Friday, August 31, 2007

Asimov's 30th Anniversary Anthology

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In honor their thirtieth anniversary of publishing the good people at Asimov's Science Fiction have put together an anthology collecting some of the best stories (in chronological order) published in Asimov's. Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov's is also editing this anthology. There are some impressive names included in this anthology: Butler, Asimov, Willis, Lethem, Shepard...shoot, I’m familiar with the work of a good half of the list, aware of most of the rest and curious about the remainder.

Note the inclusion of Octavia Butler's Speech Sounds. You’ll see this in the Wastelands anthology, in her own Bloodchild collection and probably several other anthologies. It's really that good, and that’s not surprising because Octavia Butler was one of the best.

I think I’ve read Kelly Link's Flying Lessons in one of her collections. After I remember which story this is I'll have a better idea of my impression of it. I do know that I have read Robert Reed's Eight Episodes. It’s up for a Hugo this year (winners announced tomorrow), but this one I didn't like that much. Interesting construction, but I can't say that it really amounted to that much or meant anything to me.

What I’m most interesting in reading for the first time, though, are the stories by: Connie Willis, Mike Resnick, Charles Stross, Lucius Shepard, and Jonathan Lethem. And then a re-read of Butler's Speech Sounds.

Contents:
John Varley - "Air Raid"
Robert Silverberg - "The Time of the Burning"
Octavia E. Butler - "Speech Sounds"
Bruce Sterling - "Dinner in Audoghast"
Isaac Asimov - "Robot Dreams"
Kim Stanley Robinson - "Glacier"
Connie Willis - "Cibola"
Jonathan Lethem - "The Happy Man"
Mike Resnick - "Over There"
Ursula K. LeGuin - "Ether, OR"
Kelly Link - "Flying Lessons"
Michael Swanwick - "Ancient Engines"
James Patrick Kelly - "Itsy Bitsy Spider"
Charles Stross - "Lobsters"
Lucius Shepard - "Only Partly Here"
Stephen Baxter - "The Children of Time"
Robert Reed - "Eight Episodes"

Chiaroscuro: Issue 33


Issue 33
was a good one for Chiaroscuro Magazine. Chizine publishes darker, occasionally twisted stories (Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range, or The Man Who Eats Angels anyone?), but over the last two issues I have been impressed with the overall quality of the fiction. There were four stories in Issue 33.


Waiting Period, by Sunil Sadanand
Ladders, by David Sakmyster
The Vine that Ate the South, by Bill Kte'pi
The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement and Then Take Questions, by David Nickle


Ladders features an entrepreneur in some strange, dingy, grimy city who retrieves people who have climbed up their ladders to get closer to the fresh air above the city and do not wish to come down. He does the job because it pays well and because it keeps some people from falling to their death. Interesting story concept, well executed and well told. I wished the story was longer to get more into this world of city and ladders and people trying to escape.

The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement... takes the form of a press conference with the Mayor speaking about a boy who was killed in a hit and run accident and about the community's grief. And then Nickle twists the whole thing. Short, but it works for what it is.

The Vine That Ate the South did not really connect with me too much. Apparently there is some time travel, a girl who has had odd experiences with men who seem strangely familiar, and...yeah. Nothing remarkable here.

Waiting Period opens with these two sentences which built up my interest real quick:
"I didn't tell him I was leaving." This is what the dead girl in the yellow dress tells me when I ask her if she's seen my daughter.
There is something about stories where dead people are characters that just works for me. I guess that makes them zombies, but that’s not quite it. A dead man is looking for his dead daughter. It works. I thought that Ladders would be my favorite from this issue, but I think Waiting Period is. It's the walking, talking dead thing. Maybe this is a new sub-genre of fiction that needs to be explored in greater depth.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Post Apocalyptic Fiction

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With the forthcoming release of the John Joseph Adams anthology of Post Apocalyptic stories Wastelands, this is a good time to list and discBlogger: Adventures in Reading - Create Postuss some P.A. novels and stories. I did some quick research last night to find a list of Post Apocalyptic novels and I was surprised to see that I really haven't read that many Post Apocalyptics. It just feels that way because the sub-genre is just so familiar feeling. It is a great sub-genre of science fiction. The world has been laid to waste by a variety of possible problems: vampires, disease, aliens, war, ecological disaster, whatever. It doesn't matter what the cause is, what matters is that our planet, or just our country has been decimated.

Unsurprisingly the novel that first comes to mind when thinking about this genre is The Road. Of course. It just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Cormac McCarthy brings his literary tradition to Science Fiction, possibly without realizing that he did so. It's a very spare novel, as one would expect from McCarthy. Excellent and well written it isn't one to really excite me despite the excellence. The second one that came to my mind is I Am Legend. Yeah, it is the "vampire" story, and also a "last man on Earth" story, but the Last Man stories are all post apocalyptics because why else is there only one man remaining? This is a tight, tight novel with the last man heading into the ruins of L.A. by day and trying to survive by night.

The third story that came to mind was Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. Some disease has crazed the citizens of this country and there are outposts of humanity trying to hold on. This is an outstanding novel, as is much of Butler's work. Clay's Ark also gets a mention, though not nearly as good as this one (still a solid novel, but Parable is something else entirely). Set as part of the Patternist sequence Clay's Ark sets up the fall of man and there are some excellent sections later in the novel when the world is falling to ruin.

After that we have Neville Shute's classic On the Beach, a novel after the nuclear war. It's a true Cold War novel and shows the fall out of a nuclear war.

Some Post Apocalyptic Novels:
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
On the Beach, by Neville Shute
Clay's Ark, by Octavia Butler
Cell, by Stephen King
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
The Stand, by Stephen King
A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter M. Miller
The Postman, by David Brin
Several novels by Philip K. Dick.
Left Behind, by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle
Armageddon's Children, by Terry Brooks
Battle Circle, by Piers Anthony
The Giver, by Lois Lowry


Then, there are a couple of series which clearly came out of a Post Apocalyptic setting but have gone so far after the fallout that the world has melded into something else: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks and The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe (beginning with Shadow of the Torturer). Others, like Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell touch upon it, but go in a different direction and a diaspora to other planets prevents the work from truly being Post Apocalyptic even though we know that Earth is but a shell. I got a sense of the P.A. from Dan Simmon's Ilium, at least the part that was on Earth. Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis novels follow an human caused apocalypse, but after the aliens reseed the world with humanity the world appears to be in a more pristine state...so there is none of the wreckage that is associated with the genre.

There are a goodly number of Post Apocalyptic Novels out there, most of the above list I have read, but a few I haven't. There is a discussion going on at FBS which is listing far more than I've heard of or listed here.

If we get into short stories, then we have a whole 'nother listing, some of which are on the Wikipedia list, others haven't been quite collected. Octavia Butler's Speech Sounds is a great one (it will also be included in Wastelands). Asimov has Nightfall, and Ellison has a few (A Boy and his Dog, etc). More recently Chris Roberson's story "Last" from Subterranean #4 gets to the Last Man on Earth with disease ravaging the planet, killing most everything on the planet.

This is a great genre, though I suppose some can see it as depressing. I see it as hopeful, just in a very twisted way. For there to even be a story set there means that there is something or someone surviving and if there is a survivor, there is hope. Of course, that can be twisted around quite easily, but there you go. Hope.

The reason, I think, that I believed I had read more Post Apocalyptics is that dystopian fiction (1984, Brave New World, The Running Man, The Handmaid's Tale) feels like it followed some apocalypse, something that turned our world from something beautiful (though flawed), to something horribly broken. But, because there is still a semblance of a functioning society, it isn’t really Post Apocalyptic. It's just damn close.

So, what else should be added to the list?

Night Shade

Not to be picky, but I wish the website for Night Shade Books was a bit better designed. I was browsing around trying to get a feel for what has just been published and what will be published in the Fourth Quarter, but I really can't figure it out.

Looking at the first page of their catalog we have (in this order):
Wastelands, by John Joseph Adams (editor)
Leviathan 4, by Forrest Aguirre (editor)
Grey, by Jon Armstrong
Prador Moon, by Neal Asher
Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi


Wastelands comes out in January, Pump Six in February. The other three are in stock and available now.

On the main page there is a "New Arrivals" box on the right, but it all just feels so disorganized. I don't know what comes out when and I wish I did.

I don't want to rag on Night Shade because they publish some good stuff and I'm very excited about Wastelands, and if I had any sense on how to do web design my blog wouldn't look like this, but I'm having a beast of a time finding stuff.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, by Ted Chiang

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The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
Ted Chiang
Subterranean Press: 2007


This small, limited edition, 60 page hardcover from Ted Chiang is a gem and a treat.

Subterranean's Description:
In medieval Baghdad, a penniless man is brought before the most powerful man in the world, the caliph himself, to tell his story. It begins with a walk in the bazaar, but soon grows into a tale unlike any other told in the caliph's empire. It's a story that includes not just buried treasure and a band of thieves, but also men haunted by their past and others trapped by their future; it includes not just a beloved wife and a veiled seductress, but also long journeys taken by caravan and even longer ones taken with a single step. Above all, it's a story about recognizing the will of Allah and accepting it, no matter what form it takes.

I'm not sure I could give a better and more enticing description than the one on Subterranean Press's listing for this novella. It is a brief story broken into even shorter segments as the penniless man recounts his tale. It is one complete story involving a non intrusive form of time travel and really, it's just a delight to read. If The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is representative of the sort of short fiction Ted Chiang writes then I have some great reading ahead of me with his short story collection.

For the size of this volume the price tag may be a little steep, but Subterranean puts out suburb volumes of fiction and they truly are limited editions. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate may only be sixty pages, but they are 60 exquisite pages with quality illustrations throughout the text and a well put together volume of fiction. Really, the description of the story is just about everything you need to know. Chiang tells the story with a smooth and easy style and one which you won't want to stop turning the pages until you've discovered where Chiang takes us next. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is a journey, a discovery, and a trip well worth taking.

Pyr: Fall / Winter Catalog


Pyr's Fall / Winter Catalog is out and up on their website. It may have been up for a while now, but you can see how up on things I am right about now.


Highlights:
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie (Sept)
The Metatemporal Detective, by Michael Moorcock (Oct)
Selling Out, by Justina Robson (Oct)
Starship: Mercenary, by Mike Resnick (Dec)


Thoughts:
The Blade Itself has been receiving some very solid buzz from the advance copies, so this should get a shot. Moorcock's Eternal Champion work is hit or miss, but I understand he does not consider it is his Serious Fiction, so I'm curious what how this one will do. Selling Out is the follow up to Keeping It Real, an excellent opening fantasy / science fiction blending with cyborgs and elves and broken heroines. Starship: Mercenary is the third entry in the Starship series by Mike Resnick and thus far has been a pure pleasure to read. I expect no less from Resnick.

I most look forward to the Resnick and the Robson.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ooh! Post Apocalyptic Lit!

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I have a soft spot in my heart for Post Apocalyptic Literature. Some great stories can come out of it (The Road, anyone?). John Joseph Adams, assistant editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has an anthology coming out in January called Wastelands.

Contents:
The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King
Salvage by Orson Scott Card
The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi
Bread and Bombs by M. Rickert
How We Got In Town and Out Again by Jonathan Lethem
Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels by George R. R. Martin
Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell
Never Despair by Jack McDevitt
When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow
The Last of the O-Forms by James Van Pelt
Still Life With Apocalypse by Richard Kadrey
Artie's Angels by Catherine Wells
Judgment Passed by Jerry Oltion
Mute by Gene Wolfe
Inertia by Nancy Kress
And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear
Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler
Killers by Carol Emshwiller
Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr.
The End of the World as We Know It by Dale Bailey
A Song Before Sunset by David Grigg
Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Langan

Look at that lineup! Stephen King, Octavia Butler, George Martin, Lethem, Gene Wolfe! Gaaaah!

Yeah, I'll find a copy of this one somewhere, somewhen. The King, I know, is in one of his own collections and the Butler has been previously collected (it's a great one!), but this is one hell of an anthology!

Damn, that's a great lineup. Great website, too. I'll be browsing it at greater length later.

Thanks to Tobias Buckell for the link.

Unconsumed: Arrowsmith

In my quest to read every Pulitzer Prize winning novel I come to Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Arrowsmith picked up the Pulitzer for the 1926 season. It features a young man named Martin Arrowsmith who studies to become a doctor. He is from a fictional town in a fictional state somewhere in the neighborhood of Indiana (there is a place called Wheatsylvania, too). The first hundred pages feature Martin running around with two women at the same time, getting kicked out of school, returning to school, getting married, studying hard, and just being a young medical student in the 1920's. A hundred pages of this and despite all of these things happening during the first hundred pages I would swear nothing really happened. I had to keep going back and reading the previous couple of pages to remember what just happened and that's not a good sign.

I actually read 140 pages of Arrowsmith before I accepted the fact that I just did not care and that it would take me two more weeks to finish the book and that it was not worth the time spent reading it. Arrowsmith is only the third Pulitzer Prize winning novel (out of the 30 I have read) which I have been unable to finish. The other two are The Age of Innocence and The Able McLaughlins. While Arrowsmith was better and more readable than the other two, it just was not worth the effort...and that's what it would have been, an effort. 140 pages and we haven't touched upon the central issue of medical ethics which supposedly the entire novel is about. It may have been Sinclair Lewis's Masterpiece, winning the Pulitzer and helping Lewis along for the Nobel, but it's not for me.

Next Up:
March, by Geraldine Brooks
Early Autumn, by Louis Bromfield

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wish to Read

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And in the spirit of listing books, here are a handful of books I would absolutely love to read but for various reasons have had an will have a very difficult time finding copies.

The Last Dancer, by Daniel Keys Moran: This is the third Continuing Time novel (Emerald Eyes, The Long Run) and while this is not top tier SF, I thoroughly enjoyed The Long Run and the story of Trent the Uncatchable. See, it's been a decade or so since I read the book and I still remember the hero's name. Out of print and Moran seems to have stopped writing after some health issues.

The Sagan Diary, by John Scalzi: A Subterranean press novella set in the Old Man's War universe. It gets into the head of Jane Sagan. It’s a limited edition and while my library is decent at picking up Subterranean limited edition novellas, there are some that slipped through the cracks early on.

Questions for a Soldier, by John Scalzi: Far more rare than The Sagan Diary, this is a chapbook and it is highly questionable I'll be able to find a copy of this to read. I don't need to own it, I would just like to lovingly read it. An Old Man's War story.

The Healthy Dead / The Lees of Laughter's End, by Steven Erikson: These two are Bauchelain and Korbal Broach stories set in the Malazan universe. They are slowly being published stateside and my library system is slowly getting copies. I'll probably have the chance to read these novellas.

Night of Knives / Return of the Crimson Guard, by Ian Cameron Esslemont: Two more Malazan novels, but written by the other co-creator. I have questions of quality compared to Erikson, and while reportedly these will be published in America I'm not holding my breath.


Most everything else I have on my list is either in my library system or there are concrete plans to publish in America and make it easier for me to get copies. The above is what I would like to read but really do not have much hope of being able to read except for The Healthy Dead. I don't really want to spend the money to purchase a used copy of The Last Dancer.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Born Queen Cover Art

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The cover art for Greg Keyes's The Born Queen has been released. It is the final volume in the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, a solid fantasy series which seems to have had greater potential than execution, but overall is satisfying.

I do like the cover art, though. If that is Anne Dare, she's gone quite powerful and perhaps mad.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dark Harvest, by Norman Partridge

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Dark Harvest
Norman Partridge
Cemetery Dance: 2006

Holy Shit! I knew Dark Harvest was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in the Novella category, but I certainly did not expect it to be this outstanding! Midway through the novel(la) I wanted to pick up the book, wave it around, throw it at people and insist that they read it right this very moment, even before I had a chance to finish it.

Here's the deal. It's 1963 in a small Midwestern town. Doesn't matter which one. They're all the same, except this: Five days before Halloween all the boys between 16 and 19 are locked in their rooms. Five days. They are fed nothing but orange juice. The older boys knows what is coming. For the sixteen year olds all they know are the stories, the legend:
You can't really blame him, can you? I mean, think about it. Remember when you were a little kid, the first time you noticed your older brother locked up tight five days and nights during the last week of October? Remember the first time you heard that the whole deal had something to do with a pumpkin-headed scarecrow that runs around on Halloween night? It wasn't exactly easy to believe that one no matter how scare you were, was it?

Not until you experienced it yourself, of course.

Until you were the guy locked up in your bedroom.
Hot damn! The narration here is reminiscent of a Joe Lansdale or Stephen King at his leanest and meanest best. It's all Partridge. He's not telling a story, he's driving it home to your living room and making you live it, feel it.

This may be a Halloween story and one which should be read with the lights turned low as the clock is about to strike midnight, but it's a chilling damn story any time of the year. Dark Harvest weaves a couple of viewpoints together in this suspenseful and World Fantasy Award nominated novella.

Dark Harvest is an outstanding publication, a tight, explosive story laced with violence and fear and small town ways. Dark Harvest is filled with horror and regret, secrets and lies.

Thank goodness Dark Harvest picked up the World Fantasy Award nomination. Otherwise, I would likely have missed it and my reading would have been the poorer for it. Not often do I read something and wish like hell I wrote it. I bet a lot of professional ad published writers read Dark Harvest and thought the same thing.

Read it. Now.

Subterranean #4


Subterranean Magazine #4 is the Sci-Fi cliche issue and was guest edited by John Scalzi. All of the stories in this collection deal with pretty much every cliche the genre has, but puts a new and fresh feeling twist on them. Last Man on Earth? Check. Sentient Computers? Check. The End of Existence? Check. Some of them even cover multiple cliches. As a concept for a themed issue the cliche is a great idea.

But, how was the execution? Overall, the stories were solid and worth the time spend reading. Issue #4 features debut stories by Rachel Swirsky and David Klecha as well as entries from more established authors. While stories like "The Last Science Fiction Writer" and "The NOMAD Gambit" entertained, and "Tees and Sympathy" was clever, only once did I feel that sense of excitement about reading something extra special and that was Chris Roberson's "Last" (the last man on earth story). Roberson's take on the cliche, with the last man returning from a space mission to find everybody dead and dealing with the empty environment and a futile search for a survivor while touching on the clicheness of what is happening really worked and resonated. I think I’m a sucker for Last Man stories, though. What with Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and all. The one story which I struggled through was "Hesperia and Glory". I only read a page or two of that one before I had to skip ahead.

Also featured in the issue were two articles, one by John Joseph Adams and the other by Teresa Nielson Hayden, and some book reviews (including A Feast for Crows and Cell)



Scenes from a Dystopia, by Rachel Swirsky
The Third Brain, by Charles Coleman Finley and James Allison
A Finite Number Typewriters, by Stuart MacBride
Horrible Historians, by Gillian Polack
Hesperia and Glory, by Ann Leckie
What a Piece of Work, by Jo Walton
The Last Science Fiction Writer, by Alan M. Steele
Shoah Sry, by Tobias S. Buckell and Ilsa J. Bick
Labyrinth’s Heart, by Bruce Arthurs
The NOMAD Gambit, by Dean Cochrane
In Search of Ellen Siriosa, by Ron Hogan
Tees and Sympathy, by Nick Sagan
Last, by Chris Roberson
Refuge, by David Klecha
The Infinite Heat Death of the Universe, by Elizabeth Bear

Subterranean #4 is available free online, but it is fun to own a copy of the magazine for the bookshelf.

This was a solid issue and one which did not disappoint, but knowing the overall quality of what I get from Subterranean Online with some of their novellas I had hoped for something extra special in the print edition.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Short Fiction 'Zines

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In light of the Short Fiction discussions I have come across recently, here's a glimpse of what I'm reading.


Actively Read:
Subterranean Online
Strange Horizons
Lone Star Stories
Chiaroscuro
Clarkesworld
Weird Tales (subscription)
Heliotrope


Single Issue Pick Ups:
Steampunk Magazine # 1 (not so good)
Subterranean # 4 (the John Scalzi SFF cliche issue...it’s good, just not as great as the Online edition)
Electric Velocipede # 11
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet # 20
Rabid Transit: Long Voyages, Great Lies (solid anthology of four stories)



I will definitely pick up more print editions of Subterranean. I really love this small press. I fully expect to order more from the Rabid Transit line of chapbooks. I still need to read EV and LCRW (still need to receive LCRW for that matter), so opinions forthcoming for those zines. I imagine I will purchase a chapbook or two from EV, though. I am very interested in the just published William Shunn chapbook.

I hope / intend on purchasing some One Story, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and perhaps Jim Baen's Universe at some time in the future.

What is readily apparent here is that I only subscribe to one magazine and that’s just because they had a great discount / deal for the subscription. Otherwise I probably would not subscribe to Weird Tales. I would love a similar offer for Asimov's or F&SF. When we're talking $5 (or so) at a time, it is easier to budget in a single issue of a zine. Pulling a subscription fee at any single time is a bit tougher and questionable if the value is there. For markets that only publish a couple of times a year, one at a time is a decent value and gives me a chance to see if this is something that is worth an additional investment. I don't know that I have that option with an Asimov's.

I know there are other free markets out there, but for whatever reason the Actively Read ones are the ones I have focused on before I decide to try to branch out again and find some more.

Dreams of Steel, by Glen Cook


Dreams of Steel
Glen Cook
Tor: 1990


The Black Company has been decimated at Dejagore, Croaker is presumed dead, and as far as Lady knows she is only survivor. Lady, once the enemy of the Company, lately Croaker's Lieutenant and lover, is now Captain. In essence, she is the Company. Goblin, One Eye, and Murgen are nowhere to be seen. Lady sets about to rebuild the Company the only way she knows how: through terror and fear. Lady intends to fulfill the contract with Taglios and bring the annals south to Khatovar, but to do this she needs to rebuild the Company and destroy the Shadowmasters (some of her former Soultaken back when she was The Lady).

The major change of Dreams of Steel is that Croaker is no longer narrator. Rather, Lady narrates the tale and through her perspective we see the rebuilding of the Company and the violence and darkness required to do so. There is a mild shift of tone with Lady as narrator, but overall there is not a significant difference. It is still a Black Company novel and no matter who the narrator is the novel reads as such. That is to say: Blunt, to the point, military action, plotting, and flat out strong storytelling on Cook's part. What is truly different is that unlike the previous Black Company novels, in Dreams of Steel the Company is Lady. Croaker is out, and while we see reports of Goblin, One Eye, and Murgen, they are separated from Lady. The Company is essentially starting from scratch here. Lady does have help, though, from local assassin priests and the trio of Blade, Swan, and Mather whom we met in the last novel Shadows Linger. While the cast is different from before, there is a strong cast of characters here. Further, we get more hints and teases on the origins of the Company and it is one which may break Croaker's heart when he learns of it.

Dreams of Steel is a strong, fast paced novel. Five novels in Glen Cook is delivering powerful works of fiction and creating a series which should have far more recognition than it currently does. Whether at full strength or decimated, The Black Company is always worth reading about and Dreams of Steel is no different.

This is the Fifth Novel of the Black Company, the Second Book of the South, and the prelude to the Glittering Stone trilogy to wrap it all up. Dreams of Steel is worth every moment.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Science Fiction Awards Watch

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I stumbled across a newly minted blog / website which follows and updates on the myriad SFF awards out there: Science Fiction Awards Watch.

So, besides the Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy Awards, Locus...the blog also follows and finds ones I've never heard of, like the Constellation Awards.

Great idea and one to watch.

Subterranean Online: Fall 2007


The Fall 2007 issue of Subterranean Online has posted! Exciting news for short fiction!

Stories and articles will post throughout the Fall Quarter. This is without question my favorite zine right now.

Overzealous

Once again I have been a bit overzealous with my library useage. I have quite a list of books that I have at home from the library, and another short stack of stuff "in transit" from the library. I may need a pretty efficient next two weeks to work through this stack.

At Home:
Bleak Seasons, by Glen Cook
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, by Ted Chiang
Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis
The Golden, by Lucius Shepard
Fraud of the Century, by Roy Morris Jr
The Shining, by Stephen King
March, by Geraldine Brooks
Dark Journey, by Elaine Cunningham
Sky Coyote, by Kage Baker
Blood and Iron, by Elizabeth Bear
Dark Harvest, by Norman Partridge


On the Way:
Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke
Iron Sunrise, by Charles Stross
The Man from the Diogenes Club, by Kim Newman
The Ocean and All Its Devices: Stories, by William Browning Spencer
The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman
Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
The Silver Spike, by Glen Cook

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Arrived: Weird Tales #345

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I should really read issue #344 now, shouldn't I?

Subterranean #4 is almost finished, then I have Electric Velocipede #11 and then I can move on to Weird Tales. Hopefully by that point I won't have received #346.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Forthcoming Fiction from September to December 2007

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I'm flat out stealing this idea from Andy Wolverton's recent post where he listed out a few books coming out in the near future. From the Locus listing of Forthcoming Books, here's what has my interest in the last four months of the year.


September:
The Elves of the Cintra, by Terry Brooks (Del Rey)
The Bonehunters, by Steven Erikson (Tor)
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie (Pyr)


October:
20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill (Harpercollins)
The Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
The Merchants War, by Charles Stross (Tor)


November:
Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon (Del Rey)


December:
Not a blessed thing.



Interestingly enough, Terry Goodkind's Confessor is not listed on Locus and near as I can tell still has a sale date of November 13. I would like to see how Goodkind closes The Sword of Truth out. Also missing is Mike Resnick's Starship: Mercenary from Pyr in December. Highly anticipated.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Crystal Rain, by Tobias S. Buckell

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Crystal Rain
Tobias S. Buckell
Tor: 2006

Nanagada prepares to be invaded by the Azteca, a race of people who search for human sacrifices for their gods. The soldiers of the Nanagada, the mongoose-men, make ready for the impending invasion one of their spies warned the Nanagada about. The Nanagada fear they will not be able to withstand a full scale invasion. John deBrun is not of the Nanagada, but he has lives among them for 27 year years, taken a wife, fathered a son. He has no memory of how he got to Nanagada or who he was before he arrived. This tells the discerning reader, of course, that John deBrun's past will be of vital importance to the storyline of Crystal Rain. When we first meet John it is in a quiet moment with his wife and we learn that while his wife has graying hair, John looks exactly the same as he did when they first met. This tidbit of information comes in a quiet moment and when the action starts we may forget that detail, but it is a hint of things to come and who John deBrun is.

When the Azteca attack everything changes for the Nanagada. Their people are slaughtered and sacrificed. Families are separated. John is initially captured because the Azteca believe that he holds the key to something called the Ma Wi Jung, though exactly what the Ma Wi Jung is not explained. The mongoose-men try to keep the Nanagada safe until a way to stop the Azteca can be found. General Haidan of the Nanagada has a last ditch plan to take a ship north to the ice fields and find what could be a secret weapon, the Ma Wi Jung.

From the beginning of Crystal Rain Buckell reveals that this is a deeply science fiction world. A character in the prologue may have some sort of nanotechnology, and later we find that the Nanagada are refugees from some long ago war in which terrible weapons were used and humanity escaped through a wormhole before closing it in hopes that it would stop the aliens attacking them. The technology has been lost and the Nanagada are essentially a low-tech people with hints of old technology and some long lived "old fathers" who still have the nanotech from hundreds of years prior.

But while Nanagada has its roots deep in science fiction, this is a localized tale of warfare and adventure. The first hundred pages of Crystal Rain feel like pure introduction. We learn of John deBrun, we learn of the Azteca, we see the attacks begin. But despite the impending invasion and the horrors just on the edge of perception, Crystal Rain drags its way through the opening third of the novel. There is no narrative urgency or true excitement until midway through the novel when two things happen: A man named Pepper shows up on the scene, capable of great violence; and John leads the expedition north to find the Ma Wi Jung. The real mover of Crystal Rain is the expedition north because until John is on the move and until the Nanagada search for a weapon against the Azteca there is no real storytelling movement. Sure, characters move from place to place, but until John goes north, the movement has no emotion.

Once John deBrun heads north to find the Ma Wi Jung Crystal Rain picks up and becomes an exciting book to read. The search, the revelations, the storytelling are all top notch in the last half of the book. Buckell delivers, at the end, a deeply satisfying conclusion to Crystal Rain with the promise of more story to tell about this world and this conflict. The conflict of Crystal Rain is done, but the story isn't over. We know that Ragamuffin comes next to continue some of the story of Crystal Rain and by the end of Crystal Rain, we’re itching for Ragamuffin.

Tobias Buckell brings the Caribbean flair of his own heritage to Crystal Rain. We know that we live on a planet where the majority of humanity is not white. The odds of any science fiction world being lily white is highly unlikely and while some science fiction writers tackle this (Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy has intentional cultural segregation in its colonization), Buckell brings the reader a different perspective and a different culture to look at: the island culture of the Caribbean. The Nanagada are the descendants of the Caribbean islanders, dark skinned and talking in a particular dialect of English. Buckell has the dialogue of the Nanagada liberally flavored with this dialect and while it is a bit jarring at the start, midway through the novel it feels perfectly natural. Our heroes, except perhaps John deBrun, are dark skinned (deBrun's name suggests a Dutch heritage). Pepper is absolutely a black man. While this does very little to impact the storytelling because it honestly does not matter what skin color a character is as far as what actions are taken, it is important to see different skin tones in SFF fiction.

Crystal Rain may have had a semi-weak opening, but by the end of the novel the story was ripping all over the place and there was raw emotion and exciting moments and hints of future and past wars and Crystal Rain ended on a very high mark that makes it easy to overlook the earlier flaws of the novel. All flaws are forgotten by the end. The novel is well worth sticking through the first hundred pages or so because things very much improve after that. Crystal Rain whets my appetite for Ragamuffin and the thought of Buckell taking on Space Opera in Ragamuffin is an exciting one. Bring on the next novel!


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tobias Buckell.

Hennepin County Library Merger Updates

There is now a website for the Minneapolis / Hennepin County library merger.

The newest update is here.

It discusses some of the teams being set up to work on the merger. It looks like the Minneapolis system will be merged into HCL and Minneapolis employees will be HCL employees. As a patron of HCL, I hope this goes smoothly and there is increased service and access to works in Minneapolis (and, more noble, that the transition is smooth and easy for the employees, too)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quick Takes: Mike Resnick, Colby Buzzell, Charlaine Harris

Sunday, August 19, 2007 0
Eros Ascending, by Mike Resnick: Science Fiction story set in a barbell shaped brothel / space station. That’s no moon, it’s a brothel! Like any Resnick work I have encountered, Eros Ascending is a highly entertaining novel with some interesting and competent characters, and a joy of storytelling that obviously comes from Resnick himself. He just HAS to enjoy telling these stories. This one is from early in his career and features the villain as the protagonist turning into the hero. And it's set in a spacestation shaped like barbell which happens to be a brothel and the nitty gritty of the brothel really isn’t the point, it just makes an excellent conversation piece. Eros Ascending is the first of four novels (I believe) set on the Velvet Comet.


My War: Killing Time in Iraq, by Colby Buzzell: Buzzell gained notoriety as an Army Blogger posting entries from Iraq giving an honest soldier's account of what life was like on the ground. He compared what really happened to the media's account (or even the official version). Naturally he was pressured to stop writing. My War is mostly memoir of how and why Buzzell joined the Army, his training, and his subsequent deployment to Iraq. While other recent books have covered much the same ground (The Interrogators, Generation Kill, etc), My War is a raw, gritty account told in a conversational style. In many instances My War reads just as if Buzzell was sitting there explaining how things were. Midway through the book we get to the part where Buzzell began his blog and Buzzell includes the full blog entries. Some are Q&A's, others just explanations of what was occurring. At first this was a bit off putting as the inclusion of blog entries really messed with the flow of the narrative and the flow of the writing, but eventually the entries fit better with the book and was interspersed with more recent writing by Buzzell. Overall, My War: Killing Time in Iraq has to be viewed as essential reading for understanding the soldier's experience in Iraq. It's a difficult book because of the content, but very readable. Highly recommended.



Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris: With the first Southern Vampire mystery Charlaine Harris introduces the reader to Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress who can read minds. In small town Louisiana Sookie is considered weird, but when a vampire walks into Sookie's bar and she can't read his mind she sees the possibilities. But then people begin to die and Sookie's new vampire boyfriend is automatically a suspect because vampires have only been public for four years now and the new racism is vampirism. This is a mix of mystery, the supernatural made natural, down south living, romance, and almost horror. Combined it is nothing more than a damn good story told well. Dead Until Dark moves along at a brisk pace and really hits its stride near the end of the book when everything comes together. Dead Until Dark is a fun book to read that you won't want put down and when the book is finished you'll want to grab the next volume in the series.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Short Fiction and the Changing of the Guard

Saturday, August 18, 2007 2
Alright. I have seen a variety of different Conversations of the Month ripping their way through the SFF message boards and websites and blogs which I read on a semi-regular basis. The first one which I remember had to do with the ratio of females to males in short fiction, then it went on to race, then to a Changing of the Guard where hot new novelists are supplanting the Hot Old Novelists, and then more race, and finally short fiction is dying. And race.

I see most of the same faces having these discussions, but that is because I go to the same places. Often there is a link or several to others who are engaging the conversation, sometimes to the person who really originated the current version of the conversation. Frequently I don’t bother clicking those links. Why? Honestly, because I do not have the time to spend online truly engaging the conversations and seeing what all is said.

With that said, just as I was seriously thinking of engaging the Short Fiction and Changing of the Guard conversations I’m not sure I need to. Andrew Wheeler (formerly editor of the SFBC) just pimp slapped the Changing of the Guard conversation down. John Klima, editor of Electric Velocipede, wrangled some good thoughts out on Short Fiction Dying and since he is all up in the middle of the short fiction market (being an editor of a semi-pro zine and all).

The one conversation I have spent the most time thinking about was The Changing of the Guard. As I mentioned, Wheeler pretty well killed that one for me. Patrick St. Denis over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist discussed the Changing of the Guard in reference to Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind supplanting the early 80's Guard of Terry Brooks and David Eddings, and wondering who the new Guard would be. Pat mentioned Steven Erikson and Scott Lynch as possibilities with Lynch as the strongest possibility in terms of sales. I believe this was all started by the A Dribble of Ink blog. Now, what I thought when I read Pat's post was that Terry Brooks hasn't gone anywhere. He's still selling as well as he ever had and continues to hit the NY Times Bestsellers list on a regular basis (yearly, I suppose) with each new book. I wasn't sure about Eddings simply because I thought The Dreamers blew chunks.

So Andrew Wheeler chimes in and just kills the whole thing for me. First, he mentions that the sales haven't slipped for Brooks OR Eddings, but also that Jordan and Goodkind are so far above the rest of the pack in terms of sales that neither author is going to be giving up their spot on the Guard any time soon. Further, Wheeler mentioned that both Jordan and Goodkind took several volumes to really come into their own in terms of sales. Something that Lynch has yet to do as he has only published one book. But where Wheeler really split with the conversation is that Pat and others, myself included, are looking for the new guard of fresh authors and Wheeler pointed out that the New Guard may not be from Epic Fantasy. It's paranormal romance type novels with Laurell K. Hamilton taking the lead.

And snap.

What I really wonder is if the Changing of the Guard conversation isn't a bit pointless. What I mean by this is are we measuring the Guard by Sales or by Taste? If by Taste, then by all means let's see who the New Guard is and who the fresh new authors are. Shoot, I LOVED The Lies of Locke Lamora and overall I am very impressed with The Malazan Book of the Fallen. In the last couple of years I have also discovered Octavia Butler, Carrie Vaughn, Glen Cook, John Scalzi, Mike Resnick, Stephen King (!!), Joe R. Lansdale, Lucius Shepard, Kage Baker, Karen Traviss, Brandon Sanderson, Peter F. Hamilton, Audrey Niffenegger, and Charles Stross.

Of these authors the Fresh (or New Guard) are: Vaughn, Scalzi, Traviss, Sanderson, and Niffenegger.

For me, any author I discover is New and Fresh, even if am discovering an author like Stephen King who has published eleventy billion novels and several works of nonfiction. He's new to ME. And right now, Glen Cook's Black Company series is one of the best things I'm reading. Steven Erikson may have taken fantasy tropes in so many different directions and created the legendary Bridgeburners...but I swear he cribbed them from Glen Cook and I think Cook tells a better story. Or maybe just a different one.

Other than the fact that it allows authors I like to earn a living and keep publishing novels, I'm not too interested in Sales. Jo Rowling sold 8 million copies in 24 hours? Great! Does that make Rowling the New Guard or does she just have her own Castle?

Don’t get me wrong, I want John Scalzi and Scott Lynch and Brandon Sanderson to sell like hot cakes (or better than hot cakes, even, sell like cheeseburgers!), but the only Guard I really recognize is the one I’m reading right now. When you publish often and with quality and tell stories that I want to read, you're the new Guard. For a time that was Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist. Right now, they're my Old Guard who I continue to read when they get around to publishing a new book. Today I'm reading what I'm reading. Novellas by Shepard and Lansdale. Novels by Vaughn and Traviss. Stuff that excites me.


What about the whole Short Fiction is Dying thing?

I think people are decrying two things:

First, comparing pay rates for short fiction in today’s dollars versus thirty years ago, short fiction pays less now than it ever did (same with genre novels, to be honest). So, it doesn't pay for John Scalzi to write short fiction. If it did, he would. I'll buy that argument.

Second, sales of the major magazines are waaaaay down. Nobody is reading Short Fiction, Nobody Cares! Waaaaah! Hmpf.

I think the second statement is both true and false. Yeah, sales are down in fiction magazines. One: There is a stupidly large number of magazines out there and if I'm going to shell out my money I want to KNOW I'm getting something good. Nay, I want to know I'm getting something GREAT! Two: I don't feel like I'm missing much by not subscribing to Asimov's. I can get excellent fiction for FREE online from reputable markets and since I'm not in the middle of an online conversation about Short Fiction, it is difficult to get recommendations...and even if I could get a recommendation, if I'm not already subscribing and there is no free content online, I'll never get to read the story anyway and I’ll just read my novel. But, I think plenty of people are reading short fiction...but with the proliferation of online zines and print semi-pro zines for cheaper rates than the Big Three, numbers overall are probably down but plenty of readers are out there.

But, go see what John Klima has to say.


Some links to the conversations (not meant to be exhaustive)

Race:
Neth Space
David Anthony Durham
Durham Interview
The Fantasy Review
Westeros
Wotmania
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist


Short Fiction:
John Klima
Tobias Buckell
SF Signal
SF Diplomat
Velcro City
Torque Control
(other links are contained within these links)

Changing of the Guard:
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Andrew Wheeler
A Dribble of Ink
OF Blog of the Fallen

Friday, August 17, 2007

Jo Rowling Chat

Friday, August 17, 2007 0
MuggleNet has posted a complete Chat transcript with J. K. Rowling regarding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Lots of questions, lots of answers!

Season Eight


When Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air several years back it had a nearly perfect ending. There was tragedy and our heroes won the day. But there were also questions: What happened next? What did Buffy do with all of the potential Slayers activated?

There was a hint of an answer in Season 5 of Angel, but still there were questions.

Joss Whedon did not come back to television to continue Buffy's story, he turned to comics and to Dark Horse to tell the story.

Dark Horse is releasing Buffy the Vampire: Season Eight as if it were an actual season of television rather than a long running comic.

With no interest in buying any individual issue of the new Buffy comic, I have to wait for the trade paper editions which collect a handful of issues in one book. The Long Way Home is the first of the Season Eight books and will be released in November.

I'm not a big comic reader, but this is one I am very much interested in. Joss himself is one of the writers so I know it is telling his story.

Looking forward to this one.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Siege of Cranes

Thursday, August 16, 2007 0
I'm of two minds about Benjamin Rosenbaum's story A Siege of Cranes. On one hand it was a bit cold and off putting and the explanation of the motivation of the villain was a let down. On the other hand, there was something still satisfying about the conclusion of the story. It is a quest story with brutality, missing persons, grotesquery, a jackal-man, a djinn, and almost no hope at all. The ultimate conclusion of the story worked. The first half of the story, however, did not work nearly so well. Had A Siege of Cranes not been nominated for a World Fantasy Award I might have passed on finishing the story, even though it was only 24 pages in Word. The story comes from the All Star Stories anthology Twenty Epics and A Siege of Cranes has that feel of an epic fantasy, it just takes a while to really get the depth of the story across or even allow the reader to engage with the story.

Having now read three of the five nominated stories if I had a vote, and I do not, would go to Jeffrey Ford's "The Way He Does It". Short. Simple. Fascinating. Quirky. Ford can be hit or miss with me, but "The Way He Does It" delivered the goods.

To paraphrase Jon Lovitz in A League of Their Own: "I know the goods when I see it. He's got the goods. Sorry, kid."

Strange Horizons

Next to Subterranean Online, Strange Horizons is quite possibly publishing some of my favorite online fiction today. Recently I haven't had much to talk about in the world of short fiction, but I’m still reading through Strange Horizons last month or two (I got behind) and they've got some nice quirky stuff. Nothing that right now makes me want to jump up and down and shout from the treetops about (let's ignore how I got up to the treetops), but decent stuff all the same.


Recent Reads:
The Perfume Eater, by R. J. Astruc
The Girl from Another World, by Leah Bobet
Wake Up Call, by Leslie Brown
The Captain is the Last to Leave, by Caroline Lockwood Nelson
Artifice and Intelligence, by Tim Pratt
Limits, by Donna Glee Williams


I rather like The Perfume Eater and The Girl from Another World, though Bobet's ending left a bit to be desired. The Perfume Eater is better. Limits is a decent story, too, after the first couple of pages when we start figuring out what it might be all about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Freely Available World Fantasy Award Nominees

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 0
Here's some free Award Nominated Short Fiction!!!

Short Fiction:
A Siege of Cranes - Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Way He Does It - Jeffrey Ford
Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy) - Geoff Ryman

If anyone has links to M. Rickert's "Journey Into the Kingdom" and / or Christopher Rowe's "Another Word for Map is Faith" (great title, by the way!) I would greatly appreciate it.

I haven't taken the time to look for the Novellas online so I can read more than Botch Town and potentially Map of Dreams depending on my mood to grab the book from the library, but let me simply say that I have hopes...

Meanwhile, I'll read the Rosenbaum tomorrow and give some impresssions.

The Long Walk, by Stephen King

The Long Walk
Stephen King
Signet: 1979

With The Long Walk Stephen King has one of his best ideas yet. Some sort of future or present day military authority has organized The Long Walk. It is a kind of game show, kind of draft. Any number of people can sign up, but only 200 are chosen. 100 walkers, 100 alternates in case people back out before the final back out date. After that the field is set. 100 walkers. They start in northern Maine and walk until only one person is left. Seems simple, and it is, but there is more. See, for 99 of the 100 walkers The Long Walk is a death sentence. The winner is the one who survives, but the rules are simple. If a walker slows to less than 4 miles per hour he is given a warning. A walker can be given three warnings. The fourth time he is out of the walk. By "out of the walk" I mean that he is shot where he stands. A walker can earn back warnings by going an hour between warnings. There are no breaks, no rest. No sleep. Need to use the restroom? Better go while you walk. Why walk? Well, King reveals that as the novel progresses. We meet quite a few of the walkers and get some of their stories but the focus is on Ray Garraty, a teenaged boy who joined the Walk.

The Long Walk was written when King was a freshman in college, but published several years after Carrie under the Richard Bachman pseudonym. It is easily the best of the four early Bachman novels. Multiple meanings can be read into The Long Walk. It could be viewed as a discussion on the draft where even though in the Walk the characters choose, they are typically young men or boys with no real concept of what they are doing and when they are selected in the lottery for the Walk, they are dead men walking. It could be viewed as a shot across the bow of America's view on death and entertainment. It is a telling of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, but as on crack. A general examination of young men and death and why someone would get into The Walk. The scary thing is that if somehow The Walk was legal and some unsavory television producer tried to get the show on the air today...people would sign up knowing they would die. For the chance to be financially set for life and all you have to do is walk farther than the next guy? Teenagers would jump into this without really understanding what they are doing and that is EXACTLY what happens in King’s 1979 novel The Long Walk.

It is not horror in what you would imagine the genre to be, but it is horrific. It is not so much a thriller in having a chase and a mystery, but it is thrilling. With each walker who gets his "ticket" on the fourth warning, the risk to Ray and the group he spends most of his timing walking with and talking to is increased. Pete McVries, Art, Stebbins, Barkovitch, Hank. Others. Then there is the specter of The Major looming over the story. There is anger, disgust, exhaustion, tension, death, hope, fear, and perhaps every other emotion and King builds the tension as the novel progresses.

Almost thirty years later and The Long Walk holds up well as a simple story with a horrible setting. Yet, we can’t look away. Well worth picking up a copy and giving it a go.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Way He Does It

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 0
John Klima over at Electric Velocipede has posted the complete text of Jeffrey Ford's World Fantasy Award nominated story "The Way He Does It". Check it out!

It’s a very good story, very curious. "The Way He Does It" is a fairly short story and the entire time I wondered what "It" was as Ford builds and builds until I'm about ready to scream "What the hell is it already?!!" We beg Ford for release, for the answer to what "It" is...and before the end of the story I realize that it doesn't matter what "It" is. Whatever "it" is will never match our imagination, whether we think it is an act of perversion or something else all together, it doesn't matter what "It" is. What matters is the way he tells it.

Sublime.

World Fantasy Award Nominees

Here are the nominations for the 2007 World Fantasy Awards. Some good stuff here and a much different pool of nominees than we see on the Hugo or Nebula ballots. Or, as I call it: yet another list of stuff to read.


NOVEL
· Lisey's Story, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton)
· The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra; Small Beer Press)
· The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (Gollancz; Bantam Spectra)
· The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
· Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

I have only read The Lies of Locke Lamora on this list and it is an outstanding work and worthy of a win no matter what company it is in. I know the Gene Wolfe is the third entry in the Latro series. A co-worker of mine was raving about the Latro novels, but he did acknowledge that Wolfe employs the unreliable narrator again much as he did in the New Sun novels and that in reading a Latro novel you must question what the narrator is telling you because the narrator may have his facts wrong due to his lack of a memory. That's a bit of a turn off and after Shadow of the Torturer I have found the New Sun novels to be fairly tedious. Which means I am unlikely to read Soldier of Sidon or have an opinion on it. I may grab Lisey's Story from the library after I finish reading The Shining, but I feel good about it seeing that it picked up this nomination. I read the original story several years ago in one of the McSweeney's anthologies but do not remember much about it. I've been enjoying King's work lately, so expect no different from him here. I have not read and have not heard anything about the Kushner or the Valente. Perhaps I should give those a go sometime soon. I almost read an earlier work by Valente. So...my early vote will go to Scott Lynch with a tentative withholding for how the Stephen King turns out.


NOVELLA
· "Botch Town", Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream, Golden Gryphon)
· "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", Kim Newman (The Man from the Diogenes Club, MonkeyBrain)
· Dark Harvest, Norman Partridge (Cemetery Dance)
· "Map of Dreams", M. Rickert (Map of Dreams, Golden Gryphon)
· "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire", Ysabeau S. Wilce (F&SF Jul 2006)

I read "Botch Town" as part of The Empire of Ice Cream. I was not nearly as enamored of that work as other people were. Thinking back, I was confused as to exactly what the point was. I have not read the other Novella nominees, but I think it is great that Golden Gryphon has picked up a couple of nominees. They do good work over there and publish quality collections. I would not vote for the Ford, but otherwise no opinion here.


SHORT FICTION
· "The Way He Does It", Jeffrey Ford (Electric Velocipede #10, Spr 2006)
· "Journey Into the Kingdom", M. Rickert (F&SF May 2006)
· "A Siege of Cranes", Benjamin Rosenbaum (Twenty Epics, All-Star Stories)
· "Another Word for Map is Faith", Christopher Rowe (F&SF Aug 2006)
· "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman (F&SF Oct/Nov 2006)

Another category for which I have only read one entry, that being "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter", by Geoff Ryman and like the Novella category, I did not think much of it. It was nominated for a Hugo for this same category and it may have been my lease favorite entry for the Hugos. What I found very interesting is that with the Hugo Awards most of the nominees were from Asimovs. Here we have three from Fantasy & Science Fiction with another in the novella category. Clearly this reflects the reading tastes of the folks in charge of nominations. Good on John Klima (editor of Electric Velocipede) for having one of the stories in his zine nominated. I have issue 11 sitting unread at my house, not #10, so I probably will not have the chance to get a read in for the Ford. Another interesting thing for me is that both Jeffrey Ford and M. Rickert have nominees in Novella and Short Fiction. Another glimpse into the taste of the nominators.


ANTHOLOGY
· Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard, Scott A. Cupp & Joe R. Lansdale, eds. (MonkeyBrain and the Fandom Association of Central Texas)
· Salon Fantastique, Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling, eds. (Thunder's Mouth)
· Retro Pulp Tales, Joe R. Lansdale, ed. (Subterranean)
· Twenty Epics, David Moles & Susan Marie Groppi, eds. (All-Star Stories)
· Firebirds Rising, Sharyn November, ed. (Firebird)

Nope. Have not read a single one of these collections. The only one I really want to read is Retro Pulp Tales edited by Lansdale. His fiction is sharp and filled with attitude. I can imagine what his eye for fiction is like.


COLLECTION
· The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
· The Empire of Ice Cream, Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon)
· American Morons, Glen Hirshberg (Earthling)
· Red Spikes, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin Australia; Knopf)
· Map of Dreams, M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon)

Shocking! Jeffrey Ford and M. Rickert pick up nominations for their collections where the title story was nominated as novellas. I do hope to read the Rickert as well as the Susanna Clarke collections this summer / fall still. Was not terribly impressed by The Empire of Ice Cream, though I know it was much lauded.


Things I appreciate from these nominees: John Klima picked up a nomination for editing Electric Velocipede (Special Award, Non Professional); Golden Gryphon, Subterranean, and Electric Velocipede having work pick up nominees. I wish that more of Subterranean's fiction picked up nominations as Subterranean Online has some outstanding work published throughout the year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Throne of Jade,by Naomi Novik

Monday, August 13, 2007 0

Throne of Jade
Naomi Novik
Del Rey: 2006

2006 was a great year for Naomi Novik. She had her first three novels all published several months apart and garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and commercial success for the Temeraire series. Beginning with His Majesty's Dragon Novik introduced us to a fictional version of history where dragons exist and were used in the Napoleonic Wars as a primitive Air Force and giving a new dimension to historical events. In a naval battle Captain Will Laurence captured a dragon's egg from a French ship and when the dragon hatched it bonded to Laurence, a cause for great consternation as Laurence was a sailor and not a member of the aerial corps, but Temeraire and Laurence were bonded (much like Anne McCaffrey's "impression" between rider and dragon). In that first novel we see Laurence learn more about Temeraire and the aerial corps, training sequences, dragon history, and some air battles with the dragons. It was a fantastic first novel, everything a reader could hope for. By the end we learn that Temeraire is a Chinese Celestial dragon, a very rare and important breed only owned by Emperors and Royalty. And here a captain in England's aerial corps has the dragon.

While the discovery of what breed of dragon Temeraire is becomes a semi-important point of His Majesty's Dragon, it becomes the central point of Throne of Jade. The Chinese learn of Temeraire being held by England and Will Laurence and they wish Temeraire to be returned immediately. Laurence refused to give up Temeraire and Temeraire likewise refuses to be parted from Laurence. During negotiation it is agreed that Temeraire and Laurence will both go to China, by sea, where the matter will be settled. This sets up the middle third (perhaps half) of Throne of Jade: Temeraire at Sea. At first I thought this might be a very good thing because we could get back to some of the nautical life that was so fascinating at the beginning of His Majesty's Dragon and Novik could touch upon some of those comparisons to Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey / Maturin series which permeated the early part of His Majesty's Dragon. Unfortunately, from when the ship left England and arrived in China that whole middle section dragged. Yes, there was a naval battle, Temeraire saw action, tension between the Chinese and Laurence, tension between Laurence and his former naval mate Riley, lots of tension, and overall enough notable things happened that the Sailing Chapters should have moved briskly. Novik's smooth writing could only do so much. I felt much of those eight or so months spent at sea and despite all the action Novik attempted to throw in to Throne of Jade, the middle of the novel was a bit weak and was an albatross around the neck of the narrative.

What worked was the ending. Once Laurence and Temeraire were on land in China the novel became exciting as it should have been all along. We see the difference between Chinese and English dragons, culture, and how they treat dragons. We wonder, honestly, if Temeraire will wish to stay and what Laurence will do about it. At the end we care. The ending is quite effective, but it made me wish the whole novel was equal to Novik's crafting of the ending.

Throne of Jade is worth reading if you are looking for another adventure of Temeraire and Captain Laurence, but it is not nearly as strong a novel as His Majesty's Dragon. Hopefully the follow up, Black Powder War will be equal to the beginning of His Majesty's Dragon because unfortunately Throne of Jade read like nothing more than a 400 page middle novel of a trilogy where little truly happens to advance the plot and our heroes are only moved into a position where they will be set for the conclusion of the tale. Decently entertaining at times and easily readable, Throne of Jade does not get a recommendation as a stand alone novel but does get a passing grade as part of the Temeraire series on the strength of His Majesty's Dragon. Novik could have trimmed a good 50 pages, perhaps 75, out of the Sailing Chapters and nobody would have noticed and it might have made the novel all the stronger.
 
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