Saturday, May 30, 2009

Klima's 2009 World Fantasy Award Nominations

Saturday, May 30, 2009 0
Seriously, I can't wait to see what works get nominated for the World Fantasy Awards this year.

John Klima posted the list of what he nominated. I like the transparency, and I like to see what people nominate.

This is yet another reminder that I need to read some Ekaterina Sedia. I got the message, people. I'll read her. I really will. I promise.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Nine Sundays in a Row", by Kris Dikeman

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Nine Sundays in a Row
Kris Dikeman
Strange Horizons: October 27, 2008

The story opens with a statement and with a warning.
If you wanta learn you somethin', go on down to a place where two roads cross. Get there Saturday 'round midnight, and wait there 'til Sunday morning—do that for nine Sundays, all in a row. The dark man, he'll send his dog to watch on you while you wait. And on the ninth morning, the dark man will meet you. And he will learn you—anything you wanta learn. But you remember this: that dark man, he don't work for free.

Nine Sundays and you can learn anything you want. For a price.

The twist? The story is from the perspective of the dog. The narration focuses on smells and sounds, things a dog (even a potential hell-dog) might notice. The dog, of course, has attitude.

She's back under the oak tree, I'm back in the verbena. No breeze tonight, it's hot and close, and Mr. Moon is half the fella he used to be. She's got a lantern, makes a little circle of light, drawing every skeeter in ten counties, big cloud of buzz and bother. She's all over coated up with some unguent from a plastic bottle. Nasty smellin' stuff, and not hardly working by the way she's cussing and slapping.

She cusses like a man, and she's wearing those big old boots again. I expect she wishes she were beautiful. That's what I'd wish for, if I was an ugly woman.

Each Sunday brings a new section to the story and Dikeman manages to keep the essential core of a young woman sitting and waiting and still make each section feel dynamic. There is waiting and there is the dog’s thoughts, but the originality in flipping the mythos of waiting for the Devil at midnight simply works. Dikeman has written a very good story here.

In its own way, “Nine Sundays in a Row” is a beautiful story. The reader knows part of what is coming just because of what kind of story it is, but by the end, yeah, it’s a beautiful story. Even when everything is broken. It’s beautiful because there is a hint, a chance that maybe one day everything won’t always be broken. This will make sense by the end of the story, though perhaps it is also what I brought to the story rather than what Dikeman put in the story.


The story is a finalist for the StorySouth Million Writers Award. I had been semi-curious about those stories but hadn’t gotten around to any of them. When Rachel Swirsky, herself an outstanding writer, recommended the story (with the admission that Dikeman is a friend), I figured it was time to take a look. Besides, it had been far too long since I read anything from Strange Horizons. This is a reminder that I need to start again. It was more than worth the read.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

for lack of content, here's content

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Since I don't have anything queued up right now, here's some other people talking about books:

John Klima on The City & The City
Jo Walton on Hyperion
John Ottinger on We Never Talk About My Brother

Also - when I specifically recommend a novel, you will like it. You're welcome.


I've been skimping on my own reviews and I plan to get back into it very shortly. Here's what I have on tap:

Lord of Chaos, by Robert Jordan
A Crown of Swords, by Robert Jordan
Lamentation, by Ken Scholes
Tsunami, by L. Timmel Duchamp
Spicy Slipstream Stories, edited by Nick Mamatas and Jay Lake (yes, more story reviews)
Gunpowder, by Joe Hill

That's what I'm going to start with. I've got a stack of other stuff from the library and specifically to review. Including Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker.

Oh - and more Hugo talk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 Hugo Award Nominees: Novelettes

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Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi ( Fast Forward 2)
Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Thus begins my second post covering the 2009 Hugo Award nominees, focusing this time on the novelettes. As always, the stories will be listed in reverse order of how worthy I think they are of the award. We'll start with John Kessel's "Pride and Prometheus.


“Pride and Prometheus”
Previously stated thoughts
Kessel’s story is well written and there is a strong aspect of intellectual interest to the chronology of the story and working out the little clues as to what is going on. John Kessel works in the inherent horror of the situation perfectly. The main problem here is simply that because I am not a fan of the original source material, I am not the ideal reader for “Pride and Prometheus”. For me, the story only works on the “hey, Kessel’s doing something kind of cool here” level.

A counterpoint to "Pride and Prometheus" would come from a person who I recommended this story to. She is a fan of Jane Austen's work and is very familiar with the characters / setting. She loved the story. I can only appreciate the story on an intellectual level.

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders”
Oh, it's been a long time since I've read this story. Probably last year when it was first sort-of-nominated for the Hugo (or Nebula, not really sure) before its eligibility was questioned and then pulled. Compared to Resnick's other nominated story, "Article of Faith", "Alastair Baffle" is a much stronger story. For the simple fact that I was able to appreciate the story on a character / human level, I had to rate this above Kessel's story. I know / suspect that "Pride and Prometheus" is and will be a highly regarded story and it is a stronger technical story. But, this story of two old men, two old friends rediscovering a strange magic shop they first saw as a child is touching. Is it award worthy? Well, moreso than "Article of Faith", and I prefer the story over "Pride and Prometheus", but I certainly wouldn't vote it the Hugo.


“The Gambler”
This was a story which left me a bit cold, but I have to acknowedge it to be far superior to either the Kessel or Resnick stories. I sadly did not blog about it, and trying to piece together coherent thoughts on a story I read two months ago is difficult. So - let me say that the story is part history of a nearish future news blogger (the competition between different newsblog companies is fascinating and feels realistic) and part present-day-story (for the blogger) where Ong passively fights for his less sensationalistic stories and is pushed into the potential for more. It is also an immigrant's story. To be fair, it's been just too long to be able to speak well about story. I remember that I liked it, but didn't like it too much. That's vague, but just go read the story for yourself. You'll be better off that way.


“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story”
Previously stated thoughts (from my Nebula Coverage):
It's almost been too long since I read "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" to write about it. Here's what I recall: The story delighted me. It's a story that features a ray-gun from outer space (because where else do ray guns come from?), but as much as anything else is about the on-and-off romance between Jack and Kristin and the role of the ray gun in that romance. Yeah, you can get all that from the title. But just imagine that you found a ray gun like this and how it would change your life. James Alan Gardner has written a very good story about a ray gun, but really about people.

“Shoggoths in Bloom”
Previously stated thoughts:
The gradual research and exploration Dr. Harding undertakes to understand the shoggoths is the heart of this story and even without the issue of race and the burgeoning realization through newspapers of what is occuring in Germany, "Shoggoths in Bloom" would be an interesting story. With everything else that Bear has put into the story to show that these characters are not operating in a vacuum devoid of life, "Shoggoths in Bloom" is a rather strong story from Elizabeth Bear.

As a category, I'm a little less impressed with the Novelettes than I expected to be. There's nothing here that makes me wish I could foist a story (or two) on everyone I meet. It's a solid category, and "Shoggoths in Bloom" would certainly deserve to be Bear's second Hugo (both for Asimov's stories, strangely - but that's a different conversation), but this isn't a flashy category.

Would I hesitate for a moment to vote for "Shoggoths in Bloom" over the rest of the novelettes here? Nope.

Previous Thoughts
Short Stories

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Palimpsest

Saturday, May 23, 2009 0
For lack of serious content this weekend, here's my review of Catherynne Valente's Palimpsest.

I had a difficult time writing about Palimpsest because the novel seemed to focus more on the world through the fragmented eyes of the characters, and while the overriding narrative was the need (not the desire) of four people to get back to the city of Palimpsest - so there wasn't an A to B storyline that could easily be talked about in 200 words. Palimpsest was a novel of atmosphere and language. I struggled with that review.

Shoot, check out Matt Denault's review of Palimpsest over at Strange Horizons. 3800 words of review. Actually, check out that review anyway. Matt did a fantastic job of it. I'm seriously impressed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Empties, by George Zebrowski

Thursday, May 21, 2009 0
New!

Er...

Two days old!!

Go check out my review of George Zebrowski's new novel Empties. It's over at Fantasy Magazine. Ya know, where the cool kids go when they need a break from all the other cool things they're doing.

You know you want to
.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Revolution Business, by Charles Stross

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The Revolution Business
Charles Stross
Tor: 2009


The Revolution Business is the penultimate volume in The Merchant Princes, from author Charles Stross. This is a series which features multiple / parallel worlds and a family, a Clan, which has the genetic ability to walk between the worlds. One of the worlds is our own, circa 2001 / 2002. The others exist in our same timeframe, but with varying degrees of political, economic, and technological development. The true focus of the series is on Miriam Beckstein, a woman raised in our world but a scion of Gruinmarkt – the fulcrum of so much of the activity and societal change in the offering. Miriam is the grounding character of the series as she was set up from the first volume as the main protagonist, but Stross does tell the story of The Revolution Business from multiple viewpoints to give a wider perspective of what all is happening. The New Britain storyline does get short shrift, though, and there is a bit of a mess in figuring out what those events are and how they tie to the larger story of the novel and series.

The primary thread running through The Revolution Business is the impending war between Gruinmarkt and the United States. The United States government has known for two volumes that the world walkers from the Clan were responsible for a large portion of the drug trade and seeks to shut down said drug trade. That was before six nuclear devices disappeared from secure bunkers, with one bomb only recovered by mistake. In the eyes of the United States government, the Clan had gone from “nuisance” to “threat”. Threats will be dealt with. Threats with weapons of mass destruction, with nuclear devices stolen from the United States, will be dealt with harshly.

The cover of The Revolution Business prominently features a mushroom cloud over a castle. Unless Tor’s art department is guilty of false advertising, there is an expectation raised before the reader turns to the first page that one of those nuclear devices will be detonated. Whether it is one faction of the Clan against another, or the United States fighting back against the Clan, is not clear from the artwork – though I will say that within a few chapters it is clear which of the above two directions Stross chooses.

This cover creates a level of expectation and tension in the reader. Since this series takes place at least partly in our world, there is no getting around the fact that nuclear weapons have only been used twice in history as a weapon. Twice, and never again since the dawn of atomic weaponry. That there is a mushroom cloud is on the cover of this novel is significant and horrifying. As is the fact that the cover also shows modern buildings off to the side of the castle, suggesting that the threat is not simply against Gruinmarkt, but also against the United States. This tension pervades the entire novel and is one of the stronger aspects of The Revolution Business.

One of the weaker aspects of The Revolution Business is that the novel consists of a slow build towards one event, but despite some political maneuvering in Gruinmarkt on the side of Miriam and her supporters, not a whole lot actually happens in The Revolution Business. Not until the bomb, and after that, not until the end. The Revolution Business has a feel of Stross setting things up for the conclusion to this series, The Trade of Queens. It is difficult to say that a novel which features the detonation of a nuclear device and yet another cliff-hanger ending has a feeling of stagnation to it – not when Miriam’s status in Gruinmarkt changes with every volume, but The Revolution Business has a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This is odd, because looking back at the novel I can identify more than a handful of moments that are significant in shaping the novel and what may come next. Identifying the moments would serve to spoil major development points, but there are serious developments in The Revolution Business. So why does the novel feel so flat?

My guess is that the more that Stross strips away the wonder of the world-walking and brings science into the bones of the novel, the more distant the story becomes. Decoding the knots is one thing, but the POV of the US operatives is rife with the ALL CAPS codewords of various operations and political figures. This is a staple of how Stross handles the Laundry novels, and in that context it works, but even there it is distracting. In The Revolution Business it is just out of place. It marks a change in the narrative focus of this series and this is not a positive. Yes, The Merchant Princes has never been a flat out fantasy series. It initially felt like a dual-world fantasy, but despite the low tech of Gruinmarkt, it was never exactly that. As the series progressed it has become increasingly clear that there is a science fictional basis to it. In itself this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Merely a thing. How Stross handles the SF elements of this series would be the mark of how good the series can be. They are only tools an author can use, after all.

So, decoding the knots (the focus of the world walking) and having technology figure prominently in the series is not a problem. Up until this point I have appreciated Stross’s handling of it. Until this point.

Here is where we get into a matter of taste. Stross’s science fiction is not to my taste. I find it cold and somewhat impenetrable, and thus dull. Stross’s science fiction is lauded by his peers and by readers. I can’t argue with this. He is recognized as one of the top writers of science fiction working today. However, his science fiction is a turn-off. There is still enough character and interest with the multiverse and inter-world warfare to keep me going, and I appreciate that the turn has taken this long to take effect, but the feeling that Stross is more an ideas man and less a character / story writer is strong right now and I fear that is the direction the series is taking. That’s fine for those who like it, but The Revolution Business did not work the way some of the previous novels.

On the other hand I have a theory about The Merchant Princes, and it is a reverse Bret Saberhagen theory. The odd volumes (1, 3, 5) have been somewhat disappointing. The even volumes (2, 4) have satisfied. The Revolution Business has held this pattern and I can only hope that volume 6 will continue the trend and conclude the series in a most satisfying manner. No matter what that is.

To shift gears…

This may be an odd statement to make about a series which is so obviously steeped in the politics of the alternate world of Gruinmarkt, but The Revolution Business takes a semi-unexpected step into the politics of the United States and has damning things to say about the George W. Bush administration. This would be almost out of place, except that Stross ties the activity of the Clan over the years into the politics of the United States and shows that the Clan has political savvy in workings to strengthen their position, even while keeping the US Government ignorant of their true identities. In doing so, Stross particularly damns the historical actions Vice President Cheney as well as showing how Cheney might respond to a threat like the world-walking Clan.

There is more focus in this novel about the power of VPOTUS, codenamed WARBUCKS, compared to that of the actual President. There is a throwaway line that the President is much savvier in private than he comes across in public, but the focus here is on the Vice President as the dangerous man.

It isn’t that this is all entirely out of place, because it does fit in with the changing nature of the series, but the bluntness of the conversations about the authorizations given by the Vice President and the power he wields does stick out a bit. It is noticed as more than just a story point. On the other hand, if the events of The Merchant Princes were factual, I could believe that this is how the Bush Administration would react. A political argument could be made about whether the Administration should (or should not), but that would be a discussion for another place and time. I wonder if one’s reading of The Revolution Business will be shaded by where one stands on the political spectrum. Very likely.

My final thought about The Revolution Business is that I wish there was a “The Story So Far…” pre-chapter at the start of this volume, because I had a difficult time remembering all that came before in The Merchant’s War (though I do remember the shape of the series). I don’t think that would have influenced by enjoyment of the novel, but it would have helped my comprehension. That’s just me.

In the end The Revolution Business is unsatisfying. It sets up the conclusion, but does not stand well on its own either as part of the series OR as a novel in its own right. It is part of a series which is still worth recommending (despite half of the novels being disappointing), but as an individual volume there is no need to rush out and read this one. On the other hand, longtime fans of Charles Stross may find much to appreciate here as he steps away from any hint that this might have been a fantasy series.


Previous Reviews
The Family Trade
The Hidden Family
The Clan Corporate
The Merchant's War

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 Hugo Nominees: Short Stories

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26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, July 2008)
Article of Faith”, by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe, October 2008)
Evil Robot Monkey”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”, by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s, February 2008)


Welcome to my first post covering the 2009 Hugo Award Nominees. We’re going to start with the Short Story this year. As always, the story notes will be in reverse order of my esteem. The first story mentioned gets the place of dishonor. Which brings me to Michael Swanwick.


“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”
I read this story back when I still had a subscription to Asimov's and I received the February 2008 issue of the magazine. I didn't re-read the story, but I scanned through it a second time and I know why I didn't like it. It's all about formatting and the presentation of the alien intelligence and the strange way it communicates. Yes, science fiction is forward looking, ever striving to break new ground, but for me, it doesn't work. Swanwick demands that his readers work to translate the dialogue of the aliens, and I can intellectually appreciate that, but this isn't the sort of story I can enjoy. At all.


“Article of Faith”:
Previously stated thoughts:
It is likely the simplicity of “Article of Faith” which caused it to resonate with enough readers to garner a Hugo nomination. It is a very pleasant story, overall. A story about what it means to have a soul, to be “a man”, to be able to know God, to be able to worship God. Simplified.

Mike Resnick’s writing is almost always smooth and easy and “Article of Faith” is no exception. There is a reason Mike Resnick has as many admirers as he does. I can’t really get behind this story, though. I keep using the word “simple”, and simple is not inherently a bad thing. Except, perhaps, in this case. The message of the story is so reduced and parable-ish that “Article of Faith” reads as if Resnick is trying to present a particular message to his readers. That it is a parable, to be used for instruction. Maybe that’s the point. If so, point taken.

As a story nominated for a Hugo Award – it’s not good enough.


“Exhalation”
I shared some brief thoughts on the story here, but there really isn’t a quote or a paragraph to pull out of that post. As I mentioned in that post, the sequence where the narrator performs surgery on his own metallic brain – it is breathtaking in its audacity and creativity. However, the words “cold” and “clinical” are what I keep coming back to. There is no real emotional core to the story, not one that resonates, and ultimately that’s what holds it back.


At this point there would is a significant gap between the nominated stories. “Exhalation” is a better story than the Swanwick or the Resnick, but it isn’t a close third to Mary Robinette Kowal or Kij Johnson.

This is where I’m waffling on what to rank first.



“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”
Previously stated thoughts:
The story is in turns clever, sweet, funny, and sad. After reading last year’s nominated story “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” I was quite impressed with Kij Johnson’s storytelling skill and was curious to read more of her work. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is a story of one woman’s healing among a show full of performing monkeys – monkeys that accepted her, not the other way around.

It’s good. It’s really good. Last year’s story was one of my favorite nominated stories and after reading this, I expect “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” will be one of this year’s favorites.

“Evil Robot Monkey”
Previously stated thoughts:
Oh, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. In fewer than 1000 words Mary Robinette Kowal just killed me. The opening paragraphs paints a picture of a monkey in a pen trying to do nothing more than make pottery but because Sly is a monkey, people think it is okay to hit the glass walls of his pen. The pottery brings the monkey peace. The other aspect of the story that wrecks me is the conversation between Sly and Vern, the handler, about what happened and why and what the consequences are.

Damn, “Evil Robot Monkey” is good. It’s so short, but the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story lingers.

So, that’s where I stand. If I had a vote and I sent it in today, the top slot would be Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey”. Alas, I do not have a vote. This year. Next year I plan to pony up the $50 and become a voting member and really be part of the conversation.

If you ask me again tomorrow, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” might get my non-existent vote. Both are damn fine stories and of a higher quality than the other three nominees.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rides a Dread Legion, by Raymond E. Feist

Monday, May 18, 2009 1

Rides a Dread Legion
Raymond E. Feist
EOS: 2009

Here we are with a new Riftwar novel from Raymond Feist, Rides a Dread Legion, Volume 1 of the Demonwar Saga. Set ten years after Wrath of a Mad God, Rides a Dread Legion introduces a new old threat to Midkemia, a threat that once again could destroy all life on the planet.

Rides a Dread Legion begins by introducing Arimantha, a warlock who defrauds towns by raising demons only to banish them for payment. Except, this time something goes wrong and Arimantha sees other hands at work. I wrote elsewhere about the opening pages to this novel and how bad they were. I won’t repeat them here, so click the link and prepare to be appalled.

The opening three chapters introduce new characters to the world – Amirantha in Chapter One. Sandreena, a Holy Knight on a mission of her own (to give the quick and dirty version) in Chapter Two. The most important introduction is that of the Taredhel in Chapter Three. The Taredhel are yet another race of Elves – only this time the Taredhel are Elves From Another World. Yep. Space Elves!! The Taredhel are fleeing the destruction of their once-worlds-spanning empire from endless hordes of Demons. Their last place of refuge: Midkemia, a world they only just discovered was their near-mythical “Home”, the world of their origin. Unlike other elves, the Taredhel has a serious superiority complex and a need to rule and they plan to subjugate Midkemia even as they try to fight off the demons.

It all ties together, really. Some parts of the novel are even touching, though I think a younger Raymond Feist would have handled the ending to the novel with a bit more grace and skill – taking a moment that could have been one of the most powerful of the series so far, and nailing all of our hearts to the wall. Except, he doesn’t. I would make a comparison to a semi-similar moment (though under different circumstances), but to do so would spoil what happens in this book. The ending to Rides a Dread Legion does set up the second (and concluding) volume to the Demonwar Saga duology, and provides an emotional shock to fans of the series, but even that is a shadow of what could have been.

That’s really where the overall disappointment comes from – this novel, and series as a whole, is a shadow of what could have been, of what was. Where Feist would once draw readers in and make them feel part of the story, the result of 2009 is to bluntly explain every thought and action as if the readers were children unable to understand storytelling.

Storytelling this isn’t. It’s recitation.

Like many a reader of my generation, Raymond Feist looms large in my childhood discovery and love of fantasy. I owe much of my love of the genre to Magician and the subsequent novels set on Midkemia and Kelewan. That first trip through the Hall of Worlds and Honest John’s in A Darkness at Sethanon remains a treasured memory. I can’t figure out if Feist changed, or I did.

If Rides a Dread Legion was written by anybody other than Raymond Feist, and if this was not part of the Riftwar series, I’d have quit this novel LONG before the finish. The fact that there is any resonance whatsoever is entirely dependent on having read everything that came before and having a fifteen year relationship with Pug and Tomas. If this wasn’t Riftwar, and if this was not one of the last five volumes planned for Pug and Midkemia, I’d be long gone.

But it is Riftwar, and longtime fans of the series will want to read this. Not because it’s a good book. It isn’t. Fans of the series will want to read it just to see what happens to Pug and how Feist plans to wrap it all up.

Let’s be honest here. The series isn’t what it once was and there is a sense to the prose that Feist is just coasting. I hope that I’m wrong, because I have this inherent belief that most writers truly try to do the best they can with every novel and pour as much of their talent and craft into it as possible. The thing is – Feist has done better. Much better. He has written stories with so much more heart and character than this one. He has created characters which are truly memorable. Once upon a time.

That was then.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

stuff i've paid for, pt 2

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I've been doing some shopping the last month or so. I tend to get most of my reading material from the library, but here's some collection building. The used books came from Uncle Hugo's, so even though the authors aren't getting support, the local economy is.

Lots of good stuff here. Some of the new books have been pre-ordered and have not been published yet, but here they are.

Used Books
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi
The Last Colony – John Scalzi
A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
the chains that you refuse - Elizabeth Bear
Dangerous Visions - Harlan Ellison (editor)
Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress
Slow River - Nicola Griffith

The three Scalzi books above are all in hardcover. As is the GRRM and Dangerous Visions. I probably wouldn't have picked up Dangerous Visions if it wasn't a HC volume. If I stumble across Again, Dangerous Visions in HC, I'd pick that up, too.

What I've been looking for at Uncle Hugo's is GRRM's Wild Cards series...but since GRRM announced Tor is republishing the first three volumes, maybe I'll just hold off for those.


New Books

Starlady and Fast-Friend – George R. R. Martin
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon
Metatropolis – John Scalzi (editor)
Scenting the Dark and Other Stories – Mary Robinette Kowal
The God Engines – John Scalzi
Gunpowder – Joe Hill
Dagger Key and Other Stories – Lucius Shepard

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forthcoming 2009: Q3

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Pulled, as always, from the Locus Forthcoming list. If it ain’t on that list, it ain’t on this list.

My standard opening statement:
Usually early in whatever quarter of the year we're in I like to take a look at the Locus list of books coming out in the next quarter. I just like to see what's coming out that I should keep an eye out for. It's about that time. So, here's what I think looks good in the third quarter of 2009. Obviously, publishing schedules can and do change.



July

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie: Shares the world of The First Law, but features all new characters. It’s Joe Abercrombie. I’m sold.

Unplugged, by Rich Horton (editor): An anthology focused entirely on fiction originally published online.

Metatropolis, by John Scalzi (editor): I’ve already pre-ordered this. Originally an audio project, Metatropolis contains fiction from Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, and Karl Schroeder. The audio version is nominated for a Hugo.


August
By Blood We Live, by John Joseph Adams (editor): JJA’s vampire anthology. I like JJA’s anthologies, so I’m interested to see what he pulls together here.

Chasing the Dragon, by Justina Robson: Quantum Gravity Book 4. Justina Robson is more than solid.


September
The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood: So, it’s like this. Atwood can be hit or miss (though generally her misses are still strong efforts) and it’s been a few years since she published a new novel, so it’s kind of a deal. It’ll be interesting to see what she brings to the table here.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi: I’m more than coming around on Bacigalupi and I’d love to see what he does with his debut novel. I picked up his collection Pump Six and Other Stories when I saw him read at a bookstore in Minneapolis.

The Best of the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Gordon Van Gelder (editor): I read the Asimov’s anthology Sheila Williams edited a couple years back and it was an outstanding anthology. I expect that F&SF has a strong lineup of stories to pick from and that this will be another standout anthology covering the best of one of the Big Three.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GRRM is not working for you

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 2
Or, according to Neil Gaiman: "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch"

Just in case you were wondering or concerned.

The more I think about it - and since this comes up on the internet every few months - the more I agree with this position, and for a variety of reasons.

Toll the Hounds?

I began reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series with initial delight at the scope of the world, at the characters, at the raw creativity Steven Erikson brought to the table.

I remained impressed through the first four volumes. The introduction of the world and the Bridgeburners in Gardens of the Moon remains a highlight for me. Coltaine, Duiker, and the tragic betrayal of the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates was brutal and beautiful. Whiskeyjack in Memories of Ice. The Karsa Orlong story in House of Chains, and the heartbreaking resolution to the Sha’ik storyline. The scale was grand and the storytelling top notch. Sure, each volume changed the focus of the series, but it all still appeared to tie together.

Then we got to Midnight Tides and Erikson brought in the Letherii. That was a tough book to get through. It was a whole new setting that made little sense for everything that came before. Completely divergent.

My problem now, with Toll the Hounds (book 8), is that I have no idea what the hell is going on anymore. I’ve no objection to Erikson killing off major and beloved characters with a gusto that would shock even George R. R. Martin. Hell, I applaud it.

But you would think by the eighth book in a ten volume series I would have a clue as to what the overall arc is to this series. You’d think, but you’d be wrong. I don’t.

Oh, there are glimmers that this is a confrontation with the Crippled God and that Ganoes Paran will have a role to play as Master of the Deck, and that there will be this great war of Gods and men who are more than men…the clues are there as to what Erikson might be up to. Assuming that I’m even reading the clues correctly.

But.

By book eight of ten, shouldn’t we know where this is going? At this point I’m still trying to figure out who some of the characters are and how they connect.

Basically, I’m wading through pages and pages of sludge to get to the next major action piece that be a signpost of advancing story.

Steven Erikson confuses me.

I’ve invested this much time that I want to finish the series, and Erikson has been popping out new volumes like clockwork, but this has ceased to be simple pleasure or a series I could ever recommend. After House of Chains I would have said that this is a big, bold, complicated series that gets better with each volume and is worth the time investment.

I no longer feel that way. Oh, sure Kalam’s extended fight near the end of The Bonehunters was everything I ever wanted from the series, and I did rather enjoy the March of Hood in this book, but that sort of goodness is few and far between. I don’t feel that Erikson has lost his way, but I do feel that he is over-indulgent as a writer.

This Snickers fails to satisfy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fort Freak!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 0
A Wild Cards announcement from GRRM.

Fort Freak and its cops and detectives have figured in many of our older Wild Cards stories, albeit usually in the background. But with this new volume, we're finally going to tell the stories of the brave men and women who walk the mean streets and strange alleys of Jokertown, and the unique and dangerous challenges that face.

FORT FREAK is the title, and Tor will once again be our publisher. The lineup of contributors for this one includes Cherie Priest, Melinda M. Snodgrass, David Anthony Durham, Stephen Leigh, Paul Cornell, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Victor Milan, and John Jos. Miller. The featured characters will be a mix of old favorite and new creations.

Woooooo!

Ahem.

Imaro: or, this is how the internet works

Yesterday's Links and Things post from Matt Staggs features the following entry:

Interesting old interview (2005) with “Imaro” author Charles R. Saunders, a black author of swords & sorcery fiction


Until I read the interview, I had never heard of Imaro. I had never heard of Charles Saunders.

I must read this book.

Looks like Night Shade reprinted the first two volumes in the trilogy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview with Gordon Van Gelder, plus Scalzi

Monday, May 11, 2009 0
Oh, not here. If I interviewed GVG it would be boring as hell...

Jason Henninger interviews Gordon Van Gelder at Tor.com.

The interview itself is good reading. The comments continue the conversation.

Plus, since GVG invoked Scalzi, Scalzi responded.

If you haven't seen it already, it's a good way to start your week

Sunday, May 10, 2009

oh, bloody hell

Sunday, May 10, 2009 0
I'm two pages into the new Raymond Feist novel, Rides a Dread Legion, and I'm already getting pissed off at the author.

I've got three problems right now.

1.
Semi-colon. If you can't use it well, don't use the damn thing.
Had his protective wards not been firmly established, he would have instantly died; the demon was powerful enough to send sufficient force through the barrier to slam the magic-user hard against the cave wall behind him. - pg 1.
Is there any reason that shouldn't be two sentences? Seriously? This leads into Problem 2.


2. Feist didn't always over-explain crap in simple terms suggesting that the reader was, in fact, a simple minded child, right? I've just got the feeling that the man just isn't trying as hard as he used to. Maybe I'm wrong and he is trying as hard as he used to...but he's failing.


3. The minotaur is an Earth-based legend that has no basis in the Midkemian mythos. So, while a minotaur does evoke an image in the mind of a reader, it also yanks said reader right out of the story and causes said reader to question what the hell the author is doing. Or, maybe it's just me.


Oh, and I think that whomever wrote the jacket copy is a moron. Queen Miranda of the Elves? When the hell did that happen? Does Feist have to approve the jacket copy first? Does someone who has read the damn series have to approve the jacket copy first? If not, can they?

Damn.

Friday, May 08, 2009

you like Cherie Priest?

Friday, May 08, 2009 0
Damn right you do.

As such, you'll be quite happy to know she just sold two more novels. Announcement here.

Two urban fantasies: Bloodshot and Hellbent.

Cherie says this about Bloodshot.

You may recall BLOODSHOT as my “adventure novel about a neurotic vampire/thief and her wealthy blind client, now with Bonus! Cuban drag queen and military intrigue.”

Mmm hmm.

Don't forget that Boneshaker comes out later this year.

Brandon Sanderson is a busy, busy man

This is why.

Holy crap.

And, this also goes to show that while writing A Memory of Light is a privilege and an opportunity for Brandon, it's also put a lot of stuff on the backburner and that he does still have some contractual obligations to fulfill.

Seriously, I admire his work ethic and also the fairly lengthy disclosure of what's going on and why. I know this level of communication isn't for everyone and that not every author can or should be expected to do so, but it's really cool of him to do so.

Plus, I do like his books. I've got an ARC Warbreaker on my shelf which I want to get to before June.

Oh - and do go find those faux-reviews of The Way of Kings on Amazon. They're a hoot.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

City Without End, by Kay Kenyon

Thursday, May 07, 2009 0
My review of City Without End, the third novel in the Entire and the Rose sequence by Kay Kenyon, has been posted at Fantasy Magazine.

Go take a look.

Here are my reviews of the other books in this series
Bright of the Sky
A World Too Near

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

April 2009: Short Stories Read

Tuesday, May 05, 2009 0
My continuing list of stories read, links to reviews / commentary.

51. “Baby Doll”, by Johanna Sinisalo (The Year’s Best SF 13, 2008 – reprint SFWA European Hall of Fame, 2007) (link to story)
52. “Don’t Stop”, by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, June 2007) (link to story)
53. “Dark Heaven”, by Gregory Benford (Alien Crimes, 2007)
54. “Sugar”, by Leah Bobet (Shadow Unit, April 2009) (link to story)
55. “Dangerous Space”, by Kelley Eskridge (Dangerous Space, 2007) (link to story)
56. “Evil Robot Monkey”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Vol 2, 2008) (link to story)
57. “Pride and Prometheus”, by John Kessel (F&SF, January 2008)
58. “Evidence of Love in the Case of Abandonment”, by M. Rickert (F&SF, Oct / Nov 2008) (link to story)
59. “Kaleidoscope”, by K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May 2007)
60. “Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two, 2008)
61. “If Angels Fight”, by Richard Bowes (F&SF, February 2008)
62. “Article of Faith”, by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe, October 2008) (link to story)
63. “The Last Question”, by Isaac Asimov (link to story)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Precious Dragon, by Liz Williams

Monday, May 04, 2009 0

Precious Dragon
Liz Williams
Night Shade Books: 2007


It is difficult to write about Precious Dragon. Or, more accurately, it is difficult to give a brief overview as to what the basic story of the novel is because there several things all going on and the same time. A young actor / prostitute hires out to a private party and finds himself snatched to Hello. Detective Inspector Chen and his demon partner Zhu Irzh investigate, but are then sidetracked when they are ordered to travel to Hell with a Celestial Warrior from Heaven. Some sort of diplomatic thing / invitation, though it is not entirely clear. A human woman is asked to look after her dead daughter’s son (though the daughter has been living in Hell for years). The son is not quite normal, though early on the reader does not know in what way. Also, there is a dragon swimming the rivers and canals of Singapore Three.

That’s what is going on at the start of Precious Dragon, the third Detective Inspector Chen novel.

The rest? Well, that's how Liz Williams weaves it all together. Early on in Precious Dragon there is a sense that Williams is just throwing stuff out there, but we have to trust that there is a reason for the random dragon swimming its way through Singapore Three, and that Chen and Zhu Irzh will somehow get back to the case of the missing actor boy. I'd be willing to suggest that the opening of Precious Dragon is perhaps a bit too scattered and that the lack of focus can be a turn off.

Yes, by the end of the novel it's clear that Liz Williams has her story well in hand and pulls together all the threads, but that might be part of the problem. This is only clear as the reader comes nears the conclusion of this relatively short novel. For the first two thirds (or so) of Precious Dragon the reader is left wondering how in the world all of this stuff, most of which is quite interesting, pulls together. Chen and Zhu Irzh in Hell with the Celestial? Golden. The quiet moments of the missing boy in Hell? Very nice. The sections with the precocious Precious Dragon (the character) and the old lady? Less so. The dragon swimming? Interesting, mostly. The trouble, which I'm not explaining well, is that there is little sense of a coherent narrative or storytline running through Precious Dragon.

That's the only real negative here. Both Snake Agent and The Demon and the City were more focused novels and thus stronger. Precious Dragon still provides the Chen / Zhu Irzh fix, and there is plenty of conspiracy between Hell and Heaven, with the fate of humanity in the balance. There's some outstanding stuff here. The lack of narrative focus, in this case, does hurt Precious Dragon. It could have been better. It could've been a contendah. Er. Strike that last sentence. Precious Dragon is good, but the first two are better.

Even with the lack of narrative focus, one thing that should be acknowledged is that Liz Williams refuses to rest on a formula for this series. She could do Demon-of-the-Week novels and run it out 18 volumes and I suspect many readers (including myself some days) would be perfectly happy. She doesn't. Liz Williams stretches and experiments and tries to tell a bigger story in a different way and not narrow the method of storytelling. Even when it doesn't completely work, the effort and attempt need to be acknowledged and appreciated. It's still enough to make me go read Shadow Pavilion.

Previous Reviews
Snake Agent
The Demon and the City

Sunday, May 03, 2009

April 2009 Reading

Sunday, May 03, 2009 2
Here is the final tally for the books I read in April 2009. You'd think I'd have accidentally posted a review of one of these.


31. Fate of Thorik – Anthony G. Wentworth
32. Sacrifice - Karen Traviss
33. Lucinda’s Secret – Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
34. Precious Dragon – Liz Williams
35. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente
36. The Ironwood Tree – Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
37. Those Who Went Remain There Still – Cherie Priest
38. City Without End – Kay Kenyon
39. The Wrath of Mulgarath – Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
40. Lord of Chaos – Robert Jordan
41. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense – Michael Brooks
42. Patterns of Force – Michael Reaves
43. Dread Brass Shadows – Glen Cook

Graphic Novels
13. Fables: Legends in Exile – Bill Willingham
14. Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Airship City – Phil and Kaja Foglio
15. Bottomless Belly Button – Dash Shaw
16. Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Monster Engine – Phil and Kaja Foglio
17. Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground – Greg Rucka
18. Fables: Animal Farm – Bill Willingham
19. Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Circus of Dreams – Phil and Kaja Foglio
20. Fables: Storybook Love – Bill Willingham
21. The Arrival – Shaun Tan
22. Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess – Phil and Kaja Foglio
23. Angel: After the Fall Volume 2: First Night – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
24. Queen and Country: Operation Morningstar – Greg Rucka
25. Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers – Bill Willingham
26. Angel: After the Fall Volume 3 – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch


I went a little crazy with the graphic novels this month. Reviews of Lord of Chaos, Precious Dragon, and Dread Brass Shadows to follow here. Reviews of Fate of Thorik, City Without End, and Palimpsest will appear elsewhere online.

Best Book: City Without End
Best Graphic Novel: Fables
Worst Book: Fate of Thorik. Oh, Lord, did Fate of Thorik suck.

Previous Reading
January
February
March

Saturday, May 02, 2009

March 2009 Reading

Saturday, May 02, 2009 0
Here is the final tally for the books I read in March 2009. Unlike previous months / years, I'm going to keep the yearly count going rather than renumber each month. It's a trivial thing, really, so we'll see what I think of it.

Yeah - so I'm a month late in posting this.

22. Sun in a Bottle – Charles Seife
23. Old Tin Sorrows – Glen Cook
24. Exile – Aaron Allston
25. The Fires of Heaven – Robert Jordan
26. Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand – Carrie Vaughn
27. Empties – George Zebrowski
28. Blue Diablo – Ann Aguirre
29. Fast Forward 2 – Lou Anders (editor)
30. Club Dead – Charlaine Harris

Graphic Novels
10. The Sandman: Fables and Reflections – Neil Gaiman
11. Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank- Phil and Kaja Foglio
12. Watchmen – Alan Moore

Clearly I was slack on reviewing the March books, though Empties and Blue Diablo will eventually be posted online elsewhere.

Best book of the month: Probably Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand or the first Girl Genius collection.

There's no real standout volume that I want to run and show other people, but also nothing really crappy either.

Previous Reading
January
February

Friday, May 01, 2009

Hugo Award Nominee: "Article of Faith"

Friday, May 01, 2009 1
Article of Faith
Mike Resnick
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Short Story


Mike Resnick's “Article of Faith” is as straightforward and obvious a story as they come. I’m not sure there is a single thing that readers with any familiarity with Christianity or a childhood of churchgoing (or, perhaps of watching movies) would not anticipate.

The new robot servicing the janitorial needs of Reverend Morris’s church is a bit different than the last robot. The new one, named Jackson, asks questions of Morris, questions about God. “Article of Faith” examines the ongoing conversation between Reverend Morris and Jackson about the nature of God. It is elementary stuff, though at the core of the Christian faith. Questions someone unfamiliar with the religion might ask, and Jackson persists with the logical next questions. As the conversation continues over several weeks Morris utilizes Jackson to correct logical issues in his sermons.

Do you see where this is going? Do you see what story Resnick is telling here?

Another pause. “God created everything except me?” he asked at last.

“That's an interesting question, Jackson,” I admitted. “I suppose the answer is that God is indirectly responsible for you, for had He not created Dr. Kalinovsky, Dr. Kalinovsky could not have created you.”

“Then I too am God's creation?”

“This is the House of God,” I said. “Far be it from me to tell anyone, even a robot, that he isn't God's creation.”

This is a world where humans are upset that robots are taking more and more of their jobs. Perhaps a world which is not far off what Asimov might have written about, if he wrote about Robots and Faith (and given how prolific a writer Asimov was, maybe he did).

It is likely the simplicity of “Article of Faith” which caused it to resonate with enough readers to garner a Hugo nomination. It is a very pleasant story, overall. A story about what it means to have a soul, to be “a man”, to be able to know God, to be able to worship God. Simplified.

Mike Resnick’s writing is almost always smooth and easy and “Article of Faith” is no exception. There is a reason Mike Resnick has as many admirers as he does. I can’t really get behind this story, though. I keep using the word “simple”, and simple is not inherently a bad thing. Except, perhaps, in this case. The message of the story is so reduced and parable-ish that “Article of Faith” reads as if Resnick is trying to present a particular message to his readers. That it is a parable, to be used for instruction. Maybe that’s the point. If so, point taken.

As a story nominated for a Hugo Award – it’s not good enough.
 
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