Friday, February 28, 2014

SFFWorld & SF Signal - Last Week of February (Butler, D'Lacey, Hamilton, Ottesen)

The great Hobbit of SFFWorld, Mark Yon, turned 50 this past week and 'celebrated' with a list of what he deems "50 Books to Read before You Die." Mark also looks at Peter Hamilton's first novel for younger readers, The Queen of Dreams:

The plot is briefly summarised as follows: Agatha (Taggie) and Jemima Paganuzzi are two young sisters who go on holiday to their divorced father’s farm, Orchard Cottage, for the summer vacation. As they are settling in, the appearance of a white bespectacled squirrel seems a little unusual. Things turn stranger when they find the squirrel talks and then their dad is kidnapped down the garden well by some evil creatures doing another’s bidding… and it becomes clear that Taggie, Jemima and Felix (the aforementioned squirrel) are the ones to rescue him…

However, if I was, say, a 7-12-year old girl, I suspect they would love it. The energy and frenetic pace keep the pages turning, even when the tale veers into the decidedly twee, (and I’m thinking of, as an example, the point where there is the enrolment of a certain Princess Elizabeth Windsor in 1940’s Blitz-hit London.) Generally though there’s enough charm and verve to carry the story forward over the odd bump.

I posted my review of the second half of Joseph D'Lacey's Black Dawn duology, The Book of the Crowman:

The Crowman as a figure has increased in prominence. In Black Dawn he was a whisper, a myth, but here in The Book of the Crowman, the figure is said to have been seen by other characters. He is a lightning rod, hunted by the Ward, elevated to a savoir figure by the Green Men (the rag-tag groups who oppose the structured order of the Ward). Gordon’s sole purpose is to find the Crowman by any means.
As the story/novel draw to close, the environmental theme of a Mother Earth is still strong, but more Judeo-Christian overtones vie for control of the story. These overtones were hinted at during the lead up to the story’s climax, but the theme thundered full force during a very graphic scene at the end. The allegory and resonant nature of the closing elements go from hints to being actually played out by the characters. The graphic nature of that pivotal scene is much more in-your-face and visceral than the earlier horrors hinted at in the novel. Considering much of D’Lacey’s previous fiction is very much in the horror genre, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For me, this shift worked in the larger context and themes I felt from of the Black Dawn, but I can see this element being a divisive point for readers.

Yesterday, the latest installment of my Completest column was posted to SF Signal, and features Lilith's Brood / Xenogenesis by the late, great Octavia E. Butler:

A big theme here, obviously, is that we need to look outside of ourselves to survive. Related to that, is the theme of The Other: coming to accept the Other and the consequences of rejecting the Other. There is also an implied resonance with Lilith’s initial situation and slavery; she has no choice in being taken from her land. In being the mother to her “owner’s” children, she gains a family and secures safety for that family. This conflicts with her feelings for the remainder of humanity on the space vessel as she tries to help some of them escape. The race conflict, is of course, writ large on the conflict between humans and Oankali.

Butler plays with symbolism in the names, too. Lilith, of course has many ancient and biblical connotations. Dawn, as the title of the first novel in the series, hints at things anew on the horizon, Adulthood Rites to the maturation cycle, and Imago is the final stage of an insect’s metamorphosis which is appropriate for the title for the final novel in the series.

Nila White reviews Golak by Josefine Ottesen (Translation by Martin Aitken):

The story begins with an attack on their village. The golaks, the result of terrible genetic experiments, approach the village walls pleading for food and help. The villagers, along with Jonah and his brother, attack the golaks, driving them off.

In the process, Jonah kills two of the golaks who look a lot like a woman and child instead of the monsters he expected. After the ordeal, once everyone is safe behind the village walls, they realize Jonah’s younger sister, outside the walls grazing her cow, has been taken by the fleeing golaks.

A search party is organized, including Jonah, his estranged brother, and another village boy who is slated to marry Jonah’s sister. They scour the nearby woods, but do not find her. Jonah is convinced if they just keep at the golak’s trail, they’ll find her. Jonah loves his sister and will do anything to save her, but the elders in the search party determine it is too late. The girl is lost. They order that everyone turn back before it gets too dark.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Locke & Key Reread Volume 5 "Clockworks" up at

On Friday the penultimate installment of the Locke & Key re-read I am curating at was posted. This one covers "Clockworks" in which the Locke children take a trip through time and learn about the keys, their family, and the tragedy of Lucas Caravaggio.

This means the re-read comes to a conclusion this week, when the recap/review of Alpha & Omega is posted.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-02-22)

This week's installment of my Books in the Mail post courtesy of Crown Publishing and Orbit Books.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown Trade Paperback 09/14/2014) – I said when I was on the SF Signal Podcast a few weeks ago this was one of the books I am most looking forward to reading mainly because his two most recent (as of 2013) novels The Troupe and American Elsewhere are two of my favorite books of the last few years.

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city—from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

Defenders by Will McIntosh (Orbit, Trade Paperback 05/13/2014) – I’ve been seeing nothing but praise for McIntosh’s fiction over the past couple of years and this will be the first novel of his that I’ll read. (This book was also featured on the aforementioned SF Signal Podcast.

When Earth is invaded by telepathic aliens, humanity responds by creating the defenders. They are the perfect warriors--seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens. The question is, what do you do with millions of genetically-engineered warriors once the war is won?

A novel of power, alliances, violence, redemption, sacrifice, and yearning for connection, DEFENDERS presents a revolutionary story of invasion, occupation, and resistance.

Heaven's Queen (Volume 2 of The Paradox Series) by Rachel Bach (Orbit, Trade Paperback 04/22/2014) – I recently finished th is second book in the thrilling Space Opera / Military Science Ficiton / Urban Fantasy hybrid and this series is turning into an absolute blast. My review of Fortune’s Pawn.

From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell's doomed ship, Devi Morris' life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that's eating her alive.

Now, with the captain missing and everyone -- even her own government -- determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi's never been one to shy from a fight, and she's getting mighty sick of running.

It's time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.

Lascar’s Dagger (Book One of The Forsaken Lands ) by Glenda Larke (Orbit, Trade Paperback 03/18/2014) – The start of a brand new epic fantasy trilogy from Glenda Larke, author of The Stormlord series—full of scheming, spying, action and adventure. (This is the physical version of the e-Arc I received a couple of weeks ago)


Saker looks like a simple priest, but in truth he’s a spy for the head of his faith. It’s a dangerous job, and more lives than merely his own depend on his secrecy.

When Saker is wounded by a Lascar sailor’s blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility that comes with it, Saker can only follow its lead.

It will put him on a journey to strange shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he serves, and likely lead to his own destruction. The Lascar’s dagger demands a price, 

Friday, February 21, 2014

SFFWorld Weekly Round-Up: Harris, Bach, McAuley, D'Lacey

Lots of good content (reviews, author guest posts) were posted to SFFWorld this week, here's the rundown...

Mark reviewed Joanne Harris's The Gospel of Loki over the weekend.  Mark is one of many folks signing the praises of the author's first novel for adult readers: 

Joanne writes this story with panache and skill, infusing it with humour and a wry smile throughout. As I’ve said before in these reviews, humour’s very difficult to pitch right, but this one worked for me. It’s clever and literate, yet surprisingly still accessible. Through Joanne’s writing Loki becomes something tangible, at times liked, at others strangely melancholic.

This is not easy. The difficulty in telling the traditional tale (for me, anyway) is that there are aspects of the Norse pantheon that are usually a bit hard to swallow, never mind the fact that some of the names have always been a bit of a personal difficulty, frankly. Just trying to get your reading head around terms such as Yggdrasil has always seemed to be more effort than its worth. Here Joanne/Loki cleverly sidesteps this difficulty for me by mentioning some of the more imaginative (some would say outlandish) parts of the traditional tale, but then explains them away as mere exaggerations, the sort of tall tale often bragged about over beer.

On Tuesday, I posted my review of Rachel Bach's second Paradox novel, Honor's Knight. Rachel Aaron/Bach is becoming a go-to author for me, as I connect with her work very well. This particular book was a great cure for a reading lull I hit. Some thoughts:

Bach ratchets up the politics in Honor’s Knight and dials back the romantic element a bit. There’s also an ongoing discussion in the novel about the price of security and safety, in that can the fate of humanity be measured against the life of innocent girls who lose their identity and humanity? A difficult question to answer, and sometimes the easiest answers prove to be the incorrect answer in the long run. In other words, war breeds difficult moral choices, which leads to drastic consequences. The black ink-like substance afflicting Devi also happens to be like kryptonite to the phantoms, but Devi has little control over it and when it comes out on her skin.

There’s more action in the novel and Bach opens up the universe to a greater degree, bringing the phantoms more into the folds as the most alien creatures thus far encountered. At times described like bright firefly like creatures and other times, the larger creatures seem like something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare. In fact, what comes to mind are the Drej, the blue alien creatures from the animated film Titan A.E. (An animated film with the classic Don Bluth look and feel that deserved a much better fate at the box office than it received.)

Yesterday, we had a guest post from Paul McAuley on revisiting and touching up his popular Confluence trilogy in preparation for an omnibus publication of the series:

The three novels, published in 1996, 1997 and 1998, were caught up in corporate takeovers in the UK and the US; when Gollancz agreed to republish them in a fat omnibus, the original files used to set the books were long gone. So I resurrected my old WordPerfect 5.0 files and read through them, and then went over them again to remove a few niggling inconsistencies in the narrative and to give the prose a further polish. My younger self didn’t need my help move a story through its twists and turns. He’d learnt from Robert Louis Stevenson how landscape can shape and reveal the actions of the characters, and to keep action scenes short and sharp. He’d crammed plenty of eyekicks and estrangement into the narrative. And Yama’s story, his discovery of the costs and obligations of escaping from his mundane fate and becoming a hero, and the sacrifices he must make to find a way of saving his world, was fixed by the course of the river he follows.

So in its omnibus incarnation, the story and almost all of the narrative of the trilogy remains the same. Revision was mostly a question of tightening the focus of sentences and paragraphs, and sharpening certain passages

Lastly, we published a guest post from Joseph D'Lacey wherein he attempts to answer the question I threw at him:

My ‘visible’ work categorises me as a Horror or, more specifically, Eco-Horror writer. But, like most authors, what I have ‘on display’ represents a fraction of the whole. There’s also the almost published, the limitedly published and, of course, the unpublishable – tons of that!

So, when a question comes up about exploring Horror elements in a Post Apocalyptic world, from my particular, and probably quite odd, writerly point of view, there’s no simple answer.

It’s partly because I write in such a naïve and uncalculated way. I’m instinctive (haphazard, an overwriter, rarely plan anything), lazy (avoid research, reality and work of any kind – especially writing), whimsical (whimsical, basically) and my work is organic (I write the bits I feel able to write first and the bits I feel unable to write just before the deadline).

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Locke & Key Reread Volume 4 "Keys to the Kingdom" up at

As has become custom the past month or so, my fine editors at posted the latest installment of the Locke & Key reread. In this case, the installment is Volume 4 "Keys to the Kingdom" in which the Locke children come across many, many keys.  

I finished reading "Alpha & Omega" over the weekend as the trade / graphic novel arrived on Friday. Holy shit was it an incredible conclusion to an amazing series. After finishing the series, I'll follow these two storytellers anywhere they go and I'm placing Locke & Key in the top five comic series I've ever read, with "Alpha & Omega" as the best book (of any kind) I've read this year.  For now, I'll just add that my eyes got a little leaky (Rufus!) and leave more of my reaction for the final installment of the reread at  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-02-15)

Here's the weekly rundown of review books I received...

Heaven's Queen (Volume 2 of The Paradox Series) by Rachel Bach (Orbit, Trade Paperback 04/22/2014) – I recently finished th is second book in the thrilling Space Opera / Military Science Ficiton / Urban Fantasy hybrid and this series is turning into an absolute blast. My review of Fortune’s Pawn.

From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell's doomed ship, Devi Morris' life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that's eating her alive.

Now, with the captain missing and everyone -- even her own government -- determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi's never been one to shy from a fight, and she's getting mighty sick of running.

It's time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.

Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres (Angry Robots, Mass Market Paperback 04/29/2014) – First in what looks to be a fun, action packed futuristic SF series. Immediate comparison to Joel Shepherd’s Cassandra Kresnov and Rachel Bach’s Paradox series.

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.

When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. When the dead bodies start piling up around her and Nate, she decides on the latter.

Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner are standing in its path…

Lascar’s Dagger (Book One of The Forsaken Lands ) by Glenda Larke (Orbit, Trade Paperback 03/18/2014) – The start of a brand new epic fantasy trilogy from Glenda Larke, author of The Stormlord series—full of scheming, spying, action and adventure.


Saker looks like a simple priest, but in truth he’s a spy for the head of his faith. It’s a dangerous job, and more lives than merely his own depend on his secrecy.

When Saker is wounded by a Lascar sailor’s blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility that comes with it, Saker can only follow its lead.

It will put him on a journey to strange shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he serves, and likely lead to his own destruction. The Lascar’s dagger demands a price, 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bouncing off Books: Two Un-reviews

We all hit reading slumps and these slumps hit readers for various reasons. Sometimes the last book you read was so good it overshadows whatever you attempt to read after it. Sometimes things in “real life” prevent the reader from connecting with the book and engaging with the characters. Sometimes the book just isn’t that great and doesn’t match up with the reader’s sensibilities (in general or that specific time). Some of these things combined when I attempted to read two books over the past week and a half. Both books are from imprints/publishers whose output often matches up with my reading tastes very well.

With that, two books I tried to read but ultimately bounced off of are Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina and The Red Knight.

With Blades of the Old Empire I was just *not* connecting with the characters and felt it was a story I’d read many times before and done in a fashion that connected with me more strongly. I gave up quite early on this one (at the 11% mark in my Kindle) because I was just not caring about the characters or what was happening to them. 

The book wasn't bad, it just wasn't grabbing me. It has a feel of both sword & sorcery in the characters, but more of an epic scope of what is affecting the characters. Maybe the blend of those two flavors wasn't working for me in Blades of the Old Empire. I can't say much more about it because I didn't make it that far, as I said.

The Red Knight I gave a little more leeway bouncing at about 180 pages of the 680 page book because I’d seen good things about the book and author from people whose opinion I trust. The book received mostly positive reviews so I kept pushing hoping that I’d connect with the book. Between the multiple viewpoint characters who, to me, didn’t feel distinct enough from each other, and the bouncing around of the plot I realized the prospect of 500 more pages of tiny text was not a prospect that looked favorable to me. 

I’d had the book since last year and kept thinking the book would be my kind of thing, but it just didn’t work out for me.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-02-08)

A Tor-themed week here at the 'o Stuff. A few e-ARCs and a few physical copies

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor Hardcover 04/01/2014) – It is something of an open secret that Katherine Addision is actually Sarah Monette. Regardless of the name under which this book appears, it looks quite interesting. Goblin-punk!

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life.

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias (Tor Hardcover 01/28/2014) – This is the debut from Cambias and is a Hard SF novel about first contact. Cambias has been publishing short fiction for over a decade in various places.

On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

But when Henri Kerlerec, media personality and reckless adventurer, ends up sliced open by curious Ilmatarans, tensions between Terran and Sholen erupt, leading to a diplomatic disaster that threatens to escalate to war.

Against the backdrop of deep-sea guerrilla conflict, a new age of human exploration begins as alien cultures collide. Both sides seek the aid of the newly enlightened Ilmatarans. But what this struggle means for the natives—and the future of human exploration—is anything but certain, in A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook Press Hardcover 02/25/2014) – Castellucci is a very established author of many things, this is her latest YA SF novel.

On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.
When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.

Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson (Tor Hardcover 04/15/2014) – This is the debut from Davidson and looks like a nice blending of myth and magic. Minotaurs!

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city's survival.

Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.

In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.

Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.

Words of Radiance (Book Two of The Stormlilght Archive) by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Hardcover 03/04/2014) – The biggest fantasy novel to publish in 2014 in more ways than one. Sanderson is arguably one of (if not the) biggest name in Fantasy without the initials GRRM and this book is physically ginormous. My review of The Way of Kings is blurbed on the back cover.

The Stormlight Archive sequence began in 2010 with the New York Times bestseller The Way of Kings. Now, the eagerly anticipated Words of Radiance continues the epic story and answers many of your questions.

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes." Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

The doors of the Stormlight Archive first opened to us with The Way of Kings. Read that book – now available in all formats – and then Words of Radiance, and you can be part of the adventure every dazzling step of the way.

Halo: Mortal Dictata (Kilo-Five Trilogy #3) by Karen Traviss (Tor, Trade Paperback 10/25/2011) Traviss seems to be doing quite well with these Halo books, as she seems to do with any of the SF properties she writes. This one closes out a trilogy.

Wars end. But hatred, guilt, and devotion can endure beyond the grave.

With the Covenant War over, the Office of Naval Intelligence faces old grievances rising again to threaten Earth. The angry, bitter colonies, still with scores to settle from the insurrection put on hold for thirty years, now want justice -- and so does a man whose life was torn apart by ONI when his daughter was abducted for the SPARTAN-II program. Black ops squad Kilo-Five find their loyalties tested beyond breaking point when the father of their Spartan comrade, still searching for the truth about her disappearance, prepares to glass Earth's cities to get an answer. How far will Kilo-Five go to stop him? And will he be able to live with the truth when he finds it? The painful answer lies with a man long dead, and a conscience that still survives in the most unlikely, undiscovered place.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Double Duty at SF Signal: Podcast and Completist

This past week, I had two "appearances" at SF Signal. I participated in the SF Signal podcast, which was the first podcast I've ever done. You can all now her my (not so) dulcet voice opine on the three books publishing in 2014 I can't wait to read: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, and The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D'Lacey. Also participating in this podcast were host Patrick Hester, and panelists Jeff Patterson, Carl V. Anderson, and Derek Johnston.

My latest Completisst column was posted yesterday and features a terrific action-sf trilogy: Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov trilogy.

Joel Shepherd’s debut novel, Crossover, is firmly entrenched in the subset of science fiction – that of the SF-Femme-Fatale page-turner, to borrow a term from the back-cover blurb on the book. With this novel, Shepherd, and Cassandra “Sandy” Kresnov, joins the ranks of writers like Karen Traviss, Marienne de Pierres, and Elizabeth Bear. Shepherd’s protagonist, Cassandra Kresnov, is a defective operative from the League, looking to eschew her former country/employer. After being nearly killed by her country, she emigrates to its enemy, the Federation; specifically, the nation-state of Tanusha on the planet Callay. Kresnov differs in one major fashion from other folk: she is not human. She is a synthetic human, or artificial intelligence. This point is the core of the novel and series, and throughout the series Shepherd brings to light a wide range of arguments in the debate is an artificial intelligence a person? Can they have humanity?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Not Quite a Review of Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon (Plus a Thought or Two on Gender)

In Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon introduces readers to Kylar “Ky” Vatta as she’s being discharged from the military. Ky, fortunately, is a member of the Vatta family, owners of Vatta Transport Ltd a powerful space trading corporation based on the rich planet Slotter, so she can fall back on her family’s company as a means to an end. However, her heart was in the military and in the first chapter, Moon’s depiction of the Ky’s discharge is one of the strongest novel openings which immediately generates empathy and sympathy for the protagonist. It may seem a simple thing and with little introduction to or knowledge of Ky, but a great sense of emotional turmoil and shock is conveyed through what Ky experiences and how she deals with it through her internal dialogue. I immediately began rooting for Ky to succeed and felt that way over the course of the novel. I think I like the character of Ky Vatta even more than Moon's more famous character Paks.

Throughout the remainder of the novel, Ky’s plight does not get any easier. She is given a derelict of a ship Glennys Jones to run one last job/mission, which of course does not turn into “one last job.” Along the way of this last job, Ky takes on another job in her name, rather than in the name of her father’s company. Ky wants to branch out on her own, make a name for herself. When her father, Gerard, set her on the task of “one last job” for the ship, he suspected she might get herself some more contracts and go a little rogue. What he, nor Ky, expected was that the major communication ansible at the spaceport would be destroyed, one of those jobs she takes would lead to a contract with a Mercenary crew – the Mackensee Military Assistance Corporation – and that job would involve holding on to some passengers for a time. What everybody involved didn’t expect was that some of those passengers would be pirates who are connected with messing with the ansibles, attempt mutiny on Ky’s ship. Fortunately, Ky’s military training kicks in which allows her to handle the situation amazingly well.

I am a fan of Elizabeth Moon’s writing, although I’ve only read her fantasy output. Not surprisingly, her storytelling, writing and hand at character just as strong when she shifts to Science Fiction. Like her fantasy, there’s a strong military flavor to the novel which, considering her experience as a Marine, is only natural. In that sense, the novel feels quite natural and plausible. Overall, I enjoyed the novel a great deal and plan on reading through the remaining books in the series sooner rather than late, which I define as ‘within the next year.’

There came a point near the end of the novel when one of the characters – a mentor character by the name of Quincy Robin – was giving Ky some advice. Good advice from a place of love and respect. It was a great scene, and I came to a realization. This character was/is a woman whose first name is Quincy and often is referred to by that first name. From my experience, and this is probably flavored by the television show Quincy starring Jack Klugman, I was both reading this character as a man and a woman. Maybe a better way to say that is with gender blinders? All I know is that I wasn’t placing a value on the character because of her gender. Multiple times in the narrative, Moon refers to Quincy as “she” or “her” but my preconceived notion of the character as a man because of the name was in conflict with that. I wasn’t placing a value judgment on the character of Quincy or her gender, but it was a conflict (of sorts) in my own head. As a result, I realized the gender of the character didn’t factor negatively or positively into my respect and admiration of the character, Quincy was simply a well-wrought character who happened to be a woman.

This “gender blindness” or “zero value gender judgment” came at a time when I’d read a few novels in a row by women and just prior to Trading in Danger, I read (and enjoyed) Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. Both novels feature women protagonists in novels most often associated with male writers which would most often feature male protagonists. With both of these novels and the protagonists, I felt a connection to their plight, felt invested in their emotions and rooted for them to succeed.

I’d like to think I’ve always read gender in characters this way, not as a value in a positive or negative, but as an element of the character. There’s ever more talk, at least in the twitter circles that I follow, about gender in genre. So this is just my little two cents on the subject. At least for now.

Monday, February 03, 2014

SFFWorld Welcomes Mark Chitty + Mark Yon Reviews Jo Walton

Last week, SFFWorld welcomed Mark Chitty to our reviewer ranks. Mark and I have been pals online for quite some time, he's a member in the SFFWorld forums, he was the purveyor of the (sadly now-closed) blog Walker of Worlds and we follow each other on twitter.

With his blog closed (for the moment) Mark still wanted to review books and he is doing just that for SFFWorld. His first review is of Neal Asher's Jupiter War. This novel is third installment of Asher's Owner series:

What works in Jupiter War is the way Asher has pulled together all elements from the previous novels into a coherent whole, answering questions that are raised and continuing the character development nicely and without any unwarranted changes. Saul continues on the path to godhood, combining ever more with technology and moving away from his human side. This is particularly evident in his dealings with those on board Argus, even with his sister, Var. Galahad is truly the villain, and is everything you could ask for in a character. Her conviction that she’s doing what is right for the planet doesn’t waiver, but her confidence and arrogance push her to megalomania. She’s fascinating to read, perhaps more so than the Owner, and seeing her in action often brings a smile even when that’s not the intention. Of course, with two personalities such as these present in the story there is bound to be conflict, and when it comes the outcome never seems to be certain, despite everything we know.
Mark Yon reviewed What Makes this Book So Great, a compilation of selected posts from Jo Walton between 2008 and 2011. (A copy arrived for me yesterday):

Of the selection here, there’s a lot of fun to be had. The first essay sets out the stall with the title ‘Why I Re-read’. It makes a good case for re-reading, and I found myself pretty much agreeing with what was said. The idea of the joy and perils of re-reading pops up in a couple of places elsewhere in the collection, as Jo explains ‘The Suck Fairy’ (what happens when you re-read an old favourite and it doesn’t quite match what you remembered) and the re-readability factor, when sometimes you just have to reread an old favourite, as a guilty pleasure, despite the wealth of riches out there.

The book is peppered with such ideas throughout: whether you should skim books, whether swearing in genre books is a good idea or not, why the anticipation of an unfinished series is sometimes a joy, or indeed why you should enjoy the feeling you can get when you start the first of what will be a long series, or the first of an author’s lengthy body of works. There’s even a case put forward to re-read books you didn’t like.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-02-01)

Here's the weekly post where I mention the review books which arrived either on my kindle or in my mailbox/in front of my garage/on my porch.

Honor’s Knight (Volume 2 of The Paradox Series) by Rachel Bach (Orbit, Trade Paperback 02/25/2014) – This is second book in the thrilling Space Opera / Military Science Fiction / Urban Fantasy hybrid that I’m enjoying. Well, at least the first installment Fortune’s Pawn. This is the physical version of the ARC I received late last year
The rollicking sequel to Fortune's Pawn -- an action packed science fiction novel.

Devi Morris has a lot of problems, and not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either. After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she'd determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi's not actually looking for it this time, trouble keeps finding her. She sees ghostly creatures no one else can, the inexplicable black stain on her hands keeps getting bigger, and she can't seem to stop getting into compromising situations with a man she's supposed to hate. But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there's worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.

Fallout by James K. Decker (Roc, Mass Market Paperback 02/04/2014) – Sequel to The Burn Zone, one of my favorite SF novels published in 2013.

Overpopulation, disease, and ecological disaster were edging humanity toward extinction. Hope arrived in the haan, an alien race that promised us a future.

And what they wanted in exchange seemed so harmless...

Sam Shao has found out too much about the haan, by accident. All humans have to get along with them—we owe them our lives—and Sam even counts a haan among her best friends. But the more she learns, the less she trusts them

It doesn’t help that the building of new haan colonies seems to be coinciding with a rash of missing persons cases. Sam and her hacker friends are determined to reveal the truth about the haan, before it’s too late. The aliens are still promising salvation, and they seem set to deliver, but with things already spinning out of control Sam is confronted with a possibility no one wants to admit—that what salvation means to humankind and what it means to the haan may be two horribly different things.

Conquest (Book One of The Chronicles of the Invaders) by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard (Emily Beslter Books / Simon & Schuster Hardcover 02/11/2014) – First in a series for “teen readers” from one experienced/published author teaming with a journalist on her first novel. Connolly is the experienced one here and has many international bestsellers to his credit. This seems a typical alien invasion/takeover story, but sounds intriguing nonetheless.

Earth is no longer ours. . . .

It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun. . .

Crown of Renewal (Book Five of Paladin’s Legacy) by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Hardcover 05/24/2014) – I liked the first two in this series (Oath of Fealty and Kings of the North) and the first trilogy set in this world, The Deed of Paksenarrion has a special spot on in my Omnibus Hall of Fame [© PeterWilliam]. However, I sort of fell behind on this series and need to readt, Echoes of Betrayal and Limits of Power before reading this one. I’ve got a few months so I should be able to manage…unlessof course her Vatta’s War five book set, which I’ve just begun with Trading and Danger grabs me too strongly.

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Moon spins gripping, richly imagined epic fantasy novels that have earned comparisons to the work of such authors as Robin Hobb and Lois McMaster Bujold. In this volume, Moon’s brilliant masterwork reaches its triumphant conclusion.

The mysterious reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with suspicion, fear, and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: evil elves linked in some way to the rebirth of magic.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, a set of ancient artifacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery’s return. Thus Dorrin embarks on a dangerous quest to return these relics of a bygone age to their all-but-mythical place of origin. What she encounters there will change her in unimaginable ways—and spell doom or salvation for the entire world.

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton (Tor, Hardcover 01/21/201) – This book contains selected posts from Jo Walton between 2008 (when she began writing for and 2011. I’ve been reading her columns since she started and she always has interesting things to say about the books which are the subject of her posts. Essentially, this book is one giant recommendation list. In other words, I’m very pleased to have a copy. My pal Hobbit reviewed the UK version

As any reader of Jo Walton's Among Others might guess, Walton is both an inveterate reader of SF and fantasy, and a chronic re-reader of books. In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site asked Walton to blog regularly about her re-reading—about all kinds of older fantasy and SF, ranging from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. These posts have consistently been among the most popular features of Now this volumes presents a selection of the best of them, ranging from short essays to long reassessments of some of the field's most ambitious series.

Among Walton's many subjects here are the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by "mainstream"; the underappreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field's many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read.

Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

The Dagger of Trust (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Chris Willrich (Paizo Mass Market Paperback 02/11/2014) – This is Willrich’s first Pathfinder novel after publishing a well-received novel with Pyr - The Scroll of Years.

Gideon Gull leads a double life: one as a talented young bard at the Rhapsodic College, the other as a student of the Shadow School, where Taldor's infamous Lion Blades are trained to be master spies and assassins. When a magical fog starts turning ordinary people into murderous mobs along the border between Taldor and Gideon's home nation of Andoran, it's up to him and a crew of daring performers to solve the mystery before both nations fall to madness and slaughter. But how do you fight an enemy that turns innocent people into weapons? From critically acclaimed author Chris Willrich comes a bold new adventure of intrigue, espionage, and arcane mystery, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.