Sunday, September 27, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-09-26)

Gee, I wonder which book stands out this week?

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher - (Roc Hardback 09/29/2015) – What needs to be said? This is a brand new Steampunk series from genre superstar and one of my favorite authors Jim Butcher. 

Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Life of Zarf: The Troll Who Cried Wolf by Rob Harrell (Hardcover Dial for Young Readers 09/29/2015) – Second book in this series about Zarf and it looks like a fun series at that.

Fractured fairy tales meet modern day middle school in book two of this funny series for fans of Shrek and Timmy Failure. 

Even after rescuing the king from deadly Snuffweasels, Zarf is scum on the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. After all, he is still a troll. But at least he still has his two best friends, Kevin and Chester . . . until Kevin disappears, that is. Now Zarf is at an all-time low. It seems a band of wolves are seeking revenge for the constant disgrace they’ve suffered over the years, and Little Red Ridinghood’s kid might be next on their list. Now it’s up to Zarf to crank out a solution from that troll brain of his, and save his best friend before it’s too late. 

Award-winning comic creator Rob Harrell has middle-grade humor mastered. This second book in his Life of Zarf series is packed with even more witty one-liners and clever twists on classic folk and fairytales.

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. This is the final copy of the ARC I received in July.

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… 

Saturn Run by John Sandford and CTEIN (Putnam Hardcover 10/06/2015) – Sandford is a well-established thriller writer and here he turns to a more Science Fictional tal.

For fans of THE MARTIAN, an extraordinary new thriller of the future from #1 New York Times–bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Sandford and internationally known photo-artist and science fiction aficionado CTEIN. 

Over the course of thirty-seven books, John Sandford has proven time and again his unmatchable talents for electrifying plots, rich characters, sly wit, and razor-sharp dialogue. Now, in collaboration with Ctein, he proves it all once more, in a stunning new thriller, a story as audacious as it is deeply satisfying. 

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do. 

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out. 

The race is on, and a remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-09-19)

Some interesting looking fantasies arrived this week.

Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed (Star Wars Books / Del Rey, Hardcover 11/03/2015) – Inspired by the Game based on the Star Wars universe. Freed has extensive experience writing for Star Wars – 6 years on the The Old Republic game in addition to numerous comics. Nice to see him get a “promotion” to writing one of the big SW novels.

A companion novel inspired by the hotly anticipated videogame Star Wars: Battlefront, this action-packed adventure follows a squad of soldiers caught in the trenches of the ultimate galactic war between good and evil.

The bravest soldiers. The toughest warriors. The ultimate survivors.

Among the stars and across the vast expanses of space, the Galactic Civil War rages. On the battlefields of multiple worlds in the Mid Rim, legions of ruthless stormtroopers—bent on crushing resistance to the Empire wherever it arises—are waging close and brutal combat against an armada of freedom fighters. In the streets and alleys of ravaged cities, the front-line forces of the Rebel Alliance are taking the fight to the enemy, pushing deeper into Imperial territory and grappling with the savage flesh-and-blood realities of war on the ground.

Leading the charge are the soldiers—men and women, human and nonhuman—of the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry, better known as Twilight Company. Hard-bitten, war-weary, and ferociously loyal to one another, the members of this renegade outfit doggedly survive where others perish, and defiance is their most powerful weapon against the deadliest odds. When orders come down for the rebels to fall back in the face of superior opposition numbers and firepower, Twilight reluctantly complies. Then an unlikely ally radically changes the strategic equation—and gives the Alliance’s hardest-fighting warriors a crucial chance to turn retreat into resurgence.

Orders or not, alone and outgunned but unbowed, Twilight Company locks, loads, and prepares to make its boldest maneuver—trading down-and-dirty battle in the trenches for a game-changing strike at the ultimate target: the very heart of the Empire’s military machine.

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 10/27/2015) – An ambitious looking young adult novel, bit and meaty with a snazzy looking cover.

May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.

His second life will be nothing like his first.

Zebulon's new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.
Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?

Ambitious and heartbreaking, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire is the epic saga of what it means to be human in a world so often lacking in humanity.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Gary Gianni (Spectra Hardcover 10/06/2015) – A collection of the three Dunk and Egg novellas/short novels.

Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.

Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two . . . as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn’t dead—yet.

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Meyer (Tor 09/01/2015) – My SFSignal pal Paul Weimer had mentioned this book and being able to read an early version of it. Ilana has written for various Web sites, this is her debut novel and this is the final/hardcopy of the ARC I received back in June.

A high fantasy following a young woman's defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world's lost magic in Ilana C. Myer's Last Song Before Night.

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings-a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression-from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar's connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death's return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

A Crucible of Souls (Sorcery Ascendant #1) by Mitchell Hogan (Harper Voyager / William Morrow Trade Paperback 09/22/15) – Hogan’s debut which originally published in Australia and won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

An imaginative new talent makes his debut with the acclaimed first installment in the epic Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, a mesmerizing tale of high fantasy that combines magic, malevolence, and mystery.

When young Caldan’s parents are brutally slain, the boy is raised by monks who initiate him into the arcane mysteries of sorcery.

Growing up plagued by questions about his past, Caldan vows to discover who his parents were, and why they were violently killed. The search will take him beyond the walls of the monastery, into the unfamiliar and dangerous chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to become apprenticed to a guild of sorcerers.

But the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths he does not fully understand. As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that will bring the world to the edge of destruction.

Soon, he must choose a side, and face the true cost of uncovering his past.

Inherit the Stars by Tony Peak (Roc Mass Market Paperback 11/03/2015) - Space Opera debut from Roc. We are also giving away a copy at SFFWorld in October. Not to be confused with the first book in James Hogan’s Giants series.

Action-packed and filled with shootouts and spaceship chases, INHERIT THE STARS is an epic space adventure that is perfect for the science fiction fan looking for throwback space operas like Star Wars and Firefly. If you love the works of James S.A. Corey and Jason Hough, and movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll love this fun debut! 

Readers are introduces to Kivita Vondir, a girl who has always dreamt of salvaging. Now, it’s become an addiction, getting through pit stops filled with cheap alcohol, and even cheaper companionship.

But when she rescues an alien artifact, in the shape of a fabled gemstone, she finds far more than a lucrative take. Suddenly and inexplicably, she can hack computers and pilot starships by sheer force of will alone—a power that everyone in this galaxy (and the next) wants. 

As she tries to avoid a massive galactic manhunt, Kivita teams up with two unlikely allies: Sar, her former lover turned rebel, and his enigmatic new girlfriend. Only, as the gem’s mysteries are revealed and danger draws near, Kivita begins to wonder if her ex has truly changed, or if he’s just waiting for the right moment to betray her once again…

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Sigler & Wendig @SFFWorld, Cherryh, @SFSignal Mind Meld

Friday Round Up time here at the blog…

Last week, my review of Scott Sigler’s YA SF Thriller Alive went live at SFFWorld. You know, where I do a linkdump of recent reviews and postings, which feature a cover shot of the book in question, a clip of the book review and the link to the book review.

The premise starts with this: a 12-year old girl wakes up in a dark place on what she thinks is her birthday. She comes to realize she is in a coffin, but she has no concrete memories of who she is but sees what she assumes is her name “M. Savage” on the coffin. Some memories of moments enter her mind, but nothing really informing her of her identity or situation. She realizes she is not the only person in a coffin as a voice comes from another locked coffin in the room. Em (as she comes to calling herself) realizes her body is no longer that of a 12-year old girl. To reveal too much more of the plot beyond that would violate the unwritten/unsigned agreement I made with Scott Sigler when I finished the book.
What I can say is that this novel was supremely gripping with enough clues along the way that sousing out what is actually happing is rewarding and fun. Em became a character I could empathize with very quickly, and reading of her plight as she experienced it added to the tension and narrative magnetism of the story. Sigler’s approach to the story put me very much in the story. Because of that, through significant portions of the narrative, I felt as if I was playing a Dungeons & Dragons game, walking down the mysterious corridors with very little knowledge of what lurked in the shadows and behind each corner.

A week ago, I posted a review of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner, mused about my multiple attempts at reading her work, finally doing so with Foreigner, and how I’m looking forward to reading my of her backlist.

Wednesday, my September Mind Meld posted. In it, I asked Jennifer Brozek, Kate Heartfield, James Aquilone, Jo Zebedee, Sarah Olsen, Erica Whiting, and Aliette de Bodard about

Sometimes we read authors that don't initially click, or we dismiss them after dipping our proverbial toes into their books. Eventually; however, you give them a 2nd (or 3rd) chance and you connect with the author on this second attempt and maybe the author even becomes a favorite. What authors did you give another shot and what book was it that worked?

This past Tuesday, my review of Chuck Wendig’s excellent Star Wars novel Aftermath published:

The Empire starts crumbling, but is far from destroyed and silenced. Palpatine, through the Empire, built a great deal of infrastructure over many years that allowed the Empire to function, much of this infrastructure is still in place. This is what the fragmented populace of the galaxy is learning, Stormtroopers still patrol the planet Akiva and attempt to enforce the Empire’s will. Some people are unaware, or don’t believe, Emperor Palpatine is dead. In short, a great victory for the Rebels and their fledgling New Republic, but much still needs to be done as we learn from Admiral Ackbar, who is weary from the war. Wedge Antillies, probably the most popular secondary character in the franchise, is still trying to ferret out the remaining vestiges of the Empire, including his encounter with Imperial Star Destroyers. These familiar character form our bridge into the novel, which introduces many new characters including those central to Aftermath: Norra Wexley, rebel pilot and widow; her son Temmin Wexley, who managed to run an odds and ends shop with his hacked battle droid Mr. Bones; Sinjir Rath Velus, a one time Imperial who saw the writing on the wall; and the bounty hunter Jas Emari.
I appreciated that Chuck decided to go for the non-default setting (i.e. white dude) for the primary characters in the novel. Norra is a mother and arguably the main protagonist and she is terrifically real; she’s a great pilot, she’s an active protagonist, yet she’s flawed in that she’s far from an attentive, perfect mother and is dealing with PTSD. She realizes her strengths and weaknesses and continues to try to improve her situation. I want more of her and more like her. One of the main antagonists, Rae Sloane, a high-ranking Imperial Officer who sits at the helm of the Star Destroyer Ravager and helps to ignite much of the plot’s action. The bounty hunter, Jas, is also female.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Star Wars Aftermath Afterthoughts

My review of Aftermath has been written and posted to SFFWorld, but here I’ll rant briefly about the bullshit “Raid” against the book, Chuck Wendig, and the general anger towards the new Canon from Disney/Star Wars.

There’s been a lot on social media about not just Chuck’s book, but the whole new initiative Disney is leading for the Star Wars universe. If anything has become fact in genre fandom, it is that nothing is permanent. Back in 1986, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths … That lasted less than a decade because that reboot was polished a bit in 1994 with Zero Hour and more recently, DCU was rebooted with “The New 52” and most recently, that New 52 was jettisoned yet again not even five years later.

Look, these things exist side by side peacefully
I enjoyed them all and my sanity remains intact
Marvel Comics is in the process of rebooting their universe, primarily to streamline 50+ years of canon and to get the comics universe to be least a bit more consistent & parallel with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

How many actors have portrayed James Bond? Wasn’t the Daniel Craig full reboot met with great success?

They close minded people behind the “Raid” don’t see it that way. (Borderline hate campaigns are lead through that link and the events are erased from the page after they happen). They see the destruction of the Expanded Universe as Disney taking something away from them. While it is understandable that people loyal to the EU would be upset, those stories still exist. They cannot take away a reader's experience of reading those stories.

I wasn’t a fan of DC’s New 52, on the whole, but I still own all my Flash comics Mark Waid wrote featuring Wally West. His storyline “The Return of Barry Allen” still remains my favorite superhero story even though the Wally West in that story doesn’t exist any longer. Those stories still have weight.

Taking the disappointment and frustration of “losing” the EU and twisting this emotion to hate leads to … (come on everybody, say it with me) the Dark Side. This line of thinking, while not yet at the level of “frustration” that the Sad/Rabid Puppy movement is at, begins at the same place and for some, is leading down the same road and already has been coined Sad Bantha by John Kovalic of Dork Tower and Munchkin fame.

Folks giving Chuck Wendig's *terrific* "Star Wars: Aftermath" one-star reviews because it has gay characters: I dub thee "Sad Banthas."
Posted by John Kovalic on Monday, September 7, 2015

“Oh no boo-hoo” my fandom is evolving. It isn’t like Disney is deleting those reading experiences from your memories, or taking those books off of your shelves. The Sean Connery James Bond movies still exist. It is one thing to be unhappy with the direction the thing is going, but to actively fall short of smearing what is new? That’s just counter to everything the Force symbolizes.

My point being, these reboots aren’t always a bad thing. If anything, a reboot like this could prove even more successful for many reasons. As much as Disney wants fresh start in their handling of Star Wars it is impossible if for no other reason Coruscant was named by Timothy Zahn. OK, that one is obvious. The new show, Rebels revealed that not everything pre-Disney buyout was going away. A very popular character created four years before the Disney takeover/absorption made an appearance and that same character was hinted at in Wendig’s Aftermath. Whether a popular character like Mara Jade with such a long EU history and legacy are introduced in the new encompassing DSW (Disney Star Wars) canon remains to be seen. However, the people who are in charge of continuity, Lucasfilm Story Group can look at what was successful in the Expanded Universe and bring some of those characters/story elements, etc, forward into DSW in a new “storytelling approach.

And the people bothered by one of the protagonists in Aftermath being gay? Really? Again, that whole acceptance thing which is a major tenet of the Force and Jedi should be adhered to with this as well. Chuck, of course said it best last week:

And if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct. You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.
(By the way, the book also has an older woman, a mother, rescuing a man. So if that bothers you, you might wanna find a bunker for hunkering down. And I dunno if you noticed, but the three new protagonists of the movie consist of a woman, a black man, a Latino man. The bad guys all look like white guys, too. So many meteors. So little time to squawk at them.)

Bottom line, people need to be more open-minded and accepting, but that line of advice is far from new.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-09-12)

A shortened week (Labor Day) didn't stop these books from arriving.

The Complete Morgaine  by C. J. Cherryh (DAW Trade Paperback 09/01/2015) – A big honking omnibus of some of Cherryh’s earliest work, which seems to be a perfect blending of Science Fiction and Fantasy – Science Fantasy. This includes Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, and Exile's Gate

Together for the first time in one volume—all four novels in the dark science fiction epic, the Morgaine Cycle. 

The gates were relics of a lost era, a linked network of portals that the ruthless Qual empire used to span Time and Space. The Science Buereau has come to believe that sometime, somewhere in the unreachable past, someone has done the unthinkable and warped the very fabric of the universe using these gates. Now, it is up to Morgaine, a mysterious woman aided by a single warrior honor-bound to serve her, to travel from world to world sealing the ancient gates whose very existence threatens the integrity of all worlds...

Dragon Coast by Greg van Eekhout (Tor Hardcover 09/15/2015) – Eekhout rounds out his trilogy in 18 months, not a bad pace.

Dragon Coast: the sequel to Greg Van Eekhout'sCalifornia Bones and Pacific Fire, in which Daniel Blackland must pull off the most improbable theft of all.

Daniel's adopted son Sam, made from the magical essence of the tyrannical Hierarch of Southern California whom Daniel overthrew and killed, is lost-consumed by the great Pacific firedrake secretly assembled by Daniel's half-brother, Paul.

But Sam is still alive and aware, in magical form, trapped inside the dragon as it rampages around Los Angeles, periodically torching a neighborhood or two.

Daniel has a plan to rescue Sam. It will involve the rarest of substances, axis mundi , pieces of the bones of the great dragon at the center of the Earth. Daniel will have to go to the kingdom of Northern California, boldly posing as his half-brother, come to claim his place in the competition to be appointed Lord High Osteomancer of the Northern Kingdom. Only when the Northern Hierarch, in her throne room at Golden Gate Park, raises her scepter to confirm Daniel in his position will he have an opportunity to steal the axis mundi-under the gaze of the Hierarch herself.

And that's just the first obstacle.

Does Sam even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? He’s good at escaping from things. Now he’s escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and he’s on his way to LA.

This may be the worst idea he’s ever had.

Swords and Scoundrels (The Duelists Trilogy Book One) by Julia Knight (Orbit Trade Paperback 10/06/2015) – A name switch (Julia wrote the Rojan Dizon books under the Francis Knight name) and slight genre switch to Sword & Sorcery. This looks fun.

Two siblings.
Outcasts for life.... together.
What could possibly go wrong?

Vocho and Kacha are champion duelists: a brother and sister known for the finest swordplay in the city of Reyes. Or at least they used to be-until they were thrown out of the Duelist's Guild.

As a last resort, they turn reluctant highwaymen. But when they pick the wrong carriage to rob, their simple plans to win back fame and fortune go south fast.

After barely besting three armed men and a powerful magician, Vocho and Kacha make off with an immense locked chest. But the contents will bring them much more than they've bargained for when they find themselves embroiled in a dangerous plot to return an angry king to power....

Swords and Scoundrels is the first book in The Duelist's Trilogy -- a tale of death, magic, and family loyalty.

Bloodbound (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by F. Wesley Schneider (TorTrade Paperback 11/03/2015) – Schneider co-created the Pathfinder RPG and if the work of his fellow co-creator James L. Sutter is any indication, this one should be fun.

Larsa is a dhampir-half vampire, half human. In the gritty streets and haunted moors of gothic Ustalav, she's an agent for the royal spymaster, keeping peace between the capital's secret vampire population and its huddled human masses. Yet when a noblewoman's entire house is massacred by vampiric invaders, Larsa is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that will reveal far more about her own heritage than she ever wanted to know.

From Pathfinder co-creator and noted game designer F. Wesley Schneider comes Bloodbound, a dark fantasy adventure of murder, intrigue, and secrets best left buried, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Catching up with the Classics or 3rd Time is a Charm – C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner

C.J. Cherryh is a writer who needs little introduction to Science Fiction and Fantasy readers (although Andrew Liptak did a nice write-up about her at Kirkus). Even if you haven’t read any of her work, her name should be familiar. It is virtually impossible not to see her name in the SF section, she’s written over 50 novels since first publishing in the mid-1970s, has been nominated and received nearly every award the SFF genres have to offer. Yet, it is her 1994 novel Foreigner that launched what has become her single-longest series chronicling one character/set of characters continuously (even if many of the other novels take place in the same milieu).

It is the first book in the series that I’m covering here…

Ain't that purty?
But first, let’s take a step back. Foreigner isn’t my first attempt at reading a novel by C.J. Cherryh. The first Cherryh I read was The Dreaming Tree (a two-in-one edition containing The Tree of Swords and Jewels and Ealdwood). Or rather, I read the first half, about 15 years ago before giving up. I had a similar experience with Downbelow Station (link to SFFWorld Book Club discussion from 2006)  and ditched that book at about the halfway point. But yet…Cherryh’s output was so wide that surely I should try again, right? I was initially drawn to her work, admittedly, when I was browsing through Michael Whelan’s Web site many, many years ago and noticed just how many beautiful covers of her work he’d painted. Whelan's covers didn’t steer me wrong with C.S. Friedman, and he did covers for Stephen King and Tad Williams so I figured I had a good barometer.

Fast forward to a year or two ago….Cherryh’s name continually comes up in the conversations with folks I’ve become friends with on twitter an the online genre community (Stefan Raets, Paul Weimer) and I’m urged even more to give her work another (a yet unheard of third) attempt. So, I add Foreigner to my amazon wish list, received it for Christmas and earlier this week, I finally read it.

…and I enjoyed it. A great deal.

Essentially, Foreigner is a first contact novel…a first contact novel that doesn’t really become a first contact novel until a couple of prologues sets up the situation. Some readers/fans of the books have not looked too fondly on the first third of the novel, but I personally like that contextualization of events.

So, Foreigner is a first contact novel wherein aliens reluctantly visit a life with sentient beings and humans are those reluctant visitor aliens, the atevi are dark/black skinned inhabitants of the world humanity visits, and are several heads taller than humans, between 8 and 10 feet tall. The protagonist and our primary point of view character is Bren Cameron, the human who acts as translator / mediator / ambassador / representative (or the atevi title paidhi) for the atevi and is the lone human among the atevi.

The humans aren’t exactly fully welcome on the Atevi planet. Be that as it may, human technology has been slowly and deliberately introduced into atevi culture to the point that the atevi are close to reaching space travel technology.

The main action of the novel begins when an assassination attempt is made on Bren. It isn’t clear who is trying to kill the lone human, but it endangers the thin lines of stability in atevi culture and their relationship to humanity. This is made an even more challenging situation for Bren because of the subtle differences in atevi and human/English language and communication. He’s got two handlers, the male Banichi and female Jago, both of whom he tries to keep on an even keel without disappointing either of them. Part of his frustration and difficulty is that he is even more isolated, having been sequestered to an ancient castle for his own protection. He is little more than a prisoner under “castle” arrest, and all communication between him and the human populace has been halted; the regular letters he’d been receiving were cut off and the atevi are not permitting him to make any phone calls.

Although Cherryh uses an omniscient third person narrative, it is very limited to the point of view of what Bren sees and experiences so in that sense, it has much in common with the first person narrative. Because of this limiting narrative, we have as much of a clue as the human goings on and what his human friends are trying to communicate as does Bren himself.

In Bren’s situation – cut off from friends and his own damned species – feeling disheartened, frustrated, and confused are natural. Cherryh does a fine job of showing these emotions through Bren’s interactions with the atevi closest to him. What makes his character so strong is that he does not give into despair and hate. Through everything the atevi do to him (which turns out to be logical in hindsight once the big Reveal is, well, revealed), Bren seeks to understand them and seeks their understanding of him and humans.

Cherryh does some great things in this novel, she conveys so much about cultural misunderstandings as representatives of these cultures to try and understand each other. Some of the stronger portions of the novel involved conversations between Bren and Cenedi. My only real complaint is that a full character list would have been helpful.

This series has grown considerably since the publication of Foreigner in 1994 with 15 books in print (at about a book per year) and a 16th due this year (2015). For me, Foreigner serves as my new entry point into Cherryh’s enormous oeuvre and I hope to spend time catching up with her work. I will likely next dive into the four-book Morgaine Cycle,  perhaps The Chanur Saga, maybe The Faded Sun (I am a sucker for an omnibus and DAW does them better than any publisher), the next Foreigner installment, or maybe another Michael Whelan cover which catches my eye.


Would I have enjoyed the book had I tried it any other time, say closer to the time I read and gave up on Downbelow Station? I don’t know, but I’m leaning towards a “no.” My reading tastes in the genre have evolved and matured in the last decade. I think this is due in large part to my interactions with other  friends / readers, which has allowed me to be more open, willing to try again, and think about what I read differently than I did 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Later edit: I would be remiss if I didn't point out Jo Walton's excellent overview of some of Cherryh's work, including a reread of the Foreigner series, with over at

On a side note, I read the physical/mass market version of this book and as I’ve been wont to do in recent months, I was “reading” an audio-book at the same time. In this case, Andy Weir’s The Martian. There’s an interesting contrast in the two novels, in particular the abandonment both protagonists experience.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-09-05)

You all should know the drill by now...Sunday...books...

Lightless by C.A. Higgins (Del Rey Hardcover 09/25/2015) – This is another impressive looking SF debut, this time from the fine folks at Del Rey Books. It is already racking up a couple of positive reviews. This is the finished/final version of the ARC I received in May.

The deeply moving human drama of Gravity meets the nail-biting suspense of Alien in this riveting science fiction debut. With bold speculation informed by a degree in astrophysics, C. A. Higgins spins an unforgettable “locked spaceship” mystery guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations—and into brilliantly thrilling new territory.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

Dead Lands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry (Tor09/22/15) – Maberry is a workhorse, this novel is based on the popular Deadlands RPG.

From New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, the first in a thrilling series of novels based on Deadlands, a hugely successful role-playing game (RPG) set in the Weird, Weird West.

Welcome to the Deadlands, where steely-eyed gunfighters rub shoulders with mad scientists and dark, unnatural forces. Where the Great Quake of 1868 has shattered California into a labyrinth of sea-flooded caverns . . . and a mysterious substance called "ghost rock" fuels exotic steampunk inventions as well as plenty of bloodshed and flying bullets.

In Ghostwalkers, a gun-for-hire, literally haunted by his bloody past, comes to the struggling town of Paradise Falls, where he becomes embroiled in a deadly conflict between the besieged community and a diabolically brilliant alchemist who is building terrible new weapons of mass destruction . . . and an army of the living dead!

Deadlands is one of the most popular RPGs in history, with over a million Deadlands gaming books sold.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Roc, Trade Paperback 09/02/14) – Priest is another prolific author whose work I have really been intending to dive into and this, the first of the blend of Lovecraftian/Cthulhu history novel seems the place to start. The fine folks at Penguin (Hi Alexis!) were kind enough to pass this along to me since I received book 2 a couple of weeks ago

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.... 

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny. 

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness. 

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

Medusa’s Web by Time PowersHarper Voyager / William Morrow Hardcover 01/19/16) – Powers, to be blunt, is a living legend. This is the first 2016 book for which I’ve been sent an ARC.

From the award-winning author of Hide Me Among the Graves, Last Call, Declare, and Three Days to Never, a phantasmagoric, thrilling, mind-bending tale of speculative fiction in which one man must uncover occult secrets of 1920s Hollywood to save his family.

In the wake of their Aunt Amity’s suicide, Scott and Madeline Madden are summoned to Caveat, the eerie, decaying mansion in the Hollywood hills in which they were raised. But their decadent and reclusive cousins, the malicious wheelchair-bound Claimayne and his sister, Ariel, do not welcome Scott and Madeline’s return to the childhood home they once shared. While Scott desperately wants to go back to their shabby South-of-Sunset lives, he cannot pry his sister away from this haunted “House of Usher in the Hollywood Hills” that is a conduit for the supernatural.

Decorated by bits salvaged from old hotels and movie sets, Caveat hides a dark family secret that stretches back to the golden days of Rudolph Valentino and the silent film stars. A collection of hypnotic eight-limbed abstract images inked on paper allows the Maddens to briefly fragment and flatten time—to transport themselves into the past and future in visions that are both puzzling and terrifying. Though their cousins know little about these ancient “spiders” which provoke unpredictable temporal dislocations, Ariel and Claimayne have been using for years—an addiction that has brought Claimayne to the brink of selfish destruction.

As Madeline falls more completely under Caveat’s spell, Scott discovers that to protect her, he must use the perilous spiders himself. But will he unravel the mystery of the Madden family’s past and finally free them. . . or be pulled deeper into their deadly web?

Star Wars: Aftermanth by Chuck Wendig (Star Wars Books / Del Rey, Hardcover 09/04/2015) – This is where the Star Wars road to Force Awakens really begins. Yeah, yeah I know we had the Zahn trilogy and those were great. But there some great DC Comics stories after Crisis on Infinite Earths, right? This is the first of a trilogy from Wing Chudnik of Pensultucky.

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire, and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Dawson @SFSignal and Wexler & Beaulieu @SFFWorld

Friday Round-Up Time, you know what that means….

Last week, my review of Django Wexler’s third Shadow Campaigns novel, The Price of Valor posted to SFFWorld:

The third book in a five book series is the exact middle book of the series and while there are some elements of the novel that give it a feel of treading water (the Winter/Jane relationship seemed a bit drawn out), on the whole, Django Wexler manages to reveal more layers of the plot of the antagonists and more about his characters. Janus has been an enigma for much of the series thus far, a character who immediately commands respect and awe from those who serve him, and frustration to those who either oppose him or find themselves at odds with him (even if Janus doesn’t realize it). His air of always knowing what to do and being several steps ahead of the opposition have given him a well-earned reputation as a master tactician. The person most frustrated by him is Jane, and specifically, what an important fixture he is in Winter’s life. Winter, oh Winter, what a great character you are. She is surrounded by a cabal of well-rounded characters who don’t blend into each other and for their “minor” status in the cast of characters, manage to have their own stand-out voices.

Some closure here, but dammit, the unresolved elements and giant hints of things to come have the next installment in The Shadow Campaigns quite high on my I NEED TO READ WHEN IT PUBLISHES list. With The Price of Valor, Django Wexler continues to prove that he’s got a great story to tell. Great characters painted on a fascinating backdrop with military and political conflict make for an excellent novel, and an excellent installment in a thoroughly entertaining Military/Flintlock Fantasy saga.

Also last week, Friday to be specific, my audio book review of Delilah Dawson’s Hit was posted to SF Signal.

Hit is the first of a series and Delilah Dawson does a fantastic job of introducing Patsy as the protagonist and first person narrator. The young girl is forced into her situation; becoming a bounty hunter for Valor National because if she doesn’t take a gun (and leave the cannoli), they’ll kill her and her mother because of overwhelming debt Mom built up after job losses and cancer treatments. Patsy gets her list, is assigned a painted-over mail truck and plays the role of delivery person in order to get her targets. When Patsy greets the target, she gives them something to sign as “confirmation of delivery” of the “fruit basket” she has. Once the agreement is signed (and never read before it is signed), Patsy offers each target the same choice: pay off the debt, become a bounty hunter, or eat a bullet. 
The natural dystopic comparison is to The Hunger Games, if only because both novels feature a very head-strong, likeable, engaging, young female protagonist. If anything, the America and world revealed in Hit could be seen almost as a precursor to the fractured and realigned national boundaries of Panem. There’s a certain South Park episode that served as partial inspiration to the novel/series/world, but the story takes off from the notion set forth in that episode with Dawson’s wonderful pacing and character development.

Lastly, and most recently, my review of the stunning Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu posted to SFFWorld this week:

We begin in the fighting pits, witnessing 19-year old Çeda (pronounced Chayda) Ahyanesh’ala – known to many as the White Wolf – defeat a champion pit fighter, an opponent much larger and more experienced than her. An opponent of her own choosing. This opening was perfect, we get a sense of Çeda as a strong, deceptively imposing physical presence, a flavor of Sharakhai itself, and as the fight ends, a hint of her character and motivations. I dare say that if you aren’t drawn in by Bealieu’s powerful and magnetic opening, you should check yourself.

There’s also a nice interplay of fantasy flavors here, the more intimate and personal elements closely associated with Sword and Sorcery against the larger scale (worldly) elements associated with Epic Fantasy. Through Çeda’s introduction in a fighting/gladiatorial pit, the feel is initially Sword and Sorcery, something that could very easily be compared to a Robert E. Howard Conan story.