Sunday, June 30, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-06-29)

Here's the weekly batch of review books I received for the final week of June, 2013.

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla (Tor Hardcover 06/25/2013) – This novel was a bestseller in the author’s native Israel and won the Geffen Award (An annual literary award given by the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy) in 2005.

As an epilogist, Ben Mendelssohn appreciates an unexpected ending. But when that denouement is the untimely demise of his beloved wife, Ben is incapable of coping. Marian was more than his life partner; she was the fiber that held together all that he is. And Ben is willing to do anything, even enter the unknown beyond, if it means a chance to be with her again.

One bullet to the brain later, Ben is in the Other World, where he discovers a vast and curiously secular existence utterly unlike anything he could have imagined: a realm of sprawling cities where the deceased of every age live an eternal second life, and where forests of family trees are tended by mysterious humans who never lived in the previous world. But Ben cannot find Marian.

Desperate for a reunion, he enlists an unconventional afterlife investigator to track her down, little knowing that his search is entangled in events that continue to unfold in the world of the living. It is a search that confronts Ben with one heart-rending shock after another; with the best and worst of human nature; with the resilience and fragility of love; and with truths that will haunt him through eternity.

The Wizard’s Mask (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Ed Greenwood (Paizo Mass Market Paperback 07/02/2013) – Legendary game designer (Forgotten Realms) and writer Ed Greenwood plays in the growing sandbox of Golarian for the fine folks at Paizo/Pathfinder.

Into the Shattered Tomb

In the war-torn lands of Molthune and Nirmathas, where rebels fight an endless war of secession against an oppressive military government, the constant fighting can make for strange alliances. Such is the case for the man known only as The Masked, the victim of a magical curse that forces him to hide his face, and an escaped halfling slave named Tantaerra. Thrown together by chance, the two fugitives find themselves conscripted by both sides of the conflict and forced to search for a magical artifact that could help shift the balance of power and end the bloodshed for good. But in order to survive, the thieves will first need to learn the one thing none of their adventures have taught them: how to trust each other.

From New York Times bestselling author and legendary game designer Ed Greenwood comes a new adventure of magic, monsters, and unlikely friendships, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

The Godborn (A Forgotten Realms: The Sundering novel) by Paul S. Kemp (Wizards of the Coast Hardcover 10/01/2013) – The Sundering is a world-shattering campaign-wide event in The Forgotten Realms and Mr. Kemp is slated for the second installment which features his hallmark character Erevis Cale..

In the 2nd book of the multi-author Sundering series, the shadow legacy of Erevis Cale lives on even as his old foe Mephistopheles seeks to stamp it out at any cost. Cale’s son Vasen—unmoored in time by the god Mask—has thus far been shielded from the archdevil’s dark schemes, alone among the servants of the Lord of Light who have raised him since birth.

Living in a remote abbey nestled among the Thunder Peaks of Sembia, Vasen is haunted by dreams of his father, trapped in the frozen hell of Cania. He knows the day will come when he must assume his role in the divine drama unfolding across Faerûn. But Vasen knows not what that role should be . . . or whether he is ready to take it on. He only knows what his father tells him in dreams—that he must not fail.

Enter Drasek Riven, a former compatriot of Erevis Cale, now near divine and haunted by dreams of his own—he too knows the time to act is near. Shar, the great goddess of darkness, looks to cast her shadow on the world forever. Riven has glimpsed the cycle of night she hopes to complete, and he knows she must be stopped.

At the crossroads of divine intrigue and mortal destiny, unlikely heroes unite to thwart the powers of shadow and hell, and the sundering of worlds is set on its course.

Before the Fall (Rojan Dizon Book Two) by Francis Knight (Orbit Trade Paperback 06/18/2013) – Sequel to Knight’s interesting debut novel Fade to Black, which I read and enjoyed earlier in the year.


Rojan Dizon just wants to keep his head down. But his worst nightmare is around the corner.

With the destruction of their power source, his city is in crisis: riots are breaking out, mages are being murdered, and the city is divided. But Rojan's hunt for the killers will make him responsible for all-out anarchy. Either that, or an all-out war.

And there's nothing Rojan hates more than being responsible.

The fantastic follow-up to FADE TO BLACK!

The Goliath Stone by Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington (Tor Hardcover 06/25/2013) – Niven continues to collaborate with relatively young and new writers. This one is a near future SF thriller. .

Doctor Toby Glyer has effected miracle cures with the use of nanotechnology. But Glyer’s controversial nanites are more than just the latest technological advance, they are a new form of life—and they have more uses than just medical. Glyer’s nanites also have the potential to make everyone on Earth rich from the wealth of asteroids.

Twenty-five years ago, the Briareus mission took nanomachinery out to divert an Earth-crossing asteroid and bring it back to be mined, only to drop out of contact as soon as it reached its target. The project was shut down and the technology was forcibly suppressed.

Now, a much, much larger asteroid is on a collision course with Earth—and the Briareus nanites may be responsible. While the government scrambles to find a solution, Glyer knows that their only hope of avoiding Armageddon lies in the nanites themselves. On the run, Glyer must track down his old partner, William Connors, and find a way to make contact with their wayward children.

As every parent learns, when you produce a new thinking being, the plans it makes are not necessarily your plans. But with a two-hundred-gigaton asteroid that rivals the rock that felled the dinosaurs hurtling toward Earth, Glyer and Connors don’t have time to argue. Will Glyer’s nanites be Earth's salvation or destruction?

The Companions (A Forgotten Realms: The Sundering novel) by R.A. Salvatore (Wizards of the Coast Hardcover 08/06/2013) – Who better to start off The Sundering, the world-shattering campaign-wide event of The Forgotten Realms than their biggest author.

“The Companions is the best novel [R.A.] Salvatore has ever written. It’s insanely courageous, profoundly powerful, masterfully constructed, and easily Salvatore’s most ambitious work to date.”—Paul Goat Allen,

“After a quarter of a century, R.A. Salvatore just keeps getting better and better, and The Companions is another masterful leap forward for one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time.”
—Philip Athans, best-selling author of Annihilation and The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff

This latest installment in New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore's beloved fantasy saga, The Companions moves Salvatore's signature hero Drizzt into a new era of the Forgotten Realms. As Drizzt's fate hangs in the balance, he reflects on the lives of the trusted allies who stood by his side throughout his early life—the friends now known as the Companions of the Hall. Meanwhile, the first stirrings of the Sundering begin.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Recent Reviews & Interviews at SFFWorld: Ryan, Decker, Matheson & Pacific Rim

The SFFWorld Blog (and reinvigorated SFFWorld main site) have seen a flurry of new content posted over the past couple of weeks, some reviews from Mark and me, plus a new interview.

Earlier in the week, I posted my review to what is likely to be the most impressive debut fantasy novel of 2013, Anthony Ryan's Blood Song:

Much of the novel follows the growth of Vaelin from a blank slate of a young child to a hardened warrior trained by the Order in the art of war and combat. Vaelin distinguishes himself early, gaining the respect of his peers and making close ties with a handful of boys, much like (I assume) soldiers would bond during their military training. Vaelin comes to think of these peers as his brothers, Barkus, Caenis, Dentos, and Nortah. The bonds of trust and respect that develop between these young men are strengths of Ryan’s narrative on full display throughout the novel. One writer I’ve always felt who handles such bonds of friendship between youthful characters is Stephen King (The Body, Hearts in Atlantis, for example) and here, Ryan captures that bond just as powerfully.
Ryan’s style is somewhat relaxed and paced extremely well. I was lulled into the novel with Ryan’s almost conversational tone which kept me reading as the strength of the narrative’s power clung to me very strongly. The framing device, a chronicler hearing the legend of the man from the legend himself, utilized allows for an unreliability to set in as the novel progressed. Questions the historian Someren asks don’t exactly match with the narrative it seems Vaelin is telling in the framed sections of the novel. Unreliable narrators work best when this unreliability comes through subtly, and like Rothfuss and Gene Wolfe before him, Ryan pulls off this balance quite well.

I read and loved James K. Decker's The Burn Zone earlier in the year and it will likely go down as a top SF read for me this year.  As such (and with a pending Author Roundtable with him, T.C. McCarthy and a yet unnamed author).  Here's the link to the interview:

For folks who are on the fence about reading The Burn Zone what would you tell them to push them over the edge to read the book?

As a science fiction fan, I feel like not enough science fiction attempts to go out a little bit on a limb. My editor informed me that The Burn Zone was totally different from anything they had in the works when release time came – I wasn’t sure if that was meant as a good thing or if they were nervous about it, but I am a science fiction fan, and I love works that make an effort to be different. There is violence in The Burn Zone to be sure, and yes, there are aircar chases and action sequences, but underneath all that is the story of real people with real world problems that matter. Come out and join me on the limb, it will totally hold us all.

Mark posted a review of the classic (and IMHO, the best modern) vampire novel I am Legend by the late Richard Matheson:

The story is pretty straightforward. Starting in (a future) 1976, the story concerns itself with Robert Neville, the last surviving human in a world of vampires. Every night his barricaded house in Los Angeles is surrounded by vampires who wish to claim him and spend their time shouting at him to come out. His days are spent repairing the damage from the previous night, collecting provisions and trying to find a cure for the mysterious vampire illness that seems to have appeared almost overnight. As the book develops, Neville realises that he must find a cure if he is to survive.

Surprisingly to me, I hadn’t realised when I first read it that this was Matheson’s first published novel. Though he went on to write Hell House and The Incredible Shrinking Man, as well as scripts for The Twilight Zone and films, for a first book this is startlingly frank - a dark and angry novel. Though not perfect, for a debut novel it is stunning. The prose is stark, simple and yet effective. It is a masterwork of the minimal, one of those books that says more by saying less, bluntly and directly.

Mark also had a look at the behind-the-scenes / art book for the forthcoming film, Pacific Rim: Man, Machines, & Monsters:

This book shows that he clearly enjoyed the experience. The robots, monsters, cities, boats and other vehicles from the film are all shown here in various guises, in quite some detail. Although there’s the odd film picture, the book also shows a lot of obligatory behind the scenes photos of the film’s quite colossal production.

To the book itself, then. Presumably like the film, it is a lavish production – quality stock, lots of full-colour pictures throughout, and some lovely big versions that would look terrific framed. The attention to detail is very pleasing. The book has lots of little items stuck into the book throughout, that the inner fanboy/girl will love. There’s posters in an envelope at the back, Jaeger stickers, alien diagram pullouts, identity cards, blueprints of all the main robots, a page from Guillermo’s notebook. It’s the sort of thing you can imagine being paraded proudly in the school playground, although the reader may find them a little fiddly and annoying, even when they look great.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Random TV thoughts, Under the Dome, Defiance, and Arrow

There’s been a relatively decent uptick in quality televised SFFH over the past few months, hell the past few years. Of course HBO is king right now with Game of Thrones, AMC has The Walking Dead, FX has American Horror Story, among other shows on other networks. Last year NBC’s Awake was an interesting and too-smart-and-ambitious-for-its-own good drama of a man’s life in two worlds, BBC America got into the mix with original programming this past year with the phenomenal Orphan Black, while the SyFy network has tried for years (with very mixed results at best), since Battlestar Galactica to get more serious-minded SF* on their channel, and every year the networks try and usually fail with shows not going more than one season, i.e. Terra Nova).

*Don't get me wrong, my wife and I adored Eureka and were very, very sad to see it leave the airwaves but that was a much lighter version of SF than BSG

This past Sunday, CBS’s latest effort is an adaptation of Stephen King’s massive novel Under the Dome (a novel met with a very lukewarm response upon publication). But they enlisted some folks with proven experience for this thing: Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer, Niels Arden Oplev (director of the Danish/original film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Brian K. Vaughn (writer of the Y: The Last Man one of the most acclaimed SF comics/graphic novels of the past decade, writer on Lost) and it features Dean Norris, a recognized and respected character actor most recently known as Hank Schraeder on Breaking Bad and character actor Jeff Fahey. So, with that pedigree it seems a shoe-in to succeed, right? I haven’t read the book, though the fine folks at have indicated changes from the book (some spoilers in that article). After having watched the first episode, I will at the very least be tuning into the second episode. The first episode established the characters to a good enough extent that I want to learn more about most of them, the premise of the town trapped under the dome is well-established when it slices a cow in half, cuts off a woman’s arm, a truck crashes into it and the final scene of the episode showing helicopters flying above the dome. Right now, this thing is set for 13 episodes and they are off to a very good start.

Monday nights on SyFy has been their big night for original programming for a couple of years. Specifically, ever since they eschewed original programming on Friday nights for WWE SmackDown! SyFy is such a hit or miss (20% Hit/80% Miss if I’m being generous since I'm not a fan of reality programming), but their latest venture is quite impressive. Defiance is a multimedia experience, the television show and video game released nearly simultaneously and the game is supposedly going to affect the TV show. I’m not concerned about the game itself (which does look fun, I’ve got to admit) but the show itself. Basically, Earth is now refuge to a slew of alien races (collectively known as the Votans) and part of the Earth was changed when alien technology, during our war against those aliens upon initial discovery, accidentally terraformed the planet. War was halted and now these alien races and humans attempt to coexist on the world, specifically in St. Louis where the show takes place now known as Defiance.

One of the folks responsible for this show is Rockne S. O’Bannon, a name fans of genre TV should know – he wrote the film/TV show AlienNation, episodes of Amazing Stories and the first Twilight Zone revival in 1985 and perhaps my favorite SF show of all time FarScape. Long time Star Trek writer Michael Taylor is also involved. On the acting side of things, Grant Bowler (perhaps best known for a run on True Blood and a small stint on Lost), Oscar-nominated actor Graham Greene, and Julie Benz (Buffy, Angel, and Dexter) are probably the most prominent acotrs, with Bear McCreary providing the music. Again, good ingredients, but do they mix well together? 10 episodes in, I’d have to say yes, things are moving along pretty well.

The first couple of episodes felt familiar as the show blatantly exuded a Firefly vibe since the transformed Earth evoked a similar Frontier/Western setting. Of course, Firefly took place on colony planets and in space and included no alien life. In that respect, Defiance bears a more striking resemblance to FarScape with the variety of alien life and the fact that Earth is only barely recognizable. In our primary male protagonist, Joshua Nolan (portrayed by Grant Bowler), we’ve got a guy who is a fair enough melding of Malcolm Reynolds and John Crichton; he's a veteran of the war and has some rough edges. Nolan is appointed the lawman of Defiance in the first episode and his adopted alien daughter Irisa and becomes Nolan’s deputy. Julie Benz is the newly elected Mayor, and Graham Green plays Rafe McCawley (miner and one of the most prominent human characters).

Two things help to distinguish the plots and overall story of the show, from my perspective. The first is the setting. While Earth in the future, the city is St. Louis whereas these things often take place on either of the large Coastal Cities of NY or LA. The terraforming has transformed Earth enough that the creatures, races and landscape is alien enough for these characters to be wary when venturing to far outside of their familiar confines. The second is just how powerful, proactive, and prominent the female characters are. Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater is the current mayor, who replaced previous mayor Nicolette "Nicky" Riordan (portrayed by genre mainstay Fionnula Flanagan). Although one of the prominent alien (the albino Castithan) families, the Tarr, is headed up by Datak and he’s the public face of the family, the one who is pulling the strings just as powerfully is his wife Stahma. Mayor Rosewater’s sister Kenya (Mia Kirshner) owns a brothel/bar has a significant role of power in Defiance.
As the series has progressed over the course of the first 10 episodes, the writers have made it easy to empathize with most of the characters and are not overloading the viewer with heavy sets of back-story. Rather, each episode reveals enough about the characters, the world-building/history of this future earth that a nice balance is struck. With each episode, it becomes clear that not all characters are safe even if not not exactly to GRRM levels of schadenfreude. 

In short, I'm hooked and the show is pretty much appointment-television for me right now.

The last show I’ll mention is Arrow, the CW’s latest modern interpretation of a DC Comics character. I've read some Green Arrow comics (specifically, the Kevin Smith relaunch of the character and the Andy Diggle/Jock Year One storyline which informs this show, as well as comics featuring GA like Justice League) over the years, the comic book series/character upon which the show is based so I don’t have a full allegiance to the minutia of the character’s mythology. After one season, I’m very hooked on this show. Sure there’s a formula that around the 45 minute mark of the show, the villain or plot is resolved. Through one season, though, the writers have managed to filter in enough of a second storyline detailing Oliver Queen’s time shipwrecked on an island where he was during a five year absence when he was presumed dead. The writers are mixing in nice bits of DC Comics mythology (Deathstroke the Terminator, sidekick Speedy, Ferris Aircraft of Green Lantern lore), twisting the hero’s mythology a bit (playing with arch-enemy Merlyn the archer) to make a fun weekly TV watching experience. I wasn’t familiar with Steven Amell, the actor portraying Oliver, but I did know Paul Blackthorne (who portrayed Harry Dresden on the SyFy series of the same name) as Detective Lance, a foil for the vigilante Oliver and John Barrowman* (Doctor Who and Torchwood) as Malcolm Merlyn the Big Bad of season one and father to Oliver’s best friend Tommy Merlyn, Alex Kingston (Doctor Who and ER) as Lance’s estranged wife, and even naming Oliver's bodyguard, security head Diggle in honor of writer Andy Diggle. 

The show has the hallmarks of a CW show in that the cast is a mostly Young Beautiful People and the aforementioned resolution of the villain of the week at the 43 minute mark. The first season was a lot of fun, and I kept saying it was a lot better than I thought it would be or had any right to be. I just hope it doesn’t pull a Smallville and crap all over itself before it goes away.

*My only real issue with the show is that while I like Barrowman, he seems far too young to have a son in his mid-twenties.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book in the Mail (W/E 2013-06-22)

Just one book this week and it comes from the fine folks at Tor

This River Awakens by Steven Erikson (Tor Trade Paperback 07/09/2013) – Trade reissue of Erikson’s very first novel originally written under the name Steve Lundin

In the spring of 1971, Owen Brand and his family move to the riverside town of Middlecross in a renewed attempt to escape poverty. For twelve-year-old Owen, it's the opportunity for a new life and an end to his family's isolation. He quickly falls in with a gang of three local boys and forms a strong bond with Jennifer, the rebellious daughter of a violent, alcoholic father. As summer brings release from school, two figures preside over the boys' activities: Walter Gribbs, a benign old watchman at the yacht club, and Hodgson Fisk, a vindictive farmer tormented by his past. Then the boys stumble on a body washed up on the riverbank—a discovery whose reverberations will result, as the year comes full circle, in a cataclysm that envelops them all….

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-06-15)

Two physical books arrived with a third arriving on kindle this week’s edition of Books in the Mail

Wisp of a Thing (The Tufa Novels #2) by Alex Bledsoe (Tor Hardcover 06/18/2013) – Second in a modern fantasy combining music, mountain ranges, and magic.

Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews. Now with Wisp of a Thing Bledsoe returns to the isolated ridges and hollows of the Smoky Mountains to spin an equally enchanting tale of music and magic older than the hills….

Touched by a very public tragedy, musician Rob Quillen comes to Cloud County, Tennessee, in search of a song that might ease his aching heart. All he knows of the mysterious and reclusive Tufa is what he has read on the internet: they are an enigmatic clan of swarthy, black-haired mountain people whose historical roots are lost in myth and controversy. Some people say that when the first white settlers came to the Appalachians centuries ago, they found the Tufa already there. Others hint that Tufa blood brings special gifts.

Rob finds both music and mystery in the mountains. Close-lipped locals guard their secrets, even as Rob gets caught up in a subtle power struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. A vacationing wife goes missing, raising suspicions of foul play, and a strange feral girl runs wild in the woods, howling in the night like a lost spirit.

Change is coming to Cloud County, and only the night wind knows what part Rob will play when the last leaf falls from the Widow’s Tree…and a timeless curse must be broken at last.

“This beautifully handled drama of Appalachian music and magic once again comes complete with fascinating characters, a persuasive setting and intriguing complications. Bledsoe’s on a roll.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Wisp of a Thing

(Legends of the Duskwalker #1) by Jay Posey (Angry Robot Hardcover 07/30/2013) – A post-apoclyptic debut from the fine folks at Angry Robot. Eye catching cover on this one.

The world has collapsed, and there are no heroes any more.
But when a lone gunman reluctantly accepts the mantel of protector to a young boy and his dying mother against the forces that pursue them, a hero may yet arise.

File Under: Science Fiction [Three For All | Apocalyptic Wasteland | A Journey Home | Fear the Weir]

Requiem (The Psalms of Isaak [Volume 4 of 5]) by Ken Scholes (Tor Hardcover 06/18/2013) – The fourth installment of Scholes fantasy series hits shelves. I have the first installment on my kindle and have had this series on the back burner to read for a while since reading the short story, Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise, which is (I think) a precursor to this series.

Ken Scholes’s debut novel, Lamentation, was an event in fantasy. Heralded as a “mesmerizing debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and a “vividly imagined SF-fantasy hybrid set in a distant, postapocalyptic future” by Booklist, the series gained many fans. It was followed by Canticle and Antiphon. Now comes the fourth book in The Psalms of Isaak, Requiem.

Who is the Crimson Empress, and what does her conquest of the Named Lands really mean? Who holds the keys to the Moon Wizard’s Tower?

The plots within plots are expanding as the characters seek their way out of the maze of intrigue. The world is expanding as they discover lands beyond their previous carefully controlled knowledge. Hidden truths reveal even deeper truths, and nothing is as it seemed to be.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SFFWorld Review Round up - Stephen King, T.C. McCarthy, and Seth Patrick

We've got some new reviews over at the SFFWorld Blog!  Two from Mark, one from me. I'll do this alphabetically by author last name, which leads us to Mark's review of Joyland by the great Stephen King:

By using evocative language and vivid imagery on the cover (shocked red-headed girl in a green outfit), Stephen’s made sure that readers are aware that it’s a pastiche. It’s meant to have the tone and physical properties of a cheap pulp novel from the 1950’s, although as it’s from Stephen, the style and intelligence of the plot elevate it a little from those potboilers of yesteryear.

With such elements in mind, the plot’s pretty simple. It’s a coming of age tale, a story of a young man (Devin Jones), with a broken heart, who takes on a summer vacation job in Heaven’s Bay at a rather seedy and run-down amusement park called Joyland. There’s an old tale of murder (for what old Amusement Park doesn’t have a tale of murder in its shadows?), and Devin has to deal with some hard and deep life-truths along the way. There’s also a touch of psychic prediction - “There’s a shadow over you”, the fortune teller Madame Fortuna tells Devin – which is reminiscent of other King tales, although much of the beginning of the book is Devin working through the summer, learning the carny ‘Talk’, nursing his destroyed ego and making new friends before deciding that he likes the carny life. He decides to stop on instead of going to college, which means that he stays at Joyland after the main summer season, as the park begins to wind down to season closure and refurbishment.

Yesterday, I reviewed Chimera, the concluding installment of T.C. McCarthy's superb Military Science Fiction series, The Subterrene War:

Bleak, dirty, confined, stressful, uncomfortable… these words only begin to hint at the type of story McCarthy tells in Chimera, the concluding volume of the trilogy. Keeping these rather unpleasant themes together was the compelling power of McCarthy’s narrative. In Chimera, Stan is our first person narrator and the angst he feels throughout the novel is palpable. He resents his wife, he initially blames himself for his old partner’s death, and he hates the germline soldiers (genetically engineered super soldiers) most of all. Stan immediately dislikes his new partner whom who Stan gives a racially derogatory nickname/callsign of Chong. About the only characters with which he gets along are his wife’s son (who is the result of an affair with a nameless man from the factory where the genetically engineered soldiers are created) and the artificial intelligence housed in his body armor, Kristen.

When ‘out’ of the theater of war, at home, or in civilian life, Stan, like all citizens, is constantly monitored. He is unable to have any private discussion with his estranged wife and only when he is in the deepest, least civilized sections of the jungles does Stan come close to feeling unsurveilled. This ratchets up the paranoia level and the theme of no privacy is something the great Philip K. Dick returned to often in his fiction.

Over the weekend, Mark posted his review of Seth Patrick's debut, Reviver, one of the best debuts he's read in a while:

Wow. I wasn’t expecting this one to be that good. But it draws you in from the rather visceral and very chilling first chapter. Reading like a TV series script (and admittedly, it would make a great TV series), the reader is soon getting to know Jonah, his soon-to-be-retiring boss, Sam Deering, Jonah’s reviver colleagues and his friends as he tries to uncover the big conspiracy. They develop into characters the reader is interested in and then concerned about, using the idea of ‘What-if?’ and applying it to the logical consequences within a contemporary time-frame. It’s fast, surprisingly accessible and easy to read, and was a difficult-to-put-down novel in the first thirty pages. Whilst the ideas aren’t that new, the way they’re written is engaging and exciting. Most of all, the majority of the decisions the characters make and the actions they take are sensible and logical, although it does go a little ‘action-hero’ at the end.

This one really worked for me. The set-up’s great, the characters are likeable and easily differentiated. Though we do drag in the odd cliché along the way, there’s enough new revelation as well to make the story work.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-06-08)

As a reviewer for SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog and maybe because of this blog, I receive a lot of books for review from various publishers. Since I can't possibly read everything that arrives, I figure the least I can do (like some of my fellow bloggers) is mention the books I receive for review on the blog to at least acknowledge the books even if I don't read them.

Sometimes I get one or two books, other weeks I'll get nearly a dozen books. Some weeks, I’ll receive a finished (i.e. the version people see on bookshelves) copy of a book for which I received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) weeks or months prior to the actual publication of the book. I’ve been receiving a greater percentage of electronic ARCs this year which is good because death via drowning in a sea of unread books is not how I want to say goodbye to this world.

Sometimes I'll want to read everything that arrives, other weeks, the books immediately go into the "I'll never read this book" pile, while still others go into the nebulous "maybe-I'll-read-it-category." More often than not, it is a mix of books that appeal to me at different levels (i.e. from "this book holds ZERO appeal for me" to "I cannot WAIT to read this book yesterday"). Have a guess in the comments about which book fits my reading labels “I’ll Never Read…” “Zero Appeal” or “cannot wait” "maybe I'll get to it later" and so forth...

Here's the rundown of what arrived either in the mailbox, in front of my garage (where most packages from USPS and UPS are placed) or on my doorstep...

Parasite ( (Parasitology Trilogy #1) by Mira Grant (Orbit Hardcover 10/29/2013) – Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) is ‘promoted’ to her first hardcover release for this new novel which launches a near future sf thriller trilogy. I’m very much looking forward to reading this one.

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives... and will do anything to get them.

Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #4) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor Hardcover 01/22/2013) – The writing machine that is a man releases another (seventh overall) in this series and fourth in this specific sub-sequence

The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule, which is key to Bhayar’s ambition to unite all of Solidar. Joined by his pregnant wife Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers deeper into the hostile lands once held by the tyrannical Rex Kharst, facing stiff-necked High Holders, attacks by land and sea—including airborne fire launched by hostile imagers from the land of Antiago—and a mysterious order of powerful women who seem to recognize the great destiny that awaits Quareyt and Vaelora, as well as the cost of achieving it.

The Thousand Names (Book One ofThe Shadow Campaigns) by Django Wexler (Roc Hardcover 07/02/2013) – Wexler’s debut continues the trend of Flintlock Fantasy being seen in epic fantasy of late.

Enter an epic fantasy world that echoes with the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel — but where the real battle is against a subtle and sinister magic…

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder-smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men, and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

But the fates of both of these soldiers, and all the men they lead, depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning.

But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural — a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Orphan Black (BBC America) Season One

A young woman, Sarah, is waiting for a train on a train-station flat. She notices a well-dressed woman staring listlessly ahead as the new woman carefully places her briefcase on the ground and removes her shoes. When the silent woman’s face is revealed, Sarah is shocked to find her doppelgänger. Even more shocking is that this silent woman jumps in front of a train and commits suicide. Sarah eventually grabs the woman’s belongings and soon adopts the dead woman’s identity. Were the story to follow just the assumed identity scenario, it could be interesting enough. However, Orphan Black is about much more than that (cloning, secret organizations), though identity is a very big theme the series covers over the 10 well-written, greatly-acted, and smartly directed episodes of the first season.

What Sarah soon learns, in her attempt to secure a boat load of cash from her deceased look-alike in order to live with her daughter free of her sorted past, is that she is a clone. The woman’s whose identity she assumed, Beth Childs, was a police officer forcing the street punk Sarah to make a 180-degree turn from lawbreaker to law-enforcer. 

Orphan Black has a lot going for it, as I intimated in my opening paragraph, but perhaps the strongest thing on this smart show is the acting of Tatiana Maslany. Over the course of the 10 episodes, Maslany seamlessly slips into 7 different roles. Subtlety is the key to her success in pulling off the roles, from the British accented Sarah; to the German-accented Katja; to the Ukraine-accented Helena; to the uptight American/Canadian accented Alison, Beth, and Cosima. In each role Maslany adopts subtle physical traits that make each character unique: with Beth, she carries herself with a bit more relaxed confidence and more like a career-woman; as Helena, she adopts a herky-jerky seemingly un-rhythmic arm and head movement, almost like a caged animal let loose; with Alison, there’s an uptight sense of bottled control in the small steps she takes as she walks and talks.

Sarah is the lead character and the character Maslany seems most comfortable playing, though perhaps the strongest role is the soccer-mom Alison and that may be perhaps because her world is shaken the most. Sarah’s always been on the run adapting to situations as they arise whereas Alison lives in a suburban community with a superficially strong marriage and two adopted children. Cosima is a scientist at heart so she is intrigued by this great experiment and search for truth. In other words, Alison lives a seemingly comfortable, happy life. Meeting her clones and becoming involved in this new world of subterfuge, being watched, and unsure of who she is drives her to breaking points she would otherwise be miles away from encountering.

What’s just as impressive as the many roles Maslany plays is that over the course of the season, the clones try to impersonate each other; Sarah pretending to be Beth; Sarah pretending to be Alison; Alison pretending to be Sarah; and Helena pretending to be Sarah as well as Helena pretending to be Sarah pretending to be Beth.

While Maslany is outstanding, the supporting cast is equally impressive. As the first episode unfolds, we are introduced to characters who will comprise the primary support cast for Sarah. Felix, her flamboyant homosexual artist/prostitute foster-brother with whom Sarah lives; Mrs. S., foster-mother to both Felix and Sarah; Kira, Sarah’s daughter; Art, Beth’s partner in the police force; Paul, Beth’s live-in boyfriend whom Sarah quickly tries to convince she's actually Beth; and Vic, Sarah’s abusive, scumbag ex-boyfriend. The standout among these is Jordan Gavaris as Felix. Throughout the series, he is the person Sarah trusts the most and shares the most screen time with Maslany. The chemistry between these actors is very powerful and this can especially be seen in the scenes featuring only Felix (referred to as Fee by Sarah) and Alison. Paul is probably the character not played by Maslany who goes through the most changes, and logical, plausible changes at that.

As the show progresses, some familiar faces to genre-television watchers come into play: Daniel Kash (Dresden Files, Defiance, Aliens) plays Helena’s ‘handler;’ Eric Johnson (Criminal Minds, Smallville, the abomination that was SyFy’s Flash Gordon) plays one of Alison’s suburbanite friends; and genre mainstay Matt Frewer (The Stand, Max Headroom, Eureka, Watchmen, among many others) plays the popular scientist Aldous Leekie (think Lex Luthor meets Neil deGrasse Tyson).

Like the best science fiction, science is an essential element to the show but doesn’t overshadow the storytelling or characters in any way. Of course cloning is a common trope in SF, but at least in filmed SF, this might be the best and most logical treatment of the inherit problems with clones I've viewed. The clone of Cosima best exemplifies this in her quest throughout the season to learn more about the how and why of herself and her clone-sisters. She’s a university student who becomes involved with Dr. Leekie, one of the leading geneticist in the world. I’m not well-versed enough in the science the show makes so integral to the plot, but it comes across as plausible and well-reasoned. Related to that, the nature/nature argument does arise. We see Alison (prior to learning of her clone nature, becoming “self-aware”) as a normal, well-adjusted person. On the other hand, Sarah and especially Helena are far from well-adjusted functioning members of society. The show doesn’t explicitly say this is what happens when one is brought up in a well-adjusted home (Alison, Cosima because we don’t know much about their past), but the implications to ponder such questions are present. Great SF (and science for that matter) doesn’t always offer the answers, but gives people questions to consider.

Much of SF is male-centric, not so with Orphan Black. Each of the women Maslany portrays has a sense of power over herself, despite being manipulated from outside forces. Sarah and Alison have motherly instincts to protect the family they have, Sarah a drive for independence and making herself better; Cosima is a brilliant student-scientist; Beth was a successful police officer. These roles and their ‘base of power’ as characters does not come as reflection of the men in their lives. Perhaps the most domineering character outside of the clones is Mrs. S., Sarah and Felix’s foster mother. Partially due to Kira, Sarah’s daughter, being taken in by Mrs. S., does Sarah’s foster mother hold so much power. But as we learn more about Mrs. S., she becomes a greater presence in Sarah’s life as source of support and more.

The show takes place primarily in a large North American city and a little searching on the internet places the show in Toronto. The characters barely refer to the city name and the only location blatantly identified is the UK from whence Mrs. S., Felix and Sarah escaped.  Filming in Canada is said to be cheaper than filming in the States and I also think by keeping the Large City a bit generic (rather than not stating it is in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York), it places the idea in the viewers mind that the story can take place in any large city.

BBC America is building a nice base for itself here in the United States of a variety of programs. Of course Doctor Who is their big SF franchise, but with shows like Copper, imports like Luther among others, the network is turning to a very dependable outlet for scripted dramatic television. Because of its low profile (it isn’t AMC, HBO or Showtime), chances may be slim for Tatiana Maslany to receive the great recognition she deserves for the great acting she’s done on the show. Most folks, including myself, who have watched and enjoyed the show (TV critic Alan Sepinwall, Comedian Patton Oswalt) think Maslany should at the very least receive Emmy and/or Golden Globe nominations for her acting. The show pushes the limits of what has been depicted on cable-network television, from the level of violence depicted to how graphic the sex scenes are to the willingness of the writers to simply not hold back in their story. In other words, Orphan Black likely would not have been able to be on networks like USA or even SyFy.

My wife, who tolerates much of the SF I consume took to this show very quickly, it was a show we both enjoyed. Me with my SFF obsessions and her with enjoying simply a good story.

Orphan Black will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD July 16 and is likely available through On Demand on local cable providers.

Highly recommended television.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-06-01)

Just one book this week and it is an electronic complaints because it isn't a bad thing if Mount Toberead doesn't grow for one week.

Hunted (The Iron Druid Chronicles #6) by Kevin Hearne (Del Rey, Mass Market Paperback 11/27/2012) – This is one of my more highly anticipated 2012 releases, not only because my review of Hammered is blurbed don the front, but because I also really enjoyed Hounded, loved it and posted the Hexed. I thought Tricked was good even if it felt a bit like a placeholder. I still have #5 Trapped on Mount Toberead so now seems as good a time as any to catch up with the series. That little blurb on the cover and below happens to be from one of my reviews of one of the books.

“It may be possible that Hearne and Atticus are the logical heir to Butcher and Dresden.”―SFFWorld

For a two-thousand-year-old Druid, Atticus O’Sullivan is a pretty fast runner. Good thing, because he’s being chased by not one but two goddesses of the hunt—Artemis and Diana—for messing with one of their own. Dodging their slings and arrows, Atticus, Granuaile, and his wolfhound Oberon are making a mad dash across modern-day Europe to seek help from a friend of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His usual magical option of shifting planes is blocked, so instead of playing hide-and-seek, the game plan is . . . run like hell.

Crashing the pantheon marathon is the Norse god Loki. Killing Atticus is the only loose end he needs to tie up before unleashing Ragnarok—AKA the Apocalypse. Atticus and Granuaile have to outfox the Olympians and contain the god of mischief if they want to go on living—and still have a world to live in.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne’s novella “Two Ravens and One Crow” in the back of the book.

“An exciting mix of comedy, action, and mythology . . . [Atticus] is one of the best main characters currently present in the urban fantasy genre.”—Fantasy Book Critic, on Tricked

“Superb . . . eminently readable . . . plenty of quips and zap-pow-bang fighting.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review), on Hounded