Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Quick Takes: Resnick, Cooper, DeLillo

Starship: Pirate, by Mike Resnick: After being imprisoned by his own galactic government for embarrassing the military by being too competent (and unorthodox), Wilson Cole is back. At the end of Starship: Mutiny Cole was broken out of jail by his crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, a decrepit old ship which should not still be in service. At the end of Mutiny, Cole has turned his back on the government which turned its back on him. He, and his crew, would become pirates.

This brings us up to speed. Easy reading and highly entertaining science fiction by Mike Resnick, that's what Starship: Pirate is. Cole attempts to find his way as a humane pirate who does not attack innocent vessels or kill the innocent and yet still make a living and continue to upgrade his ship. It's quite an adventure and Mike Resnick is one heck of a story teller. He keeps things simple, but still well thought out. The Starship novels are both reasonably light hearted (though with a heart and some seriousness), and are well told tales. Science Fiction can get a bit weighty with heavy science explanations and an over abundance of detail. While that weighty SF can be quite good, it can be tough to introduce a reader to. And for that I introduce you to Mike Resnick. Resnick gives just enough detail to get by and spends the rest of the time moving the story along at a brisk clip. Resnick doesn't waste time and his novels are all the better for it. If I called the Starship novels as introductory sci-fi, please do not take that as a knock. It isn't. It is just a statement that a reader who knows nothing about science fiction can pick up one of these books and be equally as entertained as one who has been reading the genre for years. It's a good introduction to what sci-fi can be. It isn't just about the Big Idea. It’s also about the fun story.

Dispatches from the Edge
, by Anderson Cooper: In high school I watched Anderson Cooper as the foreign correspondent on Channel One. He was the one always going out to Rwanda, Kosovo, and other war torn places where I could not believe little Channel One could afford to send someone. There was Anderson with his helmet on amongst the rebels with their big guns. I heard he was hired on at ABC as a reporter after he left Channel One. Years later I turn on CNN and there, with his own show, is Anderson Cooper. Cooper was always a solid reporter and a young one despite his silver streaked hair. During Hurricane Katrina he really made his name when he was openly critical about the "relief effort" of the government. Suffice it to say that I've had a soft spot in my heart for Anderson Cooper as a reporter / anchor since his Channel One days. Not that I could ever truly relate to Cooper, but he came across as far more earnest and caring and real than your average reporter. Cooper got down into the action.

The book. Right. Dispatches from the Edge takes two paths: One, a younger Cooper starting his journalistic career and going out to Rwanda and Kosovo trying to sell Channel One his footage. Two, the more mature Cooper working CNN through Iraq, the 2004 Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. Mixed in with the two is Cooper talking about his younger years, family history, and his brother's suicide. The first two thirds of the book felt very choppy and uneven. Cooper's story is an interesting one and he gives good glimpses into some of the work he has done and some of the things that he has seen. But, it isn't until Cooper arrives on scene after Hurricane Katrina and sees the devastation and the government is very slow to respond that Dispatches from the Edge truly finds its stride. The first two thirds isn't fluff, but it felt very scattered. Cooper focuses when it comes to Katrina and this is the most compelling part of the book. At only 200 pages it is a quick and interesting read, but disappointing, too. Seems like Dispatches from the Edge could have been so much more. Perhaps that is why the title is "Dispatches", that Cooper is only giving us these glimpses and that’s the point.

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo: After two highly disappointing novels (The Body Artist, Cosmopolis), Don DeLillo makes something of a comeback with Falling Man. Falling Man has been heaped with praise, but while it is a step in the right direction it is not at all comparable to DeLillo's best work (White Noise, The Names, and perhaps Libra). This is DeLillo's Post 9/11 Novel. It was bound to happen. Our narrator is a man who walked out of the ashes of the falling towers and in a daze went to his ex-wife's house rather than his own. This begins something of a relationship again and we see how 9/11 affects the narrator, his wife, and his son and how their lives are changed. I could say more, but it wouldn't make much sense. Without a doubt this is a DeLillo novel, we can tell by the style of the writing. The repetition, the paragraphs which don't really make sense, the tangents, the conversations which also don't make sense. When DeLillo is on his game, it is a beautiful game of language. When he is off his game it is drudge work to read. Falling Man is on the closer to DeLillo being on his game side than not, but during the last third to a quarter of the novel the wheels fall off a bit. I cannot really recommend Falling Man. I would suggest giving White Noise a shot, maybe The Names, and a few others of DeLillo's work and THEN if the novels still please, give Falling Man a go. This isn't the place to begin Don DeLillo.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Quick Takes: Barr, Roth, Martin

Endangered Species, by Nevada Barr: The fifth Anna Pigeon mystery novel takes place down on protected land in a Georgia delta. Anna Pigeon, National Park Ranger, is working fire crew during the dry season. For several weeks worth of work she can collect a good deal of overtime for what is typically a low action posting. There is the usual Ranger Banter and Barr does an excellent job in giving us enough detail to get a feel for the setting. When a plane crashes in the preserve and the initial investigation points to tampering, Anna begins her own investigation inside the ranger family. If the Anna Pigeon novels were not set inside the National Park system and the park rangers, I do not believe they would be nearly as interesting, but the setting is its own character and brings new threats and new ways to look at crime. Five mysteries in, the Anna Pigeon series is worth a look.

The Breast, by Philip Roth: Someone has been reading a bit too much Kafka, I think. This is Philip Roth version of The Metamorphosis. Instead of turning into a giant insect, Dr David Kepesh wakes up one morning to discover that he has transformed into a giant, 155lb breast. Yes, a breast. See the title. The novel takes us through Kepesh's understanding, relapse into near insanity, desires, and eventual acceptance. The Breast covers most everything one would expect with a man turning into a giant breast. Is it any good? If you like this sort of thing, I guess so. It must have been somewhat successful for Roth to write two more Kepesh novels. The Breast is short enough, so even if this isn't your cup of milk and you are only reading The Breast as a Roth completist, it won't take up too much time. It's a work of imagination, that's for sure, but Roth has written novels far greater than this one later in his career. It's a blip on the radar of Philip Roth. Notable that he wrote it and what the literary experiment was, but as a novel? Pass.

Wild Cards, by George R. R. Martin (editor): Here we are - the series of "mosaic novels" which has been distracting George Martin from working on his epic A Song of Ice and Fire. I hoped like hell that this would be good because if not, I'd have been really disappointed in Martin for taking time away from his masterpiece to work on these. Wild Cards is the first novel of seventeen published (with three more on the way). All but two of them are "mosaic novels", meaning that multiple authors share the writing duty and build an ongoing storyline which weaves throughout the novel. One book, many writers. I cannot speak for the future Wild Cards offerings, but Wild Cards had a bit more of a feel of an anthology of related works than a true mosaic novel. Each chapter is a story by a different author: Martin himself, Howard Waldrop, Melinda Snodgrass, Roger Zelazny, etc. Because this sets the stage for future offerings, perhaps the construction can be excused. The "chapters" are really dependent stories. Characters pop in and out of various stories, sometimes in major roles, sometimes just as a name or a face. It works, and it is fascinating, but like I said, I'm not sure it is really a mosaic novel in a true sense.

So what is this Wild Cards thing anyway? It is a shared world, a serious work of comic books in a novel form. During the second World War an alien landed on Earth trying prevent his race from testing a virus on the humans. He is not successful and the Wild Card virus is released. For those infected the mortality rates look like this: 90% die. 9% mutate into "Jokers", horribly disfigured humans who are permanently transformed into near monsters. The lucky 1%? Aces. Their mutation is being given super powers. Some can fly, have great strength, read minds, and a variety of other super powers. Some aces are deuces, though, they have worthless powers.

All of this is set in the backdrop of our history. Much of what goes down from WWII on still happens, just with different causes. The McCarthy hearings still occur, but it includes the aces as well as the communists. Historical figures pop up in the appropriate moments, but things are different. Castro never comes to power in Cuba, aces become involved in politics, and I suspect the farther away from Ground Zero we get, the more likely things will be different.

Wild Cards is deadly serious. It may have comic books in its origins, but the execution is all drama. Sure there are powers, but this is graphic violence, language, action, romance (and the lack of). These are not kiddie stories, but they are well told stories.

This first volume feels more like an introduction, but there are some good stories here and it sets the stage for the future stories and I can hope that with the bar being raised that the future Wild Cards novels have exceeded this bar.

It’s a satisfactory introduction. Now what can Martin and company do with it?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Clay's Ark, by Octavia E. Butler

Clay's Ark
Octavia E. Butler
St. Martin's Press: 1984

Clay's Ark is fittingly the final volume in Octavia Butler's Patternist series. While in the chronological order Clay's Ark would be third, its proper place in the reading order is that of the publication order: fifth. Some may find it preferable to read the Patternist novels chronologically, but this would be something of a mistake.

Patternmaster, the first published and last in the timeline, sets up our world as it will be in thousands of years. Technology has all but disappeared and there are telepaths ruling from households and controlling mutes, those humans without telepathic power. A third group are the clayarks, disease-ridden once humans who are disgustingly deformed and are feared and hunted. This brings us to Mind of My Mind where we see a world not too different than the one in which we now live, only the telepaths are only just beginning to take control. Next is the forgettable and all but disowned by Butler Survivor. The clayark disease has ravaged the Earth and one last group is permitted to settle a different planet. It ties into the Patternist world, but only from a tangent. Wild Seed gives us the origins of Doro, he who had the breeding program to develop the telepaths.

This brings us to the final novel in the Patternist sequence: Clay's Ark. Now, if we had not read Patternmaster we would have no idea what the clayarks are to become or what what the significance of the title Clay's Ark actually is. The title itself rewards readers of the series while it sets of warning bells about the content of the novel. If we are reading in publication order we know that the clayarks came from some sort of extra terrestrial virus / entity and that they overran the land. We know that something bad is coming and that this novel is likely to show us how it happened.

Clay's Ark tells two stories: Past and Present. Past features an initially unnamed man who is human, but is struggling against some alien nature. He came from a space ship which crashed back on Earth after being gone for years. The ship: Clay's Ark. The unnamed man has heightened senses which most humans never use and he feels an urgency to be near other humans, to touch them, to scratch them...to infect them. He knows it is wrong, he knows that it would be very, very bad, but the disease he has leaves him no choice.

Present tells a different story. A man (Dr. Blake Maslin) is driving across the southern California desert with his two daughters (the leukemia stricken Keira, and Rane) when they are all kidnapped while at a rest stop during a sandstorm. They are not killed, raped, ransomed, robbed, or tortured. They are brought to an isolated farm and forced to stay while Eli, the nominal leader of a gang of sickly looking men and women with super strength, explains about the disease they all share and why they had to take the Maslins. One guess as to what the disease is.

Clay's Ark is a bleak, brutal novel filled with tension and danger. Octavia Butler is doing nothing more than telling us a story in which the world is a dangerous place and about to get worse. Clay's Ark is a harrowing novel and except for several chapters at the farm, it feels like everyone is on the move trying to escape from something...from the disease, from the not yet named clayarks, from the regular humans who are just about as bad as the disease Eli's group carries. There is very little joy in Clay's Ark, but Butler's storytelling is such that we don't want to look away. Clay's Ark is one of the stronger novels in the Patternist sequence (up there with Mind of My Mind and Wild Seed). Clay's Ark is perhaps the perfect way to wrap up the Patternist sequence. As with all of of Butler's novels we are left with questions as to what happens after the last page, but Butler has filled in as much of this world as needs to be.

While only one of Butler's early novels (Kindred) holds up to her later work, the Patternist sequence is comprised of five reasonably short (200 page) novels which at their best are quite entertaining. Octavia Butler is an author not to be missed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Unconsumed: The Black Silent

A year or so ago I received a copy of David Dun's new thriller The Black Silent to review. It was a mass market paperback, some sort of action / thriller / espionage type thing. It took me over a year for the book to make its way up my read / review pile and now it is time.

And I can't. A prologue and four chapters and I know from the start that this will be painful. Despite being blurbed by Gayle Lynds, The Black Silent stretched the bounds of my credulity and interest from the start.

The prologue is an attack on a man named Ben while he is diving. At first I thought it was a training exercise, but the aftermath runs into the first chapter where he is standing in his office calling the cops. Ben is a scientist with "hidden knowledge". He has "secrets" that men will "kill for". He has an adopted daughter and a friend who is a "former spy". Ben goes missing. Adopted Daughter and Former Spy go on the run trying to find Ben and stop whatever nefarious plot is in the plotting.

I don't care.

Really. In a prologue and four chapters The Black Silent feels overwrought, like Dun is trying too hard to make the novel exciting. It feels false. Because I don't know Ben at the start, I don't care that he is attacked. I don't know all of the cliches of this genre, but I swear Dun hits most of them.

So, that's my review. I couldn't read more of The Black Silent than four chapters and a prologue because it was just too absurd and I had a sneaking suspicion (sort of like the suspicion I expect the characters will get) that The Black Silent was not going to get any better. If I read 11% of a novel (based on page count), I expect to either be hooked, be intrigued, or care even a little bit about what is going to happen next.

I don't.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling
Scholastic: 2007

The Boy Who Lived is back for the Seventh and Final volume in the decade long running Harry Potter series. Harry is nearly seventeen years old and back at the Dursley's home, but everything has changed. Dumbledore is dead, murdered by Severus Snape. Voldemort is more firmly back than ever and has influence over the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet. Voldemort and the Death Eaters are on the rise, the Order of the Phoenix is on the run. Snape is the new Headmaster at Hogwarts and some of Voldemort’s faithful are teachers. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are not going back to Hogwarts, however, they will follow Dumbledore's last order: find and destroy the Horcruxes (those objects with which Voldemort has imbued parts of his soul).

While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins on Privet Drive, for the first time it does not follow the Dursleys with a year at Hogwarts. Jo Rowling has shaken the format and the formula to tell a new story: Harry and his two best friends risk everything to find a way to stop Voldemort before even more people die. Note the word "Deathly" in the title of this novel. Death surrounds Harry and little by little those protecting him get stripped away. At every turn someone might be killed, and frequently are. Death occurs both off the page and on. Characters we have come to love (or perhaps just appreciate) are killed. Sometimes it is simply a report that X has been killed, sometimes we see it happen and the death is all the more painful for that. Deathly. The body count is high. The war between Voldemort and the rest of the Wizarding world has begun. Nobody is safe, muggles, villains, and heroes alike.

Whether intentional or not, Deathly Hallows falls prey to one of the same issues which has been raised with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Namely, a very slow start (though not nearly as slow as Order of the Phoenix). There is some house keeping that Rowling needed / wanted to clear up before she got into the heart of Harry's story. The opening at the Dursley's gave us a very nice and somewhat redeeming moment between Harry and Dudley (reminiscent of the prom scene in Season 3 of Buffy), followed by betrayal (not Dudley, happily) and an excellent action sequence. At the conclusion of that action sequence, however, Rowling slows the pace down significantly with quiet moments of family and discussions of danger and what to do next. On one hand this is what Jo Rowling does with every Harry Potter novel, but by page 100 we are chomping at the bit, anxiously waiting the story to get rolling, to get the search for the Horcruxes going. We know, after all, that this is the last volume in the series (and it better be!) and we don’t want the ending rushed because of too much exposition. Unlike other entries, there is action mixed in with this exposition, but still the opening moves at a leisurely pace. Nice moments abound, we see characters we want to meet again, and some are taken out by the Death Eaters.

Then Harry is on his own and the story picks up. Let me say that the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is outstanding, the last third or quarter in particular. The closer we get to the end, the better the story becomes. We care. That is the bottom line. We care what happens to Harry, Rom, Hermione, Snape, the Weasley family, Neville, Luna, Voldemort, Draco, Hogwarts, etc. We care. We may want different things to happen to different characters and for different reasons, but we care. Rowling does not disappoint. Even though most of the novel occurs away from Hogwarts, the characters off the page are still living their lives and trying to survive and those students still at Hogwarts are fighting back however they can. We get updates from time to time. We get history of certain characters. We get action, violence, excitement, magic, danger, adventure. We get mysteries, betrayal, lore, and legend. We get pretty much everything we could have asked for all wrapped up in a nearly 800 page novel and then Rowling delivers an outstanding closing chapter to the story followed by an epilogue which serves both to answer any lingering questions we might have as well as truly close the book on the Harry Potter series.

The fact that I had a fantastic reading experience with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does not mean I am blind to its flaws. The opening, which I mentioned, could have been tightened up a bit. There is a bit in the middle which may have been extraneous. There are several moments, one nearer to the end where one could read and wonder if that was really the best way to get the character(s) from Point A to Point B and some things just didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Here's the thing: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows rises far above those aspects of the novel which do not work perfectly. What Rowling has delivered is strong enough on its own to minimize any imperfection and what we are left with is a wholly satisfying novel and a wholly satisfying conclusion to Harry Potter. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment here is that Jo Rowling was able to end the series as well as she did. Yes, many characters die, some fairly major, but this was a war and there are casualties. Rowling answers nearly every question I could think of (except one regarding Neville) and she does so in a way which did not feel contrived.

Well done, Ms Rowling. The ending lived up to the hype of the entire series and when the last page is turned and the cover is closed we can be satisfied. You told a great story and you told it well. For a decade we were on the edge of our seats turning page after page after page wondering what will happen next. Now we know. It was worth the wait.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cell, by Stephen King

Stephen King
Scribner: 2006

My initial expectation regarding Cell was that the novel would be a simple horror / thriller having something to do with cell phones. Perhaps the bad guy would use a cell phone to terrorize. Perhaps there is some way a cell phone would play a large role in the story. Cell is nothing like what I expected. Cell is a post apocalyptic novel where the use of cell phones played a major role in causing the apocalypse. Rather than playing a continuing role in the shaping of the novel, once the event called "The Pulse" occurred, the issue of cell phones is essentially done. At this point Cell is a story of human survival.

With the post apocalyptic setting, Cell is reminiscent of The Stand (which I have not read, but I know the basics of), but in a more modern setting and with a very modern cause. The dedication before the novel is to George Romero, which should tell us something about what is about to come. Romero is a master of the zombie horror movie and Cell brings us a new version of Zombie Horror. Victims of the Pulse are turned into little more than mindless zombies. The victims make guttural sounds, speaking gibberish and mindlessly attacking not with weapons, but with their own teeth. The idea of zombies coming out only at night has been flipped, because the zombies only come out during the day which is just one more shift the survivors have to adapt to in their hopes of staying alive.

After the first section or two, when Clay Riddell and several other survivors begin moving north out of Boston to Maine, Cell loses something. Clay still deals with the immediacy of the horror of what happened, but the horror is at a distance. There is grotesquery and gore, but mostly, until the Ragged Man makes an appearance, the threat seems minimized. The victims have been turned into virtual zombies and are easy to avoid. Things change and the events are horrific, but it is almost as if for the middle section of the novel the characters have been let off the hook. Then, near the end King ratchets the horror and the fear back up again. But, much of the novel has a feel of dispirited wandering, much along the lines of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (only with much more dialogue and clear storytelling than McCarthy employs). The Road may be a superior literary novel, but they cover much of the same ground with the band of travelers trying to find a safe haven in their world, both hoping and fearing to find more survivors. The Road is a post apocalyptic in a more literary tradition (though still very much SF), Cell feels like an homage to the film work of George Romero. This is not a bad thing, just something to note. Just another way to tell a story.

Back to that middle section of the novel. Our protagonists are moving ever more northward, with the occasional stop at a prep school or in various houses and motels, but for a period of time, perhaps a hundred pages, the story has stalled. I am thinking of the prep school section, which is odd because there is a good deal of story and set up occurring here, and some action, and some very important dreams. But in what is essentially a road novel, when the characters stop moving for several days the story stops too because we know that until Clay gets to his hometown in Maine nothing can possibly be resolved. The stop at the prep school is vital for the story Stephen King is telling, but this same section and the beginning of the next is the largest drain on the story. The prep school section begins strongly enough, but again, once the characters stop moving...

Overall, Cell is unlikely to be one of the memorable Stephen King novels. I can see a film adaptation in the story, which will extend the novel's longevity, but despite being almost the perfect sort of Post-9/11 horror novel, it is not the masterwork of horror that it could have been and which King is very much capable of. Still an enjoyable read, in whatever twisted sense that means for a novel of this sort, and there is no lingering disappointment in King’s storytelling, and it can be a frightening work of fiction at times (that first moment at the stadium, the first moments after the Pulse?), but Cell also stalls at times.

The Bottom Line: The premise is chilling and I look at my cell phone with a "what if" on my lips, but Cell fails to fully satisfy or perhaps fully realize its potential. After the Pulse, Cell is just another road / zombie story with some interesting theories interspersed throughout. Still, as with most Stephen King novels, Cell is entertaining throughout.

Friday, July 20, 2007

HP 7 at Lib

As of 3:30 on Friday July 20, less than a day before the official publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows my library has 2035 reserves placed on the new Harry Potter book. The Hennepin County library owns 480 copies.

Strangely, the Minneapolis public library only has 251 holds on 120 copies
The Ramsey County Libraries has 443 reserves on what looks like 78 copies
The St Paul libraries have 382 holds on 110 copies

All told, in the Twin Cities Metro, there are 3111 holds on 788 copies of the book...all before the book is actually available to the general public.

In a general sense that I won't remember in a couple of days, I would be very curious how many copies are checked out in a 1, 3, 6, 12 month periods. Just out of curiosity. How many copies will the Hennepin County library move in this coming year?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Quick Takes: Pratchett, Denning, Sittenfeld

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett: There are large gods and there are small gods. The small gods are the ones which have very few worshipers. Despite there being a nation built around the worship of the god Om, Om only has one worshiper, a rather simple young man named Brutha. Brutha is a Novice who will never get the opportunity to become a priest. When Om begins speaking to Brutha, everything will change. This Discworld novel, while it does not appear to connect much to the goings on in Ankh Morpork, is a quality read. Small Gods appears to have the best construction and most coherent story thus far in the Discworld series and contains the usual dose of humor and silliness one would expect from Terry Pratchett. While not as funny as Pratchett at his best, the story itself is perhaps stronger than those that have come before.

Star by Star, by Troy Denning: No Star Wars novel needs to run 600 pages, not even one written by Matthew Stover...which this one was not. Ye s, there are two rather large, significant events which occurred in this novel, but even building to those two events...400 pages, tops. The first half of Star by Star drags a bit, especially coming after two fast paced, pleasing entries by Greg Keyes. This was the ninth volume in the New Jedi Order series (of 19) and for all the darkness which has come before, Star by Star takes a turn for the worse (the two aforementioned events). By the end Denning picked up the pace of his storytelling and things improved, but the first half of Star by Star is rough going after the smooth sailing of Greg Keyes.

The Man of My Dreams, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Author Sittenfeld follows up her bestselling and acclaimed novel Prep with The Man of My Dreams, another quick reading novel about a girl growing up and the relationships she forms and fails at. This time the protagonist is Hannah Gavenor. Hannah is a bit of an outcast, never quite knowing the right thing to say and never quite fitting in with any crowd. In chapter long episodes (each taking place at a progressively later part of her life, from her teenaged years to her late twenties), Sittenfeld gives the reader sufficient glimpse into Hannah's life and we see her growth and in some cases, lack of growth. Hannah never really bemoans her lack of experience with men, but she notes it several times and in comparison we have her cousin Fig, who, to quote Renee Zellweger's character in Empire Records, is "a turbo slut". Still, Hannah tries very hard to fit in. She eventually finds men (or a man finds her) late in college years and while Hannah would potentially dispute this, she is ultimately defined by her relationships (or lack thereof) with men.

Some of the prep-school-charm of Prep is lost in The Man of My Dreams and while I am not sure where the line is, I think that The Man of My Dreams falls into the sub genre of "chick-lit" than it does in the category of "just a good book", which is where I'd place Prep. I read plenty of genre novels (SFF, not chick lit), so I know the danger of categorizing novels as just a genre novel, but there are those novels which are decent stories within the genre, and then there are the novels which rise above any genre label and are simply good, no matter where there are space ships, magic schools, or girls in prep schools. While Prep rose above the genre label it could have been slapped with, I am not so confident that The Man of My Dreams does. Curtis Sittenfeld is a talented writer and her novels have both been fast paced affairs which are enjoyable to read, so I expect further good things from Miss Sittenfeld. The Man of My Dreams is not a misfire, but neither did it connect on all four (or six) cylinders.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Arrived: Bright of the Sky

Yesterday when I was all busy posting about receiving my first issue of Weird Tales I get a package in the mail: A reading / review copy of Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon courtesy of the nice people at Pyr. Looking forward to reading this one!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Arrived: Weird Tales #344

The first issue of my subscription to Weird Tales arrived Friday afternoon. My wife took one look at the cover and said "what the hell is that?". The cover design is very well done and very creepy. Disturbing.

I had thought the first issue would be #345, but I’m glad this one arrived. There is an interview with George Martin on science vs magic in genre fiction. Good stuff! Hope I like the stories and I hope that Weird Tales is a magazine I come to enjoy. I subscribed when Weird Tales was doing that half price deal for a new subscription. Can't beat that!

If only Asimov's would run that same half price deal, I’d be set!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

underwhelm me again

After I read the excellent A Letter Never Sent I have come across a handful of underwhelming stories. Starting with a Cat Rambo story, which was decent (I rather enjoyed the manticore dropping the refrain "gnaw your bones" to frighten people), I’ve read six stories. Brazos, by Jerome Steuart, was surprisingly good. It deals with a man talking to the father of a River God down in Texas. The River God wants to marry the man’s daughter, but the father has read all the myths and knows that it generally does not end well. Strange Horizons has fairly consistently published quality stories and Brazos, while not one of the best, is solid. Sadly, the Heliotrope stories all disappointed. Honey Mouth had some potential, but On the Air and American Gothic...very disappointing. I really want Heliotrope to be a solid market for stories which publishes fiction which astounds and makes me sit up and notice. But, taking the first two issues into account...so far it isn't. Transtexting Pose from Clarkesworld...anyone know what that was about? Made no sense at all! The Cat Rambo was okay, but overall, I’m underwhelmed with this grouping.

I'll Gnaw Your Bones
, the Manticore Said - Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld: July 2007)
Honey Mouth - Samantha Henderson (Heliotrope #1)
On the Air - Edward Morris (Heliotrope #1)
American Gothic - Michael Colangelo (Heliotrope #1)
Brazos - Jerome Steuart (Strange Horizons: July 2, 2007)
Transtexting Pose - Daniel Speegle (Clarkesworld: July 2007)

Bottom line: the only story I had any sort of appreciation for was I'll Gnaw Your Bones.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quick Takes: Vinge, Patchett, Moorcock

True Names, by Vernor Vinge: What is the first book that comes to mind when I mention the subgenre "Cyberpunk"? Neuromancer? Yeah, that's what I got. Neuromancer is certainly the most well known of the cyberpunk novels and may rightly be considered the father of cyberpunk, those novels which deal with a future vision of the internet and technology and a punk attitude towards authority and the coming corporatization of technology and information and the world in general. But, if William Gibson and Neuromancer is the father, Vernor Vinge and True Names is likely the Grand Pappy of Cyberpunk. More a novella than a novel, True Names is Vinge's early look at what could be considered a combination of the internet and virtual reality. Reading the novel we get the sense of 8 bit Nintendo graphics used to build the virtual world, even though the descriptions suggest that everything looks and feels like life. So, the 8 bit Nintendo analogy does not quite work, but when Vinge referenced old adventure games, I pictured the classic Pitfall, with the appropriate graphics (played with a paddle rather than a contemporary controller). True Names combined a fantasy feeling virtual world and a high technology real world into a solid story. Revolutionary at the time and predating much of cyberpunk, True Names still holds up as a solid piece of fiction and a well thought out and well imagined work of science fiction and "speculative" fiction.

The Best American Short Stories 2006
, by Ann Patchett (editor): Ann Patchett's four published novels (The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician's Assistant, Taft, Bel Canto) are exceptional works of contemporary fiction. They are graceful, beautiful novels which draw the reader in and tell stories we do not wish to put down. Her non fiction book Truth and Beauty is a compelling exploration of her friendship with author Lucy Grealy. So, when I saw that Patchett was the editor for the 2006 edition of The Best American Short Stories I hoped for some great selections. Then I remembered that while the guest editor is responsible for selecting the twenty stories published in the anthology, the series editor is the one who picks out the several hundred stories to send to the guest editor. So, it is difficult to say exactly whose fault it is that I found very few stories which held my interest and not one story I feel the desire to hold up as the outstanding story of the collection. Next year (or, this year I suppose since the collection comes out in the fall) we get two things that should be very interesting. First, Stephen King will be the Guest Editor, and while I don’t expect King to fill the collection with horror, I do hope and expect that his selections may be a bit quirkier than we are used to seeing in B.A.S.S. The second Interesting Thing is there is a new Series Editor. Excellent! Nothing against the previous series editor because she served her role well and selected the stories she thought were the best to send to the guest editor, but I do not believe her tastes matched with mine very well. Hopefully the new Series Editor will give a fresh breath to the series and hopefully the combination of the new editor and Stephen King as the guest editor will deliver a truly fine anthology. Hmm. I spent very little time in this paragraph actually writing about the 2006 edition. I guess I didn't really care. Oh! There is one fun thing Ann Patchett did (may her next novel be swiftly published), the stories were arranged in reverse alphabetical order by author. So, Ann Beattie had the last story in the collection. And...I've run out of interest in this topic.

Corum: The Coming of Chaos, by Michael Moorcock: This Corum volume is the eighth entry in the Eternal Champion series and it contains the novels: Knight of Swords, Queen of Swords, King of Swords. It is nearly unreadable. I believe many of the place names are based around the Cornish or Welsh language, and that's fine, but the story is so basic and underplotted that Knight of Swords reads something like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, only not as much fun to read. So much in the first seventy five pages seemed extraneous that I have to believe Moorcock needed to fill space with ink and even though he is a talented author and even though some of the other Eternal Champion novels are a pleasure to read, Knight of Swords was brutal. Bad enough that even in 300 or so total pages for THREE Corum novels in this omnibus, I could not finish one. I've got better things to read.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dead Man's Holiday

This is what sold the story for me:

"Why are you still here, Kate?" she's asking me. "What, like you're too good to be dead?"
Dead Man's Holiday, by Nicholas Seeley. Worth a gander.

Speaking of...why are my favorite stories from Strange Horizons the ones that feature dead people? Dead. Nude. Girls, by Lori Selke. 29 Union Leaders, by Genevieve Valentine. Apparently the only thing that could have made Private Detective Molly better is if the little girl had been a corpse.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick Takes: Erikson, Butler, King

Midnight Tides, by Steven Erikson: The usual course I take in beginning a new Malazan novel is that during the first hundred pages or so I'm confused and unsure on how exactly this all fits in with the overarching series and how things will connect. I also wonder why I care. Then, after approximately a hundred pages parts of the pattern begins to fill in and I have a greater vision of the characters and the world and how these new characters will interact eventually with the characters I am more familiar with. Even House of Chains with its opening Karsa Orlong saga was able to draw me in.

Not so with Midnight Tides. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred pages and I was at a loss. The Tehol and Bugg chapters were engaging, but the Letherii and Edur with the Sengar family chapters were brutal. The writing was as cryptic as ever, but Midnight Tides was an instance of one thing too many in the story and it all fell apart. This is just a guess, but I believe I finished eight books in between starting and finishing Midnight Tides. It was nearly nine or ten. There were instances which gripped me: The Crimson Guard, nearly anything with Bugg, Kettle, Tehold, the other zombie woman, Brys...this stuff was engaging. Moments of the Sengar Family Saga worked, but as a novel, as a story...Midnight Tides failed. If I did not need Midnight Tides to connect the dots to The Bonehunters and beyond, I would have put the book down by page two hundred and read a different / better book.

Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler: This fourth published novel in the Patternist sequence is actually the earliest novel in the chronology. Even though Wild Seed is only the second (and I believe last) novel in which Doro appears, Doro is a character which looms large over the entire Patternist sequence. Wild Seed does not approach Doro's origins in the timeline, but over the course of the novel Doro divulges much of how he came to be able to take over the bodies of others and why he began the breeding program which will eventually yield stable telepaths.

While Doro is nominally the main character here, soon Anyanwu a three hundred year old healer takes center stage. We soon wonder how, if she has lived so long, we had not seen her in Mind of My Mind. That question is eventually answered. Anyanwu is the heart of Wild Seed and she is, in fact, the "wild seed" of the novel and is referred to as such several times. Anyanwu eventually helps Doro build more stable communities of his telepaths, but there is a good deal of conflict between Doro and Anwaywu.

Wild Seed, along with Mind of My Mind, is probably the strongest of the Patternist novels (with only Clay's Ark to go) and at fewer than three hundred pages, it is a brief yet captivating entry set over more than one hundred years in the Patternist Saga. While I understand that many readers (including myself at times) prefer to read a series in chronological order, I would recommend reading Patternist in publication order. Knowing all about Doro and Anyanwu from the start would make the first experience of Mind of My Mind a lesser experience, and knowing all about the Pattern and the telepaths would make Patternmaster a disappointing novel (it was Butler's first novel and it is still one of the weakest in her catalog).

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King: I've seen the movie, though I remember next to nothing except for a creepy house. I know it's his vampire story. But 'Salem's Lot begins with a writer, Ben Mears, returning to the town of four years of his childhood: Jerusalem's Lot (great name for a town, by the way!). He hopes to do some further research on the Marsten's House, the local "haunted house" with a dark history. Because Ben is something of an outsider, and an "artsy writer", Ben is viewed with some distrust. 'Salem's Lot opens with some whispers about the house, but mostly with small town distrust and the small town manner of shutting out everybody but the locals, and even some of the locals. It moves ever gradually over 600 pages (in mass market paperback) from small town suspicion to full blown vampire horror and King takes us on a ride.

The thing about 'Salem's Lot is that while the novel is 600+ pages, it feels like perhaps 300. It reads very smoothly and very quickly. In a blink 50 pages have passed and we are sucked in to the darkness hidden in The Lot, as the locals call their town. For only being Stephen King's second published novel, this is an accomplished piece of horror and one where the horror is not just the vampires. It is the darkness within.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Letter Never Sent, by Rachel Swirsky

A Letter Never Sent
Rachel Swirsky
Konundrum Engine Literary Review: July 2007

With A Letter Never Sent Rachel Swirsky has written a chilling short story which gets into the head of a pedophile who has not yet acted on his desires, if the narrator is reliable. The narrator, Marc, addresses the letter to a Dr. Wickham, presumably a psychiatrist.

My name is Marc. I am twenty-two. I need to prove to you that I am "under significant mental stress" and that I am a "threat to others." Probably you need to know something about me so that you will understand why.

Marc spends the next eight pages (single spaced) explaining to the doctor how he met and befriended an eleven year old girl named Lisa. Since we know from the beginning that Marc believes he is a threat to others, the reader spends the entire story waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something unspeakable, perhaps un-writeable to occur.

The scariest thing about A Letter Never Sent is that it feels authentic. It feels real. We get that Marc initially has feelings that he is uncomfortable with and that he truly tries to do right by not encouraging them, but then we realize that Marc is also not going out of his way to avoid situations where he will experience those feelings. Not really.

A Letter Never Sent is a terrifying story because of how trusting Lisa is and despite Marc not wanting to harm her at the beginning of the story, he remember from the first paragraph that he believes he is a threat to others. To Lisa.

This isn’t a story which brings pleasure in the reading or which would be passed around to friends because they "just have to read it", but A Letter Never Sent draws the cliches of "chilling", "powerful", and "moving" to the forefront. Rightly so. We fear for Lisa while we are hoping beyond hope that Marc will not act. This is "only" a story, but Swirsky makes it real.

A Letter Never Sent feels like a letter of warning to parents, that innocents can be harmed, and perhaps it is a warning letter. Perhaps it is just a solid, scary story where the fear lies in what might happen. Perhaps it is more since Swirsky has stated that it is a story she feels passionate about. Whatever A Letter Never Sent might be, it is a very good story and one that is worth reading despite (or because of) the fact that it is uncomfortable to read and that we might need to wash off the dirt when the last page is turned.

Monday, July 09, 2007

crazy with that interlibrary loan

I fear I've gone a bit nuts with interlibrary loan. I just finished reading Octavia Butler's Wild Seed, which is from ILL, and I have True Names and Corum: The Coming of Chaos also out from ILL. Three books, no bigggie. Only, with ILL, I can't renew. At least, I don't think so. And the borrowing window is much shorter.

Somehow, I missed that the edition of True Names I linked above is available at my library. Like, as a regular book. With renewals. Figures. The edition I have out is a novella edition only, so much shorter. No trouble finishing that in time.

But, I have an abundance of regular library books out.

Oh...In Transit from ILL: Wild Cards, and Starship: Pirate.

That's not all, o, no no.

Being processed by the lending libraries are the following: Dreams of Steel, Walpurgis III, Clay's Ark, and The Bachman Books (a collection of the first four novels Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman).

What is wrong with me? Do I not have enough books at home? Has my lending library run out of books? I just think of something ELSE I would like to read, realize that my library doesn't have it, and get all giddy with getting stuff from ILL. And THEN I think of something else. Shoot, I only reserved the Bachman collection because my library doesn't have Rage, and ILL doesn't have it as an individual volume. I'll probably read them all.

Oh...just read why I can't find Rage. King has posted this message on his website on the page for Rage:
NOTE: Because of the sensitive nature of the content of this book and its association with school shootings in the United States, Stephen has decided to prohibit any future printings of this book.

That makes sense, though it is too bad.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Flaming London, by Joe R. Lansdale

Flaming London
Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press: 2006

What do you get when you mix Jules Verne, Mark Twain, The War of the Worlds, King Kong, Sitting Bull, a giant steam powered robot, and a highly intelligent and horny seal? Flaming London! The sequel to Joe R. Lansdale's Zeppelins West, that's what!

Zeppelins West was a highly entertaining blend of some classic pulp science fiction and alternate history. Flaming London is more of the same, only with different characters and books to send up. Ned the Seal is back and washed up on some faraway shore where he is found by Mark Twain, a currently struggling author whose life has pretty well fallen apart (much like what happened to to Twain in real life). Twain brings Ned to Twain's friend Jules Verne, a still successful author and inventor. Meanwhile, octopi from Mars have invaded with Death Rays and are laying waste to the Earth, much like what happened in War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (Wells himself will make an appearance later in the novel), only without the octopi. The tripods are back, though. The rest of the novel is an escape by Ned the Seal, Twain, and Verne, as well as a chance to fight back. Oh yeah, King Kong, the Jolly Roger, Robots, dinosaurs, a time traveler, and more will make appearances later in Flaming London.

It would not take much to guess that I was enthralled and entertained by Joe Lansdale's story here. Wickedly funny, Ned the Seal is a much stronger character in Flaming London than he was in Zeppelins West, indeed he takes center stage in this novel. The combination of seeing how Lansdale fits together historical figures and fictional worlds to tell a coherent narrative is pure pleasure, as is Lansdale's stylish use of language. Sometimes harsh, sometimes crude, always entertaining, Joe Lansdale is a master stylist and spins a hell of a story. Laced with humor and near violence, Lansdale spits out the story but we don't want to step back. We want the story to spray all over our face. We want to wallow and revel in Lansdale's storytelling. This is Joe Lansdale at the top of his game.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cycle of the Werewolf, by Stephen King

Cycle of the Werewolf
Stephen King
Land of Enchantment: 1984

A collection of twelve related vignettes about the small town of Tarker's Mills being threatened and attacked by a werewolf, though at first the townsfolk do not know this for sure. Cycle of the Werewolf is set up in short chapters, each focusing on a month of the year and the rise of the full moon which brings the return of the werewolf.

The first several chapters of this illustrated novel focus on the the attacks on random townspeople. The first several chapters feature the random townsperson discovering he or she is about to be attacked and then the werewolf strikes and at some point later a body is found.

It is only when Marty Coslaw is introduced that we are given the chance to have a storyline because Marty has seen the werewolf and lived. Marty is also a young boy confined to a wheelchair, but that does not stop him from wanting to stop the werewolf somehow.

Cycle of the Werewolf is, at its heart, a series of short glimpses into Tarker's Mills and the attacks of the werewolf. It is a brief novel, more a novella or novelette if we take the actual word count into consideration, and tells a decent enough story. If read by candlelight on the night of a full moon when the wind whips outside your window, I imagine Cycle of the Werewolf would be chilling enough. Because the short chapters feel almost unrelated for half the book, it was difficult for King to really build narrative and emotional heft. The ending is reasonably strong, but not enough to recommend Cycle of the Werewolf as something everybody must run out and buy (or borrow). That said, Cycle of the Werewolf is entertaining enough and short enough that it is a decent interlude between weightier King novels.

Had Roger Ebert not trademarked the use of thumbs in reviews, I would put mine firmly in the middle. Alas, he has and so I will not.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora
Scott Lynch
Bantam Spectra: 2006

What can be said about The Lies of Locke Lamora which has not already been said? In many ways, this is THE fantasy novel of 2006 and certainly THE debut of that year. All respects given to Naomi Novik and His Majesty's Dragon (the other major debut), but THIS is the one ring to rule them all. Yes, The Lies of Locke Lamora is just that damn good.

Unlike many novels, fantasy in particular, we are being asked to root for a criminal. Locke Lamora is a thief in the city of Camorr. He is a young, clever, talented, and extremely audacious thief. In short, if you or I wished to be a thief, we would dream of being Locke Lamora. Most fantasy novels which feature thieves will tend to feature a wisecracking sidekick of a thief. I'm looking at you, Jimmy the Hand, entertaining as you were. Or, you, Silk. You know who you are.

This brings an entirely fresh perspective to the storytelling. Scott Lynch bucks another fantasy convention and to great results. More often than not an epic multi-volume fantasy will begin with several hundred pages of introduction to the protagonist as a boy and before the big adventure begins. Scott Lynch does not do this with The Lies of Locke Lamora. Lynch gives us a bit of an alternating pattern. We do get the childhood forming of a thief which we would expect where Locke is being trained by a thief / priest named Chains. But, in semi-alternating sections we are given Locke as a young man running a con on one of the rich nobles of Camorr, Don Salvara. Through this con we see Locke and his group of Gentleman Bastards and how Locke has grown into an amazing thief leading something of a double life. We also get hints of something bigger going down in Camorr with mentions of a Gray King. This is important.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a wickedly entertaining novel, let alone a debut. This is a fast paced, action packed, clever, funny, dangerous, sad, beautiful piece of fiction and a novel which I did not want to put down. Not for sleep, not for food, not to go to work to pay the bills, not to bathe. Reluctantly I put the book down for each, but when I wasn't reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, I was thinking about The Lies of Locke Lamora. This is outstanding fantasy in the greatest sense of the term. It is the work of a wicked imagination and one thing that Scott Lynch has apparently figured out which other authors have not is how to end a novel. As great as everything was throughout the novel, Lynch has a nearly flawless ending to the novel.

I would normally groan a bit at the thought of another seven volume fantasy series, but Lynch wrote such a strong opening that I am relieved he is writing more novels about Locke Lamora. Red Seas Under Red Skies is officially my most anticipated novel of 2007, and yes, this includes A Dance With Dragons even should George Martin finish the novel in time to publish this year, which thus far he has not. That is how excited I am about The Lies of Locke Lamora and the future work of Scott Lynch.

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Fun. I got linked twice at the Book Blog. Both related to my reading of Stephen King recently. Not sure how folks find the link, but great!

Top Short Fiction Reading: January - June 2007

Top Stories: The Ones I Like Best

Vacancy - Lucius Shepard
Deadman's Road - Joe R. Lansdale
Impossible Dreams - Tim Pratt (2006 Hugo Nominee)
Inclination - William Shunn (2006 Hugo Nominee)
The Walls of the Universe - Paul Melko (2006 Hugo Nominee)
Private Detective Molly - A. B. Goelman
Dead. Nude. Girls. - Lori Selke
Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range - Matthew Sanborn Smith
29 Union Leaders Can't Be Wrong - Genevieve Valentine

These are the stories I most enjoyed in the first six months of 2007, worth pointing out, worth mentioning again, worth reading again.

The Favorite Three (not including Hugo nominees, though I'd hold these up against anything nominated for an award):
Deadman's Road
Private Detective Molly
Dead. Nude. Girls.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Arrived: Crystal Rain

Thank you Tobias Buckell! The reading / review copy of Crystal Rain (mass market edition) arrived in a priority mail envelope. Signed. With a magnet (see the bottom of the post). And a handwritten note. Very nice! Can't wait to read it. Much appreciated.

Short Fiction Reading: January - June 2007

The list of the short stories I read between January and June 2007. I'll link as many stories as are available free online. I've linked all but one of the stories, though the Stephen King is an excerpt and the link to the Steampunk stories are to the entire issue. Lots of good stuff here. Except for the Steampunk mag stories. The list of the best of the stories will be up tomorrow or the next day.

Included in this list is only stories which have been printed in magazines and where I read the stories in a magazine format (online or print). Not included are short story collections or anthologies (so all of the stories of Kelly Link or Jeffrey Ford from their collections...not included)

1. The Surgeon's Tale - Jeff Vandermeer and Cat Rambo (Subterranean - Winter 07)
2. Wandering the Borderlands - Poppy Z. Brite (Subterranean - Winter 07)
3. Untitled - Terry Brooks (Tor Newsletter)
4. Boiler Maker - Andrew Heidel (Subterraean - Winter 07)
5. Who Put the Bomp - Nick Mamatas (The Whatever - 2007)
6. A Season of Broken Dolls - Caitlin Kiernan (Subterranean - Spring 07)
7. Surveillance - Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean - Winter 07)
8. Vacancy - Lucius Shepherd (Subterranean - Winter 07)
9. Eating Crow - Neal Barrett (Subterranean - Spring 07)
10. Alien Animal Encounters - John Scalzi (Strange Horizons - October 15, 2001)
11. Missives from Possible Futures #1 - John Scalzi (Subterranean - Winter 07)
12. The Leopard's Paw - Jay Lake (Subterranean - Spring 07)
13. A Plain Tale from Our Hills - Bruce Sterling (Subterranean - Spring 07)
14. Deadman's Road - Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean - Spring 07)
15. Still Life - Don DeLillo (The New Yorker April 07)
16. All the Things You Are - Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe - Oct 06)
17. Kin - Bruce McAllister (Asimov's)
18. Yellow Card Man - Paolo Bacigalupi (Asimov's)
19. Impossible Dreams - Tim Pratt (Asimov's)
20. Eight Episodes - Robert Reed (Asimov's)
21. Inclination - William Shunn (Asimov's)
22. The House Beyond Your Sky - Benjamin Rosenbaum (Strange Horizon's Sept 06)
23. Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter - Geoff Ryman (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
24. The Third Bear - Jeff Vandermeer (Clarkesworld)
25. The Walls of the Universe - Paul Melko (Asimov's)
26. Feast or Famine - Naomi Novik (Temeraire.com)
27. A Billion Eves - Robert Reed (Asimov's)
28. Dawn, Sunset, and the Colors of the Earth - Michael Flynn (Asimov's)
29. How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)
30. The Djinn's Wife - Ian McDonald (Asimov's)
31. Pluto Tells All - John Scalzi (Subterranean - Spring 07)
32. Jude Confronts Global Warming - Joe Hill (Subterranean - Spring 07)
33. Lord Weary's Empire - Michael Swanwick
34. Julian: A Christmas Story - Robert Charles Wilson
35. Coat - Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean - Summer 07)
36. Fella Down a Hole - Amy Sisson (Strange Horizons, Apr 30, 07)
37. Winnowing the Herd - Carrie Vaughn (Strange Horizons, Oct 16, 06)
38. The Hide - Liz Williams (Strange Horizons, May 7, 2007)
39. There's No Light Between the Floors - Paul G. Tremblay (Clarkesworld May 07)
40. Qubit Conflicts - Jetse De Vries (Clarkesworld May 07)
41. Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind - Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean: Summer - 07)
42. Ex Machina - Margaret Ronald (Strange Horizons, May 28, 2007)
43. Private Detective Molly - A. B. Goelman (Strange Horizons, June 4, 2007)
44. Tradition - Jo Walton (Lone Star Stories, Issue 21)
45. Dead. Nude. Girls - Lori Selke (Strange Horizons, Feb 12, 2007)
46. Knapsack Poems - Eleanor Arnason (Asimov's)
47. Snow for Flowers - Leslie Claire Walker (Chiaroscuro: Issue 32)
48. The Oracle Spoke - Holly Philips (Clarkesworld, June 2007)
49. Offertory - Amy Hempel (The Dog of the Marriage - 2005)
50. The Harvest - Amy Hempel (At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom)
51. Today Will Be a Quiet Day - Amy Hempel (Missouri Review - 1985)
52. Biding Time - Robert J. Sawyer (Slipstreams - 2006)
53. Things With the Same Name - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Lone Star Stories 21)
54. Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range - Matthew Sanborn Smith (Chiaroscuro: Issue 32)
55. Black is the Color - Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean - Summer 2007)
56. Eating Their Sins and Ours - Jay Lake (Lone Star Stories: Issue 21)
57. The Man Who Eats Angels - David de Beer (Chiaroscuro: Issue 32)
58. The Gingerbread Girl - Stephen King (Esquire: July 2007)
59. Moon Over Yodok - David Charlton (Clarkesworld: June 2007)
60. The Lost Continent of Moo - Mike Resnick (Subterranean: Spring 2007)
61. Gift of Flight - Nghi Vo (Strange Horizons: June 11, 2007)
62. 29 Union Leaders Can't Be Wrong - Genevieve Valentine (Strange Horizons: June 18, 2007)
63. Brownman - C. Scavella Burrell (Strange Horizons: May 14 & 21, 2007)
64. Portrait of Ari - Mary Robinette Kowal (Strange Horizons: January 30, 2006)
65. The Leaving Sweater - Ruth Nestvold (Strange Horizons: June 25, 2007)
66. With Pride and Dignity Since 1976 - Genevieve Valentine (10X10X10: Issue 1)
67. Geometry - Genevieve Valentine (Mindfire 2005)
68. A Godmother's Gift - January Mortimer (Heliotrope 2)
69. Mother of the Dispossessed - Anon (Steampunk #1)
70. Yena of Angeline and the Terrible Townies - Margaret P. Killjoy (Steampunk #1)
71. An Unfortunate Engagement - G. D. Falksen (Steampunk #1)
72. The Baron - Jimmy T. Hand (Steampunk #1)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Quick Takes: Ostrander, Keyes, Stross

Star Wars Legacy: Broken, by John Ostrander: This is the first trade paper of the Legacy comics. I believe it collects the first six issues. Legacy is set a good hundred and twenty years or so AFTER Return of the Jedi, so this is after the New Jedi Order, after Legacy of the Force, after everything we know or think we know about Star Wars. Luke Skywalker is long dead (though he does make an appearance as a Force Ghost, much like Obi Wan and Yoda did). The Empire more or less rules the galaxy with a benevolent fist and one of the descendants of Baron Fel (that mythical pilot from the X-Wing novels) is Emperor, but he is deposed by Darth Krayt and the Sith now run the Empire, but Roan Fel and his loyalists still strike back against the Sith. Not sure what happened to the New Republic, except that it fragmented. Cade Skywalker, THE descendant, is a failed Jedi turned bounty hunter denying his legacy. There is a decent story going on in these first several issues and while I'm not normally interested in the Star Wars comics, there is something compelling about this story. Maybe it is the unknown. There are still Jedi, but once again on the run. Quite possibly the true Jedi are the Imperial Knights serving Roan Fel. Then there are the Sith, not working under the Rule of Two. A broken Skywalker. A benevolent Empire. Good stuff. Wish it was a novel.

Edge of Victory II: Rebirth, by Greg Keyes. The eighth entry in the New Jedi Order series is as good as its predecessor. Keyes is spinning a well told, nearly perfect Star Wars story that has all the feel of the original movies and all the danger and risk of the New Jedi Order. How I wish he would write every other novel in the NJO.

Singularity Sky
, by Charles Stross. As an author Charles Stross has been hit or miss. His Merchant Princes is the perfect example of this, but I think overall his work can stand as a Hit or Miss. His Bob Howard "Laundry" novels were excellent, Merchant Princes so so with some good work there. Missile Gap was solid. This brings me to one of his earlier novels and harder science fiction, Singularity Sky. The novel itself is hit or miss. The stuff with Martin and Rachel is top notch and possible to follow. The stuff with the Festival and the Critics...baffling. Overall, I thought Singularity Sky was a bit of a confusing mess, but nearly everything he writes gets critical acclaim. My guess is that Singularity Sky was just a bit over my head with what Stross was attempting to do. This isn't for the casual science fiction reader and though I read a decent amount of SF, I may be a bit too casual for this entry of Charles Stross.