Friday, January 30, 2009

Starry Review

I figured I'd post another review this week since I've got a decent number in the hopper, with a couple more to be written in the next few days. I don't read enough short fiction in the genre, as I've said before so I begain rectifying that very quickly this year when I read Jonathan Strahan's indispensable YA Science Fiction anthology from last year, The Starry Rift. I really think this book should be a must have for all fans of the genre, with all the great contributors like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Ian McDonald, Scott Westerfeld, Alastair Reynolds and many more. Here's a bit from my review:

Ass-Hat Magic Spider by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Midnighters, The Risen Empire, Peeps) kicks off the anthology. The story here is no different showcases a hopeful future not just for humanity’s survival, but for the future and power of storytelling and books.

Garth Nix’s (The Abhorsen Trilogy & The Keys to the Kingdom) Infestation is a fun, unexpected, and engaging look at alien vampires (reminiscent of E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth). There’s more to tell here and of the stories in this anthology, I think this is the one I’d most like to see expanded into novel length form.

The Starry Rift should remain a genre benchmark for years to com as an invitation to younger readers to sample some today’s most insightful and imaginative voices. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clone Elite by Steven L. Kent reviewed

I don’t often jump into a book mid-series, especially on something like the 4th book, but I decided to make an exception with Steven L. Kent’s The Clone Elite. The book is the fourth in the military science fiction saga chronicling the life of clone Wayson Harris in a far future as the Unified Authority contends with galactic civil war and alien threats. I enjoyed the book, and here’s part of my review

Although the bones of the plot are relatively straightforward – humanity up against a technologically superior and morally blind enemy, Kent fills out the skeleton with enough meat to keep the pages moving by at a relatively brisk pace. With Harris as the only viewpoint character, the other character’s motivations and emotions are inherently limited. That’s fine, since this really is Harris’s story and Kent does a very capable job of rendering the difficulties, horrors, stress, and camaraderie of war through Harris’s eyes. He also plausibly captured the internal conflicts, jealousies, and strong emotions within a military unit between superiors and officers.

Shawn Speakman wrote a terrific article for Suvuduu about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and primarily the delays.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Neil Gaiman's book about Nobody wins the Newberry Medal

Neil Gaiman's shelf just got a little more crowded, his wonderful young adult novel The Graveyard Book won the Newberry Medal, the most prestigious award for children's literature in the United States.

Congratulations to Mr. Gaiman on the much-deserved award. If Coraline does well (which it should), I wouldn't be surprised to see this one heading to theaters, too.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 1/24/2009)

A ton of stuff this week, mostly February releases from the various Penguin imprints, many of which are book 3 or 4 or higher in an ongoing series where I’ve only read the first book in one of those series.

Maelstrom (Destroyermen Book 3) by Taylor Anderson (Roc Hardcover 02/03/2009) – I’ve read the first (Into the Storm and second (Crusade) in the series and enjoyed them so I’ll be sure to read this one, too. The story is interesting and enjoyable: a World War II US Naval Destroyer enters a squall during a losing battle with the Japanese only to emerge in a parallel world where evolution took a different turn: Lemurs and Lizards are the dominant intelligent species and they’ve been warring for many years. The titular Destroyermen fall in with the Lemurs and war continues, with better results for the Lemurs.

Myth-Chief (Myth Adventure Book 18) by Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye (Ace Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2009) – These comedic fantasies have been around for a long time with 18 installments in the series, I don’t remember a time when these books weren’t on the shelves. Unfortunately, Asprin passed away last year. I haven’t read any of the books.

Skeeve has decided, at long last, to come out of his self-imposed retirement and get back into the problem-solving biz. He confidently expected walk in and take his rightful place as the head of M.Y.T.H., Inc. He didn't expect to have to face off against Aahz for the job. With their friends lending help but showing no favorites, they start a not-so-friendly contest to see who will run the company by taking opposite sides of the next case to walk in the door. Will the legendary partnership survive the battle, or will this be the end of a beautiful friendship?

Undone (Outcast Season Book 1) by Rachel Caine (Roc Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2009) – Caine’s written quite a bit in a short amount of time (20 books published in just over 5 years). This is the first of a new series, but from reading the description, it seems to be connected to her popular Weather Warden series

Once she was Cassiel, a Djinn of limitless power. Now, she has been reshaped in human flesh as punishment for defying her master-and living among the Weather Wardens, whose power she must tap into regularly or she will die. And as she copes with the emotions and frailties of her human condition, a malevolent entity threatens her new existence...

Foxfire (Book Three of Trickster's Game) by Barbara Campbell (Mass Market Paperback 2/03/2009 DAW) – This would be the third book in a trilogy of which I haven’t read the first two books. Looking at her Web site, it seems kind of strange how the cover deisgn/treatment has changed over the course of the trilogy. I wonder if this is an indication that each book can stand well enough on its own. Here’s the blurbage:

Years after their exile, legendary hero Darak and his wife Griane have founded their own tribe and raised four children. A rebel force, led by Darak’s own daughter, seeks to recruit him to their cause. But the greatest danger comes from their youngest son, R igat—actually sired by the Trickster God...

Seraph of Sorrow (Jennifer Scales Book 3) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi (Ace Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2009). The third book in a series that looks to be recently re-packaged from young adult to adult about a girl who is a were-dragon.

Half weredragon. Half beaststalker. All heart.

Slowly coming into her own, Jennifer Scales just may be the bridge to bring the two warring sides of her family together-provided she can survive learning the most ancient skills of dragonkind.

Crystal Nights and Other Stories by Greg Egan (Subterranean Press August 2009) – Egan is one Science Fiction’s top short story writers and this collection of nine stories features all-new never before collected selections.

Unfallen Dead (Convergent World Book 3) by Mark Del Franco (Ace Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2009) – This sounds like The Dresden Files with more of a Gaelic/Druidish flavor

For a century since the Convergence of Faerie and modern reality, the Ways between this world and the next have been closed. But now signs point to the chance that the veil may lift again.

Connor Grey has enough problems with a vengeful Queen of Faerie and the return of his old Guild partner. Add an occult string of murders, and it's another case that just may kill him

Wings of Wrath (Magister Trilogy Book 2) by C. S. Friedman (DAW Hardcover 2/03/2009)– I read the first (Into the Storm in the trilogy and thought it one of the best I read in 2007, a book that seemed far too overlooked from a writer with such a good reputation. Here’s a brief from my review:
Feast of Souls
was an intense novel and provided much food for thought on the sacrifices people make for what they want; what people will do to maintain power; and the potentially-volatile roles of gender. This has been a very good year for fans of Fantasy and Science Fiction – Friedman’s book deserves at least as much attention as some of those “internet darling” writers like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Patrick Rothfuss.

A Magic of Twilight (Book One of The Nessantico Cycle) by S.L. Farrell (Mass Market Paperback 2/03/2009 DAW) – Mark/Hobbit had good things to say when it was published in Hardcover a year ago, so did Pat and Ken/Nethspace, so I may jump into this one, although when I’m not sure. What is even better from my standpoint is that the fine folks at DAW saw fit to send me this (I assume) as a precursor to sending Book 2 b>A Magic of Nightfall which comes out in Hardcover in March.

An intricate tale of murder and magic, deception and betrayal, Machiavellian politics, star-crossed lovers, and a world on the brink of devastating war.... Over the decades and slow centuries, the city of Nessantico spread her influence in all directions. Nessantico gathered to herself all that was intellectual, all that was rich, all that was powerful. There was no city in the known world that could rival her. But there were many who envied her...

Buyout by Alexander Irvine (Del Rey Trade Paperback 3/31/2009) – I’ve read a few of his books (A Scattering of Jades and One King, One Soldier) so I’m hoping this is just as good.
One hundred years from now, with Americans hooked into an Internet far more expansive and intrusive than today’s, the world has become a seamless market-driven experience. In this culture of capitalism run amok, entrepreneurs and politicians faced with rampant overcrowding in the nation’s penal system turn to a controversial new method of cutting costs: life-term buyouts. In theory, buyouts offer convicted murderers the chance to atone for their crimes by voluntarily allowing themselves to be put to death by the state in exchange for a one-time cash payment, shared among their heirs and victims, based on a percentage of what it would have cost taxpayers to house and feed them for the rest of their natural lives. It’s a win-win situation.

At least that’s what Martin Kindred believes. And Martin is a man who desperately needs something to believe in, especially with his marriage coming apart and the murder of his brother, an L.A. cop brutally gunned down in the line of duty, unsolved.

As the public face of the buyout program, Martin is a lightning rod for verbal and physical abuse–but he embraces every challenge, knowing his motives are pure. But when evidence comes to light that a felon in line for a buyout may have been involved with his brother’s death, Martin’s professional detachment threatens to turn into a personal vendetta that will jeopardize everything–and everyone–he holds dear. Inspired by today’s politics, Buyout is an unforgettable look at an all-too-believable future . . . and one man’s struggle to do the right thing.

Duplicate Effort (A Retrieval Artist Novel # 3) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Roc Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2009) – This one is the 7th in the series about a far future detective which on one hand makes me feel as if this one is a little unapproachable with all the past development and whatnot, but on the other, most of these protagonist driven mystery hybrids are accommodating to new readers.

Retrieval Artist Miles Flint is on a personal mission-to bring down the corrupt law firm of Wagner, Stuart, and Xender. Then a journalist working with him is murdered, and Miles may be next. But before he can begin to investigate, he has a more personal crisis to deal with-his daughter Talia is missing.

Talia-one of six clones of Miles' long-dead child-has gone off to find the other five. As Miles pursues her, he begins to fear that her search for her "sisters" and his for the killer are on a collision course . . .

Metatropolis edited by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press Hardcover July 2009) This started out as an audio only release with stories by Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and project editor John Scalzi

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guardian SFF List Meme

Ganked from Larry, here's the SFF list from Guardian. You all know the drill. Bold what you've read and mov on.

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)

31 out of 124

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Interview and Drood sampling

As promised (to you, my millions…and millions of readers), the e-mail interview I conducted with Joshua Palmatier was posted yesterday.

Some books are like rich meals you want to enjoy with each bite and savor each word without hastiness. Such is the case with Dan Simmons’ Drood, which I’m currently reading. Although I haven’t read everything by Mr. Simmons, I’ve read a good chunk of his output and have thoroughly enjoyed most of it. I thought Summer of Night was chilling novel reminiscent of Stephen King’s IT, except more tightly plotted. I don’t think I can add anything to the praise he’s received for Hyperion either. Even though Simmons has achieved critical (multiple awards and “Best of Year” lists) success, great sales, and wonderful response from readers in the genre, Drood may be his most accomplished novel yet (at least that I’ve read).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Throne of Mystery

The last of Joshua Palmatier’s Throne of Amenkor trilogy, The Vacant Throne did what a lot of good final books do: it provided very good closure while leaving enough out in the open to be possibly followed up later. I’ve got more to say about it, aside from the snippet from my review below:
Palmatier employed a narrative technique in The Vacant Throne that is both something new and also hearkens back to The Skewed Throne. As in that novel, chapters alternate from two points of view. However, while one of those POVs is Varis, the other is from a personality/soul from within the Skewed Throne itself recounting the creation of the Throne and the very first Chorl attack. I’m often a fan of such storytelling techniques and I think Palmatier utilized it very well and judiciously.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the interview I recently concluded with Joshua.

I bought and finished the first trade of a really good new series from Vertigo, House of Mystery. All told, this is a very promising start to what I hope to be another long-running Vertigo series. Terrific art by Luca Rossi complements the fantastic story spun by Sturges. Willinghams's story within Sturges's story adds even more depth to what Sturges is doing.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 1/18/2009)

Penguin has started rolling out their February books, which help to make this a pretty sizable week. Here goes:

Outcast: (Fate of the Jedi Book One) by Aaron Allston (Hardcover 3/24/2009 Del Rey). Allston’s written some of the better Star Wars novel in the Expanded Universe, so its good to see him launching this new series, which picks up just after Legacy of the Force.

After a violent civil war, and the devastation wrought by the now-fallen Darth Caedus, the Galactic Alliance is in crisis -- and in need. From all corners, politicians, power brokers, and military leaders converge on Coruscant for a crucial summit to restore order, negotiate differences, and determine the future of their unified worlds. But even more critical, and far more uncertain, is the future of the Jedi.

In a shocking move, Chief of State Natasi Daala orders the arrest of Luke Skywalker for failing to prevent Jacen Solo's turn to the dark side and subsequent reign of terror as a Sith Lord. But it's only the first blow in an anti-Jedi backlash fueled by a hostile government and suspicious public. When Jedi Knight Valin Horn, scion of a politically influential family, suffers a mysterious psychotic break and becomes a dangerous fugitive, the Jedi become the target of a media-driven witch-hunt. Facing conviction on the charges, Luke has only one choice. He must strike a bargain with the calculating Daala: his freedom in exchange for his exile -- from Coruscant and from the Jedi Order.

Now, though forbidden to intervene in Jedi affairs, Luke is determined to keep grim history from being repeated. With his son, Ben, at his side, Luke sets out to unravel the shocking truth behind Jacen Solo's corruption and downfall. But the secrets he uncovers among the enigmatic Force mystics of the distant world Dorin may bring his quest -- and life as he knows it -- to a sudden end. And all the while, another Jedi Knight, consumed by the same madness as Valin Horn, is headed for Coruscant on a fearsome mission that could doom the Jedi Order . . . and devastate the entire galaxy.

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson Book Four) by Patrica Briggs (Ace Hardcover 2/3/2009). Another Urban Fantasy series and one that interests me. I haven’t ready anything by Briggs yet, but I hope this new book will work well for new readers.

In a world where "witches, vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters live beside ordinary people" (Booklist), it takes a very unusual woman to call it home. By day, Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic in Eastern Washington. By night, she explores her preternatural side. As a shape-shifter with some unusual talents, Mercy's found herself maintaining a tenuous harmony between the human and the not-so- human on more than one occasion. This time she may get more than she bargained for.

Dragon in Chains (Moshui, The Books of Stone and Water 1) by Daniel Fox (Del Rey Trade Paperback 1/27/2009). An Asian-flavored dragon fantasy; Fox is a pen name for Chaz Brenchley.

Set in an imaginary realm that resembles medieval China, Dragon in Chains renders the struggles of Chien, a just young emperor who has been usurped by a brutal rival. Exiled to a remote island, he is introduced into a sphere where magical minerals can bestow superhuman powers and where life is sometimes treated like a cheap thing. This mass market original is the series launch of a historical fantasy trilogy.

Truancy: Origins by Isamu Fukui (Tor Hardcover 3/3/2009). This is the prequel to the successful novel by the then teenaged Fukui. Truancy: Origins looks at two of the characters from the first novel, and how they came to be who there were in the dystopic totalitarian alternate future of Truancy.

Hazards (A Lucifer Jones Adventure) by Mike Resnick (Subterranean Press Hardcover June 2009). These stories take place in South America during circa 1934-1938.

Purple and Black by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press Hardcover June 2009) – Parker’s work is held in fairly high regard by a number of people, one of whom is SFFWorld’s very on Hobbit (The Company and Devices and Desires). All I know about the book at this point is the following, directly from the publisher:

a series of missives between an adviser assigned to an outlying military outpost, and the emperor who sent him, consists of a number of official communiques (printed in purple ink) and back-channel communications (printed in black). Each set of letters is shuttled back and forth via sealed communication packets. As one would expect from Parker, the novella is darkly funny, gritty, and with a few twists along the way.

Wild Thyme, Green Magic by Jack Vance (Subterranean Press Hardcover June 2009) – Subterranean continues it’s line of Vance reprints, with this latest collection including an introduction by Jonathan Strahan and Terry Dowling. Here’s the list of stories:
  • Introduction by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
  • Assault on a City
  • Rumfuddle
  • The Augmented Agent
  • Green Magic
  • Ullward's Retreat
  • Coup de Grace
  • Chateau d'If
  • The Potters of Firsk
  • The World-Thinker
  • Seven Exits from Bocz
  • Wild Thyme and Violets

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cracked Review, Hines Interview, SFFWorld Review, & Reading Resolutions

Following on from last week, I posted my review of Joshua Palmatier’s The Cracked Throne, which more than straddles the line as a simple middle book in a trilogy. The book started a bit slow for me, but the ending really cranked up and more than balanced that beginning. Here’s a snippet:

The throne itself comes more into play and Palmatier expands on its strange history. Varis soon learns the souls of the former rulers of Amekor are housed within Throne, and more importantly, so are the souls of the seven who poured their essences into the creation of the throne. The visions of destruction are both a reminder of the past and a harbinger of the future, the throne was created to keep an invading force of blue-skinned nomads, the Chorl, from destroying Amenkor.

What makes this novel is very much what made its predecessor work – Varis’s engaging narrative voice. There are no pretentions and the strength of any first person narrative is one of Varis’s strengths – the reader (for lack of a better term) learns about things alongside the protagonist. Another strength of Palmatier’s story is the throne itself and the slow reveal of its nature. It might be odd to make another comic book comparison to Palmatier’s work, but the Throne reminded me a great deal of an element of the Superman/Doomsday storyline where by rulers of a world pool their magical abilities together to create a super-being to battle the threat of the monster Doomsday. Palmatier’s theme of sacrifice for the greater good and its ultimate consequences echo more powerfully and subtly.

I’m also conducting an e-mail interview with Joshua which should probably go up when my review of The Vacant Throne is posted.

Also in SFFWorld updates, an interview with Jim C. Hines went up over the weekend. His Jig the Goblin books have been fairly well-received and I have his latest, The Stepsister Scheme on the review pile.

Hobbit also posted the third and final part of SFFWorld’s 2008 Year in Review.

Some reading resolutions I’d like to make for 2009:

Read more short fiction
Last year I read only 6 collections/anthologies, one of which was new fiction (Eclipse One), two were the John Joseph Adams-edited reprints; two were reprint anthologies/retrospectives (David Weber, Kull,) and the other was Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things which I’ll barely count because I read everything by him anyway. I’ve got a backlog of some anthologies and will hopefully pick up some more with different authors/editors. Short fiction never comprised a majority of my genre reading and every year I tell myself to read more of it.

Read more fiction from different voices
This is somewhat encompassing. I read only three women writers last year in novel length form (Liz Williams, Kay Kenyon, and Karen Miller) and most of what I read was written by white guys. While I can’t control what books publishers publish and send to me, I can choose from that pool which books to read. In past years when I keep tallies of what I read, I read more women and more than just white guys.

Read outside of what I typically read
Most of the fantasy I read is secondary world/epic/high fantasy. While I’ve been dipping my toes into Urban Fantasy for a while, I would like to read more of it and from across the board. As for the Science Fiction I read, it often leans to Space Opera/Military Science Fiction. Point being, both genres have enough variation for me to try the many different flavors of Speculative Fiction. I’d also like to read some more mystery and more non-genre work, Mrs. Blog o’ Stuff has plenty of non-fiction stuff for me to tackle like a recent Ben Franklin biography and some history books.

Catch up with series fiction
The Dresden Files; Vampire Earth by E.E. Knight; Wess'Har by Karen Traviss; Vlad Taltos by Steven Brust (I'm only one book behind); Shadowmarch (I'm only one book behind); Marla Mason by T.A. Pratt; Malazan; Black Company, Dread Empire, and Garrett, P.I. (OK, I didn't even start the Garrett, P.I. books yet) by Glen Cook; Dune (a re-visit and catch-up really), Takeshi Kovacs by Richard K. Morgan; Alex Benedict by Jack McDevitt; and the list could probably continue. Shit, I just added another dozen plus books and may be counter-intuitive to some of the above reading resolutions

All of the above are things I’ve been thinking about as constantly reshuffle my Pile o' Shame /"To read"pile, and with the amount of books I receive for review and still have unread, it isn’t practical to justify spending hard earned cash on more books. But what is practical, anyway? There are just too many books to read at this rate.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 1/10/2009)

An interesting cache of books, two of which I read. One I thoroughly enjoyed, another to a lesser extent but which merits a reexamination. Let it roll:

Monster Blood Tattoo I: Foundling by D.M. Cornish . (2007, Speak/ Penguin Children's) I read this when it first published in hardcover in 2006 and thought it OK, but the more I consider the book/series, I think it was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Larry’s thoughts on the book have pushed me to reconsider and with the second book on shelves, I may have to re-examine the book, and now, the publisher put a whole new design on the books that really pops out from the shelves. Here’s a bit from my review:

The detail and thought put into his world is indeed extensive, Cornish’s many years of building up the world are evident throughout. The early portion of the novel, when Rossamünd is in Madam Opera’s, should connect with the author’s intended audience, young adults. Rossamünd is picked on and has to deal with stringent teachers and adults. He finds solace in the books detailing the monsters in his world, and more specifically the monster hunter’s who earn, with each kill, the titular Monster Blood Tattoo.

With many Young Adult titles, a big part of the book is the packaging. PenguinPutnam, the publishers, have done a very nice job here. The book feels comfortable in your hands and has a nice cover by the author; Cornish started the storyline years ago in notebooks with his own drawings, he is now a professional illustrator. Throughout the novel, his nicely-rendered pencil drawings decorate full pages, in the form of character studies. The illustrations are also peppered in the appendices, providing a very immersive experience for the reader.

The Twilight Herald (Book Two of the Twilight Reign) by Tom Lloyd. I still have the first book in this series staring at me unread, which I soon hope to change.

Now the eyes of the land turn to the minor city of Scree, which could soon be obliterated as the new Lord of the Farlan flexes his powers. Scree is suffering under an unnatural summer drought and surrounded by volatile mercenary armies that may be its only salvation.

This is a strange sanctuary for a fugitive abbot to flee to – but he is only the first of many to be drawn there. Kings and princes, lords and monsters, all walk the sun-scorched streets.

As elite soldiers clash after dark and actors perform cruel and subversive plays that work their way into the hearts of the audience, the city begins to tear itself apart – yet even chaos can be scripted.

There is a malevolent will at work in Scree, one that has a lesson for the entire land: nations can be manipulated, prophecies perverted and Gods denied.

Nothing lies beyond the reach of a shadow, and no matter how great a man’s power, there some things he cannot be protected from.

Starfinder by John Marco (DAW Hardcover 05/05/2009) – I’ve been enjoying John Marco’s books ever since I read The Jackal of Nar and up through The Sword of Angels. I’m glad to see a new book by John, which he just sent to me. The book/series (Skylords) has a steampunkish feel, but is also a coming of age story. The book might have more of a YA appeal than his previous work. Regardless, I’m looking forward to reading it. In John’s own words:

The world of Starfinder is very much like our own at the turn of the last century, with steam trains and electricity and budding technologies. And thanks to the inventive genius of Fiona’s grandfather Rendor, humans have finally taken to the sky, not only in giant airships but in small, ornithopter contraptions called dragonflies as well.

Not everyone is happy to see mankind’s progress, however. For thousands of years, the mysterious and powerful race known as the Skylords have jealously guarded their heavenly domain. In all this time, an uneasy peace has existed between humans and Skylords, but Moth and Fiona are about to breach the magical boundary between the two worlds.

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan (Del Rey Hardcover 01/20/2009) – I received the UK ARC early last year, the US ARC in September and now the ‘finished’ copy of the US edition since it is now on the shelves. Del Rey has been staggering the release of Morgan’s novels about 6 months or so after the UK publication. What else can I say about this that I didn’t say in my review? Or that Hobbit didn’t say in his review? Anyway, here’s another snippet from my review:

Like many a fantasy novel, one of the main themes hanging over the heads of the characters is war. However, Morgan doesn’t focus on war itself as much as the specter of a past war and the threat of a potential war. In the protagonist Ringil Eskiath (Gil), Morgan captured an air of embittered veteran. Ringil is called home by his mother to search for his missing cousin Shering, rumored to have been sold into slavery. Ringil brings with him an enchanted sword, Ravensfriend, with the magical ability to can through anything. Unfortunately, Ringil’s father and people from his town are dead set against his quest to save his cousin. Adding fuel to the fire is the disdain Ringil’s father holds over his son; despite Ringil being an honored war veteran, dad still can’t look past Ringil’s homosexuality. Clearly, Ringil is a complex character who has quite a lot baggage, straddles many lines, and ultimately, comes across as rather genuine.

Although the story is mostly centered on Ringil, Morgan surrounds him with a nicely drawn supporting cast, even if they aren’t 100% likeable. His mother, his father, his lover(s) and his enemies. At times, Morgan is able to deftly maneuver some of those labels onto one character, and quite effectively.

The Fall of the Templars (Book Three of the Brethren Trilogy) by Robyn Young. A historical fiction, the third in a trilogy,that has (probably) appeal to fantasy fans. Outside of the US, this goes by the title of Requiem. Why the third book was rebranded (link takes you to a comparison of the US v UK editions of the trilogy) is beyond me unless this book stands enough on its own outside of the trilogy.

1295 AD. The Christian empire in the Holy Land lies in ruins

Returning to Paris, Knight Templar Will Campbell is at a crossroads. He has sworn to uphold the principles of the Anima Templi, a secret brotherhood within the Order whose aim is peace - but peace seems ever more impossible. The Temple has forged an alliance with Will's enemy, King Edward of England, vowing to help him wage war on Scotland. This pact against his homeland strikes at the core of Will's faith and allegiances, while his growing estrangement from his daughter, Rose, leads her into a dangerous affair.

Will now faces a bitter choice: to stay with the Temple and fight another war he doesn't believe in, or to break his vows and forge his own path to peace - even if that too means fighting - for the Scots.

Soon caught up in bloody conflict, Will is unaware that an even more ominous threat is rising, for there is a warrior king on the throne of France whose desire for supremacy knows no bounds and who will stop at nothing to fulfil his twisted ambitions.

The fight for the Holy Land has ended...

The Temple's last battle has just begun.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rob's 2008 Reading Year in Review

Since 2008 has been finished for over a week, now's about time to post my year in review. Here's a few other year in review posts from my blogroll:

Aidan/A Dribble of Ink
Andrew Wheeler/Antimuck Musings
Pat (The Hotties)/Fantasy Hotlist
Larry/OFBlog (Novels, Anthologies, Debuts, YA) {just when I think I read a lot, I'm put to shame by Larry}
Grasping for the Wind
Adam/The Wertzone

2008 proved to be another year of good reading. All told, I read over 80 books in 2008, most of which were novels, a few collections/anthologies and a handful of graphic novels.

Since I mentioned the best 2008 books I read in the annual SFFWorld Review (Part One, Fantasy, Part Two Science Fiction & Media), I’ll not limit myself here to just 2008 books.

The majority of the books I read last year (50 out of84) were released in 2008, which is pretty much the percentage I’ve been hitting in past falling years. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files continues to keep my interests very high. I made it through four of the novels, Dead Beat, Summer Knight, Death Masks, and Blood Rites as well as the novella Backup and the comic/graphic novel Welcome to the Jungle. Some may call these novels guilty pleasures, regardless, they are really entertaining reads. Most of the other non-2008 books I read were part of series that saw new volumes publish in 2008 or were reissues/compilations of earlier editions. On to the 2008 reads…

Rob Favorite Science Fiction Novel(s) Read in 2008

This was a dead tie between a new book for 2008, a genre classic, and a book I re-read this year. This year’s book was obviously Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Despite that analogy and the frightening overtones of the scope of this story, Doctorow provides a great balance and manages to keep the story upbeat throughout. He also gives the reader what amounts to a guide to security evasion and computer hacking. Since the book is told from Marcus’s first-person point-of-view, these passages are very readable and come across more of a conversation than anything else. Only a couple of these “conversational instructions” slowed the pace of the plot.

Doctorow’s novel is scary because it resonates so much with the real world; personal freedoms are sacrificed in order for our own “safety.” Doctorow evokes b
oth Orwell and Philip K. Dick in the sense of paranoia, but Doctorow (obviously) brings a more modern sensibility to the fore. Doctorow has been at the forefront of electronic rights and in the science fiction genre. Aside from the aforementioned slow patches, the novel is note-perfect and I found it very difficult to put the book down. Entertaining, enlightening and eye-opening, Little Brother will only further reinforce Cory Doctorow’s presence as one of the visionaries of free speech advocacy and great storytelling in the 21st Century.
The classic is Robert A. Heinlein’s seminal Starship Troopers, which I reviewed here on the blog earlier in 2008. At the time I said:
One thing that surprised me as I was reading the book was how little action and science-fictiony stuff happens for the better part of the novel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think the best science fiction novels, like this one, have an utterly human quality to them. Even if Johnny Rico serves as something of a mouthpiece for Heinlein (as some have said), the character comes across as genuinely human.

Honorable mention goes to Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die, which I read for the third time this past year (and yes it is science fiction although it also works as fantasy). His voice, particularly as Caine, is the most compelling fictional hero I’ve ever read in novel form.

Rob’s Favorite Fantasy Novel(s) Read in 2008

Caine Black Knife was not only my favorite Fantasy novel of 2008, it was my top novel overall. It was great to get back into Caine’s head and hear his voice narrate for me.

Back to Caine, though, because Stover really leaves the reader no choice in the matter, which is not a complaint by any means. Because the majority of the novel is told through Caine’s voice and reactions, we as the reader are not given any other option on who to believe or trust. Caine’s POV is the only one and as such, his voice flows and filters the narrative more smoothly than just about any first person narrator this side of Severian of the Guild. The difference here is Severian is explicitly an unreliable narrator, Caine seems more reliable. To paraphrase and sum up the themes of Stover’s work, Caine isn’t trying to sell us anything, he puts his faults and scars on the table for all to view. His voice is frank, direct, and a terrifically engaging one that comes across as, for lack of a more refined term, a very likeable and endearing asshole. Then again, I can say that because I’ve never been on the opposite end of Caine’s frustrations.

In addition to Caine’s internal dialogue informing the narrative and plot, his dialogue with other characters helps to move the plot along at a brisk pace. With multi-character dialogue comprising multiple pages, I was again reminded of Roger Zelazny. From what I recall, vast pages of his Amber novels are primarily dialogue between characters. Here, both Stover and Zelazny’s dialogue is somewhat terse in that the exchanges between characters is brief as each character takes their turn speaking to the other, but dense in how it conveys the individual scenes of the novel and the over-reaching plot as a whole. It is a nice trick to pull of when it works so well; but one of those easy looking things you get a sense aren’t that easy to refine.

Another past favorite Neil Gaiman released a spectacular gem. That book, of course, was The Graveyard Book, another magical story from a living legend and storytelling master.

This unique ghost story is endlessly charming, wonderfully resonant, magically evocative, and compulsively readable. With the perfectly evoked balmy feel of the Graveyard, this is a book to return to at Hallowe’en every year.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind is one of the most powerful, haunting and beautifully written novels I have ever read. It defies genres and slips into fantasy mainly because of the wonderful Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The review has taken me a while to write because the novel was so powerful. I can’t recommend this novel enough.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the conclusion to Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, The Hero of Ages and the conclusion Greg Keyes's Kingdom of Thorn and Bones trilogy The Born Queen.

Favorite Debut(s) of 2008

It was a pretty solid year, but standing out for me was Brent Weeks and his Night Angel Trilogy. With very little (compared to Rothfuss and Lynch) prepublication Internet buzz, this trilogy swept in the final three months of the year and really generated a great deal of steam, particularly at SFFWorld. I still haven’t read the final book in the trilogy, but I did review The Way of Shadows and Shadows Edge.

Taylor Anderson also impressed me with the first two books (Destroyermen I: Into the Storm and Destroyermen II: Crusade) of his alternate history/crossover saga about a World War II Naval Destroyer swept into a world with intelligent lemurs and lizards.

Favorite Undiscovered/Overlook Gem of 2008

By undiscovered/overlooked, I mean an author and/or book(s) that have been on the shelves for a couple of years but didn’t receive that much attention from the reading circles in which I find myself. In other words, SFFWorld, my blogroll, and Westeros. This just might have to go to Joshua Palmatier whose Throne of Amenkor trilogy was finished in January 2008. Granted, I came to these books late in 2008, but the series is very entertaining and seemed to be drowned out when The Skewed Throne was published in 2006 by cries of Rotfhuss and Lynch.

Favorite Publisher of the Year

Newish publishers continue to make big splashes in the genre; Pyr is trucking along and ended the year with great news – they are bringing James Barclay’s Raven novels to the US. These are very solid heroic fantasy novels in the David Gemmell vein. Not to be outdone, Orbit Books has made a considerable impact since its US debut in 2007. Orbit has been bringing Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels back into print and ended their publishing year with Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy, publishing the three books in successive months. Tor keeps trucking along, as do the other major publishers (Roc/Ace, DAW, Harper/Eos, Del Rey, and BantamSpectra). Smaller presses are growing and their books are looking terrific – NightShade Books and Subterranean Press have produced great limited editions; solid anthologies; and important & well regarded reprints.

As for favorite, this is a tough one because many of the publishers published interesting books in 2008. Pyr has been impressing me a lot in the past few years, but slightly newer (at least in the US) is Orbit Books who has been publishing a very diverse group of authors and keeping a relatively updated Web presence has impressed me the most in 2008.

Favorite Short Story Collections/Anthologyies Read in 2008

John Joseph Adams released three anthologies, two of which I read and were outstanding. Both are reprint anthologies and will likely stand as benchmarks and seminal anthologies in the respective subgenres. Wastelands is an awesome anthology of apocalyptic proportions. Here’s what I said about it:

Post-apocalyptic stories have long been a popular subset of Science Fiction and Fantasy. From short stories to novels to movies to television shows, the milieu of a people trying to cope with a world after the collapse of civilization has proven fertile ground for writer’s and reader’s imaginations for many years. In this collection, John Joseph Adams, long time editor at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction gathers some of the pre-eminent storytellers and their visions of a devastated world in this admirable collection. The introduction by John Joseph Adams sets the mood and tone for the collection, going into greater detail upon the subgenre.
With 85% of the stories working not just well, but extremely well for me, I can’t help but give this collection the highest recommendation. I think this will be a cornerstone for most reader’s shelves.

The Living Dead tackles Zombies and is just as solid:
Like his Wastelands anthology respective to post-apocalyptic fiction, Adams has culled together a massive amount (34 in total) number of stories on Zombies. To call this volume anything other than must have would be selling it short, the stories range a great number of years and capture many unique voices on one of the seminal images and iconic characters of Horror fiction and is something I know I’ll be pulling down every Hallowe’en. This impressive, massive anthology would make a great gift to give by the light of the Jack o’ Lantern.

Although Fragile Things was two years old by the time I got to it, Gaiman’s short stories still worked magnificently for me, especially the award-winning A Study in Emerald

David Weber’s Worlds of Weber retrospective was pretty good, too and works (as it did for me) as a great introduction to his work.

Favorite Author Whose Work I Revisited

Jack McDevitt. I went through a spate a few years ago where I read a good four or five of his novels, but nothing since. In that time, he won an award and published a slew of new novels. Most recently was The Devil’s Eye. That was the only book I read from him last year, but it reminded me that I really need to catch up with those books he published in the past few years.
Jack McDevitt returns with an all new novel featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath, the heroes of McDevitt’s 2006 Nebula Award Winning novel, Seeker. Though I’ve read a good portion of McDevitt’s output, The Devil’s Eye is the first book I’ve read by him in quite a while (having enjoyed most of his other novels, particularly Moonfall) and the first I’m reading to feature Benedict and Kolpath. Like the earlier Alex Benedict novels, The Devil’s Eye is a science fiction/mystery hybrid. The Alex Benedict novels are set approximately 10,000 years in our future, with humanity having spread across the galaxy encountering intelligent alien species. This other species, Ashyyur, is feared by humanity at large both for the tall appearance, lack of true speaking voice, and ability to read minds. Benedict is a dealer in archaeological antiquities, which serves to connect with the reader in that Benedict shows a predilection for 20th Century antiquities. The far-future setting also is quite recognizable as human, except on a galactic scale.

Most Disappointing Reads of 2008

Three books didn’t work for me that I had high hopes for when I began reading them last year. Each book disappointed me for different reasons, though.

Thunderer by Felix Gilman came out late enough in 2007 to really be considered a 2008 book, and it just didn’t work for me. I had relatively high hopes for it because people whose taste I often trust had good things to say about the book. The book wasn’t really bad, but it just didn’t click with me and may be one of those books I try at a later date.

Empress by Karen Miller was the other major reading disappointment of 2008 for me. The first, I don’t know, quarter of the book was pretty gripping. I was in synch with what Miller was trying to do in building up what amounts to an Evil Empress. The character, Hekat, was engaging. However, something really turned the bend for me in both the character of Hekat and the story itself. I began hating her, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a main character. That hate very quickly turned into outright annoyance, which spread from Hekat to the whole story.

Juggler of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner was disappointing, too. I really enjoyed, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed, Fleet of Worlds by the same duo. The sequel really missed the mark for me and didn’t capture what I enjoyed about the first one.

So what’s more a frustrating disappointing read? Expectations based on other’s recommendations, a book just losing everything that made it good for a small early portion, or a disappointing sequel not living up to its predecessor?

OK, I think I’ve covered it all, in terms of books read. I will, most likely, remember something a few days after posting this, though.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier - Review @ SFFWorld

Joshua Palmatier’s debut novel, The Skewed Throne hit shelves in hardcover in 2006 amidst a number of other debut novels (Hal Duncan, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Naomi Novik, and David Louis Edelman). At least at the SFFWorld forums and from some of the folks on my blogroll, it seems Palmatier’s novel was a bit overlooked. Shame because the book is engaging, pretty tightly plotted, and evocative. I posted my review of it yesterday:

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Varis, a young street urchin living in the Dredge – the down and dingy slum of Palmatier’s secondary world. Think Lankhmar but not as clean or Crime Alley from Batman’s Gotham City with a subtle hint of magic. Palmatier’s use of the first person narrative is engaging and utilizes a spare sensibility; no overly descriptive passages just a blunt yet evocative relaying of information directly from Varis. This combined with Varis’s overall believability, honesty, and sympathetic aura make for an engaging read throughout.

At the age of eleven, after spending five years in the Dredge, Varis’s talents bring the attention of The Skewed Throne and one of its Guardsmen, Erick, who recruits her as an assistant assassin/knife for hire. As a guardsman, Erick is tasked with dispensing the Mistress’s justice; in other words, killing those who the Mistress of Amenkor deems unfit to continue living. Varis’s years on the street and her ability to see the “grey” (innocent) and “red” (guilty) aspects of people make her eminently suitable as Erick’s assistant. Varis realizes those she is told to kill aren’t “red” and she begins to question Erick and the Mistress. Her disillusionment leads her to Borund, a wealthy merchant who hires her as his personal bodyguard.
Mark posted the second part of SFFWorld’s 2008 Round up, which focuses on Science Fiction and media. Once again Aidan of A Dribble of Ink, Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Ken of the Nethspace, and Pat from the Hotlist all participated. I’ll be posting my own year-ender later this week.

Neil Gaiman shows off some of Andy Kubert’s raw pencil work from their upcoming Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? To say (again) that I'm excited to read this is an understatement.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 01/04/2009)

The first Books in the Mail of 2009 arrives, and with it just one book. As I’ve intimated in the past, I can’t possibly read all of the books publishers send to me for review, so these posts are my next best attempt at discussing them and at the very least not ignoring those books.

Midwinter by Matthew Sturges (Pyr Trade Paperback 3/24/2009). Sturges has been making a good name for himself the past few years in comic book circles, co writing Jack of Fables and The House of Mystery with Bill Willingham among other well-received titles. This, his first novel, sounds pretty interesting.

Mauritaine was a war hero, a captain in the Seelie Army. Then he was accused of treason and sentenced to life without parole at Crere Sulace, a dark and ancient prison in the mountains, far from the City Emerald. But now the Seelie Queen – Regina Titania herself – has offered him one last chance to redeem himself, an opportunity to regain his freedom and his honor.

Unfortunately, it’s a suicide mission, which is why only Mauritaine and the few prisoners he trusts enough to accompany him, would even dare attempt it: Raieve, beautiful and harsh, an emissary from a foreign land caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; Perrin Alt, Lord Silverdun, a nobleman imprisoned as a result of political intrigues so Byzantine that not even he understands them; and Brian Satterly, a human physicist, apprehended searching for the human victims of the faery changeling trade.