A Reality-Based Blog for my interests, including but not limited to Science and F/SF, books, Movies, NFL Football, Role Playing Games, Progressive Politics, and why 6*9=42.
"Living in the Science Fiction Present",
Proudly supporting Anti-Mundane SF, and aware of all internet traditions! I'm just this guy, you know?
September 26, 2013
Book Review: Seven Forges by James A Moore
My thoughts on Seven Forges, an epic fantasy by James A Moore, from Angry Robot Books.
The premise is all right: a descendant polity of an old empire exploring the blasted wasteland left by that prior empire's fall. An expedition into that wasteland finds the unexpected--a culture of warriors living in, from their reports, a hitherto unknown lush valley in the midst of the wasteland. Their interactions are the hub on which the novel spins.
There are a couple of good ideas here. The clash of cultures, first contact, misunderstanding each other, the interactions between the martial Sa'ba Taalor and the softer, more human Fellein feel authentic. Captain Merros Dulver as leader of the Fellein expedition gets far and away the best and most characterization in the novel. I also liked Desh Krohan, the foremost sorcerer in the Empire. I also liked the setting idea of a polity trying to reclaim the glory of a lost and destroyed empire it now (partially) occupies.
However, a fair number of things made this a reading experience that didn't work for me. Geography seems awfully fluid if not outright unclear. The review copy I had has no map and given that important plot points hinge on geography and the relationship between where things are and the implications of those physical relationships, that simply is inexcusable. Too, some events happen, especially a large event at the end, that are fired Chekov's Guns that do not appear to have been put on the mantel piece in the first place. I am not a fan of all of the stylistic flourishes. While the sword and sorcery feel in an epic fantasy is certainly different and welcome, I am not certain that combining that with touches of third person omniscient, especially as the closeout of chapters, was entirely effective for me.
Epic Fantasy can be ponderous especially in the opening pages, and even starting the novel with a physical conflict does not rescue this novel from that. Nor does some stylistic tricks with time and what the novel focuses on, although they do help. It takes a fair mile for this novel to get any real narrative momentum. And even then, there is a lot of setup and maneuvering that only really starts to get going in the denouement. Clearly the first volume in a series, there is nothing like a complete story in any of the storylines in Seven Forges. The novel simply stops.
In the end, Seven Forges, although being a book I am clearly the target audience for, didn't capture my heart and mind like I hoped it would.
Hope's End: A Powder Mage Short Story by Brian T McClellan
In between the release of his novels, Brian T McClellan has been filling in gaps in the history of his Powder Mage Universe by writing some short fiction. Hope's End is the story of Captain Verundish and an impossible position. A loveless (and fraught marriage). An affair and a love that cannot bloom while that marriage remains in place. A child in danger.
Oh, and yeah, and then there is the titular Hope's End. It's not the Captain's position, but rather its a military tactic: a pell-mell, throw in all the chips near-suicidal attack against a fortification. In the PM universe, its a recognized technique and trope. For, General Tamas, too, you, see, has been put in an impossible position.
Two impossible positions, two impossible situations, may both be saved by an act of heroism. Hope's End is the story of that heroism, and what people will really dare to do when there is nothing left to lose.
I'd have liked more background in the story, but the story itself is entertaining enough and worth its absurdly low price. I think it works better once you have read the novel(s), rather than reading this first, since many things are simply not explained and its assumed the reader will know them. This is a story to fill in a gap, rather than introduce you to the author's work for the first time.
Marissa chatted about Earth and alcohol. as her friend chewed the grain slowly. He took stalks of the ripe wheat from the bowl and chewed them one by one, letting his flat eyes watch Marissa as he listened. He tapped one of his hooves against the tile floor as if keeping time to music.
What a strange biology, she thought, as she sipped her glass of water and tried to explain Prohibition to him. Domlas wasn't buying or understanding the idea. It was incomprehensible to his species. How could you enforce it? But, then, she could barely understand how the United States of America ever expected to enforce it, either. Was that why it had fallen? She was admittedly fuzzy on the timeline of history.
It would take the better part of a week of the grain he was eating to turn into alcohol, and then be absorbed into his system. Benefits, and disadvantages, of a two stomach biology, Marissa thought.
Reardonist Sympathizers claim responsibility for explosion at warehouse of supplies for victims of Hurricane Isis.
Reardonist Sympathizers have claimed responsibility for the destruction of a temporary warehouse set up for victims of Hurricane Isis in the American state of Carolina. Minor injuries are reported, but thousands of dollars of relief supplies were destroyed.
A spokesman for the Reardonist movement praised the action in an interview with RBC News:
"This sends a message to the Federal Government that the American people do not want their tax dollars being used for moochers and collectivist actions." Ann Randolph said. "The purpose of the government in our view is only to ensure property rights. It is not to waste taxpayer money on those who were foolish enough not to prepare for natural disasters such as this."
Senator Taggart of the state of Franklin in a statement said that while she did not condone the incident, "This sends a message that the government needs to reassess its priorities. Americans do not want to spend their tax money on bailing out people. It is UnAmerican and Collectivist to expect hard working Americans to pay for other people's problems."
Senator Taggart is a co-sponsor of the effort, with Senator Enderby of Deseret, of an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would devolve law enforcement within U.S. borders entirely to private entities.
[Sidebar: The history of Reardonism]
[Sidebar: Tax Rates in the United States versus other nations]
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.
The Magician and the Ogre,an experiment in point of view.
The Magician and the Ogre, an experiment in point of view.
The desert sands crunched under his boots as he walked toward the thing. Larger than a tank, Marcus thought, looking up at the numerous guns. He hadn't quite gotten a good look at it on their last encounter. Now that he was within spitting distance, the origins of the thing, with its fusion of metal and organic designs were clear. And it definitely did not belong here. So.
Marcus cleared his throat. "Good afternoon. As a duly designated representative of the town of Northmarch, the Kingdom of Ryozan, and the Empire of her most serene Highness my mother the Empress Julia Procopina, you are hereby in violation of the Sweetwater Compact. As such, you are hereby ordered to remove yourself behind the Black Line back to your origin,or nearest such parallel dimension."
The metal monster seemed to consider this a moment.
"Are you one of the Nine and Forty?" it stated in that metal voice Marcus had heard before.
"I believe I specified that already" Marcus replied. He tensed himself and was not surprised to see the main gun track and turn on him.
"Is that an affirmative?" the metal voice repeated.
"Linea's Eyes, YES!"
The gun fired...
1st person Marcus
This was not one of my brighter ideas. I had to trust my sister's plan, because, well, she was smarter than me. And this thing had to be stopped. I'd invested too much in the Kingdom on behalf of Mom to let some metal construct from the other side of reality wreck it.Besides, if Dulce was right, *I* and the rest of the family was its real target.
I stopped a few paces from the thing.It had been traveling slowly, a few miles per hour, after the sting of our first encounter. It did not immediately fire on me. Maybe she was right.
I cleared my throat and spoke.
"Good afternoon. As a duly designated representative of the town of Northmarch, the Kingdom of Ryozan, and the Empire of her most serene Highness my mother the Empress Julia Procopina, you are hereby in violation of the Sweetwater Compact. As such, you are hereby ordered to remove yourself behind the Black Line back to your origin,or nearest such parallel dimension."
The thing might be made of orichalcum instead of marshmallow, but the same principle applied.
I think I confused it, it took a moment to answer.
"Are you one of the Nine and Forty?"
Idiot, I thought. I said my mother was the Empress already, indirectly.
"I believe I specified that already" I replied. Yeah, my brilliant big sister was right. Coming for the family. Good. Let's make this personal. And don't think, I thought to myself, I don't see that big gun turning on me.
"Is that an affirmative?" the metal machine repeated.
"Linea's Eyes, YES!" What a pedantic machine. I tensed my shoulders.
The gun fired.
1st person Ogre
The little man walked toward me. I slowed down to a crawl, and then a stop.I had to revise his threat level from 0 to 3 after the previous encounter. Form indicated negotiation before immediate hositities. There was also a 89 percent probability he would have countermeasures for a sneak attack. Patterns of force suggested allowing him within range of main gun. Programming also dictated confirming the man's identity, although there was a 45% chance, based on current evidence, he was Prince Marcus. Confirmation was essential before action.
The man spoke.
"Good afternoon. As a duly designated representative of the town of Northmarch, the Kingdom of Ryozan, and the Empire of her most serene Highness my mother the Empress Julia Procopina, you are hereby in violation of the Sweetwater Compact. As such, you are hereby ordered to remove yourself behind the Black Line back to your origin,or nearest such parallel dimension."
Most of the referents were to local and large scale political entities. Form of the speech suggested allusion to some work of literature. I spent a half second searching for the referent, in vain. In accordance with programming, I resumed the forms.
"Are you one of the Nine and Forty?"
"I believe I specified that already" the man replied. This increased the probability of the subject to 89%. It was not 90% confidence, confirmation was indicated. I trained the main gun on him anyway, he was enough of a threat in any situation.
"Is that an affirmative?" I asked. Human language could be fraught with strange constructions. Why could these Empire dwellers not use a regular language?
"Linea's Eyes, YES!"
I ignored the mythological reference. He was Prince Marcus,and thus a legitimate target. I fired.
Done by John Anealio and Patrick Hester, the Functional Nerds was one of my two entries into the "wider" world of genre stuff beyond the isolated, lonely pond I had been inhabiting for far too long. I've been grateful to John and Patrick for helping me get a "break", as it were, even if I am only a 3rd rank reviewer.
Anyway, if you are reading this, I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to give their podcast a listen. They bring on guests, they talk geeky stuff, and have the rapport that good friends manage. Its a consistent must-listen for me week after week.
And they even have had me on the show (as opposed to just doing reviews) on the show. More than once, even! And I can't wait for the opportunity to do so again. I enjoy talking with John and Patrick, but in the interim, I just enjoy listening to what they have to say.
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.
I support Jim Hines' policy and co-sign it. It reads as follows:
My Policy on Sexual Harassment
My goal in convention/fandom spaces, online, and in general, is to interact with others in such a way that all parties feel safe and respected. Therefore...
I will be accountable for my actions. If I mess up, I will not make excuses or blame others for my behaviors or the consequences of those behaviors. (Nor will I make or accept excuses about other people's inappropriate behaviors, even if they're friends or Big Important People in the community.)1
I will try not to make assumptions about physical interactions, or statements/behaviors that could be construed as sexual. For example, if I don't know whether or not you're comfortable being hugged, I'll ask you.2
I will listen to and respect your boundaries. Period.
If I see a situation where it looks like you are being harassed, I will ask if you're okay and/or attempt to offer you a way out of the situation. Depending on the situation, I will confront the harasser and/or offer to back you up in confronting/reporting the harasser yourself if you choose to do so.
If someone I know is harassing others, I will pull them aside and confront them on their behavior.
If they refuse to change their behavior, I will "ban" them from my life (both in the real-world and in my online spaces).
I will continue to speak out, and to try to encourage discussion and action to reduce sexual harassment.
Well, its not because of dystopian SF, this trend has been happening longer than dystopian SF has been popular. But both come from the same source--the state of the world.
Since 2001, the future that seems to be ahead of us in the real world has gotten progressively darker, grittier and less appealing. It's bee more difficult to come up with an appealing future for SF. While SF is not predictive, the starting conditions have been more and more bleak to work with.
As a result, you get two trends:
1. Dystopian SF, since your initial conditions keep implying that is the future.
2. Fantasy: The way out of the trap, a la the Kobyashi Maru, is to change the rules. Add magic. It can be magic in the real world, which is the simplest solution (UF), or secondary world fantasy.
The other factor why UF is ascendant is that this reflects demographics in the genre community--more female readers, and female readers coming into the genre from paranormal romance.
Tony Stark: Ravenclaw. ("a box of scraps!")
Captain America: Hufflepuff, I think.
Hulk:Ravenclaw, because that's where Banner would have wound up
Black Widow: Slytherin
Hawkeye: Probably another Hufflepuff
Nick Fury feels like a bit of a Slytherin to me. Manipulative Bastard
It has not been a universally positive experience--my camera has died, unexpectedly and severely.
And of course, there is my introversion and shyness, which has made attending the con a challenge.
I never feel so alone as to be in a room with everyone else chatting, knowing each other, and having fun. And I'm not, because few people could pick me out of a lineup. And I can't impose on them, either. I'm not the Sun. I'm not even Pluto. I'm no one and no thing.
So, during the panels--listening to the great conversations and discussions is a gigantic plus of 4th Street Fantasy. It's the time before and after that the experience is less than positive.
And given that introversion, and given that it seems that everyone knows everyone else (or so it seems), people are content to engage with the people they know, and not with a stranger. I DO need people to meet me more than halfway. It's not entirely fair to say it, but its true. I DO need a little additional effort, and there is no reason on this green earth why anyone has any reason to give that effort.
Maybe if I had my camera working, it would act as an "icebreaker". You know, Have Camera, will Travel? But my camera has died and I don't have that either. Pity, there were plenty of photographic moments that I could have and would have loved to share with you all.
Oh well. There are a few more panels today and then the Con will be done.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Quick and dirty thoughts on how I would change John Carter the movie:
*Retitle the movie John Carter of Mars.
*Drop the framing story in New York City. Go with an opening with Carter in the Wild West.
*End the movie with John Carter ditching the medallion. Forget about him getting sent back to Earth.
*Add more Dakka. There has to be plenty of more good Mars footage to make a good running time after the edits above.
What you get is NOT the novel, no, but its a story that will work, tell a story in one movie, and you can leave John getting zapped back to Earth and getting back again for a sequel. You tell a complete story in one movie. Scary thought, huh?
Readers of my reviews know that I am a big fan of Bradley Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo. I also had the chance to read and a review of the sequel, The Straits of Galahesh. That review should be going live sometime soon.
Anyway, to celebrate the forthcoming release of his second novel, Brad has a big giveaway on his blog. Go and check it out:
And yes, I was arrogant enough to nominate myself.
Of Blood and Honey Stina Leicht
God's War Kameron Hurley
Planesrunner Ian McDonald
The Quantum Thief Hannu Rajaniemi
The Whitefire Crossing Courtney Schafer
I had a difficult time narrowing this list to five. I could have easily nominated 5 more.
Kiss me Twice Mary Robinette Kowal
Countdown Mira Grant
The Men from Porlock Laird Barron
The Fate Line Walter Jon Williams
Wax, Clay, Gold Daniel Abraham
The Copenhagen Interpretation Paul Cornell
The Iron Shirts Michael Flynn
Best Short Story:
The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees John Barnes
The Invasion of Venus Stephen Baxter
A Soldier from the City David Moles
Malak Peter Watts
The Server and the Dragon Hannu Rajaniemi
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
The Doctor's Wife Doctor Who
Best Editor (Short Form):
John Joseph Adams
Best Editor (Long Form):
Best Professional Artist:
For Best Fanzine:
The Functional Nerds
Sf Signal Podcast
The Functional Nerds Podcast
The Coode Street Podcast
I Should be Writing
Best Fan Writer:
Jamie Todd Rubin
John W. Campbell Award:
Anyway, in the short story, George Nada, who 'awakens' to discover the secret aliens that are among us and ruling society, achieves his triumph by using the corpse of one of the aliens on TV and imitating its voice to get people to rise up against the aliens and kill them.
Now, if you think back to last season of Doctor Who and The Silence...the solution the Doctor and Agent Canton use in Day of the Moon to get the world to see and fight the Silence involves using the Silence's own voice and image...
Hugo and Nebula nominations for 2011 are now open!
If you attended last year's WorldCon (attending or supporting) and/or are attending Chicon this year, you are eligible to make nominations.
I would like to mention here that the two organizations I write for, SF Signal and The Functional Nerds, both are eligible to be nominated for Best Fanzine for the articles they provide.
In addition, both the Functional Nerds and SF Signal are eligible for their podcasts under the categories of best Fancast and best Fanzine.
And its presumptuous, but I would also like to point out that if you like my curation of Mind Melds, or my book reviews, or Roll Perception Plus Awareness, I am eligible for a Hugo award nomination for Fan Writer.
Given where it sends me, if Chris Columbus had my Garmin, he would have wound up in Istanbul
Chris Columbus left Palos de la Frontera on August 3,1492.
Not surprisingly, there were a couple of comments saying that it would have been better if Columbus hadn't reached the New World.
But how plausible is it that Europe would not have reached the Americas sometime within the next 30 years? If it wasn't Columbus, someone else would have tried the western route, and soon. The economic pressures were too strong not to try it.
So, how far back in history do you have to go to make an Old World where Europe is NOT striving westward in search of routes to the Orient? And what is your change to make it plausible that 15th century Europe doesn't come into contact with the Americas?
Phoenix Press, who puts out a fair assortment of ebooks, generally reduces the price of one of them for a month to the low low price of free.
For the month of June 2011, that book is the award winning Novelette "Georgia on my Mind" by the late Charles Sheffield. A search for a babbage machine, aliens and more! Its a fine story, with plenty of sensawunda.
The coupon code for June is 9992231 and will be effective from June 2 through June 30. Instructions and download link, as usual, at http://www.PPickings.com
Phoenix press is also putting the entire collection "Georgia on my Mind and other places" on sale. Those readers interested in getting the complete anthology may use the following codes at the Phoenix Press site to get 50% off:
Hey, why don't you do a post sometime (when you get internet availability again) about the podcasts you listen to, the ones you stopped listening to (and why) and all that?
Especially since I am going to make my debut as a guest irregular on a podcast soon, I figured it was time.
So here goes:
These are the podcasts I regularly listen to:
Notes from Coode Street Locus luminaries, anthologists and reviewers Jonathan Strahan and Gene Wolfe talk about science fiction, fantasy and things tied into it. They started it on a lark, and its not highly polished. It's like listening to two SF veterans in a bar at a con range back and forth. Sometimes they have guests, but the majority of their podcasts and the true unfiltered experience is just the two gentlemen chatting for an hour a week.
Adventures in Scifi Publishing: Led by Shaun Farrell and Moses Siregar, this podcast interviews authors and F/SF figures, with an emphasis (but by no means dogmatically so) on getting published in the field.
I should be Writing: The irrepressible Mighty Mur Lafferty has a very personal podcast, where she talks about her writing efforts, the craft of writing, and chats with authors and publishers, and more.
Writing Excuses. This is a deliberately short 15 minute podcast run by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor and Dan Wells. They focus exclusively, like a laser, on the nuts and bolts of writing. They may claim they aren't that smart, but they are being facetious. Very facetious.
The Functional Nerds. Patrick Hester and John Anealio. One's a author, podcaster and producer. One's a SF themed musician. Together, they fight crime! Actually, together, this dynamic duo focus on all things genre, from books to movies.
The SF Signal Podcasts. Powered by the aforementioned Patrick Hester, this is really two strains of podcast in one. One strain is interviews with figures in the SF field ranging from publishers to authors. The other strain is roundtable panels discussions of a topic du jour, featuring a rotating number of the SF Signal podcast contributors.
History of Rome Done by Mike Duncan, the History of Rome podcast, now well over 100 episodes, has been covering Rome from the legendary founding, and is now dealing with Constantine, c. 300 AD. I found out about it too late, but the History of Rome community is going to Italy and Turkey this spring on a guided tour...
I would probably listen to more podcasts, but I happen to live in MN, with some of the best public radio in the nation. (Something I really notice when I head out of Minnesota). Listening to MPR's programming often cuts into my podcast listening time...
I thought that I would put in my own two cents. I'm not a writer, except of blogs and articles and game turns and things, but I've read a number of Pohl novels in my time. Besides, I would bet that my choice is not going to be picked by any of the authors they solicit.
I can hear you googling it right now to learn more than that link to amazon above. You probably never have heard of it before, have you? Its from 1986 and only vaguely in print.
Its a wonderful exploration of the Many Worlds hypothesis, the idea that every decision that can go both ways, will go both ways. The plot follows a number of variations on characters from various worlds, as the technology to travel between alternate worlds brings them together. It allows Pohl to explore how people are different--and the same, when living in vastly different worlds and backgrounds.
Nick Desota in one world is a mild mannered mortgage broker in a fundamentalist (with an Islamic bent!) dominated US. In another world, where the Soviets and China bombed each other to oblivion, Desota is a powerful Senator. Another has him as a military officer. Other characters are similarly duplicated, the major female lead has variations ranging from an ex-criminal to a violinist.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the short interludes. In addition to the major worlds and characters we see, we get glimpses of other worlds, other timelines and possibilities, with sometimes very subtle differences between that world and ours.
As a fan of alternate histories and parallel worlds, I devoured this book, and even given more award winning and technically better books (like Gateway, for instance), The Coming of the Quantum Cats is still my favorite Pohl novel.
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?
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?
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.
My friend Scott and I batted around a couple of interesting AH ideas that I thought I would share with you:
Point of Divergence: 1796. Thomas Jefferson becomes President over John Adams, and serves two terms.
Jefferson buys the Louisiana Purchase on schedule.
In 1804, the duel between Hamilton and Burr never happens, because Alexander Hamilton is named the standard bearer of the Whigs. Not bothering with the duel, to the consternation of Burr, he wins the Presidency.
A President Hamilton with a strong centralized government ethos and strong fiscal policy leads to a more-rapid than usual industrialization of the United States. Slavery peters out, because King Cotton never gets going--Cotton production is mechanized. Slavery never really becomes illegal but because it never booms, both north and south industrialize rapidly.
A US with North and South both industrialized is a major player on the world stage (or at least the Western Hemisphere) a lot earlier. Bloodier and more rapid Indian wars? Invasion (or purchase?) of Canada? Annexation of Mexico? American Empire early, for good and bad.
A Messy WWI Peace
Suppose Czar Nicholas abdicates early, and other battles and offensives grind to a stalemate, and the US never really gets their troops involved because the Germans stop the sub warfare? The French army mutiny, the Italians fall apart, the Russians are a mess led by Kerensky...The Germans would have won, but no one is really celebrating. WWI ends in early 1918 in the Treaty of Staten Island, brokered by Wilson.
Would you get a communist revolution in France because of the heavy reparations the Germans would have them pay? Would Austro-Hungary still fall apart? Would the Ottoman Empire manage to hang on? Even messier interesting times than our own time line.
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.
My friend Felicia has pneumonia, and wasn't enthused by the idea of watching the Oscars. Instead, we decided to watch Daybreakers on Netflix instead...
Daybreakers is a movie with Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Defoe
It's the near future. A rapidly dwindling resource is causing increasing disruptions to society, with the have-nots suffering from increasing disruptions of a supply that once seemed infinite, but now is proving all too fragile. The creation of substitutes is big business but there are those who want the original, and the substitutes are not working as well as one might hope. Society is unraveling on the edges and something has got to change, something has to be done, or else societal collapse is a very real threat.
So what is the resource? Oil? Water?
In Daybreakers the commodity is blood and the population of the Earth is now primarily...vampires. The vampires have taken over the planet, with humans an valuable commodity and a dwindling resource all the same. Companies like Bromley Marks (run by an oily Sam Neill) where our protagonist Edward Dalton(Hawke) is employed works on substitutes and also farms regular humans in machines designed to get every last drop of that precious blood. Animal blood is mentioned as a common substitute, but even that is a dwindling resource, too.
A chance encounter between Hawke and some humans on the run (led by Willem Defoe) leads Dalton to a discovery that could change this precarious situation. But some, including Hawke's brother, like things exactly the way they are...
Daybreakers isn't a groundbreaking vampire fantasy movie, and its at times only serviceable and shopworn. There are some interesting conceits and thoughts put into the film as to how a society full of vampires would adapt. Cars with tinted windows and cameras to allow for daytime driving, underground passageways to allow movement in cities (sort of a dark twin to Minneapolis skyways) and more. I appreciated these touches.
On the other hand, for all of this enthusiasm in worldbuilding, the movie falls down in some of that worldbuilding. Hints in the corners of the picture suggest that a bat caused the plague to turn the world into vampires. That suggests a biological vampirism a la I am Legend. However, the vampires react to sunlight in a dramatic way as if they were supernatural vampires. Later in the movie, we see that stakes through the heart do the same thing. So which is it--supernatural or biological vampires? Also, the ending is a bit too pat, although perhaps I need to remember the MST3K mantra and realize that an uplifting ending is the rule, not the exception, in Hollywood.
The acting is good, the leads do a decent job, and the script gives us just enough to understand where the characters are coming from. Even Sam Neill's Bromley, as the antagonist, gets enough character development to allow the audience to understand why he acts the way he does. There seems to be a truncated or missing scene that causes a major event in the movie to become a tell instead of a show, which disappointed me.
Overall, though, I was entertained. Daybreakers is not a groundbreaking movie, but its a decently crafted movie. Its not worth a purchase, but is okay as a rental.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although they are not the Golden Globes to the Oscars in terms of SF relevance, this is the shortlist for the British Science Fiction Awards:
Paolo Bacigalupi - The Windup Girl (Orbit)
Lauren Beukes - Zoo City (Angry Robot)
Ken Macleod - The Restoration Game (Orbit)
Ian McDonald - The Dervish House (Gollancz)
Tricia Sullivan - Lightborn (Orbit)
Best Short Fiction
Nina Allan - 'Flying in the Face of God' - Interzone 227, TTA Press.
Aliette de Bodard - 'The Shipmaker'- Interzone 231, TTA Press.
Peter Watts - 'The Things' - Clarkesworld 40
Neil Williamson - 'Arrhythmia' - Music for Another World, Mutation Press
Paul Kincaid - Blogging the Hugos: Decline, Big Other
Abigail Nussbaum - Review, With Both Feet in the Clouds, Asking the Wrong Questions Blogspot
Adam Roberts - Review, Wheel of Time, Punkadiddle
Francis Spufford - Red Plenty (Faber and Faber)
Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe the Notes from Coode Street Podcast
Andy Bigwood - cover for Conflicts (Newcon Press)
Charlie Harbour - cover for Fun With Rainbows by Gareth Owens (Immersion Press)
Dominic Harman - cover for The Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Gollancz)
Joey Hi-Fi -cover for Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
Ben Greene - 'A Deafened Plea for Peace', cover for Crossed Genres 21
Adam Tredowski - cover for Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer (Corvus)
The winners will be announced at Eastercon in April.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Bolded I have read, Italicized ones I own and mean to read.
I - Dune - Frank Herbert
II - The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
III - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
IV - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
V - A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
VI - Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
VII - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
VIII - Ringworld - Larry Niven
IX - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
X - The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
1 - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
2 - I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
3 - Cities in Flight - James Blish
4 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick 5 - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
6 - Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany 7 - Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny 8 - The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe 9 - Gateway - Frederik Pohl
10 - The Rediscovery of Man - Cordwainer Smith
11 - Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon
12 - Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
13 - Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick 14 - The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester 15 - Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
16 - The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
17 - The Drowned World - J. G. Ballard
18 - The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut 19 - Emphyrio - Jack Vance
20 - A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick 21 - Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
22 - Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock
23 - The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg 24 - The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
25 - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
26 - Ubik - Philip K. Dick 27 - Timescape - Gregory Benford
28 - More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon
29 - Man Plus - Frederik Pohl
30 - A Case of Conscience - James Blish
31 - The Centauri Device - M. John Harrison
32 - Dr. Bloodmoney - Philip K. Dick
33 - Non-Stop - Brian Aldiss
34 - The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke 35 - Pavane - Keith Roberts
36 - Now Wait for Last Year - Philip K. Dick
37 - Nova - Samuel R. Delany
38 - The First Men in the Moon - H. G. Wells
39 - The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke 40 - Blood Music - Greg Bear
41 - Jem - Frederik Pohl 42 - Bring the Jubilee - Ward Moore
43 - VALIS - Philip K. Dick
44 - The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin
45 - The Complete Roderick - John Sladek
46 - Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick
47 - The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells
48 - Grass - Sheri S. Tepper
49 - A Fall of Moondust - Arthur C. Clarke 50 - Eon - Greg Bear
51 - The Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
52 - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick 53 - The Dancers at the End of Time - Michael Moorcock
54 - The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55 - Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick
56 - Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg
57 - The Simulacra - Philip K. Dick
58 - The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick
59 - Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg 60 - Ringworld - Larry Niven
61 - The Child Garden - Geoff Ryman
62 - Mission of Gravity - Hal Clement
63 - A Maze of Death - Philip K. Dick 64 - Tau Zero - Poul Anderson
65 - Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
66 - Life During Wartime - Lucius Shepard
67 - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
68 - Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69 - Dark Benediction - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70 - Mockingbird - Walter Tevis
71 - Dune - Frank Herbert
72 - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
73 - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
74 - Inverted World - Christopher Priest
75 - Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
76 - H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau 77 - Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
78 - H.G. Wells - The Time Machine
79 - Samuel R. Delany - Dhalgren (July 2010)
80 - Brian Aldiss - Helliconia (August 2010)
81 - H.G. Wells - Food of the Gods (Sept. 2010)
82 - Jack Finney - The Body Snatchers (Oct. 2010)
83 - Joanna Russ - The Female Man (Nov. 2010)
84 - M.J. Engh - Arslan (Dec. 2010)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
David G. Hartwell
Gordon Van Gelder
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
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.
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)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM (419 nominating ballots)
Gordon Van Gelder
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (327 nominating ballots)
Daniel Dos Santos
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)
Christopher J Garcia
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
THE JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (NOT A HUGO AWARD) (356 nominating ballots)
Felix Gilman *
Lezli Robyn *
* Second year of eligibility
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.
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.
Via the Hero's Complex, a copy of Action Comic No. 1, the comic that launched Superman, recently fetched $1 million at auction.
The buyer is anonymous.
I'm gobsmacked. In this day and age with people desperately trying to collect comics, I suspect that it will take hundreds of years for a comic released to day to be anything near as valuable. The value in the Action Comics issue is that it is precisely so rare.
Read on at the Hero's Complex for how other comics have fared at auction. A hint: the Superman auction is an order of magnitude more than the nearest competition in terms of price...
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.
Over on the NPR Monkey See blog is a contentious article about the recent changes in the TV series Chuck.
Television plot lines are not supposed to be determined by majority vote.
That shouldn't be a controversial statement, but an interesting little mini-controversy that has broken out over last night's episode of NBC's Chuck -- a show with a small but madly devoted audience -- suggests that at least some fans are viewing themselves more and more as shareholders who get to vote on the outcome, Choose Your Own Adventure-style.
In short, last night, spy-nerd Chuck and his on-again, off-again love interest Sarah, who are currently not together for a combination of professional and personal reasons, decided to let each other go and embarked on new relationships with other people. This, predictably, has set off the show's "shippers." (As we've discussed before, these are the people whose enjoyment of a show hinges entirely on the progress of a romantic couple.)
Look, here's the thing. What the people upset about the change in the status of the Chuck and Sarah relationship don't seem to realize is that dynamic tension in a relationship is a GOOD thing.
Don't they remember Moonlighting, or any other number of series that, once the romantic protagonists are together, permanently derail an entire rail of the series, and often the series itself?
Also, with all that has happened to Chuck, including the new Intersect, and his newly developing mad skills, it makes sense for him and Sarah not to pursue their relationship, at least for a while.
It will make the narrative, emotional payoff all the sweeter in the end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
What do we see in Avatar? Ostensibly technologically primitive aliens--who just happen to have biological USB cables that allow them to interface with a variety of other creatures on the planet.
A hippy dippy Gaiaesque religion of the natives--which just happens to be correct. Before Grace dies in her failed upload attempt, she says to Jake "I am with her". Also, the end battle. "Eywa heard you!"
I said in my earlier review that this movie reminded me in some ways of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, except with a much more lush ecology and not one based on fungus. Continuing that thought, an alternative explanation of Pandora is as follows:
It's a post singularity world! At some time in the past, a powerful intelligence arose on the planet and began reshaping it to its desires. Let's call it Eywa. Life forms were resculpted, and designed to work together (those biological USB cables). The Na'vi, the post singularity descendants of the Eywa Makers, were also sculpted as well. A sustained ecology was put in place. Eywa herself became a biologically based superintelligence, living within the neural network of the entire planet as a whole.
She remains connected to the organisms on the planet via those biological USB cables,Uploading and downloading of memories and knowledge and "souls"...Eywa acts more like a sentient biologically based computer than an Earth Goddess.
I bet a lot of that computer runs on automatic, though. Paying attention to an entire planet is a difficult business. Even for a superintelligence, Eywa has a lot to manage and do. Probably not only the ecology, but I bet the climatology, hydro-geology and more are under her management and care.
Is it any wonder that it takes Jake *shouting* at her to finally get her attention and help? After all, consider the sense of scale. The humans are attacking one small portion of Pandora, and manage to destroy just one Hometree and threaten one Well of Souls There are certainly many more Hometrees throughout the planet (we see glimpses of other hometrees when Jake rallies the Na'vi).I think its naive to think there is just one Well of Souls, too. So all things considered, at this stage, until Jake gets her to care, Eywa doesn't even notice.
It takes Jake's shouting to get Eywa to turn her attentions from managing a planet to focusing her attentions on a small portion, where the humans technology is running rampant and intervene.
Now, I will bet that if the humans had managed to destroy the Well and continued their plunder of the planet, even without Jake, Eywa would eventually have taken notice before things had gotten completely under control. This brings up the late game Sid Meier Alpha Centauri scenario, when the fungus arises and starts trying to destroy your cities and units.
What Jake did, then, was accelerate this inevitable process. He wasn't essential to the planet's defense of itself and its creatures, but he (and possibly Grace's upload) helped accelerate and focus Eywa's attention on the problem.
I'm certain that this is not Cameron's interpretation at all. But I like it and it makes sense given all that we see.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
The irrepressible and still-going Roger Ebert has a review of The Road today, the adaptation of the Mccarthy novel starring Viggo Mortensen.
I haven't read the novel but I have a general idea of the plot and themes of the movie. Still, even just reading this review is enough for me to think that this movie is painted only in the darker shades of grey and black. Ebert is a fan of McCarthy, has read the book, and so I trust his judgement on how good an adaptation of the novel the book is. Ebert gives it 3 1/2 stars out of four.
I saw the movie a second time at a press screening on Oct. 27 in Chicago. I see festival films again whenever I have the chance. I find the second viewing makes the good ones better, and the bad ones worse. Such is the case with "The Road."
Still, I am sure that "The Feel good movie of the year" is one tag phrase that is NEVER going to be used for this movie.
On November 23, 1963 at 17:15 GMT, the BBC transmitted the first episode of "An Unearthly Child", the debut serial of a little SF show (then) starring William Hartnell you may have heard of...Doctor Who.
Happy Who Day!
In celebration of Who Day, I will highlight three episodes from each Doctor that I find favor with:
First Doctor (William Hartnell):
First, and still strong.
The Daleks--The episode that made the series. I think this, as a strong second episode, helped make the series happen.
The Aztecs--a strong historical episode, where the Doctor first comes up against the prospect, and the dangers, of trying to change history.
The Chase--although I haven't seen this one in years, the idea of two time machines in a chase is an irresistable one.
Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)
It's a pity so few of his episodes still exist in full, darn it.
The War Games--Troughton's swan song, as well as his companions, as they take on a renegade Time Lord and the race who he is helping to use humanity as fodder for conquest.
The Mind Robber--one of the weirdest episodes of Doctor Who, as they travel through a land of fiction. But the episode works and is a delight!
Tomb of the Cybermen--Remember how Tennant said he didn't like archaeologists in the episode where he met River Song? This episode, with overly curious archaeologists awakening the Cybermen, is the reason why. Plus its the only full episode with Victoria in it.
Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)
I have a real appeal for Pertwee's interpretation of the Doctor. It's hard to limit myself to three here,
The Three Doctors--Troughton, Pertwee, AND Hartnell. Plus Omega. Who could say no to THIS?
Inferno--The Doctor's attempts to escape his imprisonment nearly get him killed on a parallel Earth--but also give him a clue to save his own Earth from destruction
The Time Warrior--The Doctor takes on a Sontaran--in the middle ages. Also, first episode with the stalwart Sarah Jane Smith
Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)
Until the new series, he WAS the face of the Doctor for almost everyone
Pyramids of Mars--without question, my all time favorite episode. Doctor Who and Sarah Jane versus Sutekh and Robot Mummies!
Talons of Weng Chiang--The Doctor brings Leela to Victorian London!
Genesis of the Daleks--We learn at last how the Daleks began--and are introduced to the one and only Davros
Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)
Following Baker was a hard act, but Davison did try--and tried to make the character his own
The Five Doctors--Silly, strange, full of anachronisms, and yet it was the first Doctor Who episode I bought to own.
Resurrection of the Daleks--The Doctor takes on Davros yet again, and shows a rather bloodthirsty and merciless side. Last episode for Tegan, too.
Earthshock--More Cybermen, and the sad, tragic end of Adric.
Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)
I admit. I don't like him. Never had, never will. The episodes of his that I can tolerate are because of other characters and actors, NOT him.
Revelation of the Daleks--Davros in a funeral parlor. An old "Knight of the Order of Oberon". And an alien DJ with an American patter.
The Two Doctors--The last episode with Troughton, and Jamie in the bargain! And Jacqueline Pearce puts in an appearance too.
The Mark of the Rani--The Rani, the Rani, the Rani. Kate O'Mara makes a wonderful villain in this one
Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)
Never saw any of these episodes except on DVD and on the suggestion of good friends who liked his work.
Curse of Fenric-The Doctor as scary chessmaster against an evil older than time.
Battlefield-The last episode with the Brigadier. Not even Morgan Le Fey was willing to take such an adversary, even aged, lightly!
Remembrance of the Daleks--floating Daleks. Heavy Weapon Daleks. And the most awesome baseball bat killing of a Dalek in series history.
Eighth Doctor (McGann)
The movie has lots of problems and isn't even in circulation.
Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)
The Streetwise young man Doctor, survivor of the Time War
Rose--"Run for your life!" The Doctor gets off on the right foot.
Father's Day--A different sort of episode about Time Paradoxes
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways--The Doctor proves why Daleks fear one Doctor more than 5 million Cybermen. Eccleston's swan song
Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)
Future Doctors are going to have a pretty high bar to meet, thanks to Tennant. Like Pertwee, difficult to limit me to three...
Fires of Pompeii--Ancient Roman times, plus Aliens. How can I say no to THIS?
Blink--Scary quantum locked Angels. Moffat reinforces why he is a great DW writer.
The Girl in the Fireplace--"I'm the King of France." "And *I* am a Lord of Time."
One of the many things on my RSS feed is a football column, the Fifth Down, from the NY Times. They have a variety of things to fill the week, but today is "matchup day", when Mike Tanier looks forward to Sunday's games and how the teams stack up.
49ers (4-5) at Packers (5-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Line: Packers by 6 1/2
The college coach Jeff Tedford drew inspiration from Isaac Asimov, programming Aaron Rodgers and others (Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, A.J. Feeley) with the Three Rules of Quarterbotics. Rule 1: Always hold the football directly under the chinstrap. Rule 2: Methodically read the defense, dumping to a running back if nothing else is open. Rule 3: Obey Rules 1 and 2 at all costs, even if it means washing out of the N.F.L. Pro scouts grew suspicious of Tedford's automatons four years ago, opting instead for spread-option freewheelers like Alex Smith.
Rodgers abandoned Asimov for Philip K. Dick: like Roy Batty in "Blade Runner," he rejected his programming. Rodgers is now the dangerous loose cannon, and Smith (drafted first in the 2005 while Rodgers sweated for the cameras and tumbled to No. 24) is trying to outgun him while chafing against a system that doesn't maximize his limited talents. Smith found an origami swan in his locker after practice this week. It cannot be a good sign.
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.
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!)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
If you're house-hunting and have an extra $15 million to spare, there's a place with your name on it in Los Angeles. Known as the Ennis House, it's an architectural masterpiece designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.
The house has been featured in a number of movies, ranging from Black Rain, to Day of the Logust, and , as you might guess from the title of this blog entry, Blade Runner.
I'd love to see it in person, but its a wee bit out of my price range to buy,
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
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.
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.
One of the best reasons: Another good reason for a vigorous space program is the immense potential of space-based solar power. This would entail infrastructure-building with a vengeance, but investing in a system of orbiting solar power collectors -- and ground stations to receive that power -- could stimulate the economy, much like building interstate freeways did in the 1950s. And gathering the sun's energy in space and beaming it down maximizes the harvest while minimizing the effects on the Earth.
My friend Scott and I have discussed this idea in depth. It's an ambitious goal and project--and one worthy of the U.S. to tackle.
I went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince today.
Directed by David Yates (who did Order of the Phoenix and will do the last two movies), this is the sixth movie in the series.
While the novel is very much a character study, the movie diverges from that to present more action. There are a couple of intense action scenes and events, one very early in the film and one near the midpoint, which are strong divergences from the books.
As far as the acting, Broadbent does a great job as Slughorn. This series of movies has been a virtual British Actor Employment Act. While Radcliffe and his younger companions do okay in their roles, this movie makes it clear that, in the end, they cannot and do not hold a candle to Smith, Rickman, Coltrane, Gambon, Carter (who has gleeful fun in her role) and the others who portray the adults in the film. They are the real stars.
The movie has a washed out palette, but the cinematography is strong and practiced. The film is especially good when it frames and depicts the conflicted, brooding Draco.
I think the pacing of the film, though, is a bit off and perhaps the script could have used a second look. (I suspect that the midpoint action scene, not in the novel, was inserted in an effort to try and ratchet the tension. It does help.)
A lot of stuff in the movie, though, is there for the sake of continuity and if you haven't paid attention to the previous movies and novels, you will miss it. Minor characters get short shrift, some sadly underused. There are, literally blink-and-you-will-miss appearances from some minor characters like Wormtail and even the explosion-prone Seamus. Neither is even named in the movie.
The film focuses on Harry, and to a lesser extent, Ron and Hermione. The movie downplays the Ron-Hermione Ron-Lavender and Harry-Ginny romances to focus on other things. It must be admitted that HBP is a big book and a lot had to go. Still, some choices were baffling to me.
Ultimately, though, the movie's characters and milieu feel familiar, and I would not dream of dissuading anyone who has read the novels and/or watched the previous movies from watching this one.
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.
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.
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
A movie should stand or fall on its merits, not on the merits of the source material. It is somewhat beyond the point how the movie relates to the source material, and its definitely beyond the point if the reviewer has never read the source material.
Should a reviewer of Total Recall be required to read the Philip K Dick story it is tangentially based on, for instance? Is reading Pride and Prejudice necessary to review the Bollywood remake Bride and Prejudice?
I say no. While its a nice benefit and addition, in the end, the movie should stand and fall on its cinematic triumphs and lows, not on how it relates to its book. My issue with the movie Troy, for instance, was not the liberties taken with the narrative of the Iliad, but rather the make up of the universe and the blatant anachronisms.
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.
(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.
As opposed to the sequel and the series, I think the original miniseries is some fine television. I enjoyed it a lot back in the day and still enjoy it. I've mentioned before that I was at first somewhat nervous about remaking it.
Seeing the trailer, it strikes me immediately that the theme of this V could very well be "Faith" as opposed to the first miniseries' "Fascism". Watching the trailer, we get religious characters, imagery and dialogue. I don't find fault with this. Handled right, it will broaden the appeal to the potential audience.
And seriously? Morena Baccarin as evil V spokesperson? I'm so there for that.
Via Neil Gaiman, I discovered the U.K. is issuing a set of six stamps of mythical creatures, with art done by illustrator Dave McKean. (Now you see why Gaiman mentioned it, hmmm?). A Dragon, A Unicorn, a Giant, a Pixie, Faeries, and Mermaids.
These look really well done
If I was a philatelist, I would definitely get myself a set.
If you have seen the original Star Wars films, and then the prequels, you will undoubtedly notice a lot of things don't match up. Things Obi Wan and Yoda say don't jell with what we see in the "new" Episode I-III films.
So, in the wake of the Star Trek reboot--what if the Star Wards Prequels were really re-classified as a not-entirely-successful Reboot of the Star Wars franchise and universe. This would help explain away a lot of differences between the IV-VI films retelling of prior events, and the events as depicted in the I-III films.
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...
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.
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
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.
You've probably seen this, but this is the list of the 2008 nominees for the Sidewise award for Alternate History.
* "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)
* 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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
I had first really heard about this movie, at The Source. The last time the Indiegamers met, the proprietor of the store had posters for this animated movie, coming out this Friday, available for the taking. I didn't take one.
Reading more about it, it looks like this movie might be in the vein of Titan A.E. I had missed the goodness of Titan A.E. until a very good friend introduced me to it.
Maybe this movie will have the same sort of strength. There aren't a whole lot of big scale SF movies which aren't tied to existing franchises or properties. Maybe the animated route is a cheaper way to try and introduce *new* universes and characters.
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".
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.
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.
The weather has been warm and unbelievably dry. (I'm worried the waterfalls are going to be drier than they should be when I go up there next week!). The weather has been clear, and absolutely beautiful. Ever since I posted those photos of the snowfall we received on April 5th, the weather has turned.
Now, if this turns out to be a Vintage Season, then I hope we don't wind up with some time travelers, a la Vintage Season by Kuttner and Moore. It would be a shame if this perfect Minnesota weather was ended by the "Blue Death".
A. Alphaville  B. Brainstorm 
C. Charly 
D. Destination Moon  E. Enemy Mine 
F. Frau im Mond 
G. Gold  H. Harrison Bergeron 
I. The Incredible Shrinking Man 
J. Just Imagine 
K. Krakatit 
L. Lifeforce 
M. The Man in the White Suit  N. Night of the Comet 
O. On Your Mark 
P. Panic in Year Zero!  Q. Quatermass and the Pit [1968, a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth]
R. Robinson Crusoe on Mars  S. Soylent Green 
T. Them! 
U. The Ultimate Warrior 
V. Village of the Damned 
W. The War Game 
X. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes 
Y. Yosei Gorasu  Z. Zardoz 
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 1843Jane 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 1958The 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
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
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!".
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.
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.
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.
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.
A total of 799 nomination ballots were cast and the nominees are:
(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)
(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)
(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
(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
(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.
In some universe, the name "Syfy" is less geeky than the name "Sci Fi." Dave Howe, president of the Sci Fi Channel, is betting it's this one.
To that end, the 16-year-old network--owned by NBC Universal--plans to announce that Syfy is its new name March 16 at its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York.
"The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular," said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.
So, the executives of the Sci Fi Channel are stupid *and* sexist? I happen to not only know a wide swath of female science fiction fans (and proud of that fact), but I have friendly relationships with a number of female SF *writers*.
A channel which openly mocks and denigrates its fan base is a channel that I am not so inclined to watch. Why should I, really, when they clearly think so little of me?
And while I am on this rant, let's look at the top box office drawing movies of all time and see the power of "geeks and dysfunctional antisocial types" that the Sci Fi Syfy channel thinks I am.
Worldwide Box Office
1. Titanic (1997) $1,835,300,000 2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) $1,129,219,252
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) $1,060,332,628 4. The Dark Knight (2008) $997,316,061 5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) $968,657,891
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) $958,404,152 7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) $937,000,866 8. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $922,379,000 9. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) $921,600,000
10. Jurassic Park (1993) $919,700,000
And really, I am being somewhat generous in NOT labelling Jurassic Park or the Pirates movies as geek movies, despite the SF elements of the former and the fantasy aspects of the latter. So, really, the only movie on that list which has no real F/SF elements at all is Titanic.
Dear Syfy channel: You might get better ratings if you had more things like BSG and Tin Man, and less of "Mansquito". Your ratings have nothing to do with being branded as a channel for dysfunctional geeks.
Via Sf Signal, a link to Sci Fi Wire reveals:
In other major pilot castings news, Morena Baccarin will play a lead in the ABC drama V, while Eliza Coupe has been tapped for a lead in ABC's comedy No Heroics.
V is a re-imagining of the 1980s miniseries about an invasion of aliens known as Visitors and the resistance against them. Baccarin will play Anna, the leader of the Visitors who is remarkably knowledgeable about human culture and media manipulation.
Morena Baccarin as one of the Visitors? This takes the phrase "take me to your Leader" a whole new dimension!
I wasn't that enthused about the idea of remaking V but this *certainly* perks up my interest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's the usual rule: bold for things one has read, italics for things one has in a pile but hasn't read yet.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
"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)
"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) "
Surely you remember Max Headroom (which is still not on DVD). One of the myriad ideas in a series stuff with them was the idea of "blipverts"--short, concentrated ads designed to work in a future of 500 channels and people trying to avoid ads by any and all means. (Like I said, we're living in a Science Fiction Present).
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.
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)
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.
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.
The other passing yesterday, of course, was Ricardo Montalban. Best known for his roles as Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island, and Khan on Star Trek, he knew how to deliver a line. As the NPR blog says "divinely controlled, insanely charming, vaguely diabolical delivery "
I lament that my Geek cred is diminished a bit by the fact that I do not own Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. While I do have episodes of the Prisoner (and screened a couple yesterday in honor of McGoohan's parting), I find that, sadly and tragically, I do not own any movies or shows that he was in.
It might be a moral imperative to pick up Wrath of Khan, just to watch an actor who could, and did, match Shatner's capacity for overacting. Khan is one of the greatest Trek villains ever, and I would argue, one of the best villains anywhere. And it is Montalban's depiction and acting that make that happen.
Genre fans will best remember him for his creation and starring role in the 60's TV show The Prisoner. (coincidentally, a remake is being filmed starring Jim Caviezel). He won two Emmys for roles in Peter Falk's Columbo TV movies (as a villain!), and also was in movies such as Braveheart (as Edward Longshanks, my model for Oberon in my Amber games) and as a ghost in The Phantom..
Although Doctorow's advice is ostensibly for writers of stories and novels, his advice is good for those who want to seriously sit down and, say, write blog entries, PBEM turns, or anything else without getting lost in Internet drifting and IMing (and Twittering, etc...)
I decided to rent and watch Eagle Eye. The movie stars Shia LeBoeuf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson. Beware of spoilers.
The movie begins oddly, with a ripped-from-the-headlines approach as members of the armed forces debate a possible strike on a not-completely-identified terrorist at a funeral somewhere in Central Asia. Despite the objections of an unseen advisor, the strike takes place.
Later, bits and pieces and snatches of news suggest that this was a horrible mistake, since the blowback against American embassies and assets abroad shows no signs of abating.
In the meantime...
Jerry Shaw is a slacker. Underachieving, especially in comparison to his twin, he scams his co workers at the Copy Cabana for a few $ to keep his landlady off of his back.
Rachel Holloman is a divorced mother whose ex-husband is unreliable, and struggles to get her son on a train to D.C. for a concert at the Kennedy Center.
Jerry's brother dies, and Jerry's life is turned upside down in short order. Trying to deposit a check from his estranged father, he discovers his depleted bank account now has $750,000. Returning to his apartment, his landlady complains about all of the packages he has received today...packages containing a host of weapons and bomb making materials.
Rachel in the meantime is trying to blow off the stress of her life and simply relax with her girlfriends in a restaurant.
And a dulcet voice on a phone calls them both and directs them with unknown purpose, even as two agents, Agent Zoe Perez and Agent Thomas Morgan, pursue them with Javert like dedication...
The movie was marketed as a thriller and sounds like one (maybe like the Colin Ferrell vehicle Phone Booth). It's something more, though.
It's a SF movie. It emerges that the voice (whom I recognized as Julianne Moore, even if she isn't in the credits) is the voice of a computer. As part of its function to work for national security, it has decided to act autonomously, even when those actions would never be accepted by the Secretary of Defense and the rest of the staff. It's the Vingean Singularity, a Skynet-level computer which has reached intelligence!
And yes, Jerry's brother Ethan's death. and recruiting Jerry, is a big part of her plans.
The movie is not quite as successful as I would have liked. The build up works well, and the pieces fall in place slowly that we're dealing with an AI here, but one scene makes a big break in the movie for me.
At one point, almost North by Northwest style, our heroes are on a road in a field in the Midwest. A truck, drove by yet another person "activated" by the computer arrives. The truck driver has had enough of the mystery orders, and leaves on foot.
He is killed by a sudden snapping of high-tension electrical wires which electrocute him. While previous actions with automated control of cranes, cell phones and the like might be vaguely plausible, having the high tension wires snap and attack on command broke the fig leaf of plausible SF for me.
The denouement of the movie, too, doesn't work. Much like the ending of Collateral, the end game should have been fatal to Jerry, and yet he manages to survive against highly trained opponents. I think that for dramatic purposes, he should have died and sacrificed his life, the ending as written is too artificial and "hollywood happy" (although I understand an alternate ending on the special edition undercuts this ending).
It's a pity that the movie wasn't better than it was. It has some interesting ideas but pisses them away. And if I were the producers I could have and would have cut a very different trailer that would have played up the movie's strengths better.
A small wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, who open it and become instantly wealthy. Little do they realize that opening the box also kills someone they do not know...
Sure, it was a 1980's Twilight Zone episode (and one of my favorites, this one inspired a debate between me and my brother at the time). Apparently, it is also going to be a movie this fall with Cameron Diaz and James Marsden. The screenplay and direction is by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), so I suspect that the movie will be surreal...
Can the concept last an entire movie as opposed to a 30 min episode of the Twilight Zone? We shall see!
We have a replacement for David Tennant for Doctor Who:
The BBC today announced that Matt Smith has been cast in the role of the Doctor in the iconic BBC series Doctor Who.
Smith will be the 11th Time Lord and will take over from David Tennant who leaves the show at the end of 2009. He will be seen in the forthcoming fifth series that will be broadcast in 2010.
The fifth series will also have a new lead writer and Executive Producer in the form of the BAFTA award-winning writer Steven Moffat, who is taking over from Russell T Davies.
I'm very excited that Moffat will be the lead writer and EP, since his episodes have been amongst the best of the new series. This Matt Smith guy...I've never *heard* of him, so he will be a complete tabula rasa to me.
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.
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)
St. Paul, Minn.
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?
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.
Lorius. My favorite character in any medium. I often play him as the Plucky Comic Reliefwith his over the top antics. I think its the floating. People just key on that.
Did I tell you all that in the Exalted game I run that he is trying to invent Baba Yaga's Hut? As a spell? (He was tired of being dragged around by the PCs and camping out all the time. So he's decided to fix this problem in the classic Lorius way. Magic.) Yes, Lorius is always Too Clever by Half in any medium.
Consider me neutral on this, as I have mentioned before.
The original series had some good moments, even given lousy production values. They had real science fiction writers (including Larry Niven) penning episodes. It's a good *idea* once you tease out the entire concept from the various episodes.
On the other hand--aren't there any new ideas out there? Is Hollywood so bankrupt that we need yet another series-turned-movie? Land of the Lost might have had some good ideas--but how do you sustain it for an entire movie? What tack do you take so that a modern audience of 18-34 year olds will see it? I could certainly do a treatment myself, but it probably wouldn't be "commercial" enough.
Will Farrell. Sure, he can be extremely annoying, but he has done some okay work. I was pleasantly surprised by the Bewitched movie--which was a movie about a tv series remake of the original series. But, then, I am a sucker for Nicole Kidman, and the movie has Michael Caine in it as well. He also did well in Stranger than Fiction and Anchorman. So, given the right director and script, Farrell actually can do well.
The question is, as said above, what do they do with the material?
So there we are. It probably WILL be a butchery of my tv viewing youth, but maybe it will actually be worth watching. We shall see.
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.
Iron Man is even more of a genre movie than you think
Being laid up with a sprained ankle, I've had a lot of time to watch movies with my foot propped up.
One of the DVDs I watched is the recent Robert Downey vehicle, Iron Man.
Something occurred to me as I watched it...
Sure, its a comic book movie, but its also a science fiction movie.
Consider what we see, and all the stuff that Stark invents (or presumably has invented). Not only the obvious ones like the suit, the weapons and the Arc reactors (both the big one and the small ones:
Jarvis, his house computer, could pass a Turing Test, I think. And its even portable enough that it can be uploaded into the Mark II suit. The robots in his lab also have some degree of sentience. I am pretty sure that Stark is responsible for the design of the robots and Jarvis. Thus, Stark has invented a software AI.
Stark/Iron Man is as much a science fiction hero as he is a comic book hero. And while there is darkness and tragedy in his story, Iron Man is fundamentally more upbeat than The Dark Knight. Laid up with a sprained ankle, Iron Man was far more appealing as entertainment.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You may have heard of SPORE, the "SIM Everything" game soon out (the creature creator has been out for a while.
SF writer Walter Jon Williams has just outed himself as having been a part of the project:
From the link above: Spore, the world's most eagerly anticipated video game ever, releases this weekend.
I wrote it.
Or rather, I wrote all the dialog and some of the situations in the space game, which is the last--- the ultimate, if you will--- of five interlinked games that make up Spore. (There's not a lot of call for dialog in most of the games, since characters won't yet have evolved language.)
When you encounter some fifteen-eyed, twenty-tentacled Purple People Eater lecturing you from the command center of its UFO, you're talking to me, baby!
Faithful readers may recall, earlier in the year, my mention of a Mystery Project. Spore was it.
Still, in looking over the list, I was surprised by how many of the originating stories I did read. Or start - there was one book I couldn't finish. Seemed like a good subject for a meme, so, here are the rules.
Copy the list below.
Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn't finish it.
I am not going to tag anyone. I have few enough readers as it is.
1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park 4. I, Robot
8. The Stepford Wives 9. The Time Machine
11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX 13.2010
14. The Running Man 15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher 18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline 28. The Postman 29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man 32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend 36. The Puppet Masters
38. A Scanner Darkly
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon) 42. The Handmaid's Tale
45. From Beyond
48. Body Snatchers
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
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
Steven H Silver
WINNER: John Scalzi
Best Fan Artist
WINNER: Brad Foster
Best Professional Artist
WINNER: Stephan Martiniere
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
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)
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
"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
"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
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
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.
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.
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.
Although I've (mostly) enjoyed their writings over the years, I know that the political views of Jerry Pournelle have never quite aligned with mine own. I can accept that. I did think that inserting politics and a screed against the IRS in "The Burning City" made it a much weaker book IMO.
However, I thought Niven was more immune to odious beliefs. I am wrong:
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.
“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.
“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.
“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.
His point is that the future can evolve in unpredictable ways.
A money quote:
Even ten years ago, could anyone -- did anyone, except the Israelis -- imagine citizens of the United States lining up for security searches more reminiscent of communist Russia just to get on an airplane?
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.
Guillermo del Toro has officially signed up to direct The Hobbit, according to reports leaking out from a film premiere in France. The Pan's Labyrinth creator will oversee a double-bill of films based on JRR Tolkien's fantasy adventure, which paved the way for The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, director of the Oscar-winning Rings trilogy, will serve as executive producer.
I really liked PAN'S LABYRINTH, and HELLBOY, too. I think he could do a pretty good job with the Hobbit. Certainly I have high hopes for the spiders of Mirkwood and Smaug based on this.
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.
Chris Roberson, who has written a few books (including Paragea, which I reviewed and loved) has been excerpting chapters from a "backstory" novel involving one of the main characters from Paragaea, called Set the Seas on Fire.
I've browsed STSOF when it was available freely electronically, as a prep to reading Paragaea. I am linking to this excerpt because of the things Chris does in this chapter.
He shows how a fencing lesson might really go...and I think its invaluable to RPGers for that reason alone. Enjoy.
I've been listening to some Old Dimension X episodes, which are now freely available as MP3's. Its an old radio program which had a heavy rotation of adaptations of short Science fiction stories.I am really enjoying them and I recommend them all to you.
One of the episodes I've listened to today is "The Veldt". As I've listened to this story of a Nursery that brings a three dimensional environment to life, it struck me.
"The Veldt", and how it goes wrong, is a clear antecedent and inspiration for the Star Trek Holodeck/Holosuite.
One of the games I play is the stat based computer game Front Office Football.
Its a lot of fun, even if its mostly numbers. There is no joystick control a la Madden or its rivals. On the other hand the career mode is deep. You can play year after year of a league of your making and i have done so.
It occurred to me today that I could have fun starting a new league, with a draft for imaginary teams. I briefly flirted with world cities without teams, and then a better idea struck me, one that *you* can help me with.
2 Conferences, 16 teams in each conference. With a little creativity, I can change city names and locations and make imaginary places. And since I could start with a draft so that all teams started equal...
Well, I could have 32 teams taken from fantasy and science fiction.
Where you can help me is with suggestions. Site in a world plus a name for the team would be great.
The Babylon 5 Starfuries
The Amber Royals
The Traken Keepers
I open the floor for suggestions. Help Populate my league!
I've mentioned the Mundane-SF crowd before. The link above is a link to a text version of Geoff Ryman's GOH speech to Boreal in Montreal last April.
I'm very glad that I did not attend that convention, or else I would ask for my money back.
I have responded to excerpts, although you should as always read the entire thing first.
It's the medium as well as the message.
Ryman claims in his speech that:
"So I wrote a jokey Mundane Manifesto. It said let’s play this serious game. Let’s agree: no FTL, no FTL communications, no time travel, no aliens in the flesh, no immortality, no telepathy, no parallel universe, no magic wands. Let’s see if something new comes out of it."
Was it a joke? I didn't take it as such and many others didn't. He seemed shocked by that reaction.
Some of the blog commentary went a bit angry. I have a better understanding of what I thought of as an invitation to play a game was so widely misunderstood. Essentially it suggested that we left the old tropes to one side, and focussed on more likely futures.
He goes on.
The drive to write and read big-market SF is not much different from the drive to write and read Peter Pan. You never grow up. You fly by magic away from home to Never-neverland. (Take the third star on the left.) It’s full of mermaids, pirates and native peoples, just like Star Trek. Something really weird is going on around the whole idea of mother and Wendy.
I like Peter Pan. I like watching mass market SF. It’s a holiday from being an adult. The fantasies that fulfil the dream may show us wonders, but they are very repetitive, stereotyped wonders. Less to do with real innovation and more to do with a sense of comfort.
And so, Ryman slips back into what Stirling calls the arrogance and conceit.
You are foolish because you like this stuff. You should put away these childish things. You should grow up.
I dream of a science fiction that is literature, right up there with Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, and Jane Austen. There is no reason for it not to be. Forty years ago that was the project, and it seemed like we were going to do it. That was the age of New Worlds, Dangerous Visions, of Ballard, Delaney, LeGuinn, and Tiptree.
Ah, and here Ryman implies that only Mundane SF is worthy of being "literature". This is a whole other can of worms for me to open. If I am reading Ryman correctly here, and perhaps I am off base, I wonder if this perceived inferiority complex of SF is a motivation to want the genre to move in that direction.
Does Ryman lie in bed at night with wet dreams that the NY Times and literary critics everywhere will treat his novels, and novels of SF with the same deference and respect that they do with modern literature? Does he believe that by shedding ray guns and rocketships, SF can become respectable, canonical, and accepted?
And then, finally at the end:
I’ve spoken a bit about the dream that underlies SF as being essentially adolescent. But there is one aspect of the dream I’ve left out. Surely the urge to leave home and escape everyday life finally ends with the child making a home of its own and becoming adult. There is room in the SF dream for growing up, accepting the mundane. That’s the part of the dream my fiction will try to fulfill.
It’s never too late to grow up.
And back to the Peter Pan allusion again.
And so I will quote the Bible, Paul to the Corinthians:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Chapter 13, verse 11"
This is what Ryman perceives the aspects of SF that he despises are. And so, like a parent telling her child to eat her lima beans, he tells us that its time for us to grow up, give up dreams of space travel, time travel and their kin, and focus on Earth and Earth only.
Ryman stands with the "One Happy World" people in Philip K Dick's Time Out of Joint. And, sorry to say this, he is just as arrogantly blinkered.
EW is a cotton candy of a magazine, with a lot of superficial filler without much content. And their coverage of SF is often atrocious, highlighted, not mitigated, by their recent practice of reviewing SF novels now and again.
So when SF Signal linked to this list they complied of the best Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, I thought that the list was going to be a terrible one.
Go see the list for yourself, its a lot better selection of STTNG episodes than I would have expected.
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.
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.
Why precisely I am still watching this show? I don't know. Perhaps documenting the show from start to finish for posterity?
In this episode, Flash's Best Friend returns, in time to get stung by an alien bug which has gone through an unintentional rift from Mongo to Earth. Dale is forced to make him miserable at the wedding to keep him alive while Flash and Baylin search for a cure...
This was not much of an improvement over Episode 2. The concept is lame and cliched and while the basic idea had lots of potential (alien bugs come through to Earth), it was watered down and denuded of all drama. Instead of dealing with a real crisis, we get painful scenes of Dale acting like a b!tch at a wedding to keep Flash's Best Friend alive. On top of that we get castrating women, more Planet of the Dark Corridors, and people acting stupid.
Segway Guy is still more interesting than Ming and had more screen time(!) I didn't buy the artifact hall at all--is there no such thing as security alarms? Having Aura waltz in and take one of the pieces without disabling any alarms (or Flash doing that for that matter) seemed very wrong. And how did she get free of Flash tying her up so quickly? There was a hint of an idea of Flash owing Aura for the privilege of taking him to get the artifact. I think the episode could have worked much better with Aura forcing Flash to hold to that, and skipping the "Escape from the Water Treatment Plant" sequence.
Having Baylin "come in out of the cold" and then turn around and get outed as a deserter immediately thereafter was a poor use of her character. Again, the writers are missing opportunities left, right and center in this show.
Previews for the next episode suggest that its another "invader through a rift from Mongo". I said it in previous reviews that this concept of the small town continually beset is just not going to hold up on the long run. Force Zarkov, Dale, Baylin and Flash to *stay* on Mongo for a few episodes. Let's see more of Mongo and less of British Columbia.
So I watched the second episode of the new Sci Fi Channel version of Flash Gordon...spoilers ahoy.
Its better than the pilot, although that might be damning it with faint praise.
Its the little things and the big things together that bug me.
What happened to Flash's friend (best friend?) Given the implication of how deep the relationship between the two of them was suggested in the pilot, for him not to make an appearance at all in this episode felt false. Is Flash never going to tell his friend about the weird doings with Mongo?
The ice smuggling--impractical at best.
The second bounty hunter. The only reason why I could see he didn't kill the park ranger was because it would have brought the entire house of cards down as far as the "secret" of Mongo. I was afraid of this in the pilot, that its going to be increasingly implausible to keep up this switching between worlds.
Segway guy still out-charismas Ming, although at least this episode we get to see Ming be ruthless in a personal way. Aura, on the other hand, suddenly isn't acting like the spoiled princess she was in the pilot. That's not character growth, that's inconsistency.
Baylin was better in this episode although as seen above, I didn't buy her mate's actions. I suppose they toned it down to keep it relatively family friendly, but still, that just makes the show a boat car, neither one nor the other.
I dislike the new Zarkov more and more. Hes a crackpot without the redeeming value of being a intelligent crackpot. If he could do more acting than just be manic, he might be more tolerable.
Worst of all, we end the episode with the equivalent of a reset button, with the rift closed and Baylin still on Earth.. Is every blessed episode going to be someone from Mongo invading this town in search of Dale, Flash or Baylin?!
Oh, and how did the house get mysteriously fixed before his mother got home? (And how is she going to react to strigil using Baylin cleaning herself, Roman style, with oil in her backyard)?
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.
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).
Now, I've seen a number of versions of FG. I may not be an authority. Still...
Emperor Ming: Ming is supposed to be Merciless. A hands-on guy who relishes his role as ruler of the universe and bada**. This Ming is...a mid level bureaucrat or middle manager. Emperor Ming of PowePoint.
His Palace: Long dark corridors, small dark rooms and its implied if not stated outright that its a Water Treatment Plant. A Water Treatment Plant?!?! When I meet Ming, I want it to be in a throne room, a grand place that shows his power and authority. Worse, his second in command, "Segway guy" is more interesting. This is a fatal flaw.
Mongo: Mostly, what we see are dark corridors and rooms in the Water Treatment Plant. This is supposed to be Flash Gordon, not Flash Gordon and the Planet of Dark Corridors. The rest of the planet, what we see of it, looks like generic Southern Canada as much as Star Trek episodes look like generic Southern California.
And what Ming's motivation for visiting Earth is now painfully clear--get the Imex so that he can get a reliable source of water, if not from Earth itself. I feel like I've walked into a remake of "V".
Getting to Mongo: Okay, I can understand not using spaceships and using Sliders/Stargate warps. However, if travel between Mongo and Earth is too frequent, its going to destroy the suspension of disbelief and quickly. People will notice no matter how much of a small town this is. Send our heroes to Mongo and keep them there for a few episodes trying to figure a way out.
I blame the character as written equally with the lackluster performance. This Flash is a live-at-home marathon runner with a garage sideline. I think this was a case of poor character design. Flash is supposed to be an extraordinary athlete who becomes a hero. This Flash doesn't give me a hero vibe. He just seems to want to find his father. I don't think the series needs or is served by that subplot.
A creepy stalker Zarkov who makes unreliable technology. Umm, no. Worse, this Zarkov is supposed to have been an assistant to Flash's Dad 15 years ago, but he looks about Flash's age. Was he helping in between going to Junior High?!
Okay, so she's a reporter. Fine. (Although she acts awfully stupid for one) She's engaged to be married and is an old girlfriend. That puts a speedbump on the usual romantic arc, but ok. I didn't buy the chemistry between her and Flash.
Wasted opportunity. They had a clever idea with her introduction and botched it. With things as they stand at the end of the first episode, she will never be able to seduce Flash and that ruins a critical FG element. Even with Dale at his side, Aura should be a temptation. Aura blew that chance straight out.
Wasted opportunity, take two. Okay, so she's a BAAD bounty hunter, with enough rank to pull rank on Aura. Fine, Good. What this suggests is something more than using some gadget to temporarily immobilize Our Hero. I wanted to see her get rough and tumble with Flash, maybe even win before Zarkov or Dale brings some firepower. You don't set up a character to be a dangerous mercenary and not show it. (cue Han Solo)
With poor acting, the episode comes off badly, even given the idiot plot. Given these elements, I would have done things very differently. I would have kept Aura's identity secret (from everyone save the viewer) for an episode or two. Let her show how devious she really can be. Have Ming kill someone, and I don't mean by endless displays of Powerpoint.
I will watch an episode or two more to see if they can get past this rough beginning, but right now, its looking like a flop to me. It's not campy enough to be camp, not dramatic enough to be a BSG style SF show. It's just...enh.
Via Chris Roberson's blog, a YouTube clip with images from all of the classic Doctor Who episodes, from Unearthly Child to the Doctor Who Movie, with a music background and a few quotes as audio accompaniment (including the immortal "No, not the Mind Probe.")
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).
"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.
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.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars. I celebrated today by playing a bit of Lego Star Wars II...
Unlike many of my compatriots, I didn't see the original Star Wars in a theater. I didn't see the Empire Strikes Back in a theater, either...
The first SW movie I saw in a theater was Return of the Jedi, and that was because my older brother was now old enough to bring me, and my younger brother to the movies with him. My mother and father were not movie buffs, so it fell upon my brother to fill the gap. Return of the Jedi, as it so happens is the second movie I ever saw in a theater. The first, showing my brother's taste, was "Metalstorm 3-D: The Return of Jared-Sin."
But between that and SW, there was no chance that with my reading habits that I wasn't going to get hooked on SF cinema, especially once I became old enough to go on my own to movies.
I finally did get to see SW in a theater, during the Re-release tour in the 90's. That version of SW, although its the one I own on DVD, annoys me for reasons that you don't need me to rant upon.
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.
Written by Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana author Jess Nevins, a clever alternate history of Chinese SF, presuming a China which bestrides the world and is the cultural center of the planet. All of the novels are analogues to real novels and writers, but its the perspective brought to these novels which are interesting.
Just to give one tasty piece of an example:
Hong Fu Ren’s Dune (4662). This is hardly a controversial choice for a Most Influential Novel: The Sixties selection. It won the Gan Hui Award and the Nebula Award for Best First Novel. It’s one of the (if not the) best-selling science fiction novels of all time. Hong wrote five sequels, and Dune inspired two films, two tv mini-series, computer games, board games, and a series of prequels and sequels written by Hong Biao Rong (Hong Fu Ren's son) and Ao Ken Wang. Its fan base is thriving forty years after its debut. In terms of its influence, Dune’s emphasis on religious themes, and its introduction of ecology into the discourse of science fiction, were a departure from tradition and inspired numerous novelists to incorporate ecology and other hard and soft sciences into their fiction. And Dune remains a good read. But despite being a fan of the novel, I have to agree with the charge most famously made by Pan Kuai Hui at the ’64 WorldCon: Dune is not a religious novel. Dune is a communist novel.
Book Review 2007 #22: In the Hall of the Martian King
The next book up is the third, and possibly the last, in the "Jak Jinnaka" series by John Barnes, In the Hall of the Martian King.
Like the first two novels, In the Hall of the Martian King (which I will abbreviate henceforth) continues the story of Jak Jinnaka, set in a balkanized, pulpish 36th century solar system of action, intrigue, and Nakasen's Wager. After his previous adventures, our hero Jak is secretly working for the Intelligence division of the Hive, his home habitat, while pretending to work for its bureaucracy on the Hive's station on Deimos, moon of Mars.
A discovery on Mars propels Jak out of his bureaucratic cover job and into action, seeking to obtain the lost lifelog (diary) of Pak Nakasen itself, the person responsible for the guiding philosophy of Jak's universe. If you think of someone finding an authenticated diary of Jesus, or a complete day to day life story of Mohammed, or Buddha, you can see how such an item would draw attention from many quarters seeking to obtain it for their own purposes.
Again, like the previous books, Martian King is written somewhat like a Heinlein Juvenile in some respects, with a young hero, prurient interests that aren't graphic, and characters in niches that are very much in the Juvenile mold. And yet, it seems not only a homage, but a critique and pastiche of those novels as well. Barnes is crafty too, while he does have a character which seems to be the author's viewpoint, he doesn't always seem to be right.
The only disappointment is in the ending. The last portion of the book, as things unspool and run toward its conclusion, seems ungainly, clumsy and not quite of a piece with the rest of the book. Given that throughout the three books we've gotten hints that Jak's career spans over a century, and he has become famous throughout the solar system, I was expecting something more in the climax than what actually happens.
On the other hand, the virtues of the series are in force. Interesting chapter titles, a sense of humor and adventure, its own slang, and inventive settings and ideas make this a quick, pleasant read. It wasn't all that I hoped for, but I enjoyed it. I wouldn't read this one first, to really "dak" Jinnaka, you should start with The Duke of Uranium. Toktru, tove!
Ships of Air is the second in Martha Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy, set in the same world as Element of Fire, Death of the Necromancer, and the first novel in the trilogy, the Wizard Hunters
Middle books in series are tough. You don't have the hit the ground running feel of the first novel, and you have to bridge to the third and still manage to tell a story. Its a tricky business, and Wells does her best with the middle book in this series.
When last we left Tremaine, her Rienish friends and her new Syprian friends, the base owned by the Gardier, the enemy inexorably and ruthlessly conquering her homeland, has been destroyed, and Tremaine has borrowed a cruise ship to get back on the offensive, or at least give Ile-Rien a fighting chance in her defense.
And of course her plans go inexorably awry. She's not a natural leader, and not a sorceress, and yet is thrust into an uncomfortable position of power. Atlhough this does weaken the book somewhat, to have someone who is not born and suited to the role having to play it, Wells does show the virtues of an imperfect, often fearful main character. Tremaine is a very human character for it, and she makes impulsive decisions, not always wisely. And so her decisions lead her to get married on a dare, find another Gardier base, and actually learn the truth of where the Gardier come from.
Its also hard to argue with a book with Zeppelins. "Everything is better with Zeppelins". The book's strength though is in depicting sorcery in less than trite terms, the magic systems used here are different than the usual ones found in standard fantasy fare. The characters are multidimensional and show range and different sides. And there are plenty of surprises in store.
The weakest aspect of the book is that the ending of this book doesn't look like it has a natural bridge to the third novel. Sure, there is a climax, but the very real question of "What will they do next?" is unanswered and that is an uncomfortable position for a reader to be in and its a strike against the book.
Still, I've enjoyed every book of hers that I've read and Ships of Air is no exception. I wouldn't start here at all. In fact, I think the novels work better if you start back with Death of the Necromancer, or even Element of Fire, and work forward from there.
Chronologically and in writing order the first of L Sprague De Camp's Krishna (Viagens Interplanetarias) novels.
First in his series, Queen of Zamba gives us a "first timers" view of the green-humanoid inhabited Planet Krishna, in the person of Victor Hasselborg. He is a private detective who is hired to track down a missing woman and her bigamous husband, and in so doing travels from Earth to Krishna in search of the fugitives, who have gone native in disguise. Along the way, Hasselborg, and us, get a look at Krishna, from the fearsome yeki to the all-too-human like Krishnans themselves.
The book has a pulp feel from the 50's era in which it was written. Female characters are underwritten or not much more than statuary in the novel, the focus stays firmly on the males as men of action and plot drivers. The novel has a light, carefree feel to it, this is a light entertainment and makes no compunctions about staying at that level.
On the hand, there are lots of funny bits, such as when Hasselborg accidentally stays at a hotel run by the thieves guild of the local city, and his comical attempts to avoid the matrimonial machinations of Fouri, niece to the High Priest, who is quite unaware that Hasselborg is, in fact, an Earthman in disguise.
The copy of Queen of Zamba I have also includes a short story, "Perpetual Motion", where a conman comes to Krishna seeking to fleece the local population, and getting much more than he bargained for.
From duels to monsters to elephant-pulled trains, Krishna is one of my favorite worlds, and I only showed a little bit of it in a TOTR game I ran last year. One of these days, I'll revisit it again in a game, but in the meantime, I intend to continue to read the novels.
One of the subtitles of this blog is "Living in the Science Fiction Present", since the march of technology, progress and advancement has brought what was once science fictional tropes into our daily lives.
Author Gwyneth Jones, in an article in the Guardian, explores this idea.
A Hugo nominated novel from Peter Watts, a change from his usual deep-sea stuff: a kitchen sink novel of first contact and more.
Peter Watts uncorked my brain.
Blindsight is a novel of first contact set in the late 21st century, with a spacecraft crew like none other I've seen, meeting genuine aliens. Along the way he throws in lots of neurobiology, extrapolated technology, speculation on consciousness and much more. The sheer volume of SF ideas in this book and the lengths Watts goes to explore them is absolutely amazing.
The decadent 21st century is shaken up by the appearance of "fireflies", probes of some sort that burn up in the atmosphere. A crew is put together and sent to investigate its source. The crew is headed by a genetically reconstructed vampire (perhaps the least believable part of the SF), a multiple personality (although that term is outmoded in late 21st century society), a pacifist warrior, a scientist with modified senses, and the viewpoint character, Siri Keeton, who has had radical brain surgery at a young age.
The aliens met in the Oort cloud by the crew of the Theseus are a strange lot but I don't want to give away too much about them because it would spoil the book. Suffice it to say that Watts plays with some heavy duty ideas on how aliens could be very different, on a mental level, than we are (or more accurately, the modified humans who meet them).
The strong personalities make the novel sing . While the book does stand up on the strength of the speculation and it would be a fine novel on that basis alone, the clash of personalities, the stark contrasts between the crew members take it to another level. This is most decidedly not the crew of the USS Enterprise or even Serenity.
Not everything in the novel works, and I think a couple of ideas could have been developed even more. But its a very strong, mature work. SF Signal's review does make some good points, although I found the infodumps fascinating, and perhaps, given the density and complexity of the ideas Watts is playing with here, necessary and integral. I am not sure you can make this novel work without them, unless it is far longer and unwieldy. I do agree about the Vampires, but I think that's a kitchen sink syndrome.
As far as the grimness of the novel, yes, the milieu and the ultimate ending and its implications are grim. I don't buy his conclusions but I think its worthwhile for you to read the novel and decide for yourself.
I certainly think its better than the 3 out of 5 stars overall that JP at SFSignal gives it. Perfect, no, but I think, most especially my biologically inclined, trained and educated friends will go ga-ga over this, and rightly so. Read it for the characters, stay for the SF ideas and speculation. They might uncork your brain, too.
John at SFSignal asks a classic question in this age where half the novels out there seem to start a series or be a book in a F/SF series.
With all of the series out there, which ones to start reading?
Here is a *partial* answer.
I think a broader question is: Which ones to start reading, which ones I need to continue, and which ones am I not going to start(or continue).
Let's start with the ones I want to start:
R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing. I've heard good things about it, even if the books themselves seem disturbing overly Tolkienesque. I've ordered these on Amazon, and its a fat fantasy series, but its only a trilogy. I can handle that.
The Dark Tower novels by Stephen King. I have a friend who is a fan of these, but I've never gotten around to reading them. I should.
The Garrett novels by Glen Cook. . I've heard good things about these--A Film Noir Detective in a fantasy setting.
The Briar King and its sequels by J Gregory Keyes. I really liked Newton's Cannon and its sequels and I am curious about this series.
Shadowmarch and its sequels by Tad Williams Again, I loved the Otherland novels.
Series I need to *continue* Reading:
Steven Erikson's Malazan novels. I know I am caught up if one looks at US publication, but my friend Scott is a couple of novels ahead since he buys them from the UK, where they come out first. Some of the best Fat Fantasy out there today.
Jim Butcher's Dresden novels.. I read the first one, liked it, but haven't bought any more. I need to fix that.
Elizabeth's Bear's Faerie novels. I liked Blood and Iron, and need to pick up Whiskey and Water when it comes out.
Lord of the Isles by David Drake. I read the first two of these, but there are several more waiting for me. Good use of the consequences of obtaining power as a strong theme.
Series that I am not going to continue:
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. The first one was okay, but not so spectacular that I want to particularly go on. And I've heard bad things about how the series turns into a morass as one continues deeper into it. No thank you.
Terry Brooks' Shannara. No offense to a good friend who has a daughter named Shannara, but I've never been a fan of Brooks' writing. I even tried the Magic Kingdom for Sale series a couple of years ago, and didn't like that, either. So I guess Brooks is not for me.
Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series Another writer I simply can't get into, and I've tried.
The Dune Prequels by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson I am afraid that in trying to do prequels, they diminish the original or would in my mind if I read them.
Media Tie in Novels. I've read a few, and might consider one or two more on a case by case basis, but on the whole--enh.
The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy by Robert Sawyer. Another author that turns me off. I'm opinionated, aren't I?
Viriconium consists of the three short novels The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, In Viriconium, and seven short stories.
There is an essay inside of me about the "Geography" of Fantasy which informs this review, even though you haven't seen it yet. Viriconium is a creation of Harrison which owes as much to Mervyn Peake as it does, say, Jack Vance. Viriconium is set in the "Evening" of Earth, after the last of the mighty Afternoon Cultures. A city of decadence, old architectures, glories of past civilizations and survival in a diminished world.
The Viriconium canon, besides that, though, is remarkably protean from novel to novel to story to story. There are some names and places in the city which seem to show up again and again, its difficult to judge if the tegeus-Cromis who is the protagonist of The Pastel City is the same person as the one mentioned in later stories. Is the Bistro Californium the same in all the books?
I think Harrison did this deliberately to further evoke and cement Viriconium as a Iconic City, in the same way that, say, Amber City in the Amber novels is supposed to be. The details of Viriconium can and do change from story to story and this is to highlight its status.
Harrison clearly has sat at the knee of Mervyn Peake and Jack Vance, for the evoked details of his dying-earth City are intense and memorable. He makes it very easy to see his Viriconium, from the Proton Circuit which leads to the Palace, to the grimy Low City where much of the novels and stories show the desperate lives of the underclasses.
While ostensibly fantasy (its under a fantasy label), Harrison reduces all the fantastic elements to advanced science. There are no suggestions that there is magic of any kind or shape. The use of divination cards is only suggested to be what it is, rather than any sort of influence upon the universe. I had picked it up with the expectation of it being more "fantastic".
While I do appreciate the ur-City and the evocative details, I found Viriconium lacking in terms of character and plot. While the Pastel City is a more traditional sort of fantasy novel, its protagonist is curiously ineffective. The subsequent stories and novels are even worse, with decreasing amounts of action and plot. As pieces of art, the stories are beautiful and interesting and intriguing. As stories, though, I think the later Viriconium stories are somewhat lacking.
I can definitely see, though, how Viriconium has influenced others. Now, looking back, Vandermeer's Ambergris is definitely a lineal descendant of Viriconium. New Corbuzon in the Mieville novels owes more than a little to Viriconium, too. So, in the balance, while I was disappointed with Viriconium in terms of character and plot, its place as a inspiration to newer fantasy cities and its haunting evocations of a dying earth city made it a worthwhile read.
But to be clear to you, dear reader: If you are strongly wedded to a good story and detailed characters, you will be disappointed in Viriconium.
I have not read any Tobias Mitchell and might have to correct that deficiency. For his new book, Ragamuffin, he has a map of the wormhole system used in the book--a map that is laid out like a Subway Map. It's a brilliant idea, since readers here are likely very aware of my cartographilic tendencies.
I've finally gotten to Old Man's War, by John Scalzi.
Now I know why it was a Hugo Nominee for 2006.
Deb mentions Scalzi's book is an obvious descendent of Jack Chalker and Robert Heinlein. As I was reading this book, I was put in mind of Starship Troopers, that's true, with the unusual geopolitics, with a military detached from the civilian population, and the sex. Chalker's elements are bit more of a spoiler, but I see what she means.
The book also reminds me of two more novels which are lineal descendants of Starship Troopers: Haldeman's Forever War, and for reasons which are a bit of a spoiler, Ender's Game as well.
Anyway, the book itself follows its protagonist, 75 year old John Perry, as he signs up for an interstellar military which is a one-way trip off of Earth, and finds out that even with the deal offered him to make him fit for it, War is indeed, hell. I didn't have the bogging down that Deb had, probably because I am more friendly to military SF stuff than she is. In fact, i thought the actual nuts and bolts of the Mil-SF elements were relatively black boxed as compared to many other novels of the genre. This novel is a novel of characters inhabiting and growing in an interesting future world, and the novel works very well in those veins. The novel may not have the insane amount of detail that other space opera novels have, but things are detailed enough to make me crave playing some Galactic Civilizations II, whenever I'd finish reading a portion of the book.
As Deb said so well, themes of history, relationships, youth, humanity, age, and love run like veins of precious metal through the rock of the novel, but at 320 pages, the novel is lean, taut, tight and has an economy about it which made it a quick and easy read--but I disagree with Thette's opinion that its fluff. It may not be Gene Wolfe, but it has a depth of its own.
I really liked it and do plan on obtaining The Ghost Brigades, the second novel in the CDF universe, soon.
While I can imagine some people who might not cotton to it (people turned off by anything vaguely Heinleinesque), I think OWM is excellent and I classify it as Highly Recommended to anyone who likes science fiction.
I've talked about the first two novels, His Majesty's Dragon and Throne of Jade. Black Powder War falls right on the heels of Throne of Jade, leaving Laurence and his bonded dragon companion, Temeraire, in China, seeking return to England.
Bad weather, a fire on the ship, and an urgent summons to Istanbul to obtain purchased dragon eggs leads the protagonists to risk an overland trip along the silk road, braving desert climes and even feral dragons on their way to Istanbul.
And there they find out their mission might be in vain, and worse, an enemy newly made in China has gotten there first...
The pacing problems of TOJ are mostly relieved in this novel, as Novik gets back to the action and adventure of the first. We get to see more of the world, and diverse settings, and being a irredeemable world builder, I was fascinated with the journey. And how can you argue visiting one of my to-visit-someday cities, Istanbul, complete with a visit to the Harem? The military aspects and battles aren't quite handled as well, and I am sure a Military History expert could poke gigantic holes in the assumptions and use of the dragons.
Still, I was entertained, I enjoyed the continuing development of the world and its characters, and I look forward to the 4th book in the series, due in 2007. You won't want to start here, go read His Majesty's Dragon first, and if you like it sufficiently, keep on going.
A message from the mysterious and distant Agatean Empire leads the Patrician to command Unseen University to send the "Great Wizzard" upon the request of said Empire.
And who, out of all of the characters on the Disc, goes around with a hat with that very misspelling of the word Wizard, if not, in fact, the most inept wizard in any universe, Rincewind?
Upon being summoned back to the University and sent out to the Empire, Rincewind discovers that his travels with Twoflower (as described in The Color of Magic) have started an underground revolution of sorts, and that as the Great Wizzard, he is prefigured to help free the masses.
Oh, yeah, and Cohen the Barbarian, the geriatric but still deadly swordsman, has a bunch of his old (literally) buddies and they have decided to wreak havoc in the Empire at the same time.
The book is shorter on plot than many of the more recent Discworld books I've read, hearkening and hewing back to the simpler, joke-filled Rincewind novels of the early series. While this makes Interesting Times less of a literary success as a book, its still laugh out loud funny.Rincewind manages to help save the day, again, through no real volition on his part. Cohen gets a new job. The villain gets his just desserts, and even the Luggage gets a happy ending of his own.
Of course, the ending doesn't allow Rincewind any sort of permanent happiness, and clearly sets him up for the next book featuring the Wizards, The Last Continent.
I've gotten hooked on Stross the last year or so, starting with the Merchant Prince books and including Singularity Sky. The Atrocity Archives is yet another universe of his.
In the afterward, Stross mentions Delta Green, the RPG modern take on Call of Cthulhu, as a scary parallel to this book, and its a good one. In the Atrocity Archives, we meet Bob Howard of the Laundry, a hacker who accidentally discovered a British secret government branch devoted to modern occult matters--using technology rather than snake entrails in dealing with tthings from beyond and worse. all kept from the public.
That itself would be great as a premise for novellas, but Stross takes it to the next level by adding the bureaucratic infighting of government agencies into the mix. All the while as Bob is dealing with enemies from without, he gets grief from managers and other parts of the organization in a manner as absurdist as any in, say, Office Space. Time card problems, useless meetings, idiotic classes. Howard's workplace is a bureaucratic nightmare that is comedy gold. And there are tons of technical and geeky references, too, given Howard's primary strengths as a computer expert. I am not sure I got them all but I got a giggle, for example, to hear the alternate realities referred to, in a Pratchett tip of the hat, as "the dungeon dimensions."
Stross thus mixes these two streams and the result is pure fun. Think Hellboy and Men in Black, with a dry British humor, shaken, not stirred. A *lot* of my friends who like things Cthulhuesque, or are tech geeks, or both, are going to love this novel if they haven't read it already. And if you, gentle reader, fit this category, go and get yourself the Atrocity Archives.
I understand Stross has another Bob Howard novel, The Jennifer Morgue, coming out soon. I will definitely be looking forward to it.
A website for the movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass is now live.
Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I read TGC in October of last year, and finished the series this year. And with Nicole Kidman cast as Mrs Coulter, I have some hopes that the movie might have a decent cast and done well.
As Elizabeth Bear has said, "All knowledge is contained in LJ" (or Blogs, as the case might be).
And so I am going to give this a shot. I am looking for a story I read at least 15 years ago, whose author and story name I can't remember, but I remember chunks of the plot. I think I read it in an anthology of other stories but I can't be sure.
Have you read this story? Who wrote, what is its name and where can I find it?
I don't remember the author or the story name, but I did read this story sometime in the mid 80's or early 90's.
A human and an alien empire meet and clash, with a human and an alien pilot of opposing ships flying over a hitherto uncharted planet (in the same vein as Enemy Mine). However, this planet is inhabited by a race of incredibly advanced aliens who, through psychohistorical like analysis, has predicted the rise and clash of the human and alien civilizations for thousands of years and has made preparations to defuse the conflict. The human pilot finds himself in a replica of an Egyptian pyramid and temple complex, and also finds within an Egyptian princess(?) or high lady, who, thousands of years ago, was kidnapped and put into stasis for such an event. Upon waking, she thinks the human is, of course, a god, and she and the man must come to an understanding of each other. They eventually fall in love, and they get out of the complex to discover the truth of who built the complex and why.
In the meantime, at the end of the story, it is revealed that the alien has undergone an analogous experience with a replica of a building of an ancient culture of HIS planet, complete with a denizen of that ancient time.
Via SfSignal, news that there is going to be an animated series based on the Mel Brooks Star Wars parody Spaceballs.
Brooks will do two of the voices of the characters he played in the movie, President Skroob, and, yes, Yogurt.
While I liked the movie, I am disappointed and disheartened that, once again, this is more proof that remakes, rehashes and retreads seem to rule the day in popular media. Does anyone know of Juvenal complaining of the same thing, two millenia ago?
I said at the time about the first book that I didn't think the series was quite as good as Vinge, Hamilton and Cherryh. However, paradoxically, while second novels are often weaker than opening novels, this sophomore series is a little stronger. Plunged in medias res into things, there is a focus from backstory and scene setting to action and adventure, romance and politics.
The Sundering features a couple of set piece space battles, terrorism/freedom fighting on the home world, and even dynastic/marriage politics. The model of the Praxis universe being modeled around 18-19th century Britain is now clearly evident. While the status of women is very much in line with that culture, racism in this context is, thankfully, a non-factor. Williams takes pains to show that the aristocratic Peers in his universe come from all species and all races, with the nouveau riche Martinez family trying to marry into the long-established Chen and Ngeni families.
On the other hand, for those who like old school space opera, we get a couple of well drawn space battles. The Praxis universe has avoided Singularities, and with space travel being conducted by fixed wormholes, the tactics and battles are much in the vein of Weber's Honor Harrington, the sort of "ships of the line" naval battle feel that adds to the period feel of the novel.
The novel makes little concession to those who have not read the first, so if you have read and enjoyed the first novel, you will definitely be very happy with the second, as I was. I look forward to picking up the third novel at some point and finishing the trilogy.
Winners of the 2006 Hugo Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced at a ceremony this evening at L.A. Con IV, the 64th World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California.
And the winners are:
# Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
# "Inside Job", Connie Willis (Asimov's Jan 2005)
# "Two Hearts", Peter S. Beagle (F&SF Oct/Nov 2005)
# "Tk'tk'tk", David D. Levine (Asimov's Mar 2005)
# Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press)
DRAMATIC PRESENTATION: LONG FORM
# Serenity (Universal Pictures/Mutant Enemy, Inc.; Written & Directed by Joss Whedon)
DRAMATIC PRESENTATION: SHORT FORM
# Doctor Who: "The Empty Child" & "The Doctor Dances" (BBC Wales/BBC1; Directed by James Hawes; Written by Steven Moffat)
# David G. Hartwell
# Donato Giancola
# Locus, Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong & Liza Groen Trombi, eds.
# Plokta, Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott, eds.
# Dave Langford
# Frank Wu
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer [Not a Hugo]
# John Scalzi
In addition to the awards listed above, Special Committee Awards were presented to Betty Ballantine and to Harlan Ellison. The Big Heart Award was presented to Forrest J Ackerman, and will heretofore be renamed the Forrest J Ackerman Big Heart Award. The First Fandom Hall of Fame Award was given to Joe Hensley. Takayuki Tatsumi presented the previously announced winners of the Japanese Seiun Awards, Greg Egan's novel Diaspora and Ken MacLeod's story "The Human Front".
This time we have an anthology, The World Turned Upside Down, edited by David Drake, Eric Flint and (the late) Jim Baen
and we have
Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold.
The World Turned Upside Down,edited by David Drake, Eric Flint and (the late) Jim Baen
With an anthology title like the World Turned Upside Down, you might expect the anthology to be about paradigm-busting stories, or stories where severe reversals occur. Instead, TWTUD is a beast of a different sort, a retrospective anthology of old-time SF stories that were seminal in the lives of the three editors.
So it is an idiosyncratic and very personal anthology. It doesn't pretend to be definitive, but instead gives a look into what the three anthologists read when they were young. What's here? A fair amount of clunkers, stories that have not aged well and are apparently there for the anthologists sentimental value. On the other hand, there are real gems here, classics of the genre that every serious SF fan should read: Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations. Liane the Wanderer (Dying Earth) by Jack Vance. The Menace from Earth by Heinlein. The Last Question by Asimov, and others. I like having some of these stories at hand, some of which I've read but not had in my possession. So I, personally am satisfied with the anthology, even with the clunkers.
Hallowed Hunt is the third and possibly the last in her Chalion novels, although it does not share any geography or any characters with the much more interconnected first two novels. Instead we get the story of Ingrey kin Wolfcliff, an enforcer for a lord who has an unusual spiritual affliction, who finds that a possible murderess has a very similar one.
Dealings with the five gods, sorcerers, an ancient curse and politics and intrigue make for an interesting mix. The book is a little slower to start than the first two, especially since we are dropped into a part of the Chalion world readers are completely unfamiliar with, and the story takes some time to get going. On the other hand, when it does get moving, things move along nicely and the novel avoids the fat fantasy syndrome so common to other authors and novel series. While I don't think its quite as good as Curse of Chalion or Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt will not disappoint Bujold fans.
No doubt you have seen the news above, that there is now experimental evidence for the existence of dark matter. We still don't know what its made out of, but the astronomical evidence is now pretty conclusive.
Most of the universe is made up of stuff that we can't see. I'm reminded of Baxter's Xeelee universe and the photino birds, myself.
Vellum, the Book of Hours, came out last year, but I've only now heard about it. The interview links above has the author describe it as "cubist fantasy". However, evocation of Borges is always something to prick up MY interest.
I know this is somewhat old news, but the SF/F zine and review site Emerald City will be closing its doors. Cheryl has some good reasons for it, but one baffles me and I wanted to comment on it.
(From her blog) In addition, over the past year or so I have become very disillusioned about both the quality of my own work and the general usefulness of online book reviews.
I frankly don't understand this. I do find book reviews useful, online book reviews in particular. I am not necessarily always looking for something on the level of a literary magazine's view of a novel. Over on livejournal, I appreciate people like my friend Deb's view of the books she reads, since she has proven to point me to books I have enjoyed many times.
And, I hope, my own book reviews do the same thing, here. So, rest assured gentle readers, I fully intend to keep on reviewing the books I read. I'd probably do it even if no one read my blog, because it serves as a touchstone for ME. I've noticed my book tastes have evolved and changed over the years, and book reviews provide a "snapshot in amber" of what they are at that moment.
After the spectacular Napoleonic Wars with Dragons debut His Majesty's Dragon, I looked forward eagerly to this second novel set in her well described world.
I was a trifle disappointed.
The novel follows the results of the Chinese demands of the return of Temeraire, who had been originally intended, as it turns out, for Napoleon himself. We learned at the end of the first novel that Temeraire is actually one of the rarest breeds of dragon, a Celestial, and meant to be companion to Emperors and their children. The Chinese find the often rough Laurence a completely unsuitable companion, and demand Temeraire's return to China.
An attack by the French and intransigence finally sends Laurence on the trip as well, to plead the case that he and his bonded celestial dragon should not be seperated. The trip to China is somewhat padded, one of the main flaws in the book. Another flaw comes at the end, when the denouement feels a lot more perfunctory and brief.
I suppose writers write what they can write and want to write, but the novel did feel like a novella padded out to full length as a result of these choices, which reduces my enthusiasm for the book overall to a degree. This might be better characterized as going from a spectacular to a very good rating from the first to the second novel.
Still, we get to see how dragons live and work in a completely different society, and get to see the danger posed by a wild sea dragon. In Novik's world, the seas are a far more dangerous place than in our world, with such rare but dangerous beasts in it.
I still look forward to the third novel, and I secretly wish that Steve Jackson Games might contact Novik about the possibility of doing GURPS: Temeraire. Even in their excellent and comprehensive GURPS Dragons, they don't have Novik's innovations in Draconology. Novik's ideas are fresh, uncliched, and are conducive to the playground of the imagination and mind.
And, like most series, I wouldn't recommend this book to those who have not yet read the first novel.
Soul Music is another "Death" novel, that is, featuring the character of Death in the Discworld, the man with the scythe who speaks IN ALL CAPITALS. To be more precise, it focuses on his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, and the necessity of her taking up the family business when Death goes missing. It also is a riff on "Music with Rocks in It", as Imp Celyn the Bard comes to Ankh-Morpork and revolutionizes the music scene with a very special guitar...
I didn't like Soul Music as much as other Discworld novels because of its derivative nature and the relatively tenuous connection between its two plots. The music plot is clearly a different jazz riff on the strange "moving pictures" of the epynomous novel, and the head of Unseen University even mentions the events of that prior novel as evidence that something is askew in Ankh-Morpork. Some characters were frankly far more interesting to me, than others, and so I read the book quickly and lingered more over, say, the wizards than what Death was doing when he was AWOL. Still, there are plenty of puns, and a lot of musical references, as warrants a book that satirizes modern music.
Still, a middling Discworld novel, especially by this point in Pratchett's career and the level of his craft is and was still entertaining. I was just hoping for something better.