Monday, June 30, 2008

Eclipse One Review; SFFWorld, WJ Williams, Linkage

Three new reviews went up at SFFWorld:

My review of Jonathan Strahan's eclectic speculative fiction anthology Eclipse One, which is the first of a series of unthemed anthologies.
Mark's review of The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín

Owen's review of Toll the Hounds, the latest doorstopper in Steven Erikson's spectacular Malazan saga.

I've said it before, but Robert over at Fantasy Book Critic is running one of the top, if not top, review/Speculative Fiction blogs today. He's recruited some help in review coverage (Liviu C. Suciu a frequent poster at the SFFWorld Forums and David Craddock) and today posted his monthly overview of what new books will be on the shelves this month.

Lastly, (but not leastly) Night Shade Books is kicking off a big promotion for Walter Jon Williams new novel, Implied Spaces (which I reviewed a couple of months ago), as well as the backlist they are publishing of his books.

Night Shade Books is proud to announce the publication of Walter Jon Williams's new novel, Implied Spaces. To celebrate the release of the book--which Kirkus Reviews describes as "an intelligent, delicate and precise novel of real depth: a pleasure to read, an undertaking to savor"--we have posted a self-contained excerpt from the book to our website.But that's not all, we've also posted a short interview with Walter about the book, and, with Walter's kind permission, have posted the complete text of his Nebula Award-winning novella The Green Leopard Plague. Both texts can be found in a variety of formats on our Downloads page, or via the links below.

Implied Spaces excerpt: PDF - HTML - Rich Text Format - MobiPocket
The Green Leopard Plague: PDF - HTML - Rich Text Format - MobiPocket

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Books in the Mail (W/E 6/28)

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie - This will jump to the top of the pile, since I have the Gollancz edition in ARC form (signed!), too. I read and loved the first two books in this series, too. Joe's a humble guy who rarely interjects himself into conversations about his work or the genre.

Gone-Away World Nick Harkaway - This sounds really interesting - a cool combination of science fiction, superheroes and surreality. Equal parts raucous adventure, comic odyssey, geek nirvana and ultracool epic, The Gone-Away World is a story of—among other things—pirates, war, mimes, greed and ninjas. But it is also the story of a world, not unlike our own, in desperate need of heroes—however unlikely they may seem.

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart - This is an advance from Subterranean Press of the classic series set in a fantastical version of ancient China (Hughart subtitled it "A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was"). It draws on the traditional tale of Cowherd and Weaver Girl and other myths, poems and incidents from Chinese history. I've read/seen good things about these books and now I'll have a chance to read it myself.

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks
- This is the mass market release of the book I reviewed about a year or so ago. Good stuff, now all we have to do is wait for the last volume of the Fourth Realm trilogy.

Going Under Quantum Gravity Book Three by Justina Robson
– The third book in Robson’s series which combines elements of fantasy and cyberpunk with her trademark themes of identity and reality, and magic and technology.

Hero of Ages: Mistborn 3 by Brandon Sanderson - I really enjoyed the first two installments (The Final Empire, Well of Ascension) of the series, as I said last week when they arrived. I hope Brandon can deliver on the promise of the first two volumes. If so, this series will be an overall standout, IMHO. Either this or Abercrombie is the book I was most pleased to see in the mail this week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

8 Years & Blame Aidan - Delany not Delaney

Today is an interesting and great day for two reasons:

1) Mrs. Blog o' Stuff and I celebrate eight years of being married today. The day we got married was the hottest day of that summer (and one of the hottest days I can recal and the hottest day I have ever worn wool), which was made even more oppressivley hot by the fact that we were married in a national historic landmark without air conditioning. It was the best day of my life and led to the best couple of weeks in my life - our honeymoon in Hawai'i.

2) Neil Gaiman linked to me.

Well, it all started when Aidan posted the SFX list (with Samuel "Chip" Delany's name spelled incorrectly :)) and we started commenting. Then Larry and Adam (Adam Part II) decided to make it a blog post, then I made it a meme, and Andrew the Antimucker joined party to make it official. Then Neil Gaiman linked to me. Wow.

Folks coming here from Neil's blog - Hi, I'm Rob and this is where I rant about things like Science Fiction and Fantasy books and link to my reviews of those books, movies, sports, music and whatever other minutiae catch my fancy. Stay for a while, add me to your blog roll, pour yourself a proverbial pint of season-appropriate beer and relax.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Queen SMASH!

This week’s review is Greg Keyes’s The Born Queen, the final volume in his Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone quartet. I’ve been a fan and supporter of the series since it burst onto the scene with The Briar King and through each subsequent volume. The Born Queen is no exception – I think Greg pulled off something really special in this series, something not a lot of his contemporaries have been able to do. He set out to tell a certain type of story (Secondary World Epic Fantasy with a Large Cast) in a set number of volumes (four). He did that and did it very well.

Unfortunately, this series inevitably is considered Martin-lite, which is an unfair comparison. Yes both series have very large casts and both authors don’t falter when it comes to allowing primary characters to die, but Greg’s series really stands on its own. Just check out my review, I say it there in more detail.

Mrs. Blog o’ Stuff and I caught The Incredible Hulk on Friday. I went in hoping it would be good and at the least, better than the one from a few years ago. Unlike Iron Man, I read The Incredible Hulk for a number of years, most of Peter David’s legendary run on the character, and some of the recent stuff – I had expectations of what a real Hulk film needed to do and was surprised – it was better than I expected it would be. I don’t know that I’d consider it in the upper echelon of Super Hero Movies like Batman Begins, Iron Man, Superman, Spider-Man 1 & 2 but solidly in the next class along with Hellboy, X-Men 1 & 2 and Superman II. Good action, ambiguous ending and a Geek out moment for me when the Green Goliath exclaimed HULK SMASH! I really hope Edward Norton, and the studio for that matter, decides to stick around for the hinted and hoped follow-up. In terms of summer movies of 2008, I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk more than Indiana Jones.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Books in the Mail (W/E 6/21)

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – I read and reviewed the Hardcover release of this book and liked it quite a bit. Tor seems to be really behind Sanderson or else they wouldn’t have passed along the reins of The Wheel of Time to him. This is the paperback with an “introductory” price of 4.99. As I said, I enjoyed the first two Mistborn novels and look forward to the final volume, The Hero of Ages in the fall.

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson – See my comment above. For the paperback release, Tor has rebranded the books, which isn't necessarily bad, but not as distinguishable from other fantasy novels on the shelves as were the cover design/dress for the initial hardcovers. I think the covers are pretty nice, but I hope the final volume keeps the same design that was used for the initial Hardcover releases. The new paperback design gives our heroine a bit of a different look than on the original cover, almost like a hobbit from the LOTR films. The depiction of Vin on the covers is pretty accurate, I think. It’s all about marketing and I suspect these new covers will indeed help sell the book(s). I hope so, because I really like what Brandon has done with this series, thus far.

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik – This is, of course, the fourth book in her Temeraire series and the first book to be released in hardcover in the US. I liked the first two, but thought the third not quite up to par with the previous. I don’t know if that’s because I read the three books in succession and I was a little over-worked on ‘my dear,’ or what. I’ve still got the third book unread on the pile.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi – A side-quel to John’s popular (and very good) saga begun with Old Man’s War. I liked the series very much, as well as The Android’s Dream, so this book will be pushed up on the priority pile. There’s a reason why John’s been nominated for and won genre awards – he loves the genre, gets it, has fun playing in the sandbox, and writes terrific stories. John gets another SciFi Essentials label on the book, too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The SFX Top 100 List (a meme?

Some of my fellow FSF bloggers have already posted this list, which all but turns this thing into a meme*, so here’s the SFX top 100 with my snarky comments.

*feel free to do this at your own blog, if you so choose.

100. James Herbert
Meh…I’ve heard decent things about him.

99. Gwyneth Jones
Meh…I’ve heard decent things about her.

98. Sara Douglass
Cliched but somewhat entertaining.

97. Charles Stross
Should be higher from all the raves I see about him. I’ve only read a bit, but liked it.

96. Terry Goodkind
I thought he didn’t write fantasy.

95. Brian W. Aldiss
Reputation alone should place him higher, never read anything from him.

94. Ken MacLeod
See my thoughts on Stross

93. Olaf Stapledon
I’d think a Golden Ager would be higher.

92. Michael Marshall Smith
He won the Philip K. Dick Award, I read his novel The Straw Men and liked it.

91. Jon Courtney Grimwood
Haven’t read him, but seems well regarded.

90. Christopher Priest
I’ve only read The Prestige, but liked it a lot.

89. Jonathan Carroll
Should be higher, what I read by him I liked, especially the classic The Land of Laughs.

88. Scott Lynch
Much as I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, this seems a bit premature.

87. David Weber
Haven’t read him, but I do have a collection on the to read pile. Seems popular with the Military SF crows.

86. M. John Harrison
was good, Virinconium started out well, but that’s all I’ve read, outside of his bloggish ramblings.

85. Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Dart was good for half a book, I loved her Banewreaker duology, but like Lynch this seems a bit high, but her quantity of output is pretty impressive.

84. Kim Stanley Robinson
I tried to read Red Mars three times and wanted to poke my eyes out each time.

83. Theodore Sturgeon
An acknowledged master, but I haven’t read him. Seems low.

82. J.V. Jones
About right, I suppose. Read only two of her Ice books.

81. Joe Abercrombie
I like Joe (and how he’ll both downplay and up-play his own writing), so I suppose this is about right if Scotty-boy gets on the list, too.

80. Joe Haldeman
Should be higher, though I’ve only read two of his seminal works.

79. Simon Clark

78. George Orwell
What?? What???? 1984 is one of the greatest pieces of fiction of all time.

77. Samuel R. Delaney Delany
He should be higher.

76. Charles de Lint
About right, I suppose. I loved The Little Country.

75. Julian May
Haven’t read her, but this seems about right, based on what I've heard/seen.

74. Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan and Jon Carter should place him higher, though I’ve yet to read him.

73. Robert Silverberg
Living legend, should be higher.

72. Susanna Clarke
One interesting novel (IMHO one of the most overrated novels of all time) and one collection, switcher with any half dozen lower rankings.

71. Stanislaw Lem
Solaris was one of the most painful reads for me, but I suppose this is an appropriate ranking

70. Larry Niven
This seems pretty low.

69. Alfred Bester
See Stapledon.

68. Katherine Kerr
Haven’t read her, but her Deverry series is long and well regarded enough to get a higher ranking.

67. Jack Vance
What?!? He should easily be a top 10 writer.

66. Harry Harrison

65. Marion Zimmer Bradley
I guess.

64. Richard Matheson
Wa-a-a-y too low.

63. Dan Simmons
Hyperion is an enduring modern classic, his horror output is equally impressive. Relatively low.

62. Elizabeth Haydon
Better than Douglass.

61. Terry Brooks
I’m not his biggest fan, but relatively speaking, he should be higher.

60. Richard Morgan
About right.

59. Stephen Baxter
About right.

58. Jennifer Fallon

57. Mercedes Lackey
Never read her.

56. CJ Cherryh
I tried a couple of her books (Downbelow Station and The Dreaming Tree) and neither worked for me. Ranking seems about right based on what others have said, though.

55. Harlan Ellison
Very low.

54. Jasper Fforde
Never read him.

53. Octavia Butler
Another lowballed ranking.

52. J.G. Ballard

51. Robert E. Howard
Somewhat low.

50. Sherri S. Tepper
Never read her.

49. H.P. Lovecraft
Way too low.

48. Mervyn Peake
just doesn’t work for me.

47. Jules Verne

46. Alastair Reynolds

45. Neal Stephenson
Loved Snow Crash and didn’t like Cryptonomicon.

44. Clive Barker

43. Jim Butcher
I guess, I love The Dresden Files, but some of the other authors should be before him.

42. Tad Williams
See Butcher.

41. Kurt Vonnegut
See Delaney Delany

40. Trudi Canavan
Never read her.

39. Michael Moorcock
Living legend, should be in the top 10

38. David Eddings
Never read him, never will, but higher than Moorcock, Orwell and half a dozen others up above?

37. Alan Moore
Scripted on of Time’s 100 greatest novels, should be higher.

36. Orson Scott Card
About right, I gues.

35. Stephen Donaldson
About right I guess.

34. Gene Wolfe
Should be much, MUCH higher. Top 10. This ranking is the final straw for this list holding any kind of validity for me.

33. China Mieville

32. Raymond E. Feist
Very Popular, I liked the first few RiftWar novels as well as the Empire collaboration with Janny Wurts.

31. Lois McMaster Bujold
Very Popular, I’ve enjoyed the Vorkosigan novels I’ve read.

30. Roger Zelazny
Should be higher, top 15 maybe?

29. Anne McCaffrey
Who hasn’t read her Pern novels? I guess this is about right, once you adjust some of the earlier aberrations.

28. Steven Erikson
I guess this is about right, once you adjust some of the earlier aberrations.

27. William Gibson
I haven’t read him, but seems slightly low.

26. Guy Gavriel Kay
I guess this is about right, once you adjust some of the earlier abberrations.

25. CS Lewis
I guess this is about right, once you adjust some of the earlier abberations.

24. Diana Wynne Jones
I guess this is about right, if a bit too high, relatively speaking.

23. John Wyndham
I guess this is about right, once you adjust some of the earlier abberations.

22. Philip Pullman
About right, I guess. Maybe lower?

21. Robin Hobb
See Pullman.

20. Stephen King
About right.

19. Ray Bradbury
Should be a tad higher.

18. Arthur C. Clarke
See Bradbury.

17. Robert Jordan
Important, but top 20? Then again, this is a popularity contest.

16. JK Rowling
See Jordan.

15. Robert Heinlein
About right.

14. Frank Herbert
About right.

13. Peter F. Hamilton
A bit high.

12. David Gemmell
About right, considering my Jordan/Rowling thoughts.

11. Ursula K. LeGuin
About right.

10. Robert Rankin
Who is this? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book by this author and he’s ahead of Gene Frakking Wolfe and Jack Vance and George Orwell and Steven Erikson and Michael Moorcock...?

9. HG Wells

8. Philip K. Dick
Sure, maybe a bit high.

7. Iain M. Banks
Sure, maybe a bit high. He’s British, this list is from a British magazine, but I’d switch him out with I don’t know, Jack Vance?

6. Isaac Asimov

5. George RR Martin

4. Douglas Adams
A bit high, but again, this is a British popularity contest.

3. Neil Gaiman
I love his work, but see the Adams comment.

2. JRR Tolkien
This may be the first of these types of lists where he hasn’t been Numero Uno.

1. Terry Pratchett
I’ve read what I like. Best selling British Writer, British Popularity Contest.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Neuropath by Scott Bakker

The frontpage of SFFWorld was just rejiggered, with the lead item being the tag-team review Mark/Hobbit and I did for Scott Bakker's intense and scary Neuropath.
Here's a snippet:
With Neuropath Scott turns to a contemporary thriller, a CSI-style novel with an SF edge. And from his previous work, as you might expect, it is a stylish, taut, intellectual treatise on the misuse of science and its consequences. As he says in his afterword, (page 302) ‘I wanted Neuropath to be a thriller, one that strives intellectually as well as viscerally disturbing…’

It is also very, very scary.

The story is mainly written from the perspective of Tom Bible, a psychologist and university instructor coping with the divorce from his wife Nora and the pain and difficulty of limited visitations with his children. Much to Tom’s his surprise, his friend Neil Cassidy shows up one night to catch up and reignite their ongoing debate, or rather Argument. This Argument has been a highlight of their friendship for many years and the crux of it is whether or not we have choices in what we do. At the outset, Tom thinks this visit from Neil is just a friendly, if oddly timed, hang-out session. Tom soon learns the meeting is not what he thought it was, a theme that Bakker returns to throughout the novel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tigerhearts, Malazans, and Battlestars Oh My!

My review of Peter David’s Tigerheart went up last night, I’ve been holding it until the publication date. I’m an admitted fan of David’s writing in the majority of its forms and really enjoyed Tigerheart. David used a different style here and I think he pulled off really well. In fact, I'd love to see more from him in this vein/style. His trademark ironic humor is laced throughout the book, though with a slightly different flavor. Good stuff all around, nor am I the only one to think so.

I feel like I just swam up the entire coast of New Jersey a couple of times, metaphorically speaking. In other words, I just finished The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson – a good experience and at the end rewarding, but damn if it wasn’t long and intense. There was a lot going on in this sixth Malazan novel, maybe too much. I liked all the stuff with Icarium and Karsa, as a result, I was very pleased with the tease in the epilogue. I’ve always envisioned Karsa to be something like the Incredible Hulk, and specifically, the way the Hulk was portrayed in the Planet Hulk storyline. I’m not entirely sure how I’d picture Icarium, but something along the same lines, with a hint of Stephen King’s Roland the Gunslinger (in terms of the vagaries of his past) thrown into the mix. I’ve said before how much I enjoy Karsa’s storyline so while I enjoyed Erikson’s further exploration of it here, I would have like to seen more.

What also worked extremely well for me in The Bonehunters was the ‘return’ of Quick Ben to the storyline and his bantering with Kalam. Ben’s interaction with the Ascendants also provided some good scenes and passages. I really like what Erikson is doing with Ben Adaephon Delat: making him more powerful with Ben seemingly none the wiser. I also was pleased to see Paran brought back into the fold. Essentially, I like how Erikson juxtaposes confusion and control in his characters., especially with the Bridgeburners.

After a great deal of bouncing back and forth between the many, many characters / plotlines, the conclusion of the novel was just fantastic. I also thought it was very good to see Laseen in the storyline, after having spent much of the saga spoken about rather than seen. The timing on this was pretty funny – I was reading through the Laseen scenes at what was probably the same time that a poster at SFFWorld happened to bring up how little Laseen is actually ‘on screen’ in the storyline.

The continuing juxtaposition of the Gods squabbles with human squabbles is one of the more overriding themes of the series and comes together even more so in this installment. The Gods don’t deal with humans very much, but when they do Erikson manages to really imbue those scenes with something very cool and an air of “whoa.”

All told, The Bonehunters was another solid entry in the Malazan saga, though not without its flaws. The character of Iskaral Pust is slowly growing on me and the scenes involving him reminded me a bit of the old couple at the Oracle from The NeverEnding Story or The Princess Bride. As I said, it thought there were just one or two too many different plotlines woven together, but as this novel ties together so much I don’t know that it could have been threaded any differently. I also would have like to see more of Karsa and Kruppe, but in the end I was left breathless with both accomplishment at reading a 1200+ page book and eager to read Reapers Gale. It’s sitting on my “To Read” shelf, but as I’ve intimated before, I need to pace myself with these Malazan books. Erikson (wait for the revolutionary statement, wait for it…) is staking his claim as the King of Epic fantasy with this series. Each cog of a book is part of the greater whole and The Bonehunters was like a keystone that holds much of the series together. As such, it might the most ambitious, audacious and impressive book in the series up to this point.

Reading these Malazan books, for me at least, I really feel like I’m truly experiencing what Erikson is trying to do with these books – something special. There’s almost a sense of community in reading each book with the book itself and others who read the books. In my personal ranking of the series, it probably falls somewhere in the middle – House of Chains is still the one I like the most.

I haven’t blogged about it in a while, but Battlestar Galactica’s season-half finale was really good on Friday. It was both a satisfying conclusion to the one of the largest themes of the series and a great cliffhanger, thank god there were no hovercycles when they landed. Many of the same questions on the mythology of the series are still there, but can be viewed in a different shade of light. Specifically, how is the civilization of the humanity we see on the show related to our civilization? The episode brought this home in a dark way and you wonder if Moore and company are ever going to give these characters more than a fleeting moment’s taste of happiness and satisfaction.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Books in the Mail (W/E 6/14)

In Odd We Trust written by Dean Koontz & Queenie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan – This manga debut of a natural-born hero with a supernatural twist. Odd Thomas is a regular nineteen-year-old with an unusual gift: the ability to see the lingering spirits of the dead. To Odd, it’s not such a big deal. And most folks in sleepy Pico Mundo, California, are much more interested in the irresistible pancakes Odd whips up at the local diner. Still, communing with the dead can be useful. Because while some spirits only want a little company . . . others want justice. Koontz takes his popular Odd Thomas character to an earlier time and different format.

The Night Children by Kit Reed – Inside the Castertown MegaMall, the biggest mall in the world, live the night children—runaways, abandoned kids, kids who got lost and were never found. They only come out at night, after all the shoppers are gone. When thirteen-year-old Jule Devereaux visits the mall after the mysterious disappearance of her aunt, she becomes a pawn in the war between two gangs of night children: the Castertown Crazies, led by the stalwart Tick Stiles, and the Dingos, whose leader is the batty Burt Arno. What the night children don’t realize is that the megalomaniacal owner of the MegaMall, billionaire Amos Zozz, knows all about them. This is Reed’s first young adult novel, her most recent novel being The Baby Merchant.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul. This is contemporary literature with hints of the fantastic.

The Shadow Pavilion: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel by Liz Williams – The fourth Detective Inspector Chen novel. When Chen's partner, the demon Seneschal Zhu Irzh, disappears, along with Chen's wife Inari's guardian badger, Chen must enlist all of his allies and assets in order to locate them.

Meanwhile, Zhu Irzh and the badger find themselves trapped in an unfamiliar jungle hell, stalked by a rogue demon lord and his harem of tigress demons, an assassin from between worlds targets Mhara, the new Lord of Heaven, and a beautiful Bollywood starlet holds a deadly secret...

I read and enjoyed the first and second books in this sequence, so I'm definitely going to get to this one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SPOTLIGHT: Catching up with the Classics - Glen Cook's Dread Empire

This one is from the archives of 2007. I never got around to posting it here or at SFFWorld, so I figured with The Black Company being the book of the month in the SFFWorld Fantasy Book Club, now was as good a time as any to post my review of A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire. I was also way overdue on my plans to do a Spotlight/Catching up with the Classics once a month.

The cover is just so gorgeous I had to post it as big as I did.

Without further ado...

NightShade Books
ISBN 978-1-59780-055-6
August 2006
904 Pages

Glen Cook has been writing acclaimed fantasy (and some science fiction) for many years, just on the outskirts of the big brand names like Donaldson, Jordan, and Martin. This is not to say his writing is inferior to those more recognized names, in fact, quite the opposite. After having read Cook’s first three Dread Empire novels, collected in a beautiful omnibus from the fine folks at NightShade books under the title A Cruel Wind, I find myself eager to read more of his works, if not in the Dread Empire, then any of his novels. I was not a novice to Cook when I opened this book, I read and enjoyed three of his Black Company novels, published by the Science Fiction Book Club under the title The Annals of the Black Company. It has been a number of years since I read the Black Company novels, so I can’t fairly and precisely compare the two sets of books other than the feel both worlds evoke. Cook doesn’t mince words, either in his descriptions or dialogues. These people live in harsh worlds were war is prevalent and a fact of daily life.

The first book in A Cruel Wind, A Shadow of All Night Falling, flips between to time periods. The ‘present’ of the world and the past, illustrating the origins of a great wizard, Varthlokur. Cook presents a harsh, desert-like landscape in which the wizard-to-be is born and raised. Much of his early life is spent without speaking, though he plots a plenty. Those scenes alternate with Varthlokur’s plans coming to fruition, as he sends spies to invade the nation where his prophesized future wife rules. The foremost spy goes by the name of Mocker, a rather unassuming individual from a physical standpoint, but able to win over crowds and individuals thanks to his amazing charisma. Eventually Mocker’s way with words wins over the queen, whom he originally was intended to sway to Varthlokur’s side as his wife, as a lover of Mocker’s own. This novel sets the stage for the events in the subsequent novels, while also ending with a sense of closure. A Shadow of All Night Falling set the stage, obviously, and it was the book I enjoyed most in the omnibus. I really liked the alternating perspective Cook utilized in the narrative and his evocation of the setting which reminded me of the Hyborian Age of the Conan novels than of anything else.

The second book, October’s Child, takes more of a physical approach to the action. Whereas A Shadow of All Night Falling was more a novel of political play, the gruesome, tireless and seemingly endless cloud of war permeated the second installment of The Dread Empire. Throughout this second novel, Cook terrifically injects the darkness of war, especially in the way the characters feel. Though I thought narrative was as strong here, it fell a bit short of how much I enjoyed A Shadow of All Night Falling.

The final volume in this book, All Darkness Met, again brings more of the focus on Varthlokur’s efforts, though he is more of a secondary character. After following the wizard’s ascent in the first volume, Cook expertly builds on the character with other character’s thoughts and fears about Varthlokur. Cook's method of characterization from a distance worked for me here and I enjoyed All Darkness Met probably as much as October's Baby.

While a number of the characters are important across the three books, perhaps the most well-drawn throughout is Mocker. A fat man, with high charisma and a unique speech pattern make for a memorable and enigmatic character. Some might find his manner speaking annoying, with it’s Yoda-like word placements, but it comes across as an endearing quality, much like the small, green Jedi master. On can also see the similarities between Mocker and Steven Erikson’s Kruppe, which is no surprise since Erikson has listed Cook’s writing as an influence.

The Ragnarsson clan evoking a Nordic influence, factor a great deal throughout the storyline, particularly the final two books.

The physical book itself deserves mention. From small-press NightShade, this is a beautiful looking book, from the evocative Raymond Swanland cover, to the nice paper, to the overall feel and design of the book, one can tell the publishers put a great deal of thought into their final product. It should also be noted the book includes a great introduction by Jeff VanderMeer who paints a great picture of Cook’s writing; the preface works as both an introduction and a “love letter” of sorts.

The suggestion is often made, but fans of Erikson’s Malazan series should check out this book, as well as Cook’s Black Company. Fans with an interest in the down-in-the trenches approach without so much veneer would do well to check out these books. Hell, fans of fantasy in general would do well to read these books. I enjoyed A Cruel Wind a great deal for many reasons - the evocation of the setting, the different approaches Cook utilized from book to book, and quite simply, the overall story itself in each volume and as a whole for the saga. I did think the pacing was slightly uneven in spots from book to book, but on the whole I liked A Cruel Wind quite a bit.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

Thanks for the nudging Joe.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Kull Review and Malzan Thoughts

I posted up my review of Kull: Exile of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard a short while ago. This was my first exposure to Howard's Kull stories and I enjoyed them, even if some of what was in the book consisted of fragments and unfinished tales. The book itself, and I only have the ARC, is a really nice volume. A very evocative cover by Justin Sweet, with color plates at the end of the book make for a book that was made with a great attention to detail and care. Again, this is only the ARC, so I can imagine how great the final product will look.

I'm focusing all my reading right now on The Bonehunters, something that seems to happen whenever I dive into The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I plow through a good chunk of the book at each reading session, but at 1200+ pages this book will take me a while. I enjoy the story and immersing myself in Erikson's world with each volume I read, so I don't mind too much even though I'm usually reading two books at a time. More often than not, I read Book 1 at work on my lunch and Book 2 while at the gym on the cardio machines and at home. However, with The Bonehunters I especially don't want to pull away from Malazan, so The Bonehunters is essentially Book 1 and Book 2 at the moment. I'm really enjoying the book, especially the scenes with Icarium and Karsa. From what I've seen, most fans of Malazan enjoyed Memories of Ice the most, but so far I think House of Chains was the book I enjoyed the most. Not that I didn't enjoy Memories of Ice, because I did, but I think Karsa is the character I find the most fascinating so far, and to a lesser extent Kruppe.

I finished Neuropath about a week or so ago, but I'm finalizing a review with Mark from SFFWorld. We decided to try something different with this book and give it a two-pronged review. That will probably go up at SFFWorld this week, too, we just want to put a couple of finishing touches on it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Books in the Mail (W/E 6/08)

Mr. Fooster: Traveling on a Whim written by Tom Corwin and illustrated by Craig Frazier– This illustrated novel is best described by its simplistic title. The eponymous Mr. Fooster has some whimsical flights of fancy in this small and quaint book. It seems like a lost Victorian-era novel. What I received is a final copy of the advance I received a couple of months ago.

The Last Vampire by Patricia Rosemoor & Marc Paoletti – this Vampire-meets-CSI-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-4400 hybrid sounds somewhat interesting – a five-hundred year old corpse is unearthed in Texas by the military which is teeming with mysterious DNA, and can transform normal people into powerful beings. Will it stand above the rest of the Modern-Day Vampire/Sorcerer crowd?

The Last Theorem by Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl – The two SF giants collaborate on a story of one man’s mathematical obsession, and a celebration of the human spirit and scientific method. Throw in the thread of all-but-omnipotent aliens and you might have the makings of an instant modern classic. The story is of a young Sri Lankan mathematician who finds a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and is hired by the CIA because of the high interest in cryptographic applications of the proof. This is an ARC; the publication date is August 2009.

The Bearskin Rug by Jennifer Stevenson – The third of her sexy, supernatural adventures of a feisty heroine and her lusty 200-year-old demon sidekick continue. Sequel to The Brass Bed and The Velvet Chair.

Gypsy Morph by Terry BrooksGenesis of Shanarra Book 3. I read Armageddon’s Children and didn’t think much of it, but Terry has his fans; this is the series that bridges Shanarra with his Word and Void trilogy. I wanted to like this series, but couldn't get past that first book. What I received was the ARC, the final book publishes August 26, 2008.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Keeping with the Glen Cook theme, I came across this very nice appreciation of Mr. Cook's Black Company. (Via the author himself who blogs at Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic). I'll have something to post about Glen Cook's writing myself next week.

Library Journal covers the Urban Fantasy/Modern-Day Sorcerer. (via T.A. Pratt's LiveJournal)

Cover Art is always a hot topic, at least at SFFWorld, and this weeks Mind Meld from SF Signal is a great panel of cover artists - John Picacio, Todd Lockwood, and Bob Eggleton just to name three.

Pyr keeps doing great things and publishing great books. They've started posting sample chapters of many of their books. Take a look.

The great Comic Book Web site Newsarama was overhauled recently.

I think most of my blogroll has posted this already, but what the hell. Subterranean Press announced Songs of the Dying Earth - The Jack Vance Tribute Anthology. I have an ARC of their Jack Vance Reader on the reading pile. What I've read of his prodigious output, though comparatively small, has been very rewarding.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Poison Sleep reviewed and a sport renewed

Up went my review of T.A. Pratt's second Marla Mason novel, Poison Sleep a couple of days ago. Here's a snippet:

Here, Marla is asked by the Blackwing Institute (a hospital for mentally unbalanced sorcerers and wizards) to help with one of their patients – a woman named Genevieve whose power allows her to manipulate reality – blend in Victorian streets and buildings into downtown Felport, allow monsters to run through the streets – fun stuff.
After a few years off, I joined a bowling league last night. It was as much fun and frustrating as I recall, but this is a relatively short season as most summer sessions are. This time around, I'm bowling with Mrs. Blog o' Stuff's brother, which should be fun.

Monday, June 02, 2008

SFFWorld's Monthly Book Club

In the SFFWorld monthly Fantasy book club, we are discussing The Black Company by Glen Cook. I read this years ago and liked it quite a bit. I nicked the above cover shot, even though it contains the first three books, since it is such a great picture.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Books in the Mail (W/E 5/31)

Here's what was left at my garage door/front step/mail box this week:
Out of Picture 2: Art from the Outside Looking In edited by Dice Tsutsumi – A beautiful, oversized graphic novel which collects a diverse group of artists. A nice handful of short stories, and some fantastic art.

The Ashes of Worlds by Kevin J. Anderson - The culminating volume in his Saga of Seven Suns, which weaves together the myriad storylines into a spectacular grand finale. Galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and the factions of humanity are pitted against each other. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.

Tigerheart by Peter David – I finished this in ARC form about a week ago and really enjoyed it. What I received this past week was the final book. I’ll post my review as the publication date gets closer.