Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vacation Reading

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 2
Since I’m leaving for a two week vacation early on Thursday morning and there won’t be any posts until 10/8 at the earliest, I figure I should give a glimpse of what my vacation reading will look like. I have 50 hours in the car, of which I will be a passenger for about 25 of those hours. Plus whatever downtime there will be on vacation.


So, this is what I’m bringing:
A Handbook of American Prayer, by Lucius Shepard
Acacia, by David Anthony Durham
The New Space Opera, by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (editors)
Ragamuffin, by Tobias Buckell
The World Wreckers, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
Weird Tales: Issue 344
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet: Issue 20


I was going to bring Bright of the Sky, but I only have 40 pages left and I expect to finish that this evening.

I am most looking forward to the Scott Lynch and the Tobias Buckell. My guess is that I won’t get through everything, but I should make a good dent in my reading pile, finish both magazines, and 3 or 4 books. Maybe more.

Quick Takes: Kealan Patrick Burke, Lou Anders


The Hides, by Kealan Patrick Burke: After reading Currency of Souls I wanted to read more of Burke’s novel (or novella) length fiction. My library had The Hides, so it worked out well. I understand that The Hides is actually the second novel featuring some of these characters, but no knowledge of the prior event(s) is necessary for The Hides. Not to be hideously cliche about it, but Timmy Quinn can see dead people. They can see him, too. After another bad experience at home, Timmy’s father moves him and Timmy to Ireland to live with Timmy’s grandmother for a time. It is supposed to be better. Things only get worse.

As much as I liked Currency of Souls there was this erratic vibe to the novel, and Burke may have let things spin a little out of control at the end (and what the hell was up with that Indian sequence anyway), but The Hides is much more constrained. There is a quiet horror to the novel and Burke keeps the story on track and focused and The Hides is a better novel for it. I wish I could read his novella The Turtle Boy which first introduced Timmy Quinn, but until then The Hides is a quietly excellent story of horror, the dead, and how personal history will always come back to haunt.



Fast Forward 1, by Lou Anders (editor): Once I started reading Fast Forward 1 I knew I had something good. Lou Anders collects 21 stories in this original, unthemed anthology of science fiction tales of the future, some future, perhaps our future. There are some absolute gems in this anthology. By this point everyone knows about “Wikiworld”, but Pamela Sargent’s “A Smaller Government” was an impressive look at the US government and I was surprised by “Jesus Christ, Reanimator”. Ken MacLeod’s story was nothing like what I expected and was quite understated...and if Jesus would come back the way he does in the story, I suspect it would end the way MacLeod envisions. Mary Turzillo’s “Pride”, complete with a saber tooth tiger is another quite gem. Looking back, “Solomon’s Choice”, the Justina Robson, Kage Baker, and Elizabeth Bear stories...this is the future of science fiction and the future is strong. Shoot, “p dolce” , a story about virtually sending people back in time to find out what Bach’s mysterious notation means, is another one worth mentioning. The only stories which did not work for me were Paolo Bacigalupi’s and Ian McDonald...I don’t understand the big deal with either author based on their short fiction. I could have done without Robyn Hitchcock’s poetry, but otherwise I would recommend Fast Forward 1 as THE anthology to read this year and I am very much looking forward to the inevitable (I hope) Fast Forward 2.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

reading updates...sort of

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A Handbook of American Prayer has to be the best thing Lucius Shepard has written, and that’s saying something. I’m only 70 pages in, but it’s knocking me out.

Midway through Bright of the Sky, and I’m impressed with Kenyon’s prose. There is a very literate feel to the novel, like Kenyon is painstakingly crafting the world of The Entire and the Rose and while the reading can be slow going at times, it really is an excellent, impressive novel. I don’t think it’ll rank as a favorite, but it’s quality.

The Big Blow, by Joe R. Lansdale


The Big Blow
Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press: 2000

Galveston, Texas. 1900. The “Storm of the Century” is on the horizon. Prizefighter John McBride arrives in Galveston from Chicago to fight the local heavyweight champion, a black man named “Lil” Arthur Johnson. The men who have hired McBride are offering an additional $500 if he can kill Johnson in the ring. The stories of Johnson and McBride leading up to the fight are the core of The Big Blow, but Lansdale gives us glimpses of other aspects of Galveston life: prostitutes, the captain of a ship, a young couple getting romantic on the beach, a husband and wife traveling with their newborn son. This is context. The story is McBride, Johnson, the fight, and the impending hurricane.

Lansdale opens The Big Blow with a sentence so hot that it sets the tone for everything to follow. It is a sentence so ripping that you know that this is a book that you just have to read. It’s the opening sentence that grabs you. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, so I can’t duplicate it and won’t try, but suffice it to say that Lansdale states that the weather is as hot as two rates fornicating in a wool sock...only Lansdale flat out tells you what they are doing in coarser language. The opening is absolutely perfect.

The narration of The Big Blow fits around the characters Lansdale is writing about. The McBride sections are the most profane, both in narration and dialogue. The Jack Johnson sections are angrier, prideful, and resolute. The family with the baby is fearful.

The Big Blow is a slim novel, more a novella. It’s one hell of a read. Joe Lansdale is more than a master stylist, though his use of language is unrivaled. Lansdale is flat out a great storyteller. He’s the guy you hope to meet somewhere when you are waiting for a plane, a train, the next bus...and he lays out this incredible, unbelievable story that you’ve never heard before and you can’t stop listening. Lansdale is the guy you want to tell you a story, the guy you need to tell you a story. When he does, it’s a damn good one.

From the Publisher:
Galveston, 1900.
The New York of the south, with cars, electricity, and all the conveniences of modern life.

Galveston, 1900.
A prize fight pitting legend Jack Jackson versus a professional brought in to teach him his place.

Galveston, 1900.
Whorehouses, gambling, family life, a stark depiction of the times, and the points where history, reality, and modern myth intersect. They're all on display in a short historical masterpiece by award-winning author Joe R. Lansdale.

Galveston, 1900.
The hurricane of the century is coming, to destroy it all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Quick Takes: Sara Gran, Glen Cook, Aaron Allston

Monday, September 24, 2007 0

Come Closer, by Sara Gran: A creepy, chilling little book. Amanda has a good life, a good husband, a good job. Then her life begins to unravel. Maybe she needs more sleep. Maybe the tapping in her walls is nothing. Maybe she isn’t becoming possessed by a demon. Maybe. It begins slowly, this slim little volume of horror. It is little things. Amanda hears and sees things that aren’t there, that nobody else sees. Visions from her past. Little by little her life pulls apart and she isn’t sure why. As Come Closer progresses the story gets creepier and creepier and then downright nasty. Written in short chapters and clear sentences, Come Closer is a small gem of horror.



Bleak Seasons, by Glen Cook: This is the first time I have been truly disappointed by a Black Company novel. Sure, I thought The Silver Spike was kind of pointless because it was an offshoot novel that did not really tell me anything new or essential, but Bleak Seasons is part of the main sequence of The Black Company. It is the first volume in the four volumes of The Glittering Stone which will wrap up The Black Company series (provided Cook does not write any more novels of the Black Company). Bleak Seasons should tell me something new, should advance some story, should do something new. It doesn’t, not really. Bleak Seasons picks up not long after the first battle at Dejagore where Lady is lost and Croaker is presumed dead. Dreams of Steel taught us otherwise and reunited, briefly, the Company. Lady, Croaker, and Murgen were going to put things to rights. Now, when Bleak Seasons begins we see things from Murgen’s perspective before Croaker and Lady return, while Mogaba is still running Dejagore. Ugh! Yeah, Glen Cook throws in some twists with odd visions of Murgen, a wife, moving backwards and forwards in time, but it is not until the last few chapters that there is any sense of plot advancement. The Murgen vision thing was a big confused mess. I had no idea what time period the novel was supposed to be taking place or how the visions connected to the true story. Unless She Is the Darkness tells the story of Mogaba, we should finally have some advancement in the story....Murgen is now the Annalist, but hopefully the earlier strengths of the Black Company novels will return. Big disappointment.



Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream, by Aaron Allston: After the disaster that was Dark Journey, Aaron Allston tightens things up a bit with Rebel Dream. There is still a sense of the plot being a bit too wide open and that the New Jedi Order needs focus, but at least Aaron Allston is a pleasure to read. He even threw in a Ewok pilot joke (see his excellent Wraith Squadron novels), so all is right with the world. Slowly moving things along here, but a fun read. This just brings me one book closer to Matthew Stover’s entry...and that’s worth waiting for.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rachel Swirsky Interviewed by Jeff Vandermeer

Sunday, September 23, 2007 0
Jeff Vandermeer is starting a series of interviews with people he is calling “Conversations With The Bookless”, talented writers who are year(s) away from writing / publishing their first book. For his first interview he selected Rachel Swirsky.

Discerning readers of this site will remember Rachel Swirsky from her Subterranean Online story “Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind” and her Konundrum story “A Letter Never Sent”, both of which I was impressed with...in particular “A Letter Never Sent”. She’s a writer I’m watching and excited about.

It’s a good interview. I like the work I’ve read from Swirsky and it was fun seeing her interviewed since she is, after all, The Bookless.

Wonder who else he has on tap for interviews. I have ideas on who I would want to interview (Swirsky, Lori Selke, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, etc), so I wonder if Vandermeer will come up with some more short fiction writers I’m reading these days.

Some Robert Jordan Obits

CNN
NY Times
Charleston Post and Observer (Jordan’s hometown paper)
SFWA
LA Times
Boing Boing

Saturday, September 22, 2007

if i were to edit an anthology - the final list

Saturday, September 22, 2007 2
Here is the third and presumably final installment of my dream anthology. The Long List. The Short List.

The Final List
(in no particular order other than alphabetical)
Elizabeth Bear
Ted Chiang
Stephen King
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joe R Lansdale
George R R Martin
Alison McGhee
Lori Selke
Lucius Shepard
Karen Traviss


The first couple of names on the Final List for my fictitious themed anthology were pretty easy to come up with. I’ll let you guess which ones, and no, I’m not telling. I had to limit myself to 10 writers for my anthology (I suppose I didn’t *have* to) to keep things lean. Sure, I could easily have my Short List be the Final List and have a nice honking anthology packed full of great writers and great stories. But I wanted something trimmer, leaner, meaner. This here is my dream list for the anthology.

As a reminder, my theme: Dead People. They can walk, they can talk, they can interact with the living (or with the dead), but no blood flows through their veins. No brain dead zombies, no vampires. What could these Giants do with that generic theme? If I was rich, I’d pay (and pay well) to find out. And if I had that lineup of authors I know I’d find a publisher (dream publisher for this: Subterranean Press)

Why these authors?

Elizabeth Bear
: Have you read Blood and Iron? Have you? Is this not enough? Then go read the host of short fiction she has available on her website. Then go read Blood and Iron again. Bear is an outstanding writer and, I hope I don’t start repeating myself, I would love to see what she’ll do with this.

Ted Chiang: The man has published a grand total of 10 stories and they are without peer (except for the two in Nature). If I could get him it would be a coup.

Stephen King: His short fiction is arguably better than his novel length fiction and he has written some damn good stuff. Besides the selling power of his name I just want to read a new Stephen King story.

Mary Robinette Kowal: I have been reading Kowal’s work this year and I am as impressed with her as I have been with any author this year. She seems to bring a unique perspective to her work (“Horizontal Rain”, “Rampion”, “The Bound Man”) and like Elizabeth Bear – I’d love to see what she’d do with the subject. I bet it would be unlike anyone else’s work (this could be said about all the writers in this anthology because they are all unique snowflakes).

Joe R. Lansdale: Dream List. Dream Author. Lansdale’s work would likely be harsher than anyone else’s here, but with a flair of language and dialogue that has to be read to be believed. I refer you to Deadman’s Road.

George R. R. Martin: Before he wrote A Game of Thrones George Martin was winning awards for his short fiction and his Westeros shorts in the Legends anthologies have been top notch.

Alison McGhee: The only non genre writer in this anthology and she was a late addition to the Short List having bypassed the Long List entirely. Simply, she writes beautiful and powerful novels and I would love to have her write the story. Coming from outside the genre, McGhee would have a very different perspective. What would she do?

Lori Selke: Dead. Nude. Girls. I don’t think I would even ask Selke to write me a new story. I really loved her story in Strange Horizons, it’s the one that inspired the theme for the anthology, and why go back to the well when you’ve already got the water.

Lucius Shepard: I like the majority of his work, he’s a solid writer who writes some good novellas (Vacancy) and short novels (Softspoken), and he’s knock this one out.

Karen Traviss: I know she has written some short fiction, though I haven’t read any of it. But her Wess’har Wars are so damn good and she gets into the head and personality profiles of her characters so well that I know she would write a hell of a story here.


Since I don’t expect to strike it filthy, filthy rich anytime soon I won’t be able to contact these fantastic writers and attempt to contract the stories from them at a rather generous payscale and these stories will thus not be written and anthologized. Pity. It would have made one hell of an anthology.

But hey, perhaps some of these worthies will see this post and think “Hey, that’s a hell of an idea! I think I’d like to write that story anyway!” And then I’d pay them each $5 for the rights to publish the story on this site. Because that’s all I can afford since I have not struck it filthy rich. And reading *that*, these worthies will think, “$5? Hell with that!” and walk away.

It’s a nice dream anthology, though. Cover art by John Picacio or Bob Eggleton or Stephen Martiniere (have you seen his cover for Elantris?).

Don’t know what the title would be yet. If I come up with one I’ll post it, otherwise I may be done with my dream...

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Bound Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Friday, September 21, 2007 0
The Bound Man
Mary Robinette Kowal
All Star Stories: Twenty Epics

Mary Robinette Kowal must have played some video games in her past or had some sort of working knowledge of the Standard RPG Quest. As “The Bound Man” opens a mother is asked to “heal” her child and then to “Show her armor”...the feeling here is that the White Mage is “Equipping” her armor just for a moment, though Li Reiko is not a White Mage in RPG terms. Later, some men are on a quest having recovered a sword hidden beneath an elf’s house. It feels like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. But the similarity is only that that opening sense of familiarity in what sort of world “The Bound Man” takes place in. The story is part of the Twenty Epics anthology, which means that the stories are all Epic Fantasy. “The Bound Man” is that. It is more.

After being summoned by magic to the aid of Halldor and Duke Larus, Li Reiko binds Halldor to her service. Larus wonders how many of the “sagas” are true because Li Reiko is something out of legend.

That line makes me wonder: Mary Kowal has lived and worked in Iceland for a time. Are there any ties to Icelandic Sagas, myths, or legends here? Just something to ponder while I read the story.

The story is a quest, an epic. We know this from the title of the Anthology and what Kowal introduces us to from the beginning of the story. The story is not so simple. Li Reiko, the “Chooser of the Slain”, a being of magic and deadly skill is just as human as those who summoned her, but she must play at being their legend to get back home to her children.

Do you like epic fantasy? The work of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, or David Eddings? Do you like that sense of High Fantasy in a Middle Ages setting where there are swords, magic, battle, and grand adventures? “The Bound Man” by Mary Robinette Kowal satisfies in all ways. Do you want that High Fantasy to have something of a twist, something that you may not have seen before or considered before? “The Bound Man” has that, too. Li Reiko is not what she seems or who Larus and Halldor thinks she is. As the story progresses our understanding of what happened and how Li Reiko was summoned grows. “The Bound Man” is part heroic fantasy, part heartbreak.

When I read the World Fantasy Award nominated “A Siege of Cranes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum I was not too impressed. Twenty Epics would be filled with talented writers, but not stories to engage me or make me care. But now, if Twenty Epics contains “The Bound Man” as well...well, this is an anthology that might well be worth reading.

The World Fantasy committee picked the wrong Twenty Epics story for their nomination.

Just Arrived: Ragamuffin


A reading / review copy of Ragamuffin, by Tobias Buckell. Can't wait to read it! I have a sneaky suspicion that this one will be even better than Crystal Rain.

The Other Teddy Roosevelts

From Subterranean Press's product listing:
Theodore Roosevelt: president, naturalist, explorer, author, cowboy, police commissioner, deputy marshal, soldier, taxidermist, ornithologist, and boxer. Everyone knows about that.

But how about vampire hunter?

Or African king?

Or Jack the Ripper's nemesis?

Or World War I doughboy?

Mike Resnick (the most-awarded short story writer in science fiction history, according to Locus) has been the biographer of these other Teddy Roosevelts for almost two decades. Here you will find a familiar Roosevelt, but in unfamiliar surroundings -- stalking a vampire through the streets of New York, or a crazed killer down the back alleys of Whitechapel, coming face-to-face with the devastation of 20th Century warfare, waging an early battle for women's suffrage, applying all his skills to bring American democracy to the untamed African wilderness, or coming face-to-face with one of H. G. Wells' Martian invaders in the swamps of Cuba.

And, as Winston Churchill said of the Arthurian legends if these stories aren't true, then they should have been.

Enjoy.


Subterranean Press just announced the cover to this volume and I say “Ooh!” Wonderful cover by Bob Eggleton. Appropriately creepy and yet stunning.

I MUST read this!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Run!

Thursday, September 20, 2007 6
The NY Times has a review of Ann Patchett’s new (and much anticipated) novel Run.

Below is a brief excerpt from Janet Maslin's review.

“Run,” with a title that suggests many things (including Kenya’s athletic prowess and Doyle’s political drive), and with a watery looking cover that reflects the whole book’s aura of a human aquarium, becomes an elegant mélange of family ties. Ms. Patchett gives her readers much to contemplate when genetics, privilege, opportunity and nurture come into play. And to her credit she is neither vague nor reductive about any of these things; she creates a genuinely rich landscape of human possibility. If she does not wildly exploit the drama of colliding fates on a snowy night and subsequent life-or-death medical crisis, there are plenty of other writers who tell such stories.

“Run” is muted only insofar as its characters are all so accomplished, their natures so decent and their barbs so civilized. It’s as if the story’s racial nuances, which are rendered almost nonexistent, are still present enough to preclude any rough edges.

Ms. Patchett showed no such restraint in “Bel Canto,” a more astonishing book and a less inhibited one. But “Run” still shimmers with its author’s rarefied eloquence, and with the deep resonance of her insights. When Kenya arrives at the Doyle home, a place she has looked at with longing all her life, and is given one of the boys’ white T-shirts to sleep in, Ms. Patchett invokes the image of a ship’s sail. That’s an exquisitely simple image of how much Kenya’s life has changed overnight.

Unconsumed: Yume No Hon


The prose is beautiful, the imagery stunning...but I have no idea what this is about and I can’t find a thread of the narrative. I suppose it is flowing dreams as a storyline, but it doesn’t work for me. I think The Book of Dreams is something that some readers will be enraptured by would love to spend time swimming in the prose and the language Catherynne M. Valente uses. It’s a beautiful book, I think, but it isn’t for the type of reader I am.

Quick Takes: Diablo Cody, Poppy Z Brite, Vernor Vinge


This is quite possibly the oddest lineup of books I’ve put together at one time...

Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody: Diablo Cody became known because of a popular Twin Cities blog she wrote while spending her year working her way through Minneapolis strip clubs. On the strength of her blog she was offered a book deal to write a memoir. The result was Candy Girl. Candy Girl is Diablo Cody’s account of the year she spent as a Minneapolis stripper and is marked by quirky and snarky turns of phrase. Cody takes us from her life as a good girl working in an office to walking in one night for Amateur Night. Cody was hooked and over the course of a year she works her way through various Minneapolis strip clubs (including Deja vu) to the peep show booths at Sex World. The oddest thing about this memoir is that Candy Girl is not in the least bit titillating. The descriptions of the clubs, Cody’s experience, the patrons, and the other girls are highly entertaining but there is no sense of voyeurism. Diablo Cody treats her subjects with a fair amount of respect, which I suppose only makes sense because she frequently mentions how much she enjoyed the work. The biggest flaw of Candy Girl is its brevity. Coming in at just over 200 pages Candy Girl does not delve too deeply into Cody’s motivations in becoming a stripper, except that it seemed like a good idea at the time and she enjoyed it. Maybe there is nothing more to the story. Besides not examining Cody’s motivations, I thought that Candy Girl could have touched more upon the other girls working at the clubs and more about the patrons, about the oddities she saw and about why some of the other girls were taking their clothes off for money. Instead most of the girls were complete enigmas, as is Cody herself. Around the time the book came out Diablo Cody was featured on quite a few local radio shows, but also garnered an appearance on Letterman. Candy Girl is a brief but fascinating look at the Minneapolis skin trade.



D*U*C*K, by Poppy Z. Brite: I believe D*U*C*K is related to her Liquor novels, but since I haven’t read any of them I couldn’t really say for sure. I know this is a slim novella (120 pages) from Subterranean Press and it features G-Man and Rickey, the owners of Liquor, a New Orleans restaurant which features alcohol in every item on the menu. It’s a slice in their life over the course of several days / weeks, I’m not sure. D*U*C*K is steeped in food and cooking and running a restaurant and it –feels- authentic, or as close to authentic as I can figure out from having read Kitchen Confidential...and for the average reader I think that’s good enough. I’ll trust that Brite did her research in getting the rest of the details and the feel right (I believe she is also married to a New Orleans chef). The flow of D*U*C*K is a bit choppy, a bit on and off in terms of hooking the reader and telling a story, but it’s a nice little story as Rickey and G-Man get a job to cater a dinner for a former New Orleans Saints star quarterback. Pleasant, yet profane. D*U*C*K is a good little story which is likely to be a real treat for fans of the Liquor novels.



Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge: Rainbows End was awarded the Hugo for Best Novel in 2007 (for a novel published in 2006). The full text is available online and that’s how I read the novel. It’s....fine. Well thought out, Librarian Militias and all, but the best novel published in 2006? Not even close. I’ve read a handful of novels published in 2006 that I would easily place above Rainbows End (Blood and Iron, Dark Harvest, The Road, Crystal Rain, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Mistborn, The Jennifer Morgue, His Majesty’s Dragon, Starship: Pirate, The Android’s Dream, need I go on?). It’s not that Rainbows End is bad, because it isn’t. Not by any means. It’s just utterly unremarkable and not nearly as pleasing as anything I put on that above listing. There’s a global conspiracy, new technologies, the future of libraries, old people, kids, interfamily crisis, global crisis and...oh, Vernor Vinge has packed a good deal of information and ideas into Rainbows End, but it doesn’t amount to a truly compelling narrative.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

OMG! OMW!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 0

It’s official! John Scalzi is writing a fourth entry in his Old Man’s War universe titled Zoe’s Tale. Previous entries are: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony. I really did not expect Scalzi to write another OMW novel, or at least not so soon, but he sold it to Tor, he’s writing it now, and Zoe’s Tale is officially near the top of my Most Anticipated Books list (it’s sort of like Most Favored Nation status, only without the perks).

Scalzi reports in a SF Scope mini interview that Zoe’s Tale is a standalone story and does not require one to have read three rather excellent novels to “get” what’s going on.

It should go without saying that I am excited by this news, but it won’t. I’m not ashamed. I’m excited by this news and for a new OMW story.

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang


Stories of Your Life and Others
Ted Chiang
Tor: 2003

After I read the first two stories in this collection I had to write about them, just to mention how good Ted Chiang’s work is. Now that I have finished the collection I know how good Ted Chiang is. Damn good. Stories of Your Life and Others is quite possibly the single best short story collection I have read or hope to read.

This is what the publisher’s website has to say about Chaing:
Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Table of Contents
* "Tower of Babylon"
* "Division by Zero"
* "Understand"
* "Story of Your Life"
* "The Evolution of Human Science"
* "Seventy-Two Letters"
* "Hell Is the Absence of God"
* "Liking What You See: A Documentary"

Ted Chiang takes on topics that seem like great starter ideas for a story, but one which you would have no idea how to execute. What if Acts of God really were Acts of God, and judgment happened every day and out in public? Miracles and Affliction were commonplace but we needed support groups for the survivors of the miracles. “Hell is the Absence of God” takes this one. “Story of Your Life” is a mix of past / future and touches on the idea of being able to see your own future like you remember your past...but seen through the filter of an alien first contact, but the story isn’t really about the aliens.

What is truly remarkable about these eight stories is when we reach the end of the story the conclusion feels inevitable, as if it were the only possible way that Chiang could have ended the story. The conclusions feel right. But when we are reading these eight stories we (or maybe just I) have no idea where Chiang is going with this or where he is going to bring us. It is only in retrospect that the endings are inevitable. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

This is an outstanding collection of short fiction and should be on the bookshelf of any fan of science fiction or just good writing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lies - Prologue

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 0
Haven't read The Lies of Locke Lamora yet? Here's the prologue!

Quick Takes: William Browning Spencer, Geraldine Brooks, George R. R. Martin


The Ocean and All Its Devices, by William Browning Spencer: From Subterranean Press’s website:

In stories within:
*The proprietor of a seaside resort puzzles over the yearly off-season pilgrimage of a curiously solemn couple and their fey child. ("The Ocean and All Its Devices")
*A marriage made in a heaven of parallel worlds is tested by impossible luck, both good and bad. ("The Oddskeeper's Daughter")
*A virtual reality addictions counselor is on the run with his zoned-out client, pursued by the relentless architects of a seductive virtual game called Apes and Angels. ("The Halfway House at the Heart of Darkness")
*A young girl, who speaks only in lines of poetry culled from world literature, is poised between two universes while a social worker struggles to save her -- and, perhaps, doom a universe. ("Foster Child")
*A circus magician races against time as the world threatens to end, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the flick of a switch. ("The Lights of Armageddon")
This is as good of a job as I could have done to describe the stories contained in this collection of Spencer’s short fiction. Overall these were delightful stories (full of delight) where William Browning Spencer tells the stories as straight as he can with the one bit of weirdness the story contains. Spencer reads like a combination of Kelly Link and Alan DeNiro (this is a good thing). Worth checking this slim volume out if you get the chance.



March, by Geraldine Brooks: Have you read Little Women? If so, did you ever wonder what happened to the Father while he was at war and left his girls behind? Neither did I, but apparently Geraldine Brooks did and decided to write a book about it. Enough readers must have wondered the same because March also won the Pulitzer Prize a couple years back. Alternating between Mr March during the War Years and Mr March as a young man making his way in the world March is his story and works as a companion volume to Little Women. March is also a fairly well told story and written in what feels like the style of Little Women but the prose flows for a modern reader. I highly doubt that March was the best novel of its year, but it is a well written piece of fiction and reasonably short...but lord, I really didn’t care what happened to Mr. March. It was a fun literary experiment for the author, but I imagine that if Louisa May Alcott wanted to tell the story of Mr. March she would have written the novel herself. Call this fan fiction and you’re not far off the mark, though clearly more accomplished, published, and honored than any piece of fan fiction will ever be. Maybe I can write the story of what happened after the end of The Road and get published....more likely Little Women is now in the public domain so it is fair game to use these characters.



Wild Cards: Aces High
, by George R. R. Martin (editor): This second entry in the Wild Cards series of shared world mosaic novels feels much more like a coherent novel than its predecessor. The first Wild Cards novel introduced us to a world where an alien virus ripped through part of the world’s population. Most of the infected died, most of the survivors were transformed into misshapen monsters called Jokers. The lucky few, perhaps 1% of all infected, developed super human powers and became known as Aces (those who died “drew the Black Queen”). Now set during the early to mid 1980’s Aces High tells the story of an impending alien invasion by something called “The Swarm”. Through a collection of related short stories written by a variety of authors and linking stories by George R. R. Martin, an actual novel takes shape with various viewpoint chapters. Each story is self contained yet builds to something bigger and the story arcs all build the framework of the novel. Aces High is a very strong entry in the Wild Cards pantheon and I am very interested in seeing what comes next. This was only the second volume (published in 1987) and Martin has edited Volume 18 (Inside Straight) to come out next year.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thoughts on Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time

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By the time I discovered The Wheel of Time I had been reading fantasy for several years. I had run through most of the major fantasy authors of the day: Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, and Anne McCaffrey and I wanted something new. This was before the internet and online recommendations so I grabbed a book that looked interesting: The Eye of the World. I was hooked from the prologue where Lews Therin Telamon was at the end of his life after having destroyed everything that he loved and much of the world. The Eye of the World then turned into a story of a simple farmer joining his friends for a holiday celebration turned terror when Trollocs attacked and a mysterious woman in blue helped to save the day. From that point it was a fantasy love affair of nearly twenty years with this world and story that Robert Jordan (James Oliver Rigney, Jr) created and first began in 1990.

When I began reading The Wheel of Time Jordan was only 5 volumes into his long running (and uncompleted) saga and I was treated yearly for a time with new entries. A new Robert Jordan novel was an Event and a chance to marvel and wonder at what was going to happen next and when Moiraine would return to fight at Rand Al’Thor’s side once again. We knew she would. She’s a Gandalf type character. Even when I, as a reader and fan, grew frustrated with the overall lack of plot advancement, I would rather be reading a new Wheel of Time entry than not. These characters were old friends and the setting now as familiar as my childhood neighborhood. Emond’s Field was that place we all long to go back to even though we’ve changed enough that it’ll never be home again.

Jordan’s creation was never perfect and an argument could be made that with a good editor with a big red pen we could have had a truly remarkable series of 7-9 volumes rather than the series we have which features 4-5 truly special novels followed by merely good or decent novels with moments that make us gasp. The conclusion to Winter’s Heart? I had to read it three or four times it was that outstanding. I could FEEL those chapters and I needed to read them again to really live that moment again.

As I mentioned earlier, though, I would rather read what I would consider a “sub par” effort than no effort at all because all of it builds this world which loomed so large in my fantasy landscape.

It may not be possible to overstate the importance of Robert Jordan in my fantasy reading history. He looms large over everybody else. I had been previously hooked on Eddings and Feist, but not like I was on Robert Jordan’s work. Robert Jordan cast a large shadow over fantasy in my high school and college years and though I have since discovered author fantasists like George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson...it is still Robert Jordan that looms the largest and that I would come back to time and time again to rediscover his story and to read the newest entry in The Wheel of Time. Part of me wishes that we really would get Wheel of Time: Volume 38 – Nyneave Tugs Her Braid. The other part wants to see how Jordan would end it. Tarmon Gaidon.

Reportedly Jordan was working on what was intended to be the final volume of The Wheel of Time before he died. A Memory of Light. Somehow that title seems even more apt now than it did when that working title was first announced a year or two ago. Also reportedly, Robert Jordan had revealed the salient plot points of the novel to his wife and family.

Whether A Memory of Light is finished by a friend or family member, or if another author will finish the novel based on RJ’s notes...it doesn’t really matter. The Creator has passed. A simple listing of those salient plot points and ending would more than suffice, but knowing what happens next seems like such a small thing knowing that Robert Jordan has died from complications from his disease. For the last couple of years Jordan and his cousin Wilson had been posting updates on Dragonmount about the status of RJ’s health. Recently the prognosis seemed promising, that Jordan might actually beat this thing. Forget the books, I wanted Jordan to beat it for himself and for his family. I only hope that nothing was left unsaid and that there will be peace within his family after this passing.

I never met Robert Jordan or had any sort of interaction with the man, but from everything I had heard RJ was a kind and generous man and willing to take time for his fans.

Number me with Robert Jordan’s fans.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rest in Peace: Robert Jordan

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Posted by Wilson (Robert Jordan's cousin) on the Robert Jordon blog over at Dragonmount:

It is with great sadness that I tell you that the Dragon is gone. RJ left us today at 2:45 PM. He fought a valiant fight against this most horrid disease. In the end, he left peacefully and in no pain. In the years he had fought this, he taught me much about living and about facing death. He never waivered in his faith, nor questioned our God’s timing. I could not possibly be more proud of anyone. I am eternally grateful for the time that I had with him on this earth and look forward to our reunion, though as I told him this afternoon, not yet. I love you bubba.

Our beloved Harriet was at his side through the entire fight and to the end. The last words from his mouth were to tell her that he loved her.

Thank each and everyone of you for your prayers and support through this ordeal. He knew you were there. Harriet reminded him today that she was very proud of the many lives he had touched through his work. We’ve all felt the love that you’ve been sending my brother/cousin. Please keep it coming as our Harriet could use the support.

Jason will be posting funeral arrangements.

My sincerest thanks.

Peace and Light be with each of you,

Wilson
Brother/Cousin
4th of 3


For many fantasy fans, and especially myself, this is very sad news. Robert Jordan was a giant in the Fantasy field and a favorite author of mine. He created an original world and populated it with characters who felt like old friends.

From the posts that Jordan himself and his cousin Wilson have made over at Dragonmount, he had been suffering from, overcoming, and finally succumbing to amyloidosis, a form of cancer.

Robert Jordan will be missed.


Andrew Wheeler with a brief obit on RJ.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

British Fantasy Awards 2007

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I don't think I am going to follow this one nearly as closely as the Hugos or WFA's, but the nominations for the British Fantasy Awards has been posted.

I've read very few of the nominees. I still don't care for "The Djinn's Wife" and Kim Newman's collection The Man from the Diogenes Club doesn't maintain interest when all of the stories are digested at one time. The Lies of Locke Lamora, of course, is a fantabulous novel and I've had Dusk on and off my reading list for a year now (currently off but inching back on)




Novel: The August Derleth Award
· Chaz Brenchley, BRIDGE OF DREAMS, Ace Books
· Mike Carey, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, Orbit Books
· Mark Chadbourn, JACK OF RAVENS: KINGDOM OF THE SERPENT BOOK 1, Gollancz
· M. John Harrison, NOVA SWING, Gollancz
· Tim Lebbon, DUSK, Spectra
· Scott Lynch, THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, Gollancz
· Sarah Pinborough, BREEDING GROUND, Leisure Books
· Mark Samuels, THE FACE OF TWILIGHT, PS Publishing
· Conrad Williams, THE UNBLEMISHED, Earthling Publications

Novella
· Eric Brown, THE MEMORY OF JOY, Choices, Pendragon Press
· Simon Clark, SHE LOVES MONSTERS, Necessary Evil Press
· Paul Finch, KID, Choices, Pendragon Press
· Ian McDonald, THE DJINN'S WIFE, Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2006
· Gary McMahon, ROUGH CUT, Rough Cut, Pendragon Press

Short Fiction
· Marion Arnott, THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music, Elastic Press
· Mark Chadbourn, WHISPER LANE, BFS: A Celebration, British Fantasy Society
· Steve Lockley & Paul Lewis, PUCA MUC, Shrouded By Darkness, Telos Publishing
· Sarah Singleton, THE DISAPPEARED, Time Pieces, NewCon Press
· Stephen Volk, 31/10, Dark Corners, Gray Friar Press
· Conrad Williams, THE VETERAN, Postscripts #6, PS Publishing

Collection
· Neil Gaiman, FRAGILE THINGS, Headline
· Joel Lane, THE LOST DISTRICT AND OTHER STORIES, Night Shade Books
· Kim Newman, THE MAN FROM THE DIOGENES CLUB, Monkeybrain
· Mike O'Driscoll, UNBECOMING AND OTHER TALES OF HORROR, Elastic Press
· Neil Williamson, THE EPHEMERA, Elastic Press

Anthology

· Gary Couzens, EXTENDED PLAY: THE ELASTIC BOOK OF MUSIC, Elastic Press
· Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant, THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY & HORROR: 19TH ANNUAL COLLECTION, St. Martin’s Press
· Alison L. R. Davies, SHROUDED BY DARKNESS: TALES OF TERROR, Telos Publishing
· Stephen Jones, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR 17, Robinson Publishing
· Christopher Teague, CHOICES, Pendragon Press

Gardner Dozois and Adventure SF

Dave Truesdale over at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has a great column detailing editor Gardner Dozois' history with, passion for, and interest in Adventure Science Fiction / Space Opera. It's a good read.

Friday, September 14, 2007

9/7 Library Merger Update

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The September 7 update for the library merger has been posted on the library's website.
A key commitment of the merger is that no MPL employee will experience a loss in total wages due to consolidation; impact bargaining agreements with each union will detail how affected MPL employees will be compensated. Preliminary results so far are similar to the estimate prepared last spring: approximately 20 percent of MPL employees are affected – before counting stability pay. The final percentage will be determined once the process is complete.
Not really sure what that means.

Still waiting to have access to MPL's catalog, too.

if i were to edit an anthology - the short list

I have narrowed my Long List of 40 writers down to 21 for the Short List while adding one that wasn't on my Long List.


The Short List (21) - In Alphabetical Order
Kage Baker
Elizabeth Bear
Tobias Buckell
Ted Chiang
Alan DeNiro
Louise Erdrich
Stephen King
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joe R. Lansdale
Kelly Link
George R. R. Martin
Alison McGhee
Mike Resnick
Chris Roberson
Nicholas Seeley
Lori Selke
Lucius Shepard
Rachel Swirsky
Karen Traviss
Carrie Vaughn
Connie Willis


The one addition to my Short List is an author who, as far as I know, has not published any short fiction. The novels she has written, however, have been outstanding. Alison McGhee. Between Rainlight and All Rivers Flow to the Sea, McGhee has proven herself to be one of my favorite authors in any genre. The lady writes good books. Period.

Half of this list was an easy list to come up with: King, Bear, Kowal, Chiang, Martin, Shepard, Lansdale, Selke. Easy in to the Short List. The rest had to argue with those authors left off the list. I think Karen Traviss brawled with Anne McCaffrey. Traviss is a bruiser. She might have taken out Margaret Atwood for being Canadian and Vandermeer for looking at her funny. I can't prove this, however, and I am not sure I would survive the investigation...and I'm the editor!

What I'm going to do between now and whenever is think about which ten authors I would invite (and pay outrageously) to write original stories for my anthology. It was originally going to be a zine, but screw it, I’m going all out and getting a hardcover release. Hey, it's my dream. Subterranean Press will publish it. Again, it's my dream.

A couple of days after I posted the Long List I also came up with a theme: Dead People. I think it could work, and maybe this is why Subterranean will need to publish it, but in my short fiction reading of the past year the stories which have most captured my imagination are the ones which featured Dead People as characters in some fashion. What I’m thinking of specifically is Lori Selke's story in Strange Horizons, though my writers here can do anything they want as long as they have dead people who can walk and talk and interact with the world in some fashion. The only thing I really don't want is a traditional zombie story. Not that sort of dead people. Try to avoid vampires, too. Not undead in the Anne Rice (or Charlaine Harris) sense.

Would this work for an anthology? Maybe. From a specialty press who would gussy up the production values for the book, have a smaller price run, signed by all the authors collected in the anthologies, numbered editions...that’s what I'd like to see.

I can scarcely imagine what some of these writers would do with general subject matter of the Walking, Talking Dead. Shoot, if I thought this was real I would salivate over the Joe Lansdale story.

I suspect I'll be very tempted to leave an eleventh or twelfth name on the list, but I must be strong. After all, this needs to be a sharp set of stories.


The Long List

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hells Bounty

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From the Publisher:
This nifty, nasty bit of work is for a truly hellish weird western we have scheduled for next year, a collaboration called Hells Bounty by none other than hisownself, Joe R. Lansdale, collaborating for the first time with his brother, John L. Lansdale. Look for ordering info in the new year, but in the meantime, we wanted to share Timothy Truman's spot on, pulpy cover.

I can't wait!

Twenty Epics


Arg!

I've read Benjamin Rosenbaum's World Fantasy Award nominated story "A Siege of Cranes" out of the Twenty Epics collection from All Star Stories (it was available online).

I didn’t realize what the lineup was at the time.
All-new stories from Christopher Rowe, Tim Pratt, Alan DeNiro, Rachel McGonagill, K.D. Wentworth, Marcus Ewert, Christopher Barzak, Meghan McCarron, Stephen Eley, Jon Hansen, Paul Berger, David Schwartz, Sandra McDonald, Jack Mierzwa, Mary Robinette Kowal, Zoë Selengut, Ian McHugh, Yoon Ha Lee, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Scott William Carter.
Gah! Tim Pratt, Alan DeNiro, Mary Robinette Kowal?!

And it gets worse! All Star Stories also has Zeppelin Adventure Stories which features David Brin, Carrie Vaughn, Tobias Buckell AND Elizabeth Bear!

Of course my library does not have copies of either book. Naturally. Neither volume is available via Interlibrary loan. Gah! How am I supposed to read these stories?!?!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stories of MY Life

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I'm two stories into Ted Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others. If the quality of the first two stories holds up...this will be absolutely essential SF reading. "Tower of Babylon" and "Understand" are superb. "Tower of Babylon" imagines what could happen if a second tower had been built thousands of years after the first (yet in the same technological setting) and this time they might actually make it to heaven and bridge the gap between God and Human. People live on the tower, never having set foot on land, generation after generation builds the tower and it takes days and months to reach near the top. The story does not go where you think it will, but the journey is impressive. "Understand" takes human intelligence and increases it in one man again and again and the narration follows this ever increasing intelligence to the inevitable end.

I wouldn't even write about this until I finished the collection, but it's too good not to bring it up now! Two stories out of Eight. Chiang is a Master.

Strange Horizons: August 20 - September 10, 2007

August 20: Little Ambushes, by Joanne Merriam. A woman takes in an alien to her home in some sort of cultural exchange program even though the aliens do not seem interested in cultural exchange. Little Ambushes is a sweet little story laced with sadness. Even though the story takes place entirely in Sarah's house there is discussion and description of aspects of the alien culture which leads to this gem of a sentence:
She laid on her bed—on her and Mark's bed—and watched the late afternoon light move across her ceiling, and thought about a world where laughter sounded like war.
It is the ending of the sentence that hits the sorrow of the scene.


August 27: Practicing My Sad Face, by Marc Shultz. Billy is a trauma victim. He remembers nothing, but he has been given experimental implants for his vision and memory, sort of like the technology we read about in other stories where identities and history show up on a screen before his eyes. Conceptually the story is interesting enough, but it fails to engage the reader at any point. I think it's supposed to be brutally sad, but it isn't. Not emotionally, anyway.

As I would have told the President myself if his handlers had let me get through, you can't make someone with a damaged hippocampus good as new by networking his eyes and ears to a prosthetic memory database, no matter how smart the search algorithms are. The problem goes deeper than that. Billy is trapped within the temporal bounds of short-term memory. He has no self.


September 3: All Kinds of Reasons, by Katherine Maclaine. I had an uncomfortable sick feeling in my chest through most of the story. That feeling started when the story did and didn't stop until the story ended...because of the possibility of what Maclaine was going to introduce, what she was going to offer the reader. The fact that Maclaine didn't go as far as I had feared did not matter because there was no pleasure in the reading.
The baby had large eyes that tilted slightly upwards, a snub nose, fleshy cheeks, and an upper lip that split straight up to the nostrils. Its fingers were melded or missing entirely—lobster claws. The legs, attached together from hips to ankles, made a mermaid tail, and it had the beginnings of short, pointed teeth.

It looked like a fucking monster.


September 10: In Stone, by Helen Keeble. I’m confused. That’s all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Antediluvian Tales

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From the Publisher's listing for Antediluvian Tales:
Any reader who loves New Orleans will treasure these antediluvian tales for the city that exists in them: a city that will never again exist in its pre-Katrina form, but which cannot be killed by hurricanes, floods, or governmental neglect as long as its artists continue to chronicle and cherish it.

I am not too familiar with the work of Poppy Z. Brite, but being published by Subterranean this is something I want to check out. The cover art is absolutely beautiful. Hopefully my library will get a copy of Antediluvian Tales when it is published.

Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke


Currency of Souls
Kealan Patrick Burke
Subterranean Press: 2007


Currency of Souls makes Fight Club look like a little bitch. I was only thirty pages or so into the novel when this flash of insight came to me. There really is not much to compare Fight Club with Currency of Souls, except for the vicious humor and violence of the novel. Both novel have somewhat self aware narration, though the narration is more a feature of Fight Club than Currency. The narration of Currency is like you have this drunk, profane buddy who tells these nasty stories about something that happened to him last week. That's the feel of Currency of Souls.

A guy walks into a dive bar and looks around. The patrons are the regulars, as is our narrator. There is the nudist sitting by the bar. There is the angry lady bartender. Sitting in one corner is a young man who wants to shoot the narrator. On the other side is a guy who doesn't speak and may not have a tongue. There's the beautiful blonde looking like Marilyn Monroe. She's a bombshell, but she may have murdered her husband. A man named Cadaver. Every Saturday night they all come to Eddie's Bar and drink. They wait. They wait because they know that the local Preacher will come in and ask one of them to drive for him. The Preacher, a Reverend Hill, doesn't bring hope to Milestone. He brings fear and steals the hope away. It's a bad place to be.

Patrick Kealan Burke opens Currency of Souls like a bad joke with the then unnamed narrator walking into a bar, but the joke ends quickly. Currency of Souls is filled with black humor, nasty people, and this itching feeling that violence is seconds away from spilling out of the black hearts of these characters. It does, and then things get worse. Then things get weird. Spilling any more of the details of the story would spoil the surprise of Currency of Souls. Suffice it to say that Currency of Souls is a dark, violent, bleakly comic, creative, fast paced horror novel and these generic descriptions do not fully capture the feel of Currency of Souls.

With such a strong opening to Currency of Souls the expectations were raised for the second half of the novel. While Burke is able to meet some of those expectations he raised with his sharp witted prose, the train does start shaking on the rails as the novel progresses and goes a bit off track by the end. Things just get weird and there are serious questions on where some story aspects came from. By the end it seemed as if Kealan Patrick Burke was just throwing stuff against the wall to see what stuck and that Currency of Souls may have gotten a little bit out of Burke's control. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book at this point, but some of the credibility which was established early on is squandered as Burke works is to a conclusion. The saving grace here is that Currency of Souls has a nearly perfect ending...which is followed by a short two or three page coda which may or may not make any sense at all.

So: Strong Narrative Voice and Excellent Opening. Nearly Perfect Ending. That's the plus. The minus is the feeling that in the second half of the novel Burke is throwing stuff at the reader and is no longer in control of the story. General weirdness that does not seem to have anything to do with the story Burke was telling at the beginning. The good easily outweighs the bad, but Currency of Souls is definitely a flawed novel...but one worth experiencing.


Subterranean Online also has a Kealan Patrick Burke story up in the Fall 2007 Issue: The Acquaintance. There is additional free fiction on Burke's website.

On Books

There's an article available online at Asimov's about publishing, small presses, literary SFF, authors who may never have been published if these small presses weren't around, the no good reason the large presses aren’t buying what the small presses are except the whole publishing industry, payscale driven by publisher size and a whole conglomerate of interesting ideas regarding the reality of publishing today.

Source: Lou Anders at the Pyr Blog.

Can there be a place for such a novel in a commercial SF line? Meaning an imprint of one of the handful of corporate conglomerates that dominate the racks in the chains? The major bookstore chains whose orders dominate their distribution expectations, which control their pro-spective print runs, which determine unit cost and whether there is any hope of turning a profit?

Which determine their decision as to whether to buy a novel or not, irrespective of literary quality?

Crank something like The Good Fairies of New York through this accounting software and the answer comes up No Way. Leaving it to the small press, whose commercial expectations are modest, whose advances are therefore minuscule, to buy according to taste and instinct, as was the industry norm in days of yore, throw a hail mary from inside the twenty-yard line, and hope for the best.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Blood and Iron, by Elizabeth Bear

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Blood and Iron
Elizabeth Bear
Roc: 2006


Elizabeth Bear on The Promethean Age:
Assuming that I am alive to write them, and that people like you keep buying enough of them to make it worthwhile for my publishers to keep printing more, my plans for the Promethean Age series are rather ambitious. The four novels listed at the top of the page are only the beginning of the vast mad edifice I hope someday to construct. Essentially, the idea is a cycle of some twelve or more books, each of them exploring an aspect of the five-hundred-year-long secret war between Faerie and the human magi of the Prometheus Club. A secret history of sorts, in other words. Oh, Gods, you groan, not another interminable fantasy series--

But no! Wait! Hear me out! Because the magic of this, you see, is that each book stands alone. Or, at the very worst, is part of a duology.

Normally I would be filled with trepidation at the thought of another interminable fantasy series. I've read far too many of those and I think half of them still have not come to a close. I meant for Hammered to be my first foray into Elizabeth Bear's novel length fiction but my library only had one or two copies and both were out and there was a hold list. Instead I grabbed Blood and Iron off of the bookshelf and gave it a go. I knew this was something of a modern day fantasy with magic and technology mixing. That's all I knew and I had no idea what I was getting into.

Over the course of 400 + pages Elizabeth Bear weaves a story of what feels like it could be the final battle between humanity and the faerie. The Magi, human born mages, are hunting the faerie and hunting the new Merlin coming into its powers. The Merlin is not necessarily the Merlin of legend, but is a spiritual descendant. Once every several generations a Merlin comes into his powers and can be a great force for either faerie or humanity. Normally the Merlin already has his full power and needs to be seduced into supporting the faerie, but this Merlin is not fully formed yet. The faerie's Seeker is hunting the Merlin. The Magi's Matthew Magus is hoping to get to the Merlin first and perhaps finally take care of the faerie.

At the beginning of Blood and Iron there is a sense that Matthew Magus is the true hero of the story, but Bear flips things around a bit and as we learn more of the Seeker and the faerie the reader’s sympathies switch to the Seeker rather than the humans. But, things are more complicated than that because the Seeker is / was human herself but is held in thrall by the Daoine Sidhe faerie queen who knows her True Name. The Seeker serves because she must, but also because the Queen holds her son.

Blood and Iron is more complicated than that. Elizabeth Bear weaves in werewolves, faerie legend, the Arthurian Legend with Morgan and Mordred and Arthur, Shakespeare with Puck, magic, dragons, unicorns, and even more to coalesce into a novel that is far greater than its individual parts. Blood and Iron has a slow build, a phrase I realize I use too often in describing fiction, but the first hundred pages are solid and yet not enough to truly hook the reader. We know that the prose is well thought out and well written but not fully compelling. We’re not sure where Bear is taking us yet. As Blood and Iron progresses and we are brought deeper and deeper into this world of faerie and human and myth and legend Elizabeth Bear's storytelling sinks its talons in and doesn't let go. Elizabeth Bear rewards the reader who is willing to persevere and invest the time and effort into this novel. Blood and Iron is a novel which actually gets better with each passing page.

Elizabeth Bear's concept for The Promethean Age is unbelievably ambitious and complex and had I known her plans before I started Blood and Iron I might have been put off. Had I known what Blood and Iron was all about before flipping to the first page I am not sure I would have given it a go. Somehow the blending of faeries and humans in a modern day setting does not light a fire under my literary bum. Having read Blood and Iron and having been astounded by just how good it is and how well told and well written the novel is, I cannot wait for the chance to read Whiskey and Water, the next novel of The Promethean Age. The Promethean Age is an ambitious project to say the least. But, I have read Blood and Iron. It's one of the best damn novels I have read this year. Literary in the best possible sense and filled with the Fantastic. Elizabeth Bear might just be good enough to pull the whole thing off, and she is likely to only improve with each book. Imagine that. She's just going to get better than what she accomplished with this beautifully written novel: Blood and Iron.



Some of Elizabeth Bear's short fiction is available on her website, including several Promethean Age stories.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What It Means to Be Published

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Author Cherie Priest (Four and Twenty Blackbirds) posts on what she has learned after publishing her first book.

My personal favorite:
No one will believe you did it by writing a book that was worth publishing. Aspiring writers will be sure that you had a secret short cut, and you are a raging bitch for holding out on all those other poor folks who are just as worthy as you, but who were unwilling to flash their boobies at exactly the right people. And if you don't think people will actually say things like this, perhaps you have not yet published a book.
Not that I have, you know, boobies, as it were.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Electric Velocipede: Issue 11

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Issue 11 of Electric Velocipede was simply packed with short stories. 13 Stories + Poetry. It's a decent mix of authors I've read, heard of, and have no clue about. What I like best is that there are very few disappointments with a handful of stories which stand out. Buckell's "The Duel", a story putting the Alexander Hamilton / Aaron Burr duel in a historical and science fiction context was perhaps my favorite of the set. "Last Bus" was a sad, but sweet story of a lost soul waiting for the last bus to somewhere even though the buses don't run anymore. I also liked "Nine Billion and Counting", a story which initially has no hint of genre weirdness but is about a wife who thinks she has a perfect husband until she learns that he never stops counting to one hundred. The changing robotic nature of "Moon Does Run" was also a pleasant surprise.

I suspect that "A Punctuated Romance" is a story which will be hit or miss depending on the reader. It's a word play game about punctuation put into story form about a romance. The story felt a bit too precious for its own good and did not work for me, but I believe others will be delighted by Mary Turzillo's story.

There were a handful of stories which were simply not memorable and I had to go back and check to see what they were about because I could not remember.

"Quitting Dreams" is a blend of literary fantasy and is pretty much what you would expect from Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Cheney. A decent story, but lacking that something extra that can make a Jeffrey Ford story stand out for me. But, with that said, Jeffrey Ford"s most celebrated work is often the stories which fail to capture me ("Botch Town" being a recent example).

When I placed the order for this issue of Electric Velocipede I had just been disappointed by the debut issue of Steampunk Magazine and while I admired some of the authors collected by EV, I had no idea what EV might be all about. Issue 11 was everything I hoped it would be and is enough to sell me on future issues of Electric Velocipede. This is what I want a fiction magazine to be: packed with good stories that make me feel like my money was well spent. In that, EV has met and exceeded my expectations.


Fiction Contents:
* Tiger, Tiger by Liz Williams
* Milk and Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
* Moon Does Run by Edd Vick
* The Duel by Tobias Buckell
* How to Get Rid of Your Monster: A Series of Usenet Postings by Scott William Carter
* Quitting Dreams by Matthew Cheney & Jeffrey Ford
* A Punctuated Romance by Mary Turzillo
* Last Bus by Jennifer Pelland
* Sometimes I Get Lost by Steve Rasnic Tem
* Nine Billion and Counting by John B. Rosenman
* Bar Golem by Sonya Taaffe
* The Geode by Marly Youmans
* Sweetness and Light by Nicole Kimberling

Just Arrived: LCRW #20


Fresh in my mailbox today: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet Issue #20!!

Oh, excitement for fiction in the mail!

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train

Friday, September 07, 2007 2

Cross another World Fantasy Award nominee off my list. I read the novella The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train as part of the The Man from the Diogenes Club collection by Kim Newman. The collection started out well enough, but after three stories I had enough Diogenes Club and I had three more to go before I got to that World Fantasy Award nominated novella.

So by this point I was pretty well done with Newman and these stories. It's not that they are bad, per se, because they aren't. They are odd little (or long) pieces about supernatural mysteries and the Diogenes Club is a hidden branch of the British government sent to deal with the supernatural. Great concept and often great execution.

I should have just up and read Ghost Train first, got it out of the way, and then read the rest of the stories. I didn't, and even skipping Serial Murders I was mentally fried on Diogenes stories.

Did I have the chance to give Ghost Train a fair shake? Not really. But that's how it goes sometimes that what I just read influences my appreciate of what I'm reading next.


Three novellas down. Dark Harvest is still, by far, my favorite, but along with Ghost Train, I've only read Botch Town. Bleh.

2007 Hugo Nominated Novels Online!

I stumbled across a posting somewhere which mentioned that three of the 2007 Hugo Nominated novels were completely available online. I knew about Blindsight, but I didn’t know what the other two were. After some searching and hunting I found the other two: Rainbow's End and Eifelheim. I'm not terribly excited about Eifelheim, but Rainbow's End was the eventual Hugo winner, so I think that'll be one of the next novels I read and I'll chip away at the text of it.

The only disappointment here is that Eifelheim is available only as a PDF. I hate reading from a PDF file!

Not available for free: His Majesty's Dragon and Glasshouse. Probably because they don't need to be.

Logorrhea


It seems that Logorrhea has its own website. I'm not sure that I have mentioned this book before. It's a John Klima edited anthology (I'll stop bringing him up right about the time he stops putting out good / interesting stuff) where each story has something to do with a Spelling Bee winning word. Or, read about what the book is about here.

I admit, I'm curious yet apprehensive about the book. My library does have a copy, so I suppose I'll take it out for a spin.

It's just too bad that the title of the book sounds like something contagious.

Via EV Zine Blog.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

2008 Anthologies

Thursday, September 06, 2007 0
According to SF Signal, editor Jonathan Strahan is compiling a list of all of the anthologies which will be published in 2008. Good source to find some anthologies. He lists them by title, editor, month to be published, and publisher.
 
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