Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quick Takes: Raymond E. Feist, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen King

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 0

Murder in LaMut, by Raymond E. Feist and Joel Rosenberg: While I am glad that Feist found a publisher for his Legends of the Riftwar series (they had been available only in the UK previously), the two volumes published so far have been disappointments. Murder in LaMut is the second volume, and if I understand how the Legends series works, Feist gives approval and blessing and maybe some ideas on the setting and then the book is written by the co-author. So, really, this is Joel Rosenberg’s Midkemia novel. It exists on the periphery of the main series. Murder in LaMut takes place early in the Riftwar, before the Tsurani had laid siege to Crydee. The novel follows three mercenary soldier who have signed on with the LaMutian forces and they get entangled in the local politics. Because they are reliable and unaligned, they are given missions and jobs that they would rather not have because failure will put the blame solely on the mercenaries. They are set to protect a particular local baron of LaMut, and later to investigate a murder. The novel just happens to take place in Midkemia, and references well known characters (Borric, Erland, Kulgan, Vandros, Guy du Bas Tyra) but these characters do not make appearances. The Tsurani barely do. The focus is on the mercenaries and while they are, at times, interesting characters the story is such a minor key because we know there is so much else going on in the world. Or, Rosenberg’s story is just not interesting enough to hold a reader...even a longtime reader of Riftwar. Honestly, the novel would be better suited as a short story or perhaps a novella. There just is not enough here to fill up 300 pages of text. Very disappointing. The first Legends entry, Honored Enemy, was much stronger (though not up to a Riftwar novel)



The World Wreckers, by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Darkover. A lost colony of Earth from before there was an interstellar Terran empire. Darkover went low-tech and developed telepaths and when the Terrans rediscovered Darkover they found that Darkover wanted nothing to do with the Empire and greatly restricted the level of contact between the planet and the natives. Some seventy years after rediscovery an illegal Terran company, unofficially called Worldwreckers, Inc, has been hired by certain companies to go in and wreck Darkover’s economy and ecology in such a way that Darkover will be forced to petition the Terrans for help and open up the planet for unrestricted trade and industry. Meanwhile, Darkovan telepaths, in particular the Comyn ruling class, are targeted for assassination and the loss of the telepaths could be a killing blow for Darkover because their economy and technology is based on telepath technology. Regis Hastur, ruling Comyn lord, attemps to gather as many telepaths as possible to him – from Darkover and from the Empire, to build a new Darkover and to remain independent. The World Wreckers is a shorter Darkover novel, it moves fast, and is as clunky as the average Darkover novel has been. Zimmer Bradley can be heavy handed with her storytelling, romances, dialogue, and interactions. And yet, The World Wreckers was a pleasant enough story to read. It added very little to the overall scope of the series, though hopefully it impacts later volumes. It isn’t a good book, or one truly worth recommending, but I have been reading Darkover for years and have found enough enjoyment in Darkover that I want to read the rest. Darkover works better as concepts than as actual prose, but somehow the books tend to overcome the clunkiness.



The Stand, by Stephen King: 1100+ pages of post apocalyptic vision. This is the unabridged, expanded, updated, all new version from 1988 which brought The Stand back to its original glory. When it was published in 1978 The Stand was the victim of the publisher’s accountants who required the novel be cut in half for publication based on sell price and projected sales. This new volume gives King’s full vision. It starts with a virus on a military base and from one man spreads to infect a world. The virus has something like a 97 or 99% mortality rate and for the first several hundred pages we are introduced to the spread of the virus, watching towns and cities collapse and see how it spreads, how one person can infect many and how a virus can spread like...wildfire. But some people survive and we are introduced to some of those characters early. Then they gather, through accidents and visions of an elderly woman and the “Dark Man”. What follows is a battle of good versus evil, of the future of humanity and the evil inside us all. The Stand, in this format, is a serious time investment. It also may be Stephen King’s greatest, and most ambitious novel. I suspect, however, that the edition as published might be better than the expanded edition because over the course of 1100 pages I was unsure of when King would get to the point and when the story would advance. But that’s not what the 1100 page behemoth is about, this volume is about fleshing out the characters and making a richer reading experience. It is a rich reading experience, and the 1100 pages are far more focused than 500 pages of Lisey’s Story (for example), but the length and the leisurely time King takes during the middle sections might be a turn off for some readers. That would be a pity, because The Stand in all its full and fat glory is a beautiful post apocalyptic beast of a novel. Well worth reading, though perhaps 900 pages would have really nailed it down.

Unread: The Almost Moon


I really wanted to like The Almost Moon. The Lovely Bones was fantastic, and Sebold’s rape memoir Lucky was...painful, but...how do you use positive words for a book about something so horrible? As a book, as a memoir, Lucky was an excellent book and something of a revelation because I had not read a book about that particular subject and being told through Sebold’s memories of that time, that experience, and her healing was a powerful reading experience. Let us say that I thought both of Alice Sebold’s two previous books, both fiction and memoir were books I might recommend. In fact, I just recommended The Lovely Bones to a co-worker of mine.

The announcement of the impending publication of The Almost Moon was exciting for me because I wanted to see what else Alice Sebold could do. Then I read the first line months before the book came out:
When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.
Perfect! I HAD to read this book. Such a great first line, such a hook! This is first line that makes the reader want to know more.

It was all downhill from there. I picked up the book from the library on Saturday and eagerly started reading last night. After the first line we got to the point, got through some history. Helen’s mother was 88 years old, suffered from Alzheimer’s, and had been a burden for years. The narration of The Almost Moon alternates between Helen dealing with what she just did and figuring out what to do next with glimpses of family history.

I gave it four chapters, some 30-40 pages. In a fewer than 300 page novel I believe that is a fair chance and while I did not expect an upbeat novel, I expected a novel to suck me in and sweep me up into the story, no matter how brutal or depressing. A Joe Lansdale novel tends towards the bleak and the degrading, but are very readable.

The Almost Moon – not so much.

I really was excited for this book and it had the promise of a great opening line. That opening line was the only thing that delivered. A very disappointing experience and I did not finish the book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

$12??

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I thought about ordering the Fall 2007 issue of The Paris Review. It features a new short story by Stephen King and I’d like to read it. I check the website. $12. Four stories, a handful of poems, and a few features. $12. I’m sorry, I could purchase a full novel for just about that price. The previous issue only had 2 stories. I know this is a well regarded magazine and it publishes prominent and talented authors, but $12?

That’s waaaaaay too steep. I could get the Best of LCRW for $14. Some 20 stories there.

Quick Takes: Nancy Crampton, Brandon Sanderson, Cory Doctorow


Writers, by Nancy Crampton: This is a collection of photographs taken by Nancy Crampton over the years. As can be presumed from the title the subject of the pictures is writers. Crampton profiles writers such as Philip Roth, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Spuds Turkel, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Sexton, Norman Mailer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Truman Capote, and many, many others. On the page opposite of the photograph is a paragraph from the writer about writing. The text is from various articles or interviews over the past thirty years. In the sense that the collection gives us little glimpses into the lives of all of these writers it is fine, but I have a difficult time getting excited about a book of photography. The fact that I had heard of less than half of the writers, and read fewer than that, might play into my opinion, but even a book of beautiful and haunting images still does not linger like a good novel or story does for me. Generally.



Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson: Sanderson enters the world of YA fiction with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I have enjoyed Sanderson’s adult novels, so why not give this a shot? The novel is narrated by a man (young man? Old? Doesn’t say, but I’m going with young) looking back on his life and how he became involved in the struggle between the Hushlanders (America) and The Free Kingdoms and the conspiracy of Librarians everywhere to keep secret the knowledge of the Free Kingdoms. Apparently there are three additional continents that do not show up on any map or survey because the Librarians are keeping that existence secret. To the Free Kingdoms, we are backwards, low tech people even though they use swords rather than “low tech” guns. Anyway, Alcatraz (our narrator and hero) tells of how he, a boy raised as a Hushlander...or as an American, became this great hero and well known celebrity in the Free Kingdoms...though repeatedly tells us that he isn’t very nice or trustworthy. I think Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians might be a lot of fun for a 10 to 14 year old to read. It features a snarky narrator, it pokes fun at our world and what we know, has silly action, takes itself both seriously and not seriously at the same time, and a moderately clever concept. It probably would work for a pre-teen, but as an adult this is not a YA work that can reach both an adult audience and a YA audience...and that’s fine. I’m not the target audience. There were little jabs that I appreciated, particularly near the end of the book where Sanderson starts to pull a Jo Rowling to send Alcatraz back to the Hushlanders before letting fly a light backhand about how nonsensical it would be to send a boy to exactly where the bad guys know to look, in a land where he has to pretend to be someone he is not, where he has no friends, and to know that there is a world of magic out there he must be in a world of boredom for him...Sanderson teases it, and then pulls back...because as an author and reader Sanderson is aware of the conventions and what Rowling did, and he wants us to know that he is aware and that his readers are likewise aware. The book is entertaining and short enough, I suppose, but I would much rather read the next Mistborn, Warbreaker, or whatever adult Fantasy novel Sanderson writes than the new Alcatraz book. I’ll give it a respectful pass, but if I had a ten year old I would definitely give him the book.



Overclocked, by Cory Doctorow: Even though all of the stories are available online, Overclocked works very well as its own collection of acclaimed and anthologized stories. Overclocked is the second collection of Cory Doctorow’s short fiction, and they are Doctorow’s look at possible futures and some experiments with genre. He has his Asimov robot tale “I, Robot” and a follow up, of sorts, “I, Row Boat”, a virtual reality story “Anda’s Game” (which similar to the Asimov referenced titles is a play on Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), a post apocalyptic “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” which features the geeky system administrators trying to keep the computers running and preserve civilization during some unknown cataclysm. “Printcrime” and “After the Siege” were less successful for me. “Printcrime” did not work because of the brevity of the story, and “After the Siege” just didn’t. Overall, this is a solid collection of frequently anthologized stories (“Anda’s Game” was in Best American Short Stories, “Sysadmins” has been well collected, as have “I, Robot” and “I, Row-Boat”, possibly in some of Gardner Dozois Best Science Fiction anthologies). Doctorow is well worth reading. There is some good stuff in this collection.

Monday, October 29, 2007

D. A., by Connie Willis

Monday, October 29, 2007 0

D. A.
Connie Willis
Subterranean Press: 2007

One thing that I like about Subterranean Press is that they take short stories and novellas from certain talented authors and publish them in special limited edition volumes so that a shorter work that may only have appeared in Asimov’s or F&SF will be available to more readers than before. Like me. D. A. is an example of this. It was published in 2006 and is available as its own book. The story is on the short size for a standalone, 60 pages, but the sixty pages are collectively delightful.

Theodora Baumgarten has just been selected as an IASA space cadet, and therein lies the problem. She didn't apply for the ultra-coveted posting, and doesn't relish spending years aboard the ship to which she's been assigned.

But the plucky young heroine, in true Heinlein fashion, has no plans to go along with the program. Aided by her hacker best friend Kimkim, in a screwball comedy that has become Connie Wills' hallmark, Theodora will stop at nothing to uncover the conspiracy that has her shanghaied.

While I would question the “screwball comedy” label from the publisher, everything else is spot on and I think gives a good overview of what this story is about. But, what D. A. is about is less important than how it is told. Damn well, I should say. D. A. is a romp and between Theodora and Kimkim, our “plucky young heroine” has all the makings of a character who could headline a collection of stories or a novel set in this milieu. One can hope, but it could also be enough just to have a really good story left alone. The fact that Theodora absolutely does not want to join the IASA is what sets the story apart. Everyone wants it, but she doesn’t.

A wonderful, delightful story and if the opportunity arises – read it!

Daniel Keys Moran!

Last night I was browsing Matthew Stover's blog in the hopes of finding some new information regarding either Caine Black Knife or Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Alas, the last post was June 30th, which I have read a couple of times since it was posted. I vaguely remembered the mention that Stover sent Daniel Keys Moran a copy of Caine Black Knife.

I browsed the comments and Moran posted a response to Stover's entry...and it mentioned a blog of his own. I found Moran's blog via his Blogger profile and I also discovered that Moran is writing again! This post mentions that has at least half of The AI War finished. This post has more info.

Sometime during my teenage years I read Moran's second entry in the Continuing Time series The Long Run. I loved it. It was fun, exciting, and at the time exactly what I was looking for. I don't know where the book came from, I just know it was in a box of books I had. Perhaps my mother found it at a garage sale. I knew it was the second of three books in the series. The character of Trent the Uncatchable was permanently branded in my imagination.

It took years before I finally tracked down a copy of the first volume, Emerald Eyes, and I am not sure I could have been more disappointed. The book was to introduce the Castanaveres telepaths and set the stage for how Trent and Denise came to be in their later situations and the war of the govermnent against the telepaths. But, it lacked pretty much all of the later fun and action and fast paced goodness of The Long Run.

Since I read Emerald Eyes I have been looking for the third entry: The Last Dancer. I have been unsuccessful and because of the hit or miss nature (and how badly the miss was, despite how good the hit) I was unwilling to purchase even a used copy. My library system has been unable to locate a copy and I have a good library system.

When I found Moran's blog I found the books. Moran has the complete text of four of his novels, several stories, and a couple of scripts available here.

So...I will read The Last Dancer, possibly The Armageddon Blues and I will be ready for whenever Moran does publish The AI War. It's been a long time coming, probably moreso for Moran than for me, but it has been a long time since I read The Long Run and I've been looking for the rest for at least fifteen years. It is a mark of the book's impact on me that I still remember it so vividly so many years later.

I don't know how well the novel would hold up today, but I hope it does, because I found The Long Run to be engrossing at the time of my first read fifteen years ago as a teenager, and even in subsequent rereads.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Odd Jack, King of Monsters, by Claude Lalumiere

Sunday, October 28, 2007 0
Claude Lalumiere'sOdd Jack, King of Monsters” has a fun reveal at the end, one which I certainly did not see coming, at least not until just before it happened. The story tells of an old man named Jack who is older than perhaps the world, though he isn’t a God. He befriends the monsters before the gods divided the world up and this short-short tells the story of the world and of Jack in short paragraphs that leads up to a fun ending.
Odd Jack, however, was not pleased with the gods. Suddenly, all of his friends were gone, and just because of a whim of some high-and-mighty, hoity-toity gods? Odd Jack wasn't going to accept that. So he went to see the gods, and he gave them a piece of his mind.
Well worth the read of fewer than 1000 words.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

Saturday, October 27, 2007 0
The Well of Ascension
Brandon Sanderson
Tor: 2007



In the opening novel of the Mistborn series (trilogy?) Brandon Sanderson asked the question: What if the hero of prophecy fought the Dark Lord and lost? That is what the initial premise seemed to be. But, as the novel progressed the question turned out to be: What if the hero of prophecy prevailed, but then turned into a tyrant himself? By the end of the novel the question had shifted once again: What if the hero of prophecy was about to achieve the ultimate goal (whatever it was) and was killed by the guy who carried his bags, and that bagman became a tyrant and ruled for a thousand years of oppression and villainy? The actual question changed and shifted as we (and the characters) learned more about what really happened one thousand years prior.

Mistborn: The Final Empire was a starkly original novel which turned the standard hero’s quest on its head because one thousand years before the novel began the hero of prophecy did arise, he was killed by his bagman, and the bagman ruled for a thousand years. That’s where we opened Mistborn. Brandon Sanderson introduced a well thought out system of magic called Allomancery, which is predicated on those with the talent to somehow utilize specific metals to achieve certain results. Burning different metals allows one to have great strength, speed, the ability to pull a metal towards you or push off something metal. Seems simple, but Brandon Sanderson imagines how this could and would be used in a fantasy setting. There were fight sequences and solid description of the skillsets of Allomancers.

The Dark Lord of Mistborn was defeated at the end of the novel, so the trilogy is setting up for something much different than what might have initially been guessed. The initial guess on what Sanderson was doing would have been a three volume set of overthrowing the Dark Lord. But with that accomplished in one hell of a first novel (of the series, Sanderson’s second published novel after Elantris), Sanderson asks another question which is frequently ignored in fantasy: What happens after you defeat the Dark Lord? How do you hold on to what you’ve won? What happens when you are free of the Dark Lord’s taint? Okay, that’s three question, but it boils down to: So you’ve defeated the Dark Lord...now what?

The Well of Ascension opens with our band of heroes trying to pull a government together out of a squabbling collection of nobles and previously repressed common citizens called Skaa. Elend, a noble son who befriended our Mistborn hero Vin, is King, but almost in name only. The survivors of Kelsier’s band have prominent positions in the government but Elend is not leading the Assembly very well. To make things worse, Elend’s father, the Lord Venture, has an army camped outside the gates of the city and is preparing to invade to claim the throne and dispose of his son. Some of the nobles are willing to open the gates and give up their freedom rather than have bloodshed. To make matters worse, there is another warlord marching on Luthadel with the same purpose. People are free, but they are hungry. The money is running out.

This is where we are thrust into the story. Vin is out patrolling the city attempting to protect Elend, her love, from Allomancer assassins. The political situation continues to deteriorate as threats to Luthadel mount. The political / patrolling aspect of The Well of Ascension takes up at least the first half of the book. The best aspects of this first half (or more) of the novel is Vin’s patrols because we have action sequences where Vin fights off enemies using allomancery. Sanderson has thought out how to make these powers make sense, have a physical cost, make them costly to use, and be exciting to read about all at the same time. If Vin runs out of a particular metal mid-battle that skill is lost until she can get more of that metal. The fights are fast paced and fun to read. The political aspect mildly interesting, but stretched over hundreds of pages it begins to drag.

A complaint that could be (and has been - though I would not go nearly as far as Pat did in his criticism) levied against The Well of Ascension is that there is simply not enough story to fit into the nearly 600 pages of novel that we are given. The complaint is valid and, I’m afraid, accurate. Sanderson only put in what he felt was necessary, I am quite sure, but outside of the sections with Vin (and the also the Kandra), there isn’t enough story to go around. Filler abounds. Sanderson’s filler is still readable, but the novel could have been much tighter with much the same effect, unless the effect intended was to allow the reader to feel the weight of the siege and political upheaval and feel nearly every minute of it. But, even that effect likely could have been accomplished in fifty to one hundred fewer pages. Just one reader’s opinion.

So – Vin, fight sequences, allomancery, history = the best aspects of the novel. Political maneuvering and waiting and almost scheming = slowing the novel down a bit too much.

The Well of Ascension is still a good read, but overall it was not as exciting or successful in telling a story than Mistborn was. The novel did set up a third volume (Hero of Ages?), but little more than that.

Aha! That’s it! The Well of Ascension is, surprisingly enough, a victim of Middle Book Syndrome. It fills in some gaps, resolves certain situations, and sets up the third volume, but does not stand well on its own. I did appreciate that Sanderson is brutal with his characters, that there is nobody safe from being killed off and those deaths will have repercussions down the line with those particular talents and skillsets no longer available to the heroes.

With that said – fans of Mistborn should still read The Well of Ascension, and Sanderson is still an exciting new author, but the novel will not meet the expectations raised by Elantris and Mistborn. It is what it is: The Middle Book of a trilogy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Longtime Gone, by Kurt Dinan

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Longtime Gone” by Kurt Dinan is a painful, painful story of a father’s grief over his daughter’s abduction. It is framed with quotes from Juliet Larson’s A Survival Guide for Parents of Missing Children. Quote by quote the father’s grief grows as he tries to do things that he is supposed to do, but he knows the statistics and when everything is the absence of his daughter.
Their days and nights have no unanswered questions hammering at them as they try to work, as they try to shower, or as they try to sleep—Do the stars look different where Molly is? Or do her lifeless eyes stare at nothing but dirt and decomposing leaves? Is she nearby—less than one mile from this house—or cities, states, or even oceans away? Or is my nine-year-old angel, the child who at six said she wanted to marry me when she grew up, scattered over twenty miles of dark highway?

There are no answers in the silence except for this truth—the day Molly went missing the entire planet became a potential graveyard.
The ending is teased, in a sense, a couple of pages prior, but through it all the ending makes sense through the illogic of it. Dinan’s suggestion that this could be real, that this could be a response feels right at the same time that it feels wrong. If just for a moment, the reader is able to feel a fraction of what a father must feel in such a situation and even that fraction hurts.


-I can't find that Juliet Larson book anywhere online, so I don't know if it is a fictional device from Kurt Dinan or what the story is with that.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quick Takes: Stephen King, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Charles M. Schulz

Thursday, October 25, 2007 0

Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King: Nominated for the World Fantasy Award, I had high hopes for Lisey’s Story. They were not met. I had flipped to the back of the book, not to see the ending but to see if there is an author’s note or info about forthcoming novels. Well, there was an excerpt from Blaze, a new Bachman book (written a long, long time ago) as well as an author’s note where King praises his editor. It seems King is getting snippy about complaints about his novels needing an editor, and he explains that he has a very talented editor who helps get his manuscripts into far better shape. And, I have no doubt that King’s editor is a talented woman who does excellent work...but I understand the complaints about King needed an editor. At times, Stephen King gets long winded and his novels bloat around the edges. The complaints are similar to what Robert Jordan had received with the last several Wheel of Time books. There is a good deal of digression away from what seems to be the main storyline of Lisey’s Story and lopping off a hundred pages may allow King to deliver a tighter, more focused novel. Perhaps King’s editor did lop off a hundred pages and this is the tighter, more focused novel. My reading experience with Lisey’s Story was that there was not quite enough meat to warrant nearly 600 pages. This wouldn’t be my choice for a WFA nominee, but I don’t get to vote. Not one of King’s best works...or, perhaps it was “technically” a stronger novel, but I preferred The Cell over Lisey’s Story – if we want to talk about recent publications.



Alabaster, by Caitlin R. Kiernan: I am not too familiar with the work of Caitlin Kiernan. I’ve read a small handful of her stories, I believe, but that is it. So, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of Dancy Flammarion when I started Alabaster. In fact, I had to read the introduction to even know why we have this collection of Dancy stories. I guess Dancy is the heroine, of sorts, of Kiernan’s novel Threshold. The stories in Alabaster take specific instances in Dancy’s past, things only alluded to in the novel, and flesh them out. The stories were, I thought, kind of uneven. When the stories focused on Dancy they held my interest, but when Kiernan further set the scene with other characters and other situations that were going to tie together later...that’s when she lost me. But, perhaps this is because I haven’t read Threshold, I’m not sure. All I do know is that Alabaster isn’t quite enough to make me go run and find more of Kiernan’s work, but it did interest me just enough in Threshold to want to read that...assuming the novel is more focused than the stories were. I will say one thing, though. The cover art is exceptional.



The Complete Peanuts: 1965-1966, by Charles M. Schulz: As always, happiness is a collection of Peanuts strips. This set introduced Peppermint Patty, and Snoopy as the World War I pilot in his Sopwith Camel seeking the Red Baron. Plus we have some camp sequences with Charlie Brown and Linus meeting a boy named Roy, Charlie Brown pining over the Little Red Headed Girl, and more. Peanuts always puts a little smile on my face.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hatchie Bottom, by Barry Hollander

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Hatchie Bottom
Barry Hollander
Chiaroscuro: Issue 34


Barry Hollander’s story “Hatchie Bottom” takes until page three before the reader gets the weird. The story opens with three men on a fishing boat in a maze of a marsh finding the body of a white girl hanging from a tree. One of them men takes several pictures, and leave to get the police. When they return there is no body. But there is something wrong with the pictures. Most of them are grey, blurry...but one picture comes through clear.

It’s that moment of discovery, the moment that chills.

It’s not the only moment that chills. The conclusion to the story chills, too, when Caleb returns to the tree with the Sheriff.

Good story. “Hatchie Bottom” isn’t too long, only 3800 words or so, but it is definitely worth the read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Plague of Doves

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According to my Local Library Louise Erdrich has a new novel coming out in May 2008 called The Plague of Doves. Neither Erdrich's website nor her bookstore's website (Birchbark Books in Minneapolis) mentions the forthcoming novel. Neither does the Birchbark Blog. Other than random searches, I'm not sure how I am to find advance information regarding my favorite author.

A quick google search finds an Erdrich short story of the same title published in The New Yorker in June 2004.

The story was collected in the 2006 O. Henry Prize Stories.

This is the first I have heard of the story. I’ll read it shortly.

Other People's Money, by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has an interesting story up at Forbes Magazine (of all places!) called “Other People’s Money”. Apparently Forbes commissioned several writers to give some economic visions of twenty years from now and this is what Doctorow came up with.

Honestly, I was confused half the time. I could follow the main thread of the story and understood some of the connections Doctorow was making and what of our economic future he was tweaking, but at the same time...I was confused. Some of the jargon and acronyms and technical stuff did not quite connect.

The story works as a conversation where Gretl, a backwards tech lady explaining to a young VC (Venture Capitalist?) about what she does and why she does it and during the conversation she pretty well explains the history of change from 2007 to 2027. Not to put too heavy of a hand on it, but it reminds me a bit of some of the philosophical dialogues (Aristotle, Socrates, etc), though there is less of the “tell me more, teacher” here. It takes place in a “dead Wal-Mart”

Like I said, interesting story in a theoretical “what if” sense. I don’t think it is supposed to do anything more.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Elves of Cintra, by Terry Brooks

Monday, October 22, 2007 0
The Elves of Cintra
Terry Brooks
Del Rey: 2007


When Terry Brooks published Armageddon’s Children in 2006 I felt that Brooks was beginning a trilogy which had the potential to be something special. It was the first volume in a trilogy which was to begin to bridge the gap between the Word / Void Trilogy (Running with the Demon, A Knight of the Word, Angel Fire East) with the Shannara series (beginning with 1977’s The Sword of Shannara). Up until Armageddon’s Children there had been speculation that the world of the Word / Void and the ruination it predicted was somehow the origins of the wars which would destroy the technological driven world and transform it to an unrecognizable Four Lands. Armageddon’s Children confirmed the rumors. More importantly, Armageddon’s Children was a marked improvement over Brooks’s six previous Shannara volumes and hinted at a return to form for Brooks. Terry Brooks gave richer descriptions and built up the story and the setting into something we could visualize. It was good.

The story of Armageddon’s Children had the Lady (an agent of The Word, the forces of “Good”) send two Knights of the Word on two different missions. Logan Tom was to find the Gypsy Morph, a being “born of wild magic”, and keep it from the forces of the Void. We know from the end of Angel Fire East that the Morph somehow became the child of Nest Freemark, but this is generations later...but the Morph is being of magic, so nobody knows what form it may take now. Angel Perez is sent on a different quest: Find the Elves and somehow allow them to save themselves and in turn save a remnant of humanity. Angel does not believe there are elves, but she has a quest from the Lady and must obey. This is where we know that Word / Void will meet Shannara. When Armageddon’s Children ended Logan Tom identified the Gypsy Morph as Hawk, a member of the Ghosts tribe of street children from Seattle. Hawk and Tessa, another Ghost, had been thrown off of the walls of Seattle’s Safeco field compound (this is something of a post apocalyptic series now), presumable to their death. The novel literally ended in a cliff hanger.

A year has passed and Brooks has published the second volume in what is now being called “The Genesis of Shannara”: The Elves of Cintra. Where Armageddon’s Children was focused more on Logan Tom and the Ghosts, one can guess from the title that this volume will focus more on Angel Perez and the Elves. It does. Somehow, what could and should be the most exciting and intriguing part of the novel – the elves from the title, legendary characters from the series – is the weakest part of the novel. We get a bit of Elvish intrigue where the Ellcrys tree has given instruction to two of her Chosen (caretakers) that she will need to be moved to save the Elves. The elf king does not believe and has been acting erratically. This is shades of The Elfstones of Shannara and just feels forced. Of course the Elf King does not believe the Chosen and diminishes the threat and the risk. Of course. This adds drama, but in The Elves of the Cintra, it is just forced because unlike in other Shannara novels it is clear even to the Elves how much damage the humans have done to the world and that things are only getting worse. At this point it is not unusual that the Ellcrys might speak, might give instruction. And we have read the first seven Shannara novels, so we know all about the Loden Eflstone and the Blue Elfstones. Nothing here is a revelation or illuminating. It is as if Terry Brooks took the “Good Parts” of the early Shannara novels and removed them from the book and gave us the chapters about the elves in this novel.

Brooks spends a little bit less time on Logan Tom and the Gypsy Morph. First off, we do find out early on what happened to Hawk and Tessa and how they lived (assumption at the end of the previous novel is that they lived...Hawk is the Gypsy Morph after all). I won’t tell exactly how they lived, but Brooks revisits a well used Shannara occurrence which tends to give lost characters a chance to refresh and refocus. Yes, that one. Again, by this point it feels forced. Overused.

The biggest problem of The Elves of Cintra is Middle Book Syndrome. Brooks is moving his characters around to put them into set places to have a chance to run a conclusion in the next volume. This is the case with most, if not all, trilogies, but when the reader FEELS M.B.S. occurring, that’s when it gets frustrating. I felt it.

What did work, I thought, was when Logan Tom met another Knight of the Word, a fallen Knight. We got hints of what can happen when a Knight loses his or her way in the Word / Void trilogy with John Ross’s dreams, and here we get a “real life” example. It’s interesting to see the madness of having all that power but a loss of faith. But what I want to know is when did the Word start calling so many Knights? The way Word / Void read was that only one was called at a time, though of course that is silly, too. Why did there only need to be one Knight? The sense from John Ross in Word / Void, though, was that only one Knight at a time (like one Slayer at a time).

The description that I had enjoyed so much in Armageddon’s Children has either been stripped back or I just missed it here. There is no longer a sense of place, of any place. I can visualize parts of the climb Angel makes near the end, but that’s about it. Are we back to Brooks telling the tale as fast as possible, trying to entertain but missing a good core of storytelling? Possibly. Maybe this is just an aberration and Brooks will be able to close out the trilogy with a bang.

I’m not so sure.

Terry Brooks was part of my beginnings as a fantasy reader and unlike other fantasists of that era (David Eddings and Piers Anthony), Terry Brooks has at least maintained the ability to tell a story in a fairly entertaining manner without repeating himself over and over again. I have been reading Terry Brooks for about as long as I have been reading fantasy (call it 15 years) and while I do not believe Brooks is at the height of his powers anymore, I understand that aspects of my taste in reading and fantasy have changed, too. No longer does a fast paced story with little or no detail about the characters, setting, place, world, and magic do it for me. I need more, something else. Maybe that is it. But I thought Brooks hit a homerun with Armageddon’s Children. It wasn’t a perfect novel, but it was a satisfying one. That was only a year ago. What changed? Terry Brooks has become very hit and miss and my thought is that the closer he gets to Shannara the faster he tells his stories and the less detail he provides, the less rich his storytelling becomes. It was only, I believe, the fact that Armageddon’s Children was very near a Word / Void novel that Terry Brooks gave the level of detail and, dare I say, care to the novel that he had not done since Angel Fire East.

That’s what I think.

Now that The Elves of Cintra is closing in on Shannara due to the inclusion of Elves AND because Brooks already set the scene with Armageddon’s Children...we’re not going to get the detail from A.C. Brooks is done with it and is back to a novel a year as fast as he can write and telling the fast paced story that he wants to tell.

I wish he’d slow down.

I can’t argue with the man’s success, but I know Terry Brooks could be so much better. He WAS so much better. A man has a right to make his living in any legal way he chooses, and Brooks is doing just that. He is telling the stories he wants to tell in the manner in which he wants to tell them. But he could be so much better. He WAS so much better. It’s disappointing, to say the least, but the novels are still just good enough to want to know what happens next and see how Brooks will connect the pieces and because the novels go down so easily, there is no gag reflex. They just don’t taste as good as they used to.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Purchased: Rainlight

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Browsing through a local Borders Books with my wife last night we were on the lookout for something to pick up, purchase, and read for a while in their little coffee shop. I checked the magazines, saw an Asimov's and would have purchased that one (it's the December issue with Connie Willis), but I'm not sure if that will be the first issue of my subscription or not. Speaking of, has Asimov's always been digest size? I guess I thought it would be bigger... I also saw a Realms of Fantasy, but that kind of bored me. Had they had Fantasy and Science Fiction, definitely would have picked it up.

So I went to the fiction. Almost picked up Shriek: An Afterword, The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, or The Almost Moon. Had I passed a copy of Ann Patchett's Run, I probably would have grabbed that, but I didn't.

Briefly considered Whiskey and Water (you've got to read Blood and Iron).

Picked up Rainlight, by Alison McGhee. One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. I really wanted that book on my bookshelf at home, and now I am glad it is.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist interviews Katherine Kurtz!

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Oh, excitement! Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has an interview up with Katherine Kurtz! I have loved her Deryni saga for years, it was some of the earliest fantasy I read and I loved how she mixed the Christian faith and the Catholic traditions with fantasy and magic. It was the novel set earliest in the chronology which really connected with me, specifically The Camber Trilogy beginning with Camber of Culdi and that second trilogy with Cinhil's children, again, specifically King Javan's Year.

At the back of each of those novels there is a chronology for the Haldanes and the MacRories and the mysterious year of 948 was listed as the death year for so many major characters: Joram MacRorie, Tieg, and a bunch of others who I'll remember if I crack open a Deryni novel.

Which is what makes this response by Kurtz so awesome (I had previously heard about this, but I like confirmation):
but when I finish that-which may or may not actually bring us up to right before the beginning of Deryni Rising-I will probably do the book that covers the events of 948, when so many of our favorite characters die. (Of course, some of them are pretty old by then, so that’s OK.) After that….maybe the story of Orin and Jodotha?
Oh, and the Orin and Jodotha thing...that's the other major interest of mine in Kurtz's work.

I think it is great that Pat scored the interview.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quick Takes: Gardner Dozois, Lucius Shepard, David Brin

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The New Space Opera, by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (editors): The Space Opera I have read, I have loved (Dan Simmons, Peter F. Hamilton...probably others), but I am not sure how much I have really read. This anthology of “New Space Opera”, of the new age of Space Opera being written today, has been lauded, critically acclaimed, and much praised (and yes, I know I said the same thing three different ways...it’s all for effect). So, it was with great anticipation which I opened The New Space Opera. Maybe Space Opera is something that works better in the novel length versus the short story. I’m not sure. What I do know is that there were far more misses in this anthology than hits. Perhaps this is because The New Space Opera is an original anthology of stories written specifically for this volume, rather than being a reprint anthology of the “Best” New Space Opera. Either way, this wasn’t quite the anthology I hoped it would be. To top it off, I had recently finished Fast Forward 1, an unthemed SF anthology from Pyr, and was gripped the entire way through. The New Space Opera left me cold. There were still some stories that worked: “Maelstrom”, by Kage Baker, “The Emperor and the Maula” by Robert Silverberg (and this one should not have worked for me), and “Minla’s Flowers”, by Alastair Reynolds comes to mind. Dan Simmons’ “Muse of Fire” was another well crafted story, but I am beginning to question why the “classics” remembered today (Shakespeare, Homer) are going to be remembered thousands of years from now when all else has been forgotten. It just makes me wonder. Simmons is an intelligent man with ambitious science fiction, but sometimes the intermingling of the “classics” with far future science fiction makes me twitch. Just a little bit. There is some good stuff in this anthology, but overall...it just didn’t work. Not quite a disappointment, but nothing I would really recommend, either.



A Handbook of American Prayer, by Lucius Shepard: What I consider to be Shepard’s greatest novel should probably garner more than just a Quick Take, but a bit too much time has passed between my finishing the book and my writing about it. Here’s the basic story outline: A man is sent to prison for murdering another man. It was self defense, but that doesn’t really matter. He has blood on his hands. In prison this man came up with something called “prayerstyle”, a way of clearly stating and praying one’s wishes and desires. The funky thing is that it works. The prayers, written out as poems, if working towards a specific desire, will generally come true. Outside of prison the man published a volume of prayerstyle and then something amazing happens: it becomes a pop culture phenomenon, and then it gets even bigger than that. A Handbook of American Prayer is a) this man’s journey - physical, spiritual, and psychological, b) a meditation on American pop culture and religion, c) a damn good story, d) all of the above. The first two thirds of the novel, in particular, are excellent. Things feel a bit disjointed near the end, but A Handbook of American Prayer is still a richly satisfying novel.



Sky Horizon, by David Brin: Do you remember when you were a teenager and you looked up at that sky wondering if there were aliens up there? If that strange light moving across the night sky was a UFO instead of an airplane because the light didn’t blink like any plane you had seen? When you stayed up late listening to Art Bell on the radio? Conspiracies about life that we’ve never seen, things that the government would rather keep hidden? Sky Horizon taps into all of this, only places it in a high school setting. The math geeks claim to have found a real live alien and are hiding it in their basement. Is it true? High school is filled with crazy rumors, but this school is near a military base, so you never know. Sky Horizon is novella length, but gets into the teenaged angst where a boy does what is right, but certainly not popular. The aliens do come, but mostly this is seen through the eyes of the teenagers. Sky Horizon is also the first volume in Colony High, which only makes sense at the very end. Sky Horizon doesn’t have that weighty thickness of much of Brin’s novel length work. It is a breezy novella in comparison, though still a thought out and considered work (and we’d expect no less from David Brin). It might be considered a bit too light and non-serious (or non-important), but given its length, Sky Horizon is a good story and here’s the important part: I want to know what happens next and I have every intention of reading the next volume of Colony High when it is published...hopefully still by Subterranean Press.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Asimov's

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I subscribed to Asimov’s last night. Other than having read all the Hugo nominations from last year, I haven’t read anything from Asimov’s, but I know its reputation. A six issue subscription for $10 is a good deal, so why not?

I kind of hope they start me with the December issue. There is a novella by Connie Willis in the issue (excerpt) which will be published by Subterranean Press this winter and I’d like to get the chance to read it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Short Fiction Read: July - September 2007

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My original plan was to log all short stories I have read, not counting those collected in book form, and earlier this year I listed all the stories I read from January through June. I intended to do another six month stretch and then next year break them out in quarters. But the list is getting unwieldy.

So, here are the stories I’ve read from June through September. I was originally going to link, but linking that many stories would be overly cumbersome. I think what I'm going to do in the future is list them like the novels: Monthly. I can handle monthly.


The best of the bunch are as follows:
A Letter Never Sent - Rachel Swirsky
Dead Man's Holiday - Nicholas Seeley
The Way He Does It - Jeffrey Ford
Questions for a Soldier – John Scalzi
The Bound Man – Mary Robinette Kowal


The Full Listing
73. Galatea - Vylar Kaftan (Heliotrope #2)
74. They Play in the Place of My Dreaming - Gerard Hoarner (Heliotrope #2)
75. Unrequited Love - Gene Wolfe (Subterranean: Summer 2007)
76. A Letter Never Sent - Rachel Swirsky (Konundrum)
77. I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said - Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld: July 2007)
78. Honey Mouth - Samantha Henderson (Heliotrope #1)
79. On the Air - Edward Morris (Heliotrope #1)
80. American Gothic - Michael Colangelo (Heliotrope #1)
81. Brazos - Jerome Steuart (Strange Horizons: July 2, 2007)
82. Transtexting Pose - Daniel Speegle (Clarkesworld: July 2007)
83. Dead Man's Holiday - Nicholas Seeley (Strange Horizons: October 30, 2006)
84. Scenes from a Dystopia - Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean #4)
85. Snowball's Chance - Charles Stross (Subterranean: Summer 2007)
86. The Thief With Two Deaths - Chris Wilrich (Fantasy & Science Fiction: June 2000)
87. Carnival Knowledge - Mike Resnick (Subterranean: Summer 2007)
88. Under the Beansidhe's Pillow - Sarah Monette (Lone Star Stories: Issue 22)
89. The Captain is the Last to Leave - Caroline Lockwood Nelson (Strange Horizons: July 9, 2007)
90. Love. &c. -- From 506 JB - Toiya Kristen Finley (Lone Star Stories: Issue 22)
91. The Way He Does It - Jeffrey Ford (Electric Velocipede #10)
92. Wake Up Call - Leslie Brown (Strange Horizons: July 30, 2007)
93. The Taste of Wheat - Ekaterina Sedia (Clarkesworld: August 2007)
94. The Last Reef - Gareth Lyn Powell (Interzone #202)
95. The Ballad of the Sinister Mr. Mouth - Catherynne Valente (Lone Star Stories: Issue 22)
96. The Girl From Another World - Leah Bobet (Strange Horizons: August 13, 2007)
97. The Perfume Eater - R. J. Astruc (Strange Horizons: July 16, 2007)
98. Artifice and Intelligence - Tim Pratt (Strange Horizons: August 6, 2007)
99. Limits - Donna Glee Williams (Strange Horizons: July 23, 2007)
100. Siege of Cranes - Benjamin Rosenbaum (All Star Stories: Twenty Epics)
101. The Third Brain - Charles Coleman Finley and James Allison (Subterranean #4)
102. A Finite Number of Typewriters - Stuart MacBride (Subterranean #4)
103. Horrible Historians - Gillian Polack (Subterranean #4)
104. Hesperia and Glory - Ann Leckie (Subterranean #4)
105. What a Piece of Work - Jo Walton (Subterranean #4)
106. The Last Science Fiction Writer - Alan M Steele (Subterranean #4)
107. Stone Shoes - C.S.E. Cooney (Subterranean: Summer 2007)
108. The Beacon - Darja Malcolm-Clarke (Clarkesworld: August 2007)
109. Make a Joyful Noise - Charles DeLint (Subterranean: Summer 2007)
110. Shoah Sry - Tobias S. Buckell and Ilsa J. Bick (Subterranean #4)
111. Labyrinth's Heart - Bruce Arthurs (Subterranean #4)
112. The NOMAD Gambit - Dean Cochrane (Subterranean #4)
113. The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement and Then Take Questions – David
Nickle (Chiaroscuro: Issue 33)
114. The Vine that Ate the South – Bill Kte’pi (Chiaroscuro: Issue 33)
115. The Conviction of Praxis – Eugie Foster (Spaceships and Sixguns #3)
116. In Search of Ellen Siriosa – Ron Hogan (Subterranean #4)
117. Tees and Sympathy – Nick Sagan (Subterranean #4)
118. Last – Chris Roberson (Subterranean #4)
119. Refuge – David Klecha (Subterranean #4)
120. The Infinite Heat Death of the Universe – Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean #4)
121. Questions for a Soldier – John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
122. Ladders - David Sakmyster (Chiaroscuro: Issue 33)
123. Waiting Period – Sunil Sadanand (Chiaroscuro: Issue 33)
124. Horizontal Rain – Mary Robinette Kowal (Apex Online)
125. The Acquaintance – Kealan Patrick Burke (Subterranean: Fall 2007)
126. Tiger, Tiger – Liz Williams (Electric Velocipede 11)
127. Milk and Apples – Catherynne M. Valente (Electric Velocipede 11)
128. Moon Does Run – Edd Vick (Electric Velocipede 11)
129. The Duel – Tobias Buckell (Electric Velocipede 11)
130. How to Get Rid of Your Monster: A Series of Usenet Postings – Scott William Carter (Electric Velocipede 11)
131. Quitting Dreams – Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford (Electric Velocipede 11)
132. A Punctuated Romance – Mary Turzillo (Electric Velocipede 11)
133. Last Bus – Jennifer Pelland (Electric Velocipede 11)
134. Sometimes I Get Lost – Steve Rasnic Tem (Electric Velocipede 11)
135. Nine Billion and Counting – John B. Rosenman (Electric Velocipede 11)
136. Bar Golem – Sonya Taafe (Electric Velocipede 11)
137. The Geode – Marly Youmans (Electric Velocipede 11)
138. Sweetness and Light – Nicole Kimberling (Electric Velocipede 11)
139. Little Ambushes – Joanne Merriam (Strange Horizons: August 20, 2007)
140. All Kinds of Reasons – Katherine Maclaine (Strange Horizons: September 3, 2007)
141. Practicing My Sad Face – Marc Shultz (Strange Horizons: August 27, 2007)
142. In Stone – Helen Keeble (Strange Horizons: September 10, 2007)
143. A Darker Shade of Green – Robby Sparks (Apex Online: September 2007)
144. House of the Rising Sun – Elizabeth Bear (elizabethbear.com)
145. Little Conversations – Caitlin R. Kiernan (Clarkesworld: September 2007)
146. Follow Me Light – Elizabeth Bear (Scifiction: January 2005)
147. Harvey's Dream – Stephen King (The New Yorker: June 30, 2003)
148. Sounding – Elizabeth Bear (Strange Horizons: September 18, 2006)
149. The Four Hundred Thousand – Livia Llewellyn (Subterranean: Fall 2007)
150. The Cold Blacksmith – Elizabeth Bear (Baen's Universe #1: June 2006)
151. What's Expected of Us – Ted Chiang (Nature: July 6, 2005)
152. One Eyes Jack and the Suicide King – Elizabeth Bear (Lenox Avenue: April 2005)
153. All the Wonder in the World – Lavie Tidhar (Apex Online: September 2007)
154. The Company of Four – Elizabeth Bear (elizabethbear.com)
155. Lost Soul – M P Ericson (Clarkesworld: September 2007)
156. How the Little Rabbi Grew – Eliot Fintushel (Strange Horizons: Sept 17, 2007)
157. The Jerusalem Theatre – Lavie Tidhar (Apex Online: September 2007)
158. The Bound Man – Mary Robinette Kowal (Twenty Epics)

So, January through September I have read 158 short stories, not counting those collected in anthologies and single author collections where I have read the entire anthology.

Not bad.

Next month we'll have better tracking. When I started reading short fiction this year I didn't think I'd read this much.

Monday, October 15, 2007

World Fantasy Awards 2007 - reading updates, nothing much really changes

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I’ve knocked a few more World Fantasy Award nominees off and here is what I’m thinking right now:

Novel: The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’ve now read Lisey’s Story and Lies, so I’m not really on firm ground here. Lisey’s Story was a bit of a disappointment and despite the WFA nomination I would suggest Lisey’s Story will be remembered as Minor King, rather than Major King, but as we can imagine, I might be wrong about that. Still have no intention of reading the Gene Wolfe novel, but I would like to read the Kushner and the Valente. Will probably get to the Valente first since the Kushner is technically the second in a series, though I don’t think (but may be wrong) that I -need- to read the first entry. Regardless, Lies is one of my favorite reads of this year.

Novella: "Dark Harvest". This isn’t even close. “Map of Dreams” was far better than I had anticipated, “Botch Town” was...well...disappointing, and I never quite gave “Ghost Train” a fair shake because I was burnt out on the Diogenes Club by the time I reached this story in the collection. This leaves the Wilce novella, which is in the forthcoming entry in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (as well as in another Year’s Best collection that I saw at my local library). Despite this, Dark Harvest is still an outstanding piece of fiction, one I would put up in the novel category over the thrice as long Lisey’s Story.

Short Story: “The Way He Does It”. This time I’ve read three of the five, with the other two, I believe, in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I didn’t like “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)” when I read it as a Hugo nominee and I have no interest in revisiting it now. “A Siege of Cranes” from Twenty Epics did not capture me at all. If the WFA folks are busy nominating stories from Twenty Epics they should have chosen Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Bound Man” from that same anthology. I know I’m biased towards Kowal, but that’s because her fiction is damn good. I love the title of Christopher Rowe’s story, so I hope it is good when I get the chance to read it. I wrote about Jeffrey Ford’s story before and this is a Ford that I can get behind.

Novel:
Lisey's Story, Stephen King
The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente
Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe

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 7/06)

Short Fiction:
"The Way He Does It", Jeffrey Ford (Electric Velocipede 10 Spring '06)
"Journey Into the Kingdom", M. Rickert (F&SF 5/06)
"A Siege of Cranes", Benjamin Rosenbaum (Twenty Epics, All-Star Stories)
"Another Word for Map Is Faith", Christopher Rowe (F&SF 8/06)
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman (F&SF 10-11/06)

Kage Baker Pirate Novel

Ooh!

Subterranean Press is proud to present an exclusive pirate novel by the author of the acclaimed "Company" series.

His name is John James--at least, that's the name he gives to anyone asking. He's a former pirate just back in Port Royal from the sack of Panama, and he has every intention of settling down and leading a respectable life. First, though, he must honor a promise and deliver a letter to the mistress of one of his dead comrades.

But the lady is much more than she seems, and the letter turns out to contain detailed instructions for recovering a hidden fortune. It's one thing to know where treasure may be found; finding it, and keeping it, is quite another. On his quest for a prince's ransom John is joined by two unlikely allies: a black freedman named Sejanus Walker and a humble clerk named Winthrop Tudeley. Pirate attacks, hurricanes, shipwrecks, sharks, unearthly visitations and double-crosses follow. Especially double-crosses...

Her "Company" novels are outstanding. She is a frequent contributor to Asimov’s.

I'm in. Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

10,000

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According to Sitemeter, I have logged 10,000 visitors to Adventures in Reading. So, whomever number 10,000 was - thank you for stopping by. You may pick up your complimentary ham around back.

This blog has been going for a few years now, but it wasn't until the last year or so that I finally narrowed its focus to bookish matters and was more consistent in updating and figuring out what I wanted to do here.

Looking at Sitemeter's tracking, June 2007 was when I really started getting hits and that ties into the Blog Like Its the End of the World thingy, but the readers have stayed...and that's fun for me.

To all 10,000 visitors (of which I'm likely several thousand of), thanks for stopping by. I'm trying to think of ways to make this better and more interesting.

Acacia, by David Anthony Durham


Acacia
David Anthony Durham
Doubleday: 2007

Historical Fiction author David Anthony Durham turns to fantasy with his fourth book Acacia: The War With the Mein. Acacia seems to be one of those books which has garnered quite a bit of praise but is only gradually working its way into the consciousness of fantasy readers. Acacia is almost a debut novel in the sense that David Anthony Durham is a name that was not very well known in fantasy circles. After Acacia if Durham isn't well known, he should be.

Acacia opens with a short first chapter featuring an assassin making his way out of the frozen north to the island city / state / empire of Acacia with a mission to kill the king, Leodan Akaran, and begin to set his people, the Mein, free from the yoke of the Acacians.

After this first chapter David Anthony Durham begins to introduce us to the principal characters of the story, Leodan's four children: Aliver (the heir), Corinn, Mena, and Dariel. Through particular viewpoint chapters for each of the children we get a sense of who they are and who they want to be, and perhaps who they could be. During these opening chapters and throughout the novel Durham provides a wealth of detail about the setting, the political situation, the motivations of characters, the clothing, the weaponry, the culture, and pretty much anything that can be described. Normally this is what we call overkill and too much exposition and description. Somehow David Anthony Durham gracefully moves beyond that sense of too much description holding the story back and that detail Durham provides only enriches the tapestry that is Acacia. Yes, the pace of Acacia is a bit slower than the average epic fantasy, but Acacia is far from your average epic fantasy.

The opening chapters of Acacia serve to set the table for the feast which is to come. Acacia is not a simple tale of "good guys" versus "bad guys" and while we suspect that the assassin will be at least partially successful, we do not quite know what is to come. Sure, the dust jacket for the novel reveals this little tidbit:
"On his deathbed, Leodan puts into play a plan to allow his children to escape, each to his or her own separate destiny. And so his children begin a quest to avenge their father's death and restore the Acacian empire - this time on the basis of universal freedom."
Yet, this does not capture what David Anthony Durham does here at all. Those are the facts of the novel, but not the truth. The truth is that initially we think that all that Durham is doing with Acacia is flipping the racial expectations by making the Akarans dark skinned and the Mein the white people. In part, perhaps this is true, but that would be far too simple a thing to do. Far too "black and white". Acacia lives in shades of grey. Yes, the Akaran children are to be our "heroes", but Acacia is not a pure empire. There are deeply hidden secrets behind their power, about the drugs poisoning the land, about the "Quota", about their hold on Empire. The Mein are not the simple barbarian hordes that are assumed in the opening chapters. They have culture, and they have reasons for doing what they are doing...legitimate reasons.

That "quest to avenge their father's death"? Even that is not so simple. The children are scattered to the wind and years later have their own lives and desires in exile. Acacia is not a simple revenge quest.

So. What, then, is Acacia?

It's a damn fine novel. It is a richly complex story of revenge, political reality, overcoming and understanding the lies of history, a coming of age story, an epic fantasy, at times a political thriller, a world with a long and complicated history, a novel where the reader's expectations are exceeded and where what we get isn't what we think we are looking for. At nearly every turn David Anthony Durham confounds our understanding of what is going on and what he is going to do next. There are hints of fantasy archetypes in the characters, but the motivations that Durham brings to the table makes these characters three dimensional players rather than two dimensional cut outs.

By this point in the review it should be clear that I am deeply impressed with Acacia and that I admire the craftsmanship of the novel. While I would like to say that Acacia is a novel for everyone, for all fans of good fiction and good fantasy, I suspect that some readers will be turned off by the deliberate pace of the novel. Where I found a novel like The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams to utterly drag due to the weight of the description, especially in the opening two hundred pages, I did not get this from Acacia. The description of Acacia improves the novel, it feels necessary and develops the characters and the setting. Why this should work with one novel and fail in another is beyond me, and I am not sure I am able to explain exactly why, but the description here is a good thing. The style of the novel, however, does require that Acacia be read slowly, to drink in the richness of this epic fantasy.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Very seldom do I get impatient for a subsequent volume in a fantasy series. I know that it will come out when it comes out and there are plenty of books to be read. But with Acacia and how David Anthony Durham both told a complete story as well as opened up his world for new stories with just a couple of touches and gentle twists, I would really like to know what happens next and to sink into another 500 pages of Acacian storytelling.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Far Territories

Friday, October 12, 2007 0

The news is a couple of days old, but Subterranean Press is launching a trade paperback imprint sometime next year called Far Territories.

The first two titles:
Rite, by Tad Williams (a collection of his short fiction)
New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear


1) Very Good News. Subterranean Press publishes excellent limited edition work and having some of that work available at a cheaper price is a great thing. For me.

2) Obviously Subterranean will only republish the best selling volumes because they wish to continue to make money, but I wonder how much of their catalog they will republish in trade paper. Does this include John Scalzi’s The Sagan Diary, or only longer works and collections? Will there be trade paper only publications and not the limited edition hardcovers?

3) Note on the announcement page that I linked that Rite will only include the fiction from the limited edition. The nonfiction and the screenplays will not be included. Thus preserving the specialness of the limited editions, but potentially frustrating for fans.

This could be a pretty good deal, I think, and the price is good:
Each of the Far Territories titles are just $14.95, with Free Shipping on US Preorders.
Being a big fan of much of what is published by Subterranean and having discovered quite a few writers via Subterranean Press, this sounds like good news to me and there is a good chance I might pick up some of the Far Territories. Possibly New Amsterdam because, well, Elizabeth Bear kicks ass.

And...just as I was getting ready to post this entry (written over lunch break today), I discover via the Bloglines reader that the logo was designed by the multi-talented Mary Robinette Kowal. Kowal says:

See that logo?

I made that.

Pretty cool, that.

The Economics of Writing

Eric Flint has an interesting article up at Baen's Universe on, as you can guess from the title, “The Economics of Writing”. It meanders back to the real point, which is that Flint believes (and has numbers to back it up), that the availability of fiction for free online can and perhaps will help the actual sales of a book. It’s an interesting read. Which reminds me, of course, that I’ve been long considering ordering an issue of Baen’s Universe. I wish they had a print edition, but they pay their authors very well, so they should have good content. I tend to recognize most of their writers. I’m not used to paying for online content, but Baen’s might be a good place to start.
...what is the net effect on the income of authors as a whole if some of the authors start handing out some of their works for free in electronic format?

Well, the first and most obvious effect is that the authors who do so will become better known to the reading public at large. And, as a result of their greater visibility, will generally see an increase in their sales.

I need to stress that this is not guesswork on my part. It’s something that has been proven in practice over a period of years—by me, among other authors. – Eric Flint

New Free Short Fiction Month

This is a good month for free online fiction!

Clarkesworld
A Dance Across Embers, by Lisa Mantchev
Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang, by Kristin Mandigma

Lone Star Stories
Stickmen, by Forrest Aguirre
Odd Jack, King of Monsters, by Claude Lalumiere
Black Betty, by Ben Peek

Chiaroscuro
Longtime Gone, by Kurt Dinan
Hatchie Bottom, by Barry Hollander
Shooting Dogs for Fun and Profit, by Alex Wilson

Strange Horizons (new fiction weekly)
Catherine and the Satyr, by Theodora Goss
The Master, by Lavie Tidhar

Subterranean Online
Fire in the Lake, by Chris Roberson
Show of Hands, by David Prill

I only listed the Subterranean stories which I know were published in October. There are three others from Kealan Patrick Burke, Jay Lake, and Livia Llewellyn published in September.

These are all markets I read on a regular basis. I'm sure there is plenty of good free online fiction out this month which I am not reading and so have not listed here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Clarkesworld Art - Naomi Chen

Thursday, October 11, 2007 1
While I find the fiction up at Clarkeworld to be generally hit or miss for my tastes, the artwork is without a doubt all hit.

This latest piece by Naomi Chen is no exception. Striking. The artwork can also be found here.

Stephen King News: Short Fiction

I'll probably not get to read these stories until they are collected and published in book form, but from the News section of Stephen King's website:

New Releases Coming in November:

In November, two new stories by Stephen will be appearing--"Ayana," in the Fall issue of The Paris Review, and "Mute," in the December issue of Playboy.

Posted 11 October 2007

Moorcock / Elric to be in Weird Tales

Jeff Vandermeer shared on his blog that a brand new Elric story by Michael Moorcock will be in Weird Tales Magazine sometime next year. Weird Tales, starting with an issue in the near future, will be edited by Jeff’s wife Ann Vandermeer.
Ann will begin posting on the Weird Tales blog soon enough, but in the meantime, I’m just too excited for her not to share that she’s taken a 17,000-word Elric story from Mike Moorcock for the 85th anniversary issue next year. A really great story, too.
Which just goes to remind me...I need to actually start reading the two issues of Weird Tales I have sitting at home (#344 and #345, I believe). One of them has a Kitty Norville story by Carrie Vaughn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 1
Red Seas Under Red Skies
Scott Lynch
Bantam / Spectra: 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamora was quite possibly the most exciting novel of 2006. Scott Lynch introduced us to The Gentleman Batards, a small gang of thieves from the city of Camorr with big aspirations to crime. Led by Locke Lamora The Gentleman Bastards attempted daring and complex crime on the highest levels of society for exorbitant sums of money. The Lies of Locke Lamora was fast paced, clever, and exciting. It was a fantastic debut from Lynch, but it set a very high bar for Lynch to meet with his second novel Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Lynch opens Red Seas with an impossible prologue. Impossible because it should not have happened. Impossible because it was inconceivable, except that Scott Lynch conceived of it. Sharing it feels like a spoiler, but because it is the first thing we read, it can't be. Jean Tannen betrays Locke Lamora. Sells him out. And THIS is what we get when we begin Red Seas Under Red Skies. An Impossible Prologue.

After the prologue, when the novel begins, we have no idea when exactly the betrayal happened. It lingers over the entire novel and we wonder when it will occur, and how, and damn it all, why?!

Lynch once again tells two stories: The "present day" and "reminiscence" chapters which brings the reader up to speed as to what happened in the two years after Lies and before Red Seas. Unlike what Lynch did in Lies, he only alternates for the first half of the book leaving the second half for straight storytelling.

Once again Locke and Jean, the surviving Gentleman Bastards from Lies, are working towards an impossibly big score. They seek to rob the Sinspire, an impenetrable gambling house. Cheating at the Sinspire means death. Robbing the Sinspire, well, that just might be worse than death. If this was the only problem Locke and Jean faced we might still have a good novel. But Scott Lynch mixes in pirates, the Bondsmagi, poison, betrayal, battles, fights, deception, and the leadership of Tal Verrar playing Locke and Jean in a game they cannot possibly hope to win.

In short, Scott Lynch packs as much into Red Seas Under Red Skies as he possibly can and still tell a coherent story.

Amazingly enough Red Seas does not get weighed down under a pile of staggering detail. It should, and the occasional digressions Lynch takes to just plop down several paragraphs of description and location should bring Red Seas to screeching halt, and yet it does not. Even with everything Scott Lynch packs into this novel he still tells a rollicking story that moves at a blistering pace while not skimping on description and character or plot. Red Seas has it all.

I had seen criticism that Red Seas could not possibly live up to the hype and excellence of The Lies of Locke Lamora. It is often difficult for a second novel to truly live up to the promise of the first because the first novel had that sense of discovery, but we know the characters and the setting in Book 2. The criticism I have seen mentions that Red Seas was something of a let down from Lies, but still better than most of what has been published this year.

I'll disagree. In no way is Red Seas Under Red Skies a let down from The Lies of Locke Lamora. Scott Lynch is just getting better here, he has improved on Lies, found a way to use the same structure in the first book but make it feel fresh and not be a slave that that same structure. He is possibly far to clever for his own good, but that's what makes The Gentleman Bastards so damn exciting. Reading this novel is pure pleasure. Somehow Red Seas is MORE exciting than the first book, and the new situations Locke finds himself getting into while trying to scheme his way through impossible situations...well, that's just what makes this so much fun.

Highly recommended, but read the first book first.

September 2007 Reading

1. Sky Coyote - Kage Baker
2. The Ocean and All Its Devices - William Browning Spencer
3. March - Geraldine Brooks
4. Blood and Iron - Elizabeth Bear
5. Currency of Souls - Kealan Patrick Burke
6. The Man from the Diogenes Club - Kim Newman
7. Wild Cards: Aces High - George R. R. Martin (editor)
8. Candy Girl - Diablo Cody
9. Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang
10. D*U*C*K - Poppy Z. Brite
11. Rainbows End - Vernor Vinge
12. Come Closer - Sara Gran
13. Bleak Seasons - Glen Cook
14. The Dry Salvages - Caitlin R. Kiernan
15. Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream - Aaron Allston
16. The Big Blow - Joe R. Lansdale
17. The Hides - Kealan Patrick Burke
18. Fast Forward 1 - Lou Anders (editor)
19. Bright of the Sky - Kay Kenyon


Book of the Month: Blood and Iron
Disappointment of the Month: Bleak Seasons
Discovery of the Month: Blood and Iron (so much better than I could have anticipated)
Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Stories of Your Life and Others (Ted Chiang really is that good)
Joe Lansdale of the Month - The Big Blow

2007 Months in Review
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
 
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