Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Link-a-Palooza! Locke & Key at Tor Plus More!

Well, the title says it all, doesn't it?  Been a busy week on teh intarwebs for me this week.  Actually, these things were written before this week, but they've gone live now.

Two of my posts went live today.  The first is the second installment of my Locke &; Key re-read, which covers Head Games, the second graphic novel / episode / installment of the dark saga. In this installment, we get our first literal peek inside the heads of some of these characters.

Back to the Head Key—when Bode shows it off to his siblings, they are rightfully horrified since the key opens up the bearer’s head, allowing people to see the person’s thoughts and symbolic memories. Even more bizzarely, the person whose head is open is also able to peer into their own head. The scene inside Bode’s head Rodriguez reveals is truly fascinating.
So the title is a double reference. Obviously, the Head Key is the blatant reference, but the psychological games Zack/Lucas/Dodge is playing with everybody. He warms up to Tyler, sweet talks Kinsey, messes with Duncan’s sanity a bit, and completely mind-fucks Ellie to become a shell of herself and a slave.

My first book review of 2014 is now live, too. Dreamwalker is a slightly different direction for C.S. Friedman, but a successful novel nonetheless. I'm a big fan of her writing and think this book will do very well for her:

Friedman allows the story to breathe a bit and show itself as a riff on the Changeling myth, wherein a human child is replaced with a Fae child. She doesn’t specifically call out the abductors as elves or faeries, but their description as humanoid with tinged skin and oddly shaped eyes makes the comparison logical and easy enough to deduct. In other words, Friedman trusts her readers to parse out these descriptions and come to the comparative conclusion on their own.
First person narrative is a new voice for Friedman, but it works very well and helps to build a great deal of empathy for Jesse’s plight. However, Friedman does occasionally switch to a third-person omniscient point of view to show events from Tommy’s perspective and the perspective of the antagonists. On one hand, this viewpoint switch is a bit of a surprise when following the story from inside Jesse’s head. On the other, it enriches the story and the world, and provided a greater sense of the scope of events in which Jesse and her friends were involved.

Last, but not least, on Tuesday, I posted my review of Ascension, the debut novel from Jacqueline Koyanagi. This is a terrific Space Opera that does many things well. Koyanagi is a bold voice who, I hope, will be publishing SFF for a while to come.

As the novel unfolds, many things are more than they seem and not what one might expect. For starters, the other engineer on the Tangled Axon is possibly a werewolf, or at least a being who can shift between human and canine. Nova’s abilities as a spirit guide are more supernatural in nature than one might expect in a science fictional novel set in space. Parallel worlds exist in this milieu and play a central role in the conflict of the narrative. Romantic relationships aboard the Tangled Axon are not monogamous. The pilot has more in common with Pilot from FarScape than the standard starship pilot one would find in a Space Opera. These elements come together fairly well, which is a testament to Koyanagi’s ability to weave varied story elements together into a cohesive novel.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Your Opinion is Wrong, Mine is Correct

Or alternatively, opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. (Thanks for that one Dad!)

Here’s something you don’t see from me too often on the blog, something of an opinion piece about a genre kerfuffle.Specifically, the latest SFF internet kerfuffle is between Larry Correia  and Jim Hines ((Larry’s first post, Jim’s rebuttal to Larry, and Larry's rebuttal to Jim’s rebuttal), two authors whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past. Their “kerfuffle” was set off by Alex Dally MacFarlane’s Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction post/article at 

(Full disclosure: as anybody who has been visiting my blog knows, I write for and they pay me for that writing).

Now my point here is not to advocate the position of any of those individuals as I see validity in some of the points those individuals make (and quite frankly, I didn't read any of those posts completely but this is a general statement kind of post I'm making). It seems every week a new battle rages about who holds the more correct opinion and when those opinions become divisive, people from the camp A call for the heads of those in Camp B.

What usually happens in these kerfuffle? Specifically here, Larry’s fans flock to his blog supporting him and Jim’s fans flock to his blog supporting him. Are opinions ever changed in these kerfuffles? I really don’t know, but I’m going to guess the opinion conversion rate to be somewhere in the 1% to 3% range. On the other hand, these kerfuffles to help to elevate the various mindsets of the folks who write and enjoy the genre. Sometimes, the two figureheads leading the argument come together for a good cause.  Maybe that will happen here, I don't know.

I’ve also noticed that whenever people express an opinion, those people are often held up as criminals and should be taken to task, and in this case with the writer(s), to the point of their publisher severing ties with the writer.

What? Really? This is something I cannot comprehend. Granted, there is a lot I can’t comprehend, but this is a big one. People are allowed to have opinions, and in any walk of life (writers, comedian, athletes), those opinions can to be large and often divisive. Should people be held accountable for their opinions? To an extent, I suppose.  But it isn't like people are calling for murder or defending criminal thoughts and activities.

When somebody, let’s call them Coffee, is offended by something Tea says, Coffee wants to see Tea stripped of their right to speak, earn a living, and basically exist. Sure words can be hurtful, but when Tea is excoriated and treated like a criminal for expressing an opinion, it just blows my mind. What is more baffling is that often, it is people who are in walk of life where freedom of speech and expression (and by extension, opinion) is a major part of their walk of life, wish to silence the dissenting opinions. 

To me, this is summed up as follows: You can have your own opinion so long as it lines up with my opinion. It happened when Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars and I saw twitter explode with writers just one or two steps removed from calling for his head for telling jokes, some of them funny, some of them in poor taste, some of them just bad. If writers want to be all inclusive about featuring any subject in their fiction, why should any subject be up for being joked about?

I could go off on a tangent and how this relates to sports and athletes, but I think I'll limit this to writers and (briefly) comedians. 

It is with all of that, that I conclude with a quote and link to my pal (and fellow SF Signal contributor) Sarah’s more hopeful, upbeat post:

Hey Fans, You’re Doing It Wrong.

Discussion fosters progress, and I think these discussions that are happening are important. The genre is changing; it is impossible to deny that. Some people will embrace change, and some will reject it. That’s human nature. However, once we start focusing on what divides us rather than unites us, we start losing our way as a genre. 

But as I said in the beginning, this is just an opinion and like everybody else, I have one.

(I’ve also been called an asshole before, so there you go)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-01-25)

Just one book this week, but it looks to be a doozy...

Honor Among Thieves (Empire and Rebellion Volume Two) by James S.A. Corey (Del Rey Hardcover 03/04/2014) – I am a big fan of James S.A. Corey so this book is a no-brainer and will be the first Star Wars book I read in a few years.

Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—writing as James S. A. Corey—make their Star Wars debut in this brand-new epic adventure featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa. The action begins after the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Locke & Key Reread at

I've been sitting on this one for a while now, but I am very thrilled to announce that I am overseeing a re-read of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's fantastic Locke & Key over at  I'll be essentially reviewing the six trades comprising the series.

Welcome to the Locke & Key Reread

Here's the announcement post, and a snapshot from it:

However, one thing becomes quite clear by the end of Welcome to Lovecraft, the first volume of the saga, as uttered by the mysterious being first known as Dodge:
“No. You can’t understand. Because you’re reading the last chapter of something without having read the first chapter. You’re a little guy, Bode. Kids always think they’re coming into a story at the beginning, when they’re usually coming in at the end.”
The series has been drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and even if the two stories are slightly different in the scope, there’s an appreciation for the power of story and imagination in both stories. On numerous occasions, Mr. Hill has pointed to Mr. Gaiman as an influence. Superficially, as the story begins, Hill & Rodriguez lull readers in with two common tropes of the horror genre—the home invasion and the haunted house story. This framework is then used as a launching pad into many dark and fantastic realms through the use of the keys, similar to Sandman’s use of dreams.

The first trade/installment is, of course, Welcome to Lovecraft. So please, go and read along or reread the series with me, won't you?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-01-18)

For the first time in 2014 (and since before Christmas, so nearly a month) that review books have arrived physically on my porch / in my mailbox / in front of my garage or electronically on my Kindle.

The Book of the Crowman (The Black Dawn Volume Two) by Joseph D’Lacey (Angry Robot Books Trade Paperback 02/25/2014) – I read and first loved the installment of this series / duology last year and have been looking forward to see how D’Lacey finished out the story ever since.

It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.

It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward.

The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it.

Blades of the Old Empire (The Majat Code Volume One) by Anna Kashina (Angry Robot Books Trade Paperback 02/25/2014) – First in what looks to be a sword & sorcery / epic fantasy series and damn is that a purty cover.

Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonorable?

Rex Regis (Imager Portfolio #8) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor Hardcover 01/22/2014) – The writing machine that is a man releases another (eigth overall) in this series and fifth in this specific sub-sequence

The saga of the Imager Quaeryt, Commander in the forces of Lord Bhayar, reaches a new climax as the great struggle to unify the continent of Lydar enters its final phase in L.E. Modesitt's Rex Regis, Book 8 in The Imager Portfolio.

Only the land of Khel remains uncommitted to Bhayar’s rule. Their decision could mean a lasting peace, or more conflict across an already war-ravaged realm.

While the conqueror of Bovaria awaits emissaries to arrive with news of Khel’s decision, other weighty matters occupy Bhayar, his sister Velora, and her husband Quaeryt—not the least of which is the fulfillment of Quaeryt's dream to create the world's first Imager academy, where the magical abilities of these powerful casters may be honed, managed, and put to the service of the common good.

But before that dream may be realized, or Khel’s fateful choice made known, the spectre of high treason threatens to unravel all that Quaeryt has achieved, catapulting him toward a fateful confrontation with Bhayar's most powerful military leaders.

Dirty Magic (Book 1 of The Prospero’s War Series) by Jaye Wells (Orbit Books, Paperback 01/21/2014) – The prolific Wells launches a new urban fantasy series.


The Magical Enforcement Agency keeps dirty magic off the streets, but there's a new blend out there that's as deadly as it is elusive. When patrol cop Kate Prospero shoots the lead snitch in this crucial case, she's brought in to explain herself. But the more she learns about the investigation, the more she realizes she must secure a spot on the MEA task force.

Especially when she discovers that their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier - on the same day she swore she'd given up dirty magic for good. Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should never say never.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shadowbridge at SF Signal and Breach Zone and The Martian at SFFWorld

Some new things from me and Mark on the intarwebs....

Last week, my most recent Completist column went up at SF Signal, featuring Gregory Frost's Shadowbridge duology

Stories within stories are one of the greatest tricks in fiction and have been around ever since people have been telling stories. Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge is a fine example of this storytelling method used to great effect. The protagonist is Leodora a storyteller, a shadow-puppeteer who hunts for the stories she tells. In many ways, Leodora is a traditional heroine – she’s an orphan, is mistreated by her caretakers, and eventually runs away. The running away occurs about halfway through the book, but I don’t think this would be a spoiler by any means. Her reputation has grown to become the greatest shadow-puppeteer since Bardsham, who himself has an air of mythology. While the story has the feel of a traditional fairy tale, Frost makes it clear this is no sanitized kiddy tale as the story progresses.

On Tuesday, I posted my review of Myke Cole's third Shadow OPS novel, Breach Zone. This series is great and I can see Breach Zone making to the end of 2014 as one of my favorite books of the year.

Parallels are drawn between Harlequin’s ‘current’ adjustment situation with his past, when he was more of a rookie in the Supernatural Operations Corps and was liaising with the corporation who developed the Limbic Dampener, the drug that allows for greater control of an individual magic. When he and his colleague Crucible visit Channel Corp, they meet with the company’s founder, a dark haired, beautiful woman named Grace. There’s an immediate attraction between Grace and Harlequin and the two soon become lovers. What these “interlude” sections illustrate is multi-layered and compliments the ‘current’ time very well. The seasoned Harlequin and the inexperienced Harlequin both had questions about what they were instructed to do by their higher ups and as a result, things don’t go smoothly for some people involved.
Breach Zone works on many levels; one of which is overriding themes of character evolution in the face of conflict and a globally changing environment. Each of the four primary characters – Britton, Bookbinder, Scylla, and Harlequin are not the same characters they were at the novel’s beginning and more drastically, at their introduction in Control Point. That’s an easy line to map out, characters change, but the true mark of the writer’s skill is illustrating in a believable fashion how characters change and evolve. On both the book level of Breach Zone and the trilogy level of the Shadow OPS series, Cole has exhibited great skill in making me believe in these characters: their motivations, their reactions to events that affect them, and their ultimate evolution because of these things.

Lastly, Mark/Hobbit posted his review of Andy Weir's The Martian this past weekend:

It starts off a little wobbly, if I’m honest. The first 50 pages or so are just log entries from Witney as he explains what he is trying to do and how he is going to solve the problems in order to survive. This part does get a little bogged down in the science and the maths, though it does show that his thinking is sound, logical and intelligent.
The tension of the tale is escalated when a rescue mission, or at least a survival package, is hastily put together. But Mark has over 500 days to survive until the support arrives. And for all his ingenuity, courage and endurance, there is danger every day. From ensuring his supplies of air, food and water to dealing with sandstorms, decompression, faulty equipment and a total lack of communication with other people, Mark Watney seems to generally manage. Considering the difficult situation Watney is in, his humour throughout is a nice counterbalance to the screamingly-bad events that happen just when you think he’s turned a corner. Watney himself comes across as a likeable and, most of all, believable character, with enough wit, humour and intelligence to survive.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-01-11)

This is a first, three weeks in a row with no new books.  Granted, I posted the books Santa brought me just after Christmas, but no review copies arrived that week. No complaints because Mount Toberead, both virtual and physical, is quite high.

Friday, January 10, 2014

100 Page Friday - THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY by Robert V.S. Redick

This might be a new feature on my blog, wherein I assess the book I'm reading at the arbitrary 100 page mark. I realize I'm far from the first of my kind (that is, an SFF blogger) to do so. This ties into the Friday trend on Twitter for #FridayReads, where folks tweet out the book they are reading every Friday. I don't know just *how* regular a feature this will be because I may not be at the 100-page mark every Friday, but at the very least, here's one post on the early assessment of a book I'm reading on Friday.

So, The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick is a book I've blogged about fairly often since it first came on my radar in 2009. In fact, I think it might be the book I've not read (prior to this week) about which I've blogged the most. It is the first of the four book series titled The Chathrand Voyage.

On to the book itself, at least the first 100 pages or so...quick verdict is I like where this is going.  Redick introduces a pretty wide canvas in the world of Alifros and populates it with interesting characters. He introduces mages/sorcerers, an ancient forbidden text, little people who scramble about underfoot of us "big people" a voyage on the Chathrand which brings two young people together for an arranged marriage that will broker a peace settlement. At this point, the protagonist of this many-charactered story is Pazel Pathkendlea young deckhand who near the 100-page mark was brought aboard the Chathrand. Pazel has a some magical talents, or at least, he can read strange arcane languages and his long-gone father has a checkered past as a roguish sea captain.

There are three more books in this series and if the The Red Wolf Conspiracy continues on the course it is currently charting, I'll be reading the series in full since it is hitting the correct Epic Fantasy buttons for my reading sensibilities.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

New SF Reviews at SFFWorld - Howard and Heinlein

Mark and I kick off another year of reviews at SFFWorld with two Science Fiction novels.  Mark looks at a classic while I look at a brand-spanking-new novel, both aimed at younger readers.

Strange Chemistry has been publishing some excellent novels since launching in September 2012.  While I haven't read every book published under the imprint under the deft guidance of Amanda Rutter, the books I have read have worked extremely well for me.  Such is the case with Amalie Howard's The Almost Girl (which the more the title rolls around in my head, the more it sounds like an episode of Doctor Who), the first of a duology.
In The Almost Girl, Howard never lets the plot or her characters settle into a rut. Something is always pulling the narrative forward with urgency, whether an action scene when Riven is battling the zombie-cyborg Vectors, or if she examining her feelings about Caden. The parallel worlds, zombie-soldiers, genetic manipulation gave a great science fictional feel to the world of Neopses. It isn’t clear just how similar our world is to Neopses, but it seems like either a future version of our world or perhaps a world like ours with a divergent point in its past. Regardless, the two worlds contrast each other effectively.

Howard’s characterization of Riven as a hardened soldier came across well, and even more so, the emotions she struggled with about her sister Shae. As the novel deals with two parallel worlds, Howard cleanly divides the novel between the two, with the first half taking place on Earth and the second half taking place mostly on Neopses. In some ways, the locales of Neopses where the action takes places had the feel of a mash-up between The Cursed Earth (of Judge Dredd fame) and Coruscant (of Star Wars) that may have lost some of its lustre. Neopses seems to be a world, as we learn through some of its inhabitants, that is trying to cling to any of its lost greatness.

Mark continues his re-read of the Heinlein classics reissued in the Virginia Edition with The Rolling Stones:
Reading Heinlein’s books in (mainly) chronological order for the first time, I am now picking up more of Heinlein’s evolution as a writer. At this point he has become more confident and has begun to develop and reinforce what many would consider ‘the Heinlein voice’. His dialogue has become lively and energetic. His characters have now started to settle into what would become a Heinlein archetype – bright and intelligent, which at times shows that ‘hectoring and lecturing’ that would be apparent in his later work.

The Rolling Stones is a story like Between Planets that takes place on a wider canvas – this time, it’s Luna, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, around Saturn – but whereas previous tales have focused around one key character, this time the plot is predominantly about a family.


For all my gripes, we have here characters that Heinlein will keep returning to in the future. He has used similar archetypes in the past, too – the family of Jim Marlow on Red Planet isn’t that different – but here, the templates are given full rein.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E/ 2014-01-04)

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...

Since nothing new arrived this week, I figured now was a good time, with the start of the year, for this filler post.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013 Reading Year in Review

I’ve done this for a few years now (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006), so in order to maintain my flailing credibility as a a genre blogger/book reviewer I have, I'm doing it again for 2013.

As I have in the past, I’ll start with some stats: I read (or at least attempted* to read) 71 books in 2013, depending on how you count omnibus editions. I say attempted because a few books I simply dropped because nothing about the book compelled me to keep reading. About half of those, were new/2013 releases.

In 2013, I posted 38 reviews to SFFWorld and 8 to In addition to the book reviews I posted to, I published 11 posts in my Orphan Black recap (10 episodes plus intro post).

Aside from the regular gamut of current year releases, some of my ‘catching up’ reads included a few installments of Butcher’s Dresden Files, a read through of David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy.

Here are some stats:
  • 33 2013/current year releases
  • 28 can be considered Fantasy
  • 27 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 22 books by authors new to me
  • 8 can be considered 2013 debuts
  • 6 can be considered Horror
  • 12 Books by women
All that said, on to the categories for the 2013 … which, as of last year, I'll continue to call the Stuffies. As I said last year, this isn’t a typical top 10 or 12 or anything, but whatever you want to call them, here are some categories for what I read in 2013 and what I put at the top of those categories.

Rob’s Favorite Fantasy Novel(s) Read in 2013

2013 was another strong year for Fantasy, I’m lumping Horror into Fantasy because (a) we do that at SFFWorld and (b) the two categories often overlap, at least more than Horror and SF. With all of that having been said, a fair number of novels I read, and those I enjoyed the most, had a mixture of horror and fantasy / dark fantasy.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill is my absolute favorite novel published in 2013. As such, it gets the call-out here under Horror and Fantasy. It was a powerful novel and I'd even rank it as one of the ten best I've read in the last decade:
The structure of this novel is quite powerful and epic. We are introduced to Manx (the villain), we then meet Vic. They have an encounter that leaves them both scarred, which is only a precursor to their return match-up. In many ways, this reminded me of an Epic or Heroic Fantasy where the hero gets a measure of their enemy and defeats that enemy at great cost with a knowledge that a final encounter looms. Throughout the novel, this tension (added by the build-up to the Christmasland reveal) is so thick and absorbing that not reading NOS4A2 was a painful thing for me.

The novel is epic in terms of how far ranging the effects of its villain are, the swath of time it covers, and the many worlds which are possibilities brought forth by the narrative elements. On the flip side, because Hill focuses primarily on Vic throughout much of the narrative, it is also a very intimate tale; Vic becomes very familiar throughout the novel. Her fears, her needs, her insecurities and love are all internal intimacies that drive her to thwart the Dark Lord of the novel, Charles Manx.

Once again, Robert Jackson Bennett makes an appearance on this list. American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. This is a fantastic novel that is a blend of Mystery, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, and Lovecraftian / Cthulhu Mythos that brings those elements together in an unsettling fusion of a powerful whole that is like the best amalgamation of a Neil Gaiman and Stephen King novel.:
Bennett’s narrative takes hold and allows readers a peek into the window of a nearly perfect Small Town, USA. Mona arrives in Wink as a funeral is being held, which is not the most welcoming event to a new visitor but which also sets the tone for the novel. Of course Wink is not really normal in any fashion other than the most superficial. Posited in a canyon which is overlooked by Coburn National Laboratory and Observatory, much of Wink’s population was a support town for the lab. In a sense, think of the town Indiana Jones stumbles into in the otherwise laughable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls – Wink is a town frozen in time with the most up-to-date connection to the outside world the 1980s sitcoms broadcast on their televisions.

Bennett raises a lot of questions in the novel and the answers the characters provide are discovered through a narrative that is, for the most part, taut and flavored with unsettling and creepy scenes. Two primary mysteries plague Mona (and the reader) throughout the narrative – who was Laura and what was the nature of Coburn’s research? Mona’s discovery of those two things and how they relate to each other is filled with dread and some otherworldly elements that would fit right at home in an H.P. Lovecraft story, a Stephen King novel, or something in one of Neil Gaiman’s various invented worlds.

Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin is continuing to be the best current Epic Fantasy series on the shelves and The Tyrant’s Law, book three, further cements that status;:

I’ve previously remarked on how empowering Abraham’s female characters are—they operate as active characters who take control of their lives rather than react to the men around them. Clara’s story arc was perhaps the strongest, whether this was because she was new or because it was the most complex. The fact that she is a widow is a great indicator that she has a fresh start, Clara takes that proverbial ball and runs with it, awakening many aspects of herself she thought she knew—her mind, her drive for justice, her sexuality. She walks a thin line which divides the surface appearance of her actions and the true intent of her actions. As the series progresses, I suspect this line will only become thinner as her maneuverings have a greater effect on the world at large.

By keeping the viewpoint to four characters, Abraham gives himself the freedom to provide readers a greater insight to each of the characters and to impart upon them believability, plausibility and empathy. In this sense, the intimacy we get as readers allows us to feel a greater sense of urgency of the epic events of the novel as a whole as they affect both the world and those characters we’ve come to know.

Chuck Wending is a writer who I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years and I finally did with the fantastic Blue Blazes which is a superb mashup/stew of Lovecraft, secret cities, Goodfellas pulp sensibilities, and Hellboy. It also doesn’t hurt (for me) that the story is somewhat local and takes place in parts of my home state of NJ:

Mookie is at the stage in his career in the Organization that he’s gained enough trust and loyalty with the Boss that he can come and go as he pleases and run his side of the Organization as he sees fit. The problem is two-fold – the Boss is on his last legs and a young woman named Persephone is causing a great deal of havoc for the Organization and the Underworld in general. What few people know, actually nobody outside of Mookie’s closest ‘friend’ Werth, is that Persephone is actually Mookie’s daughter Eleanor “Nora” Pearl. As events unfold, The Boss appoints his grandson the heir of the Organization, new ‘partners’ are brought into the fold of the Organization, the Boss’s health takes some strange turns; Mookie is increasingly put in the middle of his loyalty to the Organization and his yearning to make things better with his estranged daughter Nora.

Despite the violence and monstrous stakes, Wendig manages to keep a lot of intimacy intact. One of the things Mookie loves, aside from his daughter and The Organization, is eating. Mookie cooks, he has a personal butcher and the food he eats (gwumpki, pierogies) are foods I grew up eating, so I found a level of kinship with Mookie, even if my only other similarity (frankly, I’m not as old as him, not as hulking, nor do I have an estranged daughter) is living in the same NY/NJ corner of the US as does Mookie.

Other fantasies that really stood out to me were:

  • Shadow OPS: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole - "Another thing Cole does in Fortress Frontier is to expand the borders beyond just the US military. When Bookbinder is introduced, it isn’t long after that readers are introduced to a contingent from the Indian military and his liaison to the Source, a Naga, a many-headed snake/serpent. Specifically, a Prince to the throne of the Naga people whom Bookbinder basically begs for assistance in getting back to Earth. 
  • "Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey - "What I find somewhat unique—and interesting—about the story D’Lacey is telling is the dual narrative of the apocalypse as it happens paralleling the post-apocalyptic. More often than not, post-apocalyptic stories feature society rebuilding after an apocalyptic event, while sometimes these stories focus on the quick ramp-up and the immediate response of civilization to the apocalyptic event. In Black Feathers D’Lacey’s dual narrative opens the window on both time frames, and slowly reveals the connection between the two. I found the novel to be extremely addictive, a novel I didn’t want to put down, finishing it barely two days after starting to read it.."
  • The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett - "The mythology/worldbuilding behind the demons hinted in the previous volume is revealed slightly more here in The Daylight War, as Brett peppers in chapter passages from the POV of the demons, providing readers with a glimpse of their society and race as a whole. Whether he will continue to expose more of the demons’ nature and origins remains to be seen, but I enjoyed the slow reveal unfolding here and I am very curious to see how much of the demons’ history Brett will allow readers to see."
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King – I didn’t write a review of the book, but I loved it nonetheless. I hadn’t read and enjoyed a King novel since the final Dark Tower novel and this bold move to write a sequel to perhaps his best known novel was a risk that paid off with major dividends. Classic King.
  • Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – “…a powerful and layered narrative whose details don’t overburden the narrative flow of the novel. Admittedly, I feel like there was almost too much to digest in one reading of the novel. One reading; however, is enough to realize that Lawrence has accomplished something quite powerful and resonant with this trilogy. Because of the fantasy-feel-in-a-far-future-apocalypse, the unreliability of the narrator and much of the “feel” of the novel, I felt a great deal of resonance to Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun."

Rob Favorite Science Fiction Novel(s) Read in 2013

Science fiction was strong this year for me. One of the more recent SF novels I read in 2013 jumped every other SF book to be my favorite. I list it under Science Fiction because the story while dealing with young people possessing super powers, utilizes science to get to these powers and the two ‘villain protagonists’ themselves are scientists. That book? The recently optioned by Ridley Scott’s production company Vicious by V.E. Schwab:
Readers familiar with comic books, especially The Fantastic Four and Watchmen might find some resonance in the tale of Victor Vale and Eli Ever, the two anti-protagonists of the novel. While the two young men may be evenly matched in their intelligence, Eli is far more outgoing, he knows how to interact and play people. Victor is the introvert. Despite their social differences, they become friends, even colleagues as they search for answers to their fantasies through science. They attempt to discover what circumstances lead one to become ExtraOrdinary (EO for short). In other words, how can people gain super powers in the same way that Spider-Man gained his super powers. The two friends come to realize Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are triggers for people gaining powers and set about, briefly, allowing each other to die in order to come back to life with a power based on their last willful thoughts before dying.

The next in my batch of favorite SF novels is by a writer trying something slightly different under a slightly different pen name. The Burn Zone by James K. Decker. A thrilling story of alien and human cohabitation:
Sam Shao is a surrogate mother to an alien child; as part of a program with the haan, humans have been helping to raise haan babies ever since their space ship crash landed approximately 50 years ago. The haan are physically similar to humans, though the clear skin and fragile bones do set them apart, as does their eyes and appetite. Sam’s life is upended when her adoptive father Dragan is seized by authorities for conspiring against the government. Sam is, of course, unwilling to believe this of her guardian and even less willing to believe, as the news vids report, that he is a cannibal and worse. Sam relinquishes the infant haan to which she bonded, struggling with the decision and making an impression with the makeshift adoption agency. Sam connects with one of her friends, Vamp, tries to touch base with people she thought were allies of her father and eventually a haan soldier by the name of Nix finds her and the trio pursues her adoptive father and to find out the truth behind his abduction. Along the way, she learns a great deal more about the truth of the haan than she expected.

As strong as the plotting and narrative pull are in The Burn Zone, I think Decker’s greatest strength is the character of Sam. She is a fully empathetic character throughout most of the novel, the choices she made informed by the knowledge she possessed were completely believable. At times her determination and strength don’t waiver, and in the small instances they do waiver, it helps to round out her character as a fully realized human being.

James S.A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) knock it out of the park again with the third installment of The Expanse; Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse was signed to a TV deal earlier this year!)
The main action of Abaddon’s Gate picks up the story about a year after the events of Caliban’s War and focuses once again on James Holden and his crew of Rocinante. As has become custom with Corey’s novels, the chapters rotate through four point of view characters: Holden; Melba, also known as Clarissa Mao, sister of the late Julie Mao who died in Leviathan Wakes; Anna Volovodov, a new character, a Pastor from Europa who is sent to the Ring as a part of a larger humanitarian committee; and Bull, the security officer on the Behemoth, a ship of the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA for short, a governing body of the Solar System) sent to the Ring.

Over the course of these three books, Abraham & Franck aka Corey have produced essential space-based science fiction. They’ve built up mystery, intrigue and human characters coming to grips with the solar system and now even more so in Abaddon’s Gate, a universe that is much vaster in size and with a history more far flung than they initially thought.

Rachel Bach is new to SF, but this name is just an open pseudonym for Rachel Aaron, whose Eli Monpress novels were terrific. Fortune’s Pawn is the first installment of Paradox

The plot involves various jobs the Glorious Fool takes on, from moving goods from one planet to another in need to checking out a supposedly empty alien vessel. Mission to mission, the Glorious Fool is attacked, stops at various planets to take breaks and have equipment fixed. Each mission does build on the previous; much more is going on with Caldswell and the Glorious Fool than the surface details would imply and Devi becomes curiouser and curiouser. Because the novel is first person, this allows for the details to be very limited to only what Devi sees and hears which makes the reader (at least this one) just as inquisitive about what is really going on as Devi herself.

With any first person narrative, the success of the novel with the reader will lie a great deal in how the reader feels about the protagonist. I’ve tossed a couple of books across the room in frustration because I found the first person narrator so damned annoying. This is far from the case with Devi; I liked her, I felt very invested in her plight throughout the novel, and was just as curious about the things she discovered along the way as she was. For me, that speaks a great deal to Bach’s success in crafting her character, because I am really looking forward to reacquainting myself with Devi in the next volume.

Rob's Favorite Debut(s) of 2013

My favorite debut of the year was from Roc books in the US and Orbit in the UK (although it was self-published in 2012). Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, the first installment in his Military Fantasy series Raven’s Shadow:
Vaelin Al Sorna is the son of the Battle Lord of King Janus’s Unified Realm and is dropped off at the gates of the Sixth Order, a monastic order of warriors dedicated to hunting down Deniers and ensuring all who live under the King’s rule are true to the Faith. The boy is unsure of himself, initially, but soon his resentment for his father grows inside of him, it drives him to dedicate his focus to becoming a member o the order. He truly takes to heart the idea that he belongs to the order.

Before we get to this, Ryan frames the story much like Patrick Rothfuss framed The Name of the Wind (and the subsequent novel The Wise Man’s Fear): we initially meet the protagonist through the eyes of, Verniers Alishe Someren a historian charged recounting Vaelin Al Sorna’s, known to Verniers’ people as Hope Killer, duel for honor. The historian is intrigued by Vaelin, how he answers some of the assumptions made about him and eventually asks the Hope Killer to recount his story.

Blood Song is a very male-centric novel featuring primarily a cast of males. However, the females who are in the novel (and especially Vaelin’s mother who is not seen and only known and spoken of in memory) have a powerful hold over the characters, particularly Vaelin.

The other debut to impress me a great deal also involves “Blood” in the title. I refer to Brian T. McClellan’s Promise of Blood, which is the launch of his Powder Mage Trilogy. This is what is considered a Flintlock Fantasy with magic and gunpowder existing side by side (and often in conjunction) with one another. McClellan brings an impressive pedigree, Brandon Sanderson was one of his college instructors.

At the start of Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan’s debut novel and first installment of The Powder Mage Trilogy, Field Marshal Tamas destroys that notion by charging the king with treason and summarily executing him. The country of Adopest erupts into chaos, primarily the center of the capital where the king is executed. Tamas, though he has allies, has made enemies over the course of his military career and many see his move as a chance for Tamas to rule, which is not what he wants. Growing tension with the Kez, the enemies of Adopest, further fuels the unrest in Adopest.

McClellan’s doing a lot of things in this novel, as this review might lead one to believe. But the important question is this – is he doing it well? For this reader, the answer is yes, very well indeed. I was glued to my kindle reading this novel so much so that I brought it on the treadmill and read it through the bounces as I did my daily runs. I’ve alluded to similarities, or rather, resonances with both Rachel Aaron and Joe Abercrombie, but the most obvious yet to be compared is Brandon Sanderson and Brian’s approach to inventive magic systems.

Favorite Backlist / Book Not Published in 2013 Read in 2013

While one story, David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy was a magnificent Epic Fantasy featuring global tumult and how one royal family was at the center of it. The books were published in 2007, 2009, and 2011. Although I read the first, The War with the Mein as an ARC before it published, I reread it since it’s been so long.

The War with the Mein opens on a kingdom during a gilded age during its waning days, King Leodan is old weakened, but keeps up a façade for his children whom he loves above everything; he wishes them to see only the beauty in the world. When the king is murdered in full view by an ancient enemy, the children soon learn of the truth behind the thin façade their father was projecting. The prosperity of Acacia has been built on the backs of slaves and its own citizens who are addicted to a drug, the mist, the monarchy uses to keep the populace under control.
While The War with the Mein, the first installment of David Anthony Durhams sprawling epic fantasy saga Acacia, showed a world shuffling about after the fall of a great leader, The Other Lands could be seen as a novel about the weight of leadership and how easily a leader can become corrupt. … The women of this novel take center stage: Corinn the sorcerer queen and Mena the warrior woman. Their journeys and their characters are far from simple or one-dimensional. Corrin is scarred by a life of loss and perceived treachery: her mother died when she was very young (prior to the events of the first novel); her father was murdered when she was young, but she old enough to understand death to a full extent; her brother was killed in battle; and she was a prisoner in her own castle by the man whose forces killed her father and brother, but fell for her captor; the world she lived in was stolen away from her when the truth of its foundation was revealed to her. … With the finale at hand in The Sacred Band, the history of the world comes into greater light. This progression is one of the many strong elements of the narrative and Durham’s technique is expert. Even moreso than in The Other Lands, we learn more about the horrors the slave people have had to endure, as well as the mysterious long lives of the Auldeks. The Auldeks may live forever, but they are unable to either bear children, or retain their full centuries worth of memories. While the lives of the slave children fuel them, it strips them of the ability to procreate.
It seems I’m reading one backlist title from George R.R. Martin every year. In 2013, it was the collection/fix up novel featuring Havlinad Tuf, Tuf Voyaging:

Martin has long professed his admiration for Jack Vance’s writing and these stories can very much be seen as homage to Vance or his style. The balance of humor and fantastical situations were hallmarks of Vance’s work. In particular, one might imagine Tuf himself interacting with Cudgel the Clevor or Rhialto the Marvelous. Undoubtedly, Tuf’s deadpan style and pure logic work in direct contrast to every personality he encounters. Nobody trusts Tuf, he is distressed by this lack of trust when he always attempts to present himself as, if not altruistically as possible, as logically as possible. Humanity has evolved to a state on many of the planets he visits that logic is far from even the tenth lens to view their respective world.

The final book here is A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. I didn’t review this one and it falls slightly sideways of the normal Fantasy and Science Fiction fare I read, but as a Dog owner and lover, this book tugged at my heartstrings all the way through. Through various lives the soul of a dog (and my eyes are watering up just typing this) learns what it means to be a dog and how powerful the bond between human and canine can be and is. A wonderful, beautiful novel about man’s best friend.

MVP Author of 2013

As I said above, NOS4A2 was the best book I read this year, or rather my favorite book published in 2013. In it, “Joe Hill has embraced everything that he is as a storyteller from his creative well and funneled all of it into this epic novel that should make his old man proud and one that will stand on my shelves as a singular literary achievement of wonder and power.” It is his best selling novel, reaching #5 on the New York Times Best seller list and has received nearly universal praise.

As relates to NOS4A2, Joe also launched a comic book mini-series that serves as a prequel/origin story for the villain of the novel, Charles Manx. The book and comic can be read independent of each other, but work best in unison.

But NOS4A2 wasn’t the only thing Joe Hill gave readers in 2013. His long running comic book with artist Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key came to a close in December. Along its 5 year publication journey, the series has received multiple award nominations and has won the treasured Eisner Award (for Joe Hill as writer), arguably the highest honor which can be bestowed upon comic books, and the series twice won the British Fantasy Award for Best Comic or Graphic Novel.

While a TV pilot was made in 2010, rights for a feature film were secured in June 2013 by some of the same folks who are responsible for the first rebooted Star Trek film, Fringe, and Sleepy Hollow.

The film adaption of his second novel Horns features Daniel Radcliffe and premiered at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.

Favorite ‘New To Me’ Author(s) of 2013

This is another hands-down easy one for me:

Chuck Wendig – I’ve been following him on twitter for a while and I finally read two of his novels this year: The Blue Blazes which was an absolute blast and - Under the Empyrian Sky a dystopic young adult novel that has been dubbed the first Cornpunk novel.

V.E. Schwab blew me away with Vicious and after receiving at least a dozen books by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. to review, I finally dove into The Magic of Recluce and plan on continuing with the series.

Favorite Publisher of 2013

Seems like the obvious choice again, based on the percentage of books I read that worked for me, right? Yeah, Orbit is once again my favorite publisher of the year. Between the stunning American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett, the best selling Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck); impressive debuts like Brian T. McClellan’s Promise of Blood and  Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (even if it didn’t quite work for me) was a smashing success based on the high praise many have given it.

Orbit was one of the first imprints to bring self-published writers to the big six with Michael J. Sullivan and he published two brand new novels with them in 2013. I’ve only read one so far (The Crown Tower
). The imprint brought self-publishing sensation David Dalglish to a wider audience this year with the first two novels of The Shadowdance trilogy.

Regarding books from them I’ve yet to read Mira Grant continues to be a rockstar for the imprint, with Parasite the first of a new (NOT ZOMBIES BUT REALLY) duology and Will McIntosh’s Love Minus Eighty seemed to receive universal acclaim.

Continuing series, like Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin with The Tyrant’s Law, which does not relent.

The ‘rebranding’ of Rachel Aaaron as Rachel Bach and the launch of her Paradox series with the trhilling Fortune’s Pawn.

On top of that, Orbit continues to be one of the more reader and genre community friendly publishers, including monthly Orbital Drops wherein a book will dip to $1.99 for a period of time.

Hell, for a better more thorough case for Orbit being the preeminent Genre Imprint, look no further than Justin Landon’s post about the imprint and specifically editor Devi Pillai.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that Angry Robot (and sister imprint Strange Chemistry) are really becoming a leader in the digital footprint of genre books. I also read more books from AR/SC this year and for the most part, was very pleased with those books. I also really love that Angry Robot is quick to omnibify (Orbit does this, too) their series books into one massive volume including two to three books between two covers.

Looking Ahead to 2014

What does 2014 bring (in no particular order)?
  • Shadow OPS: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
  • Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence first in a new trilogy set in the Broken Empire world
  • Tower Lord (Raven’s Shadow #2) by Anthony Ryan
  • Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • The Crimson Campaign (The Powder Mage Trilogy #2) by Brian McClellan
  • Skin Game (Dresden Files #15) Jim Butcher
  • Catching up with more of Chuck Wendig’s books
  • Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  • Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen books 2 and 3 in Rachel Bach’s Paradox series
  • Cibola Burn the fourth in James S.A. Corey's The Expanse
  • The Widow's House book 4 of Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin
  • Veil of the Deserters Bloodsounder's Arc #2 by Jeff Salyards
Looks like a decent batch of major releases on the small screen, big screen, and page for me. Let's just hope some of it lives up to the hype.

As I have the last few years, I leave you with pictures of my dog Sully.  Because just look at her. In the second picture, I can't tell if she's (1) guarding my books, (2) taking possession of them for herself, or (3) asking for the next books by each of the authors.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

SFFWorld's Best of 2013 in 3 Parts

Over the past week, Mark has posted three articles to SFFWorld rounding up our thoughts about the best books and movies that came across our desks at SFFWorld.