Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Round-Up: McClellan, Gladstone & Frohock @SFFWorld, Mind Meld @SFSignal

Here it is, the Friday Round-up you have all be waiting to read!

Last week, two new things at SFFWorld. First off, my review of The Autumn Republic the spectacular finale to Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage Trilogy:

The Autumn Republic picks up where The Crimson Campaign left the characters: Tamas thought dead, yet still working on his return home, his son Taniel thought dead and desperate to find his lost companion Ka-Poel, the gods Kresimir and Mihali thought dead, and forces are occupying Adopest. Add to that the investigator Adamat separated from his family as he tries to finish the one last job so he can return to his family. But before that, much of the early narrative focuses on Nila and Borabor in their search for Taniel. Taniel once saved Borabor from being executed and Nila the former laundry girl is developing powers she fears, but must learn to harness for the greater good.
The gods in this world took a not-so-passive role in world events in the previous two volumes. However, though it may have seemed all the gods were dead or contained by the end of The Crimson Campaign, Brian shows that may not be the case. Beings thought of as gods don’t die easily; in this world they have lived for many years and have gained a great deal of experience in surviving. There are cards yet to be shown in this poker game and the reveal of some of those cards is both surprising at the outset of the reveal, and completely logical once the reveal settles.

The following day, my interview with Max Gladstone went live.

You’ve been lucky with the covers Chris McGrath has provided for your books; not only are they striking images, but there’s no whitewashing and each cover manages to provide insight to the diversity and wonder of your books. How important do you think cover art is in general and do you think McGrath’s imagery has helped your books
Cover art is life. Art and design—and all the other sub-arts people talk about as “book packaging”—bring the reader into the story. They prime reader expectations, and present the particular book and the genre in general both to core readers and the wider public. (Think about deckled edges—yes, they’re sort of goofy and impractical, as Hank Green’s pointed out, but by evoking the bad old days when readers had to cut open the pages of their books themselves, they inspire a bit of subconscious awe even in readers who don’t know that history! This is a real book, they think as they struggle to turn the pages.) Whitewashing in cover design is such a big problem because of the message it sends about who is, and who is not, present, or welcome, in our weird conceptual playground. 
I have been really fortunate in Chris McGrath’s covers. He has a great eye for character and expression; when I first talked through the cover for Three Parts Dead with Tor, I was really nervous about what we’d get—I had visions of bare midriffs if not skull bikinis—and Chris just knocked the Three Parts Dead cover out of the park. Combined with Irene Gallo’s amazing creative direction on the project, we ended up with a book—four books, now!—that I love holding in my hand.

My most recent review (posted this past Tuesday), Teresa Frohock’s wonderful debut novel, MISERERE: An Autumn Tale:

Much of the novel reads like a legal thriller, except that the legality involves a revolutionary and an 8-foot tall skeleton god. That may sound outrageous, but Gladstone makes the premise supremely natural and plausible. The city-state of Dresdiel Lex has not quite recovered from its liberation from the gods, despite their wards still being present. Enter three parties with great interest: The King in Red afore mentioned 10-foot skeletal god (what a simple, effective and cool name with gravitas, and yes, I gave two measurements for him, his size fluctuates); a local figure named Tan Batac; and a holy man named Temoc. A lawyer named Elayne Kevarian tries to keep the peace between the conflicting parties and ensure a peaceful deal can be had.
Gladstone keeps the tension high throughout the novel in scenes between the King in Red and Elayne as they try to reach some kind of agreement about what is best for the city. There is also palpable tension in scenes featuring Temoc and his family, especially after the lengths to which he goes in the hopes of securing some kind of peace for the city while striking at the heart of his enemies. Through these characters, Gladstone shows the weight of the changing world on their shoulders, how much a war in the past affects the survivors and informs their every action. Max does a great job of setting a relatively measured pace for the middle portion of the novel – the fall out of that aforementioned event – until the novel builds to a powerful climax that was pure fantasy adrenaline.

On Wednesday, my second Mind Meld for July went live at SF Signal, (second simply due to how the Wednesdays fall o the calendar)

Also at SF Signal, my July Mind Meld went live, wherein I ask Renay, Marc Turner, Ilana C. Myer, Kenny Soward, Marion Deeds, Eric Christensen, and Delilah S. Dawson the following:

Maybe you picked up the book and thought it might be a fun distraction and it really made you think. Maybe a friend kept recommending it and you kept putting it off and it blew you away. Maybe the book exceeded the hype. So tell us about it/them.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-07-25)

Quite a few releases from the folks at the Flat-Iron Building this past week.

Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone (Tor Trade Paperback 07/14/2015) – Final version of the ARC I received back in March, my review is up here: Fourth published novel in Max’s wonderful sequence, but the first chronologically. I’m a bit of a late-arriver to this series, but since this is the chronological first I’ll be jumping into this one. Just as great as Max’s fiction are his non-fiction essays ramblings. Dude is very smart and cool. (That guy on the cover looks like a morphing of Yul Brenner, Dave Bautista, and The Rock on the cover, which makes for a very intimidating dude.)

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods' decaying edicts. As long as the gods' wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill's people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne's work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many people as they can.

The Dinosaur Lords (by Victor Milán (Tor , Hardcover 07/28/2015) – Knights fighting atop dinosaurs. ‘Nuff Said.

"It's like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones." --George R. R. Martin

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden-and of war. Colossal plant-eaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meat-eaters like Allosaurus, and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from bat-sized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán's splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…except the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engage in battle. During the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac-and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Shadows of Self (A Mistborn Novel) by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, Hardcover 10/08/2015) – While I enjoyed the last Mistborn novel, I hope this one has a little more meat to it.

The #1 New York Times bestselling author returns to the world of Mistborn with his first novel in the series since The Alloy of Law.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.

The trilogy's heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are "twinborn," meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.

Shadows of Self shows Mistborn's society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial's progress in its tracks.

Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they've been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

The End of All Things (An Old Man’s War novel) by John Scalzi (Tor Hardcover 08/11/2015) – As Tor and Scalzi did for The Human Division this one was released in an episodes on prior to the novel’s release.

Hugo-award winning author, John Scalzi returns to his best-selling Old Man's War universe with The End of All Things, the direct sequel to 2013's The Human Division
Humans expanded into space...only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement...for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time-a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there's another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other-and against their own kind -for their own unknown reasons.

In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity's union intact...or else risk oblivion, and extinction-and the end of all things.

Zer0es by Chuck Wendig (Harper Voyager 08/18/2015) – Chuck is one of the smartest, hardest working writers in SFF and this is his first Hardcover (exclusive) novel. This is the lovely, final hardcover version of the ARC I received a few months ago.

An exhilarating thrill-ride through the underbelly of cyber espionage in the vein of David Ignatius’s The Director and the television series Leverage, CSI: Cyber, and Person of Interest, which follows five iconoclastic hackers who are coerced into serving the U.S. government.

An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Can the hackers escape their federal watchers and confront Typhon and its mysterious creator? And what does the government really want them to do? If they decide to turn the tables, will their own secrets be exposed—and their lives erased like lines of bad code?

Combining the scientific-based, propulsive narrative style of Michael Crichton with the eerie atmosphere and conspiracy themes of The X-Files and the imaginative, speculative edge of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, Zer0es explores our deep-seated fears about government surveillance and hacking in an inventive fast-paced novel sure to earn Chuck Wendig the widespread acclaim he deserves.

Abomination by Gary Whitta (Inkshares 08/18/2015) – Much of Whitta’s writing has been for Hollywood (Star Wars) or for comics, this is his first novel, I think

"Whitta is a master of suspense. Abomination grabs you and doesn't let go." ―Hugh Howey, New York Times-Bestselling Author of Wool

He is England's greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.

She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have―hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.

When a chance encounter sets these two against one another, an incredible twist of fate will lead them toward a salvation they never thought possible―and prove that the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness can shine a hopeful light even in history’s darkest age.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-07-18)

Just two books this week and they arrived on the same day.

Christopher Farnsworth (Harper Voyager 08/04/2015) – Farnsworth wrote a series of Vampire Thrillers, the first of which Blood Oath was reviewed by Hobbit a few years back.

Five hundred years ago, a group of Spanish conquistadors searching for gold, led by a young and brilliant commander named Simon De Oliveras, land in the New World. What they find in the sunny and humid swamps of this uncharted land is a treasure far more valuable: the Fountain of Youth. The Spaniards slaughter the Uzita, the Native American tribe who guard the precious waters that will keep the conquistadors young for centuries. But one escapes: Shako, the chief’s fierce and beautiful daughter, who swears to avenge her people—a blood oath that spans more than five centuries. . .

When the source of the fountain is destroyed in our own time, the loss threatens Simon and his men, and the powerful, shadowy empire of wealth and influence they have built. For help, they turn to David Robinton, a scientific prodigy who believes he is on the verge of the greatest medical breakthrough of all time. But as the centuries-old war between Shako and Simon reaches its final stages, David makes a horrifying discovery about his employers and the mysterious and exotic woman he loves. Now, the scientist must decide: is he a pawn in a game of immortals. . . or will he be its only winner?

Fable: Edge of the World by Jim C. Hines (Del Rey, Trade Paperback 08/04/2015) – Hines is a solid dependable writer who spins fun tales which, I suspect, is why the Fables people selected him to write this book. This is the published version of the ARC I received about a month ago.

The official companion novel to the videogame Fable® Legends

Deep in Albion’s darkest age, long before once upon a time . . . Heroes are thought to be gone from the land. So why have the bards begun singing of them once more? For Fable newcomers and dedicated fans alike, Blood of Heroes delves into a never-before-glimpsed era, telling the tale of a band of adventurers who come together to defend a kingdom in desperate need.

The city of Brightlodge is awash with Heroes from every corner of Albion, all eager for their next quest. When someone tries to burn down the Cock and Bard inn, four Heroes find themselves hastily thrown together, chasing outlaws through sewers, storming a riverboat full of smugglers, and placing their trust in a most unlikely ally. As the beginnings of a deadly plot are revealed, it becomes clear that Heroes have truly arrived—and so have villains.

What connects the recent events in Brightlodge to rumors about a malicious ghost and a spate of unsolved deaths in the nearby mining town of Grayrock? Unless Albion’s bravest Heroes can find the answer, the dawn of a new age could be extinguished before it even begins.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Gladstone & Kurtz @SFFWorld, Anders @SFSignal

Here it is, the Friday Round-up you have all been waiting to read!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of a classic fantasy novel that definitely fits the bill of being “oldie but a goodie.” I refer to Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz, books which have long been back-burner books I anticipated reading, but some Twitter conversations with Fred Kiesche, Joe Sherry, Paul Wiemer, and Jonah Sutton-Morse pushed me to get the audible version:

Much of the action presented in the novel takes place in a short time and focuses on a relatively small cast. With Kelson’s coronation looming, he is aided by his father’s close advisor Alaric Morgan and Morgan’s cousin Duncan (a Monsignor). Unfortunately, because of Morgan’s Deryni blood, Brion’s widow Jehanna has no trust for the man who acts as a paternal figure to Kelson and seeks to have him tried for Brion’s murder. People of the Deryni heritage possess magical and psychic powers, causing many to fear them and, over the years, drive them out of Gwynedd. As of Deryni Rising and the years since they’ve been driven out, people of Deryni blood have come to be viewed as something akin to demons.

Despite the novel knocking on the door of the 50-year old mark, Deryni Rising manages to hold its own in terms of tone and style. In other words, for my reading tastes, it has aged quite well and perhaps that is why the novel remains in print and so well-regarded. What also came across, and perhaps this is aided by the wonderful narration performed by Jeff Woodman, is the characterization. His subtle tone and voice changes for each character went a long way in helping to make each character distinct, accentuating the strong characterization imbued by Kurtz herself.

This week, two new reviews were posted, on the same day no less, since they were both officially published on Tuesday, July 14. Let’s go alphabetically, which leads to Nightborn, the second novel in Lou Anders’ Thrones and Bones series for younger readers. I liked this one a lot and breezed through it in a couple of days:

In Nightborn, Anders wonderfully expands both the world and the cast in an organic fashion – the characters are a product of their world and the world is a character in and of itself. Because Karn and Thianna were such well-constructed people in Frostborn, Anders was able to provide a solid foundation for Desstra’s character and her ongoing internal conflict which was primarily who she was becoming versus the cultural expectations placed on her as a member of the Underhand-in-training. As wonderful as Anders infused his Karn and Thiann with life, doubt and believable, youthful humanity, I think he’s done an even more admirable job with Desstra here in Nightborn. Like Karn and his uncle in Frostborn, Desstra struggles under the shadow of a less than savory mentor figure, the selfish and self-centered elf Tanthal.

While Nightborntells a full story within its pages, it seems evident Lou is building something more. He could have easily brought these three characters together and set them on an adventure. But instead, he builds a strong basis for their burgeoning relationship; if they aren’t exactly friends by novel’s end they at least have a good understanding of each other and how their strengths build upon each other and finding out how these characters interact down their adventurous road is something I look forward to reading.

Last, and certainly not least (except that the word “Last” is in the title), is Max Gladstone’s fourth (published, but first chronological) Craft Sequence novel, Last First Snow:

Much of the novel reads like a legal thriller, except that the legality involves a revolutionary and an 8-foot tall skeleton god. That may sound outrageous, but Gladstone makes the premise supremely natural and plausible. The city-state of Dresdiel Lex has not quite recovered from its liberation from the gods, despite their wards still being present. Enter three parties with great interest: The King in Red afore mentioned 10-foot skeletal god (what a simple, effective and cool name with gravitas, and yes, I gave two measurements for him, his size fluctuates); a local figure named Tan Batac; and a holy man named Temoc. A lawyer named Elayne Kevarian tries to keep the peace between the conflicting parties and ensure a peaceful deal can be had.
Gladstone keeps the tension high throughout the novel in scenes between the King in Red and Elayne as they try to reach some kind of agreement about what is best for the city. There is also palpable tension in scenes featuring Temoc and his family, especially after the lengths to which he goes in the hopes of securing some kind of peace for the city while striking at the heart of his enemies. Through these characters, Gladstone shows the weight of the changing world on their shoulders, how much a war in the past affects the survivors and informs their every action. Max does a great job of setting a relatively measured pace for the middle portion of the novel – the fall out of that aforementioned event – until the novel builds to a powerful climax that was pure fantasy adrenaline.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-07-11)

One electronic version, three physical and they all look really interesting.

One Good Dragon Deserves Another (Volume 2 of The Heartstrikers Series) by Rachel Aaron (08/01/2015) – I thought the first in this series, Nice Dragon Finish Last was very enjoyable. I liked both the characters and world-building very much.

After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one, and now that he's got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker's gamble to put her clan on top.

Refusal to play along with his mother's plans means death, but there's more going on than even Bethesda knows, and with Estella back in the game with a vengeance, Heartstriker futures disappearing, and Algonquin's dragon hunter closing in, the stakes are higher than even a seer can calculate. But when his most powerful family members start dropping like flies, it falls to Julius to defend the clan that never respected him and prove that, sometimes, the world's worst dragon is the best one to have on your side.

Half a War (Book Three of The Shattered Sea Trilogy) by Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey Hardcover 07/28/2014) –The concluding volume to Joe’s Young Adult trilogy, which last July. I’ve got the first one as an eBook, so I’ve go some catching up to do.

New York Times bestselling author Joe Abercrombie delivers the stunning conclusion to the epic fantasy trilogy that began with Half a King, praised by George R. R. Martin as “a fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page 1 and refused to let go.”

Words are weapons.

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. If she is to reclaim her birthright, she must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge.

Only half a war is fought with swords.

The deeply cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head—a man who worships only Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil.

Some—like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith—are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others—like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver—would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her irons wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

The King's Justice: Two Novellas by Stephen R. Donaldson (Trade Paperback 10/15/2015 G.P. Putnam’s Sons) – Donaldson is one of those writers I read when I was first really getting into the fantasy genre, specifically his Thomas Covenant books, but I haven’t read the final 4. Yet. This book looks very interesting.

Two new, original novellas—Donaldson's first publication since finishing the Thomas Covenant series—are a sure cause for celebration among his many fans.

In The King's Justice, a stranger dressed in black arrives in the village of Settle's Crossways, following the scent of a terrible crime. He even calls himself "Black," though almost certainly that is not his name. The people of the village discover that they have a surprising urge to cooperate with this stranger, though the desire of inhabitants of quiet villages to cooperate with strangers is not common in their land, or most lands. But this gift will not save him as he discovers the nature of the evil concealed in Settle’s Crossways.

The Augur's Gambit is a daring plan created by Mayhew Gordian, Hieronomer to the Queen of Indemnie, a plan to save his Queen and his country. Gordian is a reader of entrails. In the bodies of chickens, lambs, piglets, and one stillborn infant he sees the same message: the island nation of Indemnie is doomed. But even in the face of certain destruction a man may fight, and the Hieronomer is utterly loyal to his beautiful Queen--and to her only daughter. The "Augur's Gambit" is his mad attempt to save a kingdom.

Beyond the Pool of Stars (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Howard Andrew Jones (Paizo Trade Paperback 10/06/2015) – This is Jones’s third Pathfinder novel and I loved his second installment of The Chronicles of Sword and Sand so I hope I can get to this one

Mirian Raas comes from a long line of salvagers, adventurers who use magic to dive for sunken ships off the coast of tropical Sargava. When her father dies, Mirian has to take over his last job: a dangerous expedition into deep jungle pools, helping a tribe of lizardfolk reclaim the lost treasures of their people. Yet this isn’t any ordinary job, as the same colonial government that looks down on Mirian for her half-native heritage has an interest in the treasure, and the survival of the entire nation may depend on the outcome…

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The 2015 Six Pack of My Favorite 2015 SFF Books So Far (+ a Shot from 2014)

We are in the first full week of July 2015 which means we’ve passed the half-way point of 2015. Therefore, subsequently, ergo, here is my mid-year six pack – the six books published between January 2015 and June 2015 I enjoyed the most, in alphabetical order by author’s last name (plus one more at the end published in 2014) with an excerpt of my review, which is linked via the book title.

The Skull Throne (Book Four of The Demon Cycle) by Peter V. Brett

At this point, I don’t think it would be spoiling the story too much to say that Arlen and Jardir survived their tumble off the cliff, because Arlen realized it would be illogical to reduce any kind of chances humanity has at defeating the Demons, even if the methods Jardir and his people practice are less than savory. Arlen and Jardir exchange diatribes about their methods, but agree to face the larger threat. Meanwhile, the people who watched them fall to their seeming deaths are left thinking the two “Deliverers” have perished…except Renna who was a participant in Arlen’s scheme to keep both men alive. Their goal: to trap a Mind Demon and enter the Core to take the fight to the Queen of Demons. The characters disperse and we follow three main threads: Inevera, Abban and the Krasians as they attempt to keep the Skull Throne occupied and further their campaign against the “Greenlanders” of Thesa, the Thesians dealing with the Krasian threat with attempts to unite featuring characters Rojer, Renna, Leesha, Gared and those folk; and of course Arlen and Jardir preparing themselves for entry into The Core.
pride may be one of the characteristics or traits that does in many of the characters and can be seen as the greatest flaw a person can have in this world. Rojer, Jardir, Jayan (among others) all exhibit a great deal of hubris and pride. Some of them overcome that and don’t let the hubris consume them, but when that hubris so strongly defines an individual character here, it tends to be a fatalistic flaw. Leesha was quite prideful in her journey through to The Skull Throne, but in this third volume, her pride seems to have been quelled and as a result, she is a stronger character.
Gemini Cell by Myke Cole (A Shadow OPS novel) 
Gemini Cell is Myke’s fourth novel and is set in the same milieu as his previous three Shadow OPS novels, but is completely separate from those novels in terms of characters, timeframe, and storyline. In other words, this is the perfect entry point for new readers. In it, Myke introduces readers to Jim Schweitzer, a Navy SEAL, husband, and father. Like many soldiers/operators, he is torn between his military life and his family life. His wife Sarah is an artist and her career is beginning to flourish. As the novel starts, Sarah is having a major exhibition of her work and unfortunately, Jim is called away in the middle of the exhibition by the Navy for an emergency mission.
Jim wakes up or rather he is brought back from the dead by a sorcerer and learns he is not alone in his own head and body. His unlife in his undead body share space with an ancient jinn named Ninip. Jim is informed that death has not severed his service to the Navy and he is “transferred” into Gemini Cell with Gemini referring, of course, to the twin souls of Jim and Ninip inhabiting Jim’s zombie body. As Jim soon learns, sharing a body with an angry jinn is a challenging task on top of adjusting to being undead and having been told his wife and son were murdered when he was killed. Jim’s spirit and Ninip’s spirit constantly struggle for control of Jim’s body, when in stasis, training or one of the missions he is sent to accomplish. Ninip is angry, seeks blood death and vengeance while Jim tries to calm the spirit. 

The Grace of Kings (Book 1 of The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu
Set in the Dara archipelago (an imagined world with a Asian resonances), the Emperor Mapidéré has united the many islands under one banner. Immediately, in my mind, a flag arose. This could be seen as an endgame, for an epic fantasy novel/saga – the uniting of kingdoms by an ambitious ruler. But this is where Liu launches his story, at the apex of one ruler’s conquering goals as viewed by a trickster with lofty aspirations and an orphan seeking revenge. This trickster is a young boy who often gets into trouble, would rather frolic than read, but whose mother continually holds out hope that he’ll eventually “get it” and stop his tomfoolery. This is Kuni Garu, one of the primary protagonists of the novel. We see much of the action of the narrative through his point of view, we see him grow into manhood, become a husband, father, and unlikely leader of men. Kuni joins a street gang, has many adventures until he finally appoints himself Duke Garu and grows a legion of followers who pledge themselves to him. As Kuni climbs the social strata and makes a name for himself, he falls for a woman named Jia, the woman who becomes his first wife.

There’s been a fair amount of criticism about the lack of female characters in this novel, itself just the first part of a trilogy. (This raises the question, I suppose, of how to review one novel in a series, which is a large chapter in a much larger story.) While I can understand that frustration – to a point – it seems to me in order to showcase an element that might be underrepresented, one must first illustrate that deficiency. In other words, such a criticism in my mind is slightly off the mark, because it seems to me the point of what Liu did with the gender imbalance in the first half is to present a problem to be fixed. A broken or unwhole thing can better be amended or repaired when it is viewed wholly.
The Autumn Republic (Book Thee of The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan 
An excerpt of my yet-to-be posted review (though I finished the book the last week of June)

One great thing that struck me as I was blazing through the pages is what a great job McClellan did with finishing off The Powder Mage Trilogy in The Autumn Republic. There was a great crescendo of tension as not only the elements of this novel came together, but the themes and character arcs of the whole trilogy came together towards conclusion. As great as McClellan did in crafting believable characters, his pacing was probably the strongest element of The Autumn Republic. I was continually impressed with Brian’s an expert handle on how he wants to conclude the story of Tamas and Taniel and his restraint in not rushing towards it unrestrained, while still maintaining that fantastic pace.

The character of Nila really comes into her own as her character develops throughout the novel from the minor character we met initially in A Promise of Blood to how integral she is here in the finale. Events could not have played out as they if Nila didn’t take the active role she did.

The Red by Linda Nagata (A Red novel)

Lieutenant James Shelley is in charge of a Linked Combat Squad (LCS), who has dubbed him King David because of his premonitions which have often saved some, or all of them, from defeat or death. In this near future (probably about Twenty Minutes into the Future) members of the military wear skull caps on their heads which connect them to a cloud network. The military answers more to defense contractors than the government. The skull caps worn by the squad members also, via the cloud and their network administrator (for lack of a better term), control their emotions to ensure a more cool and calculated demeanor in the field. Ironically enough, Shelly was a war protestor and in lieu of serving out a jail sentence, he agreed to join the military. He excelled and eventually Shelly’s premonitions become more powerful, but he sustains a very damaging combat injury in the first third of the novel. What provides Shelly with these premonitions is something he dubs “The Red;” but is it malevolent, benign, or benevolent or more likely, an unknowable wild card?
There’s also a nice metafictional element to the novel. You see, Shelley’s exploits are being broadcast for entertainment consumption, initially, without his knowledge. The public comes to know him and revere him as a hero. As such, the novel itself is broken into three sections, or Episodes, reflecting the exploits of Shelley’s LCS which are broadcast as entertainments. By novel’s end, or the end of three “episodes,” Shelley is transformed from the man we first met, he has accomplished some missions and Nagata has told a fabulous story.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka lives in a small village protected by the wizard known as the Dragon. Every decade or so, the Dragon comes down from his tower and hand-picks a young girl from the village to come live with him for a decade. Very little is known about what occurs between the two during that time save the woman leaves the tower a practitioner of magic herself and seemingly is no longer connected to her home-village. Nieshka thinks her best friend Kasia will be chosen by the Dragon as the time approaches for his ten-year visit. Much to her surprise (but not to any genre reader, I suppose especially because the tale is told through Agnieszka’s first person voice) Agnieszka is chosen and brought to the wizard’s tower.

Agnieszka is not the most agreeable of the Dragon’s students. She constantly challenges his authority, seeks alternate methods for practicing the magical arts and generally acts in a defiant manner. Superficially, that could make for an annoying character, but I was enthralled with Nishka and her plight. Novik did a marvelous job of building empathy and sympathy for her through nearly every twist and turn of the plot. On the other hand, the Dragon was a man who showed little patience for Agnieska through many of their interactions, but who wielded great power.

The honorable mentions is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (published last year) which very quickly jumped up my all time favorite list.

As George R.R. Martin proclaimed when he stated that Station Eleven was his favorite book from 2014, it is a book that shouldn’t work. The structure is not linear, it veers all over the place and doesn’t make itself immediately clear how everything is connected. That perceived barrier is what makes this such a strong and powerful novel because Mandel so skillfully weaves these narratives and left me at each seeming halting of a specific narrative wanting so much more. So I continued with the “new” narrative in the hopes of coming to a connection point between the seemingly separate narratives only to be fully engrossed in that “new” narrative. Or, in other words, I was wrapped up in what was happening to Kirsten only for Mandel to switch over to a narrative featuring Leander’s first wife Miranda and found myself equally enwrapped in her story.
The famous actor Arthur Leander, after years as a Hollywood leading man and box office draw, returns to the stage for a production of King Lear in Toronto. When he dies on stage, the story unfolds in many directions. We learn about Jeevan Chaudhary, the medic who rushes from the audience to the stage to check on the actor. We meet Kirsten Ramonde, the young actress (8 years old) cast as one of Lear’s daughters for this unique performance as. Their narratives spin directly following Leander’s death as civilization collapses (Jeevan) and a decade-and-a-half after the population has dwindled (Kirsten). Mandel also focuses her lens on Leander’s first wife, Miranda and his best friend Clark Thompson.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-04-04)

You all know the drill by now...a shortened week for the mail brings two books to the o' Stuff homestead this week.

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (Hardcover, Tor 07/07/2015) – Chu is a new superstar in the genre, after the very well-received Tao trilogy with Angry Robot, he jumps to Tor for this novel.

Time Salvager: a fast-paced time travel adventure from Wesley Chu, the award-winning author of The Lives of Tao.

In a future when Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humanity has spread into the outer solar system to survive, the tightly controlled use of time travel holds the key maintaining a fragile existence among the other planets and their moons. James Griffin-Mars is a chronman--a convicted criminal recruited for his unique psychological makeup to undertake the most dangerous job there is: missions into Earth's past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. Most chronmen never reach old age, and James is reaching his breaking point.

On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets an intriguing woman from a previous century, scientist Elise Kim, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, James brings her back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, and discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity's home world..

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Hardcoer, Tor 07/14/2015) – I like First Contact novels and this one looks to work that trope in an interesting way. This is the final / hardcover of the ARC I received a couple of weeks ago.

From Nebula and Hugo Award-nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she's been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Jim Butcher & Mind Meld @SFSignal and @SFFWorld Interviews (Jeffrey Ford and others)!

With the Fourth of July tomorrow (Saturday), what a great time it is now for a Friday Link-Dump. Here’s some great stuff that has gone up at SFFWorld and SF Signal over the past few weeks. Not too much from me at SFFWorld lately (I read and reviewed Max Gladstone’s forthcoming novel Last First Snow, but I’m holding the review until the publication date gets closer), but that doesn’t mean things aren’t going on over there. I’ve also got two new pieces up at SF Signal this week: a book review and my July Mind Meld.

A couple of weeks ago at SFFWorld, I took part in an interview we posted with one of my favorite (and under-read) writers: Jeffrey Ford. His wonderful Well Built City Trilogy is being issued electronically (along with other titles on his backlist) by Open Road Integrated Media. Here's a sampling:
The two collections being released electronically, The Empire of Ice Cream and The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant display a wide range of imaginative stories, some from themed anthologies, other stories from the magazine/short story market. Do you find crafting a story for a specific themed anthology to prove more challenging than crafting stories that appear in “unthemed” in a place like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or

Sometimes it’s easier because you at least have some parameters to begin with, so the limitation offers direction. The problem is it can become stultifying if the subject of the anthology is too played — like zombies, vampires, etc. Story possibilities have been milked for all their worth and then some. Still, if you’re able to come up with a story that escapes the pedestrian in those flayed categories that can be exciting writing. On the other hand, writing with no parameters, the sky’s the limit, that can also be daunting. Unless, of course, you have a story already in mind.

Tuesday, my review of Working for Bigfoot, a tryptich of stories featuring Harry Dresden doing jobs for a Bigfoot published by Subterranean Press went up at SF Signal:

Jim Butcher, especially because of his Dresden Files series, is known mostly for writing novel length fiction. Occasionally, when an anthology editor calls, Jim will write a shorter tale featuring a mini-adventure of everybody’s favorite Chicago Wizard (or another character from the series). The fine folks at Subterranean Press have gathered three of those shorter mini-adventures her in Working for Bigfoot. In each story, Harry Dresden takes on jobs for a Bigfoot as the Sasquatch/Yeti are, unsurprisingly, a separate supernatural race in the world of The Dresden Files.

Prior to reading Working for Bigfoot, I recently read the (at the time of this review) most recent Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, which just happens to have as a supporting character, a Bigfoot. So perhaps the timing of the release of this “Bigfoot Trilogy” of short stories is quite apropos. I found the stories just as enjoyable as the novel-length stories in this series, what I enjoy about the novels (Butcher’s humor, Harry as a character, and the Fantasy Kitchen Sink approach to the supernatural world) was on display here. This is the second limited edition publication Subterranean Press has published featuring a short story in The Dresden Files (the previous is Backup), the art here is by Vincent Chong, who did the covers and art for the limited editions of the Dresden novels Subterranean has published thus far. Even in ARC form, this is a nice edition, with not only an eye-catching cover but moody illustrations for each of the stories.

In addition to the Jeffrey Ford interview I pointed out above, we’ve also recently run interviews with:

Luke Brown has been a great addition to our gaggle of reviewers and was recently the 100th blogger/genre reviewer interviewed by S.C. Flynn.

We’ve got a great Authors Roundtable going on over at SFFWorld featuring Alexes Razevich, Brian Staveley, Jay Posey, and Mark Lawrence

Also at SF Signal, my July Mind Meld went live, wherein I ask Mahvesh Murad, Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book CriticShana Dubois, Romeo KennedyMelanie R. Meadors, and Alex Ristea about :

From Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki going back as far as Evangeline Walton’s “Mabinogion Tetralogy” as well as Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light and Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, myths and gods from around the world have infused speculative fiction. What is your favorite mythic and god-infused fiction?