Monday, February 26, 2007

New Scalzi story

John Scalzi has a new short story up at Subterranean Press's new online magazine titled "Missives From Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Searches" and it reads as a reply back to a search inquiry regarding what would have happened alternate time streams if Adolf Hitler had been killed in a particular date in 1908. Being a work of Scalzi fiction, this is a fun and short read. With each subsequent possibility, the absurdity gets greater and greater.

I am rather enamored with Scalzi's fiction (currently reading The Android's Dream) and I wish that his novellas were more readily available at my library, but I would also love to see more short fiction from Scalzi. Maybe a couple more in a "Missives From Possible Futures" series for Subterranean. I know why he doesn't write much short fiction (novels pay better), but if he wrote more, I'd read them, too.

This story, though: Love it.

Premise of The Android's Dream
? Brilliant.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What I'm Watching: January 2007

The best two shows on television right now: 24 and Battlestar Galactica. 24 offers up the biggest thrills and the most compelling drama as anything else that is out there, and Battlestar Galactica is simply superior science fiction, or more accurately, superior television. The last two episodes have been a little bit weaker than I might like, and I really did not want to get in Adama's head, but at its best, BSG tells great stories about survival.

Then there is Lost. I loved the Desmond episode, but this last one with Jack's Tattoo was underwhelming. But, I trust the producers when they say they are working towards something and negotiating and end date and that we’ll get some good answers this season. Is my trust misplaced? Maybe. But, that Desmond episode was so fascinating that it revitalized my Lost viewing and made it something I looked forward to again.

Dirty Jobs: Whenever Discovery can drum up enough dirt to put together an episode, Sandy and I are there...and half the time we get an interesting dirty job, the other half we think "is this the best they can find?", but there have been a hundred or so jobs so far, so really, how many dirty jobs are out there? Still, for episodes like the snake episode, or the bat caves, or the backed up plumbing where the basement was literally covered in shit, we’ll keep watching.

The Amazing Race: All Stars: I’m not sure all the teams here are really all stars since there is only one previous winning team in the race (Uchenna and Joyce) and a couple of them were interesting characters but not so much racers (Kentucky and the Charla / Mirna team...really?). What I would love to see is the winners from each season get together and race. That would be an All Star edition. But, there are quite a few top 4 / Top 2 finishers, so that’s not so bad. I don’t know who some of them are, and some I already dislike (the bald guys, drop 'em!). One thing that is worth noting is that in a show which is notable for having very few minority teams, the All Star edition only has one black team. Oh, and that black team happened to have won their race. If Uchenna and Joyce came in second would they have made it on the All Star show? Doubt it. Still, The Amazing Race is good television.

America's Next Top Model
: If the show wasn't so stinking interesting I would say this is a guilty pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about it. It's a good show. New season starts February 28. Be there. Note to all the contestants: Stop screaming when you see Tyra.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vector Prime, by R. A. Salvatore

Here begins the 19 volume New Jedi Order series, a turning point in Star Wars fiction. Vector Prime kicks off the New Jedi Order and it does so with gusto. Gusto, I say! Bob Salvatore is best known for his work in the Forgotten Realms shared world as well his own creation of Corona (DemonWars), but here he takes our familiar and favorite characters and sets them on a new path that will likely change everything. I say "likely" because even though I already know some things that happen, I do not know the details on what happens in the NJO and beyond. Just some events have been "spoiled".

Vector Prime is set some 25 years after the original Star Wars movie. Leia and Han have three kids, all teenagers. Luke is married. There are Jedi Knights in the galaxy. There have been many adventures which have been chronicled in the Star Wars Extended Universe. Vector Prime upsets the balance while still telling a damn good story. With gusto! Why else do we read, except to find that next damn good story?

Here is what you need to know: There is a new threat to the galaxy heading in from some unknown and uncharted regions. The Yuuzhan Vong. The goal: Conquest, Destruction, the usual. But the Vong are coming with technology the Galaxy has never seen before and they are a completely unknown quantity (unless you have read Greg Bear's Rogue Planet, in which case you have the vaguest of vague ideas). They are coming and working hard to stir up some unrest and otherwise invade completely under the hypothetical radar. Meanwhile, Leia, as an ambassador, is dealing with some of the repercussions of that unrest the Vong is stirring. Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker's wife, is very ill with some unknown virus but is still able to train the Solo daughter Jaina. The New Republic has some skepticism about the Jedi's role in the Republic. There is a lot going on here.

You ask yourself: Self, what do I need to know about Vector Prime? You need to know that Vector Prime is filled with action, some intrigue about the Vong, more action, ruminations on what it means to be Jedi, some exciting space battles, an emotional major character death, yet more action, a real and new threat to the New Republic, still more action, and a good deal of fun and enjoyment as Star Wars is about to take a dark turn. Oh, and action. Did I mention action? Written with gusto.

Bob Salvatore has written one heck of an opening to the New Jedi Order, one that surpassed my expectations and one which perfectly set up the New Jedi Order series. One could not ask for a better opening novel to the New Jedi Order. Interestingly enough, having read the previous eleventy billion Star Wars novels in the chronology I came to realize that one needs not have read everything that came before. Vector Prime is one possible entry point into Star Wars fiction because Salvatore does a great job in reintroducing characters and writing the characters that we learn enough as we go and the rest can give references to past actions but the novice reader can be content knowing the characters were busy for the past twenty five years. Either way, Vector Prime is a heck of a good read.

With action. And gusto.

Imago, by Octavia Butler

Imago is the concluding volume in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy and one thing that should be apparent by the time the readers gets more than a handful of pages into Imago is that Octavia Butler has written a trilogy in the more classic sense of the term. Butler's trilogy is a collection of three novels which tell otherwise complete stories that while they expand on the previous novel, each novel does not depend on the other to stand. Octavia Butler's trilogy is three stand alone novels telling three stories related in theme and setting and that builds an overall story arc as well as three smaller story arcs.

Imago is the story of Jodahs, the latest Oankali / human hybrid child of Lilith Iyapo. An interesting thing about the Oankali child is that as a child their gender is not set, so depending on the stimulation and experiences given to the child, the child may develop into a male, female, or ooloi (a third gender). Up until this point no construct (hybrid) children have been permitted to develop into ooloi because the Oankali have had concerns about how they would develop and it was only recently that male hybrids were permitted to develop. Jodahs, of course, develops into an ooloi hybrid rather than the male he, or it, was intended to be.

The story of Jodahs is one of isolation and dependence and the reader gets to experience the anxiety Jodahs feels and experiences from his community (an ooloi always needs to find a new home because of sensory differences with those in the home it was raised in).

We are now at least several decades, perhaps longer, from the events of Dawn and Adulthood Rites so Butler reveals some of how the Earth has developed and how the Oankali / human project has progressed. We learn that the Mars colony that was proposed in Adulthood Rites is a success and giving humanity the only chance to survive unchanged.

Imago is written with a strong sense of character and Butler describes the alien culture in such a way that it feels authentic and the hybrids in a way that we can see why some humans would never accept them, but also why others have accepted the Oankali.

As always, Imago and the Xenogenesis trilogy is an examination about race, differences, fear, prejudice, the future, and identity. As always, Octavia Butler does an excellent job with her storytelling. And, as is the case with the two previous Xenogenesis novels, Imago is a very strong work of fiction but somehow less outstanding than some of her other work.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Diary of a Vampire: The First Draft is Finished!

It is with great pride and relief that I announce that I finished the first draft of my first novel this morning: Diary of a Vampire.

Ahh, it feels good to be done. I know that I need to spend quite a while revising the novel and going through several drafts, but I attempted it and I finished the first draft of a full length novel. Right now it is printed out and in a box in my closet where it will stay for approximately two months.

Say, does anyone know when Covington Cross and The Torkelsons are coming out on DVD? And while I'm looking it up, when did the Torkelsons get a sequel? Almost Home? How did I miss this?

Anyone remember these shows? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Top Ten Movies: 2005

Yeah, it takes me this long to see a sufficient number of 2005 movies to make a list I can stand by. And yeah, there are some flicks I didn't see. But I saw the majority of the movies necessary to make the call.

So, here are my Top 10 Films of 2005.

1. Cinderella Man
2. Crash
3. Serenity
4. A History of Violence
5. Hustle & Flow
6. Walk the Line
7. Why We Fight
8. Good Night, and Good Luck
9. North Country
10. Grizzly Man

And yeah, it'll be sometime in 2008 before you see a 2006 list. Count on it.

2004 (don't think I blogged about this year)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross

After reading the first three volumes of The Merchant Princes I was half willing to completely write Charles Stross off. This fantasy series is less than impressive and while it has decent ideas about parallel worlds and secret families and has the potential to be a really strong series. But The Merchant Princes has been overall disappointing to read.

Charles Stross, on the other hand, has been lauded with most of the awards that a writer in SFF can be awarded with and he picks up nominations almost before he finishes writing a work of fiction. So maybe it was just me. Maybe I was missing something. Stross is known more for his science fiction than his fantasy, so perhaps if I gave his science fiction a shot I would find something that would live up to the hype.

I started at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives. The Atrocity Archive is a short novel which was his first published novel and the Archives also includes a novella The Concrete Jungle. The Concrete Jungle is a Hugo winner in 2005 for Best Novella.

I can only describe a small portion of what the novel is about because there are just somethings I am unable to explain properly. Let me say that the novel is set in early 2001 and there is a man named Bob Howard who works for the Laundry in London. The Laundry is a secret organization which is in place to battle the forces of darkness.

Imagine a world where the Nazis had attempted to tap into the netherworld to bring all sorts of evil to support the Third Reich and that all of this is possible and just science fact. Stross gives a level of detail to the unreal that the impossible feels almost prosaic. It is a remarkable talent.

Bob Howard (Robert E. Howard reference, anyone?) is a computer guy but wants to be put in the field on spy type jobs and his involvement without sufficient training gets him involved in events that build beyond what he ever would have imagined. Bob Howard gets involved into this very netherworld evil that the Laundry is trying desperately to stop.

What makes The Atrocity Archives quite a bit different than other SFF novels is that this is a combination of Lovecraft, Len Deighton's spy novels and perhaps a little bit of Neal Stephenson.
I think that Charles Stross is far stronger at the non-Merchant Princes work because while The Atrocity Archives read like a slow moving spy novel it kept building and building and became more and more interesting and exciting to find out what was happening next. The Atrocity Archives is worth the time spent reading it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Childe Morgan, by Katherine Kurtz

I could not have been more disappointed with Childe Morgan unless I tried to write the book myself. Let me back up. I am a long standing fan of Katherine Kurtz and her Deryni saga. These novels set in back in an era which approximates England's Eleventh Century in terms of society and history feature a Church and a human population fearful of and persecuting a race of humans called the Deryni. The only difference between human and Deryni is simply that the Deryni can use magic and normal humans cannot. But the Church, which is just as powerful as the King of Gwynedd, hates and persecutes the Deryni so they must operate in secrecy not to advance some secret agenda, but more to try to shape the world around them to be more tolerant of the Deryni race. I loved these stories, in particular the ones set earlier in the chronology which featured more of the interplay between the Church and the Deryni.

Childe Morgan is the second entry in Kurtz’s Childe Morgan trilogy which began with In the King's Service. These novels are set not long before the Kelson novels (Deryni Rising) and the Childe Morgan novels introduce us to the character of Alaric Morgan, so central to the Kelson novels. Only here, Alaric is four years old, and Kelson's father, King Brion is fourteen. I believe that this trilogy is setting up the battle of Brion against the Marluk, Hogan Festil, which we have referenced in the Kelson novels, but unfortunately, most of Childe Morgan is simply that: Set up.

Rather than the political and cultural intrigue which Katherine Kurtz has so successfully treated her readers to over the past thirty years, she instead focuses two thirds of Childe Morgan on Alaric's mother, Alyce de Coursy, and her relationship with her husband Kenneth Morgan, and a little bit of hinting by the King Donal Haldane that Alaric will have to be Brion's Deryni protector, but very little actually happens in the first two thirds of the book. I described Childe Morgan as mostly set up, but that is inaccurate. Childe Morgan is waiting for a set up. It is stasis. We learn a little bit about Alyce and her sister Vera, are introduced to Duncan (another player in the Kelson novels), and pretty much Katherine Kurtz spends the novel preparing Gwynedd for Alaric and Brion and later Kelson by moving several pieces around and hinting at Deryni magic.

In the final third of the volume there are several events which could rightly be called Major Events, but somehow in the telling they feel like Minor Events, and that is not a good thing. These huge events (in terms of this trilogy) somehow fail to resonate. There is a sense of relief that finally, something is happening, but the emotion is diminished by the fact that by this point in the novel I didn't care. An action sequence late in the novel does work well, but it is too little too late.

If I were not so invested in the Deryni novels and count several of them among my favorite works of fantasy, I would have given up long before I go to the last third of this 250 page novel. At least in the earlier Deryni novels the reader could get the sense that major acts are in the works, there was intrigue, risk, and excitement even in the description of arcane magic and Church politics. It's all missing here.

I will read the third Childe Morgan novel when it comes out and I will hope that when Katherine Kurtz writes her 948 novel that it will reclaim that vitality that she had when writing about Camber, Joram, Evaine and others, but that vitality is sadly lost here and I cannot recommend Childe Morgan to anyone, not even fans of the Deryni.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

but what does this mean for me?

As I was about to browse my library system's website I saw a link saying "Committee Recommends Library Consolidation" and my first thought was: They are closing Penn Lake. Why do I think this? Mostly because Penn Lake is a small library and I frequent that particular branch.

But rather than jump to conclusions I follow the link and read the article. Apparently the library committee is going to recommend that the Hennepin County Library System and the Minneapolis Public Library will finally all fall under the heading of Hennepin County Library.

This actually makes sense because Minneapolis is in Hennepin County. It also makes sense because now the largest city in the state will get to share its books with the residents of the county in which it inhabits, and vice versa.

What does this mean for me? Access to the Minneapolis system's books without having to go through interlibrary loan. That's a plus!

I was worried, though, that this could mean library closings but at least from that article nothing about closing libraries was mentioned. Hopefully this will help some branches stay open if they were on the block.

Unconsumed: Karavans

When I was in high school I thoroughly enjoyed Jennifer Roberson's Cheysuli series about shapechangers and how the story unfolded over generations. Roberson did a heck of a job building those characters and making them feel distinct as they lived as much for themselves while knowing there was some sort of prophecy occurring tying their lives to something greater. But, all the Cheysuli wanted was a chance to survive. I never did read her Tiger and Del novels.

When Karavans was published I was interested. Roberson was an author I previously enjoyed reading. So, when I checked Karavans out from the library and started reading I was disappointed by how little I cared about the story being told.

20 pages. I made it 20 pages. I know agents and editors may decide whether to take a chance on a book in 10-20 pages, but as a reader I tend to give an author more of a chance than that. More so if I like the author, as I do with Roberson. But I read 20 pages and gave up. I know I didn't give Karavans a fair shake and perhaps I'll give it another shot someday, but when I have The Atrocity Archives at home from the library, the final volume of Xenogenesis on its way, and an abundance of goodness on my bookshelf that I haven't read, I just don’t have patience for something that doesn’t even twinge a little bit of interest in me early on. And that may be my failing as a reader, but make me care! Why should I keep reading if the prologue and first chapter really contain little to interest me in what story might be coming next?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Movies: January 2007

1. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
2. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
3. Girl 6 (1996)
4. The Education of Shelby Knox (2005)
5. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
6. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
7. From Russia With Love (1963)
8. Superman Returns (2006)
9. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1981)
10. Young Frankenstein (1974)
11. Eight Below (2006)
12. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
13. Goldfinger (1964)
14. This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
15. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Best Movie: This Film is Not Yet Rated
Most Disappointing: Superman Returns
Better than Expected: Goldfinger, Girl 6

Monday, February 12, 2007

Adulthood Rites, by Octavia Butler

Now I know why the three volume Xenogenesis series was collected in a single volume titled Lilith's Brood. Adulthood Rites is the second entry of three in Xenogenesis and the focus has shifted from Lilith Iyapo to her part human / part Oankali son, Akin. In Dawn we were introduced to an Earth that had all but been destroyed by humanity before the remnants of humanity were rescued by the alien race Oankali. The Oankali survive and adapt by finding new species and civilizations to "Trade" with. In the rescue of humanity, the Oankali will Trade with humans and help humanity repopulate the newly restored Earth. But at a cost. Humanity will no longer be what it once was because a Trade involves both parties giving up something and receiving something in return. Humanity will get another step on the evolutionary scale but will be far more and less than what they once were. Lilith Iyapo was chosen by the Oankali to seed the first colony and awake the remnant from their slumber and teach them to accept the Oankali. In many ways she failed with that first group she was given, but by the end of Dawn Lilith was to found her first community while those who would not accept what had occurred were isolated and left sterile. Breeding could only happen with the permission of the Oankali. At the very end Dawn we learn that Lilith was pregnant.

When Adulthood Rites opens, the story is focused on Akin, one of Lilith's hybrid children and her first son. Because he is part Oankali, Akin is aware in the womb and if he were fully human one would consider him unnaturally precocious. As it stands he is not fully human, though as an infant he looks human enough (except for his tongue). The focus of Adulthood Rites remains squarely on Akin with brief flashes of events surrounding Lilith, but only to a point. I would suggest that 95% of the story follows Akin as he grows and as he is kidnapped by raiders who seek to have children the only way they can, which is by theft. This theft, or kidnapping, of Akin is the event that drives how the rest of the story will play as it shapes Akin into something different than he might otherwise have been had he been left to bond with his siblings.

A major theme of Butler's work here seems to be of the nature of identity. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be different? What does it mean to have an identity in a particular culture and embrace that of another? Or be embraced by another? Butler's fiction, in particular the Xenogenesis trilogy, addresses these issues in such a way that it fits a science fiction story with aliens and tentacles, but it is really a story that addresses what can go on in our society as well. There is a depth here once one looks beyond the surface of an interesting story. Make no mistake, Adulthood Rites is an interesting story.

With all of that said about what the novel is about and what it is talking about, I do need to confess that like Dawn, I found Adulthood Rites to be less engaging and gripping than some of Butler's other fiction. In particular Kindred and the two Parable novels seem to me to be stronger works of fiction than Xenogenesis. What does that mean for the casual reader? Not much. Adulthood Rites would only be considered a "lesser" work of fiction when it is being compared to Butler's own work. Otherwise, I would suggest that Adulthood Rites (and Dawn before it) is a creative look at science fiction and how actually meeting an alien race could and would change humanity irrevocably. To be blunt, Butler tells a damn good story and keeps taking that damn good story in directions that were not necessarily apparent when the story began. She keeps it interesting and she keeps it authentic (as authentic as aliens changing the genetics of humans could be, but it feels real, and that's important).

Bottom Line: Octavia Butler need to be read by more people. She was a top shelf talent with a powerful creative voice and Adulthood Rites is a good novel that suffers only, only in comparison to her own work. In comparison to others, she stands tall.

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, by Frank Warren

When I discovered the PostSecret website I had no idea that the creator / founder had already published three collections of the postcards people have anonymously contributed to his website.

As a refresher as to what PostSecret is: Frank Warren came up with the idea of having people anonymously send a postcard with a secret that is true and that has never been shared with anyone before. The postcard could be drawn up in any way to have the image reflect the secret being told in the text. Warren has a PostSecret website which he updates every Sunday with a new round of secrets. The secret can range from the painful ("I love one of my children") to the funny ("I would love to jump in a pool of Jell-O") to the sad and embarrassing and silly. But the common thread here is that they are all deeply personal and true for one person and reading through the secrets of other people it is clear that what may seem like a shameful secret that a person thinks nobody else has ever had is really something that is a common human emotion and a sadly common truth. Other people have gone through some of what these people are going through, and that's what makes PostSecret such a fascinating website because while it is a glimpse into the secret hearts of strangers, it is also a glimpse into our own.

The above paragraph is tailored specifically to the website, but the collection PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives is a collection of secrets previously posted on the website and likely also shown in traveling PostSecret art exhibits. But the book can bring the secrets to a wider audience. Since I am very new to the world of PostSecret every secret contained in this collection was fresh and every one was fascinating and many rang true and others I could at least understand.

Since Frank Warren appears to remove previous secrets from his website every Sunday when he adds new ones, this collection may also be the only way to see some "old favorites" again for those readers and viewers who have long been familiar with the concept of PostSecret.

It's worth checking out. I am glad that I did.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Alright...the template changes have begun.

Right now I have a basic template which I like much more than that old "Dots" template I had before. But, I don't have my Reading and Watching Links up and I don't have the three column template that I prefer to make thing easier.

And I think the blog needs to be a little wider, too.

But that will come in time and I do have the old template saved in case I mess this one up too badly.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Specter of the Past / Vision of the Future

Timothy Zahn is generally hailed as started the rebirth of the Star Wars Extended Universe and the first author in the publishing juggernaut that is Star Wars tie in fiction. The cause: his original Thrawn trilogy: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command. While this trilogy is considered a high point in Star Wars fiction and I accept that it is notable for the influence it has had, I thought it was decent enough but nothing which made me jump up and get excited about Star Wars.

Karen Traviss, Matthew Stover, Michael Stackpole, and Aaron Allston, on the other hand...they get me excited to read Star Wars fiction.

So, I was surprised that The Hand of Thrawn duology sucked me in so well. These are two novels which are less focused that the original Thrawn novels and there are side plots a plenty about this new threat to the New Republic. This time it really does feel like the Republic could fall apart in Civil War, unlike other threats to the New Republic. And then there is the rumor the Grand Admiral Thrawn is back.

Over some 1200 pages and two novels Zahn lets the main characters learn more about the threat and work to stop it as well as discover whether or not Thrawn is truly back (he died in The Last Command).

But for all the pages spent, the ending was rushed. How you rush an ending after 1200 pages is beyond me, but then Tad Williams did the same thing in his epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, and that was after nearly 3000 pages. That's not quite fair, Tad spent a long time building towards that ending...I think I'm just bitter because of the pure disappointment that ending was.

Back to Zahn: The Hand of Thrawn begins to set up things we will likely learn more about in the New Jedi Order, but I believe that I read somewhere that the unknown enemy is not the Vong of the NJO, but rather the enemy of the Dark Nest trilogy.

Either way, I enjoyed Hand of Thrawn far more than I did the original Thrawn Trilogy. The storyline about the Caamas document was far more compelling than Thrawn trying to kill the New Republic.

The Scent of Shadows, by Vicki Pettersson

The Scent of Shadows is the debut novel by former Vegas showgirl Vicki Pettersson. I only mention the Vegas Showgirl part because it is listed in her author bio and also because it shows that there is a good deal of darkness and creativity tucked away beneath those sequins. The Scent of Shadows is a supernatural fantasy set amidst the lights and glamor and the shadows of Las Vegas.

Joanna Archer is an heiress of one of the richest men in Vegas, she is a photographer walking the streets after dark looking to expose the images most people would rather not see. She is also looking for a fight, looking for the man who raped her ten years before and left her for dead. Joanna has spent her life since that moment training so that she will never be able to be attacked again and not be able to defend herself.

That's not really what the book is about, though. That's just who Joanna is, or who she thinks she is. The book is about an ancient battle between Light and Shadow. Joanna Archer is the key to this battle, though when the novel opens she doesn't know it.

See, there are heroes and villains and Joanna is a target for the villains and the key for the heroes. When she is attacked by an Agent of Shadow she is pulled into this world of superheroes and her battle really begins for the first time.

Vicki Pettersson brings us a world where we live and go about our day to day lives without ever catching a glimpse of this ancient battle where superheroes and supervillains. While Pettersson slowly reveals this hidden world she never truly makes the superhero concept feel absurd because she grounds everything in a sense of reality. She also reveals things slowly enough that when we get to some of the silliness we've accepted the reality which she has presented.

This is what we call a "real page turner". The phrase could not be more cliche, but in this case it is true. Pettersson has an easy reading style which flows, one reminiscent of of a Laurell K. Hamilton, though I would suggest that from the debut novel Pettersson is off to a stronger start. Pettersson's Joanna Archer is at least as interesting a character as Hamilton's Anita Blake. But what Pettersson excels at, and is frankly superior to Hamilton at, is the hard driving nature of the plot and story. Pettersson moves it along with a good deal of action and new revelations which keep the reading wishing to know what happens next.

At every point in the novel I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Joanna Archer and what she would learn about the men trying to kill her and about those trying to help her. I wanted to know more about that Zodiac Troop and the Star Signs and what the basis for this hidden world is. The Scent of Shadows is a compelling read.

It isn't a perfect read, however. There are aspects of the Zodiac Troop and the superhero part of the novel which seems a bit too flashy and a bit too superhero like, and then Pettersson introduces this idea about the "manuals" of each side (Light and Shadow) being written in comic books and the other side is physically unable to read the manual of the other side. This one aspect of the book feels a bit much, a bit over the top, but otherwise The Scent of Shadows was a pleasure to read.

And, it was a real page turner.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reading: January 2007

1: Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett
2: Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
3: Spook - Mary Roach
4: The Black Company - Glen Cook
5: Specter of the Past - Timothy Zahn
6: Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi
7: No Plot? No Problem! - Chris Baty
8: The Interrogators - Chris Mackey and Greg Miller
9: The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 - Charles M. Schulz
10: Dawn - Octavia Butler
11: Dying of the Light - George R. R. Martin
12: Scepters - L. E. Modesitt, Jr
13: One of Ours - Willa Cather
14: Chicken With Plums - Marjane Satrapi
15: Firestorm - Nevada Barr

The Best Book: The Black Company
Most Disappointing: Dying of the Light, Spook
Pleasant Surprise: The Interrogators

Sunday, February 04, 2007

One of Ours, by Willa Cather

Cather's Pulitzer Prize winningstory of a young Nebraska farmer's journey to becoming a soldier in World War I is engrossing. Slow to start and Cather takes her time bringing us to war, whenever I started reading I was sucked in for another 60 pages or so.

Strangely, I had no real imperative to read. I had to make myself open the cover but when I did I was glad I did.

My only real complaint is that Cather drops several plot threads as the book goes along (the Ehrlichs, his wife) and once they are dropped they really don’t get referenced again, as if Claude did not think one moment about them.

Overall, though...good book. Not outstanding, but good.

Her novels My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop are superior works of fiction, but One of's good.


Sometimes I just don't hear about things until they've been around for a really long time and then someplace like CNN picks up the story and then I just happen to click on the link.

A good example? Postsecret.

People send their secrets written on a postcard to Frank Warren and he posts them on his blog and then has also collected three books. They are completely anonymous.

Some are sad. Some are funny. Some are silly. Some are brutally pathetic in the dictionary sense of the word.

But all are interesting.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Joss Whedon no longer making Wonder Woman

It's taken quite a while, but Joss made it official that he is no longer making Wonder Woman. I guess that means my hope Charisma Carpenter will play Wonder Woman is pretty much out the window.

And from looking at her Wikipedia page...Carpenter is 36?

To be perfectly honest, Wonder Woman the movie is something I really have no interest in seeing or having made (kind of like Ghost Rider). It was only Joss Whedon's attachment that made the project at all interesting.

I just want the man to go back to television and make something on a network that will give him a chance.

Scepters, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr

Scepters is the third volume in Modesitt's Corean Chronicles. Alucius is back on his nightsheep ranch and is herding the sheep with his wife Wendra and has a baby on the way. In the last volume, Darknessess, Alucius was promised by the Lord-Protector that he would not be called back up into military service. But the danger to Lanachrona is increasing and there are powers behind the scenes manipulating things so that Alucius will not be involved in their main power play. At first this is to keep Alucius back on the stead, but later it is to get him militarily involved but only so long as he is far away from the front. Ultimately Alucius is not ordered to rejoin the military, but he is requested and the request is made in such a manner that declining would put his entire community in jeopardy. A choice that is no choice.

In many ways Alucius is a typical Modesitt hero. Alucius is reluctant to become involved but is of such a high moral code that he understands that he needs to because it is the right thing to do, and also because he knows that not acting will cause a greater evil. When Alucius acts he acts in such a way that whomever or whatever is opposing him will never be able to rise up. He leads from the front and will kill with extreme prejudice when it becomes necessary. Around Alucius it often becomes necessary.

Modesitt spins a story of Alucius confronting an ancient evil trying to overthrow the world. A standard fantasy theme, but the heart of the novel, as is the case with much of Modesitt's work, is of the day to day struggles of Alucius in finding out what is really going on. Alucius is frequently in the dark as to the real nature of the threat and as a soldier he must go where he is sent. But due to extreme skill, Alucius is frequently promoted.

So, is it good?

Reading the two previous novels in this sequence are necessary because Modesitt only references things we learn in those novels. The novel is decent enough, but is a standard Modesitt novel and I get the feeling that if the author set the events in his Recluse setting, we would not know the difference.

The story is really a simple one, and we have a protagonist who unfortunately has something of a Superman complex. A very moral man who gets unbelievable power and never once slips the Dark Side.

You know, Scepters is a decent novel but nothing to make one stand up and cheer the genre. It's fine, but simple and predictable (does Alucius ever fail? Can he?). If a reader likes other stuff by Modesitt that reader will most likely enjoy this as well. So much of what Modesitt writes has the same feel and tone and in some cases, storyline. But, if a reader spaces out Modesitt's work and doesn't read it all back to back to back, that sameness will not be overbearing.