Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Elizabeth Bear at the Green Man Review

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 0
(credit to Colleen Lindsay for the link)

Elizabeth Bear has been named the Winter Queen over at the Green Man Review. There is an introduction from her friend (and co-writer of A Companion to Wolves) Sarah Monette, Bear's Winter Queen Speech, "The Reader's Guide to Elizabeth Bear" which features links to a whole host of reviews of Bear's work at The Green Man Review, and a food related Q&A with Bear.

If you like Elizabeth Bear (and you should), you'll want to check this out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Agony Column, Jeremy Lassen, Eclipse Two

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I've never listened to Rick Kleffel's Agony Column podcasts before, but Kleffel has a conversation with the publisher of Night Shade Books, Jeremy Lassen. The largest part of the conversation has to do with Eclipse Two, and it is a fascinating conversation.

Night Shade is one of my favorite presses and this was a great introduction to The Agony Column.

Listen to Jeremy Lassen talk about Eclipse Two at The Agony Column


So...here is what has me wondering - during the interview / conversation (not sure what it should be called), Lassen mentions that he has a long term commitment to Eclipse as an anthology series, and while right now only Eclipse Three is under contract, he hopes for more. I think that's great. I thought Eclipse One was fantastic and I expect no less from Eclipse Two (and Three). Jonathan Strahan has a great editorial eye and so seeing his name attached to a project automatically makes me want to read it.

I found the link to the podcast from a post over at Strahan's blog.

What struck me are these two sentences.

Listening to the podcast does prompt me to ponder Eclipse Three a little. It’s very likely to be the final volume in the series, though that’s by no means certain.

Hmm. Now, I don't know if Strahan said that simply because he doesn't have a contract in hand for Eclipse Four, or if he is still feeling soured from Eclipse Two (note the fuller explanation in the comments of that post). From the comment on the 12/15 post, it sounds like a combination of things: Strahan has a full plate, no contract, and, well, there was the ongoing controversy which touched the first two volumes in different ways.

I hope there is an Eclipse Four. I haven't even read Eclipse Two, and Three isn't final, but along with Lou Anders' Fast Forward series, I think Eclipse is one of the best things going today in original anthology publishing. I far prefer the unthemed anthology over the themed anthology (generally speaking).

So, speaking selfishly, I do hope that Jonathan Strahan is offered a contract for another three volumes of Eclipse and that Strahan accepts the offer. I want more.

Regarding The Agony Column...I'll be tuning in again.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Nine Best Reads of 2008

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At first glance this list is awfully similar to the Best Of 2008 list, but the distinction is that the previous list is limited to those books published in 2008, and this list is limited only to the 156 books I have read in 2008 (assuming I don't finish anything in the next couple of days).


1: Shadow Unit: Season One: I was originally going to leave this off the list because it wasn't published in a traditional manner and I tend to consider lists like this for stuff that appears between two covers. But, Shadow Unit really is the best thing I read all year. Period. This blend of X-Files and probably something like Criminal Minds is outstanding. Let's just say that I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt (really). Season One is written by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Will Shetterly, Sarah Monette, and Amanda Downum.

2: The Stratford Man, by Elizabeth Bear (Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth): I don't know what more I can say about Bear's Promethean Age novels, except that this is another great opportunity for an introduction to Elizabeth Bear's work. Bear's Promethean Age fiction is exceptional and the two Stratford Man novels are some of Bear's best.

3: The Acts of Caine, by Matthew Stover (Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife): Anyone not reading Matthew Stover is really missing out. Stover's blend of science fiction, fantasy, and all around vicious bad-assery is really some of the best stuff out there. Of any year. While Caine Black Knife doesn't quite live up to the knockout that Blade of Tyshalle is, it is still better than most other novels on the market.

4: War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull: This debut novel from Emma Bull is a story of Minneapolis rock music, faerie, and damn, it's a beautiful story. This is urban fantasy.

5: Not Flesh Nor Feathers, by Cherie Priest: I could also include Wings to the Kingdom on this listing, but as much as I admired Cherie Priest's work before this, to be cliche about it, Priest knocked my socks off with Not Flesh Nor Feathers. The story of the flood of Chatanooga and what rose with the waters is several kinds of outstanding.

6: The Armageddon Rag, by George R. R. Martin: This story of a remnant of a hard core 60's rock band, The Nazgul, and the power its music still has nearly twenty years later is one of Martin's best. That's right. As good as his Ice and Fire fantasy novels. I said it. I mean it. It's that good. The Armageddon Rage feels like rock and roll.

7: The Uglies Series, by Scott Westerfeld: The four YA novels here are standout examples of YA lit and are compelling reads for adults, too. Had I children, I wouldn't hesitate to give any of these books to them to read, but as I don't, I won't hesistate to recommend the Uglies series. Good stories, and with a good message.

8: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow: One of the notable publications of 2008, this novel may (will) push buttons but it forces readers to really think about what they expect from government, law, and privacy. No promises one will agree with Doctorow's conclusions, but the conversation is important.

9: Wastelands, by John Joseph Adams (editor): A reprint anthology of stories of life after apocalypse. This is an outstanding anthology and features some of the biggest and brightest names of SFF, along with some up and comers who may well be the biggest names in ten years time. Assuming that these stories are in no way prophetic, we'll be enjoying this anthology for years to come.


Honorable Mentions: Alanya to Alanya, by L. Timmel Duchamp; Territory, by Emma Bull; Shooting War, by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman; Portable Childhoods, by Ellen Klages; Under My Roof, by Nick Mamatas

The Nine Best Reads of 2007

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Missing 2008

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Larry has a good post which I'd like to riff off of. He starts his series of 2008 wrap-up posts with a list of the books he was somehow unable to read during 2008 and which will not be on his best-of lists. Give the volume of books he DID read, his lists should be well rounded.

It's a good idea, to talk about the stuff that might have had a shot to make your best-of had you only been able to read it.

Here's mine.

Fathom, by Cherie Priest. I have a copy, but there is just no way I'll finish it this year. I have such faith in Cherie Priest that I believe it would otherwise make this year's list, had I only been able to read / finish it in time. Alas. Alas!

Eclipse Two, by Jonathan Strahan (editor).

The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway

Toll the Hounds, by Steven Erikson: Okay, so I'm not convinced this really had a shot to make my list, but you never know.

The Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

Stretto, by L. Timmel Duchamp

Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link

The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams (editor)

Dust, by Elizabeth Bear: I can't tell if this was published in December 2007 or January 2008, but I own a copy and I haven't read it. My bad.

Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi: I'm not sure about this one either, because I quite actively did not like "Yellow Card Man", but I thought "The House of Sand and Slag" was excellent.

Fast Forward Two, by Lou Anders (editor): The first was outstanding.

Multireal, by David Louis Edelman: Well, I haven't read Infoquake either, but I hear it is really good.

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, by Bill Schafer, editor: I love SubPress's online magazine, so how can this possibly not be awesome?

You May Sleep, by Nick Mamatas

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

White Sands, Red Menace, by Ellen Klages

The Company, by KJ Parker


So, what did you miss this year?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

assorted Christmas Eve-y goodness

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Around this time last year I wrote about The Bottom Four Books Published in 2007. I'm not going to do that this year. First, i really haven't encountered the level of 2008 crap that I did last year, and second, because I really don't want to give extra attention to the stinkers right now. Let's focus on the good books. I've already posted about the best books published in 2008 and next week I'll have a post up about the best books I've read in 2008, regardless of year published. I talked about it a bit over at SF Signal, so you'll see some familiar faces next week.

Merry Christmas.

Alternately, happy any other holiday or personally special day you wish to celebrate with loved ones.

So, in the absence of my hating on crappy books, what next?

A couple of things for the day.

First...nothing says Christmas like zombies and Sean Bieri and the good people at Tor.com knows this central truth very well. Sean is posting the 12 Days of Zombie Christmas. So far the first three days up and each day has brought me holiday cheer.

Day One
Day Two
Day Three


In less of the spirit of zombie Christmas joy, but equally in the spirit of Christmas, is what Pat Rothfuss is doing with Heifer International. Here is the original post Pat made in early November.

It was, uh, successful. To say the least. Here's Pat's follow up.

Un-fucking-believable.

Good on everybody who donated, however much or little they can afford. The prizes are cool (some are VERY cool), but ultimately it is about the $113,000 + that is going to Heifer International.

Way cool, and way cool on Pat for matching $58,000 + of donations. Personally.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top Nine Author Discoveries of 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 1
There is something to be said about talking about books. After all, that’s what we read. But, just as much fun as discovering a great new book is discovering a great new author. Or, even discovering a great older author. It’s all new if you have never read an author before.

So, in honor of authors, those wonderful people who write the wonderful books, here is a list of some of the authors I encountered for the first time in 2008.


1. Emma Bull: It all starts with Shadow Unit. (in 2008, almost everything stars with Shadow Unit). Bull's story "Breathe" opened the first season of Shadow Unit and I was sold. It was much later in the year before I was to read War for the Oaks or Territory, but when I did there was no longer any question that Emma Bull wasn't a writer to watch, she was a writer I MUST read.

2. Joe Abercrombie: I've read the first two entries in his First Law trilogy and both The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged deliver brutal epic fantasy goodness. I have no doubt that the third volume will do (has done) the same. I'd confess to a man crush on Abercrombie's fiction, but that would just be weird.

3. Scott Westerfeld: John Scalzi's Why YA post inspired me to pick up one of Westerfield's novels and I ended up with a copy of Uglies in my hands. I quickly ran through Pretties, Specials, and Extras (apparently I never did write that review) and when I finished, I hoped Westerfeld might have one more book left in this series, though I can't imagine what it would be. You can pretend that Westerfeld's work is just YA (if you ignore his fully adult novels) and thus not worth reading, but you'd be wrong and you'd miss out.

4. Ellen Klages: It's all about Portable Childhoods. The short fiction of Ellen Klages is outstanding, so much so that in early 2009 I fully expect to read The Green Glass Sea (which was a short story in Portable Childhoods). Klages is a writer I'm keeping my eye on.

5. Nancy Kress: If you read short fiction and stumble across any of the major magazines and anthologies, or watch the award lists, you'll probably come across a story from Nancy Kress. This year I read my first collection of Kress's short fiction (Nano Comes to Clifford Falls) and my first novel (Dogs). I want to read more.

6. L. Timmel Duchamp: Alanya to Alanya was an eye opening experience. It is a very political novel, a feminist novel, and yet I think it has (or should have) a wider appeal than one might expect if you only look at the labels. The novel helped push me to think about gender and power in ways I had not previously. The second book in the Marq'ssan Cycle, Renegade, is a pyschological battle of will, and in the next two months I intend to read the third volume.

7. Nick Mamatas: Oh, this is primarily based on Under My Roof, but that's enough. I also read Move Under Ground this year and while good (and quite possibly more impressive as it reads like Kerouac), Under My Roof is a true standout. I've got a copy of the anthology he edited with Jay Lake (Spicy Slipstream Stories) on my shelf to read. The man can write, but he also has a solid editorial eye (he was editor of Clarkesworld Magazine)

8. Liz Williams: Between Snake Agent and The Demon and the City I know I want more Detective Inspector Chen (there are two more published and an additional two in the works), but I also want to read some of the other stuff Liz Williams wrote. Detective Inspector Chen is future urban fantasy detective fiction where Heaven and Hell are real, bureaucratic, and interact in human affairs. Good stuff. Real good.

9. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu: I'll be honest, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is the one novelist on this list from whom I've only read one book (Ellen Klages would have been the other, but it was a collection of stories and I count those differently). In this case that one book is The Shadow Speaker. I don't believe I've encountered much fiction set in Africa (it's out there, I know), and this tale of technology and magic is a beautiful story told well.


I posted a similar list last year, so if you were curious who I discovered for the first time in 2007, well, here you go.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thanks, MinnPost!

Monday, December 22, 2008 0
I very much like the nice people at MinnPost for making this blog and this post the Blog of the Day.

Thanks!

Relatively speaking, my traffic just went through the roof (my ceiling is low). Selfishly, I wish there were an archive of Blogs of the Day.

Oh, and, guys...I, uh, have a good one planned for next week where I list out the top nine books (and something else) that I read this year, regardless of when it was published. Just in case you run out of new sites to list. :)

Top Nine Books Published in 2008

Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2008. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

This Top Nine List is sort of / kind of in order. The first two on the list are very much in their proper order, but after that things get a bit trickier. Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2008 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned.

1: The Stratford Man, by Elizabeth Bear: Comprised of two novels (Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth), Bear brings readers of her Promethean Age to Elizabethan England in this tale of theatre, magic, poetry, faerie, and politics. Beautifully written, as is everything Elizabeth Bear puts her pen to. I cannot imagine this list, or any year's best with Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age novels not at the top.

2: Caine Black Knife, by Matthew Stover: Even had Scott Lynch and George R. R. Martin delivered the next volumes in their respective series, I have a difficult time seeing how either would surpass Matthew Stover publishing his third Caine novel. Beautifully brutal and profane, Matthew Stover writes fiction that will kick your ass and not bother to take your name.

3: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow: While occasionally slapping readers upside their heads with the message of this YA novel, Cory Doctorow tells both an engaging story as well as gives readers (young ones especially) a call to action to protect their privacy and that of others, to question and not accept. He just happens to do so in a borderline brilliant novel that may become a classic of YA lit in the future. It's damn good.

4: Wastelands, by John Joseph Adams (editor): A reprint anthology consisting of stories about life afte apocalypse, the stories contained within are some of the best SFF has to offer. From Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" to Elizabeth Bear's "And the Deep Blue Sea", Wastelands probably has something for all readers and enough post-destructive goodness to make this a standout for any year.

5) Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi: Revisting the Old Man's War Universe and telling a parallel story to The Last Colony, Zoe's Tale was a risky venture for Scalzi. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl, Zoe's Tale is an absolute winner.

6) Fast Ships, Black Sails, by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (editors): Pirates, pirates, pirates! Space pirates, ice pirates, and pirates who actually sail traditional ships. With Rachel Swirsky's story as one of the highlights, this is one anthology not to be missed.

7) The Best of Lucius Shepard, by Lucius Shepard: A career spanning retrospective from one of the masters working today. I'm not sure what more needs to be said. The man writes serious fiction and any story he publishes should be considered for year end awards.

8) Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie: Depending on how you count, this could be a 2007 release, but Pyr released it in America in 2008. So damn it, that's my count. An improvement on an already excellent first novel in The First Law, Abercrombie is writing a damn fine trilogy. The characters here shine and Abercrombie keeps up the entertaining brutality of this world. Abercrombie makes his characters suffer, and the reader is the beneficiary.

9) Order 66, by Karen Traviss: I flipped a bit between whether to include this or Traviss's final Wess'har Wars novel, but ultimately Order 66 was the novel I felt was stronger. It's a Star Wars novel and rounds out the Republic Commando quartet of novels featuring elite clone commandos with the inevitable Jedi Purge looming large. Traviss is fantastic. I would almost follow her anywhere she wrote, given that her shared world and original world stuff are equally outstanding. This one is worth the look.

Links are to the original reviews.

Honorable Mentions: Judge, by Karen Traviss; Kitty and the Silver Bullet, by Carrie Vaughn; The Born Queen, by Greg Keyes

Previous Best Ofs
2007
2006

Friday, December 19, 2008

some more Twilight commentary

Friday, December 19, 2008 5
These are old, but since this might be my Twilight Review Week, I wanted to point out another couple.

First off is Cat Rambo guest blogging at Jeff VanderMeer's Ecstatic Days. I read this when it was first posted, three months before I read the book. Rambo's post is good, but the 100+ comments are just as interesting. Rambo does spoil the series, so avert your eyes if that's a problem. Check out Cat Rambo's commentary on Twilight.

She has the usual “oh I am so ugly because it has somehow escaped me that I actually have a body type that fits inside American beauty norms” thing going. Interactions with female friends are kept to a superficial minimum because we all know women can’t do the friendship thing with each other. That might be too empowering a message. So would Bella being able to save herself. But in everything she does, every faintly brave action, Edward is her motivation, the center of the universe for her.

Then, and a recent post from VanderMeer himself pointed out Meghan McCarron's thoughts on "some things Twilight says are awesome but they are not awesome at all".

Here is #3 from McCarron's list of 8.
3. Your boyfriend, who does not sleep, stands outside your window every night without your knowledge. He also breaks into your house without warning. He also follows you whenever you leave town in case you "get" into "trouble." (Hint: this will be less awesome when he is your ex-boyfriend.)

Rambo and McCarron are both quite awesome and got their points across far more succinctly than I did.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Reviewer's Meme

Thursday, December 18, 2008 1
From John Ottinger at Grasping for the Wind comes a meme of massive proportions. I'll let his words speak for what he was doing.
My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out.


But, then the meme got picked up by Galley Cat, SF Signal, and the Tor.com blog (which may have led to John blogging for Tor.com...color me jealous. I think they can use another short fiction blogger...anyway...). I watched the meme grow for quite a while but never posted it, until now. Now that we've got a stupendously huge list I'll throw my hat in. Silly Joe.

I'm not sure I have anything to add to it. I'm already on it (thanks to Rob, I think) and Jay Tomio's blog seems to have turned into just promotion for Bookspotcentral, which is a shame because the guy had solid reviews and posts. Gabe Chouinard came back this year at Mysterious Outposts and was consistently interesting, but it appears he's bailed and the blog was deleted. Another shame because when he's around he has good content.

7 Foot Shelves
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 23

Twilight
Stephanie Meyer
2005

Say one thing for Stephanie Meyer, she’s created something of a phenomenon with her Twilight series and like any good literary phenomenon it begins humbly, with a first novel written because it was simply a story the author wanted to tell. Twilight is that first novel. By this point anyone with a pulse and an eye that looks anywhere near pop culture has heard of Twilight. The movie opened with large box office receipts and perhaps due to the movie, I’ve been reading more and more online about Twilight the book.

Little of it good.

When enough people, friends and writers I respect, say a novel is bad and then detail their issues with said novel, there is generally a very good reason for it. This is usually reason enough to keep me from reading the novel, but like Harry Potter, Twilight is becoming something large and popular enough that I wanted to read it just to see what the fuss is about. Unlike Harry Potter (and the two novels are entirely unrelated except for being targeted at a younger age group and that both are popular to quite popular), I haven’t seen nearly the positive press for Twilight the Novel. But I had to know.

Here’s the basics of Twilight: Bella Swan moves from Phoenix to Falls, Washington to live with her father. Falls is a small town notable for being the rainiest town in the entire country, a fact which isn’t necessarily central to the story but helps explain the presence of vampires in Falls. A junior in high school, Bella describes herself as plain, extraordinarily clumsy, and something of an outcast. She makes some friends when she begins school, but meets a boy she is alternately frightened by and obsessed with, Edward Cullen. Edward is one of five extraordinarily beautiful and graceful kids who sit by themselves and don’t mix with the rest of the school. When Edward saves her life one morning by doing something impossible, their “romance” begins and Bella begins to learn the truth about Edward. He’s a vampire, you see.

The first thing I would like to address actually debunks one of the complaints I’ve heard about Twilight. A self described plain girl, a klutz and a loner, would never be so instantly popular upon arrival at a new school. She’d be the girl sitting alone at a lunch table. I understand this criticism, but I think it is wrong. In a larger school, yes, Bella might continue to be an outcast, but Falls has a small school, one which I imagine has a graduating class of somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 kids. I’m sure accurate enrollment records are available online somewhere (for the real school, not the fictional one). Bella’s reception in a small school is spot on. She’s a new face and even a potentially plain face would make new friends in the first couple of weeks very quickly. Everyone would want to know her because outside of the new kid, everyone else has been together since kindergarten or first grade. As to Bella’s appearance being plain…well, we only get that from Bella. She may be a reasonably attractive young woman who views herself as “plain” or “average”, and even then, it’s a new girl in school. A handful of guys will want to date her. That’s just the way it works in a small school.

The other thing that Stephanie Meyer never explains about this situation is whether or not the friends Bella makes (and the guys who are interested in Bella) are the socially cool kids. Even in a small school there are different cliques, or less negative, different groups of friends. Some are more accepting of others, and Bella falls into one particular group quickly but after those first weeks we don’t see other kids looking for a piece of her time. What we don’t know, but can assume, is that Mike (a friend and persistent suitor) is NOT captain of the football team, and Jessica (her new best friend) is NOT a cheerleader or volleyball star. These are just average kids, much like you or I might have been or have been friends with. Good kids, but not the “elite” of the school.

So, that’s something I didn’t have a problem with.

Something I did have a problem with is Bella’s lack of coordination. It isn’t that Bella is a klutz, my problem is that Stephanie Meyer portrays Bella as a girl who can barely walk on carpet without falling down, and gym class is a horror. I’ve seen poor athletes, but Bella’s lack of coordination stretches credulity far more than vampires that sparkle. We’ll get to that later, but I’m just saying. It’s a bit much, Mrs. Meyer.

For the first half of the novel my overall impression was that Twilight was nothing more than an averagely written book. Nothing special, nothing remarkable, nothing appalling. Twilight has an easy reading flow appropriate to its target audience (teenaged girls, mostly), and so for the most part, any issues readers have with the novel will quickly be in the rear view mirror as the pages keep turning. Twilight is quick and easy reading.

My first impression of the first half of the novel is that Twilight was not nearly as bad as I had heard. Sure, I had issues with the burgeoning relationship between Bella and Edward (more on that later), but we aren’t talking about a trainwreck, just an adequately written novel for teenagers. It could be better, but I expected far worse. Something brain numbing.

Then it happened.

I tried to keep my eyes away from his perfection as much as possible, but I slipped often. Each time, his beauty pierced me through with sadness. (pg 257)

I am not going to claim that these are two of the worst sentences ever constructed, because I’m sure I’ve written some clunkers and will write some more, but that was the first moment where I had to stop and wonder what the hell Stephanie Meyer was thinking when she wrote that and why her editor didn’t stop Meyer from including it in the book. It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad. Those sentences come near the end of a chapter, and they were a harbinger of doom, because from that moment the rest of the novel takes a sharp downward turn and tightens into a spiral of bad writing (and a couple of really bad ideas).

In the very next chapter we learn that the reason vampires don’t come out in the sunlight. It isn’t because they will burn. Oh no. Vampires don’t come out in the sunlight because their skin sparkles like diamonds refracting light.

They sparkle!

Sparkly Vampires! People, how does someone come up with this and possibly think it is a good idea?!

It gets worse because in the first two paragraphs of this chapter we get Bella’s narration about Edward’s “incandescently sculpted chest.” Seriously. I would say you can’t make this up, but clearly Stephanie Meyer did. It is from this point that the “romance” moves to the forefront. Oh, Bella has been obsessed about Edward for most of the novel, but when they get their moment of splendor in the grass the “romance” is openly mutual.

This leads in to what I feel the biggest flaw in Twilight happens to be. I don’t know who Stephanie Meyer envisioned as her ideal reader, but the audience for Twilight is comprised of legions of teenaged girls. I’m not saying other people don’t read it, but the novel is clearly aimed at the teenage crowd. The biggest flaw of Twilight is the very heart of the novel: the relationship between Bella and Edward.

Bella is a reasonably well adjusted 16 or 17 year old girl. She takes care of her father, is independent, smart, and perhaps likes to spend just a little too much time alone. Stephanie Meyer has written her as an otherwise competent young woman (outside of her inability to walk without falling down), her one flaw is perhaps an insecurity or discomfort with others expressing an interest in her. She is our heroine.

Edward comes across initially as broody (as all good vampire boyfriends should be), but obscenely beautiful. That’s not the problem. When he becomes interested in Bella he does so with great obsession. So much so that by the end the reader realizes (or should realize) that Edward is only a hair’s breadth away from being an abusive boyfriend. If not for the fact that the text makes it clear that he would never hurt her (on purpose, if he can control himself), the reader would need to be seriously concerned about the safety of Bella regarding Edward.

Here’s what we know: Edward does not believe Bella can take care of herself, does not believe she has any chance of being safe without him around. He is insanely jealous of other boys. He keeps warning Bella that he’ll hurt her, that he’s a bad guy, but he keeps coming around. He asks her three days worth of superficial questions which borders on the bizarre. He follows her around and listens in on all of her conversations. He has snuck into her house to watch her sleep for weeks on end. He is extremely controlling and gets angry frequently, both with her and with everyone else, but then reassures her that he loves her and that everything he does is for her.

Bella’s response: okay, I love you, too. Now, please don’t ever leave. Seriously, Edward tells her that for weeks he’s been sneaking into her house to watch her sleep – incredible stalker behavior, and after a flash of anger which scarcely lasts a sentence, she’s over it because, well, Edward is dreamy.

Then, to make matters worse (worse!), the only way Bella can ever truly have an equal relationship with Edward is if she is willing to give up everything, her friends and her family, and become a vampire herself, because after a couple of months she knows this is forever and eternal, this “love” of hers.

Further – the reason Edward is infatuated with Bella has nothing to do with who she is, anything about her personality, or anything she wants to do with her life. The reason Edward “loves” Bella is because her blood smells as good as cocaine to a junkie. That’s the initial appeal.

Now, I’m not saying that in real life there are no insanely weird and inappropriate teenaged relationships (or fully adult relationships, for that matter), but in a novel apparently aimed at 14 year old girls, this is what Stephanie Meyer is holding up as ideal, right, and true. This is the message that Meyer is sending – that to find true love a woman must give up everything she is, everything she has, and become someone else to be with the guy she loves…and that the guy is borderline abusive, but that’s okay because they are in “love”.

Disgusting. Seriously, this is the “love story” of our era? That is the message being sent to impressionable teenagers?

Ugh.

So…yeah. Twilight isn’t a very good book. I’ve otherwise ignored the concept of Vampire Baseball because after you really think of what the love story is actually saying and after we get past the fact that Stephanie Meyers’ vampires sparkle, what else is there to say?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card

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Ender in Exile
Orson Scott Card
Tor: 2008

With the tag line "After Battle School . . . The Lost Years", Orson Scott Card returns to the Enderverse to tell a story which will bridge the gap between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. While both Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead were complete novels in their own right, and the stories they told did not require every little gap to be filled it, Ender in Exile should clear up many lingering questions for longtime fans who actually want that gap to be filled.

Ender in Exile does cover a number of years for Ender Wiggin, though it may not be exactly the novel readers expected. The book jacket states,

"Or he can join the colony ships and go out to settle one of the new worlds won in the war. The story of those years on the colony worlds has never been told . . . until now."

It's good advertising, but it isn't accurate. Ender in Exile is more the story of Ender in Stasis. The majority of the novel takes place on a colony ship two years en route to Ender's first colony, Shakespeare, to which he was appointed governor. The journey will take forty years real time, but only two years of relative time on the ship, so Ender can stay a teenager but everything he left behind on Earth after Battle School will have changed. His brother Peter can become the Hegemon, unite the world, and all the events of the Shadow novels can take place.

My biggest concern regarding Ender in Exile was that Mr. Card would be unable to return to the quality of the Ender Quartet and would instead write a stinker like the later Shadow novels, and I have serious issues with Ender's Shadow, which is still easily the best of the sub-par Shadow novels. That was my concern. Which Orson Scott Card novel would we get? An Ender quality novel or a Shadow quality novel? The answer is "something in between."

When Orson Scott Card was at the height of his powers, and don't take his recent output as evidence of what he is capable of, he wrote some of the best science fiction on the market. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead are two outstanding novels, nearly peerless. The next two Ender novels have been unfairly maligned and are still superior novels.

Ender in Exile does not live up to that pedigree. Perhaps too much time has passed for Ender in Exile to possibly come across as relevant. The expectation is too high for a "direct sequel to Ender's Game" to ever truly deliver the goods.

In English or Composition classes around the country children are told that the proper way to tell a story is to "show, not tell", which means that the author should get across whatever information he or she wants to convey as a natural feeling part of the story and not simply dump a lot of information on the reader out of a true context. Now, this is a general rule and a good writer can break the rule and pull it off, but when readers complain that a writer is "telling, not showing", it generally means that said writer did not pull off the rule breaking. Or, that said writer tried to "show, not tell", and it still felt like telling.

The problem with Ender in Exile is that more often than not it feels like Card is telling, that he is filling in the gaps of the story, touching on everything that happened in the series that fits anywhere near the chronology Ender in Exile covers, and that he is willing to force in suplots regarding Achilles, and Bean's story on Earth where they don't belong. It's frustrating.

With all that said, Ender in Exile still hits some high points. What works best are the overly obvious e-mail communication between various individuals (Ender, Valentine, Peter, Col. Graff, etc) that tells more of the story than Card is willing to do in the main text of the novel. What works is Ender with Valentine, of Ender being is nearly perfect self. Ender Wiggin remains a compelling character, though this may be due to the overall strength of Ender's Game and less to do with Ender in Exile.

Mr. Card hits the high points he needs to (gets Ender away from Earth, gets Valentine out, hints at the origin of Jane, defines Ender's morality, has Ender write both The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, has Valentine write her stuff...and wrap up nearly everything), and in the process tells a story more interesting than perhaps it has a right to. Not a whole lot actually happens in the book to Ender or Valentine, all the development is with the side characters who feel like they are there only to come into contact with Ender and not for their own reasons, but despite that, Ender in Exile is still a decent read. Nothing extraordinary and not up to the level of Ender's Game...but it is far better than most of the Shadow novels. That counts for something.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Torque Control reviews Twilight

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In preparation for my review (posting on 12/16), here's a review of Twilight by Liz (not sure of her last name) over at Torque Control.

The writing might be an attempt to write like a seventeen-year-old girl in love might write, but it is drowning in adverbs; everything is ‘utterly absurd’ or ‘gloriously intense’, Edward has a ’sculpted, incandescent chest’ and ’scintillating arms’, and he even has an alabaster brow, which I hope is a nod to Anne of Green Gables but I’m worried it’s meant to be sincere.

Heh.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wild Cards / Busted Flush Interview

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Over at the Fantasy Hotlist, Pat has an interview with the ten contributors to the new Wild Cards novel Busted Flush.

It's a good one for Wild Cards fans. I've read the first four and have the fifth (Down and Dirty) waiting on my bookshelf. I need to get cracking so I can get to the newest volumes. I have an ARC of Busted Flush, but I kind of want to read them in order.

So, check out the interview and then check out the books.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blogger Book Club: Schismatrix Plus

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Alright, here's the second installment of the Blogger Book Club (part 1, here). This time around Fabio Fernandes selected Schismatrix Plus, from Bruce Sterling. Schismatrix Plus takes the entirety of Sterling's Shaper/ Mechanist Universe, the novel Schismatrix and five earlier short stories.

For the sake of this post I am going to focus solely on Schismatrix (mostly because I haven't read the short stories yet).

Originally published in 1985, Schismatrix is the last fiction Sterling wrote in the Shaper /Mechanist Universe, though it is the first section of Schismatrix Plus. Schismatrix is a future looking piece of science fiction, one that shows a possible evolution of humanity, beyond earth, beyond nationality (mostly) and into technological ideology. I am still a bit confused as to the true distinction between the Mechanists and Shapers and who, exactly, was who. For clarification, I checked wikipedia and Shapers use organic modification (gene therapy and the like) for their vision of humanity, and the Mechanists use more traditional technology and are viewed by Shapers as backwards.

Into this very unclear (in the text) futuristic setting steps Abelard Linsdsay. He is the "hero" of our story and is, at the start, a young (I think) and idealistic Shaper who ends up exiled from his homeland and becomes what is called a "sundog", which would be Sterling's version of an outlaw from the American West - someone living on the fringes of society and not quite on the legal side.

Larry wrote a good review of the novel, and I'm very glad, because I'm kind of at a loss of what to say about it. Mostly, my issue is that I was frequently at a loss as to what exactly was going on. Sterling jumps years, decades into the future and despite having time stamps that reveal the year (sort of), it's still difficult to figure out when stuff is happening, where, and how it relates to the overall world.

Actually, if not for the book club, I probably wouldn't even have made this post. I don't feel up to Schismatrix. Joe: 0, Schismatrix: 1.

Sterling is not telling a straightforward story of Point A to Point B, where the actions on Zaibatsu or the Fortuna Miner's Democracy are not the be all / end all of the novel. Sterling is writing about ideas, not plot or "story". But, since i'm not sure I understood the story I think I missed most of the ideas.

To me, Schismatrix is a story about competing ideologies and this may be my projection, but with competing ideologies it becomes unclear what people are really fighting for. Is the idea really that powerful? History says yes, but when even the definition of the ideology isn't clear in the novel, the power is lessened.

I'm not going to explain the ending for those who haven't read it and may still want to (Larry may sell the novel better, and Fabio certainly will), but despite all the weirdness of the novel and perhaps the ending being telegraphed a bit (says Daniel Ausema in the comments), but for me that was ALL deux ex machina in the sense that what Lindsay does is in no way assumed possible until it happens. What the hell?

So, this isn't a very good review (actually, it isn't really a review, just some random thoughts I had about the novel), I know that. If I have anything to say about the stories, I'll post those thoughts.

The two novels in the Book Club so far have been fairly intellectual, which isn't a bad thing, but neither Camp Concentration nor Schismatrix would be considered "accessable" to the average SFF reader. They challenge, both in content and in requiring the reader to push on and work to understand the story the author is telling. I fear that in both cases I was somewhat mastered by the novel.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mind Meld: Best of 2008 - Part I

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SF Signal has posted the first part of their latest Mind Meld series: The Best Genre Related Books / Films / Shows Consumed 2008.

Included in the Mind Meld are such luminaries as Lou Anders, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Picacio, Bob Eggleton, and, well...me.

So, check it out.

(kind of curious who all is in Part II)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

oh, for the love of...

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So, I'm reading Twilight simply because I have to know what all the unfortunate ruckus is about. I'm about halfway through and it isn't the horror I had been expecting...and then I came across this gem of a paragraph.

I tried to keep my eyes away from his perfection as much as possible, but I slipped often. Each time, his beauty pierced me through with sadness. (pg 257)

For fuck's sake.

It doesn't read any better in context, either.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gender and Reading Habits

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I like to think that I’m so aware of gender bias that my reading would be a fairly even split between male writers and female writers, give or take five percent. After I all, I commented on the inequity in the Table of Contents for Eclipse Two and it is something I think about in regards to anthologies and collections. When I think about my favorite SFF novelists working today I come up with names like Elizabeth Bear, Karen Traviss, Cherie Priest, and Emma Bull. When I think about my favorite short story writers today I’ll say Mary Robinette Kowal, Jennifer Pelland, and Rachel Swirsky. I don’t forget about Glen Cook, Stephen King, John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Scott Lynch, or Joe Abercrombie, but they come to mind second, behind the ladies.

Earlier today I took a look at what I’ve read through the first eleven months of the year and took stock of how many books I’ve read so far this year and how many of those were written (or edited) by women.

I’ve finished 143 books so far this year. 44 of them were written by women. 30.77%. This is surprising. I expected the number to be at least 40%, if not higher. But my obsessive recordkeeping doesn’t lie.

Breaking it out by month:

January: 3/11 – 27.27%
February: 3/9 – 33.33%
March: 1/6 – 16.66%
April: 4/15 – 26.66%
May: 5/12 – 41.66%
June: 2/8 – 25.00%
July: 4/18 – 22.22%
August: 4/13 – 30.77%
September: 6/18 – 33.33%
October: 4/16 – 25.00%
November: 8/17 – 47.06%

Now, I’m not saying there is a magic number I should hit here, but given my presumed awareness of gender bias and my desire for a more equitable balance of gender in publishing, I’m surprised. I’m also not saying I (or anyone) should choose a book simply because it was written by a woman, but given the large number of extremely talented women writing SFF, I’d think that even had I not been thinking about the issue I would have accidently had more than 30% of books I read written by women.

At least five of the books I read in December will be written or edited by women because that’s what I currently have out from the library.

18 of these 44 books (40.91%) are written by four women: Elizabeth Bear (7), Kage Baker (4), Karen Traviss (4), L. Timmel Duchamp (3), so I wonder what would / will happen when I finish up with Bear’s back catalog.

Just for giggles, let’s look at 2006 and 2007 (the only other years I have any kind of records for)

2006: 41/134 – 30.60%
2007: 67/226 – 29.65%

If nothing else, I’m remarkably consistent.

As I’ve said, I don’t think the solution is necessarily to choose a book simply because a woman wrote it, but on the other hand there is a realm of reading experiences and perspectives here that I’m simply missing because barely 30% of the books I read are written by women. I need to seek out more *good* novels and collections written by women and if only 30% of my reading is by female authors, clearly there is a large number of quality works out there which I simply have never read…possibly have never heard of.

This post and the numbers I’ve pulled deal solely with gender. If I bring race into the conversation then the numbers will be nothing less then glaring. A quick scan of what I’ve read in the last couple of years will only reveal a small handful of writers who I know are not white. If there is an inequity regarding gender in what I read, the racial inequity is much, much larger. There’s all sorts of worldview which I have never encountered, or scarcely encountered.

I hope that a year from now, if I think to examine what I’ve read, that there will be a noticeable shift in what I’ve read. It’s just something I need to be conscious about during the year.

I don't really have a conclusion about this, or why the consistency even though I became more aware of gender and SFF in the last year or so, but that's my reading breakout.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Organ Nell", by Jennifer Pelland

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Jennifer Pelland has a new story up at Apex Magazine: “Organ Nell”. This 2600 word story is an oral history which builds the picture of the circumstances of Nell Gabrielli. Nell grows tumors on the outside of her body, but unlike a regular tumor, Nell’s tumors are viable organs that can be used for transplant to others. The oral history of “Organ Nell” gives the sad acceptance of Nell about her situation and the benefits she is giving mankind, but it also gives the perspective on medical professionals on both sides of the ethical aisle of Nell’s not quite forced participation and also the perspectives of priests, transplant recipients, and a couple of people on the street.

Like so much of Pelland’s work, “Organ Nell” is a heartbreaking story. Because it is told in the oral history format, “Organ Nell” is a tougher story to get into than some other stories Jennifer Pelland has written. Other stories are a more traditional narrative format and the oral history provides less of a sense of character than a well written traditional narrative. The thing is, Pelland has made the concept of “Organ Nell” so interesting that readers will spend the first page or so wondering what exactly Nell’s issue is and what the controversy is, and by the time readers know what the deal is (which I revealed in the first paragraph), they’re hooked.

That’s what Jennifer Pelland does to readers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

November 2008 Reading

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Another month gone by, another recap list of what I read the previous month. Links are to my reviews.

1. Pet Sematary – Stephen King (November)
2. Bloodlines – Karen Traviss
3. The Machine’s Child – Kage Baker
4. Cold Copper Tears – Glen Cook
5. The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
6. Worldwired – Elizabeth Bear
7. Why Women Should Rule the World – Dee Dee Myers
8. The Gypsy Morph – Terry Brooks
9. Black Hole – Charles Burns
10. The Complete Peanuts 1969 – 1970 – Charles M. Schulz
11. The Hero of Ages – Brandon Sanderson
12. Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris
13. Street of Shadows – Michael Reaves
14. Fast Ships, Black Sails – Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (editors)
15. Just After Sunset – Stephen King
16. Going Under – Justina Robson
17. Red Spikes – Margo Lanagan

If I am able to get off my duff (whichever part of me that is), we will have reviews of The Hero of Ages, Living Dead in Dallas, and perhaps Going Under.

Previous 2008 Reads
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October

Total so far this year: 143

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Del Rey Book: "Ardent Clouds"

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"Ardent Clouds" from Lucy Sussex is the second story in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time I've experienced Sussex's fiction.

This is a story which Abigail Nussbaum said "manages to be dull when talking about people who chase volcano eruptions". I only half agree with that sentiment. If one goes into the story looking for high adventure and actual volcano chasing, then yes, it is a disappointing story and I can see where Nussbaum is coming from. Not to say that she did expect high adventure, and the first three paragraphs do introduce the narrator as a volcano chaser who states right off "That's how I make my living, travellings from eruption to eruption, filming the biggest, most explosive, most uncontrollable things on earth" (pg 54). So, there is an expectation of excitement which "Ardent Clouds" never quite delivers.

With that said, I found "Ardent Clouds" to be a satisfying read. The story features Bet Murray, a documentary filmmaker with a love for volcanoes and a passion on getting the best and impossible shots when the volcanoes explode.

The story is much less about mountains which go boom and far more about Bet Murray, the person behind the occupation. Through Bet the reader sees the competitiveness and rivalries that can exist, the friendships that can develop, and the danger (of course).

In the context of what the story actually is, and not what one might think it should be, "Ardent Clouds" is a quietly beautiful story and one with some heartbreak.

Besides Nussbaum's valid criticism, the only other criticism I can see leveled at "Ardent Clouds" is that despite being included in a book titled The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I'm not quite sure this story is really a genre story. It's a good story. From reading it, I want to read more from Sussex, but I'm not sure it really fits even a very liberal SFF definition.

Doesn't matter a lick to me, though. I'll take it.
 
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