Monday, March 31, 2008


I'd like to take a little time to point out that Nick Mamatas has a story up at Fantasy Magazine called "Fire-Bringer". It's a short one, but laced with the humor and imagination found in his outstanding novel Under My Roof. The story has elements of humor, but isn't a straight funny story. Whatever it is, it's a good read and worth checking out.

So check it out, will ya?

(for that matter, he also has a story up at Chizine: "The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft", written with Tim Pratt. Haven't read it yet, but will)

Africa Reading Challenge

From Matthew Cheney I learned a little bit about the Africa Reading Challenge.
Participants commit to read - in the course of 2008 - six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues. (Read more if you like!)
You can read whatever you want, but of the six books, I recommend a mixture of genres.
I'm in. When I first read about this on Cheney's blog I was a couple of hours away from starting The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, African-set SF.

It is rather easy to stick with the usual stuff I am going to read, so this is a good opportunity to step out and experience something different.

My List:
1. The Shadow Speaker
2. ??
3. ??
4. ??
5. ??
6. ??

If I hadn't read Philip Caputo's Acts of Faith last year (or the year before, whenever it was), I'd be well on my way, but I did so it doesn't count.

I'll have to come up with the other five books I want to read, but I hereby announce my participation.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Handful of Dust!

Shadow Unit: Episode Four is live: "A Handful of Dust", written by Will Shetterly.

For the record, Shetterly claims that the story is
4/5 by me, 1/5 by Emma Bull, with help from Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, and Amanda Downum.
As one can expect with anything Shadow Unit, I'm excited. I've never read a single thing by Will Shetterly and what better place to start than with his debut Shadow Unit piece?

I never talked about "Dexterity", the Sarah Monette episode. Ya was good because it was Shadow Unit and because it had the characters I've come to appreciate (dare I say love?) over the first two episodes and the myriad of teasers, but it felt lacking in depth, like everything came too easy to the characters in "Dexterity". Emma Bull's story "Breathe" and Elizabeth Bear's "Knock on Coffins" were much, much stronger.

For me.

Tomorrow, I read "A Handful of Dust".

Shadow Unit Goodies!

The good people at Shadow Unit ran an Easter Egg Hunt and before I could even consider joining in and playing, the game was over. And that's more than fine because I am gifted with this link right here which contains the links to all 12 Easter Eggs.

I love how Shadow Unit is being run like a tv show and there are all these "DVD extras" spread around the website.

There's good stuff in those Easter Eggs.

Even better? Episode 4 goes live tonight / tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Free Mathralon!

While busy linking up the Campbell nominees the other day I ran across another freely available story: "Mathralon", by David Louis Edelman. Since I have not read anything by Edelman, this is likely a good place to start.

Edelman suggests that we read his introduction to "Mathralon" before reading the story.

"Mathralon" was originally published The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Two, which also includes stories from Michael Moorcock, Peter Watts, Mary Robinette Kowal, Robert Reed, Kay Kenyon, and others.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Grey!

This was briefly mentioned in my post on the Campbell nominees, but Night Shade Books has made the complete text of Jon Armstrong’s novel Grey available for free download.

I checked the RTF file and it is only 126 pages long in Word. Definitely worth the read to check out Armstrong’s novel. I’ll start on Grey after I finish the Nebula nominated stories (1.8 stories left)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thoughts on Hugo Nominees 2008: John W. Campbell Award

Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

The SFF award I find most interesting is not specifically from one of the three major awards (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy), and it has nothing to do with any individual story or novel. The award that is most interested is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The award is given at Worldcon with the rest of the Hugos, but it isn’t a Hugo. Not really.
The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years. (via Writertopia)
Past winners include Naomi Novik, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear Cory Doctorow, Ted Chiang, Jo Walton, Nalo Hopkinson, Jay Lake, Lucius Shepard, Orson Scott Card, and others stretching back to 1973 (Jerry Pournelle).

I’ll start with Jon Armstrong. Everything I know about Armstrong is that he wrote a novel titled Grey. It was published by Night Shade Books. It’s supposed to be good. I haven’t read it. I’m sure I’ll get to it, but for the moment Armstrong is pretty well taken out of the conversation for the Campbell. As an added bonus, Grey is available for free download. Thanks, Night Shade!

This brings me to David Louis Edelman. Edelman is the author of the much heralded Infoquake (which, naturally, I have also not read) and the forthcoming Multireal. While I haven’t read Infoquake, I have seen a great deal more buzz for Infoquake than I have for Grey. Obviously buzz does not equal quality, but the Campbell nomination does suggest it. Moreso than Grey, I definitely need to read Infoquake. Infoquake was published by Pyr.

Not having read either Jon Armstrong or David Louis Edelman, it is impossible to guess how likely either would be to go home with a Campbell in hand.

David Anthony Durham is a beneficiary of having written three prior novels but no fantasy until he brought us Acacia last year. Durham was able to hone his craft before we got our first taste. But, given that the Campbell is for new SFF authors, Durham qualifies. Lest I come across as being slightly petty or petulant, let me say that this is not my intent. I thought Acacia was a damn fine novel, one of the better releases of 2007, and Durham more than deserves his place on the Campbell list. I only hope that he will be able to turn Acacia II quickly so he is better able to build a readership. If I see Durham’s name on a new fantasy novel, I’ll be sure to read it.

Joe Abercrombie. What can one say about Joe Abercrombie without being assassinated? Thus far I have only read The Blade Itself and thought it was a very strong fantasy debut. Abercrombie is working with some rather stock characters (barbarian warrior, cripple, naïve lordling, etc), but writes the characters in such a way that they feel fresh. Plus, he is putting these stock characters into much grittier situations than we normally see, and given the character perspectives in the novel I think that Abercrombie is starting to twist these stock characters into forms and shapes we do not normally get. Inquisitor Glotka is no mere shade of Tyrion Lannister.

Then there is Scott Lynch. Mr. Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. As much as I admired Acacia and enjoyed the hell out of The Blade Itself, I think that the two Lynch novels are good enough and popular enough that Lynch has the best chance of winning the Campbell in his second and final year of eligibility. But this is by no means a sure bet. I’m not one of the Hugo voters, so I can’t put down a name. Without having sales figures in hand, I don’t know who sold how many books, but the sense I have is that Lynch outsold the rest...but Durham may have put up solid numbers himself. So who knows? Scott Lynch is by no means a lock (get it? Locke!? Sorry...), but along with Abercrombie and Durham, I would say he is a solid contender. Because we don’t necessarily know the makeup of the voters for the Campbell, it is difficult to say who will take home the award.

I have not forgotten Mary Robinette Kowal. I just saved her for last. Mrs. Kowal is my sentimental favorite. The other five nominees are all novelists. Mary Robinette Kowal is a short story writer. If you have been reading this blog for the last year or so you will know that I think very highly of Kowal’s fiction. Kowal is probably as dark a dark horse as you can get in this category as the Campbell tends towards novelists (with a couple of notable exceptions), but I think Kowal’s short fiction is every bit as strong as the novelists’ in this category. If she comes out with a short story collection, I’d probably buy it. If she published a novel, I know I would buy it. My biggest hope is that MRK gains a wider readership for her fiction as a result of the Campbell nomination.

I would be tickled if Mary Robinette Kowal was awarded the Campbell, but my expectation is that Lynch or Durham will walk away with it. Abercrombie will likely draw the same readers as Lynch and I think that some of those who would otherwise vote for Joe Abercrombie will cast their votes for Scott Lynch. Durham’s the guy who I can see upsetting the proverbial apple cart. I think he has just enough popularity and notoriety to get through.

The most important thing here, I think, is the nomination itself. It gets people (me) talking about the writers and that provides greater awareness of their work...which can only help.

But how cool would it be if Mary Robinette Kowal won? Seriously.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Electrum Novellas

So that's what the Rat Bastards were up to! I've been wondering what Alan DeNiro and company were up to at Rabid Transit Press and when the next chapbook would be published. Alas, the next chapbook won't be published, but Rabid Transit will begin publishing a series of novellas, and I think that's pretty cool.

The first novella is The Sun Inside by David Schwartz.

Price tag is $9, and without knowing how the book will be bound, seems a little pricey. More so because it only includes shipping on the pre-order.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2008: Short Stories

Given that the Hugo Nominations are out, I figure I should get back on to writing about the Nebula Nominees. I have three novellas to read, but I have finished the Novelettes and the Short Stories. I’m not sure how far I will get on the Novels.

Short Stories
"Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse," by Andy Duncan
"Always," by Karen Joy Fowler
"Titanium Mike Saves the Day," by David D. Levine
"The Story of Love," by Vera Nazarian
"Captive Girl," by Jennifer Pelland
"Pride," by Mary Turzillo

There are some good shorts here in this list of nominees. I rather like Andy Duncan’s “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” from Eclipse One. It’s a story of a priest visiting a family whose young daughter has a chicken named Jesus Christ which she believes has miraculous powers. I found the story to have a much softer feel to it than I had anticipated given the title. The ending, as such, is a bit of an anti-climax, but the whole concept of the story is so fascinating that I’m happy to have read it.

Not so with Vera Nazarian’s “The Story of Love”. I wanted to quit the story by the second page, but I persevered. It’s a short story and it is nominated for the Nebula. Surely it is worth continuing. Not so, I say, not so. An unloved daughter finds love and learns to love after having been traded in marriage for a dowry (as happens / happened in “olden days”). There’s redemption, and I think some readers will be enraptured by Nazarian’s prose. Not I, said the not at all self conscious reviewer. Not I.

“Always” by Karen Joy Fowler is not at all what one might expect, though this is my first experience reading Fowler, so maybe I’m wrong. The story features a girl joining a cult promising immortality, but it is a very thoughtful story and while it could be read as a cautionary tale, I don’t think that’s it. It’s been quite a while since I last read “Always”, and it isn’t a story which has stuck with me, but it’s a good story.

Mary Turzillo’s “Pride” is from the outstanding anthology Fast Forward 1 (edited by Lou Anders). Excellent story, as is most everything out of Fast Forward. We’ve got a guy stealing a kitten out of a laboratory which tests animals, only to discover than the kitten will grow much larger than your average cat. Much. The story focuses on Kevin’s attempts to raise the animal and keep it protected from the authorities while eventually protecting his family from the animal. It’s a big cat. Such an interesting story. Yeah, that’s an overused word “interesting”, but “Pride” is a story I’m glad I read and one I wanted to keep reading after it was done.

I admit to a certain fondess for David Levine’s “Titanium Mike Saves the Day”. It’s a story about stories and telling stories, which normally makes my ass itch. But “Titanium Mike” is written so that there is a legend of a guy named Titanium Mike who helped out spacefarers in various outlandish ways and each time the Titanium Mike story is told it is to break the ice or relax a situation and get results done, because that’s what Titanium Mike does. Only, here, in “Titanium Mike Saves the Day” the story is broken up so that each time the story is told, the next section of the story is an earlier version of the story until finally Levine reveals the origin of the Titanium Mike myth, and it is so much more and less than what the story has grown to be. It’s a wonderful little story, something I could easily imagine Mike Resnick having written (this is praise, thank you).

But my favorite Nebula Nominated Short Story, and the one I hope picks up a win is Jennifer Pelland’s “Captive Girl”. This is a heartbreaking vision of the future where out planetary defenses are manned by three women who have been physically stripped of much of their humanity in order to protect Earth. “Captive Girl” is a love story between one of the three women and one of her caretakers, but it is a painful one. It is a beautiful one. “Captive Girl” was the one story which really moved me in an authentic way. It is a brutal, tough story, but one which also made me want to find more from Pelland and look forward with eagerness to her first short story collection Unwelcome Bodies. This is the story I want to see win the Nebula for Best Short Story.

Outside of my desire to see Jennifer Pelland’s story win, I have no sense on how the Nebula voters might go here. I haven’t been following the Nebulas over a period of years and so have no feel for that sort of thing.

Previous Thoughts:

Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 Hugo Nomination List

Best Novel
The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Halting State by Charles Stross

Best Novella
"Fountains of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
"Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (F&SF July 2007)
"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
"Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (F&SF April 2007)

Best Novelette
"The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham (Logorrhea ed. by John Klima, Bantam)
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (F&SF Sept. 2007)
"Dark Integers" by Greg Egan (Asimov's Oct./Nov. 2007)
"Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera, ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
"Finisterra" by David Moles (F&SF Dec. 2007)

Best Short Story

"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. by George Mann, Solaris Books)
"Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
"Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
"Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's May-June 2007)
"A Small Room in Koboldtown" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's April/May 2007; The Dog Said Bow-Wow,Tachyon Publications)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer

Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

For the full list, go here.

Congratulations to all the nominees, with special note to Mary Robinette Kowal for the Campbell nomination in her final year of eligibility and to David Anthony Durham in his first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Promethean Age stories!

Elizabeth Bear shares two stories of Matthew Magus, a prominent character in the first two Promethean Age novels.

"The Rest of Your Life in a Day" features a younger Matthew, and "Cryptic Coloration" is set a year before Blood and Iron.

Both stories were originally published in Baen's Universe.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dreamsongs: Volume II, by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume II
George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume II was originally the second half of the limited edition GRRM: A Rretrospective from Subterranean Press. Dreamsongs collects a wide range of George R. R. Martin’s short fiction, including some never before published work as well as his juvenilia.

Volume II opens with two of GRRM’s Haviland Tuf stories, "A Beast for Norn" and "Guardians". The first story was a bit of a slow opener as I tried to work out why GRRM was so enamored with this characters and what about Tuf would merit a series of stories as well as a published collection of Tuf stories. "A Beast for Norn" was similar to some of Martin’s earlier SF work, which evinced a coldness of tone and setting. Tuf brokered deals to sell exotic beasts to various sects on a planet, to catastrophic results. “A Beast for Norn“ did not quite get into the head of Haviland Tuf or really get into his motivations. But, it was interesting enough. “Guardians“, however, was a much stronger story. This time our intrepid ecological engineer maneuvers his way into assisting a planet under siege by never before seen sea creatures. Finally we understand who Tuf is and how he acts, though there is an untold backstory just waiting to be explored. “Guardians“ was a much stronger, richer story than “A Beast for Norn“ was.

The next section contains two screenplays. The first is an unaired Twilight Zone episode written by GRRM, the second the original version of the pilot episode to a show called “Doorways”. The Twilight Zone ep was interesting enough. It contained some chills with the thought of a mysterious man in the daughter’s room that nobody else can see, and the by the end we get what felt like a typical Twilight Zone twist, but the screenplay was a short, decent read. I think I would rather read a story treatment of this ep instead of the ep itself, but the chance to read some of Martin’s Hollywood work is a treat.

Better still is the original pilot to Doorways. The episode was filmed, but not this original version. Think of a different, less campy version of Sliders and you’ll have an idea. There are doorways between alternate realities, which is always entertaining, only this time there are men hunting another (the woman, Cat) first into our reality, and then across others. In this episode we see the Cuban Missile Crisis gone far wrong, and another where America has devolved into warring states. There are so many options, but Martin tells a tight story, keeps things focused, and really delivers with this pilot to “Doorways”. Well done, sir.

Section IV is two excerpts from the Wild Cards mosaic novels, one about The Turtle, another from Book IV, the Journals of Xavier Desmond. I’ll confess that I skipped this section. I’ve read the Turtle story from Wild Cards I and I plan to read Wild Cards IV soon. The Turtle story is a good one. I’ll say that much.

Martin closes out the set with the fourth and final Section which he introduces as stories of “the heart in conflict with itself”. Overall I was less impressed with this set than some of Martin’s earlier work, except for two stories. Not surprisingly, I was impressed with “The Hedge Knight”, the first Ice and Fire prequel story. “The Hedge Knight” was originally collected in the Legends anthology, but I had not read the story before (despite having read most of that anthology), and revisiting Westeros in an earlier time was a treat. I want to know more of Dunk and Egg. The second story I wanted to note was “The Skin Trade”, Martin’s werewolf story which is less about werewolves and more about identity – mixed in with violence and brutality. The other stories, even the odd painting story to close out this volume, were less memorable to me.

Overall, the two volumes of Dreamsongs should be required reading for anyone who only knows George R. R. Martin as the guy who writes the Ice and Fire novels. The man’s career is much deeper and broader than that. So many of his stories are worth the time to read and there is no better chance than the Dreamsongs collections as his previous short story collections are difficult to find and this is a career retrospective containing his best and more representational work. It’s damn good.

With that said, I think Volume I is a stronger set than Volume II. There is more fiction, and the stories stand out more in Volume I than in Volume II. I enjoyed Volume II, but I am more likely to pick up Volume I to re-read and if I had to give a recommendation for only one, it would be the first. But find them both, if possible. It’s quality reading. Good Mr. Martin is quite a damn fine writer.

Whenever GRRM finishes Ice and Fire, I would love to see what he writes next. Whatever it is, it’ll be something none of us expect. Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy...most likely it’ll be a blend of all three. And more.

Thoughts on Dreamsongs: Volume I

GRRM: ADWD: 2008?

George says,
If I can deliver the book before the end of June, you'll see these in your favorite bookstore sometime this fall.
So you're saying there's a chance...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Quarter 2 Forthcoming Books 2008

Taken from the Locus list of Forthcoming Books.

  • The Dreaming Void – Peter F. Hamilton: I still need to start Pandora’s Star, but I enjoyed the Night’s Dawn trilogy and new Hamilton is to be paid attention to.
  • The Born Queen – Greg Keyes: I’m a bit mixed on this series. The Briar King was one hell of an opening, but having a two year gap in between books has really brought down my ability to truly follow what is going on. I like the books, but I should be more excited for The Born Queen than I am. Even so, I would love to see how Keyes wraps up this series. Readers who get the chance to go from Book 1 through Book 4 in a period of months rather than years will likely be far more rewarded than those who have waited years.
  • Judge – Karen Traviss: The Wess’har Wars is one of my favorite science fiction series and I am excited to see how Traviss brings it together and what happens when the Eqbas reaches Earth.

  • Tides from the New Worlds – Tobias Buckell: I like Buckell’s novels and the two short stories I’ve read. Interested to read his first collection.
  • Little Brother – Cory Doctorow: Nearly everything Doctorow has published has been fascinating and well worth reading, and I expect this to be no different. I believe this is ostensibly a YA novel, but it’s Doctorow.

  • Sideways in Crime – Lou Anders (editor): My interest in this is based solely on the fact that I think very highly of Fast Forward 1. Different subject here, but if Anders’ eye for stories is as sound here as it was for Fast Forward, this should be a good set.
  • Escapement – Jay Lake: I have Mainspring on my bookshelf. This is the sequel. Pending my enjoyment of Mainspring, I’ll read Escapement.

I won’t talk about it quite yet, but July looks to be an interesting month.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

short fiction by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Since I have Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's second novel The Shadow Speaker at home and will read it in the next couple of weeks, I wanted to see what else she has out there. I came across to short stories linked on her website.

"Palm Tree Bandit"

I haven't had the chance to read these, or the novel, but I've heard nothing but praise for Okorafor-Mbachu.

Shadow Unit: Dexterity

The third episode of Shadow Unit, "Dexterity", has officially gone live. "Dexterity" is written by Sarah Monette.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Strahan on the Short Story

This is a good time for the short story in genre circles. Not maybe in business terms - we're yet to develop a twenty-first century business model that allows writers to make a living writing short fiction - but in artistic terms, it's extraordinary. Whether in anthologies like this one or in magazines or on websites, short stories are being published in staggering numbers. Thousands each year, millions of words, and in amongst this torrent of content is some extraordinary work. - Jonathan Strahan, Eclipse One, p. 1)
This is the first paragraph of Jonathan Strahan's introduction to Eclipse One. I read it three times. Not because I don't understand the words, but because I was impressed by what it said. What I have been reading online in recent months was people bemoaning the state of short fiction today. It's not the golden age, it's not something one can make a living at, it's not what people want to read. There are fewer major magazines publishing and the pay scales are comparatively lower than ever.

The number of print magazines are not in question, nor is the fact that fewer writers can make a living from short fiction, but Strahan makes an excellent point. The stories, the best of the best, the ones we care about. They're damn good.

What Strahan doesn't say is that the stories are as good as they have ever been, but I feel like we are still living in a golden age for science fiction and fantasy. We've got some outstanding writers working today. Short fiction, novel length, we've got the serious men and women writing serious heavy fiction, we've got folks writing some entertaining fiction that just tells a story that people want to read. What we've got is damn fine writers. Ted Chiang. Elizabeth Bear. Jeff Vandermeer. Charles Stross. Catherynne Valente. George R. R. Martin. M. Rickert. Jeffrey Ford. Kelly Link. Karen Traviss. Joe Hill. The list could be longer. Much longer.

It's two conversations. And Strahan is correct. Amongst the torrent of content there is some extraordinary work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Heinlein, eBear, Scalzi, and Partridge, oh my!

I’ve been lax in my short fiction reading lately, but Subterranean Online has some interesting stuff on the way.
Thus far, we have unpublished material by Robert A. Heinlein, an Old Man’s War universe outtake by John Scalzi, short fiction by Elizabeth Bear and C.S.E. Cooney, as well as a novella currently being written for us by SubPress favorite Norman Partridge. To cap all that off, we’ll be serializing a 50k word novel, The Disappeared, by horror master Ray Garton.
Heinlein, Elizabeth Bear, an OMW outtake AND Norman Partridge? Seriously?

The next two issues of Subterranean Online should be good ones!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the King is back

I am about ready to delve back into Stephen King’s work again. I have Skeleton Crew at home and just ordered Danse Macabre from the library. Also on hold at the library are Duma Key and his forthcoming short story collection Just Past Sunset (to be published in November)

What I really appreciate is that King apparently collects every piece of fiction he has written into his collections so that if I read all of his collections I’ll have read 99% of his short fiction. I’m sure there are some exceptions out there, but not many. I checked my King list and saw a collection called Six Stories. This was a limited edition collection, but five of the six ended up in Everything’s Eventual and the sixth in Hearts in Atlantis, so I’m set there.

The only work of King’s I don’t expect to be able to find is his unfinished serialized online novel The Plant. Maybe it’ll show up in a collection in the future.

I have 58 books on the Stephen King list. I’ve read 19 of them. All in the past two years. I’m getting there.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Cruel Wind, by Glen Cook

A Cruel Wind
Glen Cook
Night Shade Books: 2006

A Cruel Wind is an omnibus edition of the first three Dread Empire novels published by Glen Cook. This is early Glen Cook. He has two published novels to his credit, one under his own name. It is here that Cook begins to show his readers hints of what he will later do in his Black Company fantasy series. While we see and meet the rulers of various lands, the focus is not on those with all the power and we aren’t told everything that is going on. Unlike The Black Company, we don’t see the story told through the common soldier. Instead, in A Shadow of All Night Falling (1979), we are introduced to Mocker, a fat man passing himself off as a fool in order to get him inside Ravenkrak castle and in with the powerful men and women there. Here we get the story mostly through Mocker’s eyes, though we get bits from other characters who will continue to be important in the next two novels (Nepanthe, Varthlokker, Bragi, Valther, Old Man, Star Rider). The initial story here is of Mocker’s forthcoming betrayal of Nepanthe and her brothers, but shortly after A Shadow of All Night Falling has quite a bit more story to tell.

October’s Baby (1980): Where A Shadow of All Night Falling was mostly Mocker’s story, October’s Baby belongs to Bragi Ragnarson. Bragi was another infiltrator at Ravenkrak, working with Mocker, and seemed to be just a minor character. Here Bragi takes center stage as he travels to Kavelin to aid Queen Fiana and help save her kingdom. There is plenty of intrigue and switched babies, dark magic, lies, and politics. All told, it should be the good stuff. As with the first book, October’s Baby is doing more than just telling a simple story. The story we start out reading at the beginning isn’t the story we get by the end.

All Darkness Met (1980): This is the conclusion of the trilogy and again Bragi is central to the novel. Mocker was a secondary character in October’s Baby, but here Mocker barely exists. This is a shame because despite how confusing Mocker’s dialogue was, there was a deep hint of playfulness his banter with Bragi and Nepanthe. Instead, this is the darkest book of the three. Bad things happen early and just get worse and worse as the novel progresses until Bragi and the little kingdom of Fiana’s is under siege from fearsome warriors and powerful magics. Men once considered enemies in the previous two volumes find themselves in an alliance here to meet the larger threat.

Normally I would go into more detail on each volume, but since the three novels are collected in the A Cruel Wind omnibus telling more about the later volumes would spoil the earlier novels. That’s okay, though. We can talk about how well Cook has written these books.

I guess I expected more from books which, according to the introduction, were formative novels in Jeff Vandermeer’s introductions to fantasy fiction. While I share his appreciation for Mocker and while I feel that Glen Cook has some deeply authentic and moving moments in these three Dread Empire novels, that’s all they were for me – moments. Mocker’s moments with Nepanthe in A Shadow of All Night Falling, the last scene together of Bragi and Mocker in All Darkness Met, Haroun and his son in All Darkness Met, Elana trying to protect her home in October’s Baby. Other moments, usually the small moments on which the novel does not hinge are what stood out to me. This is, perhaps, as it should be. It is in the quiet times that we really get to know our characters and fall for the characters. This should, however, carry over to the bigger moments because now we care. Except, we don’t. Or, I don’t.

There should be a quote from the text to illustrate why the three Dread Empire novels are not as good as they should be, an example why I found the prose to be clunky at best and obscure at worst. It isn’t one passage. No one passage shows the overall effect of chapter after chapter of it. Individual chapters did work and were refreshing, but then Cook came back to clunk at the reader some more. Maybe it isn’t that the novels were obscure and that I could not quite figure out what all was going on. Cook does the same in The Black Company. He leaves the readers in the dark just as he does the characters. But The Black Company had flow. Sentence flowed into sentence into paragraph into page into chapter and the novel(s) evolved into a grand story where even the tedium of the soldiers was gripping stuff. Where we wanted to know more from Croaker and more about Goblin and more about The Lady and instead of dragging the reader along, we wanted to race ahead of Cook’s storytelling. That’s not The Dread Empire. I find myself running ahead not to get to what is coming next, but to get away from what came before.

I can’t say for sure whether in these three novels Glen Cook is any worse in “telling” rather than “showing” the reader the story, but it “feels” worse, it “feels” like the novels are so unconnected that even though we know two groups are going to come into conflict with each other it is a surprise that they actually do, and when they do Cook just tells us it was all inevitable. That an action of Bragi’s was a mistake with reverberating consequences. How, exactly, Glen Cook could have done this better, I couldn’t say. But it just does not work.

There are hints, however, of the storytelling Cook will later employ to much greater success in The Black Company. Perhaps the biggest issue here is the third person perspective. When we don’t know something in The Black Company it is because Croaker doesn’t know and wasn’t told. When we don’t know something here it is because Glen Cook isn’t telling us or we don’t understand what we are told.

What this all makes me wonder is whether or not I am a fan of Glen Cook’s work or if I am simply a fan of The Black Company. That series made me want to read everything by Cook. Having read Sung in Blood and three Dread Empire books, I’m not sure I still want to. Surely the Garrett PI or his Starfishers work is better than this.

I believe it was George R. R. Martin (it may have been Robert Jordan) who once wondered if the fans he had gathered in writing A Song of Ice and Fire were fans of George R. R. Martin or if they were fans of A Song of Ice and Fire. He used two examples: Stephen King and X. With Stephen King the fans were King fans and would follow him everywhere. With X, the fans were fans of the particular series rather than of the author. Now, I’m a fan of George R. R. Martin and not just of Ice and Fire, and I’m a fan of Stephen King. But having read four books outside of The Black Company and I’m concerned that I’m just a company man. Hopefully the omnibus of the two Dread Empire prequels will restore some faith in non Black Company novels by Glen Cook.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Night Shade Books

Fantasy Book Spot 2007 Tournaments

Fantasy Book Spot is hosting its second annual Best of Tournaments. There are two different brackets running right now:

Best of 2007: For SFF books published in 2007
All Time: To discuss and argue the all time greats

Come on over and discuss!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mind Meld

The boys over at SF Signal invited me to take part in their weekly Mind Meld feature where they ask various SF professionals and bloggers their take on a particular question.

This week's question: Are science fiction book series a barrier to gaining new readership?

Also taking part this week:
Lou Anders (editor of Pyr books)
Chris Roberson (author: Paragaea, Set the Seas on Fire, etc)
Me (yes, I'm lodged in between Chris Roberson and....)
David Louis Edelman (author: Infoquake)
John Joseph Adams (editor of Wastelands, and of F&SF)

Seriously, am I not out of place here? My goal one day is to be even more out of place on an interview panel and have my answers placed between Stephen King and George R. R. Martin.

Interesting question, interesting answers. Go read it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2008: Novelettes

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

I have very mixed feelings about the nominees in the Novelette category. On one hand we have “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang. This is an outstanding story and is rightfully nominated, should probably win, and deserves to be held up as one of the best stories of this or perhaps any other year. On the other hand we have “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)”, by Geoff Ryman. I am not sure I can quite properly express how much I did not like this story. I first read it last year when it was nominated for the Hugo, and this year it was nominated for a Nebula. One would think that this means the story is good and well regarded. Perhaps. It is a frustrating read and one which offers no satisfaction for the reader, or at least for this reader. Both stories are from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Next up are the two from The Coyote Road, an anthology of trickster tales. I wrote about these two recently and what I said then still stands. “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche” left me cold while “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”, despite the overlong title, was a very moving story and involved human and animal characters I could find a way to identify with. I get that being able to identify with the characters is not necessarily a mark of good writing, and I am sure Delia Sherman’s story involved skillful writing, but the best stories are the ones that make the reader care and continue to think about the story long after we’ve reached “The End”. Kij Johnson’s story was successful at that. Delia Sherman’s story was not.

The next pairing is “Safeguard” by Nancy Kress and “The Children’s Crusade” by Robin Wayne Bailey. “The Children’s Crusade” comes out of the Heroes in Training anthology edited by Jim Hines and Martin Greenberg. All the stories in the anthology deal with, in one way or another, young people taking their first steps to being heroes. “The Children’s Crusade” starts in Iraq with a young Muslim boy tired of terrorism takes a stand. We learn later than the boy can teleport, and he has friend from Israel also tired of the violence adults do to children. Together, they try to find a place of peace in the world and when they don’t find it, they decide to make their own. “The Children’s Crusade” is a story which could easily find a place in a non-genre publication, even with the teleporting (hey, if The Time Traveler’s Wife isn’t considered SF by the general public...) and is a moving story of children fed up with being targets of wars they have no part of. In his introduction to the anthology Jim Hines stated that this story made him cheer for the kids. While I would not go quite that far, it is worth a read. “Safeguard” takes the flip side of this. The government of the United States has discovered that some terrorist cells have genetically engineered children to be weapons of terror. The United States has four children completely isolated in something of a bio-dome. The four children only know of this as the real world. Flipping between viewpoints of the children and of Katherine Taney, the only woman the children know and an advisor to officials of the United States, “Safeguard” tells of a bleak future where there is little hope and where children can be weapons. Of the two I prefer “The Children’s Crusade”, though “Safeguard” has echoes of a possible future where the unspeakable can be real.

The final story is “Child, Maiden, Mother, Crone”, by Terry Bramlett. I was apprehensive about this one, I think due to the format of the seasons, but the story of a former musician turned farmer meeting a girl who would grow and age with the seasons (hence the title) really pulled me in. Its worth checking out. I'd like to read more from Bramlett.

If I had to vote for a winner in this category, and as a Non Member of the SFWA, I can’t, I would probably vote for “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang. I marveled at the story when I read the Subterranean publication in hard cover, and with Ted Chiang’s name on the story we know it’s going to be something good. The story lives up to the expectation and to whatever hype there is.

With that said, if I had a second choice or if we could ignore the elephant in the room named Ted Chiang, my second favorite story from this set is “The Evolution of Trickster Stories...” by Kij Johnson. I can’t tell if it is the dogs, or if it that the story is just that good, but Kij Johnson had me at hello.

Free Vandermeer

Jeff Vandermeer's forthcoming novella "The Situation" is now available for free download (PDF...). There is also a new interview with Ann and Jeff over Wired / Geek Dad. (via Ecstatic Days). Very good interview, interesting read.

Elizabeth Bear's "Knock on Coffins"

Had the chance to read the second Shadow Unit Episode: "Knock on Coffins" written by Elizabeth Bear. "Knock on Coffins", like the first episode "Breathe" is still introducing us to the characters and gives deeper looks at Solomon Todd and Madeline Frost.

It may be too early to really start to compare the episodes, but I liked "Knock on Coffins" just as much as I did "Breathe". They had two different purposes (besides the shared "Tell a great story" part), and each succeeded. "Breathe" was our intro to Shadow Unit, "Knock on Coffins" needed to tell a great story while keeping us exciting for more and answer questions raised in Breathe". It did.

I'd love to see Shadow Unit collected in book form so I could have it on my shelf. It's the best show that never was.

Episode Three, "Dexterity" airs March 17 and is written by Sarah Monette.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Shadow Unit: Knock on Coffins

"Knock on Coffins", written by Elizabeth Bear is up at Shadow Unit. This is the second full episode of the season, after Emma Bull's "Breathe".

"Breathe" was a great start to Shadow Unit's first season and with Bear being one of my favorite writers I have high hopes for "Knock on Coffins".

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Free Stories from Paolo Bacigalupi

John Joseph Adams, blogging over at Night Shade, points out that Paolo Bacigalupi has posted three of the stories from his new Pump Six collection.

"The Tamarisk Hunter"
"The People of Sand and Slag"
"The Fluted Girl"

Now, I first read Paolo Bacigalupi when his story "Yellow Card Man" was nominated for a Hugo last year. I hated it.

But, "The People of Sand and Slag" was in the Wastelands anthology and, ya know, it was good.

So, I'll have to check out the two stories here I haven't read. I may end up revising my opinion of Bacigalupi's fiction. (that said, I doubt I'll read "The Calorie Man" which predates "Yellow Card Man" but shares the setting).

Unfinished Books: February 2008

Paradise, by Mike Resnick: I read the first hundred pages or so and I just could not engage. The novel is formatted as a conversation between a younger reporter and an aged former frontier guide / hunter. The reporter asks questions and then the next chapter is a story told by the old guy about when he was a young guy. The setting is a planet which is to serve as Kenya, and Paradise is intended as an allegory of Kenya. There’s nothing really wrong with Paradise, but I could not engage with the story like with I can with other Resnick works.

The only other books I declined to finish were some anthologies I checked out from the library with the sole purpose of reading Nebula Nominated stories. I’ll not count those.