Thursday, March 29, 2007

Harvest of Changelings, by Warren Rochelle

Thursday, March 29, 2007 0
In Harvest of Changelings Warren Rochelle introduces the reader to a modern day fairy tale. Or, perhaps that should be a modern day faerie tale. Ben Tyson is a librarian from Garner, North Carolina. In the prologue (set in 1981), Ben met and loved a fairy named Valeria. She loved him back and together they had a son named Malachi. When Malachi was still an infant Valeria was murdered by the Formoii, an offshoot branch of faerie intent on destroying Valeria's Daoine Sidhe faerie. The first chapter moves ahead ten years and it is now 1991. Malachi is ten years old and beginning to exhibit his magical heritage which Ben has not mentioned or prepared him for.

Harvest of Changelings
uses Ben Tyson as a framing device for the story. Excerpts from Ben's journals are used to give an adult perspective which gives shape to the story Rochelle is telling. But, while the story is told mostly through Ben Tyson's eyes, Harvest of Changelings is not about Ben. Harvest of Changelings is about Malachi and three other children who are discovering their identities as magical beings in a mundane world and dealing with the ever increasing threats against their safety.

This is a different kind of faerie tale. While the prologue sets up the idea of a war amongst the faerie, the first third of the novel (or more) is little more than a coming of age story. The prologue, which is very much out of place with the pacing of the rest of the novel, is necessary because it tells us what we need to know about these children and their powers. The reader will not spend chapters wondering what exactly is going on here. Unfortunately, the reader will spend chapters wondering when exactly Rochelle is going to get to the point. The early chapters, or viewpoint segments as there are only eight chapters in the 300+ page novel, introduce Malachi, Jeff, Russ, and Hazel to the reader and they each have their own story which needs to be addressed. The construction of the novel in this manner makes sense, but it is frustrating because the prologue tells us a war is coming but the reader must then face page after page of bad parenting, misunderstanding teachers, and outcast children finding out who they are.

With that said, once these children do find out what they can do, Harvest of Changelings starts rolling. The danger starts to build, the viewpoint of a black magic user begins to hint at the stakes introduced in the prologue, and when strange events begin to happen around the children, in the town, and in North Carolina at large, the novel becomes more imperative. Now the reader begins to truly care about what is happening and now we wonder where Rochelle is taking the novel.

The fact that Harvest of Changelings focuses on children does not make this a children's book. There is darkness here and it isn't the darkness of Harry Potter. This is adult darkness, adult violence, and adult themes. It only gets darker before daylight.

What is the bottom line here? Warren Rochelle has created a very interesting and compelling look at a world where faerie is just outside our perception and knocking at the doors of our reality. This is not a perfect creation. If we turn too quickly some of the construction still clunks a little bit. There are rough edges here. The pacing is a bit off. With all that said, Harvest of Changelings is a worthy entry as a modern day fantasy where the light is in hiding and the darkness is barking down our door.

Harvest of Changelings is a interesting story and well told. There are flaws, certainly, but not enough to suggest that this should be avoided. Rather, this is a good introduction to an author who is working with some good ideas and just needs some more polishing on the execution of those ideas. Certainly, Harvest of Changelings is worth the time spent reading the novel. This novel is not enough to create Warren Rochelle as a brand where every publication is met with eager anticipation (not as, say, The Atrocity Archives did for Charles Stross). It is enough, however, that when the last page is turned and the cover is closed we can sit back and know that we enjoyed the journey Rochelle guided us through.



Reading Copy provided courtesy of Golden Gryphon Press.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Heroes Die, by Matthew Stover

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"I Swear by the Power of All Dark Gods that I will write Every Fucking Word Balls-Out for Glory." - Matthew Woodring Stover
I first knew Matthew Stover as the author of one of the absolute best Star Wars novels: Shatterpoint. And then as the author of the novelization far superior to the movie: Revenge of the Sith. But, it turns out the man has written his own original fiction and that as good as his tie-in fiction is (and it's good, trust me), his original fiction is that much better. Trust me on that, too.

Heroes Die is a brutal balls out for glory story where Hari Michaelson is an Actor on Earth who is better known as his alter-ego, Caine. The Blade of Tyshalle. On this dangerous vision of future Earth there is a rigid caste system and with the discovery of this Overworld where humans can transport to, the future of movies has transformed to Adventures where people back on Earth can first-hand or second-hand and live that Adventure the Actors go on. Caine is the most popular living actor and he is known for his brutality and his successes in being a killer and providing the most violent entertainment for the viewer's dollar.

Michaelson has tired of all the killing and assassination he has been involved in, but to save his ex-wife, Pallas Ril, Michaelson agrees to return to the Overworld once more as Caine to save her...but saving Pallas Ril means he must perform one more assassination under the guise of revenge.

Matthew Stover initially presents Caine, or Michaelson, as being a cliche of pulp fantasy: this warrior killer, cold blooded and reckless. Caine is all that, but Caine is so much more. Caine has a mind and over the course of the novel he shows the reader as well as the other characters that he knows how to use it to his benefit. The image we have of Caine at the beginning of Heroes Die is vastly different than what we have at the end, and through this character transformation Stover lets Caine remain the violent man he is but become so much more. Make no mistake, Heroes Die is not a character study. This is an ass kicking fantasy with more violence than you can shake a club at. Stover says that he will write every word balls out for glory and that is exactly the kind of novel he delivers with Heroes Die.

The reader gets the sense that with Heroes Die, Matthew Stover is really reaching for something and that with the fight of Caine against powers on two worlds, Stover hits the cliched ball out of the cliched park. Stover challenges the reader at every turn about the nature of fantasy and the possibilities of storytelling that actively strives to be something great. The exciting aspect here is that Stover succeeds at every turn.

With hints of the epic and classic style fantasy, Matthew Stover turns it all on its head and gives us something intense and provocative, bloody and gritty, funny and brutally painful, exciting and satisfying. Heroes Die is a novel that shows the reader what else fantasy can be.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Shadows Linger, by Glen Cook

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After the glory that was The Black Company, I expected more of the the same from Glen Cook in Shadows Linger: soldiers on the move, lots of bleak gallows humor, a desperate hunt and doublecrossing with The Lady's Soultaken, and lots of interaction between the various members of The Company. In short, a near carbon copy of the first book, only with a slightly different objective. Like, what so much of fantasy seems to be. Shadows Linger is NOT that book. At all. Shadows Linger is something else entirely.

The story here is two fold. First (or second, actually) is that of Croaker and a small band of the Company sent to distant Juniper to discover a way to combat the threat of The Dominator that is cropping up there. Croaker, the Annalist of the Company, has serious doubts of the Company betraying its morality by following The Lady. He also knows something that can get him killed and the Company destroyed: Darling, the girl Raven rescued in The Black Company - she is the reincarnation of the White Rose, the enemy of The Lady.

The second aspect of the story is that of Marron Shed, a innkeeper in Juniper trying to get out of debt and who knows a man named Raven and a girl named Darling who is working at his inn. Marron Shed's story, which should have no connection at all to what we think The Company is all about, but is an interesting story about the changing morality of a desperate man. Through Shed we see what Raven is up to and how Raven is still working to get as far away from The Company and The Lady as possible.

These two stories weave together in alternating chapters that reveal more about the world of The Company and the threats The Lady faces, about The Dominator, about the Company and its history, about The White Rose, and about the threat The Lady poses to The Company.

With characters like Croaker, Raven, Marron Shed, Goblin, and One Eye Glen Cook delivers a powerful tour de force of a novel. Shadows Linger is no less a powerful work of fantastic fiction than The Black Company is. This is high praise indeed because The Black Company was one of the more outstanding works of military fantasy out there. Shadows Linger takes the series, even only at the second volume, in an entirely new and unexpected direction. The direction it takes, however, is a wondrous one and one which shows the range of Glen Cook as a creative force. In a series which could easily be the same novel after the same, Glen Cook has already shown that he is willing to pick apart The Company and his characters and that the only driving force is to tell a good story.

He tells a great one.

Patternmaster, by Octavia Butler

Patternmaster is, I believe, the first novel published by Octavia Butler. In it Butler examines many of the themes and ideas which would become hallmarks of her work in decades to come. While Patternmaster is the first book Butler published, it is the fifth volume chronologically in her Patternist series.

Set in some distant future of ours, humanity is divided into three groups: the Patternists (those with a telepathy sort of gift), the Mutes (normal humans like you and me with no enhanced mental gifts), and the Clayarks (those suffering from a crippling transformative disease making them less than men). Considering the title of the novel, we see the story from the perspective of those with Patternist gifts.

There is a prologue with Rayal, the Patternmaster of this new world of ours, and his wife discussing that someday his children will fight and kill each other to take over the Pattern (the way the Patternists have power and link with each other). Then the first chapter introduces us to Teray and his sister / lover Iray leaving their school to join the household of Joachim. But when Joachim is forced to Trade Teray and Iray to his Coransee, the novel of conflict truly begins as Coransee wants to eliminate or control any obstacle to his taking control of the Pattern when Rayal dies. Teray, a strong Patternist and Coransee's brother, is that obstacle. Teray wishes only to be independent and free and not under the control of Coransee, so there's the conflict.

Patternmaster deals with racism (Patternists vs Mutes vs Clayarks), feudalism / class-ism, theories of power, and the possibility of the future. This is the genesis of all of Butler's work.

While Octavia Butler was an absolute master of science fiction and fantasy and that much of her later work was outstanding it is with great disappointment that Patternmaster failed to live up to Butler's pedigree. It is a decent novel with interesting ideas, and short at that, but Patternmaster ultimately falls into the trap of telling and not showing. There is a sense that Butler isn't letting the history flow organically out of the story, and that she is telling us too much. Whatever it is, it is something that does not work as well here as it did in Parable of the Sower or Dawn.

Still, Octavia Butler is always worth reading. Patternmaster is a short enough novel, but it ultimately fails to satisfy.

Confessor

The series has been a bit hit or miss lately, but I rather enjoyed Chainfire and Terry Goodkind is actually going to wrap up his Sword of Truth series with the eleventh volume: Confessor.

I have to say, I rather like the cover. Sure, the author's name overwhelms the cover image rather than compliments the cover, but I like the image. It follows the pattern of the previous two editions, but the hazy blue grey mist color works. It fits the haunting theme that Goodkind has been working with where Kahlan is just a figment, barely remembered.

Because Robert Jordan and George Martin are still writing their epics which I began reading when I first really discovered the giants of modern epic fantasy, it is good to see that one of them will actually finish what they started. Goodkind has fallen in disrepute among many fans (though his novels still sell), partly because of his personal politics and outspoken nature which has overwhelmed some of his storylines, but I've still found enjoyment in the Sword of Truth novels, so I want to see how this wraps up.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link

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With her debut collection Stranger Things Happen Kelly Link offers us a fresh new voice in fantastical short stories. While her stories could easily be shelved in the Fiction / Literature section of a book store, the short fiction of Kelly Link has such a strong element of the fantastic running through her work that they firmly belong as Fantasy. These stories get to the core of what fantasy means, and there are no elves or wizards or castles or orcs. As the title suggest, sometimes stranger things happen in life. Kelly Link's stories are those stranger things.

One hallmark of Link's stories in this collection is that they are all grounded deeply in reality but in each story there is something going on that isn't quite right, that isn't quite natural. In "Vanishing Act" the story is about one girl noticing that her cousin is slowly vanishing. In a very real sense this means that the adults and other people are not noticing her cousin because the cousin is withdrawing into herself, but the sense of unease comes in when we realize that no, Jenny Rose really is disappearing.

Link touches on an invasion of sexy blonde aliens in "Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water", ghosts in "Louise's Ghost", Nancy Drew in "The Girl Detective" and this closing story is nothing like the Nancy Drew (or Hardy Boys for the guys) stories that we read as a child, but perhaps there really was something going on behind the scenes of Nancy Drew.

"Water Off a Black Dog's Back" is one of the creepiest stories in the collection and half the time it simply feels like a guy dealing with a girl who doesn't really want him to meet her family, but it has a sense of the windigo mythos, except for the whole heart of ice thing that comes with windigo. The malevolency is certainly there.

Overall, Stranger Things Happen is an impressive short story collection with none of the trappings of fantasy but still it sits very much in the fantasy genre. Kelly Link shows the reader what can be done with fantasy.

The Androids Dream vs Old Man's War video trailer

It's just one of those things. Scalzi lets us in on the ongoing battle between his two books.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bookswim Alpha

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Bookswim, the Netflix-like service for books which is in no way intended to replace libraries, has apparently begun it's Alpha testing today. I've been checking the website every couple of days to see when it went live because Bookswim was supposed to launch in the first quarter 2007 and, well, there are only two business weeks left in that first quarter.

When I last wrote about Bookswim on January 6 I received a comment from one of the three guys who started Bookswim offering me a free trial. I've been looking forward to starting that trial someday so I could see what the service is all about and how it really compares to a Netflix level service and what the merits of Bookswim are versus my local library. I know that I have a reasonably strong library system, but the service could work for a more rural audience.

Either way, we'll see, I suppose, if I do get that free trial and what the service shakes out to be. It’s about books, so I’m certainly interested.

-Library Stuff has an interview with one of the founders.
-The Library Stuff interview is apparently a snippet of this interview. I leave the Library Stuff link up because...well...it's a link to a blog about libraries. It's geek cool like that.
-Another interview, this one with the guy who posted a comment on my blog.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Inside Job, by Connie Willis

Thursday, March 15, 2007 0
Inside Job is the 2005 Hugo Award winning novella by Connie Willis. Inside Job is a modern day paranormal mystery story with a generous helping of pop culture, literature, and movie references.

Rob is a the publisher of a skeptic's magazine The Jaundiced Eye and a professional debunker. His job description is pretty much what it sounds like: he, and his staff of one, debunks claims of the paranormal. When his employee, more of a side kick, calls him about a new claim to debunk, Rob is brought into a mystery of the paranormal which might be more real than he could expect.

While other reviews and descriptions have given away details of the plot which could entice a reader, there is something to be said for letting the novella surprise the reader. Inside Job offers up a fun and sometimes silly story about skepticism, Hollywood, fake psychics and the literary tradition (yes, Willis weaves all of this together in fewer than one hundred pages). References to noted skeptic and reporter from the early 20th Century, H.L. Mencken abound and this adds to the narrative. More specifically, Inside Job is somewhat built around Mencken's ideas as each chapter opens with a Mencken quote.

Willis has written a fine, fun novella and without knowing what else was nominated for the Hugo that year, I can certainly see why Inside Job won. It's a good, fast, fulfilling read. The time investment is small, but now I want to read more of Connie Willis's work. That's the mark of a good book, no matter what the size.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Batman in 5 Seconds

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Oh, glory. The entire Batman movie summed up in approximately five seconds of video.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Monday, March 12, 2007 0

Cormac McCarthy brings us a brutal post apocalyptic story to modern America with The Road. Something happened. McCarthy never says exactly what happened and it does not matter. America, and probably the world, is in ruins. There is no hope, there is only survival. A man and his young son are walking across the new American wasteland heading south and to the coast in hopes that there things will be cleaner and there the weather will be warmer. Maybe in the south there will be a community of people wiling to take them in. Maybe there will be something to hope for. Maybe.

McCarthy's stark descriptions and narrative style fits The Road perfectly. The language and the style is as bleak as the landscape these unnamed characters are traveling through. One thing McCarthy is known for is that he doesn't punctuate his dialogue. This aspect of his writing is more like he is telling us a story orally and not through the written word. It is a quirk that works very well in his novels and works especially well in The Road. The dialogue is spare and is perhaps what a father and son would talk about when the world has ended and there is no promise that they will live to complete their journey or even that there is anything to hope for at the end of their journey. Just snips of conversation, unfinished sentences and thoughts. It all fits organically with the description of the story and of the journey.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Post Apocalyptic novels and are built on foundations of ruined societies and The Road is no different. This is not a pleasant novel in the sense that the reader will necessarily want to spend times in the American Wasteland, but it is a powerful and moving novel about survival and holding on to the last glimmer of hope not for your sake, but for the sake of your child.

With all of this said, McCarthy's previous novel No Country for Old Men is a superior piece of fiction in terms of storytelling. The spareness of The Road is part of its power, but it is also part of its weakness. The unnamed father and son pair works in the abstract and works in the sense that it could be any father and son, but on the other hand we learn so little about the father and son that it is difficult to truly care about the characters. There is enough characterization to care, but we care more because of the situation than the character. Through all of the power and perceived power of The Road, there is also an emptiness at its core which is slightly unsatisfying.

Cormac McCarthy is an American master and while The Road is far more hit than miss, there are enough misfires here to not give it my strongest possible recommendation. But, The Road is sure worth the time spent reading it.

My Secret: A PostSecret Book, by Frank Warren

My Secret is Frank Warren's second collection of PostSecret postcards. To give a quick overview of what this is all about - PostSecret is described as a "community art project" where strangers mail Warren a postcard with a very personal secret which they have never shared with anyone before. The Postcard is typically decorated with some sort of artwork that describes the secret being sent. Every Sunday Warren posts them on his PostSecret blog, but he has also published three collections of the postcards. My Secret: A PostSecret Book is the second of the three collections.

What is first notable about My Secret is that it is quite a bit smaller than PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives. Without measuring or weighing the book, I would suggest that My Secret is approximately half the size. What this means is that there is far less content for your dollar.

The second thing to point out is that some of these postcards may have been recycled from the first volume. I have not confirmed this by comparing the two books side by side, but some of the postcards were suspiciously familiar. If some of them were not reused, they are very similar to the postcards of volume one with mostly the same content.

This may come across as a knock on My Secret, and in a sense it is, but if we look at My Secret as an individual volume standing alone, the second complaint falls away. My Secret is a collection of some funny and heartbreaking secrets that anyone may have sent in. Considering the volume of postcards Warren has received, any of our neighbors may have a postcard on the website or in a book at any given time. This is what is special about the PostSecret project and in turn about each of the collections. Reading these collections tells the reader that he or she is not alone, that other people have felt this way and that the painful experience is not unique and this can be a way to heal. Reading these collections shows us that we all have something extraordinary about us that our friends and family may never guess. While it is the painful ones which may be most remarkable, there are also funny and happy and silly secrets.

It is ultimately impossible to separate My Secret from the other collections and from the PostSecret project as a whole, so I will close by saying this: My Secret is not as strong of a collection as the first volume. It is smaller and somewhat weaker. But, with that said, it is still worth the half hour or and hour which it will take to go through all of the secrets and get a glimpse into the lives of others, and in turn into ourselves.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Forthcoming Reviews

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I ran across a blog post by Neth, a guy who writes reviews on his website as well as on Fantasy Book Spot, a website I visit and frequent the message board. Actually, I'm there more for the forum than the website content. Anyway, if you click on "a blog post" you will see that Neth sometimes receives books to review. Some have been through FBS, but others apparently are directly from the publisher.

A lightbulb made a pinging sound in my head.

Do publishers really send books to average shmucks to review? Maybe.

Now, I don't have an association with FBS other than occasionally posting on the message board and I owe my blog three hits every month, but I do post reviews on Amazon.com and I have a moderately high reviewer ranking there (226 at last count), so maybe if I write to some publishers they can send me some books and I'll give an honest review and post it on Amazon.

I write Pyr first. Pyr is mentioned a few times in the list of books Neth has received. I introduce myself, give my bona fide (I do have one, right?), mention that I would love to receive ARCs and name drop a couple of Pyr books I am interested in reading no matter what the response is. Because really, I just love to read and I have a noted interest in SFF.

The Director of Publicity at Pyr responds back within a day with a very friendly e-mail, offers me the two books I mentioned, and over the course of a couple of e-mails we worked out a couple of other books to review.

So, from the very friendly and good people at Pyr I will be reviewing:

Infoquake, by David Louis Edelman
Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders
Keeping it Real, by Justina Robson
Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon

I knew I've enjoyed a book or two from Golden Gryphon Press and plan on reading some of their other work, so what the hell, let's e-mail Golden Gryphon. I contact the Editor and Publisher of Golden Gryphon, since this is a small press (and I love the little guy!) and he responds back same day (same hour, I think!).

From the good people at Golden Gryphon I will be reviewing:

Harvest of Changelings, by Warren Rochelle
A Thousand Deaths, by George Alec Effinger

I am really excited to receive these books and get a chance to read them and post reviews (honest reviews, if I don't like something, I'll say it) both here as well as on Amazon. I really appreciate the willingness of these publishers to send out reading copies (in the case of Pyr, finished publication ready copies because it is more cost effective than Advanced Reading Copies) to a guy who loves the genre.

So, I just have two questions.

One: Are there any other publishers out there, small or large, who are willing to send out reading copies of their recently published or forthcoming work?

Two: Is there any way I can get paid to read books for the rest of my life?

Actually, I have a third, but it is tied to Two.

Three: Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Falling Boy, by Alison McGhee

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In Falling Boy, Joseph works in a bakery in Minneapolis. He is sixteen years old and he is confined to a wheelchair, but more than that he is often confined within his own mind. He speaks some, but not often and not at length and certainly not about the reason why he is confined to a wheelchair in Minneapolis. Zap is seventeen years old and while I cannot tell exactly if he works at the bakery or if he just spends all his time there, I believe he works with Joseph at the bakery. Zap, nicknamed such because of his obsession with comic books tells everybody that Joseph is in a wheelchair because Joseph saved his mother from falling off of a precipice, a cliff overlooking the sea. Enzo, a nine year old girl, is another who frequents the bakery and seems to be in something of a war with Zap, though the reason why is not clear at the beginning of Falling Boy. She constantly attempts to find the reason why Joseph cannot just get up and walk and while she does not seem to believe Zap she also calls Joseph a superhero, something which Joseph denies being.

This is Falling Boy, the third young adult novel by Alison McGhee. While McGhee has now published as many young adult novels as she has published adult novels, the latest two (All Rivers Flow to the Sea and Falling Boy) are of such a high quality that if you take away the "young adult" tag and just call the books "novels" the reader will be left with two outstanding works of fiction which just happen to feature few adults as main characters and focus on the situations of these children. But then again, Shadow Baby was tightly focused on a child as well.

What I am trying to say here is that Falling Boy (and All Rivers Flow to the Sea before it) should not be judged so much by the proposed age group target, but rather by it being a fine piece of fiction. As she does with all of her fiction, Alison McGhee delivers finely drawn characters in a very real setting and tells a story which while small in scope is large in importance to the characters which inhabit the story. Enzo is partially a bratty nine year old girl, but there is a hint of sadness and loneliness about her. The same can be said about the compulsive storytelling of Zap and the quietness of Joseph. While Falling Boy is a story of friendship and discovery, it is also a story of sadness as the reader can almost sense this minor chord of dissonance running through the novel.

One other thing that McGhee excels at is building a sense of place. Much of her previous fiction has been set in and around the small town of North Sterns, in the foothills of the Adirondacks Mountains in New York. The sense of North Sterns being a real place with real people was something that permeated her work. Those were characters which continued to have lives and interactions even after the last page was read and the cover was closed. Alison McGhee brings this same sense of place to Minneapolis. While she describes just a corner of Minneapolis near Lake Calhoun, she leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that these characters can be found in Minneapolis and that this corner of Minneapolis is one which could and should exist.

The shifting of the setting from New York to Minnesota is one which I find refreshing as a reader because I work in Minneapolis and I have run the three mile loop around Lake Calhoun. I do not know that particular area very well, but what McGhee describes is a setting which rings true. I suspect that readers outside of the Twin Cities Metro will also have this same feeling that the Lake Calhoun setting is as real as that of North Sterns.

Falling Boy has a very different feel to it than All Rivers Flow to the Sea. I mention this because All Rivers Flow to the Sea was a spectacularly strong piece of fiction brimming with raw power and emotion. Falling Boy is not that sort of story. It is filled with emotion, with sadness and with wonder, but it doesn't have the strength of All Rivers Flow to the Sea. Falling Boy moves like the familiar faces seen around Lake Calhoun, and it delivers a different set of feeling, that while lacking the raw power of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, it is no less strong a piece of fiction. By the time she reveals what exactly happened to Joseph the reader has fallen in love with the melancholy feel of the bakery and the child-centric setting.

As a reader I get excited when I learn Alison McGhee has written another novel because it means that she is delivering up another serving of memorable characters, a moving story, and a strong sense of place where I can smell the bread baking.

Was it beautiful?
It was. It is.

Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia Butler

Besides her exceptional novels, Octavia Butler has published a collection of her short fiction entitled Bloodchild and Other Stories. The opening story in the collection is her Hugo and Nebula award winning story, the title story, "Bloodchild". This is what she has called her "male pregnancy story" and it features an Earth which has been taken over by some sort of alien creatures who form symbiotic relationships with humans, but who also use humans to breed their young and usually males because impregnating females means fewer humans will be born which means fewer young of their own kind. It was an interesting story.

My favorite of the collection, however, is her Hugo winning story "Speech Sounds". Some sort of cataclysm has hit our planet, one which has robbed humanity of the ability to speak and in some cases regressed the mental development of humanity to a more base level. Set in Los Angeles, "Speech Sounds" shows the loss of communication and what that does to society and we see it through the eyes of one woman who was on a bus when an incident occurred.

"The Evening and the Morning of the Night" is a story which sticks with the reader, though with me it was for the wrong reason I believe. This story features a hereditary disease which causes some people to lose their mind and try to dig their way out of their own skin and it is that image of people trying to do that to themselves that sickened me a bit, even though all that action occurred off camera, if you will. Interesting as a concept and well written, it is also one I would rather forget.

"Near of Kin" is Butler's one non-science fiction story and it is a story about family and perceived family. Quite good, but it would belong more in another collection than in a genre collection like this.

I did not remember "Crossover" two minutes after I finished.

Bloodchild and Other Stories also includes two essays on writing and being a writer and for all their brevity, they are interesting as a mini biography of Butler and also for the glimpse of her publishing career. The glimpse I was most struck by was that after selling two stories at Clarion, she then went five years before selling another piece of work. Five years! For an author of Butler's talent! This explains, of course, Butler’s mantra of: Persist.

Each story or essay is followed by an Afterword written by Butler giving a little bit of context or explanation as needed to the piece of fiction (or non fiction).

The edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories I was able to read was not the expanded edition which featured two more short stories. This edition, succinct as it is, is worth reading for fans of the genre and especially for fans of Octavia Butler.

Maelstrom

I think it should be pretty clear that if Starbuck was really going to get killed for good, no backsies, the producers / writers would find a much more glorious and meaningful manner than what they gave us at the end of Maelstrom.

Instead, we have Kara decending into the Maelstrom and exploding, much like Gandalf and the Balrog (except for the exploding part).

Why give us an episode where Kara pretty well hallucinates herself into suicide and those hallucinations of the Cylons tell her that she'll be back.

So, she'll be back.

Does this mean that she is a Cylon and that she uploaded to a resurrection ship? Gods, I hope not. But...it is possible and to be honest this is the direction I see them going with Kara.

And then she'll come back all Gandalf the White and wise and changed, and I'll miss the glory of Kara Thrace and the Menagerie of Nuerosis which she has been for the past three seasons.

What really bugged me about Maelstrom, though, is that for perhaps the fifth consecutive episode BSG's plot did not advance a lick. I like one off episodes that could possibly impact how we see the show and the characters, but it isn't building or advancing the story. And that bugs me.

Starbuck isn't "dead", though. Not by a long shot.

Originally posted
on Fantasy Book Spot's forums.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Project Gutenberg

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Thanks to Project Gutenberg I will be reading free e-book editions of:

Sense and Sensibility
, by Jane Austen
The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler
Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

And then two heavy hitters:

Ulysses, by James Joyce
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy


Woof! I've got some heavy reading in front of me. I figure that chipping away at these books via Project Gutenberg will make it much more likely that I will actually read the books because I am more apt to borrow a book I wish to read for pleasure from the library versus one of the classics which may be somewhat painful (as I tend to find Jane Austen to be, which explains why I am reading her first). Finishing Ulysses will complete one of those life goals like running a marathon or writing a novel (check and check!) since I think while the novel is considered one of the great works of Literature very few people I know of, even when I was in college, have actually read the book.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Android's Dream, by John Scalzi

Monday, March 05, 2007 5
John Scalzi knows that the best way to get a reader interested in his work is to hook said reader from the opening sentence. Scalzi opens The Android's Dream with a fart joke. A really good and creative fart joke. Then he spins that fart joke into a brilliant opening chapter which sets the stage for everything that follows. Essentially, John Scalzi sells the entire novel on the premise of a fart joke and then he makes it work. Amazing. It is a work of art.

The Android's Dream is about two groups of men. One group is trying to prevent the intergalactic diplomatic incident that was begun by that opening fart joke. The other is trying to spread the floodgates open wider and really mess things up. The solution to the problems of both parties was to locate a particular sheep. Yes, a sheep. The solution to prevent an intergalactic war is to find a sheep. Obviously hijinks ensue and trouble abounds and things do not go smoothly, but from a fart joke to a sheep (and O what a sheep!), John Scalzi has put together a very funny, sharp, witty, clever, and creative novel. The Andoid's Dream is an outstanding piece of science fiction and serves as a good reminder of what the genre can do.

Really, this book deserves three or four pages of praise rather than three short paragraphs, but it is what it is. Fans of Scalzi, Science Fiction, or Good Writing: You must read this book. Period.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Vacancy

Saturday, March 03, 2007 0
Subterranean Press is serializing Lucius Shepard's novella Vacancy in their online magazine a couple of chapters at a time. Right now they have the first seven (of twelve) chapters available.

So far it is a fascinating piece of work and the serializing of the novel is keeping me far more interested in reading Shepard's work than I would have been otherwise. There is a smaller time investment than picking up the book from the library and it keeps me wondering what is going to happen next.

Good things are happening over at Subterranean. If I were a book collector I would love their limited editions. As for now I think I am more frustrated by their limited editions of work I really want to read (Scalzi's limited editions, for example) but that my library will never get.

No matter. I will enjoy their online magazine until I can find a library edition of those books.

Books: February 2007

1. Vision of the Future – Timothy Zahn
2. Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett
3. The Scent of Shadows – Vicki Pettersson
4. PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives – Frank Warren
5. Adulthood Rites – Octavia Butler
6. The Rise of Endymion – Dan Simmons
7. Childe Morgan – Katherine Kurtz
8. The Atrocity Archives – Charles Stross
9. Imago – Octavia Butler
10. Survivor’s Quest – Timothy Zahn
11. Go Ask Alice - Anonymous
12. Vector Prime – R. A. Salvatore
13. The Effect of Living Backwards – Heidi Julavits
14. The Extra Mile - Pam Reed
15. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
16. Allegiance - Timothy Zahn

The Best Book: The Rise of Endymion
Most Disappointing: Childe Morgan
Fiction Masquerading as NonFiction and Thus Less Engaging: Go Ask Alice
Pleasant Surprise: The Effect of Living Backwards

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Extra Mile, by Pam Reed

Thursday, March 01, 2007 0
The Extra Mile is the autobiography of ultramarathon runner Pam Reed. Reed is a two time winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon (overall winner, not just first female), a 135 mile footrace through Death Valley. She holds a number of national records in Ultramarathon events. The Extra Mile is her story, in her own words, bringing Reed from childhood up through 2005 and she tells us the hows and whys of her life, running career, and the ongoing battle with anorexia.

Pam Reed brings the reader from her childhood in small town northern Michigan and the expectation of hard work to her failed first marriage and how through that marriage and her decision to run brought her to meet her future husband even though both were married at the time. She follows into Ironman Triathlon and into Ultramarathon. We see how she juggles life, kids, and competition at an elite level.

The Extra Mile is not just about her athletic career. Reed focuses a good deal of attention on her struggle with anorexia and how paradoxically it helped her at the ultra distances.

Reed has a very simple, direct writing style. The Extra Mile is not written in a flowery style with extra description. Reed is very to the point. She tells us what happened, what she thought, and what the consequence was of what happened. She does not go into great depth or detail regarding any single race she has run, so readers looking for fifty pages of race report on her Badwater wins will be disappointed. This is Pam Reed's life from Reed’s perspective. She addresses the major topics and events from her life: marriage, divorce, moves, children, ultra running, running as an elite athlete, Badwater, running 300 miles and her future. No subject gets in depth attention, but each subject is covered sufficiently that the reader is given an idea of who Reed is as a woman and an athlete.

Some readers will likely be disappointed by the perceived shallowness of the book. I mean shallow in the sense that The Extra Mile does not plumb the depths of Reed's soul or cover mile by mile every race Pam Reed has run. But, nowhere does Reed claim that she is a researcher or have any intent of covering every aspect of her life. The Extra Mile is an overview of Pam Reed and expectations should be as such.

For Reed's level of craft as a writer, I thought The Extra Mile sufficiently covered Pam Reed's life and career and kept me interested the entire way through. Highlights were, of course, her running career because this was the reason I opened this book in the first place.
 
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