Friday, November 30, 2007

Whiskey and Water, by Elizabeth Bear

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Whiskey and Water
Elizabeth Bear
Roc: 2007

Seven years prior to the beginning of Whiskey and Water Matthew Magus and Jane Andraste fought a war against Faerie. Jane attempted to rescue her daughter, Elaine, a half human / half faerie who was at the time the Seeker of the Daonie Fae. The result of this war was Matthew betrayed Jane, the Prometheans destroyed, Elanie took the throne of the Daonie Sidhe, Matthew was left powerless and with a crippled right hand, and an uneasy truce between the Faerie and the humans of the Promethean Club.

Seven years later a woman is murdered in New York City. This, in itself, would not be unusual, but the murder was clearly Fae. This with a truce that has kept Faerie out of New York for seven years. Matthew, the Protector of New York, needs to find the killer. Jane Andraste, still alive, is rebuilding the Promethean Club, presumably to restart the war against Faerie.

But, wait. There's more.

Elizabeth Bear brings back Elaine and Carel the Merlin, and Whiskey, and most (if not all) of the living characters of Blood and Iron. More than this, and much more interesting than this, Elizabeth Bear mixes in Christopher Marlowe, Lucifer, Satan, the Archangel Michael, a trio of human twenty somethings who want to be faerie, interfighting amongst the faerie, betrayal, Lucifer's yearning for heaven, magic, new mages, and does so in a way that feels entirely fresh and original.

The result?

One beautifully written book that at 431 pages could easily have been three hundred pages longer and have lacked for nothing. Isn't that what a novel should be? A complete story that leaves the reader wanting more? Whiskey and Water is exactly that.

While the set up of the novel leads the reader to expect the resumption of an active war between human and faerie, the execution is far superior to that. Elizabeth Bear tells a story about stories, about how all stories are true, even when they aren't. The telling and retelling of a story is what makes it true and makes it real. Devils who were not around before the story was told are now real.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Whiskey and Water is the existence of heaven and hell, only there is just one heaven but multiple hells depending on the devil. With Lucifer (Christopher Marlowe's Lucifer) as a major character we get to see a bit of the perspective of the other side and how Hell relates to human and faerie. It would have been very easy for Bear to simply make Lucifer a sympathetic character just for the sake of shock or to be contrary, but Lucifer, like nearly every single character in the novel is a fully realized character with his own motivations and his own goals and wishes. That's what is so remarkable here, Bear has created numerous distinct characters with distinct voices and traits. They act in ways that may not even be convenient for the story, but are necessary for the character to be real.

Whiskey and Water is an expansion of Blood and Iron and though Elaine Andraste is relegated to being a secondary character, the importance of what happened seven years prior can not be overstated. The changes in the characters from Blood and Iron to this novel make sense.

Simply said, after all this, Whiskey and Water is an outstanding novel. It surpasses the already excellent Blood and Iron and showed Bear's development in storytelling and character, and should be counted as one of the best novels published in 2007.

I can only hope that Elizabeth Bear is able to sell more of her Promethean Age novels. Two more are due to be published in 2008, set back in 16th and 17th Century England (which makes me guess that Kit Marlowe and Will Shakespeare will play major roles), with a third novel sold but not scheduled. This leaves 8-9 novels on Bear's chronology left unwritten and unsold. If Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water are any gauge, and they should be, The Promethean Age could be one of the most oustanding fantasy series written and nearly every book would be standalone. I can only hope.

This Just In: Mainspring


Thanks to a contest over at the Fantasy Hot List I am the proud owner of Jay Lake's newest novel Mainspring.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Serenity Found

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Jane Espenson has another book of essays on Firefly and Serenity and somehow it came out and I completely missed it (thanks to SF Signal for the link). This one is called Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe. USA Today has an excerpt of Nathan Fillion's essay "I, Malcolm".

I'll have to see if I can procure a copy from my local library. The first collection, Finding Serenity, was an interesting assortment of essays, including one from Jewel Staite (she played Kaylee).

Exile's Song, by Marion Zimmer Bradley


Exile’s Song
Marion Zimmer Bradley
1996


With Exile’s Song Marion Zimmer Bradley returns to Darkover with a sequel to Sharra’s Exile, though set a number of years later. Margaret Alton is the daughter of Lew Alton, the Imperial Senator from Darkover. In Sharra’s Exile we had Lew’s story, but in the intervening years Lew told his daughter nothing about her heritage and Margaret is nearly estranged from her distant father. Instead Margaret is a musicologist, a scholar studying indigenous music on various planets. Along with her teacher, Ivor, Margaret is sent to Darkover and she is initially intrigued by this cold world. She experienced odd flashes of memory which she did not understand and soon after arriving Ivor died, leaving Margaret alone on a strange world which seems to be trying to reclaim her.

Margaret soon meets a cousin and hires a Renunciate to travel to collect the folk songs of Darkover, but between her visions and the hardships of travel, Margaret soon finds herself being pulled different ways as her large extended family attempt to lay claim to Margaret’s heritage. You see, Margaret is heir to the Alton Domain and as an unmarried woman and an untrained telepath, her emergence on Darkover is the catalyst for the troubles of others.

Exile’s Song slowly reveals Margaret’s heritage and her family’s history, as well as the history of Darkover, and throws Margaret into Darkovan politics.

The major issue is with this novel is that Exile’s Song features a half-hearted romance, and despite being the protagonist of the novel, Margaret Alton doesn’t do anything. She does not act. She barely responds to action, except with a refusal to marry or bend to local custom, until resolution occurs at the end of the novel. It seems that Margaret is simply swept along in a world she doesn’t understand and moves from point A to point B with no real intent at all.

Exile’s Song is a typical Darkover novel. It can be read without much understanding of Darkover, and I believe this is intentional. Most Darkover novels are written to stand alone, but that simple fact of standing alone leaves us with clumsy info dumps of detail that the long time Darkover reader will have been well aware of. Had the background been introduced subtly and in drips and drabs to give the story flavor, it might have been more effective, but as it stands, Bradley just throws it all at the reader in big chunks of exposition (throughout the novel). As always, Darkover novels are about the culture clash of Terrans with Darkovans, and any protagonist Bradley presents us with will naturally whether the culture clash easily. The villains are typically Darkovans who want everything to stay traditional with the “old ways” and / or Terrans who want to ruthlessly change everything. The middle ground is where the heroes lie, to protect Darkover while understanding that things can’t go back the way they were and that there needs to be a way to meet the Terran Empire but retain the Darkovan identity.

This novel reads quick and easy enough for a 400+ page novel that should be half the size, but it just is not very good. So little of note occurs in the novel and Margaret is such a weak protagonist that whatever story there is in Exile’s Song feels like a poor reflection of things that have been done before in stronger Darkover novels.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Small Beer Sale

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Small Beer Press is having a holiday sale. I picked up a copy of Kelly Link's anthology (not collection, she's the editor here) Trampoline (2003) for $5 including shipping. Not bad, eh? Regular price $8, but still. I've been interested in the anthology for a while now, and this is a good opportunity.

Unfinished - Dune: The Butlerian Jihad


Once upon a time I read the three Dune: House novels from Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did they not suck, the books were pretty good. These three novels from Herbert and Anderson did not have much of the feel or the depth that we would expect from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, but this was Frank’s son and they were working off of Frank’s notes and they told three reasonably fast paced stories which introduced Leto Atreides as a younger man and how he met Lady Jessica and overall so much of the background of the older characters we met in Dune.

For some reason I took a good five years before I read the next Dune prequel, the one set farthest back in the chronology Dune: The Butlerian Jihad. This book focuses on the war of humans against the thinking machines and the freedom of humanity. The after effects of the war reverberate thousands of years later in Dune and the later Dune novels. Important stuff, then. And again, from Frank Herbert’s notes. Moreover, these novels would introduce the enmity we will later see between the Atreides and Harkonnen families and as The Butlerian Jihad begins, Xavier Harkonnen is a hero for humanity, not devolved into the disfigured monster of Baron Harkonnen we meet in Dune.

Considering that the Dune: House novels were so fast paced and interesting, why then could I not finish Dune: The Butlerian Jihad? Even progressing as far as 150 pages was pure struggle and I had to force myself to read that far.

It’s not that the book is bad, per se, though I think it might be, but more that there is no flow. A war of humanity against thinking machines set in the background of the worlds that will become what we know so well, the origins of the Free Men of Dune and conquering the worms and the power of Spice...this should be fascinating stuff.

It’s not.

I can’t read this. It’s just not good.

The debate I have now is whether to re-read the last two Frank Herbert Dune novels (Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune). I know the first four novels well enough that I don’t need to re-read the full series, but I don’t know the last two novels well at all and the events that had been intriguing readers for years (the cliffhanger of Chapterhouse: Dune), well, I don’t remember it at all. So, I think I want to reread those two novels before I venture into the Dune 7 duology penned by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson from the extensive notes of Frank Herbert, but The Butlerian Jihad has kind of turned me off from this classic series. And that’s a shame. I’m just afraid that Dune 7 (Hunters and Sandworms) will be as bad as The Butlerian Jihad. God, I hope not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

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Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
2007


With his debut novel, Joe Hill has crafted an honestly scary story that begins with an aging rock star named Jude responding to an internet offer to purchase a ghost which has been put up for bid at an auction website (not eBay). When the ghost begins to actively haunt Jude we are thrust into a wild and scary story dealing with Jude’s response to the haunting and his need to get rid of the ghost messing with Jude and his girlfriend.

The descriptions of ghosts in Heart-Shaped Box has a bit of a Japanese horror feel to it (consider The Ring or The Grudge), and this otherwordly creepiness is what is more effective. The reader can feel a chill when Jude is haunted. There are short scenes that feel like the trailers to horror movies when something flashes in and out of view, and that’s what Hill gets across here. The fear and the alien-ness of the haunt. This is no case for TAPS.

While Joe Hill was acclaimed for his short fiction before this, Heart-Shaped Box was his first foray into novel length fiction and he proves more than capable. The storytelling is straightforward and Hill lays his cards on the table from the start. He reveals what is necessary when it is necessary, creates believable characters, and delivers the scary. A reader could not ask for more, and Hill should only get better which each subsequent novel.

Not to stress Joe Hill’s literary heritage, but he has delivered a much stronger debut novel than his father did (Stephen King – Carrie) and this bodes will for his career. Joe Hill is his own writer, though, and the choice not go with the last name of King while writing in the same genre only serves to emphasize this more. Joe Hill is his own writer with his own voice, and from the looks of Heart-Shaped Box, it is a damn strong one. He can stand on his own, and does so. He’s got me hooked.

Guy Gavriel Kay's World Fantasy Toastmaster Address

This seems to be making the rounds, but Guy Gavriel Kay has posted on his website the text of his Toastmaster’s address at this month’s World Fantasy Awards. This is of note because of his words about Robert Jordan’s recent passing. Kay notes that Jordan was never even nominated for a World Fantasy Award and that his impact of the field of fantasy should be acknowledged and celebrated.
We need to be large enough as a genre to acknowledge this without condescension. To note that editors and writers and publishers in this field flourish today because of Jordan's impact, that readers of fantasy find their favored genre centered in the culture now, and that the very recent, untimely passing of a profoundly important figure is worth remembering at the outset of a celebration.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Confessor, by Terry Goodkind

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Confessor
Terry Goodkind
Tor: 2007

With Confessor Terry Goodkind finally brings his long running Sword of Truth series to a close. At this point Richard Rahl is being held captive by Jagang's Empire and is using the sport of the Empire, some odd mix of rugby and quidditch, to be his opportunity to get a chance to strike at Jagang and to save his wife, Kahlan. Meanwhile Richard's grandfather Zedd and other friends (namely the Mord-Sith Cara, and the former Sister of Dark Nicci) are seeking a way to find Richard, stop the besieging army, rescue Kahlan, and all together save the day.

Your typical fantasy quest, though it has taken a long time to get into a position where there is a true end in sight.

This is the conclusion of the three book story arc of the Chainfire trilogy as well as wrapping up the entire Sword of Truth series. Kahlan still does not remember who she was due to the Chainfire spell, and Jagang's Sisters of Dark have put the Boxes of Orden in play (remember those boxes from Wizard's First Rule?)

If you have read this far in the series you know how everything has been set up and how Richard and Kahlan have gotten to this point. If you haven't, then go back and start from the first book (and stop when you lose interest).

How good is Confessor? That's the question.

Honestly, Confessor is a mixed bag of delights and frustration. Terry Goodkind writes some excellent and exciting action sequences. His descriptions of the action of quidditch, er... rugby, er... Ja' La - are superb. The danger and excitement of this bloodthirsty sport come alive and the final match and aftermath...stunning and breathtaking. Goodkind does action very well. He is creative in coming up with things I haven't seen before.

And then the characters open their mouths and start to speak and oh, dear lord, make them stop! Goodkind's characters do not converse, they do not dialog, they dictate and they lecture. Once a character gets a thought into his or her pretty little head - well, whatever point of philosophy that the character is making will cover paragraph after paragraph, page after page, until the reader is bludgeoned into submission. As is the character the speaker is communicating with. It's rough and Confessor is at its philosophical worst since Naked Empire.

So is Confessor any good? Mostly, partly, yeah, it is. Kind of. If you cut the two hundred pages or so of lecture, Confessor isn't half bad. Of course, this means it isn't half good, either, but Confessor provides a solid, if somewhat deus ex machina, ending to the series, wrapping up nearly every little storyline that has been introduced over the course of the series.

Another complaint is something that other readers will enjoy. Goodkind found a way to cram in nearly every minor and major character, both living and dead, that has appeared thus far in the series. Even those that hadn't been mentioned in 5+ books. I thought it was pointless and forced. Others will love this aspect of the story. I didn't.

The earliest work of Terry Goodkind was exciting fantasy, raw and gritty (if a bit gratuitous) and felt fresh and a pleasure to read. He seemed a worth successor to Robert Jordan (though Jordan had not gone anywhere at the time). As the series progressed Goodkind (through the vehicle of Richard Rahl) became more and more preachy and Richard's philosophy seemed to mirror Goodkind's philosophy, at least that which came out through interviews. It is in your face and demanding and off-putting. That Goodkind has a personal philosophy is one thing and separate from the novels. That he incorporates his philosophy into his fiction is fine. That the philosophy overshadows and overwhelms an actual story and plot and character...this is inexcusable.

Confessor is a mixed bag and only half as successful as it could have been. Chainfire (the novel) set up a great opportunity for a conclusion to the series, and while Goodkind did cross the finish line in, I imagine, a manner in which he is proud, but I feel that Confessor stumbled across the line with flashes of excellence.

At last, it is finished. Not with a bang, but with a fist thrust belligerently in the air. We would expect no less.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

This Just In: Books to Review

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Just received a package from Night Shade Books. Forthcoming reviews will be for The Sword-Edged Blonde, Sung in Blood, A Cruel Wind, and A Fortress in Shadow.

You'll note that three of them are by Glen Cook, including two Dread Empire omnibus editions. As it says on the page for A Cruel Wind:
Before there was Black Company, there was the Dread Empire.
Exciting! Likely, the first reviews will be for Sung in Blood followed by The Sword-Edged Blonde. Then I can settled down to the business of The Dread Empire novels.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This Just In: Asimov's - January 2008

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 0

The first issue of my Asimov's subscription arrived today. I had hoped it would be the December 2007 issue for the Connie Willis story, but this will do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Harlan Ellison - Pay the Writer!

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Why haven't I read the man's work yet? In a clip from the film Dreams With Sharp Teeth writer Harlan Ellison talks about, nay, rants about getting paid for an interview he gave for another documentary.

This doesn't have a blessed thing to do with the current writer's strike, and the strike is something I have pointedly avoided writing about, though I do have opinions, but this clip is just too good not to share (until it gets pulled from YouTube).

Warning - Ellison uses strong language.

Quick Takes: Sheila Williams, Daniel Keys Moran, Matthew Stover


Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology, by Sheila Williams (editor): This is one impressive anthology! That’s how I’ll start out my little blurb / whatever about the 30 year anthology from Asimov’s. Generally if I find myself enjoying at least half the stories in a collection or anthology I feel good about it. Lou Anders and his Fast Forward 1 was a shot in the arm with how good an original anthology could be. But this 30 year retrospective from Asimov’s Science Fiction, with stories covering all stages of the magazines growth – this is a doozy! There are Hugo winners galore, but it isn’t just a reprint of award winners. Many Hugo winners are left off, and to keep the length down Sheila Williams did not go with the longer novellas for this anthology. But from John Varley’s opening “Air Raid” through Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds”, work by Mike Resnick, the ubiquitous “Lobsters” by Charles Stross (seems I can’t go anywhere without tripping over this story), newer work by Kelly Link and Robert Reed (which would be the two of the three stories I had previously read and the two stories I did not care for) – this, if anything ever is, a Must Read anthology of science fiction. There is fiction from Isaac Asimov, Ursula LeGuin, Jonathan Lethem, Lucius Shepard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis and more. Give Lou Anders another thirty years and he should be able to come up with an anthology to match this one, but until then, go with this 30th Year Anthology from Asimov’s Science Fiction. Outstanding stories here, and the less impressive stories are merely good and quite fine on their own.



The Last Dancer, by Daniel Keys Moran: After having this book on my reading list since 2005 and having had a desire to read it for almost a decade more than that, I found The Last Dancer was available free online. Finally. This is the third volume of the Continuing Time series begun with the disappointing Emerald Eyes and continuing with The Long Run. It was The Long Run which I had read first, and which sucked me into this odd techno future of web dancers, AI, and a story of a man called “Trent the Uncatchable”. Parts of the story are hokey and clunky (most often character names...it shows, at times, that Moran created this world when he was a teenager), but generally The Long Run was a fast paced fun ride of a novel. Where the first book was about the entire Castanaveres family, and the second was about Trent, this third volume focuses mostly on Denise Castanaveres, one of the two living Castanaveres telepaths (Trent, though her brother, is not a telepath...just uncatchable). Denise hires herself out as a bodyguard to a politician she can mostly believe in (her personal moral code is central to the novel), and finds herself involved in a millennia old war between super humans. It is with The Last Dancer that the reader gets a hint of the scope of Continuing Time. There is a section nearly two thirds of the way through the book that Moran takes the focus off of Denise and tells the story of another set of characters only to return to Denise for the conclusion. This was off putting at first, but I was able to settle back in to the story. I can’t say that The Last Dancer is an outstanding work of fiction, but there is a good sense of adventure and fun (though everything is quite serious), and the reemergence of Trent in this volume is a treat, though even Trent is mostly serious. What I can say is that I enjoyed reading The Last Dancer and look forward to The AI War, which Moran is currently working on.



Traitor, by Matthew Stover: When I read Shatterpoint, the Clone Wars novel dealing with Mace Windu (aka Sam Jackson), I was impressed. That was a work of Star Wars fiction which really got to the darkness of the human soul in war time. The novel was a fine line of the Light vs Dark Side of the Force and Matthew Stover became a name for me to watch. I later read his novel Heroes Die, and it was clear that Stover can right some seriously badass fiction. Stover’s Traitor was one of the volumes of the New Jedi Order I was most looking forward to reading. Where other New Jedi Order authors were broadening the scope of this 19 book mini series, Stover delivered a deeply personal story. Jacen Solo had been missing and presumed dead for the last several volumes since his brother Anakin Solo was killed by the Vong. Because he was never shown to be clearly dead the reader’s assumption is that he was alive, just captured and shut off from the Force. Traitor is Jacen’s story and it keeps tight focus on Jacen and his captors, in particular the mysterious being Vergere. Jacen is imprisoned and tortured while Vergere teaches Jacen her version of the Force and life in general. It is a warped, twisted view that does not jive with everything Jacen has previously been taught, but there is a certain amount of consistency to it, too. Is Vergere teaching Jacen to betray the Jedi and the Galaxy? Does Vergere have another agenda? Whom does she serve, and what will Jacen believe? Traitor does not offer simple answers or a simple story, but thus far in the New Jedi Order it is easily the strongest story, for all the darkness. It is a personal story. It is one of the best Star Wars has to offer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wild Cards Interview

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George R. R. Martin points to an interview he did with SFF World earlier this year regarding his Wild Cards series. It’s a great interview, and only makes me more excited to read the rest of the Wild Cards volumes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This Just In: Apex Digest #6

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Thanks to Jim over at Shamus Writes I won a copy of Issue #6 of Apex Digest. This issue features stories by Ben Bova, Christopher Rowe, and, the reason I entered the contest in the first place - Mary Robinette Kowal.

I like receiving books and magazines and stuff in the mail. Makes me happy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On the Horizon: Q1 2008

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Now that the 4th quarter of 2007 is drawing to a close I want to look ahead to the books coming out in the first three months of 2008, at least those which have caught my eye and my interest.


January
Wastelands, by John Joseph Adams (editor): This anthology of post apocalyptic literature from the likes of Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, George R. R. Martin, M. Rickert, Tobias Buckell, and Elizabeth Bear is perhaps my most anticipated book of the coming year, and definitely of the coming quarter.

Duma Key, by Stephen King: New King is always worth a look. The story which provided the origin of the novel was published in the back of Blaze and while the story doesn’t have nearly enough to grab my interest, it’s a new Stephen King novel. That’s enough.

Dust, by Elizabeth Bear: I don’t know a thing about it except that it is by Elizabeth Bear and I so loved her Blood and Iron and expect to love Whiskey and Water...which makes a new Bear a Bear to be read.

Hunters’s Run, by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham: A new anything with George Martin’s name on it is enough to peak my interest.

Dragon Harper
, by Anne and Todd McCaffrey: Anne’s Pern output in recent years (like the last ten) have not been up to her previous standards and I’m still not sure how I feel about her son Todd continuing the line, but this is still a new Pern novel. Hit or miss, but I’ll be there.


February
Reaper’s Gale, by Steven Erikson: The seventh Malazan novel.

The New Weird, by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (editors): Hmm, maybe.



March
The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford: Is this a novel? Ford’s name catches my eye, but I have mixed feelings about his work.

A World Too Near, by Kay Kenyon: I reviewed Bright of the Sky off a review copy from Pyr. I didn’t love it, but it was impressive all the same. I’m curious where Kenyon takes the story next.


-list compiled from Locus


Looks like January is the month for exciting and interesting stuff, though Reaper’s Gale leaves a big footprint on the entire quarter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quick Takes: Nevada Barr, Aaron Allston, Stephen King

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Blind Descent, by Nevada Barr: The first third of Barr’s sixth Anna Pigeon mystery is creepy and confining as Anna travels into the world of caving to help rescue her friend Frieda, the dispatcher at the Mesa Verde Ranger station. Blind Descent is set in Carlsbad Caverns, in the mostly unexplored Lechuguilla caverns. Anna in the caverns where she thinks Frieda’s accident was no accident and Barr does a great job making the reader feel the tight spaces of the caverns and the crawling and climbing and the absence of light. When Anna is back out of the cave for the second half of the book (yes, a third and a half), Blind Descent becomes fairly standard storytelling and investigating until that last little bit back in the cave. Mostly well done, and I didn’t want to look away when the caving was on the page, but half the book outside the caves was bland. Wonder what Nevada Barr has for me in Liberty Falling.



Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand
, by Aaron Allston: While Allston’s X-Wing series was top notch, his two entries in the New Jedi Order have felt somewhat off, especially compared to Michael Stackpole’s earlier offerings in the NJO (comparing the two is fitting because Allston and Stackpole also wrote the X-Wing series, each with 4 or 5 novels there). What Allston does especially while in Enemy Lines is give well known characters personality and humor, as well as write some exciting space battles. But, overall the Enemy Lines novels have felt lacking. It is not that EL has been too light in tone compared to the other NJO novels, it is just that in whatever nebulous description of “good” or “exciting” or “fun” or “interesting” the two Allston entries didn’t have “it”. Still, they are better than a good half of the previous 11 NJO books...which overall speaks to the individual book quality of the NJO. I do enjoy the series arc and the character arcs going on and the next book, Stover’s Traitor...excellent.



Blaze, by Stephen King: Blaze is the final Bachman book, the last one of the novels King wrote back in the 70’s under the pen name Richard Bachman. It was only published in 2007, though, because years ago it was not good enough (this is from King’s introduction) and then it was lost, and now when King found it he was able to revise it and whip it into passable shape to be published under Richard Bachman’s name. So, basically, it was a trunk novel that got one more round of revisions and published because the writer’s name was “Stephen King”. Fair enough. I might do the same thing if I were King. The trouble is that Blaze reads like what it is, a novel that was not quite good enough to see the light during the 1970’s and early 80’s. Granted, better than Roadwork, but that doesn’t say too much. Blaze begins with what could have been an Of Mice and Men styled crime novel but the guy with a working brain got killed off and Blaze, the mentally handicapped one, is attempting to pull off one last big crime – kidnapping of a child for ransom...but all Blaze has is the echoes of his dead friend’s voice in his head and not much else. Despite flashes of interest and flashbacks to give us a better idea of who Blaze is, Blaze is a partial disappointment. The reason Blaze is not a complete disappointment is that Stephen King is completely up front with where Blaze came from, why he is publishing it, and the fact that it is a trunk novel. The partial disappointment is that some of the other Bachman books were quite good. The Long Walk: Excellent. The Running Man: Decent. (Rage and Roadwork – not so good). I’d skip this one, except to read all of Stephen King’s work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chapter 1 of Kitty and the Silver Bullet!

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Excitement!

Carrie Vaughn has posted the entire first chapter of the fourth Kitty Norville novel Kitty and the Silver Bullet.

Last year I won the first two Kitty novels (Kitty and the Midnight Hour and Kitty Goes to Washington) in a contest over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and that was my introduction to the world of Kitty Norville and her fellow lycanthropes. It wasn’t something I was terribly interested in at the time, but Vaughn’s storytelling and the character of Kitty, the host of a midnight radio show about the supernatural and a werewolf herself just pulled me right in and now a new Kitty Norville novel is something that I look forward to. Good stuff.

The Sagan Diary!

Thanks to John Joseph Adams for this!

I've been way slack in my short fiction reading lately so I had not checked Subterranean Online recently. Subterranean has published online, for free, John Scalzi's novella The Sagan Diary!!!

I know what I'll be reading today.

21st Century Fairy Tales

The UK paper The Guardian “challenged three writers to come up with fairy tales fit for the 21st century

Stories are by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife), Hilary Mantel (?), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus)

These should be interesting. I really like Niffenegger and am waiting impatiently for a new novel. Her short story over at Amazon is a fun little thing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

200

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Last night I finished the 200th book I have read so far this year. Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill. That’s one scary, scary book. It is scary in ways that Stephen King seldom has been, and touches on some of that other worldy creepiness of some of the recent imported Japanese horror flicks. It’s one hell of a debut novel.

I may reach 225 books on the year, but I think 250 is out of reach.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quick Takes: Frank Warren, Jonathan Lethem, Joe Lansdale

Saturday, November 10, 2007 3


A Lifetime of Secrets, by Frank Warren: This is easily the best and strongest of the four PostSecret collections (except possibly the first). A Lifetime of Secrets is quite a bit longer than the previous two collections and this is its strength. More content for the dollar. Organized in a sort of chronological order from secrets about childhood to secrets of old age, A Lifetime of Secrets is exactly what the title says. If the PostSecret website is something you enjoy, you’ll like this. Getting glimpses into these most personal secrets, hopes, fears, betrayals, sorrows, griefs, and things kept hidden – both serious and silly – is part privilege, part curiosity, but almost always fascinating.



You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem: A brief, lightweight novel from Jonathan Lethem dances around an almost up-and-coming band and follows the bass guitarist through her life and job as a Complaints line phone operator (not for a company, as an art project, people can call and complain about anything) uses the complaints for lyrics and the rise and fall of the band and various personal issues. At times the novel is as interesting and good as it can be, mostly it is not. This is minor Lethem, unfortunately. The man who wrote Motherless Brooklyn, and The Fortress of Solitude is not here. The man who wrote Gun, With Occasional Music and As She Climbed Across the Table is also not here. Though short, You Don’t Love Me Yet reads like a Woody Allen meets Don DeLillo (think Great Jones Street, not his stronger work) meets Dave Eggers (The You Shall Know Our Velocity Eggers, not the earnest and intelligent and quirky Eggers from his memoir) mish mash. Lethem has been one hell of a writer and will be again, but this is a misfire.



Retro Pulp Tales, by Joe R. Lansdale (editor): Joe Lansdale brings together a collection of contemporary authors writing stories in the style of the pulps from the 40’s. Overall this is a fun, stylish collection, but after reading a handful of stories by interest began to wane. Norman Partridge’s story at the end is worth the price of admission, but the overall styling started to grate just a little bit. The fun part of this collection is that we’ve got stories that feel realistic (yet sometimes with that sepia tone of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), yet there is a bit of weirdness happening just off the page that is influencing the story and our reading of it. I believe this is a much praised collection, and rightly so, but the pulps are also not my kind of story and not what truly interests me as a reader. Still...worth checking out if only for the Partridge story.

Friday, November 09, 2007

the things you find

Friday, November 09, 2007 0
Midway through my reading of Stephen King’s last Bachman book Blaze I find a note from some previous patron “look for Ace’s DVD @ lake”

It’s just a reminder from a random person who read this book before me (it’s not that good, if you want to know), but I wonder what that means. Who is Ace? What DVD? Which lake? What if it is a code and the DVD is something else but served as a reminder for that unnamed thing?

What’s the story behind the note and what else could the story be?

Hmm.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker

Thursday, November 08, 2007 0

Mendoza in Hollywood
Kage Baker
2000



Mendoza in Hollywood is Kage Baker’s third novel about the Company operatives tasked to preserve missing historical artifacts and planet and animal life which would otherwise become extinct. The operatives work for the Dr. Zeus Company and due to the scientific discoveries of the 24th Century, the operatives are once human, but now immortal cyborgs. Baker’s first Company novel, In the Garden of Iden, introduced us to both The Company and to Mendoza, a Spanish child saved from the Inquisition and made more and less than human to work for The Company as a Botanist. In that first novel she fell in love with a mortal man but had to watch him die because the Company could not and would not intervene. She grew bitter and disillusioned and betrayed and spent centuries working alone in the California wilderness during the 1700’s. Now, during the 1860’s, Mendoza is assigned to the region which would eventually develop into Hollywood. California in the 1860’s was a rough place, but Mendoza is not alone. She joins a crew of operatives with their own tasks of recording the culture of the region, taking samples of the local fauna, and a variety of other jobs to do for The Company.

When Mendoza in Hollywood opens, however, Mendoza is narrating her story to Company interrogators. We learn early that Mendoza has killed several mortals, which is an absolute taboo for The Company. Mendoza in Hollywood is narrated by Mendoza in captivity as an explanation for how she got to the point where she would and could kill mortals and why she did so. This is hanging over every part of the novel, that at some point Mendoza may snap and kill and we don’t know why. Mendoza is upset about the new assignment, but she also seems to enjoy the company of her fellow operatives.

Kage Baker takes us on a journey through the Hollywood wilderness before it became Hollywood. Because of the nature of the Immortals, Baker is able to reference hundreds of years of Hollywood history, some of which we know and some of which has not happened yet. There are screenings of classic movies, and a tour of the future homes of celebrities. But, Mendoza in Hollywood is also the story of a very emotionally broken Immortal. Mendoza has accepted the death of Nicholas, but hundreds of years later she still has not gotten over it. It changed her irrevocably.

With each novel Kage Baker tells a very different story. In the Garden of Iden was partly a Victorian romance, Sky Coyote was a classic trickster tale of indigenous culture. Mendoza in Hollywood is a western complete with bandits and prostitutes. With each novel Kage Baker develops what we know and suspect of The Company. There are further more references to that mysterious year in the future where there is no further information coming from The Company and speculation as to what that means (though less speculation than in Sky Coyote). There are little tidbits that build the reader’s understanding and sense of wonderment about the greater world of the future even as the characters are slowly making their way through the past.

The Company novels have improved steadily with each new entry. Mendoza in Hollywood is a stronger piece of fiction and storytelling than either In the Garden of Iden or Sky Coyote was, and Sky Coyote was an entertaining story indeed. Finishing Mendoza in Hollywood serves to whet my appetite for the next Company novel The Graveyard Game.



Thinking about the conclusion of Mendoza in Hollywood makes me question something of the nature of time travel in regards to The Company novels. Since time travel requires that a person can only move backwards in time and forward only up to the original departure time, what happens if an operative is working in one time period (A) and is subsequently sent back farther in time (B)? If said operative is not moved from the time period he or she is sent to (B) would not said operative from (B) eventually co-exist at the same time as the operative was originally in (A)?

That may not have made sense.

Let me try again. I was born in 1979 and in 2007 I am a Company operative working to preserve the great novels lost to history. After I preserve the works of Matthew Stover (for example) I am sent back to 1712 to do something literary. Now, I already existed between 1979 and 2007 otherwise I could not have been sent back in time to 1712. I’m immortal, so I’ll live forever. If nothing else changes I will live from 1712 back to 1979-2007. Because I had to exist in 1979 in the first place (otherwise this is all moot) starting in 1979 there has to be two of me existing at the same time: the me born in 1979 and the me that was sent back in time.

So how does that work? Obviously the me born in 1979 will do whatever I did until 2007 when I was sent back in time...but isn’t there a potential paradox or conflict with two of me existing at the same time? I know Back to the Future solves this by having the time traveling Marty / Doc not reveal himself to the past Marty / Doc, but wouldn’t that still cause an issue if I wanted to check in on myself in high school or elementary school? Or is the problem solved by the fact that had the older Joe actually interfered in young Joe’s life I would have remembered it because it had happened and changed nothing because it had to happen?

And my head just exploded.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

other journals

Wednesday, November 07, 2007 0
Matthew Cheney (the Mumpsimus) has an article up at Strange Horizons titled “The Discerning Reader of Fantastic Literature’s Guide to Literary Journals” and in it Cheney identifies some of the journals / magazines which might otherwise be viewed as “mainstream” and certainly “nongenre” but yet publish works that gross the boundaries of genre and “mainstream” “traditional” “literature”. Works of the “fantastic”, in a variety of senses.

It’s a good read.

2005

I have a Word document which I titled “Great Big SciFi Fantasy List” and it is the my “To Read” list of the SFF genre. Or, a partial list. If I put everything I wanted to read it would grow unwieldy and I might never make progress. Sometimes I add books only to drop them off months or years later because I just don’t have enough interest to keep them on the list.

I still have books from 2005 on my list. Not books published in 2005, mind you, but books I put on my list in 2005. At one time I put every volume of a series I was interested in on the list, but that was before I realized that I might not like the first book in the series. This is the 2005 portion of my Great Big list.

The Last Dancer - Daniel Keys Moran (Continuing Time 3)
The Bonehunters - Steven Erikson (Malazan 6)
Reaper's Gale - Steven Erikson (Malazan 7)
The Healthy Dead - Steven Erikson (Bauchelain 2)
Fool's Errand - Robin Hobb (Tawny Man 1)
The Looking Glass Wars - Frank Beddor
The Knight - Gene Wolfe (Wizard Knight 1)
The Darkness that Comes Before - R Scott Bakker (Prince of Nothing 1)
Pandora's Star - Peter F Hamilton

I fully expect to enjoy Fool’s Errand as I was a fan of Hobb’s previous work and loved her Liveship Traders trilogy. Gene Wolfe’s The Knight is said to be one of his more accessible novels, but after New Sun I am leery. I like Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, so moving to Pandora’s Star won’t be a problem.

I am currently (and finally) reading The Last Dancer. It took me years to find a copy of the book and only now because Moran has allowed the full text to be available online.

In my hold queue at the library I’ve got The Bonehunters and The Darkness that Comes Before. Excited for both.

If I can find a library copy of The Healthy Dead, I’ll be very happy. There is one library that I can interlibrary loan from that has the book, but each time I try I find the copy is out to a patron, please try again in six months. Frustrating.

And, I better check out The Looking Glass Wars before I lose all interest in it. I’m close to dropping it from my list and forgetting all about it for the next five years.

The 2006 list is longer, but now that I’m working through the rest of the Darkover novels again 2006 should run faster (plus there are 3 Malazan novels in the 2006 section that have not been published in the US yet)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bears! I've to read this!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007 1
I’ve been slack on reading short fiction lately (though I did finally finish that issue of Weird Tales), but I stopped by Strange Horizons and there is a new story by Leah Bobet up. I mostly liked her previous SH story.

This one, however, has a bloody brilliant hook.
Ninety-eight percent of all fictional deaths are directly attributable to being eaten by bears.

Bullshit, you say? What about those shooting and stabbings and drownings and beatings and death by Doomed Gay Manlove?

Well, it's not my problem if you can't see the bears.
I have no idea what the rest of the story is about yet, but I loooooooooove this opening.

SF Diplomat and The Merchants' War

SF Diplomat reviews The Merchants’ War

McCalmont writes:
I was a huge fan of the first two novels in the series. I happily reviewed The Family Trade and The Hidden Family and gave both books solid reviews. Seeing as the two books were originally written as one novel, it is perhaps unsurprising that they should be of similar quality. However, when the third novel appeared, I quickly devoured it but could not help but feel a bitter taste in my mouth. I suddenly had the horrible feeling that the series has lost it’s way and, despite the series since earning Stross a Sidewise Award for Alternate History, I imagine that a number of other people might have been put off by the third novel too.
Actually, I have an odd feeling for this series. I was put off by The Family Trade, but thought The Hidden Family was solid and really got me going with the storytelling. The Clan Corporate was another turn off and I would agree with McCalmont in the series losing its way. It brings me to the beginnings of a Fred Saberhagen theory (1980’s pitcher for the Kansas City Royals). For a number of years Saberhagen would have outstanding years in the odd years. Even years he was merely a good pitcher. Books 1 and 3 were weak, I though (and I still can’t get over that awful opening of The Family Trade where Miriam “dives into her closet” and “rips open a bag of clothing with her teeth”. The quotes may not be exact, but Miriam dove and ripped and this is an accurate representation of the opening. So, if The Merchants’ War turns out to be the best of the series so far, then my Saberhagen theory (flipped to the “Even” books will begin to hold up.

McCalmont continues:
This cerebral approach to story-telling explains Stross’ attraction for what are essentially spy stories but given the amount of action that does go on in The Merchants’ War, you can tell that it’s a pattern he’s trying to break. As a result, the book is arguably the best the series has seen since the first book and it is miles away from the frustrating and introverted The Clan Corporate. The Merchants’ War is a proper adventure story and it’s a load of fun to read as a result.
God, I hope so.

And I also find myself wanting to quote larger and larger blocks of McCalmont’s review. He’s got me excited for the new book and the new directions Stross is taking the series, but also just because I love how McCalmont clearly lays out salient points about the novel / series without slipping into simple plot description. This is a review I aspire to write one day.

Best Books of the Year?

Abigail Nussbaum points out that Publisher's Weekly has listed their Best Books of 2007 and observes that November 5 is a wee bit early to post a Best Of list.

I agree completely. There are two more months of reading to be done and I expect I'll read some solid 2007 publications (and then there is the Best I've Read 2007 list), but sort of like putting up Christmas lights early, shouldn't we at least wait until after Thanksgiving?

Notable from the PW List (it's a really big list broken into categories)
Falling Man - Don DeLillo (I can't agree with this choice)
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill (I have a copy at home, will read it soon)
Acacia - David Anthony Durham (I agree wholeheartedly!)
Bright of the Sky - Kay Kenyon (disagree, but I know the book is quality)
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (I've heard nothing but praise)
The Winds of Marble Arch - Connie Willis (her retrospective collection, can't wait to read it)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling (yep)


And then PW closes by agreeing with me about The Almost Moon:
Expectations were high for Sebold's follow-up to The Lovely Bones, but the book—about a woman who kills her aging, infirm mother—is...not good.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

October 2007 Reading

Sunday, November 04, 2007 1
1. Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
2. Ragamuffin – Tobias Buckell
3. The New Space Opera – Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (editors)
4. Acacia – David Anthony Durham
5. A Handbook of American Prayer – Lucius Shepard
6. Sky Horizon – David Brin
7. Lisey's Story - Stephen King
8. Alabaster - Caitlin R. Kiernan
9. The Elves of Cintra - Terry Brooks
10. The Complete Peanuts: 1965-1966 - Charles M. Schulz
11. Writers - Nancy Crampton
12. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians - Brandon Sanderson
13. The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson
14. Overclocked - Cory Doctorow
15. Murder in LaMut - Raymond E. Feist and Joel Rosenberg
16. The World Wreckers - Marion Zimmer Bradley
17. D. A. - Connie Willis
18. Four and Twenty Blackbirds - Cherie Priest
19. The Stand - Stephen King

(links, as always, to my reviews)

Best Novel of the Month: Red Seas Under Red Skies
Discovery of the Month: Acacia
Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Disappointment of the Month: The Elves of Cintra
Worst Book of the Month: Murder in LaMut
Great Short Fiction: Overclocked
Novella: D. A.


Books Read So Far: 191

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Heliotrope 3 Live!

Saturday, November 03, 2007 0
Heliotrope Issue #3 is live and available online for free.

I was not too impressed with the first two issues, but considering how well they pay I hope / expect to see some stronger fiction from Heliotrope.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Strange Horizons Reviews the WFA Novel Nominees

Friday, November 02, 2007 0
Reviews from Strange Horizons on all of the Novel Nominees for the World Fantasy Awards (going on now)

Soldier of Sidon
In the Night Garden
The Lies of Locke Lamora
Privilege of the Sword
Lisey’s Story
- the Lisey’s Story review says everything I wish I did say about the novel.

This Just In: 20th Century Ghosts


Thanks a contest run by Fantasy Book Critic I received a copy of 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill.

Excitement! This will be a good Joe Hill month. I also have Heart-Shaped Box out from the library.

Weird Tales Cover


I really dig the new Weird Tales cover from Laura Wachter. Some of her other art can be seen here. The original artwork from 2006 used for this cover is here.

Which only serves to remind me that I need to finish the issues I have at home (#344 and #345). I’m almost done with #344 and I've been very impressed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fantasy Magazine Online!

Thursday, November 01, 2007 2
Fantasy Magazine has now made the shift to an online magazine. Fresh content, including two new stories are available.

My only gripe right now is just that when I tried to link the stories, I couldn't, because the story's address does not show in the address bar.

This will make sharing some of the great stories I expect out of Fantasy a little bit difficult.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds, by Cherie Priest

Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Cherie Priest
Tor: 2005



First off we will heap praise on the beautiful cover art for Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Heap. Heap. Now, about the book. Cherie Priest starts off her debut novel with a young girl in her first years of elementary school. Eden has to free draw something and as she explains to the teacher, the three grey figures are ghosts. Skip forward a few years and a few years again. The opening chapters of Four and Twenty Blackbirds give background on Eden, about what she sees, and about what other people know or suspect about her. About the young boy who tried to kill her, thinking she was somebody long dead. Skip forward a few more years when Eden is an adult but still living with her aunt in Chattanooga. This is when the main thrust of the story begins, though everything that came before is essential to who Eden is and what this is about. Eden Moore can see ghosts, her cousin believes that she is the reincarnation of some evil ancestor, the ghosts can see Eden, and Four and Twenty Blackbirds weaves family history, southern traditions, ghosts, horror, genealogy, a young woman discovering who she is, and people trying to keep things hidden so the hurt can’t get out. In short, Four and Twenty Blackbirds is one impressive debut.

Cherie Priest takes us from the mountains of eastern Tennessee to the swamps of Florida, with a stop in Georgia for good measure. These are locations, places that Priest brings to life. Through her description the city of Chattanooga becomes a real place and more than a dot on a map or a name on a sign. There is a sense of history and connection to the region. Having driven past Chattanooga to get to I-75 I recognized some of the names of the mountains and historic attractions, but Priest makes them sing. Somehow Cherie Priest also made the ghostly / supernatural aspect feel natural, though more than a little creepy. Eden’s fear and unease jumps off the page and lodges in the middle of the reader’s chest. Details are revealed in their own time, in a manner that perfectly fits the story. Four and Twenty Blackbirds lets the story spin out like a hot southern night. Slow and easy, but at a pace that works.

It is not until the near the conclusion of the novel that Four and Twenty hits anything that might be construed as a wrong note. When the big confrontation occurs things get a bit confused. What, exactly, is happening? How? Why? I felt disjointed in those last chapters. The actual events make sense in terms of Eden’s actions and what she experienced, but in terms of story the conclusion confused.

With that said, the whole of Four and Twenty Blackbirds was a beautiful, haunting (literally) novel that gave a definite sense of place and a strong lead character in Eden Moore. This is the sort of ghost story I want to read more of. Good thing there are two more Eden Moore novels.

Time to go find the next volume at the library.

Well worth my time, and yours.
 
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