Sunday, September 14, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-09-13)

Well, after a couple of weeks with no new review books, a decent number of review books arrive for my perusal (and therefore yours)...


War Dogs by Greg Bear (Orbit Books Hardcover 10/14/2014) – I’ve read a small portion of Bear’s output and it has been more hit than miss for me, this one looks fun.



AN EPIC INTERSTELLAR TALE OF WAR FROM A MASTER OF SCIENCE FICTION.


The Gurus came in peace, bearing gifts.

They were a highly advanced, interstellar species who brought amazingly useful and sophisticated technology to the human race. There was, of course, a catch. The Gurus warned of a far more malevolent life form, beings who have hounded the Gurus from sun to sun, planet to planet, across the cosmos. Pundits have taken to calling them the Antagonists-or Antags-and they have already established a beachhead on Mars. For all they've done for us, the Gurus would now like our help.

Enter Master Sergeant Michael Venn, a veteran Skyrine (a Marine who is specially trained for off-world combat) who is dropped onto the Red Planet with his band of brothers on a mission to take down as many Antags as possible.

But from the moment they're dropped through the thin Martian atmosphere, their mission goes horribly, terribly wrong. From a group of female special ops Skyrines with secret orders, to mysterious humans who've settled on Mars, to the overwhelming and highly-reinforced Antags themselves, Venn and his brothers will face impossible odds just to survive-let alone make it home alive.




Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake (Tor Hardcover 09/16/2014) – Cancer took Jay’s life earlier this year and this is his final collection of short stories.




Last Plane to Heaven is the final and definitive short story collection of award-winning SF author Jay Lake, author of Green, Endurance, and Kalimpura. 


Long before he was a novelist, SF writer Jay Lake, was an acclaimed writer of short stories. In Last Plane to Heaven, Lake has assembled thirty-two of the best of them. Aliens and angels fill these pages, from the title story, a hard-edged and breathtaking look at how a real alien visitor might be received, to the savage truth of “The Cancer Catechisms.” Here are more than thirty short stories written by a master of the form, science fiction and fantasy both.

This collection features an original introduction by Gene Wolfe.



Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson (Putnam Juvenile Hardcover 10/07/2014) – Larson has some very proven writing chops having penned stories for many animated programs including My Little Pony.




Pennyroyal Academy: Seeking bold, courageous youths to become tomorrow's princesses and knights….Come one, come all!


A girl from the forest arrives in a bustling kingdom with no name and no idea why she is there, only to find herself at the center of a world at war. She enlists at Pennyroyal Academy, where princesses and knights are trained to battle the two great menaces of the day: witches and dragons. There, given the name “Evie,” she must endure a harsh training regimen under the steel glare of her Fairy Drillsergeant, while also navigating an entirely new world of friends and enemies. As Evie learns what it truly means to be a princess, she realizes surprising things about herself and her family, about human compassion and inhuman cruelty. And with the witch forces moving nearer, she discovers that the war between princesses and witches is much more personal than she could ever have imagined.

Set in Grimm’s fairytale world, M.A. Larson’s Pennyroyal Academy masterfully combines adventure, humor, and magical mischief.



The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey (Ace Mass Market Paperback 09/30/2014) – I’ve this one garner comparisons to Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion books, which works great for me. The authors happen to share an agent (JABberworcky), Lindsey also writers under the name of E.L. Tettensor.




Of all those in the King of Alden’s retinue, the bloodbinders are the most prized. The magic they wield can forge invaluable weapons, ones that make soldiers like Lady Alix Black unerringly lethal. However, the bloodbinders’ powers can do so much more—and so much worse.


A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honour made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…



The Vines by Christopher Rice (47North Paperback 09/30/2014) – Just in time for Halloween, Rice (son of Anne Rice) is releasing a new creepy novel..




From the mind of New York Times bestseller, Lambda Award Winning author, and Bram Stoker nominee Christopher Rice comes a harrowing new supernatural thriller that will hook readers to the final page.


The dark history of Spring House, a beautifully restored plantation mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans, has long been forgotten. But something sinister lurks beneath the soil of the old estate.

After heiress and current owner Caitlin Chaisson is witness to her husband’s stunning betrayal at her birthday party, she tries to take her own life in the mansion’s cherished gazebo. Instead, the blood she spills awakens dark forces in the ground below. Chaos ensues and by morning her husband has vanished without a trace and his mistress has gone mad.

Nova, daughter to Spring House’s groundskeeper, has always suspected that something malevolent haunts the old place, and in the aftermath of the birthday party she enlists Caitlin’s estranged best friend, Blake, to help her get to the bottom of it. The pair soon realizes that the vengeance enacted by this sinister and otherworldly force comes at a terrible price




The Free by Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books Trade Paperback (10/14/2014) – I read and reviewed Ruckley’s debut Winterbirth but this seems to be something new and different from those books and anything else he’s written.



THEY ARE THE MOST FEARED MERCENARY COMPANY THE KINGDOM HAS EVER KNOWN.



Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder — winning countless victories that have shaken the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.

Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse — for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free's darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.

As the Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price..

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Round-up: Functional Nerds, Tor.com, Bennett, and Bear

It has been an interesting week, from my perspective in the SFF online community.

On Tuesday, I made my second podcast appearance, this time on The Functional Nerds.  John Anealio is a fellow NJ SFF fan and he and I drove into NYC for a couple of Tor.com events over the past year. Since we both live in NJ, we've been trying to get some NJ-based gatherings together since there seems to be quite a few of us in the great Garden State. He, Ed Lazellari (author of Awakenings and The Lost Prince) and I got together a couple of weeks ago and John (and his co-conspirator Patrick Hester) decided to invite me onto the podcast. So, go listen to me talk about The Strain, Guardians of the Galaxy, and how I came to be involved in the online genre community


Playing on that theme of "live" interaction with the genre community, Tor.com had a launch party for the new Tor.com Imprint headed up by Lee Harris and Irene Gallo on Wednesday.  It was a great event where I finally had the opportunity to meet some folks with whom I interact on twitter and elsewhere intarwebs like Richard Shealy (@SheckyX on twitter), spelling bee champion Max Gladstone, Thea James of the The Book Smugglers (we both choke up at about the same point in reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorn), Marty Cahill (@McFlyCahill90) and the legendary (in his own mind) Justin Landon. Yes he is a tall dude, we are nearly the same height so we literally did see eye to eye. (Seriously, though his Rocket Talk podcast for Tor.com is MUST listen for any genre fan).

Photo courtesy of Irene Gallo

It was also great chatting with my Tor.com editor Bridget McGovern, Orbit editor Devi Pillai, Orbit PR sorceress Ellen Wright,  Myke Cole, DAW editor Joshua Starr, Lee Harris, Irene Gallo, and quite a few other folks. What was coolest, from the point of view of my own ego, was that a few people knew my name, and people I didn't know too well or interact with much online recognized my name. 

The great Robert Jackson Bennett provided SFFWorld a guest post this week on the subject of secondary world fantasy: 



Lastly, I posted my review of Shattered Pillars, the second book of Elizabeth Bear's Eternal Sky Trilogy. While I recognize all the great things about the book, I wasn't connected with the narrative through the whole thing.  That said, she's doing some very interesting things in the book and series.



What Elizabeth Bear does in Shattered Pillars is broaden the global canvas of her world, adding depth to a world that already had a rich and authentic feel. Not only does Bear expand on the gods and world, she introduces new concepts of divinity and power foreign even to the characters we’ve already met. In part, Shattered Pillars can be seen as a travelogue through this beautifully created world. In other words, the world is a fully realized character in and of itself....But…and I hate adding buts into these things, but I must. For all of the splendor on the pages of Shattered Pillars, I found myself not connecting with the narrative or the characters as much as I would have liked. I felt a distance between me as the reader and the story on the pages. Perhaps because it was just over two years since I read Range of Ghosts, perhaps something else. I recognize what a solid piece of fiction Shattered Pillars is, but I had my problems staying intimately invested in the novel.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Books in the Mail W/E 2014-09-06 - Used Book Edition

In lieu of a regular Books in the Mail post today, I’m switching it up slightly. You see, no new review books arrived this week, so I’ll talk about the books I picked up at The Book Trader recently after trading in some books I’ve had for over a couple of years and never read (or plan to read). As I’ve opined in other posts, The Book Trader (once in Rahway, NJ now a few miles down the road and a right turn away in Colonia, NJ) is the used bookshop against which I judge all others. I can always find good books there, and more often than not, the majority of the specific books I’m trying to find, plus the occasional gem I wasn’t expecting or a book or two I didn't realize I was looking for until I saw it on one of their shelves. So, what did I pick up on this little trip? You might notice a theme or two. First the snapshot of the books followed by the explanations.


After reading and enjoying Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy, I wanted to try a novel-length science fiction novel from her. This book, Dust just jumped out at me from the shelves. Here’s the blurb/book description:

On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change....

Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely without honor. Captive, the angel Perceval waits for Ariane not only to finish her off—but to devour her very memories and mind. Surely her gruesome death will cause war between the houses—exactly as Ariane desires. But Ariane’s plan may yet be opposed, for Perceval at once recognizes the young servant charged with her care.


One author on my hunting list was Melanie Rawn and her Big Fat Fantasy saga, The Dragon Prince Trilogy, which fittingly enough, begins with Dragon Prince. Rawn and this book is another writer/series I’ve been intending to read for years, many years, for a few reasons.

Quite a few people spoke pretty well of her, specifically these books, in the SFFWorld forums, where I've been virtually hanging out for the better part of a decade and a half.

Joe Sherry (a blogger pal whose opinion I trust quite well, who also happens to be a beer snob and a bowler like me) holds these books in high esteem, and one of my primary web publishers, Tor.com, is running a re-read of the series. It doesn’t hurt that the book is adorned in a classic Michael Whelan cover.


While the second and third book of this series (The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Flame) were both on the shelf, I wanted to hold off to make sure I liked this one enough to continue. Also, see the other books I acquired on this trip.


I love me some omnibus books and few publishers keep their authors in print as well as DAW with their omnibus editions.  Confederation of Valor, an omnibus of the first two Confederation Military SF novels from Tanya Huff. In this case, Tanya Huff is somebody I’ve had on my mental to read list for a while. I picked up The Silvered earlier this year at Brandon Sanderson’s signing I attended in Philadelphia, PA based on Joshua Bilmes’s recommendation post at SF Signal. He’s also her agent, and I’ve come to learn that I really enjoy a majority of his client authors (i.e. Elizabeth Moon, Myke Cole, Peter Brett, Brandon Sanderson, Sylvia Izzo Hunter to name only a few).

Last and certainly not least was the big score, the three books I had at the top my my hunting list on this trip: books 5, 6, and 7 of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, The Gathering Storm, In the Ruins, and Crown of Stars respectively. I’ve been intending to finish reading the series for years  and I last read book 4 (Child of Flame) about a decade ago. This was just before review copies began to arrive in droves and drown out other books I intended to read. I recall really enjoying what I read of the series, I remember a very magical aura and feel to these books.

I picked up the second book, Prince of Dogs, at JerseyDevilCon back in 2002 from one of the dealers. Much to my pleasant surprise, the book was a signed by Kate Elliott.

Also, following Kate on twitter and especially after her recent appearance on Rocket Talk, I wanted even more to get reconnect and catch-up with the series, so next year I’m planning to make Crown of Stars my re-read-and-catch-up series. I might even blog about it as I read through the series. I know, us biblioholics and our silly notions of "reading plans."

Any thoughts on these books, let me know in the comments.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Link Update: Hunter, Hurley, Russell and Bennett

A couple of new book reviews since my last round-up/update, a guest post, and a new installment of my Completist column at SF Signal.

Last week I posted my review of Sylvia Izzo Hunter's magical debut, The Midnight Queen, a Regency-era inspired fantasy:



Set in an alternate England somewhat reminiscent of the Regency era, where Magic is taught to young men at Oxford’s Merlin College, Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel wastes no time introducing the protagonist, Graham (nicknamed Gray) Marshall, and the situation which propels his plight through The Midnight Queen. Specifically, some of his college friends encourage Gray to join them in a night time escapade, a heist of sorts, which ends in tragedy and Gray receiving a forced dismissal from the school. Gray is taken by Appius Callender, the Professor who sent Gray and his friends on the ill-fated mission to Callender’s estate where Gray is something of a prisoner and indentured servant. The only thing that gives him respite during his dreary days is young Sophie Callender, the Professor’s middle child.

...to suggest that The Midnight Queen is merely a period piece / fantasy of manners / romance / conspiracy mystery is selling the novel and Hunter quite short. Sure, it is essentially a mash up of those four things, but there’s quite a bit of character development, world building, and fun storytelling throughout its short, but densely packed pages. It isn’t even in the explicit details of the world and magic that provided for the depth of the world but rather those elements only hinted at by the characters and the narrative. Although superficially, the church depicted in the story initially has a vaguely Catholic feel, there are actually multiple gods worshipped as the Roman and Celtic pantheons/religions dominate.

Earlier this week, I posted my review of what will likely take the #1 spot of 2014 books, Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs:




Set in the imagined city of Bulikov, the novel is the first Bennett has penned which does not take place in a version of our world (although the parallels and echoes are there), but rather a fully realized secondary world. The gods (Divinities as they are referred to in the novel) have been driven from the Continent (where Bulikov is situated), having been pushed out by the Kaj – a legendary figure of the past. The “now” of the novel is filtered through the eyes of protagonist Shara, a spy working in Bulikov for her home land of Saypur with her “secretary” Sigurd, a hulking nigh-indestructible Dreyling, a humanoid race of the world. Saypur is drawn to Bulikov to investigate the murder of a prominent figure of Bulikov, setting the early portion of the novel as a mystery story after the murder of historian Dr. Efrem Pangyui. With the gods having been driven from Bulikov, the city has lost a great deal of its luster. Even with the milieu of a secondary world, Bennett frames the initial plot to lull the reader into the story with a murder mystery which possesses some spy elements
...
Few writers’ have been able to make me think deeply about their work while also entertaining me as has Bennett’s work. I loved the world-building in this novel, how the gods could be brought down by men (or a lesser set of beings) which I found to have some echoes of the Greek Gods toppling the Titans while the city of Bulikov itself had more of an Eastern European feel. The characters felt plausibly real, flawed and imperfect. The implied history to the characters in the narrative is just as powerful as the implied history to the world itself. I want to hang out with these people more, I want to read about this world.

Speaking of Bennett, in a bit of a response to a recent blog post of Bennett's, Kameron Hurley's Blog Tour for The Mirror Empire at SFFWorld spoke to the idea of genre.



Lastly, my latest Completist column features a duo of books, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell:




Nearly twenty years ago a debut novel took the genre world by storm, at least in terms of awards. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, BSFA, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and author Mary Doria Russell received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a novel that walked a fine line in its themes between science and faith. The intersection between the two is not always a comfortable one and if anything can be a one-word apt descriptor of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God it is the word uncomfortable. In trying to come up with a “completed” series of books for this column, I pored over my reading logs and it wasn’t long before these two books shouted to me from deep within my memory banks. So again, I’m stretching the definition of completed by including a book and its sequel, but these are excellent books that people should be reading even today — nearly 20 years after The Sparrow first published.




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-08-31)

Well, a week of no arrivals here at the o'Stuff so you all get a picture of my dog Sully this week.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-08-23)


With this week’s group of books, the first 2015 book has arrived.


Unbreakable by (The Chronicles of Promise Paen #1) W.C. Bauers (Tor Hardcover 01/15/2015) – Bauers makes the shift from one side of Publishing (behind the scenes in sales) to another as an author with this debut Military SF. A new author could do a helluva lot worse than to have a David Weber quote on the cover of his Military SF novel.


The colonists of the planet Montana are accustomed to being ignored. Situated in the buffer zone between two rival human empires, their world is a backwater: remote, provincial, independently minded. Even as a provisional member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, Montana merits little consideration—until it becomes the flashpoint in an impending interstellar war.


When pirate raids threaten to destabilize the region, the RAW deploys its mechanized armored infantry to deal with the situation. Leading the assault is Marine Corps Lieutenant and Montanan expatriate Promise Paen of Victor Company. Years earlier, Promise was driven to join the Marines after her father was killed by such a raid. Payback is sweet, but it comes at a tremendous and devastating cost. And Promise is in no way happy to be back on her birthworld, not even when she is hailed as a hero by the planet's populace, including its colorful president. Making matters even worse: Promise is persistently haunted by the voice of her dead mother. Meanwhile, the RAW's most bitter rival, the Lusitanian Empire, has been watching events unfold in the Montana system with interest. Their forces have been awaiting the right moment to gain a beachhead in Republic territory, and with Promise's Marines decimated, they believe the time to strike is now.




Reign of Stars (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Tim Pratt (Paizo Mass Market Paperback 09/02/2014) – Pratt’s third novel for the fine folks at Pathfinder/Paizo.



When the leader of the ruthless Technic League calls in a favor, the mild-mannered alchemist Alaeron has no choice but to face a life he thought he'd left behind long ago. Accompanied by his only friend, a street-savvy thief named Skiver, Alaeron must head north into Numeria, a land where brilliant and evil arcanists rule over the local barbarian tribes with technology looted from a crashed spaceship. Can Alaeron and Skiver survive long enough to unlock the secrets of the stars? Or will the backstabbing scientists of the Technic League make Alaeron's curiosity his undoing?


From Hugo Award-winner Tim Pratt comes a fantastical adventure of science, savagery, and the vagaries of the human heart, set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and tied into the Iron Gods Adventure Path.




The Crusader Road (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Michael A. Stackpole (Paizo Mass Market Paperback 07/15/2014) – Stackpole is a living legend in the realm of tie-in fiction having written for nearly every franchise and property which extends into novels. He’s been at it for so long because he’s very good at it and this is first Pathfinder novel.



When the aristocratic Vishov family is banished from Ustalav due to underhanded politics, Lady Tyressa Vishov is faced with a choice: fade slowly into obscurity, or strike out for the nearby River Kingdoms and establish a new holding on the untamed frontier. Together with her children and loyal retainers, she’ll forge a new life in the infamous Echo Wood, and neither bloodthirsty monsters nor local despots will stop her from reclaiming her family honor. Yet the shadow of Ustalavic politics is long, and even in a remote and lawless territory, there may be those determined to see the Vishov family fail...


From New York Times best-selling author Michael A. Stackpole comes a new novel of frontier adventure set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the new Pathfinder Online massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.



The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam Juvenile Hardcover 05/07/2013) – This is the second copy fo the book I received, but oh boy is this one a little different since it was part of the most impressive PR package I’ve ever received for any book in my years of receiving review copies.




Overview: The Passage meets Ender's Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.


After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.




Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up..



Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Linkdump: THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley and Latest SF Signal Mind Meld

Seems I've been all over the place with new reviews/content the last few weeks. My latest contribution to SF Signal was my third Mind Meld, which asks (broadly): "Should Unfinished Series Remain Unfinished?"



More specifically: Brandon Sanderson famously finished Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time while writers like Roger Zelazny (“Amber”) and George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire”) have said nobody will finish their series or continue their work. Would you want another writer to pick up an unfinished series by an author?


After a lull of no new reviews from me at SFFWorld, I've gone 2 weeks in a row with new review to SFFWorld!*

This book is a game-changer for me (and I hope for other genre readers), The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley:



The land of the Dhai is the primary physical location for the action of the novel, it is a land where celestial bodies, (satellites in their parlance), rule the shifting lives of those who live under them. The satellite+ (Is a star? A comet? A moon?) Oma is set to return to the planet’s orbit, which portends a catastrophe that could shatter multiple nations. When a young girl, Lilia, and her mother are traveling, Lilia’s blood-mage mother makes the ultimate sacrifice and thrusts her daughter through a portal to another world so she can escape an invading force. Not known to Lilia is she is an omajista, a wizard who can manipulate the power of the star Oma. Lilia is a very young girl and is soon taken in by the Kai a seemingly monastic order and the narrative jumps twelve years. The young girl is permanently wounded, with a bum leg but she comes to realize the truth about the mirrors she sees: each can be a portal to another world where a double our counterpart of everybody she knows exists. However, the only way for one person to travel to a parallel world is if their double is not alive in the other world.

...
Hurley is one of the most brutally honest writers spinning words in the genre today whom I’ve read; nothing is safe in her fiction (or her non-fiction for that matter). The world is uncompromising to a degree surpassed only by some of the more steadfast characters in the novel (Zezili, I am pointing my finger at you, and don’t think I’ve forgotten how much you are sticking to your guns with your promise to your mother Lilia). The world building here is nothing short of imaginative and eye-opening. In addition to the recast genders, Hurley leaves no leaf unturned. Well, rather, some leaves are best left unturned in this world because they’ll eat you, the plant life gets hungry. Some leaves and plant life are fashioned into swords and other weapons; bears are used as draft and mount animals, dogs are used as mounts, too.


*Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting reviews of Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs, Sylvia Izzo Hunter's The Midnight Queen, and Elizabeth Bear's Shattered Pillars.