Friday, February 29, 2008

February 2008 Reading

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1. Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein
2. Birthright - Mike Resnick
3. Wings to the Kingdom - Cherie Priest
4. The Merchants' War - Charles Stross
5. Kitty and the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn
6. Under My Roof - Nick Mamatas
7. The New Moon's Arms - Nalo Hopkinson
8. The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie
9. The Widowmaker Reborn - Mike Resnick

(above links are to the reviews)

Best Read of the Month: The Blade Itself

Worst Read of the Month: The Widowmaker Reborn – This isn’t a bad read at all, but compared to everything else I read, it wasn’t nearly as strong.

Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Under My Roof.

Disappointment of the Month: None.


Previous 2008 Reads
January

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Story of Love!

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Fantasy Magazine has posted Vera Nazarian's Nebula Nominated Short Story "The Story of Love". (thanks to the nice people at SF Awards Watch for the link)

This leaves only two stories not available online.

"The Fiddler of Bayou Teche" - Delia Sherman (The Coyote Road)
"The Children's Crusade" - Robin Wayne Bailey (Heroes in Training)

Sly Mongoose: Chapter One

Tobias Buckell has posted the first chapter of his forthcoming novel Sly Mongoose (the third of a loose series beginning with Crystal Rain and continuing with Ragamuffun...good books, those, check 'em out).

While I don't normally read chapters posted online of stuff I have every intention of reading when published, I might have to make an exception for this.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Free Unique Chicken!

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Outstanding! Night Shade Books has posted the complete text to Andy Duncan's Nebula nominated story "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse". The story is available in a variety of formats.

Thank you, nice people at Night Shade.

Free Nebula Stories

Here are some additional free Nebula stories:

Terry Bramlett’s novelette “Child, Maiden, Woman, Crone” from Baen’s Universe (thanks to SF Signal).

"The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change", by Kij Johnson, from The Coyote Road.

"Awakening", by Judith Berman - from The Black Gate.


The full list has been updated with the above three stories and can be found here.

The Nebula stories not available online are as follows:
"The Fiddler of Bayou Teche" - Delia Sherman (The Coyote Road)
"The Children's Crusade" - Robin Wayne Bailey (Heroes in Training)
"Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse" - Andy Duncan (Eclipse 1)
"The Story of Love" - Vera Nazarian (Salt of the Air)

Hopefully the authors or publishers will release those stories as well.

From The Coyote Road

This weekend I had the opportunity to read the two novelettes from The Coyote Road, an anthology of “trickster” stories (plus the Will Shetterly story but that’s just because I wanted to read his story before his first Shadow Unit entry came up).

First up was “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche” by Delia Sherman. As a trickster story we did have a couple of interesting and nearly rigged bets (as the trickster is looking only for a good trick to benefit himself), but I felt nothing during the story. I know that I’m not necessarily supposed to feel empathy for the characters, but I didn’t care, either, about anything in the story. I don’t think I would have even nominated this one.

Next was Kij Johnson’s "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change". Heartbreaking. So much of reading is as much what the reader brings to the book as what the writer brings to the reader. I am a dog owner. Kij Johnson’s story of dogs abandoned after “The Change” just kills because the dogs’ basic nature hasn’t changed, just the fact that they can now speak. From the very start this was a moving story and Johnson did not let up. Stories are more than concepts, though, there has to be execution and I think that Kij Johnson nailed this one. The format has several different stories being told, some by the dogs, others of the main storyline of a woman visiting North Park to see the dogs and help them out as she can.

As for the Will Shetterly story. I liked it. I much prefer Kij Johnson’s story, but Shetterly’s was better than the nominated Delia Sherman story.

The whole “Trickster” tale concept isn’t one that really appeals to me as a reader, so despite a Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford story still unread in the anthology, I’m sending The Coyote Road back to the library with only three stories read. They were the three I really wanted to read.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

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The Blade Itself
Joe Abercrombie
Pyr: 2007


Mr. Abercrombie may have to continue to chase that elusive and perfect 10/10 review of his fiction. The Blade Itself falls short of perfection, though if we really want to get right down to it, no novel or story should ever achieve a perfect rating because nothing is absolutely perfect. I say this, of course, in full expectation that Mr. Abercrombie will someday read this and bring down the full force of his wrath and scorn upon those who dare give him less than his due. Does this make me fearful? I tell you now, sir, that it does not. I am fully braced with my back against the wall. I can take it. To hedge my bets, I have also hired mutant attack dogs with grenade launchers attached to their heads, the Shrike, Rodents of Unusual Size, and a couple of accountants. I think I’m covered.

The Blade Itself is one of the more recommended books I’ve seen cross my mental radar in the last few years. The only other books that compare, in terms of hype, are The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Name of the Wind. That’s pretty heady company because The Lies of Locke Lamora has lived up to the hype. I can’t speak for The Name of the Wind because I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Mr. Abercombie opens The Blade Itself with a little prologue of a chapter called, interestingly enough, “The End”. It is a chase sequence with Logen Ninefingers running from some beings called The Shanka. There is some battle, more chase, and a leap presumably to the death. In other fantasies this opening prologue would conclude with Logen dead and the reader wondering what this Shanka invasion is all about. The rest of the world wouldn’t know about it. This is *not* what Mr. Abercrombie does here. “The End” is the beginning and the very next chapter deals with the after effects of “The End” and with Logen having escaped in a very exciting manner.

After a couple of Logen chapters Mr. Abercrombie begins to introduce the two other primary viewpoint characters in this novel: Inquisitor Glotka, a crippled former soldier turned torturer; and Jezal, a young pompous ass of a nobleman training for a sword fighting competition. While Jezal is, in many ways, na├»ve to the ways the world outside the particular sphere of nobility works (and to be honest, he could care less), Jezal is not your average heroic fantasy hero. I expect Jezal to make something of the hero’s journey over the new two volumes and change his outlook from the pompous asshood of his inexperience to somewhat more worldly and understanding once he actually has to be out in the world, fight, live, and work with those from different political / social stations. I do not expect, however, Jezal to be the singular hero other fantasy novels work with. This is not a kitchen boy / farm boy fantasy.

The most interesting aspect of The Blade Itself is the character of Sand dan Glotka, Inquisitor. Glotka physically is a broken man. He was tortured for two years and was left crippled, unable to eat solid food and barely able to walk. His existence is pain. But Glotka was once a man of great strength, he was a former swordsman, a former champion, a formerly dashing and bold man. Now Glotka is hurt, angry, and a member of the Inquisition. He takes no pleasure from his job or from his existence, but he has value to the state. He roots out treason one torture at a time. Glotka is fascinating in ways that are reminiscent of Tyrion Lannister from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but unlike Tyrion, Glotka was made the way he is. Glotka had everything taken away from him when he was captured. Tyrion was born misshapen. What makes Glotka so interesting, besides his brutally sharp tongue, is the contrast of his former life which can be personified in Jezal (though Jezal does not have the class or talent that Glotka did) to Glotka’s present existence as a cripple. It pervades every little bit of movement and thought of Glotka’s life. Rather than being ponderous or overdone, Mr. Abercrombie somehow walks the line of keeping Inquisitor Glotka edgy versus delving too deep into the pathos of his situation.

I have no idea what that means. “The pathos of his situation.” But it sounds good, so I’m keeping it.

With Logen, Jezal, and Glotka as the lens through which we see this world Mr. Abercrombie has created the reader is given an action packed and intelligent debut novel (and man, can Abercrombie write an action sequence! Good God, the man writes action like a dream...a dream where there is brutal violence visualized in crisp detail). The Blade Itself is such a set up that as the novel progresses the scope of the world and the threat grows ever larger as more and more hints are given as to what, exactly, is going on.

There is so much going on in The Blade Itself. There are fascinating characters, political maneuvering a plenty, sword-play, action, a dash of romance, class politics, a variety of cultures, more action, magic, empires and feudal warlords, still more action, foul language, inventive language, something called action – all this, and more. The Blade Itself has something for everyone all wrapped up in a violent, action packed, sometimes profane package.

And I like it.

A lot.

Still, Joe Abercrombie will have to continue his quest for the perfect 10/10 review. There are two reasons I am willing to go into which will explain why I cannot give a 10/10 review for The Blade Itself.

1) The Blade Itself does not have a true ending. It is not a complete book in and of itself. The success of The Blade Itself will ultimately hinge on how successful volumes two and three are. The best way to describe this is that the novel reads and concludes as if Mr. Abercrombie took a 1500 page novel, chopped it into three parts and published Part I as The Blade Itself. So, if Volumes Two and Three are as strong or stronger than Part I, my estimation of The Blade Itself will go up. If Books Two and Three fall victim to the Suck Monster, I will think of The Blade Itself as a great opening, but not something I can confidently recommend because of the next two books. With all of that said, I have the utmost confidence in Joe Abercrombie to write two more kick ass novels and really deliver on the promise of The Blade Itself. He promises quite a bit with this novel.

2) I don’t grade my reviews with numerical values. Nyah!

So, that’s it. The Blade Itself is one helluva impressive debut novel, one that compares favorably to the other much hyped fantasy novels of the past three years, one that sets its own bar in terms of expectation, and one which I will be quite pleased to read the two sequels to.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blood Groove

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Just saw this little tidbit over at The Swivet:
Alex Bledsoe's BLOOD GROOVE, the first book in a new series with a vampire who resurrects sixty years after being staked to find a drastically changed world and more peril than he ever expected, to Paul Stevens at Tor, for publication in April 2009, by Marlene Stringer at Barbara Bova Literary Agency (World English).
Good for Mr. Bledsoe. I have read and reviewed his debut novel The Sword-edged Blonde published by Night Shade Books. Loved it. He has a second Eddie LaCrosse novel, Lumina (Burn Me Deadly), due out October 2008 from Night Shade which I have high hopes for.

I'm excited for this sale and can't wait to see what Bledsoe does with Blood Groove.

Friday, February 22, 2008

more nebula nominees.

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Mary Turzillo's “Pride” is available now and is from Lou Anders' Fast Forward 1 anthology (great anthology, well worth checking out)

There is an excerpt of Judith Berman’s “Awakening” over at Black Gate, but I'd much rather have a full story and I don't think I'll read the excerpt.

The Nebula list is updated with “Pride”, but not with the exerpt of “Awakening”

I’ve ordered the Heroes in Training anthology as well as Vera Nazarian’s The Salt of the Air. Coyote Road is on its way, as is Eclipse 1.

This should catch me up on the anthologized / collected short stories nominated for the Nebulas. I just have to read the rest and find the ones not already available online.

Final Nebula Ballot: 2008

I pulled this from Scalzi's website and I'm trying to find this on the SFWA's website

THE 2008 NEBULA AWARDS BALLOT

Novels
Odyssey - Jack McDevitt
The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union - Michael Chabon
The New Moon’s Arms - Nalo Hopkinson
Ragamuffin - Tobias Buckell

Novellas
Kiosk” - Bruce Sterling (F&SF, Jan07)
Memorare” - Gene Wolfe (F&SF, Apr07)
Awakening” - Judith Berman (Black Gate 10, Spr07)
Stars Seen Through Stone” - Lucius Shepard (F&SF, Jul07)
The Helper and His Hero” - Matt Hughes (F&SF, Feb07 & Mar07)
Fountain of Age” - Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, Jul07)

Novelettes
“The Fiddler of Bayou Teche” - Delia Sherman (Coyote Road, Jul07)
Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” - Geoff Ryman (F&SF, Nov06)
The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change” - Kij Johnson (Coyote Road, Jul07)
Safeguard” - Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, Jan07)
“The Children’s Crusade” - Robin Wayne Bailey (Heroes in Training, Sep07)
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” - Ted Chiang (F&SF, Sep07)
Child, Maiden, Mother, Crone” - Terry Bramlett (Jim Baen’s Universe 7, June 2007)

Short Stories
Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse” - Andy Duncan (Eclipse 1, Oct07)
Titanium Mike Saves the Day” - David D. Levine (F&SF, Apr07)
Captive Girl” - Jennifer Pelland (Helix, Oct06)
Always” - Karen Joy Fowler (Asimov’s, May07)
Pride” - Mary Turzillo (Fast Forward 1, February 2007)
The Story of Love” - Vera Nazarian (Salt of the Air, Sep06)


I will link the rest of the stories when they are available and then I'll start discussing each category as I read the stories.

Initial thought: Fantasy and Science Fiction had a very good year.
Second thought: I really wish Mary Robinette Kowal was nominated for "For Solo Cello, op. 12", but it shouldn't come as a surprise that I am a fan of her's.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kitty and the Silver Bullet, by Carrie Vaughn

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Kitty and the Silver Bullet
Carrie Vaughn
2008


Now with her fourth offering Carrie Vaughn is about to bring Kitty Norville full circle. Once a timid and abused werewolf who was exiled from her hometown of Denver for standing up for herself; Kitty Norville is a successful radio host who (over the course of the last three books) has found herself some confidence and a way to live. Now Kitty’s mother is sick and Kitty must return to Denver. Denver means facing her former pack leader Carl.

What follows is a novel showing the transformation of Kitty Norville in the face of threats to her life and her family. What follows is Carrie Vaughn telling a damn good story while never once relenting and letting her characters off the hook. All of Vaughn’s characters pay for their actions and nothing is as simple as a “yes” or “no” decision. There are consequences to coming back to Denver, and not all of them involve werewolves. There are consequences for Kitty’s behavior towards her family, for having left Denver in the first place, for her romantic relationship with Ben, for Cormac being in prison, for standing up to Carl in the first place, for involving the police way back in the first book.

One thing is perfectly clear. The actions in Kitty and the Silver Bullet will have consequences in the next book and again they won’t be simple solutions. Carrie Vaughn has put Kitty in a very different place by the end of this book and while it feels like an ending (on one hand), it is only a beginning and Vaughn is sure to complicate Kitty’s life again.

I’ll be along for the ride.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mad Gods

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The Book Swede reviews the new Feist: Wrath of a Mad God and I am as hopeful for this book as I have been for any Feist in the last decade. I really hope Chris is right, and that Feist nails the ending.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Emma Bull and Shadow Unit

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I think Emma Bull just found herself another fan. I had the chance to read the first full Shadow Unit episode today, Bull’s “Breathe” and it is everything I hoped it would be and more.

The teasers over the last couple of months gave clues to the various characters but here Bull sets everything up, defines some of the terminology, more fully introduces the characters, builds a mystery as to this “host”, and all together tells a damn fine story.

Flat out – “Breathe” is a good story and a *great* introduction to Shadow Unit. It whets the appetite.

Ouch!

The SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) has its yearly elections coming up and apparently Andrew Burt is running for President of the SFWA. Burt, for those not aware, was involved in a couple of copyright "scandals" (for lack of a better word) last year.

John Scalzi has a finely written rant / screed / informational post about why, exactly, Mr. Burt should not be elected and why it would be at best counter productive for the SFWA to elect Mr. Burt.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shadow Unit

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Shadow Unit has its premiere "episode" tonight. The episode, titled "Breathe", is written by Emma Bull.

After weeks and months of anticipation, Shadow Unit has arrived.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Merchants' War, by Charles Stross

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The Merchants’ War
Charles Stross
Tor: 2007

I want to start out by saying that pretty much everything that Jonathan McCalmont said in his review of The Merchants’ War is spot on – starting when he states “In effect, this reset the series.” What McCalmont is referring to is the ending to the previous volume The Clan Corporate where the King, Egon “The Pervert” attacks a party for the unwilling engagement of Miriam Beckstein (our world walking heroine) and Egon’s brother, “The Idiot” and kills most everybody in attendance. Miriam escaped, as did a few others, but this was near wholesale slaughter. What this does, as McCalmont points out, is change the focus of the forthcoming novels. No longer is Miriam following the path from A to B that was laid out in The Hidden Family. Instead Miriam is on the run in one world, Egon and the Clan are each plotting in another world, the DEA and the FBI are working to attack the Clan’s drug trade in OUR world, and oh yeah, a FOURTH world has just been discovered. The game has changed.

One thing that I disagree with McCalmont about is that Stross has written a much more action packed adventurous novel which begins to get away from the heavy idea driven conversations which attempt to explain what just happened. Not so. The plot explaining info dumps of conversation are still there, but what Stross has added to the conversation (and to the novel) is a bit more tech speak and a bit more spy-speak. Like his Bob Howard novels (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue) we are now graced with special operation codenames of GREENSLEEVES and the like. In all caps. Sometimes multiple codenames to a page. While this was vital to the Bob Howard novels, I feel that Stross has turned a corner and moved from what was predominately a fantasy of technology clash with world-walking between different versions of the world, and shifted to a combination run of the technology minded, espionage minded novels of his earlier work. A move closer to the Bob Howard novels is not a bad thing, but if this shifts too hard to earlier work like Accelerando and Singularity Sky, as praised as those novels are, I can’t help but feel that is a step in the wrong direction as I found those novels much less accessible and more frustrating to attempt to read. What is happening is that The Merchants’ War is providing a hint that things well be LESS fun in the future, and not MORE fun. For the reader. Bad stuff happens to the characters all the time.

My initial take on the overall series of The Merchant Princes is that Stross is pulling off a record like Fred Saberhagen did pitching for the Kansas City Royals in the 80’s. Every other book is good. I was turned off quite early in The Family Trade and while the pacing was swift and easy, the novel was a big let down for me. For some reason I still picked up the second book, The Hidden Family, and stranger still – I liked it. A lot. So I read The Clan Corporate and it suffered from what McCalmont pointed out earlier in his review: Miriam spent nearly the entire novel unable to act and the novel was claustrophobic (this may be McCalmont’s term) with little of the adventure of the first two novels. The Merchants’ War was a step back in the right direction and was a novel which left me wanting more and wanting to know more...but I don’t think it was nearly as good as it could have been. The series IS going in a more Science Fiction sort of way and technology is becoming MORE important, but I suspect that Stross’s writing is going to reflect this and that there will be a more insular feel to Book 5, that we are going to get more shop talk and less shop work. Based on my theory the book won’t be that good ANYWAY, but despite how interested I am in how Stross is going to put things together and how things will work out, I am fearful that he will take the series in a more technological Geek-Speak which will not serve the story.

The bottom line is that I am drawn to The Merchant Princes like a junkie to crack. I know it’s not good for me, and I know that ultimately the work isn’t as satisfying as I want it to be, and as I other people tell me it is. And yet, The Merchant Princes (in general) and The Merchants’ War (in specific) are highly readable, usually entertaining works of fiction.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wings to the Kingdom, by Cherie Priest

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Wings to the Kingdom
Cherie Priest
Tor: 2006

In Cherie Priest’s debut novel Four and Twenty Blackbirds Eden Moore encountered and confronted the ghosts of her past. Literally. Eden is one of a gifted few who can see ghosts. Eden wishes to keep a low profile, but word gets outs and things happen (as things generally do). Eden lives in Chattanooga and there are urban legends about a local Civil War battlefield, not about regular ghosts but about some sort of guardian known as Green Eyes.

Where there were once only rumors and legends of Green Eyes on the Chickamauga battlefield visitors are now seeing ghosts and they point off in the distance to something nobody can see. The city of Chattanooga has brought in two celebrity paranormal investigators to get to the bottom of the ghost sightings, but some people wish Eden to get involved.

There are ties to the family issues from Four and Twenty, but Wings to the Kingdom is a much less personal story for Eden but rather one where she just wants to know what is going on at Chickamauga and about Green Eyes.

There may be some carry-over from Four and Twenty Blackbirds, but Cherie Priest has done another excellent job in creating for her readers a sense of Chattanooga. Because the location is so vivid, and the battlefield so fog covered eerie, Wings to the Kingdom carries atmosphere into the actual narrative. Cherie Priest builds the mystery of why the ghosts are appearing at the Chickamauga battlefield, the threats to citizens visiting the park (or sneaking into the park), Eden’s reluctance to get involved in something and raise her public profile, Eden’s family relationships, the mystery and legend of Green Eyes, and other paranormal investigators. Priest wraps everything together, though not in a neat little package where everything is explained and resolved. The result is a novel improved over her debut. Wings to the Kingdom is better than the already excellent Four and Twenty Blackbirds and should pretty well cement Cherie Priest’s status as an author to watch.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Birthright: The Book of Man, by Mike Resnick

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Birthright: The Book of Man
Mike Resnick
1982


Mike Resnick’s second published book in the Birthright Universe chronicles the sum of humanity’s future history of space exploration, contact with alien races, galactic conquest, and decline as the pre-eminent species across the galaxy. Birthright: The Book of Man (1982) spans thousands of years and is broken up into sections covering different aspects of Man’s empire. The galactic government of Man begins with a Republic and over time changes to Democracy, Oligarchy, Monarchy, and Anarchy. Each section has several chapters (or stories), which illustrates the changing relationship of Man versus the Galaxy.

From “The Cartographers” (the power of those who map the galaxy) to “The Olympians” (a sect of Man demonstrating physical superiority) to “The Priests”, Birthright: The Book of Man taken as a whole is a fascinating set up of a species history and provides the backdrop for Resnick’s later fiction. Much of Resnick’s subsequent novels (Ivory, the Starship series, The Widowmaker, Paradise, etc) take place in the various eras introduced here.

Because I have enjoyed pretty much everything I have read from Resnick and because Resnick has such an easy flow to his writing I have to say that Birthright: The Book of Man is something worth checking out. Less a mosaic novel and more a linked short story collection the use of the short story to explore the changing political situation of humanity in relation to itself and to thousands of alien races, Birthright is an interesting and novel (in the other use of the word) concept, and one which is successful in building a setting in which Resnick can place any number of novels and stories.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Carrie Vaughn on Getting Published

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Carrie Vaughn has an interesting post on how she got published and all the work none of us see when she wrote four previous novels and fifteen years?

I always like reading about this.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Quick Takes: Mike Resnick, Oliver LaFarge

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The Widowmaker, by Mike Resnick: A aged, disease ridden bounty hunter is near death. A clone is made of him from DNA sampled when he was a young man of 24, before he became sick but before he became experienced. The clone is to take a job which should pay for additional cryo storage for the bounty hunter until a cure can be found. The clone of Jefferson Nighthawk, the Widowmaker, is trained up as much as possible and sent on his way. The clone, however, has his own ideas of who he is and who he wants to be. The Widowmaker is the story of the clone and is told in typical Resnick fast paced style with some interesting side characters along for the ride. Unlike some of Resnick’s other work, for some reason The Widowmaker doesn’t have quite the free flowing kick that his Starship series does, or that some of his earlier novels do. The Widowmaker still has a good emotional wallop to throw at readers, but it is difficult to get emotionally invested with the cloned Nighthawk. That said, at only 300 pages there is little that is truly wrong with The Widowmaker. It is a perfectly average, acceptable, entertaining SF novel. Resnick has done better, though.


Laughing Boy, by Oliver LaFarge: As I have chipped my way through winners of the Pulitzer Price for Fiction (or, for The Novel as it was once labeled), I have found that the earliest winners are the ones I struggle the most with. Not because they are lesser works, but because generally the novels focus on class, and elite society, and the placement of people within that society. That subject almost without exception bores me to tears. Literally, tears. I cry when I read society novels, they are that uninteresting. Which brings me to Laughing Boy. Nothing like those society novels. Laughing Boy is set almost exclusively in Native American culture and tribes, with a native protagonist (title character). Laughing Boy allows himself to be an outsider to his family and tribe when he marries a woman with a bad reputation and who has lived with the white people. I can see how Laughing Boy could have potentially inspired later generations of native writers and white writers who want to deal with the subject (I don’t know if La Farge was Native or not, though like Julia Peterkin, my guess is that he was white). Laughing Boy gets down into Native culture, language, identity, and perception of different tribes and of the whites. I believe this is set pre-Civil War (possibly Post, but it’s in that general timeframe). Because of the subject, Laughing Boy is a refreshing change from all those white upper crusty novels populating the list of the early Pulitzer winners.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Unfinished Books: January 2008

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I’ve decided to do something a little bit different. Each month I plan to list out the books I started but, for whatever reason, declined to finish. The experience of reading a book is more than simply the text of the page and how the author presents the story. The experience is also about who the reader is and what the reader brings to the book. More than simply the reader’s previous reading experience and personal preferences, when the reader gets a hold of the book has a lot to do with the enjoyment of, and the appreciation of a book.


The Darkness that Comes Before - R. Scott Bakker: I don’t know if it was the odd names, or the fact that over the course of the first two hundred pages I had no sense of the story, but I renewed this book all three times allowed (9 weeks checked out from the library), checked the book out again, renewed the book twice more (6 weeks) and over the course of just shy of 4 months I had to force myself to pick up the book and force myself to even read 200 pages. I probably would not have read even that many if I did not have an oil change and have to wait at the dealership. I know this is a well regarded book and series, and one I hoped would be the next big fantasy series I would get into, but I’m not sure I care enough to try again anytime in the next two years.

Dreadful Skin - Cherie Priest: This is the one book of the three which I started out enjoying and was engaged during the first thirty pages. Dreadful Skin was something I wanted to read and wanted to enjoy, and for the first thirty pages I did. But then things were busy and when I picked up the book again I couldn’t find that thread which pulled me through those first character introductions. In a sense this is the biggest disappointment of January for me because I loved Cherie Priest’s first novel (Four and Twenty Blackbirds) and I just finished her second (Wings to the Kingdom) and it was even better, but Dreadful Skin suffered from the timing of when I tried to read it. I felt overwhelmed because I had too many books on my pile at home, and I had to stay later at work and I had to work too hard to get into Dreadful Skin. I’m convinced this is a flaw with me, as a reader, at the time I tried to read the book, and not with Dreadful Skin itself. I will definitely give this book another chance later this year.

Firestarter - Stephen King: I will NOT give Firestarter another chance. As bad as King’s novel Blaze was, Firestarter was worse. Firestarter was intended to be a highly professional piece of work (where Blaze was a trunk story published more as a historical document and where the profits went to charity), and though the novel is intended (I think) to be psychological, the pacing of the novel was turgid. I want to read all of King’s fiction, but I gave this a fair shake. It was boring (or maybe I am boring, but I was bored by the action in the novel), and for a reasonably short novel King took a long time to develop plotlines, and then when things come together everything falls apart. Right when I should care the most (the father and daughter and captured, hospitalized, and separated), I cared the least. I’m done with you, Firestarter.

John Scalzi on Zoe's Tale

John Scalzi has finished Zoe's Tale and has posted his thoughts on writing the novel, including what he was trying to do (find the voice of a 16 year old girl) and the challenges of doing it.

Even though the book take place in the Old Man’s War universe and in parallel time to TLC, the goal in the writing — as is the goal for each of the books I write — is to make it able to stand alone; that is, write it so that you don’t have to have read any of the previous OMW series books. At the same time, I have to make sure that the people who have read the previous books don’t get bored with me doing setup for the new readers. - John Scalzi

The Old Man's War novels have been consistently good and consistently interesting, so while Scalzi is changing things up with the the introduction of Zoe as a primary character AND the fact that the novel takes place at the same time as The Last Colony, I have no reason not to trust Scalzi to do a good job. I've read five of his novels and have not been disappointed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Locus: 2007 Recommended Reading List

Sunday, February 03, 2008 0
Locus has posted its 2007 Recommended Reading List and there are some damn fine novels and stories on this list.

I haven't read too many of the novels, but quite a few were already on my reading list and I even own a few which I haven't read. I'll enjoy chipping away at some of these, and I think Emma Bull's novel Territory is going to have to get moved to the top of the list soon. I've heard nothing but goodness about it, and I'm loving her brainchild Shadow Unit, so what's keeping me?

January 2008 Reading

1. Dreamsongs: Volume 1 - George R. R. Martin
2. New Amsterdam - Elizabeth Bear
3. Black Projects, White Knights - Kage Baker
4. Jokers Wild - George R. R. Martin (editor)
5. Wastelands - John Joseph Adams (editor)
6. The Naked God: Faith - Peter F. Hamilton
7. Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key - Kage Baker
8. Blade of Tyshalle - Matthew Stover
9. The Widowmaker - Mike Resnick
10. Laughing Boy - Oliver La Farge
11. Force Heretic: Remnant - Sean Williams and Shane Dix

(above links are to the reviews)

Because I counted Dreamsongs as part of my Best of 2007 lists, I will not count it here in a “Best of the Month”, but suffice it to say that George Martin’s career retrospective is something special, and something worth reading for all fans of the genre.


Book of the Month:
Blade of Tyshalle. Stover really twisted things up because the incredible physical presence of Caine was taken away and at the end of the last book he was left crippled, and yet, the change of how Caine *can* respond and has to respond to the new issues in his life and both the regular world as well as the Overworld...it is compelling. Caine is bad a—even as a broken man.

Worst Book of the Month:
None. I did not read anything “bad” in January. The closest to “Worst Book” is my choice for “Disappointment”, but it really isn’t a Worst Book.

Pleasant Surprise of the Month:
None. Nothing here exceeded my expectations

Disappointment of the Month
:
Black Projects, White Knights. The collection isn’t bad, per se, but my expectations were high and they were not met. The Company stories did not live up the pedigree of the Company novels

Collection / Anthology of the Month:
Wastelands. I really dug this anthology of humans surviving in the ashes of society’s collapse.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel of the Month:
Laughing Boy. This is the sort of early Pulitzer novel I want to read. It’s about Native American culture and has nothing to do with “class” and “society” and the “cultural elite” in the sense of those novels about the wealthy are about those things. I have this deep seated disgust with “society” novels, so the agrarian and Native themed novels from the early Pulitzer winners are the ones I key into...like this one.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Weird Tales #345

Friday, February 01, 2008 2

After a long break in reading short stories and especially from reading magazines which I have paid for, I knocked my way through Issue #345 of Weird Tales. This is the second issue from WT I have read.


“Fugue”, by Rae Dawn Carson: The title itself made me leery of the story. It would touch on music, and musical stories tend to feel forced (to me). But “Fugue” is the story of a prisoner focused on staying quiet, staying alive. The prisoner learns of a new prisoner in the next cell over and tries to keep her quiet, but the despair of the story starts changing to hope we learn more of the music mages and why they are feared. Surprisingly good, but that has been my impression of most of the Weird Tales stories – I don’t expect much going in and I have been pleasantly surprised nearly every time.

“Bagged Lunch”, Patrice E. Sarath: The ending to “Bagged Lunch” is a bit of a let down, but up until that point this is a fascinating story and outside of the Kitty Norville story, it would be my favorite in the issue. There is a thief in an office lunch room, he steals 1 lunch a day but not every day. He has a badge, but is not an employee. Nobody sees him do it, though it gets caught on camera and the thief grins up at the camera. I love the idea, I love most of the execution, and then by the end when things are explained, that’s when Patrice Sarath loses me. Up until that point, though – good stuff.

“Tom Edison and His Telegraphic Harpoon”, by Jay Lake: Jay Lake brings so much that I should love to the table with this story. We have some alternate history with a young Thomas Edison fighting an angel from heaven (though, perhaps not heaven, it is nephalim, not seraphim), using electricity and science to expand America to the West, and as one can guess from the title – using a harpoon gun to get things done. And yet, I was bogged down a bit by the story. I’m not sure if it was the period detail, or the slow pacing until we got to the actual fight, or just that for whatever reason the story did not work for me. There was something here that just put me off, and I have enjoyed some of Lake’s other short fiction (and I have a copy of his novel Mainspring sitting on my bookshelf which I am still interested in reading, so it’s not Lake himself). Dunno.

“Kitty’s Zombie New Year”, by Carrie Vaughn: I have no complaints when I am gifted with a new Kitty Norville story, this time at a New Year’s Eve Party in Denver where a zombie is discovered on the doorstep. The fact that Kitty is a werewolf doesn’t have a blessed thing to do with this story, and I only mention it because, well, it is still character defining and part of the series of novels Carrie Vaughn has written. Basically, I like this one. It’s Carrie Vaughn, and it’s Kitty.

“In the Company of Women”, by Marcie Tentchoff & Mikal Trimm: The shortest story in this issue was an oddity of a man with certain skills digging up the corpse of a woman he once loved and talking to the disembodied spirit of his grandmother via her skull. A very odd story, but disturbingly weird and satisfying at the same time. “In the Company of Women” did not need to be any longer than it was.

“Strawberry Thief”, by Ian Creasey: This is the only story in this issue I did not / would not finish. It started with something about being the Queen of Elfland and I lost interest not long after that. “Strawberry Thief” was also the longest story in the issue and after a page of this text I could not imagine reading two more pages, let along 28 more pages. I don’t even have a specific criticism, just that I lost all interest in “Strawberry Thief” very quickly.
 
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