Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hugo Award Nominees: Short Fiction

Sunday, April 29, 2007 0
I have no idea where to find quality SFF short stories online. I want stuff by real authors and good stories. Stuff I want to read, but in little chunks. Well, I know Subterranean Online is publishing outstanding stuff. But, where else? Well, all of the Hugo Nominees are available online. I've read most of them by now (not all, but most)...and some are rather good. Some are just kind of blah, but I like them all for different reasons.

Novella:
The Walls of the Universe -Paul Melko (my pick!)
A Billion Eves - Robert Reed
Inclination - William Shunn
Lord Weary's Empire - Michael Swainwick (have not read)
Julian: A Christmas Story - Robert Charles Wilson (have not read)

Novellettes:
Yellow Card Man - Paolo Bacigalupi
Dawn, Sunset, and the Colors of the Earth - Michael F. Flynn
The Djinn's Wife - Ian McDonald (have not read)
All the Things You Are - Mike Resnick (my pick!)
Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter - Geoff Ryman

Short Stories:
How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Neil Gaiman (have not read)
Kin - Bruce McAllister
Impossible Dreams - Tim Pratt (my pick!)
Eight Episodes - Robert Reed
The House Beyond Your Sky - Benjamin Rosenbaum


One thing I find interesting is that so many of the stories are from Asimov's. So, A) The magazine is that amazingly good, or B) More of the Hugo voting public (WorldCon members) read Asimov's than any other publication. My guess is B.

I really appreciate, however, the Hugo nominees being available online. It's a good introduction to a lot of work and authors I may never have heard of or ever read.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Serpent Bride??

Thursday, April 26, 2007 0
I don't remember requesting or trying to procure a copy of The Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass. Nevertheless, a review copy arrived in the mail today. It came with a letter from Eos Books, so I'm thinking I tried to get it via this request. I'll be happy to read and review it because I have wanted to read Douglass's Wayfarer Redemption, but I was surprised when it came.

Monday, April 23, 2007

His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik

Monday, April 23, 2007 0

Retitled for American audiences as His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire in the UK), Naomi Novik's debut novel is an alternate history sort of fantasy where nations harness the power of dragons in their political struggles. Set during the Napoleonic Wars Naomi Novik re-imagines the events of the military conflict if England and France were able to bring dragons to the battlefield. Captain Will Laurence is a naval officer in charge of the H.M.S. Reliant and in a sea battle he captures a French ship and most surprisingly, a dragon egg. When the egg hatches Will Laurence harnesses the dragon, Temeraire, himself at risk of his naval career. This begins the real story of His Majesty's Dragon as Laurence and Temeraire must soon adapt to service in the air corps and how different Temeraire is from the other dragons.

Alan Dean Foster, in one of the inside blurbs on the book, compares His Majesty's Dragon to the work of both Patrick O'Brien and Anne McCaffrey and the comparison is apt. Captain Will Laurence could have stepped off of any of Jack Aubrey's ships and the dragon aspect does have a certain air of Pern. While there is no "impression" as fans of McCaffrey would be familiar, Laurence does seem to "impress" Temeraire and the bond is quite similar between the two. Now, rather than mental communication the dragons here actually speak and speak English (or whatever language they are raised with when they are still in the egg). Moving past the mechanism where a dragon shaped dragon speaks the King's English better than some Englishmen through a snout and perfectly forms words and sentences, the dragon / human interaction is quite possibly the best part of the book. Temeraire is remarkable, even for a dragon, and learning more about Temeraire and what he is and how he will fit in to the English Air Corps and how Will Laurence will adapt to the striking transformation of the Navy to the Air Corps is the best part of His Majesty's Dragon. Sure, Novik gets the feeling of the Patrick O'Brien world of a naval man and does so without weighing the reader down with an overabundance of detail, but she shines in the character interaction. Will Laurence is a stiff navy man and the informality of the Air Corps is a shock to his system, though he adapts well to Temeraire.

No matter what title one calls His Majesty's Dragon / Temeraire by, the end result is a fast paced military novel with dragons, class, a stiff upper lip, humor, a dragon who loves to read if only he could turn the pages, military training and action, and great character interaction. The hype for His Majesty's Dragon was all set to lead to a disappointment, but happily, the novel meets the hype head on and, indeed, it merits the hype. This is a fine debut by an author to watch.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

Sunday, April 22, 2007 1
Huzzah! A 75 Question Quiz where answering yes to any question means you should stop writing your attempt at a fantasy novel.

Highlights:

#14: How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"? (in regards to "does a ____ describe any of the characters in your novel)
#31: Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you're still many sequels away from finishing your "story"?
#42: At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
#56: Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?

Bless you Rinkworks.

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, by Alan DeNiro


Alan DeNiro's debut collection of short stories, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, is everything that I hoped Jeffrey Ford's stories would be and weren't. The stories vary in length from very short (The Exchanges which is a weird exercising in changing identities ) to a longer story (the title story).

What I like best about this collection is how DeNiro takes ordinary every day settings and twists it just enough that an average everyday person is caught up in the middle of something extraordinary. In "Salting the Map" a guy gets a job for a map making company and is asked to salt the maps with fictitious cities and this act of salting is an act of creation. "Our Byzantium" has the Byzantium empire invading modern day America. "Fuming Woman" has a circus performer with real power. "Child Assassin" is set in today's world with a hired assassin who kills people's babies. What if a family of giants move in next door? "The Friendly Giants" addresses this.

All of DeNiro's stories have this sense of the quirky and there is far more pleasure in reading something out of the ordinary than there is in the high literary style of Jeffrey Ford (not that Ford does not have merit). Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead was published in 2006 and hopefully DeNiro has a second collection brewing because it will be my most anticipated collection of the year for whichever year it is announced.

Finally, Alan DeNiro has this to say about his fiction.
One of these days my big plan is to construct a Moral Majority table for my fiction–a reading guide for the faint of heart that will signpost all of the salacious parts of my fiction. Until then, just assume that a lot of bad shit happens in these stories. But some redemptive shit, too. Arkansas poet Frank Stanford once said that “Sometimes art is like a beautiful, sick dog that shits all over the house.” And…yeah. Exactly.
Exactly.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Only Mostly Dead

Saturday, April 21, 2007 1
News.

•A new film based on Showtime's supernatural series Dead Like Me, written by Steven Godchaux and directed by Stephen Herek
Assuming that Ellen Muth will be back as George Lass, I'm in. Sounds like is straight to DVD, but that's good enough for me.

Wordless

This has probably been up at Powell's for a months now, but Powell's has an essay written by Alison McGhee moving around several topics, including the inspiration for her most recent novel Falling Boy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Missile Gap, by Charles Stross

Thursday, April 19, 2007 0

The year is now 1973. Just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was heating up something happened. The Earth, once a sphere, is now flat. The balance of power of the Cold War has shifted because the nuclear deterrent of the United States was predicated on being able to launch a missile over the North Pole and then south to Moscow. With the Flat Earth this is impossible and the Communist Soviet Union has spread its power and influence across Europe with only the United Kingdom holding out, but even that is weakening. Democracy has fallen across the flats like dominoes. The world has done more than flatten itself out, however. Sail to the East from Siberia or to the West from California and thousands of miles out there are new continents not populated by humans. The Earth has been changed, or perhaps moved.

In Charles Stross's novella Missile Gap we are introduced to a situation where what appears to be Communist plots and infiltration is far more than what it seems to be, where the manifest destinies of two empires now have new frontiers to expand the worldviews of democracy and socialism, and where there is the very real danger of some sort of alien threat because unknown beings of unimaginable power had to have been the ones to have changed Earth. Stross touches upon a combination of storylines to advance Missile Gap: a political one, and explorations from the Soviets and Americans about what exactly is on these new massive continents. What has really happened to Earth is a shocker and the ramifications go well beyond the political for our future.

Knowing that this novella first appeared in Gardner Dozois's themed anthology One Million A.D. provides a very different mindset for what sort of story Stross is telling than if the reader goes in blind. This vision of an alternate past is actually a vision of the future and though there is a bit of disjointedness as several of the storylines do not truly intersect, the combination of viewpoints provides a broad view of the impact of this world change that would not be possible with a single viewpoint narrative. References to real life political and science figures like Carl Sagan and President (!) Robert McNamara grounds the novel in a sense of reality in this unreal setting. While some readers may be disappointed in the lack of emotional depth or full exploration of the political (or alien) aspects of Missile Gap, this novella shows another part of the true range of Charles Stross as a storyteller as he is able to move between different styles of speculative fiction with ease and tell a masterful story each time. Weighing in at fewer than one hundred pages, Missile Gap is quite the work of creativity.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Zeppelins West, by Joe R. Lansdale

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 2

Take Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, the concept of Buffalo Bill's Wild West and mix that together with a science fiction premise of airships (zeppelins, ya know, like the Hindenberg) with The Island of Dr. Moreau, Captain Nemo, Dracula, Frankenstein, and a little bit of the Wizard of Oz and you've got yourself one heck of a concept for a novella. Oh yeah, did we mention that Buffalo Bill is missing the rest of his body and his living head is saved in a jar of pig urine?

Joe R. Lansdale spins together an amazing tale that to simply call "Science Fiction" would not do it justice because it is such an imaginative work of creativity and storytelling that slapping a genre label on it is not enough. Zeppelins West is a work filled with sharp humor, a western feel despite the flying machines, crude language and violence, and a sense of lawlessness and adventure.

Zeppelins West has the feel of an old time pulp novel, complete with crazy adventure and genre goodness. But Zeppelins West is more. With the strong voice of Joe Lansdale we are reminded just how much fun a wild and crazy story can be.

The Children of Hurin: The New Old Tolkien


CNN.com reviews the new Tolkien: The Children of Hurin.

As much as I love The Hobbit and respect The Lord of the Rings, I can’t say that I am full of excitement about this one...probably has something to do with the drudgery of the encyclopedic The Silmarillion. Is there anything more that really needs to be said about Middle Earth? Are there new stories that haven't been explored elsewhere?

Ulysses

I am so confused. I just read the ebook (via Project Gutenberg) of Ulysses by James Joyce. This is one of those books that are so critically admired and yet I am convinced that few people have read. I was lost from the word "go". But, I read it. Not every word and not with great care because once I realized this novel made very little sense, if any, I started skimming and then picking up again to see how things have progressed. The kicker is that I have no idea what the novel was about, who the characters were (I know there is some chap named Stephen Dedalus, whom I believe is the stream of consciousness narrator), or what the big deal is. I skipped words, pages, and sections before rejoining the story and I understand that this may not officially count as "reading" Ulysses in the sense of doing a good thoughtful read, but forget that. I gave it my level best and I feel I can honestly mark this as read. I got as much enjoyment and understanding of Ulysses as I would have if I had not skipped words, and that is a sad testament to this novel. Ulysses is a turgid slab of prose. Call it experimental or what you will. I call it a mess.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cormac McCarthy wins Pulitzer Prize for The Road

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 0
Wow! Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The Road was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

This is only the second time I have read a Pulitzer Prize winner before it was awarded (the other being Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex).

The Road is a chilling vision of American future after some sort of catastrophe which altered our country and perhaps the world forever. Nuclear? Possibly, probably. Biological? Maybe so. Doesn't really matter because the story is a quiet one of a father and son making their way in the hopes of finding a remnant of civilization.

As I mentioned in my review:
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.
I still don't think The Road is a perfect novel, but I know I'm glad that McCarthy was awarded his first Pulitzer for fiction. The man writes consistently compelling fiction and he is still improving on an already impressive career.



Monday, April 16, 2007

Link me!!!

Monday, April 16, 2007 0
Sweet! I wondered how a couple of new, local people have found this blog and left comments. Apparently on April 6 the City Pages Blog linked me as their blog of the day with this comment:
When not reading one- to two-dozen books a month, Joe Sherry reviews and discusses books (with a bias toward science fiction) at Adventures in Reading.
Yeah. Ya got me.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Good Year for Books

Sunday, April 15, 2007 8
April 27: The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
April 28: Marathon Woman, by Katherine Switzer
May 1: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
May 1: Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, by Chuck Palahniuk
May 13: You Don't Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem
May 15: Falling Man, by Don DeLillo
May 22: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
June 1: Best American Fantasy, by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer (editors)
June 19: Lisey's Story, by Stephen King
July 21: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling
Aug 21: Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson
Oct 1: Run, by Ann Patchett

These are some of the 2007 releases I am actively hoping to read.

This doesn't include, of course the already released...such as: (the ones I am aware of)
Grace (Eventually), by Anne Lamott
Ally, by Karen Traviss
Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon
Midnight Tides, by Steven Erikson

Not to mention new Terry Brooks, Greg Keyes, Charles Stross, Raymond Feist, and others who I am either missing or am too lazy to look up the links. Barbara Kingsolver has a new book, but it isn't a novel. Audrey Niffenegger's book seems to be taking a long time, hopefully Robert Jordan will be healthy enough to finish Wheel of Time in the next couple of years, and nobody knows when George Martin will finish a novel.

The Bookworm


Carl Spitzweg's 1850 painting. Now that is a personal library!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kitty Takes a Holiday, by Carrie Vaughn

Thursday, April 12, 2007 0
Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels are like crack. I would consider them my guilty of guiltiest reading pleasures because on the surface, the Kitty novels are werewolf stories and who wants to be caught reading a werewolf novel in public? Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels are not my guilty of guiltiest reading pleasures because they are simply too damn good. I would happily be caught reading Carrie Vaughn in public.

Kitty Norville is a werewolf. A lycanthrope. She is also the host of her own midnight radio show where she takes calls about the supernatural. Kitty and the Midnight Hour was our introduction to Kitty and her world. Kitty Goes to Washington revealed the existence of werewolves and the supernatural to America when Kitty was called to testify in front of Congress. She's had threats to her life from her own kind, from vampires, and just from those who fear what she is and what she signifies to these people.

Frankly, Kitty is tired. She needs to get away. So, in Kitty Takes a Holiday, Kitty does exactly that. She heads to a remote cabin in the Colorado back country and expects to write her memoirs. Her life so far. No radio show, no outside world. Just quiet and reflection. Trouble follows Kitty, however, and trouble begins with dead animals being left on her porch as some sort of sacrifice. A sick joke? Then, Cormac, the mysterious werewolf hunter and possibly friend of Kitty, shows up carrying her wounded lawyer, Ben. Trouble? To say the least.

Carrie Vaughn takes a big risk with Kitty Takes a Holiday because she removes one essential aspect of Kitty's character: the radio show. One incident of this and it isn't a big deal. More than this and Vaughn risks alienating some of her readers who want Kitty to remain the same. In Carrie Vaughn's sure hands, however, there is no danger. Her Kitty Norville is such an interesting character and Vaughn gets across Kitty's doubts about herself and why she could feel such burnout.

What Carrie Vaughn succeeds so well with in this novel is introducing new, interesting, and credible threats, advancing what we know (or think we know) about Kitty, Ben, and Cormac, and move Kitty along in life so that Kitty will be in a place where Vaughn can do something very different in the next Kitty novel and still have it feel authentic. Carrie Vaughn succeeds.

Kitty Takes a Holiday is a fast paced, exciting novel where the protagonist happens to be a werewolf and the story happens to deal with werewolves, but even with this focus on the supernatural it feels like Carrie Vaughn is doing something fresh with this sub-genre and constantly doing something fresh with her characters. The Kitty novels are consistently compelling and as Vaughn introduces new situations where Kitty must grow as a character the Kitty novels continue to improve. Kitty Takes a Holiday is quite possibly the strongest of the three Kitty novels and shows Carrie Vaughn's growth as a novelist.

The most important thing about Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels is simply that they are fun to read. Kitty Takes a Holiday is a shining example of this and having read the first two books is helpful but by no means essential. The Kitty novels can likely be categorized in several different ways. I call them a pleasure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 0
Charles Stross continues the adventures of Bob Howard (The Atrocity Archives) with The Jennifer Morgue. Bob Howard is an agent of The Laundry, a deeply secret British intelligence agency
which is focused on saving the world from the supernatural. Bob Howard is not your average agent, however. He is no James Bond. Rather, he is a computer hacker type guy who just has happened to stumble on to a skill set which has involved him in demonology.

The Laundry has set Howard up with an agent from the American Black Chamber (or perhaps it is the other way around) to stop billionaire Ellis Billington from raising something from the Pacific Ocean and in turn piss off at least one of the supernatural species inhabiting our planet which are much older and more powerful than we are and allow humanity to exist mostly because we have not inconvenienced them.

Where The Atrocity Archives was something of a combination of H.P. Lovecraft, Len Deighton, and perhaps Neal Stephenson, The Jennifer Morgue goes in a different direction. The Jennifer Morgue still takes the possibility of Lovecraftian creatures and introduces a send up of Ian Fleming's Bond novels. This is a Bond style adventure with good humor, high adventure, and clever, clever writing.

Stross has shown growth from The Atrocity Archives to The Jennifer Morgue and shows once again that this style of writing and the Bob Howard novels are very much in his wheelhouse and are shining examples of the talent and gift of Charles Stross. This is very original fantasy fiction which pays homage to the spy novels of yesteryear and yet takes it into an entirely new direction.

The hardcover also contains another Bob Howard story: "Pimpf" which deals with video games and the Laundry bureaucracy. "Pimpf" is decent enough, but lacks the heft of The Jennifer Morgue.

The only question left at the end of The Jennifer Morgue is probably what readers of Fleming's Bond or even viewers of the Bond series once asked: When will Bob Howard return?

And who will Stross send up in his next outing? LeCarre? Clancy? It doesn't matter. I trust that Stross will deliver once again.

Mind of My Mind, by Octavia Butler

Mind of My Mind is the second published novel in Octavia Butler's Patternist series, and chronologically it is the second, but the first published is actually fifth in the chronology and the fourth published is first. Confused? Don't be. Stick with publication order and everything will be just fine.

In Patternmaster we are introduced to a future Earth where humanity is divided into Patternists (telepaths), the Mutes (normal humans), and Clayarks (disease altered humans living no better than beasts). The telepaths are linked through something called "The Pattern", hence Patternists.

Mind of My Mind jumps back to a time not far off the present day and none of the future Pattern exists. We are introduced to Doro, a once human who has lived for thousands of years by jumping from one body to the next. He has been selectively breeding families of humans for millenia for telepathic ability and now he has several humans who may have sufficient power and control to take the next step.

Up until Mary, most of Doro's potential telepaths have been failures. Most who have transitioned to be an Active have been unbalanced and a danger. Mary has the potential to be the strongest and the most stable, if she lives through transition from Latent to Active.

What follows is a gathering of telepaths, the rise of Mary, and the origins of the Pattern. While this can be read before Patternmaster or after Wild Seed (which is set even before this book), but publication order is the way to go as Butler reveals this world in a particular way and with each revelation the next becomes more important.

Patternmaster was quite obviously Octavia Butler's first novel. It was decent enough, but not as strong as her later works. With Mind of My Mind Butler has written a much stronger novel which deals more with issues of identity and belonging, but it is also simply a stronger story with greater detail and description and more raw emotion. The first half of the novel is building, building and telling a consistent storyline with shifting viewpoints. Midway through when Mary actually begins building the Pattern Butler's storytelling becomes fragmented in that we are now given scattered episodes about the building of the Pattern. There are greater shifts in time during the second half of the novel, but this too is building to a great conflict and a great confrontation.

Not perfect and not as extraordinary as her later work, Mind of My Mind is a much more accomplished novel than her debut and shows the growth of Butler's soon to be masterful storytelling.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Booksfree

Saturday, April 07, 2007 2
I haven't written about Booksfree before, though the owner has commented in a couple of threads about Bookswim. Booksfree seems to be essentially the same service, except Booksfree was here first and for several years. Since they are actually in business the subscription plans are available to see and compare to Bookswim...except that Bookswim's rates are not posted yet.

The plan rates make sense, are comparable to Netflix's plan, and I think it works.

I still don't think that a book rental plan makes good sense for me since I have such a strong local library system in my area, but without having tested the plan it looks like Booksfree has the right idea...but as always, only for those who don't have access to a good library system.

Deadman's Road

The Spring 2007 issue of Subterranean Magazine has a story by Joe R. Lansdale that was simply fantastic: Deadman's Road.

It hit me with this in the second and third paragraphs and did not let me go.
He was a man of the Lord and he hated God, hated the sonofabitch with all his heart.

And he knew God knew and didn’t care, because he knew Jebidiah was his messenger. Not one of the New Testament, but one of the Old Testament, harsh and mean and certain, vengeful and without compromise; a man who would have shot a leg out from under Moses and spat in the face of the Holy Ghost and scalped him, tossing his celestial hair to the wild four winds.
Hot damn. It tells us everything we need to know about Jebidiah and sets up the tone of the rest of the story very well. This is followed up with gems like these two:
"I have become irritated with you now," Jebidiah said. "Might I suggest you shut your mouth before I pistol whip you."

and
The deputy puked in the bushes. "Oh, God. I don't want no more of this."

"Go back. I won't think the less of you, cause I don't think that much of you to begin with. Take his head for evidence and ride on, just leave me my horse."

The deputy adjusted his hat. "Don't need the head...And if it comes to it, you'll be glad I'm here. I ain't no weak sister."

"Don't talk me to death on the matter. Show me what you got, boy."


It's a damn good story. Makes me want to seek out more of Lansdale's short fiction and see what else he's got.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Harry Potter 7 Cover

Friday, April 06, 2007 0
The cover image for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been available for several weeks now, so it does not count as news, but I wanted to post it anyway.

I like it. The focus is entirely on Harry with a much brighter color scheme than we've had before. Considering that this is likely going to be the darkest book of the series, it is an interesting choice, but it's a cover that grabs the eye because of that orangish sky.

He looks all grown up and he seems ready for something. To get revenge on Snape? For his death? To stop Voldemort? Anything. Something.

Great cover. Can't wait to read what is inside.

Image from The Leaky Cauldron.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Keeping It Real, by Justina Robson

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 0
While Keeping It Real by Justina Robson is her fifth published novel, she shows off the full strength of her imagination here and announces to those who may not have heard already that she is a major talent and that she will write a blend of science fiction and fantasy that demands to be read.

How is that as a selling point?

Keeping It Real opens with a not quite a chapter, not quite a prologue telling us what we need to know. In 2015 there was some sort of Quantum Bomb which detonated in Texas and which opened our world to five alternate / parallel worlds where there are elves, fairies, demons, the dead, and elementals. The other races insist they have known about us all the while.

The novel takes place in 2021 and we need to know that this is the state of being because this is not what the novel is about nor is it the story Robson is telling. But it is the setting.

Lila Black is possibly less than half human. The other half is machine. At the start of the novel we do not know why or how, only that she is assigned security for a rock band called the No Shows which consists of fairies singing backup and an elf as the lead singer. The No Shows are immensely popular and someone is trying to kill the elf, Zal. Lila, as it turns out, does not entirely trust elves and is barely comfortable in her own skin, such as it is. She is in control of her body and machine, but not entirely. There are glitches.

This is the starting point of Keeping It Real. The rest needs to be discovered to be believed. Robson keeps the novel moving at a reasonably fast clip with action, excitement, elf sex, imperfect cyborg machinery, inept fake assassination attempts, and a heroine who is broken more on the inside than on the outside...and this is the woman who must protect Zal, and elf who barely wishes to be protected.

Keeping It Real is perhaps the most original science fiction or fantasy novel I have read in some time and it is because Robson is able to blend the two genres so seamlessly that it is simply just good storytelling. Robson plays with familiar concepts (elves, cyborgs, different worlds, magic), but in doing so she puts them together in ways we haven't seen before. The elves here are aware of the stereotypes brought on by countless fantasy novels and Lord of the Rings (the elves crack on lembas bread so that the humans can't). Remember, this is our world, just altered in our future.

Keeping It Real is the first volume in a proposed trilogy and I cannot wait to see what Robson brings us next.



Reading Copy provided courtesy of Pyr Books.

The Door Through Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

It is interesting just how much of The Door Through Space Bradley cribbed for her Darkover series: The Terran Empire colonizing the universe, a world bound by compact rather than charter to the Terrans, culture clash, Dry Towns, The Ghost Wind, a hint of ESP, chains binding women, the red sun, catmen, and the exclamation of the word "Sharra". These are both superficial as well as deeply thematic similarities to Darkover. In truth, if The Door Through Space was only given minor edits, it could pass as a Darkover novel. This was Bradley's first published novel and Darkover was obviously a work in progress throughout her entire career, but it is interesting to note how much of this novel she used to create an entire series of novels completely unrelated to this one. The world of Wolf could easily be Cottman IV. Had the word "matrix" shown up anywhere in TDTS I would have cried foul.

Race Cargill is a Terran intelligence agent who has been stuck behind a desk because of a bitter dispute with another agent who has "gone native". When Cargill's sister comes to Race because her husband, the former friend and agent who maimed Cargill, has apparently threatened her and her daughter, Cargill goes back into the field instead of leaving the planet for good. Adventure ensues.

Honestly, the book isn't that good. It is a pulpy science fiction and fantasy blend that works less well than any of her later, more developed Darkover novels. Add to the fact that having read the majority of Darkover, The Door Through Space comes off as a cheap copy, no matter that this book came first. It is a weaker Darkover novel without any of the trappings that make Darkover compelling. It is as if Bradley were trying out the ideas which would later mark her as a top talent in the 1970's and 1980's. The novel is short enough, which is good, because 300 pages of this would be rough going. The novel is not all bad and there are positives in her description of the customs and traditions of the cultures she introduces. Her handling of character, however, is less skillful.

Overall, no need to read this. Science fiction has been done far better, and Bradley herself would later re-write this novel into the vastly superior Darkover series.

Monday, April 02, 2007

March 2007 Reading

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1. 1776 - David McCullough
2. Dark Tide I: Onslaught - Michael Stackpole
3. The Android's Dream - John Scalzi
4. Dark Tide II: Ruin - Michael Stackpole
5. Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler
6. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
7. Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth
8. Falling Boy - Alison McGhee
9. Inside Job - Connie Willis
10. My Secret: A PostSecret Book - Frank Warren
11. The Roads Between the Worlds - Michael Moorcock
12. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
13. Alice's Adventure in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
14. Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett
15. Stranger Things Happen - Kelly Link
16. Patternmaster - Octavia Butler
17. The Magician's Assistant - Ann Patchett
18. Shadows Linger - Glen Cook
19. Looking Backward: From 2000 to 1887 - Edward Bellamy
20. Heroes Die - Matthew Stover
21. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy - Orson Scott Card
22. Down and Out in the Magic Kindgom - Cory Doctorow
23. Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
24. Grendel - John Gardner
25. Child of God - Cormac McCarthy
26. The Best American Sports Writing 2006 - Michael Lewis (editor)
27. Harvest of Changelings - Warren Rochelle
28. Eastern Standard Tribe - Cory Doctorow
29. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant - Jeffrey Ford
30. The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book - Frank Warren



Book of the Month: Shadows Linger, Heroes Die (tie)
Disappointment of the Month: Patternmaster (because my expectations were so high)
The Alison McGhee Award for Really Good Books: Falling Boy
Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Kindred: The New Addition

Sunday, April 01, 2007 2
The first new book I've purchased in a long time is a great one. Kindred was my introduction to the literary genre goodness that was Octavia Butler.

Since then I've read almost all of her novels, excluding four of the five Patternist books which I am working on right now. Most of Butler's work is extraordinary. Parable of the Sower / Talents, and Fledgling raise the bar of the genre.

The Xenogenesis trilogy is also worth noting.

Kindred will now find a place of honor on my bookshelf. Hopefully it will be joined by its sister novels.
 
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