

This novel was my first taste of Sanderson, and I think it will not be my last. I am sure that the growing ranks of his fans will be most pleased with Warbreaker.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:06 PM

May 20, 2009

The Bookstore in the Manure Tank

The Bookstore in the Manure Tank

Via the Newscut blog, a unique bookstore complex on a farm in east-central Wisconsin.

I need to make a trip to see this thing. It's a 5 hour drive one way, though, so what I am thinking is maybe a visit is in order when I finally make a trip to Chicago...

(I suppose my Chicago-area friends might find it easier to get to than me. Its in Princeton, Wisconsin).

Posted by Jvstin at 8:44 PM

May 13, 2009

Cover of the new Dominic Flandry Collection

Baen has been reissuing some of the late Poul Anderson's future history stories in a number of volumes. Good stuff, although somewhat a product of their times. I remember reading them fondly, back in the day.

However, I am not sure that this cover for this volume exactly conveys what the stories are about...

Young Flandry


The other covers have been far less racy, believe me.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:42 AM

May 10, 2009

Books Read to Date May 10,2009

Books Read this Year to Date (bolded books were ARCs or otherwise given in exchange for review)

26 Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
25 Midwinter, Matthew Sturges
24 Children of Chaos, David Duncan
23 Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
22 Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 8:02 AM

Book Review 2009 #26: Naamah's Kiss

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this novel from the Hatchett Group in exchange for writing a review.

With Naamah's Kiss, Jacqueline Carey, whose reputation has been largely based on the Kushiel world novels, returns to that world.

This time, Carey decides to jump forward in time a few generations, so that she can create a new situation, a new protagonist, and explore new parts of the world. While the Phedre Trilogy and the Imriel Trilogy shared a lot of the same characters and geo-political situation, Naamah's Kiss jumps forward three generations, to a granddaughter of Alais living amongst the Maghuin Dhonn in Alba.

Things have changed for Terre D'Ange. The top-of-the-world D'Angelines are being left in their self-important intrigues and idylls. A new continent has been discovered in the West, Terra Nova. There are emissaries from places as distant as Ch'in. And yet, the D'Angelines are leaving others to mostly reap the benefits of all of this.

And into this decadent version of Terre D'Ange will come our heroine, Moirin. Half Alban and half D'Angeline, we follow her early life as it grows from a solitary existence with her mother in the wilderness, to the meeting with a member of the Dalraida's family. The circle of her existence and her experiences grows as Moirin develops. The tension between the two halves of her life is a constant undercurrent as she undertakes a journey to Terre D'Ange, and into the court of the Queen herself. And then beyond...

And in all of this, she follows Elua's command as filtered through Naamah: Love as thou wilt.

Unlike the previous two sets of novels, the sexual relationships here are not wrapped around tastes in dominance and submission. As a scion of Naamah, Moirin offers herself as she is. For all of that, even without the dominance and submission issues, Moirin's sexual nature draws her into a number of contradictory, and sometimes tragic relationships. Carey comes through with the tragic aspects of Moirin's path in life, as well as growing the sweet innocence of her life into mature adulthood.

While the travelogue aspects of the novel are interesting as always, once again, Carey shows that the strongest part of her fiction is her characterization. We get to see Moirin grow as a character, with a fractally complex path of challenges, advances and retreats. Its not a smooth path of development, just like it isn't in life. Also, too, the secondary characters come alive, with agendas, dreams and thoughts of their own, which intersect with Moirin in complex ways.

It seems to me that Carey has learned a lot from her previous novels and has definitely grown as a writer since Kushiel's Dart, in a good way.

The novel does come up with an ending that could end Moirin's story, however I suspect there will be further volumes of her tale, and I would gladly read them.

I also think that this novel might work for those readers who might be curious as to the world of Terre D'Ange and do not find the D/s sexual situations of the other trilogies to be to their liking. There is plenty of sex (and yes there is violence) in this novel, and there is f/f content as well, but as a whole, its not as drenched as the other novels sometimes were.

In addition,with moving ahead three generations, this novel could work as an entry point to readers in the series. I still think that starting at the beginning is a good policy, but sort of like how Erikson's Midnight Tides, book five of the Malazan series, can serve as an alternate entree into that world, I think Naamah's Kiss can also serve in that manner.

Overall, I am very well satisfied with the novel. One criticism sticks out. Ms. Carey, I love the maps in your novels. (My love of maps of all kinds gets a thrill from those). What I think you also need at this point is a timeline of events and people. It took some puzzling to figure out what happened when, but I think your history is complex enough to need one for easy reference.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:27 AM

May 8, 2009

Have I even read SF/fantasy by white women or people of color?

In my ill advised blog post, ithiliana asked:

I doubt you and I'll be talking much, but I did want to challenge your
language, as well as note the fact that the only authors you can cite
are white men. Have you even read sf/fantasy by white women or people
of color?

Yes.

Books Read in 2009 written by women:
Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik
All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
City Without End, Kay Kenyon
Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

Books Read in 2008 written by women:
Prospero Lost, L Jagi Lamplighter
Sharing Knife: Horizon, Lois M Bujold
Sharing Knife: Passage, Lois M Bujold
Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton
The Golden Key, Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott
Kushiel's Justice, Jacqueline Carey
Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear
Selling Out, Justina Robson
The Twisted Citadel, Sara Douglass
The Gate of Gods, Martha Wells
A World too Near, Kay Kenyon
Wolf Who Rules, Wen Spencer

Compared to the large number of books I read, not that good of a record.
I don't read enough SF or anything by women or authors of color, I admit it. I need to do better.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:55 PM

2008 Sidewise Award Nominees

You've probably seen this, but this is the list of the 2008 nominees for the Sidewise award for Alternate History.

Short Form

* "A Brief Guide to Other Histories," by Paul J. McAuley (Postscripts #15)
* "G-Men," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Sideways in Crime, edited by Lou Anders, Solaris)
* "Night Bird Soaring," by T.L. Morganfield (Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Autumn/08)
* "The People's Machine," by Tobias Buckell (Sideways in Crime, edited by Lou Anders, Solaris)
* "Poison Victory," by Albert E. Cowdrey (F&SF, 07/08)
* "Sacrifice," by Mary Rosenblum (Sideways in Crime, edited by Lou Anders, Solaris)

Long Form

* The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann (Snowbooks/Tor, 2009)
* The Dragon's Nine Sons, by Chris Roberson (Solaris)
* Half a Crown, by Jo Walton (Tor)
* Nation, by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins/Doubleday UK)
* Swiftly, by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

The 2008 Sidewise Awards will be presented at Anticipation, the 67th Worldcon, to be held in Montreal, Canada from August 6-10, 2009. The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History were established in 1995 to recognize excellence in alternate history fiction.

The winners are selected from a panel of judges that currently includes Stephen Baxter,
Evelyn Leeper, Jim Rittenhouse, Stuart Shiffman, Kurt Sidaway, and Steven H Silver.

You will recall that I've already read and enjoyed two of the long form nominees, Nation, and The Dragon's Nine Sons.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:36 AM

May 7, 2009

Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child

I apologize for the offense taken in this post. It is clear that it has struck
a nerve in a way that I did not intend. I simply wanted to extend the questions raised
by The Thirteenth Child. I am *not* a troll.

The new visitors to my blog are welcome to stay, but I suspect that you will find, as most do, except for when I put my foot in my mouth, like in this instance, this is one of the most boring blogs in the history of the Internet.

Still, there are photos here, comments on movies, politics, and other things.

One commenter to this post asked a question:

I doubt you and I'll be talking much, but I did want to challenge your
language, as well as note the fact that the only authors you can cite
are white men. Have you even read sf/fantasy by white women or people
of color?

I will answer that question in another post. This one, in fact.

And that post, aside from this apology, will be the last I have to say on the subject.

http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin/unjvst/007928.html

This is a reaction to the comments on this thread on Tor.com

I intend to respond there as well but I felt my thoughts deserved space of their own.

Some months ago, there was a internet flamewar called "Racefail". It started as a discussion on Livejournal about race and racism in science fiction books, culture, fandom, and criticism. It got ugly, quickly, with a lot of ad hominem attacks and over-the-top stuff thrown about.

Anyway, the thread above on Tor.com, about Patricia Wrede's new novel, The Thirteenth Child, threatens to explode this topic yet again.

Disclaimer: I have not yet read the book.

This is an alternate version of our world which is full of magic, and where America ("Columbia") was discovered empty of people but full of dangerous animals, many of them magical. The novel is a YA pioneer novel set in this world. From what I understand, the high magic level of the Americas simply meant that the Native Americans never emigrated there, and remained in Asia.

The comments in the review quickly have taken a "Racefail" turn and some of the commenters have excoriated Wrede to varying degrees for "erasing" Native Americans from this world.

Should we excoriate Harry Turtledove for his Different Flesh stories/novel fixup, where the Americas are populated by Homo Pithecanthropi (and also have Mammoths and other ice age megafauna)? Under the standards that these commenters have set, the "replacement" of Native Americans by Homo Pithecanthropi is offensive, no?

What about his new Atlantis novels, which concentrates on the fractional continent of Atlantis, which is not populated by Native Americans. Is Turtledove wrong for sidestepping Native American--European interactions in this way?

Should I denounce H Beam Piper's Kalvan of Otherwhen because of the whole "Aryan Transpacific" concept?

What about the late Philip Jose Farmer's Gate of Worlds/Two Hawks from Earth novels, which mostly eliminates the North American continent and so the proto Native American tribes turn and overrun Europe and deform or obliterate the Slavic populations and take their place?

Are all of these immoral?

Posted by Jvstin at 3:14 PM

May 5, 2009

Book Review 2009 #25: Midwinter

Next up is a first-novel by Matthew Sturges, Midwinter

Better known as co-author of the first volumes of the Fables comic series. (You will recall that I read Jack of Fables earlier this year), Matthew Sturges has turned his talents to novel writing.

Like his fellow Clockwork Storybook writer Chris Roberson, Sturges has produced a variation on the "Dirty Dozen" concept--prisoners given a chance at redemption by taking a one-way near-suicidal mission. Roberson set a Dirty Dozen in his "Chinese and Aztec" universe in The Dragon's Nine Sons.

Midwinter, Sturges effort, is similarly located in a place very different than our Earth--in Faerieland.

Midwinter is the story of Mauritaine. War hero, former Captain of the Royal Guard, he is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He gets the chance at redemption at the low part of a 100 year cycle in the seasons--Midwinter. It seems that this occasion has cause for the Queen of the Seelie, Regina Titania, to offer a secret mission to him, and a few of his fellow prisoners. Survive, and their sentences will be commuted.

Not everyone is happy about this mission of course, especially Queen Titania's rival, Queen Mab of the Unseelie. As well as rivals to Mauritaine within the realm of the Seelie, and possibly within his own party...

The novel is both familiar and new in its treatment of Faerie and its inhabitants. The team has a variety of tropes, including a displaced human whose knowledge of technology and science seems useless in Faerie. At first.

We also have a couple of POVs from outside of the team, in both the Courts of Titania as well as Mab. Some of these POVs and characters are more compelling and well drawn than others.

I enjoyed the inventiveness of the premise (of winter coming to the land every century). I guessed the secret of the mission before it was revealed, but only just. And there are other delights in the world, like the strange Contested Lands, and the floating city that Mab calls her capital.

Overall, while I enjoyed the novel and was entertained, I do not think the novel quite hits on all cylinders. I do want to see how Sturges grows as a writer in subsequent novels. There is clear potential here that I would love to see in full bloom. So, if you can forgive a few faults in the novel, then you, too, just might enjoy Midwinter.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:40 PM

Book Review 2009 #24: Children of Chaos

It's been a while since I've read any of Dave Duncan. I decided to change that with the first of his Dodec duology, Children of Chaos.

Duncan takes a well worn formula, and adds a few twists and his own deft touch on characters in Children of Chaos, the first of the two Dodec fantasy novels.

The medieval fantasy world Dodecians believe they live on a twelve sided world (a note in the novel suggests that the truth will be revealed in the sequel and is more complex than this). This twelve sided fantasy world is looked over by 12 very active Gods (and one Anti-God), and boasts a variety of societies, one on each of the faces of the world.

As the action begins, the Florengian face has been overrun by the warriors from the neighboring Vigelian face, who have united their usually fractious society with the promise of conquest of another face of the world. To ensure the safety of the city of Celebre, four young hostages are taken from the family of the Doge, and brought to the Vigelian face and split apart.

Fifteen years later, with varying degrees of knowledge of their origins and heritage, these hostages are coming of age, drawing close to one of the Gods, and slowly discovering each other. In the midst of this and their own predicaments, the tenuous political peace on the Vigelian face brought by the promise of outside conquest is breaking down. It seems that the Celebres are destined to live in interesting times.

Thus is the story of Bernard, Orland, and Frena, mixed up with their relationships with their Gods, peers and each other unfolds. Duncan once again shows that he understands characters (and even female characters) very well. The characters are believable, sympathetic, and none of them are false one-note cardboard cutouts. There is an interesting theology and magic system (unique, although this sort of thing is common in Duncan's work), and I want to know more about the world beyond the two Faces that we see.

There is a sequel, Mother of Lies, that I do plan on getting and reading. I do appreciate that Duncan keeps his fantasy series to two or three at a maximum, rather than making them impenetrably interminable. In the meantime, I commend this volume to you.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:56 PM

April 28, 2009

Locus Award Finalists Announced

http://www.locusmag.com/News/2009/04/2009-locus-award-finalists.html

The top five finalists in each category of the 2009 Locus Awards have been announced. The Locus Awards will be presented during the Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 26-27, 2009.

Out of the finalists, I've read one of the novel finalists (City at the End of Time), two of the YA's (surprise!) (Little Brother and Nation), and one of the anthologies (Galactic Empires)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:26 PM

April 19, 2009

RIP, J.G. Ballard

SF New Wave author J.G. Ballard has passed away at the age of 78.

While I haven't and never did read a lot of his fiction, I did enjoy some of his work, and was puzzled by other pieces, which I didn't really get. "The Assassination of Kennedy considered as a downhill motor race", for example, is exactly what the title is, but its a phantasmagorical story. I much preferred "Billennium" and especially "Concentration City".

Rest in Peace, Mr. Ballard.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:00 PM

Book Review 2009 #23: Infoquake

My next novel is a first novel, from author David Louis Edelman and the first in the "Jump 225" Trilogy: Infoquake.

Bursting with ideas, set in an undefined medium term science fiction future, in some ways, Infoquake, a first novel by David Louis Edelman, is very much in the classic mode of science fiction. It also has strong elements of the corporate thriller, post-cyberpunk and even post-failed-singularity science fiction.

Oh, and it all takes in a hypercapitalist future.

Some several hundred years after some very bad history for humanity, the world of Infoquake is at once very familiar, with its undeniably human characters, and at the same time, has that alien future feeling that allows a SF reader to dive in and explore a futuristic world. The action centers around Natch. He runs a corporation which develops bio/logics, programs that can hack the human body, ones perceptions, abilities, strengths.

Flashbacks in the novel allow us to see how this ruthless and indefatigable competitor was molded into the character we see. Events bring Natch into contact with Margaret Surina, whose family and ancestors are very much responsible for the re-welding together of society after that bad history several centuries back. Margaret has some more and new revolutionary technology, but in this hypercapitalist cutthroat world, she turns to Natch as one of the few people she can trust to deploy and use this technology: Multireal.

And thus hangs a tale.

This world of human-altering software infuses and changes the nature of society, with Edelman following through the implications of how this sort of technology would alter society. We get to see several different types of technology at play here, as well, including a method of virtual porting to other places which makes Second Life look like a primitive toy.

There is a lot going on in this world, and its clear that Edelman had a lot of fun writing this book. There are the titular Infoquakes themselves, for example, the ultimate and deadly crash of the world's equivalent of the Internet, which complicate the plans Natch has set in motion. The novel leaves for sequels what these Infoquakes might actually be and what they mean. The corporate and economic politics in this world are timely. Like the best science fiction, it holds up a mirror to the present by showing an extreme version in the future.

It's difficult to sum up this complex world, but perhaps if I describe it as "Wall Street (the movie) meets Vernor Vinge", I can come close to capturing what the characters and the world is like.

I am surprised that this is Edelman's first novel. It's clear to me that he's been thinking about and working out this universe for quite some time (there are extensive appendices in the back of the novel).

This is definitely not a first novel for those who have never read SF before. Like an old tagline for a collection of Greg Egan's stories, Infoquake is "science fiction for science fiction fans." In a climate where fantasy seems ascendant over SF, and every other book in the F/SF section of the bookstore is yet another new first novel about werewolves/vampires/faeries/demons/ghosts/wendigos in the modern world, Infoquake is unabashedly straight up 200 proof science fiction.

I look forward to reading the second and third volumes of the trilogy. If anything, like when I read Charles Stross' Singularity Sky, I suspect that this first volume is really a novel that Edelman wrote so that he could get himself, and the reader, ready to read the *real* story that he wants to tell.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:17 AM

Book Review 2009 #22: Empire of Ivory

My Twenty Second book of 2009 is a return to Naomi Novik's tales of Temeraire and Captain Laurence in their alternate world/history of the Napoleonic wars with Dragons.

Empire of Ivory is the fourth novel in Novik's series, after His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War. Like all of the books in this series, the action follows fairly closely on the heels of the previous novel. And like all of the previous novels save the first, reading the novels that come before it is essential to understanding what is going on.

In a nutshell, this is an alternate world/alternate history set in a 19th century where men are learning to breed and tame dragons for use in the military. Napoleon is still threatening to conquer Europe and his machinations have, ironically, brought the egg of, and later the hatched egg of a powerful Chinese dragon, Temeraire, to the hands of the English, and the bonding of Temeraire to Captain Will Laurence. Formerly a naval officer, the novels, at their best, have explored his "culture shock" in the dragon corps.

In this fourth novel, after reverses on the continent against Napoleon's army, the English are licking their wounds and dreading a cross-Channel invasion when a new wrinkle and complication occurs--a strange, debilitating illness which is devastating the entire dragon corps of England. The loss of the dragons would leave England at the mercy of Napoleon's forces.

The only clue is that Temeraire had a brief illness of his own on his journey to China (in Throne of Jade), and recovered while in South Africa. And so, in the search for a cure to save England's dragons leads Temeraire and Laurence into the dark of Africa...

I think I mentioned in previous reviews that I felt that Throne of Jade and Black Powder War did not recapture the magic and deft touch that His Majesty's Dragon did. Novik seemed to take the wrong lessons from the success of that first novel, and so the second and third novels, while not bad novels, just didn't hit on all the cylinders the first one did.

This fourth novel, while still not quite capturing the magic of His Majesty's Dragon, seems to be more more in the vein of the first novel, and less of the problems of the second and third novels. The characters develop, we do get some travelogue, we get development of the history and politics of the world, and things occur. Pacing is good, and at 400 pages, the novel is of a goodly and not-padded length to tell the story it wants to tell.

And it ends with an obvious cliffhanger. The actions Laurence and Temeraire take at the end of the novel are shocking and surprising on face value, but they grow naturally from the events starting in the first novel. Novik does not break the character. Indeed, if the characters did not take their actions, that would have been a betrayal of their characters.

I enjoyed it, and look forward to the MMPB version of the fifth novel, Victory of Eagles.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:30 AM

April 8, 2009

Essential Fantasy Novels

On the heels of his SF list, Paul McAuley produces a work-in-progress of Fantasy Novels.


Once again, bolded is read, italicized is owned but unread.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus MARY SHELLEY 1818
Tales of Mystery and Imagination EDGAR ALLAN POE 1838
A Christmas Carol CHARLES DICKENS 1843
Jane Eyre CHARLOTTE BRONTE 1847
The Hunting of the Snark LEWIS CARROLL 1876
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ROBERT LOUIS STEPHENSON 1886

The Well At The World's End WILLIAM MORRIS 1896
Dracula BRAM STOKER 1897Ghost Stories of an Antiquary MR JAMES 1904
Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things LAFCADIO HEARN 1904
The Wind in the Willows KENNETH GRAHAME 1908
Jurgen JAMES BRANCH CABELL 1919
A Voyage to Arcturus DAVID LINDSAY 1920
The King of Elfland's Daughter LORD DUNSANY 1924
The Trial FRANZ KAFKA 1925
Lud-in-the-Mist HOPE MIRRLEES 1926
Orlando VIRGINIA WOOLF 1928
The Big Sleep RAYMOND CHANDLER 1939
The Outsider and Others HP LOVECRAFT 1939
Gormenghast MERVYN PEAKE 1946
Night's Black Agents FRITZ LEIBER JR 1947
The Sword of Rhiannon LEIGH BRACKETT 1953
Conan the Barbarian ROBERT E HOWARD collected 1954
The Lord of the Rings JRR TOLKIEN 1954-5
The Once and Future King TH WHITE 1958
The Haunting of Hill House SHIRLEY JACKSON 1959
The Wierdstone of Brinsingamen ALAN GARNER 1960
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase JOAN AIKEN 1962
Something Wicked This Way Comes RAY BRADBURY 1963
The Book of Imaginary Beings JORGE LUIS BORGES 1967Ice ANA CAVAN 1967
One Hundred Years of Solitude GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ 1967
Earthsea URSULA LE GUIN 1968-1972
Jirel of Joiry CL MOORE collected 1969Grendel JOHN GARDNER 1971
The Pastel City M JOHN HARRISON 1971
Carrie STEPHEN KING 1974
Peace GENE WOLFE 1975
Gloriana, or the Unfulfill'd Queen MICHAEL MOORCOCK 1978
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories ANGELA CARTER 1979
Little, Big JOHN CROWLEY 1981
The Anubis Gates TIM POWERS 1983
The Colour of Magic TERRY PRATCHETT 1983
Mythago Wood ROBERT HOLDSTOCK 1984

Posted by Jvstin at 6:04 AM

April 6, 2009

48 Essential SF Novels

Via Andrew Wheeler
Paul McAuley recently listed the 48 books (from 1818 through 1984, for "not quite arbitrary reasons") that he considers essential.
As with the usual protocol with memes of this kind, titles in bold are books I've read, titles in italics are books I own but haven't read yet, and books struck through are books I completely disagree with.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus MARY SHELLEY 1818
Journey to the Centre of the Earth JULES VERNE 1863
After London RICHARD JEFFRIES 1885
The Time Machine HG WELLS 1895
The House on the Borderland WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON 1912
We YEVGENY ZAMIATIN 1924
Brave New World ALDOUS HUXLEY 1932
Star Maker OLAF STAPLEDON 1937
1984 GEORGE ORWELL 1949
I, Robot, ISAAC ASIMOV 1950
The Martian Chronicles RAY BRADBURY 1950
The Dying Earth JACK VANCE 1950
Childhood's End ARTHUR C CLARKE 1953

The Space Merchants CM KORNBLUTH & FREDERIK POHL 1953
Tiger! Tiger! ALFRED BESTER 1956

The Death of Grass JOHN CHRISTOPHER 1956
The Seedling Stars JAMES BLISH 1957
The Midwich Cuckoos JOHN WYNDHAM 1957
Starship Troopers ROBERT A HEINLEIN 1959
A Canticle for Liebowitz WALTER M MILLER JR 1959
Solaris STANSLAW LEM 1961

Hothouse BRIAN ALDISS 1962 (partially read a fraction of the work)
A Clockwork Orange ANTONY BURGESS 1962
Cat's Cradle KURT VONNEGUT JR 1963

Martian Time-Slip PHILIP K DICK 1964
Dune FRANK HERBERT 1965
The Crystal World JG BALLARD 1966
Flowers For Algernon DANIEL KEYES 1966
Lord of Light ROGER ZELAZNY 1967

Nova SAMUEL R DELANY 1968
Pavane KEITH ROBERTS 1968
The Left Hand of Darkness URSULA K LE GUIN 1969
Roadside Picnic ARKADY AND BORIS STRUGATSKI 1969
334 THOMAS M DISCH 1972
Dying Inside ROBERT SILVERBERG 1972
The Fifth Head of Cerberus GENE WOLFE 1972
Ten Thousand Light Years From Home JAMES TIPTREE JR 1973
The Forever War JOE HALDEMAN 1974
Inverted World CHRISTOPHER PRIEST 1974
The Female Man JOANNA RUSS 1975
Arslan MJ ENGH 1976
The Ophiuchi Hotline JOHN VARLEY 1977
The Final Programme MICHAEL MOORCOCK 1968
Kindred OCTAVIA BUTLER 1979
Engine Summer JOHN CROWLEY 1979
Timescape GREGORY BENFORD 1980

Neuromancer WILLIAM GIBSON 1984
Divine Endurance GWYNETH JONES 1984

Posted by Jvstin at 8:01 PM

April 5, 2009

Books Read to Date Apr 4, 2009

Books Read this Year to Date (bolded books were ARCs or otherwise given in exchange for review)
21 All the Windwracked Stars, Elizabeth Bear
20 City Without End, Kay Kenyon
19 Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund
18 Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
17 What Happened to the Indians, Terence Shannon
16 Kitty Goes to Hell, Carrie Vaughn
15 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Carrie Vaughn
14 Drood, Dan Simmons
13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 10:11 AM

Book Review 2009 #21: All the Windwracked Stars

All the Windwracked Stars is a novel by Elizabeth Bear.

Elizabeth Bear is an audacious, difficult, and ultimately rewarding author. There are good reasons why she won a Campbell award, and a Hugo award. She's ambitious, writes characters who are all-too-human, and is very willing to take standard pieces of the F/SF genre, and rework them, remix myth and Story into it, and come out with books and stories that bite.

All the Windwracked Stars is the latest in that tradition. Informed and infused by Norse mythology, the novel begins with, paradoxically, a Ragnarok. We meet Muire, last of the Valkyrie, and Kasimir, the Valraven steed that bonds to her in the denouement of that final battle. Muire the Historian, to her shame, does not die as the rest of the Children of the Light do, and so lives on and on to see civilization, this time a human one, arise again on Valdyrgard. As you might expect, with a novel based so heavily on Norse stories, and given Bear's writing proclivities and style, the novel carries us headlong toward the inevitable fall of this human civilization.

It is between these two falls of civilizations that the meat of the novel and the Story take place. Muire still has her Valkyrie obligations, and it is in the unfolding of those obligations that Muire encounters an old enemy, and discovers the real reason why Eiledon, the last city, has managed to survive until the end under its implacable, mysterious ruler, the Technomancer.

Norse Myth and Mythology. Strange technology and a Last City set in blasted landscape. Complex characters muddling along as best they can. Muire seeks a chance at redemption, a strong and potent theme in the novel, reflected across the range of characters. And while it might not be a crackerjack straightforward plot, Bear hauntingly and memorably creates Valdyrgard and Eiledon and its denizens.

I've said in other reviews that Bear's work is probably not for everyone, or every SF reader. However, given that she is at the cutting edge of the newest generation of SF writers, if you want to see why the "young turks" of SF are doing with the genre, Bear is a strong choice for you to find that out. In an publishing age where Fantasy is ascendant over its technologically inclined brother, its refreshing, encouraging, and joyful to find a writer who does write fantasy (e.g. The Promethean age novels), but who is also willing to write darned good science fiction, with no apologies. And more importantly than just being willing to write science fiction, but to be very good at it.

Barq's Root Beer has a tagline: "Barq's Got Bite!". I would say, however, having read a number of her novels, and especially after reading this one, that "Bear's Got Bite!".

Posted by Jvstin at 9:39 AM

Book Review 2009 #20: City Without End

City Without End is the third in the "Entire and the Rose" quartet by Kay Kenyon.

City Without End picks up where the (to me) disappointing second novel, A World Too Near leaves off. Titus Quinn has lost his wife, but did not destroy all of the Entire with the nanotech given to him for that very purpose. Helice Maki is free to scheme and seek her own goals. Sydney, Titus' estranged daughter, is now known as Sen Ni, continues her secret insurgency against the Tarig overlords. And then there is Ji Anzi, Chalin native of the Entire, who has given her heart to the man from Earth, Titus Quinn. Her journey is the most expansive, and surprised me as to where it led...

And speaking of Earth, things on Earth for Titus' extended family grow ever dicier as the stakes continue to raise, as the brightest star in Earth's sky is extinguished in the Tarig's quest to keep the Entire alive...

New readers to the city, like in most series, should definitely not start here.

If the quartet can be thought of as a chess game, the first novel introduced (most of) the major participants, the board and the milieu and the opening moves. The second novel expanded on this, but in a way that I felt recapitulated some of the weaknesses in second, middle novels in series. It is in this third novel, though, that things really start to accelerate. Plans, gambits, plots and secrets all move in a well orchestrated and naturally-flowing order. There are surprises, reverses and reveals that bring back the strength of the first novel, and just possibly, exceed them.

The environment and the science fantasy environment, which I do not lightly compare to the late Philip J Farmer's World of Tiers is, for me the highlight of these novels. Kenyon adds a couple of wrinkles to this environment which I only lament that she could have shown *more* of. The Entire is a fully envisioned artificial world that is simultaneously a BDO (Big Dumb Object), a universe of its own, and an expansive canvas to set her story.

However, for those of you who rely on well drawn characters for your reading satisfaction, rest assured, the characters are well formed and human, with all of the contradictions and confused natures that humans have. There are precious few one-note or one-dimensional characters here

The end of the novel is not a cliffhanger, but it sets up the factions in both the Entire and the Rose (Earth) for what I hope will be a finale and capstone worthy of the remainder of the series.

I highly enjoyed City Without End and will without reservation, buy the fourth and final volume, in hardcover, when it comes out. As I have said elsewhere, do start with the first book. BRIGHT OF THE SKY, and immerse yourself into the Entire yourself.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:57 AM

April 4, 2009

Back to the Hugos

Author Sam Jordison, over on the Guardian, is slowly re-reading all of the Hugo Award winners. He most recently excoriated Fritz Leiber's The Wanderer as being unworthy of having won the award.

Jordison, from what I have seen and tell, is not a deep fan of SF, so his view is not "inside baseball" by any means.

The entries in this series are not apparently tagged consistently, the "Back to the Hugos" tag does not show all of the novels he has read. The overall Books Blog does seem to catch them all, although he is only one of the contributors.

As Cheryl Morgan, and Jonathan Strahan have recently discussed on Twitter, his reviews and views on classic SF is definitely worth your time and attention.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:18 AM

March 22, 2009

Book Review 2009 #19: Mortal Coils

Well, I am finally out of Advance Reader Copies (although I am always open to receiving more of them, dontcha know). So its back to my own reading pile, and a return to an author who hasn't written a non media tie in novel for a very long time.

Once upon a time there was a fantasy/sf author named Eric Nylund. He wrote a couple of intriguing novels, not the least because another beloved author, Roger Zelazny, was explicitly an inspiration in his writing. In point of fact, his novel Dry Water has a character who is a deceased author in New Mexico who seems very very much like the (then recently deceased) Roger Zelazny. And another of his novels was inspiring enough for me to borrow elements of it for a one shot at Ambercon.

Unfortunately the author did not sell well enough to avoid having to write endless media tie in novels, from Crimson skies to HALO. Now, though, after years in that wilderness, Eric Nylund is back with an original novel of his own...


Fiona and Eliot Post are two orphans on the cusp of their fifteenth birthday. Living with their grandmother in a strangely strict regimen of rules, their lives are relatively dull and uninteresting. The myriad non fiction books (fictional books are forbidden!) provide much of the entertainment and life for these homeschooled twins, whose only outside outlet is their work in a nearby pizza parlor.

Their fifteenth birthday, however, coincides with the discovery of them by outside powers, and the discovery by them that their parents are scions of competing supernaturally powered families. Now at the center of a custody fight between gods and demons, set on trials by the gods and tempted by the demons, Fiona and Eliot soon realize just how protected and safe their previous, constricted existence really was.

Wow.

The novel reminded me of L Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Lost. It's clear that both novels have read, and been influenced by Roger Zelazny. The tone and the worlds created, though, are somewhat different and I think a good analogy is to think of another pair of writers, C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. With her explictly Christian framework to the mythology of her supernatural modern day universe, Lamplighter's Prospero's Lost is the C.S. Lewis in this formulation. Nylund's novel, on the other hand, does not have that explicit framework. In fact, the novel seems to suggest that the appearances of supernatural beings throughout history have all been members of the various families depicted and hinted at in this book. In this way, its a more, for lack of a better work, pagan formulation than Lamplighter's.

Turning aside from the comparison, the novel itself is replete with all sorts of delights. The twins are well drawn and have a complicated sibling relationship which I found believable and a delight. I particularly liked the vocabulary/reference game that the two play. Only having had years of non fiction volumes to read for recreation, the twins are perfectly comfortable in making obscure references. For example, early in the novel, Fiona refers to Eliot being sick by asking if he has Nagleria fowleri(a type of amoeba contracted in water).

Another delight in the novel is the footnotes. While he doesn't pepper the text with the frequency of, say, Jack Vance, the novel's text and narrative is replete and enriched by the occasional footnote which makes observations from what seems to be the future of the events depicted. This further enriches and complicates the world and its narrative in a way that helps suggest that the world "continues" beyond the borders of its pages. The Playground of the Imagination, as Larry Niven calls it.

The characters themselves, beyond the Twins, on both sides of their relations, are a host that are complicated, complex and completely well drawn. Not all of the Gods could be considered good by even the most charitable reading of the text, and not all of the Infernals can be considered completely and irredeemably evil.

The novel is clearly and explicitly the first in a series, and I do hope that the novel sells well enough that Mr. Nylund has the opportunity to write and publish more of the books. I definitely will be looking forward to reading the subsequent volumes. As I implied before, people like me, who love Zelazny are going to cotton to this novel very well. (Hey, it has a character named *Fiona* who winds up having supernatural abilities. How can you say no to that?!). Nylund, thankfully, has had his time in the wilderness of media-tie-in novels not go to waste. The writing is engaging, inventive and enthralling.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:23 AM

Book Review 2009 #18: Santa Olivia

Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC by the Hatchett book group.

Santa Olivia is the latest book by Jacqueline Carey, who is better known for, and much better known for the Sundering Duology, and much much better known for two Kushiel trilogies. While the former is a take on classic fantasy and the latter are milestone in dark, sensual fantasy, Santa Olivia is a completely different kettle of fish.

The press information provided to me describes Santa Olivia as Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth. However, what this novel is, I think, is far more nuanced and complex than that simple formulation.

The novel centers around Loup. Born in a future where a conflict and a disease has created such tensions between Mexico and the United States that a no man's land has sprung up between the two nations, Loup lives in the abject poverty and virtual prison that makes up the titular piece of land controlled by the U.S. Military. Born of a genetically engineered father, and a local for a mother, we follow Loup's life, from living with her mother and older half-brother, to her life as an orphan in the local church when she loses both of them.

Loup has a hard life in a hardscrabble world, but she does have her secret--the genetic heritage of her father. Her father's special gifts of strength, fearlessness, paranormal senses, and speed have been fully inherited in Loup. What first starts as a secret to be held tightly for fear of discovery by the military turns into a opportunity to exact justice, and later still, an opportunity to escape...

While Loup does take up the mantle of a disguised superhero, and hints and nuances (including the very name given to her) suggest werewolves as an inspiration for the genetic manipulations which inadvertently created Loup, this novel is much more than a novel about a werewolf-powered comic book superhero.

Carey's interest in Christian saints and iconography get play here in the identity that Loup takes in her retributive acts, the titular saint of the compound, Santa Olivia. The novel runs from before her birth to her ultimate escape and freedom, and so we follow her as she grows up, grows into her abilities and learns to use them as a symbol of hope and strength for herself, and for the people around her that she touches. There is a love story in the novel as well, and while the love story itself follows a relatively familiar pattern, the identities of the participants, and the development of the characters give it its own unique stamp.

I don't think that the novel quite works as well as I had hoped. There are an awful lot of loose ends left unanswered by the denouement (not ones that really would be answered in a sequel, either). It's difficult to do "near future" worldbuilding well, as any of the top lights in science fiction can tell you; Carey's worldbuilding is much more assured in her other novels than here. I never really bought the Macguffin that the head of the camp holds as a potential means of escape, although I recognize its dramatic necessity as a device to propel the characters, Loup included, a chimerical banner to chase after. I was also surprised at first at the coarseness of language of the characters of all ages. It took a shift of perception on my part to go from the beauty of courtly language in Terre D'Ange to the salty, expletive filled language of the residents of Santa Olivia.

Overall, though, on the balance, I am happy that Carey wrote the novel. Not only on its merits, which, upon reflection do outweigh its drawbacks, but because I am a firm believer in author diversification. I don't want Carey to write *only* endless Kushiel novels, just like I don't want Stross to only write Merchant Prince novels. I want authors that I like (and Carey certainly has her place in there) to do well--but I'd rather not have them turn into one-series wonders, with each successive volume in the series groaning under the weight of the previous ones. Writing different things, I think, is a good way for an author to remain fresh, inventive, and keep me coming back for more.

So, if you come to this novel hoping for a rocking comic book superhero who changes into a werewolf at night, you are going to be very, very disappointed. This is really a novel about a little girl, born in a cage, who grows, learns to love, and learns to be free. And in the process, she learns to be an inspiration for all of those around her.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:24 AM

March 19, 2009

2009 Hugo Nominations up

The Hugo Nominations for 2009 are up!

Nominations

A total of 799 nomination ballots were cast and the nominees are:

Best Novel
(639 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
* The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)
* Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor) -- Free download
* Saturn's Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
* Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Best Novella
(337 Ballots / Bulletins)

* "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008)
* "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
* "The Tear" by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
* "True Names" by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
* "Truth" by Robert Reed (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette
(373 Ballots / Bulletins)

* "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's Jan 2008)
* "The Gambler" by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2) -- Read Online
* "Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
* "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner (Asimov's Feb 2008)
* "Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's Mar 2008)
Best Short Story
(448 Ballots / Bulletins)

* "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's Jul 2008)
* "Article of Faith" by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe Oct 2008)
* "Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
* "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
* "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Feb 2008)

Best Related Book
(263 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
* Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
* The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds. (Baen)
* What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
* Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story
(212 Ballots / Bulletins)

* The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle Written by Jim Butcher, art by Ardian Syaf (Del Rey/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
* Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
* Fables: War and Pieces Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, art by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, color by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo Comics)
* Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)
* Serenity: Better Days Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad, color by Michelle Madsen, cover by Jo Chen (Dark Horse Comics)
* Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan, pencilled/created by Pia Guerra, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr. (DC/Vertigo Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
(436 Ballots / Bulletins)

* The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, story; Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, screenplay; based on characters created by Bob Kane; Christopher Nolan, director (Warner Brothers)
* Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola, story; Guillermo del Toro, screenplay; based on the comic by Mike Mignola; Guillermo del Toro, director (Dark Horse, Universal)
* Iron Man Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, screenplay; based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby; Jon Favreau, director (Paramount, Marvel Studios)
* METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc)
* WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
(336 Ballots / Bulletins)

* "The Constant" (Lost) Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof, writers; Jack Bender, director (Bad Robot, ABC studios)
* Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen , writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
* "Revelations" (Battlestar Galactica) Bradley Thompson & David Weddle, writers; Michael Rymer, director (NBC Universal)
* "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" (Doctor Who) Steven Moffat, writer; Euros Lyn, director (BBC Wales)
* "Turn Left" (Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies, writer; Graeme Harper, director (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Short Form
(377 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Ellen Datlow
* Stanley Schmidt
* Jonathan Strahan
* Gordon Van Gelder
* Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
(273 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Lou Anders
* Ginjer Buchanan
* David G. Hartwell
* Beth Meacham
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist
(334 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Daniel Dos Santos
* Bob Eggleton
* Donato Giancola
* John Picacio
* Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine
(283 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
* Interzone edited by Andy Cox
* Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
* The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kris Dikeman, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin J. Maroney
* Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fanzine
(257 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
* Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
* Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
* The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
* Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
* File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Writer
(291 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Chris Garcia
* John Hertz
* Dave Langford
* Cheryl Morgan
* Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist
(187 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Alan F. Beck
* Brad W. Foster
* Sue Mason
* Taral Wayne
* Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
(288 Ballots / Bulletins)

* Aliette de Bodard*
* David Anthony Durham*
* Felix Gilman
* Tony Pi*
* Gord Sellar*
*(Second year of eligibility)

Congratulations to the nominees, especially those I am well acquainted with (Tony, Steven, Sarah Bear) and those to lesser degrees as well.

The novel category is especially strong this year.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:28 PM

March 15, 2009

I am *not* Harriet Klausner

Harriet Klausner is an infamous Amazon.com reviewer. She reads an improbable number of books per year, and her reviews are uniformly glowing, effusive and high rated. Its rare to find a review of hers that is below 4 stars. Her reviews are not really models of review and criticism (not that I am suggesting that mine are either) and really are useless in determining if you like a book.

I am no Harriet Klausner. The author of a book I recently reviewed here seemed unhappy with my mostly negative review. Readers of the reviews in this space will recall other novels that I have not liked, as well as novels that I have been effusive about. I try to be honest and straightforward with what I like or don't like about a movie or a book.

You may think I am blowing smoke, am misinformed, or even nyeh kuturni**. What I intend to be, and strive to be, is honest, good or bad.

**nyeh kuturni is Russian for "uncultured", a Russian insult that I first encountered in the writings of Robert Heinlein. Strangely enough, as of the writing of this entry, the phrase "nyeh kuturni" has as its top search result my blog, since I've used it before. It might mean that I am anglicizing the Russian wrong, more than anything. In any event, I've used the phrase ever since learning it from Heinlein.

I have recently been told by a commenter on my LJ that it might be better transliterated as nyekulturny or nyeh kulturny.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:13 AM

March 7, 2009

Book Review 2009 #17: What Happened to the Indians

Note: This book was provided to me by the author.Please note I have heavily spoiled the plot.

What Happened to the Indians is a science fiction novel by Terence Shannon.

The time is the near future. China has continued to rise as a superpower, and recently, in the time frame of the book has been testing a series of nuclear devices, in a clear challenge to the US. A new US President has taken office promising to clean up the messes of the past. And Unidentified Flying Objects start meddling in U.S. Affairs...

Starting with the crashing of a U.S. Fighter jet, the aliens continually escalate their actions, finally culminating with a demand for the rights to an obscure canyon in New Mexico. The President is faced with the horns of a dilemma--accede to the mysterious aliens demands, or resist, knowing that such resistance might be futile.

Thus the stage is set in What Happened to the Indians. The title derives from one of the characters assertions that the Native Americans would have been better off if they had met European colonists with deadly and implacable resistance. Since they did not do that, their fate with inferior technology was sealed.

The viewpoint character, Lt. Doyle, is a typical "average man who is catapulted into the councils of power". He rises to witness and participate in the deliberations and actions of the White House. While we do have other viewpoint characters, in scenes large and small, we continually return and refer to Doyle as our touchstone to what is happening.

While the writing is mostly adequate on a grammatical level, the rest of the aspects of the novel were, for me lacking.

Let's start with the politics. While I have read novels with political slants ranging from Doctorow, Stross and MacLeod on the left, to Niven, Pournelle and even L. Neil Smith, this novel in many respects come across as a political tract disguised as science fiction in a way only matched in my reading by Smith. Characters with a less than conservative and militaristic viewpoint are consistently proven wrong again, and again. Even Pournelle was and is willing to have centrists and even left of center people as positive characters in his books. Here, Democrats, unions, and pacifists are treated as wrongheaded and foolish at best, and actively dangerous to the health of the nation at worst.

Then there is the plot and world building. Even with the inclusion of a "Deleted scene" which the author provides, I could not simply buy the plot as given. Aliens land, specifically in the United States and begin making demands. The information control is far greater than any hope of reason. Leaks would emerge, but the general public only ever sees the smokescreen that the US Government uses to cover up the whole thing. I found this implausible.

Worse, the US Government's solution to the problem, to escalate a nuclear confrontation with China in the hopes that the aliens will decide to leave rather than let the Earth plunge into a nuclear winter, just didn't ring true. The aliens are clearly intelligent and have been studying the Earth for a long time. (They did pick the US, specifically, to make themselves known). I just couldn't buy that the aliens would pack up and leave the Earth entirely. Why not move their mysterious operations to another nation?

And while we talk about other nations, the only two countries mentioned are the US and China. Even as the US and China move toward DEFCON 2, we never, ever hear how other nations are reacting, and what they might do, as this escalation occurs. A nuclear escalation between India and Pakistan gets world headlines, reactions and actions. A nuclear escalation between the US and China? ALL of the nuclear powers would react. I am sure that even the "unannounced" nuclear powers like, say, Israel, would play a chip in that game. And yet, we hear nothing about it. Nothing. It is as if in this world, only the US and China exist.

Compared to this, I won't even develop in detail other problems I have--such as the U.S. deliberately attacking and sinking one of its vessels, with a loss of all hands, to manufacture this crisis, and subplots that go nowhere, including the unfortunate fate of a passenger jet airliner which is kidnapped by the aliens.

I do not recommend this novel to any readers. Sorry, Mr. Shannon.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:54 AM

Book Reviews 2009 #15-16: Two More Kitty Novels

Disclaimer: I received these two books from the publisher in exchange for reading and reviewing them.

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand and Kitty Goes to Hell are the two newest Kitty Norville novels by Carrie Vaughn.

The two novels really work together as a whole. While the previous novels have followed on each other pretty closely, the story started in Dead Man's Hand really slides directly into Kitty Goes to Hell, and thus I review the two of them as a single unit.

Dead Man's Hand has Kitty and her fiance Ben decide to elope to Vegas in order to cut through the entanglement and suffocation of the plans for their marriage. While there, the pair discover that treading into the territory of other supernatural beings can be a dangerous business, and the pair make a powerful, ancient enemy. In Kitty Goes to Hell, their return to home ground in Denver is followed by an agent sent because of their actions in Vegas...

Now six books in, I am very pleased that the Kitty books have not succumbed to some of the excesses and problems that crop up in series like this. (I am looking at you, Laurell K Hamilton). Kitty as a character continues to grow, and the world continues to reveal, step by step, the secrets of the shadowy world that she has one foot in due to her lycanthropy.

There is also a growing theme of responsibility in the novels. Now as the alpha of her werewolf pack, and (getting there, to actually being) married, Kitty no longer can only think about herself. She has responsibility and duty to her pack, and this theme is played upon strongly, especially in the events in Kitty Goes to Hell. Kitty feels throughout these novels, and Vaughn makes the point without slamming the reader with it, that Kitty is NOT a "Werewolf", with a lack of human concerns. She's a woman with a disease, a disability, trying to make her way as best as she can.

It is this believeability humanity in Kitty's character that really keeps me reading the novels, as well as worldbuilding and good writing. Its Vaughn's strong suit. Kitty is not a wish-fulfillment character (oh, how cool would it be to have supernatural powers!).

It is for these reasons that I will continue to read the Kitty novels. And if you have any interest in contemporary supernatural urban fantasy, I urge you to try Kitty and the Midnight Hour. While the novels aren't hidebound and wrapped up in previous books, like any series, its usually best to begin at the beginning. Fans of Vaughn who have read the previous novels will definitely enjoy these latest two volumes in the life of Kitty Norville, radio talk show host/werewolf.


Posted by Jvstin at 9:31 AM

February 26, 2009

Book Review 2009 #14: Drood

Disclaimer: I received this copy of Drood for reading and reviewing thanks to the good graces of the Hachette Book Group.

Drood is the latest novel by Hugo Award winning author Dan Simmons.

Simmons is an extremely literate author whose literacy has influenced more than a few of his works. The Hyperion novels owe a lot to the Romantic Poets of the 19th century. His novella Muse of Fire puts a bright light on the best of what makes Shakespeare unforgetting. Ilium and Olympos take their inspiration from Homer. The Crook Factory takes on Hemingway.

And now with Drood, Simmons delves into Dickens.

A word of disclaimer here. As it so happens, a fact that I don't bandy about too much these days, I am related (although not a direct descendant) of Charles Dickens. I wouldn't say that I am obsessed with his work, but I made it my duty, as a relative, to read a good chunk of his oeuvre.

So, a novel about the last years of the life of Charles Dickens and how his uncompleted mystery novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood came to be was a natural for me to want to read.

The novel is narrated and entirely from the viewpoint of Wilkie Collins, a minor Victorian novelist who was a sometime collaborator, friend, and rival to Charles Dickens. At the time, he might have been a medium light, he is not well remembered today except by scholars. (His novel The Moonstone is actually probably one of the first detective novels, and is a clear inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's work).

Drood starts with Dickens relating to Collins the details of a horrible train accident, and an encounter with a mysterious, mystical figure called Drood. Collins interest in Drood, and his interest in Dickens' own interest in Drood forms the backbone of the novel. Interest turns to obsession, and finally to horror and madness.

Its a big work, nearly 800 pages, and Dickens' conceit in having Collins tell us the story leads to a number of effects. First of all, the novel reads like sprawling and turgid Victorian fiction. This book probably could have been half its size--but it would have been a very different book. Sprawling as it is, the book is not slow. We get a deep and abiding look into Collins mind and his world and tangled relationship with Dickens. Aside from the opening event, the novel does take its time in getting to the real meat of the Matter. An impatient reader might decide to give up before that happens.

Another thing to consider as a result of its size is that the novel impinges on the senses. Simmons does best and handles the passages when Collins descends into Undertown, or the opening set-piece of the train disaster, or any of the other ones when Simmons' ability to write horror and madness are in full effect. When Simmons deals with the more mundane aspects of Collins life, his effectiveness is knocked down just a tad.

Another thing to consider is that Collins is an extremely unreliable narrator. Given to opium addiction, and the aspects of mesmerism present in the book, the novel acts a bit like a puzzle in the same way that Gene Wolfe's novels often do. It is left to the reader to make judgments and decipher if what Collins is thinking, relating and observing are truly accurate. Simmons seems to give a definitive answer late in the novel--but its possible that revelation is, in itself, a ruse.

I have heard that Guillermo Del Toro (director of Pan's Labyrinth) is very interested in filming this novel. Given its garish and striking visuals, and set pieces that cry out for a director of Del Toro's abilities, I can see why the novel appeals to him.

As for me, in the end, I think the novel was a bit *too* turgid, but it certainly and admirably entertained this relation of Charles Dickens. If you are a fan of victorian fiction, or a fan of the darker novels of Dan Simmons, then Drood is definitely worth your time. This novel may not appeal if you only like Simmons' SF novels, or if the purple prose, pacing and stylistic conventions of Victorian novels are not to your liking.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:04 PM

February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer, RIP

Via many places, including John Scalzi's blog.
Phillip Jose Farmer passed away last night at the age of 91.

I will fondly remember the Riverworld series, and even more so, the World of Tiers. I found the latter because Roger Zelazny cited them as a strong influence on the development of his Amber novels. They are fine novels in their own right.

If you haven't read Riverworld or the World of Tiers novels yet,you now have an excuse to go out and do so.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:22 PM

February 16, 2009

Books Read this Year to Date

13. Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Carrie Vaughn
12. Kitty Takes a Holiday, Carrie Vaughn
11. Kitty Goes to Washington, Carrie Vaughn
10. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn
9. History Revisted the Great Battles, Mike Resnick
8. The Planiverse, AK Dewdney
7. The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman
6 Fables #1: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham
5. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes
4. Chariot, Arthur Cotterell
3. The Story of Mathematics, Ian Stewart
2. Pushing Ice, Alistair Reynolds
1. Gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield

Posted by Jvstin at 8:47 AM

Book Reviews 2009 #10-13: Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Novels

Disclaimer: I received these four books (and two more, as yet unread) from the publisher in exchange for reading and reviewing them.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Kitty Goes to Washington, Kitty Takes a Holiday and Kitty and the Silver Bullet are the first four books in a series about a talk radio host who is a werewolf, written by Carrie Vaughn.

Kitty Norville's universe is one very similar to ours and very similar to other urban fantasy novels of this particular subgenre. Things do go bump in the night but (especially at the beginning of the series), their official existence kept from the public.

Kitty Norville is a Denver DJ who turns talk show host for a late night show dealing with vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night. She's good at it, and she should be.

Kitty, you see, is secretly a member of the werewolf pack of Denver.

In the course of the four novels, Kitty's fan base grows, her existence as a werewolf (and the existence of these sorts of creatures in general) becomes known, and poor Kitty has to deal with all of these changes. Where Vaughn is the strongest and the novels sing is not necessarily in the metaphysical and magical implications of all of these creatures, but in the characterizations. Specifically, Kitty. Kitty Norville is a fully fleshed and formed character who lives and grows in these four novels in a believable and understandable way.

Too much of the oeuvre of urban fantasy novels border on smut fan fic (Laurell K Hamilton, I am looking at YOU) or are really just romance novels with a bit of paranormal feel, or are slap and dash rewritings or derivatives of White Wolf's World of Darkness. Vaughn manages to avoid these pitfalls. While these novels are not high art that will win Hugo Awards, the novels have enough heft for my taste. She doesn't go deeply into the origins and nature of the various supernatural creatures, but we do get slow and steady reveals of what the paranormal side of the world is like in Kitty's universe. It satisfied me.

The books are a quick and easy read that I devoured in a couple of days each on my commute. None of the books outstayed their welcome, and all were more than satisfactory in keeping me entertained.I enjoyed the four novels, and have two more recent ones to read in the near future, after a short break from Kitty and her world.

I recently complained that there was too much urban fantasy as opposed to science fiction and other kinds of fantasy.(and readers of this space will recall my negative experience with some of the urban fantasy out there). It's good to see that some of the tidal wave of urban fantasy is actually worth my time, and yours.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:27 AM

February 14, 2009

Book Review 2009 #9: History Revisited

A collection of Alternate History Short stories with companion essays by Historians.

History Revisited: The Great Battles
Edited by J David Markham and Mike Resnick

In concept, this is a great idea. Take some classic military oriented AH short stories: Southern Strategy by Michael Flynn. Must and Shall by Harry Turtledove. The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson. Having some classic AH stories in one volume is a great idea in general. Then, each of these stories, pair them with an essay from a bonafide historian exploring the divergence, and its plausiblity.

Such are the lines that History Revisited are built upon. In practice, however, its a failure.

Uniformly, the essays by the historians are long, dull, and unimaginative. The historians mostly reject the scenarios posited by the science fiction writers, and in the worst offenders, seem to look down upon the very idea of the alternative. It is the exception, not the rule, when a historian actually likes the story that he has been paired with, rather than at best bemusement. This sort of condescension takes the wind out of reading the story, if one reads the paired essay immediately afterwards.

This, in my opinion makes the reading experience of the stories less pleasurable and it is for that reason that I don't really recommend this collection--unless you *like* to poke holes in Alternate Histories. If you read AH stories to see where Turtledove or Flynn "clearly got it wrong" and grouse about it, then this collection is definitely your cup of tea. If, instead, you enjoy AH stories on their own merits, you can either read the stories and skip the essays, or if you read the essays, I recommend you read them removed in time and space from the story itself. Otherwise, the pleasure of reading the stories will be diminished, as it was from me.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:42 AM

February 8, 2009

Book Review 2009 #8: The Planiverse

A book I read years ago, was awed by, and upon getting a new copy for Christmas and re-reading again, still blows me away.

The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two Dimensional World by AK Dewdney

The setting is a graduate program in the early 1980's. Computers are mainframes, time and resources are precious, and programs are primitive at best.

A group of students led by their professor decide to model a two dimensional world--with the deptyh and horizontal axis rather than the horizontal and vertical axes of Flatland. It starts as an exercise in pure physics, mathematics and computer science, until their model somehow connects to a real two-dimensional world, and an inhabitant, YNDRD, who can hear them in his mind.

And with YNDRD as our guide, we begin to learn about himself and the two dimensional Planiverse that makes his home...

Its a classic for good and many reasons. Dewdney's characters, with the exception of a little unnecessary and half-baked melodrama, are easily recognized academic types, jealous of their prize, and eager to learn more and more about the world they have inadvertently contacted. The Planiverse is a marvel of a gedankenexperiment--how could an inhabitable two-dimensional world exist and what would it be like? YNDRD goes on what is ultimately a spiritual quest (the novel can be thought of, really as a sufi story), and so we get to see a wide swath of his world, and learn about it, as he makes his journey.

Although the technology has changed over time, the novel can comfortably be thought of as taking place in the early 1980's rather than as a contemporary novel. Once upon a time, computers really were this primitive.

There are lots of asides and text boxes exploring some of the concepts touched upon, as well as appendices that give the Planiverse even more depth. It's an amazing book and definitely suited to those who would want to think about the implications and puzzle of a two-dimensional world. The narrative itself is pretty basic and straightforward--but the universe, man, is where this novel shines. Dewdney's conceit in making the novel at first seem like a first hand account of a real event gives it verisimilitude, and the level of detail, as said above, sells it.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:42 PM

Book Review 2009 #7: The Accidental Time Machine

Next up? A somewhat of a throwback time travel SF novel from Joe "Forever War" Haldeman.

The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman.

Coincidentally, I was recently talking about a Poul Anderson short story, "Flight to Forever", which has some resemblance to this novel.

The basic premise is similar with some twists. Matt, a grad student at MIT, accidental invents the eponymous time machine. Its only a one way device, and the "jumps" are logarithmically longer and longer, and so his journey quickly becomes a one way trip to the future, looking for a way to reverse the process and return to his own time.

Along the way, he discovers strange cultures, picks up a passenger, and finally manages to return to the past, but not in the way or manner that he expects.

So on the basics, its pretty similar to the story mentioned above. The concept as Haldeman executes it, though is a little more polished in the physics. Anderson's story was really a device for sending his protagonist through time. Haldeman takes some things into consideration that Anderson doesn't--for example the idea that the time machine's "landing location" might change through time thanks to the motion of celestial bodies.

Like Anderson's story, we wind up with some strange future societies that Matt and his inadvertent fellow passenger whom he picks up encounter. A religious theocracy, a society which seems to be Ebay writ large, and a post-Singularity beings are among the challenges that Matt faces as he jumps through time.

The novel is short, and aside from the religious theocracy and Matt's present (in the mid 21st century), we never really spend a lot of time getting to the nuts and bolts of the worlds. Haldeman could have spent endless pages on each of these stops, and in some cases, I would have liked to learn a little more about Matt's stops. Also, the ending is, frankly, a deus ex machina in an almost literal sense. There are also aspects to the narrative (the idea that there are multiple timelines, or multiple versions of Matt being sent back) that are mentioned in a few sentences and never really explored fully. Also, the explanation of just how the accidental time machine really worked is very much glossed over.

So I have to say that I was disappointed in the novel overall, which unfortunately (after Forever Peace) means that I've now read two novels by Haldeman that I don't like in comparison to one (Forever War). I suppose that he is going to now drop off on the list of authors that I will read, sad to say. The Accidental Time Machine is not a *bad* novel, but its, to use culinary terminology, definitely a little undercooked and the flavors didn't meld well. It was a disappointment.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:34 AM

February 7, 2009

Book Review 2009 #6: Fables: Legends in Exile #1

Next up, a graphic novel given to me as a gift last year, Fables: Legends in Exile.

Fables: Legends in Exile #1 collects the first five issues of Bill Willingham's Vertigo comic.

The high concept is a wonderful conceit--what if fairy tale characters, ranging from Snow White to Bluebeard, all lived, in secret, in New York City (and upstate New York in the case of the animals). Trying to avoid revealing their nature to the populace, they are a small community unto their own, and yet, unmistakably, expatriates in the Greatest City on Earth.

And what happens when one of these (implied) immortal characters is brutally killed, and the evidence points not to an ordinary New Yorker, but one of Fabletown's own denizens?

With this idea, great drawing and writing,and plenty of visual eye candy, Fables is an example of a good graphic novel which uses the full strengths of the form. Certainly one could have told this story in a straight novel format, but this is a case where seeing is believing. Snow White as a deputy Mayor. The Big Bad Wolf as a detective. Prince Charming as a schemer using his looks and charm to make his way in the world. These characters have pasts rooted in their fairy tales as well as previous relations between them in the expat community. We get the feeling that the characters have always been there, hidden, in New York. There is a continuity to their existence.

And much more awaits the reader. It all works so very well, and the murder puzzle is a fair one.

I look forward to at some point getting additional graphic novels of the series (something I need to do with a couple of others, like Sandman...). In the meantime, if you have any interest in fairy tale characters and in graphic novels (or love the former and want to try the latter), this is a graphic novel which is a painless way to try and enjoy the form. If you love Urban Fantasy, this volume is a must.

The only downside is that only 5 issues of the comic were collected in the volume. I read this almost *too* quickly.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:26 AM

February 6, 2009

Locus Recommends You Read 2008 Things: The Meme

Via Andrew Wheeler

It's the usual rule: bold for things one has read, italics for things one has in a pile but hasn't read yet.

SF novels

Matter, Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK)
Flood, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Roc '09)
Weaver, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Ace)
City at the End of Time, Greg Bear (Gollancz, Del Rey)
Incandescence, Greg Egan (Gollancz, Night Shade)
January Dancer, Michael Flynn (Tor)
Marsbound, Joe Haldeman (Ace)
Spirit, Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
Escapement, Jay Lake (Tor)
Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod (PS Publishing)
The Night Sessions, Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
The Quiet War, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
The Company, K. J. Parker (Orbit)
House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, Ace '09)
Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder (Tor)
Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
Saturn's Children, Charles Stross (Orbit, Ace)
Rolling Thunder, John Varley (Ace)
Half a Crown, Jo Walton (Tor)
Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams (Night Shade Books)

Fantasy novels

An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham (Tor)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam)
The Knights of the Cornerstone, James P. Blaylock (Ace)
The Ghost in Love, Jonathan Carroll (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
The Island of Eternal Love, Daina Chaviano (Riverhead)
The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
Shadowbridge/ Lord Tophet, Gregory Frost (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Memoirs of a Master Forger, William Heaney (Gollancz) ; as How to Make Friends with Demons, Graham Joyce (Night Shade Books '09)
Varanger, Cecelia Holland (Tor/Forge)
Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
The Hidden World, Paul Park (Tor)
The Engine's Child, Holly Phillips (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
The Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
The Dragons of Babel, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
An Evil Guest, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

First novels

The Ninth Circle, Alex Bell (Gollancz)
The Painted Man, Peter V. Brett (HarperVoyager); as The Warded Man (Ballantine Del Rey)
A Curse as Dark as Gold, Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
Graceling, Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead)
Thunderer, Felix Gilman (Bantam Spectra)
Black Ships, Jo Graham (Orbit US)
Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann, Knopf)
Last Dragon, J.T. McDermott (Wizards of the Coast/Discoveries)
Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)
The Long Look, Richard Parks (Five Star)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Robert V. S. Redick (Gollancz, Del Rey '09)
The Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

Young Adult Books

City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/McElderry)
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)
Monster Blood Tattoo, Book Two: Lamplighter, D. M. Cornish (Putnam; Omnibus Books Australia)
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman (Viking); as The Two Pearls of Wisdom (HarperCollins Australia)
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury USA)
Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr (HarperTeen)
Chalice, Robin McKinley (Putnam)
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt)
Nation, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK, HarperCollins)
Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (Tor)
Flora's Dare, Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt)

Collections

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories, Joan Aiken (Small Beer Press/Big Mouth House)
Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives, James P. Blaylock (Subterranean Press)
Works of Art, James Blish (NESFA Press)
The Wall of America, Thomas M. Disch (Tachyon Publications)
Dark Integers and Other Stories, Greg Egan (Subterranean Press)
The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial)
The Wreck of the Godspeed and Other Stories, James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon Press)
The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, John Kessel (Small Beer Press)
Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories, Nancy Kress (Golden Gryphon Press)
Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, John Langan (Prime Books)
Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link (Viking)
H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction, H. P. Lovecraft (Barnes & Noble)
Binding Energy, Daniel Marcus (Elastic Press)
Ten Sigmas and Other Unlikelihoods, Paul Melko (Fairwood Press)
The Collected Short Fiction: Where Angels Fear / The Gods Perspire, Ken Rand (Fairwood Press)
The Ant King and Other Stories, Benjamin Rosenbaum (Small Beer Press)
Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys, Ken Scholes (Fairwood Press)
Filter House, Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct Press)
The Autopsy and Other Tales, Michael Shea (Centipede Press)
The Best of Lucius Shepard, Lucius Shepard (Subterranean Press)
The Best of Michael Swanwick, Michael Swanwick (Subterranean Press)
Other Worlds, Better Lives, Howard Waldrop (Old Earth Books)
Crazy Love, Leslie What (Wordcraft of Oregon)
Gateway to Paradise: The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume Six, Jack Williamson (Haffner Press)

Anthologies - Original

Clockwork Phoenix, Mike Allen, ed. (Norilana Books)
Fast Forward 2, Lou Anders, ed. (Pyr)
Sideways in Crime, Lou Anders, ed. (Solaris)
Dreaming Again, Jack Dann, ed. (HarperCollins Australia; Eos)
The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Ballantine Del Rey)
Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois, ed. (SFBC)
Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, Nick Gevers, ed. (Solaris)
A Book of Wizards, Marvin Kaye, ed. (SFBC)
The Solaris Book Of New Science Fiction Volume Two, George Mann, ed. (Solaris)
Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, William Schafer, ed. (Subterranean Press)
Eclipse Two, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade Books)
The Starry Rift, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Viking)
Fast Ships, Black Sails, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Night Shade Books)
Celebration: 50 Years of the British Science Fiction Association, Ian Whates, ed. (NewCon Press)

Anthologies - Reprint

Wastelands, John Joseph Adams, ed. (Night Shade Books)
A Science Fiction Omnibus, Brian W. Aldiss, ed. (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria, Franz Rottensteiner, ed. (Wesleyan University Press)
Poe's Children: The New Horror, Peter Straub, ed. (Doubleday)
The New Weird, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)
Steampunk, Ann Vandermeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)

Anthologies - Best of the Year

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: Twenty-first Annual Collection, Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant, eds. (St. Martin's Griffin)
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)
Year's Best Fantasy 8, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)
Year's Best SF 13, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. (Eos)
Fantasy: The Best of the Year: 2008 Edition, Rich Horton, ed. (Prime Books)
Science Fiction: The Best of the Year: 2008 Edition, Rich Horton, ed. (Prime Books)
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: Volume Nineteen, Stephen Jones, ed. (Robinson; Running Press)
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade Books)

Non-Fiction

Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle, Second Edition, Michael Andre-Driussi (Sirius Fiction)
Miracles of Life, J. G. Ballard (HarperCollins/Fourth Estate UK)
An Unofficial Companion to the Novels of Terry Pratchett, Andrew M. Butler (Greenwood)
The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold, Lillian Stewart Carl & Martin H. Greenberg (Baen)
H. Beam Piper: A Biography, John F. Carr (McFarland)
The Worlds of Jack Williamson: A Centennial Tribute 1908-2008, Stephen Haffner, ed. (Haffner Press)
Basil Copper: A Life in Books, Stephen Jones (PS Publishing)
What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid (Beccon)
Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography, Jeffrey Marks (McFarland)
Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller (Little, Brown)
Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissette (St. Martin's Press)

Art Books

Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
Paint or Pixel: The Digital Divide in Illustration Art, Jane Frank, ed. (NonStop Press)
P. Craig Russell, Coraline, Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins)
J. Allen St. John, The Paintings of J. Allen St. John: Grand Master of Fantasy, Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock (Vanguard)
Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin; Scholastic '09)
A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P.L., Jerad Walters, ed. (Centipede Press)

Novellas

Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press)
"The Overseer", Albert E. Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten, Thomas M. Disch (Tachyon Publications)
"The Political Prisoner", Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF 8/08)
"Arkfall", Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 9/08)
The Luminous Depths, David Herter (PS Publishing)
"Mystery Hill", Alex Irvine (F&SF 1/08)
"The Erdmann Nexus", Nancy Kress (Asimov's 10-11/08)
"Pretty Monsters", Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters)
"The Surfer, Kelly Link (The Starry Rift) "
"The Hob Carpet", Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov's 6/08)
"The Tear", Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
"Tenbrook of Mars", Dean McLaughlin (Analog 7-8/08)
Once Upon a Time in the North, Philip Pullman (Knopf)
"The Man with the Golden Balloon", Robert Reed (Galactic Empires)
"Truth", Robert Reed (Asimov's 10-11/08)
"True Names", Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
"Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang", Gord Sellar (Tesseracts Twelve)
"The Philosopher's Stone", Brian Stableford (Asimov's 7/08)

Novelettes

"The Gambler", Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
"Pump Six", Paolo Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories)
"Tangible Light", J. Timothy Bagwell (Analog 1-2/08)
"Radio Station St. Jack", Neal Barrett, Jr. (Asimov's 8/08)
"The Ice War", Stephen Baxter (Asimov's 9/08)
"Turing's Apples", Stephen Baxter (Eclipse Two)
"The Rabbi's Hobby", Peter S. Beagle (Eclipse Two)
"The Tale of Junko and Sayuri", Peter Beagle (InterGalactic Medicine Show 7/08)
"Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel", Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
"Shoggoths in Bloom", Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's 3/08)
"The Golden Octopus", Beth Bernobich (Postscripts Summer '08)
"If Angels Fight", Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
"From the Clay of His Heart", John Brown (InterGalactic Medicine Show 4/08)
"Jimmy", Pat Cadigan (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"Catherine Drewe", Paul Cornell (Fast Forward 2)
Conversation Hearts, John Crowley (Subterranean Press)
"The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away", Cory Doctorow (Tor.com 8/08)
"Crystal Nights", Greg Egan (Interzone 4/08)
"Lost Continent", Greg Egan (The Starry Rift)
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", James Alan Gardner (Asimov's 2/08)
"Memory Dog", Kathleen Ann Goonan (Asimov's 4-5/08)
"Shining Armor", Dominic Green (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
"The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm", Daryl Gregory (Eclipse Two)
"Pride and Prometheus", John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)
"The Art of Alchemy", Ted Kosmatka (F&SF 6/08)
"Divining Light", Ted Kosmatka (Asimov's 8/08)
"Childrun", Marc Laidlaw (F&SF 8/08)
"Machine Maid", Margo Lanagan (Extraordinary Engines)
"The Woman", Tanith Lee (Clockwork Phoenix)
"The Magician's House", Meghan McCarron (Strange Horizons 7/08)
"An Eligible Boy", Ian McDonald (Fast Forward 2)
"The Dust Assassin", Ian McDonald (The Starry Rift)
"Special Economics", Maureen F. McHugh (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe", Garth Nix (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
"Infestation", Garth Nix (The Starry Rift)
"Immortal Snake", Rachel Pollack (F&SF 5/08)
"The Hour of Babel", Tim Powers (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy)
"Five Thrillers", Robert Reed (F&SF 4/08)
"Fury", Alastair Reynolds (Eclipse Two)
"The Star Surgeon's Apprentice", Alastair Reynolds (The Starry Rift) "
"The Egg Man", Mary Rosenblum (Asimov's 2/08)
"Sacrifice", Mary Rosenblum (Sideways in Crime)
"Days of Wonder", Geoff Ryman (F&SF 10-11/08)
"Lester Young and the Jupiter's Moons' Blues", Gord Sellar (Asimov's 7/08)
"Gift from a Spring", Delia Sherman (Realms of Fantasy 4/08)
"An Alien Heresy", S.P. Somtow (Asimov's 4-5/08)
"Following the Pharmers", Brian Stableford (Asimov's 3/08)
"The First Editions", James Stoddard (F&SF 4/08)

Short Stories

"Don't Go Fishing on Witches Day", Joan Aiken (The Serial Garden)
"Goblin Music", Joan Aiken (The Serial Garden)
"The Occultation", Laird Barron (Clockwork Phoenix)
"King Pelles the Sure", Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
Boojum", Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
"Private Eye", Terry Bisson (F&SF 10-11/08)
"Offworld Friends Are Best", Neal Blaikie (Greatest Uncommon Denominator Spring '08)
"The Man Who Built Heaven", Keith Brooke (Postscripts Summer '08)
"Balancing Accounts", James L. Cambias (F&SF 2/08)
"Exhalation", Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
"The Fooly", Terry Dowling (Dreaming Again)
"Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose", Terry Dowling (Eclipse Two)
"Awskonomuk", Gregory Feeley (Otherworldly Maine)
"Daltharee", Jeffrey Ford (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"The Dismantled Invention of Fate", Jeffrey Ford (The Starry Rift) "
"The Dream of Reason", Jeffrey Ford (Extraordinary Engines)
"The Seventh Expression of the Robot General", Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse Two)
"Reader's Guide", Lisa Goldstein (F&SF 7/08)
"Glass", Daryl Gregory (Technology Review 11-12/08)
"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", Kij Johnson (Asimov's 7/08)
"The Voyage Out", Gwyneth Jones (Periphery)
"Evil Robot Monkey", Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
"The Kindness of Strangers", Nancy Kress (Fast Forward 2)
"The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue into the Black", Jay Lake (Clarkesworld 3/08)
"The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross", Margo Lanagan (Dreaming Again)
"The Goosle", Margo Lanagan (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"The Thought War", Paul McAuley (Postscripts Summer '08)
"[a ghost samba]", Ian McDonald (Postscripts Summer '08)
"Midnight Blue", Will McIntosh (Asimov's 9/08)
"Fallen Angel", Eugene Mirabelli (F&SF 12/08)
"Mars: A Traveler's Guide", Ruth Nestvold (F&SF 1/08)
"The Blood of Peter Francisco", Paul Park (Sideways in Crime)
"The Small Door", Holly Phillips (Fantasy 5/08)
"His Master's Voice", Hannu Rajaniemi (Interzone 10/08)
"The House Left Empty", Robert Reed (Asimov's 4-5/08)
"Fifty Dinosaurs", Robert Reed (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
"Traitor", M. Rickert (F&SF 5/08)
"Snatch Me Another", Mercurio D. Rivera (Abyss & Apex 1Q/08)
"The Film-makers of Mars", Geoff Ryman (Tor.com 12/08)
"Talk is Cheap", Geoff Ryman (Interzone 6/08)
"After the Coup", John Scalzi (Tor.com 7/08)
"Invisible Empire of Ascending Light", Ken Scholes (Eclipse Two)
"Ardent Clouds", Lucy Sussex (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's 2/08)
"The Scarecrow's Boy", Michael Swanwick (F&SF 10-11/08)
"Marrying the Sun", Rachel Swirsky (Fantasy 6/08)
"A Buyer's Guide to Maps of Antarctica", Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 5/08)
"Fixing Hanover", Jeff VanderMeer (Extraordinary Engines)
"The Eyes of God", Peter Watts (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
"Ass-Hat Magic Spider", Scott Westerfeld (The Starry Rift) "

Posted by Jvstin at 6:41 AM

February 2, 2009

Book Review 2009 #5: The Domino Men

A book I received under the auspices of Amazon Vine, The Domino Men is a fantasy/horror novel by Jonathan Barnes.

There have been a spate of what some have labeled "The New Weird" in fantasy and horror in the last few years. Authors like Jeff Vandermeer, China Mieville, and M John Harrison are the major figures in this movement, but this movement has influenced new authors, too.

Jonathan Barnes' work seems to fall into this bracket. The Domino Men is a novel set in the same world of his previous novel, The Somnambulist. The story ostensibly is the story of Henry Lamb, hapless file clerk (and former child TV star) in London who slowly is wrapped in the tendrils of an ancient conflict that involves his grandfather, the House of Windsor, and the fate of Earth.

The world is not quite the one we know, since the Crown Prince is named Arthur, and only has had one wife, without a single child.

And then there is the titular Domino Men, Hawker and Boon. They cut a swath of sadism and darkness in the novel that really is at an angle to the rest of the action. While they are important, they aren't central to the narrative.

And what a narrative? A Dark faustian bargain which "The Directorate" has been fighting for a century. Over the top hilarity is cheek and jowl with darkness and denigration. This jarring tone is carried throughout the novel and it gave me as a reader continual emotional whiplash.

The novel started off well enough, but as the novel progressed, I became dissatisfied with it. Lamb, like his name, is far, far too passive for a protagonist. He doesn't question his orders and is pushed around the chessboard like a hapless pawn. I couldn't identify with him, and only could pity him. In addition, midway through the novel, the first person past narrative was punctuated by a different first person narrator who shows us Arthur's perspective. While it becomes clear in the end why we should be privy to this narrative, I didn't feel it fit all that well with Lamb's story.

Finally, the ending ended my chances of walking away from the novel satisfied. Characters are brutally tortured and go through hell while London suffers cataclysmic upheaval.

Even for fans of the New Weird, there are far better and more rewarding novels than this one in that vein. It's not a terrible novel, but it could have been much better than it was executed.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:46 PM

January 27, 2009

Gaiman wins Newberry, Minnesota tries to claim him as one of their own

Author Neil Gaiman's spooky book wins Newbery honor

As you have seen elsewhere, Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" has won the ALA's Newbery award, adding yet award to the ever lengthening list of awards won by one of the best F/SF authors of this generation.

What amuses me is the tendency and propensity for Minnesota to claim people as their own. I've noticed that MPR likes to do articles on actors and authors with what they call "Minnesota connections". (The Coen Brothers get a lot of love in this regard) Gaiman falls into this category--even though he really lives in Western Wisconsin.

Now, if I could somehow get local F/SF authors like Lois Bujold and Lyda Morehouse to the attention of MPR, maybe they could get some press for *their* books. The Wyrdsmiths (the Twin Cities Speculative Fiction Writers Group) has a nice little nest of authors, and before I even knew there was a group, I managed to read books by a number of them.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:13 AM

January 25, 2009

Book Review 2009 #4: Chariot

More history this time, this time the history of what was once the cutting edge in military technology.

Chariot, From Chariot to Tank, The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World's First War Machine, by Arthur Cotterell is a history of the chariot.

Between the domestication of the horse, and the use of stirrups and other techniques to make horse-riding warfare more practical, the primary uses of horses in warfare was by means of the chariot. Cotterell begins with the description of one of the major battles in the ancient world, the Egyptian-Hatti Battle of Kadesh in which 5000 chariots on both sides participated. From this basis, Cotterell describes the history of the use of the chariot in time and space from Rome all the way to China.

There is an enormous amount of detail in the book, but its marred by digressions, poor organization and badly formed repetitions. Cotterell mentions battles and places, only to return to them again and again. That would not be a problem, but there is no sense of building on what was already written, or an awareness that there is something new to be said in the narrative. He mentions battles, and then comes back to them again, talking about them as if we had not already read about it earlier in the novel. It was extremely frustrating to this reader.

I learned a lot from the novel, my conception of what good the chariot was and how it was used has expanded. I particularly appreciated that Cotterell did not restrict himself to the Middle East and Europe, as he extensively talks about the role of the chariot in India and China. Cotterell, in the typical haphazard fashion in this book, extends the mandate of the book beyond the war machine role of the chariot to discuss its use as symbol and mythological object ranging from Rome to China.

It's all a pity, though. I really wanted to like and recommend this book, but the disorganized writing and jumbled information just made this book a chore to read, rather than a joy. The scholarship and information is all there, but its more work than its worth, in my opinion, to reach and get it out.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:27 AM

Book Review 2009 #3: The Story of Mathematics

Next up in my reading is some non fiction, and what's more, Mathematics.

Mathematician and scientist Ian Stewart writes some popular books on the subject (I keep meaning to read his annotated Flatland). The Story of Mathematics is devoted to an overview and history of Mathematics, and what it was good for in the past and what its good for now.

With lots of sidebar digressions on figures and topics, this volume reminded me, in some respects, of my beloved "The Math Book" textbook that I recently found for sale again, used and purchased. The Story of Mathematics takes on Mathematical topics of increasing complexity and difficulty. Each topic is placed in context with how and why it was invented and developed.

So the volume begins with tallies and basic number systems, showing how tallies turned into Babylonian and Egyptian number systems. We progress through basic geometry, our own number system (with sidebars on things like the Mayan and Chinese systems), trigonometry, logarithms, algebraic geometry, number theory, calculus, differential equations, and all the way up to modern chaos theory.

In less than 300 pages, this means that no topic really is done in depth, a strength and a weakness. Similarly, too, the book remains at a high level overview strictly for non-mathematicians. This is not a volume by Eli Maor! In fact, the Mathematically trained might feel this is a bit dumbed down.

So, I believe that intelligent readers who are completely math-phobic and yet have an urge to know more about how it works and where it came from (without doing any math skull sweat) will be happiest with the book. Those fully trained in Mathematics might be frustrated at some of the lack of depth in topics (and probably would be happier with a volume on a more specific subject that they are interested in).

As for myself, I learned some things about fields of mathematics of which I am not very conversant. Stewart has a relatively easy style to follow, but its nothing special. As a production value, I do mention that to keep the volume under 300 pages, the print in the book is relatively small. Still, despite all of this, I enjoyed reading Stewart's Mathematical overview.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:43 AM

January 22, 2009

Guardian's Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels Everyone Must Read: The Meme

Via Sf Signal

Guardian has been running a series called 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read and has recently published their 124 science fiction and fantasy picks. (Links to intro. For the list, see Parts One, Two and Three.) They've also listed a couple of interesting articles: The Best Dystopias by Michael Moorcock, Imagined Worlds by Susanna Clarke, and Novels that predicted the future by Andrew Crumey.

As if I needed a reminder of how horribly under-read I am in the genre, I thought I'd note (in bold) which books out of this huge list I have read. Feel free to copy the list and do the same in the comments or on your own blog.

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
11. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999)
12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)

13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
25. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)
30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

39. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)
40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)

48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)
49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)

51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)
79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)
88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
90. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)

103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)

112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)
114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)

115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)

120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:31 PM

January 20, 2009

Another year of reading ARCs?

Last year was a record for me in terms of receiving, reading and reviewing advance reader copies of works. From books sent by friends and acquaintances, to Amazon Vine, to Library Thing Early Reviewers, and even signing up for Publishing company offers to read ARCS, ARCS were a big part of my 2008 reading.

To start off this year, there is a new wrinkle.

A representative from Hatchette books cold-contacted me with an offer to read and review a few of their upcoming titles.

I have accepted, and you will see the reviews of the books as soon as I finish reading them!

Maybe this will be another year of heavy ARC-reading for me.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:05 AM

January 18, 2009

Book Review 2009 #2: Pushing Ice

My second novel of the year is a return to good old Space Opera, Alastair Reynolds style: Pushing Ice

Unlike most of his space opera novels, Pushing Ice is set in a different universe than the one of the Inhibitors. This gives Reynolds the freedom of a new history and new ideas, but he keeps the high speed but not FTL travel that is a hallmark of much of his space opera.

The story begins as a frame story set some thousands of years in the future, on a distant planet. The polity gathered there have done so to honor the person they consider responsible for the existence of their civilization and progress, and a debate is to be had on just what is to be done to honor her.

The story then cuts back to that founder's story, in the 21st century solar system. Bella Lind operates the Rockhopper, a ship designed to mine comets for ice in the outer solar system. Its not the easiest work and job out there. And when the Saturnian moon Janus suddenly starts acting more like a high speed alien spacecraft than a moon, the Rockhopper is dispatched to try and rendevous with it before the moon leaves the solar system. However, events conspire so that the Rockhopper is caught and trapped in the moon's wake, for a long journey in store to the star Spica...

Interesting and plausible factions aboard the rockhopper. Neat use of technology of medium-term human, far-future human, and alien technology. There are even multiple BDO (Big Dumb Objects), with Janus, and the strange complex at Spica that the moon speeds toward. It's a classic space opera part with 21st century sensibilities, and Reynolds works hard to make it work.

Sure, his characterization skills aren't as strong as some authors, but Reynolds doesn't make them into complete cardboard cutouts--characters simply aren't his forte. (I can sympathize, believe me!) Reynolds does much better when he is playing with technology and ideas than with the faction leaders Bella and Svetlana, but one must admit that if this novel was written 20 or 30 years ago, its dead certain that these two characters would have been unavoidably male. I don't think that, even then, the characterization would have improved. The female characters never feel like they are "men in drag".

Still, sometimes for a F&SF reader, nothing less than space opera will do, and despite its relatively shallow faults, I was thoroughly and completely entertained and satisfied with the journey of the Rockhopper and its crew in Pushing Ice. Fans of Reynolds will enjoy this novel. If you haven't tried any of his Inhibitor novels, Pushing Ice works very well as a standalone introduction to Reynolds work and style.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:57 AM

Book Review 2009 #1: Gladiatrix

My first book read this year was an ARC via Amazon Vine: Gladiatrix, by Russell Whitfield.

Gladiatrix, by Russell Whitfield.

Lysandra is, or was, a mission Priestess of Athena from the fallen city-state of Sparta, in the reign of Domitian in the Roman Empire. Now, after a shipwreck, she is not only a slave, but is being trained as a female gladiator. Thus, she embodies eponymous title of the novel, along with a group of other women also condemned to the same fate.

Gladiatrix shows us her story, starting in medias res, revealing how she was captured, and follows her story as she rises in the stable, develops relationships with her fellow gladiatrices, and finally has a knock down, drag out final combat with her greatest rival, after the love of her life dies.

On the surface, the novel is well paced, exciting, the clash of blades, the savagery and power of life in the Roman world on display and seen through the eyes of an outsider who is now the lowest of the low. Casual readers will likely enjoy it for exactly those reasons.

For me, however, I found it wanting. I know too much.

I may not be a Classical scholar (and the author doesn't profess to be one either, just an interested amateur), but I found the novel and the heroine's actions and life highly improbable and worse, "written to cinema". Some of the pattern of the story follows, to an extent, part of the arc of the movie Gladiator, and not to its credit. I just couldn't buy, even with the fig leaf of an Athene priest hired and brought in to convince Lysandra, that a female spartan would ever, in the end, accept her fate enough to actually embrace her role as a gladiatrix. It broke the character that had been building--even if, I recognize, it was the only way to get the story forward. I think that the author simply wanted a female Spartan gladiator, even if large implausibilities were the only way to get there.

An additional cinematic and not-very-realistic addition in the plot is the love affair between Lysandra and Eirinawen. I never really bought it as more than the author wishing for Lysandra to have a homoerotic relationship with one of her fellow gladiatrices. It never felt natural to me to her character, or Eirinawen's, for that matter. Now, the consequences of the pursuit of that relationship, as it ties into Lysandra's rival Sorina, that I admit was handled much better. But I never really bought the creation of the relationship in the first place.

I almost wish that Whitfield had decided to write this novel in an invented world of his own. Perhaps with the freedom to make a Roman-like, rather than a strictly Roman Empire world, I would have been far more forgiving of the implausibilities of the characters and simply went along for the ride. As it was, I was in the end, underwhelmed.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:29 AM

January 3, 2009

Bujold's Sharing Knife novels--Fantasy with a Frontier touch?

http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=11083
I clearly haven't read enough (or any, really) Westerns.

In an appreciation of Bujold's Sharing Knife novels (which you will all remember that I've read all four, including the one not yet out as an ARC), the irrepressible Jo Walton points out on the Tor Blog:

I mentioned that they're written in the language and dialect of the Western. The words like "blight bogle," the placenames "West Blue," "Glassforge," "Lumpton Market" and the way the characters speak, especially Fawn, all contribute to this. This is the world of Davy Crockett if Davy Crockett had lived in a post-apocalyptic fantasy landscape.

I never noticed this before, but looking at the map of one of my copies, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. I haven't read enough Westerns to see it before, but now that she points it out--its obvious.

It also as Walton implies, shows Bujold's strength and ability to use unusual backgrounds in order to inspire her fantasy. (Chalion used medieval Spain for her cultural cues, something that aside from The Golden Key and The Lions of Al-Rassan, doesn't seem to be used much for inspiration in fantasy fiction.

Frontier America--well, aside from the Sharing Knife novels, what fantasy novels use that culture (and are NOT fantasy Westerns)? I can't think of any, except Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. And even he sets his in an alternate America, rather than using Frontier America solely as a culture base.


Posted by Jvstin at 8:27 AM

December 31, 2008

Final Book Tally 2008

My final Book list from 2008.

51 Books, down from last year. 13 books were Advanced Reader Copies or books given in expectation of a review--from Amazon Vine, from Library Thing, and personally sent as well. It was a good year for expanding my horizons in that fashion.

As I said in the entry when I mentioned being chosen to participate in a Mind Meld, I may be a 5th rate blog, but a few people do come by here. I do hope you'll continue to come by in 2009 as I discuss books, science fiction, and a phethora of other subjects.

51 Prospero Lost, L Jagi Lamplighter
50 Champlain's Dream, David Fischer
49 The Universe Twister, Keith Laumner
48 City at the End of Time, Greg Bear
47 Sharing Knife: Horizon, Lois M Bujold
46 Sharing Knife: Passage, Lois M Bujold
45 Atlas of Lost Cities,Brenda Rosen
44 Adventures in Unhistory, Avram Davidson
43 Necropath, Eric Brown
42 After the Downfall, Harry Turtledove
41 Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton
40 The Golden Key, Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott
39 From Colony to Superpower, George Herring
38 Kushiel's Justice, Jacqueline Carey
37 Nation, Terry Pratchett
36 Implied Spaces,Walter Jon Williams
35 Legacies, L.E. Modesitt
34 Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear
33 Axis, Robert Charles Wilson
32 Selling Out, Justina Robson
31 The Shadows of God, Gregory Keyes
30 The Code Book, Simon Singh
29 The Last Dragon, J M Mcdermott
28 The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Matthew Hughes
27 Majestrum, Matthew Hughes
26 Dzur, Steven Brust
25 Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois (editor)
24 The Rosetta Key, William Dietrich
23 The Twisted Citadel, Sara Douglass
22 Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

21 The Martian General's Daughter, Theodore Judson
20 The Gate of Gods, Martha Wells
19 A World too Near, Kay Kenyon
18 In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, S.M. Stirling
17 Reaper's Gale, Steven Erikson
16 The Merchants War,Charles Stross
15 Silverlock, John Myers Myers
14 The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
13 The Dragon's Nine Sons, Chris Roberson
12 A Shadow in Summer, Daniel Abraham
11 The Eternity Artifact, L.E. Modesitt
10 Wolf Who Rules, Wen Spencer
09 Hiding in the Mirror, Lawrence Krauss
08 The Stars my Destination, Alfred Bester
07 Opening Atlantis, Harry Turtledove
06 Death by Black Hole, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
05 Now in Theaters Everywhere, Kenneth Turan
04 Never Coming to a Theater Near You, Kenneth Turan
03 Plague Year, Jeff Carlson
02 Writers of the Future Volume XXIII, Algis Budrys (editor)

01 The Trojan War a new history, Barry Strauss

Posted by Jvstin at 6:01 PM

December 29, 2008

We are literate up here, you betcha

Most Literate Cities
Once again, bookworms in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest have beaten out Yankee types to reach the very top of a researcher's list of the most literate American cities.

Minneapolis and Seattle tied for the top ranking this year, based on local newspaper and magazine circulation, library data, online news readership, book purchases and resources, and educational attainment.

Here is the full Top 10 Most Literate list for 2008 (OK, there are 11 cities on the list) generated by Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University:

Minneapolis (tied for 1st)
Seattle (tied for 1st)
Washington, D.C.
St. Paul, Minn.
San Francisco
Atlanta
Denver
Boston
St. Louis
Cincinnati (tied for 10th)
Portland, Ore. (tied for 10th)

You will note that each of the Twin Cities came in tied for first, and Number 4 on this list.

So, if you are a science fiction author, you could do worse than a book signing at one of our two F/SF bookstores! And if you want to support an Independent bookstore that isn't explicitly F/SF, we have a boatload of them, too.

We read up here, you betcha. Blame it on the snow. What else are you going to do when the temperature is 10 below, the wind is howling and your satellite connection is out?

Posted by Jvstin at 8:34 PM

December 28, 2008

Book Review 2008 #51: Prospero Lost

My Fifty first, and probably last book of the year, won't be available to the general public for several months (and I will talk more about it again as publication date approaches).

The author is L. Jagi Lamplighter and the book is Prospero Lost, first in a trilogy of novels, Prospero's Daughter.

Shakespeare is a very common subject for fantasy. The fact that he has some fantasy within his own plays has proven inspirational to other authors using him and his works as inspiration for their own stories. I've read and am aware of a number of these. Sarah Hoyt's trilogy involving Shakespeare's interactions with Faerie. Elizabeth Willey's trio of novels had a Prospero as a sorcerer and estranged part of a world-spanning family, creating a land instead of exile on an island. My friend Elizabeth Bear has mined this territory in the back half of her Promethean Age novels (although she is as much a fan of Kit Marlowe as Shakespeare).


Into this field has waded L. Jagi Lamplighter. Her husband is John C. Wright, whose own style and tastes range from the Golden Age trilogy, through the Orphans of Chaos trilogy, to, of all things, a sequel to a Van Vogt novel. It would be a mistake to think, though, that Lamplighter's style and sensibilities are a clone of her husband.

No, what she has created in Prospero's Lost is quite different. Modern Day, Our Earth Fantasy is very common these days, but it seems that every other book in the F/SF section is a Vampire novel, one way or another. Fantasy is in ascendancy over Science Fiction, and Vampires are leading over other types of fantasy.

Thankfully for me, Prospero's Lost is a fantasy of a different type. It might be helpfully be classified as a Secret Arcane History. In Lamplighter's universe, there is a hierarchy of arcane beings with the detail and complexity of a Gnostic universe. The novel's heroine, Miranda, tangles and meets with demons, elves, elementals, magicians, and even Santa Claus (a depiction that reminded this reader of the Narnian version as much as traditional depictions). There are references to unicorns, angels, and other beings between Man and God. The universe is a Christian universe and Protestant-Catholic theology comes into the plot, however, Lamplighter effectively populates the spaces between Demons, Man, Angels and God. Most people in this world have no idea of these beings, of course. In that sense, I wonder if Lamplighter has read the RPG Nobilis for some inspiration on the complex mythology.

The story is the growth and development of Miranda.Devoted daughter of her father, Prospero, ageless and virginal, the disappearance of her father spurs her out, in true Hero fashion, from the comfort of her home to find her diasporatic siblings, in a quest to find (and save) her father. Along the way, in a fashion that reminded me a bit of Pratt and De Camp, we have an elemental modeled along the lines of a noir detective, a modern day Circe, an aging demon hunter, hell hounds, narrow escapes, adventures and Christmas Dinner at the House of Santa Claus. Flashbacks, that help establish the characters and their motivations. And the Three Shadowed Ones and the mystery of just what happened to the patriarch of the clan.

Okay, I've gotten this far without invoking Mr. Zelazny but I will now. Lamplighter is a fan of Zelazny (she cut her teeth on the ADRPG) and although these are new characters, on a Secret History Earth, the influence of Zelazny on this novel is similar to, say, the aforementioned Elizabeth Willey novels. The author clearly has read and loved Roger's work (like her husband does) and it has flavored this work (again, like John's Orphans of Chaos). It was a conscious effort on my part to decide that the Circe-like sister to Miranda "is definitely not Fiona after all". So don't come to this book looking explicitly for Jack of Shadows or Corwin analogues, but people who devour Zelazny's oeuvre will definitely appreciate Lamplighter's sensibilities and writing.

It's a first novel, so I expect the first-novel writing (which might also be a consequence of reading an ARC) to improve in subsequent novels. This book was a fitting and highly pleasurable way to end the year.

Watch for it.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:19 AM

December 24, 2008

Mind Meld Participation

Mind Meld.

The fine folks at SF Signal occasionally do a little project they call "Mind Meld", when they ask SF authors and others questions on various topics. They've been doing a several part series on "The Best Genre Related Books/Films/Shows/Games Consumed In 2008".

In their latest installment, Part III, despite me being a fifth(sixth? nth?) rate blogger, they decided to ask, amongst other people, ME.

Go and read how I answered the question!

Posted by Jvstin at 5:49 AM

December 18, 2008

Book Review 2008 #50: Champlain's Dream

Another book given to me in exchange for a review (via Amazon Prime), Champlain's Dream is the history of the explorer Samuel De Champlain, written by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Hackett Fischer.

Now well known for his Pulitzer Prize winning history, Washington's Crossing, in Champlain's Dream, David Hackett Fischer tackles the father of New France, explorer and colonizer Samuel de Champlain.

Although the volume veers slightly toward hagiography (despite the author's protestations to the contrary), Champlain's Dream is an exhaustive and detailed look at Champlain and his world. Starting with the sociopolitical and religious milieu of southwestern France in the 16th century, and continuing through the book, Fischer gives us an education on the environment in which Champlain grew up. I learned more about 16th and 17th century in this one volume than I have in an entire college course on European history.

The detail on Champlain the man and his actions and history is also similarly comprehensive. Although his admiration for Champlain comes through on every page, Fischer does try to give a balanced look at Champlain and his works. Fischer's thesis is that Champlain, raised in the cosmopolitan town of Brouage, carried a philosophy of tolerance and propensity to America in his relations with the Native American tribes. This multiculturalism and ethos is presented in stark contrast to the experiences of English and especially Spanish America.

Even given the author's obvious admiration for the subject, the biography is very well written, with a command of the language I could only wish was in modern high school and college textbooks. You won't be bored to tears reading about Champlain's adventures as a spy in Spanish colonies, or his explorations of the St. Lawrence Valley, or his attempts to continue to secure funding against competing interests in the Court of the French Kings.

Appendixes to the main text include copious footnotes, a discussion of the true age of Champlain (not clear cut, given the lack of records in the time period), and a discussion of how the biographies and view of Champlain have changed over time.

I enjoyed the volume quite a bit, and strongly recommend this book to all history buffs.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:21 PM

December 5, 2008

Book Review 2008 #49: The Universe Twister

The Universe Twister is an omnibus of three Lafeyette O' Leary novels by the late Keith Laumer.

Lafayette O' Leary is somewhat different than the typical Laumer protagonist. A draftsman living hand-to-mouth, he has dreams and thoughts of other worlds, even as his mundane reality is rather drab and uninspiring.

A book on self hypnosis, however, proves to shake up Lafayette's world, catapulting him to a quasi-fantasy world called Artesia. Our protagonist isn't even sure that any of this is real, and even if it is, the power of common sense and explanations will get him out of his jams.

Or so he thinks.

And when he saves the kingdom and gets himself a wife, and gets the situation straightened out, he still finds himself falling into further adventures in other continua, with the same sort of results...

If you take The Incompleat Enchanter, with a dollop of Don Quixote, and set the lines to a strictly pulp formula, level and pacing, you will wind up with something like the three novels that comprise the Universe Twister. The book was entertaining in its way, certainly, but the more I read it, the more I missed the better writing and stories of Harold Shea.

Don't get me wrong, I love some of Laumer's other work (Retief, for example). Here, though, he is cribbing a lot from Pratt and De Camp, and even though he has his own spins on the idea of someone traveling to other universes by mental means, the end product never rises above the level and quality of pulp potboiler.

I had higher hopes, which were not fulfilled. The novels in the Universe Twister weren't bad, but not as good as I hoped they would be.


Posted by Jvstin at 9:39 PM

Book Review 2008 #48: City at the End of Time

City at the End of Time is an attempt to meld Borgean and Stapledonian themes by Greg Bear.

Set in two time frames, present day Seattle, and the far, far, far future, City at the End of Time is an ambitious novel by a novelist who in the past has reached for ambitious large works (Eon, Forge of God, Blood Music) but more recently has been writing technothrillers like Quantico.

In City at the End of Time, Bear tries to reach for those heights of ambition again, while not quite getting there. The action follows several young protagonists in both time frames, who are linked in some fashion that only slowly becomes clear throughout the novel (and even then, things are left ambiguous). Add in strange enemies reaching across time, both on a personal level, an archetype level ("The Chalk Princess"), and an amorphous all encompassing enemy called Chaos, and you can begin to see the scope and panorama of Bear's brush.

The nature of Chaos, both in the far future of its assault on the epynomous city (and as it bleeds into the present, its relationship with books and reality) reminded me strongly of Bear's writing in a fantasy novel, Songs of Earth and Power. The Borgean themes of the power of books and story (in both time frames) mix in with the time scales of the novel a la Olaf Stapledon; however we never really feel the gulf of time between here and then as we do in his work. One might also cite Zelazny as an inspiration for some of these

With that weakness aside, the writing is vivid and haunting (especially the scenes set in the strange far future.) While the far future protagonists might be *too* human, the modern characters are sympathetic and interesting, especially given their odd "abilities". I think perhaps Bear has been away from the deeper realms of SF too long, and that is a reason why the novel doesn't work on all cylinders.

Nevertheless, I welcome Bear's return to the realms of SF, even if its decidedly imperfect.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:13 PM

December 3, 2008

Today in Literary History--the Agatha Christie Mystery

It was on this day in 1926 that the mystery novelist Agatha Christie disappeared from her home in Berkshire, England. Her abandoned car was found in a chalk pit seven miles from her house. The whole country was fascinated, and the story got lots of media attention. Police and ordinary citizens alike organized huge search parties.
Then, 11 days later, Agatha Christie was found in a luxury hotel. She was staying under a different name, and she claimed that she couldn't remember a thing. It had been a hard year for Christie -- her mother had died, and her husband had left her for his young mistress. To this day, no one knows if she had legitimate amnesia, or if it was a publicity stunt to raise book sales, or a way to publicly expose her husband's infidelity. But all the media attention made her even more famous, and she ended up as one of the best-selling authors of all time.

People who have watched the fourth season of the reboot of Doctor Who (Tennant as the Doctor, with Catherine Tate as Donna), know what really happened...

Posted by Jvstin at 4:35 AM

December 2, 2008

The Zelazny Project?!

http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Zelazny-Project.html

From the webpage:

We plan to print a complete collection of Roger Zelazny's short fiction and poetry, in (most likely) six hardcover volumes. We expect to include all published fiction and poetry we can find, however obscurely published, and a number of unpublished works retrieved from Zelazny's archived papers. We also expect to include the shorter early versions of several novels, several novel excerpts that were published independently as short works and a few of Zelazny's articles on topics of interest to him.

For volumes like this, I love NESFA Press. If I lived in NE, I would surely be a member.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:17 PM

November 30, 2008

Today in Literary History

It's the birthday of Mark Twain, (books by this author) born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. When he was young, his family moved to Hannibal, a Missouri town along the banks of the Mississippi and a frequent stop for steamboats. And in fact, after a few years working as a printer, he became a steamboat captain, which is where he got his pseudonym: "mark twain" is the call when the water is two fathoms deep -- about 12 feet -- which is deep enough for a boat to navigate safely.

One of the worst (IMO) depictions of Mark Twain as a character occurred in the Star Trek The Next Generation 2-part episode: "Time's Arrow". While the idea was cool and seems to work from a logical time travel sort of sense, the depiction of Mark Twain broke the historical character for me. And while I admire their steadfastness in not using a reset button and having the memory of the 24th century erased from Clemens, I can't help but think that someone like Mark Twain would have tried to make use of his knowledge, however subtly, once the Enterprise crew left.

At least when Doctor Who met Charles Dickens in an analogous manner, it was just before his death and changes to the timeline were going to be minimal. Here, Clemens would have over a decade after the meeting with the Enterprise crew.

When I read Silverlock for the first time: When the characters find a raft on the great river and start sailing it, it took me a minute and a few paragraphs to realize just what they found, I was gobsmacked. "Huck Finn's raft!"

Mark Twain was born exactly two weeks after Halley Comet's perihelion. In his biography, he said, "I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It's coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. The Almighty has said no doubt, 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.' " Twain died on April 21, 1910, the day following the comet's subsequent perihelion.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:16 AM

November 28, 2008

Even more Malazan novels?

From Locus:

Steven Erikson sold six new Malazan Book of the Fallen novels (the Kharkanas and Toklakai trologies) plus novella
collections The Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach volumes 1-3 to Eric Raab at Tor...

The original plan was for 10 novels (with #8 recently published). Which was ambitious enough! I suppose the story of the Malazan Empire et cetera "just grew".

Posted by Jvstin at 11:26 PM

November 11, 2008

The future of fiction. Novel versus Graphic Novel

http://www.lemodesittjr.com/blogs/blog/2008/11/future-of-fiction-its-meaning.html

On his blog, L.E. Modesitt discusses the future of fiction, and the decline of the standard novel in favor of graphic novels and Manga...

"The concern that I have about this shift is that reading, fiction in particular, requires the reader to construct a mental image of the setting and the events, rather than merely to observe and participate, as is the case for visually-based entertainment."

Compare and contrast this to Jane Lindskold, who talks about graphic novels and manga in more positive terms in "The Shortcomings of Words"

Considering that Lindskold is younger than Modesitt, is this a generational thing? Which one of them is right?

Posted by Jvstin at 1:50 PM

November 8, 2008

Amazon.com's best F/SF of the year

November begins the season where various outlets give their "best of" of various sliced up portions of media. Best games. Best books. Best books in various categories.

Amazon.com has their list of Best F/SF novels of the year. Half of these I have never heard of (and via Locus and other outlets, I consider myself well informed on the F/SF novel front). The list does include Banks, and Stephenson, and Novik and Jeffrey Ford, though.

However, #6 on their list is "Last Dragon" by J.M. McDermott. Readers of this space will recall that I did read an ARC of that novel this year, and thought it absolutely ailed as a literary work. It's style was a failure, rather than a triumph, and did not but obfuscate a story in a way that only people like Gene Wolfe manage to do with success.

6th best F/SF novel of the year? No, sorry, Amazon.com, I don't think so!

Posted by Jvstin at 11:30 AM

Book Review 2008 #47: Sharing Knife: Horizon

(disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing a review of its ARC)

Sharing Knife: Horizon is the fourth, and possibly final volume in the adventures of Dag and Fawn.

The Sharing Knife series comes to a stopping point, if not a conclusion, in this fourth volume in the story of Dag, a Lakewalker whose powers are maturing as he is growing older, and his young Farmer bride Fawn. The first two novels introduced us to the two of them, their romance, and the very different lives that comprise the two halves of their world. The third novel brought us on a grand river adventure south in the company of a motley set of companions ranging from Fawn's brother to a pair of runaway Lakewalker patrollers.

This fourth and final volume has the group start in the south, not long and not far where we left them by the sea, and takes us back to the north. Bujold shows a strong hand for story as Fawn and Dag meet the very different Lakewalkers in the south in New Moon, and then the characters that accompany them on the long road back north and east.

Such a long overland adventure is bound to be full of adventure, and, reaching back to the second novel, Bujold places yet another menace, a unique and dangerous malice and its horrifying minions in the way of the party. The action and adventure are a little more front and center in this novel as opposed to the third. The romance angle of the first two novels is less in evidence here. There is some, but less humor than the previous novels.

Bujold's strength,though, always has been strong characters, from the "top of the ticket" in Dag and Fawn, down to the minor characters, and even minor characters whom we meet only once. It's the characterizations and the interactions between the characters that Bujold homes in on. I remember listening to an interview of Bujold for the old SF Encyclopedia, where she talks about her desire to explore the psychology of characters (internal and external). Since then, I've looked for that in her novels and seen what she means by that. Sharing Knife: Horizon is an exemplar of her writing philosophy at work.

The end of the book neatly wraps up the story of Dag and Fawn in the Sharing Knife world, and it seems to me that Bujold is looking to the future where she is going to write novels with different characters, or a different world entirely. Sharing Knife: Horizon is an excellent capstone to the series. Once again, while it would be plausible for a new reader to pick up this volume and be quickly immersed in the world, I think the volume works best having read the previous books in the series.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:00 AM

Book Review 2008 #46: Sharing Knife: Passage

(disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing a review of an ARC of its sequel, SK: Horizon).

Sharing Knife: Passage is the third book in the Sharing Knife series by Lois M Bujold.

The Sharing Knife novels are set in a post-apocalypse low-tech fantasy world that strongly resembles the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys of what was called in the 19th century "The Northwest Territory". A high civilization of magic fell, leaving farmers, trying to get along in small communities, Lakewalkers, Ranger-like users of minor magics, and malices, leftovers of that high civilization which threaten farmer and Lakewalkers (who hunt them) alike. And despite their common foe, Lakewalkers and farmers trust each other not at all...

The first two novels introduced us to Dag, a one-armed world-weary Lakewalker who falls for farmer girl Fawn Bluefield. In the first, the two meet and are introduced to Fawn's family, and the relationship slowly grows between them. The second novel reverses this and has Dag bring his now farmer bride to Lakewalker country, to meet Dag's Lakewalkers and also deal with an even more powerful malice than in the first novel, the way that they met.

In this third novel, Fawn and Dag go south. Accompanied by Fawn's younger brother Whit, the three collect companions on what becomes a flat boat adventure down a river suspiciously similar to the Ohio. We meet new characters like Berry, who owns the boat and is seeking her lost fiance and father who took a boat down river and never returned. We meet a pair of runaway Lakewalkers who wind up under Dag's tutelage. And add to that a farmer that Dag's experiments with being a healer who gets beguiled by mistake, and you wind up with a crowded but interesting set of characters for the journey.

As in the previous novels and in this series, we get subtle hints of worldbuilding, interesting character dynamics and psychology (a Bujold specialty!) and (a little less often) action and adventure. I won't give away just what Dag, Fawn and company find on the river, I leave that pleasure for the reader to discover. It's a journey of discovery, in several senses. This book is a little more down than the previous two novels, but only by a moderate degree.

I wouldn't start the series here by any means. However, this is a worthy successor to the first two SK novels and if you have read those two, you will be satisfied with this third volume set in that world.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:41 AM

November 2, 2008

Book Review 2008 #45: Atlas of Lost Cities

Next up on the book review front, The Atlas of Lost Cities by Brenda Rosen

Brenda Rosen's Atlas of Lost Cities is not so much an atlas (although there are definitely maps and diagrams) as much as its a guidebook to lost cities. Cities are born, grow and die, and some are lost, to one degree or another.

The Atlas of Lost Cities takes on a number of these lost cities. The entries are arranged thematically in a slightly idiosyncratic fashion. Rather than by geography or age, the cities are arranged by theme. Thus, for example, we have "Cities of the Sea", cities which were lost to the sea (or lost one way or another their sea connection) which includes Akrotiti, Dunwich and Mahabalipuram. "Cities hidden by mists and mountains" gives us entries on Petra, Machu Picchu and Pompeii.

I was a bit annoyed by this layout, which makes it less than useful in trying to find an individual city. There is no index of just the cities, either. So, finding Technochtitlan, for example is a bit of a challenge. Is it under Cities of Hills and Mountains? Cities of Kings? No, its under Cities of the Hills and Plains.

With these criticisms aside, the individual entries, ranging from one to two pages, are brief, but adorned with beautiful photography and diagrams of many of the cities. Each of the themes has a frontispiece section about the theme, sometimes briefly mentioning cities not given full entries, or about mythical cities on the theme.

Even if the individual entries are a bit short IMO, and the layout could have been better, the collection together is an interesting and well thought out group of cities. It's an enjoyable book to flip through, and randomly learn a bit about places familiar and unfamiliar, like Pelaque, or Nineveh, or Vineta.

My gaming friends might like this book for ideas for lost civilizations and other exotic locales for pulp games and the like.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:38 AM

October 18, 2008

Books Read this Year Oct 18,2008--This has been the year of ARCs

This has been the year of advance reader's copies for me.

Between Amazon Vine, LibraryThing, other sources, and even a couple of books from a friend (Tony Pi) who asked me nicely to read a book with a story of his in it and a book of a friend of his, I have been reading ARCs this year.

Out of the 44 books I've read so far this year, nine have been ARCs (in bold)!

44 Adventures in Unhistory, Avram Davidson
43 Necropath, Eric Brown
42 After the Downfall, Harry Turtledove
41 Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton
40 The Golden Key, Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott
39 From Colony to Superpower, George Herring
38 Kushiel's Justice, Jacqueline Carey
37 Nation, Terry Pratchett
36 Implied Spaces,Walter Jon Williams
35 Legacies, L.E. Modesitt
34 Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear
33 Axis, Robert Charles Wilson
32 Selling Out, Justina Robson
31 The Shadows of God, Gregory Keyes
30 The Code Book, Simon Singh
29 The Last Dragon, J M Mcdermott
28 The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Matthew Hughes
27 Majestrum, Matthew Hughes
26 Dzur, Steven Brust
25 Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois (editor)
24 The Rosetta Key, William Dietrich
23 The Twisted Citadel, Sara Douglass
22 Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

21 The Martian General's Daughter, Theodore Judson
20 The Gate of Gods, Martha Wells
19 A World too Near, Kay Kenyon
18 In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, S.M. Stirling
17 Reaper's Gale, Steven Erikson
16 The Merchants War,Charles Stross
15 Silverlock, John Myers Myers
14 The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
13 The Dragon's Nine Sons, Chris Roberson
12 A Shadow in Summer, Daniel Abraham
11 The Eternity Artifact, L.E. Modesitt
10 Wolf Who Rules, Wen Spencer
09 Hiding in the Mirror, Lawrence Krauss
08 The Stars my Destination, Alfred Bester
07 Opening Atlantis, Harry Turtledove
06 Death by Black Hole, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
05 Now in Theaters Everywhere, Kenneth Turan
04 Never Coming to a Theater Near You, Kenneth Turan
03 Plague Year, Jeff Carlson
02 Writers of the Future Volume XXIII, Algis Budrys (editor)

01 The Trojan War a new history, Barry Strauss

Oh, and did I mention that EOS books has just given me two L.M. Bujold Sharing novels to read and review? Those are next on my to-read pile.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:57 AM

Book Review 2008 #44: Adventures in Unhistory

Adventures in Unhistory is a collection of columns in Issac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine by the late Avram Davidson in the 1980's. In these columns, Davidson takes on a mythological/fantastic subject that has fascinated people for centuries, and unwinds its history and origins in popular culture, and tries to find the grain of truth in the mountain of myth and legend.

Its a wonderful set of essays. The style of Davidson is conversational, jovial, joking, digressive but in the end illuminating and entertaining. As I read his analysis of mermaids, werewolves, dragons, Aleister Crowley and others, I could imagine myself in a deli in Manhattan, listening to Davidson over a bagel and coffee explain in a style that has to be read to be fully enjoyed. Here he is in an essay about Sindbad (Sinbad) with one of his side digressions...

In a way, there really was a Sindbad, sort of;his name was Mohammed Ibn Battuta;and he was a Berber, a native of Northwest Africa;if anything, as far as time and territory are involved, he out Sindbaded Sindbad. I believe that he spent something like 34 years in travelling, from Morocco to China, and back again. The only troube is that he didn't draw the long bow near as much. Perhaps he had been influenced by Sindbad, perhaps he was a reincarnation. Even if you have never heard of him you have heard of anyway one of his stories, under the name of the Indian Rope Trick: evidently Ibn Battuta was the first to mention it in writing.

I'm tempted to bring in Ibn Battuta right along here because of his Sindbadian parallels or whatever; or also because his life experiences are so exceedingly interesting. But I think I'll withstand the temptation and perhaps employ him or them some other time...perhaps in and adventure entitled The Man Who Was Sindbad the Sailor. Perhaps...and perhaps not.


Anyway, the book is a real treasure, and I enjoyed it immensely. I can think of a few of my friends who will love this, if they haven't already beaten me to reading Davidson's work.

My only regret is that it was too short. I don't know how many of these columns he actually wrote; if another volume of his columns were collected and published, I'd get it in a heartbeat.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:47 AM

Book Review 2008 #43: Necropath

My forty third book of the year is *another* ARC (a point I am going to address in a separate post. Anyway, this book is Necropath, a sf novel, the first in a series (of course!), by Eric Brown.

The setting (mostly) is Bengal Station, a starport in the Indian Ocean between Burma and India. The time frame is sometime in the future. Faster than Light travel is a fact of life, as are aliens, and human colonies on other worlds. Bengal Station is a contact point for voidships, the ships that travel between these other planets. It's a large, labyrinthine construct that reminds one a little bit of a planetbound Babylon 5. The rich, the poor, the desperate, the greedy all come to live and work here.

Jeff Vaughn is a telepath. Augmentations have given him the ability, and the curse, to hear other people's thoughts. One can make a living scanning for a living, and Vaughn makes a living doing so. He is not so comfortable, though, that he isn't intimately familiar with the darker sides of Bengal Station. And when a crippled beggar girl turns up dead, Vaughn's life will not be the same, and his journey to unravel the mystery of her death puts him face to face with a sinister, stars-spanning cult...

It's a great premise and setting, anyway. Telepaths, aliens, interstellar travel, Thai and Indian culture front and forward, a plot that plausibly could last several novels. The ingredients are all here for something really to enjoy. And yet, for me, it just didn't work. I wanted to like this novel, and I couldn't.

First, I didn't like the main character that much. He's not a d*ck but I found it difficult to sympathize with him, even given his haunted,dark past. Worse, the characterizations of other characters, major and minor, didn't work for me either. I couldn't fathom the relationship between Osborne and Sukara. It felt false to me and seemed to be only a way to get the both of them to Bengal Station.

And the novel completely broke for me when, giving evidence of the problem to the police, Vaughn is at first completely blown off by Commander Sinton as being unreliable and untrustworthy (and naturally not believed)...and then nearly in the same breath, the same officer tries to offer Vaughn a job! It made absolutely no sense and I nearly threw the book against the wall. I can understand for plot reasons (cliches) why the officer would not believe Vaughn, but the sudden whiplash of trying to hook Vaughn into a job in the same debriefing made absolutely no sense.

I think that its more me than the novel and while others might enjoy the book more, I did not. I have no plans on continuing to read the author or of Vaughn's adventures.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:30 AM

Book Review 2008 #42: After the Downfall

It's been a little while, too long I think, since I've read one of Dr. Harry Turtledove's novels. With After the Downfall, I remedied that deficiency.

After the Downfall, by Harry Turtledove feels somewhat familiar to an experienced reader of Turtledove's work. We have a fantasy world with unusual magic. We have a sympathetic Wehrmacht officer in the mold of Heinrich Jäger from the Worldwar series. We have some speculations on the nature of Gods (Goddesses actually) in a world where belief in them gives them power. We get medieval battle tactics. We get sex.

In this case, however, Turtledove decides to mix them together, add some interesting characters and see what comes out of such alchemy.

Hasso Pemsel is not having a good day. You wouldn't either if you were a German army officer in 1945, with the Russians knocking on the door of the Museum in Berlin you have been, improbably, been asked to guard.

Joking around with his soldiers, he sits on an Omphalos stone...and finds himself in a different world entirely. With his gun, he saves a blond bombshell from a group of pursuers armed with primitive weapons. His reward from the woman for saving her from her pursuers is somewhat unexpected, but it puts him foursquare on the side of her people, the Lenelli, in their own pursuit of lebensraum in a new land. Hasso learns the language, learns how special Velona really is (a sometime avatar of the Goddess of the Lenelli) and joins their struggle against their even more primitive neighbors in a world of medieval weapons and magic. Fortunately, while Hasso's ammo is limited, his knowledge and ability to help his new found friends is not.


Homage to L Sprague De Camp (a la Martin Padway or Harold Shea)? I think so. Wish fulfillment for Hasso? No. Unfortunately, for Hasso, he gets a dose of reality when he gets fully engaged in a war between the Lenelli and the Grenye...

As I said above, the novel does have elements seen in Turtledove's earlier work. It would be a mistake to say this was a paint by numbers affair, since he does explore sociological questions in a new way, and some of the mid-rank characters are interesting and well developed (in addition to Hasso, who has the most character growth of course). Turtledove lets us learn more about Hasso's new world in bits and pieces and we get a real sense of what's going on, and the readers sympathies can gradually and naturally change along with the protagonist's. Its not really a spoiler to suggest that the Lenelli-Grenye struggle is very much analogous to the German-Russian portion of the conflict of World War II. The historical allegory is strong, but not overpowering.

I wouldn't start here as a first Turtledove novel.It's not Turtledove's best novel, but fans of Turtledove (like me) who have read a decent spread of his work will certainly enjoy it.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:00 AM

October 12, 2008

Book Review 2008 #41: Tooth and Claw

The 41st book of the year that I read was Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton.

While this space would normally be my review, I am withholding a review at this time. As it so happens, I have been contracted to provide a review of this novel for the steampunk Second Life publication The Primgraph (sister publication to Prim Perfect). So, to avoid a conflict of interest, I am not going to write a review. Suffice it to say that I highly enjoyed this novel of dragons in a Victorian mode. Walton is an extremely good writer.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:08 AM

October 11, 2008

Book Review 2008 #40: The Golden Key

I got a bit behind on my reviews thanks to vacations and what not. So let's get back on track.

The Golden Key is a fantasy novel set in a Iberian flavored fantasy world, written by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott.

The Golden Key's universe and magic revolves around the use of art as a tool for communication, political power, and it turns out, arcane power as well. The novel is episodic, starting with the rise to power and the discovery of real power by a brilliant artist, Sario Grijalva of Tira Verte. The Grijalvas, after a tragedy years ago, have fallen from grace, power and are pitied, if not feared, by the population at large. Despite their talents with art, being a Grijalva is not an easy or particularly desirable life.

Sario, however, has ambition. This ambition leads him to the lair of a Tza'ab (stand in for Berbers or North Africans) living in the heart of the city. His secret power, combined with Sario's knowledge, leads Sario to discoveries to allow him to live in a serial fashion in other people's bodies...and to also imprison Saavendra, the cousin that he loves, in a portrait...

The novel then leapfrogs over the next centuries, as Sario's machinations in his various lives lead to a rise to power for the Grijalvas, even as political and other developments slowly change Tira Virte in ways that even Sario cannot predict and control.

Thus, in a 900 page novel, we really get a complete fantasy series, with a variety of characters strung out along the history of Tira Virte, with Sario and the portrait of Saavendra as the hooks that keep the story together. Add in the intriguing magic system (which any player in Amber would think of ideas for Trumps thereby), great characterization, and vivid writing, and mix well.

This could have been envisioned as an interminable fantasy series, but as one volume, the writing is crisp and rarely if ever flags. The three writers collaborate and write together seamlesly. The novel was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award, and after reading it, I have to wonder, just what novel managed to beat it for that prize.

I recommend it to epic fantasy fans unreservedly.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:48 AM

August 23, 2008

Book Review 2008 #39: From Colony to Superpower

Over the last couple of decades, Oxford University Press has been putting together a history of the United States from a variety of authors, slicing up the history of the Republic in numerous, detailed volumes.

An exception to that pattern, George Herrings FROM COLONY TO SUPERPOWER takes on the entire history of the United States. However, it takes on just one piece of that history, albeit a large one: foreign policy. Herring's volume looks at the U.S.'s relations with other powers from the Revolution straight through to the George W. Bush administration.

His thesis is that America has great ideals in the abstract which it has not always successfully brought in practice to its application of its foreign policy.

Herring brings a comprehensive, considered and balanced approach to the material. While he does have opinions, and certain subjects are clearly more favored than others, Herring takes pains to minimize his point of view.

When Herring does present a strong point of view, however, he infallibly provides in a footnote a source or volume that provides a different point of view. For example, Herring takes issue with the machinations that brought Panama independence from Colombia and gave the US the freedom to create the Panama Canal. And yet, even as he does this, he provides a competing source that exonerates Roosevelt.

Even those Presidents whom Herring seems to disagree politically with are critically evaluated for their contributions, positive and negative, to the narrative of US Foreign Policy. And those Presidents and figures that Herring admires are called out when they failed to live up to their ideals.

This careful balancing of viewpoints and pains to remain non partisan means that, given the breadth of the subject, the book is long. And if the reader is inclined to read more on one particular piece of American Foreign Policy history, there is a bibliographic essay (as opposed to a straight,dry, bibliography) where Herring discusses numerous other volumes for further reading.

The book took me several weeks to savor and digest, however these weeks were worth it. I learned an enormous amount about US Foreign Policy, as if I had taken a college course on the subject. If you have the time and inclination to learn about US Foreign Policy, Herring has created the definitive volume on the subject.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:03 AM

August 17, 2008

Book Review 2008 #38: Kushiel's Justice

Kushiel's Justice is the second in the Imriel Trilogy of Jacqueline Carey, and thus the fifth book overall set in her sumptuous alternate history set around Terre D'Ange, the land of angels.

Not for those new to this series or the author, Kushiel's Justice continues to highlight Carey's strongest suit, world-building, as we continue to follow the story of Imriel. The son of the disgraced Melisande Shahrazai matures in this novel, and his refusal to follow the precept of Blessed Elua (with respect to his secret lover) has far reaching, and tragic consequences.

Carey's worldbuilding and Imriel's adventures bring him a marriage, a trip to Alba (England), and the loss of his wife takes him to a completely new land in the series: Vralia (in our world, Russia). The details of her alternate world continue to be teased out, and kept me as a reader continuing to read.Carey has quickly catapulted herself to the level of the best writers of alternate history in this regard.

I am not convinced that Imriel is quite as good a protagonist as Phedre was; I have a sneaking suspicion that in the reversal of the usual problem, Carey writes female characters in far better detail and motivation than her male characters. Indeed, I found the daughters of the Queen, Alais and Sidonie, somewhat more convincing than Imriel himself as a character. Still, Imriel does grow throughout the book and I look forward to seeing if this character growth is sustained in the third and final novel of the series.

Anyone who has followed Carey's novels to this point will not be disappointed in Kushiel's Justice.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:33 PM

August 9, 2008

Hugo Winners

With an instant on world, the results of the Hugo Awards are already known.

Full results after the cut, but let me say here, congratulations to my friend and fellow gamer Elizabeth Bear, who won for best short story, "Tideline".

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer

Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

WINNER: Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Fanzine

Argentus, edited by Steven H Silver
Challenger, edited by Guy Lillian III
Drink Tank, edited by Chris Garcia
File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
PLOKTA, edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies, and Mike Scott

WINNER: File 770

Best Fan Writer

Chris Garcia
David Langford
Cheryl Morgan
John Scalzi
Steven H Silver

WINNER: John Scalzi

Best Fan Artist

Brad Foster
Teddy Harvia
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

WINNER: Brad Foster

Best Professional Artist

Bob Eggleton
Phil Foglio
John Harris
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

WINNER: Stephan Martiniere

Best Semiprozine

Ansible, edited by David Langford
Helix, edited by William Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans
Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
Locus, edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, and Liza Groen Trombi
The New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kristine Dikeman, David Hartwell, and Kevin J. Maroney

WINNER: Locus

Best Related Book

The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Glyer; appendix by David Bratman (Kent State University Press)
Breakfast in the Ruins: Science Fiction in the Last Millennium by Barry Malzberg (Baen)
Emshwiller: Infinity x Two by Luis Ortiz, introduction by Carol Emshwiller, forward by Alex Eisenstein (Nonstop)
Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

WINNER: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Battlestar Galactica "Razor" Written by Michael Taylor Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá and Wayne Rose (Sci Fi Channel) (televised version, not DVD)
Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
Doctor Who "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood" Written by Paul Cornell Directed by Charles Palmer (BBC)
Star Trek New Voyages "World Enough and Time" Written by Michael Reaves and Marc Scott Zicree Directed by Marc Scott Zicree (Cawley Entertainment Co. and The Magic Time Co.)
Torchwood "Captain Jack Harkness" Written by Catherine Tregenna Directed by Ashley Way (BBC Wales)

WINNER: Doctor Who "Blink"

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Enchanted Written by Bill Kelly Directed by Kevin Lima (Walt Disney Pictures)
The Golden Compass Written by Chris Weitz Based on the novel by Philip Pullman, Directed by Chris Weitz (New Line Cinema)
Heroes, Season 1 Created by Tim Kring (NBC Universal Television and Tailwind Productions) Written by Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, Natalie Chaidez, Jesse Alexander, Adam Armus, Aron Eli Coleite, Joe Pokaski, Christopher Zatta, Chuck Kim. Directed by David Semel, Allan Arkush, Greg Beeman, Ernest R. Dickerson, Paul Shapiro, Donna Deitch, Paul A. Edwards, John Badham, Terrence O'Hara, Jeannot Szwarc, Roxann Dawson, Kevin Bray, Adam Kane
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Written by Michael Goldenberg, Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, Directed by David Yates (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Stardust Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)

WINNER: Stardust

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Ellen Datlow (The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's), Coyote Road (Viking), Inferno (Tor))
Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
Jonathan Strahan (The New Space Opera (HarperCollins/Eos), The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1 (Night Shade), Eclipse One (Night Shade))
Gordon Van Gelder (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Sheila Williams (Asimov's Science Fiction)

WINNER: Gordon Van Gelder

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

Lou Anders (Pyr)
Ginjer Buchanan (Ace/Roc)
David G. Hartwell (Tor/Forge)
Beth Meacham (Tor)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor)

WINNER: David G. Hartwell

Best Short Story

"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. George Mann, Solaris Books)
"Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
"Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
"Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's April/May 2007)
"A Small Room in Koboldtown" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's April/May 2007; The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Tachyon Publications)

WINNER: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear

Best Novelette

"The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham (Logorrhea, ed. John Klima, BantamSpectra)
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; FandSF Sept. 2007)
"Dark Integers" by Greg Egan (Asimov's Oct./Nov. 2007)
"Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera, ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
"Finisterra" by David Moles (FandSF Dec. 2007)

WINNER: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang

Best Novella

"The Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
"Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (FandSF July 2007)
"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
"Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (FandSF April 2007)

WINNER: "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis

Best Novel

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan./Feb. 2007)
The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)
Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace)

WINNER: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Posted by Jvstin at 10:35 PM

July 26, 2008

Book Review 2008 #37: Nation

NB: I received an ARC of this book via the Amazon Vine Program. This book is slated for release in September.

Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld novels, ranging from the Colour of Magic to Making Money. Within that canon, Pratchett has written a few novels explicitly labeled for young adults (starting with the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents).

In Nation, though, Pratchett turns away from Discworld and starts a sui generis YA novel set on a world very much like, but subtly different, than our own 19th century Earth. Nation tells the story of two survivors of what can be deduced to be a tidal wave in the South Pacific (here, Pelagic) Ocean: Mau, a young native of these islands whose traditional growth and path to manhood is interrupted when his people are nearly wiped out, and Ermentrude, the daughter (and granddaughter) of British nobility who happened to be on a ship in these waters when disaster struck. We also get hints that there is a different disaster going on in the wider world, too.

Nation is the story of the rebuilding of Mau's Nation, as survivors meet and strive to survive on what remains of Mau's island.

With this simple (but not simplistic) plot and structure, Pratchett brings us a story of survival that YA readers will love, but also throws in a lot for adult readers as well. Touches of his humour, familiar to anyone who has read Discworld, abound. There is even traces of philosophy and weightier matters, but they are only frosting on the solid and densely delicious cake of the novel. Action, adventure, survival, humor, reflection. The novel has everything that a High School English Teacher might hope for in a book to teach students, and has the writing, wit, and entertainment value that will allow those students to actually enjoy reading it.

And to be clear, although its a YA novel, adult fans of Pratchett, like myself, will also highly enjoy this novel. Its not Discworld and doesn't pretend to be, but it has the same high quality of writing, well drawn characters, world building and entertainment value.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:07 AM

July 19, 2008

Book Review 2008 #36: Implied Spaces

It's not often that you read a novel which creates a subgenre, sui generis. Implied Spaces, by Walter Jon Williams, manages that feat with the inauguration of the "Sword and Singularity" subgenre of SF.

For those who don't know what a Singularity is, in brief, its the idea that when trans-human intelligences (be it computer, cyborg or what have you) come into existence, life and history as we know it will be utterly transformed, and life after it will be as alien to us as our modern technological existence is alien to our ancestors in the Paleolithic era.

In Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams creates a "sword and singularity" novel. What this means is, pace S.M. Stirling, is that fantasy ideas, tropes and even settings are convincingly melded with the high technology of a post-Singularity environment. We start off the novel in a fantasy world environment that, if it were just a random tidbit found on the internet, would at first look like a well written but ordinary fantasy novel. Aristide has a talking cat, sure, but in a world of trolls and monsters, that's not unusual.

When his sword comes out, and starts acting like Morgaine Chaya's Changeling, complete with a wormhole, the reader starts getting an inkling that there is much more to the universe than meets the eye. We soon get ever grander vistas and situations as, with Aristide as our guide, we meet A.I.'s, post-human characters, wormhole technology, mass drivers using wormholes as weapons, and technology capable of affecting the most fundamental elements of reality.

As Keanu Reeves famously once said: "Whoa!"

The book is philosophical, comic, action packed, thoughtful and stunningly well written. I've been a fan of Williams work for a long while, and he hits all cylinders here. This novel is precisely for people who can read good fat fantasy, and yet strongly appreciate the High-tech SF of, say, Charlie Stross.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:15 AM

July 13, 2008

Book Review 2008 #35: Legacies

Legacies is the first book in L.E. Modesitt's Corean Chronicles series.

Stop me if you have heard this story before.

Moderately capable young man from humble beginnings in an agrarian society slowly grows into strange and unusual abilities. Circumstances force him away from his pastoral home, forcing him to grow up. His benevolent land is under threat from lands both greedy and outright evil, and our hero is instrumental in dealing with these large threats to his small society.

Yeah, it sounds like, for those who have read it, a lot like Modesitt's Recluce novels. The magic system here is different, and this is a post-apocalypse world, where there are few people who can wield "Talent" for good or evil, and the technology is higher, but its very similar to Recluce. The writing is better than the early novels in that series, but the basic ur-text of the story is the same.

That said, we get some strange creatures, decently interesting politics, and hints of what this world lost when its fell. The battle scenes are all right, there is a fair amount in this novel devoted to battle tactics, since the hero is first conscripted, and then turned into a janissary.

Relationships...well, Modesitt still doesn't write romance. I guess he is better living a happy marriage and relationship than actually writing one. So Alucius, our hero, has a girl promising to wait for him, but the relationship's development really doesn't happen with any complexity.

Still, if you have read him before, and are tempted to read him again, you know what you are reading for, virtue wise. Complex worlds, competent heroes who might have doubt--but don't spend half the book doing nothing or moping about it. They get on, they progress, they are catalysts and protagonists.

I am of the opinion that his SF is much better than his fantasy, even if, especially given our economic times, he writes much more fantasy. So while I am not especially interested in continuing to read this series, it didn't offend me and I don't regret the time I took to do so. I mostly read it on my trip to and from The Black Road, and to kill time in an airport and an airplane, it served its purpose very well. I don't especially recommend it.

Still, if you wanted to try his fantasy for the first time, this is probably a good example of a book to do it, so you can get a feel for his writing style, his proclivities and peculiarities (Modesitt loves to write about food, for example...).

Posted by Jvstin at 8:24 AM

July 2, 2008

Books Read so Far this year (as of July 3 2008)

Since we're halfway through the year...

33 Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear
32 Axis, Robert Charles Wilson
31 Selling Out, Justina Robson
30 The Shadows of God, Gregory Keyes
29 The Code Book, Simon Singh
28 The Last Dragon, J M Mcdermott
27 The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Matthew Hughes
26 Majestrum, Matthew Hughes
25 Dzur, Steven Brust
24 Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois (editor)
23 The Twisted Citadel, Sara Douglass
22 Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
21 The Martian General's Daughter, Theodore Judson
20 The Gate of Gods, Martha Wells
19 A World too Near, Kay Kenyon
18 In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, S.M. Stirling
17 Reaper's Gale, Steven Erikson
16 The Merchants War,Charles Stross
15 Silverlock, John Myers Myers
14 The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
13 The Dragon's Nine Sons, Chris Roberson
12 A Shadow in Summer, Daniel Abraham
11 The Eternity Artifact, L.E. Modesitt
10 Wolf Who Rules, Wen Spencer
09 Hiding in the Mirror, Lawrence Krauss
08 The Stars my Destination, Alfred Bester
07 Opening Atlantis, Harry Turtledove
06 Death by Black Hole, Neil DeGrasse Tyson
05 Now in Theaters Everywhere, Kenneth Turan
04 Never Coming to a Theater Near You, Kenneth Turan
03 Plague Year, Jeff Carlson
02 Writers of the Future Volume XXIII, Algis Budrys (editor)
01 The Trojan War a new history, Barry Strauss

Posted by Jvstin at 8:13 PM

Book Review 2008 #34: Whiskey and Water

Whiskey and Water is the second book in Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age novels about a resurgence of Faerie and their conflicts with Mages in modern day NYC.

I loved Blood and Iron, the first book in this series, which was set around a fateful Halloween Night when the power of Faerie was unleashed in a visible and risble way, as conflicts between Faerie and the Promethean Mages, as well as riven divisions within Faerie led to the inescapable revelation to the modern world that Faerie was real, after all.

Of course this conflict has been at great cost for all of its participants, even the winners, and it is seven years later that we take up their stories again. Matthew Szczegielniak still teaches classes and has turned his back on his power. Jane Andraste, Maga, is about the only other Mage in NY of note that's left. Her half-fae daughter Elaine sits on the painful throne of the Seelie. Whiskey, the water elemental who holds Elaine's soul is still abroad...

And a series of murders by a Fae introduce us to new characters. Don, the cop who finds a connection with these sorcerous characters. Jewels and Geoff, young kids who quickly get in over their head.

Oh, and Kitten, aka Kit, aka Christopher Marlowe, ready to be released from Hell and walk abroad in Faerie and the world. Oh, and of course, the Devil. More than one, in fact.

And so with the players named, the tale is told and told well. The consequences of conflicts from the first book play out, and in addition to Faerie and the mundane world, Bear introduces us to a third realm in this book--Hell.

The book shouldn't be read by anyone who hasn't read B&I (and why haven't you read that,hmmm?). If anything, the writing of W&W is better, a more mature Bear's pen's words here flow like wine. Marlowe is one of Bear's favorite historical characters, and to see him brought to life in the modern world is a delight, but not the only one to be found in these pages.

After all, having been born and raised there, I was tickled pink that part of the climax, a wizard's duel, takes place on Staten Island.

I enjoyed Whiskey and Water highly. The 3rd novel in the Promethean Age, Ink and Steel, takes place 400 years earlier, during the rule of Elizabeth I. Will I read it? I already bought it, you betcha.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:52 PM

June 27, 2008

Book Review 2008 #33: Axis

Axis is the second novel in a trilogy, the sequel to the Hugo award-winning novel Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson.


I loved the first novel in this series (although I thought at the time that it was a standalone), which sets one of Wilson's classic Big Ideas in motion and takes us through it with interesting characters. What if unknown aliens put a time bubble around the Earth, so as to slow its aging relative to the rest of the universe?

At the end of that novel, the shield changes subtly, and a gateway to another world appears, a chance for a new world, a new life, and a new opportunity.

Axis takes us to that world, and continues to develop the universe of the Hypotheticals, once again through the eyes of his characters.

Honestly, though, this suffers from middle book syndrome. It's clear that Wilson hasn't written many series (any, I think) and the book's pacing suffers for not being a self-contained work. It relies heavily on the first book (reading this one without the second is futile) and the characters and events don't sing like the first novel. This one is much more reliant on the interesting ideas (a la Mysterium) than the actual writing and characters themselves. The characters (even one from Spin) aren't as well developed as the ones in Spin. In this respect, the book is a disappointing step backward for Wilson.

Its predecessor won the Hugo award for best novel, I do not expect this one to be nominated, except perhaps in a weak field. It's not a terrible book, merely an average one.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:29 PM

Book Review 2008 #32: Selling Out

Selling Out is the second book in Justina Robson's Quantum Gravity series.

Although the book does do some backfill to allow readers to start here, this is really intended for readers who enjoyed the first volume in Quantum Gravity, Keeping it Real. The world after the Quantum Bomb, with Earth (Otopia) rubbing up uneasily against realms of Faerie, Hell, Elementals and Death. Lila Black, cyborg, lover of a half elf, half demon rock star, now with a necromancer's soul inside of her, is back on the case.

This time, she gets to go to hell. Here, she finds Demonia not to be exactly what she expects, even with the assassination attempts, marriage proposals, political dealings, and very strange customs.

In the meantime, her boyfriend, Zal, has adventures of his own, including an inadvertent trip to the deadly Elemental realms.

More crisp writing. Snazzy world building. Excellent characters who grow and change. And the continuing hintings of an building, big mystery that affects all of the realms in her fractural, fascinating landscape. What's not to like?

But do try Keeping it Real first, and see if Robson's brand of near future science fiction/fantasy alchemy is for you.

As for me, I look forward to more work from her.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:08 PM

June 14, 2008

Book Review 2008 #31: The Shadows of God

After a long delay, I decided to finish (J) Gregory Keyes' Age of Unreason Quartet, with The Shadows of God.

Starting with Newton's Cannon, The Age of Unreason Quartet has a brilliant idea at the center of its alternate history-fantasy. In our world, after discovering the laws of Gravity, Newton was sucked into a vortex of superstition, alchemy and biblical analysis. This, as well as other duties, carried him away from science in his later years of life.

What if those studies weren't a waste? What if there WERE alchemical discoveries to be made, and alchemy turned into a science? With Newton as its central figure, we get a 18th century industrial revolution of aetherscribers, kraftpistoles, airships and other wonders powered by alchemy. However, we also get the malakim, angels and creations of a gnostic like God, who don't appreciate humanity meddling with such powers.

Such is the universe of Newton's Cannon. With our main character, Benjamin Franklin, previous novels have carried us from America, to Europe, to a cometary impact against Europe, and back to America, with forces controlled by dark malachim intent on wiping out humanity. Plenty of other historical characters quarrel, struggle against each other and finally unite in the face of the common foe.

There's plenty of alchemical science, feats of derring do, noble sacrifices and an ending which changes the actual nature of the universe. Keyes answers some mysteries and reveals answers to questions which have been lurking since the first volume of the quartet. Although its been a while since I read the third book, I picked up on the characters, their foibles, personalities and voices immediately. And, perhaps best of all, Keyes has an economy of writing. Although this is the last book in the quartet, it clocks in at a slim 320 pages. Some things might be a little too rushed by the breakneck, pulp like pace, but on the other hand, Keyes knows to get us to "the good stuff".

I would hardly recommend readers new to this universe start here; it would be like looking at only the spire of a cathedral without having seen the rest of the edifice first. Those who have read previous volumes will not be disappointed by the denouement.

Now that I have finished this series, I am very tempted to see what Keyes has been doing with this "Briar King" series I hear about...

Posted by Jvstin at 8:25 AM

Book Review 2008 #30: The Code Book

A bit of non fiction as a palate cleanser, a book I'd been meaning to read for some time: The Code Book, by Simon Singh.

I like codes, secret writing, and cryptography. I don't have the mathematical chops to make a profession of it, but I remember the "lesson" in frequency analysis that makes up a lot of the plot of Poe's "The Gold Bug". Plus I fondly read one of the prolific Clifford Pickover's books on codes some years back and enjoyed it.

While there is analysis of types of codes and cryptography in Simon Singh's book, his strength and the main thrust of the book is the tension between code-makers and code-breakers, and the history of how those codes were used. From Mary Queen of Scots fateful use of a breakable code which lead to her death, through the German Enigma machine, to the battles over PGP today, Singh touches on the evolution of the science of secrecy through the stories of the people on both sides of the divide. The writing is clear and fluid, and the examples show that Singh understands his own subject very well.

If you have an interest in the history of cryptography or allied subjects, the Code Book is a very good primer on the subject.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:05 AM

June 3, 2008

Book Review 2008 #29: The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon is a first novel from J.M. Mcdermott

Put together into a coherent narrative, the Last Dragon is a relatively straightforward tale. It follows the story of Zhan, first trained as a warrior, and then as a shaman's apprentice, in Alameda, a land to the far north of her world. This ia a medieval tech, low-magic sort of gritty fantasy world.

A horrible crime perpetuated in her village by her grandfather sends her, and her father, Seth, south to seek retribution. They reach a city, Proliux, formerly ruled by paladins such as Adel, and now under control of mercenaries armed with firearms, who killed the titular Last Dragon. The crime's perpetrator is found, killed, turned into a golem, and then Zhan and her allies head north to prevent the mercenaries from finding easy prey in her homeland. And in the process becomes a ruler herself, and it is as a dying Empress that she tells the tale.

It is the manner that McDermott has Zhan tell her tale that is unusual. In a jumble of diary entries, or perhaps letters, Zhan's tale is told in a narrative that jumps around the timeline of her tale. Episodes from Zhan's journey south are mixed together with her journey north, with her adventures in Proliux, and back in the north again. These episodes range from a paragraph in length to several pages.

The only problem for me is, it didn't work for me. This sort of narrative trick is a difficult one to do well. I found myself floundering early and often in the book. I might have stopped reading it if I had not received it as an ARC. And even in finishing it, I don't think that the tale itself is worth the effort it takes to put it fully together from the fractured mirror that we are presented here. It just is too much work for too little payoff in the end.

McDermott, IMO, should not have tried such a high wire act in a first novel. In a more straightforward story and narrative, his novel would have had smaller ambitions, true, but I think it would have fully achieved them, in my mind.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:15 PM

June 1, 2008

Book Review 2008 #28: The Gist Hunter and Other Stories

I enjoyed Majestrum so much, I decided to also read The Gist Hunter..., a collection of stories by Matthew Hughes. A few of them act as prequel adventures to Henghis Hapthorn, a few are stories of the Noonaut Guth Bandar, and a couple of non Archonate stories in the bargain...

The Gist Hunter has six stories of Henghis, which cover his early career, and up to the point just before the start of Majestrum. We find out how he becomes a Discriminator ("Thwarting Jabbi Gloond"), see him at the full height of his powers ("Relics of the Thim"), see him when his mind has been ensorcelled ("Mastermindless") and more. The title story explains just how his AI gets converted into a fruit eating familiar.

The Guth Bandar stories introduce a character new to me (I've not yet read *his* novel, The Commons). Guth's stories take place in what I think of in SB terms as the Dreamlands, the collective unconsciousness of mankind made manifest. So he finds himself in archetypal situations and locations ranging from the story of the Three Little Pigs to Judgement Day.

I think these stories are a bit rougher than the Henghis ones (the first one, for example, suggests that at the end Guth loses his job; subsequent stories have him returning to the position without an explanation). There are a few mysteries about the Commons not clarified well, and I think Guth needs a little more seasoning as a character. Still, the Commons are an intriguing separate universe which I probably will want to read about more in the titular novel.

The non Archonate stories Hughes has in this novel are all right, and I mainly think of them as a bonus to the Hapthorn and Bandar stories. I particularly liked "Go Tell the Phoenicians."

I think, overall, though, that the volume is definitely a must for fans of Hughes. I don't think its the right volume for people new to this author who treads in Vance's footsteps, but its certainly a good "second book".

Posted by Jvstin at 5:17 PM

May 25, 2008

Book Review 2008 #27: Majestrum

My latest book is another volume in Matthew Hughes' expanding oeuvre about his Dying-Earth like world of the Archonate, Majestrum.

As I have mentioned in previous entries on my blog, Matthew Hughes is a writer whose main body of work revolves around a far future earth which might be usefully thought of as taking place an eon or two before Vance's Dying Earth. Science is still the dominant force in the universe, but there are suggestions that Magic is waiting in the wings, and the sun, while bright, has changed to a deeper orange color.

Into this realm, in this book, strides Discriminator Henghis Hapthorn. Possessing a strangely transformed AI, now in the form of a wizard's familiar, and in addition, a split personality in the back of his mind, Henghis is the foremost freelance investigator in the world, if not the entire "Spray" of inhabited worlds.

In the course of Majestrum, Henghis is contracted for a number of cases, which, while at first seem to have nothing to do with each other, in the end start to draw together into a single whole tapestry that the Archonate's answer to Sherlock Holmes slowly brings to light...

Henghis is a very droll character in an very interesting world. Hughes' voice and writing have improved and developed. He reads less like a pastiche of Vance and more of a voice in his own right. While fans of Vance (like me) will find much to love here, Hughes' writing is much less aping him and rather more nuanced homage and commentary. I enjoyed the character and his adventures with a most satisfactory and catholic thoroughness. And more importantly, the little details of his worlds. For example, the way the aristocracy limits their interactions with their perceived inferiors and how to get around that:


"Say that I will be presently," I said. I went to a wall cabinet and brought forth a cincture of woven metallic fibers; I bound it around my skull so that a lozenge fixed to its mid point was centered on my forehead. The small plaque was inlaid with the insignia of a honorary rank that had been bestowed on me by the Archon Dezendah Vesh some years before, in gratitude for discreet services.

I signaled to my integrator that I was ready. Instantly, a screen appeared in the air before me and, a moment later, it filled with the aristocrat's elongated face. His abstracted gaze seemed to slide over me as if unable to get a grip, then managed to achieve focus. It was to assist Lord Afre's perception that I had donned the Archonate token. Members of the uppermost strata of Old Earth's human aristocracy had, over the millennia, become increasingly attuned to such symbols. They could see rank quite clearly, and could perceive details of clothing and accessories so long as they were fashionable. Persons who possessed neither title nor office often found it difficult to attract and hold their attention, although their household servants were able to do so by adopting specific postures and gestures while wearing livery.

Afre's pale and narrow lips parted, permitting a few words to escape in the drawl that was fashionable among the upper reaches of Olkney society. "Hapthorn? That you?"

Once again, I look forward to reading even more of the Archonate (and in fact my next book completed will also be by Hughes, a book of stories mainly set there). Fans of Vance, especially, shouldn't miss Hughes' work.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:54 AM

May 18, 2008

Book Review 2008 #26: Dzur

It's been a while since I've read a Vlad novel in the Dragaera universe of Steven Brust, and after the headiness of Space, I wanted something different, but somewhat familiar as a palate cleanser. Dzur fit the bill.

As a book, its not very strong. Some might even consider it weak, although I am a fan of Brust's writing and am somewhat biased on his behalf. It works better in the context of the series, especially as an aftermath to the events in the previous novel, Issola.

Brust likes to play with structure in some of his novels, and this novel is no exception. The story unspools out in a linear fashion except for the beginning of each chapter, which gives a scene from a long meal between Vlad and, no surprise, a Dzur named Telnan. The plot of the rest involves Vlad's estranged wife, Cawti, and machinations in the capital not only amongst the male Jhereg crime bosses...but the mysterious female half as well. And of course, the Jhereg and many others still want Vlad dead for actions in his previous novels. There is not a lot of action. In fact, Vlad walks around the city. A lot. Multiple times. There wasn't a big sense of urgency to the book at all. The writing of what we are given is good, but we're not given as much as I would have liked.

Readers new to Vlad will be very confused here, and should not start here at all. People who have made their way this far will want to read it, but its really not the full course meal that Vlad eats in the course of the book; its more of an appetizer. I do hope that Brust gets cracking on more novels.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:48 AM

Book Review 2008 #25: Galactic Empires

Galactic Empires is an SFBC original anthology of science fiction stories about, well, Galactic Empires. Space Opera? Yes, and No. The anthology was edited by Gardner Dozois.

It's an interesting line up, and since there are only six stories (of around novella length), I will touch on each of them separately. As a whole, the stories range in quality from good to superb.

"The Demon Trap". Peter F Hamilton:

A story set in his Commonwealth universe (Pandora's Star, Judas Unchained, Dreaming Void), this story brings back Paula Myo, the investigator originally from the Hive, investigating (doggedly as always) a terrorist attack. The story clearly takes place after the first two novels, since technology has advanced somewhat (even given the conservative culture of this universe). The story works on all levels--revealing more about Myo, revealing more about how the polity of the Commonwealth has evolved, and its a darned good story. And I loved the ending when the culprit gets truly just desserts. The collection started off on a high note.

"Owner Space": Neal Asher

Unlike Hamilton, I've not read any Asher yet, although now I just might. Owner Space tells the story of a few refugees from a very nasty autocracy, with a revenge-bent alien lurking on the side as well. The pursued refugees enter the domain of a very mysterious entity, and the conflicts play out under the aegis and the watchful eye of the "Owner". Some genuinely creepy stuff was tempered a bit by an entity whose powers weren't explained all that well. I thought it was good, but not *very* good.

"The Man with the Golden Balloon" Robert Reed

I've read a previous story set on the Ship, a Starcross (gah, does that date me) vehicle which is traveling across the galaxy. This is another story on that giant vessel, as a married couple explore a long abandoned and unknown area of the Ship, and meet an entity who talks in metaphors and story of a secret Empire, and what happened the last time he interfered in the evolution of a world. It reminded me a lot of Crowley's Great Work of Time in that the story itself is layered and talks about secrets and mysterious agendas, and dances around giving the reader a "big" reveal. And in the ending, Reed has the sting that makes you re-evaluate everything that you've read. I didn't like my previous foray into the Ship universe, this story stands alone very well.

"The Six Directions of Space" by Alistair Reynolds:

This story posits a number of alternate histories and universes, starting with the viewpoint one of a Mongol-dominated Earth expanding into space. An agent for these Mongols is sent to investigate strange happenings on routes between star systems, only to discover the existence of these alternate dimensions. While the sensawunder is here and I eat up this sort of story, this story feels a bit unpolished and unfinished in terms of the characters and the plot. And the denouement and resolution is weak. I'm not sure what went wrong her, this is one of the few times I've been underwhelmed with Reynolds' work. It's not horrible, but its merely "good".

The Seer and the Silverman" is another Xeelee story from Baxter. I have a soft spot for this universe and went through this as if I were fueled on caffeine and speed. I loved learning more about the Ghosts, and there is of course the usual obligatory sidelong references to previous stories set in the Xeelee universe. The story itself is set on "Reef" of habitats on the border between Human and Ghost space, an uneasy cohabitation whose politics and sociology drive the story's plot nicely.

"The Tear" is from Ian McDonald, and is set in a bizarre universe where the inhabitants of a waterworld develop multiple personalities in order to deal with various aspects of reality. We follow Ptey, who develops additional personalities throughout the story, and as contact with the alien Anpreen progresses, he even goes above the normal eight personalities that his people usually develop. McDonald explores the sociology of a person with these multiple mental constructs very well. Not content with just this though, he throws in refugees from a War, Ptey getting exiled, and a big canvas in the final installment as he returns to his world after a long sojourn into space. Sensawunder, big time!

If you are a member of SFBC and like space-oriented SF, I think, like me, you will be quite satisfied with Galactic Empires.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:18 AM

May 6, 2008

Book Review 2008 #24: The Rosetta Key

My third ARC in a row is a palate cleanser of sorts, since I don't normally read Historical Fiction, is the Rosetta Key, the second story of Colonial-era adventurer Ethan Gage, by William Dietrich.

A sequel to Napoleon's Pyramids, The Rosetta Key continues Ethan Gage's tangles with mystical power-seeking competitors, action, adventure, and even romance in the Near East at the end of the 18th century. Ethan Gage is a disciple of Benjamin Franklin, a student of the new power of electricity, continually runs into the ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, and in general runs around like an 18th century version of Benjamin Franklin Gates from National Treasure as he looks for ancient knowledge and tangles with those seeking the same.

Gage gets caught in sieges, wanders around and underneath Jerusalem, and makes a (earlier than historically established) visit to the wondrous City of Petra and even is present for the discovery of the Rosetta Stone (hence the novel's title). And that's before he returns to France for a pyrotechnic finale.

Sure, the novel has anachronisms a plenty (a given how much Gage loves his use of electricity), but the writing is sharp and solid, the action well described, and the storyline is both clear enough and with enough twists and turns to keep turning page after page. Dietrich has done his homework on what 18th century Palestine and Egypt are like and it shows, rather than being told, on the page.

Overall, I enjoyed it.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:51 PM

May 4, 2008

Book Review 2008 #23: The Twisted Citadel

The second of three consecutive Advance Reader's Copies I am reading, The Twisted Citadel is second in Sara Douglass' Darkglass Mountain trilogy.


The Twisted Citadel is second in Sara Douglass' "Darkglass Mountain" trilogy, a trilogy of books that act as a capstone series. Characters and locations from several of Ms. Douglass' works and series are brought into this tale, second in the story of the rise of a power called Infinity, and the diverse forces arrayed against it.

As I have read neither The Serpent Bride, nor any of the previous books that tie into this volume, I have stepped into this milieu, this series, and this world in medias res. Although I found some technical aspects of the novel somewhat unbelievable (the size of armies in a medieval environment being just one--hundreds of thousands of men make an unwieldy army even in modern times), I felt that the characterization and plot flowed well. Too often, middle volumes in a trilogy tread water, with no change in the basic frame of the conflicts introduced in the first book. Not so here. Even without reading the Serpent Bride, it was clear to me that by the end of the book, the "game board" of the conflict changes, and changes radically. I appreciate a volume and a plot where things that matter occur to the characters.

Less successful is the melodramatic elements present in the series. It might be the fault of not reading the Serpent Bride, or previous books set in this world, but I did not feel that some of the characters actions and motivations to be realistic. While in some cases they were definitely not rational, they suffered the additional fault of not coming off well to me.

In short, though, I would not recommend readers follow in my footsteps and attempt to start Douglass' writing with this book. It's clear she has excellent writing skills, but I suspect that beginning with one of her previous books or series would be a more satisfactory reading experience. However, for those who have followed her work to this point, I think that they will be more than happy with this latest volume from the Australian author.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:16 AM

May 2, 2008

Book Review 2008 #22: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little.jpg


Scott Westerfeld gives Doctorow's latest novel a blurb of "A rousing tales of techno-geek rebellion."

I was kindly given an Advance Reader's Copy by the unparalleled force known as Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and now in return, its time for me to talk about the novel.

Doctorow is more known these days for his often controversial and definitely iconcolastic positions on matters technological. Editor at Boing Boing, crusader against the excesses of Digital Rights Management...Doctorow definitely doesn't keep his head down.

I haven't actually read any novel-length fiction of his until now, and I am glad that I did, even if I am not the intended demographic of the novel.

Little Brother is set around 2010, in a US which has had a Republican return to the White House in the 2008 elections. The story centers around Marcus Yallow, whose original screenname of w1inst0n and the title of the book gave me immediate "spidey senses" of where this novel was going. We get a primer on Marcus' carefree life, and a lot of infodumping on technology--enough that the novel felt a bit like a throwback to SF novels of yore which would do the "as you know, bob" approach to science fiction.

Marcus' SF becomes the target of a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, and as he and his friends are cutting school as part of an alternate reality game, they are caught in the DHS dragnet. His anarchic and rebellious attitude do him no good, and he spends a short period in a "Gitmo by the Bay".

Once released (and tellingly, one of his friends is *not*), Marcus becomes even more radicalized by the experience, enough that he is willing to challenge the DHS when San Francisco is put into a lockdown that would be the wet masturbatory dream of authoritarians everywhere.

And therein lies the tale.

Little Brother is written in first person, and so we get everything filtered through Marcus' perceptions, prejudices, attitudes and experience. While I suspect that Marcus' opinions may be very close to Doctorow's (although that's not guaranteed; I wouldn't make the assumption that authorial voice always equals protagonist voice), my meta-knowledge of Doctorow suggests that Marcus' radicalization and voice came very naturally to the author.

Too, aside from the infodumps which slow down the book here and there, the novel sounds like a YA novel. The teenage protagonists sounded, to my ear, like teenagers. They are real characters in a near future world that readers in the same age group can identify with.

I think Doctorow softpedals the confrontations between the teenagers and the security forces a little bit, having them result in mostly non violent confrontations. I suppose Doctorow did load the dice a little bit--a couple of shooting deaths at the hands of the DHS would have destroyed Marcus' movement, and would have turned the book into a parallel, rather than a counterpoint, to 1984. This book doesn't end completely happily...but Marcus makes a difference.

It's a very good book, whatever you think of its politics and opinions, and it fits well as a gateway book. This is the sort of YA science fiction that could, and should, and must bring new readers into the graying genre of SF. And for the rest of us, too, its an indictment of the dangers of security theater, and security which does not make us any safer.

I enjoyed it and commend it to the rest of you.


Posted by Jvstin at 6:11 AM

April 26, 2008

2008 Nebula Awards

The 2008 Nebula Award winners have been announced!


NOVEL
The Yiddish Policemen's Union , Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)

NOVELLA
"Fountain of Age", Nancy Kress


NOVELETTE
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", Ted Chiang


SHORT STORY asimovs
"Always", Karen Joy Fowler


SCRIPT
Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro


ANDRE NORTON AWARD
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (Scholastic)


Michael Moorcock was presented the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, and Melisa Michaels and Graham P. Collins were presented with SFWA Service Awards.

These are first Nebula Award wins for Michael Chabon and Guillermo del Toro. Nancy Kress has won three times previously, most recently for "The Flowers of Aulit Prison" in 1988; Ted Chiang has also won three times previously, most recently for "Hell is the Absence of God" in 2003 -- in fact, Chiang has now won the Nebula all four times that he has been nominated; and Karen Joy Fowler won the award once before, in 2004 for short story "What I Didn't See".

J.K. Rowling has never been nominated for an SFWA Award previously; this is her first win, for this third year of SFWA's Andre Norton Award, created to honor young adult SF/F novels and named in honor of the late SFWA Grand Master.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:52 PM

April 25, 2008

Book Review 2008 #21: The Martian General's Daughter

The Martian General's Daughter is another book from the up and coming publisher Pyr, written by Theodore Judson.

Set more than two centuries from now, The Martian General's daughter titular character is Justa, the daughter of Peter Justice Black. Black is a General, the best General, of the Pan-Polarian Empire, a successor state to the United States, and a military bidder for world power. The book chronicles the life of Black, and his daughter as seen through his daughter's eyes. In the process, we also get to see the decline and fall of an Empire, in a narrative that switches back and forth from the end of the story in 2293 to an advancing narrative that begins at 2278 with the last days of a philosopher-king Emperor, Mathias, and continuing to chronicle Black's story under the reign of a spoiled, lesser son.

The twelve year reign of the son is a slowly unfolding disaster, as his inattention to anything except his own petty interests and desires ruins the Empire his father built...

Stop a moment if you have heard that story before.

In point of fact, although set in this fictional future, the story of Black and Justa take place in an Empire which is very much like the Roman Empire at the end of Marcus Aurelius' reign (the philosopher king) and the subsequent mess of a reign of his son, Commodus. In point of fact, as if to reinforce the point, there is a character in the narrative, Cleander, whose name, position and role in the narrative is the same as it is in the history that Judson borrows from.

Where Judson finds originality in borrowed history, however, are the characters of the general, and his daughter. With everything we see and hear filtered through her thoughts and impressions, Justa becomes a fully fleshed and detailed character, even if overtly she only is shining a light on her father, and the Empire as a whole. This is the strength of the novel, and where it succeeds the most. Black is an original creation, not a clone of Maximus from Gladiator. or Livius from The Fall of the Roman Empire.

The novel has a few shortcomings, however. These mainly are the speculative fiction elements of the future that we are presented. We are given enough information to get a rough sense that the Empire begins sometime in the last 21st century. The sociological changes, though, don't really seem to hold up. I couldn't buy that, in the time frame of the Empire, that Christianity would be persecuted, driven underground and discouraged, and then, in an subsequent religious revival, would NOT be the primary religion to surface. While the panoply of religious cults are interesting (and at least one important to the plot), I still think that the religious makeup of the Empire didn't quite make sense.

Finally, there is the title. While "The Martian General's Daughter" is a lovely and evocative title, Judson doesn't do anything with it. Why, in a world of failing technology, Black and Justa are sent there is never actually made clear. And his time there doesn't seem to add much if anything to his "legend". Black does many great things, but calling him the Martian General is a misnomer at best. It has been suggested to me though that the title uses Mars as a appellation of Mars, the God of War. Given that Black is described as, and we see evidence of, him as the best general of his age, this is quite plausible. So my criticism of this is not as strong as you might think.


Still, even with these shortcomings, the writing is crisp, the characters are well drawn and depicted, and while Judson does borrow heavily from history, he borrows *interesting* history. There are reasons why I find the Roman Empire fascinating, and Judson, through the lens of Black and Justa captures that fascination and retells it anew.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:47 PM

April 19, 2008

Book Review 2008 #20: The Gate of Gods

Except for her Stargate media tie in novels, with the Gate of Gods, the third and last book in Martha Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien series, I have now read every book she has published.

I really do like Wells work, having been introduced to it by hunting books which had been nominated for awards (and reading The Death of the Necromancer, and proceeding from there). The Gate of Gods, last in her Fall of Ile-Rien series, brings the strengths and positives of her writing to the fore.

The plot follows closely on the heels of the previous two novels. Briefly, Ile-Rien is a kingdom which many of her books have been set, at this time a Victorian-era technology kingdom with some scientific sorcery. Ile-Rien has been beset by invaders from another universe, the Gardier, who use spheres in which sorcerers are trapped and used to power spells, spells well designed to defeat the Rienish. Tremaine, our heroine, helped start reversing the long string of defeats by finding a way to other worlds, first a "staging world" the Gardier were using, and then the Gardier world itself.

This third novel brings the war to a conclusion, as Tremaine, the other Rienish, and their allies from two worlds explore a network of circle gates which hold the secret not only of how her uncle, Arisilde, got trapped into a sphere himself, but the secret of where and what the Gardier truly are.

The denouement of these revelations (without spoiling it) ties right back into the first novel and a plotline which, at the time and since, seemed to really just be a device for the Rienish to gain the trust of the Syprians. I honestly didn't see it coming, but now, thinking back over the three novels, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

And, I don't know if she intended it that way, but the extensive use of circle gates in this book hearkens back for me to the fay circles back in her first novel set in Ile-Rien, The Element of Fire.

The Fall of Ile-Rien novels didn't sell as well as other novels she has done and for the life of me I cannot understand why. It might be that Wells writes better in a single novel format; I did notice over the course of the three novels that her "heart character" is NOT Tremaine, the ostensible heroine. In point of fact, by the end of this book, its clear to me that the brothers Ilias and Giliead, and their complex relationship, clearly are the core of the novels. I think Tremaine does suffer a little bit by comparison, and I might have liked just a tad little more wrapping up of her character as compared to the beginning of the first novel (although the growth IS there and it is noticed).

Still, I am nitpicking overmuch again. There are good reasons why Martha Wells' work has been inspirational for my roleplaying games. Wheel of the Infinite inspired a con scenario; the idea of a spiral desert city from City on Fire inspired a FTF game I ran, and I've pimped her Ile-Rien novels as good inspiration for other players. I was completely satisfied with the end of the trilogy.

Wells does fine characterization combined with a excellent feel for what makes for good adventure. Go start with the first novel in this trilogy, the Wizard Hunters. Or, if you want an earlier time period, the Element of Fire is once again available for sale. (Her single best novel, The Death of the Necromancer, is out of print, but perhaps you can find it in a UBS or somewhere else.)

Trust me, you will be glad that you did.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:38 AM

April 12, 2008

Book Review 2008 #19: A World Too Near

The second in Kay Kenyon's ambitious "The Entire and the Rose" quartet, a World Too Near brings us back to the story of Titus Quinn and the strange artificial universe of the Entire.

The first novel introduced the Entire, an artificial universe created by a powerful alien race known a the Tarig. With several races under their sway in this strangely beautiful realm, Titus Quinn, who accidentally arrived there only to return without his wife and daughter, went back on behalf of a megacorporation to see if the Entire might be exploited. The first novel follows his adventures as well as the fate of his estranged, blinded daughter, Sydney. The novel ended with his return to our universe, dubbed the Rose, with the knowledge that the Entire sought the destruction of our universe for fuel.

The second volume picks up at that point, with Quinn going back into the Entire to try and stop this horrific plan. Unexpectedly and much to his chagrin, the scheming corporation ladder-climber Helice Maki also comes along. She has ambitions and plans of her own for the Entire. And we finally get a good view of Titus's wife, Johanna Quinn. She has long been a prisoner of the Tarig, in the very fortress that is the key to destroying Earth and the Rose...

So there is plenty to like here. I don't think its quite as fresh as the first novel, because many of the wonders from the first novel are more commonplace here. I can accept that, its hard to come up with continually new things without fear of overstuffing the bag.

Where Kenyon falls down, though is in a few areas of the novel. Kenyon is guilty of the "show and not tell" syndrome when we learn that Sydney and the Inyx learn a dread secret--but instead of being witness to the discovery, we only have her tell of the discovery, after the fact. I felt cheated by that. Another cheat is in the weapon Earth gives Quinn to deal with the threat of the Rose. The exact strength of this weapon is debated and argued by several characters--and its never quite clear who is right and wrong. Given what happens to the weapon in the denouement of the novel, I would have liked a definitive answer on who was "right".

Too, some of the characterization and motivations of characters seemed a bit off. Not quite to the point where I think the character was "broken", but I question some of their actions given their personalities established earlier in the book.

Overall, while the writing was mostly strong and the story decent, I think the book was a bit of a sophomore slump. Its not so much that I won't seek out the third volume in the series. It's a good book. But it definitely was a drop from the first novel in my opinion.

(And I wouldn't start the series here, you would only be lost and confused. The novel mandates reading Bright of the Sky first).

Posted by Jvstin at 9:13 AM

Book Review 2008 #18: In the Courts of the Crimson Kings

After being disappointed with the previous reading book, I ate up my next book, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, the second half of Stirling's Lords of Creation duology.

To recap for those who haven't read The Sky People (and why haven't you?), the Lords of Creation series are set in an alternate world much like our own...at least Earth is. In the LOC universe, it seems that Venus and Mars have been terraformed by unknown aliens 200 million years ago, and for lack of a better world, have been managed since. Humans, or protohumans have been deposited on these worlds along with flora and fauna and allowed to develop. So, on Earth, both the East and the West went for Space exploration and travel in a big way. Who cares about fighting over Vietnam when there are two whole planets out there to explore...

The Sky People was set on Venus, with dinosaurs, bronze age hominids, and "cavemen". In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, we get a Mars straight out of Burroughs, with caste-mad Martians with organic technology and a civilization that was flourishing long before the Trojan War on Earth...

The opening chapter has a bunch science fiction writers watching the landing of a probe on Mars. Stirling makes this chapter a game by giving incomplete names or descriptions or allusions to novels they have wrote (or won't write), to let the reader for fun tease out the people gathered. It was an amusing way to get into the book, separate from the main story.

That story revolves around Jeremy, an archaeologist who is going to excavate a city in the encroaching desert, and Teyud, a mercenary guard who, in the best tradition of John C. Wright, is actually, secretly, a "Space Princess". And when rivals to her dying father decide to eliminate her from the game board, it soon becomes clear that the best way for Teyud and Jeremy to survive these attacks is to boldly return to the Court of the Crimson King...

I loved this book. Like the previous book, Stirling comes up with a rational reason and logic for why and how a Burroughs-like solar system (Venus and Mars with life) could come about. Every chapter has an imaginary excerpt from Encyclopedia Brittanica on this new Mars (just like he did in the previous volume with Venus). This Mars is clearly an homage to Barsoom, with a strange Martian chess game, castes, weird technology, unusual political and social forms, and a grand vision.

And the ending of the book, without giving it away too much, is much like Stirling's novel Conquistador in that it has a fulmination of even more possibilities unfold...

I loved my trip to Stirling's Mars. So will you. Go read the Sky People first, and then go read this. You won't regret it.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:54 AM

Book Review 2008 #17: Reaper's Gale

Much of my March reading time was taken up with this doorstopper entry in Erikson's Malazan Empire series.

Seventh in the series, Reaper's Gale weaves together the plotlines from the previous two novels and weaves them together. The action is firmly set (with some otherworld exceptions) in the Lether Empire. Rhulad, the Emperor who dies only to come back from the dead again and again, is still seeking people to fight. And with both Icarium and Karsa Oolong at hand, he might get his biggest challenges yet.

Tehol has another plan for financial skullduggery, aided by Bugg (who we learned is much more than just a manservant). The Lether really are running the empire behind the back of the ostensible rulers, the Tiste Edur. The refugees from the previous book are still running ahead of pursuit. A new threat rises in the east, one who has a pair of elder race K'Chain'Che'Malle on his team.

Oh, and the Malazans arrive on the shores, with a misconception of the political structure of the Lether Empire. They are expecting to have the Lether welcome them as liberators...

So its a classic Erikson book with tons of characters, plots, locations and entanglements. And yet for all of this, I think this is Erikson's weakest book since his first, and possibly weaker than this. I got the impression as I reading it that Erikson did not like writing this book very much. I hope its not an indication of future volumes or quality. Fates of several characters are handled in a very abrupt fashion. Conflicts and long built up confrontations and resolutions come off, frankly, as flat and insipid.

Oh, its not all bad. There were scenes and (new) characters and locations that I liked. But it seemed like it was a lot more work to get through this book than previous ones, and the end left me dissatisfied rather than eager for the next book in the series.

This was definitely a step backward in the Malazan saga.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:35 AM

April 8, 2008

Why Fantasy over SF?

A few of a crowd of F/SF novelists have been pondering the question. Why is Fantasy now outstripping SF and handily?

Tate Holloway (who did not find much success writing SF as Lyda Morehouse) has thoughts.

Eleanor Arnason has several posts on the subject, too:

http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2008/04/cross-post-1.html

http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2008/04/cross-post-2.html

http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2008/04/post-3.html

http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2008/04/more-on-fantasy-and-science-fiction.html

Is it that Fantasy is more accessible? Is modern SF too dystopian and dark?


Posted by Jvstin at 8:47 PM

March 26, 2008

Plot Your Own Horror: Craven House Horrors

Back in the 80's, there was a line of choose your own adventure books called "Plot your own horror series". I had a couple of these and remember them vividly.

I found a couple used, recently and decided to map out the choices. This is especially easy since, unlike the normal Choose your own adventure books, these had no tangling branches.

So I set to mapping out Craven House Horrors:


Craven House Horrors

Its really only visible in the largest size (click on it for a link)

There are 29 endings in the book.

10 lead to unambiguous escape.
1 leads to an escape of sorts
The remaining 18 are deadly...ranging from being bitten by a poisonous snake, to being locked in a freezer, to being turned into a statue.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:53 PM

March 21, 2008

Thoughts on the 2007 Hugo Nominees

Andrew is right, its an interesting list this year.

Best Novel

* The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
* Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
* Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan/Feb. 2007)
* The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)
* Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)

Four out of five isn't bad. I don't understand how Sawyer made this list. Its not even on the Locus list of recommended reading. And I haven't been thrilled with what Sawyer I have read. This is Stross' fifth straight novel nomination--a record.

Best Novella

* "Fountains of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
* "Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
* "Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (F&SF July 2007)
* "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
* "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (F&SF April 2007)

A solid set of authors and stories.

Best Novelette

* "The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham (Logorrhea ed. by John Klima, Bantam)
* "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (F&SF Sept. 2007)
* "Dark Integers" by Greg Egan (Asimov's Oct./Nov. 2007)
* "Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera, ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
* "Finisterra" by David Moles (F&SF Dec. 2007)

Two Egans! (I read the Egan in TNSO). And Chiang, *again*. (It will be no surprise if he wins). I liked Abraham's A Shadow in Summer novel, although I've not read this story.

Best Short Story

* "Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. by George Mann, Solaris Books)
* "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
* "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
* "Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's April/May 2007)
* "A Small Room in Koboldtown" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's April/May 2007; The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Tachyon Publication

Solid authors. I liked the Macleod story (which I read in the NSO book). I'm rooting for my friend Bear, though!

Best Related Book

* The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Glyer; appendix by David Bratman (Kent State University Press)
* Breakfast in the Ruins: Science Fiction in the Last Millennium by Barry Malzberg (Baen)
* Emshwiller: Infinity x Two by Luis Ortiz, intro. by Carol Emshwiller, fwd. by Alex Eisenstien (Nonstop)
* Brave New Words: the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
* The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Pulling for Brave New Words.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

* Enchanted Written by Bill Kelly, Directed by Kevin Lima (Walt Disney Pictures)
* The Golden Compass Written by Chris Weitz, Based on the novel by Philip Pullman, Directed by Chris Weitz (New Line Cinema)
* Heroes, Season 1, Created by Tim Kring (NBC Universal Television and Tailwind Productions Written by Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, Natalie Chaidez, Jesse Alexander, Adam Armus, Aron Eli Coleite, Joe Pokaski, Christopher Zatta, Chuck Kim, Directed by David Semel, Allan Arkush, Greg Beeman, Ernest R. Dickerson, Paul Shapiro, Donna Deitch, Paul A. Edwards, John Badham, Terrence O'Hara, Jeannot Szwarc, Roxann Dawson, Kevin Bray, Adam Kane
* Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Written by Michael Goldenberg, Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, Directed by David Yates (Warner Bros. Pictures)
* Stardust Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)

I suspect Stardust will win here...or maybe Heroes.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

* Battlestar Galactica "Razor" written by Michael Taylor, directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá and Wayne Rose (Sci Fi Channel) (televised version, not DVD)
* Dr. Who "Blink" written by Stephen Moffat, directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
* Dr. Who "Human Nature" / "Family of Blood" written by Paul Cornell, directed by Charles Palmer (BBC)
* Star Trek New Voyages "World Enough and Time" written by Michael Reaves & Marc Scott Zicree, directed by Marc Scott Zicree (Cawley Entertainment Co. and The Magic Time Co.)
* Torchwood "Captain Jack Harkness" written by Catherine Tregenna, directed by Ashley Way (BBC Wales)

The usual suspects here, except for the controversial "Star Trek New Voyages" entry.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

* Ellen Datlow (The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's), Coyote Road (Viking), Inferno (Tor))
* Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
* Jonathan Strahan (The New Space Opera (Eos/HarperCollins), The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1 (Night Shade), Eclipse One (Night Shade))
* Gordon Van Gelder (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
* Sheila Williams (Asimov's Science Fiction)

I'd like Strahan to win. I liked TNSO a lot.

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

* Lou Anders (Pyr)
* Ginjer Buchanan (Ace/Roc)
* David G. Hartwell (Senior Editor, Tor/Forge)
* Beth Meacham (Tor)
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor)

It's hard to go wrong with this list. Out of the books I read last year, several were Pyr's...so on that basis, I'd give Lou my vote.

* Bob Eggleton (Covers: To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories (Baen), Ivory (Pyr), & The Taint and Other Stories (Subterranean))
* Phil Foglio (Covers: Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures, Vol. 2 (Meisha Merlin), What's New (Dragon Magazine Aug. 2007), Girl Genius Vol. 6-Agatha Heterodyne & the Golden Trilobite (Airship Entertainment))
* John Harris (Covers: Spindrift (Ace), Horizons (Tor), The Last Colony (Tor))
* Stephan Martiniere (Covers: Brasyl (Pyr), Mainspring (Tor), Dragons of Babel (Tor))
* John Picacio (Covers: Fast Forward 2 (Pyr), Time's Child (HarperCollins/Eos), A Thousand Deaths (Golden Gryphon))
* Shaun Tan

Martiniere, hands down.

Best Semiprozine

* Ansible edited by David Langford
* Helix edited by William Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans
* Interzone edited by Andy Cox
* Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
* The New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kristine Dikeman, David Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney

Locus will win...again.

Best Fanzine

* Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
* Challenger edited by Guy Lillian III
* Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
* File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
* PLOKTA edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies, & Mike Scott

I have to root for Steve.

Best Fan Writer

* Chris Garcia
* David Langford
* Cheryl Morgan
* John Scalzi
* Steven H Silver

While it would be weird for John to win novel AND fan writer, this category seems to be the annual "David Langford award". Someone else win for a change, please!

Best Fan Artist

* Brad Foster
* Teddy Harvia
* Sue Mason
* Steve Stiles
* Taral Wayne

No dog in the fight.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer (Not a Hugo, But an Incredible Facsimile of One)

* Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
* Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
* David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
* David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
* Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
* Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

I suspect Lynch will win this in a walk.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:23 PM

March 18, 2008

RIP, Arthur C Clarke

Sci-fi guru Arthur Clarke dies at 90 - Space- msnbc.com

Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001, 2010 and many other books, has died in his home in Sri Lanka.

As much as I like 2001 as a cinematic achievement, my favorite novel of his probably is Rendezvous with Rama. One of the original and best, Big Damn Object novels.


Posted by Jvstin at 5:46 PM

March 15, 2008

Book Review 2008 #16: The Merchants War

Next up is the fourth book in Charles Stross series about a clan of world-walking drug dealers, the Merchants War shares the strengths and the weaknesses of the previous volumes and ramps up the action and plot nicely.

Book Three, Clan Corporate ended with a marriage announcement and gathering that went horribly wrong as, simultaneously, agents from a US Government agency managed to make their way across to the world of the Gruinmarkt into the middle of a gathering set to marry the heroine, Miriam, to a brain-damaged son of the King, and said gathering went up in flames.

Book Four shows the smoke clearing from that event as Egon, elder son of the King, takes control of the situation and decides Something Must Be Done. At the same time, Miriam, barely escaped into the third world of New London, has new problems with the police forces in that world. And of course Mike, part of that op across to that world, has problems of his own.

What's more, not content with merely working out the consequences of these plots, Stross throws a new puzzle in the mix, and starts to answer a long standing question of the series: just what is the mechanism that allows the Family to really worldwalk in the first place.

Splendid, vivid writing, great plot and action and character bits make this another winner for Mr. Stross. I particularly liked Mike's view of Olga, a character we've seen before through Miriam, and now get new sides and facets as we see her through the eyes of Mike, and get a sense that she's even more competent that we really knew. The world and set up are just as intriguing as before, if not more so, with the revelations made in the book.

The major flaw in the book, and once again its not Stross' fault, really, is the marketing. The book, like a couple of the previous books, has an "ending problem". These books have been sliced and diced and released in a suboptimal way, in my opinion. The book simply ends without a real attempt at a crescendo.

Still, fans of the previous three novels will love this one, and if you haven't started reading this series--go get the Family Trade and get yourself started. World walking scions, battles in a medieval world with guns and an ultralight(!), intrigue, mystery, fine writing and character development. Its a tasty chili of goodness.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:57 AM

March 6, 2008

Book Reviews 2008 #14-15 The Eyre Affair and Silverlock

Since I read these books with allied conceits back to back, I am going to review them together.

The Eyre Affair is the first Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde.

Silverlock is by John Myers Myers


Steven Silver describes The Eyre Affair as "James Bond-style melodrama set in an alternative world which was designed by the lovers of English literature. This book, which appears to be the first in a series, pits Special Operations agent Thursday Next against her former instructor, the third most wanted man in the world, Acheron Hades, a literary Moriarty whose goal seems to be the destruction of literature as it is known and loved."

That's a good way of describing the strange world of Thursday Next. The world is an alternate history, and in a sense is an alternate world as well. The Crimean War has been going on and off since the 1850's, air travel is limited to dirigible,and the rest of the political history is implausible at best.

However, the history changes are besides the point in this novel. Literature is all the rage, to the point of clubs, heated discussions, paraphernalia and even government operatives devoted to it. And a Moriarty like figure strides across this world: Acheron Hades. His strange and potent powers are not explained (a weakness, I think) but he brings them to bear for nefarious plots, the only person remotely able to counter him being Thursday.

His main plot forms the crux and title of the novel. Stealing a machine allowing entrance to and from fictional works (although travel independent of this machine also seems possible), Hades greatest gambit is to hold Jane Eyre, the fictional character for ransom.

The novel is a romp that worked for me best when I wasn't thinking about lacunae and implausibilities in the world as it was displayed. I got into it more when I privately conflated Next's England as a land of literature of its own, with Story as an important law of nature as the more ordinary ones.

Like the Weather Warden series, too, this novel is also a case where I am convinced that a friend of mine "could have written" it, in this case my friend Mel. It has her sense of humor, literary knowledge and the occasional penchant for throwing a bomb or two.

I enjoyed the book and I expect English Majors (pace Garrison Keillor) will like the novel even more.



Silverlock is one of my desert island books.

My elder brother introduced me to a banged up paperback copy of this novel years ago, and although I didn't recognize a tenth of the literary references, I fell for the book hard. A new hardcover edition by NESFA press proved irresistable, especially since this edition includes a guide to the Commonwealth--a concordance.

Shandon Silverlock, on a ship out of Baltimore, falls overboard, and washes up in the Commonwealth, a realm of literary characters, locations and situations. He runs into a bard with many names and identities, gets transformed (briefly) by Circe, participates in a viking invasion, and meets Robin Hood. He encounters Puck, sups with the Mad Hatter, visits Heorot Hall after Beowulf's victory, and after all that, only then really starts his adventures...

The book is a seminal one in F/SF circles, since it helped inspire filking. The book, like the Hobbit, has songs in it. And these songs are literary and allusional, too...when Golias tells the story of the battle of the Alamo, for instance, to the thanes in Heorot, Sam Houston becomes 'Houston the Raven' and Jim Bowie becomes 'Bowie Gizzardbane'. There are even plenty of throwaway references and tags to literary characters, places and things from Gilgamesh to Huck Finn's raft.

Anyone who loves literature and fiction owes it to themselves to read Silverlock.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:28 PM

February 26, 2008

Book Review 2008 #13: The Dragon's Nine Sons

I love alternate history.

One of my favorite sub-genres within the lands of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I've alternate history from Lest Darkness Fall and Guns of the South, and through newer authors like Charles Stross, Naomi Novik and S.M. Stirling.

Another favored sub-genre of mine is space opera and adventure. From Planet of Adventure and Vance's novels in the Gaean Reach, through Vorkosigan's adventures, Alistair Reynolds, and others.

Chris Roberson (whose Paragaea was one of my favorite reads last year) has married these two genres in a novel set in his Celestial Empire alternate history, The Dragons Nine Sons. (TDNS). I also, thanks to his kind graces, had an opportunity to first read a prequel story, "The Line of Dichotomy"

It's the dirty dozen in space...in an alternate history space war between the Chinese and the Aztecs.

That's the flippant way to describe the novel.

Set in an Alternate History where the 21st century is a conflict between a world-spanning Chinese Empire and their only significant rival, the Mexica (Aztecs), TDNS is a story of several disgraced Chinese soldiers and officers, brought together for a one-way suicide mission on a stolen Mexica ship. The conflict between these two powers has heated up around Mars, and the Chinese have discovered that the Mexica have a secret asteroid base. Take out that base, and the Mexica's space efforts would be severely crippled. However, such a mission is not likely to result in any survivors.

Thus, we meet Captain Zhuan Jie and Bannerman Yao, the two disgraced head officers picked for the mission. While the former's reason for being included is made clearly early, we only later learn the full depth of Yao's story (and this is gone in more detail in the story I read along with it). We also meet the rest of the crew, and at various points during the trip, get the classic device of them telling their tale of how they came to be on the mission.

After training and preparation and the long trip to the asteroid, the real mission begins. A twist, shamefully spoiled on the back blurb, changes the mission parameters dramatically, and the crew has an additional objective to simply destroying the asteroid base...

The weakest part of the novel, in my opinion, is the execution of the mission itself. I felt that the Mexica were a bit too faceless, as personalities and antagonists. Oh, we get very lovely detail on the surface about their strange technology and culture and how it compares to the Chinese. Particularly gruesome was the use of blood sacrifice as a sensor to activating controls on the ship (and presumably elsewhere). And the city within the asteroid base is well detailed.

However, the Mexica don't work as individual opponents. While the Line of Dichotomy does portray one of the Jaguar knights as an individual, in TDNS, they are relatively faceless enemies, adversaries to be killed and nothing more. I was a bit disappointed in this. My favorite WWII action movie, Where Eagles Dare, takes great pains to make the Nazis in the Castle individuals as well as adversaries. I didn't get that same sense in this book, and I think it could have made the latter portion of book as strong as the first parts.

I also got the feeling that the mission as described was too much for the Dragon's Nine Sons, especially given the secondary mission that the crew undertakes and just how fraught with peril the asteroid is. Roberson pulls his punches a little, I think, in making an impossible mission within the realm of possibility.

The stronger, earlier portions of the novel give us a sense of the strange alternate nature of this world. I ate up the rich details of life in a Chinese dominated Mars and space navy. Details large and small fill and develop very nicely. And Roberson feels no need to actually discuss the point of divergence, a weakness many novels in the genre have. The world is simply presented as it is for us to enjoy. And I did.

In addition, Roberson does a great job showing the natures of our protagonists, both in their personalities and in their backstories. The gambler/thief, the prankster, the murderers (although we come to understand why they killed), the pacifist...yes, they are clearly archetypes that you have seen before, but they are well drawn, with a good amount of tension between such very different characters. And these character traits pay off throughout the novel. Roberson understands Chekhov's Law very well.

Overall, I am quite happy with the read and enjoyed it. There are a number of other stories set in the Celestial Empire (one or two of which I have read already). Given my taste for Alternate History, I intend to seek the others out and read them, too.

I do challenge Chris, though, to write a story set in this universe strictly from the point of view of the Mexica. Perhaps getting fully in the mind of the sacrifice-loving Mexica will make them rise from the level of mooks to full fledged adversaries worthy of being the antagonists of the mighty Celestial Empire.

If, like me, you like both the sub-genres of Alternate History and Space Opera/Adventure, then The Dragons Nine Sons is most definitely worth sampling.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:46 PM

February 22, 2008

Celebrating the Semicolon

Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location - New York Times


This NY Times article about the use of a semicolon in a Transit ad has inspired me today. I am going to unofficially declare today a semicolon day; my goal is to use a semicolon whenever grammatically appropriate and practical.


Posted by Jvstin at 8:17 AM

Book Review 2008 #12: A Shadow in Summer

The first in yet another epic fantasy series. ("The Long Price Quartet") However, it was strongly recommended by Jay Lake (Mainspring). So I thought I would give it a go. Written by Daniel Abraham.

Yeah, I know. Why would I start another fantasy series. Why should you read *this* one? There are many fantasy debuts in a year. Why is this one worth my time, or yours?

This one has the advantage of having original elements.

The novel begins with a prologue in a traditional vein, with a student at a school for "Poets", those who can control the arcane beings called the Andat. The student's apparent failure as such is actually the key to success and he is invited to become a *real* student.

And then he walks away, rejecting a system he sees as wrong.

So, with the prologue throwing us off kilter, the action shifts to Saraykeht, and a set of viewpoint characters. Maati is a traditional protagonist, one of the students of the system that the prologue's Otah rejected. Liat is a young worker in one of the Houses of the city, and Amat is the most untraditional of all, a middle aged to elderly woman who has spent years working in the same House.

A conspiracy involving the andat of Saraykeht, Seedless, draws in these characters, the poet, Heshai, who ostensibly controls Seedless, and then there is the mysterious beau of Liat, a laborer who is far too uncommon to be a common laborer...

The culture of the city and the milieu is distinctly non-Western in a way that reminded me of, say, Tekumel. Characters use "poses" and body language in a way that reminded me of courtiers in dynastic China.

Although this is a debut novel, the writing is mostly clear and fluid, and the characters are well drawn. Abraham has clearly read widely in Epic fantasy, enough to play with our expectations and undermine them, as he does best in the prologue.

I can see why Lake liked it so much, and the book also has an approving blurb by none other than George R.R. Martin. For once, such blurbs are more than just chatter. I have hopes that the subsequent novels will improve the writing even more and that Abraham will prove to be the equal to the ambitious goals and world that he has started to illustrate here. I enjoyed the book and I will read the further novels in the series.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:04 AM

February 15, 2008

Book Review 2008 #11: The Eternity Artifact

My next book is a standalone SF novel by the prolific author L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Eternity Artifact

Better known for his fantasy novels (eg. The Recluce novels), Modesitt also writes science fiction novels. The Eternity Artifact is set in one of his typical SF worlds: future SF, multiple polities. intrigue, and action. Competent characters, often one or more who is tied to an espionage organization. Lots of sociological speculation in and amongst the action.

In this instance, these usual tools are put into a space opera, showing an expedition to an runaway alien planet by a polity who has some very serious rivals. Rivals serious enough to use sabotage, agents and even outright space warfare to stop the expedition, or steal its secrets for itself.

The action is seen through the perspective of four protagonists, one of whom is not who he appears to the rest. Its told in first person throughout, and so we get lots of internal consideration and thought as the very different quartet--an artist, a former agent turned professor, a shuttle pilot, and an armorer more than he appears journey to a Big Dumb Object--the planet of Danann. It is the epynomous "Eternity Artifact", an unbelievably ancient alien world in a universe where no other aliens have ever been found. A tempting prize indeed!

Some don't really care for Modesitt's style, since he does like to laden sociological speculation heavily into his plot and story, and it can be off-putting. I wasn't entirely thrilled with Recluce, for example, and have enjoyed his other novels more. Eternity Artifact falls into this category, and I think its because of the multiple protagonists. This allows for a variety of perspectives which manage to keep a balance of ideas in tension.

The ending and denouement feel a bit weak in my opinion, but in the getting there, I was reasonably entertained. And whether you agree with his opinions or not, Modesitt does raise some good sociological questions in the story. And there is even the barest hint of a romance, too, swirled in.

I enjoyed the book.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:23 PM

February 8, 2008

Book Review 2008 #10: Wolf Who Rules

Wolf Who Rules, WWR, is the second of the "Steel City Magic" novels, by Wen Spencer.

After some of the heaviness of recent readings, I decided to go for a bit of lighter fare. This, the second novel set in a Pittsburgh caught between Earth and a Faerie world, seemed to fit the bill.
And it did.

The first novel, Tinker tells the story of Alexander Graham Bell, aka Tinker, a genius mechanic in a Pittsburgh that for 29 days out of a month is trapped on an alternate world filled with Elves. Tinker comes to the attention of the head of a powerful faerie household, Wolf Who Rules, and becomes his mate even as mutual enemies of the Elves and Humans, the Oni, plot conquest and destruction. That novel ends with Tinker foiling their plans by inadvertently stranding Pittsburgh permanently(?) on Elfhome.

WWR continues the story. Tinker, who has been modified into an Elf by Wolf, is learning to deal with her new nature and being caught between the Human and Elven worlds. The human inhabitants are trying to deal with the possibility that they are permanently stranded. The Elves are hunting any remaining Oni. There is a strange patch of Pittsburgh that is growing and causing alarming side effects...

And the Oni...well, that would be telling.

With some romance blended into the fantasy and science fantasy, Wolf Who Rules really fits as the second half of the story started in Tinker, and is probably best read right after the first one. Tinker is an appealing protagonist, and in WWR, we get to see much more of the Elves and just how complex their society is. The other characters are drawn well, as well, from the titular protagonist, to their allies, neutrals, and antagonists.

Sometimes you DO want a light, fast read that is written more than tolerably well, and WWR fits that bill for me. Those who have read Tinker, I think, will enjoy WWR. (I wouldn't recommend reading WWR without reading Tinker first).

Posted by Jvstin at 6:16 AM

Book Review 2008: #9: Hiding In the Mirror

A non fiction book pimped heavily by Ira Flatow on NPR, Hiding in the Mirror is an overview of cutting edge cosmology and particle physics by Lawrence Krauss.

The full title of the book is: Hiding in the Mirror: The Quest for Alternate Realities, from Plato to String Theory (by way of Alicein Wonderland, Einstein, and The Twilight Zone)

In reality, Plato, Alice, Einstein and the Twilight Zone are hooks for Krauss to investigate and discuss higher dimensions, string theory, particle physics, cosmology and a host of related subjects and digressions underneath that umbrella.

Starting with a memory of a Twilight Zone episode ("Little Girl Lost"), Krauss explores the ideas of extra dimensions, eventually getting into particle physics, quantum gravity, and string theory. Having written about and clearly being a big fan of Star Trek, Krauss is tuned into popular culture and uses examples from science fiction as vehicles for discussing some very tricky subjects. He's not a devotee at the church of String Theory, and so his view of it is somewhat more skeptical than other books I've read on the subject (eg, Brian Greene's work).

Krauss does a good job at balancing the material. Its difficult to make these esoteric subjects accessible to everyone, and perhaps only someone like Carl Sagan could have done much better. Equations are at a bare minimum in the book. I did take away a better knowledge of some of the corners of particle physics. Since reading this, I picked up the latest Scientific American, and a discussion of some particulars of bosons in an article made me think "Aha! Krauss discussed *that*!"

I think its a good primer on these subjects for intelligent readers who want to know more about some very tricky subjects.


Posted by Jvstin at 6:01 AM

January 25, 2008

Book Review 2008 #7: Opening Atlantis

Opening Atlantis is the start of a new AH Science fiction series by the indefatigable master of Alternate History, Harry Turtledove.

A gift from a friend from Christmas.

Turtledove's Alternate Histories have had a broad range of points of divergence, although he has been lately sticking to more recent changes--the Civil War and the Second World War in particular. He has done some more unusual changes-- "Down in the Bottomlands" (his only Hugo win to date) posited a Mediterranean basin which never filled up, and the stories of A Different Flesh were set in a North America where the biota were Pleistocene remnants (and pre-Homo Pithecanthropi)

It is this penchant for unusual organisms and environments which inspires Opening Atlantis. What if, tens of millions of years ago, the North American continent ripped asunder, producing two continents, one of which consists mostly of what is in our world the Eastern Seaboard to just beyond the Applachians. This continent, closer to Europe, is discovered in the mid 15th century in the first portion of the volume...and is named Atlantis. This continent, being so isolated, has an unusual set of plant and animal life, with birds of all kinds as the dominant species.

Opening Atlantis tells three stories of Atlantis, ranging from its discovery, through a conflict between two descendants of the original discover, one of whom is a pirate, and finally the story of the Seven Years War (aka the French and Indian War) in Atlantis.

Turtledove focuses on the unusual biota of Atlantis in the first story, and they play an increasingly smaller role in the other two stories. I get the feeling this is partially due to Turtledove focusing on the conflicts between the human characters and the nations, and because of the merciless way that the Europeans and European creatures outcompete the Atlantean birds. Its analogous in our own world to the story of Australia, where the native marsupials have not fared well against invading mammals in the wake of extensive human colonization.

Sure, I would have liked to see more of that versus the more military/political historical aspects, although its all well written and I enjoyed the book immensely.

There is only one problem with the production values of the book. With a fractured and alternate geography like this, the book sorely needs and lacks, a map. The cover art has a fanciful (and clearly) wrong depiction of what the Western hemisphere with Atlantis might look like, but its not correct, and doesn't have any Atlantean cities on it.

The next volume will be called "The United States of Atlantis" and I suspect it will cover the Revolutionary War in Atlantis and beyond. Would I buy it? Without hesitation.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:05 PM

January 24, 2008

Why did I wait so long... Meme

Have you ever read a classic novel (of any genre) and had the realization, mid-novel "Why did I wait so long to read this?"

Or perhaps it was a classic movie that, in the midst of it, you had the same reaction? Or even a music album of some sort?

I'm having that reaction right now, reading Alfred Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION.

What stories do you have to share of similar experiences?


(Or do it on your own blog/LJ. Think of it as a meme)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:18 AM

January 23, 2008

Eat This fails to be on NY Times List

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6524058.html

Via Andrew Wheeler:

Publishers Weekly reports this week on the case of Dave Zinczenko's Eat This, Not That, which is selling very strongly...but does not appear on the New York Times bestseller list. (It is on PW's list.)

The Times sniffed that Eat This "falls under the classification of of a calorie counter book, which the Times does not track."

As Andrew Says, it sounds like the Times is (once again) making up rules to make the bestseller list come out the way they want. They moved the Harry Potter novels off of the list, after all, in part perhaps because they consistently dominated the top spots.

A bestseller list which is overly massaged is useless as a barometer of book popularity.


Posted by Jvstin at 8:18 AM

January 19, 2008

Book Review 2008 #6: Death by Black Hole

My next book is from the director of the wonderful new Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He has been writing columns for Natural History, and Death by Black Hole collects and links forty two of them.

Ever since Carl Sagan died, there has been a real lack of scientists who can explain science to the general public, and have "star power" to promote science. Not everyone in this world eagerly turns on "Science Friday" on NPR every Friday, for instance. Carl had a gift, sometimes derided by his fellow scientists, for making science interesting and fun for the layperson and impressionable young minds. (Mine, for instance).

In that void after Carl's death, a number of scientists have tried. The Late Stephen Gould wrote wonderfully about Evolution and matters biological, however he never had a TV presence. The physicist Brian Greene makes String Theory lucid, or at least as lucid as it is going to get for someone without degrees in mathematics and physics.

And then there's Tyson. He certainly works the media: I've seen him on the Daily Show, and he's been on Science Friday, amongst other places. He's managed to cause a firestorm, when he "demoted" Pluto in the Rose Center from a full fledged planet. He's a colorful, larger than life personality that is sometimes brash, and very much a New Yorker.

Turns out he can write fairly well, too. Death by Black Hole collects a bunch of his essays on matters astrophysical and astronomical, in bite sized chunks of a form I first encountered in the personage of Isaac Asimov.

Death by Black Hole contains the titular essay, as well as essays ranging from the journey of a photon in the sun from creation to its emission, to lagrange points, to the implausiblity of most movie aliens, to the dangers and stupidity of teaching intelligent design as science. His sense of humor can sometimes take getting used to, as well as his brashness. Still, although I don't think he approaches Sagan's (or Asimov's) olympian ability to elucidate strange and exotic concepts, he does a pretty good job. The essays are meant for an educated layperson, and I think are accessible to the general public.

My only quibble, and I think its his tendency to try and write to the general public, is that Tyson seems to not like to write in scientific notation. Seeing numbers like 0.0000000005 K or conflations of millions and billions was a bit irksome to me.

Still, I would definitely buy further collections of Tyson's essays as he gets them written and put together.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:13 AM

January 12, 2008

Book Review 2008 #5: Now in Theaters Everywhere

As I said in the previous review, I've grown to trust Kenneth Turan's reviews. This volume is called Now in Theaters Everywhere. A Celebration of a Different Kind of Blockbuster.

Unlike his previous foray into book-collected reviews, Now in Theaters Everywhere is not intended to introduce unknown movies to its readers. With listings for movies ranging from Absolute Power to Training Day, American Pie to There's Something About Mary, this book is not about the movies you haven't heard of.

This book is about the movies you have heard of. Turan points out that there is a perception that Hollywood derived movies are all crap, that there is no difference between Mystic River and Pearl Harbor. And that's just plain wrong.

As Turan says "Although it may not be fashionable to do so, these films need to be celebrated...the best of the lot are tremendously entertaining."

And so he celebrates the blockbusters and big Hollywood movies which are worth your time and rental money. He doesn't softpedal the weaknesses of the movie.

I don't quite agree with all of his picks--The Mummy Returns, for example, although my hostility to it was lessened after a re-viewing in light of reading his review of it.

Still, this book is useful for picking out big Hollywood movies which you have skipped and are having second thoughts about checking out. This book gave me some of the impetus to try Mr and Mrs Smith, Kingdom of Heaven, Chicken Run, Million Dollar Baby, and undoubtedly, more in the future.

And like his previous book, Turan's style is easy to digest but intelligent all the same and I recommend the book like the previous one as a good guide to finding movies to rent.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:35 PM

Book Review 2008 #4: Never Coming to a Theater Near You

A combination of Roger Ebert's illness and a new appreciation for National Public Radio has introduced me to a movie review/critic whose opinions and perceptions I have come to respect: Kenneth Turan.

Never Coming to a Theater Near You is a compilation of reviews (and a few essays) on movies which are off the beaten path from the usual Hollywood fare.

Turan claims in the introduction that his goal and intended use of readers for the book is "...a way to read up on and then catch up on the great but less visible films you always intended to see but never got around to and now can't remember."

He ranges from standard English box office films, through independents, documentaries, and a healthy dollop of foreign language films as well. He also looks at some classics from the past.

Although I already had come to respect his opinion on NPR, I started looking at the movie reviews by looking at movies I'd already seen--12 Monkeys, The Iron Giant, and Groundhog Day for example. Turan's observations I felt were on the mark.

His writing is clear and lucid, and he loves to tie in the history of the style of the film, or the director, or movies of the type in which he is reviewing. It gives a sense that the movie's review hooks into the tapestry of cinema, rather than a soundbite of an up or down vote.

And so I have read about many other movies, some of which have made it onto my Netflix queue--The Third Man, To Die For, State and Main, Birthday Girl, and others. I look forward to dipping in this book in the future for ideas for more off the beaten path movies to try. I commend the book to those also looking for a source of new movies to try, with solid scholarship on what makes the movies listed worth watching.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:55 PM

Book Review 2008 #3: Plague Year

Disclaimer: I received this book, too, gratis, in the hopes that I would review it.

Plague Year is a SF thriller written by Jeff Carlson

In the near future, nanotechnology has taken off as a practical endeavor. Labs around the world are searching for methods to perfect it. An incomplete nano, however, is accidentally released, one which turns out to be a deadly plague for all mammals.

What allows the human race to survive, however, is that the nanotechnology does not function at air pressures corresponding to 10,000 feet above sea level. And so while billions have perished, some have congregated on the tops of mountains and other high places, trying to survive.

Plague Year follows a few of these survivors in an attempt to find an agent to counter the plague. Starting with a group of desperate survivors huddling on a small peak in the Sierras in California, the book expands its cast of characters to include survivors on the International Space Station, who for various reasons political and scientific are being brought down to Leadville, Colorado, the new capital of the United States.

Soon, Ruth, the head researcher on the ISS, is being sent west in the hopes of finding the lab which produced the original nanotech, in order to find a cure. Linking with some of the survivors from the Sierras, the group takes a perilous trip to sea level Sacramento to find some answers.

The book is part survival tale, political intrigue, science fiction extrapolation, and even military science fiction. Overall, though I think Plague Year can probably can be classified as a technothriller. I liked Carlson's work in his story in the Writers of the Future volume, and so read this with high hopes.

I think the book is all right, although I think it could have been better. The ending felt like a bit of writing to the ending that the author wanted, rather than an organic feel to it. The ending as developed certainly allows for sequels or allows the reader to imagine the future of this devastated world in the playground of the imagination.

Its not bad for a first novel. Still, the balance of political, horror, and science fiction doesn't always hang together and development of these and the characters is a bit uneven, especially in a slim volume. And after reading "The World Without Us", I think areas abandoned by humans would be in worse shape than they are as depicted in the book.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:30 PM

Book Review 2008 #2: Writers of the Future Vol XXIII

Disclaimer: I received this book, gratis, in the hopes that I would review it.

L.Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future is a series of year anthologies showcasing new writers (and artists who are asked to submit illustrations for the stories). This year's edition was edited by Algis Budrys.

As I have said many times before, anthologies are tricky things and even the best of anthologies by the best of writers can have hit or miss stories. Individual tastes can vary, and sometimes a writer can have a bad day.

So I will focus on the stories I liked out of the volume.

I particularly enjoyed the first story, Primetime, a view to using time travel as a device for mass entertainment. I felt the ending was a bit weak and didn't seem to follow the rest of the story, but I enjoyed it overall to mention. The Frozen Sky, a survival story on Callisto (a popular choice these days in fiction and non fiction alike) was another good read. Tony Pi's the Stone Cipher, although well written, felt a little lacking to me. The Gas Drinkers, a story within a story, felt like a modern Moon update of the classic motif where a group of strangers explain how they got to that location.


The stories in volume 23:

PrimeTime, by Douglas Texter

Mass entertainment of the future is filming battles and other notable historical events. Trouble arises when an ambitious filmer is asked to go back to Hiroshima, and the atomic blast.

The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom, by Andrea Kail

Historical characters from the past are brought to life in an epistolary tale told by King Tutankhamen.
The Frozen Sky, by Jeff Carlson

Survival and danger as explorers search for signs of life in the ice of Callisto.

The Stone Cipher, by Tony Pi

When the statues around the world start to speak...slowly, its a race to determine what precisely they are saying, and why.

Obsidian Shards, by Aliette de Bodard

A story invovling Aztec gods and dark magic set in an indeterminate Aztec-like time and place.

Ripping Carovella, by Kim Zimring

Ripping out skills and transplanting them into others from the talented is high art--but it carries a price for all concerned.

Our Last Words, by Damon Kaswell

Another time tale, reminding me of "Flight into Forever" as a man is put into a field that allows time inside to pass much more slowly than the outside world, creating a one way time machine.

Saturn in G Minor by Steve Kotowych

A future musician's most ambitious piece yet brings visitors to his lonely abode.

By the Waters of the Ganga by Steven Gaskell

An alien spends a life reincarnated or re-embodied as a Hindu in 19th century India.

Pilgrimage by Karl Bunker

A ritual on an alien planet recalls an old story of survival by post-humans.

The Gas Drinkers, by Edward Sevcik

A group of people meet in a place of refuge on the moon, as one of them tells the long story of how he came to the remote location.

The Phlogiston Age by Corey Brown

A steampunk like world, where a phlogiston powered spaceship maiden launch is the scene and setting for intrigue.

Mask Glass Magic by John Burridge

A fantasy story, where a glass blower discovers a new employer, and a very unusual manner of magic behind him.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:46 PM

Book Review 2008 #1: The Trojan War a New History

First book up for the year is a non fiction book by Barry Strauss, The Trojan War a new History

A very curious blend of fact and speculation, the Trojan War looks at the historical underpinnings and reality of the deeds surrounding the city of Troy as laid down (almost exclusively) by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Strauss both explores myth and reality. Ranging from discussions of the politics of Bronze Age Asia Minor to musings on how real characters in the Iliad were, the book occupies a somewhat nebulous place. Certainly, its non fiction, but the speculations on myth give it a very different cast.

At various times early on I was frustrated by this approach, and other times, it gave me a lasting taste for Greek Mythology. Strauss doesn't romanticize the War, and while I think he makes it out larger than it probably was, its not fanciful exaggeration.

Strauss does know his subject, from both the mythological and the historical perspectives and point of view. (He is a professor of classics and has written books on Ancient military history, and it shows.). He speaks easily and convincingly of the nature of the "real" Achilles on the one hand, and Bronze age battle logistics in regards to Greek versus Trojan strategies on the other.

Those historical parts where he extrapolates what Troy might have been like based on its neighbors in Asia Minor (especially the Hittites) were especially illuminating, although once I got used to the nebulous space that the book occupies between straight history and mythological history, I enjoyed it all.

It's a short, relatively easy read and I enjoyed it. Heck, I'm even tempted to watch "Troy" again.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:25 PM

December 31, 2007

Favorite and all Books Read 2007

In 2007 I read a total of 58 books.

My favorite books I read this year were:

Paragaea--Chris Roberson.
Quantum Gravity: Keeping it Real--Justina Robson
Bright of the Sky--Kay Kenyon
The Lyonesse Trilogy--Jack Vance

The complete list of 58 books are behind the cut

58. The Wizard (Gene Wolfe)
57. The New Space Opera (Anthology)
56. The Demon and The City (Liz Williams)
55. The World Without Us (Alan Weisman)
54. Tamerlane (Justin Marozzi)
53. The Joy of PI (Blatner)
52. The BoneHunters (Steven Erikson)
51. The Math Book (Nancy Myers)
50. Mainspring (Jay Lake)
49. Madouc (Jack Vance)
48. The Green Pearl (Jack Vance)
47.Island at the Center of the World (Russell Shorto)
46. Endgame (Kristine Smith)
45.Lurulu (Jack Vance)
44.Ports of Call (Jack Vance)
43.The Sharing Knife: Legacy (Lois M Bujold)
42.The Sharing Knife: Beguilement (Lois M Bujold)
41.The Virgin and the Wheels (L Sprague De Camp)
40.Night of Knives (Ian Esselmont)
39.Lady of Mazes (Karl Schroeder)
38.Sailing to Byzantium (Colin Wells)
37.Operation Luna (Poul Anderson)
36.Operation Chaos (Poul Anderson)
35.Imperium (Keith Laumer)
34.Suldrun's Garden (Jack Vance)
33.Redemption Ark (Alistair Reynolds)
32.Imperium (Historical Fiction of Cicero) (Robert Harris)
31.Odalisque (Fiona Mcintosh)
30.Bright of the Sky (Kay Kenyon)
29.Moon Handbooks Canadian Rockies (Andrew Hempstead)
28.Midnight Tides (Steven Erikson)
27.Eragon (Christopher Paolini)
26.Rainbows End (Vernor Vinge)
25. Sweet Silver Blues (Glen Cook)
24. After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Donald Prothero)
23.Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of SF (Jeff Prucher)
22. In the Hall of the Martian King (John Barnes)
21. Ships of Air (Martha Wells)
20. Queen of Zamba ( L Sprague De Camp)
19.Sky of Swords A Novel of the King's Blades (Dave Duncan)
18.Parallel Worlds (Michio Kaku)
17.Quantum Gravity: Keeping it Real (Justina Robson)
16.Orphans of Chaos (John C Wright)
15. Blindsight (Peter Watts)
14. Paragaea (Chris Roberson)
13. House of Chains (Steven Erikson)
12.Maskerade (Terry Pratchett)
11.The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi)
10.The Jack Vance Treasury (Jack Vance)
9.Quantumscapes (Stephan Martiniere)
8.Quantum Dreams (Stephan Martiniere)
7.Viriconium (M John Harrison_
6.Old Man's War (John Scalzi)
5.The Scent of Shadows ( Vicki Pettersson)
4.The Greatest Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century (Martin Greenberg)
3.From Homer to Hadrian (Robin Lane Fox)
2.Carnival (Elizabeth Bear)
1. Souls in the Great Machine (Sean McMullen)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:20 PM

Book Review 2007 #58: The Wizard

And my last book finished this year is the second in Gene Wolfe's Wizard Knight duology, the Knight.

The Wizard picks up after the events of the Knight. For those who haven't read it, in the Knight, a boy from America is whisked away to a Nordic-like Faerie land consisting of seven planes of existence. He is raised both on the Earth plane,Mythgarthr, falls in love with the Queen of the Moss Aelf from Aelfrice (a world lower than Mythgarthr), is aged preternaturally, and strives to become a knight worthy of Queen Disiri. At the end of the first book, he is transported by a Valkyrie to the world above Mythgarthr, called Skai, a Valhalla analogue.

The second book deals with his return, doings in the land of the Giants, and the continuation of his quest. The typical Wolfe tricks of an unreliable narrator are in force here, since Able is young in mental age and doesn't always understand events around him. Unfortunately, while this is a feature I've come to accept in Wolfe, the extremely slow opening, mired with other characters and mostly set in the land of the Giants, is not appealing at all. I couldn't wait until Able and company started heading south.

Some things revolving around Able's meeting with the King of Celidon, too, are somewhat unclear, and exciting events in the end are only sketchily detailed, much to my disappointment.

I have to say that overall the book is only somewhat above average, and definitely not for those who haven't read The Knight. And readers of the Knight, like me, will consider this something of a letdown from its predecessor, alas.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:08 PM

December 30, 2007

Books I have no desire to read: Caliphate by Tom Kratman

Its a well known thing that many Baen writers (and books) have a rightward slant. Some of these are more than others, and the politics are hardly clearcut or homogenous. Still, Baen books tend to be pro-military and right-leaning politically.

I read and enjoy some of these authors.

However, HERE is a book that goes way too far in that direction for my taste. Even if this somehow won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus award, I have little appetite for something like this:


Caliphate (Hardcover)
by Tom Kratman (Author)

Book Description
“Slavery is a part of Islam . . . Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.” —Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, author of the religious textbook At-Tawhid (“Monotheism”) and senior Saudi cleric.Demography is destiny. In the 22nd century European deathbed demographics have turned the continent over to the more fertile Moslems. Atheism in Europe has been exterminated. Homosexuals are hanged, stoned or crucified. Such Christians as remain are relegated to dhimmitude, a form of second class citizenship. They are denied arms, denied civil rights, denied a voice, and specially taxed via the Koranic yizya. Their sons are taken as conscripted soldiers while their daughters are subject to the depredations of the continent’s new masters.

In that world, Petra, a German girl sold into prostitution as a slave at the age of nine to pay her family’s yizya, dreams of escape. Unlike most girls of the day, Petra can read. And in her only real possession, her grandmother’s diary, a diary detailing the fall of European civilization, Petra has learned of a magic place across the sea: America.


Um yeah. And in case you wanted icing on the cake, the author description on Amazon:


About the Author
Tom Kratman, in 1974 at age seventeen, became a political refugee and defector from the PRM (People's Republic of Massachusetts) by virtue of joining the Regular Army. He stayed a Regular Army infantryman most of his adult life, returning to Massachusetts as an unofficial dissident while attending Boston College after his first hitch. Tom is currently an attorney practicing in southwest Virginia. Baen published his first novel, A State of Disobedience and two collaborations with John Ringo in the Posleen War series, Watch on the Rhine and Yellow Eyes. His latest novels are A Desert Called Peace and its sequel Carnifex.

Sorry, Tom. Maybe you're a nice guy. Publishing novels which reinforce the manufactured Clash of Civilizations that certain political elements have promoted as a sequel to the Cold War makes you a less than angelic figure in my book. I got really pissed when it reared up without warning in Dan Simmons Olympos. I have no desire to read an entire book with such a theme.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:40 PM

If I had a subscription to the NY Times, I would cancel it

Liberal Fascism - Jonah Goldberg - Book Review - New York Times

A mostly fawning review of the tripe tome "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg is enough that I would cancel my NY Times subscription, if I had one.


“Liberal Fascism” is less an exposé of left-wing hypocrisy than a chance to exact political revenge. Yet the title of his book aside, what distinguishes Goldberg from the Sean Hannitys and Michael Savages is a witty intelligence that deals in ideas as well as insults — no mean feat in the nasty world of the culture wars.

So, calling Liberals fascists is "witty." Hmm.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:18 PM

December 21, 2007

Book Review 2007 #57: The New Space Opera

I haven't read any anthologies for a bit, so I decided to delve into Jonathan Strahan's anthology of original Space Opera stories.

The anthology was co-edited with Gardner Dozois.

Overall, while some stories worked better than others, overall I think its a strong collection.

18 Stories, 500 pages in a TPB. Lots here for everyone.

* Gwyneth Jones: "Saving Tiamaat"

Okay story centering around attempts by a interstellar government to solve a social problem on a new linked world.

* Ian McDonald: "Verthandi's Ring"

Post humans in a long slow war. Again, ok.

* Robert Reed: "Hatch"

Set on the outside of his "Ship", more of a tease than anything.

* Paul J. McAuley: "Winning Peace"

A possible old ancient artifact is a MacGuffin for the story of a post-war search
around a brown dwarf. Not bad.

* Greg Egan: "Glory"
Another strange Egan story involving the desire to learn a dead culture's mathematics. Ok.

* Kage Baker: "Maelstrom"

Once again, I seem unable to "Get" Kage Baker. Pass.

* Peter F. Hamilton: "Blessed by an Angel"

Reminded me a bit of Stross's Singularity Sky universe with a higher outside culture visiting a low tech planet. Not set in any of Hamilton's other worlds, far as I could tell. Ok.

* Ken MacLeod: "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?"

One of my favorites in the collection, with great dialogue between the pilot and the AI of his ship as they go to quell a rebellion.

* Tony Daniel: "The Valley of the Gardens"

I like Daniel's stories. This one involves a war between different universes with different physical laws.

* James Patrick Kelly: "Dividing the Sustain"
Social intrigue on a long-trip ship to an agricultural world. Killer ending and reveal to a mystery running through the story.

* Alastair Reynolds: "Minla's Flowers"

Reynolds again writes well in a story about a visitor to a world doomed to die when a piece of an interstellar network will go haywire and decimate the world's sun. Lots of hammering of the law of unintended consequences. Good.

* Mary Rosenblum: "Splinters of Glass"

Survival story about mining on Europa.Reminded me of Ben Bova's stories. Good.

* Stephen Baxter: "Remembrance"

Another story set in the Xeelee sequence, involving the question of how atrocities are remembered. Average.

* Robert Silverberg: "The Emperor and the Maula"

Not very "Newish" in its style. Still, if you are going to copy an old idea, copying Scheherazade is not a bad thing. Average to Good.

* Gregory Benford: "The Worm Turns"

I've been annoyed with Benford for awhile. This story about handling a wormhole was okay, though.

* Walter Jon Williams: "Send Them Flowers"

Worlds in multiple universes. A colorful pair of characters living by their wits. Lots of fun.

* Nancy Kress: "Art of War"

Killer story about a war with an alien race whose patterns of handling war are very different than Earth ideas. Art IS important. Good.

* Dan Simmons: "Muse of Fire"

Shakespeare meets alien oppressors who are modeled on Gnostic mythology. A story that praises the bard and does it well. One of my favorites.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:47 PM

December 19, 2007

The decline of SF reviewing at the NY Times

Across the Universe: Planetary Politics - Books - Review - New York Times

Via Andrew Wheeler, after months of no columns, the SF reviewer of the NY times pops up again.

Does he review anything? A wrap up of the year in SF?

No.

Just a warmed over list of reading suggestions...for the candidates for president. What is sad is that his caspule summations of the books are often wrong and unintentionally(?) humorous:

To wit

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Senator from New York

Should tell reporters she’s read “Dune,” by Frank Herbert: Left adrift to wander in a desert wasteland, the scion of a deposed dynasty retakes the family’s lost throne in thrilling and violent fashion.

Might also consider reading Herbert’s “Children of Dune”: A calculating despot undergoes the ultimate act of political triangulation by transforming himself into a part-human, part-worm creature and going on to rule for what feels like 3,500 years.

My reviews here are not scintillating...but they are better than this dreck. Why doesn't the NY Times hire me to telecommute and do SF book reviews instead? You'd at least get actual reviews of novels.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:30 AM

December 7, 2007

Book Review 2007 #56: The Demon and the City

The second in Liz Williams Inspector Chen novels, The Demon and the City puts Seneschal Zhu Irzh front in stage in her near-future Singapore Three.

Truth be told, the cover and blurb is a bit deceiving. While Inspector Chen is a character in the novel, its arguable that he is the main character, especially since he spends most of the first half of the book off stage. The book's center is Senechal Zhu Irzh, vice agent from Chinese Hell turned into reluctant law enforcement agent in the near future Singapore Three. And he is not exactly enjoying his semi-exile, even if it gets him away from his relatives in Hell.

And when people start dying in Singapore Three, his investigations soon lead him into machinations not from Hell, but this time, from Heaven...

I did like the novel. However, I don't think the book is quite as strong as the first novel, Snake Agent,though. Not because Chen is offstage for much of the book; I liked Zhu as a viewpoint character. I think, though, that the book is a little less crisp than the first, a little less tightly focused. A few events happen off screen, and we are told about them, rather than shown them, and we get a couple of extraneous point of views that I don't think work quite as well as the main characters POV.

Also, the area between Heaven and Hell that we get to see is not quite as compelling and well drawn as the Hell we get to see in Snake Agent.

I do think I might be missing a level of structure to the book. After finishing it, I've realized that the book is divided into 64 chapters of varying lengths, and the sections of the book (eg, Hsiao Kuo, Ming I,) are the name of hexagrams.

Overall, though, its a pretty good although not great sequel to the first novel in the series (and I am pretty sure you don't want to read this one without reading the first). I will read the third...however I think I will wait for the paperback first.


Posted by Jvstin at 9:26 PM

Book Review 2007 #55: The World Without Us

I heard much about this book on NPR when it came out, and so I couldn't resist reading this NF book about speculating about a world without people, written by Alan Weisman.

Meticulously researched, the World without us explores our impact on the world with a unique and original thought experiment. What if, tomorrow, the world woke up, and every human being on the planet, every single one, was gone. Raptured, teleported by Aliens, exported to a parallel dimension, what have you. The Earth is left as it is, just without any people.

What would happen?

I've seen books like After Man, which posit what turns evolution might take with Humans gone, but The World Without Us takes a much closer time frame. How long would our cities last? Not as long as you think! What would happen to our nuclear reactors? What would happen to biomes around the planet? What about all of the plastics and other junk we've spewed into the environment.

Weisman is not a scientist himself. However he is a well-educated journalist who talked to experts in a variety of fields, distilling it into a relatively slim volume. I think when he changes from the descriptive to the proscriptive the book loses its way a bit. And, ironically, I think he comes across in the radio interviews a little better than his words do in print. If he were to take this book and, Al Gore style, turn it into a DVD presentation, he might reach an even wider audience.

Still, while its not quite book of the year caliber, its an instructive read. I had no idea, for example, that without people to man the pumps, that the NYC subways would flood in a matter of days. Or that demilitarized zones in Cyprus and Korea have produced unexpected biodiversity in the strangest areas. The book is full of unexpected bits like that.

When it hits paperback, pick it up and give it a read.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:01 PM

Book Review 2007 #54: Tamerlane

My next book up is a bio-history of Tamerlane, Temur the Lane.

"Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World" is written by Justin Marozzi

Behind Genghis Khan, Temur the Lame, Tamerlaine, is probably one of the most successful of the Central Asian conquerors in the Middle Ages. And yet, he is much less of a household name than Genghis. Marozzi's book attempts to erase that injustice by, in a vein similar to Weatherford's Genghis Khan book, Marozzi's book brings us the history of the "Sword of Islam."

It's a flawed presentation. While I did learn a lot from the book, with only a sketchy awareness of Tamerlane's conquests and history prior to reading it, the book is laden with extraneous extra material. While books of this type often try to put their subjects into perspective, Marozzi does far too many and lengthy digressions. While some of them, showing the cities that were central to Temur's conquests then and today (often having visited them himself), these digressions are often out of place and tiresomely long. And some, like a discussion of The Black Prince, seem completely out of place and unnecessary.

Its a good book, but its not a great book.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:42 PM

December 2, 2007

Female versus Male authors in my reading

The sideshow of the misogynistic comments of Vox Day on female authors on this post of Charlie Stross about the mess with the SFWA got me to thinking.

What is *my* proportion of male to female authors read?

Since the start of 2006, I've read 115 books.

Female-written Books:30
Male-written Books:85

26% of the books, then, were by female authors.

Within the F/SF genre, which is what Vox Day was focusing on:

Total of books:98

Female-written Books: 28
Male-written Books:70

Charitably a little better, 28.5% of the books were by female authors.


Posted by Jvstin at 11:13 AM

November 28, 2007

Book Review 2007 #53: The Joy of Pi

A little book on the history of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

3.1415926535897932384626...

I memorized Pi to this level of accuracy a long while ago and haven't forgotten it. Pi is a fascinating number that has been a heart of mathematics for several thousand years. In the Joy of PI, David Blatner prints the first million digits of pi (in small type). In and amongst these blocks
of small numbers, he tells stories of pi.

Mathphiles know some of these already and I already did. The earliest origins of pi, in Babylon and Egypt, the Pythagoreans, the story of how the Bible implies a value of 3, and other tales make up the book. Blatner also throws in a lot of pi trivia and facts and references to it in history and fiction and popular culture.

Blatner's format, though, is a mixed bag. With a riot of different font sizes, colors and layouts, the book is a little too quirky and noisy for my taste. This distracts, I think from reading the book at great length, even if it is short. And to get those million digits to fit in a small book of this size, most of them are of a size that can only be really read with a magnifying glass.

While the book is a very slight confection of a book (and probably not really worth a purchase), it was fun to flip through.


Oh, and the one millionth digit of pi? It's a one.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:47 PM

Book Review 2007 #52: The Bonehunters

The Bonehunters is sixth in the Malazan novels by Steven Erikson.

Unlike book five, Midnight Tides, which could and did stand alone, The Bonehunters once again relies on previous knowledge of previous novels. The novel mainly follows characters in and around the continent of Seven Cities, and it follows the events in book four, House of Chains.

Summarizing the plot is difficult for those who are new to the series. Suffice it to say that the events of book Five, with the Letherii and the Tiste Edur, now start to collide with the restof the world, as Tiste Edur fleets and soldiers start to come in conflict with the Malazans.

We get to see Ganoes Paran, master of the Deck of Dragons, come to Seven Cities and take a new position of power. A horrifying, apocalyptic siege of a city on that continent, too, is a major set piece. Several characters, as is Erikson's wont, are lost, or seemingly lost, in the conflicts in this very long book.

And the book brings us in its climax to the heart of the Malazan Empire, and a very long dark night on the streets of Malaz City.

Many of the virtues of Erikson are in evidence here, although I think the book, at 1200 pages in a PB edition, does run somewhat long. Still, for those who have read the previous five books, this book does continue the story. Plot does happen, characters do evolve and grow, and things happen in this world. Sometimes very dark things.

I eagerly await book seven.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:20 PM

Why Science Fiction is more fun to read than literary fiction

sflit.jpg

Via Link

Posted by Jvstin at 6:56 AM

November 10, 2007

The Farouche Assemblage

Payseur & Schmidt - The Farouche Assemblage

Readers of this space will recall that I mentioned Matthew Hughes, a writer in the vein of Vance (especially his Dying Earth). I kindly informed him of my blog entry, for which he has shown his appreciation of talking about his works...

He sent me a chapbook, the chapbook mentioned above. A small 32 page story of Imbry, one of the characters in the Archonate universe, its one of those little books whose production values are even better than the already fun little story therein.

Authors who try harder, with little things like this for fans, deserve success.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:40 AM

November 3, 2007

Book Review 2007 #51: The Math Book

The Math Book

A book from 1975 I have a long history with.

The year was that distant land known as 1982. I was in sixth grade, already starting a love of science and science fiction.

My mother gave me a book from a source I never really established. A plain brown book with red lettering and a line drawing of the square root of two with a ladder attached to it. "The Math Book" it read, by Nancy Myers.

I am not sure that my mother really knew what she had given me.

I am not as strong in mathematics as some of my friends, but I do all right. And so, a sixth grader started reading this book. It turns out the Math Book was a book targeted at liberal arts students in college without much mathematical background. Mathematics without much, if any, equations, at the height of "New Math."

I devoured the book for years. The end of each chapter had references to other books which, over the next few years, I would find and read too: Gamow's One, Two, Three...Infinity and Kasner's Mathematics and the Imagination. I also got into Escher thanks to this book because of its use of Escher prints.

Finally, the book fell apart, and I retired it, and didn't think about the book for years. I mostly forgot the name of the author, too...

Cue 2006. On a whim, I got to thinking about the book again, and how I had liked it so much. I also was curious as to its contents, years later. I recalled only the book's name and its author and I set out to search for it.

If you type in "the math book" into amazon, or even google, you will find a lot of hits. I narrowed things down over a few weeks, trying various publishing years and the like. Finally I found, from an out of print seller on Amazon, a 1975 book called "The Math Book" by Nancy Myers published in 1975. That sounded right. However, without a picture, I wasn't sure if it was. On a whim, I decided to buy it.

When the book arrived and I opened the envelope, I was delighted to see the old brown book.

And now I can tell you the contents. It really is a textbook intended for liberal arts students without prior heavy background in math.It covers a variety of topics, with questions at the end, and interspersing the text with page-sized sidebars on mathematical figures and miscellany. These digressions range from discussing Pythagoras to the Arceibo Radio Telescope.

Each chapter starts with a cute line drawing. For example, chapter two, which is called "counting beyond the counting numbers" has two backpacked travelers on a road in the sky, looking nervously at the signpost ahead of them. The signpost reads "Aleph null miles to..."

Although the last chapter is outdated with its digressions into astronomy, which is far out of date, the rest of the book stands well.

The book's contents:

Chapter one: From Counting to Complex Numbers

--Ancient number systems, rational and irrational numbers, complex numbers

Chapter two: Counting Beyond the Complex Numbers

--Sets, infinity, transfinite numbers

Chapter three: Calculating with Statements

--Logic, two and multivalued

Chapter Four: Finite Arithmetics

--Modulo(clock) arithmetics, rings and fields

Chapter Five: Arithmetics Without Numbers

--Groups, rotations, tessellations

Chapter Six: Calculated Chances

--Probability

Chapter Seven: Finite Geometries

--Graphs and Networks

Chapter Eight: Geometries with a Twist

--Non Euclidean Geometries

Posted by Jvstin at 8:57 AM

October 31, 2007

Book Review 2007 #50: Mainspring

After a long anticipation, since this first was mentioned to me months before its release, which itself was a few months ago, I finally picked up and read Jay Lake (http://jaylake.livejournal.com)'s Mainspring.


Mainspring is a hard book to categorize. However, if I were attempt to do so, I would classify it as "Science Fantasy Alternate History Clockpunk".

Mainspring is the story of a clockmaker in a clockwork world. Hethor lives in an alternate history where England still rules America...and oh, yes, the Earth and the rest of the solar system exist on a giant orrery. The "Wall" on the Equator not only separates the north and south hemispheres, but also serves as Earth's connection to its own place in the celestial clockwork.

Starting with a visitation from the Archangel Gabriel, charging him to find the Key Perilous and rewind the Earth, Hethor is launched on a Hero's Quest that takes him from his New Haven home to the Wall, and beyond.

In some ways, the novel, especially its early portions, reminds me of J Gregory Keyes "Newton's Cannon novels" with its AH and Science Fantasy blend. Too, some of the strange locales and sense of fantasy to it reminds me of Jeff Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen. It's certainly an audaciously imagined universe, a literal clockwork world.

I think the pacing could have been better, it feels very uneven in places. This is only Lake's second novel (and I've not read his first), and I suspect perhaps its his unfamiliarity with the long ball, so to speak, that lets him down here. There are certainly wonders here to be had. Too, some of Hethor's adventures have a feeling of deus ex machina (pun not quite intended) to them. I did keep reading the book, though, in eagerness to know what was going to happen next, and see Hethor through to his destination.

And, really, how can you go wrong with the addition of Zeppelins? I know there will be sequelae and despite the imperfections in this novel, I remind the reader that I am a fan of worldbuilding first and foremost even to this day. The worldbuilding here intrigued me no end, and is the strongest and greatest virtue of Mainspring.

Science Fantasy Alternate History Clockpunk goodness.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:25 PM

October 30, 2007

Book Review 2007 #48-49: The Green Pearl and Madouc

The Green Pearl and Madouc are a pair of Jack Vance novels, that with Suldrun's Garden, complete the Lyonesse Trilogy.

More High Fantasy from Vance in an imaginary land existing into dark age times, with magic, intrigue and mayhem.

Both novels continue where Suldrun's Garden leaves off, showing the machinations of King Casmir and his attempts to become the one King of the Lyonesse islands. Throw in Aillas, King of Troicinet, who is his primary opposition, Dhrun, Aillas' son with Suldrun (unbeknowst to Casmir), and Madouc, the changeling who poses as Casmir's daughter, and you have the political and intrigue side of the novels.

And then throw in the conflicts between wizards, from the witch Desmei to Tamurello, and Shimrod with his patron, Murgen, and you begin to see that these novels are all about layers of stories all interacting with each other. The Green Pearl hooks the characters and plots together by means of the titular baneful magical artifact. Madouc brings Casmir's false daughter front and center as a character whose quest to find her *real* parentage helps drive events.

All of the virtues of Vance are here, and few of the defects. We get strange locales, wonderful use of language, and an unfailing sense of action and adventure.

Vance is not known for extremely nuanced characters, and his female characters can be lacking. Madouc is the exception that proves the rule--a strong, active female character. Other characters, too, are stronger than is usual from Vance.

It is little wonder that Madouc won the World Fantasy Award, and is an excellent capstone to a major work in Vance's canon. As usual, I insist that you won't want to start here (start with Suldrun's Garden). However, readers of that work will find much to love in The Green Pearl and Madouc.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:33 AM

October 6, 2007

Book Review 2007 #47: Island at the Center of the World

Back to non fiction, Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto tells the story of Dutch New Amsterdam.

Growing up in NYC as I did, I probably learned a little bit more about New Amsterdam, the original Dutch colony that was planted in New York, than most of my friends. I knew who Peter Minuit was (he's the one who "bought" Manhattan), and of course Peter Stuyvesant, who surrendered New Amsterdam to the British without a shot being fired.

The story of NA, however, is far deeper and complex than these two individuals, and drawing on a wealth of recently translated documents, Russell Shorto explains just how complex and vivid New Amsterdam really was.

Shorto's thesis, which he defends and trumpets vigorously and convincingly, is that its not the monoculture of puritan New England, or the tobacco farmers of Virginia who really set the stage for the free-speech, free-religion, free-trade aspects of Colonial, and later, independent America.

Rather it is New Amsterdam, not only founded on Dutch traditions of grudging acceptance, but forced into it by the sheer variety of people to be found in the little colony, which forced New Amsterdam into a melting pot which later imprinted on the successor colony of New York, and America in general. New Amsterdam, to Shorto's thesis, was much more responsible for the spirit of America than people realize.

His hero is Adriaen Van Der Donck, whose title of Jonker lead to the naming of the city of Yonkers. Shorto draws Van Der Donck as an early American, someone whose vision and eyes were not on his birthplace of Holland, but squarely here in America, the land that he grew to love. He also gives a much more complete portrait of Minuit and Stuyvesant than even taught in NYC schools, and probably much more than other people get.

Shorto's thesis does get a bit overplayed, and he does go on lots of tangents and divergences throughout the text. While many of these tangents are interesting in and of themselves, they do sometimes dilute the point he is making at the time.

Even given these two weaknesses, the writing is clear, engaging, and highly informative. Shorto shines a light on a neglected corner of colonial history, one which anyone interested in American history or 17th century history will definitely enjoy. I learned a lot, from the large scale history of New Amsterdam, to little things, like where the name of Yonkers, and even Staten Island, my hometown, comes from.

I enjoyed the book.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:08 AM

September 30, 2007

Matthew Hughes and Vance

A few years ago, I came across a review of a book called Fools Errant. I believe it was in Locus magazine, and the novel was by a new author named Matthew Hughes.

What intrigued me about the book's review was that the book was highlighted as being in the vein of Jack Vance's Dying Earth. And we all know how much I love Vance's work, Dying Earth being high in my esteem for the author. This intrigued me.

So, I bought the book and read it. It wasn't bad, I liked it. Was it as good as Vance?

I am pained to admit to you that it did not rise quite as high in my esteem as the work of the singular master Jack Vance.

It felt like an early work by a young author. I could see that it was both a pastiche as well as an original work by Hughes, though. It felt like a Vancian novel, but his Archonate universe was a little more geared toward Science than fantasy, as if it took place not quite so late in Earth's history as the world of the Dying Earth.

The book went onto my completed pile, and I moved on. I sometimes take a long time to return to a series or an author, given the breadth of my reading. In point of fact, Hughes mostly fell off my radar.

Since then, though, without me buying his books, Hughes himself has not been idle. He has written a sequel to Fools Errant, Fool Me Twice, as well as more novels and stories set in his Dying Earth like world. In point of fact, he has gotten quite a bit of good buzz, and I do wonder how much he has honed his craft since reading that early novel of his.

Perhaps it is time again to revisit Hughes' work and see how he has grown. The excerpts from his website of his various novels are quite promising. The style and feel I had read in Fools Errant seem to have been polished:

Luff Imbry came to Sherit on the shuttle from Olkney, traveling comfortably on a red-tab first-class travel voucher. The ticket had begun as a blue-ordinary, but soon encountered a small but useful device of Imbry's own manufacture, which bedecked it in an electronic mirage that fooled the shuttle's automatic scanners. At ease in the red-tab compartment's sumptuous lounge, the fraudster helped himself to a smattering of delicacies from the circulating buffet and accepted a glass of quite decent golden Phalum.

At Sherit's main terminus, Imbry's appearance excited no comment. His only outstanding feature was a pronounced corpulence but even this he used to his advantage, contriving his features into an arrangement that conveyed benign geniality, the image of the jolly fat fellow. His garb was also commonplace in Sherit that year: a voluminous jacket of dark patent leather over flared pantaloons patterned in contrasting stripes of red and white, with shoes that matched the leather and a hat that echoed the cloth.

He recovered his carry-all bag from the here-you-are, then wove his way through the crowds of travelers to the ring-road outside. There he spied a passing omnibus which bore the name of the Trabboline Inn. The slow-moving conveyance was trolling for in-bound travelers who had not yet reserved lodgings, its illuminated sides displaying the Trabboline's rates and attractions.

Luff Imbry assembled his face into a pleasing distribution of smiles and winks, then stepped aboard and spoke affably to the vehicle's operator, a stubby person with pale hair and eyes whose gender remained indeterminate under the baggy one-piece work garb typical of lower class Sheritics. The response was brusque, somewhat more than a grunt although not quite an actual syllable, but Imbry was not so easily put off.

"I believe the Trabboline offers discrete classes of accommodation," he said, "from Green Basic to Platinum Superior?"

The inquiry drew a confirmatory sound from deep in the Sheritic's throat.

"And Platinum Superior is available only to persons of the renunciant class?"

This time the answer was more growl than grunt. Imbry had uncovered a raw patch on the driver's psyche. He proceeded to abrade it. "I am impressed by the renunciant concept," he said. "The wide world marvels at the wisdom of Sheritics in having created such a beneficial institution."

--Black Brillon, Matthew Hughes

Reading through the descriptions of some of his novels, too, I think that my instincts for what Hughes is doing are right. The novels are set in a Dying Earth like universe, but one which is at a more science dominated point in history--but that is changing. Hughes' novels seem to be documenting the time up to the "turnover" point, and once again I am intrigued.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:34 AM

Book Review 2007 #46: Endgame

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from EOS of this book.


Endgame, by Kristine Smith.

It can be difficult to jump into a series in midstream, or, as it seems in Kristine Smith's fifth novel about Jani Kilian, its last story. I have heard of Smith's work before. However, this is the first time I have read any of her work.

Smith in Endgame does a fairly good job in immersing a first time reader into the world of humans, idomeni and hybrids. The novel starts off with a completely different viewpoint character, which allows readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Kilian and her world to ease into the narrative. Her reaction in seeing Kilian likely strikes a chord with familiar readers. With this new reader, it is a signpost that Jani Kilian is someone who, over the course of five novels, has developed a rich and powerful backstory and even mythology around her.


The story itself revolves around Jani Kilian, a human-alien hybrid whose skills are put to the test when her mentor is assassinated. In seeking its killer, Jani Kilian has to take on powerful enemies, perhaps from both the humans and aliens both. Partaking of both worlds, Kilian finds that there are those from both worlds who would seek to destroy what she has so carefully and painstakingly built: a refuge for hybrids like her.

When the novel's narrative turns to its main character and gets going, I was entertained, even though the main character and the associates around her were new to me. I suspect many small character bits which I overlooked were in fact payoffs for readers who have faithfully followed Kilian's story from its beginnings to this point. In regards to the actual story itself, I was only disappointed in the shortness of Rilas' first person narrative and her point of view. I think the novel loses a step when it precisely stops cutting back and forth between the two characters. Too,the world is more than adequately explained and developed. So much so, in fact, that I want to read the previous novels not only to find out more about Kilian, but about the world so lovingly and richly described. Smith has done an excellent job with the world building, developing alien cultures and the characters that inhabit them.

Despite coming into the series cold, overall, I enjoyed Endgame.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:48 AM

September 24, 2007

A guidebook for me to pick up

MPR: New North Shore guidebook explains Minnesota's origins

The author of a new guidebook to trails on Minnesota's North Shore was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio today. The book sounds like its right up my alley for geological,historical and botanical explorations up there.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:34 AM

September 19, 2007

Books Read 2007 to date 9/20/07

Books finished as of today.

45.Lurulu (Jack Vance)
44.Ports of Call (Jack Vance)
43.The Sharing Knife: Legacy (Lois M Bujold)
42.The Sharing Knife: Beguilement (Lois M Bujold)
41.The Virgin and the Wheels (L Sprague De Camp)
40.Night of Knives (Ian Esselmont)
39.Lady of Mazes (Karl Schroeder)
38.Sailing to Byzantium (Colin Wells)
37.Operation Luna (Poul Anderson)
36.Operation Chaos (Poul Anderson)
35.Imperium (Keith Laumer)
34.Suldrun's Garden (Jack Vance)
33.Redemption Ark (Alistair Reynolds)
32.Imperium (Historical Fiction of Cicero) (Robert Harris)
31.Odalisque (Fiona Mcintosh)
30.Bright of the Sky (Kay Kenyon)
29.Moon Handbooks Canadian Rockies (Andrew Hempstead)
28.Midnight Tides (Steven Erikson)
27.Eragon (Christopher Paolini)
26.Rainbows End (Vernor Vinge)
25. Sweet Silver Blues (Glen Cook)
24. After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Donald Prothero)
23.Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of SF (Jeff Prucher)
22. In the Hall of the Martian King (John Barnes)
21. Ships of Air (Martha Wells)
20. Queen of Zamba ( L Sprague De Camp)
19.Sky of Swords A Novel of the King's Blades (Dave Duncan)
18.Parallel Worlds (Michio Kaku)
17.Quantum Gravity: Keeping it Real (Justina Robson)
16.Orphans of Chaos (John C Wright)
15. Blindsight (Peter Watts)
14. Paragaea (Chris Roberson)
13. House of Chains (Steven Erikson)
12.Maskerade (Terry Pratchett)
11.The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi)
10.The Jack Vance Treasury (Jack Vance)
9.Quantumscapes (Stephan Martiniere)
8.Quantum Dreams (Stephan Martiniere)
7.Viriconium (M John Harrison_
6.Old Man's War (John Scalzi)
5.The Scent of Shadows ( Vicki Pettersson)
4.The Greatest Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century (Martin Greenberg)
3.From Homer to Hadrian (Robin Lane Fox)
2.Carnival (Elizabeth Bear)
1. Souls in the Great Machine (Sean McMullen)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:44 PM

Book Review 2007 #44-45 Ports of Call and Lurulu

My next pair of novels are the last pair of novels by Jack Vance, the Lurulu duology, consisting of Ports of Call and Lurulu.

Ports of Call and Lurulu are, according to their author, the last novels he will write. Old and now blind, Vance's career is gliding toward its end, with retrospective anthologies and the like announced (and one, the Jack Vance Treasury, reviewed here).

Ports of Call and Lurulu tell the story of Myron Tany, a young man who doesn' t want his preordained future as an accountant. He seizes an opportunity to captain and escort his eccentric great Aunt Hester to a far away planet in search of a rejuvenation treatment.

When said Aunt's lover arranges for him to be dumped off unceremoniously on a planet mid-route, rather than returning home with his tail between his legs, he hires on as an officer in charge of cargo on the tramp freighter Glicca.

And so Myron gets to see the Gaean Reach, and his own search for happiness, for lurulu.

The two novels, quite frankly, are far from Vance's best. There is not much of a plot, and the characters are not that complex. There are no real details to the technical means of travel. The adventures of Myron on the Glicca could, with some changes, instead be his adventures aboard a Yankee clipper heading for strange ports of call in the early 19th century. There are some nice bits in the two novels, but as a whole, taken together, this is far from Vance's best work. In fact, I think someone trying Vance for the first time is likely to be turned off by the Master's work , as spectacularly unsuited it is for the first time reader.

I can't recommend this pair of novels to anyone except a Vance enthusiast like myself, and even then, its for completeness' sake.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:24 PM

September 16, 2007

Robert Jordan, RIP

Via Robert Jordan's blog, which I picked up on a tip from comments in George R R Martin's Blog.

Robert Jordan has passed away. I knew he was not healthy, with a rare blood disorder (amyloidosis) but didn't pay attention to updates on the details of his condition. And now he is gone.

I'm speechless and shocked.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:12 PM

Book Review 2007 #42-43 The Sharing Knife

A pair of novels in an SFBC omnibus edition, written by Lois M Bujold.

Gene Wolfe once wrote an essay, "The Ethos of Elfland", describing the geography of the land of fantasy.

Lois M Bujold's pair of Sharing Knife novels, Beguilement and Legacy, fit on the border of fantasy's kingdom, with the lands of romance, partaking of both.

The two novels tell the story of Dag the Lakewalker and Fawn Bluefield. In the first novel, Beguilement, Fawn is a pregnant farmer girl fleeing from her family farm and seeking a new life, and she becomes embroiled in the former's attempt to kill an evil, a malice, left over from an earlier, more advanced age in history. A common bond is formed, and the pair become unlikely lovers in a May-December romance. Such a romance leads Dag and Fawn to return to Bluefield farm and Fawn's family.

The first novel starts off very well, although it tapers off toward its conclusion.The structure of its conclusion shows the romantic roots and pedigree of the novel, as opposed to the fantasy elements, since it concerns itself with the acceptance of Dag and Fawn's relationship.

The second novel picks up from the first, and shows the journey of Dag and Fawn to the encampment of the Lakewalkers. This novel has a structure almost a mirror to the first. It begins with Dag and Fawn trying to get the Lakewalkers to accept their relationship, and builds toward Dag's encounter with a Malice even more powerful than in Beguilement.

Once again, the virtues of Bujold's writing, first and last characters diverse and complex are the strength of the novels. I am curious about the backstory of this world, only hinted at here and there. I understand that Bujold is writing more novels set in the Sharing Knife world, and perhaps those novels will help answer those questions.

While I don't think its quite as good as the best of the Miles books, or perhaps the Chalion novels, the Sharing Knife novels are still well worth reading, unless you have a real aversion to Romantic fiction.


Posted by Jvstin at 3:46 PM

September 7, 2007

More Vance coming from Subterranean Press

Subterranean Press, who put out the wonderful Jack Vance Treasury I read and reviewed earlier this year, has some wonderful news for the Vanceophile:

http://subterraneanpress.com/index.php/2007/09/07/just-announced-new-books-by-jack-vance-and-thomas-m-disch/

We’ve just posted details for novellas by two of our favorite writers. First up is Jack Vance’s The Kragen, a rare novella of his that we’ll be publishing as a signed limited edition, bargain priced at $35...
In further Vance news, we’ve just reached agreement to publish The Jack Vance Reader next year, a massive tome that will include three of his best novels, with guest introductions. Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan are once again helming this book, as they did so ably with The Jack Vance Treasury. Also on the Vance front will be Songs of the Dying Earth, a tribute anthology featuring a whole host of sf’s leading lights playing in Jack’s universe. Contributors are slated to include George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Tad Williams, and a whole host of others.

Consider me signed up.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:39 PM

September 6, 2007

What I won't be reading: Heartsick, by Chelsea Cain

Borders - Feature - Heartsick

Given that my reviews are generally positive, I wonder if my kind readers here think I like everything.

Its not true at all. And this morning proved it. I receive the weekly email from Borders containing coupons and information on upcoming books. Heartsick, by Chelsea Cain, sounded interesting, and there was a link to a free read of the first chapter (linked above).

So I read it. And found it too sadistic for my tastes. I am not tempted to read the novel, now. Read it for yourself. It may be your cup of tea, but its not mine.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:08 AM

September 2, 2007

Book Review 2007 #41: The Virgin and the Wheels

A short compliation of two short novels (which today are considered novellas) by the one and only L Sprague de Camp, the Virgin and the Wheels combines a Krishna story, The Virgin of Zesh, and the seminal Alternate History story, The Wheels of If.

The Virgin of Zesh is a typical De Camp Krishna story from the early 60's where Althea Merrick, missionary, finds herself stranded in the spaceport on Krishna waiting for her superior in the church to collect her. Being stuck in a spaceport as a distinctly minority gender, however, leads to Althea being married against her will to the security officer. To escape the unwanted marriage, Althea is forced to go on the run with a poet and a scientist, into the wilds of the alien planet, to Zesh, where a war between rival Krishnans will put them in the crossfire...

The title, then, refers to Althea's attempts to keep herself intact, as well as a mysterious figure on the island that she and her companions travel to. De Camp has gleeful fun in disabusing back-to-nature utopias in the scathing portrait of Elysion, the commune that the trio find themselves taking shelter in. There is also a scathing rejoinder to the ideas of a certain religion-creating SF writer, too.

Is the novel somewhat dated in its attitudes and mores? Sure, it was written in 1962. And yet, much of that is defused with De Camp's unique use of Portuguese culture as the dominant one in his future history. Too, while buffeted about by circumstance, Althea in the end is no helpless screamer, and takes action and makes choices on her own, rather than being merely ornamental eye candy for the male protagonists.

As a way to rationalize and regularize Sword and Planet novels, De Camp's Krishna stories are among my very favorites and Virgin of Zesh is no exception.



The other half of the book I have read many times before, most recently last year when I read Years in the Making, the Best Time Travel Stories of L Sprague De Camp.

The Wheels of If is one of the early and seminal alternate history stories, as Allister Park, lawyer from our world, has his mind catapulted from this one, and into the bodies of corresponding alternative selves in various worlds. While we get bits and pieces of a few worlds, the main one he finds himself in and spends the most time in is De Camp's AH where Martel lost the battle of Tours, and Celtic Christianity became the dominant strain in the north. Thus, the Americas are a mishmash of Middle english speaking celts who are cheek by jowl to a Native American population who was contacted much earlier in history, and so had a chance to catch up technologically. Park, of course, cares about this only so much as to find a way back to his own body and world.

As for the reader, though, De Camp's depiction of New Belfast (on the site of New York City) and the world that Park maneuvers in is an inspiration classic to many others. I could see, for example, how Poul Anderson's alternate NY in "Delenda Est" clearly is a tip of the hat to De Camp's New Belfast. Harry Turtledove has admitted this story as one of his inspirations, along with Lest Darkness Fall. Turtledove even wrote an authorized sequel to this story, continuing the adventures of Allister Park.

Besides the worldbuilding, again, while the attitudes and mores are definitely a product of their times, De Camp's writing is still strong and clear, today. He does delve a bit into infodrops, typical of the time. However, before reading this story, for the first time, I never really understood how Josef Stalin managed to gain control of Russia. What does Stalin's rise to power have to do with Park and why would De Camp include it? That I leave for the reader to discover. De Camp also knows how to do the "good bits", when the duller time of Park's adventures are squeezed and glossed over in favor of the more interesting situations.

The Wheels of If is still one of my favorite SF stories, AH or otherwise. Perhaps my love of Stross' Merchant Princes series is precisely because I was weaned early and well on good alternate history stories such as De Camp's Wheels of If.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:32 AM

Book Review 2007 #40: Night of Knives

A bit of a departure in the sense that this book (only really available in the UK) was lent to me by one of the Exalted gaming group. This is a Malazan novel written not by Erikson, but rather by his co-creator of the Malazan universe, Ian C Esselmont.

My tagline for Erikson's Malazan fat fantasy novel series is "The best epic fantasy series that you are not reading".

Malazan does have it loyal readers, but they seem thin on the ground amongst my social circle. I was the first to find it within my gaming groups, for example. However, nearly everyone who has tried them has been hooked.

This novel, though is not the place to start. Not written by Erikson himself, A Night of Knives is distinctly different. It's short (~300 pages HC), the time frame of events only takes place over a few days, and the action takes place in a very limited area of the world. Compare that to Erikson's novels, which often have prologues and flashbacks years, decades, millennia before the main action, sprawl over wide areas, and are doorstop in size.

The writing style is different, too, as Erikson's jump cutting between characters is not in evidence here, with much smoother switches between viewpoint characters.

With that out of the way, the story itself fills in a key point in the Malazan history which has been talked about and alluded to--just how and why the former Emperor of the Malazan Empire, Kellanved, and his right hand man Dancer, managed to find a throne more powerful than a simple human Empire...

Throw in another Elder Race (Malazan is chock full of races older than humanity, but NONE are anything like the archetypal Tolkienesque elves and dwarves), more warren magic, a night where dark things will happen to many characters, the same grittiness and even dark humor, and while this may not have been written by Erikson, it still has the same sort of Malazan goodness. Esselmont is a decent writer and evokes Malaz City and its environs fairly well (even if not quite as well as Erikson might have done). Fans of the Malazan novels will not be disappointed.

A Night of Knives, though is definitely not the place to start, and I think I myself got spoiled for a Malazan novel or two I haven't gotten to just yet. Reading this would be like watching the "new" Star Wars trilogy before watching the "old" one. For thematic and dramatic reasons, A Night of Knives probably should wait until you have a few Malazan novels under your belt.

And so what are *you* waiting for? If you have any interest in epic fantasy, you will love the Malazan novels. Start with Gardens of the Moon. Or, you might actually make a go of starting with the fifth book. Midnight Tides., which is set away from the previous four novels and shows Erikson's increasing polish as a writer.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:14 AM

August 30, 2007

The Children's Story by James Clavell

I came across a link to ten dystopian novels listed in the Guardianand came across an odd entry:

9. The Children's Story by James Clavell
I'm ashamed to say that I borrowed this book from my school library when I was nine and never returned it. In my defence, it's one of the most chilling books I've ever read. Set in a classroom, it shows how susceptible young minds are, how vulnerable, how easy to control. In a few short pages (and just 25 minutes), a silky voiced teacher succeeds in brainwashing a classroom of children, turning them against their country, against their parents, against basic freedoms. As the book's blurb says, The Children's Story is not just for children...


So I went googling for it, and found an online version of it. I suspect its in the Public Domain, so here is the entirety of the story.

The Children's Story
by James Clavell

The teacher was afraid.


And the children were afraid. All except Johnny. He watched the classroom door with hate. He felt the hatred deep within his stomach. It gave him strength.

It was two minutes to nine.


The teacher glanced numbly from the door and stared at the flag which stood in a corner of the room. But she couldn't see the flag today. She was blinded by her terror, not only for herself but mostly for them, her children. She had never had children of her own. She had never married.
In the mists of her mind she saw the rows upon rows of children she had taught through her years. Their faces were legion. But she could distinguish no one particular face. Only the same face which varied but slightly. Always the same age or thereabouts. Seven. Perhaps a boy, perhaps a girl. And the face always open and ready for the knowledge that she was to give. The same face staring at her, open, waiting and full of trust.


The children rustled, watching her, wondering what possessed her. They saw not the gray hair and the old eyes and the lined face and the well-worn clothes. They saw only their teacher and the twisting of her hands. Johnny looked away from the door and watched with the other children. He did not understand anything except that the teacher was afraid, and because she was afraid she was making them all worse and he wanted to shout that there was no need to fear. "Just because THEY'VE conquered us there's no need for panic fear," Dad had said. "Don't be afraid, Johnny. If you fear too much, you'll be dead even though you're alive."


The sound of footsteps approached and then stopped. The door opened.

The children gasped. They had expected an ogre or giant or beast or witch or monster - like the outer-space monsters you think about when the lights are out and Mommy and Daddy have kissed you good night and you're frightened and you put your head under the cover and all at once you're awake and it's time for school. But instead of a monster, a beautiful young girl stood in the doorway. Her clothes were neat and clean, all olive green - even her shoes. But most important, she wore a lovely smile, and when she spoke, she spoke without the trace of an accent. The children found this very strange, for THEY were foreigners from a strange country far across the sea. They had all been told about THEM.

"Good morning, children, I'm your new teacher," the New Teacher said. Then she closed the door softly and walked to the teacher's desk, and the children in the front row felt and smelled the perfume of her - clean and fresh and young - and as she passed Sandra who sat at the end of the first row she said, "Good morning, Sandra," and Sandra flushed deeply and wondered, aghast, with all the other children, HOW DID SHE KNOW MY NAME? and her heart raced in her chest and made it feel tight and very heavy.

The teacher got up shakily. "I, er, I - good morning." Her words were faltering. She, too, was trying to get over the shock. And nausea.

"Hello, Miss Worden," the New Teacher said. "I'm taking over your class now. You are to go to the principal's office."
"Why? What's going to happen to me? What's going to happen to my children?" The words gushed from Miss Worden, and a lank piece of hair fell into her eyes. The children were agonized by the cut to her voice, and one or two of them felt the edge of tears.
"He just wants to talk to you, Miss Worden," the New Teacher said gently. "You really must take better care of yourself. You shouldn't be so upset."
Miss Worden saw the New Teacher's smile but she wasn't touched by its compassion. She tried to stop her knees from shaking. "Good-bye, children," she said. The Children made no reply. they were too terrified by the sound of her voice and the tears that wet her face. And because she was crying, some of the children cried, and Sandra fled to her.

The New Teacher shut the door behind Miss Worden and turned back into the room, cradling Sandra in her arms. "Children, children, there's no need to cry!" she said. "I know, I'll sing you a song! Listen!"
2

And she sat down on the floor as gracefully as an angel, Sandra in her arms, and she began to sing and the children stopped crying because Miss Worden never, never sang to them and certainly never sat on the floor, which is the best place to sit, as everyone in the class knew. They listened spellbound to the happy lilt of the New Teacher's voice and to the strange words of a strange tongue which soared and dipped like the sea of grass that was the birthplace of the song. It was a child's song, and it soothed them, and after she had sung the first chorus the New Teacher told them the story of the song.
It was about two children who had lost their way and were all alone in the great grass prairies and were afraid, but they met a fine man riding a fine horse and the man told them that there was never a need to be afraid, for all they had to do was the watch the stars and the stars would tell them where their home was.
"For once you know the right direction, then there's never a need to be afraid. Fear is something that comes from inside, from inside your tummies," the New Teacher said radiantly, "and good strong children like you have to put food in your tummies. Not fear."

The children thought about this and it seemed very sensible. The New Teacher sang the song again, and soon all the children were happy and calm once more. Except Johnny. He hated her even though he knew she was right about fear.

"Now," said the New Teacher, "what shall we do? I know, we'll play a game. I'll try and guess your names!"
The children, wide-eyed, shifted in their seats. Miss Worden never did this, and often she called a child by another's name. THE NEW TEACHER'LL NEVER KNOW ALL OUR NAMES! NEVER! they thought. So they waited excitedly while the New Teacher turned her attention to Sandra. Oh, yes, somehow she already knew Sandra's name, but how could she possibly know everyone's? They waited, glad that they were going to catch out the New Teacher.
But they were not to catch her out. The New Teacher remembered every name.

Johnny put up his hand. "How'd you know our names? I mean, well, we haven't had a roll call or anything, so how'd you know our names?"
"That's easy, Johnny," the New Teacher said. "You all sit in the same places every day. Each desk has one pupil. So I learned your names from a list. I had to work for three whole days to remember your names. A teacher must work very hard to be a good teacher, and so I worked for three days so that I could know each of you the first day. That's very important, don't you think, for a teacher to work hard?"

Johnny frowned and half-nodded and sat down and wondered why he hadn't figured that out for himself before asking, astonished that she had worked three days just to know everyone the first day. But still he hated her.
"Johnny. Would you tell me something, please? How do you start school? I mean what do you do to begin with?"
Johnny stood reluctantly. "We first pledge allegiance and then we sing the song -"
"Yes, but that's all after roll call," Sandra said, "You forgot roll call.
"Yes, You forgot roll call, Johnny," Mary said.
"First we have roll call," Johnny said. Then he sat down.
The New Teacher smiled. "All right. but we really don't need roll call. I know all your names and I know everyone's here. It's very lazy for a teacher not to know who's here and who isn't, don't you think? After all, a teacher should KNOW. So we don't need roll call while I'm your teacher. So we should pledge, isn't that next?"

Obediently all the children got up and put their hands on their hearts and the New Teacher did the same, and they began in unison, 'I pledge allegiance to the flag of -"
"Just a moment," the New Teacher said. "What does PLEDGE mean?"

The children stood openmouthed; Miss Worden had never interrupted them before. They stood and stared at the New Teacher. Wordless. And silent.

"What does ALLEGIANCE mean?" The New Teacher asked, her hand over her heart.

3

The children stood in silence. Then Mary put up her hand. "Well, PLEDGE is, ah, well, something like - sort of when you want to do something very good. You sort of pledge you're going to do something like not suck your thumb 'cause that makes your teeth bend and you'll have to wear a brace and go to the dentist, which hurts."
"That's very good, Mary. Very, very good. To pledge means to promise. And ALLEGIANCE?"
Mary shrugged helplessly and looked at her best friend, Hilda, who looked back at her and then at the teacher and shrugged helplessly too.

The New Teacher waited, and the silence hung in the room, hurting. then she said, "I think it's quite wrong for you to have to say something with long words in it if you don't understand what you're saying."

So the children sat down and waited expectantly.
"What did your other teacher tell you that it meant?"
After a long silence Danny put up his hand. "She never said nothing, miss."

One of my teachers at the other school I went to before this one," Joan said in a rush, "well, she sort of said what it all meant, at least she said some thing about it just before recess one day and then the bell went and afterwards we had spellin'."
Danny said, "Miss Worden - well, she never told us. We just hadta learn it and then say it, that's all. Our real teacher didn't say anything at all."
All the children nodded. Then they waited again.
"Your teacher never explained to you?" All the children shook their heads.

"I don't think that was very good. Not to explain. You can always ask me anything. That's what a real teacher should do." Then the New Teacher said, "But didn't you ask your daddies and mommies?"
"Not about 'I pledge.' We just hadta learn it," Mary said. "Once I could say it, Daddy gave me a nickel for saying it good."
"That's right," Danny said. "So long as you could say it all, it was very good. But I never got no nickel."
"Did you ask each other what it meant?"
"I askt Danny once and he didn't know and none of knowed really. It's grown-up talk, and grown-ups talk that sort of words. We just havta learn it."

"The other schools I went to," Hilda said, "they never said anything about it. They just wanted us to learn it. They didn't ask us what it meant. We just hadta say it every day before we started school."
"It took me weeks and weeks and weeks to say it right," Mary said.
So the New Teacher explained what allegiance meant. " ...so you are promising or pledging support to the flag and saying that it is much more important than YOU are. How can a flag be more important than a real live person?"
Johnny broke the silence. "But the next thing is - well, where it says 'and to the republic for which it stands.' That means it's like a, like a..." He searched for the word and could not find it. "Like well, sort of a sign, isn't it?"
"Yes. The real word is a SYMBOL." The New Teacher frowned. "But we don't need a sign to remind us that we love our country, do we? You're all good boys and girls. Do you need a sign to remind you?"
"What's REMIND mean?" Mary asked.
"It means to make you remember. To make you remember that you're all good boys and girls."
The children thought about this and shook their heads.

Johnny put up his hand. "It's our flag," he said fiercely. "We always pledge."
"Yes," the New Teacher said. "It is a very pretty one. She looked at it a moment and then said, "I wish I could have a piece of it. If it's so important, I think we should all have a piece of it. Don't you?"
"I've a little one at home," Mary said. "I could bring it tomorrow."
"Thank you, Mary dear, but I just wanted a little piece of this one because it's our own special classroom one."
Then Danny said, "If we had some scissors we could cut a little piece off."
"I've some scissors at home, Mary said.

4

"There's some in Miss Worden's desk," Brian said.

The New Teacher found the scissors and then they had to decide who would be allowed to cut a little piece off, and the New Teacher said that because today was Mary's birthday (HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT?) Mary asked herself, awed) Mary should be allowed to cut the piece off. And then they decided it would be very nice if they all had a piece. The flag is special, they thought, so if you have a piece, that's better than having just to look at it, 'cause you can keep it in your pocket.
So the flag was cut up by the children and they were very proud that they each had a piece. But now the flagpole was bare and strange.
And useless.

The children pondered what to do with it, and the idea that pleased them most was to push it out of the window. They watched excitedly as the New Teacher opened the window and allowed them to throw it into the playground. They shrieked with excitement as they saw it bounce on the ground and lie there. They began to love this strange New Teacher.

When they were all back in their seats the new Teacher said, "Well, before we start our lessons, perhaps there are some questions you want me to answer. Ask me anything you like. That's only fair, isn't it, if I ask you questions?"
Mary said, after a silence, "We never got to ask our real teacher ANY questions."
"You can always ask me anything. That ' 8 the fair way. The new way. Try me."
"What's your name?" Danny asked.
She told them her name, and it sounded pretty.
Mary put up her hand. "Why do you wear those clothes? Well, it's like a sort of uniform nurses wear."
"We think that teachers should be dressed the same. Then you always know a teacher. It's nice and light and easy to iron. Do you like the color?"
"Oh, yes," Mary said. "You've got green eyes too.
"If you like, children, as a very special surprise, you can all have this sort of uniform. Then you won't have to worry about what you have to wear to school every day. And you'll all be the same."
The children twisted excitedly in their seats. Mary said, "But it'll cost a lot, and my momma won't want to spend the money 'cause we have to buy food and food is expen-- Well, it sort of costs a lot of money."
"They will be given to you. As a present. There's no need to worry about money."
Johnny said, "I don't want to be dressed like that."
"You don't have to accept a present, Johnny. Just because the other children want to wear new clothes, you don't have to," the new Teacher said.

Johnny slunk back in his chair. I'M NEVER GOING TO WEAR THEIR CLOTHES, he said to himself. I DON'T CARE IF I'M GOING TO LOOK DIFFERENT FROM DANNY AND TOM AND FRED.

Then Mary asked, "Why was our teacher crying?"
"I suppose she was just tired and needed a rest. She's going to have a long rest." She smiled at them. "We think teachers should be young. I'm nineteen."
"Is the war over now?" Danny asked.
"Yes, Danny, isn't that wonderful! Now all your daddies will be home soon."

"Did we win or did we lose?" Mary asked.
"We - that's you and I and all of us - WE won."

"Oh!"
The children sat back happily.
Then Johnny's hatred burst. "Where's my dad? What've you done to my dad? Where's my dad?"

The New Teacher got up from her seat and walked the length of the room and the children's eyes followed her, and Johnny stood, knees of jelly. She sat down on his seat and put her hands on his shoulders, and his shoulders were shaking like his knees.
"He's going to a school. Some grown-ups have to go to school as well as children."
5

"But they took him away and he didn't want to go." Johnny felt the tears close and he fought them back.
The New Teacher touched him gently, and he smelled the youth and cleanness of her, and it was not the smell of home which was sour and just a little dirty. He's no different from all of you. YOU sometimes don't want to go to school. With grown-ups it's the same - just the same as children. Would you like to visit him? He has a holiday in a few days."
"Momma said that Dad's gone away forever!" Johnny stared at her incredulously. "He has a holiday?"
The New Teacher laughed. "She's wrong, Johnny. After all, everyone who goes to school has holidays. That's fair, isn't it?"
The children shifted and rustled and watched. And Johnny said, "I can see him?"
"Of course. Your daddy just has to go back to school a little. He had some strange thoughts, and he wanted other grown-ups to believe them. It's not right to want others to believe wrong thoughts, is it?"
"Well, no, I suppose not. But my dad never thought nothing bad."
"Of course, Johnny. I said WRONG thoughts -- not BAD thoughts. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's right to show grown-ups right thoughts when they're wrong, isn't it?"
"Well, yes," Johnny said. "But what wrong thoughts did he have?"
"Just some grown-up thoughts that are old-fashioned. We're going to learn all about them in class. Then we can share knowledge, and I can learn from you as you will learn from me. Shall we?"
"All right." Johnny stared at her, perplexed. "My dad couldn't have wrong thoughts. He just couldn't....

Could he?"

"Well, perhaps sometime when you wanted to talk about something very important to your dad, perhaps he said, 'Not now, Johnny, I'm busy,' or, 'We'll talk about that tomorrow.' That's a bad thought -- not to give you time when it's important. Isn't it?"
"Sure. but that's what all grown-ups do."
"My momma says that all the time," Mary said.
And the other children nodded, and they wondered if all their parents should go back to school and unlearn bad thoughts.

"Sit down, Johnny, and we'll start learning good things and not worry about grown-up bad thoughts. Oh, yes," she said when she sat down at her seat again, brimming with happiness, "I have a lovely surprise for you. You're all going to stay overnight with us. We have a lovely room with beds and lots of food, and we'll all tell stories and have such a lovely time."
"Oh, good," the children said.
"Can I stay up till eight o'clock?" Mary asked breathlessly.
"Well, as it's our first new day, we'll all stay up to eight-thirty. But only if you promise to go right to sleep afterward."

The children all promised. They were very happy. Jenny said, "But first we got to say our prayers. Before we go to sleep."
The new Teacher smiled at her. "Of course. Perhaps we should say a prayer now. In some schools that's a custom too." She thought a moment and the faces watched her. Then she said, "let's pray. But let's pray for something very good. What should we pray for?"
"Bless Momma and Daddy." Danny said immediately.
"That's a good idea, Danny. I have one. Let's pray for candy. That's a good idea, isn't it?"
They all nodded happily.
So, following their New Teacher, they all closed their eyes and steepled their hands together, and they prayed with her for candy.
The New Teacher opened her eyes and looked around disappointedly. "but where's our candy. God is all-seeing and everywhere, and if we pray, He answers our prayers. Isn't that true.?"
"I prayed for a puppy of my own lots of times, but I never got one," Danny said.
"Maybe we didn't pray hard enough. Perhaps we should kneel down like it' 8 done in church.
So the new Teacher knelt and all the children knelt and they prayed very, very hard. But there was still no candy.

Because the New Teacher was disappointed, the children were very disappointed. Then she said, "perhaps
6

we're using the wrong name." She thought a moment and then said, "instead of saying 'God,' let's say 'Our Leader.' Let's pray to Our Leader for candy. Let's pray very hard and don't open your eyes till I say."
So the children shut their eyes tightly and prayed very hard, and as they prayed, the New Teacher took out some candy from her pocket and quietly put a piece on each child's desk. She did not notice Johnny -- alone of all the children -- watching her through his half-closed eyes.
She went softly back to her desk and the prayer ended, and the children opened their eyes and they stared at the candy and they were overjoyed.
"I'm going to pray to Our Leader every time," Mary said excitedly.
"Me too," Hilda said. "Could we eat Our Leader's candy now, teacher?"
"Oh, let's, please, please, please."
"So Our Leader answered your prayers, didn't he?"
"I saw you put the candy on our desks!" Johnny burst out. "I SAW YOU... I didn't close my eyes, and I saw you. You had 'em in your pocket. We didn't get them with praying. YOU put them there."
All the children, appalled, stared at him and then at their New Teacher. She stood at the front of the class and looked back at Johnny and then at all of them.

"Yes, Johnny, you're quite right. You're a very, very wise boy. Children, I put the candy on your desks. So you know that it doesn't matter whom you ask, whom you shut your eyes and 'pray' to -- to God or anyone, even Our Leader -no one will give you anything. Only another human being." She looked at Danny. "God didn't give you the puppy you wanted. But if you work hard, I will. Only I or someone like me can GIVE you things. Praying to God or anything or anyone for something is a waste of time."
"Then we don't say prayers? We're not supposed to say prayers?"
The puzzled children watched her.
"You can if you want to, children. If your daddies and mommies want you to. But we know, you and I that it means nothing. That's our secret."
"My dad says it's wrong to have secrets from him."
"But he has secrets that he shares with your mommy and not with you, doesn't he?"
All the children nodded.
"Then it's not wrong for us to have a few secrets from them. Is it?"
"I like having secrets. Hilda and me have lots of secrets." Mary said.
The New Teacher said, "We're going -to have lots of wonderful secrets together. You can eat your candy if you want to. And because Johnny was especially clever, I think we should make him monitor for the whole week, don't you?"

They all nodded happily and popped the candy into their mouths and chewed gloriously. Johnny was very proud as he chewed his candy, he decided that he liked his teacher very much. Because she told the truth. Because she was right about fear. Because she was right about God. He'd prayed many times for many things and never got them, and even the one time he did get the skates, he knew his dad had heard him and had put them under his bed for his birthday and pretended he hadn't heard him. I ALWAYS WONDERED WHY HE DIDN'T LISTEN, AND ALL THE TIME HE WASN'T THERE, he thought.

Johnny sat back contentedly, resolved to work hard and listen and not to have wrong thoughts like Dad.

The teacher waited for them to finish their candy. This was what she had been trained for, and she knew that she would teach her children well and that they would grow up to be good citizens. She looked out of the window, at the sun over the land. It was a good land, and vast. A land to breathe in. But she was warmed not by the sun but by the thought that throughout the school and throughout the land all children, all men and all women were being taught with the same faith, with variations of the same procedures. Each according to his age group. Each according to his need.
She glanced at her watch....

It was 9:23.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:45 PM

August 26, 2007

Book Review 2007 #39: Lady of Mazes

And now with a return to SF, next up is Karl Schroeder's Lady of Mazes.

I bought the book because of the cover and artist.

I had heard of Schroeder before picking this up, although I didn't read his Ventus or Permanence. However, after I saw the cover art of the book, done by my favorite SF artist Stephen Martiniere (get a look at it here), I was more intrigued. And since I've heard good things about his new Virga novels, I decided to pick this up instead, and read it.

Livia Kodaly lives on a medium sized ringworld called a Coronal, living in a high tech environment where the various cultures living on the Coronal keep themselves walled off from each other by some very clever technology. Societies can live side by side without interacting with each other, and even having very different sociologies and technologies. She is somewhat different than her peers, a natural leader, having survived and thrived in a horrible accident when she was young.

That leadership is put to the test when strange visitors to a nearby society herald changes to the Coronal, changes large enough that will propel Livia off of the Coronal, and into the huge Archipelago of human civilization that comprises most of the solar system...

Lady of Mazes is strongest when it focuses on the actions of its sympathetic, well drawn protagonist, as well as the societal and philosophical questions that it raises. Progress, society, human dynamics, government and the limits of technology are explored as we follow Livia's story. Schroeder's imagination is in full force as he explores these questions in the backdrop of a future solar system where the only constraints on humanity are...well, that would be telling.

What works less effectively are the other characters, who are not as fully fleshed and developed as Livia is. I did feel at some points that Livia was doing most of the heavy lifting in character development, as opposed to the other characters like Aaron, Doran and Qiingi, who are less autonomous and real, to me. They felt more like "Sims" of characters, compared to the shining beacon of Livia. Too, some aspects of the future society feel a little unfinished and off of the cuff, and the denouement is a bit rushed in my opinion. Although the novel is a lean 400 pages and I wouldn't necessarily want an 800 page tome, I think things could have been paced a bit better in the endgame.

Still, Lady of Mazes strongly reminded me of The Golden Age with its depiction of future humanity and technology and the questions progress raises, although its a stand alone novel rather than a trilogy (of which I have only read the first). I did like it, and I look forward to reading more novels by Schroeder.


Posted by Jvstin at 2:36 PM

August 25, 2007

Book Review 2007 #38: Sailing to Byzantium

Nonfiction this time, Colin Wells' Sailing to Byzantium takes one of my favorite civilizations and tells the stories of how it influenced the civilizations around them, The Slavic World including Russia, Western Europe, and the Islamic World

Instead of focusing on the history, Wells focuses on a more artistic and cultural perspective. Byzantium, the heir to Rome, lasted until 1453. Although often unjustly ignored in history classes as a transmitter of ideas and culture, to the environs around it, Wells' book attempts to rectify that deficiency.

He's only somewhat successful. Wells' layout of the book is divided into region. He explains the history of Byzantium's influence on the West, and then switches to a much shorter section on Islam, and then, finally, the Slavic world. What this means is that, in a historical timeline perspective, Wells is forced to go through the timeline from scratch, twice. Often, he has to recapitulate events he has already discussed in a previous section.

Within those three sections, though, for the most part, Wells poses a good and clear narrative of how Byzantium interacted with the bordering culture. He does sometimes get bogged down in minutae, but the complexity (and indeed the word byzantine comes from the eponymous empire) is well described. However, the thesis fails somewhat with the Islamic section, the weakest and shortest section of the book. While I don't deny that there was some influence on Islam by Byzantium, I think Wells makes much more of it than it actually was, making a larger mountain out of a molehill.

Too, Wells is clearly an expert in literature and not a historian. For example, to write that the Mongols "inexplicably" withdrew from Hungary and Poland in 1242 is just plain sloppy. Batu withdrew because of the death of the Great Khan and the need to elect a new one. Simple as that. His lack of training as a historian also tells in his bibliography. While he has many fine works listed, he completes misses the epitome of popular histories of Byzantium--John Julius Norwich. His complete absence from being mentioned in the text or bibliography is frankly baffling.

Overall, while the book has its strengths, it should not by any means be your first book on Byzantium. Reading it as a cultural history works well only if you have already had a sound grounding in the political and social history of Byzantium. Reading it without that context is going to be more frustrating than enlightening.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:26 PM

August 15, 2007

Book Review 2007 #37: Operation Luna

A sequel to Operation Chaos, Operation Luna was again written by Poul Anderson.

Written as a flat out novel rather than a fixup, Operation Luna takes place some years after the events of Operation Chaos. Steve and Virginia have moved to the southwest, their baby daughter is now a teenager and has two siblings, and the dynamic duo are tied up with the naescent program to reach the Moon.

Unfortunately, there are forces, on the Moon and on Earth itself which will stop at nothing at preventing a successful mission to the Moon...

And unfortunately, the pacing is all wrong in Operation Luna. While Operation Chaos thrived on the short story fix up format which meant that the story had to flow, Operation Luna sags and sags badly when the plot needs to move ahead. Also, the politics in this novel are much more in evidence, and it hurts the story. Its not as bad as the hit-over-the-head of Niven and Pournelle's The Burning City, but the repeated cracks against the IRS in particular got wearisome after a while.

There were a few good bits and fun references, including Lyle Monroe's "Magister Lazarus" and a mystery novel which shares the title of a Turtledove work set in a similar milieu. Still, the novel doesn't have enough of the good stuff to be really worthwhile.

While Operation Luna has the same feel as Operation Chaos and introduces and show us how society might continue to evolve under a Technomagic revolution, I cannot in good conscience recommend it. Read Operation Chaos, and stop there.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:57 PM

Book Review 2007 #36: Operation Chaos

An oldie but a goodie, a fixup of several stories by Poul Anderson set in a world where magic becomes the dominant form of technology at the end of the 19th and into the 20th century.

Its one of my old favorites.

When we first meet them, Virginia Graylock and Steve Matuchek are in a special unit during an alternate WWII where a fanatical Caliphate rather than Nazi Germany has used djinn and other magical means to take on the world. Well enough that they have even managed to occupy some of the West Coast. The witch and the werewolf are brought together for a very special mission to neutralize one of those Djinn so that the real offensive can begin to turn the tide against the enemy. Tackling such an opponent though, is no mean feat...

The witch and the werewolf eventually get together, and together face other threats over the years, ranging from an elemental on the loose to a harrowing of hell itself.

Operation Chaos was an inspiration for one of my RPG characters, Zavier, since I explicitly made him from a shadow where the dominant form of technology is magic in the exact same mold. Operation Chaos has all of the virtues of Anderson's writing, including a wicked imagination on reimagining modern technology in arcane terms and forms. Its not very deep, but its easy and quick to absorb, even if the stories date from the 50's and 60's and show it (the mores and the social habits of the characters for example).

It was fun to read this again.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:43 PM

Book Review 2007 #35: Imperium

Really a compilation of three old novels, Imperium collects three parallel universe novels by Keith Laumer, Worlds of the Imperium, The Other Side of Time, and Assignment in Nowhere.

Since its a little more than a simple SFBC omnibus, I am counting it as one book rather than three.

Eric Flint edited the three novels.

The Imperium novels are part of the seminal work of the "parallel universes" branch of science fictiom. Akin to, for example, H Beam Piper's Kalvan of Otherwhen multiverse, Imperium posits a Victorian culture British-Scandinavian timeline which has discovered the secret of travel to parallel timelines.

In Worlds of the Imperium, Brion Bayard, a former American diplomat from our Earth is abducted to this parallel timeline because he is the double of a dictator of a devastated timeline that nonetheless seems to have broken the Imperium's monopoly on timeline travel. Worse, this timeline has an advantage that the Imperium lacks: Nuclear Weapons. Bayard is recruited to replace the dictator and end the threat, but not everything is at seems...

WOTI in my opinion is the most successful of the three novels, introducing the Victorianesque culture of the Imperium, and our Hero,a diplomat who, if not quite as two fisted as Retief, is still willing to do rather than talk, when necessary. Amusingly, like a certain diplomat PC of mine, he has a weakness for redheads, too.

The Other Side of Time increases the complexity of the multiverse of WOTI, by introducing timeline travelers who have diverged so distantly in the past, they are humanoid rather than actual humans. Bayard is faced with a threat far beyond nuclear weapons--a threat to the very existence of the Imperium's timeline.

I thought this was less successful because I think the universe was a little overcomplicated as a result of things and ideas introduced here. The prospect of something that could destroy a timeline so easily seemed off scale with the previous adventure and I didn't like it as much as a result.

Assignment in Nowhere suffers from not having Bayard as a main character. Instead, he is mostly on the sidelines as the action focuses on John Curlon, a resident of our Earth who winds up in the machinations of an ambitious noble of the Imperium. Thrust into a situation he does not understand, this felt something like a bit of a retread of the first novel in some respects.

Overall, the three novels are told in a breezy first person style that unabashedly celebrates the Victorian values of the Imperium, with some cracks at modern society along the way. The short sentence action style makes the novels page turners, even the less successful pair. Laumer does know how to do action-adventure SF and do it well. I was reasonably entertained by Imperium.


Posted by Jvstin at 8:25 PM

July 28, 2007

Book Review 2007 #34: Suldrun's Garden

My next book is a Vance that, due to being out of print for a while, that has escaped my reading, but no longer. The first in the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance, Suldrun's Garden.

Suldrun's Garden is a set of interwoven stories and characters in Dark Ages/Medieval Europe, on a now vanished island archipelago called Lyonesse, off of the coast of France. Here, several kingdoms squabble and vie for mastery over the area.

Suldrun's story, which starts the novel, is just one of interlocking tales, ranging from the doings of magicians, the scheming of potentates, and encounters with faerie and otherworlds. We meet wonderfully drawn characters. Suldrun herself, neglected and later imprisoned daughter of King Casmir. Aillas, the prince of an enemy kingdom, Troicinet, who by treachery is robbed of his rightful place and comes to meet Suldrun and thus precipitate events. Shimrod, magician who unhatches clever plots to find the villains who have robbed him and to gain revenge against the witch Desmei, who herself undergoes a strange transformation. And much more! We range the length and breath of these realms, from a sailing trip, to an episode in a faerie otherworld and much more.

Welded and melded to this is Vance's consummate skill in writing. His ear for unusual words, wonderfully colorful descriptions and vocabulary are in full flower here.


Melcanthe, hesitating, looked askance at Shimrod. His manner were altogether too easy. She had expected beseechments, protests, stipulations, and attempts to force her into commitments which so far she felt she had evaded. "Come then"
She took him away from the meadow and along a faint trail into the forest. The trail led this way and that, through dappled shade, past logs supporting brackets and shelves of archaic furniture, besides clusters of celandines, anemones, monks-hood and harebells. Sounds faded behind them and they were alone.
They came to a small glade shadowed under tall birch, alders, and oaks. An outcrop of black gabbro edged up from among dozens of white amaryllis, to become a low crag with a single steep face. Into this face of black rock an iron-bound door had been fitted.

Now I admit that Vance's style is not for everyone. I admit that I can only produce the palest and basest of mimicry of Vancean's ear for words, be it in game posts, journal entries, blog entries, discarded scribbles on paper, or even common speech. Things often happen rapidly, events rushing past like an unbounded river, characters moving and doing things with rapidity and boldness, plunging the reader headlong through the book.

I really liked it.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:52 PM

July 25, 2007

Mundane SF Manifesto

Kathryn Cramer: Rudy Rucker Attacks the Mundane SF Manifesto!

The linkage on this can be tricky. I did originally read the SFSignal entry which linked to the Kathryn Cramer article linked above which mentions Rudy Rucker's entry.

The Mundane SF movement, in my opinion, even with the best of intentions, comes across as an attack on the "sensawunda" that is the main reason that I read SF. I don't say that Mundane SF as a whole does this, but the Manifesto seems to want to reduce SF to more technothriller than fantastic.

It reminds me, oddly, of the luddite American populace in Phil Dick's novel "Time Out of Joint" who are convinced that One Happy World is better than the Moon (and by extension the rest of the universe).

Posted by Jvstin at 5:18 PM

Which Books Have you read more than once?

John at SFSignal asks:

What books have you read more than once?

I haven't re-read as much lately as I might like, mainly because of time. I have a "To be read" pile that is 150 books and counting, and so I eschew re-reading old novels in favor of new ones as much as possible.

Still, noteworthy books I've read multiple times:

* Silverlock, by John Myers Myers. Call me old fashioned, this is still one of my favorites. And I still need to run a game set in the Commonwealth someday.

* Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I read this one a couple of years ago, and re-read it in my effort to read the entire series (short of DH).

* The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny. Because of the superb writing, to get Amber game ideas, because I love his work.

* The Tschai novels, by Jack Vance. These were among the first novels I read when I started SF (thank you, brother!). I read them a couple of times since, most recently in the new omnibus edition.

* The Color of Magic, by Terry Pratchett. Again, I read this some years ago, and then re-read it in my ongoing efforts to read the entire Discworld Canon.

* Years In The Making: The Time-Travel Stories Of L. Sprague De Camp (L. Sprague De Camp)

I count this as a re-read because I read almost all of the stories in other contexts, and read the volume mainly for that pleasure.

---

Coming up eventually in my reading queue will be some more re-reads. I have some Jim Butcher to read (I read the first novel and will re-read it when I start *that* series), as well as De Camp's Enchanter novels. In general, though, I try to read new stuff, to reduce that ever growing pile...

And I didn't count the re-reading of "grazing books", books I like to flip through casually (from historical atlases to GURPS worldbooks). I've re-read those a number of times.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:15 AM

July 22, 2007

Book Review 2007 #33: Redemption Ark

For my thirty third book of the year, I returned to hard SF in the form of the third book in Alistair Reynolds' Inhibitor novels, Redemption Ark

The first two novels, Revelation Space and Chasm City hinted at the powerful Cojoiners, makers of space drives, one of the most powerful factions amongst the many that make up this future. Redemption Ark puts them center stage.

Nevil Clavain, the Butcher of Tharsis, who became a Conjoiner centuries ago unwillingly, is our entree into the strange joined minds of this transhumanist group, and he drives the novel. The Inhibitors, a machine intelligence designed to wipe out intelligent life which undertakes interstellar travel, are on the move. The Cojoiners have a plan, one that, once Clavain learns of it, decides is not the best one for humanity.

Arrayed with him are a number of other characters, both Conjoiner and otherwise. From Antionette Bax, spaceship pilot, to the uplifted pig Scorpio, Reynolds shows a variety of different types of 26th century humanity as the threat of the Inhibitors comes to bear on the planet Resurgam. Petty differences, old grudges, and misunderstandings all are still part of humanity, and these character flaws are as important as the overarching threat to the plot.

While I highly enjoyed the hard SF in the book (which I haven't read for a while), a few nits bugged me. I think the book takes too long to get going. When it does, it goes very well until the last coda of the book, but the slowness of the beginning is a bit off putting. Too, some of the character interactions are a bit melodramatic for my taste.

The ending is a slingshot, but I think its a bit too abrupt of one. It could have been written somewhat better and more smoothly.

Still, the driving force of Nevil Clavain is a potent one, and it was enough that I have borrowed his name for an RPG character. For its faults, I still liked Redemption Ark. I wouldn't personally start here, I would start with Revelation Space (although Chasm City could be skipped since it stands alone) and then read this one.

I fully intend to pick up and read the next book in the Inhibitor sequence, Absolution Gap, at some point.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:14 PM

July 18, 2007

Why read Science Fiction?

John, at SFSignal poses a deceptively simple question:

"Why do people read science fiction? For that matter, why do people watch sci-fi film and TV?" and then after answering it for himself, turns it on the reader.

I can answer it in one word.

Sensawunder.

Okay, its a neologism. Sense of Wonder. (much like John himself)

It doesn't have to be hard SF, although a Big D*mn Object can evoke Sensawunda. (eg, The Entire from Bright of the Sky all the way back to Ringworld). Sensawunda can be strange and well drawn aliens, amazing futures, incredible locales and much more.

I read science fiction because it provides the best value for armchair fictional traveller. Seriously. Why would I want to read, however well written, a John Grisham novel when...

Alistair Reynolds can take me inside the heart of a ship and man fused together? (Redemption Ark)...

Elizabeth Bear can let me follow along with two "secret agents" on a visit to a matriarchal planet with a Secret (Carnival)...

Vernor Vinge can show me a High School of 20 years in the future, a thrill of familiarity and wonder that a High school of today might be for someone who graduated High School in 1950 (Rainbow's End)

Walter Jon Williams can take me a Space Empire reminiscent of the Roman Republic, where humans are just one race trying to make their way after the creators of the Empire pass on (the Praxis Trilogy)

Jack Vance can let me follow Adam Reith through five novels stranded on an Alien world, seeking a way off of it, and back home. (Planet of Adventure)

And many, many other places and with many more characters, both in print and television. I've only scratched the surface. Invoke the sensawunda in me, and you'll have me as a loyal reader.

So, what about *you*?

Posted by Jvstin at 8:14 PM

July 5, 2007

Book Review 2007 #32: Imperium

My third second book was a gift from my English friend Mel, who finished the book and gave it to me at the Black Road, knowing that the subject matter would appeal.

The book is Imperium, by Robert Harris, and it is a historical fictional novel based on the life of none other than Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Harris knows his Roman history. He's written a previous novel set in Ancient Rome (Pompeii) and he also wrote an article for NY Times where he convincingly showed the parallels between 9/11 and the attack on Ostia by Pirates in 68 BC. That incident does feature in this novel, which follows the middle career of Cicero, from his prosecution of a spectacularly corrupt governor of Sicily, through his attempts to raise himself to Consul, one of the two supreme positions in the government of the Roman Republic.

The novel is told through a real character, his secretary-slave Tiro. Tiro himself is an interesting historical character, who invented one of the first documented systems of shorthand. Considering to the length and the speed which his master spoke, its no wonder. Tiro is our entree into Cicero's world, as he maneuvers through the Senate, the Courtroom, and Rome itself. Harris doesn't overwhelm us with details, but he invokes Late Republic Rome and its characters very well, drawing on the ones closest to Cicero the strongest, and progressively showing less of other figures. Caesar, for instance, is not as strongly depicted or gets as many pages as figures who are more important in this time period to Cicero--Pompey, Hortensius, and others.

While the portrait of Cicero is sympathetic, Harris does not make the mistake of making Cicero too good. He is human, very human, and his mistakes can and do result in setbacks and reverses in his career. A brilliant man, but a very human man, with flaws. I do know some about the real character and his world, and I found little to quibble about. In truth, what Harris takes as artistic license is not as much as other authors might try. He even purposefully turns Tiro away from scenes of discussions that we don't know the content of in real life, leaving their exact words a mystery as they are in real life. And yet, we do see a lot of color ,as we see Marcus interact on a daily basis with his family and friends. We see how Cicero captured people with his oratory, his words and his force of personality, through the intimate point of view of his secretary.

By choosing to end his novel with Cicero's election for Consul, Harris allows himself a high note of a ending, avoiding the descent and downward spiral that Cicero's life took, especially in the era of Julius Ceasar.

As a fan of Ancient Rome, I can heartily recommend Imperium to anyone who wants a glimpse into one of the greatest men Rome has ever produced.

Highly Recommended.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:36 PM

Book Review 2007 #31: Odalisque

My thirty first book is Odalisque, first in the Percheron Saga, by Fiona Mcintosh

Odalisque invokes Ottoman Turk era Istanbul in its depiction of Percheron, a city on the edge of the desert, a center of culture and power, ruled by a Zar (read: Sultan). The death of the Zar, and the ascent of his young son to the title begins a struggle for power within the byzantine intrigues of the powerful people around him: his mother, who was the previous Zar's favorite and sees her route to power through her son. The vicious Chief Eunuch, who uses his power inside and outside the harem equally. The Vizier, disrespected by all, until he finds an opportunity of a lifetime, and possibly his soul. And the Spur, Lazar, a foreigner who gained his position by strength of arms.

The arrival of an enchanting young woman destined for the new Zar's harem, Ana, interacts with this power structure and amplifies the conflicts set up. And behind all of this, an ancient conflict slowly builds as it has time and again.

Odalisque has a lot going for it, and yet in my view falls far short of the mark. While many of the characters are interesting, and the conflicts and power struggles are well set up, the book didn't work for me as much as I thought it would, or should. I think it has to do with the milieu and how its depicted. The book has lots of dark patches, the brutality of life inside of the Palace is made painfully and darkly clear. There are scenes describing and discussing differing types of castration, for instance.

There is no balance, however. For a book set in a presumably sumptuous rich city, the richness of that city is far outweighed by the brutality. I don't mind darkness with the right writer (paging Jacqueline Carey!), but with Carey's darkness, there is always a balance elsewhere. Even her third Kushiel novel was mostly dark, but had the other books to balance it.

Odalisque simply doesn't have enough balance.

I found the dwarf character of Boaz unbelievable. I didn't buy that he would have unrestricted access to the harem. It's necessary for plot reasons but I don't think its plausible.

In addition, the whole Patriarchial God supplanting an ancient Matriarchial Goddess trope is a bit tired, even if there are a few twists involved this time around. I was hoping for something more original, frankly. I have a sneaking suspicion that, although its not revealed in Book One, that I know who the avatar of the Goddess is going to be.

In the end, I cannot recommend the book.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:04 PM

June 24, 2007

Book Review 2007 #30: Bright of the Sky

Kay Kenyon has been a journeyman(woman?) SF writer for some time, with a number of novels to her credit. She has now decided to up her game with an ambitious start to a SF series known as the "The Entire and the Rose". Her first novel in this series is Bright of the Sky.

Philip Jose Farmer and Dan Simmons are the obvious progenitors and inspirations for the story of Titus Quinn and the strange universe next door known as the Entire in this first novel in the series.

Kenyon imagines a BDO, Big D*mn Object in the form of a constructed universe in the same way that the World of Tiers is constructed, a universe tunneling through and lying right beside our own, The Rose. Themes from Dan Simmons (including a River that runs through this giant landlocked universe). Alien races, some hauntingly human in their nature, and some very different, and an overseer race of demiurge level power inhabit this strange gigantic constructed world in which former Starship pilot Titus Quinn is sent.

Sent, because he has been, to the disbelief of all, been there before, and had left behind his wife and daughter. When an accident on a space station shows that the Entire that he has spoken of is Real, Titus is coerced into returning into this realm, and the lost memories of what he did there and why.

From the Chinese like Chalin, to the strange Inyx, who only allow the blind to ride them, to the cruel and powerful Tarig who created the Entire, the Entire is a fulmination of many ideas and a vivid imagination. Sentient beings that serve as airships, biologically modified creatures that serve as navigators on the River, intricate cultures and bureaucracies, and more await Titus and the reader as Titus struggles to remember his former place in this world, and seek out his wife and daughter, even as the company who has sent him have ways to ensure that he follows their desires as well. And the inhabitants who meet him are never the same for the experience, from the Chalin who would see his return as a chance for their own rise to power, to the Tarig who react most strongly to Titus' return...

The novel works best when it concentrates on the Entire, showing us its wonders, its people, its milieu. Comparisons to Simmons and Farmer are fairly reasonable, and I look forward to seeing more of this world in future novels. The Entire is a character in the novel in very much the same way that novels of this vein are. Kenyon has done a lot of work and thought in designing her landlocked universe, and the sheer variety we see in the first novel suggests that there is much more to come on this front. I certainly hope so, since we only get to see two "primacies" (arms). The sociological front is intriguing as well, a mixture of high and low technological, a feudal society which compares and contrasts with the corporate dominated Earth.

Other things work a little less well, some of the exposition of things are a bit clunky. I also didn't think that the future Earth comes off as well, not only in comparison to the Entire, but in general. It seems that Kenyon's imagination failed a little bit in depicting what the future Earth would be like. While there is plenty of material here, it pales in comparison to the Entire. Also, some of the characters besides the driven Titus don't come off as well. Titus is a hero figure, with a quest, and sometimes the other characters, even ones who aren't in the same scene as him, seem to suffer in comparison to the drive that Titus has.

Since I am the kind of person who loves a BDO and new worlds to explore and develop, I personally overall liked Bright of the Sky and look forward to more. Friends who are more interested in character development will be less enthused with the series, although Bright of the Sky might be worth a paperback read for those, too, especially the roleplayers in my circle. THIS is worldbuilding and getting a taste of how imaginative one can be is no bad thing.

Oh, and the cover art, by the one and only Stephen Martiniere, doesn't show an exact scene from the novel per se but is spectacular nevertheless in that it shows the center of the amazing Entire, the Ascendancy.

I will pick up and read subsequent novels in this series.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:12 AM

Book Review 2007 #29: Moon Handbook: Canadian Rockies

I figure a review of a book we endlessly read and referenced on our Great Canadian Adventure counts as a book "read".

So, Moon Handbooks, a travel guide company, has a number of travel handbooks. This one is on the Canadian Rockies, and is written by Banff resident Andrew Hempstead.

The book was just the ticket.

Scott hadn't been in the parks in 30 some odd years and none of the rest of us had ever been in these parks as well. Without preknowledge of what we were really going to find, I picked up this Moon handbook before we left, as a reference and pointer to things that we might do or find while in the parks. Its practically written for the traveler on the go.

The descriptions were concise and accurate, the book full of interesting ideas for hikes, places to see and suggestions on dining and activities. So armed, we were able to find hiking trails for Damion and myself, waterfalls, suggestions on which highway to take, and food. While we did pick up brochures and maps while in the park, the book gave us a good foundation on what was generally in an area. In addition to the main two parks, it had information on areas around the two parks. This, for example, gave us the information needed to go see Mount Robson in its epynomous park, and our failed attempt to go see the Falls in Yoho National Park.

In no case did we find any egregious mistakes in the book, written as it is by a native, its clear that Hempstead knows the terrain inside and out. We didn't do some of the more daring ideas that Hempstead suggested (like day long hikes) but the book makes a great foundation for understanding what the parks of the Canadian Rockies are all about. While the maps could have been better, they are good enough to get around the parks without difficulty. The book has a good number of pictures, in color and in black and white, so that when you, for example, see Castle Mountain with your own eyes, you'll know it.

I can without reservation or hesitation recommend the book to anyone who is considering a trip to this beautiful region of the world. In point of fact, I already have done so, to a HR seminar leader who is considering her own trip to the region.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:00 AM

June 17, 2007

Book Review 2007 #28: Midnight Tides

Mostly read while on my vacation was the fifth book of Steven Erikson's Malazan novels, Midnight Tides.

Erikson has matured as a writer since the first of the Malazan novels. That one dropped the reader into an unfamiliar world which was daunting and challenging to get into. A lack of familiar "Tolkien" like elder races, unusual sorcery, lots of characters and jump cutting. Certainly Gardens of the Moon is an excellent book, but its clearly a first novel.

Midnight Tides shows Erikson as a much smoother writer, especially since he breaks virgin territory in terms of the location of the action. The previous novels focused on three continents of the Malazan world which he jumped the action back and forth on during those books.

Here, he goes to an isolated continent with (with a couple of very minor exceptions) all brand new characters. In addition, many of the concepts are new to the series and are detailed and explained in a much more straightforward manner than previous books. You could actually make a go of starting the series with Midnight Tides, and then heading back to Gardens and the rest.

The plot itself involves the conflict between the remnants of an elder race, the Tiste Edur, and the human, burgeoning empire to south, the Letheras. Both seek to expand their power...and come into terrible conflict, terrible to the land, people, and to the lives of its characters. While this is not as dark and relentless as some of what he is written, Erikson is not afraid to do bad things to his characters, and kill them, if necessary.

On the other hand, unlike his other novels, he has strands of humor here which are different than previous things he has done. Bugg, the servant of one of the Letherii, is a comic character who made me chuckle and laugh outloud at his antics--even as we slowly learn he is more than just a manservant. Throw in honor bound warriors, an undead thief, elder gods, and lots of other things, and mix well.

This may be my favorite novel of Erikson's yet and reinforces the Malazan series in my mind as "The Best Epic Fantasy series you are not reading".

Do you want to avoid Elves, Dwarves and anything Tolkienish in your nonhumans? Want strange and unusual sub worlds, magic systems, a variety of characters, epic conflicts, and strange locales? Then I urge you to try Steven Erikson's Malazan novels.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:56 PM

Book Review 2007 #27: Eragon

One of the ways we passed the time on the long drive to Jasper and Banff was to listen to the unabridged audiobook version of Eragon, written by Christopher Paolini.

It was written by a 17 year old, and it shows.

Eragon is the story of the titular character, a farm boy who is thrust, by accident and fate, into a greater destiny to oppose an evil ruler by means of his bond with the dragon which hatches from the egg that he finds while hunting one day.

Eragon's story is a Hero Quest that has a lot of derivation from Star Wars. The parallels are all there to see and we commented on them, even as we continued to listen. Eragon is Luke Skywalker, reluctant to leave until his Uncle is killed and he is forced to leave for the good of the village. Brom, an old storyteller in the village, turns out to be a lot more than just a storyteller, and is Eragon's companion until his death at the hands of the enemy.

Not only is Eragon a starship pilot...err, dragon rider, but he can use the fo... err, magic, to devastating effect.

Throw in an imprisoned Princess that Eragon saves for good measure. In describing Eragon's reactions to her, the youth of the writer certainly comes out as he describes how Eragon lingers and moons over her. We have a Han Solo character, Murtagh, of conflicted loyalties and trustworthiness.We have a final stand as a terrible army of the villain seeks to besiege and destroy the lair of the rebellion.

Yep, the plot definitely takes a lot from Episode IV of Star Wars and that's not all of the borrowings. Still, for all of its failings, Eragon was entertaining to listen to, especially on the long drives across Canada. Even as we derided its shortcomings, and the shortcoming of the narrator (who did badly with some of the voices, especially the Dragon), it was compelling enough that the Olsons bought the sequel, and we listened to most, but not all of that, on the drive back. I am not overly tempted to read the books, but the descriptions worked for us in painting a picture, the magic system was interesting, a syntactical variety, and the story flowed well. You could do a lot better, but you could do a lot worse in terms of fantasy novels.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:31 PM

May 25, 2007

Book Review 2007 #26: Rainbows End

My last book before my big vacation is Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge.

Vinge has won a quartet of Hugo Awards, especially for the two Zones of Thought novels A Fire Upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky. Here, like in some of his short fiction, Vinge turns to the near future, depicting a future less than twenty years from now.

The novel centers around the Gu family as they are the focal point of a byzantine and somewhat convoluted plot on the part of several characters and forces , especially the mysterious and powerful Mr. Rabbit, who seek to manipulate a forthcoming event at the University of California San Diego for their own ends, some of which might be very terrible indeed.

Robert Gu is our main viewpoint character, a man who has been successfully treated, more or less for Alzheimer's, as well as given a virtual fountain of youth. This allows us to see the world from the eyes of a character who is as unfamiliar with this world as we are, and its a good choice on Vinge's part. The fact that the treatment has a side effect that propels Robert to action is just gravy. Besides Robert's son and daughter in law, the other main character is the counterpoint to Robert, his talented and completely-familiar-with-the-world teenager Miri.

Showing us a High school of the future, lots of neat technology, hints of where the "War on Terror" really will go, and more, Rainbows End is crammed full of tasty bits. I especially liked the references both to Pratchett and a fictional author whose work is extremely popular in this world a couple of decades ahead. Too many novels set in the medium future assume that nothing new is going to be written worth reading. Here, Vinge creates a fictional fantasy author whose novels and premise sound so interesting (magically talented, militant librarians) that I wish the novels DID exist.

That, however, shows up a weakness in the book, besides the fact that the plot and plans of the various forces are byzantine and difficult to follow: The characters themselves are somewhat flat and not well developed. There isn't too much character growth, except for Robert, and even that character arc is not that large, frankly.Other characters don't show much if any growth at all, especially Robert's ex-wife Lena, who covertly (and under the fiction that Robert has been told that she is dead) observes Robert's attempted reintegration into society.

Still, the cool stuff is very cool and keeps the book humming. From belief circles (a sort of VR overview of reality which is built and maintained by those who enjoy that) to school projects far beyond the science fairs of today, there is plenty of tasty material. Vinge even manages to poke fun at his own novels in the text as well.

There are plenty of loose ends at the end of this book, which feels a little unfinished at the end for that reason. A sequel would not surprise me, and would be very welcome to continue to develop this possible future world.

While its not up to the stratospheric standards of his Zones of Thought novels, Rainbows End is a good novel all the same.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:33 AM

May 24, 2007

Bad news on the SFBC front

The bloodletting